Amitava Kumar, “The Black Foam of the Newspapers” (March 2019), ink and gouache on newsprint and cardboard, 8.75 x 4.5 inches (courtesy of the artist)
I grew up in India hearing about Mahatma Gandhi and when I think about myths it is his bald, bespectacled head that comes to mind. This is not to suggest that Gandhi, a bamboo staff in hand, stands at the mouth of the dark cave where all falsehood is stored. No, what I want to convey is my early sense that there are people and events that achieve a certain fictionality. Stories become attached to them. As a writer, this aspect of life is of great interest to me. What is even more fascinating is the way in which other stories take root in the shadow of the mythical figure. Here’s a fragment from a report that I read in a magazine about the aftermath of Gandhi’s assassination on January 30, 1948. It is a story that is so good that I haven’t tried very hard to find out whether it is true or not; when I first read this account 15 or 20 years ago, I copied and pasted it in the pages of my writing journal:
But that was then. In the wake of the Trump presidency and, more generally, the emergence of social media as a breeding ground for all kinds of falsehoods, the writer in me stands challenged. Where is the truth? How to distinguish fiction from malicious and destructive fake news?
In India, with the rise of right-wing Hindu ideology and the dominance of Narendra Modi’s party at the center, it has become fairly routine to encounter lies about minorities. Such lies have had lethal consequences, especially for Muslims and Dalits (people belonging to lower castes, some of them still considered untouchable by their compatriots). Fake news circulated through doctored videos on WhatsApp and Facebook have led to lynchings and riots. In these circumstances, even the laughable attempts by state functionaries to share mythologies, extremely suspect ones at that, take on a very dangerous aspect. These myths function to remove any rational basis for truth; instead, they promote blind faith and a vulnerability to rumors. I began this piece by talking about Gandhi’s goat; let me end by another example from the animal kingdom. On his retirement from the Rajasthan High Court last year, a judge in India said that the peacock, the national bird, was “pious.” The judge described the peacock as a lifelong celibate creature. Instead of mating with the peahen, the learned judge said, the peacock sheds tears. The peahen gets pregnant by swallowing the tears of the peacock. It was for this divine reason that Lord Krishna wore a peacock’s feather on his head.
“A Temporality,” Mongolia Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019; interactive sound performance by Mongolian throat singers and Alva Noto (photo: Namuun Batbileg)
VENICE, Italy — There are thousands of artworks by hundreds of artists in and around the Venice Biennale, in the main exhibition, May You Live in Interesting Times, curated by Ralph Rugoff, in the national pavilions in the Giardini and dispersed throughout the city, in the many collateral exhibitions, and any number of other important shows.
It is easy to feel inundated, beleaguered, and rushed; it is much harder to feel enthralled and changed, challenged and stopped in one’s tracks. Rather than trying to sum up the big picture in Venice, I’ll focus on what, for me, were the four most riveting shows. Coincidentally, each of them prominently features music.
But first an observation: It has long become routine to decry the Biennale’s system of national pavilions, dating to 1895, as an outdated relic from a bygone era. One beneficial aspect, however, of this system is how it puts countries that typically receive scant art world attention on something of a par with countries that most certainly do. Which brings me to Iceland (population about 338,000), Lithuania (population about 2.8 million), and Mongolia (population about 3 million), whose adventurous art scenes, for whatever reasons, often don’t register all that much internationally.
There are no Icelandic artists in May You Live in Interesting Times, but that’s hardly surprising; Icelandic artists are rarely in such shows. There are no Mongolian artists as well — again hardly surprising. There is one Lithuanian — Augustus Serapinas — which is surprising, since a quick check reveals that no Lithuanians were in the last three curated Biennale shows. One could easily do such number crunching on many other countries and come up with similar figures. By way of comparison, a hefty 16 (by my count) out of 79 artists or collaborative artist pairs in Rugoff’s show are Americans.
The Icelandic pavilion in the wonderful, non-touristy (if that’s possible in Venice) neighborhood of Giudecca is an absolute revelation. Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, who also goes by the name Shoplifter, derived from the frequent mispronunciation of her first name by non-Icelanders, created an immersive, intensely colorful indoor cave, or rather a sequence of three caves, entirely out of multicolored synthetic hair, lighting, and a mesmerizing, remixed soundscape by the Icelandic cult metal band Ham, who also performed a rousing concert during the opening party.
Titled Chromo Sapiens, the installation’s synthetic hair, made of plastic fibers, and seemingly growing on the walls and ceiling, is a real nature/culture hybrid, evoking natural, lava-like structures as well as burgeoning plants, moss, and animal hides.
Enter the space and you are immediately engulfed by colors, textures, and sound; you’re in a spectacular, color-saturated elsewhere — an enormous, three-dimensional painting sans paint.
It is best to dispense with words and rational thoughts and instead to open yourself up to the pulsating colors and sound waves. It is best to be in this exhibition, comprehensively, for a good long while, not just to look at it, but to respond to it physically and emotionally.
Although Arnardóttir’s scintillating installation is hardly about Iceland, it sure seems the case that she has channeled her remarkable volcanic homeland into the work. Hers is a mind-bending indoor version of an exultant outdoor experience.
The first part of the three-cave sequence, named Primal Opus, features mostly dark, earthy tones. The mood is subdued and contemplative. You feel transported but also uncertain in the dim lighting. You hear the droning sound of Ham’s music but also feel it physically, on your skin, in your nerves and veins.
The middle section, Astral Gloria, is an ecstatic mesh of iridescent, neon colors — hot pinks, purples, reds, yellows, blues, and lime greens. The multicolored synthetic hair courses down the walls, flows and spreads across the domed ceiling (suggesting both a cave and a cathedral), and clusters into artificial stalactites and stalactites.
You can lie on a synthetic hair-covered platform, wowed by the chromatic splendor overhead; it’s a bit like being on drugs without the drugs. This multi-sensory show (touching is fine) feels wondrous, generous, nutritive, and thrilling.
In these anxious, maddening times it is hardly surprising that there are so many angst-ridden, issue-oriented works in Venice. Arnardóttir’s optical, visceral, and sonic work is entirely different. It does not comment on pressing matters out there, but instead offers a transformative and fundamentally joyful experience right here.
The final cave, Opium Natura, is covered with strands in various shades of white that flow down the walls and spread like a mist across the ceiling. They mix with soft pastels: yellow washes, fuzzy reddish-pinks, subtle touches of purple and blue. You can see exactly how this near-beatific effect was accomplished, but it remains magical and breathtaking. After the raucous, carnivalesque excitation of the middle cave, this section is tranquil and soothing, frankly sublime. What Arnardóttir has achieved with mere synthetic hair is a total marvel.
