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Sep 15
BARELY THERE
After writing earlier this summer about how difficult it is to work successfully at the junction of art and architecture, I came across an installation that does just that: Karolina Kawiaka's Fractured Reflections, currently on display outdoors at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe, Vermont.  Kawiaka, who was trained as both an artist and architect, created the piece “deliberately as a folly.”  But it engages, deeply, concerns of art, architecture, landscape and theater.
The structure cuts an elegant, barely-there, figure in the landscape.   It’s a pavilion five feet wide, eight feet long and eight feet tall, constructed from narrow galvanized steel angles set in a Mondriaan-like grid.  It can be entered through high slots on each of its four sides, and its inside remains open to the sky above and the ground below.  Selected openings in the frame are filled with mirror panels, that capture partial reflections of the lawn, shrubs and trees all around, and of visitors themselves as they move through.  The structure complicates the landscape, weaving fleeting micro-views into a lush, cinematic spectacle.
What’s most remarkable about the piece is how quiet its forms are.  With its platonic, cube-like proportions and skeletal skin, it looks like the diagram of a structure more than a structure itself.  Its materials, which can be found at a lumber yard, give it the feeling of an apparatus rather than an artwork.  And it doesn’t interfere with the ground, touching it only along the bottom edges.  As both an artist and an architect, Kawiaka has an admirably light touch.  Without minimal means, she has fashioned a structure with an fine, complex presence.
“Fractured Reflections” by Karolina Kawiaka. 2014.  Galvanized steel and scrap mirror.  Photograph courtesy of Karolina Kawiaka and the Helen Day Art Center.

BARELY THERE

After writing earlier this summer about how difficult it is to work successfully at the junction of art and architecture, I came across an installation that does just that: Karolina Kawiaka's Fractured Reflections, currently on display outdoors at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe, Vermont.  Kawiaka, who was trained as both an artist and architect, created the piece “deliberately as a folly.”  But it engages, deeply, concerns of art, architecture, landscape and theater.

The structure cuts an elegant, barely-there, figure in the landscape.   It’s a pavilion five feet wide, eight feet long and eight feet tall, constructed from narrow galvanized steel angles set in a Mondriaan-like grid.  It can be entered through high slots on each of its four sides, and its inside remains open to the sky above and the ground below.  Selected openings in the frame are filled with mirror panels, that capture partial reflections of the lawn, shrubs and trees all around, and of visitors themselves as they move through.  The structure complicates the landscape, weaving fleeting micro-views into a lush, cinematic spectacle.

What’s most remarkable about the piece is how quiet its forms are.  With its platonic, cube-like proportions and skeletal skin, it looks like the diagram of a structure more than a structure itself.  Its materials, which can be found at a lumber yard, give it the feeling of an apparatus rather than an artwork.  And it doesn’t interfere with the ground, touching it only along the bottom edges.  As both an artist and an architect, Kawiaka has an admirably light touch.  Without minimal means, she has fashioned a structure with an fine, complex presence.

“Fractured Reflections” by Karolina Kawiaka. 2014.  Galvanized steel and scrap mirror.  Photograph courtesy of Karolina Kawiaka and the Helen Day Art Center.


Sep 14
FALLING MEN
An opinion piece in today’s (September 14, 2014) Times, which describes (and endorses) the way one can fall in love with a work of art, is illustrated with this Gary Winogrand photograph of a man falling off a building.  I was stunned by its uncanny resemblance to The Falling Man, the famous AP photograph of a man falling from the top of the World Trade Center on 9/11.  Both images show the men in virtually the same position: upside down, facing the building, with arms flailing and legs bent.
Of course the context is dramatically different.  Winogrand’s man is a performer, falling off of a low ledge, with three other men dressed as bellhops watching admiringly, and a bin of crushed paper to cushion his landing.  The 9/11 falling man hovers high above the ground, but the striped skin of the Twin Towers behind him is instantly recognizable, and his fate is clear.  Just days after marking another anniversary of the event, seeing Winogrand’s falling man, and reading the lighthearted piece accompanying it, which makes no reference to the other photograph, is chilling.
Winogrand’s photograph also reminds me of Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void.  This photograph, a doctored one, shows the artist taking a swan dive off the roof of a two story stone building onto the empty sidewalk below.  It’s a record of a performance, an elegant and existential (and very, very French) statement about art, death and the futility of human action.  Windogrand’s photo is close in form and spirit to Klein’s.  Both were taken at mid-century, both are black and white, and both show fictional jumps.  But each time I look at Winogrand’s falling man I can only see the 9/11 falling man, who conjures the the violence and sadness of that day.
“New York, 1950s,” by Garry Winogrand.  Credit The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisc.

