New York City and the Artworld (1982-1984)

New York City in 1982 was a wild city. It was a vulgar, cruel and violent place seemingly without laws or rules or police. The city was living in the black and white television cool world of the 1950’s and the Burbank, California dramatic color television world at the same time. New York goons walked in pointed toe shoes, leather jackets and jewelry. Chelsea was where the Mafia threw away bodies, where transvestite hookers worked in daylight, and where you could see men pounding their love into each other on the docks. One of the clubs in the area was called Mineshaft. Time Square was a street gangsters paradise. Puerto Rican male hookers in wigs, high heels and lipstick worked 42nd street, while in the row of porno theaters showing whale sized cocks exploding everywhere. Rent boys polished off businessmen for cash before the briefcases went home to their suburban wives. There was a young white woman working as a prostitute dressed in the ragged Anne costume of a Broadway show phenom. She also had on the right wig and pancake makeup for the part.  The billboard poster was nearby. She took her customers into the toilet stalls of the Port Authority Terminal Times Square bus station for her show and review.

Brooklyn Bridge, 1980, Dumbo, by Michael D. Cassidy

We learned quickly that Brooklyn had only the most crude of supermarkets, so we drove to New Jersey for groceries. When we would drive across one of the bridges, as soon as we entered New Jersey, hookers would walk up to the cars and press their breasts against every car’s windows.

No Hooking sign, New Jersey

Down in Philadelphia, from where we had just moved, a visit across the bridge to Camden, New Jersey, would meet you with a total wasteland. Camden was called “Poonieland.” This was because it was assumed that the city had no industry, as Campbells Soup’s factory had closed. Every woman walking down a one-toothed street with a single occupied decrepit home, was considered to be a prostitute. In Brooklyn hookers worked by the Navy Yard in nothing but high heels. In Williamsburg, hookers sat in chairs at outdoor restaurants, taking their customers inside to back rooms to close the deal. On Lexington avenue in Manhattan, called “The Lex” back then, dozens of boxes were set up with persons playing 3-card Monte. As people walked by saying they wouldn’t dare play that crooked game, they did not realize that there was a larger game that were already playing: Pickpocket. The entire corridor was a runaway crime spree, in which countless people were pick-pocketed as their attention was diverted by the 3 card Monte dealers. Oh, by the way, this game was being played in a few dozen different languages.

I had two jobs while I was a student in the painting department at Pratt Institute. One was with the Veterans Administration as a file clerk. The other was in Pratt’s library during summer breaks. The V.A. building was like a vertical cave. Each person minded their own business and mechanically reviewed the Vietnam Era veterans files. Some files had death certificates in them. There were dozens of files on the desks of several of the clerks. The files had a calendar of actions and when they had to be taken by. They also had ticklers as reminders. I was well liked and was even offered a permanent position but declined. Looking back it reminded me of what Harvey Pekar, the famed comics author, said of his dead-to-the world file clerk job that he had in Cleveland.

I too was born in Cleveland.

There were almost no public restrooms in New York back then. The subways reeked of and endless spraying of piss of different men. I saw businessmen come out of office towers and literally piss like a small fire hose on the adjacent building. With their penis in hand, they would zip up and descend into the subway stations.

420 West Broadway, where Leo Castelli gallery was located

Soho was the cool world. It was where the art galleries were. West Broadway was the main artworld power corridor. Both Leo Castelli and Mary Boone galleries were on the corridor, opposite one another at 420 and 417 West Broadway. I remember seeing a guy wearing an amazing dark green bomber jacket. His jet black hair was lifted by the wind as he stopped to smoke a cigarette. We and other Pratt students would organize and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan for the Saturday evening art openings. We heard there was wine and cheese flown in from Paris for some of the art parties. There certainly was lots of free wine, cheese and beer, the latter of which we each would collect in our coat pockets and take home that night to enjoy.

P.S.1. MoMA, Queens, New York

The art world was still under the mesmerizing power of two alternative spaces: Artists Space and P.S.1. Being selected for a show at either space was to be given entry into the New York art market as an art star. Metro Pictures became one of the first new major contemporary galleries. It was run by the same people who had controlled Artists Space. I recall being quite surprised by the unfortunate state of P.S.1.’s building on my first visit. But I also recall being overwhelmed by the fact that an entire public school (Public School 1, in Queens, New York), had been commandeered for art exhibitions. Years later, in 1997, just after I received my graduate degree in Fine Art from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, I too would get to have my work shown at the most amazing artists space program in American cultural history. In 1997 P.S.1 reopened after a dramatic property upgrade. There were still 125,000 square feet of exhibition space, but the place looked absolutely fabulous, and there was this awesome enclosed courtyard. In that courtyard for that inaugural reopening show, we invited artists were treated fabulously with an array of upscale appetizers and drink. I will never forget this experience as it was my first time having my work as an artist celebrated by the New York artworld.

Food, the Soho artist’s eating spot by Gordon Matta-Clark and other Soho artists

P.S.1., the largest historic artist space in America is part of MoMA

During the 1982-1984 era in the artworld, the word on the street was about Ne-Geo art. Peter Halley was a superstar with his grid and conduit paintings. He supposedly had a conceptual art reading group. The artworld was analyzing the real world through Halley’s work. The artworld was analyzing the world of Critical Theory through the paintings of Mark Tansay. Tansey was literally painting images that illustrated several of the arguments found in the leading theory ideas of the hour. The Germans – Sigmar Polke and Anselm Kiefer, the Italians – including Sandro Chia and Francesco Clemente, and the Cal Arts Mafia – David Salle, Eric Fischl, and crew, and The Whitney Program, whose star was a young Julian Schnabel were the other major art stars of the time. Appropriation was all the rage as well.. Richard Prince and Sherri Levine were in the front with this work. Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo were making leading work about identity construction and urban life. I don’t remember there being much of a discussion about Basquiat. I never heard about one of his openings. he seemed to be operating in a parallel artworld universe that only Andy Warhol was part of at the time.

Basquiat – Quality Meats for the Public (1982)

Mark Tansey, Action Painting II

Mark Tansey, Triumph of the New York school

Within a year of us moving to Chicago in the fall of 1984, the Conceptual Art wing of the East Village scene erupted from the rubble of burned out Alphabet City streets. The most powerful new artist run space in New York, International With Monument, was opened by artist Meyer Vaisman. The gallery launched Jack Goldstein’s career among others. Within the next two years almost all of the East Village’s 70 painting galleries would be closed or absorbed into Soho.