“A Temporality,” Mongolia Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019; interactive sound performance by Mongolian throat singers and Alva Noto (photo: Namuun Batbileg)
The grotto-like Mongolian pavilion is just a short walk from the Arsenale’s entrance, but once you enter it, it feels worlds away; like the Icelandic pavilion, music is also essential here. Looming in the semi-darkness are sizable biomorphic sculptures by Jantsankhorol Erdenebayar (Jantsa) made of black polyurethane foam, some illuminated by red lighting. Eventful surfaces with encrusted tubes, bulbous forms, ridges, and indentations feel distinctly organic.
But the big news here is the collaboration, titled A Temporality, between four Mongolian throat singers (N. Ashit, Kh. Damdin, A. Undarmaa, D. Davaasuren) and renowned German artist and musician Carsten Nicolai, aka Alva Noto, interacting with the artist’s sculptures. (The performance is available to subsequent visitors as a sound recording.)
I was fortunate to be in attendance for the live performance. With no announcements and nothing smacking of officialdom or ceremony, Nicolai began performing his signature minimalist electronica on his laptop and various gear. Dispersed throughout the crowd, and sometimes right next to the sculptures, the four throat singers — expert practitioners of the ancient technique characterized by singing multiple notes simultaneously — joined in. Nicolai’s electronica, mixed with this physical, bodily music and its deeply spiritual connection to nature, yielded an alternately swelling and receding, meditative, at times guttural, sonic environment. All around me people were rapturously swaying, often with eyes closed. The 45-minute or so performance, echoing across the sculptures and through the labyrinthine old building, was transfixing.
The Lithuanian pavilion, in the out-of-the-way Marina Militare, deservedly won the Golden Lion for best pavilion of all. For Sun & Sea (Marina) the filmmaker/director Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, writer/poet Vaiva Grainytė, and artist/composer Lina Lapelytė created an indoor beach complete with lounging bathers; all wearing unobtrusive microphones, they are the singers in a lovely, but deeply unnerving, opera. You climb several flights of stairs to a balcony and gather around the railing to survey the scene far below.
The performers of all ages — a child, teenagers, young adults, and much older adults — recline on towels, fiddle with their smart phones, read books; they are languid vacationers on a curiously unstuck and isolated beach which could be pretty much anywhere. A child scampers about. Couples converse, or remain silent. Recorded music — austere and repetitive yet lyrical and emotive — mixes with songs sung live.
The libretto voices the private thoughts of these vacationers, some mundane, like a request for more sunscreen (“Hand it here, I need to rub my legs…Cause later they’ll peel and crack”) and others alarming (“Acidy waves/Ivory foam/Rocking the boats full of canned goods, tourists, fruits, and weapons”). A woman sings her distress over vacationers who have sullied the beach with their spilled beer, scraps of smoked fish, dog shit, and a champagne cork. This truncated, indoor, artificial beach is emblematic of the world that we have so grossly polluted and damaged.
Another woman, billed as a “wealthy mommy,” brings a gigantic load of class-based privilege with her to this beach. She notes all the oceans her young son has already seen as if they are trophies, and enthuses about drinking a piña colada at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, oblivious that the reef is dying due to climate change. A workaholic then frets about taking a vacation and what other people think about him, while worrying that his “suppressed emotions” will burst forth “like lava.”
There are warnings of deadly undertows and descriptions of an environment in which “everything is out of joint,” with “frost and snow” in early May and “buds and mushrooms” in the winter. The vacationers also seem intensely vulnerable. They are trying to relax in the midst of a nagging malaise. The final chorus is a coolly shattering invocation of impending environmental catastrophe:
THIS YEAR THE SEA IS AS GREEN AS A FOREST:
BOTANICAL GARDENS ARE FLOURISHING IN THE SEA—
THE WATER BLOOMS.
Joan Jonas, “Moving Off the Land II” (2019), Ocean Space, Chiesa di San Lorenzo; “Moving Off the Land II” was commissioned by TBA21–Academy and co-produced with Luma Foundation (photo: Enrico Fiorese)
I unfortunately arrived in Venice one day late for Joan Jonas’s performance but was engrossed by her installation Moving Off the Land II in the newly opened Ocean Space, which now inhabits the former Church of San Lorenzo. This novel venue is an intiative of TBA21-Academy, part of Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21), founded byFrancesca Thyssen-Bornemisza in 2002. TBA21-Academy is a pioneering organization focusing on a confluence of ocean studies, art, science, and environmentalism. Jonas’s installation is the inaugural exhibition in the new space.
Drawings of sea creatures, including one with the outline of a sperm whale, hang on the scaffolding — left intact by Jonas — from the church’s renovation; it’s accompanied by an atmospheric sound piece incorporating the communicative clicks of sperm whales. Other drawings, done in Jonas’s signature, rudimentary style, are suspended overhead on wires. Reflective panels, made in Venice of famous Murano glass, lean against a wall; some have a rippling, watery look.
Jonas’s five videos mix footage of her performance Moving Off the Land (2016-present) with footage taken in aquariums, Jamaica, and Nova Scotia. Displayed in special viewing booths, they are completely absorbing. Seeded with ocean references from texts by T.S. Eliot, Rachel Carson, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, and others, while exploring nautical myths like mermaids, they show the artist and several children (and a prominent white dog) interacting with a variety of sea creatures, and the sea itself.
“We all come from the sea,” Jonas announces in one video, “and we have memories of it, in our minds, in our bodies.” In one sequence, Jonas (wearing a dress) glides underwater as if she’s part sea creature herself, totally at home in the ocean. In another, essentially a video of a video, seals arc through the water. When they pass by Jonas, she reaches to touch their images, at once caressing and propelling them on their way. This is utterly lovely.
The sea creatures in the videos are independent, sentient beings that warrant respect. They also look wonderful. An orange jellyfish, filling much of the screen and framed on either side by Jonas in eccentric white garb and one of her co-performers, also wearing white, is downright resplendent; the same goes for other bioluminescent life forms. We learn that some fish like to be petted and have much better memories than we would expect. And captive octopi, a great deal smarter than we would normally suppose, often lift the lids off their tanks to escape.
So much has gone so terribly wrong because of the increasingly perilous fantasy that we are the lords and masters of our 4.5-billion-year-old planet. Jonas’s vision is the exact opposite; not human exceptionalism and domination but partnership with the living world, including the oceans. Her thoughtful, supremely poetic, deeply felt multimedia exhibition — so relevant in this watery city already severely impacted by climate change — is a treasure in Venice.
Fairfield Porter, “Untitled [standing nude]” (1969-70), oil on gessoed canvas board, 10 x 8 inches (all photos courtesy Betty Cuningham Gallery, New York)Fairfield Porter’s turning point as a painter crops up in every account of his life. In the early 1950s, while his close friend Willem de Kooning was painting the Women series, critic Clement Greenberg remarked that, “You can’t paint that way anymore. You can’t paint figuratively today.” Porter reacted with irritation and resolve: “I thought, ‘If that’s what [Greenberg] says, I will do exactly what he says I can’t do.’ I might have become an abstract painter except for that [remark].”
