(Above: [top] Bronzino Head Study, circa 1542, conte on paper.[bottom] Tauba Auerbach's "Untitled Fold Painting" 80"x60")
Friday morning, I ventured in from Pleasantville (Westchester area, where my wife's sister lives - I left my car at their place) on the Metro North. After dropping my gear at the pied-à-terre (which belongs to another of my wife's relatives), I hit Chelsea and 25th street at 11 AM. I hit Stux, Winston Wächter, Doosan, PaceWildenstein, Marlborough, Agora, Axelle and yes, Henoch. There was a great variety to behold, varying from the very traditional representational painting to digital lenticulars, video, sculpture, installation - the whole kit and caboodle. I'm pleased to say that I feel I've now somewhat of an ability to discern what works and does not work in most of these genres, be they representational or totally non-objective.
A pleasant surprise in the Chelsea visit was finding the Joseph Beuys exhibit, "Make the Secrets Productive," at PaceWildenstein. Talk about a total immersion in Beuys' work! There were video stations, installations and documentary photographs by Ute Klophaus of the "Aktionen" works. It goes without saying that my awareness of Fluxus art and Beuys had been summarily ignored by me (along with the rest of art after Modernism) until my introductions via Critical Theory 1. He is fascinating, I have to say. I had no idea about his work in Ireland. His efforts to draw greater attention to the Troubles, his delving into Celtic cultures and mythologies, and his efforts to establish a Free International University for Disciplinary Research in Dublin struck me as quite philanthropic (even though it was considered self-serving to some). I've written many papers on Irish History, having taken a course in the subject during my BFA, and it certainly drew me closer to my ancestry, so I suppose I have a soft spot for such things. I do also know how hard Beuys' work was taken to task at one point, with our old pal Buchloh in the vanguard. It's good to know that the vitriol has dissolved somewhat in the light of current revisionist critique.
An unpleasant surprise was the incredibly bad painting at Agora Gallery. Coincidentally, it was a sampler of contemporary German art, most of which was painting. About 75% of it could have been considered representational, but almost all of that bit was damn awful. There were a handful of abstracted works, and I enjoyed them much more (but not that much). Perhaps I was missing something? Were these paintings purposely done in a postmodern deskilled mode? With some, I suppose the naive, folky quality might suggest that notion, but the rest. oh lordy, did they suck. Peter Martin's giant acrylic succubi could have been painted by one of my second-year illustration students, and if it had been, I would have given him shit for such half-assed technique and Hot Topic-oriented subject matter. I should have been tipped off by the prices - they weren't NYC-level. The most expensive stuff topped out at 8K, and it ranged all the way down to 300 bucks for a 12 x 16 piece.
So I went up towards the Whitney after some of NYC's finest cuisine in the form of a couple of slices from Aviano's on 9th. I got on the C, and instead of transferring to the E to get across town at 50th, I stayed on 'til 72nd and the Park on the West Side. It was such a beautiful day that I felt compelled to walk through the park. I've missed doing that, so it was a lovely interlude.
The Whitney Biennial was - as I've been told, the usual case - uneven. There definitely were some very good pieces, some of which may have been better served in a different setting, but solid nonetheless. Nothing struck me as "bad" or even derivative - but I was indifferent to not a few things.
Two high points:
1 - Tauba Auerbach's "fake" trompe l'oeil paintings were just great: they sure fooled my eyes. They are huge canvases with big folds in them, and they look, from a normal viewing distance, like Claudio Bravo's straight-on trompe loeils of packages and cloth. At first, I wondered why someone similar to Bravo was in the Biennial; that sort of work doesn't reflect the current tack of the contemporary. Then, I got close to the work. The artist actually folds the canvas into a particular pattern, unfolds it, then spray-paints it with an automotive painting wand parallel to the surface so that one side of the folds pick up the most paint, creating a faux drop shadow. If you look at the topography of the piece from the side, you see the structures of the folds. It's simple and smartly executed.
2 - I timed my visit so I wouldn't miss a performance piece, "Strange Attractors," by Aki Sasamoto. It was very meandering and physical (she stuffed herself into a cardboard tube at one point), but humorous and contemplative at the same time. I won't describe her actions and words verbatim, but I will say that I did understand it after I thought about it post-performance. It turns out it was a highly personal piece that ultimately showed the artist's growth and discovery of her mature, artistic self through a personal "math" of disjointed code involving donuts, hemorrhoids, psychics, dreams of strawberries, the express "A" train, and other fun things.
From there I hit the Bronzino drawings at the Met, which were fantastic. After all the contemporary stuff I'd seen, I felt I needed a bit of "comfort food," you know? After those amazing pieces of history, I wandered way into the back where the Church and Bierstadts hang, just to sit and bask for a time. From there I tried to take in the Limbourg Brothers illuminated manuscripts. but good lord, was I tired. They were just too much for me at that point. I had started at 11 AM and it was now 6:30. All I wanted to look at was a big ol' pint of some heavy cask ale. I headed back to the East Side to York and 74th where you'll find David Copperfields. The taps are clean and highly varied. Victory's "Hop Devil" was on cask, and well, I claimed a Victory for myself!