The thing about International With Monument and (later Collins and Milazzo) was that they had EVERYBODY CONVINCED THAT THEY WERE THE SHIT.
C&M was giving crits at Yale and everybody swallowed what they said like they were the Oracle of Delphi. Now nobody even remembers anything they said.
Back then, Julian Schnabel told the collectors in NYC that they were lucky to be living while he was alive, a la the time of Picasso in Paris in the 1920′s. And they believed it!
And traditional artists realized that Cal Arts and the Whitney Program dominated the discourse, without even knowing what that discourse was. Artists would say apologetically that – well – I didn’t go to Cal Arts, that’s why I am not in (the Whitney Biennial/Artists Space/PS1, etc.) And reading theory was “difficult.”
Mary Boone’s gallery would sometimes have thick as phone book gorgeous catalogs for her shows. I remember eating better at art openings than I could afford if I went to a decent restaurant. They were flying in wine and cheese from Paris! The 1980′s NYC artworld was a monster!
And then the 1990′s came, and the fun was gone, and theory books were like the Bible, on both coasts.
And then the art fairs arrived in 2002 and the artworld started partying all over again.

Jack Goldstein’s survey show at the MMK in Frankfurt, Germany

I had the pleasure of studying for an entire year with Jack Goldstein on a daily basis for an entire year. This happened when I entered Art Center’s MFA program in Pasadena in January of 1995. I remember being somewhat surprised when Jack told me exactly how his work was made by assistants. He saw himself in the role of artist as producer. As we know – up the road their would be an unreal rise in the use of fabricators to make art. Then just this year Carlson and Co., one of the major art fabricators for the New York artworld for two generations, would fold. Jack Goldstein hung himself after teaching at Art Center. He had a retrospective scheduled to be at MoCA in Los Angeles, which was cancelled when MoCA collapsed. The Orange County Museum of Art has taken the show and will debut it in 2012.

Several years after seeing shows of artists during 1982-1984,  I would get to see the work again in California museum collections. The first of which was Eli Broad’s collection that was showcased at LACMA’s BCAM, which Broad paid for to be built. The second was at SFMoMA, where the recently acquired Fisher Collection was put on public display. We drove up to San Francisco from LA and truly enjoyed every aspect of the museum experience, from the collections to the best coffee in the country. Blue Bottle café in San Francisco is on the top floor of the museum as it deserves to be, as this San Francisco born jewel is the best in the country. The Blue Bottle café in the Mint is pure magic in a postmodern architectural setting.

“Bucolic Brooklyn,” as one of my painting department teachers called it in 1982, was an abandoned wreck. There were stores that sold rotten fish, and stores that sold only bone white soup bones. We bought our vegetables from a small market owned by a Russian woman at Emerson Place and Myrtle avenues. My wife and I lived in the married student housing apartment building on Emerson Place. The married students would often cook and eat together in the evenings after class. Often our entertainment was to walk to the Brooklyn Promenade and look at the starry Manhattan skyline at night.

For Greene, Brooklyn

When we moved to Brooklyn from Philadelphia to start at Pratt, we were told that the married student housing wasn’t going to be ready for a couple of weeks. We found a roach invested but otherwise charming Midtown Manhattan SRO, and parked our car on the street. My wife asked me to go downstairs and remove the expensive possessions we had in our car trunk. I said I would later and fell asleep. That would be a mistake from which we would not recover during our entire time in New York City. When I went downstairs to remove our possessions, I noticed that the trunk was open. Oh no please don’t be so. Everything inside it was gone. All of our best clothes, leather jackets, shoes, purses, studio equipment – were gone. There was some strange dark substance that was dripping from the rear license plate, which temporarily obscured the numbers, then they reappeared. I was livid. I walked down the street screaming and pleading to anyone who would listen. Did they see the people who stole what we had owned. The persons I met backed into the doorways as if they were ghosts. School then started and we moved into the student housing. We were stunned to hear that what had happened to us was an annual ritual event that the school knew would happen to the students, but did nothing to warn us about and actually laughed at us for being suckers. Students reported that family heirlooms were stolen from their off campus and on campus apartments on the day they moved in. Students reported that thieves had driven away with their full rental trucks with all of their possessions, in daylight and at night. None of us knew how dangerous, deadly and depraved a neighborhood that Pratt was in during that era.  Fortunately all of us were fast learners to the situation and vowed to not be victimized again. We vowed to get the education we came to New York City for, and to get the fuck out of New York the moment we graduated from the school.

“Welcome to New York, sucka”

Once our classes were fully underway, we were all pretty happy that we had survived the first days and hung in there. Now we were getting the positive quality skill sets and experiences that we came to New York City for in the first place. Pratt’s campus at the time had a lone café where students met and talked. To buy or get the New York Times, we had to go to Manhattan. I would often find a copy of the Sunday edition in perfect condition, resting atop a large city owned trash can.

Chinatown in New York City

To entertain ourselves, we would walk into Chinatown in packs in the evenings. The food was good and cheap and fun, especially along Mott street. I remember going with my wife and being seated at a table with two other people, another of whom knew each other, on several occasions. No one seemed to mind this, as it seemed just one of those local to New York type of experiences, based on lack of personal space. I remember driving up from Philadelphia once and giving our leftover lemon chicken and rice dish to a young man who was upside down in a dumpster, his mouth full of food as he righted himself before our eyes. We often drove up from Philadelphia in 1981 through the summer of 1982, before moving to New York, and stayed up all night in the city and drove back to Philly in the late morning through small town, chemical factory haven industrial New Jersey. Coors beer had a mythic status during this time. One of my pals from school and I would stand in front of the beer distributorship in Brooklyn, sucking down Coors beers, as if they were the artisan beers of 2010.

During the first winter we lived in Brooklyn, I discovered that on Atlantic Avenue, down Bedford Avenue, through Bedford-Stuyvesant, that there were West Africans selling super low-priced vegetables. I walked down to where these stored were located. Each of them was operating out of an abandoned and burned-out storefront. I bought vegetables and took them home to make soup, which we shared with our classmates.

Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, late 1970’s by Leonard Freed/Magnum photographer

During that same winter I went to the closest open market to our apartment late one night. After shopping I started back across Dekalb Avenue towards Emerson Place. I heard a wild dog pack and stopped. The pack was drooling and starving, angry at the world that had abandoned them. They were looking to eat whatever was alive. They saw me and started walking towards me as a group. I realized that I had to run, and dropped the grocery bag over the cyclone fence. It was about six feet high and mangled across the top. I then hoisted myself over it as I heard the snap of several wolf-like dogs tear at the air. I could see that they were not going to give up. I moved my grocery bag to the furthest corner from where they tried to bite me, and left the bag there as they had already trotted around to where I was now standing. I walked back to the place I originally was standing inside the fenced in snow-covered open lot. I kicked the fence several times, further enraging the dogs as the leapt in the air and tried to come over it, but could not. While they were jumping, I turned and bolted to the opposite end of the park, which was at a diagonal to where I started and where my grocery bag was, then grabbed the bag, dropped it over the fence and leaped over it myself. I grabbed the bag and ran into the apartment building, just as the dog pack had turned the corner and made it within a hundred feet of the building. I made soup for dinner.