Fairfield Porter: Amherst and Other Places, which wraps up today at Betty Cuningham Gallery, reminds the visitor how Porter, even in the 1960s and early ‘70s, calmly and insistently rejected critical expectations.
In hindsight, it is rather too easy to side with Porter-the-artist against Clement Greenberg, the critic-as-blowhard, in what sounds like a burst of rebellion. Yet alongside his art, Porter’s nuanced and overlooked art writing projects a radical theme: namely, that artists ought to roundly reject the arrogant cultural assumption — voiced by Greenberg and still in vogue today — that art represents, and therefore serves, history, defined as a purposeful march away from the backward past toward a progressive future.
In debunking this entrenched premise, Porter writes that much art criticism, as well as art school manifestos and other statements, amount to “a call for a following – a slogan demanding allegiance” adding that “[art] criticism is so much influenced by politics that it imitates the technique of a totalitarian party on the way to power.”
Perhaps Porter’s inherited cultural authority inoculated him against this naïve American assumption that aesthetics and history lead to social progress. He was born in 1907 in Winnetka, Illinois, a place he dubbed the “Scarsdale of Chicago.” His family was so well-off that he inherited Great Spruce Head Island off the coast of Maine. He studied at Harvard, and later, The Art Students League; he traveled throughout Europe in the 1920s and 30s. An avowed atheist and early prophet of humanity’s ecological suicide, Porter read Alfred North Whitehead and Leon Trotsky with equal enthusiasm. In the 1930s, he got involved with The Rebel Arts Center and edited the socialist magazine Arise.
Fairfield Porter, “Untitled [still life with bottle]” (1969-70), oil on gessoed panel, 12 x 9 inchesAs an aspiring artist, though, he converted to poetic still life, portraiture, and landscape after seeing Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard exhibited at The Art Institute of Chicago in 1938. Though Porter preserved an intellectual and geographical distance from downtown New York’s art world factionalism, he honed his craft for decades by paying attention to Modernists of all stripes, even learning tricks from younger peers like Wolf Kahn and Jane Freilicher. John Bernard Myers, co-founder of Tibor de Nagy Gallery, gave Porter his first New York exhibition in 1951, sight unseen, based on the recommendation of Willem de Kooning. In his memoirs, Myers recalls his dismay on finally seeing Porter’s “low key” and “dark” figurative works, a marked contrast to the bright, boisterous and newly lucrative Abstract Expressionism.
While Porter developed as a painter, he published art reviews in The Nation, Art News, and Art in America. Those critical pieces retain a subtle political significance that suits present-day debates over the role of art, the responsibility of the artist, and the foolishness of political groupthink. As an artist sensitive to the experiment that each new work poses to its maker, Porter writes about art with a therapist’s succinct and scrupulous empathy, delineating how a particular artist deploys her or his idiosyncratic energy. He notes how Alberto Giacometti’s hyper-attenuated figures make the concept of infinity visible and proximate; he dissects how Paul Cézanne’s struggles in capturing contour led to an obsessive-compulsiveness in his practice that evolved into a single-handed renewal of the still-life genre; writing on the art of his friend Elaine de Kooning, he calls her decades-long work in abstraction a limitation on her talent, akin to the artist just “making conversation” before embarking on her breakthrough work in portraiture.
We can only guess what Porter-the-critic might have to say, today, about Porter-the-artist. The selection of late period works at Betty Cuningham reveals how the artist’s gentle lyricism produced disparate signatures. And in these works, as in so much of his output, American loneliness coincides with American leisureliness, often uneasily.
Fairfield Porter, “Untitled (Landscape)” (ca. 1960), ink on paper, 21 x 17 3/4 inches
A series of landscape drawings from 1960 look fevered in their abrupt turns, jagged lines, and rounded loops, while their overall structure preserves the panoramic cool of architectural studies.
Most of the other works were completed while the artist taught at Amherst College in 1969-1970. Small oil paintings on boards and panels look at first glance radically abstract, at least by Porter’s usual standards. On closer inspection, those thick-painted blocks of color suggest realities seen from a foggy distance, or through blurred or just-waking eyes – a tree in a remote field, a nude after her bath, a bottle amid domestic objects randomly positioned on a dining room chair.
In the landscape paintings, a few depicting the grounds of the Amherst campus, such as “Untitled” [Amherst building in snow]” (1969-70), the artist’s trademark attention to changing casts of sunlight, including the radiant, reflective play of fresh snow and autumn colors, create placid harmonies despite deliberately slanted or skewed vantage points.
Fairfield Porter, “Untitled [Amherst College building in snow]” (1969-70), oil on panel, 12 x 9 inchesTo me, one of the most compelling and puzzling aspects of Porter’s art is how, quite often, the human element seems frozen over or inexpressive while architectural features or the natural world evince a visual exuberance and animated depths. It is as if human bodies and faces and general sociability merely supplement the beauty in the nonhuman natural world.
Nowhere is this strange genius — or genius for human estrangement — more on display than in the crisp, meticulous large portrait of the artist’s son, “Jerry” (1955/75). The painting’s completion date is the year Porter died, lending the portrait, in hindsight, an even greater autobiographical significance than its familial subject already grants it.
The sitter is in his late teens. Yet it appears to be a portrait of a young man as a somehow exhausted old man. He stares blankly forward, his lips almost pursed. His formal attire — red and green socks, pale khakis, white shirt, plaid tie — combined with his self-consciously “grown up” pose — right hand pressed to his head while his left hand cups his left leg — lend him the look of a corporate manager bored to death, as if he were listening to an oral report from the legal department.
Fairfield Porter, “Jerry” (1955, 1975), oil on canvas, 62 x 37 inches
The young man’s semi-slouched figure is situated squarely within the trappings of WASP privilege — heavy dining room table, ornate wall embellishments, a sideboard stacked with crisp white cloths. And yet his presence is purely physical, signaling little or no emotion. Only by stepping farther back, can we register how it is paint itself that this painting honors. Porter may have been a covert abstractionist after all.
Within the re-creation of shadow and light, the painting’s surfaces — walls, doorway, floor — ricochet to life in grays, yellows, and browns. These colors shift and elide one another; some seem organized into bands of competing tones as they transect and bisect the portrait’s almost suffocating stillness.
And in “Jerry,” Porter has once again scored a low-key visual symphony, one that unites the colors of human flesh to its mixed furnishings, lit here and there by unexpected light, an always tentative light cast into interiors so secure and so sequestered that their inhabitants seem to ask, as if from out of the silence or glazed expressions, is this, really, all that the American pursuit of happiness provides?
