Art & Antiques Magazine For Collectors of the Fine and Decorative Arts Tue, 09 Jul 2019 01:51:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Art & Antiques Magazine 32 32 Santa Fe Art: Southwest Spice Blend Sun, 30 Jun 2019 20:04:25 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The art offerings in Santa Fe this summer are incredibly diverse, with something for every taste.

Chris Morel, Luna Morning

Chris Morel, Luna Morning, oil on canvas, 24 x 36 in.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Pard Morrison, Nimbus, 2017 Woody Gwyn, Ragged Point, 2019 Diane Price, Bye Bye Blackbird, 2018 Aleta Pippin, Awakening to the Light Yoko Kubrick, Flora Chris Morel, Luna Morning Milland Lomakema (Dawakema, Hopi), Corn Maidens, 1975

If you don’t like art, don’t go to Santa Fe. You can’t avoid it, and that’s how the locals want it. It’s impossible to live among landscapes that practically scream, “Paint me!” without succumbing to the pull of gallery walks, museum exhibitions, studio demonstrations, art fairs, and more. The summer art scene in Santa Fe knows no bounds, spilling over into every aspect of city life, and that’s how it should be.

Before the summer ends, make a plan to see “A Gathering of Voices: Folk Art from the Judith Espinar and Tom Dillenberg Collection,” which is on view at the Museum of International Folk Art (706 Camino Lejo) through September 8. Espinar, a cofounder of the International Folk Art Market, loaned more than 200 pieces to the show, which reflects more than 50 years of collecting. Strong in ceramics, it also includes Latin American retablos, New Mexico santos, textiles, furniture, and metalwork from artists across the globe.

The summer schedule at SITE Santa Fe (1606 Paseo de Peralta) includes “Bel Canto: Contemporary Artists Explore Opera,” which runs through September 1. Artists in the group show include Candida Höfer, who photographed iconic opera houses empty of patrons; Bill Viola, whose 2005 video Becoming Light draws on the Wagner opera Tristan and Isolde; and Matthias Schaller, who took more than 150 photographs of Italian opera houses, all from the vantage point of the stage, looking out at the audience. “Each artist comes to opera from different perspectives, and finds inspiration in different aspects of its history,” says Irene Hofmann, Phillips director and chief curator at the institution. “It takes the form of the full range of work that contemporary art can be—painting, drawing, sound, sculpture, video.”

“SITElab12: Nina Elder | What Endures” will be also be on view at SITE, through September 15. It features around 20 pieces by New Mexico-based artist Nina Elder, whose works are the products of deep research and often feature unorthodox pigments such as pulverized meteorites and radioactive charcoal. She used the latter to create Unprocessed Uranium, a 2017 work on paper that appears in the show. Though the artworks might sound dangerous, audiences have no reason to fear them. “Once these kinds of materials are put on paper and framed, they don’t pose any danger to the public,” Hofmann says.

In May, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (217 Johnson Street) chose Cody Hartley as its fourth director, elevating him from the position of acting director. While he was careful not to tip his hand about his plans, Hartley says he hopes to make the visitor experience “more immersive” with techniques that “bring the landscape into the museum. When you drive through the landscape that inspired Georgia O’Keeffe, you have an epiphany—‘Oh, that’s why she was here.’ She captured the experience,” he says. “This is our way of breaking down the walls of the galleries.”

Recently, the museum installed Ritz Tower, a long, slim nightscape from O’Keeffe’s New York years, in Gallery 5, the space dedicated to that period of her life. “It’s an outstanding, singular example of her New York cityscapes, which is a really important, iconic subject matter in her career,” Hartley says. “She was discouraged from painting skyscrapers, and was [essentially] told to leave that to the boys. She was having none of that.” She painted it in 1928, the year before her first visit to New Mexico. “Ritz Tower is really the perfect transition painting, if you will, painting the city before she was inspired to paint the landscapes of New Mexico.”

On June 7, the museum unveiled the latest exhibition in its “Contemporary Voices” series—a show of works by the late Ken Price. He is the first deceased artist chosen for the series. The museum worked with Price’s family on selections for the exhibit, which pairs his ceramic sculptures and works on paper with O’Keeffe still lifes and landscapes. “Price was a remarkable colorist, an affinity I think he shared with Georgia O’Keeffe. And he was a master technician,” Hartley says, calling Price’s ceramics “innovative and demanding.” “Ken Price” is on view through October 23.

The New Mexico Museum of Art (107 West Palace) opened two exhibitions in the spring that will continue past Labor Day. “The Great Unknown: Artists at Glen Canyon and Lake Powell” (through September 15) examines the history of Glen Canyon, an area that spans southeastern Utah and northern Arizona and mostly disappeared beneath the Lake Powell reservoir after construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1966.

“Social & Sublime: Land, Place, and Art” (through November 17) delves into some of the issues but stands alone as an exhibition. The 38 artworks on view include pieces by Albert Bierstadt, Gustave Baumann, and Ansel Adams. “It’s a show about land and place, but it’s not a landscape show. Half the works are portraits, or images of people,” says curator Christian Waguespack. Raymond Jonson’s 1923 oil on canvas Earth Rhythms #2 doesn’t show human figures, but it does reflect a human vision of a landscape. “It’s about land and about New Mexico, but it’s really about experimenting with forms,” says Waguespack, explaining that Jonson painted it in Chicago after a trip to the southwestern state. “It has the visual language of the city of Chicago, but it’s about New Mexico, and he painted it when he was planning to come out here. There’s a lot of hope projected onto it.”

The intriguing “Paul Pletka: Converging Faiths in the New World” runs through October 20 at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art (750 Camino Lejo). The first solo museum show in New Mexico of Pletka’s work since 1990, it features 15 paintings that incorporate images and iconography from Spanish Catholicism and depictions of gods by indigenous peoples from North and South America. These are displayed along with Mexican masks from the artist’s collection and items from the museum’s collection, which include a historic death cart.

OTA Contemporary (203 Canyon Road) will have several exhibitions on view this summer. “Beginnings III” combines 18 to 20 works by glass artist Wes Hunting with 10 sculptural, furniture-like pieces by Chad Manley. Staging the show posed a unique challenge to gallery founder Kiyomi Baird, who displayed some of Hunting’s glass on Manley’s surfaces. “What I tried to do is show the artwork not as it would look in a gallery or a museum, but where it’s integrated, so you feel when you walk in that it’s a total immersion,” she says. “It’s been a very successful exhibit.” Unlike more conventional displays that feature paintings on walls and sculptures on pedestals, “Beginnings III” requires a small restaging whenever a piece sells. “It keeps you on your toes,” Baird says. “It’s like a living exhibit, in a way. The basic composition is there, but tiny details will change.”

“The Magical World of Diane Price,” on view through July 31, features 6 to 8 mixed-media works that reflect a sense of magic and fun. An example is Bye Bye Birdie, a 2018 construction that resembles a wheeled pull toy and has a black bird perched upon it. “Price gives you a fun experience when you see it. It gives you joy,” she says. “That’s what I mean about the magic in it. The magic is when you envision a world that’s different from the way we see it after we grow up. It touches the part of all of us that remembers the imagination of a child.”

“Connections,” scheduled for August 2–October 27, combines the works of metal sculptors Robert Koch and Ivan McLean with those of Yoko Kubrick, who is new to the gallery and favors Carrara marble. Each will contribute 6 to 8 pieces. Those from Kubrick include Flora, a small 44-pound bud-like sculpture named for the Roman goddess of fertility and flowering plants. “They’re distinctly different in voice and form,” Baird says of the three artists. “Two work strictly in metal, which is very different from carving, which involves taking away material. There’s a nice tension.”

The end of summer brings “Spreading Happiness,” a solo show of 6 to 8 porcelain ceramics by Japanese artist Yuri Fukuoka, who is also new to the gallery roster. “Her whole idea when creating things is she wants to spread happiness. She believes if she makes things with joy and happiness, others will feel it,” Baird says, adding that the delicate, flower-like pieces must have made for unhappy days at the kiln. Fukuoka keeps her techniques to herself, according to Baird, who says the artist is “not ready to talk about” how she creates her ethereal porcelains: “It’s taken her a long time to figure it out. A lot of piles of mess. I’m sure she takes quite a while with these things.”

Eight bronzes by the late Native American artist Allan Houser appear in “Human Nature: Explorations in Bronze,” which opened in late spring and runs through May 10, 2020, at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden (SFBG). The powers that be at the SFBG chose a 1986 Houser limited edition, Watercarrier, as the logo for the show. The sculpture stands almost seven and half feet tall. “It’s at the entrance to the garden, where the guests come in to start tours,” says David Rettig, curator of collections for Allan Houser Inc., and states that it reflects the influence of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Isamu Noguchi.

Not far from Watercarrier in the SFBG display stand two more Houser works, Dance of the Mountain Spirits I and II, both from 1989. Apache ceremonial dancers were a favorite subject of Houser, who was a Chiricahua Apache. “He did hundreds of paintings, if not thousands,” Rettig says. These sculptures represent one of Houser’s first forays into bronze with the theme. The Allan Houser Gallery (125 Lincoln Avenue, Suite 112) loaned the works to the year-long exhibition.

Nedra Matteucci Galleries (1075 Paseo de Peralta) launched its summer programming with “Chris Morel: One Man’s Home” on June 22, and will continue it through July 20. Morel, who has been with the gallery since 2010, created almost 30 watercolors and oils for the exhibition, with about a third of the works depicting scenes close to the artist’s longtime Northern New Mexico home. (Others show Colorado landscapes and vistas from Abiquiu, New Mexico.)

“Chris is able to capture the seasons beautifully. From snow-covered landscapes to yellow aspens, one can almost guess the season of each work,” says Dustin Belyeu, director of Nedra Matteucci Galleries. Luna Morning, an oil on linen painted in February that features a pearl-like moon at the upper right, is a perfect example of what Belyeu is talking about. “What I like most about Luna Morning is the contrast of light and shadow created by the diagonal bands of color,” he says. “I think his ability to use light, shadow, and the depth in the landscape created by this contrast, is what shows his mastery.”

“William Acheff: Small & Sacred” runs August 10–September 14 and features miniature paintings, measuring no larger than 10 by 12 inches. It’s a form Acheff, a trompe l’oeil specialist, knows well, having painted many petite works over the course of his career. He has produced more than 30 oils on panel for the show, including Sounds in Nature, a 9-by-7-inch work that focuses on a decorated flute and a color photograph of a Native American playing a flute. “The detail I am most drawn to is the cord wrapped around the flute,” Belyeu says. “That, to me, is the detail that most makes the work feel like you could reach out and pull the flute off the canvas.”

TAI Modern’s (1601 Paseo de Peralta) summer exhibitions begin with the gallery’s second solo show of works by Kibe Seiho (through July 13). The bamboo-weaving artist favors susutake, a form of bamboo that gains its color from decades upon decades’ worth of smoke rising from hearths built into the floors of Japanese farmhouses. “There’s definitely a shrinking supply of susutake. The dark, rich color can’t be achieved without 200 or 300 years of smoke,” says Steve Halvorsen, collections manager for the gallery. “When Seiho showcases it, he uses the finest quality.” The artist wove Blaze, a tapering cylindrical piece from 2017 that stands almost 15 inches tall, to revel in colors that range from pale beige to deep caramel.

Tanabe Chikuunsai IV’s eponymous show opens on July 26 and runs through August 24. The centerpiece will be a large site-specific bamboo installation at the gallery. The preparations “won’t start until a week or so before the opening,” Halvorsen says. “The bamboo is here, in crates. It’s pre-cut. He and three assistants get here in July and start work.” The installation won’t be for sale, but 25 more modestly sized bamboo pieces shown along with it will be.

On August 30, the gallery will open its first solo show of pieces by Monden Yuichi. It will feature about 15 works by the artist, whose 103-year-old father, Monden Kogyoku, showed with TAI Modern in 2010. Halvorsen contrasts them by describing the elder Monden’s vessels as closed while the son “makes sculptural pieces that challenge space a bit.” The exhibit closes on September 14.

LewAllen Galleries (1613 Paseo de Peralta) starts its summer with “Ben Aronson: Views from Above” (through July 20). It’s Aronson’s second solo show with the gallery, and it features 30 urban landscapes, some of which reference photographs shot with a drone-mounted camera. “He uses atmospheric qualities to create a sense of stillness in locations known for frenetic activity,” says Ken Marvel, co-owner and CEO of LewAllen Galleries. “His looser brush strokes vividly evoke the sense of place he endeavors to relate.”