Pearl Paint, New York City

Another off our most fun and inexpensive experiences was going shopping for art supplies in Manhattan. None was more fantastic than shopping at Pearl Paint on Canal. It was a 4 story candy apple red paint covered building. I remember looking at drawing papers that were so well made and beautiful, that they seemed to not need a drawing; the paper alone was a work of art. There were art supply stores that still had tubes of paint from the Abstract Expressionist era of the 1950’s. There were custom paint producers, who charged off the chart prices for superior grades of painting supplies.

During my summer job at Pratt’s library, the woman working with me, who was a volunteer, invited me to her apartment to move books. She was a dainty and well spoken person. She read my short stories and said she enjoyed both them as well as talking to me about them. I thought she was a Miss-Lonely Hearts, and was shy and was using this opportunity to make company. She gave me the address, on the Central Park West in the West 70’s street blocks. She asked me to come by first on a Saturday, and said she would pay me $50. I showed up on time. The entire block looked as if it had gotten a manicure. I was met with a hand in my chest by the Latina maid. The library volunteer woman called out my name and came to the door and greeted me. I was in disbelief as I walked into her home. It was all three floors and it was palatial. It traversed one city block, say 73rd street, to 74th street. She thanked me for coming by and showed me to a huge bedroom. This is where she wanted the books in the vast shelving above it to be moved to another part of the house. She was an art collector and had been going to art museum shows since the 1950’s. She had more than one copy of many of the exhibition catalogs she had. She gave me copies of each of these as she saw them.

Her husband, who was a law firm partner, came home with a bag of sandwiches from Zabars. She invited me to meet him and eat at their dinner table and talk. She described what I was working on as a writer and an artist, and said she was intrigued by what I was doing. Her husband said he liked what he was hearing. She then told me that she had five graduate degrees, including one in film studies from NYU. This explained the film study screening room in her home. I eagerly ate the sandwich and enjoyed their company. Their daughter came home then. She had just returned from the Vienna Riding Academy, and was about to go to school in Boston. The daughter was about eighteen. She wanted to show me more of the house and gave me a tour. She showed me her bedroom. It was covered with glowing stars. She had a view of the Manhattan skyline too. We returned downstairs and I gathered the many catalogs given to me, then returned to our apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, on Pratt’s campus. I returned twice more to move books. When the summer ended I never saw any of this Central Park West family again.

Burned out buildings, New York City

There was a building in Fort Greene, Brooklyn that I walked by regularly on my way to the market. I called it the Hollywood Squares building because the facade and windows were missing, yet the building was fully occupied. Every argument, fight, bad situation, distress call for help, cursing out, or plea to not be thrown into the streets, could be heard as I walked by. The wind mildly blew the curtains in the windows that were covered.

I remember wishing that I had gotten to grow up in New York as verses in Cleveland. After living in Brooklyn in the 1980’s, those thoughts disappeared. New York was the twilight zone and planet of crime unlike anything I had ever seen in my life. I recall saying that the city was depraved and deprived. Now of course its the most fun and exciting place in the country for well-heeled adults to play.

New York City in 2010 is a place where all the historic down low street life has been swept away, which has allowed it to become an exclusive playland for the rich This is in many persons view the reason the rise of the LA Artworld was able to happen, even though New York had almost all the money and museums and cultural apparatus. While no one is of the belief that the wealthy who are actually talented cannot produce culture, as there is too much evidence of this, New York has shut itself off to all forms of cultural futures because of this unbelievable transformation that has blocked the entry of the young and broke into the city though impossible rent prices. New York was heavily working class, but it also was a city of elites, where the average person with exceptional talents could find stardom and critical success because New York was the platform for all of those overlapping universes of activity, from modern dance to experimental music and experimental films, to modern operas and experimental theater companies, to the artworld and all of its manifestations.

L&M Arts has decided to expand into representing living contemporary artists. It decided to open in Los Angeles because  LA has “a creative energy comparable to what happened in the ‘50s in New York,” Levy says.” New York shouldn’t sleep on this.  Look what happened to the Paris artworld when New York City came to power.

Read what Werner Herzog said about Los Angeles. ‘Los Angeles is raw, uncouth and bizarre, but it’s a place of substance. It has more new horizons than any other place. – Werner Herzog

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

Dreams of Technology. (2010) by Vincent Johnson


Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles. He has recently been named a 2010 United States Artists Project artist

Biography July 2010
Vincent Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited at Las Cienegas Projects, LAXART, the P.S. 1. Museum, the SK Stiftung, Cologne, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Adamski Gallery of Contemporary Art, Aachen, the Sacramento Center for Contemporary Art, 18th Street Arts, Santa Monica and the Boston University Art Gallery. His photographic works engage both significant and neglected historical and contemporary cultural artifacts and is based on intensive research of his subjects. Upcoming is a group show at the Kellogg Museum of Cal Poly Pomona.
Johnson received his MFA from Art Center College of Design in 1997. He studied with Mike Kelly, Jack Goldstein, Stephen Prina, Liz Larner, Chris Williams, Mayo Thompson (formerly of Art&Language), and Liz Larner. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was nominated for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 nominated for Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

Vincent  Johnson Artist Statement
Vincent Johnson’s work is a form of sustained cultural mining that explores the depths of his subjects. His photographic works created from 2001-2007 delved into architecture as fantasy, from the vernacular architecture of Los Angeles to that found throughout the American West. He has documented several of the no longer extant commercial vernacular structures in both South Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley that came into existence during the birth of long distance family travel by car. In 2007 he presented a fully fabricated work of sculpture – a 12 foot long six-foot high replica of a 1956 Chrysler Air Raid Siren. This project developed as he was both researching and documenting a former military corridor in the San Fernando Valley that included a retired military airfield. His newest photographic works, all created in 2008 and 2009, are large-scale photographic montages, each of  which confront significant cultural figures and several dramatic signal events of Cold War era Western cultural history, including Television, the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Space program, American home-based bomb shelter  program, and Vietnam. He is working on large-scale photomontages of the several major American political figures of 1960’s, including Martin Luther King, the Kennedy family, and Malcolm X, as well the representations of both Communism and Capitalism, Hollywood and Los Angeles and many related Cold War era subjects. Johnson’s photomontages can take several months to create as he captures hundreds of images from online sources, before selecting those which most well index a particular historical moment, personage or event. The creative juxtapositions and scale shifts of the found images is what he most relies on to develop his potent and illuminating photographic works.