Tosa Mitsuoki, “Murasaki Shikibu Composing ‘The Tale of Genji’” (detail, 17th century, Edo period), hanging scroll; ink and color on silk; image: 35 5/8 × 20 3/4 inches; overall with mounting: 66 9/16 × 26 7/16 inches; overall with knobs: 66 9/16 × 28 9/16 inches; lent by Ishiyamadera Temple (photo courtesy Ishiyamadera; image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
The Tale of Genji. A Japanese Classic Illuminated, the first major loan exhibition in North America devoted to this famous Japanese book, includes more than 120 works — paintings, calligraphy, silk robes, wedding robes, and some modern popular art. The Tale of Genji, created about a thousand years ago, was the world’s first novel. Its author, Murasaki Shikibu, a woman of high privilege, wrote in vernacular Japanese. She also knew Chinese, an unusual skill for a woman in her culture.
Enormously long, 1155 pages in the Arthur Waley translation, Genji was often interpreted by visual artists. Within the novel, there are numerous descriptions of pictures, but it would be a heroic exercise to reconstruct them because the earliest illustrations, handscrolls illustrating only a small portion of the text, date from mid-12th century.
However, most of the works on display date from at least 500 years after the novel, around 1650, when printing was developed and the text became much more accessible. Many of these paintings depict scenes in the novel, but some, like a 17th-century scroll by Tosa Mitsuoki, depict the author, Murasaki. And some others present Buddhist doctrines.
In some ways, Murasaki’s Japan was not entirely unlike some Western cultures. As a woman, she can’t, so she says, discuss politics. And so she shows a court that rules, but not the activity of ruling itself. Her courtiers are interested in perfumes, dream interpretation, poetry, music, and gardens; snobbish aesthetes, they are fascinated by male and female beauty. And like the English, they use umbrellas. The lower classes are generally in evidence only as servants. These courtiers are much concerned with religious rituals, and some of them are monks and nuns.
But since they are Buddhists, the names and nature of their ceremonies are in need of exegesis. Sometimes Genji, the eponymous hero, a handsome prince, seems spiritually akin to the aristocrats in Saint-Simon’s account of Louis XIV’s French court or, indeed, to the men in Louis Auchincloss’s novels of 20th-century Americans.
But the Japanese garments and interiors depicted in these visual works are very unlike those from European or American culture. One gets the sense of a self-confident world, closed off to most outside influences. In an exhibition of French images covering the same period, dramatic visual changes would be obvious. The stylistic development from medieval to the classicism of Nicolas Poussin and on to modernism would make it easy to date the representations. Here, however, such changes in style are not obvious. In Japan, the catalogue says, aesthetic innovation was not of prime importance.
Kyō-Kano School, “The Safflower (Suetsumuhana)” from “The Tale of Genji” (detail, mid-17th century, Edo period); Scroll 3 from a set of three handscrolls; ink, color, and gold on paper, 13 15/16 × 89 inches; Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Photography Collection, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations (photo courtesy The New York Public Library; image courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
Many of the very beautiful images in the exhibition can be appreciated aesthetically, without knowing Japanese culture. And seeing the opaque clouds, the blown-off roofs that allow us to look into interiors, and the golden backgrounds, it’s easy to understand why, in the 19th century, Japanese art spoke to Western modernists. It’s easy to admire the marvelous six-panel folding screen from the late 16th century, “Genji in Exile at Suma,” in which a solitary messenger, like a figure in a Caspar David Friedrich painting, who is coming to see Genji, seated in the distance on the far right. Or to appreciate the marvelously strange calligraphy by Konoe Nobotada (1565-1614), written over an abstract landscape.
But many of the pictures are puzzling, simply because it isn’t obvious what is going on. How, for example, can you fully appreciate the magnificent 14th or 15th century image of Genji in a carriage without knowing why the hero is in an ox-drawn cart?
Typically these paintings show tiny figures, often floating in a flattened space, without perspective. Who are they and what are they doing? To answer these questions just looking doesn’t suffice; you need to consult the novel. And the calligraphy raises more difficult interpretative problems. Mursaki’s characters are judged by the qualities of their handwriting, by their ability to write poems and draw, and for their connoisseur’s interest in fine papers. To fully appreciate this art, I imagine that you would need to fluently read and write Japanese. Indeed, that language has changed so much that even native speakers nowadays need a translation to read Genji. If we cannot read and write the language, we are often in the dark.
But sometimes we can learn by walking around the museum. Puzzling over how to understand this display, I went to another show at the Met, The Decorated Word: Writing and Picturing in Islamic Calligraphy (April 8 – November 3, 2019). Like the Japanese, Muslims are much concerned with writing. But where most of the writing in the Genji exhibition presents Mursaki’s fictional narrative, Islamic sacred calligraphy presents the words of the Qur’an, as communicated by God to Mohammed, an acute difference. And of course, in European old master visual art, handwriting is relatively unimportant.
Although these comparisons, in the end, didn’t help me understand this exhibition, they did provide a useful demonstration of interpretative problems. One important goal of the art museum is to bring art that is historically or geographically distant closer to our experience. The curator of an exhibition devoted to illustrations of the Bible might reasonably assume that the Met audience would have a general familiarity with the text. But unless you have read The Tale of Genji and know something about Japanese art, you are unlikely to understand the art here, which leads to the question of how much context a museum should provide.
Some people prefer to focus on the art, without the distractions of labels. Here, however, the paucity of such useful background information left this great visual exhibition drastically undermotivated. On the day I visited the Met’s most popular show — Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll, which was downstairs — it was so crowded that getting in the door was all but impossible. New York audiences generally know about guitars, but when it comes to old master Japanese art we really need instruction. Even when the Met was crowded, this show was not. Would the exhibition be better attended were the art made more accessible? I would like to think so.
What I dream of, but hardly ever find, are inexpensive exhibition catalogues with interpretative essays for the general reader. For The Tale of Genji, however, we have a massive, gorgeous, and, needless to say, expensive presentation with essays by seven specialists talking among themselves. For me, the most instructive section was the short appendix by Akazawa Mari discussing the Japanese residential architecture depicted in these images. A lost opportunity, for sure.
Note: My earlier related review is “The Millenium of The Tale of Genji, The Museum of Kyoto,” ArtUS, 24/24 (Fall-Winter, 2008): 17.
The Tale of Genji. A Japanese Classic Illuminated continues at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 5th Ave, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through June 16.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Booth Cottage in Glencoe, Illinois (All images courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy)
An architectural landmark in a suburb of Chicago designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright is in danger of demolition. The Booth Cottage, located in Glencoe, Illinois was recently sold to new owners for half its $1 million asking price. A Freedom of Information Act Request, ordered by the nonprofits Landmarks Illinois and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, shows that the new owners filed for a demolition permit just two weeks after purchasing the property.
