d Ruscha’s American flag, which flies proudly on our cover, speaks directly to our tense and divisive political climate. Despite our domestic and international distresses at this moment in history, the issues we face today are continuous with the struggles of those who came before us. No matter how distant the past seems, it permeates the current moment. Art too endures, reaching across boundaries, connecting people, and changing minds. That is part of its elusive power: it forces us to consider our collective histories as a way to engage with the ever changing present. In Sally Mann’s landscapes of Antietam, one of the bloodiest battlefields of the American Civil War, one can feel the stains of bloodshed and the long shadow that the conflict still casts today. Her photographs offer poetic meditations on the dark and disturbing history of the American South that is also her home. When the shock waves of World War II rattled Paris, the center of the art world at the time, artists braced for impact. In this issue we look at Man Ray, and at how, forced to flee his beloved Paris, he ultimately found refuge, and even love, in Los Angeles. Understanding our histories is always fertile ground for artists. In this issue Nobuo Tsuji challenges Takashi Murakami to respond to the masterful work of Soga Sho¯haku, an eighteenth-century artist of Japan’s Edo period. For our rare-book feature we explore how Pablo Picasso paid tribute to Honoré de Balzac’s Chef-d’œuvre inconnu of 1831. More recently, Douglas Gordon used Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic thriller Psycho (1960) as a direct source for his own 24 Hour Psycho Back and Forth and To and Fro (2008), a double-screen projection that slows Hitch’s film down to one frame per half second to allow something entirely new to materialize. In Rome’s grand Villa Medici—a space that has long celebrated the arts, and that is dedicating its entire program, since 2017, to women artists—Katharina Grosse and Tatiana Trouvé will each deploy their own radical spatial interventions while sharing the same historical framework. We have received inspiring feedback from our first year in print and it is thrilling to start off this year by launching our new digital platform! Now we can offer you even more access to behind-the-scenes stories, insights into exhibitions while they are on view, and sneak peeks into what’s next. Lastly, we have also inaugurated our Quarterly Talk Series, which will host talks with artists and writers throughout the year. We hope that by sharing our stories we can grow together toward a more optimistic future. Alison McDonald, Editor-in-chief
32 Spotlight: Richard Serra
86 Calder: Sculpting a Life
A look at Richard Serra’s Rift drawings in anticipation of an upcoming exhibition in London. Text by Neil Cox.
Jed Perl and Alexander S. C. Rower discuss the genesis and significance of the recently published biography of Alexander Calder with Wyatt Allgeier.
66 Nobuo Tsuji vs. Takashi Murakami
Foil Adventures The origins of John Chamberlain’s Foil sculptures, a material the artist began working with as early as the mid-1960s, revealed by Corinna Thierolf.
Nobuo Tsuji challenged Takashi Murakami to a series of “battles” with art history. In this match Murakami responds to the work of Edo artist Soga Sho¯haku.
96 Douglas Gordon Katrina Brown writes on Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho (1993) and subsequent works, touching on threads that run throughout the artist’s career.
102 Trouvé/Grosse Tatiana Trouvé and Katharina Grosse speak with curator Chiara Parisi about their current exhibition at the Villa Medici in Rome.
108 The Lives of the Artists, Part One: The Master of the Prophetic Clouds A short story by Francine Prose.
114 Neil Jenney: Nature Surveyor
The Earth Remembers: Landscape and History in the Work of Sally Mann Drew Gilpin Faust discusses Sally Mann’s photographs from Antietam.
Fred Hoffman explores the quiet stillness and Arcadian wonderment at the heart of the artist’s North American landscape paintings.
Cover: Ed Ruscha, Our Flag, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 70 × 138 inches (177.8 × 350.5 cm). Collection of Jimmy Iovine and Liberty Ross. © Ed Ruscha Top row, left to right: John Chamberlain, frostydickfantasy, 2008, colored aluminum, 130 ⅜ × 208 ¾ × 198 inches (331.2 × 530.2 × 502.9 cm). Artwork © 2018 Fairweather & Fairweather LTD/ Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Rob McKeever
Giuseppe Penone, Idee di pietra – Olmo, 2008 (detail), bronze and river stone, 342 1/2 × 106 ⅜ × 67 inches (870 × 270 × 170 cm). © Giuseppe Penone. Photo by Marcus Veith Bottom row, left to right: Sally Mann, Battlefields, Antietam (Trenches), 2001, gelatin silver print, 38 ⅛ × 48 ¼ inches (96.8 × 122.6 cm). Stephen G. Stein Employee Benefit Trust. © Sally Mann
Glenn Brown, Life on the Moon, 2016, oil on panel, 39 ⅜ × 30 ⅞ inches (100 × 78.5 cm). © Glenn Brown. Photo by Mike Bruce
The story behind the breathtaking sculptural installation by Giuseppe Penone. Text by Susan Ellicott.
Behind the Art: Ideas of Stone
122 Man Ray’s LA
138 In Conversation
Timothy Baum examines a period of transition in the artist’s life.
Calvin Klein in conversation with Derek Blasberg.
128 The Bigger Picture: Free Arts NYC
Meredith Mendelsohn investigates the impact of Free Arts NYC and its mission to foster creativity in children and teens on the occasion of its twenty-year anniversary.
Glenn Brown The artist sat down with the celebrated author Hari Kunzru to discuss the process behind his work.
Chef Daniel Humm, of Eleven Madison Park, and architect Brad Cloepfil, whose firm recently renovated the famed restaurant, sat down with Brett Littman to explore creativity, cooking, art, and architecture.
Michael Cary discusses the 1931 Vollard edition of Honoré de Balzac’s Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu, featuring the illustrations of Pablo Picasso.
166 Game Changer John Currin’s Fishermen (2002) by Derek Blasberg.
TABLE OF CONTENTS SPRING 2018
Gagosian Quarterly, Spring 2018
Editor-in-chief Alison McDonald
Founder Larry Gagosian
Executive Editor Derek Blasberg
Business Director Melissa Lazarov
Managing Editor Shannon Cannizzaro
Published by Gagosian Media
Assistant Editor Wyatt Allgeier
Publisher Jorge Garcia
Text Editor David Frankel
Advertising Manager Mandi Garcia
Design Director Paul Neale
Advertising Representative Michael Bullock
Design Alexander Ecob Graphic Thought Facility
For Advertising and Sponsorship Inquiries Advertising@gagosian.com Distribution David Renard Distributed by Pineapple Media Ltd Distribution Manager Kelly McDaniel Prepress DL Imaging
Cover Ed Ruscha
Printed by Pureprint Group
Contributors Wyatt Allgeier Timothy Baum Derek Blasberg Glenn Brown Katrina Brown Michael Cary Brad Cloepfil Neil Cox Susan Ellicott Drew Gilpin Faust Katharina Grosse Fred Hoffman Daniel Humm Hari Kunzru Brett Littman Meredith Mendelsohn Takashi Murakami Chiara Parisi Jed Perl Francine Prose Alexander S. C. RowerÂ Corinna Thierolf Tatiana TrouvĂŠ Nobuo Tsuji
Thanks Lidia Andich Chloe Barter Tenique Bernard Adam Cohen Michelle Hellman Cohen Gea Cohen-Paci Dan Colen John Currin Susan Braueur Dam Randi Danforth Cyprien David Mary Dean Alexandra Fairweather Douglas Flamm Emily Florido Mark Francis Hannah Freedberg Darlina Goldak Douglas Gordon Amanda Hajjar Liz Hopfan Neil Jenney Olga Khvan Sarah Kisner Calvin Klein Edgar Laguinia Amy Livingston Lily Lyons Lauren Mahony Sally Mann Pepi Marchetti Franchi Antonello Martella Rob McKeever Trina McKeever Louise Neri
Kay Pallister Charles Pasciucco Giuseppe Penone Miriam Perez Justina Phillips Elena Pinchiurri Marcella Pralormo Jessica Purcell Richard Serra Taryn Simon Elly Sistovaris Molly Smith Putri Tan Max Teicher Kara Vander Weg Chris Vogel Lilias Wigan Christopher Wool
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Glenn Brown Mining art history and popular culture, Glenn Brown has created an artistic language that transcends time and pictorial conventions. His mannerist impulses stem from a desire to breathe new life into the extremities of historical form. Through reference, appropriation, and investigation, he presents a contemporary reading of images new and remembered. In this issue he speaks with author Hari Kunzru about his artistic practice and an upcoming exhibition at Gagosian London. Photo by Edgar Laguinia
Timothy Baum is a private art dealer and writer, specializing in Dada and Surrealism. He is also the publisher and editor of Nadada Editions, and is separately working on a catalogue raisonné of the paintings of Man Ray, in association with a Paris colleague, Andrew Strauss. He lives and works in New York.
Francine Prose is the author of twenty-one works of fiction, including, most recently, the highly acclaimed Mister Monkey. She is the recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim, a Fulbright, and was a Director’s Fellow at the New York Public Library’s Center for Scholars and Writers. Photo by Christine Jean Chambers
Drew Gilpin Faust
Corinna Thierolf is chief curator at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, where she specializes in postwar art. The organizer of numerous exhibitions, she has also published widely about the work of Joseph Beuys, John Cage, John Chamberlain, Walter de Maria, Dan Flavin, Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol, and others. Thierolf is the driving force behind the Pinakothek’s Königsklasse exhibition series.
Drew Gilpin Faust is the Lincoln Professor of history and president of Harvard University. After growing up in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, she received a PhD at the University of Pennsylvania and was a member of the faculty there for twenty-five years. In 2001, she became the founding dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. She was named president in 2007.
Hari Kunzru Born in London, Hari Kunzru is the author of the novels The Impressionist, Transmission, My Revolutions, and Gods Without Men, as well as a short story collection, Noise and a novella, Memory Palace. His novel White Tears was published in spring 2017. He was a 2008 Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library, a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow, and a 2016 Fellow of the American Academy in Berlin. He lives in New York City. Photo by Clayton Cubitt
Neil Cox Neil Cox is a professor of modern and contemporary art and teaches aesthetics and art history at Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh, where he is also Director of Postgraduate Research. He has published on Cubism, more widely on Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, and on aspects of Surrealism. He recently published two essays on Richard Serra.
Brett Littman has been the Executive Director of The Drawing Center since 2007. He has contributed news and commentary to a wide range of international art publications and critical essays to many exhibition catalogues. Photo by Mari Juliano
Architect, educator, and principal of Allied Works Architecture, Brad Cloepfil creates culturally resonant architectural designs that are forged by the defining elements of their mission and site. He has designed and realized a wide range of projects around the world, including civic and educational institutions, arts organizations and museums, and private residences.
Katrina M. Brown
Katrina M. Brown is founding Director of The Common Guild, Glasgow, which presents an international program of artists’ projects, events, and exhibitions. She was Director of the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art in 2010 and 2012. From 1997 until 2007, she was Curator and Deputy Director of Dundee Contemporary Arts.
Daniel Humm is the chef and co-owner of Make It Nice which is behind Eleven Madison Park, The NoMad in NY and Los Angeles, and the fast casual restaurant Made Nice. Under his direction Eleven Madison Park has received numerous accolades, including four stars from the New York Times, seven James Beard Foundation Awards, and three Michelin Stars.
Nobuo Tsuji Art historian Nobuo Tsuji is a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo and Tama Art University. His book Kiso� no keifu (Lineage of Eccentrics), from 1970, was a trailblazing reappraisal of “eccentric artists” such as Iwasa Matabei, Kano� Sansetsu, Ito� Jackuchu�, Soga Sho�haku, and Utagawa Kuniyoshi, and dramatically changed the popular view of early modern Japanese art. Tsuji views decorativeness, playfulness, and animism as quintessential features of Japanese art. He has written on a wide range of subjects, from decorative crafts to paintings depicting ghosts, erotic art, and manga.
Takashi Murakami Takashi Murakami earned a PhD from the Tokyo University of the Arts Graduate School of Fine Arts. He began exhibiting while still at the university, and in 1996 established the Hiropon Factory studio (today Kaikai Kiki). In addition to the production and marketing of Murakami’s art and related work, Kaikai Kiki functions as a supportive environment for the fostering of emerging artists. With the curation of the 2000 Superflat exhibition, Murakami advanced the Superflat theory of Japanese art. He has exhibited widely both in Japan and overseas. In this issue he and scholar Nobuo Tsuji respond to the work of eighteenth-century artist Soga Sho�haku.
Jed Perl Jed Perl was the art critic for The New Republic for twenty years; a contributing editor to Vogue for a decade; and is currently a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books. Among his many books are Calder: The Conquest of Time, Magicians and Charlatans, Antoine’s Alphabet, New Art City, and Paris Without End. He has written for Harper’s, The New Criterion, The Yale Review, Salmagundi, and many other publications. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and teaches at The New School in New York. Photo by Duane Michals
Alexander S. C. Rower Alexander S. C. Rower is founder and president of the Calder Foundation. Since 1987, Rower has documented more than 22,000 works by Calder and established an extensive archive dedicated to all aspects of the artist’s career. He has curated and collaborated on over 100 Calder exhibitions worldwide.
Derek Blasberg is a writer, editor, and New York Times best-selling author. In addition to being the Executive Editor of Gagosian Quarterly, he is Vanity Fair’s Our Man on the Street and the host of the television show CNN Style. Photo by Pier Guido Grassano
Michael Cary organizes exhibitions for Gagosian, including eight Picasso exhibitions in collaboration with John Richardson and members of the Picasso family. He joined Gagosian in 2008 after six years working with the late Kynaston McShine, then Chief Curator at Large at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Clive Smith
A writer, filmmaker, broadcaster, and food entrepreneur, Ellicott travels frequently between the US and London on assignment. A former on-air correspondent for the BBC, ABC News, and NPR, she recently appeared in a series of Japanese television films on artisan food in Japan. Last year she worked as a filmmaker for Stanford University.
Chiara Parisi is a curator and art historian. She was the Director of the Cultural Programs at Monnaie de Paris where she opened the new contemporary art spaces with exhibitions of Marcel Broodthaers, Maurizio Cattelan, Jannis Kounellis, and Paul McCarthy. For this issue, she discusses with Katharina Grosse and Tatiana Trouvé their collaboration at Villa Medici.
Meredith Mendelsohn covers art and design for a variety of publications, including the New York Times, Architectural Digest, and Artsy. She recently contributed to a forthcoming monograph titled City of Lights: The Undiscovered New York Photographer Marvin E. Newman.
Fred Hoffman’s most recent book The Art of Jean-Michel Basquiat was published in 2017 by the Enrico Navarra Gallery (New York and Paris). In 2005–6 he co-curated the artist’s last American retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum; which then traveled to The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Katharina Grosse Katharina Grosse is a German artist who lives and works in Berlin. Embracing the events and incidents that arise as she paints, Grosse opens up surfaces and spaces to the countless perceptual possibilities of the medium. While she is widely known for her temporary and permanent in situ work, which she paints directly onto architecture, interiors, and landscapes, her approach begins in the studio. Here, Grosse discusses her upcoming exhibition at Villa Medici with Tatiana Trouvé and Chiara Parisi. Photo by Max Vadukul
Tatiana Trouvé Tatiana Trouvé’s work blurs the boundaries between “interior” and “exterior” both materially and mentally. Mental images are materialized in space and become concrete, while domestic spaces merge with natural spaces. Her situations combine drawings and sculptures both linear and threedimensional, and spaces that hint at invisible dimensions. In this issue she discusses with Chiara Parisi and Katharina Grosse their installation at Villa Medici. Photo by J.C. Mazur
RICHARD SERRA An in-depth look at Richard Serraâ€™s Rift drawings in anticipation of the upcoming exhibition in London this April. Text by Neil Cox.
What drawing is, and what counts as drawing, are constant concerns for Richard Serra. In art-historical terms, drawing—as the making of marks on a surface in order to circumscribe forms—generally involves metaphor: we see a simple line as the edge of something and we see the marks as if they conjured up one thing in front of another. And that in turn means that we imagine space around, behind, and in front of things in drawings; depth appears. Everything in the tradition of drawing, then, points to metaphor, to the figural, and eventually to meaning. For Serra, though, drawing is an open question, and the ongoing challenge is to make works that can count as drawings while resisting metaphor. His recent drawing practice uses two very different modes to shift what drawing can be: there are hundreds of cabinet-size drawings, made on sheets of handmade paper through a blind process
of transfer; and there are (to date) a dozen or so very large multisheet drawings in paintstick, called Rift drawings, dating from 2011 and first shown in 2013.1 Many things apart from size distinguish these two groups of works. The transfer drawings are easily portable and several can be made in a single studio session. Their process is rigorous, beginning with the spreading of a medium on a flat surface, the application of a sheet of paper to the medium, and then pressure on the upper side of the paper with a metal tool (the downward side, unseen during the drawing’s making, will become the work’s face); nevertheless, there is room for spontaneity and a quantum of chance. None of these things, however, are true of the Rifts, which demand planning, a large studio space, and a sustained physical campaign of marking the surface, which remains visible throughout. The Rifts are made in sections, on separate sheets of paper stapled to the studio
Richard Serra, Quadruple Rift, 2017, paintstick on handmade Japanese paper, 9 feet 2 inches × 26 feet 10 inches (2.79 × 8.17 m). Photo by Aad Hoogendoorn
Serra’s drawing aims to keep drawing alive while resisting its fundamentally metaphorical pull.
wall. Measuring and calculating are a part of what they are, as is the artisanal manufacture of bricks of paintstick by grinding up individual sticks in a hand-cranked meat grinder, heating up and melting the minced black stuff, and casting it into blocks. Equally planned out are the slight overlaps in the sheets when they are combined in specially engineered lightweight frames. The Rifts get their name from the distinctive white shapes—elongated triangles—that punctuate their otherwise unrelenting tarmac blackness, and perhaps from the geological term for a rent in the earth’s surface caused by moving tectonic plates. These sharp-edged triangular rifts are negative shapes, the white of the blank paper. An invention in drawing but one demanding their own rigor, they happen at the junction of two sheets of paper. This is why the Double Rifts of 2011 are all made
of three sheets; in making these enormous drawings in paintstick on handmade paper, Serra must work with the limitations of the maximum sheet sizes, and the two rift triangles in each drawing of 2011 are the compositional acknowledgment of a tripartite structure. But there is a puzzle to resolve later: a recent drawing is called Triple Rift, yet like the Double Rifts it only has two triangles of white to its name. Where do the Rifts come from? They are obviously distinct from another strand in Serra’s long trajectory in large-scale abstract drawing, which begins in 1975 with Abstract Slavery. This work led to drawings that, through their uniform black presence, challenge relationships to space, suppressing ambient light in their vicinity and shifting perceptions of the surface and height of walls and the location of corners. Write Whim over the Lintel of 1988
Opposite: Richard Serra, Triple Rift, 2017, paintstick on handmade Japanese paper, 10 feet × 21 feet 6 1⁄2 inches (3.05 × 6.57 m) Above: Richard Serra, Rift #7, 2017, paintstick on handmade Japanese paper, 9 feet 1 3⁄4 inches × 10 feet 8 inches (2.78 × 3.25 m) Photos by Aad Hoogendoorn
(made for an exhibition at the Kunsthalle Basel), for example, covers the whole wall above a doorway, activating both. The room’s spatiality frames—and is framed by—the drawing. Standing apart in their own white frames, the Rifts avoid this direct dialogue with architecture, even if their size produces strong visual effects in gallery space. Still, the punctuations of the rift triangles are not completely without roots in another group of earlier works, ones made in paintstick on paper after a bruising experience for Serra, the forced removal of the sculpture Tilted Arc from its site in Lower Manhattan on March 15, 1989—works such as No Mandatory Patriotism (1989).2 The two black shapes of a work from the same year, Olmec, are fissured in the center by two thin white triangles, one above and one below. Like many artists who reactivate particular achievements later with
new urgency, Serra only really began to exploit the idea of Olmec and the Tilted Arc–related drawings two decades later in the Rifts, and only then did he find in them the resource for rethinking the metaphoricity of drawing. Something about the cracking seam of two adjoining sheets made it possible to draw without drawing, to compose immanently out of the fabric of the material. The structure of the composition draws itself. The most ambitious Rift drawings to date are Triple Rift and Quadruple Rift, both of 2017. They return us to the puzzle mentioned earlier. If the word “rift” designates the white triangles, why are there only two such triangles, not three, in Triple Rift, and three, not four, in Quadruple Rift? The answer points to a subtlety at work in the drawings: some of the rifts are so to speak one-sided (right-angled triangles on one sheet that abuts the 35
Richard Serra with Abstract Slavery (1974) in his studio, New York, 1974 Artwork © 2018 Richard Serra/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
These sharp-edged triangular rifts are negative shapes, the white of the blank paper.
blackness of another), while others are isosceles triangles produced when two right-angled triangles on two sheets meet. So, in Triple Rift, the left-hand triangle is right angled, but the right-hand one is an isosceles made from two adjoining right-angled triangles on two sheets. Triple Rift thus reveals to us, almost at a whisper, that it is made from no less than four separate sheets of paper of equal width, and that there are indeed three triangles present, each on a different sheet, even if two combine visually as one. The same goes for Quadruple Rift, except here five sheets of equal width are present. If, as suggested above, Serra’s drawing aims to keep drawing alive while resisting its fundamentally metaphorical pull, that project can only really work (if one is still making a drawing) not by eliminating all metaphor but by holding it at bay. The stringent intelligible structures of the Rift Drawings obstruct us from seeing their white divisions
expressively as other kinds of rupture—psychological, historical, ontological. Yet minimal metaphors of drawing remain: tension, balance, presence, space. The imposing scale and gross materiality of the Rifts hover just long enough on this border, perhaps, to make us more conscious of the operations of metaphor in our relationship to drawing. An exhibition of Richard Serra’s Rifts will be on view at Gagosian London April 11 through May 19, 2018. 1. On the transfer drawings see Neil Cox, “The Shape of Feeling,” in Richard Serra: Drawings 2015–2017, exh. cat. Museum Boijmans van Beuningen (New York: Gagosian, and Göttingen: Steidl, 2017), pp. 11–21. For the first showing of the Rifts see Double Rifts, exh. cat. (New York: Gagosian, 2013). 2. See Clara Weyergraf-Serra and Martha Buskirk, eds., The Destruction of Tilted Arc: Documents (Cambridge, Mass.: October Books, 1991), and Harriet F. Senie, The Tilted Arc Controversy: Dangerous Precedent? (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001).
Opposite: Giuseppe Penone’s Idee di pietra — Olmo (2008) and Idee di pietra — Ciliegio (2011) on view in Gstaad, Switzerland, December 13, 2017–March 30, 2018. Photo by Marcus Veith Below: The stone quarry where approximately fifty stones where selected for the installation. Photo by Antonello Martella
BEHIND THE ART
IDEAS OF STONE In the small skiing village of Gstaad, among the towering mountains of the Swiss Alps, lies a surprising and ambitious exhibition of sculpture by Giuseppe Penone. Susan Ellicott tells the story of how this installation came to be.
to assemble the taller tree, so a forklift did the job. “The result is breathtaking,” says Cyprien David, a gallery assistant at Gagosian Geneva who worked on the installation. “We certainly had challenges, but, luckily, the artist and crew remained steadfast and confident throughout. We all got the sense Giuseppe is very comfortable with these installs and he had a sense of humor about it all. The process was very collaborative.” The first snowfall covered all traces of the installation—footprints, mud, tire tracks from the vehicles—so that the trees appeared to grow from the ground. Overall, the effect of the installation is at once magical, surreal, and serious. The very exactness of the textured trunks and branches invites us to question whether they’re real, just as the village of Gstaad looks from the hotel like a model, an artificial backdrop. First-time visitors do a double take: two giant trees stand alone in a treeless landscape. What’s their story—are they together? Survivors? That boulder balanced over our heads in Ciliegio . . . how? The imposing outdoor location adds to the mystique: the postcard mountains and changing skies are part of the drama. When snow clings to the boulder, we wonder whether or not it’s fake. That we can see the trees assembled as Penone imagined them is a testament to nonverbal communication. The artist directed an on-site team of French-, Swiss-German-, and Italian-speaking technicians, gallerists, and installers; they had no common language. “We collaborated with drawings and hand signals. It took a lot of concentration, especially for those of us up in the air,” says David. The team had instructions on how to fit the sections of the bronze trees together and how deep to dig the holes for the bases. Even so, setting up such works on soft, uneven terrain was always going to require some improvisation. “These are among the most powerful and complex sculptures in the artist’s oeuvre,” says Pepi Marchetti Franchi, a Gagosian director who works closely with Penone. “The size and weight of multiple bronze elements and the stones make these challenging artworks to maneuver.” One of the biggest challenges, though, was something quite unexpected. One day before
In choosing a Swiss meadow to show Idee di pietra — Olmo (Ideas of Stone—Elm Tree, 2008) and Idee di pietra — Ciliegio (Ideas of Stone—Cherry Tree, 2011), Giuseppe Penone invites us to wonder: how did these works—two large-scale bronze sculptures of trees, accompanied by boulders strewn across the sloping ground like debris dumped by a glacier—get here? The short, easy answer is through meticulous planning. Bronze trees up to fifty or so feet high, and fifty river stones from a nearby quarry, don’t find their way into a dramatic Alpine field facing the Hotel Le Grand Chalet in Gstaad, one of Switzerland’s most famous resorts, without logistical coordination. This is the first time works from Penone’s Idee di pietra series had been staged in a rural landscape in winter weather. The installation took three full days to set up and involved several trucks, two forklifts, a wheeled crane with a cherry picker for two, and many specialist tools. Two of the original trucks proved too big to drive through local streets, and the crane too short 40
Above (top): The artist watches over as the base of one of the sculptures is secured and installed into the ground, Photo by Elly Sistovaris Above (below): Aerial view of the installation grounds, Gstaad, Switzerland, October 2017, Photo by Antonello Martella Right: A crane is used to lower the mid-section of Idee di pietra — Ciliegio onto the trunk, Photo by Elly Sistovaris Opposite: An installer secures a stone onto one of the branches of Idee di pietra — Ciliegio, Photo by Antonello Martella
Above: View overlooking the sculptures in dialogue with the landscape of the Swiss Alps. Photo by Marcus Veith Below: Giuseppe Penone with Idee di pietra — Olmo (2008) and Idee di pietra — Ciliegio (2011) at the culmination of the installation, October 2017. Photo by Antonello Martella Artwork © Giuseppe Penone
the setup date, local officials told the team they couldn’t use a parking lot 200 yards from the site because their Italian trucks were too big for Gstaad’s tiny historic streets. The team would have to park half a mile away, five times the original distance. “We were scared,” says David. “We couldn’t see how to carry the heavy sculptures to the meadow from so far away.” Fortunately, he learned, Gstaad is like “a big family.” One of the Swiss-German-speaking drivers called a friend: within minutes, he’d found a substitute truck small enough to drive to the preferred lot. “That saved us,” says David. “Somehow our teams always find a solution.” Olmo is one solid piece of bronze while Ciliegio, the larger work, stands over fifty feet tall when assembled, travels in sections, and breaks down into three trunk parts and four branches. Bringing these heavy sculptures uphill presented difficulties—one truck got stuck in the early-winter mud—but once at the site, the works were mostly straightforward to 42
erect. The installer for Ciliegio, though—not from the sculpture’s foundry—didn’t have the precision tool to screw the trunk into its base and had to modify his own. “With installations, there’s always something to overcome,” says David. “The challenges are part of the fun. Giuseppe was really involved, always smiling and encouraging.” The final challenge was to get a rock into the crook of the lowest fork of Ciliegio. For over an hour the team was unable to make holes drilled directly into the rock align with metal sticks welded into the trunk. “It sounds easy,” says David, “but it’s not when you’re ten meters up.” By five in the afternoon, time was running out. It would be dark by six and the next day’s forecast was for snow, which would make it impossible to work. “Giuseppe was below calling ‘Let’s give it one last shot,’” recalls David. “It was exciting. Finally, we did it, which was just as well because it wouldn’t have been possible for a week with the bad weather coming in. We were lucky.”