Memories of Miami: Miami Basel Art Report 2009

Miami Basel 2009 was turned upside down by the opening of the de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space building. It has 3 floors and 30,000 sq. feet of exhibition space. The collection has over 1,000 works.

Imagine: In 2008 Rosa de la Cruz said that she was opening a new museum in Miami to house her private collection. One year later it actually opened. While I was on the staircase to the second floor of her awesome space – free to all – with a 30,000 book art library – also free to all – Lisa Phillips of the New Museum walked upstairs past us with Ms. de la Cruz. Her new museum highlights the incredible achievements of many artists – but has a special space on the 3rd/top floor for Miami Born Latin Artists who became superstars in the artworld but have passed away. (Felix Gonzalez Torres and Ana Mendieta). With the Rubell’s 40,000 volume art library, Miami has one of the most important set of contemporary art libraries in the country.

The museum is in Miami’s white hot Design District, and will be joined in 2012 by the 40,000 sq. ft. Craig Robins Collection building. We had dinner at 8:45PM Saturday night at Fratelli Lyon, one of the Design District’s top restaurants. The restaurant was packed. When we left at midnight it was still packed and more people were coming in to enjoy themselves. The architect John Marquette owns the restaurant and is the designer of the de la Cruz space. Boutique hotels are planned for the area. Boutique stores are flooding in from across the globe. Several new restaurants are opening soon. Miami and Miami Beach have made it a habit to launch new restaurants and lounges in time for the next Baselmania.

With the Eugenio Lopez Collection also on display at the Bass Museum, Latin pride was in the house in Miami big time. There were Latin and Black guides, even to direct you to the restrooms! There was free luxury coffee service on the patio of the de la Cruz space.

On Saturday we visited the Margulies Warehouse was only partially rehung from the previous year, a first. They had a haunting George Segal work entitled Breadline on display.

New World Symphony building, Miami Beach, opens 2010

Frank Gehry’s New World Symphony campus under construction 11/23/08

Miami just opened a new bar called the Democratic Republic of Beer, with 400 different selections. Miami has a brand new concert hall, opera house and dance showcase. Miami Beach will open the Frank Gehry designed New World Symphony concert hall in 2010, giving Miami TWO major new concert halls. Because of the attention given to the other major Miami art collectors, Major collector Beth de Woody, of Palm Beach/NYC, is now planning her own blowout art museum space. Miami’s Norman Braman is considering a building as well. He owns over a billion in Modern and Contemporary Art. The Rubell Family Collection has over a thousand more works of art than LA MOCA, which has over 5,000 works. There were no serious restaurants in the Design District in Miami a five years ago. Across the street from the de la Cruz building is a dead apartment building that looks like it washed up in a hurricane. I doubt it will be there in two years.

de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space (photo credits)

Felix Gonzales-Torres and Jim Hodges (both who were at Pratt Institute during the early 1980’s) at the de la Cruz art space. (photo credits)

a Jonathan Meese room (photo credits)

a Guyton/Walker installation (photo credits)

Jumex Collection at the Bass Museum

Gabriel Orozco’s Pool Table (photo credits)

When we arrived at the Bass Museum, the New York Times was there photographing the Eugenio Lopez Collection. The Dzine Ghost Bike was sensational in the project space.

Private Collections @ Miami (via

Alexandre Arrechea at Margulies Foundation

Margulies Foundation

Cinsneros-Fontanals Foundation (CIFO)

Muntean/Rosenblum at Cisneros-Fontanals Foundation

Re the Video works at MOCA North Miami. Stellar works done by master storytellers. This is the second time we’ve seen a blowout show of video only works that were absolutely hypnotic. The first was at the CIFO in Miami in 2005. That still is the best video art exhibition I have ever seen anywhere in the U.S. The best I have ever seen was a massive stunning history of film and video at the Pompidou in Paris in 2006.

Jason Rhoades in the Rubell Family Collection

lmgreen & Dragset in the  Rubell Family Collection

Maurizio Cattelan in the Rubell Family Collection


We spent over seven hours looking at work in the half million square foot display that was 2009’s Art Basel Miami Beach. Because of this experience of total immersion into absolute quality, it was difficult to appreciate most of what was at Aqua and Pulse and NADA, each of which we spent but an hour or so visiting. We missed Art Miami, Photo Miami and Scope this year despite being in town 5 days.


Cool as fuck lounge areas in a retro-fun hotel on 67th and Collins ave. in Miami Beach. 1950’s Vegas on the South Florida coast. For the first time we realized that the Westwood area of LA was similar in layout, but far smaller in scale relative to what seems to be several miles of coast lining condos and apartments and hotels built at mid century in Miami Beach. The nondescript restaurant and lounge across the street from NADA was overflowing onto the sidewalk even as the evening sun gave way to nightfall. Bad at Sports was podcasting from NADA to their home base of Chicago. I’m looking forward to checking out the interviews online.

On Wednesday night, we attended the free Art Loves Music concert, featuring the fireball Londoner Ebony Bones. This evening concert that was held on the sand of Miami Beach at 10PM about 200 feet from the ocean. It was absolutely incredible. The glow from the open door of a truck parked on the beach was mesmerizing. In all past years this concert was for Basel VIPs only. This year there were dozens of  Basel concerts everywhere, at the fairs, at the clubs, on the streets. This year the Basel VIP’s were next door in the new W Hotel South Beach, built on the land of the demolished Holiday Inn.


Lots of live entertainment arrived from out of town, as usual. This year’s hottest ticket was for The Box at Nikki Beach, a hot as hell burlesque performance space from the Lower East Side of New York.

The Box VIP Party 11PM-1AM

Doors will open at 11pm and the show will commence shortly thereafter.
The late night show is bottle service only and will turn up the heat with their performance. Bottle service packages are available for parties of 2,4,6,8, and 10. VIP packages provide premium seating centered on or around the stage.
Listed prices do not include tax and gratuity.



Goldman Warehouse

“Back in December of 2005, father and son developer duo Tony and Joey Goldman, who’ve had their hand in fostering growth and revitalization in the Wynwood area for some years now, donated the 14,000 square foot space.” The Goldman Warehouse severed its ties with MOCA North Miami, and will now go it alone as a big time project space. Francesco Clemente’s 180 foot long magisterial watercolor is currently on display. If the warehouse is curated in a compelling fashion it could become one of the most important spaces of its type in the U.S.

