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Trip to NYC, November 2013

I spent two full days looking at art in NYC over the Thanksgiving weekend. My first priority was to see the exhibit of collages by Robert Motherwell at the Guggenheim. These collages moved me, excited me, made me want to rush back to my studio and work. I’ve always been drawn to Motherwell’s work, paintings as well as collages, but I’ve never figured out why. I’m still exploring this question. This is the first time I had seen so many of his collages all at once and in person – and I discovered how important that is. The tactile qualities of the collages, the “thingness” of the glued on bits, the physical presence of the elements (as opposed to the illusion of presence in painting) was of the utmost importance and impact. After purchasing the catalog and looking through it, I discovered that it doesn’t even come close to experiencing the actual works. This seems to me to be one of the most important aspects of collage, yet, oddly, in my own work – the faux encaustics, that is – I lose this very thing! So often I admire in another artist’s work exactly what I don’t do in my own. As a result of seeing this exhibit, I have been in my studio experimenting with collage in a much more tactile and immediate way, much of it looking like my old work, prior to discovering the faux encaustic method that I have given myself over to in recent years.

Also at the Guggenheim was a huge retrospective of the work of Christopher Wool, and it took up the main part of the museum, the spiral ramp. I had never heard of him. I checked out the sample catalogue I found on a bench. The write up of this artist’s philosophy, theory, and process sounded interesting. I began at the top of the spiral ramp with high hopes of discovering and liking the work of a current, living artist. As I descended the ramp, at ever increasing speed, my hopes also descended. My speed increased due to boredom. At first I stopped and looked and considered, but the works simply were not engaging me. The theory engaged me, but the actual works did not. The works that were actually painted by the artist did interest me a little. But the ones that were silk-screened onto canvas I found cold, inhuman, and commercial. The imagery was very repetitive from work to work. I was dismayed! I was emotionally moved and intellectually and artistically challenged by the work I had just seen that was made during the 40’s and 50’s, and I could not at all relate this work being done today and touted as important by this major international museum. Doubt ascended even as I descended – am I simply old and not-up-with-the-times? Here was an important impetus to look further at more current living artists and their art! Surely, I would understand and appreciate some part of what is being wrestled with in the current art world!

Leaving the Guggenheim, my next stop was MOMA, now showing a major retrospective of the work of Rene Magritte. I have never been particularly drawn to Magritte’s work, so that was not my main interest – I went first to a tiny show centered on the use of collage in architectural rendering. It was a fabulous little gem with many surprises. But it was dense and full and I was a bit tired, so I perused it only lightly. Looking back, I wish I had given it a little more fresh energy. But I am still very glad I saw it. Why? Well, for one thing, I see how much the invention of collage by Picasso and Bracque spread out and influenced other areas of life and how pervasive it has become – even to the point where we don’t notice its use. And, some of the works were meant for business, to illustrate a project, and other works were meant to be works of art that included architecture, and the line was blurred if one didn’t read the captions. One work in particular sticks in my mind: a fanned-out series of elevations of a home design affixed to a wood panel to which was attached an old architectural drafting tool – collage and assemblage and architectural design and rendering, all mixed into a beautiful result. This is when I wish I lived in NYC, I would go back again to both this exhibit and the Motherwell and give them both energy and time. When I am in the city I run, run, run to see as much as I can.

I did go to the Magritte exhibit after that and it was worthwhile historically, but doesn’t speak to me personally. One thing I will mention though, especially meaningful to those of you who took part in our last ISW discussion on humor in art and titles in art. Included in the exhibit was the painting titled Rape. You can see the painting here if you aren’t familiar with it:
Carl was with me and he looked at it and laughed and said, “That is really funny.” But he had not yet read the title. When I pointed out the title, it changed the meaning for him from humorous to serious. I always found the painting more creepy than funny. So here is a good example of much of what we discussed at ISW. Also, there was an interesting write up about how Magritte titled his paintings. No photography was allowed, but I convinced one of the guards to let me photograph just that write up (he said, “Go ahead, as long as no one sees you.” That I found funny.) Here it is:

“Magritte endeavored to give all his works what he considered to be poetic titles. He used these frequently mysterious appellations to further complicate the meanings of his already enigmatic images. Many of the titles were the result of creative collaboration among those in the artist’s circle. Illogical and irrelevant to the subjects rendered, they abetted the Surrealist goal of subverting viewers’ expectations and redirecting their focus to truly seeing, as Magritte described in his 1938 lecture “La Ligne de vie (“Lifeline”): “The titles of paintings were chosen in such a way as to inspire in the spectator an appropriate mistrust of any mediocre tendency to facile self-assurance.”
One more comment about Magritte’s work: there is a rather collage-like attitude in the placing together of unrelated and unexpected juxtapositions.

