Saturday, May 22, 2010

warm swell

"We had intended if it were a pleasant day to go to the country it was a very beautiful day and we carried out our intention # 47”
Pencil, watercolor, gouache, cut-and-pasted paper on handmade paper

22" x 30"
© Cyrilla Mozenter

I have been trying to get current with art on exhibit in New York. Last Thursday I visited three very different venues. My first stop was at the Drawing Center to see Live & Die Like a Lion?, the late drawings of Leon Golub. I have always admired Golub’s work. As a political provocateur, Golub somehow managed to articulate the brutalities of war and power with masterful and luxurious paint. His paintings can lure you in and bludgeon you in one fell stroke. Seeing the politically charged artist so overtly concerned with his late-in-life virility left me bereft.

My next stop was the 2010 Whitney Biennial. Though I have ardently studied previous catalogues this was my first opportunity to see the Biennial live and in person. With the exception The Bruce High Quality Foundation, Charles Ray, Nina Berman, Theaster Gates, and Kate Gilmore, I was again disappointed. However, the show is dense and I am still processing it. I plan to return and reassess.

I had one final stop and that was at Adam Baumgold Gallery to see Warm Snow by artist Cyrilla Mozenter. It was unseasonably warm and humid that day and I felt tired, crabby and grimy. However, when I entered the diminutive yet elegant gallery, the temperature seemed to drop twenty degrees.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I know Mozenter personally. She was my MFA Thesis advisor. I admire both the artist and her work. Because I prefer to write about work that I like, I feel no loss of objectivity here. In fact, it’s harder to write about the work of someone you know.

Mozenter has been working for some time with industrial felt, hand-stitched and molded together to create two and three-dimensional works. The material recalls Joseph Beuys’ use of felt and his invoked mythology. Certainly mythology is present here. Yet there is a less Teutonic side to Mozenter’s mythology that I can only describe as enchantment. At the same time, a series of felt vessels suggest both the Holy Grail and a fancy ice cream dish. This show includes her recent series Polar Bear Pass VI. Throughout many cultures the bear inhabits a fabled station, particular and varied. Here there is the sense of great strength, warmth, and protection.

A number of works on paper are also included in Warm Snow. I have always been drawn to artists that appear to possess a secret language. Two works suggest that this might be the case with Mozenter.  We had Intended..., pictured above, is faintly inscribed with the words: bear, boat, mitten, cave, boot and castle. I don’t need to know why these words are here, but they are satisfying. Another work, Slow Wide Turn, suggests cautionary instructions that cross one’s mind when approaching a turn on either a snowy road, or indeed, in life.

Warm Snow will remain on view at Adam Baumgold, 40 E. 75th Street, through June 26, 2010.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

exiting MoMA

Last Friday I made a trip to the Museum of Modern Art to see the William Kentridge exhibit Five Themes. I would almost say that it is a pity that the exhibit coincided with Marina Abramović, the Artist is Present, but that is like saying that melted butter on warm, home-made bread is almost too delicious. Both shows work as documents of prolific and powerful art making careers. The bonus round was the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit, and I didn’t even attempt the Picasso. Kentridge has closed, but with Abramović, Cartier-Bresson, and Picasso, there is an abundance of riches at MoMA right now.

I only spent a short time with Abramović. I want to return and devote my full attention to this incredibly dense exhibit. While I would like to sit with the artist, I don’t share the burning need for catharsis or enlightenment that some museum goers appear to seek.

What is a pity is much of the commentary floating around the interweb right now regarding the Abramović show. Most of it deals with issues irrelevant to the work. Some are going gaga over the means by which Ms. Abramović is urinating under that supposedly designed-by-Prada gown. Then there are warnings about the naked performers. There are the Who’s Who rosters of celebrities showing up to sit with Ms. Abramović. Finally there is the proposal that Lady Gaga’s attendance at the retrospective supports the elevation of her status to that of performance artist.

The depth and consequence of Abramović’ opus far exceeds any of these trite and pointless discussions. However, in the spirit of my lower self, I offer the following thoughts:

It doesn’t mater how she is peeing, but why don’t you just ask her? No one said you couldn’t.