With preparations underway for an exhibition in London, Glenn Brown sat down with author Hari Kunzru to discuss the process behind Brownâ€™s artmaking, the idea of the copy, and surprising overlaps between creating visual and literary works.
Previous: Glenn Brown, Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death from Above, 2017 (detail), oil on panel, 91 × 75 5⁄8 inches (231 × 192 cm). Photo by Mike Bruce Below: Glenn Brown, The Life of Men, 2017, India ink and acrylic on panel, in frame, 16 1⁄8 × 15 3⁄4 inches (41 × 40 cm). Photo by Mike Bruce Opposite: Glenn Brown, Drawing 19 (after Van Noordt), 2017, India ink and acrylic on drafting film, in frame, 17 1⁄8 × 13 3⁄8 inches (43.5 × 34 cm). Photo courtesy the artist
ARI KUNZRU Your work always has some kind of context or response; it jumps off from something else. It’s interesting to me that visually you always start with something, like a preexisting frame or source material. GLENN BROWN Yes, I’m using preexisting images to go into preexisting frames. I’m using the frame as a readymade, and the images I use as a starting point. I don’t like a blank canvas or a blank sheet of paper, I want context. There’s a long tradition of artists sitting in front of a model, a sitter, a landscape or still life, and painting or drawing. I sometimes think of myself as standing behind them whilst working, asking, “Why did you do that?” “What does this work do?” “What would happen if you used a different palette, like this Turner painting, or Kirchner, or Baselitz?” I have a constant chatter of ideas from throughout the history of art. This world we live in is so man-made, nature has been banished to the land of kitsch, whether we like it or not. I suppose I’m trying to make art for our man-made world, for a deconstructed audience. I want to be an eternal student, always learning. HK In my line of work, I like to walk back, to step away. Eventually I stop tinkering, when there’s a sense that I can’t or shouldn’t do any more, but it’s never totally clear when something is finished, if given the chance I’ll touch it up again. Is that true for you as well? GB Yes, that final editing can carry on for a long time. Sometimes it feels more like I’m giving up than declaring it finished. I often just don’t see any more that I can do, therefore I go and look at more art to find out how other people resolved similar problems. There’s no such thing as a perfect painting. Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon—it’s very unresolved. He made so many problems for himself that there was no hope of solving everything.
At some point it’s probably best to step away and start another one. GB Yes. I like to have paintings fester a bit before coming back to them, sometimes for years. Then maybe I might figure out what’s wrong with them. HK Could you tell me more about how you know a work isn’t finished? Is there a set of procedures that you want to do to that picture [points to They Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth and Touched the Face of God ] in order to finish it, or is it more in the nature of problem solving? GB All I can say is that this painting doesn’t have enough life yet. There is a point in painting when a work gets a certain attitude, one that is slightly separate from mine—that’s when it comes alive. The painting starts to talk back to me to tell me what to do—that’s when it surprises me. One small brushstroke and then it’s immediately clear that the painting has a life of its own. In that way I presume it’s a bit like creating a character in one of your novels. HK There has to be something pleasing and surprising about seeing a thing that somehow exceeds the structure you created or your deliberate intentions in making it. GB It’s good not to be too conscious of all the decisions one’s brain makes, to let the subconscious make some of the decisions and to let the spirit of dead artists flow through me. HK It looks like sometimes you work on several versions or variations of a single image? GB These three paintings [Poor Art, Unknown Pleasures, They Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth and Touched the Face of God ] were made for a show at the Rembrandthuis in Amsterdam in 2017. My paintings are based on a portrait of Rembrandt, though almost certainly not by Rembrandt—a student of Rembrandt probably made the painting in the studio with Rembrandt’s supervision. My three paintings did not have the benefit of his expert supervision so things all got a bit strange. I loved that exhibition—that dialogue with his studio, in his studio. I couldn’t say all I wanted in one painting, so I made three. I liked the obsessive nature of the reproduction. HK There’s a horizontal band in the image— GB The bands changed color several times. On two versions it’s black, the only black in the paintings. This one has dark red. HK Is that something you’ve done on other pictures? GB On other paintings I’ve placed similar flat bands of color, sometimes down the sides, like a Barnett Newman zip, as well as triangular bands in the corners in homage to Sigmar Polke. These are bits of modernism that float in and out of my fantasy world, like a Kandinsky abstract landscape. It’s really only a simple compositional device. Van Dyck and Titian employed similar devices. It’s a windowsill; he’s either leaning into your house or leaning out of his. Either way you’re not sure if you welcome the visit. It makes him more of a nuisance. HK The scale of your drawings can be surprising. There were works on paper that you’d done at a smaller scale, but now I see them painted and they’re actually quite large. GB I like playing with scale. The intimacy one gets when peering at a small drawing and entering the delicate world of the artist is very special. The human hand is capable of extraordinarily delicate maneuvers. It’s a very special thing. Drawing and handwriting are things a contemporary audience isn’t used to anymore. It’s a celebration of the hand and its connection to the brain, just as the larger drawings use the wrist, the arm, and the body to HK
make them. I’m always after the perfect exquisite mark. The paintings fetishize the brushmark and the drawings the pen or pencil line, so the line is both real and fake, genuine and ironic. HK You don’t underdraw or anything like that on the paintings? GB I’m of the school of Gerhard Richter and photorealism, I suppose. Richter does no drawing, it’s just a reference to the photograph, and I came out of that background. But at some point I shifted to being far more interested in painting than I was in the conceptual idea of painting and photography and their relationship. And becoming more interested in painting, I realized there was a big hole in my work, and that was drawing. Drawing is the skeleton that holds the composition of any painting together, and I wasn’t really tackling it head on. So for two and a half years I didn’t do any painting, I just drew. I just wanted to use pure line. HK Is it true that you refer to reproductions to serve as the color for your paintings? GB Yes, because the colors often shift in nice ways. I have books on Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Kees van Dongen, or Vincent van Gogh, for example, and I’ll look at perhaps six different reproductions of the same painting before I choose the one that I think best fits what I wanted to say. Typically that has nothing to do with the accuracy of the reproduction to the original work of art. Very often it’s a book from the 1970s or ’80s, where the color has shifted over time—I find the way colors shift rather interesting. HK Then there’s that sort of Entartete Kunst thing: the thing that offended the Nazis so much was the, what would you call it, the damage, the disrespect, to the human of deciding to paint a face blue or green. It seems almost like there’s something of that in what you’re doing, and you were referring to Kirchner. GB Yes. Color shif ts in reproduc t ion but I embrace further color shifts—the further degradation of the human body interests me. Kirchner is a fantastic example. He was depicting the Berlin of his time, when the streets were gas lit and people were going out and promenading at night. The gas lamps gave everything this greenish-yellowish glow, so Kirchner was painting what was there— people looking this ghastly color because of the street lamps. There are a few places in London that still have gas lamps and they give off a different color than the modern halogens. It’s fascinating the way Kirchner was just accentuating what he was seeing. What he could see were prostitutes able to sell their wares at night in the streets, and men and women able to wear their finest clothes out at night as they walked in this ghastly dream world. These gas lamps merge into the gas used in the trenches of the First World War. HK You’re interested in image reproduction, and in questions about what painting does after the invention of photography. As you’ve progressed, you’ve become more of a painter rather than somebody using paints to engage with image-making more generally. We live in a world that already has lots of reproductions and lots of techniques for making pictures. GB Yes, one of my big influences was Sherrie Levine, who takes a very conceptual view of art history. Twenty years ago I was making photorealist paintings based on expressionist paintings. Then later I shifted to photorealist versions of photorealist or Surrealist or even science fiction paintings, which was sort of like hyperrealism. HK So your early works started with ideas from the Pictures generation, those gestures about the
Opposite: Glenn Brown, Life on the Moon, 2016 (detail), oil on panel, 39 3⁄8 × 30 7⁄8 inches (100 × 78.5 cm). Photo by Mike Bruce Glenn Brown, They Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth and Touched the Face of God, 2017, oil on panel, 50 5⁄8 × 32 ½ inches (128.5 × 82.5 cm). Photo by Lucy Dawkins
reproduction and the copy, questioning what’s the original. Where does science fiction come in? As someone who spent a lot of teenage time staring at reproductions on science fiction book covers and album covers and imagining this sublime other world, that’s interesting to me. I’m also interested in the techniques and visual terms of the way those airbrush pictures are done—I loved the seeming reality and perfectionism and the awesomeness of motherships flying. That seems to come from a slightly different place. GB For me it came directly out of a conversation I had with Michael Craig-Martin when I was a student. I’d been making these paintings after Frank Auerbach and Karel Appel, and Michael said, “That’s all very interesting but where else can you take it? What’s the logical conclusion? How far can you take the idea of painting paint? Of making a pointless photorealist painting?” We came to the conclusion together, “What about doing a photorealist painting of a photorealist painting?” That makes it conceptually rigorous, but pointless in every other way. I couldn’t quite bear to do that because I had certain vestiges of being an artist and painter, I couldn’t be conceptual in the way Sherrie Levine or Pictures-generation artists could have. And after several months I decided that I couldn’t do a photorealist version of Richard Estes, where you couldn’t see the difference between the Richard Estes and mine. Estes is my favorite photorealist because he depicted Americana in a really rather wonderful way, and added gesture to photography. His paintings weren’t just painted photographs, he would pick certain elements out and ignore others and sharpen things up. So I came to the conclusion, why not do photorealist paintings of Surrealist paintings? Salvador Dalí was depicting his dreams—the work is meant to be reality, but a reality we can’t see. Science fiction images are like Surrealism in that way, they’re a dreamed reality but rendered in a way that’s meant to be realist. It was a more interesting take on the conceptual copy. The proliferation of science fiction and the fantasy worlds it has fed us changed the way we dream and paint. The first Dalí painting I made was painted upside down, not predrawing anything, so it became squashed and altered.
THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN IS SO MAN-MADE, NATURE HAS BEEN BANISHED TO THE LAND OF KITSCH. 49
It’s your translation of it. Yes, at the end I had too much space left so the head became enlarged. Inverting the image forced me to think about it in new ways. HK Is that something you’ve experimented with a lot since? Elements that are translated through some sort of rotation? Maybe everybody looks a bit more like an El Greco painting than they started off in the original? GB Yes. It’s the El Greco effect, or the Modigliani effect, or the Giacometti effect. Elongating the human figure creates certain feelings of empathy, I suppose. I want the figure to distort, to be nonclassical, to be mannerist, and the distorted copy was my way of describing this. HK I understand your interest in the copy, especially at this point in the history of image-making. And as you said, there’s an absurdity about the labor that goes into making a photorealist copy, which brings up all sorts of stuff. And the first time around the distortion was accidental, you allowed that to happen. But what’s the interest in continuing to make those distortions? GB Everything I made after those first few paintings was not meant to look at all like the original. From that point on, there were always differences —I’d elongate. I’d change the color. I’d change elements of the background. I’d bind images together. I’d take a background from one image and a foreground from another and a color from a third. I’d often make up brush marks. I didn’t want the thing to look like the original—it had to bear a resemblance, but that was all. So that was a shift toward painting, and toward making something that was not just well composed because the original was well composed, but well composed because I’d decided it was well composed. There were decisions being made—I had to make sure the way your eye moved over the canvas was specific, tight, rigorous, interesting, and entertaining. That’s why I had to take control of the drawing. HK Is there a utopian dimension to what you do? GB I would say dystopian. HK Well, yes, there’s quite a lot of both suffering and transcendence. GB That’s probably because the more you look at painting and at the history of Western art, the more you come across religion. I look a lot at the whole history of Western art, and religion seeps into everything. Of course many artists tried to find ways of getting around religious themes, tried to create something more interesting than the set HK GB
THERE IS A POINT IN PAINTING WHEN A WORK GETS A CERTAIN ATTITUDE, ONE THAT IS SLIGHTLY SEPARATE FROM MINE– THAT’S WHEN IT COMES ALIVE. Below: Installation view, Glenn Brown: Rembrandt After Life, Museum het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam, January 27–April 23, 2017. Photo courtesy the artist Opposite: Glenn Brown, Daydream Nation, 2017 (detail), oil on panel, 44 1⁄8 × 31 1⁄2 inches (112 × 80 cm). Photo by Lucy Dawkins
agendas prescribed by religious benefactors, but they obviously had to feature them. HK Let’s talk about the dystopian aspect. Something disturbing happens to the human figure in your work, I’ve been searching for language to describe it—there’s a sense of swarming and multiplicity and a kind of collapse of the individual. If you think of the classical depiction of the human body as noble and impermeable, a unified self, that seems to break down in your images. GB I’ve come to the conclusion that all of us are in a controlled state of decay. We can do nothing about it and we should come to terms with it. That’s our mortality. Even starting in our early twenties, our bodies start to show signs of wear and tear and aging. As a society we need to deal with that, to cope with the fact that we’re decomposing and even to embrace it as a wonderful thing. The sense of the eternal is part of the decay. HK We are all made of stars. GB Yes, stardust. HK And what about f ig ures morphing into multiples? GB That comes from a postmodern idea that we’re made of languages, we’re not one person, we take on traits from other people, our identities can shift over time, nothing is set. We adapt according to our environment, and according to the language we think is appropriate to the environment we’re in. Even our bodies aren’t fixed: our skin is permeable. We are physically permeable just as our thoughts are permeable. Skin isn’t a solid, it’s translucent— HK The boundaries are fuzzy and porous and traversable. GB Yes. Our inner organs are more important than our outer ones, but we don’t always know that, or feel that. HK And how do you feel about that? Does it scare you? Is it something to celebrate? GB It’s something to celebrate. It’s what we are as human beings; that’s amazing and should be celebrated. The scars of time on our bodies are beautiful. We’re like ants in a colony: no one individual is really that important. We like to think we are, because that’s how humans think, but fundamentally we live in colonies, we’re pack animals. We are replaceable. We’re just humans. HK Are humans evolving? Are they becoming something else? GB The word “becoming” is sort of—is it [Gilles] Deleuze and [Félix] Guattari? HK I’ve been trying to avoid using Deleuze and Guattari jargon the whole time [laughter]. GB A Thousand Plateaus was very important for me. HK It completely changed my life, to be honest. I’d bore the crap out of people by talking about it [laughter]. GB Well, I’m still living with the effects of it. That idea of becoming something, anything, that surrounds us, taking on information, taking on our environment—all that’s still there in my work. That’s why I appropriate images from other people: I get to become Rembrandt or Fragonard or Van Gogh. I’m always in a state of becoming somebody else. HK That’s a very interesting way to think about your relationship to these people and sources. There’s a traditional idea of influence, which is about getting crushed under the weight of the canon in some way. But you’re talking about it as a playground. You can try on your antecedents, you can develop and change, not quite through impersonation but through engagement.
A lot of pictures by amazing artists get somewhat lost if the debate is about originality, but as soon as you abandon the idea of originality, accept it as a complete impossibility, which I think Deleuze and Guattari felt we could, then everything is far more playful and flexible. It becomes a celebration. HK I find that there’s pleasure in your work, in addition to anxiety. It’s not a straightforward nostalgia for the human that’s being lost; there’s something ecstatic and filled with potential. GB I remember some time ago somebody saying to me, “I just can’t look at your work, my eyes slide off it. I just can’t concentrate. I don’t know what the surface is, it’s too flat, I can’t see the brushstrokes. I don’t know what’s real and what’s unreal. Your paintings are very irritating and I can’t look at them.” This was a criticism. I wasn’t sure how to take it because I didn’t disagree, I couldn’t disagree. HK It depends on one’s orientation toward that experience. GB I came to the conclusion that a certain amount of displeasure in looking, a certain amount of repellence, was actually what I wanted. Why? If you look at fiction and filmmaking, there’s plenty that makes you not want to look, plenty that makes you not want to read, makes you want to put the book down. But then you pick the book back up again because you want to read the next bit. I like to be taunted with the idea, “I can’t go on. Oh, I will go on. I can’t go on. I will go on.” We are all waiting for Godot. HK There’s a restlessness—yes, that’s a word I’d apply to your work. Traditional sorts of visual comfort involve being able to rest your gaze placidly on an object and feel “Yes, this affirms me.” That seems to be just what you’re denying. There’s a continual complexity, where things are ramifying and branching off— GB Slippage. HK —and slipping. That’s exciting to me, and pleasurable, if in a scary, sometimes mildly nauseating way. Am I looking at flesh decomposing? Am I looking at somebody’s eye changing places? But that’s exciting, because I want to see what’s next. GB I want my paintings to be between states in every way you can think of, between beautiful and ugly, between violent and passive, between happy and sad, between male and female. A lot of the figures in the paintings are sort of androgynous: one person sees a boy whereas another, a girl. That occurs quite a lot—gender slippage. Apart from the old men with beards, you can definitely tell those [laughter]. HK I wanted to talk about your brushstrokes: they’re neat, meticulous even, but there’s a sort of simulation of messiness. And you have a neat studio—a lot of painters may be less tidy. You seem like you’re quite a neat person, so are you simulating messiness and decay? What’s your relationship to them? GB I wouldn’t say that was messiness, I’d say it was complexity. I’m not trying to replicate mess— well, maybe I am to some extent. Maybe I’m jealous of the way other artists can be freely messy on their canvases, and have these accidental drips and smears that appear so perfect. I have a fear of the accidental but you have to make mistakes. All experiments go wrong at some times. I just tend to hide my wrong moves with further complexity. HK I think it’s a universal truth that writers are jealous of painters: you get to work with material and you have lots of different things you can pull out and make a mess with. For a writer it’s all just typing [laughs]. GB It must be very difficult for writers to make a dreadful piece of writing into a perfect composition, isn’t it? GB
I’ve fooled around with chance, playing with spell-checks and Microsoft Word grammar checks to try to find ways to introduce accident. I’ve found translation software is quite useful. I’ve got some fun pieces that I’ve made by passing a piece of text through a translation software again and again and again and again. I once wrote a text on Gavin Turk that I did that to, and Gavin kind of gamely put it in a book [laughs]. White Cube ended up as White Bucket. [laughter]. GB Aww. That’s quite sweet. How often was it passed through the software? HK I don’t know, probably seven or eight times. What usually ends up happening is that you get growths, outcroppings of repetition that arise because something has been corrected again and again. Meanwhile, we haven’t spoken at all about the objects that you’re making. When did you start making sculpture? GB The first sculpture I made in paint was in the mid-’90s. I was making the paintings based on Auerbach. His paintings are about sitting on the picture plane and my paintings sit in another world, on the far side of the picture plane. I always see the flatness of the picture as a window through which you look to see another world. The first sculptures I made were heads based on particular Auerbach paintings, and I wanted them to appear as if they’d popped out of the painting and onto the floor in front of them. But sitting them on the floor in this abject way was a little too much: people used to kick them and they’d roll across the floor. So I started putting them on tables— HK They’ve got plinths and tables. GB —and then I had to put Perspex on them because people wanted to touch them and break bits off. Oil paint is delicious, tactile, and smells so interesting, and the color is so malleable and fluid. In this exhibition I’m not covering the sculptures. We will have to trust the viewers not to be so tempted, but there will be guards, of course. I want to give people the full, sensual, abject quality of lots of fresh oil paint. HK There’s something pleasing about these simple modernist forms. Why do you think of them as abject? GB Perhaps it’s my lack of control. HK
Opposite (detail) and below: Glenn Brown, Baby Doll Lounge (part 1), 2017, oil paint over acrylic on bronze, 30 3⁄8 × 26 3⁄4 × 18 7⁄8 inches (77 × 68 × 48 cm). Photo by Mike Bruce Following: Glenn Brown, On the Way to the Leisure Centre, 2017, oil on panel, 48 1⁄8 × 96 1⁄8 inches (122 × 244 cm). Photo by Mike Bruce Artwork © Glenn Brown
Right, but not in themselves. What I’m getting at is Georges Bataille’s idea of the informe: you have a lovely classical bronze and you put gloop over it. Once upon a time that would have been a modernist shock. GB They’re meant to have no set structure. They’re stuck halfway between a tree trunk and a human head or human figure. Whether that makes them abject or not is a different matter. They’re neither paintings nor sculptures—they’re three-dimensional paintings, really. Again it’s about opposites, the hard bronze and the soft paint, painting and sculpture, classicism and Baroque, the classical ideal of the human figure and then this grotesque idea of the human figure. HK Are you interested in scholars’ rocks? GB Yes, the idea that you can have a found object that’s every bit as beautiful as modernist sculpture but it has no author. That’s the problem that society has with them, that they’re not authored and therefore we can’t read them in the way we read art or literature. HK That’s the Duchampian thing, framing them or placing them in a context that says, “Look at this.” That’s then the artistic gesture. GB Which works to a certain degree, but with scholar’s rocks I think it’s different. Because no matter what frame you put on that scholar’s rock, the good ones are so beautiful to look at that you can’t do that Duchampian framing: it’s not an object that was made to shovel snow or hang a bottle on or move a bicycle. With Duchamp, you’re looking at something man made that was not meant to be art but was clearly designed by someone. With a scholar’s rock you can’t get that frisson, because it wasn’t meant to be a thing—it wasn’t made by humans. HK Yes. GB As far as I know, Henry Moore, although he came close, never took a found piece of stone and said, “Here you are, here’s a sculpture.” That was a step too far for him. And Duchamp never took a nonhuman-made object either. Even a cuttlefish bone has to be wedged in a birdcage with marble sugar cubes, so it becomes a material part of a work rather than a work in itself. We can always read them as being authored by somebody. Even the bicycle wheel has an author. HK I was reading about one of the techniques HK
I WANT MY PAINTINGS TO BE BETWEEN STATES IN EVERY WAY YOU CAN THINK OF, BETWEEN BEAUTIFUL AND UGLY, BETWEEN VIOLENT AND PASSIVE, BETWEEN HAPPY AND SAD, BETWEEN MALE AND FEMALE.
of contemplation that Chinese scholars would do with the rocks. It had to do with scale: they’d look at the surface of the rock and try and grow it in their minds to a size where one could pass through the landscape as a traveler. GB It’s interesting that the value of scholar’s rocks isn’t based on size but rather on beauty. Scale doesn’t factor into their value. HK Yes, and somehow changing the scale is part of the discipline and part of the spiritual practice. GB In my own work, I had been making all these artificial brushmarks and I wanted to do some real ones. When I make a painting and when I make a sculpture, there’s very little difference in my head—I feel the same decision-making process going on. When I initiate a painting, I make a colorless copy on the surface, just to make sure everything is in the right place and everything has the form I want. Then I start adding color over the top of this grisaille. The sculptures start in a similar manner. The first stage is monochrome as I build up layers of acrylic paint in thick brushstrokes, layer upon layer of brushstrokes, but no color yet. Then I thickly apply the oil paint, using the same brushes but very much considering color and composition. I make sculptures in the same way I make a painting. I definitely see them as three-dimensional paintings. HK Do you work with assistants? GB No. HK Not even to stretch canvases or anything like that? GB I don’t use canvas, so [laughs] . . . the panels are made by somebody else though. HK You never use canvas? It’s always board? GB Well, earlier paintings are on canvas but canvas or linen can crack so I’ve steered away from that. I want a very flat smooth surface. Nearly like a photograph, just with a hint of texture, a nod to the history of painting. HK Do you use a particular kind of board? GB Mostly aluminum. Which I don’t like that much because it’s cold, it’s like painting on the side of a Land Rover [laughter]. It’s not human. Some of them are on wood and that’s much nicer. It’s warm. It’s human. HK You’ll have to get a little painting warmer [laughter].
Intricately tangled, John Chamberlainâ€™s Foil sculptures are looped and flexed into whimsical, biomorphic forms. In Foil Adventures: John Chamberlainâ€™s Late Works in Aluminum, Corinna Thierolf discusses how the artist began to and perfected working with this material starting in the mid-1960s.
n a memorable summer day in 1958, John Chamberlain found a roughly thirty-year-old Ford in the back yard of his friend Larry Rivers’s house in Southampton, Long Island. In this rusted car the sculptor discovered the Carrara marble of the twentieth century. Removing the fenders from a vehicle that seemed to him worthless (although to the absent Rivers it was a desirable old-timer), he drove over the metal in his own car, deforming it and thereby liberating it from its original function. By bending, crumpling, and twisting the refractory material, he lent it a new, suggestive vibrancy. Such was the origin of his first, iconic sculpture using car parts, which would be followed by a virtually endless wealth of sculptures also made out of auto-body parts. From the unorthodox combination of these expansive individual fragments, with their molded swellings, compression waves, and folds, Chamberlain set free a vitality, rhythm, and movement that make the works highly emotional. In an intriguing transformation, they continue the ancient tradition of sculpture while also setting themselves apart from it through what the artist called the “unprecedented knowledge or information” they contain.1 The work that grew out of this beginning was both various and influential, but there were other no less surprising turns in Chamberlain’s career. His childhood experience of inflating and deflating paper bags was an early big bang in his search for unexplored qualities in sculptural materials and processes. Equally inspiring was a series of events that began in the favored nightclub of the New York art scene in the mid-’60s: “There’s a memory of all of us sitting around Max’s Kansas City at night, waiting for John to finish a pack of cigarettes, because when he crumpled it, he crumpled it like nobody else could.”2 From these crumplings it is only a stone’s throw to the artworks that he crumpled with his bare hands, without the assistance of presses and other tools, beginning in 1966. For these works he employed, among other things, paper, foam, and, even this early, aluminum foil, which was to become an essential material for him in his last years. Some of these works he made so quickly that he referred to them as “instant sculptures”; snapshots of quickly passing moments in an endless chain of sculptural transformation, they
occasionally achieved permanence, for example in the Penthouse series of 1969, for which Chamberlain dipped crumpled and painted paper bags in synthetic resin. In each of these works a familiar, readily available object became a new, unfamiliar one. Chamberlain was in open dialogue with his materials, responding strongly and sensitively to their specific qualities—their density, weight, pliancy. Like a dancer, he engaged in a kind of paso doble with the material, getting to know his partner, courting it, observing it, taking it to its physical limits, bending it, twisting it, and finally leading it through marvelous light-footed pirouettes. He pushed himself to his limits as well, but he never bent metal until it cracked, or tore paper into shreds; he had no wish to dominate his materials, rather to explore the collaboration between two forces at work on each other: the artist and his medium. This pair danced a dynamic creative duet on an equal footing, exposing both their separate natures and their symbiotic association in a deliberately unplanned development. Chamberlain’s approach had an unveiled eroticism, a quality of erotic partnership particularly clear in the works made of painted and chromed automobile parts—irreducibly disparate yet integrated with a perfect “click” into a whole. Chamberlain called this unity being “in the fit.” The “meshing” of individual sculptural units is a core concept of his work: “Each part is different and each part can fit to some place convenient to itself. In other words, if you have two, not only do they become much stronger because of their union, but they tend to develop certain lines in relation to each other that suggest a marriage.”3 Chamberlain used being “in the fit,” and his method in general, as a metaphor for sexuality, or in a broader sense for the whole spectrum of interactions between living creatures. The idea is clear in such sculptures as the late venerablefriendship (2008), whose shiny, towering chrome body is individualized through the pressing process and expressively charged, so that its internal “personalities” continually turn toward each other, support each other, or appear to collapse before each other. 4 Chamberlain’s sculpture probed the limits of the possible. Through weight, dimensions towering or broad, or extreme angles, some works have a dramatic physical presence while others suggest a touching physical fragility. In a process as
CHAMBERLAIN DESCRIBED ART AS A PLACE OF DISCOVERY. HE MANAGED TO USE FAMILIAR MATERIALS TO CREATE SOMETHING UNKNOWN.