“Dan Christensen: Stains and Loops” (through July 20) represents the gallery’s sixth or seventh solo show with the noted color abstractionist, who died in 2007. The 18 works on view come from three periods of his career: his Early Stain Paintings of 1976–84, his Late Stain Paintings of 2002–05, and his Last Loop Paintings, also his final series of paintings, done between 2004 and 2006. Torodoro, an acrylic on canvas that measures 58 by 99 inches, belongs to this last group. Christensen painted it when he was afflicted with polymyositis, an autoimmune and blood vessel disease that he could have contracted from spray-paint fumes and other toxins he exposed himself to in the course of his work. “Christensen never lost his respect and appreciation for the end result of Jackson Pollock’s art. These late Loops are a nod to the enduring respect and enthusiasm he had for authentic expression,” Marvel says. “Here, I think Dan was letting loose. He was conscious of his mortality and the seriousness of his disease and thought, ‘What the hell, I’ll give it what I’ve got.’ The energy and kinetic life is startling to see in person. If he couldn’t live in the world, he’d create paintings that would.”

“Wolf Kahn: Pastoral Reflections” begins on July 26 and finishes on August 24. The 30 works testify to the powers of an artist who has reached his 90s without losing a step. Marvel cites Pink Landscape, an oil on canvas from 2018, showing Kahn as “the master of the art of reductiveness” in his depiction of a wooded meadow suffused with the light of sunset or sunrise. “Rather than painting the colors in a literal replication, Wolf is grabbing the color that grabs him. It’s something we see more and more in his work.”

A show of Woody Gwyn works appears at the gallery over the same dates, and includes Ragged Point, an astonishing and impressively large (60-by-120-inch) egg tempera on panel. “He’s our exemplar of hyperrealism. He’s absolutely a genius. It took him four years to paint this thing, and it sold instantly. You can imagine why,” Marvel says. “It’s a breathtaking example of his capacity to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary.”

Gerald Peters Gallery’s (1005 Paseo de Peralta) summer offerings include “Reimagining New Mexico” (through August 3), which showcases the work of four artists: Leon Loughridge, Mike Glier, James McElhinney, and Don Stinson. Originally conceived as a solo show for Loughridge, it grew to include four gallery artists who happened to be exploring notions that fit the theme expressed by the show’s title. “We thought it could come together as a cohesive show,” says Evan Feldman, director of contemporary and estates for Gerald Peters Gallery Santa Fe. “Though very distinct ideas are happening, there are consistent threads we’re able to weave.”

Loughridge, the only one of the four who was born and raised in New Mexico, contributed between 15 and 18 works that meditate on iconic sites in the state. These include a 10-inch-by-40-inch serigraph of the ruins of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon. “One cannot read about Southwest history and not have read about Chaco Canyon and its importance to Southwestern culture. And for all the reading I had done, I was still overwhelmed at the scale and density of the structural site in the canyon,” Loughridge says. “I spent five days walking the area, from the close to the remote pueblo sites, and I felt I had barely begun to grasp the beauty of the site. Pueblo Bonito’s size and setting make it easy to visualize pilgrims arriving from throughout the southwest. Over 1,100 years have passed, and yet the Bonito Ruins are still impressive in their precise construction and size. Pueblo Bonito must have been truly awe-inspiring for the pilgrim that just trekked across miles of sage and sand.”

Glier offered about 20 pieces to the show, while Stinson contributed a dozen and McElhinney added 12 to 15. Glier tends to be looser and more impressionistic, while Stinson is often drawn to landscapes featuring wind turbines, abandoned signs, equipment, and other man-made objects. The last of the three, McElhinney, makes his Gerald Peters Gallery debut with this summer exhibition. Most of his pieces focus on the Rio Grande and other waterways, and most of their titles include precise dates. “He likes to do that in part because he works plein air and he was journaling a lot of the time,” Feldman says, noting that one of the artist’s 2-by-8-inch journals will be part of the display. “It was very important to him to capture the day. He’s interested in it as a record of his time and travel. From there, he creates a larger body of work.”

Charlotte Jackson Fine Art (554 South Guadalupe St.) marks three decades in the art world with “Celebrating 30 Years, Part I,” on view from July 5–30. Charles Arnoldi, Paul Sarkisian, and 13 other artists appear, each contributing at least one work. “I didn’t really think about it a whole lot until the fall of last year, when my assistant said, ‘Thirty years is a big deal. We should do something,’” says Charlotte Jackson, founder of the gallery. No artist on the roster has been with her for the entire span of time, though several have approached the two-decade mark. “These are artists I feel are almost like family,” Jackson says. “They’ve been really supportive of the gallery, and the gallery has been supportive of them.”

“Celebrating 30 Years, Part II” will take place from September 6–28. It will likely feature the same number of artists and works, but will spotlight the gallery’s early years and its firm focus on monochromatic art. “I know it sounds backward, but it makes more sense to put [the origins show] in September, when the collectors and artists can be with me.” Naturally enough, Part II will end with a party.

Pard Morrison’s first solo show with Charlotte Jackson, “Warp & Weft,” opens August 2 and continues through August 31. It will feature 10 to 15 pieces by the sculptor, whose multicolor works represent a clear but welcome shift from the gallery’s monochromatic roots. “He represents a bit of a change, but the forms feel comfortable with what we do here,” Jackson says. “They speak to the other paintings on the wall.” Morrison creates works such as Nimbus (2017), a 96-inch-tall aluminum column, by painting a color, firing the piece in a large kiln-like device, and repeating the process until all the colors are applied.

On July 5, Monroe Gallery of Photography (112 Don Gaspar) unveils “Living in History,” a show of images by contemporary photojournalists, including Ashley Gilbertson’s 2015 black-and-white of refugees disembarking on the Greek island of Lesvos, and Steve Schapiro’s 2018 shot of a Black Lives Matter protester. Photographers Nina Berman, Ryan Vizzions, and Rob Wilson are expected to appear at the July 5 opening reception. The show continues through September 22.

Pippin Contemporary (409 Canyon Road) will feature “Landscapes of the Mind,” a solo show by gallery founder Aleta Pippin, from July 5–17. Among the 15 works in the show is Awakening to the Light, a 2019 oil on canvas ablaze with color that measures 60 inches by 30 inches. “I do a lot of verticals. I like that shape,” says Pippin, who prefers palette knives to paint brushes. “I just start painting. I don’t have a plan. I paint until something starts to happen and I follow that.” The title of the show came first, and the works spring from memories of her initial encounter with the desert at the age of six. At first, the Michigan-born girl “thought I had gone to hell,” and her grandmother’s un-airconditioned car only worsened that first impression. “I was used to running around barefoot in the grass, but after a week or so, I loved it—the starless expansiveness of the rich blue sky was so different from what I was exposed to my whole life,” she says.

From July 24–August 7, the gallery features “Guilloume: Emergence.” It will be the Colombian sculptor’s seventh solo exhibition with the gallery. The 30 or so limited-edition bronzes, which will be displayed both inside the 3,600-square-foot gallery and outside in the 700-square-foot sculpture garden, depict women, many of them wearing hats. “The sculptures are faceless, so they can be any person. Anyone can look at them and put themselves in their place,” Pippin says.

Morning Star Gallery (513 Canyon Road) will offer “Artistry & Innovation – A Celebration of Pueblo Pottery” from August 5–September 2. Most of the ceramics in the exhibition were made by anonymous Native American women artisans between 1850 and 1920, and most come from a single collector, who wishes to remain anonymous. Gallery director Henry “Chick” Monahan has lavish praise for the man and his eye: “He really looked at each piece and bought it on its own merits,” he says. “He’s very discerning and picky. Everything is really well-painted.”

All 25 works in the show are water jars, and they represent 13 of the 20 pueblos of Arizona and New Mexico. Each can be linked to its place of origin by its temper—the material the potter added to the clay to prevent shrinkage and breakage in the kiln. Some used crushed rock, others sand, and still others pottery shards. “One of the most foolproof ways to figure out where a pot is from is its temper,” Monahan says. “Clays can look alike, but tempers are unique.”

The show provides a strong survey of the graphic styles of the various pueblos, but some pieces are unusual. Monahan singles out a circa-1860 water jar from Acoma Pueblo as an atypical example from a familiar place. “Typically, Acoma jars have some sort of hatching and fine line work. This jar is bold by Acoma standards, and this may be only the second known example with the unpainted arcs on the base of the jar,” he says. “It’s really beautiful and unusual.”

On August 30, Gallery 901 (555 Canyon Road) will open “Reflections from Russia,” a retrospective of the work of the late Fedor Zakharov, the leading Russian plein air landscape painter of the Soviet era. The show, which runs through September 20, will feature between 15 and 20 landscapes of Crimea and Ukraine, most of which Zakharov created between the 1960s and the 1990s. Nine of the works have never appeared in the United States and have not been publicly shown since his death in 1994. In a Good Mood (1980) reflects politics in an unexpected way. The artist’s distaste for the Soviet regime led him to spurn the dull, earth-tone Soviet-produced paints. His brighter palette imbues the work with a sense of happiness and positivity not often seen in Soviet canvases.

The 16th annual International Folk Art Market graces Museum Hill in Santa Fe from July 12–July 14. Artists from 50 countries will appear at this celebration of master folk artists, and three countries—Bulgaria, Iraq, and Australia—will be represented for the first time. Bulgarian woodcarver Ivan Dimitrov contributes elaborate carvings fashioned with chisels and mallets; Salma Abed Damej appears on behalf of Nature Iraq, a nonprofit that supports female weavers in the south of the country; and Australian aboriginal artist Janet Golder Kngwarreye, a member of the Clare Valley Art Collective, offers spellbinding abstract paintings that meditate on her heritage.

The 19-year-old fair Art Santa Fe returns to the Santa Fe Convention Center July 18–21. Its chosen curatorial theme is “momentum,” which describes and represents the strength of the artists and galleries that the fair represents. More than 60 galleries from across the U.S. and the world will attend.

Mexican artist Ricardo Cárdenas-Eddy might be an odd match for the theme, given that his preferred medium is recycled concrete and other building materials that aren’t easily moved. Cárdenas-Eddy unquestionably has momentum in the context of the fair, however. He will debut new works in the booth of Contemporary Art Projects (CAP), a Miami gallery, including Tribute to Jean Michel and Andy, a collection of nine concrete blocks featuring the faces of Basquiat and Warhol overlaid with the circles and crosses of a game of tic-tac-toe. Cárdenas-Eddy also features in one of the fair’s Art Labs presentations. It showcases La Pared de Frida, an image of Frida Kahlo fashioned from cement and reinforced with steel bars.

Performance artist Max Robert Daily provides the other Art Lab presentation, and it’s definitely out of the ordinary. Oslo Sardine Bar originated with an adventure Daily had aboard a Danish freighter. The ship broke down at sea, leaving the crew with little to do. The artist ransacked the emergency food supply, contributed bottles of Czech rum from his own stash, set up a backgammon board and a record player, and created a tiny makeshift bar. Daily replicates the spontaneity of the moment with the installation. “You come into this special room—it’s really a crate he has created, and you’re in the art experience,” says Linda Mariano, managing director of marketing for the Redwood Media Group, which produces Art Santa Fe. “You sit. The artist is at the bar. He’s the proprietor. He offers you a sardine on a saltine cracker. You see his sardine bar artwork, and you leave with a newspaper boat hat. It’s an experience as much as an art installation. It’s really fun.” Art & Antiques is a media partner of the fair.

Art Santa Fe will bookend the back half of Santa Fe Art Week, a new endeavor that runs from July 12–21. Designed to celebrate and boost the city’s art scene, Santa Fe Art Week encompasses more than 100 shows and activities by artists, studios, galleries, collectors, and museums.

The Objects of Art Santa Fe show takes place at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe (555 Camino de la Familia) from August 9–11. More than 70 exhibitors will appear, including Los Angeles gallery Powers Fine Arts, San Diego gallery Oriental Treasure Box, and Santa Fe dealer Randall Bell, all of whom are new to the fair.

This year’s special exhibition, “The Creative World of Alexander Girard,” focuses on the prominent fabric designer’s years in Santa Fe. “Girard was terribly thorough about overall design projects. He was a complete designer,” says John Morris, co-producer of Objects of Art Santa Fe, who points out that Girard shaped the look of The Compound Restaurant, a Canyon Road establishment that still appears largely as Girard designed it in 1966. Only some of the pieces on view will be for sale.

Once Objects of Art Santa Fe concludes, Morris and co-producer Kim Martindale will install the Antique American Indian Art Show in the same venue from August 14–16. More than 50 galleries and dealers will appear at the fair, which will feature a special exhibition titled “Tradition and Innovation: The Legacy of Julian Lovato.” It will be the first major show of the Native American jeweler’s works in Santa Fe, and the first since his death last year. About 80 percent of the works on view will be for sale. “He brought forward a contemporary feel, with cleaner, bolder lines, but he kept the strength of the traditions,” Martindale says. “He was a link to the past and a link to the future.”

The 68th annual Traditional Spanish Market, offered by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, takes place on the Santa Fe Plaza from July 27–28. A market preview event will happen on the 26th at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe (555 Camino de la Familia). Weavings, jewelry, pottery, colcha embroidery, tinwork, ironwork, woodcarving, and other arts and crafts will be on offer at the event, which will be attended by more than 200 artists from New Mexico and southern Colorado. The market will serve as the capstone of ¡Viva la Cultura!, a weeklong slate of Santa Fe events that kicks off on July 22 and includes concerts, studio tours, artist demonstrations, lectures, and regional foods.