FALLING MEN

An opinion piece in today’s (September 14, 2014) Times, which describes (and endorses) the way one can fall in love with a work of art, is illustrated with this Gary Winogrand photograph of a man falling off a building.  I was stunned by its uncanny resemblance to The Falling Man, the famous AP photograph of a man falling from the top of the World Trade Center on 9/11.  Both images show the men in virtually the same position: upside down, facing the building, with arms flailing and legs bent.

Of course the context is dramatically different.  Winogrand’s man is a performer, falling off of a low ledge, with three other men dressed as bellhops watching admiringly, and a bin of crushed paper to cushion his landing.  The 9/11 falling man hovers high above the ground, but the striped skin of the Twin Towers behind him is instantly recognizable, and his fate is clear.  Just days after marking another anniversary of the event, seeing Winogrand’s falling man, and reading the lighthearted piece accompanying it, which makes no reference to the other photograph, is chilling.

Winogrand’s photograph also reminds me of Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void.  This photograph, a doctored one, shows the artist taking a swan dive off the roof of a two story stone building onto the empty sidewalk below.  It’s a record of a performance, an elegant and existential (and very, very French) statement about art, death and the futility of human action.  Windogrand’s photo is close in form and spirit to Klein’s.  Both were taken at mid-century, both are black and white, and both show fictional jumps.  But each time I look at Winogrand’s falling man I can only see the 9/11 falling man, who conjures the the violence and sadness of that day.

“New York, 1950s,” by Garry Winogrand. Credit The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisc.


Sep 5
MODERN RELICSWhile its purpose is to track the original furniture from Le Corbusier’s government buildings in Chandigarh, India, Amie Siegel’s film Provenance might be more stirring as a portrait of the buildings themselves, nearly sixty years after they were built.  To set the scene, passages show exteriors and interiors of the Secretariat, Assembly and High Court buildings, which were designed, in the 1950’s, as the heart of the new state capitol.
After decades of heat and rain, and no particular concern for scrubbing them clean, the buildings’ facades are mottled with grit and mold.  Feral monkeys crawl up and down them.  Special piers and partitions that were painted in glossy primary colors, intended as architectural grace notes, are dull.  These ultra-modern buildings have given themselves over to time and to the elements; they have a weathered, ancient cast.
Out of necessity, most of the interior spaces seem to have been overcrowded or repurposed to meet current needs.  Cars are parked in shaded ground floor walkways.  Small offices have been crammed with grey cubicles and padded rolling chairs, and hallways with metal filing cabinets.  The most outstanding feature of the buildings, their brise soleil, the immense concrete screens that block sunlight and break their monstrous, blocks-long facades into deep, dynamic micro-rhythms, have been clotted with window fans, air conditioning units, wire mesh and curtains fashioned from old saris. 
None of this dims the sculptural excitement of the architecture.  One moves inside, through the grilles, into cavernous, multi-story atriums animated with dappled light.  Ramps and stairs carry shuffling government servants through forests of slender columns and beams.  The pan shots Siegel uses throughout the film (hypnotically slow, sliding consistently from left to right) capture the composition of the spaces clearly and also erotically, instilling desire.  These are buildings of considerable beauty.  They’ve lost their luster, and most of their furnishings, but their grandeur remains intact.
Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Amie Siegel (American, b. 1974). Provenance (still), 2013. HD video, color, sound; 40 min., 30 sec..,