Previous and following spreads: Installation view, John Chamberlain, Artzuid, Amsterdam, May 22– September 22, 2013. Photos by Gert-Jan van Rooij Left: John Chamberlain’s foil miniatures BURNTPIANO, NUDEPEARLS, LARCREMEDELAROUX, and ZOUNDSWELL (c. 1986) on a windowsill in the artist’s studio Opposite: John Chamberlain, PINEAPPLESURPRISE, 2010, colored aluminum, 185 × 130 × 126 inches (469.9 × 330.2 × 320 cm). Photo by Rob McKeever
HIS SCULPTURE GENERALLY COMBINES AN EXTREME SENSE OF PHYSICAL MOVEMENT WITH AN ASTONISHING STABILITY, PERFECTLY CAPTURING A MOMENT OF SURPRISE IN A PHYSICAL FORM.
CHAMBERLAIN WAS IN OPEN DIALOGUE WITH HIS MATERIALS, RESPONDING STRONGLY AND SENSITIVELY TO THEIR SPECIFIC QUALITIES— THEIR DENSITY, WEIGHT, PLIANCY.
instinctive as it was intense, Chamberlain successively incorporated each work’s components into a whole. His direct handling of the material was crucial; as he put it, “Magic moments are to be allowed to happen spontaneously.”5 Indirect processes—the tactical development of a sculpture out of a sketch, or any tinkering with it after the fact—were foreign to this master of improvisation and intuition. A group of twenty-nine small, freestanding works that Chamberlain made out of aluminum foil in the mid-1980s is no exception.6 He squeezed the foil into elongated shapes, which he bent and sometimes twisted together, then formed the ends into shovel shapes. Only around four inches tall, and made by hand without the use of tools, these sculptural narratives fit into the palm of the hand yet catapult the viewer far beyond their miniature dimension through their concentration and suggestiveness. Auguste Rodin, in The Hand of God (c. 1907), had formed a male and a female figure cradled in a larger hand (modeled on his own) from a block of stone, thus alluding to the biblical act of creation and the artistic one. Though no longer figurative, Chamberlain’s aluminum-foil sculptures also illustrate the original creative activity in which material is shaped in direct interplay with the artist’s eye and hand. Developing them completely manually, he organized and realized even the most sweeping visions he had in mind. Each work stands as a concetto, to use Giorgio Vasari’s term—the valid visualization of an idea. Part of Chamberlain’s idea for these sculptures was to reproduce them at a much grander scale. But there were technical barriers, for if the sculptures were to remain stable and balanced, the enlargement required a stronger material: aluminum sheets that could not be worked anything like as easily as the household foil that Chamberlain had originally used. Before 2007, then, the largest sculpture he made of this kind was about a foot tall. That year, though, he came to know Ernest Mourmans, who runs a renowned workshop in Belgium that specializes in the complex technical challenges involved in working with metals and other materials; artists and designers who have worked with him include Frank Stella and Ron Arad. Mourmans visited the artist in his home on Shelter Island, New York, where he saw in the
studio a rather unconvincing attempt at enlarging the small works in aluminum foil. When Chamberlain told him about his experience with these works, Mourmans was able to imagine a way of enlarging them. So began a working relationship both fruitful and intensive. Already eighty years old, Chamberlain made repeated trips to Belgium, where, after a break of many years, he once again began to make works out of old auto-body parts but also concentrated on his Foil Adventures, which Mourman had found a way to produce at a size of up to sixteen feet tall without losing the unpretentious nature of the palm-size structures, each with its own “record of dimples, peaks and valleys across its surface” and its “high reflectivity.”7 Chamberlain would recall, I make the small sculptures, and Ernest just makes them larger. . . . Ernest has a huge warehouse or studio in Belgium. . . . [He and his guys] are very good at enlarging my models into fullscale, hand-formed aluminum foil sculptures. . . . I’m the one who decides the shape and material . . . whenever an issue comes up, I have the authority. And [Ernest] is very good about the way he runs his shop and makes the objects. Art isn’t really work. Art isn’t labor. When it’s labor, it’s better to have someone who is an expert that does it every day. These guys are much more experts.8 Between 2007 and 2011, all twenty-nine of Chamberlain’s aluminum miniatures from the 1980s were realized in the desired size. The artist had decided that each should be produced in an edition of three; he also established that they should be made in one of four colors, silver, green, copper, or pink (a palette for technical reasons more limited than he originally desired), without repetition within an edition. Beyond these conditions there is no recognizable system in his choices of the color to be used in a sculpture. When first shown—at the More Gallery in Giswil, Switzerland, the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, the Guggenheim Museum in New York, and in impressive outdoor settings such as the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and the grounds of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam—they were installed both as single
Opposite: John Chamberlain, MERMAIDSMISCHIEF, 2009, colored aluminum, 153 1⁄2 × 169 3⁄8 × 130 inches (389.9 × 430.2 × 330.2 cm) Right: John Chamberlain working on his large-scale aluminum works in Belgium. Photo by Angelo Piccozzi Following: John Chamberlain, RITZFROLIC, 2010, colored aluminum, 189 × 147 5⁄8 × 56 3⁄4 inches (480.1 × 375 × 144.1 cm). Photo by Michael Wolchover Artwork © 2018 Fairweather & Fairweather LTD/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
figures and in groups. In each case, they engaged in a dancelike relationship with the space around them. Chamberlain explained, They have a physical feeling of dance. It’s the way people move their bodies and hands. Somebody might look at this like a prehistoric animal, but it’s really just three rings and has six hands. . . . You know what a circle looks like with the ends coming out. I can make a circle and make the ends come out like hands or feet. Well this one, rosetuxedo, dances.9 Chamberlain described art as a place of discovery.10 Again and again, he managed to use familiar materials to create something unknown. The aluminum-foil works confront the viewer with alien creatures that impose unfamiliar challenges. Yet as emphatically as they depart from sculptural tradition and resist slick comparisons, their novelty arises from an idiosyncratic improvisation on the cultural canon. Lawrence Weiner explains, I learned that important thing which Chamberlain knew as well, exclusion leads to nothing. Inclusion could be a pain in the ass, but it’s better to be inclusive than exclusive. That’s in Chamberlain’s work. Everything that came along was an influence on him.11 Chamberlain was perfectly candid in letting this wealth of influence into his work. Like a jazz musician who achieves mastery in free improvisation, he worked out of both a comprehensive knowledge of his aesthetic tradition and a full command of his own style, and also from his experiences with his materials, their size and color. It was on this foundation that he made his spontaneous combinations and associations, producing “splendilicious” improvisations in which tradition and present-day experience enter into a homogeneous whole.12 If Chamberlain’s process of free association made the viewer unlikely to recognize anything
familiar in his work, it was precisely this quality that motivated him to the continuation of his creative method. The work and its perception needed to be brought “in the fit.” The sculptures’ colors, glowing as if after a storm, and the angularity of their folds make me think of El Greco’s painting Feast in the House of Simon (1608/14)—a painting that Chamberlain admired, and that he said hello to “once or twice a day” while a student at the Art Institute of Chicago. 13 A further comparison may also be provocative: the charming title of one of the works, mermaidmischief, invites an analogy between the delicately folded metal foil and the skin-tight costumes of mermaids. Other titles, for example frostydickfantasy, tempt one to similar associations. Meanwhile the figures contorted like yogis, such as naughtynightcap, find echoes in Buddhist deities such as Akshobhyavajra, with his six arms and three heads, the limbs in images of him becoming even more difficult to count when he is shown in esoteric union with a woman. He seems to seek a physical partner, as do Chamberlain’s intertwined aluminum bodies. The erotic undercurrent in the auto-body works takes a new form in the aluminum ones. His sculpture generally combines an extreme sense of physical movement with an astonishing stability, perfectly capturing a moment of surprise in a physical form. Another antecedent I am reminded of, then, is the eternal moment caught in Fragonard’s famous painting The Swing (c. 1767), which expresses a young woman’s sensual power through the pulsating folds, both concave and convex, of her bouffant pink dress and the piquant, coquettish way in which she kicks off her shoe. She thus expresses what Henri Cartier-Bresson called the “decisive moment” in the fulfillment of her desire. Chamberlain’s sculptures also reside in such a moment, equally incorporating excitement and assurance, quest and fulfillment. In themselves and in their relation with their surroundings, they transcend themselves and attain their maximal “stance.” As Chamberlain said, “Perfection is an instant.”14
1. John Chamberlain, in Richard D. Marshall, “John Chamberlain,” interview, Whitewall: Contemporary Art and Lifestyle Magazine, Fall 2009, p. 105. As the artist explains, the phrase “unprecedented knowledge or information” originates with Clement Greenberg, whom he had heard lecture in 1948. 2. Klaus Kertess, in conversation with Larry Bell, Alexandra Fairweather, and Ultra Violet, Goode-Crowley Theater, Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas, 2012, quoted in Kara Vander Weg, ed., John Chamberlain: In Memoriam (New York: Gagosian, 2012), p. 49. 3. Chamberlain, in Julie Sylvester, “Auto/Bio: Conversations with John Chamberlain,” in Sylvester, ed., John Chamberlain: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Sculpture 1954–1985 (New York: Hudson Hills Press, in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1986), p. 23. The erotic aspect of his art, repeatedly emphasized by Chamberlain himself, was most recently studied in detail in David J. Getsy, “Immoderate Couplings: Transformations and Gender in John Chamberlain’s Work,” in Getsy, Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015), pp. 97–145. 4. See Corinna Thierolf, “‘Because there was Nobody in it’: On John Chamberlain’s Late Work,” in John Chamberlain: curvatureromance, exh. cat. (Munich: Pinakothek der Moderne, 2011), pp. 20–26. 5. Chamberlain, quoted in Getsy, “Immoderate Couplings,” p. 116. He worked out this statement together with the actress and Andy Warhol superstar Susan Hoffmann in connection with an unrealized film project. 6. Ernest Mourmans, conversation with the author, July 21, 2017. 7. Getsy, “John Chamberlain’s Pliability: The New Monumental Aluminium Works,” The Burlington Magazine 153, no. 1303 (November 2011): 742. 8. Chamberlain, in Marshall, “John Chamberlain,” p. 108. 9. Ibid. 10. “I have to have a flow, a continuum. And then I have to be very close to the material I’m dealing with—I have to like it. This is my job. Your job is to respond. And if I tell you how to respond, and what I think about this and how I was trying to do that and da-da-da, you’ll take it at that, and you won’t exercise an act of discovery. Perhaps the only place you can exercise that act is with art.” Chamberlain, in conversation with Kertess, Goode-Crowley Theater, Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas, October 8, 2005, available online at https://chinati.org/programs/johnchamberlain-in-conversation-with-klaus-kertess (accessed November 28, 2017). See also the opening quote in Susan Davidson, “A Sea of Foam, an Ocean of Metal,” in John Chamberlain: Choices, exh. cat. (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2012), p. 17. 11. Lawrence Weiner, quoted in Vander Weg, John Chamberlain. In Memoriam, p. 16. 12. Chamberlain used the word “splendilicious” in a letter to the author, July 23, 2011. 13. Chamberlain, in Marshall, “John Chamberlain,” p. 105. 14. Chamberlain, quoted in Donna De Salvo, address during the Chamberlain Memorial, in Vander Weg, John Chamberlain. In Memoriam, p. 41.
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NOBUO TSUJI TAKASHI MURAKAMI From 2009–11 the eminent art historian Nobuo Tsuji and Takashi Murakami engaged in a reimagined e-awase (painting contest). In this twenty-one-round contest, newly published in Battle Royale! Japanese Art History, Tsuji selects historical works and Murakami responds creatively. Round 6 centers on the Edo Eccentric painter Soga Sho�haku and his monumental Dragon and Clouds (1763). Tsuji and Murakami’s exhibition, Takashi Murakami: Lineage of Eccentrics–A Collaboration with Nobuo Tsuji and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, pairing contemporary and historical artworks is on view through April 1, 2018.
The Kaikai Kiki of Soga Sho¯haku Text by Nobuo Tsuji Murakami-san says “Ito� Jakuchu� is great, but Soga Sho�haku is more my style.” This time, let us look at a couple of works by Sho�haku. Sho�haku (1730–1781), a contemporary of Jakuchu� , was born into a Kyoto merchant family. He was born fourteen years after Jakuchu� but died about twenty years before him, at the age of fifty-one. Sho�haku could not compete with Jakuchu� in terms of longevity, but they were both great talents who freely expressed their powerful and distinctive vision in the open-minded artistic environment that prevailed in Kyoto at the time. Little is known about Sho�haku’s family, but he is said to have been the son of a dyer. Four years before his death, when his young son died, he erected a tomb at the temple Ko�sho�ji in Kyoto for his entire family, including himself. In 1967, when I located these graves with prewar records as my guide, the stones were heavily eroded and
crumbling away. I took some emergency measures to patch them up, but I wonder what condition they are in today. Based on the gravestone inscriptions and historical records, I was able to determine that Sho�haku had lost his older brother when he was eleven, his father when he was fourteen, and his mother when he was seventeen. This must have put an end to the family business. It is likely no coincidence that he decided to become a painter around this time. However, Sho�haku’s early paintings seem too bizarre to be the work of a professional in the making. His folding screen Pang Jushi (Ho�koji) and Ling Zhaonu (Reisho�jo): Parody of Jiumei (Kume) the Transcendent (1759), painted when he was thirty years old, is a perfect example. It shows a scene from the story of an immortal called Kume, related in the Konjaku monogatari shu�. Having gained the power of flight, Kume was soaring above Mount Yoshino when he looked down and saw a young woman with her kimono rolled up as she washed clothes in the river. The sight of her white legs caused him to lose his magical powers and crash
down to earth, where he ended up marrying the woman and living with her. In the middle stands a gnarled old oak tree, which looks as if it were about to start walking like something out of a Disney cartoon. In the hut on the right side is the aged Kume, weaving a bamboo basket like a Buddhist penitent in an old Chinese folktale. His gaze wanders over to the left side of the picture, where the woman from the story sits, doing laundry in the river with her legs bared just like when he first spotted her. While the picture appears to be poking fun at the old man’s lecherous obsession, the style has a touch of the bizarre (kaikai kiki). The painting is much more eccentric than the work of Takada Keiho (1674–1755), the teacher who influenced Sho�haku. Starting around this time, Sho�haku often traveled to Ise and Banshu� (present-day southwestern Hyo�go Prefecture). The Meiji-era painter Hashimoto Kansetsu (1883–1945) related that during his youth (presumably his late teens, after his father moved to Banshu�, around 1900), when he was traveling around Takasago, there was a temple in the
village of Ihozaki famous for a large dragon painted on sliding doors by Soga Sho�haku. It was said to be a fearsome painting, “the doors painted almost completely pitch black,” which the faint of heart were unable to view on their own. “From a background splashed with black ink representing pouring rain and thunderclouds, two incredibly lifelike dragons rear out, as if about to emerge from the painting and ravage the village,” Kansetsu wrote. “I hear that afterward, the painting was purchased by a man from Osaka.” 1 When Dragon and Clouds, the work believed to be this painting peeled off of the sliding doors, was discovered in storage at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, I was just about finished writing my book Lineage of Eccentrics, and I rushed to have the publishers add it to the book’s illustrations. When I saw this monumental painting in Boston, it had been put on thick paper backing, and what had originally taken up eight sliding doors was now on four horizontally elongated panels. It was inscribed “Painted at thirty-four years of age.” The word “sublime” did not do it justice, it was Previous spread: Takashi Murakami, Dragon in Clouds-Red Mutation: The version I painted myself in annoyance after Professor Nobuo Tsuji told me, "Why don't you paint something yourself once?," 2010 (detail), acrylic on canvas, 144 1⁄2 × 708 3⁄4 inches (367 × 1800 cm).© 2010 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co, Ltd. Above: Soga Sho ¯haku, Dragon and Clouds, 1763, ink on paper, on eight fusuma, each: 65 1⁄8 × 53 1⁄8 inches (165.6 × 135 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection. Photograph © 2017 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
mind-bogglingly stupendous. Apparently it was one of the most prized works in the collection of William Sturgis Bigelow (1850–1926) and was not to leave the museum. At the time, it had never been back to Japan since he acquired it. A few years ago, the Japanese public broadcaster NHK asked me to search for the temple in Takasago where the painting had been acquired, for one of their TV programs. I visited two or three temples and looked into their room layouts and dimensions, but was unable to find one that fit the bill. Had the temple in question disappeared? After a while I heard from an NHK employee that research on the Internet had uncovered a Zen temple called Chu�zanji in Seita-cho�, Ise, Mie Prefecture, which had been built during Sho�haku’s lifetime and had an inner room with dimensions perfectly matching those of the painting. I went there at once and measured the dimensions, and while the wall-mounted horizontal beams (nageshi) were a little high, the width was indeed spot-on. Using the latest precision digital technology, a photograph of the painting blown up to its original
proportions was mounted on sliding doors and fitted into the room, marvelously replicating its original state. I very much appreciate the cooperation of the temple’s head priest on this project. In the temple’s ho�jo� (abbot’s quarters), the recreated sliding-panel paintings depicting the dragon’s front half (head and claws) took up four panels on the west side of the room, and the dragon’s tail and crashing waves took up four panels on the east side, describing an overall curving form. The missing part between the head and the tail must have occupied the north side of the room. On the far left side are ominous, mirage-like clouds, and moving to the right, first the gigantic claws of the mythical monster appear, then its head, with round eyes that look like old-fashioned bicycle bells. Its long whiskers, resembling whips, must have extended to the doors on the missing north side, which must also have featured the other set of claws. Continuing to the east side, the dragon’s long tail describes a magnificent curve between the otherworldly arabesques of two crashing waves. Sho�haku transformed a traditional ink
Opposite: Soga Sho ¯haku, Pang Jushi (Ho ¯koji) and Ling Zhaonu (Reisho ¯jo): Parody of Jiumei (Kume) the Transcendent, 1759, six-panel folding screen, ink, color and gold on paper, 61 1⁄2 × 143 1⁄4 inches (156.1 × 363.8 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection. Photograph © 2017 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Right: Takashi Murakami
This spread: Soga Sho ¯haku, Dragon and Clouds, 1763 (detail), ink on paper, on eight fusuma, each: 65 1⁄8 × 53 1⁄8 inches (165.6 × 135 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection. Photograph © 2017 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Following spread (above): Takashi Murakami, Dragon in Clouds—Red Mutation: The version I painted myself in annoyance after Professor Nobuo Tsuji told me, “Why don't you paint something yourself once?,” 2010, acrylic on canvas, 144 1⁄2 × 708 3⁄4 inches (367 × 1800 cm).© 2010 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co, Ltd. Following spread (left and right): Soga Sho ¯haku, The Four Sages of Mount Shang, around 1768, pair of sixpanel folding screens, ink on paper, each: 60 7⁄8 × 142 1⁄8 inches (154.7 × 361.2 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Fenollosa-Weld Collection. Photograph © 2017 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
painting of a dragon into something more like kaiju (a monster, such as Godzilla). His boldness was truly limitless. But what of the mystery surrounding the temple where Dragon and Clouds was originally executed? The painting Hashimoto Kansetsu reported seeing in the village of Ihozaki must have been a different one, since he said there were two dragons. As for Chu�zanji, in the nearby village of Saigu (also known as Itsukinomiya) there is a private home that contains a surviving Sho� haku sliding-door painting, and he may have painted the dragon in this vicinity, but the height of the painting is a little too short to fit this particular house. This question will need to be placed on hold for while. Both of the works by Sho�haku just described are in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The museum has a total of twenty-seven paintings by Sho�haku, and is the world’s top collection of his work in terms of both quantity and quality. These were acquired prior to 1911 by Bigelow and
Ernest Fenollosa (1853–1908) and donated to the MFA. However, nobody has any idea what it was about Sho�haku’s works that impressed the two, or how and through whose offices they came to acquire so many of them. What can be said is that Sho�haku’s paintings seem well suited to the eyes, that is to the aesthetic sensibilities, of American viewers. Graffiti is on the one hand a form of social blight, covering walls in major cities worldwide, and a genre recognized as crucial to the development of contemporary Pop art, as indicated by recent exhibitions like the one at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris (2009–10). It goes without saying that the United States is the homeland of modern-day graffiti, and after seeing graffiti murals countless times in that country, I have come to note a surprising degree of similarity with the works of Sho�haku in graffiti’s muscular, in-your-face spray-painted lines, powerfully modeled volumes designed to make an impact even at distance, and profusion of visual playfulness. There is nothing flat about
Sho�haku’s folding screen paintings; they have a sense of volume surpassing those of Kano� Eitoku. Is this the kind of thing you would call “Superflat,” I wonder? Another masterpiece in the Museum of Fine Arts is The Four Sages of Mount Shang (c. 1768), painted when Sho�haku was in his late thirties. This is a terrific example of “graffiti-style” ink painting. This unusual folding screen depicts the laidback lives of four elderly hermits hiding out on Mount Shang after fleeing violent conflict at the end of the Qin dynasty (third century b.c.e.). A tree of monstrous proportions, in the style originated by Kano� Eitoku, rises up in a great curve toward the center of the two joined folding screens. On the left side is a wildly gnarled branch, with a hole in it resembling an eye. The branch looks ready to come down and crush the sage who rides below it on donkey, shaded by a large straw hat. On the right side, at the base of the great tree, the other three old men lounge around, their clothing and the vase of flowers next to them reduced to
dashed-off symbolic lines, the entire work seemingly executed all in one breath with audacious strokes. Sho�haku evidently arrived at this distinctive style after being inspired by the wild brushwork of the Zen monk Hakuin (1686–1768), famous for his giant portraits of Bodhidharma. (Notes) A short while ago, I heard the news that Yoshitomo Nara was arrested for writing graffiti on the New York subway. He’s setting a standard for you to live up to, Murakami-san! 1. Hashimoto Kansetsu, Hakusasonjin zuihitsu (Tokyo: Chu�o� Koronsha, 1957), pp. 180–81.
From Takashi Murakami The subject for this round was Dragon and Clouds, painted by Soga Sho�haku, in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It was in fact the
image of this very Dragon and Clouds that made me give myself over entirely to the world of Professor Tsuji’s Lineage of Eccentrics at the time when I first picked up the book. (Hmm, this essay might get quite serious this time. . . . ) Take the expression of the dragon in this work, its brows furrowed as though it feels pathetic and sad all at once . . . and yet look at its powerful claws, their fierce clutch. And then there’s the utterly unconventional composition, with the dripping ink in the background evocative of abstract paintings. For a young student painter with an agitated heart—that’s me—this was a piece that sent him off on a journey into the world of fantasy with twinkling aspiration. I have since lived, to this date, while holding on to the ambition of mastering this work and painting one of my own. For this round, then, I prepared an enormous eighteen-meter canvas, filling up the largest wall in my Kaikai Kiki studio, confident that I could create something that would transcend the original.
However! The progress has been excruciatingly slow. Actually, I haven’t been able to paint anything. I had the paintbrush made especially for this work. I had an enormous amount of paint mixed. Nevertheless, I have yet to make even a stroke of the brush. The deadline is in two days. Frankly, the situation is dire, enough to freeze my heart. I have drawn and redrawn the design, but something is not right. Why oh why?? Abruptly on another note, I have been reading a series of books by Kyo�ko Nakano titled Kowai e (Scary pictures). 1 There are some anecdotes in it about dragons in Western paintings, one of which is a drawing of a red dragon by William Blake, The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun (1803–05). This drawing appeared in a novel called Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, of The Silence of the Lambs fame, in which the main character eats the said drawing and becomes a serial psycho killer, supposedly borrowing its power (or delusion). 2
I have been reading various such anecdotes, including about this red-dragon image and St. George and the Dragon (1516) by Vittore Carpaccio, emitting sighs of awe and desperation. That is, I’m constantly trying to find a hint for my work for this round. Mr. Takayama (the editor of this series)! I’m not procrastinating! I’m working!! In the West, dragons are a dreadful presence signifying dark powers, but in China they are fantastical creatures symbolizing good luck and boisterous power and bringing about monetary luck. The two ideas are polar opposites, though I suppose that has nothing to do with my concept here. So why is it that I can’t paint a dragon? I do hope that by the time this issue comes out, at least some kind of skeletal idea of the work will have left its presence on these pages. (Heavens, have mercy on me!) Faced with this painting that brought Professor Tsuji and me together, I find myself backed into a corner, my hands and heart paralyzed with fear of exploring the first pangs of love between us. I am
hoping for my heart to take a leap of faith, intent on betting everything on that one moment, to take on this challenge. Now, leap! *** The text up to this point was from two days ago, written while I was struggling. And it’s done! The work is complete! We did have to ask the printer to make some accommodations and the deputy editor kindly worked on coming up with just the right page layout. (We came very close to missing the issue.) And hooray, it made it to print! Here it is! Mr. Takayama, you saw the piece getting completed with your own eyes! From sketching the design to completing the eighteen-meter painting, we’ve accomplished the feat in twenty-four hours! I have combined various elements that have always interested me with the base subject of Soga Sho�haku’s Dragon and Clouds:
• Hokusai’s bright red Zhongkui (Sho�ki), the Demon Queller (1811) • The nostrils from a King Crimson album jacket • Junji Kawashima’s dragon painting on a small folding screen • Kawanabe Kyo�sai’s Theater Curtain of Shintomi-za, with Impromptu Monster Sketches Contemplating these various things, we, the Kaikai Kiki team, completed the painting in twenty-four hours, with no sleep! Though I have named my studio Kaikai Kiki after Kano� Eitoku, I certainly don’t want to emulate his death by overwork! Really, this serial project is sapping my life away. . . . Ah, Nobuo Tsuji the Enanbo� is too formidable! 1. Kyo�ko Nakano, Kowai e, (Tokyo: Kadokawa, 2013). 2. Thomas Harris, Red Dragon (New York: Putnam, 1981). Text an edited excerpt from: Nobuo Tsuji vs. Takashi Murakami, Battle Royale! Japanese Art History, trans. Christopher Stephens and Yuko Sakata (Tokyo: Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., 2017). Originally published as Netto Nihon Bijutsu-shi (Tokyo: Shincho�sha, 2014).