The three-bedroom cottage was built in 1913 as a temporary housing unit for Wright’s friend and attorney Sherman Booth and his wife, while a larger unit the architect designed for them was being built on another street in Glencoe. After the couple moved into their permanent residence in 1916, the Booths relocated the temporary cottage from 201 Franklin Road to 239 Franklin Street, where it still stands today. The cottage is representative of Wright’s early Usonian style in its flat roof, banded windows, and strong horizontal lines.
Wright designed 1,000 structures in his lifetime, 500 of which were realized. About 100 of the structure were lost over time to decay, demolitions, and natural disasters. Last year, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Lockridge Medical Clinic building in Whitefish, Montana was demolished despite the conservancy’s best efforts to preserve it. Similarly, the Carr House in Michigan was demolished in 2004.
Interior view of the Booth Cottage
The cottage was first sold in 1956 to Meyer and Doris Rudoff, who left the building to their daughter after their death. In 1996, it was declared an honorary landmark by the Village of Glencoe, but that veneration does not prevent new owners from tearing down the house, as it remains a private property. The structure stood neglected for decades until it went on the market again in Fall 2017.
“We were hoping to [help] find preservation-minded owners,” Barbara Gordon, Executive Director of Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, told Hyperallergic in a phone conversation. According to Gordon, the conservancy aided the realtor on finding a mindful new owner. The mutually-agreed high asking price of $1 million, she said, was meant to deter regular developers from buying and repurposing the property. “That kept people away for a while,” she said, but the plan failed when a new real estate agent took over and accepted a $555,000 offer on the house.
The conservancy also prepared detailed re-use studies that would allow building a larger structure without harming the Booth Cottage. The studies were shared with the realtor and the sellers, including alternative plans on how to carefully relocate the house.
Prior to the recent sale, Landmarks Illinois realized the risk of demolition and included the Booth Cottage on its 2019 Most Endangered Historic Places list. In that report, the site explained why it was considered “endangered,” saying: “The home is unprotected. The current owner is looking to sell the house and, due to its small size, it is likely new owners would demolish the house to build a larger one on the property. The house has already received tear-down offers.”
The demolition permit has not yet been approved. If granted, a 180-day demolition delay period will be triggered due to the home’s honorary landmark status. During that period, Gordon hopes to dissuade the buyer from flattening the house. Public records do not disclose the buyer’s name, but a clause in the sale contract compels the buyer to convene with the community to discuss the houses’ honorary status.
“We really want to meet with the owners and talk about how you incorporate the building in a larger home on the lot, or if they don’t intend to make that happen, allowing time to find a third-time party to take the house,” Gordon said. “But without strong protections, it’s hard to enact anything legal.”
My studio is located in my home, which was designed in 1960 by modernist architect Woodie Garber. It feels like a fortress and a spaceship. My studio has a wall of glass that looks out onto a laughing Buddha statue under a maple tree in the front atrium. It’s nice to see nature and to get a dose of levity while I work. Currently, I am working on a 59-panel painting-in-the-round titled “Wonderwheel,” which will show in July. The paintings are based on theories of quantum physics and Eastern teachings on consciousness. The paintings depict suburban neighborhoods, semi-automatic weapons, nuclear development facilities, and oil refineries, among many other images that blend together into one endless landscape. I paint in oil and use gold leaf in my work. Most of the imagery in my work is drawn from photos I take from a helicopter. Working on 59 separate painted panels simultaneously isn’t easy and this installation is by far the most ambitious artwork I have attempted. I paint every day and meticulously clean the studio every morning before I start working, making sure to organize my tubes of paint on the wall according to shade- one rack for blue, one for yellow, and one for red.
I share the studio space with my children when they want to create and love the benefit of working in my pajamas and receiving the occasional thumbs up from a delivery person who spots me working through the glass.
Although I am a Boston based artist I am currently in Venice, Italy, and this is my little corner of space that I share with 12 other people and my particular room is shared with two other artists. In this picture, I have several paintings at various stages of completion, and one messy table covered with all of my supplies. Enjoy being surrounded by many other fellow artist who can give suggestions and lend a hand if needed, it is a good little community to work within.
There is no easel, I have never used one. I paint on a large open space on the concrete floor. This is ample room to work on up to three 15-foot canvases at a time. Currently two paintings are in progress. I have always worked on the flat, having been mainly a printmaker and papermaker for decades. Multiple works in progress let me work on another while one or two more dry.
Unseen, behind the camera, is a 16-foot-tall roll-up door which, weather permitting, I open for ventilation and northern light. The entire studio is a 1600-square-foot warehouse.
To your right you can see a portion of the eight-foot-deep metal storage racks for the completed paintings. I roll two to three paintings per 6-inch by 8-inch tube. Farther from the camera on the right is the stacked and stored paper mill. When I run out of canvas and paper, I make more paper. I won’t need to make paper for another couple years, as I have more than two thousand sheets of 22-inch by 30-inch heavyweight, handmade paper.
The bright vertical rectangle on the far end leads to the clean studio and editing room.
In my painting practice I commit time to extensive reading at home, then I visually animate these religious and culturally significant themes in the studio. Whether the inspiration comes from Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell, I enter my space with a contextual plan baring heavy philosophical and spiritual investment onto my work. That being said, materially, my practice is in contrast to the contemplative fashion just stated — I just need my easel and a canvas to produce my language. What is born out of this combination however is a marriage between Fauvism and archetypal imagery.
I am a fine artist. The photo shows a view of my studio. It shows a range of works that I have been developing through oil paintings, charcoal drawings and experimental usage of tar. The concept of my work, take concerns within the representation of the Afro-Caribbean identity, within the context of a post colonial setting. My work is a discourse on black representation within canonical art by means of traditional painting techniques and the allegorical meaning that goes into composing images and creating narratives. Simultaneously, I am using drawings to create future relics by portraying Black faces as monuments by means of an aesthetic that enables them to radiate a sculptural affect.
Virginia Zabriskie in her gallery in the late 1960s or early ’70s, on Madison Avenue. Sculpture by Saul Baizerman, drawing on the left by George Ault (image courtesy Zabriskie Gallery, photographer unknown)
When I began working at Zabriskie Gallery in 1985, my knowledge of 20th-century art and the mechanisms of the market was wholly informal, the product of time spent in museums and galleries and in the company of artists. When I left the gallery four years later, I had a contract for a book on avant-garde art exhibitions and was able to support that project as a private dealer. My education, and transformation, was the result of time spent with Virginia Zabriskie, who passed away at her home in New York on May 7. One of the many important, and undersung, women art dealers of the post-war period, she had created and run two galleries over close to 60 years, one in New York (1954–2010) and the other in Paris (1977–1998).