We attended the IT AIN’T FAIR opening just after dinner at Casale, one of Miami’s several new pizza spots. It was expensive. Parking was by valet for $10. The space was fashionable, the service superior, the waitstaff primarily from Italy. But the food made no impression on me at all as compared to the best pizza in LA (Mozza and Antica Pizza). Gang Gang Can Dance performed later in the week at this Miami alternative space that is the toy of a few New Yorkers, which may be over 10,000 square feet.

Art Basel 2009
December 2 – 6, 2009
3100 NW 7 Avenue / Miami / Florida / 33127

“The second installment of It Ain’t Fair promises to be even more spectacular than our inaugural exhibition. Calling on our community for participation, we assembled an international group show comprised of over 30 artists that we feel are creating the most relevant work today including Rita Ackermann, Tim Barber, Lizzy Bougatsos, Scott Campbell, Julia Chiang, Barb Choit, Peter Chung, Brian Degraw, Ry Fyan, Cyprien Gaillard, Michael Genovese, Todd James, KAWS, Zak Kitnick, Terence Koh, Harmony Korine, Andrew Kuo, Nate Lowman, Adam Marnie, Megan Marrin, Santiago Mostyn, Neck Face, José Parlá, Erik Parker, Brad Phillips, Kenny Scharf, Aurel Schmidt, David Benjamin Sherry, Agathe Snow, Spencer Sweeney, Eric White, Bobbi Woods and Aaron Young.  Opening night will be highlighted by a special rooftop performance by French symphonic composer Koudlam alongside a jumbo-sized outdoor screening of Cyprien Gaillard’s Crazy Horse accompanied by explosions and visual effects.”


The LA Artworld wants Basel to move to LA and is applying soft yet serious pressure to get it done. The city that for so long touted its artworld as coming into existence because it had no market, wants both global market access and control now through Basel, to go along with its position as a major production center for contemporary art. I envision that there literally will be a contest between the several Internationally connected Miami Billionaires/Art Collectors versus Eli Broad and the LA Artworld to get/keep Miami Basel. One of the chief reasons to go to Miami Basel is to see the newest selections of the private collections. The CIFO, World Class Boxing, the Rubell Family Collection, the Margulies Warehouse, and now the de la Cruz space. And the small but incredible museum shows, which this year included Miami Museum, the Bass Museum, and MOCA North Miami, which as I will say again because the works were so strong, had the best selection of world-class videos I have seen anywhere, equaled only by the 2005 video exhibition at the CIFO. Both the former Miami Art Central (MAC) building, and the Design District’s massive Moore Space are still standing and available to be used for exhibitions, as they were in earlier Miami Basels.

I might be wrong, but it was 80 degrees and balmy in Miami this past week, while it was in the 50’s/40’s in LA. Miami is closer to Brazil, Mexico, and Europe in terms of lifestyle and worldview than is LA. Miami is only one of two US cities that has a 5AM nightlife scene seven days a week. Miami/Miami Beach has virtually no traffic and loves staying up all night.

Miami’s airport has built two massive spectacular new wings in the past 3 years. Fort Lauderdale has gained so many luxury beachfront hotels as to be a world-class destination unto itself. And its airport is serviced by Virgin Atlantic. Let’s see whose fingers break first between the Miami and LA handshake re Basel. For the West Coast, Vegas is a far better place for an art fair of the caliber of Basel because of its caliber of restaurants and nightclubs, its low traffic, and it’s proximity to Los Angeles. LA could have a far greater presence at Miami Basel if it were closer to Los Angeles. Yet I cannot envision NYC loosening its grip on either Miami Beach or Miami Basel anytime soon. NYC’s media coverage is tall, wide and deep for Miami Basel, from Bloomberg News, the New York Times, New York Magazine, ArtForum, ArtInfo, ArtNet. The Miami newspapers, particulary Miami’s New Times, start bouncing off of the ceiling over Miami Basel and provide comprehensive local color and perspective on the scene. This is where it was reported this year about the fly-by-night galleries that set up in Miami during Basel, and about the extreme discontent of the local art community over their not getting Basel and the international artworld’s attention after even eight years of being there. It is there that the closure of galleries is reported, and the temporary reopening of galleries for Basel that have otherwise closed their Miami space, like Paris powerhouse Emanuel Perrotin gallery. The LA Artworld world love to be showered by the coverage of Basel in LA by the NYC and London media machines every December. So would many other cities that have similar and even lesser ambitions. I’m pretty sure that NYC would love it if Basel came to town, even if it meant that New Yorker’s wouldn’t be going to Miami Beach for a just before winter art holiday. My thinking is that the Armory Show should expand to Miami Basel time, and close up shop in New York. That would cause even more high-end galleries to come to Miami. That would give the NADA Art Fair some incredible competition. And it would keep the galleries in Miami that will be again pushed away once the galleries who did not do Basel this year want back in for 2010. It would also allow the Armory Show to go head to head with Art Basel, and move a huge market-based show away from the buzz of the Whitney Biennial and the Greater New York shows.


Miami is the winter showcase for global contemporary art. Only a handful of Miami artists have risen with inbound Basel tide.

Miami media represented in 2009 that Miami realizes it is being used and not being invited to the big art party. Local art events continue to showcase Miami artists in more and more professional situations in an endless effort to capture the Basel audience. On Biscayne Boulevard there was a curated show of Miami artists selected by ten Miami local curators. In the Design District was a show in a quality design building of the handful of Miami artists who had reached the world stage through their Miami gallery representation. Many creative people in Miami are convinced that if they just ramp up their game that Basel will give them a full share at the artworld power table. Many others believe that they need to decamp to LA or NYC to have a fighting chance.


Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles.

Biography July 2010Vincent Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited at Las Cienegas Projects, LAXART, the P.S. 1. Museum, the SK Stiftung, Cologne, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Adamski Gallery of Contemporary Art, Aachen, the Sacramento Center for Contemporary Art, 18th Street Arts, Santa Monica and the Boston University Art Gallery. His photographic works engage both significant and neglected historical and contemporary cultural artifacts and is based on intensive research of his subjects. Upcoming is a group show at the Kellogg Museum of Cal Poly Pomona.