Above and left: Takashi Murakami and the Kaikai Kiki team hard at work on the giant red dragon. Photo by Tatsuro ¯ Hirose (Shincho ¯sha)
N A T U R E T R IO M P H A N T E
F IR S T J E W E L E R O F T H E P L A C E V E N D â€˜ M E
The Earth Remembers: Landscape and History in the Work of Sally Mann This March, Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings premieres at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Through more than 100 photographs, many of them never previously exhibited or published, the show explores the continuing influence of the American South on her work. Drew Gilpin Faust discusses the artistâ€™s landscape photographs of Antietam, a site that more than a century ago, bore witness to one of the bloodiest battles in the American Civil War.
Previous spread: Sally Mann, Battlefields, Antietam (Boy’s Trail), 2000 (detail), gelatin silver print, 38 × 48 inches (96.5 × 121.9 cm). Collection of the artist Above: Sally Mann, Blackwater 3, 2008–12, tintype, 15 × 13 1⁄2 inches (38.1 × 34.3 cm). Collection of the artist
Sally Mann’s Antietam photographs picture no bodies. They are indistinct, scarred, cloudy. They are intended as works of art, not documentation. As one review of her 2004 show What Remains, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., in 2004, explained, she “reports on nothing, she creates everything.” These photographs are reminders of what we cannot see. A shadowed stand of cornstalks at the left-hand side of one photograph invokes the savage, now legendary fighting that took place during the American Civil War, early on the day of battle in what has come to be known as the Cornfield. But the center of the frame is a shimmering cloud—of heat, of conflagration. In another photograph a dark line of trees seems studded with fairy lights—actually small imperfections in the emulsion that suggest a multitude of individual explosions erupting across the scene. In another, brightened hillocks of earth emerge as bulges out of the background gloom—likely the remains of defense works or burial mounds, but clearly a lingering claim that the war has imposed on the land. Antietam is, in Mann’s words, “exulted by—sculpted by death.”1
There can be few places more death-haunted than Antietam. At the end of the day on September 17, 1862, one soldier observed “hundreds of dead bodies lying in rows and piles,” while others were simply speechless: “words are inadequate to portray the scene.” The ferocity of battle had left both the Yankee and the Confederate armies staggering. Robert E. Lee limped south, leaving the field—and the dead of both sides—to the Union army. Its general, George McClellan, seemed paralyzed and failed to pursue Lee to take advantage of the victory, and this paralysis extended throughout the army as commanders and soldiers struggled to come to terms with the need to attend to the dead and wounded. In many cases, days went by before officers established burial details to dispose of the dead. A Union surgeon reported with dismay that a full week after the battle, “the dead were almost wholly unburied, and the stench arising from it was such as to breed a pestilence.”2 A New Yorker, Ephraim Brown, who had fought in the battle found himself ordered two days later to begin to bury Confederates right along the line where he had struggled so fiercely. He counted 264
Sally Mann, Blackwater 18, 2008–12, tintype, 15 × 13 1⁄2 inches (38.1 × 34.3 cm). Collection of the artist
bodies along a stretch of about fifty-five yards, each destined for a trench he was now required to dig. Origen Bingham of the 137th Pennsylvania did not take part in the fight, and when he arrived on the field four days after the battle, he discovered that most Union soldiers had been interred by their comrades. But he and his men were detailed to bury the hundreds of Confederates who still remained. Bingham secured permission from the provost marshal to purchase liquor for his men because he believed they would be able to carry out such orders only if they were drunk. Another Union burial party sought to make their task manageable by throwing fifty-eight Confederates down the well of a farmer who had fled before the arriving armies.3 Desperate families traveled by the hundreds to battlefields to search in person for kin. Frantic relatives crowded railroad stations in pursuit of information about husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons. Fearing his son dead after learning he had been wounded at Antietam—“shot through the neck thought not mortal”—the doctor and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., rushed from Boston to Maryland filled with both terror and hope. When after days of searching he at last
located his son, it was as if the young captain had been raised from the dead: “Our son and brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” But in the meantime Holmes had encountered parents far less fortunate than he, and had been horrified by his view of battle’s “carnival of death.” The maimed and wounded made “a pitiable sight,” he wrote, “truly pitiable, yet so vast, so far beyond the possibility of relief.”4 The makeshift nature of arrangements for dealing with the dead and wounded, the exhaustion of men called on for burial duty in the immediate aftermath of battle, and the frequent lack of adequate tools—even such basics as shovels or picks—often meant that graves were shallow and bodies were overlooked. When Lee marched north again in the summer of 1863, his soldiers were horrified to find hundreds of corpses still lying on top of the ground, prey for buzzards and rooting hogs. Death remained visible on Civil War battlefields long after the silencing of the guns. Sally Mann sees it still. As they undertook the terrible work of burying both their comrades and enemies, soldiers found it deeply disturbing to be compelled
Previous spread: Sally Mann, Battlefields, Manassas (Veins), 2000 (detail), gelatin silver print, 40 × 50 inches (101.6 × 126 cm). Private collection, New York Above: Sally Mann, Marl Hill Baptist 01:01, 2008–16, gelatin silver print, 8 × 10 inches (20.3 × 25.4 cm). Collection of the artist
to treat humans like themselves with such disrespect. To throw men into the ground like animals—with no coffin, likely not even a blanket to cover them; with no funeral rites; and more often than not, without even a name—dehumanized the living as well as the dead. The horror of the slaughter at Antietam, and the toll it imposed on the survivors as well as the slain, significantly contributed to changing national attitudes and policies about governmental responsibility toward the dead. By 1864, a group of eighteen northern states whose citizens had died at Antietam had joined together to purchase land for an official cemetery. In the years just following the war, 4,776 Union soldiers who had died in the battle and surrounding skirmishes were interred in what became the Antietam National Cemetery, where only 38 percent of the bodies were identified. The bodies of some 2,800 Confederates were gathered in three burial grounds nearby. The Civil War changed many aspects of American life—eliminating slavery, establishing a powerful new nation state, creating hundreds of thousands of grieving widows and orphans. But at the heart of its transformations were new understandings of death and dramatically
altered assumptions about the obligations of the nation to citizens who had died in its defense. The attitudes of the Civil War era seem today unimaginable. The United States is now committed to identifying every soldier lost in battle, returning them to their families, and honoring their sacrifice. The Department of Defense spends more than $100 million every year in the continuing effort to locate and identify approximately 88,000 individuals still missing from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. These commitments and policies grew out of the mass casualties of the Civil War. Those deaths have exerted their powerful impact on the present, just as the bodies of the slain have made a lasting imprint on the soil where they fell, infusing those fields with the spirits and sacred meaning Mann’s photographs seek to capture.5 The cruelties of Civil War death assaulted fundamental assumptions about what it means to be human as well as essential beliefs about how to die. Americans of the mid-nineteenth century had a clear understanding of what constituted a “Good Death,” and these expectations were directly challenged by the circumstances of war. Perhaps most distressing was the fact that thousands of young men were
Sally Mann, Oak Hill Baptist 01:01, 2008–16, gelatin silver print, 8 × 10 inches (20.3 × 25.4 cm). Collection of the artist
dying away from home, distant from family and friends who could record their last words and scrutinize their last moments for evidence of their eternal destiny—of whether they were prepared to die, were at peace with their fate, confident in their faith, and prepared for the world beyond. Such a departure from life could reassure a family that they could anticipate being reunited with their lost loved one in eternity. Readiness for death was critical both to the moment of passing and to life everlasting. All should keep death ever in their consciousness and be prepared for its appearance. Much has been written about the very different posture toward death of today’s Americans. Rather than living with an acute awareness of death’s proximity, American society has repressed and denied it, in personal and family life, in religion, and in funereal and medical practices. But Mann has a decidedly different sensibility—one more like that of her forbears in the nineteenth century than inhabitants of her own time. Like Americans a century or more ago, Mann believes that only by looking death in the face can we fully comprehend and relish its opposite. A good life is one undertaken in full view of its end.
Loss, she has said, “is designed to be the catalyst for more intense appreciation of the here and now.”6 Photography is a remarkable instrument for such appreciation. It has a special relationship with death. It captures, steals, stills time; it renders the impermanent permanent; it transforms a moment into meaning. It has the capacity to exert a kind of control by defining and framing what is otherwise incoherent and formless. It compels us to look, to see both absence and presence, and to strive to understand how each constitutes the other. Yet in appreciating the here and now, Mann also requires us to acknowledge its inseparability from what has come before and what will persist after us, its inseparability from history and from the inevitability of our own deaths. These themes are in one sense abstract, universal, philosophical, but Mann situates them within the context of a particular place and a particular moral narrative—that of the South of slavery and war, with their revelation of the capacity for cruelty and inhumanity, the “sediment of misery” that this history has imposed on the land. Mann’s is a South that must remember its past clearly in order to struggle
Sally Mann, Battlefields, Antietam (Trenches), 2001, gelatin silver print, 38 1⁄8 × 48 1⁄4 inches (96.8 × 122.6 cm). Stephen G. Stein Employee Benefit Trust Artwork © Sally Mann
beyond it. She knows that this work is not complete. As I write, in August 2017, Charlottesville, just seventy miles east of Lexington, has erupted in devastating racial violence sparked by white supremacists protesting the planned removal of a statue of Lee. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” wrote William Faulkner, in a line quoted so often because we see again and again that it is so very true. We as a people and a nation, as Southerners, as Virginians, are still struggling with the meaning of the Civil War and its legacy, still striving to realize the “new birth of freedom” that Abraham Lincoln insisted must be the justification for the war’s slaughter, still seeking to overcome the history of racial injustice that has so deeply defined us. Mann’s photographs are a part of that struggle, exhorting us not to look away but to confront that past, to embrace our mortality, and to live deliberately and humanely in the face of the truths we have tried so long to deny.7 Excerpted from an essay by Drew Gilpin Faust, first published in Sally Mann: A Thousand Crossings, produced by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and published in association with Abrams. The
exhibition, coorganized by the National Gallery of Art and Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, is on view from March 4 to May 28 in Washington and from June 30 to September 23 in Salem. It also travels to Los Angeles, Houston, Paris, and Atlanta, closing in January 2020.
1. Henry Allen, “The Way of All Flesh,” Washington Post, June 13, 2004, and Sally Mann, on Charlie Rose, PBS, November 12, 2003. 2. James M. McPherson, Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 6, and Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), p. 66. 3. Faust, This Republic of Suffering, pp. 67–69. 4. Oliver Wendell Holmes, “My Hunt after ‘The Captain,’” Atlantic Monthly 10 (December 1862): 764. 5. See Caroline Alexander, “Letter from Vietnam: Across the River Styx,” The New Yorker, October 25, 2005, p. 44. 6. Mann, quoted in Ann Hornaday, “‘Remains’ to Be Seen,” Washington Post, June 6, 2004. On the denial of death see Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974), and Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2014). 7. Mann, quoted in Hornaday, “‘Remains’ to Be Seen,” and William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun (New York: Random House, 1951), p. 92.
CALDER SCULPTING A LIFE The first authorized biography of Alexander Calder was published this past fall. Biographer Jed Perl and Alexander S. C. Rower “Sandy,” President of the Calder Foundation, discuss the genesis of the book, the nature of genius, and preview what’s to come in the second volume with the Quarterly’s Wyatt Allgeier.
YATT ALLGEIER How did this project come about? I’m curious about the backstory. JED PERL I’ve always thought that if I ever wrote a biography, Calder would be the one. Calder embraced many different worlds; that makes him a great biographical subject. For half a century—from the 1920s to the 1970s—he was an essential figure in both the Parisian art world and the New York art world. There’s hardly any other artist about whom that can be said. He was a key figure in the international avant-garde, but unlike so many avant-garde artists, he knew how to give his most daring ideas a broad, heterogeneous appeal. He was a pathfinder, bringing modernism into the mainstream without diluting modernism’s primal power. Honestly, I’d always assumed, given there hadn’t ever been a biography, that either somebody had been working on one for thirty years or somebody was preventing it from happening. And then I crossed paths with Sandy and— ALEXANDER S. C. ROWER You discovered there was somebody preventing it from happening [laughter]. JP Being as you’re the somebody, you can tell that part of the story. ASCR It’s a funny thing. Jed’s a writer, and I couldn’t just let some schlemiel—that’s American—go ahead and write a biography. As you can imagine, I had so many different people proposing half-baked ideas for a biography. This one illustrious writer came to me and said “I want to do the Calder biography.” I asked, “Well, why now?” And she said, “There’s a Calder show opening in eighteen months, and I’ve gotta bump this book out.” So when Jed came along, we didn’t know each other at all. I had read some of his criticism and he had heard some criticism about me [laughter]. It was an amusing time. Jed had been invited to write a brief book about Calder, and he asked to see me and we had our first séance together. I asked him why write that basic book when he could write the biography? And he said “What?!!” What he didn’t know was that I had recently reread an amazing article he wrote in 1998—it was the time of the Calder centennial show at the National Gallery—about Calder, [Fernand] Léger, and [Alvar] Aalto. He went away, and a few days later he said, “Well, let’s give it a shot.” JP At the same time as there was this Calder centennial retrospective in Washington, there were retrospectives dedicated to Aalto and Léger at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. When I was the art critic at The New Republic, I often put a number of exhibitions together in a single essay, and those seemed to go together very well. When I started reading in preparation for the piece, I discovered that these three were close friends. So I wrote an essay called “Being Geniuses Together,” and then Sandy, when I saw him almost a decade later, said, “How did you know all of this stuff without coming here to do research?” I said, I went to the library [laughs]. ASCR Often people walk in our door completely unprepared. First, they’ve not done any research, so they don’t really know much about Calder because Calder is actually a very opaque artist. It’s hard to get to the core of what he’s about because there’s this frilly stuff in front—there’s motion and “dancing shapes” and colors—and it takes you completely away from Calder’s intent, from what he’s trying to communicate. So when you find somebody who’s
Previous spread: Alexander Calder in his studio, 1929. Photo by André Kertész, gelatin silver print, 9 1⁄8 × 7 3⁄4 inches (23.4 × 19.6 cm). Image © André Kertész/CNAC/MNAM/Dist. RMN-Grand Palais
already got a foothold on who Calder is and what he was about, it’s a rare thing and you latch onto him. WA Jed, since this is your first biography, I’m curious to hear about your strategy. There is much debate among writers working in the genre about the best approach. How did you dive into such a monumental task? JP There are plenty of biographies I admire enormously. One thing I always say about writing is that people get very balkanized about defending boundaries: there’s art criticism, dance criticism, movie criticism; there are art biographies, biographies of writers, etc. I don’t see it that way. I see writing, whether biography or criticism, in a broader frame. And some of the biographies that have meant the most to me are literary biographies—the great biography of Henry James by Leon Edel; Richard Ellmann’s biography of James Joyce; Ellmann’s second, major biography, of Oscar Wilde—these are extraordinary books. I’ve always loved these books, and they were especially important for me as I embarked on my biography of Calder. As for biographies of artists published in recent years, John Richardson’s A Life of Picasso is the one I turn to. It’s an extraordinary achievement. Some biographers focus so much on the life that the artist’s work just kind of gets tossed in— sometimes almost tossed aside. I wanted this to be a book about Calder’s emotional life, his mental and psychological life, but also about his imaginative life. So you’ll find that I move back and forth between different sides of the art and the life; after
Left: Calder, Pennsylvania, c. 1900. Photo by Eva Watson-Schütze Below: Alexander Calder, Dog, 1909, and Duck, 1909 Photo by Tom Powel Imaging
a chapter focused on Calder’s family and friends there will probably be a chapter that’s more driven by the work itself. I really enjoy taking some deep dives into issues raised by the work, whether the relationship between the Cirque Calder [1926–31] and the history and philosophy of puppetry, or the relationship between the development of the mobile and ideas about the fourth dimension. I was determined to write a book that had an overall narrative drive but that also moved and shifted in different directions at different times. Sometimes what I’m writing is close to pure criticism; at other times I’m just telling great stories. I don’t think that anybody can fail to be moved by the story of how Calder met and fell in love with Louisa James, on a boat returning from France to the United States. A biographer has to tailor his approach to the artist he’s writing about. Richard Ellmann is interesting in that way. His biographies of Joyce and Wilde are very different; he shapes the story in a way that reflects the subject. Joyce was something of a loner, so the book tends to focus on his family and a few friends. Wilde was anything but a loner, so Ellmann greatly expands the social canvas. With Calder, one of the exciting things to write about is his many friendships. I had the opportunity to write about Marcel Duchamp, but also about Mary Reynolds, an extraordinary woman who introduced Calder to Duchamp and was probably the great love of Duchamp’s life. Reynolds was herself something of an artist; she created enchanting bookbindings. And although she was an American citizen, she lived in France in the early years of the German Occupation and was a hero of the French Resistance. Calder’s friendships are very much a reflection of who he was—of the way he reached out in different directions and engaged with so many aspects of the world. ASCR It’s not a typical biography, the way that it reads, because you’re also explaining the times. JP I think you have to when you’re dealing with an imagination as great—as voracious—as Calder’s. Genius is a mysterious thing, it works in ways that our minds, even really smart people’s minds, don’t work. There are connections that geniuses make between everything that’s going on around them; it may be that even the geniuses themselves aren’t fully conscious of what they’re drawing together. Calder was like that. Only by taking a very broad approach can a biographer begin to suggest all the forces that were impacting a great artist’s imagination—that were surrounding him, enveloping him. WA You want to reveal part of the matrix around him. JP Right. But it’s got to be built in a way that’s both big and light; you don’t want to push too hard, you don’t want to overstate things, which is— ASCR A big challenge. JP Yes. ASCR Because there’s so much nonsense you have to scrape away to begin with. JP There are also hidden stories. In the 1950s and ’60s, for instance, Calder had a continuing impact on the avant-garde. His abandonment of the pedestal, for example, had a bigger impact on artists like George Sugarman, Mark di Suvero, and David Smith than has ever been acknowledged. I think the Minimalists looked more closely at Calder’s work than they would sometimes let on. And the relationship with the Abstract Expressionists is really interesting— ASCR Calder’s relationship to gesture in the mid1950s is extraordinary, and very little is known about it now. At the time it was a hot subject.
One of the most interesting threads that you go into in the first volume is theater. You explore the changes in theories and practices, from Picasso and Jean Cocteau’s Parade with Erik Satie [1916– 17], to Frederick Kiesler and beyond, in relation to Calder’s Cirque. I don’t really see this happening as much anymore, the art world and artists engaging with theater in such a concerted way. JP Well, Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes was a critical force in European art for twenty years, from 1909 to Diaghilev’s death, in 1929. In the book I quote Virgil Thomson, who suggested that Diaghilev’s death might have been a more significant loss for the arts than the economic deep freeze that came with the Depression. There were all these creative people in Paris; and then you had Diaghilev, who had embraced the Wagnerian idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk and inspired so many extraordinary experiments, both directly and indirectly. And Calder, arriving in Paris in 1926, felt the treWA
mendous idealism and optimism of this union of the arts. He began with the Cirque, which Cocteau was one of the first people to see. Ideas about theater and theatricality shaped Calder’s work from then on. He rarely if ever turned down an opportunity to work in the theater; in the 1930s he collaborated with Martha Graham and, with Thomson, on a great production of Erik Satie’s Socrate, a work for voice and small orchestra. But the impact of the theater is more general; one can certainly make the argument that a mobile is a kind of theater. The connection with theater flares up again in the late ’60s and early ’70s. There will be an entire chapter in volume two dedicated to the revelatory nineteen-minute ballet without dancers, Work in Progress, that Calder created at the Rome opera house in 1968. In that ecstatic, optimistic moment in the 1960s, there’s a return to the ambitions that had shaped Diaghilev’s dream of the Gesamtkunstwerk. WA A not her of t he r unn ing t hreads t hat I thought was really intriguing was the recurrence of animals. There’s Duck and Dog, both from 1909, very early in Calder’s childhood. And there
Above: Alexander Calder during rehearsals for Work in Progress, Teatro dell'Opera, Rome, 1968. Photo by John G. Ross
are references to animals in form or title onward throughout his adult life. In modernism there’s always this interest in animals, and the directness of their emotional availability. JP Exactly. Which goes back to the Romantics. WA Right. But beyond that, animals are a common trope in children’s toys. You return to Baudelaire’s essay “The Philosophy of Toys”  multiple times— ASCR Well, first of all, Dog and Duck aren’t toys. They’re sculpture. He made them for his parents for Christmas. There are a lot of misconceptions because Calder mixed up everything, he brought all these lines together, blurring boundaries. So what’s the difference between a production wooden toy—a kangaroo that hops up and down as you pull it on a string for a child, which Calder designed for Gould Manufacturing in Oshkosh in 1927—and a wire sculpture of a kangaroo, which also hops on its wire feet but is a unique work, not a thing for mass production but a humorist sculpture? Back then, humor was a high art form and the exploration of humor as a high art form was taken seriously. It was something that interested Duchamp very much, for example. So the fact that Calder made two kangaroos, one definitely not for children and one literally for children—but still a high art form, challenging definitions—we get mixed up today about what it all means. It’s been a goal of the Calder Foundation to pull it all apart and show: this is a sculpture, this is a child’s toy, this is an adult toy—and what is the deeper meaning? JP One of the great things that Sandy and the Foundation have done is exactly that, scraping away these layers of assumptions. But once you’ve done that, the whole question, going back to Baudelaire, of what is “toy-like” or “childlike”—obsessions of modernism—is important. Approaching the “toylike” with adult seriousness goes back to Wordsworth: the child is father of the man. How does one reclaim what that really meant? That’s a big part of this project. There’s a desire to locate Calder at the forefront of the avant-garde. ASCR And it’s not revisionism. It’s the reintroduction of Calder to people who think of him and Warhol as contemporaries in 1962. This is a reintroduction to say that Calder’s three generations earlier. JP The question of the childlike is something Calder was meditating on through much of his life. He had an extraordinary childhood, with parents who recognized the value of everything he did
as a child because they valued the importance of childhood—they definitely embraced the romantic vision of childhood. His parents saw childhood as the fount of creativity. Dog was in the MoMA retrospective in 1943. Calder wanted the show to start with this work that he made when he was ten or eleven. That’s him posing the issue—that they’re toylike but they’re not toys. One of the things I love about Calder is that he never said, “I’m making a brooch, that’s like making a sculpture.” He did each of these things with exactitude and expressive power, but he was completely clear about the difference between a sculpture, a spoon for the kitchen, and a brooch given to a friend to wear on her blouse. Each object had a different function and place in the world. James Johnson Sweeney points out, though, that the jewelry-making could have been a way of exploring impulses or ideas that perhaps Calder wasn’t yet prepared to incorporate in his sculpture. This was a man with a mind that was constantly overflowing with ideas. If you look at Calder’s paintings, lithographs, and gouaches, you can see that they also provided him with opportunities to work through ideas—ideas he may not as yet have been prepared to incorporate in the more purely formal language that he generally embraced as a sculptor. Even when he was making toys—he’s making a toy, he understands it’s something for his daughters, but he’s also perhaps experimenting with possibilities that a year or two later he may reimagine in the very different realm of sculpture. ASCR The childlike thing, though, has really been a frustration of mine. It’s one of the main reasons I started the Calder Foundation in 1987. Today it’s easier to appreciate that Cy Twombly’s markings aren’t child markings, they’re very sophisticated markings. And you can now more easily relate a Twombly painting or drawing to what Calder was about—not formally, but the way they’ve gotten to the essential nature of things. When I started, thirty years ago, no one would have related the essential nature of Twombly and Calder. Now it’s much easier to comprehend that. JP Something I realized in the process of writing this book is that Calder, especially in the later
Opposite: Alexander Calder, Blue Panel, 1936, plywood, sheet metal, rod, wire, string, and paint, 65 7⁄8 × 36 1⁄4 × 37 inches (167.3 × 92.1 × 93.9 cm). Photo courtesy Calder Foundation, New York
Below: Alexander Calder, The Planet, 1933, ink on paper, 21 1⁄2 × 29 1⁄2 inches (54.9 × 74.9 cm). Photo courtesy Calder Foundation, New York
Left: Alexander Calder, Singe (Monkey), c. 1928, wood and wire, 17 × 8 × 8 inches (43.2 × 20.3 × 20.3 cm). Photo courtesy Calder Foundation, New York
years, was sometimes his own worst enemy when it came to shaping his critical reputation. Like many artists who are lucky enough to live and work among a community of like-minded people, Calder didn’t feel the need to constantly explain what he was doing. He believed that his work could speak for itself. Later on, when he was famous and bombarded with journalists asking for interviews, I think he often felt that he couldn’t begin to explain the process that had absorbed all of his energies for the last forty years. So he would say funny, off-thecuff things— ASCR Yes, rude things too. JP And those have gotten passed around, and they often confuse the story and trivialize Calder’s work. Calder was a man of very deep thought. All too often people don’t fully appreciate that. ASCR At a certain point he gave up speaking about his work. In the last thirty years of his life, he really didn’t do that many interviews. Earlier on, he wrote about his work and he did interviews and talked to a certain degree about theory. He spoke to me about grand ideas. JP I suspect that Calder’s reluctance to philosophize about his own work was at least in part a reaction to his father’s penchant for philosophizing. Calder’s father—Alexander Stirling Calder; he was a very well-known artist in the first quarter of the twentieth century—was a depressive who sometimes spoke about art and life in very dark terms. I think Calder associated his father’s melancholy with a certain kind of philosophic grandiosity. If there was anything Calder wanted to avoid, it was sounding like his father. ASCR I think Stirling’s melancholy actually helped project Calder’s intellect. One of the great things about Calder is that he’s not dealing with his personal anxiety in his art. He’s dealing with a unification of the human condition and the absolute intention to uplift the human condition, to make our world a little bit better as best he can. WA Right, and a cosmic intention. It was so beautiful reading about when he was outside Panama City on the H. F. Alexander and he slept on the dock and saw the coexistence of the sun and the moon in the sky. Well, we can’t mistake that to be so simple as every red disc in every sculpture is the sun. WA No. ASCR But a lot of people have. Or they did in the 1960s. It’s something much grander than the simplicity of that rising sun and the setting full moon, which is like a silver coin, as he called it, on the opposite horizon. It’s the quantum mechanics of the universe, and the precession of the universe, that fascinated him. It’s the thousands of years—26,000— of the universe repeating its cycle. So Calder’s connection to that moment on the deck of the boat was not simply the grand beauty of these two circles but was much more. What’s our place within this immense system? And then that becomes something much greater than our solar system and our universe. So much has been written about Calder and the universe, which was not his subject, but a sad simplification. It’s the universality, right? It’s the interconnection of all things. What’s the binding force of all matter? What exists beyond matter? What’s “empty” space comprised of? It’s something that physicists have been pondering for several decades—string theory—and now, instead of the fourth and fifth dimension, it’s onto the seventeenth or nineteenth dimension. Calder was exploring all of that from a nonscientific point of view. ASCR
Above: Alexander Calder, Object with Red Ball, 1931, wood, sheet metal, rod, wire, and paint, 61 1⁄4 × 38 1⁄2 × 12 1⁄4 inches (155.6 × 97.8 × 31.1 cm). Photo courtesy Calder Foundation, New York Left: Alexander Calder, Un effet du japonais, 1941, sheet metal, rod, wire, and paint, 80 × 80 × 48 inches (203.2 × 203.2 × 121.9 cm). Photo courtesy Calder Foundation, New York
Below: Alexander Calder, Steel Fish, 1934, sheet metal, rod, wire, lead, and paint, 115 × 137 × 120 inches (292.1 × 347.9 × 304.8 cm). Photo courtesy Calder Foundation, New York
Sandy, was there anything that Jed came across in his research for the book that really surprised you? JP The family’s connection to the Arts and Crafts movement, that was a revelation, right Sandy? ASCR Yes! To me, that’s the greatest aspect of the first half of your first volume. You present a fully realized explanation of Calder’s origins, because before this moment, people speculated, “Oh, he knew about Constructivism,” or he knew whatever, you know—they just made things up. But Jed has drawn very clear lines back to the handmade, this resistance to automation and the return to the essential qualities of the handmade. The hand-hammered piece of metal at the turn of the century was so influential on my grandfather, and Jed has really explained how that was, who he saw and who his parents were involved with. JP One of the enigmas of Calder’s career is the ease and grace with which he assimilated very challenging ideas almost immediately after arriving in Paris. There’s never a whiff of American provincialism about his work. When he becomes an abstract artist, in the early 1930s, there’s no sense of strain or stress. He begins by creating some of the most radically simplified abstract sculpture that anybody had ever done; the ideas are immediately there, fully absorbed. How did that happen? Part of the explanation is that even as a child he was moving in a very sophisticated circle. His parents were incredibly sophisticated people and he was imbibing all this stuff. So when he went to Europe, he didn’t have to catch up. WA He lived it. JP Right, he already knew. The whole question of formalism, the nature of form, he got it. Calder’s sister—she was a couple of years older—wrote a memoir in which she recalled how annoyed she and Sandy would be at their parents’ endless discussions about the nature of form and color. So he was living and breathing the language of art from the time he was a child, which I think helps explain the ease he had all those years later. His early immersion in the Arts and Crafts movement— with the kinds of objects that were being made and with the people who were making them—was really WA
I don’t think we’ve fully absorbed Calder’s work yet, so we can’t know as much as we might want to about its ultimate impact. It could be another hundred years before the scale and significance of his achievement is fully understood. —Jed Perl the beginning of his education as a modern artist. And he was still a boy. WA Yes, I enjoyed the section about the Calder family going out west—how open the West was, and the Arts and Crafts elements there. JP Right, everybody talks about Calder and Philadelphia, and yes that’s important, but he spent a lot of important years on the West Coast. My feeling is that the whole West Coast vibe—the ease, the openness—had a big impact on his life. ASCR Oh, it’s super important. And the fact that this high culture developed there at the same time that he was there and a few years before he arrived is extremely important. There were other things that I learned from Jed’s research and writing, but that was the first thing Jed presented to me many years ago, this strategy about how to tell the story of Calder’s formative years. I was stunned at how original it was and also how obvious it was. It was so self-evident. But no one had stated it before Jed. WA Where do you still see the ripples of Calder in contemporary art? Or do you? ASCR Well, there is Calder’s pioneering use of industrial materials to make monumental and
outdoor sculptures, which one can see carried on in the work of someone like Richard Serra, for instance. But beyond this, I’m more inclined to draw your attention to James Turrell. Turrell sculpts light. He doesn’t make objects, right? And Calder’s involvement with unseen forces is from the beginning, even before he becomes abstract in 1930. Through the vibratory effect of his wire sculptures, he delineates qualities of aliveness. We are always, constantly animated, and the sculptures from the very beginning are about that. Then, shortly after, when he drops figurative wire sculpting, the underlying energy becomes the real subject. So his interest in how light and object exist with you physically in space—and the immediacy of that moment, now in 2017—are directly related to what Turrell’s up to. Turrell creates an experience; Calder’s created an experience. Calder has this extraordinary quality, and his greatest lasting legacy is that his work is experienced in present time. And there are many artists who have come after Calder who have used other things. Like sound—Calder used sound in his sculptures, overtly for specific circumstances and almost accidentally for nonspecific circumstances. But nonetheless, it’s about the sound waves encompassing your body, your physical presence in the present moment. JP I think it’s an open question, the question of Calder’s legacy. It’s one I’m going to talk about a little toward the end of volume two. In his essay
“The Image of Proust,” Walter Benjamin says that “all great works of literature establish a genre or dissolve one—that they are, in other words, special cases.” I think of this in relation to Calder. Turrell is certainly an interesting person to bring up. There’s something so large about what Calder achieved, I don’t know that anybody has been able to figure out where you go from there. An analogy that I would suggest is with Bernini in Rome in the seventeenth century, and what Bernini did with the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in the Cornaro Chapel and the later Blessed Ludovica Albertoni. Bernini created these chapels that become total environments, in which the central sculptural unit is related to everything else in the chapel; the entire space is unified, is activated. In the new collection of Donald Judd’s writings, Judd says something like, “Bernini finished off religious art.” There’s a sense in which Bernini’s achievement is so huge that even when you’ve considered all the wonderful late-period Baroque sculpture done after Bernini, you still can’t really say that anybody in the eighteenth century knew how to move beyond him. It may be that nobody figured that out until Rodin came along in the second half of the nineteenth century. Calder is an artist on that scale. I don’t think we’ve fully absorbed his work yet, so we can’t know as much as we might want to about its ultimate impact. It could be another hundred years before the scale and significance of Calder’s achievement is fully understood.