MODERN RELICS

While its purpose is to track the original furniture from Le Corbusier’s government buildings in Chandigarh, India, Amie Siegel’s film Provenance might be more stirring as a portrait of the buildings themselves, nearly sixty years after they were built.  To set the scene, passages show exteriors and interiors of the Secretariat, Assembly and High Court buildings, which were designed, in the 1950’s, as the heart of the new state capitol.

After decades of heat and rain, and no particular concern for scrubbing them clean, the buildings’ facades are mottled with grit and mold.  Feral monkeys crawl up and down them.  Special piers and partitions that were painted in glossy primary colors, intended as architectural grace notes, are dull.  These ultra-modern buildings have given themselves over to time and to the elements; they have a weathered, ancient cast.

Out of necessity, most of the interior spaces seem to have been overcrowded or repurposed to meet current needs.  Cars are parked in shaded ground floor walkways.  Small offices have been crammed with grey cubicles and padded rolling chairs, and hallways with metal filing cabinets.  The most outstanding feature of the buildings, their brise soleil, the immense concrete screens that block sunlight and break their monstrous, blocks-long facades into deep, dynamic micro-rhythms, have been clotted with window fans, air conditioning units, wire mesh and curtains fashioned from old saris. 

None of this dims the sculptural excitement of the architecture.  One moves inside, through the grilles, into cavernous, multi-story atriums animated with dappled light.  Ramps and stairs carry shuffling government servants through forests of slender columns and beams.  The pan shots Siegel uses throughout the film (hypnotically slow, sliding consistently from left to right) capture the composition of the spaces clearly and also erotically, instilling desire.  These are buildings of considerable beauty.  They’ve lost their luster, and most of their furnishings, but their grandeur remains intact.

Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Amie Siegel (American, b. 1974). Provenance (still), 2013. HD video, color, sound; 40 min., 30 sec..,


Sep 3
SEATING ARRANGEMENTS
Amie Siegel’s 40-minute art film Provenance traces the history of the simple, wood-framed, leather-cushioned chairs, tables and stools that furnished the capitol buildings of Chandigarh, India in the 1950’s.  They were designed by the buildings’ architects, Le Corbusier and Charles Jeanneret, with mid-century modern stylings that are, today, incredibly fashionable.  The film shows us these pieces (battered, broken, scratched) in place in the government buildings, in the French workshops where they are taken (not without protest) to be restored, and, finally, in the lofts, townhouses and yachts where they land after they are sold through international auction houses, for tens of thousands of dollars each.
As the film’s title implies, the pieces carry considerable aura.  Each one was cataloged in Chandigarh with a unique number that’s hand-painted in a florid script, in white paint, on its side.  During the refinishing process these numbers are preserved to attest to their authenticity.  But after their frames are stripped and stained and their upholstery remade, how “authentic” are they?  Slipper chairs originally covered in orange and blue leather are remade in crushed white linen for a loft in Antwerp and pony-printed cow hide for a house in the Hamptons.  Wouldn’t it be simpler and cheaper (and more ethical, too) to simply reproduce the pieces?
In the movie we see unused chairs and tables in Chandigarh piled, uncovered, in storage spaces and on the roofs of the buildings.  There are couches whose upholstery has been patched with duct tape, chairs whose legs have split and been nailed hastily back together, and tables whose tops are burned from coffee cups.  It’s sad that they’re being spirited away for western collectors. And sadder still that they weren’t treasured by their original owners.
Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Amie Siegel (American, b. 1974). Provenance (still), 2013. HD video, color, sound; 40 min., 30 sec.

