ira joel haber. The best art exhibitions 2015 Part 1.
This was a tough year for me, illness, profound deaths and the usual problems that come with being an aging artist. That said I did manage to get out and see a lot of art, some, great, some good and some very bad indeed. The list here is limited to what I saw in museums (mostly) and galleries (mainly in Chelsea) and I know that many good shows were unseen by me in the far reaches of the city. Sorry its just too difficult for me to see everything. I also saw lots of terrific work right here on fb, but I'm not mentioning any names because I don't want any hurt feelings here. I've edited some of the longer posts but have included links to them on my blog.
Picasso Sculpture. The Museum Of Modern Art
I went to see a show that I knew I would love and I was not wrong. In fact I loved it even more than I could have imagined, after all this was a show of work by my father and your father. For if not Picasso who then could I call my pops.
Growing up I thought of sculpture as something dull and static. The stuff you would see in parks or on on top of buildings where pigeons paraded and rested. Of course I changed my mind as I grew up and looked and saw and loved what sculpture could be. The Moma was my school my class and its where I saw my first of everything wonderful including Popa Picasso. He's now residing at this still sometimes great museum and the pulse races and the heart soars on viewing this great and memorable exhibition
One can spend time just thinking about his use of materials that still look fresh and original like they were made yesterday, how did he come up with that, or this. Twisting banging and hammering materials to fit his visions. Then there are the Boisgeloup scuptures these large heads and busts that looked deformed hurt and not easy to look at. Made of cement and plaster they haunt.
Let me stop and just say that this is the show of the year, maybe the decade and its on until Feb. The crowds will be rough and large so be prepared to be annoyed but also inspired and thrilled. Ah Popa.
Berlin-Metropolis 1918-1933. The Neue Galerie
It is a wonderful show in a very uncomfortable space. Think of being in a stalled crowded subway car or a guest filled living room of your rich aunt Yetta and you should get an idea of what it’s like visiting and viewing art in this elegant but claustrophobic space.
That said as I said it is a marvelous show rich and full of great works including lots of goodies by some of my favorite all time artists including but not limited to George Grosz, who has a few untypical paintings (They’re softer and gentler in technique) along with several paintings done in his more familiar style. Hannah the great Hoch gives us her haunting and imaginative collages along with several paintings never before shown in this country that surprise and show us that she just wasn’t a femme collagist, a maker of little “things”. Strong meat and potatoes are served on her plate
Film and photography play a big part in the exhibition. There are film sequences from “Metropolis” and “M” two films that I have seen many times along with original color drawings for the costumes from “Metropolis” that look like they were done yesterday and wonderful original stills and a poster from “M” along with sketches for sets and stills from less known films which should thrill movie lovers.
The show is broken up into themes 6 to be exact that fill the small galleries and even the corridors with work installed salon style that forces you to move back to see some of the higher placed pieces and if you’re not careful knocking into someone also trying to get a better view
And then there’s Hitler. Always Hitler. The final heartbreaking gallery is titled “Into The Abyss” and we all know what happened to this once glorious city. I have always been fascinated by Berlin before the 2nd world war and my shock and despair over the destruction of this once beautiful city always saddens and unnerves me especially when seen in newsreel footage. There are no photos of the final outcome for Berlin, after all it’s a show celebrating what it was and not what it became and stops at 1933, but the outcome is there in our minds and visions
This great exhibition runs through January 4th 2016.
When The Curtain Never Comes Down & Art Brut In America. The Incursion of Jean Dubuffet. American Folk Art Museum.
The first thing that comes over me when I see a show of outsider art is sadness, for the terrible lives that most of these creative souls have led. Isolation, insanity, incarceration, hospitalization, homelessness poverty and more. I also feel anxiety but then I am overtaken by a serious sense of joy and exuberance for what they created and what they have (if lucky) left behind for us to treasure and love.
The wonderful American Folk Art Museum which in its original tight and small space near Lincoln Center now has on view one of the best exhibitions of outsider art that I’ve seen in a long time “When The Curtain Never Comes Down”, it’s title can also be seen as a bitter retort to the behemoth Museum Of Modern Art which after buying the building from the debt ridden Folk Art Museum criminally tore down its striking barely 12 year old building which had the misfortune to find itself next door and in the way of the constantly expanding and critically under sieged Moma.
Beautifully and intelligently curated byValerie Rousseau who by the way might be my favorite curator of the moment. The exhibition fills every nook and cranny of this intimate (some might say cramped) space with many jaw dropping and magnificent pieces made by a wide range of outsiders from the 19th century to the present.
In the show are two immense very theatrical and impressive bright red sculptures made of wood strips, one of a house and the other of a cross cut saw that were created for use in strange religious healing ceremonies by a grass roots southern spiritual church called the Saint Paul Spiritual Holy Temple that are as compelling and brilliant as anything you will see this spring in galleries or any where else.
Theatrical is also one of the themes of this show, (again the title says much) and a large group of works are comprised of superb costumes and clothes that were sometimes worn by their creators in their everyday lives or were used in personal street like performances.
Some of the great ones include clothing that work as sculptures by Vahan Poladian and the extraordinary clothes made by Giuseppe Versino while he was boarded away in an Italian Insane Asylum. Made from rags and such that he tore apart and rewove and braided to make these gray and textural clothes that a Golem or Frankenstein’s monster would love. These are arguably the most compelling and important works in the show.
The show’s historical trail is long and involved, and I’ll make it short. The many works included were once part of Jean Dubuffet’s private collection of art done by the untrained, the criminal and the insane, and he gave them the name of Art Brut which is still being used today and is indeed the title of the show. The work wound up for a time on display at the estate of the artist Alfonso Ossorsio (who by the way has some of his own art in the show and is long overdue for a major retrospective) but after a time, Dubuffet took it back and gifted it to Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland, where it resides today.