Leaving the Magritte exhibit, I noticed a second major exhibit on the same floor, a retrospective of the work of Isa Genzken. It’s difficult to describe her work, since it is so wide-ranging. Outside the exhibit is a collection of mannequins decked out in various ways, but I found myself unmoved by them, so I was expecting little when I walked into the main galleries of her exhibition. To my surprise, I was very moved by what I found there. Here is the write-up from the MOMA website:

Isa Genzken (German, b. 1948) is arguably one of the most important and influential female artists of the past 30 years. This exhibition, the first comprehensive retrospective of her diverse body of work in an American museum, and the largest to date, encompasses Genzken’s work in all mediums over the past 40 years. Although a New York art audience might be familiar with Genzken’s more recent assemblage sculptures, the breadth of her achievement—which includes not only three-dimensional work but also paintings, photographs, collages, drawings, artist’s books, films, and public sculptures—is still largely unknown in this country. Many of the nearly 150 objects in the exhibition are on view in the United States for the first time. Genzken’s work has been part of the artistic discourse since she began exhibiting in the mid-1970s, but over the last decade a new generation has been inspired by her radical inventiveness. The past 10 years have been particularly productive for Genzken, who, with a new language of found objects and collage, has created several bodies of work that have redefined assemblage for a new era. These groups of sculptures range from smaller, diorama-like works to room-filling installations.

If you can, go to see this exhibit. I didn’t love everything Genzken has done, but her work is rich, full, wide, deep, and very intelligent. And all of it rather collage-like. The variety of what she has created is astonishing and goes against the prevailing wisdom here that an artist must do just one thing over and over again so that a gallery can know what it is selling and a collector can know what they are buying. Perhaps this is a false “wisdom” – I plan to look around for American examples of such wide-ranging work by one artist. Perhaps I simply haven’t been paying attention. I feel as though I’ve seen it mostly with German artists, like Gerhard Richter, to whom Genzken was married for awhile. Her sculpture interested me a great deal, her assemblages were intriguing, but not at all beautiful or well-crafted (does this matter? Is this part of the impact/meaning?), and I was inspired by her books:
Starting in 1995, while in New York for several months, Genzken created a three-volume collage book entitled I Love New York, Crazy City (1995–1996), a compendium of souvenirs from her various stays in the city, including photographs of Midtown’s architecture, snapshots, maps, hotel bills, nightclub flyers, concert tickets, among others.

That was all on Friday, after which we went to Birdland for dinner and jazz.

On Saturday our first stop was the New York Historical Society. I hadn’t planned this at all, but our friend, Joe, had a membership and suggested we go see: The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution October 11, 2013 – February 23, 2014
“Works by Duchamp, Matisse, Picasso, Cézanne, Gauguin, and Van Gogh will be on display in The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution, which revisits the famous 1913 New York Armory Show on its 100th anniversary. In 1913, the International Exhibition of Modern Art came to New York. Organized by a small group of American artists and presented at the Lexington Avenue Armory (and thus nicknamed the Armory Show), it introduced the American public to European avant-garde painting and sculpture. This exhibition is an exploration of how the Armory Show inspired seismic shifts in American culture, politics, and society. The Armory Show at 100 features approximately 100 masterworks from the 1913 Armory Show that powerfully impacted American audiences. The exhibition includes American and European paintings and sculpture that will represent the scandalous avant-garde and the range of early twentieth-century American art. It will also include historical works (dating through the nineteenth century) that the original organizers gathered in an effort to show the progression of modern art leading up to the controversial abstract works that have become the Armory Show’s hallmark.”
Interesting and worth the time we took. Most of it I knew and much of it I had seen before, but it was very helpful for Carl, who knew nothing about the 1913 Armory Show and how dramatically it changed the art world.