SEATING ARRANGEMENTS

Amie Siegel’s 40-minute art film Provenance traces the history of the simple, wood-framed, leather-cushioned chairs, tables and stools that furnished the capitol buildings of Chandigarh, India in the 1950’s.  They were designed by the buildings’ architects, Le Corbusier and Charles Jeanneret, with mid-century modern stylings that are, today, incredibly fashionable.  The film shows us these pieces (battered, broken, scratched) in place in the government buildings, in the French workshops where they are taken (not without protest) to be restored, and, finally, in the lofts, townhouses and yachts where they land after they are sold through international auction houses, for tens of thousands of dollars each.

As the film’s title implies, the pieces carry considerable aura.  Each one was cataloged in Chandigarh with a unique number that’s hand-painted in a florid script, in white paint, on its side.  During the refinishing process these numbers are preserved to attest to their authenticity.  But after their frames are stripped and stained and their upholstery remade, how “authentic” are they?  Slipper chairs originally covered in orange and blue leather are remade in crushed white linen for a loft in Antwerp and pony-printed cow hide for a house in the Hamptons.  Wouldn’t it be simpler and cheaper (and more ethical, too) to simply reproduce the pieces?

In the movie we see unused chairs and tables in Chandigarh piled, uncovered, in storage spaces and on the roofs of the buildings.  There are couches whose upholstery has been patched with duct tape, chairs whose legs have split and been nailed hastily back together, and tables whose tops are burned from coffee cups.  It’s sad that they’re being spirited away for western collectors. And sadder still that they weren’t treasured by their original owners.

Image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Amie Siegel (American, b. 1974). Provenance (still), 2013. HD video, color, sound; 40 min., 30 sec.


Sep 1
SKIN TRADE
What is it that makes underwear dumpy, campy, or sexy?  As I walked through the F.I.T. exhibit Exposed: A History of Lingerie, a survey of womens undergarments from the nineteenth century to the present, it seemed that each of the ensembles fell straight away into one of these three categories.  And the category into which it fell had precious little to do with its vintage, or the amount of flesh it left exposed.
A black corset by Lady Marlene and a satin teddy by Patricia Fieldwalker, both from the 1980’s, and both trimmed in fine black lace, are worlds apart.  The corset is cut classically, with softly swelling curve along the top and bottom, and the teddy is cut dramatically, climbing super-high at the thighs and dipping super-low at the cleavage.  But the teddy feels, somehow, stale, as if it’s trying too hard.  Some pale green silk “caminickers” (a slip with concealed shorts) from 1924, that just skim the hips and breasts, seem infinitely more sophisticated than a bra and briefs from the 1930’s, which fit close to the body and bare the midriff, but are cut from coarse white knits.  A 2006 Agent Provocateur leopard print bra and panty set, elaborately pieced and trimmed with thin black satin ribbon, is terrifically camp, while a giraffe print set by Rudi Gernreich, from forty years earlier, with the simple lines of a bikini bathing suit, seems effortlessly sexy.  It’s those underthings that flatter the figure without constraining it, that allow its shape to show through, that entice.
Rudi Gernreich, “No Bra” and half slip, sheer nylon and printed nylon, ca. 1966, USA.  Collection of the Museum at F.I.T.  Gifts of Mitch Rein.  Photograph courtesy of The Museum at F.I.T.

SKIN TRADE

What is it that makes underwear dumpy, campy, or sexy?  As I walked through the F.I.T. exhibit Exposed: A History of Lingerie, a survey of womens undergarments from the nineteenth century to the present, it seemed that each of the ensembles fell straight away into one of these three categories.  And the category into which it fell had precious little to do with its vintage, or the amount of flesh it left exposed.