On view is nearly 200 examples from this remarkable collection and it gave me great pleasure along with some shocks, (at times it was like sticking my finger in an electrical socket) along with the usual sadness that comes over me when viewing this kind of work.
I can’t really come up with any pieces that I didn’t like, each piece for me was intense and obsessive (basic traits of this kind of art making) and outrageously beautiful. I did love A Carlo Zinelli’s work of bold and simple animal like shapes and silhouettes that were surround by graffiti like inscriptions and writings, Heinrich Anton Muller’s bold drawings of large and distorted heads, Aloise Corbaz’s large expressionistic colorful pencil portraits and the great and probably the best known artist in the exhibition Adolf Wolfli’s intricate and intense colored pencil drawings. Colored pencils seem to to a favorite medium for these Bruts, maybe because they were easy to come by and inexpensive. The exhibition is on only until Jan. 10th.
Joaquin-Torres Garcia The Museum Of Modern Art
Beautifully installed in one of the awkward 6th floor galleries, Joaquin Torres Garcia at the Moma is a beguiling and intricately stunning show. The exhibition covers his entire career of art making and I left the show feeling that this was an art life well lived. This feeling doesn’t happen that often for me, especially at this place. Born in Uruguay he straddled both the late 19th century and the 20th dying at mid-century in 1949 at 75, not very old by today’s standard of old age.
His most famous and best known works are probably his grid like picto paintings that are here in force, delicate and mostly grey and minimal but lively and magical because of what he put in these landscapes of ups and downs, of lines and cubes. These are the works that do doubt gave inspiration to Adolph Gottlieb and others with their tight complicated little spaces filled with tiny hearts and faces. Boats and suns, fish and clocks. Also marvelous are his simple wooden toys that I remember seeing when I was a very young artist maybe at the Guggenheim. Here they are exhibited mainly in a large wall display hung in a way that brings to mind a toy store window. This show will hold me with hope and excitement until I get to see something wonderful elsewhere which will most likely be in my own small art making room in my small apartment in Brooklyn. The exhibition is on display until February.
The New Whitney
I think the new building is a partial success, the large lobby is by and large very uninviting and way too corporate looking. What is it with museum lobbies? I always feel that I'm going to miss my plane or I'm on my way to surgery. It’s way too cold but maybe they will figure out how to make it more inviting. I also thought that the elevators are too small and don't know if the one large one will be available for patrons. However the galleries themselves are very nice, and I like that the elevators opened up in the galleries themselves, just like the old Whitney.
The views of the city from the galleries and especially the terraces are great, and the galleries themselves are spacial and well lite, and there are toilets on every floor. The art that is now up is on the whole very good, sometimes great, sometimes thrilling with many examples of unknown, or rarely seen artists. It was strange to be in this new Whitney and the choice of location was a brilliant move on their part. I can't predict the future for this place will it become a tourist magnet like the Moma or just be the good new old Whitney,spectacular but still low-keyed.
James 'Son Ford' Thomas: The Devil and His Blues 80WSE Gallery
This profoundly moving, beautiful and heartbreaking exhibition consists of about 100 unfired and mostly delicately colored small clay sculptures by James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas who passed in 1993 and who was also a noted Delta Blues Musician.. Thomas was inventive, highly imaginative and resourceful in the materials that he found and used including dentures, real and fake hair, eyeglasses and other bits and pieces, and he sometimes sold some of these heads some of which were hollowed out in the back as ashtrays and holders for paper clips. There are also many sweet and gentle small sculptures of birds, snakes, squirrels and fish along with some wonderful clay scenes of everyday life. As I said Thomas was also a musician and his music fills the galleries along with two documentaries on his life and work. One of My Favorite Shows of the year
Frank Stella At The Whitney
This is a bold impressive and beautiful retro that for many will be the show to see this Fall. Sprawling and falling all over the huge 5th floor galleries of the New Whitney it's both theatrical and industrial, aggressive and gentle . Old pieces including his great stripe and shaped canvases mix it up with newer works and sometimes the exhibition looks like the work of two artists. There's a lot here to take in, maybe too much, but sometimes too much is ok. Not every thing was to my liking; the last gallery as far as I'm concerned was a bust. The size of the works are still huge, but all the color and dazzle is gone and we are left with big grey mixtures of muck that fail to hold up especially since they share the space with wall to wall windows over looking the downtown town of Manhatttta which pretty much takes over the show, the space and us.
Still this is some show, let me tell you, and I left feeling a little dazed and dizzy by the spectacle of it all but also with an exuberance and gratitude in my heart and soul for my being an artist and for the marvelous gift of Frank Stella.
H. C/ Westermann. Venus Gallery
There is a marvelous and quite remarkable survey of H.C. Westermann’s art now on at the Venus Gallery on the upper Eastside of the city that I urge all to see. The show has the title of “See America First” which is the title of several beautiful drawings that he did after traveling cross country with his first wife in 1964 and 3 of these drawings are in the show, along with many of his great sculptures that are both large and small in size, that are beautifully crafted and made and tough and complex in concept.
One can and should of course admire and marvel at his great skill at carpentry and metal work and his use of exotic materials and the many kinds of woods he used. Also great are his drawings and watercolors and prints which are also plenty and aglow in the show. This exhibition is splendid in its look and installation and besides reminding me how much he is missed it also underlines the fact that I consider him one of the great artists of the last half of the 20th Century. This is one of the best exhibitions of 2015.