Below: Calder with Mobile in his Roxbury studio, 1941. Photo by Herbert Matter All artworks by © 2018 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
DOUGLAS GORDON Experimenting with temporal manipulation in his films and videos, Douglas Gordon uses both his own work and that of others as raw material to distort time, disorient, and challenge the viewer. In the following text, Katrina Brown discusses the importance of Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho (1993) and some of the films that followed, touching on threads that run throughout the artist’s career.
rom the perspective of the twenty-first century, which gives us constant access to everything everywhere, it’s hard to imagine (or more accurately recall, for those of us old enough) the impact that the domestic videotape player—the VCR— had on how we viewed films: not only what we could watch, but how and when we could watch it, was utterly changed. The technology became affordable in the mid-’70s and commonplace in the ’80s; today it is obsolete. Before its introduction, films were viewed either in the cinema or when broadcast on network TV channels—of which, when Douglas Gordon and I were growing up in the United Kingdom, there were exactly four. As well as introducing the ability to watch films of your own choosing (imagine!) at home, the VCR also of course opened up the ability to control how you watched it; sections could be fast-forwarded, paused—creating the delightful 98
possibility of still images—or even played back in slow motion. Douglas’s 24 Hour Psycho, made in 1993 and first shown at Tramway in Glasgow, was his first to use this new-found ability, which he deployed to slow down a single film so that it lasts a full day. The work opens up unseen and unknowable space in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), with previously unremarked details appearing as stills (the film’s extreme protraction meaning that each frame appears on screen for half a second, where the normal projection speed is twenty-four frames a second). Widespread public knowledge of the film—whether through actually having seen it or not—means that no one need watch it to find out what happens, so the viewing becomes inextricably connected to memory, be it accurate or fallible. As legendary as Psycho is, this transformation plays with our memory and shifts the atmosphere from tense drama to a kind of anxious languor, while
still laying bare the irresistible drive to build narrative from the simple succession of images in time. 24 Hour Psycho was certainly an audacious move, and thousands of words have been written about it since. I hardly need add more here, but its genes are in many works that followed while its own significance has only grown. My first encounter with it—projected on a single large screen suspended in the huge space that is Tramway—has certainly proved an indelible memory. It is often talked about as sculpture and the experience was undoubtedly spatial, but also intensely visual: there is, of course, no sound in the work, though several people seem to recall hearing it—an apt trick of memory, perhaps. 24 Hour Psycho allows the viewer to relish Hitchcock’s exquisitely crafted compositions, and the glorious contrasts among the film’s blacks and whites and silvery grays. The group of Douglas’s works that followed in 1994 and ’95, including Hysterical and 10ms-1,
Previous spread: Douglas Gordon, 24 Hour Psycho Back and Forth and To and Fro, 2008, two translucent projection screens showing two 4:3 ratio film projections, viewable from all sides, 24 hours, loop. © Studio lost but found/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018. Psycho, 1960, USA. Directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock. Distributed by Paramount Pictures © Universal City Studios. Photo by Rob McKeever Opposite (top): Douglas Gordon, Looking Down With His Black, Black Ee, 2008, triple-screen video monitor work with sound, 7 minute, 56 second, loop. © Studio lost but found/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018. Photo by Rob McKeever
Opposite (bottom): Douglas Gordon, B-Movie, 1995, iPod Touch screen showing a fly at life size, 34 minutes, 41 second loop, 2 × 3 1⁄2 inches (5.1 × 8.9 cm). © Studio lost but found/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018. Photo by Rob McKeever Above: Installation view, Douglas Gordon: back and forth and forth and back, Gagosian Gallery, New York, November 14, 2017–February 3, 2018. © Studio lost but found/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018. Psycho, 1960, USA. Directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock. Distributed by Paramount Pictures © Universal City Studios. Photo by Rob McKeever
applied a similar technique to historical documentary footage. I first saw both of these works on a small domestic television set hooked up to a cheap VCR in the Glasgow flat that Douglas and I shared for a number of years in the early ’90s. The slow-motion approach would be stretched to the extreme in 1995 when Douglas developed 5 Year Drive-By, which draws out John Ford’s legendary 1956 western The Searchers to match the duration of the search referenced in the film’s story. It sets up a real-time experience, then, of the time frame the film depicts. The Searchers stars John Wayne as an American Civil War veteran on a tortuous epic search for his abducted niece, played by Natalie Wood. It is one of the first films Douglas recalls watching, at home with his parents as a child; for some reason that remains unknown to me, there were always westerns on television at the time, especially on seemingly interminable Sunday afternoons. (And, as Geoff Dyer has written of
growing up in the 1970s, “Bear in mind how huge afternoons were back then.”)1 Douglas recalls being perplexed by the film: How can one film, which lasts only 2 hours, possibly convey the fear, the desperation, the heartache, the real “searching and waiting and hoping” that my father had tried to explain to me when I was younger? How can anyone even try to sum up 5 miserable years in only 113 minutes?2 His version therefore serves as a tribute to the heroic nature of the quest and the suffering of Wayne’s character. In this instance, one second of cinema time equates to 6.46 hours in real time, or an incredible three frames per hour, meaning that even the most dedicated of viewers is unlikely to ever see more than a few seconds of the original film. It is interminable. Just like a Sunday afternoon at home in the 1970s.
Douglas Gordon, 5 Year Drive-By, 1995, single projection work, 5 years, loop. © Studio lost but found/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018. Photo by Kay Pallister
Described by Douglas as “something of a companion piece to 24 Hour Psycho,” 5 Year Drive-By was first shown in part at the Biennale de Lyon of 1995, when it marked a century of cinema. It ran for three months, just a twentieth of its intended duration. It was to find perhaps its most perfect iteration in 2001, when it was shown outdoors in the desert at Twentynine Palms in California, set against the expanse of the arid sun-drenched landscape in which so much of Ford’s film unfolds. The renown of 24 Hour Psycho has made it a substantial part of Douglas’s biography—shown all over the world, it is regularly cited as a key work of the 1990s. His own history has been a regular thread in his work, through narrative texts, exhibition titles (such as What have I done, at the Hayward Gallery, London, in 2002), and the revisiting of his back catalogue in Pretty much every film and video work from 1992 until now . . . (1999– ), an ongoing compendium work that also saw a return to the TV-format presentation: the videotapes for eighty-two works, with new works continually added, are played on VCRs
and on over 100 monitors (or CRTs), like a personal archive or memory bank. 24 Hour Psycho Back and Forth and To and Fro (2008) tackles that first work head on, representing it alongside a divergent twin. The new version, shown for the first time at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 2008 and at Tramway in 2010—site of 24 Hour Psycho’s original coming to life—takes the form of two identical screens installed side by side, with Douglas’s film playing in full on each: forward on one, backward on the other, with one flipped left to right such that—at exactly twelve hours in—they present the same images, mirrored, in a kind of exquisite, time-limited film version of a Rorschach inkblot test. More recently at Gagosian New York, the screens were set perpendicular to one another so that one screen dissected the other a third of the way along it, creating two separate pairings of images. These formats generate some entirely unforeseeable but remarkable juxtapositions, and the tension is intense: what has happened before will also happen in the future, and, of course, vice versa.
The two-screen, mirroring format is familiar from several earlier works of Douglas’s, including Hysterical. His practice has often involved ideas of repetition, inversion, mirroring, doubling, and duality, in what the curator Nancy Spector has called his “perpetual play of opposites.” These are, of course, works made from a position of love: a love of film and a vivid awareness of what Douglas has called the social aspect of watching a film, memories of first viewings and the subjectivity of how we remember them. It’s a love that may twist itself into an obsession, into extreme viewing, but nonetheless allows the objects of his affection to endure, on an imposing scale and with a physical presence that mirrors the scale of their impact on our culture and imaginations. 1. Geoff Dyer, “On Being an Only Child,” 2008, in Dyer, Working the Room. Essays and Reviews: 1999–2010 (Edinburgh and London: Canongate, 2010, reprint ed. 2015), p. 311. 2. Douglas Gordon, “5 year drive-by; proposal for a public artwork,” copy of fax sent by the artist in 1997 and reproduced in Unbuilt Roads: 107 Unrealized Projects, ed. Hans Ulrich Obrist (Hatje Cantz, 1997).
TROUVÉ / Tatiana Trouvé and Katharina Grosse discuss their exhibition currently on view at the French Academy in Rome with curator Chiara Parisi.
To juxtapose the work of Katharina Grosse and Tatiana Trouvé, artists whose directions are different but not altogether contrary in background, influences, and means, triggers new visual short circuits, frictions, and attractions at the Villa Medici, Rome. In their respective practices they share a fundamental interest in architecture. At the Villa Medici, this can generate dialogue with unexpected and surprising outcomes, as well as generating tangible and psychological spaces that necessitate an active exchange, both physical and mental, with whoever investigates and traverses them. The artists have been invited to participate in the fourth stage of an exhibition series entitled UNE at the Villa Medici, the architecture of which is far from neutral, being stratified by centuries of history. The exhibition path that they construct,
together and individually, twists and turns. For Trouvé, the space she investigates is made up of structures and symbolic objects, beginning with the Villa’s ancient Roman cistern. And through a reality reimagined, Katharina Grosse brings inside the exhibition a tree planted in the Villa’s grounds by Ingres. For both artists, space is an extension of their studios where their projects are conceived and formalized. For Trouvé, the Villa Medici, filled with symbols from other times, becomes a receptacle for her mental and sensual interventions that employ minimalistic structures and emotional distantiation. For Grosse, this same site represents a membrane shaped into a sensory path where painting becomes architecture and color is an anarchic element.
/ GROSSE The immersive experience that the artists have created is guided, on the one hand, by the synchronicity of Grosse’s work, whereby the use of painting and the variable of unpredictability reign; and on the other by Trouvé’s obsessive study of the building of structures that are provisional, pliable, and adaptable, yet where the margin of improvisation is reduced as far as possible. What was your point of departure for this project at the Villa Medici? TATIANA TROUVÉ You invited me to take part in an exhibition where two artists shared the rooms of the Villa: a double solo show. I reflected on this situation. Generally my projects begin with places, their architecture, their history, the physical and psychological scale of a space. This time it was the CHIARA PARISI
ways in which cohabitation redefines a space that guided my decisions. On the one hand, I was very happy to share this invitation with Katharina Grosse, because for many years I have truly appreciated her installations; on the other, I have often thought that our works, although diametrically opposed, might be able to exist in dialogue. In this regard I thought of a novella by Italo Calvino, La giornata d ’uno scrutatore [translated into English as The Watcher], whose story unfolds on election day. The protagonist, who is a Communist, is put in charge of overseeing a polling station to make sure that the Christian Democrats, in order to win votes, prevent the mentally handicapped from voting. He begins his day committed to his ideals but, in the end, realizes that those ideals rest on principles
that have little to do with life, suffering, or poverty. He then asks himself if it is right for people to be able to vote or be assisted in voting, and he ends up admitting the following: Humanity reaches as far as love reaches; it has no frontiers except those we give it. Beyond the political and democratic parable, what I take from this story, in relation to our exhibition, is how Calvino always affirms the power of doubt, which animates thought, and the contradiction that activates it. With doubt, or thanks to it, it becomes possible to perceive others, to understand their differences, the complexity of reality, and to no longer be content to play the game of questions and answers. For me, our exhibition and the cohabitation of our works is an opportunity to animate this doubt and to activate its contradictions. 103
Space is an integral element for you. How have the history, architecture, and interiors of the Villa Medici inf luenced the genesis of the new works that you have made for the exhibition and your choice to include existing works? TT The building was constructed in the Renaissance to replace the gardens of Lucullus, and even today, the superimposition of these two worlds still produces singular spaces. For me, the most interesting space is the ancient cistern, this sort of whale’s belly, a bit like in Moby Dick. In my opinion it is a living organ that spreads out in the architecture and functions like a kidney. Here, the walls perspire, visitors’ feet are in the water, the air becomes thin, and light does not penetrate. All this would lead you to believe that some lumps of rock are pushing out very slowly; that the words uttered here are captured and will be heard in later years, or sometimes even be interrupted before they have been emitted. Inside the cistern, time produces incessant curves and loops: it is in a state of suspension. You enter the subconscious of the architecture. In this way you imagine that a visit to the show might last for days, even weeks. CP Do you think that an unexpected short circuit will be created within the Villa, and also with the work of Katharina Grosse? TT I would rather like it to entail an elaboration of space-time. My interest lies in combining many different concepts of space: a concrete but unusable space becoming abstract, and an abstract space that will prove to be more meaningful than how it immediately appears. As soon as you think you have stepped across it, you have in fact pushed it back behind you. Doubt settles in, and it is this disorientation in the space that allows a different experience of time to be asserted. I believe that distortions are created between our works, places, and the visitors. An exhibition is always an unexpected event, even for the person who originates it. I discover my exhibitions just before viewers do, but always with surprise, and the duration or the precision with which I have conceived them is of little importance. They always demand adjustments on my part. I have never followed a preordained plan to the letter; on the contrary, I often put aside my initial plans once I am engaged in installing a work in the space. The exhibition is one of the most important moments in my work; the place of exhibition is a space of thought, within which I compose worlds, an extension of my studio. CP How do you think visitors will react to some of your existing sculptures in this new charged context of the Villa Medici? TT I think about Sigmar Polke’s painting Can you always believe your eyes?, which I recently saw and which echoes precisely these concerns regarding the relationship of the viewer/visitor with works and exhibitions. And Muntadas’s statement: warning: perception requires involvement. The visitor of an exhibition is caught between these two flows. And then I need to have confidence in viewers, because the aesthetic experience is theirs. There are many ways to activate and animate the work’s potential, but the prerequisite is for viewers to pay attention. Paying attention is how the experience begins and it is what the experience leads to and prolongs. The attention one pays to a work multiplies questions about it: what meaning does one give to the presence of material objects in an uncertain symbolic sense (mattress, chairs, notebooks . . . )? What ritual or memorial purpose does CP
one associate with them? In what physical or psychological reality does one situate them? How does this world work? Each aesthetic experience belongs to us; it is unique and, in a certain way, unpredictable, both in the way it unfolds and in its outcome. It is impossible to foresee, to react a priori, to know if one still has to trust what one sees, if one should grasp things that surround us, this environment, calling upon personal cultural or social elements. To return to the words of Amerigo, the protagonist of Calvino’s novel, I would say that the only limits a work has are those one grants it. Its reading is always, also, the sum of what it puts together for us. CP What would you take from this experience? TT For me, an exhibition is a ferryman crossing space and time; the works are transitional objects produced by these intermediary realities where dreams proliferate. They can pertain just as much to the past as to the future. Thus my hypotheses are open and are not assigned to a particular space or time.
Previous spread (left): Tatiana Trouvé, Untitled from the series Les dessouvenus, 2017, pencil on paper on canvas with bleach, 49 1⁄4 × 78 3⁄4 inches (125 × 200 cm). © Tatiana Trouvé. Photo by Florian Kleinefenn
Top: Tatiana Trouvé, Prepared Space, Navigation Map, 2017, patinated bronze, wood, and incisions in the floor and walls, dimensions variable. © Tatiana Trouvé. Photo by Untrefmedia
Previous spread (right): Katharina Grosse, Untitled, 2013, digital print on silk, 157 1⁄2 × 492 1⁄8 inches (400 × 1250 cm). © Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2018. Photo by Christian Wickler
Bottom: Tatiana Trouvé, Les indéfinis, 2014 (detail), Plexiglas, patinated bronze, metal, wood, fabric, copper, and concrete, dimensions variable. © Tatiana Trouvé. Photo by Annette Kradisch
What was the starting point of your new site-specific project for the Villa Medici? KATHARINA GROSSE First of all, I was looking for a spot in the Villa’s exhibition spaces where I could paint directly in situ. It had to be a surface that would allow my painting to connect with the Villa’s architecture and deal with its history in a paradoxical way. When I found out that much of the Villa’s space is historically protected and therefore cannot be painted over, I realized that I would have to bring in cloth or other materials to create such a surface, a painting ground for a work that would be able to generate a sense of dislocation or independence. It was a lucky coincidence that we found the felled tree that is connected to the history of one of the villa’s most famous inhabitants, Jean-AugusteDominique Ingres. I decided to place a stack of tree-trunk sections on the horse ramp leading to the old stables. The ramp has gently inclining steps beneath a domed ceiling. Before the wood is piled on the steps, they will be partly covered in cloth, so that the tunnellike feel of this corridor will be accentuated. The wood sitting on the fabric will serve as my painting surface. Ultimately I think it will look like a cartoonish image of an oversized, disassembled canvas. CP The pine tree you are using was planted by Ingres when he was the director at the Villa Medici, from 1834 to 1841. Is your use of his tree in some way a nostalgic gesture? KG I am not driven by a retrospective impulse but rather by the desire to project possibilities. There are many ways to look at the chopped-tree piece. Besides a disassembled canvas, it could be seen as a scaled-up fireplace; it might also refer to a wooden sculpture being painted as in medieval times, or it could feel like brutally disrupted growth. History as the construction of linear development does not make sense to me. This is why painting is so fascinating to me. Everything in a painting is present at the same time. The “before” and “after” completely depend on one’s choice of perspective. There is no one right way to look at the work; it provokes one to move around, in, and through it in the attempt to put it together in one’s inner vision. CP Could we say that you are taking the very charged object of the tree (connected to the architecture, the gardens, the city) and are reusing it as a sort of totem/agent? You seem to be reversing Ingres’s gesture by displacing the tree from the outside to the inside. By incorporating this dead matter into your work, you are opening a new chapter for it. KG The pine tree was planted in Ingres’s time and grew into our present. It’s extraordinary to think that the lifespan of a tree so far surpasses that of a human being. Ingres’s own work does not matter here specifically, but he is the magic ingredient. Ingres, who planted the tree to create a framework for the ancient Dea Roma (Rome as goddess) statue in the garden, infiltrates the crude tree-trunk sections with a story that the wood itself fails to represent. In that sense the tree is the abstraction of Ingres’s very existence. This tree also allows me to create a sense of displacement or “misbehaving” indoors. I transform the space, the material, and its history. The felled tree is the very metaphor for that. That is what all artists do: they paint over other artist’s work, and yet at the same time that work stays present. But again, I want to stress that the tree was CHIARA PARISI
a lucky find; my paintings can land anywhere anytime. In this sense they are exactly like thought. I believe that paintings can transform our understanding of everything—from the most intimate to the broadly political. Looking at paintings makes us realize that things look different every time we look at them, even if we console ourselves with the familiarity of a revisited situation. It is a simple but powerful move to really feel that everything is different every time, that we do not need the big solution once and for all, but that constant change is natural. Embracing uncertainty in such a way could influence how we look at gender, race, society, or politics. CP In that aspect, to what degree are you actually working on the concept of “Überformung” (reshaping the surface of reality) by applying paint to the previously chopped-down tree? KG The relationship of my painting to the sculptural surface is a paradoxical one. Built space and painted space stand for qualities that normally
Above: Katharina Grosse, Mein Schreibtisch, das Schneefeld, 2013, acrylic on tree, wood, and roots, 137 7 ⁄8 × 118 1⁄8 × 157 1⁄2 inches (350 × 300 × 400 cm). © Katharina Grosse and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2018. Photo by Nic Tenwiggenhorn
exclude one another but that here occur at the same time. Color is atopic, therefore it allows me to paint a large watercolor in difficult circumstances, in this case on tree-trunk sections placed on fabric. The painting gains an illogical tactility and resists arriving at a homogeneous image. Because of this it forces us to experience the world as discontinuous and fragmented. I think that the exaggerated fragmentation questions our need for harmony and shows us the impossibility of experiencing the world seamlessly. CP In the exhibition, you also present a copy of your very first spray painting, printed on silk to actual scale. Can you discuss the original work, its reenactment, and the particular choice of display in Rome? KG The green corner was my very first in situ painting, at the Kunsthalle Bern fifteen years ago, and remains an important referent in my work. Working directly in the exhibition venue is more exposed than working in the studio, bound to the visual conditions of the setting with regard to time and subject. The manifestation of a work is tied to the site but its level of impact is not. For the viewer of the original work, the photographic documentation of that work does not do it justice and, conversely, the missing original exercises great fascination over the viewer of the photograph: to see the thing that she never experienced firsthand. Thus the 1:1 reproduction of the work is a deception in itself, revealing—at actual scale—that the work itself is absent. Tatiana felt strongly this “apparition” of the green corner would resonate with a set of sculptures she had. We started to realize that our works could interlock and stimulate loops of exchange. CP The nonhierarchical understanding that a painting can appear everywhere is also strikingly expressed in your outdoor works, where your paintings stretch over vast landscapes. KG The strategy of my outdoor works is to implement a seemingly natural scribble into “nature,” which lets us reassess how we think about “nature” when we give it form. My painting intends to stage our imagination of the natural; one could even spin this further and say that my imagining of the natural in the form of a painting leads us to rethink our imagining of the garden as idealized nature. I want to touch upon questions such as how do we create a form of nature? And how do we deal with the consequences of this process? CP Would you say that you have something in common with Ingres? KG We clearly share a love of gardening! Exterior images of Villa Medici, Rome. Photo (top) by Assaf Shoshan. Photo (bottom) by Daniele Molajoli
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he has come to naples to paint clouds. but since his arrival, weeks ago, he finds that he can paint anything but clouds. Actually, he’s painting quite well, with confidence and with the necessary and sincere spiritual devotion. But he cannot do the one thing—one could even say, the only thing—for which the brothers of the Confraternity of the Precious Blood of Jesus have brought him here from Venice: the reason why he was hired. The sweet face of the Virgin melts onto the wall and the saints cluster around her. Even Saint Peter of Verona, with the axe of his martyrdom still buried in his head—an odd touch for a dining room fresco, but that’s what the duchess wants—seems to have been animated by the painter’s touch. The most gravely wounded holy men and women leap from his palette. The apostles seem to have been hiding beneath the surface of the plaster, just waiting for the tap of his brush. But the clouds he paints look like lumps of raw dough, like the poisonous icing with which the mad baker of San Polo poisoned his customers, like the cloyingly perfumed fur of mangy lap dogs, like the filthy snow that covered Venice during the freak winter when so many died, like lint, like the clouds his five-year-old son drew that day . . . best not to think about that. He has come here to do two paintings, one for the dining room in the palazzo of the grand duke, the other for the altar of the chapel of the Confraternity of the Precious Blood. And it’s all because of his reputation for painting clouds. If the grand duchess had her way, she would have clouds, clouds, nothing but clouds, because (so the painter has been told) clouds are the fashion of the moment in the decoration of the most stylish palaces and villas. Everyone, by which the Neapolitan men mean their wives, everyone wants them. But because the grand duke is devoutly religious and intensely conscious of his high position in the confraternity, the duchess has agreed to cover the bottom quarter of the wall with saints and martyrs witnessing the Ascension of the Virgin Mary. The duchess wants to see the Madonna rising into the pink, violet, and pale-blue sky that spans the walls and the vast domed ceiling. She wants to entertain her guests beneath the pastel sky dotted with the summer-day clouds that she, her husband, and their friends imagine is the weather in heaven. The altar in the confraternity’s chapel will have towering thunderclouds lightly weeping above the Deposition, bathing the dead Christ and the mourners in warm tears of consolatory rain. The painter knows everything that can be known about the punctured ankles of Jesus, about the hair of the Magdalene, about where the donors will kneel, though the number and identity of the donors will be unclear until the confraternity makes its final fiscal calculations. He knows which of the mourners will carry exactly how much of the weight of the dead Christ. And he puts all that into the painting. But when he reluctantly shows his half-finished work to the brothers of the confraternity, men who are used to getting what they pay for, their eyes drift toward the greasy, pitted black sky over the Deposition. The grand duke drags him into his dining room and grabs him by the shoulder and makes him look at the garish pinkish-violet-blue heavens with nothing to soften the Virgin’s ascent, and asks the painter, “What is this shit? You think my wife wants to look at this?” All the brothers are rich, all expensively dressed. Even the older ones are still handsome and vital. When the painter shows them what he has done, the brothers of the confraternity shrug and say nothing. They are paying the painter extremely well, and they aren’t stupid. Naples is full of artists who can draw the Virgin ascending, the corpse of Jesus lowered from the cross by the grieving mourners who, in three days, will be getting a surprise. A nun in a crumbling Spaccanapoli church has painted the apostles with such lifelike clarity that her altar was taken down, because the congregants were so busy trying to figure out how they knew Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John that the priest couldn’t get them to focus on the body and the blood.