A black corset by Lady Marlene and a satin teddy by Patricia Fieldwalker, both from the 1980’s, and both trimmed in fine black lace, are worlds apart.  The corset is cut classically, with softly swelling curve along the top and bottom, and the teddy is cut dramatically, climbing super-high at the thighs and dipping super-low at the cleavage.  But the teddy feels, somehow, stale, as if it’s trying too hard.  Some pale green silk “caminickers” (a slip with concealed shorts) from 1924, that just skim the hips and breasts, seem infinitely more sophisticated than a bra and briefs from the 1930’s, which fit close to the body and bare the midriff, but are cut from coarse white knits.  A 2006 Agent Provocateur leopard print bra and panty set, elaborately pieced and trimmed with thin black satin ribbon, is terrifically camp, while a giraffe print set by Rudi Gernreich, from forty years earlier, with the simple lines of a bikini bathing suit, seems effortlessly sexy.  It’s those underthings that flatter the figure without constraining it, that allow its shape to show through, that entice.


Rudi Gernreich, “No Bra” and half slip, sheer nylon and printed nylon, ca. 1966, USA.  Collection of the Museum at F.I.T.  Gifts of Mitch Rein.  Photograph courtesy of The Museum at F.I.T.


Aug 22
COVER CHARGE
There’s a small exhibit at the Morgan Library of literary documents from the collection of Carter Burden.  It includes first editions, galleys, manuscripts, handwritten letters, and an aerogram, all related to canonical twentieth-century novels.  It’s really a love song to books, assembled at a time when so many of us read and write mostly on screens, and have stopped reading and writing seriously (that is, for anything more than information) at all.  It’s humbling to walk through the gallery and recall what was required to produce a book in times before the computer: the rounds of drafting, typing, printing, revising and proofreading.  Now these steps, and maybe even the act of writing itself, have become frictionless, requiring little physical exertion.
The exhibit also serves as an excellent survey of book cover artwork.  There is The Great Gatsby, with a sly, smiling face in the night sky over East Egg, an image that’s kooky and glamorous, and that remains in use today.  There is the The Sun Also Rises, with a muse in toga and sandals, a romantic figure at odds with the book’s bluntly contemporary narrative and syntax.  And there is Light in August, with a small house on a hill rendered in a deco style that disguises the complex, broken language and souls of the story.
The most audacious cover on display is the one for Saul Bellow’s Herzog. It gives us a heroic, Motherwell-like cloud of black paint hovering on a blank, peacock blue field.  It’s the kind of action painting one would find hanging in a Manhattan psychiatrist’s office in the early 60’s, when the book was first published, and also the kind of ink blot test he might administer.  The image speaks to masculine bravado and the tumult of personal desire, themes appropriate to Bellow’s dense, textured writing and to the novel itself.  The graphic is economic, and uses just three colors, one type face, and one figure.  It’s simple and symphonic.
Photograph courtesy of Viking Press.

COVER CHARGE

There’s a small exhibit at the Morgan Library of literary documents from the collection of Carter Burden.  It includes first editions, galleys, manuscripts, handwritten letters, and an aerogram, all related to canonical twentieth-century novels.  It’s really a love song to books, assembled at a time when so many of us read and write mostly on screens, and have stopped reading and writing seriously (that is, for anything more than information) at all.  It’s humbling to walk through the gallery and recall what was required to produce a book in times before the computer: the rounds of drafting, typing, printing, revising and proofreading.  Now these steps, and maybe even the act of writing itself, have become frictionless, requiring little physical exertion.

The exhibit also serves as an excellent survey of book cover artwork.  There is The Great Gatsby, with a sly, smiling face in the night sky over East Egg, an image that’s kooky and glamorous, and that remains in use today.  There is the The Sun Also Rises, with a muse in toga and sandals, a romantic figure at odds with the book’s bluntly contemporary narrative and syntax.  And there is Light in August, with a small house on a hill rendered in a deco style that disguises the complex, broken language and souls of the story.

The most audacious cover on display is the one for Saul Bellow’s Herzog. It gives us a heroic, Motherwell-like cloud of black paint hovering on a blank, peacock blue field.  It’s the kind of action painting one would find hanging in a Manhattan psychiatrist’s office in the early 60’s, when the book was first published, and also the kind of ink blot test he might administer.  The image speaks to masculine bravado and the tumult of personal desire, themes appropriate to Bellow’s dense, textured writing and to the novel itself.  The graphic is economic, and uses just three colors, one type face, and one figure.  It’s simple and symphonic.