The Santa Fe Art Auction will hold an online sale of Western Arts and Objects from August 16–25. It will offer between 100 and 150 lots of textiles, pottery, beadwork, bronzes, and other works. The annual live Santa Fe Art Auction (1011 Paseo de Peralta) will take place on November 9. It will include choice pieces from the 330-strong collection of the late Patricia Janis Broder, a pioneering collector of Western and Native American art and author of art-history books on those topics. The organizers of the auction were getting calls as early as May asking if the consignment included works by Native American artist Oscar Howe. Indeed, the November sale will include Medicine Man, an undated casein on paper estimated at $25,000–35,000. Though Howe had a long career, his work has appeared at auction just four times to date. Gillian Blitch, executive director of the auction, said that getting calls about a specific piece six months before a sale is extraordinary but understandable in this case. “It’s so rare to get an Oscar Howe to come on the market,” she says. “It’s a strong example from him, and it’s really remarkable.”

Works from all five members of the Artist Hopid group are in the November lineup, including Milland Lomakema’s striking 1975 acrylic on canvas Corn Maidens, estimated at $5,000–10,000. The sale will also feature a version of R.C. Gorman’s bronze Natoma on a wooden base. The 46-inch-tall image of a barefoot Native American dancer, whose upturned chin calls to mind Degas’ famous bronze of a young ballerina, carries an estimate of $10,000–15,000.

The 98th Santa Fe Summer Indian Market, the largest and most prestigious juried Native arts show on the planet, takes place on the Santa Fe Plaza August 17–18. Produced by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), it will feature about 1,000 artists from more than 200 native tribes across the United States and Canada. On August 16, the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) will hold a best-of-show ceremony and luncheon at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center (201 W. Marcy Street), followed by previews of the award-winning pieces. The 2018 Best of Show award went to Kevin Pourier, an Oglala Lakota artist from Pine Ridge, S.D., who triumphed with Winyan Wánakiksin, a belt depicting Native women protesters. Each portrait on the belt took Pourier about two weeks to finish. The National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian purchased it.

Sheila Gibson Stoodley is a journalist and the author of The Hot Bid (, which features intriguing lots coming up at auction.

Putting Together the Picture Sun, 30 Jun 2019 19:58:21 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Two museum shows survey the vast terrain of collage and its three-dimensional counterpart, assemblage.

Pablo Picasso, Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper, 1913

Pablo Picasso, Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper, 1913;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Pablo Picasso, Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper, 1913 Natalia Goncharova, Costume Design for One of the Three Kings in 'La Liturgie', 1915 Betye Saar, Ball of Fire, 1985 Raoul Hausmann, The Art Critic, 1919–20. Jess Collins, The Sun: Tarot XIX, 1960

Collage is the perfect art medium for the modern age. It is friendly to free association, unconventional juxtapositions, subversion of traditional space, and subversion of the concepts of authorship and craftsmanship. The collage artist, magpie-like, can pick up found objects, recycle elements from the art of the past, or appropriate pieces of other artists’ work. Collage has served just about every strategy and agenda of post-1900 art—Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and Pop Art, to name a few. Collage can stand on its own or coexist with painting, drawing, photography, and other multimedia techniques; in fact, it can be considered to be the pioneer of the whole idea of “multimedia.” And it can even spring into the third dimension with framed wooden constructions, shadowboxes, or the sculptural analogue of collage, assemblage.

This summer, two museum shows, one on each side of the Atlantic, celebrate the exuberance and diversity of collage and assemblage, affording an opportunity to reexamine a process that is familiar and yet always seems to yield something more the more you look. Through September 2, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has on view “The Art of Collage and Assemblage,” a broad sampling of works excavated from its own collection that is being presented alongside another exhibition, “Souls Grown Deep: Artists from the African American South.” The pairing emphasizes the fact that collage and assemblage were attractive and useful not only to mainstream modernists but also to self-taught or “folk” artists whose relative isolation from the art world did not prevent them from becoming aware of these techniques—or in some cases, discovering them on their own. And through October 27, the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh is mounting “Cut and Paste: 400 Years of Collage,” which features some 250 works and somewhat controversially advertises itself as “the first survey exhibition of collage to take place anywhere in the world.” By including a few older works, it also reignites an old debate as to whether collage began at the beginning of the 20th century or goes back much farther than that.

As far as modernist collage is concerned, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso get the credit. Each claimed primacy, and it is difficult to separate their works from each other during the period in which they co-invented Cubism and in the spirit of collaboration refrained from signing their works. In any case, in 1912 Braque decided to glue some pieces of cut-out wood-grained wallpaper onto charcoal drawings he had done, and called the resulting works papiers collés. (The term, which means “glued papers,” is now used by art historians to refer to this specific subset of the broader term “collage,” which means simply “glueing.”) As Clement Greenberg pointed out in a 1959 essay, this was a paradoxical use of illusion in an art that strove to eliminate illusionism in painting, since the glued-on wood-grain paper was used to represent actual wood in a still life. An example is Braque’s Musical Forms, in the Philadelphia exhibition, in which the wood-grain paper simulates the surface of a guitar.

Soon Braque and Picasso were pasting cut-out pieces of newspaper to drawings and paintings. This was also illusionistic, but executed so that it “gives away” the illusion and thereby negates it. In Picasso’s Bottle of Vieux Marc, in the Edinburgh show, fragments of the Paris paper Le Figaro are applied to the picture plane; do they represent the newspaper lying on the café table along with the bottle of wine, or are they external to the picture? Obviously both. The fact that we are only given fragments of the newspaper cleverly suggests the fragmentation of attention in the modern world, which was well underway by 1912. In Picasso’s Bouteille et Verre Sur un Table, also in the Edinburgh show, the newspaper clipping forms part of the bottle itself; the rest is drawn in outline in charcoal. The clipping itself contains an advertisement for a liqueur, demonstrating that playful humor has been a part of collage from the beginning.

Aside from the specific content of newspapers, labels, or faux-wood paper, the early Cubist collages all participated in the strategy of disturbing the viewer’s perception of pictorial space. In his 1959 essay on collage, Greenberg refers to the pasted-on elements as “undepicted,”meaning that they are actually, tangibly present rather than drawn or painted. He writes, “The abiding effect is of a constant shuttling between surface and depth, in which the depicted flatness is ‘infected’ by the undepicted. Rather than being deceived, the eye is puzzled; instead of seeing objects in space, it sees nothing more than—a picture.” As collage matured and became far more diverse in subject matter and technique, this dichotomy between surface and depth, between what is “in” the composition and what appears to have been brought inform “outside” it, has remained, and the key modernist strategy of perceptual disturbance runs through almost all collage.

Picasso and Braque stopped doing collage around 1914, leaving it to others to cultivate. The Dadaists eagerly took it up, more because of its potential for satirical humor and subversion of the role of the artist than for formalist reasons. Raoul Hausmann’s famous photomontage (collage with cut-out photographic prints applied) The Art Critic (1919–20), on view in Edinburgh, skewers the critic (presumably a generic representation of grouchy opposition to modernist experimentation, although it is humorously labeled as being George Grosz, a colleague and friend of Hausmann’s, and is actually not even a photo of Grosz) as blind to art, his eyes covered up by drawn-in elements and the eyeballs within the drawing obscured by what look like prison bars. The critic is distracted from his self-appointed task of evaluating art by women and fashion, represented by media images cut and pasted by Hausmann. The large words in the background are from a poem by the artist; one of the important aspects of collage, dating back to the beginning, is the interpenetration of image and text. When letters blend with pictorial elements to point where they become pictorial themselves, traditional “rational” meaning is subverted. This strategy served the aims of Dada and Surrealism particularly well.

With the rise of Surrealism, collage really came into its own. The exuberance and vitality of Surrealist collage is unmistakable, as the artists delighted in the technique’s power to create an atmosphere of weirdness and randomness, characteristic of the emptying out of psychic contents that they desired. Collage lent itself easily to Freudian-influenced free association, as well as to automatism, a beloved technique of Surrealism. Max Ernst made particularly heavy use of collage, and his style of mashing up 19th-century popular prints is on display in his Untitled (Unpublished collage for ‘Une Semaine de Bonté’), in the Edinburgh show. Ernst, no slouch at painting freehand, used other people’s imagery—anonymous, in typical Surrealist objet trouvé fashion— to tell a new, usually horror- or metaphysically-inflected story—if “story” is the right word for something so non-discursive. On the other hand, the use of found imagery made collage particularly useful to those who did not have traditional graphic skills, such as Surrealist leader André Breton, who was more of a writer than a visual artist. His collage Le Déclin de la société bourgeoise, on view at the National Galleries of Scotland, is a basic photomontage with two collaged-on prints, but it has visual and satirical impact out of proportion to its simplicity. The same show features a complex multimedia work by British Surrealist Eileen Agar, Fish Circus, which uses collaged prints and pieces of cardboard, painted abstract color elements, and a three-dimensional starfish that breaks out of the flat plane.

To take collage into the third dimension fell to the practitioners of assemblage. Kurt Schwitters, a veteran of the Dada movement, coined the word Merz to refer to his technique of attaching more or less flat wooden elements to a wooden board, as in his Merz Construction, on view in the Philadelphia exhibition. This concept of mounting objects more or less abstract or abstracted (from their original purpose) on boards or bases developed into different varieties of assemblage. Enrico Donati’s iconic The Evil Eye, also in Philadelphia, mounts an anatomical model eye, complete with trailing nerve fibers, on a glossy plinth with circular mirrors to reflect it to the viewer at different angles. This tour de force of latter-day Surrealism is absolutely collage in the round. Another approach to assemblage is the shadowbox, a specialty of Joseph Cornell. His Homage to Juan Gris, in the Philadelphia exhibition, places some of the traditional collage materials, such as newspaper clippings and wood-grain paper, against the back wall of the box and foregrounds them with a bird sculpture, a ring, and a whiffle ball. Gris is an appropriate dedicatee, given that he was among the earliest experimenters with papiers collés, after his friends Braque and Picasso, and persisted in making them long after they stopped doing so.

Later developments in collage show ever-increasing freedom in the use of materials coupled with a tendency to disregard collage conventions from the prewar period. Romare Bearden’s Blue Snake is literally a forest of colorful imagery, mostly painted by the artists and cut up and reassembled, but also including some found elements. Ellsworth Kelly’s Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance takes the simplest elements, colored squares, and sticks them to a white background to form a pixelated chromatic abstraction. And the artist known as Jess (Burgess Collins) brought collage and photomontage to the limits of what the eye can take in with large-scale kaleidoscopic works he called “paste-ups,” such as The Sun, Tarot XIX. In this reimagining and transformation of the Renaissance European tarot iconography, the traditional pair of twin children become two flayed anatomical figures from a medical textbook, while the eponymous sun itself is present as a congeries of small gold-colored pictorial elements combined in such a way that they suggest the orb and its rays. The composition is so crowded with references—all sourced by the artist in a process that could take years—that the entire Jungian collective unconscious seems to be present here. All three of these works are in the Philadelphia Museum’s exhibition.

The curators of the Edinburgh exhibition include earlier works such as 19th century collages done from commercially available kits and even some 16th-century prints that use the technique. The question this raises is whether collage is really a modern invention. While it is true that artists in many parts of the world in centuries gone by glued pictorial elements onto flat surfaces in quest of various effects, the use of collage to create new kinds of space perceptions and to transmit a new thought process about imagery came into being in the early 20th century. For the purposes of art history, collage is modernist collage. On the other hand, from a Surrealist point of view, perhaps all collage, even the most naïve, should be included, because after all, the Surrealist practice of finding new meaning in old things picked up in odd places has been integral to the whole ongoing project of modernist collage.

By John Dorfman

David Park: Go Figure Sun, 30 Jun 2019 19:50:47 +0000 Continue reading ]]> David Park found a way to paint figuratively that would be meaningful in an age of abstraction, and well beyond.

David Park, Woman at a Table, circa 1938

David Park, Woman at
a Table, circa 1938, oil on canvas, 42 x 36 in.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) David Park, Woman with Coffee Pot, 1958 David Park, Woman with Red Mouth, 1954 David Park, Lydia Drinking Coffee, 1960 David Park, Two Bathers, 1958 David Park, Woman at a Table, circa 1938

The work of the painter David Park presents what seems a reverse trajectory in American painting. Rather than slowly but surely removing the figurative elements from his work until paint became a purely real and present formal element divorced from representation, Park’s work did the opposite. During the heyday of America’s first homegrown easel painting tradition, Abstract Expressionism, David Park painted figures and spaces from life. The artist dabbled in abstraction under the influence of Cyfford Still’s ideas on non-objective painting, but found it did not suit him.