The painter has been brought here from Venice because he can paint clouds that turn the inside into the outside, the indoors into the outdoors, clouds that can make people feel as if the ceiling had been peeled back and the years scraped away, and that they are children again, children lying in a field, with nothing to do but watch the clouds shift shapes and talk about what they see. Ever since the painter came to Naples, he’s painted clouds and scraped them out, wet down the plaster, painted more clouds and rubbed them out, leaving smoky, oily, stained skies: heaven after a disaster. He cannot tell his employers that he hates Naples, which everyone loves and which he is supposed to love. There is no one he can tell how homesick he is for his family, for his wife and child, and for the high clouds of Venice. In Venice you twist through a crooked alley and emerge onto an open piazza crowned by a sky in which the high clouds are waiting to greet and reward you. When he looks up at the sky from the dark, narrow streets of Naples, he sees laundry and more laundry. The painter has always been fascinated by clouds. His siblings and school friends saw sheep turning into angels into birds, but he saw biblical scenes, scenes of battle, and occasionally the faces of his neighbors, though he told no one whose face he’d seen because it rather soon (and rather dramatically) became clear to him that when he saw a face in the clouds, it meant that the person was going to die, often within weeks or even days. The furniture-maker across the street, the pretty maid who churned the butter. It wasn’t a gift that anyone would want, but he had it, and he had no idea how to get rid of it, except to avoid looking at the sky, which was impossible, especially for him. He has told no one, not even his wife, about this, and he has tried, throughout his career, to paint clouds in which no one can see anything but masses of water and light and air. In his clouds people see one moment in time, no more or less, and certainly not the faces of the doomed. As a boy, he covered the walls of his room with clouds and was sent to study with the master painter in whose studio he, though still a boy, was given the job of adding the clouds above the holy scenes and behind the figures in the master’s portraits. All the boys in the master’s studio, and now all the boys in his own studios here and in Venice, all have the same story: they’d painted or drawn on the walls, and someone noticed. Like many artists, the painter is superstitious. In Naples he cannot stop feeling that the clouds have abandoned him. He blames this on two incidents—two that he can remember. One: he took his mistress, a married woman, to a field outside his childhood village, near Padua. Afterwards, they lay on a blanket, and she was saying something, saying she loved him and wanted him to abandon his wife and she could leave her husband and they could run away together, or maybe she was saying that she didn’t love him and they had to end it. He didn’t know what she was saying, because he was seeing her husband’s face in one of the clouds. He didn’t want to see it, he wished the man no ill, in fact he often felt guilty for having seduced the man’s wife. Nor did he want the husband to die, because he wanted things to stay as they were. His mistress began to weep, because she had been saying something close to her heart, and he hadn’t listened, he’d been looking at the clouds. This seemed unfair, because part of the reason she’d fallen in love with him (though she denied it) was on account of his fame as a painter of clouds. Days later, her husband died suddenly, of apoplexy, and, now, in her guilt and grief, she has ended their affair. Two: his five-year-old son has inherited his skill in drawing and painting. The child loves his father, loves to imitate his father, thinks his father is a god, so perhaps that was why, not long before the painter left Venice, the boy drew a sky full of clouds, a childish version of what his father might do, except that he included a remarkable likeness of his father’s face in one of the clouds. Shocked, the painter slapped his son, whom he adores and had never hit before. The boy ran away, sobbing, crying for his mother. Now, he thinks, the boy will never become an artist, the boy will never love
him as much or as innocently as he once did. The painter doesn’t want to think how much of his gift has been passed down to his son, and whether the child drawing him in the clouds means that he will soon die. Since then he has come to feel that he has angered the clouds and they have withdrawn their support. He has no trouble reconciling this pagan belief with the fact that he is a Christian and believes that Jesus died for his sins and was resurrected to redeem mankind. In Naples, the painter has taken another lover, a boy of sixteen who works in his studio. He loves the boy’s perfect body, but there is something else. The boy believes that every problem has a solution. It is not just because he is young. He is not afraid, not haunted, not ashamed. He is not in the least superstitious. The studio assistant has been to Venice and seen the painter’s work, and he is conscious of (and discreet about) the fact that something is wrong with what the painter is doing—trying to do— in Naples. The boy’s sensitivity, kindness, and discretion are among the qualities that the painter loves. The boy believes that the painter’s problem with clouds is something that can be solved. The boy sends the painter to a doctor who applies leeches to the sides of his head and prescribes a course of tonics. The painter agrees, partly because he loves the boy and who knows, it might help. When he finishes the last drop of tonic, the painter (who has been pleading illness) returns to the grand duke’s dining room and reapplies himself to the job. The clouds he paints look like fingerprints, like smears of bird shit stuck to the wall. Why would the Virgin want to trade the green earth for that thick white poison? The boy, the studio assistant, comes from Naples, which gives him a certain authority, even though he is young. Now he tells the painter that there is one more thing he can try. A crazy idea, but sometime the craziest ideas are best. The painter is at a stage of love at which he is enchanted by the boy’s crazy ideas. How beautiful he is, how innocent, how young. The boy suggests a pilgrimage to Cumae, where, some have said, it is still possible to communicate with the ancient prophetess there, the Sybil, to ask for her advice. Though the painter is not well educated, not nearly so well educated as the boy, he knows who the Sibyl was. She’s been painted by Raphael. Leaning on one elbow, the boy is naked when he tells the painter: before Aeneas traveled to the underworld to see his father, the Sibyl warned him that the difficult part would be returning to earth. Does he want the painter to say that it will be hard for him to leave the boy and return home to Venice? The painter says he has no desire to visit the underworld, thank you very much, and the boy says it’s not like that, there is a cave near Cumae, if you ask the locals they will tell you where it is. By the time the world lost track of the Sibyl, she was a thousand years old; she’d asked for immortality but had forgotten to ask for perpetual youth. For centuries she was reduced to a cracked whisper, a wisp of smoke, a fragment of bone and hair; all that remained of her was contained in a jar. Obviously the jar no longer exists, and there isn’t much to see where the entrance to her cave is believed to have been, but sometimes people go there and hear voices. The boy knows a man who went to Cumae and came back, problem solved. The painter wonders about this man. Should he feel jealous? There’s something the boy’s not saying. Still, he likes the idea, especially if the boy goes with him. A day in the country sounds sweet. The boy reminds him that Naples is a city of thieves. If they both go away at once, chances are that they will return to a bare studio, with all the paints and brushes stolen. He will stay and guard the studio. It’s a simple trip. Three hours. The painter can go and return in a day. By now the painter can’t back down, for fear of admitting that the only reason he wanted to go was to travel with the boy.
The boy tells him the story about the Sibyl offering her books of prophecy to King Tarquin. Each time he refused the books, she burned a third of them and offered him the remaining books at the original price, until he got scared and gave in and purchased the last three books at the price he would have paid for nine. What did the books foretell? the painter asks. No one knows, says the boy. Maybe the fall of Rome. The painter has no interest in the fall of Rome, that is, ancient Rome, but he does enjoy the thought of his rivals, the Roman painters, disappearing along with their city. Even more, he likes the idea of the Sibyl as a hard bargainer, like himself. He asked and got the second-highest fee ever paid a Venetian artist, plus travel to Naples and expenses. Maybe he was greedy, maybe that was why everything has gone wrong. The boy says he thinks there’s a cave in Cumae but it won’t be much to see. The painter thinks it’s worth a try. He is, after all, superstitious. Perhaps the Sibyl can tell him why his special talent has failed, and how he can recover it. If not, it will make a good story to tell when he goes back to Venice and will need to charm lots of people in order to repair his reputation and his career, if that is even possible. Word travels quickly, and his patrons there will have heard the gossip from Naples. His best hope is to turn his unhappiness here into a story about the triumph of Venice over Naples as a place of inspiration. He leaves for Cumae in the morning. It’s a perfect early-spring day. The painter loves the carriage ride, the shortcut over the mountains and then down into the coastal plains instead of going the long way along the coast. There are purple and orange flowers, shockingly bright, dandelions scattered and clumped in the meadows. He looks out the carriage window as they pass some moss-covered stone structures, boulders heaped in a purposeful way. Probably Roman. Ruined temples, he decides. Dust to dust. All of them will end that way, their sorrows on earth forgotten, and for a moment death seems less frightening, almost a comfort. He asks the driver to take him to the cave of the Sibyl, and it goes surprisingly smoothly: someone gives the driver directions and then someone else gives him more directions. Everyone knows what he’s talking about. Does he really expect to hear something meaningful—if he even finds the Sibyl’s cave? Or does he think he will feel something? Of course not. No, not really. He likes being out in the country, where for a while he can forget his dilemma, his life’s work: painting clouds for thugs. There are clouds above the dry rolling scrubland but they have nothing to say to him. It’s as if they’re speaking a different dialect from the Venetian that only Venetians understand. Oh, why did he ever leave home? The journey ends beside a field. The driver points across the field. There. Over there. The painter says, Are you sure? Several people along the way tell him Yes, this is it, and the goatherd who comes by says Yes, there it is, and points into the same field. It’s a garbage dump, lumpy with hillocks of broken crockery, melon rinds, egg shells, mattresses leaking hay, table waste, rags, and worse. The painter isn’t squeamish, but he’s not going to wade through a field of garbage to hear nothing from a spirit who doesn’t live in a cave that doesn’t exist. He’s at once disappointed and relieved. Did the boy know about this? Is this some kind of practical joke, a cruel childish prank? The painter chooses to think not. He and the boy will laugh about it. The painter will say that he likes stories about failed odysseys and pilgrimages. He has always wanted to paint the fourth wise man who got lost on the way to Bethlehem and never found the manger. He’s been told he could never sell it, but still, maybe the boy will pose. The boy will say he’s sorry, his information about the Sibyl’s cave was incorrect, and they’ll laugh again. The boy was trying to impress him with his knowledge of the area, which the painter finds charming. Flattering, even.
On the way back to Naples, the painter stops the driver. He sees something beside the road. Two children, clearly a sister and brother, beautiful, both with thick mops of curly blond hair. They’re folding laundry. Laundry! It’s like a pas de deux, carefully choreographed, each holding the corners and crossing and coming together, a ballet that turns the winter quilts into neat packets. He watches them fold a large white cloth. Suddenly, he realizes: That’s what he wants to paint. Laundry was the secret, hiding in plain sight above the dark narrow streets of Naples. Cherubs unfurling a banner above the head of the Virgin, angels offering a soft, violet-gray shroud to wind around the broken body of Christ. He knows how he will do it, and just as suddenly he is sure that his cherubs and banners will put an end to the Neapolitans’ shallow and fleeting taste for painted clouds. He can hardly wait to get home and start painting celestial laundry. He makes the driver push the horse hard, they pass oxcarts, charge through the midst of flocks and herds, take risks. He hurries to his studio, where propped against his easel is a note from the boy saying to meet him in the grand duke’s dining room. He knows what he will find there, or maybe later, after the fact, he thinks he knew. He finds the boy alone in the dining room that the painter has been trying to paint. In the hours during which the painter has been gone, the boy has covered the walls and ceiling with the greatest paintings of clouds that the painter has ever seen, better than he could have done because the boy’s clouds seem to promise a bright, sunny future. Miraculously, the boy has also found time to complete the sky above the Deposition from the Cross in the chapel of the Confraternity of the Precious Blood. The boy asks: does the painter want to see it? The painter feels dizzy. He wants to sit down. He’s trying to remember a legend he heard about some angels who came and finished a painter’s work in the middle of the night, but he can’t recall any of the details. The boy says that he hasn’t meant to poach on the painter’s territory. It’s just that he was stuck here, bored, with nothing to do. He missed the painter, he wanted to do something to show his gratitude. His affection. He wanted to speed up the work. He hopes the painter isn’t angry. He doesn’t intend to take credit. No one was here in the dining room, the family was away, the palace has been empty, no one saw him paint, and he will gladly say (and take the truth with him to his grave) that the clouds are the painter’s work. After all, it’s the painter’s commission. The boy is just his studio assistant. Nothing has changed, really, nothing has changed. But it seems to the painter that something important has happened. The Sibyl has told him something, prophesied something, without his having found her. This is what she would have said: This is how it always happens. The student completes the work of the master when the master turns his back, or the master is old or ill, or when the master has gone off looking for the Sibyl of Cumae. He did it to the master to whom he’d been apprenticed, in whose studio he’d worked, painting clouds, from whom he’d learned, and whom he’d loved and then trampled on his way to . . . this. It’s a law of nature. It cannot be avoided. Out of affection, and for balance, he puts his hand on the boy’s shoulder as he stands and considers the painted clouds around and above him, the dome of the sky pressing lightly down on the apostles and saints. He sees himself in one of the clouds, his young wife, his little son, this boy he loves, his former mistress, his patrons and his painter friends, each face clearly visible in the shape of a cloud as the Virgin floats upward, riding the current, bell shaped, ascending like a diving bell in the air, arms outstretched, palms down, slowly rising toward them. “The Lives of the Artists, Part One: The Master of the Prophetic Clouds” by Francine Prose. Copyright © 2018 by Francine Prose. All rights reserved.
Fred Hoffman explores the quiet stillness and Arcadian wonderment at the heart of Neil Jenneyâ€™s North American landscape paintings.
NEIL JENNEY NATURE SURVEYOR
ne of the problems with a catchy phrase becoming the identifying feature for a style or group of artworks is the simple truth that one size does not fit all. While these labels may facilitate a certain kind of packaging, they most often limit understanding of deeper intent. The term “bad painting,” for example, was first used as the title of a groundbreaking exhibition organized by Marcia Tucker at New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art in 1978, a show spotlighting a group of artists who Tucker argued were deliberately disrespecting recent styles. While the concept of “bad painting” did provide a way for the art world to assimilate the radical departure of Neil Jenney’s paintings of the late 1960s, it also limited appreciation of the philosophical and psychospiritual content of these works. I have
always viewed them as a fresh way to call attention to the fundamental issue of how we deal with our world and create our sense of self. If we have come to accept that Jenney’s late-’60s paintings intentionally challenge recent art history, we have become equally comfortable labeling his more recent landscape paintings “good paintings.” From one perspective, all art that reflects an individual’s vision is inherently good. But critically speaking, the context and conclusion of being “good” dodges questions of meaning and historical relevance. As such, to label a body of work as “good painting” limits our dealing with it. In the case of Jenney’s recent art, not only does the label marginalize, it also makes it difficult to focus on what those works are really about: a penetrating exploration of the natural terrain, revealing insight into not only the world around us but our understanding of ourselves. The Jenney pieces exhibited here . . . [are] tethered to the tradition of nineteenth-century American landscape painting, especially the art of Thomas Cole. Perhaps, most significantly in regard to the tradition of American art, with Jenney’s work it seems that what you see is what you get. But it only seems that way. In fact, as David Joselit shows in his essay, Jenney’s art takes ordinary subjects and, through the combination of language and image,
Of all the texts in the interestingly sparse literature on Jenney, one stands out: David Joselit’s “Neil Jenney Realism,” in Neil Jenney: Natural Rationalism, the catalogue for an exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art in the fall of 1994. Adam Weinberg, then curator of the Whitney’s permanent collection (he is now the museum’s director), set the context in his preface: Previous spread: Neil Jenney, Ozarkia, 2014, oil on canvas in artist’s frame, 28 × 64 × 3 3⁄8 inches (71.1 × 162.6 × 8.6 cm). Photo by Tom Powel Imaging Opposite: Neil Jenney, North America Divided, 1992–99, acrylic on panel with painted wood frame, 39 1⁄4 × 152 1⁄2 × 3 3⁄4 inches (99.7 × 387.4 × 9.5 cm)
Below: Neil Jenney, North American Vegetae, 2006–07, oil on wood in artist’s frame, 25 3⁄8 × 113 × 2 3⁄4 inches (64.5 × 287 × 7 cm)
I have always viewed [Jenney’s paintings] as a fresh way to call attention to the fundamental issue of how we deal with our world and create our sense of self.
Joselit applies the concept of “relational realism” to Jenney’s “bad paintings,” pointing out that they are “characterized as much by the gaps and disjunctions between things as by their connections.”2 As he goes on to note of the artist’s later, more naturalistic landscapes, “Jenney makes the ordinary strange and the banal disorienting. Although the individual objects which compose [his painting] The Modern Era are ‘real,’ their relationships to one another are abstract: under the utilitarian veneer of modernity lies a disturbing incoherence.” The result for Joselit is “an effect of kinesthetic disorientation.”3 He sees the defining feature and contribution of Jenney’s landscape painting as the simultaneous presentation
makes conventional meanings unstable and open to multiple interpretations.1
of two contradictory movements, one that lifts an observer out of the landscape at the same time that it pours them back into it. Linking the earlier “bad paintings” and the more naturalistic landscapes, Joselit insightfully identifies the artist’s concern with the identity and alienation of objects. When Joselit wrote his essay, Jenney was just beginning to investigate naturalistic landscape; since the mid-1990s he has produced many more such paintings. Joselit’s perceptive discussion, then, now seems more an important starting point than a full summation. Jenney’s landscape paintings at first seem somewhat spare, but are actually abundant in their imagery and continue to present opposing forces within the same picture, as his earlier, more conceptually driven work did. Now, with the distance of time and an expanded output of paintings,
we can begin to understand how Jenney’s exploration of nature takes us toward an even bigger picture, a vision of fascination and intrigue—a glimpse into the experience of wonderment. Jenney’s vision of nature sets us in a world we have never experienced. He makes us reconsider the natural world surrounding us. Many of us have wandered far from nature, and Jenney captures something we know is there but do not see. Even for those of us who regularly, even religiously commune with nature, his depiction of the natural world is so unexpected as to make us reevaluate how we actually experience everything from flora and fauna, boulders and streams, to soaring trees, hovering clouds, and the effects of atmosphere. In coming to grips with Jenney’s depiction of nature, it is helpful to consider both his overall
As we “enter” the pictures, we recognize that what we are witnessing is something other than nature as we normally experience it: rather, Jenney’s presentation of nature transforms it, making it almost magical.
choices—what he chooses to include and exclude— and the specific characteristics he has given to his subjects. He primarily focuses on the relationship between an initial group of natural elements—a mass of boulders, a grouping of tree trunks—and a more distant, expansive space. Whatever the subject, the details of its depiction suggest nature untouched, uncompromised by human interaction. Jenney’s subjects seem filled with a sense of purity. Jenney’s specificity drives our engagement, making what is depicted intriguing and hyperreal. Each boulder in Ozarkia (2014) is painted with acute attention to the minute articulations of its surface. As our eye is attracted to even the smallest aspects of these objects, the artist makes each and every one distinct, imbuing the surfaces of large masses of rock with the rare qualities of precious stones. This subtle
investigation fills the entire pictorial field. Take the twisting, undulating tree branch that extends horizontally across the entire picture plane, or the spare patches of moss on parts of the branch. We don’t simply recognize and identify these images and move on; rather, we are directed, almost forced, to focus on the specificity of the “information” depicted. This is partly because the artist has brought the foreground imagery toward the frontal edge of the pictorial field. It’s as if the boulders could spill out into our space. The frame Jenney has chosen for this work adds to this effect, its double layering functioning almost like a stop sign cautioning the eye, and then the mind, to focus on every nuance of surface articulation. This effect is further enhanced by the contrast of this heavy wooden structure and the delicate, soft, sometimes ephemeral quality of the imagery
depicted. While other artists have captured the detail and minutiae of nature, Jenney stands apart in his strategic and calculated implementation of pictorial devices, many of them time tested over centuries, that drive our engagement. To some extent, the credibility of these surfaces is achieved through Jenney’s mastery of technique, primarily his almost microscopic brushwork. One can only imagine the patience required to create these pictures. When one visits his studio, the materials and tools used to execute these works are nowhere to be seen; to my knowledge, Jenney paints in complete privacy. His process must be slow and tedious, using many repeated strokes to build up the images. Paint application this precise requires a commitment of months to execute a single work, and a pictorial process rare among contemporary artists.
Following page (left): Neil Jenney, North America Depicted, 2009–10, oil on wood in artist’s frame, 40 1⁄4 × 45 1⁄4 × 2 1⁄8 inches (102.2 × 114.9 × 5.4 cm)
Following page (right): Neil Jenney, North America Divided, 2001–06, oil on wood in artist's frame, 26 1⁄4 × 28 1⁄4 × 2 3⁄4 inches (66.7 × 71.8 × 7 cm)
Above: Neil Jenney, North America Depicted, 2010, oil on wood with painted wood frame, 25 3⁄8 × 113 inches (64.5 × 287 cm)
Below: Neil Jenney, North America Acidified, 1985–86/2012– 13, oil on wood in artist's frame, 34 × 115 3⁄8 × 5 inches (86.4 × 293.1 × 12.7 cm)
Jenney implements other pictorial devices to involve us in his paintings. In two of his most recent works, North America Acidified (1985–86/2012–13) and North America Depicted (2014–17), and in the earlier North America Vegetae (2006–07), the viewer is asked to peer into a long, narrow expanse of space whose imagery presses up against the picture plane. The pictorial space behind this frontal edge is a luminous field filled with subtle gradations of soft, warm, inviting color. Jenney’s atmospheres take us far from where we “enter” the picture—we never feel that there is an end, always sensing that we are invited to keep going farther and deeper in. Whether grouping long narrow tree trunks from the bottom to the top of the picture, filling part of the pictorial field with large boulders, as in Ozarkia, or articulating a pattern of tropical leaves to hover across the entire width of the painting directly behind thin, undulating tree branches that also fill the field, Jenney gives his subjects an inescapable presence. Jenney’s framing devices play a critical role in his effects. This artist has learned well from the masters of art history. Think of Bellini’s altarpiece in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice (1488), where the objectlike nature of the framing devices both separate us from the heavenly figures of the Madonna and child and at the same time function as the vehicle inviting us in to experience this other world. In Veronese’s grand Feast in the House of Levi (1573; now in the Accademia in Venice), the actual frame, complemented by the architectural elements depicted in the painting, serves a similar function of separation and inclusion. I would suggest that a similar mindset drives Jenney. His thick, wide, heavy
structures function as window frames onto another world. While these objects might initially feel intimidating, as if they were declaring “stand back” or “do not enter,” Jenney’s imagery is just too alluring—we let go of any resistance and embrace our sensory/ sensual desire to reach into these pictures and touch the artist’s natural forms. To the degree that Jenney’s frames are objectlike, sometimes even overbearing in their weightiness, his work separates itself from that of other painters focused on the natural world. Some of his frames even remind me of the severity of Donald Judd’s Minimalism, as if Jenney’s roots in that movement were coming through. But more than this point of reference, Jenney’s pictorial solutions remind me of the conceptual and strategic devices implemented by those Renaissance masters who understood that the frame could function as the declarative
link between our lived-in world and the fiction represented “behind” it. As we “enter” the pictures, we recognize that what we are witnessing is something other than nature as we normally experience it: rather, Jenney’s presentation of nature transforms it, making it almost magical. Nature here is not simply credible but extraordinary. Jenney’s scenes do not tell a story, they feel frozen in time. While we believe in them as depicting what we see in nature, they might just as easily show a reality beyond the observable physical universe. With their ever inviting luminosity, reminiscent of Venetian Renaissance masters, Jenney’s landscapes give new credibility and legitimacy to realism. These pictures hardly feel traditional. In combining an astute understanding of the history and techniques of painting with his intellectual roots in the Minimal and Conceptual practices of the late 1960s and early Time past and time future Allow but a little consciousness. To be conscious is not to be in time But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden, The moment in the arbour where the rain beat, The moment in the draughty church at smokefall Be remembered: involved with past and future. Only through time time is conquered. 4
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point. . . .