Photograph courtesy of Viking Press.


Aug 19
SO FAR
After finishing Americanah, a novel set in Nigeria, I was starved for another experience of Africa, any experience of Africa.  I began listening to West African-themed playlists online, and one brought me to this album by the late Malian singer and guitarist Ali Farka Touré, Red & Green.  Because I don’t understand the words, the music seems incredibly abstract, built from streams of sound (some tinkling, some swirling, some pulsating) that move forward in endless, gentle surges, so that the compositions don’t begin and end so much as come and go.
Touré, who died in 2006, recorded and toured abroad, but lived his entire adult life in Niafunké, the village where he had grown up. Yet this photograph of him in caftan and trousers, leaning on his acoustic guitar beneath a concrete fence, is profoundly urban.  It has the formality, and rich black and white tones, of studio portraits by Malian photographers Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibe, and also the same sense that the subject is summoning his finest self for the camera.  But the way that Touré’s body, and the entire composition, open so broadly to the left, suggest that the musician is not entirely captured here, that something slips away.
It’s a strongly graphic image, with bold, contrasting patterns: the grid of the fence, the hatching on the caftan, the stripes down the trousers.  These are tied together by a cluster of criss-crossing lines: Toure’s figure sloped right, his guitar tilted left, and the wall falling off to the far left.  Touré wears generic twentieth-century century sandals, trousers and wristwatch, and plays a guitar that looks like one an American folk singer would.  But the scene is clearly African.  There is something about the low slant of the light, the bare ground, and Touré’s inscrutable expression — both remote and joyous — that tells us so.  Here Touré, and Africa too, seem far away.
Photograph courtesy of World Circuit.

SO FAR

After finishing Americanah, a novel set in Nigeria, I was starved for another experience of Africa, any experience of Africa.  I began listening to West African-themed playlists online, and one brought me to this album by the late Malian singer and guitarist Ali Farka Touré, Red & Green.  Because I don’t understand the words, the music seems incredibly abstract, built from streams of sound (some tinkling, some swirling, some pulsating) that move forward in endless, gentle surges, so that the compositions don’t begin and end so much as come and go.

Touré, who died in 2006, recorded and toured abroad, but lived his entire adult life in Niafunké, the village where he had grown up. Yet this photograph of him in caftan and trousers, leaning on his acoustic guitar beneath a concrete fence, is profoundly urban.  It has the formality, and rich black and white tones, of studio portraits by Malian photographers Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibe, and also the same sense that the subject is summoning his finest self for the camera.  But the way that Touré’s body, and the entire composition, open so broadly to the left, suggest that the musician is not entirely captured here, that something slips away.

It’s a strongly graphic image, with bold, contrasting patterns: the grid of the fence, the hatching on the caftan, the stripes down the trousers.  These are tied together by a cluster of criss-crossing lines: Toure’s figure sloped right, his guitar tilted left, and the wall falling off to the far left.  Touré wears generic twentieth-century century sandals, trousers and wristwatch, and plays a guitar that looks like one an American folk singer would.  But the scene is clearly African.  There is something about the low slant of the light, the bare ground, and Touré’s inscrutable expression — both remote and joyous — that tells us so.  Here Touré, and Africa too, seem far away.

Photograph courtesy of World Circuit.