Some noteworthy bloggers would be well served to follow her lead and wear Prada. (you know who you are)

Celebrities get to go to museums too.

Lady Gaga is a pop star. I like good shoes, but it doesn’t make me a cobbler.

If you are so strapped for a glimpse of naked people, you can still view them in National Geographic. Don’t embarrass yourself in a museum. Better yet, follow the moving billboard parked outside the Museum. It’s pictured above.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

find your tribe

A visiting critic recently addressed the difficult position the visual artist is in. The artist pours the internal and intensely personal into a work then puts that work on public view. The artist knows full well, that their inner life is now not only exposed, but open to criticism. Muddling through the decisions that eventually get a work up on a wall can be daunting. Ultimately, the decisions made in the studio are made alone, but any artist will benefit from the counsel of a close circle of confidants that really know you, and that are engaged in the same endeavor. My advice? Find your Tribe.

It’s beneficial if the members of your tribe work in a like medium. Every material possesses a unique set of qualities and problems.  Understanding these cuts down on demands that cannot be achieved within that particular medium. In addition, the members of your tribe should be as good or better than you. This raises your personal bar sand engenders better work.

It’s helpful if your tribe is made of friends and confidants. You establish a mutual trust. Critics too, put themselves in a vulnerable place. A trusted confidant is more likely to offer substantive criticism when there is no fear of reprisal. They know you, your concerns, and what you are attempting to accomplish.

Your Tribe should take you somewhat seriously. I amplify somewhat. You need some one to let the hot air out of your high and mighty balloon when it becomes too inflated.

Inevitably your tribe cracks the whip, breaks the rules, and rubs your temples. They are your thicker skin. I am grateful to have met the handful of painters that I think of as my Tribe. Thanks for the push and the pull. Now, let’s go out in the world and paint.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


green-eyed creature lingering somewhere in every thought

the prescient muse

intellectual: guitar quartets
empathetic: angel valley
but permanent rock

towel-clad tirade, bathed in the light of television’s morning news  -
armed with waving tooth brush

mediating wire gray curmudgeon and nine year old boy

love and sex for a long time, again and still
oh that nice neck

and the secret language

51 = birthday = today = love = always

Monday, May 3, 2010

brownian motion

Hallway, 2010
Mamma Andersson
© David Zwirner

When painting is effective, it can stimulate or suppress the senses and simplify or complicate observation; sometimes it does both at the same time. Such is the case with Who is Sleeping on my Pillow, currently on view at David Zwirner in Chelsea. The conjoined exhibition of Mamma Andersson and Jockum Nordström offers works steeped in the real and imagined traditions and experiences of their native Sweden.

Andersson’s work frequently combines domestic interiors with warped perspectives that alter the viewer’s perception of the inhabitants present. The addition of murky black shapes, perhaps an interpretation of fog on old photographs, adds to the strangeness of these scenes. Here, in paintings such as Unitlted, 2009, the interiors are clearly inhabited, though the occupants are absent. The space implies the stllness left on Monday morning after everyone has left for work. This sensation is amplified by the lack of sound these paintings produce. They are utterly vacuum-like. Dead End, 2010, also signals recent departure.

In contrast, Norström’s two-dimensional works are fully populated with a variety of characters. The painted paper scenes run rampant with cutouts of historic and contemporary characters at once violent and comical, primitive and gentrified. Works such as Groaning, 2010, suggest a world where Swedish Folk Art and the naïve work of American painter Henry Darger coexist.
It is Nordström’s sculptures that suggest absence. Lasarett, 2009, is masterfully conceived in what appears to be repurposed cardboard. The structure conjures the abandoned housing project, ready for demolition.

Currently, there are a lot of painting shows in Chelsea and this is one of the best. For those not suffering from aesthetic A.D.D., Who is Sleeping on my Pillow, effectively silences the all to frequent requirement of spectacle, circuit, identity and signage. The show remains open through June 12.