Johnson received his MFA from Art Center College of Design in 1997. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was nominated for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 nominated for Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

Vincent  Johnson Artist Statement

Vincent Johnson’s work is a form of sustained cultural mining that explores the depths of his subjects. His photographic works created from 2001-2007 delved into architecture as fantasy, from the vernacular architecture of Los Angeles to that found throughout the American West. He has documented several of the no longer extant commercial vernacular structures in both South Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley that came into existence during the birth of long distance family travel by car. In 2007 he presented a fully fabricated work of sculpture – a 12 foot long six-foot high replica of a 1956 Chrysler Air Raid Siren. This project developed as he was both researching and documenting a former military corridor in the San Fernando Valley that included a retired military airfield. His newest photographic works, all created in 2008 and 2009, are large-scale photographic montages, each of which confront significant cultural figures and several dramatic signal events of Cold War era Western cultural history, including Television, the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Space program, American home-based bomb shelter  program, and Vietnam. He is working on large-scale photomontages of the several major American political figures of 1960’s, including Martin Luther King, the Kennedy family, and Malcolm X, as well the representations of both Communism and Capitalism, Hollywood and Los Angeles and many related Cold War era subjects. Johnson’s photomontages can take several months to create as he captures hundreds of images from online sources, before selecting those which most well index a particular historical moment, personage or event. The creative juxtapositions and scale shifts of the found images is what he most relies on to develop his potent and illuminating photographic works.

Jonathan Meese – the haunting German sculptor

I’m going to start this post on Jonathan Meese, whose work I first saw live at North Miami MoCA, which is also the United Stated debut of this survey show, with some quotes from Harald Falckenberg. He is both a major German industrialist, an art book publisher, and an art theorist. Falckenberg also teaches at the Hamburg’s Academy of Fine Arts, which I find to be a most remarkable set of accomplishments.

Jonathan Meese…(grew up) near Hamburg…”

Meese “is one of the few  the artists whom Harald Falckenberg calls a friend. ``He’s a very warm-hearted person. You wouldn’t believe it if you saw his paintings.”

“Meese’s works, with their ironic take on the insanity of heroes and Germanic myths, could be viewed as ugly, and fixated on the dark side of the human soul.”

“I have opted for grotesque art, because when I look around in my world, there are more bad than beautiful things,” Falckenberg says.


Napoleon by Jonathan Meese

“There are many works of Jonathan Meese that I don’t like,” (Falckenberg) says. “But I think they are very interesting.” He is intrigued by what he calls Mr. Meese’s “attitude of escapism.”

All quotes are from Bloomberg Muse.


At first glance this terrifying sculptural works seems to depict the singular insanity of war. The work confronts us with a type of urban guerilla goon as mythological soldier. The work is relentless in its representation of both the executioner and his victim, showing the kneeling figure, who knows his demise is eminent, as reptilian, yet at once showing the creature with the gun as a smaller figure, who without his weapon would lose this battle if it were hand to hand combat.


Jonathan Meese book, The Arch-State of Atlantisis

Jonathan Meese
Meese is fond of playing artistic games that have as their backdrop the history of German terror.  Some have questioned his deepest motivations for doing this. He has responded by saying that by representing evil he is exorcising it from German society, and from the larger world too, if not from German consciousness. I am always struck by my sense that German artists represent their history of being a devastator culture, but seem to find no means to represent their having been crushed because of their actions in World War II.
Jonathan Meese German 20th century military history performance in Amsterdam

Der Kampfer de Large by Jonathan Meese

Meese clearly is entranced by not only German military history, which leads him to construct nightmarish figures that conjure up the true character and personality of his subjects, but he is also equally excited by capturing in meaty sculpture the ruthless persona of European conquest figures such as Napoleon. Meese extends his interest in the phenomenon of unbridled mad militarized and sexualized force in his sculpture of Zeus and other mythic figures.
Suzy Wong.jpg
Suzy Wong by Jonathan Meese. Like his Dr. No sculpture, this work reflects Germany’s intense interest in Hollywood.
One of the elements which strikes me most about these sculptures is their being created using 19th century sculpture, which for me metaphorically sets each of these figures in the late 19th century, despite some of them coming from as far back as ancient Greek civilization, as in the case of Zeus. Both the technique, green patina and the materials used to produce these massive, larger than life  works, which certainly point to their relationship to the history of European sculpture, particularly that of Rodin, as they address the German imagination.
Brussels 2007 030.jpg
Dr. No by Jonathan Meese

a mythological being by Jonathan Meese

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles.

Marcel Broodthaers Section Cinema 72 at Marian Goodman New York

Section Cinema 72 - film storage shelves

During my late October trip to New York I was fortunate to visit the Marian Goodman gallery to see Marcel Broodthaer’s historic Section Cinema 72.  The gallery space had been cleared out and converted to look as much as possible as when this exhibition debuted nearly four decades ago. There was a distinct, powerful aura of the artist present in the space. There space was further activated by those of us in attendance – as each visitor felt their way about in the darkened central theater. There was also a sense of being on an adult treasure hunt, or of finding one’s self within the apartment of an art historical celebrity – one who had his own permanent mythic status.

Marcel Broodthaers Musée d’Art Moderne, Départment des Aigles

Broodthaers wrote in a text published in conjunction with the Documenta version of this piece: “This museum is a fiction. In one moment it plays the role of a political parody of artistic events, in another that of an artistic parody of political events.”

Marcel Broodthaers, "Musée d'Art Moderne, Département des Aigles, Section Publicité" 1968-72.


Section Cinema 72 - a view from the film storage to the film projections

Section Cinema 72 screening room

Section Cinema 72 - the floor is numbered

Secition Cinema 72 - the wall is numbered above the vitrine

Photography paper in the film storage room of Section Cinema 72

Film storage contents - Section Cinema 72

"Silence" An instruction for the visitors to the Section Cinema 72

"Museum" is the text on the screen in Section Cinema 72

Editing equipment from the Section Cinema 72 studio

The film storage room of Section Cinema 72

Two films projected in Section Cinema 72

Broodthaers in his film where he is making a watercolor painting in the rain

Broodthaers film where he is in the rain, creating a watercolor painting that immediately washes away

Another screening room for Section Cinema 72 films

Framed works and text pieces in Section Cinema 72

A text film in Section Cinema 72 on a video monitor

Films in the Section Cinema 72 back of the gallery screening room.

Departement des Aigles door at the entry to the gallery exhibition of Section Cinema 72

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

A Los Angeles Artist’s Visit to the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Art Wing

An Abstract Expressionist painting, Modern Art Wing, Art Institute of Chicago

More than a year has passed by since the début of the new Modern Art Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.  (Let me state now that I am an alumnus of its art school’s department of painting.) The Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern and Contemporary Art collections rank somewhere between the second and third most important in this country, either before or next to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has not only has many of Brancusi’s major works, but it also the place to see the work of Marcel Duchamp, Conceptual Art’s Ground Zero. These collections join one of the five or six major centers for the study of Modernism, which would rank MoMA and then the Pompidou Center in Paris, followed by the Tate Modern and the American art museums. It’s remarkable to see American museums become dominant in any field of inquiry, outside of those in New York, yet Chicago has done just that. I have read that Chicago plans to issue a three-volume document on their own History of Modernism, which no doubt will be derived from world-class exhibitions being planned today. What is great about this is that it gets Chicago into the art history writing game, and it give’s Chicago the chance to discuss the issues brought up by art critic Roberta Smith in her New York Times review of the Modern Art Wing’s collection when it opened in 2009. Her review made the claim that the Modern Art Wing was presenting no more than the standard view and place of who and what is Modernism. Certainly the Art Institute is up to the task of not only answering this  – but providing new and unique insight into the history of Art of the last hundred twenty years, and it can do a great deal of this by enforcing its world view of Modernism with its own ultra prestigious collections.