Aug 5
ENGLISH ECCENTRIC
The comic setpiece of Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is the hero’s birth, reenacted by actor Steve Coogan, who writhes anxiously while suspended naked, upside-down, inside a giant, sweating, pink foam womb.  But the movie’s most unforgettable image comes right at the beginning, as an adult Tristram addresses us (that is, the camera) in front of his family home.  Photographed in luscious hues, in the gauzy light of a summer morning, the stately brick house makes an indelible backdrop, one that establishes instantly that we are in Great Britain, centuries ago, and that we are among the landed gentry.
The house (it’s Heydon Hall in Norfolk, England) was built in the late sixteenth century in typical Jacobean fashion, from red brick, with stone accents and a steep tiled roof.  It’s tautly composed, absolutely symmetrical about its center bay, and richly textured, with a storm of ornament.  Its front facade is dressed with so many dormers, windows, entablatures and finials that there is hardly any blank wall at all.  And the ridge of its roof is capped, musically, with a string of elements that are all nearly a story high: a central cupola, two lone chimneys, and, to each side of them, runs of five identical chimneys.  The house is both restrained  and ridiculous, which might also be said of Tristram himself.
Photograph by Steven Brooks.

ENGLISH ECCENTRIC

The comic setpiece of Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story is the hero’s birth, reenacted by actor Steve Coogan, who writhes anxiously while suspended naked, upside-down, inside a giant, sweating, pink foam womb.  But the movie’s most unforgettable image comes right at the beginning, as an adult Tristram addresses us (that is, the camera) in front of his family home.  Photographed in luscious hues, in the gauzy light of a summer morning, the stately brick house makes an indelible backdrop, one that establishes instantly that we are in Great Britain, centuries ago, and that we are among the landed gentry.

The house (it’s Heydon Hall in Norfolk, England) was built in the late sixteenth century in typical Jacobean fashion, from red brick, with stone accents and a steep tiled roof.  It’s tautly composed, absolutely symmetrical about its center bay, and richly textured, with a storm of ornament.  Its front facade is dressed with so many dormers, windows, entablatures and finials that there is hardly any blank wall at all.  And the ridge of its roof is capped, musically, with a string of elements that are all nearly a story high: a central cupola, two lone chimneys, and, to each side of them, runs of five identical chimneys.  The house is both restrained  and ridiculous, which might also be said of Tristram himself.

Photograph by Steven Brooks.


Aug 1
PRETTY UGLY
Sigmar Polke said, “The unforseeable is what turns out to be interesting.”  He might have added, There is no telling what the unforseeable is going to look like; it could be very ugly.    As I walked through the Polke exhibit at MoMA I was bowled over by the passion and energy in the work.  There’s a vitality to every sketch, every canvas and collage, every page of every notebook, on display.  Polke generated ideas feverishly and implemented them with startling immediacy.  Each piece, however small in scale or ambition, looks as if it absolutely had to be made, as if, in it, the artist is searching for something essential.
Of course there’s no covenant that art must be pretty, but it’s something I hope for.  In addition to being  powerful (i.e. carrying indelible emotional impact), and surprising (i.e. exposing something unseen) I expect a great painting or sculpture to be complexly internally balanced, judiciously composed, possessing a deep order, a formal beauty, that stills and silences.
Polke’s work, which is substantial, has something altogether different: an untidy, over-ripe physicality.  He makes collages cluttered with roughly cut magazine clippings, and paintings with arrays of images running across patchworks of printed fabrics.  His is a strange, unglamorous style.  He leaves audacious stretches of a canvas bare, he draws by filling the margins of a page with cartoons, he studs plywood and wire sculptures with little baby potatoes.  The uncensored aesthetic gives his work a highly personal, expressive character.  It’s not ugly, really, because it’s unconcerned with what is beautiful.
Image courtesy of the Estate of Sigmar Polke.

PRETTY UGLY

Sigmar Polke said, “The unforseeable is what turns out to be interesting.”  He might have added, There is no telling what the unforseeable is going to look like; it could be very ugly.    As I walked through the Polke exhibit at MoMA I was bowled over by the passion and energy in the work.  There’s a vitality to every sketch, every canvas and collage, every page of every notebook, on display.  Polke generated ideas feverishly and implemented them with startling immediacy.  Each piece, however small in scale or ambition, looks as if it absolutely had to be made, as if, in it, the artist is searching for something essential.

