Monday, December 14, 2015

The best exhibitions of 2015 Part 2


Claes Oldenburg Paula Cooper Gallery

I loved to bits was The Claes Oldenburg jam packed show at Paula Cooper. Titled “Things Around The House” with co credit given to his late partner Coosje Van Bruggen. Still this is all Claes with works going back to the early 60’s and beyond. There are great pieces here both soft and hard, large and small that  hang, lean and sprawl across tables walls and floors. What was wonderful also is how close we can get to the works. Oldenburg is another of my major influences and I’ve written about how he gave me the freedom and permission to do what I wanted and in spite of poverty and lack of attention I have. This is a grand show full of humor color and ideas and this was an exhibition that I wanted to take home with me.


Morandi at David Zwirner

Also great is the Morandi show at David Zwirner of his small landscape like paintings of simple objects such as bottles, boxes  and jugs set on tables that become pale and intimate landscapes that compel the viewer because of his use of simple objects and lush brush work using subtle color combinations. Heady stuff but also beautiful in its’very quiet  and understated way. This was a painter who gave me much trouble when I was young, maybe they were too simple and subtle for me, but I’ve since come around or perhaps matured enough to grasp their great beauty. 


Brice Marden Mathew Marks

The beautiful double dose of Brice Marden at the Mathew Marks Galleries. These are luscious panels of deep monochromatic colors, deep browns, green and reds whose surfaces are smooth and enticing like the skins of puddings along with bottom borders of thin drip like painting that hem them.  Also included are a few of his well known calligraphic paintings that consist of curvy lines against pale blue backgrounds. They bring to mind nature especially the rich earth colors and the pale blue backgrounds. There are also some terrific drawings made up of calligraphic marks that are dense and complex in their design and execution. This is a painter at the top of his game and a pleasure for us all.


Alice Neel Drawings and watercolors  David Zwirner

This is a splendid show that was especially moving and surprising for me. What I loved the most, the best of all were her small color and black and white drawings and watercolors from the 20's, 30's that line the walls in the upper gallery and that I've never seen before. Neel's life is the stuff of legends and she is generally held in high regard by many for her intense and penetrating portraits. There are also some larger drawings and portraits (mainly in black and white)  from  the 70's but for me they pale next to these intense and touching little gems of family and friends done when she was young. To be honest I was not a big fan of hers as a person, I found her difficult to be around, pushy, argumentative and self involved. Once at a Whitney opening she baited a well known realist painter for no reason I could see, and the painter bit back hard. I also was once at a small dinner party with her and Louise Bourgeois (way before Louise was famous) and Alice dominated the conversation. At one point she asked me what I did and when I told her I was an artist, she turned away and continued her monologue while me and Louise sat quietly by. That said I think she was a wonderful artist, and this show is a great testament to her art and her life.


Joyce Kozloff  D.C. Moore.

        Joyce Kozloff show “Maps + Paintings” which is now on view at DC Moore Gallery. Of course one is struck (or should be) by the vast and intricate vistas of patterns, designs and color that Kozloff offers up in these large scale works of paint and collage, and as you get deeper into them they reveal much more, signs and political points along with autobiographical notes told through bits and pieces of personal stuff and things.
                Maps can tell us where we are, where we are going and where we’ve been at the same time they document our world, how it looks now and how it looked then. There are also the fantastical fictional maps of lands that only exist in the minds and imaginations of writers and artists. Who hasn’t made maps when young, of their neighborhoods or places they would like to go.
             They are also tactile: They come folded, rolled and sometimes they are laid into books, they’re given away for free and some can be quite rare and costly. I once had a part time job working for a rare map dealer and got to touch and look at maps so old that they gave me the creeps and took my breath away with their hand colored areas of land and water.
              I’ve always been intrigued and impressed by KozIoff’s take on maps and her imaginative and dazzling art that incorporates the real world and her private vision of that world. I remember the early days of Painting and Decoration (P&D) in which Kozloff was a strong presence and along with others did battle with the many who thought there was no room in the art world for simply beautiful works especially when done by women, God forbid.