The surprise good news about the most encyclopedic art museums in America is the opening of entire departments for Modern and now Contemporary Art over the past few decades. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is considering building a 68,000 square foot space for the art of Modernism and of today. The Metropolitan museum has expanded into the current artworld’s works of art. And of course Chicago has opened this phenomenal new wing for the study of Modernism and Contemporary art. This means there is greater support for art in this country made by artists in this country than at any time in its history. No more is there a need for the Whitney Museum of American Art to come into the world again to showcase, admire and exalt American Artists in a way equal to American artist’s global counterparts. I recently read of how the Art Institute of Chicago went on a contemporary art world spending spree, with the example of their current survey show of LA artist Richard Hawkins, whose work has made into Chicago’s collections.

Art Institute of Chicago's Modern Art Wing - Box - photo by

Ariel view of the Art Institute of Chicago's Modern Art Wing and existing museum space

The Modern Art Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago - entrance - Photo by

The museum building’s new wing of course is stellar, as Chicago would have nothing other than the best. Chicago remains the city to visit in America to study American architecture, from the birth of the skyscraper, to the Prarie School architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright in suburban Oak Park, Illinois. The building is as heady an experience as I’ve encountered in any American art museum, from its design to its weighty and special collections that are both fabulous and deeply considered. What many people don’t know about the museum is that it is also the home of the Poetry Center, the Cinematique, and of course the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

When I was a student in the school’s painting department in the mid 1980’s, having transferred in from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, there was still in place a Chicago versus New York City contest, whereby Chicago believed it did not have to follow New York or any of its artistic ideas, as Chicago had its own way of doing things and had its own identity. The Chicago Imagist painters of the 1960’s had made their own mark without New York’s help or appreciation; so Chicago was not about to back down or turn to New York and ask to be let into its artworld. This was during the middle of the 1980’s. By the mid-1990’s the Art school had changed its mind about New York, as Los Angeles’ artworld had come out of total darkness and was already then being lauded by the international art circuit for its embrace of Conceptual Art. I recall flipping through a recent history of Art made in Chicago, back in the late 1990’s, while living here in LA after my having taken my MFA degree in Fine Arts Painting, in a four-year program at Art Center College of Design that was simply loaded with French and Critical Theory and Philosophy. The program was considered to be the most intellectually rigorous in the country. At the back of the book was a statement about what had happened in Chicago’s artworld over the decades, followed by a statement about the rise of Los Angeles“the laboratory of Conceptual Art.” When I returned to the museum for the second time in 3 years, but after having been away for a couple of decades while living in Los Angeles, it was like visiting an old grand good great friend. As I began to walk through the galleries, I was again astounded by being in rooms full of works by artists from Gauguin to Van Gogh, before making my way to the Modern Art Wing.

I recall now that it was the weather that drove us away from Chicago to move to Los Angeles in 1986, as much as it was the lure of the fictions in our heads about Los Angeles and California in general. During my time in Chicago’s program, I spent untold hours in the school’s cinematique, in its private film screening rooms, and in its auditorium, which also screened films to students for free back then.  I noticed that one of the Chicago filmmakers works from that era were being screened during my visit this time to the museum. I smiled as I realized the museum was recognizing one of the school’s film faculty from years long gone by. Yet the artist being featured in this Chicago museum’s video gallery was yet another superstar LA Artist, John Baldessari, who now has a career retrospective on at the Metropolitan museum of Art.

i wrote an extensive review of Baldessari’s career in an earlier post entitled John Baldessari, the painter who turned to Conceptual Art returns. The other main reason for us moving to Los Angeles, was that we had just lived in Brooklyn, and had been blitzed by New York’s artworld with art ideas and so much amazing energy, yet New York at that time for us and many others was uninhabitable because the quality of life was so poor in those days. Now of course New York City is a dream city – with Mayor Bloomberg calling New York “the luxury city.” What used to be terrifying neighborhoods are now just cool historic names of places to hang out in, like Hells Kitchen, the Bowery – which has transformed itself from being the lowest of the low to being the Coolest of the Cool , with the nearby Lower East Side art galleries making it New York City’s newest destination to see art. I recall that I had begun reading the Los Angeles Times on Sundays, so that mean I was reading Chicago’s papers, the New York Times, and the LA Times to keep up with developments in LA’s then promising new art scene. At that time the Getty Museum was just in formation,  the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art had just opened its Grand avenue downtown building when we moved into LA. There was much excitement about this as well as the planned dance gallery. (Note – I have written at length about this in my post entitled Three Billionaires walk into an LA Art Museum. That post is also on the Rubell Family Collection’s website .) I recall having a one-on-one public conversation with Leon Golub, who was also an alumnus of the school. I said to him and to the audience in the auditorium that LA seemed like an exciting new possibility to be an artist. He said that from what I had described about what was happening there did seem to show that LA would be an interesting alternative to the then overwhelmingly dominant New York artworld scene. Of course I had no idea that as early as 1990, that there would begin to be a buzz about the LA Artworld that would continue to grow into a thunder-clap.  Twenty five years after moving to LA, with thirteen years since I went to graduate school in the mid-1990’s at Art Center College of Design, where I studied with Mike Kelly, Stephen Prina, Chris Williams, Liz Larner, Jack Goldstein and theorist/musician and former member of Art & Language Mayo Thompson and theorist/painter Jeremy Gilbert Rolfe and theorist Sylvere Lotringer (who brought the major French theorists to America), LA has been catapulted into the top ranks of art production cities on the planet. This to me remains a virtual miracle considering the lack of art world infrastructure as compared to New York and Berlin, the other white-hot city for artists to live and work in today.

