25 March 2007

powers & the power of art

This month's bookclub selection is Three farmers on their way to a dance by Richard Powers, published about 20 years ago but suggested by Daniel who is reading Powers's newest novel. Three farmers has been occasionally confusing but wonderful. The section on Sarah Bernhardt, directly on Bernhardt, was especially great as have been several sections as I near the end. Here's a quote for you:

"I prefer walking to any other means of getting from A to B. It's a perversity on my part, pure and simple, but I enjoy the feeling of even the smallest, ten-cent errand taking up twenty dollars of my prorated time." (p. 261)

Talk about a different way to say "stop and smell the roses." Of course in New York City it is sometimes faster to walk but then that's just a bit more perversity that NYC spreads about.

That quote is from a section entitled "The cheap and accessible print" which is really a post-Walter essay on the photograph and whether it is more or less real than life. I might just have to take Illuminations with me to Kansas City so I can finally read the "mechanical reproduction" essay by Benjamin. Peter's trip to the catacombs with the bums of Paris is also extraordinarily good.

It wasn't the day I thought I'd have. After an expensive grocery shopping trip in the Bronx (the answer to the unasked question is "yes"), I decided I needed some art and went to the Guggenheim to see the Spanish show. It closes before I get back from Kansas City. It really had some wonderful paintings and not as many dogs as I'd been warned about. There were at least three still life paintings by Juan van der Hamen (signature: Banderamen), a couple of which had "sweets." In one, the cubic sweets looked suspiciously like Rice Krispie Treats. Who knew that RKTs were around in the early 17th century? Great portraits by El Greco, Velázquez, Zurbarán (St Isabel of Portugal), Sánchez Coello (is that Meryl Streep?), Goya. Some of the formulaic portraits had a strangely surrealist look, e.g., the Pantoja de la Cruz portrait of Don Felipe and Doña Ana. I remember having discussions in high school art class about what was Spanish in Spanish art. One of the Sánchez Cotán vegetable still lifes had little wings on the cardoon that Bosch could have painted. And a really wonderful early Picasso "Green bowl and black bottle" (1908, in the Hermitage) that was painted as the shapes were beginning to break up in the cubist melée. The last (or first) painting was the wonderful "Agnus Dei" by Zurbarán from the Prado. The painting was as alone on its wall as the shackled lamb is in the painting.

24 March 2007

jankowski, opton, levy, harris, morell

Lots of good art out there. After a few hours in the office working on various things and not finetuning my VRA paper, I went out to do the galleries. One of the emails I got was from Lynda Bunting about a Terence Koh article and the footer mentioned that Maccarone was now at 630 Greenwich Street and that they had a Christian Jankowski show. Since that was the destination furthest South, I went there first. They've been in their new space for less than four weeks. After a grubby (but groovy) Canal Street space, they are now in a swanky and quite fine southern West Village space. The Jankowski pieces didn't move as many I've seen but the paintings in back were good. The female sculpture in the front was special too, lovely drapery.

Next up were several galleries at 511 West 25th, probably my current favorite building. The Suzanne Opton photos at Peter Hay Halpert are extraordinary. I'd seen pictures and read about them, most compellingly by Thomas Micchelli in The Brooklyn rail. The photos on display were the larger size. The faces are like wax or plastic at that dimension. I hadn't expected that transformation. The serenity is such a contrast with their soldiering, I guess. On to A.I.R. with its 7th Biennial. There was Mary Ann Ramer, friend of Charles and Don who, as it happens, said she, are about to arrive in NYC for a bit of opera. Since I'm leaving on Monday for VRA, it's not likely that I'll see them. Sigh. The last time Don was down I was just leaving for somewhere. They're pretty intense with their opera viewing but I did run into them once at the Whitney.

Then the Carrie Levy photos at Daniel Cooney Fine Art. Wow. One of her bigger projects, including a book, was 51 months about her father and his prison term. Since prison is too hot a term with me, that made the photos which were from other series even more compelling. For some words about Levy and her photos, including a reproduction of the wonderful "Untitled, (Impaired)" (2005-06), go to http://dcfa.blogspot.com/2007_03_01_archive.html. The subjects of the photos are always facing away or have their head buried in something. When I went to find you the reader something about Levy's show, I happened on Cooney's blog which is quite fine and has a lovely list of art and other blogs that look pretty interesting.

Next up, photos of mudcaked Bibles by Terri Garland at Klotz. Also some of the Bibles found in waterlogged churches in New Orleans. Mitchell Algus had a show of op art paintings by Roy Colmer (horizontal stripes with hazy vertical color fields adding to the OPtical effect), described as TV interference in the press release. Downstairs, George Billis was showing Richard Orient beach scapes: lovely. In the back room was the muddy-colored painting of a room with the corner of a bed and a red-striped pillow by Kenny Harris. Only $1250. Seeing something like that, and I've seen it before and dreamed of owning it, almost makes me cry since I stupidly have been back in Sonny's grip and probably spent almost that much as his ATM in the past 5 or 6 weeks. No painting by Harris, no new laptop. Just tears and regret. The Sonny saga does, of course, however intensify the relevance of Levy's 51 months.