’70s, Jenney offers a unique vision of both nature and the natural world. Immersion in Jenney’s landscapes reminds me of T. S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton (1935):
North America Depicted (2009–10) is somewhat of an anomaly in Jenney’s oeuvre, an almost allwhite work that suggests the minimal abstraction of Robert Ryman. A series of snow-covered boulders progresses from the foreground back into a deeper space. Using the subtlest modulation of hue, Jenney makes each form distinct, yet simultaneously creates an overall homogeneity. Interspersed between these frozen masses are spare pockets of open space, barely recognizable as a body of water. At the top of the work, beyond the configuration of hovering snow-capped mounds, Jenney has painted a single spare tree trunk. Running up to the top edge of the picture and to the heavy picture frame, this small lone form brings the viewer’s attention back to the foreground, linking the scene depicted to a physical reality. It grounds us, preventing the mind from becoming lost as the eye meanders through this Artwork © Neil Jenney Photos by Rob McKeever unless otherwise noted
1 . Adam Weinberg, in Neil Jenney: Natural Rationalism, exh. cat. (New York: The Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994), p. 1. 2 . David Joselit, “Neil Jenney’s Realism,” in ibid., p. 4. 3 . Ibid., p. 7. 4 . T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton,” Four Quartets, first published between 1936 and 1942 (New York, Harcourt, 1971), pp. 15–16.
inviting experience in nature. While the eye is generously invited to move through the picture, the work conveys stillness. More than simply depicting something frozen, it suggests a suspension of time. Like Eliot’s line about “the still point of the turning world,” Jenney’s winter scene captures that moment where both past and future are put aside, the viewer residing in the moment. No longer viewing nature as we have known it, we are presented with a sacred space.
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At the start of World War II, Man Ray escaped Europe for the United States, eventually settling in Los Angeles. Timothy Baum explores this period of transition in response to an exhibition of Man Ray’s vintage gelatin silver photographs from his “Hollywood” period. When Man Ray left New York in the summer of 1921, he did so with the resolve of never living there again. The city had in many ways become a monster to him: a compost heap of disappointing memories, interspersed, luckily, with a few artistic successes. Primary among his defeats was the failure of his marriage, to a Belgian who had opened his eyes to the enticements of life in Europe, and especially its conduciveness to the needs and inclinations of an inveterate artist like himself. This dream of Europe—and especially of Paris, its ultimate romantic mecca of culture and sophistication— was enhanced by various alluring visitors from the Continent whom Man Ray had met during his impressionable early years as an artist, not least of them the elegant and inspiring Marcel Duchamp, but other exciting notables as well. From the moment of Man Ray’s arrival in Paris, he sensed that he was finally in an environment that could nurture him in every way. He was welcomed immediately by a coterie of admiring Dadaists who accepted him with profound respect in the warmest and most cordial manner. He had found his home at last. From that radiant summer of 1921 all the way through to the dark one of 1940, two decades later, Man Ray thrived in Paris. Life bore him good fortune there—especially the security of being accepted in every social way, including as
Opposite: Man Ray, Self-Portrait with Half Beard, 1943 (detail), vintage gelatin silver print, 7 1⁄8 × 5 1⁄8 inches (19.1 × 13 cm)
MAN RAY’S LA
Left: Man Ray in his car (1948) Below: Man Ray, Self-Portrait in the Vine Street Studio, 1946, vintage gelatin silver print, 6 5⁄8 × 8 1⁄4 inches (16.8 × 20.8 cm) Opposite: Man Ray, Ruth Ford, 1943 (detail), vintage gelatin silver print mounted onto card, 9 3⁄4 × 7 3⁄4 inches (24.8 × 19.7 cm)
a member of the artistic elite. Nothing but a dire emergency could have dislodged him from the pleasure and contentment of being an adopted Parisian. Then—shockingly and unpleasantly—that dire emergency appeared. Within a few weeks in May and June of 1940, the German army entered and conquered its neighboring lands of the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium, then swept into France, arriving in Paris by the end of the second month. The French government surrendered, panic ensued, and a multitude of inhabitants of Paris were forced to flee. The city was now no place for a veteran Dada artist of Jewish descent, and Man Ray, like many of his French and expatriate counterparts, had no choice but to leave in haste. The departure devastated him. Having no preconceived choice for his next destination, he decided to return to America, where he had hoped never to live again. He confusedly headed south, gained an exit permit from France in Biarritz, and eventually reached Lisbon, where he boarded a crowded ocean liner (in the company of, among others, Gala and Salvador Dalí) and made the crossing to New York, the city he had been so happy to put behind him almost twenty years before. Many who had had to flee Europe were enormously grateful to be in New York. Man Ray refused to join that throng; after spending the summer with his sister and her family in New Jersey, he drove cross-country with a traveling salesman he had met and eventually ended up in Los Angeles. Los Angeles, in 1940, was a cultural oasis compared to Paris and New York. Man Ray knew almost no one there, but with good luck had been given the name of a New York girl who had moved there temporarily, was barely able to make ends meet, couldn’t afford to return home, and was glad to make the acquaintance of a gentlemanly artist from Paris, and one who, like herself, originally came from New York. These transplanted travelers gravitated to one another and very shortly bonded in a beautiful and loving way. The young lady’s name, appropriately enough, was Juliet, and blessedly, 124
Right: Man Ray painting Ava Gardner for the movie “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman,” 1950 Below: Man Ray, Ava Gardner in Costume for Albert Lewin’s “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman,” Hollywood, 1950 (detail), vintage gelatin silver print, 10 × 8 inches (25.4 × 20.3 cm) Artwork © Man Ray Trust/ Artists Rights Society (ARS)/ ADAGP, Paris 2018
unlike her counterpart in Shakespeare’s tragic saga, her relationship with her “Romeo” was not illstarred—indeed they remained faithfully together for the rest of Man Ray’s life. (And what more suitable setting could we prescribe for the beginning of this nonfictional story of love and devotion than our own inimitable Hollywood USA!). With such a steadfast Juliet as his beloved, Man Ray was able to sustain the ups and downs of life in Los Angeles for almost a decade. He set up a studio and darkroom in their apartment on Vine Street and resumed his dual career as both painter and photographer. By the end of 1941, he had had a small retrospective exhibition in the highly esteemed Frank Perls gallery, but hardly any works sold. Over the course of the decade, other exhibitions followed (including one with Julien Levy’s gallery in New York), but to little financial gain. Luckily Man Ray had a small cushion from money he had earned during his successful tenure as a fashion photographer during his final years in Paris, which helped to sustain him and Juliet through the leaner LA years. Continuing to work as a photographer throughout his decade of exile in California, Man Ray gradually built up a portfolio of California-related images of some renown. Many Hollywood luminaries sat before his lens, including local or visiting artists and writers as well as an array of actors and actresses and other interesting personalities (the proud Igor Stravinsky, among others). He also explored the splendor of the California habitat: the redwood trees, the beaches, the Pony Express Museum, the movie studios, and more. He did not waste his time, then, during his unexpectedly long stay in California in the 1940s—he was always able to find some form of exploration and adventure. Such was the nature of this endlessly inspired and creative man: always a seeker, and always able to immortalize his findings as well.
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THE BIGGER PICTURE
FREE ARTS NYC
Meredith Mendelsohn discusses the impact of Free Arts NYC and its mission to foster creativity in children and teens, on the occasion of its twentyyear anniversary. One day this past fall, around a dozen teenagers sat on the floor of Christopher Wool’s studio sifting through cardboard block-letter stencils. Wool was guiding them through the process of making works in the spirit of his instantly recognizable word paintings: short bits of text printed in a grid of capital block letters on a white ground. (if you can’t take a joke you can get the fuck out of my house is a popular personal favorite.) Earlier, Wool had given them a messy silk-screening demonstration and answered impromptu questions. One particularly bold fifteen-year-old had asked him who his rivals were and whether he thought photography was an art. (Wool said he thought it was.) The scene might sound like an art-class excursion for students at one of Manhattan’s exclusive private schools. But these teens grew up without art in their schools, without field trips to galleries and
museums, without playrooms stocked with paints. Rather, they’re participants in the Teen Arts Program of Free Arts NYC, a nonprofit organization that is quietly transforming the lives of low-income kids from underfunded schools around the city. While Free Arts NYC isn’t the only nonprofit aiming to enrich the lives of New York kids through art, it is the only one providing them with the kind of insider access usually reserved for top collectors and curators. “We’re taking these kids nine times a year to different artist’s studios,” says Liz Hopfan, the program’s founder and executive director. “Some schools might have significant arts programming, but there isn’t one in New York City that’s taking you to make something in Christopher Wool’s studio”—or, for that matter, in the studios of Taryn Simon, Dan Colen, Richard Phillips, Matthew Day Jackson, Rashid Johnson, or Eddie Martinez, to name a few of the artists who have opened their studios to Free Arts NYC kids. For many of these artists, this is a way of giving back in an era when public schools are underfunded and art classes have been cut to make way for state-test prep, despite many studies demonstrating that arts education is linked to higher standardized-test scores, improved critical thinking, concentration, and confidence. “We’re living in a time where the arts are under attack and budgets are being pulled so it’s critical to support any activity that’s trying to stimulate this chapter within education,” says Simon. Soft-spoken and petite, Hopfan wears jeans and a black turtleneck sweater on the day we meet, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her laidback demeanor belies the conviction that has fueled the rise of Free Arts NYC over the past twenty years.
3000 ONE-TO-ONE MENTORSHIP RELATIONSHIPS ESTABLISHED IN 2017
Hopfan’s entry into the art world’s inner sanctum was never a given. Raised in New Jersey, she relocated to California after earning her master’s in education; while teaching in a low-income elementary school in South Central Los Angeles, she began volunteering at Free Arts, which had been founded in Southern California by an arts therapist in 1977. Impressed by how positively children in foster homes and shelters responded to having a creative outlet and guidance, she was inspired to reach out to New York City social-service agencies to assess the need for something similar there. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t send her away. “I don’t come from a family of collectors or art makers, but I grew up with the culture of the city and I like art,” she says. “I saw the impact that the Free Arts programs had on kids. That, coupled with the lack of resources I had as a teacher, really moved me. I really believed in the programs and couldn’t have done it otherwise.” She returned to the East Coast in 1997 and “peddled the idea to friends and family,” she recalls. Things came together when she was introduced to a family looking for an arts organization to support. “They could give me their $100,000, or they could give a museum their $100,000. But if they gave it to me, it would be creating something.” They did, and with that nest egg, Free Arts NYC was born. The organization has since grown from a one-woman band to a staff of thirteen. It has an operating budget of over $2 million and serves over 3,000 kids a year. (In addition to the founding chapter in Los Angeles, Free Arts also has independent branches in Arizona and Minnesota.) Free Arts NYC’s model is straightforward, relying on partnerships that Hopfan has been cultivating over the years. Free Arts NYC identifies children for the program through city agencies, shelters, and schools, then provides them with opportunities. It reaches out to philanthropic sponsors: the clothing giant Uniqlo, for instance, recently hosted a Free Arts Day—a themed, curriculum-based artmaking event for kids—in one of its New York stores, enlisting dozens of its employees as volunteers to work with the kids. The Brant Foundation has also been instrumental, hosting Free Arts Days for children bussed up from the city to its sprawling grounds in Greenwich, Connecticut, where they are hosted by artists exhibiting there. Colen worked there with kids from Free Arts NYC to make abstract paintings like his own, using crushed flowers and M&Ms. He later hosted a group of teens in his studio. For him, the experience was not just about helping kids to be creative and learn skills: “I’d hope it would inspire them to know whatever their dream is, it is worth pursuing, no matter if it seems absurd, silly, or too grand.”
18000 VOLUNTEERS HAVE PARTICIPATED IN THE PROGRAM
Opposite (top): Free Arts NYC teens participating in a studio visit with Christopher Wool where they learned about his creative process, watched a silkscreen demonstration, and made their own art inspired by the artist’s word paintings, New York, November 2017
from the Department of Homeless Services through his exhibit Help! The group painted rocks to look like M&M’s, created group flower murals, made model magic canvases inspired by Dan’s gum paintings, and graffitied giant five-foot boulders. Photos by Patrick McMullan Company
Opposite (bottom): Matthew Day Jackson giving students a demonstration in mark-making techniques and using wood-burning pens and an acetylene torch, Brooklyn, NY, June 2017
Following page: Taryn Simon with Free Arts teens during a workshop in which the group worked through themes and techniques taken from the artist’s 2013 archival image installation, The Picture Collection. Simon guided students through a process of image selection in themes and terms, New York, June 2017
All photos this page: Photos from a Free Arts Day with Dan Colen at The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Greenwich, CT, September 2014. The artist led children
Helping kids to pursue their dreams is the mission at the heart of the Teen Arts Program, a newer track of the organization that Hopfan is growing. Teens accepted into the program are matched with a long-term mentor—a volunteer from the art or design world with whom they meet at least twice monthly for gallery, museum, and studio visits, and to work on their portfolios and applications to specialized arts high schools or colleges. Teens in the Career Exploration program tour creative businesses, meet employees there, and are assisted in applying for internships. “It’s a way of showing them job possibilities that would otherwise never be on their radar,” says Hopfan, who has brought the kids to Swarovski, Cynthia Rowley, Sotheby’s, Downing Frames, Penguin Putnam, and other companies. “Exposing these kids to artists and professionals and teaching them how to prepare a portfolio and go to an audition—it’s super special to me. It’s an education, it’s a career path, it’s culture, it’s a future. We’re heavily supported by the creative community, and we’ve been so fortunate to have access to all these great artists, and we’re sharing that access with these kids.” Hopfan initially forged many of her relationships with artists through Free Arts’s annual benefit art-auction, its primary fundraiser since its second year in operation. Over the years, dozens of artists have donated works for the auction; meanwhile, Hopfan has gone from soliciting works from artists to commissioning them. A friend suggested she reach out to Polaroid, so she did, and the company began sending her OneStep cameras. She sent them to artists who used them to create original works to offer in the auction—Damien Hirst, for instance, sent her a collage made from 100 Polaroids of his dot paintings. Hopfan also began
arranging for artists to experiment with Polaroid’s legendary giant 20-by-24-inch camera, an opportunity that many of them jumped on, including Wool, the late Chris Burden, Barbara Kruger, and John Baldessari. “They’d get to shoot ten pictures and we’d get two of them to offer at auction,” explains Hopfan. In 2013, Hopfan began a tradition of naming an artist as guest of honor at the annual benefit. “We reached out to Richard Phillips and he did a day with our teens in his studio.” He also created a limited-edition print for Free Arts that sold at the auction. From then on Hopfan began involving artists more directly in the work the organization does. “Artists are asked all the time to donate things but they aren’t really connected to the charity,” she says. “This is a way for them to experience firsthand the impact that they’re having.”
In a flash of fundraising moxie last spring, Hopfan asked Wool if he’d be willing to auction off a studio visit with teens. The winning bidder would get to accompany the kids to Wool’s studio for a printmaking lesson. In 2013, Wool had brought a group of Free Arts teens through his show at the Guggenheim Museum that year, but he rarely offers studio visits to anyone, let alone strangers. Competitive bidding ensued and the prize eventually went to Gagosian’s Lidia Andich. “We attend so many charity auctions, and usually when you bid on something you don’t get to see where your money is going, so this was a really special opportunity,” she says. “What I saw is that this really is one of the most charitable endeavors ever. The kids were so enthused to watch Christopher and so proud of their work. You could see their lives being changed right there.”
For fifteen-year old Adonai—now a sophomore at New York’s High School of Art & Design, thanks to the mentoring he received from Free Arts NYC— the benefits of exposure to an artist like Wool are vast. “I realized from Christopher that it’s OK to be comedic, and that sometimes you just have to say what you’re thinking,” he says. He was quick to grasp Wool’s working habits, too. “If he doesn’t finish something or he gets stuck on something he doesn’t quit. He just leaves it for the time being and goes back to it later. That’s called a growth mindset, and people who have that are more successful.” For her part, Simon worked with teens over the course of several weeks both in her studio and at the massive picture archive of the New York Public Library, the inspiration behind her 2012 series The Picture Collection. The kids collaboratively came up with a list of words—“supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “androgyny” were among them—then hunted for images in magazines, papers, and other sources to illustrate what they saw. “It was different than anything I’d done before,” says Raven, a seventeen-year-old from the Bronx who is hoping to attend the School of Visual Arts in the fall. But it’s the day-to-day social component that has perhaps made the biggest impact on kids like Adonai and Raven. “This experience has opened my eyes to what the life of an artist is like,” says Raven. Adds Adonai: “We got to eat a meal with Dan Colen. That made me feel like I was part of a small family.” And when Hopfan named Simon the guest of honor at its gala this past April, the artist reached out to Adonai and Raven to see if they would be willing to deliver a speech for her at the event. “That really meant something to me,” says Adonai. “It’s something I will always cherish.”
OF THE KIDS PARTICIPATING LIVE IN HOMELESS SHELTERS
All images courtesy Free Arts NYC unless otherwise noted
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Could you both talk a little about creativity, and where the desire to continually reinvent yourselves comes from? DANIEL HUMM Creativity is something you need to pursue. In our case at Eleven Madison Park, it’s also something very collaborative. One thing I’m really pushing at the restaurant is that every human being is creative. There are people who say, “Oh, I’m not the creative type.” I don’t believe that. It’s like running: if you say “I’m not a runner,” you’re not a runner because you’re not running. If you start running you become a runner. I believe it’s the same with creativity: there may be limits to people’s creativity, but I think people should believe in it more. BL But it’s hard to embed creativity into a business model like a restaurant. With creativity comes a lot of failure—things just don’t work out. I mean, I run a museum, which is supposed to be one of the most creative workplaces in the world, and we just don’t have a lot of time to be creative since we get caught in the churn of our next show, our next catalogue, and our next public program. DH We change the menu four times a year. This is hard to do because it puts us on a schedule to be creative. We can’t just say, “Oh, I don’t want to exhibit next year,” or “I’m only going to do two shows next year.” The season changes and we need to be ready. Actually, the first step for every new menu starts four months before we plan to serve it. Every single person who works in the kitchen has to put forth an idea. It can be hard, because some people have never done that. But through this process it’s been amazing to watch how creativity is contagious. BRAD CLOEPFIL For Allied Works and for architects in general, every project is a reinvention. For me creativity is a muscle you have to exercise. I think in architecture today there’s a level of banality out there because people don’t push themselves to be creative. BL Well, I guess architects develop a signature style and then you’re asked to go ahead and make that building again and again. That’s what the client wants. BC Creativity is more like trying to understand what the questions are. People come to us to make buildings and usually they come to us for all the wrong reasons. It’s really interesting: they think BRETT LITTMAN
ELEMENTAL Brett Littman, the Executive Director of The Drawing Center, met with Chef Daniel Humm, of Eleven Madison Park, and architect Brad Cloepfil, who recently renovated the famed restaurant with his team at Allied Works Architecture, to discuss creativity, cooking, art, and architecture.
they know what the function is about, they think they have an idea about the site, about the way they use buildings, or the way they see themselves in buildings—their references are so limited. They aren’t thinking about what’s possible. Creativity is getting them to clear the slate of their preconceptions, and one’s own preconceptions, to try to figure out what the real questions to ask in this project are. BL So you’re a form-follows-function kind of guy. BC No, it’s not about function at all. It has to do with what architecture can do in this particular case. BL I see—it’s about context. BC Right. Because architecture can do a lot of different things: it can solve problems, it can create insights, it can heighten emotions, it can do all kinds of things. You don’t really know what role architecture can play until you clear out a lot of the preconceptions about it. DH I want to say one more thing about creativity: it’s very important in what we do, but it’s only one part of it. I believe cooking is really a craft, and for a long time you just need to pursue that craft— learn how to make a perfect consommé, learn how to sear meat perfectly, learn how to make a braise, a stock—there’s a way to do it. I’m coming from that school of classic training. Creativity only comes into play much, much later. BC I totally, totally agree. DH Being a chef is a craft. Cooking is a craft. A lot of chefs are craftsmen and that’s the highest form of cooking, in a way. Creativity really applies to a very small subgroup of restaurants, and that’s good. BC I like the word “discipline”—discipline as a methodology, or a goal, but also one’s own discipline, which is built on rigor and knowledge. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have had the knowledge and the confidence to do the type of work I’m doing now. I wouldn’t have had the staff that could propose crazy things and know that we could figure out how to do it. BL Brad, I know you draw a lot. How does drawing fit into your practice as an architect? BC For me, drawing is everything. It’s how I think. I’m at a table with some charcoal and I just start to draw. It’s how I find the architecture. My drawings aren’t representational, they’re more like
plans or sections. I want to find presence in my drawings—materiality, light, earth—something tangible. I guess it’s kind of like breathing to me. BL Daniel, do you draw? DH When I was seventeen I worked for a chef in Switzerland who had two Michelin stars. He was this mad man, he would smoke in the kitchen and drink beer, he had his dog in the kitchen with us. Every day he would make a new menu depending on what he could find fresh in the markets or from our purveyors. The guy was unreal. He was one of the most creative chefs I’ve ever worked with. Things you usually need to prepare for he made in the moment. At the end of a shift, my head was spinning. We worked sixteen hours every day. When you came in the next day he’d say, “Do you remember what we did yesterday?” No one could remember—every day so much genius was lost. One night when I got off my shift and went home, I started to draw the dishes we had made that day as a way to document them. When the chef asked if anyone remembered what we had done the day before, I was able to say yes because I had my drawings. Pretty soon after, he started to let me run the kitchen, because now I understood what we were doing and had this memory. That was about twenty years ago. Since then I’ve continued to draw and it has really unlocked my own creativity. BL How has culture in general—music, art, film—had an impact on your thinking? DH I was always drawn to art. I remember going to a lot of museums when I was very young. BL Were your parents artistic? DH My dad is an architect so I was always interested in objects, furniture, and museums. I remember falling in love, when I was ten, with Monet’s Water Lilies. But when I started cooking, I really became focused on cooking. I collected cookbooks, I traveled the world and everywhere I went I’d go to restaurants—for probably fifteen years I thought about food only. I learned a lot and evolved a lot as a craftsman. Along the way, though, there were works of art that really had a big influence on me. One was Picasso’s eleven drawings of bulls, which go from detailed to just a couple of lines. That really got me thinking about how one could be subtractive in one’s approach but still represent the essence of
Above: Main dining room of the redesigned Eleven Madison Park by Allied Works. Photo by Gary He Right: Entrance to Eleven Madison Park, featuring Olympia Scarry’s 11×11, 2017. Photo by Gary He
the thing. In fact I’ve always been drawn to Minimalist artists, I guess because my overall aesthetic at home and at work is simple and minimal. I always think it’s harder to leave something out than to put something in. I also remember in 2006 I went to see a Lucio Fontana show at the Guggenheim Museum with a friend who’s very knowledgeable about art. When we got to one of Fontana’s slashed-canvas pieces he said, “This is probably the most important piece in show.” I knew he was right, I could feel it—I didn’t understand the work at that point but I was curious about it and really wanted to figure out why it was important, so I read about Fontana and came to better understand how radical the move to cut the canvas was for him and for art history. BC Before I went to architecture school I thought I wanted to go to art school, but there was really no museum culture in Portland [Oregon], where I grew up, so I didn’t have a strong background in visual art. When I went to Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture it was in the mid-’80s, and all of those Minimalist guys were showing in the galleries and museums. I remember seeing Ad Reinhardt’s black-on-black paintings for the first time. I think that was the first art book I ever bought. Man, those black-on-black paintings blew my mind. I also listened to a lot of minimal music by Steve Reich and saw dance performances by Trisha Brown—I felt I’d walked right into an amazing moment in New York cultural history. One thing I feel strongly about was that this work was not reductive. I think that’s a misconception. I felt that all of this work was really about concentrating things into the most powerful and potent form. Chef, when I think of your food, it’s the exact same way. You look at that simple form on the plate. I’ve told a million people about your carrot entrée: it’s just a disk of carrot on a plate, but when you taste it, it explodes your brain. You can’t even imagine carrot can do that, you never encountered a carrot like that before—one that could be transcendent like that. It’s probably one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten. BL Philosophically, what do you think the goals of cooking and architecture are today? DH The goal of cooking is to feed people. That’s the core. But when people come to Eleven Madison Park, I want them to feel present. I want them to be able to engage with each other and create a personal world that they can inhabit for three hours. Everything we do is really to enhance their experience and their togetherness. We want them to be able to talk to each other, so we don’t have waiters constantly interrupt diners every two minutes with information about the dishes. We do things where they have to open something to get the food. Even the way we make and serve our bread—we bake it together, so people have to break it with their hands to serve it to themselves or share with others. BL So you want to build a sense of community in the dining room. Slow things down for busy people and make them savor and think about what they’re eating. DH Today, our mission is, we want to be the most gracious and most delicious restaurant in the world. BC For me the goal of architecture is to create a profound experience. It’s about wonder, about creating wonder. And what wonder does is change your context and reference points.