Around 1950 Park summarily (and some say apocryphally) brought the canvases of this period to the city dump. For Park this was not a moment of desperation but one of liberation, like parting with a pair of trendy, ill-fitting pants bought with life-changing intentions. Sometimes it’s best to let fashion pass one by, and this is exactly what Park did. In modern painting there are few better examples of the dictum “To thine own self be true.” The results of Park’s reckoning with his own nature however, did not leave him in the dust kicked up by abstract painters. The figuration the painter embraced instead inaugurated one of American painting’s most significant movements, the Bay Area Figurative Movement.

In the midst of so much abstraction, Park’s first notable return to figuration was seen as a “gag” or at best a tribute to a special moment that the artist hoped to memorialize on canvas. The 1949–50 oil on canvas Rehearsal was neither. Presented at the de Young Museum in the spring of 1950, it depicts a jazz band from Park’s perspective seated behind the piano. Park was a classically trained pianist, and the painting is based on rehearsals by faculty and students of the California School of Fine Arts, where the artist taught. The painting presents recognizable forms and a shift to a contingent, minor mode of autobiography. Park’s engagement with abstraction during the previous decade is not lost though, but instead is married with a familiar modernist deconstruction of space and figure.

Rehearsal creates bodies from a limited color palette and simple shapes, yet the choice of perspective and subject give the painting life and mind. The canvas combines the acts of seeing, remembering, and painting into one humble, sturdy vision. The arms and backs of the musicians are rendered with large monochrome blocks of color. Flatness and depth vie for prominence. The influence of Picasso is strongly felt. Rather than a violent shattering of objects, though, Park uses limited color and shape to affirm the presence of objects and people—conspicuously absent from so many contemporary canvases—with unfettered directness. Park’s vision was a constructive, positive one. The lessons he took from Modernism could be seen in the paring down of forms and flattening of the image. Rather than following the path that seemed to lead beyond representation to a pure affirmation of paint and canvas, Park chose to stay on the threshold, remain with figuration, and explore what might happen there.

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth is presenting Park’s career in full with a show organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, titled “David Park: A Retrospective” (through September 22). The first full retrospective devoted to the artist, it follows Park’s journey through Cubist-inspired works, social realism, and abstraction to his ultimate return to figurative art. The works on display are largely drawn from local Bay Area collectors and institutions, and this is no coincidence. Park’s return to the human form sparked the Bay Area Figurative movement, and he continues to be seen as its most important adherent. The simple shift back to representation counted Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff among the “members” of its first generation. In essence, the Bay Area Figurative artists created a parallel path which diverged from the commonly held view that abstraction was the only way forward for painters.

Like St. Francis shedding the decadent assumptions of the Catholic Church of his day in order to penetrate the essence of the Christian faith, Park’s humble return to the figure was both a personal necessity and a statement on contemporary painting. It was an attractive path for other painters who eventually made the journey along with Park back to the potentiality of representation. The figure created an inherent space of possibility where expressive techniques and ideas could take literal shape. Formal and expressive elements, which took complete precedence in non-objective painting, were employed with specific representational intent. The results were not illusory windows into fictional images, however, but representation and seeing at its very limit. A brushstroke could be a figure’s arm while remaining a brushstroke. The nature of painting was just as much the subject here as it was in Abstract Expressionism.

Representation as abstraction was not new. The Impressionists had troubled this mind- and eye-bending line, where paint retained its materiality while still working toward a record of the perceivable reality. Even earlier, the Sung Dynasty landscape painter Wang Wei wrote of the strange potential the brush had for representation: “[W]ith a stroke of the brush one may suggest the whole sky, one may give the full shape of a body or the brightness of the eyes. With some curving lines one can represent the Sung Mountain and obtain its effect within a ten feet square[…] Such is the effect of painting.” According to Wang Wei, “people usually pay attention only to formal aspects and effects, but the ancients did not make their paintings simply as records of the sites of cities and country districts or to mark out the limits of towns […] They had their origins in forms, but these were made to blend with the spirit and excite the heart (mind).” In a similar way, with a few brushstrokes and blocks of color Park was able to invoke the spirit of a musician, a child on a bicycle, or his wife. His work has its foundation in forms but this is only a starting point, a springboard for an engrossing dance between presence and absence on the canvas.

As non-objective art tightened its grip on painting during the 1950s, Park’s return to figuration was a radical gesture. The Boston-born painter was, in reality, responding to a natural personal inclination. From an early age Park had displayed a gift for drawing, and with time it grew into a passion for painting. In 1928, the young artist moved from New England to Los Angeles, where he attended classes at the Otis Art Institute. In Park’s estimation, the classes didn’t teach him much. He then found a job assisting sculptor Ralph Stackpole on his large-scale stone figures. Park continued to paint, both watercolors and a small number of murals commissioned by the Public Works Art Project. The prevailing style of the time was social realism, and these ideas found their way into Park’s paintings. He also explored biblical subjects in a series of drawings and paintings based on the book of Genesis. Eventually, Park returned to Massachusetts, where he took a job teaching art and art history. His painting practice expanded, resulting in more compositionally complex works. Another relocation brought Park, his wife Lydia, and their young children back to the West Coast. During the war years in Berkeley, Park’s painting output was small. The works of the first half of the 1940s evoke a strain of primitivism, with Park’s figures recalling the totemic shapes of Henry Moore and Picasso.

After the war, on the eve of an exciting new period in American painting, Park was brought in as a teacher at CSFA. It was in this privileged position that he was able to experience the energy of the new Abstract Expressionist movement. Park saw works by Pollock, Rothko, and Motherwell firsthand. In the midst of this tectonic shift in painting, Park decided to give abstraction a whirl. It didn’t take. The second half of the 1940s was a time of exploration for the artist, and extant sketches show his struggle to move away from representational painting. Forms never disappear completely from his images, though, and by the end of the decade Park would destroy most of his dalliances with non-objective art.

From 1950 to his death in 1960 at the age of 49, Park would create his most mature and powerful works. With the 1950 oil on canvas painting Kids on Bikes, he showed that the representational nature of Rehearsal was not a one-off. It was indeed, Park’s nature. The painting shows a boy on a bike in the extreme foreground gazing behind him at another figure on a bicycle. The image’s subject and composition create a melancholy vision of youth from large patches of color and thick brushstrokes. It is a heartbreakingly simple and deftly sophisticated work that summons the liberation of materials heralded by abstraction, as well as the seemingly magical geometry of figuration, into one highly focused expressive vision. Kids on Bikes was awarded a small prize at the San Francisco Art Association Annuals, and fresh works in this vein followed. The 1954 oil on canvas Woman with Red Mouth hovers on the very precipice of representation. It is a sophisticated work, integrating elements of color field painting into its figuration. Park’s woman is brought to life with relatively few colors and large, thick brushstrokes. Somehow, with these spare elements, Park is able to bring to life a figure with movement and essence. It is like Wang Wei’s single brushstroke suggesting “the whole sky.” Two thick red lines become a lipstick-stained mouth, curved just enough to evoke a clever smile. The slyness of the smile ironically calls to the enigmatic countenance seen in Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The mystery in Park’s painting is significantly different, however, as the question is not why the subject is smiling but how.

As Park grew more ill in the last years of his life, he continued to work. The artist created a flurry of works on paper. The 1960 gouache on paper Lydia Drinking Coffee is one such work. The paint has grown thicker. The figure of Lydia is created with a series of precisely chosen shapes and colors. The painting is like an abstraction that decided to pool like mercury into a human form. The colors are unnatural and freed from any realistic palette. And though the brushstrokes are large and quite evident, so is the presence of “Lydia.” Park was not winding down with his last works but continuing to work toward a personal synthesis of non-objective elements and figuration brought to the very edge of their individual natures. In words this sounds much more aggressive than the effect of Park’s paintings. Lydia Drinking Coffee is light and somber. The brushstrokes maintain their autonomy, as in a non-objective work, but the figuration implies the eye and mind of the man holding the brush. The subject is not destroyed through deconstruction but made manifest. The work achieves a unique reconciliation between the prevailing abstraction of the time and the figurative movement the artist had pioneered. Park was not just getting somewhere at the time of his untimely death, he had arrived.”

By Chris Shields

Whistler’s Gentle Art Sun, 30 Jun 2019 19:42:50 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A current exhibition showcases the watercolors that revived James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s career.

James McNeill Whistler, Southend Pier, 1882-84

James McNeill Whistler, Southend Pier, 1882-84, watercolor on paper.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) James McNeill Whistler, Southend Pier, 1882-84 James McNeill Whistler, Violet and Amber-Tea, 1882-84 James McNeill Whistler, Pink Note-The Novelette, 1883-84

To say James Abbott McNeill Whistler had a colorful life would be a gross understatement. The American artist, who was born in Massachusetts, grew up in part in Saint Petersburg, Russia. There, his father advised on the construction of the railroad and young Whistler took drawing classes at the Imperial Academy of Sciences. The United States Military Academy at West Point came next, but Whistler failed chemistry and left the academy in 1854. He learned etching while working at the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey before leaving for Paris in 1855 to become an artist in the true 19th-century definition of the word.

In Paris, he studied at the École Impériale et Spéciale de Dessin and with Charles Gleyre, but it was his own immersion in the works of the masters like Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Velázquez and contemporaries like Gustave Courbet that truly honed his style. A union with Henri Fantin-Latour and Alphonse Legros—the Société des Trois, as they called themselves—was also heavily influential, as was a relationship with Édouard Manet, the writings of Charles Baudelaire and Théophile Thoré, and an on-trend interest in Japanese prints and blue-and-white porcelain that would grow considerably over time. In May of 1859, Whistler relocated to London. There, he fell in with several of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Throughout the 1860s, his reputation grew, primarily through his landscapes, which borrowed the flat, tonal quality of Japanese art and deftly distilled, as in poetry or music, place into feeling. Experiments with multi-figure compositions in the 1860s gave way to single-figure subjects in the 1870s, such as the celebrated Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1: Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (1871).

As the Aesthetic Movement grew, so did Whistler’s place in it. He became a living testament to the notion that an elevated sense of taste should pervade one’s life and he became known for his printmaking, interior decoration, furniture, and designs for frames and exhibitions. He created a signature—not unlike Prince’s infamous symbol—a butterfly formed by his initials that he nestled within his compositions.

But Whistler’s fame extended beyond his artistic output. The libel suit he filed against the art critic John Ruskin in 1878 garnered considerable attention. Ruskin, upon seeing Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (1875) at London’s Grosvenor Gallery in 1877, described the artist as “flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.” Whistler sued and won. In 1890 he published The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, a book that provided an embellished, often-hilarious transcript of the case and clippings of letters the artist wrote to newspapers regarding other enemies and “frenemies.”

Though the jury may have ruled in Whistler’s favor, the art world—and the artist’s bank account—did not. As the 1880s rolled in, Whistler needed to revive his career in order to stay afloat. Enter watercolors. Beginning in 1881, he embarked on a 15-year-long series of small works in the breezy medium. Of the marketable paintings he wrote, “I have done delightful things and have a wonderful game to play.”

“Whistler in Watercolor,” an exhibition on view at the Smithsonian’s Freer | Sackler in Washington, D.C., through October 6, delves deeply into these works and in particular Charles Lang Freer’s relationship to them. Freer, who also owned oil paintings, prints, drawings, and pastels by the artist, amassed the largest collection of Whistler’s watercolors in the world—some 50 seascapes, nocturnes, interior views, and street scenes. These delicate works, which were included in the collector’s bequest to the museum in 1906, are rarely seen and have, in fact, never left the Freer Gallery of Art. Thus, the show serves as a sort of grand introduction to the series and a reaffirmation of Whistler’s facility with both paint and the art market.

“This is a groundbreaking exhibition for a number of reasons,” says curator Lee Glazer. “The watercolors—‘dainty,’ ‘beautiful,’ and ‘portable’ as the artist described them—are critical to understanding how Whistler’s art-historical ambition and his canny understanding of the commercial art market coalesced.”

After the Ruskin case, Whistler, in need of money, took a commission from the Fine Art Society of London to produce 12 etchings of Venice. When Whistler returned from Italy a year later (the assignment was initially only for three months), he had produced 50 etchings, 100 pastels, a number of oil paintings, and some three pastels. Though London Bridge (1881, watercolor over graphite on rough, wove paper), a work in the Freer’s show, was not his first, he considered it a sort of jumping-off point for his immersion into the watercolor medium. The year it was completed, a reporter wrote, “Mr. Whistler is about to surprise both his friends and his detractors by appearing in the new character of the water-colour artist.”

A trip to the seaside town of St. Ives in southwest England in 1883 proved a fruitful occasion for painting. Working en plein air, Whistler completed several works in oil and watercolor. The watercolor seascapes are bright and light, with a pleasing tripartite organization of sky, sea, and shore. The exhibition features several paintings from this productive getaway, such as St. Ives: Cornwall (1883–84, watercolor on paper), Southend—The Pleasure Yacht (1882–84, watercolor on paper), and Southend Pier (1882–84, watercolor on paper)—all of which are redolent of salt and sand. Whistler also translated his practice of “nocturnes” or night scenes into watercolor, and a 1882 trip to Amsterdam generated several experimental works. In Nocturne: Grand Canal, Amsterdam (1892, watercolor on cold-pressed, wove paper), a standout of the show, the light from the windows of the buildings that line the canal reflect in the water like dancing spirits. Whistler maintained a wet surface while he worked with the paint, rubbing and scraping it to create the ethereal effect.

