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The 11th International Istanbul Biennial: What Keeps Mankind Alive?

On my sixth visit to the enchanting city of Istanbul—an urban fairytale comparable to Venice in its fascination and mystery—I still had little comprehension as to what I might encounter. Like Venice, Istanbul is a city that divides the East from the West, but in a more extreme manner.

Jack Tworkov: Against Extremes: Five Decades of Painting

In 1957, Jack Tworkov (1900-1982) wrote in his journal: “My hope is to confront the picture without a ready technique or prepared attitude—a condition which is nevertheless never completely attainable; to have no program and, necessarily then, no preconceived style. To paint no Tworkovs.”

Jeni Spota: Fool’s Small Victory

I didn’t ask, but I have no doubt the title of Jeni Spota’s recent exhibition, Fool’s Small Victory, was borrowed from a compilation album by Faith No More that includes various B-sides and live recordings, five of which are different versions of a song called “A Small Victory.”

David Novros

In the first installment of an extensive, three-part interview with Thomas Butter in White Hot Magazine, David Novros, who traveled in Europe in 1963-64, recalled that “in Spain, I went to Granada, and saw the Alhambra, and it occurred to me that painting could have the same quality of being non-pictorial, or being ‘not a rectangle,’ not a picture in a rectangle.”

Jack Whitten

Acrylic paint is a relative newcomer to the ever-expanding roster of materials created, loved, and abandoned by painters. Unlike the history of oil paint, which spans over 600 years of discoveries and refinements by countless individual artists and chemists until its eventual standardization and commercialization, the evolution of acrylic paint is short and fairly well-known.

Hector Leonardi

There is a story about how Bonnard, as he grew older, became increasingly obsessed with the juxtaposition of color, to such a degree that when he was working with a pigment, he would walk among his canvases and see where the color might be applied in anything he was doing, to get just the effects he was after.

We Don’t Need No Education…Well, Maybe a Little

Visual artists today are virtually committed to a pay-to-play system, in which their merits are recognized only after they’ve had their hand stamped at an expensive master’s program. But last week, after coming across the above announcement, I did some web research and discovered an alarming trend of new PhD programs in the visual arts.

Letter from BERLIN

When Stefan Wolpe (1902-1972) began “Battle Piece” in 1942, it was to have been the first of a series of works for solo piano titled “Encouragements,” intended as a composer’s contribution to the struggle against Fascism; part of the genre Kampfmusik that had earlier included chamber operas, theatre music, and agitprop songs. The composition not only addressed the social and political struggles of the day, but also a desire to transform disparate musical idioms into a subjective communication of personal experience.

Letter from LONDON

The idea of landscape today seems simple, an offering of nature to the trapped urbanite. Given our increasingly mediated lives and the fragile state of the planet, the need to be reminded of the natural world seems all the more pressing.

The Makers Market at The Old American Can Factory, Brooklyn

If you happen to be walking on Third Street in Brooklyn, the sight of the two industrial garage doors of The Old American Can Factory opening onto a white hangar-like space arrayed with market stands will likely stop you in your tracks. Inside, to the left, you are confronted by a behemoth machine: resurrecting turn-of-the-century manufacturing, the members of Sway Space step on the pedal of their letterpress to crank out customized stationery.

William Blake’s World: “A New Heaven Is Begun”

Once, when complimented on his reinvigoration of the painted image back when the smart money was betting on its extinction, Richard Artschwager grinned and replied, “I do everything wrong.” That could be the epitaph, and battle cry, of William Blake: enemy of the state, abominator of religion, self-starting prophet, and overt reactionary in technology and art.

BROOKLYN DISPATCHES: Aesthetic Cleansing

The new gallery season has kicked off, and despite apocalyptic predictions and nervous jitters, the crisis produced by the financial meltdown is beginning to settle out. Unfortunately, the crisis of clichéd metaphors providing color commentary is on the rise.

Maya Lin

Maya Lin’s current exhibition is difficult to view without questioning how its specificity of materials and forms describe her environmental concerns. Three Ways of Looking at the Earth at PaceWildenstein displays three sculptural pieces central to her traveling museum exhibition Systematic Landscapes whose last stop, fittingly, was in Washington, D.C., where 27 years ago this November Lin’s Vietnam Veterans War Memorial was dedicated.

Vasily Kandinsky

Every twenty years or so since 1945, a retrospective of Vasily Kandinsky has appeared at the Guggenheim Museum. This latest installment, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the museum, is truly a major event, an assembly of 99 of the artist’s most significant canvases (from 1907 to 1942) and 66 works on paper, selected from the three largest collections of Kandinsky on the planet—the Guggenheim itself, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau in Munich—an unprecedented joint project for these three institutions.

Zipora Fried: Trust me. Be careful.

The history of the world by Zipora Fried would probably look something like the black and white avant-garde films of the Dadaist canon: morphing, jagged, and driven by a language that is neither recognizable nor familiar, emphasizing everyday objects as agents of intellect rather than simple extensions of the hand.

Icons of the Desert: Early Aboriginal Paintings from Papunya

More often than not, the current art dialogue treats spirituality in an artwork as rare or extraneous. The acrylic paintings on Masonite boards and canvas by Aboriginal men from Papunya now on view at Grey Art Gallery take the spirituality of an energetic picture as a given. These works, in which the visual reenacts ritual ceremony, read as performances of memory.

Max Pitegoff and Travess Smalley: Abstract Abstract

With a connoisseurship for their own strange idea of the totem, and with a sometimes magical sense of kind, the recent collaborations between Travess Smalley and Max Pitegoff have hatched the digital egg of the Computer Age into wonderfully varied species of computer-kitsch-abstractions.

Joanne Greenbaum: Hollywood Squares, Elliott Green: Personified Abstraction

“Someone’s having fun around here,” said a visitor to D’amelio Terras gallery the other day, referring to the large paintings on exhibit by Joanne Greenbaum. The man behind the counter agreed that the paintings were “colorful” and tried for some time to explain the deeper reverberations of the work, but I observed that my friend, the art critic, was not having any, and soon left.

Conrad Marca-Relli: The New York Years, 1945-1967

Conrad Marca-Relli was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1913 and died in Parma, Italy in 2000. The child of Italian immigrants, he was primarily a self-taught artist who received little formal training. After finishing high school in 1930, he studied for a year at the Cooper Union. He would go on to become a member of the New York School’s first generation, and a pioneer of what would come to be called Abstract Expressionism.

Alex Katz: Drawings

Matisse, when asked to talk about his paintings, would often quote Cézanne’s phrase, “I want to secure a likeness,” referring to his desire to create a correlative to his emotions. Here lies the contradiction of Matisse’s life as an artist: despite the apparent ebullience of most of his work, he always sought to empty out his emotions, so that the painting might attain a perfect visual purity of coherence, and unity of form and content.

Irving Sandler, “Abstract Expressionism and the American Experience: A Reevaluation”

The story of how Irving Sandler wrote the 1970 standard text on post-WWII painting, The Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism, is generally well known. The tale of an ideal viewer so moved by a chance encounter with a work of art that his life is reconfigured and involved with the world of artists.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2009

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