Sculpture in the Modern Art Wing

Charlie Ray's "Hinoku" in the Modern Art Wing

Chicago born Charles Ray “Charlie Ray” is one of the most important artists working in Los Angeles today. I knew about the work from its being shown in LA prior to it becoming a key work in Chicago’s contemporary Conceptual Art collections. How the work came into being is well-known in artworld circles, and is described quite poetically on a wall text. Ray found a felled tree that he decided to have fabricated as a sculpture. Ten years later the Japanese craftsmen who carved the work were done with their end of the bargain, and the Charley Ray sculpture was born. In this instance and in many others like it, Charlie Ray, a Conceptual Artist in Los Angeles, worked in the role of the Artist as Producer. When this mode of production is motion, the artist delegates creative tasks to others who are often specialists in fields as disparate as sign painting and car painting to furniture and cabinet makers. By working in this way, artists are able to produce works of art that no one person could produce because of the degree of skill required to be in control of in so many areas. Ultimately the Artist as Producer is more like a chief architect who causes everyone from structural engineers to project architects and designers to combine forces to create every major building project in the world today. This is why artists such as Jeff Koons have over a hundred persons in their studios, from engineers and scientists to craftsmen and studio artists. What has happened because of this is that there is often a higher regard given to works made in this way than by works made by an artist working alone in their studio. This is especially the case with artists who are not trained to work Conceptually. This bias is greatest in the Los Angeles artworld, less so in New York City, where there is not only a market for painting that is not influenced by Critical Theory, but there remain historic art programs that still teach 19th century European painting and drawing techniques.

Robert Overby's Concrete Steel Doors, 1970 sculpture in the Modern Art Wing. I enjoyed being impressed by the sheer weight and mass of this work, which seemed to recall the most primal elements of humanity, while at once feeling as if were a part of our everyday contemporary life.

John Baldessari video of him reading Sol Lewitt, Modern Art Wing. I smiled when I saw this work, mostly because it reminded me of how when I was a student in the Art Institute there were faculty members who were completely against Appropriation Art and any other bogus art coming out of that city. Of course as we all well now know, Conceptual ART has taken control of the US Artworld and the International Artworld, no different from the was Abstract Expressionism came to dominate New York by the end of the 1950's.

Sculptor George Segal's Couple on a Bed in the Modern Art Wing.

Solitare, a 1943 painting by Balthus

Magritte's 1938 painting Time Transfixed

Henri Matisse's Bather's by a River, 1909-1917. The painting is 8.5 x 12 feet in size.

I was glad to get to see this work, especially as it is a seminal painting in Matisse’s career. Matisse himself considered this to be one of the five most pivotal paintings in his career. The Matisse exhibition used this work to showcase the transformations that occurred in Matisse’s aesthetic inventions. Every time I think of Matisse I am reminded of what one of my theory professors said to us: Duchamp had won the art ideas war of the 20th century, having defeated Matisse and the idea of pure painting. Conceptual art has a stranglehold on the Artworld, and painting is derided, even if it has a huge market in New York and Europe. Conceptual Art is the indisputable most advanced form of art, and I see now that the Los Angeles Artworld has held to this in a way that is remarkably similar to the way New York advanced Abstract Expressionism over all other art forms, when it was New York’s turn to take control of the world stage for art the first time, after some three hundred years of control by Paris. What is different now than when I was a student in Chicago, is that instead of all the Chicago students taking their degree and immediately moving to New York, those of them who can pass through the eye of the needle and be accepted into one of the major art schools in LA, move here with the greatest expectations of career and stardom I’ve ever seen in an art student in this country. The world really has changed this time.

"Henri Matisse painting Bathers by a River, May 13, 1913. Photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn. Courtesy of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester"

Matisse's 1909 watercolor sketch of Bather's by a River

Matisse on a ladder in his studio - painting Bather's on a River

“In preparation for this Matisse exhibition, art conservators removed old varnish and inpainting from Bathers to unearth a phenomenal surprise.  Some areas which were considered damaged were instead areas in which Matisse scratched, scraped and incised this

Henri Matisse painting Bathers by a River, May 13, 1913. Photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn.

transformative work.  These “modern methods of construction”, as Matisse labelled them, had been virtually obscured, and marked a radical departure from the European notion of smooth painted canvases lacking any trace of brushwork. Instead, Matisse’s paintings in this era show him exploring and finding form on canvas as he worked, leaving a brushwork trail of reworked areas.

Matisse initially started Bathers by the River in 1909 at the request of Russian businessman Sergei Shchukin.  This patron, whose collection of famous paintings by Matisse would later form the core of the Hermitage’s extensive collection, had earlier commissioned two Matisse paintings, Dance and Music, to hang in his Moscow home. Shchukin wanted a third art painting for his home, but rejected Matisse’s initial conception for Bathers; it shows a 1909 naturalistic watercolor of five nude woman, two of whom were bathing in a waterfall.  Shchukin’s rejection may have spurred Matisse to experimentation — in doing so, he revolutionized the history of painting.”


Bathers,” we now know, was Matisse’s sketchbook of sorts. He painted it and repainted it, stripped areas of it bare and painted them again. And all the layers tell stories.

Matisse never sold the painting after his commission fell through. It stayed in his studio and, as D’Alessandro says, “it became the thing that he experimented on, for which he devised what we call in our show the ‘methods of modern construction.'”

“By scraping back his own surface layer of paint to reveal under layers, Matisse began to inscribe his creative methods into his finished art.”

Chicago Tribune, 3.20.10

A cubist portrait

A Brancusi sculpture of a head

A German Expressionist picture

A massive Picasso Madonna and Child painting from 1921

A 1924 painting by the architect Le Corbusier titled Still Life filled with space

A Max Beckmann self-portrait

An all business Max Beckmann self-portrait. I once heard that when he taught at Washington U. in St. Louis, he would snatch the brush from student’s fingers, then with the brush he would say “Like that!” as he laid down a stroke of paint.

Brancusi's "White Negress"


Griffin corridor connecting the main museum with the Modern Art Wing

There was a survey of LA Artist Richard Hawkins in the Modern Art Wing when I visited it a few weeks ago. I had missed Hawkins last show in LA, being busy with my own projects, so I was happy to catch this spirited survey of what he’s been up to recently. I was most seduced by his doll house sized sculptures, which contain images and texts that are to scale versions of what was on view in the museum’s galleries. Each of the doll houses had a magical, fantastic quality to then that truly fulfilled a need in me for fantasy and dreams.

Richard Hawkins Bordello on rue St. Lazare

LA Artist Richard Hawkins sculpture

Richard Hawkins survey

Fox & Obel is a great gourmet market in Chicago

Fox & OBel in Chicago - a gourmet paradise

Fox & Obel has seven kings of prosciutto, mango liquorice and much more

Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles.


El Chubasco, Los Angeles (2010) by Vincent Johnson

Koreatown Los Angeles restaurant (with images of political figures)(2010) by Vincent Johnson

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