An event critical to my education occurred soon after I arrived at her gallery on Fifth Avenue just below 57th Street. I was speaking with a client about a watercolor by William Zorach, unaware that Virginia was listening. Just after the client left, she pulled me aside and emphatically stated that she never again wanted to hear me talk about a work that I did not fully know about. And by ‘know’ Virginia meant really knowing — knowledge of the artist and the art historical period, and about that particular piece, its role within the artist’s oeuvre, its provenance, its medium and condition, and its artistic interest. She emphasized the importance of research and of serious thought, reconnecting me with the academic life that I had left a few years before. Of course this same attitude also applied to exhibitions, most notably the significant historical shows that were the product of so much of the gallery’s collective effort. For Virginia, it was important that every exhibition in the gallery should be based on a coherent and worthwhile idea, not merely an assembling of objects united by a superficial theme.
Virginia Zabriskie (photo by Mark Woods, 1996)
Surveying the gallery’s history, it is noteworthy just how much it was driven by Virginia’s developing interests and distinctive sensibility, rather than by the exigencies of the market. Beginning in 1954 with exhibitions of contemporary artists such as Pat Adams and Lester Johnson, by 1957 she also was showing important historical material, with an emerging focus on American modernism. Exhibitions of sculpture began to appear more frequently in the ’60s, with the gallery program continuing to combine the contemporary and the historical, works by Mary Frank and Richard Stankiewicz being shown alongside those of Elie Nadelman and Alexander Archipenko. With the opening of the Paris gallery in 1977, Virginia’s interest in contemporary and modernist photography became a major focus of her activity, eventually leading her to Surrealist photographs. She discovered Man Ray, who united the American modernism from which she had come and the French avant-garde to which she had moved. And from Surrealist objects by Man Ray and others she was led to Nouveau Réalisme. But Virginia did not jettison the old as she developed these new interests, for the gallery’s business and its exhibition program were cumulative, and things hung together in a striking way.
Virginia Zabriskie at Galerie Zabriskie in Paris where she had a gallery on Rue Aubry-le-Boucher for 20 years. Zabriskie (left) with two photographers greeting each other, Ilse Bing and Berenice Abbott, at the Bernie Savage show Portrait from the Twenties, paired with photos by Raoul Hausmann (May 22–June 30, 1979) (image courtesy Zabriskie Gallery, photo by Paul Maurer)
Left to right: Aaron Siskind, Virginia Zabriskie, Hans Namath, Jessica Cusick (1977-78) at Aaron Siskind show at Galerie Zabriskie, Paris (image courtesy Zabriskie Gallery, photographer unknown)
Virginia’s discerning eye yielded beautiful exhibitions. It was impressive to see her install a show, orchestrating the display according to both immediate response and lessons learned over many years (“always place the biggest piece first”). In a period of larger and larger galleries Virginia found herself increasingly drawn to small spaces, like the room she built at 724 Fifth Avenue in the mid-’80s. She used to say that in her old age she wanted a gallery just that size, which could change from a warm but austere setting for Nadelman’s “The Four Seasons” to a jewel box holding Ruth Nivola’s delicate adornments.
When I first came to Zabriskie I was perplexed by the range of art in the gallery, from Ken Snelson sculptures to Brassai photographs to drawings by Yasuo Kuniyoshi. But after living with exhibition after exhibition, and ferrying things in and out of the back room, I came to see that this disparate work made sense as gathered together by a unique sensibility. Virginia’s sensibility was difficult to characterize, but the works to which she was drawn seemed to exemplify a kind of romantic conceptualism — some more romantic and some more conceptual — in which flights of aesthetic fancy emerge from a base of substantial ideation. The perfect place to see this was in Virginia’s art-filled apartment, which so elegantly condensed the history of the gallery and of her own life in art.
Virginia with the artist Lester Johnson (1954–55) (image courtesy Zabriskie Gallery, photographer unknown)
Walking through Virginia’s home was to see much more than a series of gallery moments, for it was to experience a gathering of people who formed a kind of family. From youthful work to historical gems by George Ault or Theodore Roszak, so much of this art was connected to people still to be found at gallery openings or parties at the apartment, where dinner companions might include Gordon Parks or Lucas Samaras. And those of us who had become part of this group — artists, collectors, writers, friends from student years or Art Table meetings, former employees — would happily run into one another at other galleries or museums or art fairs.
Visiting museums with Virginia was unforgettable, and most notable were our trips to the Art Institute of Chicago, a mandatory stop each year when we attended — but never exhibited at — the Chicago Art Fair. (Virginia disliked art fairs, but she would relent when the Art Dealers Association began its own fair at the Park Avenue Armory.) Although she often had been to the Art Institute, each visit was like going there with her for the first time, so alive was she to the work, so engaged and observant. And I always was struck by just how appreciative Virginia was of these experiences, and how aware of the gift that it is to have your life revolve around art and artists. She once told me that the most important reason to purchase art is to support living artists, despite so much of her business depending on historical works. When Virginia said that art is long, she was not speaking as a conservative bemoaning the fast take and ephemeral artist-of-the-moment, but as someone who truly felt the connection between current artistic practice and what had gone before.
Virginia Zabriskie at her desk, early ’60s on Madison Avenue (image courtesy Zabriskie Gallery, photographer unknown)
It was at the Chicago Art Fair that a chain of events began that was among the most interesting of my years with the gallery. In Carl Solway’s booth we came upon a piece by Allan Kaprow consisting of a display of neckties from which you were invited to take one away. Virginia mentioned that she was a college friend of Allan’s, and I suggested that we do a show with him. So when she ran into him at the Venice Biennale, she asked him to speak with me about an exhibition. In that subsequent conversation Allan said that he did not exhibit objects anymore, but he offered a more exciting possibility. He proposed to come work for us for a while — as he put it, as a “stock boy” — being paid the going rate and doing everything that someone in that position ordinarily would do. So, for some weeks in the fall of 1986, Allan Kaprow was our gallery assistant and backroom helper, manning the front desk and getting lunch, moving sculpture and hanging shows. Of course there were major double-takes as people came in and realized who was sitting at the reception desk. And as we installed an exhibition, we talked about his own artistic practice, and about happenings and Fluxus and the ideas of John Cage, whose New School class on experimental composition he had attended. Allan prompted my own writing on Cage and Fluxus, and it has continued to inform my research. (I also should note that Allan was an extraordinarily efficient gallery assistant, brilliant in retrieving our lunch and dispensing exact change.)