Then it was on to 2013 and what is currently being exhibited in the Chelsea galleries. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time and we saw only a small fraction of the whole scene. Chelsea is hard to do in one entire day, never mind only half a day. Luckily, we encountered lots of good stuff to see in one building, 529 W 20th. And, most importantly for me (and maybe you), there was a lot of collage and collage-related work. Here is a run down, in no particular order:

Flowers: Nicola Hicks, sculpture (also drawings for sculpture) Little to do with collage, but very moving sculptures and beautiful drawings. Flowers Gallery and Nicola Hicks are both British and there are several sculptures also on view right now at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, which we stopped by to see on our way home (I recommend both this and the renovated Yale Art Gallery to all of you). From the museum booklet:
The work of … Nicola Hicks is realistic and mythical by turn. The striking, often life-sized creatures she creates capture something of the physical and psychological vitality of living beings…. Usually executed in straw and plaster, her works appear tactile and spontaneous, retaining a sense of the working process in the studio even when painstakingly cast into bronze. Her vividly animated sculptures and her large-scale drawings in charcoal and pastel are rooted in the study of anatomy and observation from life. But she is not concerned with mimetic representation. Instead, her life-like works communicate an organic emotional essence that is animalistic in form, yet uncannily human in character.
Did I say little to do with collage? Maybe not. A horse’s head on a human torso? Very collage-like.

Elizabeth Harris: Maja Lisa Engelhardt, paintings When I entered the gallery, I had a strong emotional response to these paintings, abstract yet somehow still representational – but of what? Air? Water? Landscape? There were only two sizes, and all were vertical: twenty eight 19×13″ and six 63×45″. I felt that all of the large ones were very successful, but only about half of the smaller ones. Deciding to buy the catalog, I went to the desk and discovered that the show was completely sold out at very, very substantial prices. Obviously, my “judgment” didn’t mean much, and I laughed at myself. Turns out she is a Danish artist and sells so well in Denmark that collectors from that country come here to this gallery to buy works, since there are none available there. So refreshing to see such success for someone who paints so beautifully.

Denise Bibro: David Barnett, collage and mixed media 2-dimensional framed collages and 3-dimensional constructions, some mechanical and moving – all from discarded materials.

Warren Linn, collages and assemblages (2-D) Both worth seeing. Check out the website: There is nothing on the gallery website about this, but Denise Bibro was also exhibiting Barry Nemett, whose paintings are made up of many smaller paintings on paper – they are collaged together to form one larger piece.

ACA Galleries: Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, fabric collage Excellent use of buttons!! Sort of a cross between Romare Bearden and Faith Ringold.

Jonathan LeVine Gallery: Michael Leavitt:
Figuratively representational sculptures that reference the likenesses of various icons including artists, politicians, celebrities and other culturally significant figures. In this exhibition, Leavitt pairs the traits of his recognizable subjects with characters from Star Wars, juxtaposing the classic archetypal roles found in Yoda, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and the rest of the cast with pop-culture personas. Through these clever mash-ups, the artist explores themes of coveting mass-produced collectibles as well as idol worship throughout human history – examining the recurring patterns of our civilization and its shared compulsive needs for heroes and villains or rebels and tyrants, rising and falling or celebrated then overthrown, repeatedly over time.
The postcard I picked up shows Gandi as Yoda. Collage? I would say yes.

AJ Fosik:
…three-dimensional wall-mounted works and freestanding sculptures as well as a large installation which features 30 individual animal heads on diamond-shaped panels. When arranged together, they form an impressive 30-sided … rhombic triacontahedron)….His animal subjects typically display hybridized characteristics; combining stylized tongues, teeth, horns, antlers and hoofs with symbolic hand gestures.
Collage? Sounds like it to me.

Garth Greenan Gallery: Richard Van Buren: The 1970’s One photo on the website:
sculpture…polyester biomorphs impregnated with materials as seemingly disparate as rock salt, cadmium, and wallpaper paste.”
Mixed media? Collage? Take a look.

Skoto Gallery: George Afedzi Hughes Paintings. All with collage-like imagery. Some with actual collage along with oil painting on canvas.

Kathryn Markel: Eric Blum Ink, silk, and beeswax on panel. I asked how these were done and I think she said they are layers of silk collaged over each other. But in person they are so very flat that they look thinly painted. Did I misunderstand her? Or maybe she meant that he paints with the ink on silk, then adheres it to the panel, then applies the beeswax? Sorry, but I didn’t realize I didn’t understand her till after I left. Good old hindsight.

Tyler Rollins: Tracey Moffatt Photographs – 5 different series done in various ways – many collage-like. Suburban photos with text superimposed. Digitally manipulated photos combining the female nude with landscape and sky. Color photos of pretty scenes printed on handmade paper and collaged.

Wow, this is taking me a long time to write and I want to get into the studio!! So, here is just a brief mention of other exhibits I saw that were NOT in the 529 building:

Stephen Haller: Johnnie Winona Ross

Pace: Raquib Shaw

Unix Gallery: Justin Bower

And, Marie mentioned Mark Bradford – definitely look him up:

Let me know if this is interesting to you so I will know whether or not to bother writing and sending other such missives.


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Debi Pendell Artist by