But he also created watercolors in town, and his depictions of street scenes delighted Victorian critics and collectors. Focused primarily on the cityscape in the Chelsea neighborhood of London, where he lived, Whistler translated his observations into charming pictures with low-simmering social undertones. In Chelsea Children (circa 1897, watercolor on hot-pressed, wove paper), a group of children look in a shop window, while a lone child looks longingly into a store advertising stewed eels.

Not all of Whistler’s watercolors take place out of doors, however. The exhibition showcases a host of works composed in the artist’s studio, such as Milly Finch (1883–84, watercolor on cold-pressed, wove paper), The saucy painting depicts a model in a lavender dress, splayed on a red chaise longue with a red fan in her hand. A much more modest picture, Note in Pink and Purple—The Studio (1883–84, watercolor on cold-pressed, wove paper), features the same dress, chaise, table, and drapery swag, yet the model sits demurely instead.

Freer first met Whistler in 1890, when he visited the artist at his London home. The artist and the collector struck up a friendship, which in turn led to Freer acquiring more and more of Whistler’s work. One of his acquisitions was the legendary Peacock Room, which he acquired en masse in 1904 and installed in his Detroit mansion. In 1876, Whistler created Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, a decadent interior in the height of Anglo-Japanese style, for his former patron, the shipping magnate Frederick Leyland. The patron had outfitted the room with blue-and-white Chinese porcelains from the Kangxi era and wanted Whistler to add some painted flourishes to bring harmony to the room. When it was revealed that Whistler had painted the room in a profusion of blue, green, and gold patterns reminiscent of a peacock’s plumage—and charged Leyland an exorbitant fee—the artist and patron quarreled, and ultimately ended their relationship.

“The Peacock Room in Blue and White,” an installation of the room, is currently also on view at the Freer | Sackler alongside the watercolor exhibition. Not only a recreation of Whistler’s decorations, the installation features Kangxi-era pots from the Freer collection as well as 100 newly commissioned vessels to help fill the room’s 218 shelves.

An exploration of Whistler in yet another medium is also on view at the Frick Collection in New York. “Whistler as Printmaker: Highlights from the Gertrude Kosovsky Collection” runs through September 1 and showcases 15 prints and one pastel. The exhibition is a slice of a larger promised gift from Kosovsky and her husband, Dr. Harry Kosovsky, of 42 Whistler works to the Frick. Over the course of five decades, the couple amassed a collection that ranges from etchings dating to the late 1850s to lithographs of the late 1890s.

Whistler created several works in the show during the storied trip to Venice mentioned above. Two standouts are San Biagio (1880, etching and drypoint, brownish-black ink on ivory laid paper) and Ponte del Piovan (1879–80, etching and drypoint, brownish-black ink on cream laid paper), etchings with just enough Whistleresque detail to suggest the essence of Venice’s architecture and canals. In Sunset: Venice (1880, chalk and pastel on beige paper), the lone pastel and a highlight of the gift and exhibition, Whistler barely intones the outline of the Santa Maria della Salute and the Giudecca on the horizon—like a faint yet audible whisper.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Édouard Manet: Beauty Salon Sun, 30 Jun 2019 19:37:03 +0000 Continue reading ]]> An exhibition in Chicago showcases Manet’s late work.

Édouard Manet, In the Conservatory, about 1877–79

Édouard Manet, In the Conservatory, about 1877–79

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Édouard Manet, Boating, 1874-75. Édouard Manet, In the Conservatory, about 1877–79 Édouard Manet, The House at Rueil, 1882. Édouard Manet, Autumn (Méry Laurent), 1881 or 82

Édouard Manet continued to create heroically-scaled pictures for the Salon—including major achievements like A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1892)—until his death in 1883. But as the 1870s gave way to the 1880s and his health diminished, Manet’s output changed, as if, like whipped cream, it had been whisked with air. He painted velvety still lifes, delicate pastels and intimate watercolors. His café and garden scenes of this period bloom with flowers and fashionably dressed women, often models, actresses, and demimondaines of his acquaintance, or his charming wife, Suzanne. Sometimes, as in Boating (1874) or In the Conservatory (about 1877–79), he pairs women with men and sets a mood that’s about 99 percent courtly and one percent flirty. In these works, he fully embraces beauty.

Critics have dismissed this corner of his oeuvre as frivolous. Indeed, on the surface, these works appear far less provocative than his watershed paintings of the 1860s. But perhaps lurking beneath their comely surfaces is something deeper. In On Beauty and Being Just, Elaine Scarry takes on two prevailing arguments against beauty that might also be levied against Manet’s late works—that beautiful things take our attention away from injustices, and that the act of looking at beautiful things in turn objectifies and cheapens them. Scarry posits instead that the beautiful “acquaints us with the mental event of conviction, and so pleasurable a mental state is this that ever afterwards one is willing to labor, struggle, wrestle with the world to locate enduring sources of conviction—to locate what is true.” For Scarry, as with Plato, beauty has the ability to incite one to create something better—even to restore one’s trust in the world.

For Manet, who in his last decade struggled with ill health and likely knew he would die prematurely—he did, at just 51—it seems plausible that his turn to beauty was an effort to capture what felt was enduring and true. Perhaps beauty felt like a panacea for the severe pain and paralysis he experienced in his legs due to locomotor ataxia. Or perhaps the opulent fashions, sprightly models, and blossoming flowers he arranged for his late works were the last hedonistic pleasures of a dying man. After all, Kant said that every other pleasure can be exhausted, but the desire for beauty is inexhaustible—one can’t tire of it.

“Manet and Modern Beauty,” which is on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through September 8, focuses exclusively on this period of the artist’s work—the 1870s through his death in 1883. The first exhibition at the Art Institute devoted to the artist in 50 years, it showcases some 90 works in total, with 50 paintings, numerous pastels, and a host of works on paper including watercolors and prints. Also on view is a rare collection of letters that Manet wrote to his friends during this period, many of which are finely illustrated with flowers and fruits. The exhibition is organized in conjunction with the J. Paul Getty Museum, and will have a run at the Los Angeles institution next fall.

The show finds Manet at the height of his interest in fashion. While previously he had looked to historical referents and styles, in these late paintings his feet are planted firmly in the now. Through his impeccable attention to the fine, contemporary womenswear of his day, he achieved an elevated sense of realism in his portraits. Jeanne (Spring), an 1881 painting, is a dazzling example of Manet’s couturier’s eye. Jeanne Demarsy, a young actress who would go on to gain acclaim on the Paris stage for her portrayal of Venus in Jacques Offenbach’s Orphée aux enfers, was a favorite model of Manet’s in the 1880s. Prior to posing Jeanne in his studio, the artist visited several high-end modistes for dresses and hats, eventually choosing a white fitted frock spangled with a floral pattern and elbow-reaching camel gloves. Manet crowned the actress in a ruffled bonnet topped with flowers and tied with a thick black ribbon and placed a parasol trimmed with a bedskirt of ornate lace in her hand. The actress’ pale, powdered complexion and rosy lips offset the painting’s verdant background, creating an image of striking freshness.

Jeanne was presented at the 1882 Salon near A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, Manet’s other submission that year. Of the two, Jeanne was the runaway hit. Conservative critics praised it for having what was for Manet a more finished look, and everyone else seemingly praised it for its chicness and robust beauty. It portrayed after all, a fantasy of the modern, fashion-forward parisienne, strolling through a garden where she is the only thing more beautiful than the scenery. The 1882 Salon was Manet’s last and, it can be argued, his highest success. At any rate, is was the high point for Jeanne, which would never reach the same level of exposure despite passing through the hands of Antonin Proust, the opera singer Jean-Baptiste Faure, Paul Durand-Ruel, and New York millionaire Colonel Oliver Payne, before coming into the collection of the Getty in 2014.

Jeanne was part of an unrealized project to portray the seasons through paintings of stylishly attired women. The only other completed work in the series, Autumn (Méry Laurent) (1881 or 1882), comes to the exhibition from the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Manet portrays the demimondaine and artist’s muse Méry Laurent against a light blue, flower-dotted background that is thought to have been inspired by a Japanese garment that belonged to Proust. Méry’s apparence is exceedingly fashionable, down to her Venetian blond hair, a trendy hue popularized by the courtesan Cora Pearl. The sitter’s coat, likely a sable, is rich with autumnal hues that matches her deeply rouged-lips. The fur is thought to be the model’s own, as Proust has quoted Manet saying that he was so inspired by the coat he asked Méry to give it to him when it wore out, for a future project he had in mind.

The late “feminization” of Manet’s work, as it has been called, includes a cache of painted floral still lifes—Roses and Lilacs in a Crystal Vase (circa 1882), Vase of White Lilacs and Roses (1883), White Lilacs in a Crystal Vase (circa 1882), Bouquet of Peonies (circa 1882), to name a few. As with Flowers in a Crystal Vase (about 1882), a small-scale example that comes to the show from the National Gallery of Art, these still lifes are gorgeous explorations of color where oil paint appears to have the sumptuous softness of pastel. They’re closely tied to Manet’s identity as a Parisian gentleman, as some were based on bouquets he received from female callers and others were given to ladies in lieu of real bouquets. As these exchanges suggest, flowers represented sociability, politeness, and, of course, beauty.

It is a special treat that Manet typically portrayed his bouquets in crystal vases. There, in these vessels, one can see the organic detritus of cut flowers. There are browning stems, fallen leaves, and at times, a general sort of muck—beauty and truth.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Birds and Beasts Tue, 25 Jun 2019 04:02:36 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Japanese artists have lavished loving attention of the animal kingdom for almost two millennia, as visitors to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., can now see for themselves.

Yamamoto Kozan, Rabbit-Shaped Censer

Yamamoto Kozan, Rabbit-Shaped Censer, Showa period, circa 1935, white bronze, 8.9 x 12.7 x 7.6 cm.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Sacred Foxes, Kamakura–Nanbokucho periods Yamamoto Kozan, Rabbit- Shaped Censer Kaigyokusai Masatsugu, The Twelve Zodiac Animals Nawa Kohei, PixCell-Bambi #14 Helmet Shaped like a Shachihoko, Edo period

This summer, monkeys, frogs, cats, fish, octopuses, and flocks of birds invade the halls of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. No, it’s not an exchange program with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, it’s an art exhibition, and the animals aren’t in cages; they’re in frames, on pedestals, on ceramics and enameled boxes, woven into garments, and, as Gilbert and Sullivan put it, “on many a screen and fan.” “The Life of Animals in Japanese Art” (through August 18) is a massive loan show featuring more than 300 works that portray wild and domestic creatures, spanning 17 centuries of Japanese visual culture.

Co-organized with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Japan Foundation, with special cooperation from the Tokyo National Museum, the exhibition features 180 works lent from Japan, many of which hardly ever leave Japan, or, indeed, never have until now. The largest single lender is the Tokyo National Museum, which lent 26 works. The National Gallery’s installation takes up 18,000 square feet in the East Building Concourse; from September 22 through December 8, a smaller version of the show, titled “Every Living Thing: Animal in Japanese Art” will be on view at LACMA. Both shows are curated by Robert T. Singer, curator and department head of Japanese art at LACMA, and Masatomo Kawai, director of the Chiba City Museum of Art, in consultation with a team of historians of Japanese Art. A voluminous, fully illustrated catalogue, published by Princeton University Press, accompanies the exhibition.

The dense presence of animals in Japanese art is due to several factors. The ancient Shinto religion saw the spirits or deities (kami) as being embedded in nature, and therefore as being intimate with the animal kingdom. For example, deer were considered to be messengers of kami, or were even used iconographically as representations of kami, as in a 15th-century Kasuga Deer Mandala on loan to the exhibition from the Art Institute of Chicago. In a woodblock print by Hiroshige, from a much later period (1857), fox spirits are depicted in the form of foxfires glowing against a wintry dark sky. Foxes, the most magical of all Japanese animals, were believed to be messengers of the Inari deity.

In early forms of Shinto ritual practice, clay sculptures of animals called haniwa were placed around gravesites as protection for the dead. And size apparently did matter when it came to protective power; a four-foot-tall haniwa horse dating from the 6th century, on loan from LACMA, is one of the largest known horse sculptures from the period. The semi-divine power of animals, real or mythological, could be channeled into human beings by the use of animal symbolism on items of apparel; samurai armor featured dragons, and samurai helmets were shaped to look like they had deer antlers, or somewhat surprisingly for modern Westerners, rabbit ears.

Animals also had, and still have, cosmological significance, as in many other cultures, in connection with the celestial zodiac (the Japanese zodiacal menagerie is based on the Chinese). A remarkable mid-19th-century netsuke, or small ivory sculpture, by Kaigyokusai Masatsugu depicts all 12 zodiacal animals intertwined with each other. A series of color woodblock prints by the great 19th-century ukiyo-e master Kuniyoshi also depicts all 12 animals, which is comparatively rare in Japanese art.