Virginia Zabriskie receiving an award, La Medaille de la Ville de Paris, from the Mayor of Paris on January 3, 1999. Ceremony at the Hotel de Ville, Paris. (image courtesy Zabriskie Gallery, photographer unknown)
I mention these experiences because they are so characteristic of what being at Zabriskie meant for me, from the interaction with the fascinating people who turned up all of the time, to the way in which working at the gallery stimulated my own development. It was amazing to speak regularly with curators, critics, collectors, and artists about the work they visited Zabriskie to see, from stunning exhibitions like Surrealism 1936 to an individual Arp sculpture or Claude Cahun object. And as a result of those conversations I gained the confidence to write about art. As important as anything were my discussions with Virginia herself, who despite her extensive knowledge always claimed that she was not a scholar and needed others to read for her. Since I often was her designated reader we talked frequently about her developing interests, such as Nouveau Réalisme, or about new research on old concerns. It became increasingly clear to me that Virginia’s métier was ideas, or, more accurately, the visual realization of ideas.
Virginia often mentioned that she had to succeed as an art dealer because with her disabilities she could not get any other job. (She suffered from dystonia, a neurological disorder that troubled her speech and dexterity.) While it is unlikely that a woman of her will and intelligence would fail in anything she set out to do, there was some truth to her remark. For it is difficult to imagine Virginia having done anything else. Her passion for art and for artists, her tenacity in pursuit of particular works, and the pleasure that she took in conceptualizing and mounting exhibitions, all of this was as essential to Virginia as was her formidable energy. Rooted in the gallery practice of an earlier era, this remarkable woman prefigured in a unique way central features of our current art world, producing curatorially driven exhibitions and combining the historical and the contemporary in an international gallery program.
The Louvre, in partnership with with the apartment-sharing company Airbnb, will offer private tours inside the museum during hours when it is normally closed in a move to attract more Parisian locals to the galleries.
One of France’s biggest attractions is also the world’s most visited museum. More than 10 million people enter the Louvre every year, the majority of whom are tourists. In recent years, the museum has attempted to rebuild its relationship with city residents who feel overwhelmed by the outsized crowds. Earlier this year, the Louvre ended its free Sundays, which were popular with foreign tourists, in favor of free Saturdays once a month. The museum has also introduced family-friendly events in the evenings.
The upcoming two-hour tours are limited to just 15 people and will be held one Tuesday morning and afternoon per month from September through the end of the year. Tickets cost €30 (~$33.60). The concept for the tours came from a previous event sponsored by AirBnB that selected a pair of winners to spend a sleepover in the museum — complete with a personal tour and dinner alongside the “Venus de Milo” last month. Along with this program, Airbnb is also sponsoring a series of evening concerts organized by the French musician Clara Luciani in support of the Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. Tickets cost €20 (~$22.40) and the first concert occurred last week; five more evenings are scheduled from June to September.
Such programs are innovative for the Louvre’s usual retinue of events, yet the programming was made public in a relatively hushed way. Airbnb quietly posted a press release onto its website, written only in French, announcing the collaboration. Emmanuel Marill, the French president of the company, said in the statement: “Through these experiments, we wish to give [Parisians] the opportunity to reclaim the museum and rediscover it in a more authentic and intimate way. We share with the Louvre this desire to make art and heritage accessible to all.”
One possible reason for the hushed release: Parisians aren’t all that fond of the apartment-sharing behemoth. Like most European countries, the French have struggled to regulate home-sharing websites like Airbnb as the hotel industry clamors to compete. Complaints of tourist-driven gentrification have echoed from Lisbon to Barcelona, Berlin, and Paris — and many activists have blamed the home-listing website for leading the charge by encouraging serial renters and landlords who can earn more money with tourists than normal tenants. Over 30 major cities around the world are investigating Airbnb’s effect on urban centers, even as the company has launched a vigorous international lobbying effort on the home-listing industry’s behalf.
In 2018, France passed a law regulating apartment-listing websites like Airbnb. Under the rule, homeowners can only conduct short-term rentals for 120 days in a year. Advertisements must include a registration number to help ensure properties are not rented out for longer. This past February, Paris sued Airbnb for violating the law and publishing 1,000 illegal rental ads, which could cost the American rental website more than 12.5 million euros ($14 million).
With around 65,000 homes listed on its website, Paris is Airbnb’s largest single market. The Louvre partnership simply extends that relationship into the cultural sphere.
From “Beauty” by ContraPoints (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)
Some of the most intriguing nonfiction film work being done today isn’t coming out in any theater or on a dedicated VOD platform, but on video sharing websites. The latest installment in our ongoing biweekly column on the best recent web documentaries is heavy on shorts about video games, reflecting the close relationship between YouTube and gaming. But I made sure to also highlight films about subjects as wide-ranging as watercolor restoration, sushi, and cultural perceptions of beauty.
“How Master Sushi Chef Seiji Kumagawa Uses Modern Technology to Upgrade his Hawai’i Omakase” by Eater
How Master Sushi Chef Seiji Kumagawa Uses Modern Technology to Upgrade his Hawai'i Omakase — Omakase - YouTube
Sushi-making is steeped heavily in tradition, with a proper way to perform even the most minor tasks. This is a fascinating look at how one chef finds ways to accomplish the same steps in the process in a drastically shortened time with the help of household gadgets. This video’s best moment: using a handheld massager to knead octopus.
“Telltale: The Human Stories Behind The Games” by Noclip
Telltale: The Human Stories Behind The Games - YouTube
Telltale Games revitalized the point-and-click adventure game genre in the 21st century, and found success with titles like its adaptation of The Walking Dead. But last year the studio abruptly fired 90% of its employees, and then later closed. Through interviews with several former Telltale workers, Noclip dissects the developer’s design and business models, and how it ultimately fell apart.
“The Internet is a Dangerous Place and Survival is Very Important and Difficult and I believe in you” by GoldVision
The Internet is a Dangerous Place and Survival is Very Important and Difficult and I believe in you - YouTube
The channel GoldVision has been streaming video games in a steadfastly pacifist mode, even in violent titles like Grand Theft Auto. This compilation video presents clips from his adventures in various games, all set to meditative music. The result turns the landscapes of these games into something entrancingly, almost inexplicably, beautiful and peaceful.
“Conserving Gilliéron’s Watercolors” by The Met
Conserving Gilliéron’s Watercolors - YouTube
In less than four minutes, this video captures the process through which restorers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art prepared three pieces by Émile Gilliéron for display in the new exhibition Watercolors of the Acropolis. Using unobtrusive subtitles in lieu of explanatory narration, the video tracks the watercolors (kept in storage for over 70 years) as they are brought back into pristine condition.
“TIMING — The 12 Principles of Animation” by New Frame Plus
TIMING - The 12 Principles of Animation - New Frame Plus - YouTube
There are multiple tutorials and explanatory videos out there about the storied 12 principles of animation. (Here’s a good introductory piece from last year.) This one focuses on a single principle: timing, specifically as it relates to character animation in video games. Since games are based heavily on feedback with players, this concept is particularly important for them. This video demonstrates not just the practical effects of different timing styles, but also how the speed of animation can help set the tone or theme of a game.