Of course there’s no covenant that art must be pretty, but it’s something I hope for.  In addition to being  powerful (i.e. carrying indelible emotional impact), and surprising (i.e. exposing something unseen) I expect a great painting or sculpture to be complexly internally balanced, judiciously composed, possessing a deep order, a formal beauty, that stills and silences.

Polke’s work, which is substantial, has something altogether different: an untidy, over-ripe physicality.  He makes collages cluttered with roughly cut magazine clippings, and paintings with arrays of images running across patchworks of printed fabrics.  His is a strange, unglamorous style.  He leaves audacious stretches of a canvas bare, he draws by filling the margins of a page with cartoons, he studs plywood and wire sculptures with little baby potatoes.  The uncensored aesthetic gives his work a highly personal, expressive character.  It’s not ugly, really, because it’s unconcerned with what is beautiful.

Image courtesy of the Estate of Sigmar Polke.


Jul 30
DOTTY
German artist Sigmar Polke, who was active from the early 1960’s right up until his death in 2012, was all over the place.  He started out as a painter, and then moved between that medium and collage, photography, installation, performance, film and even xerox.  His current  restrospective at MoMA honors this eclecticism. At the heart of the exhibit, there are two small rooms that display paintings completed on bedsheets, framed collages, and films projected in endless loops on the walls while their soundtracks (featuring artists like Captain Beefheart) get mixed up with one another.  The work makes a joyful clutter.
Still, there’s something special about Polke’s most restrained work, the dot paintings he completed early in his career.  These canvases reproduce newspaper and magazine images with the benday dot technique, in which our eyes “mix” individually colored dots optically, using dots enlarged to the size of quarters.  Polke’s dot pictures are not slickly graphic, as Lichtenstein’s are.  And they do not  critique representation, as Gerhard Richter’s paintings of newspaper images do.  They are, for the most part, untroubling fantasy images (babes, tropical beaches, portraits of heroic men), set at slightly-off-plumb angles, with strips of canvas left bare, and layered with additional fields of dots that obscure the image without rendering it entirely illegible.
Polke’s dot canvases, which fill one of the exhibit’s first galleries, possess a reassuring rationalism.  Though gritty in execution — rendered with unnatural hues, a grainy surface, and artful smearing — they are highly elegant in their concept and structure.  What follows, the work we see in the remaining galleries, can be understood as a monumental unwinding of this rigor.
Image courtesy of the MoMA and the Estate of Sigmar Polke.

DOTTY

German artist Sigmar Polke, who was active from the early 1960’s right up until his death in 2012, was all over the place.  He started out as a painter, and then moved between that medium and collage, photography, installation, performance, film and even xerox.  His current  restrospective at MoMA honors this eclecticism. At the heart of the exhibit, there are two small rooms that display paintings completed on bedsheets, framed collages, and films projected in endless loops on the walls while their soundtracks (featuring artists like Captain Beefheart) get mixed up with one another.  The work makes a joyful clutter.

Still, there’s something special about Polke’s most restrained work, the dot paintings he completed early in his career.  These canvases reproduce newspaper and magazine images with the benday dot technique, in which our eyes “mix” individually colored dots optically, using dots enlarged to the size of quarters.  Polke’s dot pictures are not slickly graphic, as Lichtenstein’s are.  And they do not  critique representation, as Gerhard Richter’s paintings of newspaper images do.  They are, for the most part, untroubling fantasy images (babes, tropical beaches, portraits of heroic men), set at slightly-off-plumb angles, with strips of canvas left bare, and layered with additional fields of dots that obscure the image without rendering it entirely illegible.

Polke’s dot canvases, which fill one of the exhibit’s first galleries, possess a reassuring rationalism.  Though gritty in execution — rendered with unnatural hues, a grainy surface, and artful smearing — they are highly elegant in their concept and structure.  What follows, the work we see in the remaining galleries, can be understood as a monumental unwinding of this rigor.

Image courtesy of the MoMA and the Estate of Sigmar Polke.


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