In secular Japanese art, animals were frequently used as stand-ins for people, to criticize the foibles of society without necessarily incurring the wrath of the authorities. That gambit did not always work, of course; the artist Ukita Ikkei painted a fox wedding in Tale of a Strange Marriage (circa 1858). This was a fairly thinly disguised satirical reference to the wedding of a Tokugawa shogun to an imperial princess, and it earned its creator a year in jail. Soon after his release, Ikkei died. The painting, however, lives on, and even if the circumstances surrounding it are obscured by time, the lively images of the anthropomorphic foxes have as much spirit as ever.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Japanese artists concentrated more than ever on portraying animals for their own sake, simply observing their distinctive beauty with wonder and deploying all the virtuosity of technique they had to do it justice. This new approach gave us many immortal works of naturalism—perhaps a stylized naturalism in many cases rather than the realist type current in the West at the time, but nonetheless an art that is devoted to animals for animals’ sake. A wonderful long horizontal scroll depicting birds sets their feathers, colorful or white, against a nearly plain cream background, the better to draw attention to the details of the creatures. Some animal portraits are psychologically as well as physically realistic. A very charming, nearly monochrome woodblock print from around 1890–1910 by Ogata Gekko shows a monkey swinging from a tree, reaching down with one long and slender arm to try and grab hold of the moon reflected in a pond. In three-dimensional works, the realism can be quite gripping and immediate, without abandoning decorative values; a perfect example is a glazed ceramic footed bowl with applied crabs by Miyagawa Kozan I (1881). On the other hand, a white bronze rabbit-shaped censer by Yamamoto Kozan (1935), subordinates naturalism to design, in this case, European-influenced Art Deco design. The ears curve back to form handles, and the smooth, rounded body conveys the sense of peace and serenity that only a sleeping animal can have.

The exhibition also includes contemporary artworks from Japan on animal themes, some of them inspired by classic artworks also on view. For example, the Kasuga Deer Mandala mentioned above got a response from the artist Nawa Kohei, in the form of titled PixCell Bambi #14 (2015), which is installed next to it. The haniwa animals inspired Yayoi Kusama to create her own version, multicolored dogs with, of course, multicolored polka dots. And fashion designer Issey Miyake, perhaps drawing on the tradition of animal-emblazoned furisode (robes) created garments that seem to turn the wearer into a fish, a monkey, or a bird.

By John Dorfman

Intriguing Tropics Tue, 25 Jun 2019 04:01:28 +0000 Continue reading ]]> A traveling exhibition showcases the diversity of contemporary art from the Caribbean.

Edouard Duval-Carrié, Lost at Sea / Perdido en el mar, 2014

Edouard Duval-Carrié, Lost at Sea / Perdido en el mar, 2014, mixed media on aluminum, 96 x 144 in.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Edouard Duval-Carrié, Lost at Sea / Perdido en el mar, 2014

The nations of the Caribbean are incredibly diverse in culture, ethnicity, and language, but they have in common a 400-year legacy of slavery and colonialism as well as a complex and conflicted set of ties to Europe and the U.S. A traveling exhibition now on view at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington ambitiously attempts to discern some commonality among the various modes of visual creativity deployed by artists from the 21st-century Caribbean. “Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago” (through September 8) is curated by art historian Tatiana Flores and was organized by the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, Calif., originally for the massive multi-exhibition event “Pacific Standard Time LA/LA,” in 2017. Since then, it has gone on the road, making stops at the Patricia & Philip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University, the Portland Art Museum, and the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University.

The exhibition features over 80 artists with roots in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba (this island alone accounting for an astonishing 25 percent of the total), Puerto Rico, Curaçao, Aruba, St. Maarten/St. Martin, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Trinidad, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Barbados, and St. Vincent, working in media including painting, installation art, sculpture, photography, video, and performance.

The title of the show (and the accompanying scholarly catalogue, edited by Flores and Michelle A. Stephens), while not the most euphonious, does indicate a strong conceptual focus. “Relational Undercurrents,” in evoking the currents flowing beneath a body of water and the connections among the islands in it, signals what the curators call an “archipelagic paradigm.” While the Caribbean is not technically an archipelago, the term is meant metaphorically, as a way to stress the islands’ links and combat the sense of isolation with which they have traditionally been viewed. For Flores and Stephens, the Caribbean is “a geo-material and geo-historical assemblage of sea spaces and sea islands” in which they discern “unexpected mirrorings and inevitable unities,” unities that the artists themselves are conscious of. Today’s globalization has enhanced the archipelagic nature of Caribbean culture.

The exhibition is divided into four themed sections, titled “Conceptual Mappings,” “Perpetual Horizons,” “Landscape Ecologies,” and “Representational Acts.” The works in “Conceptual Mappings” challenge the colonial projects of map-making and border-drawing; “Perpetual Horizons” showcases works that deal with the fixity and luidity of geography; the works in “Landscape Ecologies” take on the centuries-long history of environmental exploitation and destruction in the region; while those in “Representational Acts” deal with issues of the individual and community, self-depiction, gender, race, class, and sexuality.

Cuban artist Marianele Orozco’s Horizontes / Horizons (2012) merges several of these themes into one powerful image, like many of the works in “Relational Undercurrents,” a photograph. It presents an imaginary horizon, with sky and clouds above and below, instead of land, a woman’s head and outstretched arms, seeming to form an island with a rise in the center beaches sloping down to the water’s edge. By identifying the human body with the land, Orozco portrays a Caribbean island as a place in which a new kind of humanity was formed from indigenous and European elements. The serenity of the work belies the fact that the bodies and the land were both brutally exploited but proudly proclaims the vitality and self-determination of contemporary Cuba and, by extension, the Caribbean as a whole.

Barbadian artist Ewan Atkinson’s Empire from the Series Starman Visits (2009) uses a combination of photographic transparency and lightbox to superimpose a superhero-like figure composed of glowing lights enclosed by a human form in outline over a dilapidated theater’s façade. Could the stars within the Starman’s body be the islands of the Caribbean? Is this a visitor from another world entirely, vivifying the post-colonial decay with the power of the imagination?

Not surprisingly, many of the works on view in “Relational Undercurrents” depict the sea, whether realistically or symbolically. In Haitian artist Edouard Duval-Carrié’s Lost at Sea (2014), part of his “Imagined Landscapes” series, a sole human figure floats in the water, hemmed in by land. It is as if all the islands of the archipelago have merged together, and the plant growth, gray with shadows, is so dense as to be frightening. Venezualan Ricardo de Armas’ photograph Viernes, 14 de Agosto, 10:30 a.m. / Friday, August 14, 10:30 a.m. (2010) intriguingly gives views simultaneously above and below the water’s surface, as if as a direct illustration of the show’s theme of underwater links. On the other hand Dominican artist Fermín Ceballos’ Aislamiento / Isolation (2005) could be seen as representing the fragmentation that the outside world has imposed upon the various Caribbean islands; in this photography we are shown an island so tiny that it is just a big rock, with a single human dwelling perched on top, surrounded by brilliant blue ocean. Haitian artist Roberto Stephenson’s 2007.07.16 09:04:57 – Lac de Péligre, département du Centre 18.921258° – 72.0043 97° > SE from the series Peyizaj takes a more reportorial approach, giving an aerial view of the seascape in a way that subtly suggests the archipelago concept.

The more human-oriented works in the exhibition express more intimate sides of Caribbean life. In Haitian artist Didier William’s Dancing Pouring, Crackling and Mourning, a 2015 acrylic and collage on wood, two black figures are partially revealed, partially concealed by a textile with Vodoun imagery and what looks like a flayed skin made of bark. The dance-like movements and mysterious quality of the imagery give the work a feeling of ritual and suspension of time. Puerto Rican photographer Miguel Luciano’s Amani Kites, SmART Power, Kenya (2012) is a joyous revelation of childhood’s exuberance, set not in the Caribbean itself but in Africa, from which the ancestral roots of the Caribbean diaspora grow.

By John Dorfman

Heart of Glass Wed, 29 May 2019 22:31:18 +0000 Continue reading ]]> The Yale University collection of American glass illuminates the history of the medium, from artisanal exuberance to modernist innovation and beyond.

Toots Zynsky, Spring Grass II, Amsterdam, 1983

Toots Zynsky, Spring Grass II, Amsterdam, 1983, fused soda-lime filet de verre, 14 x 31.8 x 33.3 cm.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Gimmal Flask, N.J., 1820–40 Pocket Bottle, 1764–70 Wimshurst Influence Machine, made Germany, retailed Philadelphia, circa 1890 W. L. Libbey & Son, Vase, East Cambridge, Mass., 1883–87 Mt. Washington Glass Company, Royal Flemish Ewer with Lion and Arms Decoration Toots Zynsky, Spring Grass II, Amsterdam, 1983

The modern tradition of art glass originated in the United States, but long before there was a Dale Chihuly or a Harvey Littleton, creative energies were being poured into the crucibles of American glassmakers. While positioned as artisan work for practical use rather than art for art’s sake, earlier American glass displays a vast aesthetic range and an attention to form and color that was meant to bring delight to lives both simple and refined.

However, the idea of collecting glass objects in a formal way never entered American minds until quite late in the day, toward the end of the 19th century. In the aftermath of the centennial celebrations of the Republic in 1876, an awareness began to develop with regard to the historical value of objects that had previously been thought of as just “old stuff.” The concept of “antiques” crystallized as collectors raided attics and curiosity shops for new-found treasures, very much including glassware. Into the early 20th century, antique glass was pursued more for its historical value than for its aesthetics, although that would soon change.

One of the most important pioneers of glass collecting in this country was Francis P. Garvan, a prominent Yale-educated lawyer and government official who lived in New York. He and his wife, Mabel Brady Garvan, came into a tremendous fortune when her father, an Albany, N.Y., industrialist, died unexpectedly in 1913. Although Garvan had already started collecting American antiques, he went into high gear after receiving this inheritance, which enabled him to operate in the same sphere as a select few “super-collectors” in the field, such as Henry Ford, Henry Francis du Pont, and Ima Hogg. Garvan was aided in this pursuit by an art advisor, the glass scholar Rhea Mansfield Knittle. She traveled the country scouting pieces for Garvan to acquire as well as enhancing his enterprise with her research and connoisseurship skills. Garvan also made savvy acquisitions when the collections of his predecessors were sold off at auction, such as those of Edwin AtLee Barber and Frederick William Hunter.

At his death in 1937, Garvan’s collection went to his alma mater, with which he had established a donor relationship some seven years earlier. At the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Conn., it forms the kernel of and original inspiration for a comprehensive American glass collection that extends to modern and contemporary art. These holdings have recently been epitomized in book form as American Glass: The Collections at Yale, edited by John Stuart Gordon, the Benjamin Attmore Hewitt Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Gallery. Through 155 carefully chosen objects, photographed, catalogued, and explicated, American Glass tells the rich story of the medium in this country, from 18th-century mold-blown vessels to 19th-century pressed glass, glass in technology, stained glass, and the studio glass of our own time.

Also drawing on Gordon’s research is the exhibition “A Nation Reflected: Stories in American Glass,” which will be on view at the Yale University Art Gallery through September 29. Co-curated by Gordon and six Yale students, it presents 130 objects in thematic arrangements that shed light on American material culture and design history through the prism of glass. The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History loaned some objects to the show in order to extend the narrative to include Pre-Columbian objects like an obsidian knife from Central Mexico and the raw materials of glass art such as a raw opal from Nevada, which is a form of silica, the same substance that makes glass.

In Garvan’s day, early American glass was virtually synonymous with the name of Henry William Stiegel, a German-born glassmaker who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1750. His American Flint Glass Manufactory introduced leaded glass to this country (“flint” is a misnomer in that this process for high-quality glass started in Europe with ground flint introduced into the mixture, but in this country the term referred to leaded glass without any actual flint). Stiegel, a self-made tycoon with a big personality who was known as “the Baron,” dominated the glass industry in late colonial times and was the first American glassmaker to get his own monograph, which was written by the scholar-collector Frederick William Hunter in 1914, just as Garvan was getting started. A notable Stiegel piece from the Garvan collection is a pocket bottle or flask for carrying small amounts of liquor. It was made—not from leaded glass—around 1764–70, and its rich purple color comes from an admixture of manganese. The bottle’s rippling diamond-like patterns were achieved by blowing the glass into a mold that pressed a design into it.

In the early 19th century, flint glass technique became even more elaborate, with an emphasis on cutting rather than pressing the patterns. Benjamin Bakewell, a Pittsburgh entrepreneur, acquired a failing glassworks and turned it around with high-grade production and clever marketing. A clear blown-glass vase, sparkling with prism- and pillar-cut facets, shows Bakewell’s ambition to create pieces that could stand alongside the best products of the European glass industry. A version of the vase at Yale was made in 1825 and gifted to the Marquis de Lafayette in appreciation of his aid to the American Revolution. It was engraved with a view of Lafayette’s home, La Grange, and the grateful French nobleman remarked that its “clearness and transparency might have been admired even by the side of the glass of Baccarat.”