Merlin James at Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

               How perfect that this artist is named Merlin for he casts a wide and magical spell in his latest show of perfectly scaled paintings that for the most part are abstract but have dollops of landscapes, figures (including some erotic ones) and oddly shaped canvases. Yes these are magical and subtle and seductive little darlings that are mouth watering in their casualness, colors and markings. In some of the works Merlin reverses the canvas and shows us the stretchers and supports that are minimally painted with lovely shapes and incorporating small 3-D elements usually hovering on the edges and are then covered over with a transparent layer or scrim giving them a theatrical look as if we are watching a play that is about to happen.  
                            One canvas has a single flower growing out of a vase set on a table that at first I thought it was a person wearing a weird hat, another is a tangy erotic almost pornographic painting of a woman, legs spread and hunched on a table top with an detached erect penis hovering near her vagina like a space ship about to take off. There are also sublime landscapes with acidy colors, textured mountains and small marvelous abstractions so beautifully painted and composed in their small constricted spaces that they catch you off guard in their perfect splendor. As usual critics have the need to compare and line up influences when composing their reviews and articles, “they remind me of this painter and that painter” and I guess that’s their job, but it’s not mine. I look at other artist’s art for what is there in front of me (or in many cases what isn’t there) and with these terrific paintings I simply relish them for their own being.


System and Vision. David Zwirner Gallery

is a marvelous and dense group show called "System and Vision" and consists of 100's of pieces by an assortment of wild woolly and cuckoo "artists" who are now generally referred to as outsider artists. I call them self taught wonders. This is a grab your hankie eye opening extravaganza of the odd and odder and this stuff not only woke me up with a bang but also put a big smile on my face.
        Lets see there were 12 artists included with one who was completely anonymous and was known as "Type 42"  because of the polaroid film stock he used to take 100's of closeup portraits of actresses off the t.v. screen  in the 1960's. Also great were the "dirty" drawings by William Crawford whose archive of several hundred of these sexually explicit pencil drawings were found in an abandoned house in Ca. Raunchy was never more wonderful.
              There were also the 40 years worth of Polaroids by Hans Ademeit who documented those deadly cold rays that fell on himself and the environment with his minuscule writing on the white borders of the photos. If these don't make you gasp nothing will. There were also beautiful disturbing  color drawings by Prophet Royal Robertson who combined biblical Prophecies (a favorite among the outsiders) along with science fiction and futurism.
           Also great were the scrapbook pages kept by a dentist Francesco Ponte who lived n San Juan and who in the 1920's documented seances he conducted by pasting strange photographs he took on black paper along with his elegant writing in white ink.  This whole show is unsettling, brilliant and memorable with most of the work borrowed from the collections of the Delmes & Zander Gallery in Germany. I loved this show.

One Way Ticket. Jacob Lawerence’s Migration Series

Took in One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series and  Other Works today at a member's preview. Superb and rare exhibition of 60 of his great small paintings that are richly painted and potent with deep feelings and historical content. The show is beautifully installed and includes adjacent galleries of other African American artists of the period,along with books,ephemera and a gallery of great photographs plus two short film clips of Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit and Marian Anderson's Lincoln Memorial concert. Almost takes the bad taste away of the Bjork disaster and the tiresome Forever No painting show which will happily be gone in a few days. Bjork will be with us until June. Yikes.


John Singer Sargent at The Met

The most beautiful exhibition up now in the city are the 90 works many monumental in size by John Singer Sargent, but many of my favorites were not included. Sargent painted the rich and famous of his day, which some might find distasteful, after all these were very privileged people, but so what, there are many artists who to this day are painting the rich and famous and not nearly as compelling as Sargent's. Do you want a list? Then there are his paintings of children which are superb, has an artist ever painted children as breathtaking as his? There are some watercolors small and homoerotic in the last gallery and then there are those rumors about his sexuality which add a nice dose of spice to his long and magnificent career. The Metropolitan Museum through Oct. 4th.




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