Opposite: Selection of drawings by Chef Daniel Humm Right: Drawing of chairs by Brad Cloepfil Below: Detail shot of bespoke banquettes and light fixtures by Allied Works for the redesigned Eleven Madison Park. Image © Eric Piasecki Photography
One of the reasons Eleven Madison Park is such a wonderful platform for Chef is that he has this gorgeous and historic room. You walk in there and you’re awestruck. You cannot believe that you’re going to get to eat in a space like that. When a space is beautiful and powerful and quiet, it allows you to shirk your day-to-day worries and stresses and opens you up to new experiences. DH What’s been amazing about working with Brad is how much I’ve learned—a lot about my food and a lot about architecture. I think Brad is more an artist than an architect, that’s what I love about him. You’re very open, you get excited about things, and you have a childlike sense of wonder. What I learned from Brad very clearly is an appreciation of the elemental. It’s not minimal, it’s elemental. Before we worked together I wasn’t totally aware of that term, or hadn’t really thought about it much. But today I think of my food as being much more elemental than minimal. When you’re minimal, you just try to take away as much as possible, but when you’re elemental, there’s nothing too much and nothing too little, it’s just right. That’s the balance you strike so well with your architecture, and that’s what I want to do today as a chef—be elemental, not minimal. BC Well, one other thing about Chef is that what he serves also has to be beautiful. There’s this dish with foie gras and cabbage. It’s a total piece of sculpture, one of the most beautiful things. I think beauty plays a huge role in both of our practices, which is another reason why we’re not minimalists. Ultimately, our work still has to resonate and have that presence and evoke those kinds of emotions and that kind of engagement. It has to be beautiful. BL Can we talk about some of the specific architectural choices you made at Eleven Madison Park? DH Brad has been a friend for a long time now and has come to the restaurant and always loved it. When we signed a new twenty-year lease, we realized we had to redo the kitchen. But to redo the kitchen we needed to close the restaurant for three months. So then we thought we needed to touch up the dining room and pretty soon we were on the phone with Brad and involved in a full-scale renovation of the whole place. Even before you got into the details of the job what struck me was that you were in love with the room and wanted the room to retain its main characteristics. I think what you proposed in your first sketch was very close to what we ended up doing: we made the room more proportional, created two different levels, and made the entrance to the dining room through the middle rather than having it on the side. BC Yes, I’ve known Chef and his business partner Will Guidara for many years and love the restaurant. So the opportunity to work with them was a dream come true. They’re the best at what they do in the world right now. Then there was also that beautiful room that people have known for years. So inherently you have the challenge of dealing with people’s memories of a place and the problem of changing their perception of that place when you renovate it. You have to be very careful with that. We started off doing a lot of research of historic restaurants in beautiful buildings. We looked at dining on railroads and planes. For me restaurants are amazing places. There’s the memory of all the great rooms in New York City, like the Four Seasons, or the great restaurants in London and Paris. Diners at Eleven Madison Park have probably eaten in some of those places, so they carry their own memories to dinner. 136
IT HAS TO BE BEAUTIFUL. FOR ME BEAUTY IS WHEN ITS MINIMAL, WHEN IT’S ORGANIC, AND WHEN IT FEELS EFFORTLESS. Chef Daniel Humm
I loved being able to work on all of the textures and materials, the experiences of engagement. How are you going to feel in the chair? How does the texture of the banquette affect you? What should the quality of the light at the table be? We were shooting for a sense of intimacy to complement Chef’s ideas about dining at Eleven Madison Park. I was really excited to play some small part in this continuum: to make an exceptional space for food, service, and the experience of dining is really an honor. BL Intimacy is hard to achieve in a big room like that, no? BC Yes, that was something we really had to think about. Will has amazing thoughts about service and what the restaurant is providing for its guests, how it wants to accommodate them and how it wants them to feel. I’d say it’s more like thinking about theater than about architecture. BL Chef Humm, you commissioned a lot of new artwork for the restaurant. Can you talk a bit about these projects and how they came about? DH Probably the most important piece I commissioned was by the artist Daniel Turner. I had seen an installation where Daniel pulverized a cafeteria into dust and sprayed it on a wall [Particle Processed Cafeteria, 2016]. That got me thinking about what I could do with my kitchen when I pulled all of the tools and equipment out for the renovation. This is where I’ve lived for the past twelve years, so there’s a lot of emotion tied up with that stuff. Daniel proposed that we go to Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry in upstate New York and melt
everything down into a sculpture. That sculpture turned out be the step that you use to go up to the second level of the dining room. I have to tell you, when I watched my kitchen being melted I was really moved. BC I was totally game to include Daniel’s piece in the program. The step is a perfect metaphor, a way of stepping on and over the history of Eleven Madison Park. DH I wanted to pay tribute to the past. When I create my food, there’s always a sort of “one foot in the classics” feeling to my cuisine. Another important commission is the chalkboard work by Rita Ackermann. In the old Eleven Madison Park there was a huge painting of Madison Square Park by Steven Haddock. Rita decided she would redraw and erase and then redraw this image again on six large blackboards. In the end, she let me pick the one I wanted. There are thirtysix layers of erasing on the one we installed—which I liked, because it felt like a new beginning to me. It’s also the piece that most reminded me of her, and her of me. There’s also something very personal about this work: I went to a Rudolf Steiner school growing up, and the idea of a chalkboard as a place for learning, teaching, and creating was very present for me. We also worked with the artist Olympia Scarry to commission 11×11. She noticed some older stained-glass panels that were in the restaurant before the renovation and that faced east to west, so she decided to fabricate, with a master glass-maker in Zurich, a new series of painted and stained-glass works that are now installed in the transom over the entryway on a north-tosouth axis. The work for her is about shifting perceptions, which is what we’re also trying to do at the restaurant. I have two friends who are very involved in the art world who told me the key to these commissions is that you have to make them personal. I think in some ways that’s why they work in the space. They also give us nice stories to tell our diners when they ask about these artworks. BL Has the renovation and reopening of Eleven Madison Park made you rethink your core values at all? DH I’ve recently come up with four fundamentals that I think really define my cooking today. Number one: It has to be delicious. Delicious is not something you need to think about or understand. It’s instant. Number two: it has to be beautiful. For me, beauty is when it’s minimal, when it’s organic, and when it feels effortless. There was a time in my career when I wanted my dish to look like it took fifteen chefs to put it together with tweezers. Today I don’t want that. Today I want it to look like it fell from the sky. Three: creativity. Every dish has to be creative—it has to add a new element, a new technique, a surprise, a flavor combination, you haven’t had. Four: intention. A dish has to have a reason for being. It can be as simple as three ingredients grown next to each other on a farm, it could be a childhood memory, it could be historic preference, it could be inspired by an artist’s work, but it has to have something that explains why it exists. I feel for the first time in my life I’ve found myself as a chef. Every dish that you look at in the restaurant, it’s clear where it came from. I’m really excited about the future because I’m at a new beginning and I’ve just found this new language that I haven’t fully gotten to use yet.
Before Calvin Klein was the fashion brand recognized from red carpets and underwear drawers around the world, he was a man from the Bronx with a relentless passion for classic, minimalist Americana. On the occasion of Klein’s new eponymous monograph, Derek Blasberg sits down with the fashion designer to discuss his artistic influences, creative process, and lasting legacy.
DB: Let’s start at the
not backward, and about
beginning. I know you’ve
being contemporary, not
been approached about
nostalgic. Was looking back
writing a book for years and
an interesting exercise?
you’ve always been reticent
CK: That was one of the
about doing one. Why this
reasons I’d resisted doing a
book, my tendency is to stay
CK: I’ve done a fair amount
in the moment. But especially
of speaking to students
when I’d talk to these
at universities and what
students, I’d realize they
I’ve found is that the
needed a point of reference
name “Calvin Klein” is
to see how we built a global
now known around the world
brand before the Internet.
but oftentimes, when I’m
The only way to put that into
talking to twenty-year-
context was if I edited and
olds, they don’t always
put together this volume.
know the whole story. Some
DB: Let’s talk about some of
of them didn’t know when
the artists you collaborated
I owned the company, and
that I was creating all the
CK: The first photographer
imagery when I did. I felt
I worked with was Arthur
it was time to do something
Elgort, and I learned so
that students can have as
much from him. When I got
a reference. Also, [my
the cover of “Newsweek,”
ex-wife and former studio
Arthur took the picture.
director] Kelly [Klein]
Looking back at his work
kept saying to me that if I
and his team, from the very
don’t do [the book] someone
beginning, that vision I had
else will, and I won’t be
about what was modern and
happy how they do it.
sensual permeated throughout
DB: That’s a very
four decades of work.
[Richard] Avedon came along
CK: She was right, by the
later, with the national
way! She also helped me a
advertising on television
great deal on the book. It
and in commercials and
was fun to work together
again. It was interesting
DB: The images in the book
and exciting to go through
are not grouped by era or
more than 40,000 images,
which is what we have in the
CK: I liked the idea of
archive, and narrow it down
mixing and juxtaposing
to what you see here.
images from the ’70s and
DB: I’ve spoken to artists
’80s against other decades,
and photographers who’ve
so that one could see
worked on books like this
that the vision was the
and they say it’s almost
same regardless of the
therapeutic. Did you find
photographer I worked with,
that to be the case?
regardless of the model or
CK: It was exciting,
creative director. There
was consistency throughout
all things that were
the work. I tell students
positive. I used to
it’s important to establish
personally edit all of
an image in your mind of
the prints you’d see in
what you stand for. You have
the national advertising
to establish a look that
campaigns, so when I was
separates you from the rest
looking at them again I
of the crowd.
was curious if I would
DB: What was it like to meet
still do the same edit
Georgia O’Keeffe, and why
today, would I run the
was she such an important
same images. Now, I can
influence to you?
say, yes, I would. They
CK: I was always in love
still feel contemporary
with her work. I loved the
to me. I wasn’t sure about
sensuality of her paintings,
that before I started
the colors, the form, the
this process but I was
shapes, everything down
pleasantly surprised after
to the brushstroke. I had
I got into it.
the opportunity to meet
DB: How long did the process
her through Robert Miller,
who represented her at the
CK: Three years.
time, and I became good
DB: I’d venture to say
friends with Ron Hamilton,
your career has been
who was living with her
about looking forward,
and taking care of her and
by Bruce Weber in front of
I found Tom when I was
a traditional white chimney
in LA, driving down Sunset
in the Greek islands]: had
Boulevard. I saw him
that been shot in a studio
running, stopped the car,
and against a seamless it
got out and introduced
wouldn’t have the impact
myself, and almost instantly
that it did. It was because
asked him, “Have you ever
we went to Santorini. The
been to Greece? Want to
sky, the architectural
go next week?” That’s an
forms—that’s what led to
example of how I could
spot the person and know
DB: The relationship between
instantly if they were
art and fashion goes back a
right. Other times I had
long way. How have you seen
to go through hundreds of
Polaroids that were sent to
CK: I think there’s danger
me. An example of that would
when designers become too
be a young man from Australia
intellectual and think of
who I put in an underwear
their work as art, as opposed
campaign. He was a surfer and
to creating clothes—when
I looked at a Polaroid and
they take themselves too
said, “I’d like to meet this
seriously. I’ve seen this
one.” We got him to my studio
in recent years: designers
within days, and he became
can be influenced by art,
the last male underwear
of course, but they are
model that I personally put
creating clothes, things
that people wear and that
DB: I remember that campaign:
become a part of their
his name was Travis Fimmel,
lives, things we interact
and there were reports
with differently than we
that his ads were causing
do with art. We have the
accidents because drivers
Costume Institute at the
were distracted. He stopped
Metropolitan Museum of Art,
and the clothes that are in
CK: Yes, that’s true! Early
there belong in a museum
on, when we ran Tom, the
because it’s the idea of
posters were on bus stops
and the parks department
DB: What’s the secret to
called to say that people
distilling what’s around us
were stealing them. They
into a singular vision?
were under glass! I asked,
CK: I learned early on to
“How much does that cost?”
trust my instincts. I would
The guy says, “It costs $500
get an emotional reaction
to replace the glass,” so I
when I saw things—sometimes
said, “Let them steal them
my heart would race and
and I’ll pay for it.”
I’d know I was on the right
When you’re marketing and
track. For me it was organic
when you’re shooting the
and natural. I did not seek
pictures, you don’t know
what the result will be,
DB: Talk to me about the
but we could always tell
models you worked with. How
what was exciting because
CK: A designer often gets
did you find the faces of
it would get us excited.
influenced by the world
We always tried to do
around him or her. While I
CK: I love discovering new
something that was creative
didn’t know Mark Rothko,
faces. From early on, I’d
and pushed the envelope
he was always a strong
have castings and scout the
too. I was always thinking,
influence in my work. His use
world. I’d get Polaroids
when I was advertising in
of color and combinations
of people from friends
a magazine like “Vogue,”
always struck me as
when they saw someone they
what would make people stop
thought I’d be interested
at my spread? Sometimes
I didn’t know Donald Judd,
in. Sometimes I used talent
I’d advertise six pages,
either, but I spent time at
with model agents but most
sometimes thirty-six—I just
his place in Marfa, Texas,
of the time not. I always had
wanted to capture people’s
and made a deep connection to
a strong feeling about how
attention. I never thought
the Judd Foundation. There’s
I would communicate to the
I’d cause traffic accidents
always been a connection and
man or woman who was buying
or bust up bus stops, but
pure inspiration from what’s
my designs, and I’d have a
I wasn’t unhappy when that
happening around a designer.
strong feeling about who
It could be architecture,
could embody that feeling.
DB: Tell me about Kate Moss.
fine arts, nature—it’s all
It was as important to me as
CK: I didn’t know she’d
there. Like the picture of
choosing the photographer,
become a sensation when I met
Tom [Hintnaus, the model in
the location, the hair and
her. I’d just been to Paris
Klein’s iconic first men’s
makeup artists. It was
and I was looking at what the
underwear ad, photographed
other designers were doing.
was an artist himself. She was extraordinary. I spent time in Santa Fe, which was reflected in the work that I was creating, like the jeans line. All kinds of projects came from there. We photographed at Santa Fe’s Ghost Ranch. She was kind enough to let us invade her life, and she had such a great spirit and sense of humor. That was a very special relationship. DB: Contemporary art was often an influence in your work.
I tell students it’s important to establish an image in your mind of what you stand for. You have to establish a look that separates you from the rest of the crowd.
I went to some shows and
Fashion is about change
doing the book? Or easy?
saw women I’d used before,
and evolving, and you have
CK: It was work, from
and I thought, “That’s not
to find new ways to excite
beginning to end. It
terribly exciting to use
required dedication and
the same faces and bodies
DB: When I read the book,
focus. This all comes from my
everyone else uses.” I came
I couldn’t help but feel
passion for creativity, for
back from that trip and
a sense of family. It’s
design, for fashion, as well
wanted a different type of
dedicated to your daughter,
as beauty, makeup, and all
woman for what I was trying
your former wife helped put
kinds of things that I was
to say. I was thinking of
it together, there are so
involved with. It’s about
this young actress at the
many of the same models,
loving what you do. I was
time, Vanessa Paradis, but
photographers, and creative
bringing it all together in a
she was busy doing a film.
directors. Is this not the
single statement about what
I discussed all this with
we were able to accomplish
Patrick Demarchelier, and
over those years to build
Kate ended up in his studio
CK: I love the way you put
a global brand, which was
and he called me to say, “I
that! I always thought of it
exciting and ultimately my
think I have what you’re
like “This is my life. This
life’s work. It wasn’t easy,
looking for.” I met Kate and
is my life’s story.” Yes, it
but it was wonderful.
looked at these pictures
was family. My relationships
that her boyfriend at the
with Bruce, Arthur, Dick
time, Mario Sorrenti, had
Avedon, Sam Shahid, Fabien
taken of her, and it just
Baron: they helped make
said “Obsession” to me. I
what I had in my mind come
Portrait of Calvin Klein.
was looking for a new face to
to life. The women, the
© Steven Klein
bring the fragrance into the
men, Christy [Turlington]
’90s and this was it. I found
and Kate, Beverly Johnson,
lots of young women who were
Janice Dickinson—it was
Tom Hintnaus, Santorini,
like Kate too: a new type of
gratifying and exciting and
1982. © Bruce Weber
body, a new androgyny that
emotional for me to work on
was also sensual and sexy,
a new everything. The press
DB: Was anything
Kate Moss, Jost Van Dyke,
would call it “the waif.”
particularly hard about
1993. © Mario Sorrenti
BALZAC / PICASSO
Michael Cary discusses the 1931 Vollard edition of Honoré de Balzac’s Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu, featuring the illustrations of Pablo Picasso and selected for the Gagosian Shop by rare-book specialist Douglas Flamm.
Opposite: Pablo Picasso’s Chefd’oeuvre inconnu, published in 1931 by Ambroise Vollard. Photos by Sarah Kisner
By 1926, the art dealer and publisher Ambroise Vollard was renowned for his livres d’artistes: hand-printed books on fine paper, illustrated with original works by prominent artists, published unbound in limited editions. Vollard was a great innovator in publishing; by collaborating with painters rather than professional illustrators, he created a product that was effectively both a portfolio of fine-art prints and an extravagantly illustrated de luxe edition of an author’s work. These projects made little financial sense—Vollard published for love, not profit—but in creating “a sort of museum of great texts as seen by great painters,” he came to be seen as a visionary.1 Nobody is certain how and when the idea of making a livre d’artiste of Honoré de Balzac’s 1831 novel Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu was first proposed to Picasso. It may have been Vollard’s idea or it may have been Picasso’s—it may also have been suggested by the poet Pierre Reverdy, a friend of both and an avid Balzac enthusiast. Once the plan was conceived, by 1927 Picasso had produced fifteen original etchings, thirteen of which were selected for the publication. 2 In addition, Vollard chose a sequence of fifty-six abstract “line-and-dot” drawings that Picasso had jotted in sketchbooks between 1924 and 1926, along with eleven more Cubist drawings, all of which were translated into wood engravings by printer Georges Aubert.3 Vollard outdid himself by boldly combining the artist’s original etchings with reproductions of his drawings and including a range of Picasso’s styles; Cubist, classical, and near abstract. None of these images seems to illustrate the story directly, but together they demonstrate a conceptual parallel to the themes of artmaking essential to Balzac’s narrative. Balzac sets Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu (The Unknown Masterpiece) in 1612, the year a novice painter, Poussin (the real Nicolas Poussin), arrives in Paris. Visiting the studio of the famous Porbus (the real Frans Pourbus the Younger), he encounters the nonagenarian Frenhofer (a fictional master painter) engaged in a harsh critique of Porbus’s latest efforts at the easel. After detailed discussion of Porbus’s mistakes, Frenhofer asks for a brush and brings life to the portrait. He also tells his companions of his own stalled work, in progress for ten years: a depiction of his incomparably beautiful muse, Catherine Lescault. (Catherine has disappeared somewhere along the way, and Frenhofer is in search of another beauty to stand in so he can finish his masterpiece.) Porbus and Poussin plead with the old master to let them see his work, but Frenhofer refuses. They devise a plan to gain entrance to his studio by offering Poussin’s young lover and model Gillette to pose for Frenhofer; she resists at first, worried that working for another painter will violate the erotic bond between artist and model that is essential to both love and artistic creation. But eventually she reluctantly acquiesces and gets them in. When Frenhofer unveils his portrait of Catherine to Poussin and Porbus, he exclaims, “Aha! You weren’t expecting such perfection, were you? You’re in the presence of a woman, and you’re still looking for a picture.” Standing before the painting, though, Poussin and Porbus see only an unintelligible mess: “All I see are colors daubed one on top of the other and contained by a mass of strange lines forming a wall of paint,” Poussin tells Porbus. Balzac continues, “Coming closer, they discerned, in one corner of the canvas, the tip of a bare foot emerging from this chaos of colors, shapes, and vague shadings, a kind of incoherent mist, but a delightful foot, a living foot! They stood stock-still with admiration before this fragment which had escaped from an incredible, slow, and advancing destruction.”4 The two younger artists try to allow the obsessed Frenhofer his illusions, but cannot help 143
Opposite: Pablo Picasso’s Chefd’oeuvre inconnu, published in 1931 by Ambroise Vollard. Photos by Sarah Kisner
Above: Pablo Picasso, Peintre et modèle tricotant, 1927, print from illustrated book. Photo © The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY Below: Pablo Picasso, Le peintre et son modèle, 1926, oil on canvas, 67 3⁄4 × 100 3⁄4 inches (172 × 256 cm). Photo by Jean-Gilles Berizzi © RMNGrand Palais/Art Resource, NY
but show their true opinion. Angry, Frenhofer throws them out. Returning anxiously the next day, Porbus finds that he has died in the night after burning all his canvases. Most of Picasso’s etchings for the project depict the relationship between an artist and his model. It was with these etchings, as his friend Michel Leiris understood, that Picasso initiated a subject that would develop into its own genre in his work, that of “‘painter and model,’ just as one speaks of the genre of ‘still life’ or ‘landscape.’”5 “Surely it is natural,” Leiris argues, “that he should have become obsessed with the activity which was the pivot of his life from his earliest years—I mean the practice of his art—as if with a privileged theme.”6 Leiris also finds it natural that the ever inventive Picasso should have taken the liberty of ignoring direct illustration of Balzac’s story, instead exploring the theme in his own way. There is one etching, however, that does seem to point to Frenhofer’s obsession: a depiction of the model knitting contrasted with the bearded painter’s “jumble of lines.” Leiris insists, “This engraving seems to be in close contact with the idea suggested, at least to the modern reader, by the book . . . the idea of the occasionally enormous breach which can develop between the version of reality which the artist gives and which is clear to him, and the version of reality which the rest of the world sees, or rather, does not see.”7 This discrepancy—this breach—has always been at the very heart of Picasso’s work. To this day, many viewers struggle to discern the subject within what seems to them the chaos of shapes and shadings in his Cubist pictures, just as Porbus and Poussin struggled to understand Frenhofer’s portrait. Frenhofer tells them early in the tale, “It’s not the mission of art to copy nature, but to express it! Remember, artists aren’t mere imitators, they’re poets!”8 Gary Tinterow suggests that Picasso was the natural choice to tackle a book “about the difficulty—if not impossibility—of painting that had become central to the creation myth of the modern French avant-garde.”9 Picasso surely knew of an earlier case of identification with Balzac’s story: his hero Cézanne, speaking of Frenhofer once to Émile Bernard, “got up from the table . . . and, striking his chest with his index finger, designated himself—without a word, but through his repeated gesture—as the very person in the story.”10 It was in the year of the great Cézanne retrospective in Paris—1907—that he had embarked on his own radical masterpiece, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, a composition with a fraught gestation that, like Frenhofer, he had felt unable to resolve and had kept away from the prying eyes of his friends. From the fall of 1915 through April of 1916, too, he had worked on Homme accoudé sur une table, a portrayal of a man sitting at and leaning on a table; as the portrait developed, the figure became camouflaged by a mass of overlapping blocks and dots that for Picasso biographer John Richardson render him “as indecipherable as the Frenhofer.”11 Richardson sees a clear reference to the Balzac story in the lower half of the canvas, where a black, vertical, trapezoidal shape ends with a subtle upturn, “the merest tip of a foot.” Richardson admits that the foot is barely discernible, but writes of another canvas, Le peintre et son modele, painted in 1926 at the time of Vollard’s Balzac commission, in which the model’s enormous foot is front and center, emerging from a “multitude of fantastical lines.”12 These coded references to Picasso’s identification with Balzac’s story were soon supplanted by an unusually concrete one. In his fiction, Balzac is very specific in his descriptions of actual places—it’s a hallmark of his stories that they are always set in identifiable locations. In fact, as Arthur Danto points out, Balzac
believed that the way we learn about people is by examining the architecture and objects that survive them and using these artifacts to extrapolate what their lives must have been like; the novelist wrote, “The events of human life . . . are so intimately bound up with architecture, that the majority of observers can reconstruct nations or individuals in the full reality of their behavior, from the remnants of their public monuments.”13 In the opening pages of Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu, we find Poussin “walking back and forth in front of a house in the rue des Grands-Augustins.”14 The description of the courtyard, and of the spiral staircase leading up to a painter’s studio, makes it clear that the location is no. 7 rue des Grands-Augustins—the very studio Picasso acquired in 1937 to paint his masterpiece Guernica. It is often repeated that Picasso painted Guernica in Frenhofer’s studio, but the Picasso literature is somewhat telephone-game in nature and things can get lost or confused in translation. It is in fact Porbus’s studio that Balzac describes on the rue des Grands-Augustins; Frenhofer’s studio is around the corner, near the Pont St. Michel (coincidentally, on the same street where Henri Matisse once had his studio).15 On recounting her first visit to the rue des GrandsAugustins, Françoise Gilot quotes Picasso telling her, “That covered spiral stairway you walked up to get here . . . is the one the young painter in Balzac’s Le Chef-d ’oeuvre inconnu climbed when he came to see old Pourbus, the friend of Poussin who painted pictures nobody understood.”16 Close but not quite: they are Porbus’s stairs, but he was not the old painter with the unintelligible canvas. Dore Ashton suggests, however, that it may be with Porbus rather than Frenhofer that Picasso shares an affinity. Frenhofer’s obsessive quest to represent his muse leads him into the opacity of an abstract mess—something to which Picasso, despite the complexities of his vision, was careful never to succumb. 17 In discussing Frenhofer in 1959, Picasso told his dealer D. H. Kahnweiler, “That’s the marvelous thing about Frenhofer. . . . at the end, nobody can see anything but himself. Thanks to the never-ending search for reality, he ends in black obscurity. There are so many realities that in trying to encompass them all, one ends in darkness.”18 1. Rebecca A. Rabinow, “Vollard’s Livres d’artiste,” in Rabinow, Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde, exh. cat. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 197. 2. See Dore Ashton, A Fable of Modern Art (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1980), p. 89. 3. Asher Ethan Miller, catalogue entry on Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu, in Rabinow, Cézanne to Picasso, pp. 391–92. 4. Honoré de Balzac, The Unknown Masterpiece, trans. Richard Howard (New York: New York Review Books, 2001), pp. 40–41. 5. Michel Leiris, “The Artist and his Model,” 1973, in Sir Roland Penrose and John Golding, eds., Picasso in Retrospect (New York: Harper & Row, 1980), p. 162. 6. Ibid., p. 161. 7. Ibid., p. 163. 8. Balzac, The Unknown Masterpiece, p. 13. 9. Gary Tinterow, with research by Miller, “Vollard and Picasso,” in Rabinow, Cézanne to Picasso, p. 113. 10. Émile Bernard, quoted in Arthur C. Danto, Introduction, in Balzac, The Unknown Masterpiece, p. ix. 11. John Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Cubist Rebel, 1907–1916 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), p. 416. 12. Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917–1932 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), pp. 305, 539 note 40. Marie-Laure Bernadac also makes this point in “Picasso 1954–1972: Painting as Model,” Late Picasso: Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, Prints, 1953–1972, exh. cat. (London: Tate Gallery, 1988), p. 74. For the phrase “multitude of fantastical lines” Richardson is turning to Ellen Marriage’s translation of Balzac’s story, from 1896; Howard’s version, cited in note 4, is “mass of strange lines.” 13. Balzac, “The Pursuit of the Absolute,” quoted in Danto, Introduction, in Balzac, The Unknown Masterpiece, p. vii. Originally published as “La Recherche de l’absolu” in 1834, with reworked versions published in 1839 and 1845. 14. Balzac, The Unknown Masterpiece, p. 7. 15. Danto, Introduction, p. viii. 16. Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Life with Picasso (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), p. 13. 17. Ashton, A Fable of Modern Art, p. 91. 18. Picasso, quoted in ibid, p. 92.
Above: Pablo Picasso, Homme accoudé sur une table, 19151916, oil on canvas, 77 1⁄2 × 52 inches (197 × 132 cm). Photo courtesy Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli
Artwork © 2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
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March 4 – May 28 Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. Supported by a generous grant from the Trellis Fund. Additional support is provided by Sally Engelhard Pingree and The Charles Engelhard Foundation. Sally Mann, On the Maury, 1992, gelatin silver print, Private collection. Image © Sally Mann
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John Currin, Fishermen, 2002, oil on canvas, 50 × 41 inches (127 × 104.1 cm). © John Currin. Photo by Rob McKeever
GAME CHANGER Each issue we look at a particular painting that influenced the course of contemporary art. Here is John Currin’s Fishermen (2002). Text by Derek Blasberg.
John Currin’s Fishermen, which the artist painted in New York in 2002, had an impressive maiden voyage. After its initial gallery presentation in Los Angeles, it docked first at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, then at London’s Serpentine Gallery, and finally anchored at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York for Currin’s iconic midcareer retrospective in 2003. The painting also symbolized a new journey for Currin, then forty-one: it heralded a change in course from his Northern Renaissance–inspired female nude series from the late ’90s and into a focus on highly polished scenes, arranging multiple figures with clever ambiguity, often involving virtuoso inclusions of still life details. In his eponymous
monograph, Currin explained that the concept of the painting came to him in a vivid dream in which a sailor was holding out a noose to him. “I thought both [figures] should be nude because that state makes them mythical and heroic. I also had the idea to combine different realistic styles in the same painting to create an image that was a little like an illustrated classic, like Moby Dick,” he writes. A centerpiece of his career survey, the painting was reproduced often in the press, praised by critics, and made the cover of the Whitney’s accompanying publication. It would float him into a new ocean of contemporary art: the boat is full of fish, the net goes back out, and a seagull of good luck swoops from above.