“How Aladdin Changed Animation (by Screwing Over Robin Williams)” by Lindsay Ellis
How Aladdin Changed Animation (by Screwing Over Robin Williams) - YouTube
The release of the live-action remake of Disney’s Aladdin makes for a good excuse to look back at a major point of contention around the 1992 original. Aladdin was the first animated film to make a celebrity star a major point of its marketing — today a widespread practice for studio cartoons. At the time, however, building the movie’s advertising around Robin Williams’s Genie character went against the contract Disney had signed with Williams. Ellis goes into the story behind Williams’s involvement in the film, and looks at it as a case study in how the bottom line usually trumps ethical conduct in the movie business.
“How Localizing Return of the Obra Dinn Nearly Sunk the Game” by Ars Technica
How Localizing Return of the Obra Dinn Nearly Sunk the Game | War Stories | Ars Technica - YouTube
Return of the Obra Dinn is a mystery game built around ascertaining what happened to the deceased crew of a ghost ship. For example, you can figure out that one character was knifed by another. But what happens when you have to translate the game into another language which doesn’t have a verb like “knifed”? In this video, designer Lucas Pope explains the process through which he ensured his game would make sense in every language.
“Beauty” by ContraPoints
Beauty | ContraPoints - YouTube
Natalie Wynn makes some of the most well-produced and humorous videos of any indie YouTube creator, concentrating on various political and cultural subjects. Here, in the wake of undergoing facial feminization surgery, she reflects on standards of beauty and her relationship to them. Wynn approaches this specifically from the point of view of a trans woman, but expands the idea to the point where anyone can consider their own perception of themselves and others within this realm.
If you have a recommendation for a video to feature in this series, or want to submit your own video for consideration, please don’t hesitate to reach out to email@example.com.
Two Dutch Golden Age paintings will be returned to the family of art collector Jacob Lierens. Lierens was a 20th-century Jewish businessman who was detained by the Nazis. Pieces of his collection were acquired by Adolf Hitler’s art hunter, Hans Posse. The paintings to be returned are “Banquet Scene with Musicians and Shuffle Board Players in an Interior” (1628) by Dirck Francoisz Hals and “Still Life with Glass, Glass Stand and Musical Instruments” (17th century) by Jan Davidsz de Heem.
A painting of beloved cartoon buffoon Spongebob Squarepants by the artist KAWS sold for $5,955,000 at Phillips Auction House’s Evening Sale of 20th Century & Contemporary Art on May 16, more than seven times its estimated value. The sale brought in a total of $99,932,750, a number buoyed by sales of paintings by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cy Twombly, and Willem de Kooning. De Kooning and Basquiat topped the lots, with their pieces “Untitled XVI” (1976) and “Self Portrait” (1983) selling for $10,268,000 and $9,500,000, respectively. The sale also set new auction records for the artists Tomoo Gokita, Nicolas Party, and Dana Schutz.
KAWS, “The Walk Home,” (2012), (image courtesy Phillips)
Phillips’ Photographs Sale auction in London on May 16 brought in £1,849,188 (~$2,340,877) across 163 lots. Man Ray’s “La Prière” commanded $100,000 price tag while Annie Leibovitz’s portrait, “Queen Elizabeth II, The White Drawing Room, Buckingham Palace, London” is still up for grabs.
Christie’s New York American Art auction in New York on May 22 brought in $32,668,750 on the steam of sales like Marsden Hartley’s “Abstraction” (1912-13) for $6,744,500 and Norman Rockwell’s “Homecoming” (1945) for $6,517,500. The auction’s online component raked in another $2,087,250, moving pieces by the likes of Edward Hopper, Edmund Coates, and Harriet Whitney Frishmuth.
Christie’s Latin American Art sale on May 22 and 23 brought $17,483,125. A painting by Remedios Varo, “Simpatía (La rabia del gato)” (1955) went for $3,135,000 and Fernando Botero’s sculpture “Mother and Child” (1990) sold for $1,695,000.
Rembrandt Bugatti’s bronze sculpture of a jaguar, “‘Jaguar Accroupi’, Grand Modèle, Vers 1907” (1907) sold for €826,000 (~$923,840) at Christie’s May 21 Design sale, topping the lots on that auction. Pieces by Diego Giacometti, Jean Goulden, and Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne joined Bugatti’s sculpture near the top of an auction at totaled €4,863,375 (~$5,438,736).
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Day Auction on May 21 moved $105,804,500 worth of art across two sessions. The top two of the bunch were David Hockney’s “Pool and Pink Pole” (1984), which sold for $3,140,000 and Mark Tansey’s “Portage” (1999), auctioned off at $3,080,000. Gracing the bottom of the list? John Davies “Head of a Man” (1988), which went to a lucky buyer for just $1,750.
At the Sotheby’s American Art sale on May 21, Sanford Robinson Gifford’s “A Lake at Twilight” (1861) went for $2,900,000 — more than 15% of the auction’s total $19,021,250 receipt split among 82 other lots.
Sales at Sotheby’s Dreaming in Glass: Masterworks by Tiffany Studios on May 23 topped out at $4,088,250, with “An Important ‘Elaborate Peony’ Floor Lamp” going for $692,000.
Sotheby’s Important Design auction on May 23 captured $16,215,750. Notable pieces sold included François-Xavier Lalanne’s patinnated bronze sculpture of an ape, “Singe Avisé (Grand)” for $2,420,000
The Sotheby’s Master Paintings Collection sale on May 22, which totaled 6,544,375, gave a new home Jan Brueghel the Elder and Hendrick van Balen the Elder’s “The Triumph of Love” (circa 1608) for a $212,500 price tag, as well as a set of six religious figures by Giusto dé Menabuoi, cast in tempera and gold ground on panel, for $375,000.
Sotheby’s 19th Century European Art sale the same day sold another $6,385,000 worth of paintings. The top lot of the bunch was Julius Leblanc Stewart’s “Five O’Clock Tea” (1883-84), which sold for $1,880,000. “Five O’Clock Tea” once hung at Kugler’s Restaurant for Ladies and Gentlemen in Philadelphia.
Barkley L. Hendricks, “J.S.B. III” (1968) (image courtesy PAFA)
Chitra Ganesh, “Delicate Line: Corpse She Was Holding” (2010), (image courtesy PAFA)
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has made several acquisitions to add to their collection in the Furness and Hewitt Historic Landmark Building, including 30 paintings in an exhibition called Eye Contact. Curated by Jodi Throckmorton, the installation’s paintings are all portraits “arranged according to the subject’s gave,” per materials provided by PAFA. That means work like a nude self-portrait by Kukuli Velarde accompanying the enigmatic stare of a man in sunglasses by Barkley L. Hendricks. A set of 11 silkscreen prints by Chitra Ganesh, including “Delicate Line: Corpse She Was Holding” (2010) were also recently acquired and are for sale at PAFA’s Brodsky Center.