Down the street a ways to Clamp Art. The show in front didn't do much for me but there were some lovely photos by George Daniell and others in the back space. Florence Lynch had works by Carol Ferraris, including an interesting video "Osamu." Cuningham had Joan Snyder; the drawings and other works on paper at Alexandre Gallery in late 2004 is still my favorite Snyder show.

The Dotty Attie show at P.P.O.W. was delightful.

Getting sated but the Abelardo Morell show was still on the list. His camera obscura works at Danziger Projects are extraordinary. The camera obscura image is superimposed on an interior so you get a sort of double exposure with the interior right side up and the camera obscura image upside down ... though of course right side and upside down are relative terms. When I talked to Rachel a couple hours later, she mentioned that "Abe" had done a work at the Eastman House: an installation from the garden into a darkened room with the people walking around in the garden upside down.

I figured it was worth going on to the 600 block of West 27th and I was rewarded by the Althea Thauberger show at John Connelly Presents. It's pictures of young men, not totally sexy but going there. Each photo is accompanied by a story about how the young man is having trouble with life and either is or isn't getting it together. The video, in glorious black-and-white, was a melancholy exploration of suicide and stopping it, reaching consensus and not. The characters in the video are called protagonists which increases the drama. With the Sonny crap at a peak, the getting together of life is especially poignant.

So here I am at the office, trying to avoid being home so that I can't hear the phone ring with "pick up, pick up, I know you're there." So my Gemini life continues: part delightful, part not so.

Friday night was a magical concert of Steve Reich's "Music for 18 musicians" and "Music for pieces of wood" at Columbia's Miller Theatre by So Percussion and guests. Wow. Wonderful.

And I didn't even mention -- yet -- that last weekend was spent in Los Angeles. I went for a meeting on Monday at the Getty about Cataloging cultural objects. The meeting was good, appropriately mountaintop-ish. I stayed with Steve Ong (Ed Armstrong's "widow") in Silver Lake. We had a good visit and it was good to speak of Ed who died about a couple months ago. We also had fish tacos at Sharky's in Redondo Beach and drove through Culver City though the galleries were closed on Sunday. I did meander a bit around the gallery district in Chinatown and went to the American West show at LACMA. Unfortunately, the "Wack!" show at the Geffen was closed on Tuesday. And Steve took me to Disney Concert Hall for a Paul Jacobs concert. The hall is fantastic. Jacobs is pretty wonderful, flashy. And I got to sit in "Ed's" seat which would have made Ed happy according to Steve.

And Monday morning I leave for Kansas City for VRA.

13 March 2007

3rd & 3rd

Another of "my" buildings has been sighted. Some years ago in one of my early wanderings of the territory between Park Slope and Red Hook, I happened across a wonderful building standing rather solo in a sea of lower industrial buildings. It stands at the corner of Third Avenue and 3rd Street in (what?) Gowanus. It is almost like a pattern book for neoclassical ornament. Now, Laura Raskin explains it in "Birth of the concrete jungle" in the March 2007 issue of The Brooklyn rail. The building was the headquarters of the New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company Building and may represent the earliest extant example of concrete construction in the U.S. The concrete has been faced with brick but there is talk of restoring it. Unfortunately (or not), the rest of the block is owned by Whole Foods Market which tells you something about the neighborhood. Raskin starts her article in a wonderful way: To love New York City is to fall for concrete and steel.

The same issue of The Brooklyn rail had a review of Suzanne Opton's "Soldier" show at Peter Hay Halpert Fine Art. I have seen other stuff about the show or her work but haven't seen the show. The illustrations are very compelling though: head shots of young soldiers, with the head resting on a plain hard surface. Yes, rather like on the guillotine or scene of martyrdom. The expression on the face of "Claxton, 120 days in Afghanistan" is still. As Thomas Micchelli says in his review: These are the same soft, warm cheeks that are shredded into bloody rags, the same eyes and skulls that are pierced by snipers' bullets and lacerated by shrapnel day after hellish day of Bush's criminal war. Add context, and this exhibition is stomach churning. http://brooklynrail.org/ (current issue not yet on site)

04 March 2007

booklovers unite!

Booklovers unite! You have nothing to (ab)use but your books! Today's essay at the back of the New York times book review is "Confessions of a book abuser" by Ben Schott. He talks about how he (ab)uses his own modern books. The illustration is eight stages in laundering Lady Chatterley's lover by D.H. Lawrence. He talks about marginalia and how valuable it is when it is. He doesn't however condone highlighting and tells an amusing story of someone who used a toxic highlighter and lost the important sentences, leaving only the irrelevant stuff.

Page 98 bookclub -- http://artcataloging.net/page98/page98cover.html -- is getting back together next week. We've not been meeting since last March because .... well, we just ran out of steam. Now we're regathering because we like each other and we like talking about books, sometimes the same one, sometimes not. Strangely, it was last March 5th when we last met. No assignment this time: we'll just talk about the book we most enjoyed in the last few months. We'll meet on the first Mondays of the month until it gets back into our thought-streams. My most memorable book was probably The story of the night by Colm Toibin. It's set in Buenos Aires and has a real sense of place.