From the next generation comes a piece with simpler technique yet a bold aesthetic statement. A leaf-pattern compote from either Pennsylvania or New England, circa 1850–70, in the Garvan collection, is made from pressed glass, but in thick pieces with almost modernistic forms rather than the delicate look of earlier pressed glass. Here aesthetic followed technology; by the mid-19th century, pressed glass had evolved to the point where it did not have imperfections that had to be hidden by intricate surface patterns. The boldness of this piece is heightened by the dark purple color that recalls vessels from Classical antiquity made of carved porphyry; here the hue was created by a combination of manganese, iron, cobalt, and nickel. The overall form of the compote is suggestive of the Italian Renaissance, in keeping with the Renaissance Revival movement of the period.

By the third quarter of the 19th century, a self-conscious art-glass concept had come into being in the U.S. The Sicilian Vase, a two-handled amphora-like vessel made by the Mt. Washington Glass Company in South Boston, circa 1878–80, evinces a combination of Classicizing historicism and ahead-of-its-time color experimentation. The pink, purple, blue, and green explosions of color over a black base make one think of the 1980s rather than the 1880s. The Sicilian Vase was apparently a response to public interest in recent excavations of Roman ruins, particularly at Pompeii, and the advertising copy somewhat hyperbolically described it as “manufactured from the Lava flows of Aetna.”

In the Beaux-Arts era, stained glass rose to prominence, spearheaded by Tiffany Studios. The Yale collection includes some truly spectacular examples, such as Education, the 30-foot wide Mary Hartwell Lusk Memorial Window (1885–92). This allegorical celebration of the life of the mind was designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany for Yale’s new Chittenden Library and named for the donor’s late daughter. In the center panel, angelic female figures with haloes labeled with abstractions such as “Devotion” and “Truth” are foregrounded by male figures quoted from Raphael’s School of Athens. In the left-hand panel, Lusk herself is portrayed surmounted by the word “Art” and backed by three angels whose haloes proclaim “Form,” Color,” and “Imagination.” Made before Tiffany had set up his own glass furnace, the window has glass sourced from various makers, including the Opalescent Glass Works of Kokomo, Ind. Among the other stained-glass treasures in Yale’s collection is Cherry Blossoms against Spring Freshet (1882–83), by Tiffany’s rival John La Farge, who referenced Japanese painted screens in this work.

The Yale collection, and the exhibition, do not limit themselves to these lofty heights of art—glass’ role in the history of American technology also gets its due, and considering the centrality of technology in American culture, that is very appropriate. The objects on view include a pair of green-glass spectacles from Philadelphia, circa 1825; an Edison light bulb from 1884–88; a Type H Triode made by the De Forest Radio Company in 1925; and a contraption from around 1890 called a Wimshurst Influence Machine. This was an electrostatic generator for amateur scientists to use in the home, made in Germany and sold in Philadelphia, consisting of a rotating glass disc bearing metal brushes, all mounted on a mahogany base. Glass’ importance in early photography is testified to by a framed ambrotype of the Peralta family of Oakland, Calif., taken around 1855–59. Daguerreotypy, which popularized photography in the 1840s, was eventually superseded by processes like ambrotypy that used glass plates coated with light-sensitive emulsions to form a negative image. And the show includes low-tech objects for everyday use made of glass, like a blown and etched-glass oil lamp with gilt bronze on a marble base, made in Sandwich, Mass., circa 1860–75, and an engraved green lead-glass salad dressing bottle made by T.G. Hawkes & Co. in 1916.

Modernist design enters the glass world in the 1920s and ’30s. An engraved Mariner’s Bowl made by Steuben Glass Inc. and designed by the sculptor Sidney Waugh in 1935 deploys classical mythological motifs in a spare and stark composition worthy of the Machine Age. A plate designed in the late 1940s shows the influence of geometric abstraction. Its maker, Maurice Heaton, an independent craftsman who was a veteran of the industrial design industry, favored plate glass to which he would apply powdered enamels either freehand or with stencils.

Abstraction is taken farther in a piece by studio glass pioneer Harvey Littleton. His Exploded Green Vase (1965) revels in the unpredictability of the glassblowing process, capturing forever the moment when, as Littleton blew too much air into the pipe, a planned vase form was transformed into something more interesting. The resulting piece, which manages to look both liquid and jagged at the same time, is a kind of Abstract Expressionism in glass. A more Pop Art approach to studio glass is seen in Marvin Lipofsky’s California Loop Series #2 (1969–70). The idiosyncratic, asymmetric yellow and orange shape, made up of colored bottle glass and uranium glass partly coated with electroplated copper, is playfully biomorphic.

Among the most recent pieces in the Yale collection is Hitch (1985), an abstract, uncolored work by Lynda Benglis, an artist who began outside the studio glass community and then came to work at the Pilchuck Glass School in Stanwood, Wash. Benglis extended her practice of pouring and dripping latex into sand-cast lead glass. Here she manipulated the hot glass after removing it from the mold, creating an effect of viscosity and slow movement. And testifying to glass’ pictorial and representative potential, Josh Simpson’s Mega World (1991) uses pulled and lamp-worked soda-lime glass heightened with gold and silver leaf to create a model of the blue and green globe of Earth. Simpson, who is known for his glass planets, says he was inspired to make this one by seeing photos of the Earth from space taken by Apollo astronaut Jim Lovell.

Whether or not the conservative antiques fanatic Garvan would have appreciated such works has to remain an open question, but without a doubt the breadth of the Yale collections shows that American glass has always been and continues to be blown, poured, and molded into as many shapes as the human imagination can conceive.

By John Dorfman

Arshile Gorky: Explorer of the New World Wed, 29 May 2019 22:23:21 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Arshile Gorky, an Armenian refugee, remade himself in America, synthesizing an art practice that brought him to the brink of Abstract Expressionism.

Arshile Gorky, The Liver is the Cock’s Comb, 1944

Arshile Gorky, The Liver is the Cock’s Comb, 1944, oil on canvas, 73 1⁄4 x 98 3⁄8 in.

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Arshile Gorky, Pastoral, circa 1947 Arshile Gorky, Landscape-Table, 1945 Arshile Gorky, The Liver is the Cock’s Comb, 1944 Arshile Gorky, The Limit, 1947 Arshile Gorky, Self-Portrait, circa 1937

Arshile Gorky was born Vostanik Manoug Adoian in 1904 or thereabouts (the exact year is uncertain) in the village of Khorgom near Lake Van in Armenia on the eastern border of the Ottoman Empire. His childhood coincided with the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the genocide of the Armenian people by Turkish troops. In 1915, Gorky’s family was driven from Lake Van and in 1919 his mother died of starvation. The following year, Vostanik, a teenager, a refugee, and soon to be an artist by another name, fled to New England.

“When Gorky arrived in America his family felt he should be put to work in a factory—that was considered presumably manly work,” says Saskia Spender, president of the Arshile Gorky Foundation and granddaughter of the artist. “His milieu wasn’t supportive of artistic life.” He wasn’t long for this vocation. “He was sacked for drawing on factory property,” says Spender. For so many young people, failure to acclimate to small-town life, even if it’s the direct result of their own misbehaviors, is interpreted as a prodigious omen beseeching them to relocate to New York City. Gorky arrived there in 1924.

Like the newly minted stars of the silver screen, he adopted assumed appellation. With no quick-talking studio exec to christen him, he looked to literature, taking the name of acclaimed Russian writer Maxim Gorky as his own. “He thought it gave him a cultural currency,” says Edith Devaney, curator at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, “but it turns out, funnily enough, Maxim Gorky wasn’t even [the writer’s] real name.”

The new Gorky enrolled at the National Academy of Design and the Grand Central School of Art (where he would eventually instruct), but was ultimately self-taught. He haunted the halls of museums and pored over pages of art books and magazines. He studied El Greco, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and Paolo Uccello and filled his sketchbooks with examples of Fayum mummy portraits, Pompeii wall paintings, and Japanese works he discovered at the Met. “He was inhabiting the point of view, techniques, and skills of other artists throughout space and time,” says Spender. But this mode of self-pedagogy was so effective, notes Devaney, not simply because it employed studying the masters but because of “how well Gorky chose,” adding that Betty Parsons, one of the last century’s most noted arbiters of taste, said she had met no one with a more elevated aesthetic sensibility.

Gorky also chose to examine and emulate artists in or closer to his own generation, namely Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miró. Though now of course he is recognized as one of the most important artistic voices of the last century and a lead soloist in the early days of Abstract Expressionism, this practice has led critics to label Gorky unoriginal. Devaney cites a 1950 catalogue essay by the venerable Alfred H. Barr that discusses Gorky’s work of the 1940s: “He writes that until then, Gorky had been a derivative artist.”

But outside of this oversimplification, who was Gorky the artist? On the surface, not a refugee or an Armenian. According to Spender, he never spoke of Armenia and declined to say where he was from. “My grandmother didn’t know he was an ethnic Armenian until well after he died,” she says. He wasn’t political or a staunch affiliate of any one circle. “He rejected nationalism, and even though the 1930s were a very political time, he resisted joining political or artistic groups,” says Spender. “He didn’t believe that sort of dogma should interfere with an artist’s self-expression.” As such, scholars have called him both the last Surrealist and also the first Abstract Expressionist—both presumably lonely positions.

Gorky had wiped the slate of his own identity clean, adding only the details and influences of his choosing. And in so doing, he was, perhaps, the artist who most represented the period between the two wars; a time when leading members of the avant-garde came to America, their own worlds crumbling or having crumbled. It was necessary for these artists to remake society—and themselves. “This is part of the myth of the ’20s, when so many people who went through conflict radically reinvented themselves and, even if superficially, allowed themselves to be vast unknown hinterlands,” says Spender. But Gorky was unlike many artists, who were based in Paris or elsewhere but came to America in exile during this time, says Devaney, “Gorky had nothing to return to.”

“Arshile Gorky: 1904–1948”, an exhibition on view at Ca’ Pesaro – The International Gallery of Modern Art, Venice, through Sept. 22—his first retrospective in Italy—delves deeply into who Gorky was. It explores the full breadth of his oeuvre, incorporating more than 80 major works, from his early portraiture and his ongoing practice on paper to his lyrical abstractions and late masterpieces. Important loans from institutions all over the Western world—like Tate Modern, London; Center Pompidou, Paris; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington. D.C.; and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon—mingle in the galleries.

Devaney, who co-curates the exhibition with Gabriella Belli, an art historian and director of the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, devoted a whole gallery to Gorky in the 2016 show “Abstract Expressionism” at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. “Out of all the artists I covered in that show, Gorky was the one I most wanted to do more on,” says the curator. “With this show, I was allowed to take the lead on what the focus should be, and I decided I wanted to make sense of the early part and the latter part of his career.”

The early part of his career is represented in part by his portraiture, a practice that coincided with his entrée into New York’s art world. Among others, he painted his friends Stuart Davis, David Smith, and John Graham (a Russian Empire-born artist who also came to America in 1920 and changed his name. Writing in the New York Times in 1986, Vivien Raynor wrote of Graham: “He was…the kind of European scoundrel that transplants so well in American soil, being as pragmatic as he was magnetic and all but omniscient on the subjects of art and culture.”). In the ’30s, Graham, Davis, and Gorky forged a sort of spiritual triumvirate, even dubbing themselves the Three Musketeers. Willem de Kooning joined the fray later, and the group became the Four Musketeers. By the early ’40s, the union had all but dissolved, their camaraderie waning.

In his portraits, Gorky paints enlarged, yet simplified eyes, inspired by those he encountered in Russian icons and Sumerian and Hittite art. In his studio he kept a Hellenistic female head, its eyes inset and almond-shaped, and a photocopy of a self-portrait by Ingres, who painted himself several times throughout his career, always with big brown eyes that seem to be holding back a secret. In Self-Portrait (circa 1937, oil on canvas), which comes to the show from a private collection, Gorky paints himself much like Ingres, his eyes looking deeply at the viewer, but trading a secret for sorrow. The pose and muted palette of that work closely resemble those of Picasso’s 1906 Self-Portrait, though it diverges greatly in attitude. In the Portrait of Master Bill (circa 1937, oil on canvas), which was painted around the same time, the eyes are slanted downward and almost crossed—again bringing Picasso to mind. Some have conjectured that the portrait depicts de Kooning, while others claim the sitter is a Swedish housepainter with whom Gorky traded labor for painting lessons. In the work, Gorky arranges bulbous, abstract forms that loosely add up to a human body. The arms, sleeves, and hands hang from the torso, like they’re doll parts being pulled asunder by a curious child.

Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia (circa 1931–32, pen and ink on board), a linchpin of Gorky’s career, comes to the exhibition from The Whitney Museum of American Art. Gorky created more than 80 drawings—many of them unfinished—and two paintings under this title. Drawing from a Cubist vocabulary, Gorky establishes an architectural setting as a stage for a complex system of curved shapes punctuated by passages of dense crosshatching. Around this time Gorky encountered The Fatal Temple, a 1914 painting by the Surrealists’ patron saint, Giorgio de Chirico, at the Gallery of Living Art at New York University. In de Chirico’s painting, a portrait of his mother and a self-portrait with a dissected brain are layered atop an architectural backdrop. Gorky, who was working on his double portrait of himself and his mother at the time, felt an affinity with the de Chirico’s piece and initially modeled his composition on it closely. Over time—and his many drafts—Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia drifted deeper into abstraction, ripping itself from a reference point. This version, despite its architectural schematics and the grotesque anatomical jumble pictured in its right panel, careens towards the union of Surrealism and abstraction Gorky would perfect in the years to come.

By the 1940s, Gorky’s engagement with the Surrealists grew. Through his associations with André Breton, Wifredo Lam, Max Ernst, and Roberto Matta, Gorky began to bring automatism and the subconscious into his work. Here, the liminal threads of memory waft through his compositions like the sweet, aromatic lines that rise from cartoon pies cooling on windowsills. In Apple Orchard (circa 1943–46, pastel on paper) organic bursts of shape and line bloom like spring blossoms. It’s romantic to imagine these flowering forms as the ones that dotted his father’s apple trees on the shores of Lake Van—an Arcadian memory the artist did discuss as an adult.

In 1941, Gorky had his first museum retrospective, held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He and Agnes “Mougouch” Magruder, whom he would marry that year, hitched a ride to SFMOMA in Isamu Noguchi’s car. This trip marked his first time outside of New York since 1925. A few years later, with his young family in tow, he began to visit artist Saul Schary’s house in Connecticut and his in-laws’ farm in Virginia. This newly established proximity to nature had a radical influence on Gorky, and he entered into an explosion of creativity. “He loved the countryside and it helped him reconnect with memories of childhood and his experiences of plants, weeds, flowers, trees, and the water,” says Spender. “The American countryside is so vast compared to that of the Old World—so for him it was almost a reoccurrence of childhood with the landscape and plants being bigger, wilder and more epic.”

Even though he was moving ever further from representation, Gorky began a practice of painting en plein air, which feels palpable in his works of the late 1940s. The Limit (1947, oil on paper mounted on canvas), with its mossy green background, suggests a meadow dotted with abstract forms. Its lithe black lines and bursts of primary colors bring Miró to mind. Matta, too, was a looming influence during this time, and it is thought that the Chilean painter inspired Gorky to thin his oils with turpentine, giving them almost a watercolor-like softness.

The show emphasizes Gorky’s late works—The Liver is the Cock’s Comb (1944), One Year the Milkweed (1944), and Dark Green Painting (circa 1948), in particular—as masterful achievements. In 1947, Clement Greenberg declared the works from this period “some of the best modern paintings ever turned out by an American.” Having developed a personal lexicon of both gestural and fantastical forms, Gorky created paintings that melded the competing styles of his generation, forging something entirely new. “Gorky really set the trend for Abstract Expressionism—he was synthesizing a new way of depicting the world that was a fusion of the ideas of Cubism and Surrealism,” says Devaney. “This was very in line with the European tradition and some argued that he developed as a European artist on American soil.”

What The Liver is the Cock’s Comb puts forward, however, is entirely personal to Gorky, a man who became an artist in America but lived with the painful tattoo of a lost homeland. Hulking in scale (six feet tall by eight feet wide), the painting vibrates with Gorky’s lingering memories of home and fresh impressions of rural America. Though its forms are indefinable, they feel energetic and organic, punctuated by the appearance of paint being rubbed into the canvas. The work was titled by Breton, and may allude to the ancient understanding of the liver as a symbol of the artist’s soul. The cock’s comb may refer to the coxcomb, a flowering plant or jester’s cap, or the male genitalia.

Green Painting is one of the latest works in the show, and here his pigments—most notably the rich green—are heavy and densely packed. Though his forms may hint at automatism, Gorky used a gridded preparatory drawing as its basis. Still, he had arrived at a synthesis of ideas that would perhaps best be described as “abstract surrealism” though it was heavily laden with the promise of Ab-Ex. One certainly wonders where his work might have gone as the 1950s drew near.

The years of Gorky’s artistic flowering coincided with a time of ongoing personal tragedy. He underwent a painful operation for rectal cancer and suffered substantial injuries after a car crash that debilitated his painting arm. Soon after, his wife left him, having had a rumored affair with Matta. In July of 1948, Gorky took his own life, leaving other artists to run headlong down the road he had so brilliantly paved.

By Sarah E. Fensom

Judy Pfaff: Controlled Chaos Wed, 29 May 2019 22:23:17 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Judy Pfaff’s boundary-breaking installations and multimedia works balance wild exuberance and carefully planned structure.

Judy Pfaff, Scopa #1 (sette bello), 1988

Judy Pfaff, Scopa #1 (sette bello), 1988, Mixed adhesive plastics on mylar graph paper, 35.25 x 47 in.;

Featured Images:(Click to Enlarge) Judy Pfaff, Quartet 2, 2018 Judy Pfaff, Moon Tail Beta, 2018 Judy Pfaff, Tivoli—>Tisbury (A Romance), 2017 Judy Pfaff, Notes on Light and Color, 2000 Judy Pfaff, Scopa #1 (sette bello), 1988 Judy Pfaff, Gu, Choki, Pa, 1985

Stepping into a Judy Pfaff installation can be an overwhelming experience. A forest of imagery both abstract and figurative, natural and artificial, seeming to swirl and press against the walls and ceiling, surrounds the viewer, transforming him or her into a participant. The diverse shapes and textures of Pfaff’s compositional elements, the mixture of 2-D and 3-D elements, and the riots of color make her installations into essays in sensory overload, a quality that could be chaotic were it not for the artist’s attention to form and structure. This carefulness lurks below the surface—in a manner of speaking, because there is no one surface to these works—but it is there, making Pfaff’s architecturally-scaled installations essays in controlled chaos, or perhaps uninhibited order.

Not all of Pfaff’s art is installation-based; she also makes paintings, prints, multimedia collages, and three-dimensional wall pieces. A 1988 wall piece of hers is titled Horror Vacui, and the Latin phrase alluding to nature’s abhorrence of a vacuum could well be a description of Pfaff’s busy, dense aesthetic in general. While charting various paths ahead, her work is very much an outgrowth of the period in the 1970s when artists began to tire of the chilly restraint and severity of Minimalism and reintroduce such seemingly long-forgotten traits as bold color, figuration, and gestural mark-making. As the art critic Kim Levin expressed the mindset in 1979, “All the words that had been hurled as insults for as long as we could remember—illusionistic, theatrical, decorative, literary—were resurrected…. It was defying all the prescriptions of Modernist purity. [We] were finally bored with all that arctic purity.” This was not only Post-Minimalism but Postmodernism, and Pfaff was one of the moving forces.

In a 1982 interview, Pfaff described herself this way: “I’m at war with conventions. I’m against what’s expected, what’s safe.” She came by this scrappy attitude naturally, as the product of a tough background who had to carve out her own road in life. She was born in London in 1946, into an England wounded, exhausted, and economically drained by six years of war. Her father, a Royal Air Force pilot, deserted the family, and her mother emigrated to Canada, leaving Judy with her grandmother, a seamstress in the poor East End section of the city. When Judy was 10, she went to join her mother in Detroit, and at 15 she left home to marry a man by the name of Pfaff who was a military pilot—like her absent father. Discovering an interest in art, she managed to get herself into Washington University in St. Louis, where she majored in fine art, and then to Yale’s MFA program. At Yale, she studied painting with Al Held, who became a lifelong mentor of hers. In Held’s boundary-breaking 3-D abstractions, in which colored cubes, tubes, globes, and lines swirl through an illusionistic space, one can see a strong influence on Pfaff’s art. Some passages in her installations almost look like Al Held paintings translated into real space. Another influence was Frank Stella, who began with the flattest of flat art but at the beginning of the ’70s surprised everyone by causing his paintings to project outward from the frame and the wall.

Pfaff graduated from Yale in 1973, and the next year she had her first show in New York. It was at Artists Space, the not-for-profit gallery founded by critic and art historian Irving Sandler and Trudi Grace that launched several major careers—not only Pfaff’s but those of Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger. Sandler recalled being shocked when Pfaff arrived to create her installation on site and began by chopping holes in the gallery’s pristine white walls. This first foray into room-filling installation art, titled J.A.S.O.N.-J.A.S.O.N., was conservative by Pfaff’s later standards, in fact rather austere in its nearly monochrome scheme and in confining itself to just a few simple materials like plaster, sheet metal, lights, paint, wire, and wood. As she evolved as an artist, Pfaff would grow more and more exuberant in her constructions, not only in terms of materials—she expanded her repertoire to include such things as fiberglass resin, Lucite, Mylar tape, colored plastics, and chicken wire—but in the way she would gather together and mash up a wide variety of art-historical references, ranging from Cubism to Kurt Schwitters’ Merz constructions to Alexander Calder’s structures, Marcel Duchamp’s Sixteen Miles of String, Robert Rauschenberg’s assemblages, Jean Tinguely’s self-destructing machines, Arte Povera, Piet Mondrian, and Abstract Expressionist painting.

The connection to Ab-Ex is especially important. Like Jackson Pollock’s, Pfaff’s work is heroically scaled and action-oriented; it has a quality that Irving Sandler, in a major essay titled “Judy Pfaff: Tracking the Cosmos” (2003), called “theatricality.” For the participant-viewer standing within it, a Pfaff installation can seem like a theater, a space within which dramatic action occurs. They can seem like action paintings so energetic that they have leapt off the walls. In describing her working methods, though, Pfaff tends to use cinematic rather than theatrical analogies: “I structure my work more the way films are put together; it’s like quick splices and dissolves in films, particularly those of the Russian avant-garde [such as] Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera. You don’t know exactly why, but when you’re in the work you get excited, even panicked by the structuring of the scene.”

The word “structure” is key here; even if Pfaff’s work can often look and feel wild, it is always the product of painstaking planning, not to mention extremely detail-oriented and technically challenging fabrication, much of which she does herself in her massive, barn-like studio. She has said, “There is much structuring even though my work looks casual. It’s totally structured even to a fault.” This careful attitude eventually made Pfaff unhappy with the impermanence of the installations, which were destroyed after the exhibitions were concluded. In the late ’80s, she sought out commissions for site-specific permanent installations, and also evolved a hybrid form of wall-relief, in which many of the qualities of the room-filling installations could be achieved in a portable work that can be mounted on a wall. In her permanent commissions, Pfaff of course has to contend with the inbuilt nature of the space she is given, which to some extent dictates the nature of the artwork. In making Notes on Light and Color (2000), at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., Pfaff had to work with a semicircular wall. To her it suggested the retina of the human eye, so she went in an optical direction, creating an installation that is calmer and quieter than most of her works. Luminous colored discs seem to float amid hourglass-shaped sculptural elements, drawing viewers’ attention to the process of seeing.

While Pfaff’s work is very urban, drawing inspiration from the manic intensity and visual complexity of modern everyday life, she also includes nature, but in a way that does justice to the way we experience it in the post-industrial age. It is noteworthy that Pfaff was included in the recent traveling exhibition “LandEscape,” dedicated to the wide range of contemporary-art responses to landscape. She has made extremely powerful use of natural elements in a 2017 installation, Tivoli—>Tisbury. Named for the Hudson Valley town of Tivoli, N.Y., where she has her studio, and Tisbury, England, where it was installed, it mingles medieval cathedral architecture, colorful structures that recall a Renaissance orrery, and actual trees with elaborate root systems penetrating into rock.

Recently Pfaff has been making flat or nearly flat works that combine aspects of collage, assemblage, and photographic imagery. Earlier iterations of her flat-art approach involved encaustic painting augmented with ink, collaged photographs, and even burn marks; the latest ones use digital imagery (drawn from source photographs of the urban scene) and break the boundary of the traditional frame by allowing certain elements to “poke” out of the expected rectangle. Pfaff’s “Quartet” series from 2018 is a dizzying four-part essay in visual density, layering one space on top of another, frames within frames, filling each with so many colors, shapes, and allusions that it dances on the ledge of confusion without falling into the abyss.

She has also recently made pieces, mainly abstract, using oil stick and encaustic over vintage paper from India or old Chinese-American documents; the fact that these have handwriting and other previously-created marks on them allows the artist to create a sort of historical and cultural palimpsest. From a formal point of view, they represent other ways of creating a complex, multivalent effect that allows a nominally flat work to have more dimensions than two.

Pfaff’s art, in all its phases, embraces the messiness and chaos, visual and otherwise, of modern life, without letting it be a cause of anxiety or despair. Whether in her gigantic installations or in small sculptures, wall works, paintings, and collages, she finds the joy and pleasure in our crazy world and channels it straight into the amazed viewer, who is more than just a viewer.

By John Dorfman