2009 - 2011
“30 Americans” contains a lot of great artwork, but it’s not exactly a great show. This assortment of 76 works by 31 black artists—most of whom were born in the 1960s, ’70s, or ’80s—delivers big helpings of smartly turned-out spectacle and sharp, thorny content. What it doesn’t provide is a sense of history: why and how these artists came to make these works; how the works function in the art world at large; or why, aside from the color of their skin, any of these artists belong in a room together. READ MORE
True visionaries need no explanation. This seems to be the main message behind “All Things Round: Galaxies, Eyeballs & Karma,” the 17th annual themed exhibition at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. It’s a show that’s chockablock with jaw-dropping oddities created by artists from all over the world, using all manner of unlikely materials. It’s visually dense, but light on continuity and context. Visitors should expect to be wowed and bewildered in equal measure. READ MORE
At first glance, this work might seem unlikely to provide any aesthetic kick. Baltz depicts his subjects through a weirdly anti-picturesque strategy: The stucco walls of shoddy retail buildings are shot head-on so that they fill the frame and block out the sky. Nearly all visible lines — sidewalks, windowsills, gutters — are parallel with the top, bottom or sides of the composition, creating a world of 90-degree angles and blocks of rough texture. There is no background, and few or no objects in the foreground — just a fixed middle distance that stops the eye dead.
In other words: If a photo is a window on the world, then Baltz’s window has been bricked in, and the viewer is stuck examining the mortar. READ MORE
In one room, you’ll find gelatin silver prints of performance artist Vito Acconci in 1970, naked and furiously biting his legs. In another, you’ll see Edward Burtynsky’s large-scale digital print depicting an Australian landscape destroyed by mining operations in 2007. And in yet another, you can see Andres Serrano’s “Black Supper,” a group of photos taken in 1990 for which the artist spray-painted tiny figurines representing Christ and the apostles and submerged them in soda water.
With indelible images such as these, “Seeing Now” demonstrates that the BMA has been collecting edgy, challenging, up-to-the-minute work. That said, the show has problems, many of them stemming from the sheer quantity and variety that Hileman has grouped under one big, unwieldy umbrella. READ MORE
Nemerov deserves credit for assembling an entertaining and thoroughly researched picture of 1940s visual culture, and for bringing together weird works by many lesser-known artists. Standouts include two startlingly crisp, dreamlike paintings by Indiana artist John Rogers Cox, depicting alien-looking clouds hovering over barren farmlands; and Byron Thomas’s “Pine Trees” (1946), an obsessively elaborated painting of tall trees silhouetted in the moonlight, reminiscent in their quirky shapes and curlicued branches of early Henri Rousseau. Paintings like these make a certain amount of sense next to Ault, and begin to define an eccentric strain of distinctly American painting.
But the connections Nemerov attempts to draw—between Ault, events during his lifetime, and other people’s paintings—range from tenuous to ridiculous. The leaps he makes in order to explain Ault’s pictures are free-associative, dependent on affinities and not facts, and tell us far more about Nemerov’s passion for World War II-era Americana than they do about the cranky, dissolute, reclusive artist or the paintings he left us. READ MORE
Ultimately, “The Pre-Raphaelite Lens” shows how an incestuous group of artists wrestled with a massive upheaval in the business of image-making, and how they tried to solidify their place in the future of art by reaching into the past. This enthusiastic adoption of new techniques via new technology, paired with a search for old, honorable themes and some sort of gravitas, can begin to seem like not just a mismatch but a real failure of nerve—which is why Pre-Raphaelitism is so often thought of as that funny little cul de sac in the history of modernism. Still, what makes Waggoner’s exploration of this work so compelling is the human factor—the way artists freely riffed on one another’s discoveries and experimented at all levels, from enthusiastic photo amateurs to career portrait painters. READ MORE
If the folks at the Phillips Collection are looking to project a more contemporary image for their museum these days, surely they must realize that Giorgio Morandi isn’t the guy for the job. “Morandi: Master of Modern Still Life” pays tribute to an Italian painter who was hellbent on being the consummate ascetic modernist, so detached from the lives of people around him—and so driven to pursue the same subject in the same manner, over and over again—as to appear like an otherworldly, monomaniacal shut-in. READ MORE
“This IS Hawai’i” may not be a big show, but as an example of crosstown collaboration, it is a big deal. It’s a two-venue exhibit, occupying not only Transformer Gallery’s Logan Circle area storefront but also the National Museum of the American Indian’s Sealaska Gallery. The show features works from four contemporary native Hawaiian artists, but it feels like — and aspires to be — a much larger survey. READ MORE
Originating at the Tate Modern and now on view at the National Gallery of Art, “Gauguin: Maker of Myth” is the latest attempt to unpack the artist, and it follows a familiar curatorial strategy: Try reconstructing a modern artist so that he looks contemporary. To this end, guest curator Belinda Thomson emphasizes Gauguin’s reliance on narrative, his cross-cultural mash-ups of different codes and images, and his creation of an outsized celebrity persona. The makeover is not particularly convincing, but the show is nonetheless a welcome opportunity to see Gauguin’s freak flag fly in 100 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. READ MORE
Some art careers are cut short by alcoholism, drugs or the dark fog of depression. Not so with Pablo Picasso: His main vice was the studio itself. Toward the end of his 92 years, Picasso was still working eight-hour days, sometimes staying up past 2 a.m. to finish a canvas. Estimates of the Spanish-born, Paris-based artist's lifetime output hover around 50,000 artworks - a jaw-dropping number.
"There's never a time when you can say, 'I've worked well and tomorrow is Sunday,' " the artist once said. "As soon as you stop, you start over."
Producing was never the problem. Instead, what declined was Picasso's ability to make art that mattered, speaking to anything other than his own tastes, compulsions and restlessness. READ MORE
Rome conformed to the way Guston saw art history generally: Fragments of ruins dotted a landscape that has been subject to upheavals, repurposing, and strange juxtapositions. One need look no further than the broken marble foot of Serapis—a pagan god’s foot carted off by Christian powers which sat outside the shop where Guston bought art supplies. Once part of the likeness of a god, this fragment was transformed into mere decoration, and only hinted at its former life and grandeur. This foot is precisely the sort of ominous disembodied fragment Guston relied on; not surprisingly, it made its way into a number of the Rome paintings. READ MORE
“Hide/Seek” significantly overhauls the canon of American modernism, directing the viewer to what many curators have either failed to recognize or outright ignored about a number of major artists, including Thomas Eakins, Marsden Hartley, and Robert Rauschenberg. Further, “Hide/Seek” shows how different strategies in modern art image making—from ash-can school realism, to abstraction, to constructed photography with costumes and alter egos—have been used to telegraph difference. The show ultimately reminds us that homo- and heterosexuality have not always been as they are right now—that they are, in fact, fluid constructions, open to redefinition in relation to one another. More than the deployment of Christian icons or homoeroticism, that’s what really should make cultural conservatives nervous, or angry, or both. READ MORE
Arguably, no other artist has designed his own celebrity as thoroughly as Marcel Duchamp. The French-born artist, who drifted to New York around 1915 and took U.S. citizenship in 1955, made cultivating his outsized image his biggest artistic project. Toward that end, Duchamp turned a coterie of collectors, artistic fellow travelers, and female counterparts into his collaborators. Throughout Inventing Marcel Duchamp, the National Portrait Gallery’s current exhibition, curators Anne Collins Goodyear and James W. McManus make clear how Duchamp relied on others, converting them into enablers or co-conspirators in the creation of his own personal myth. READ MORE
It’s pretty hard nowadays to recapture the sense of outrage generated by photographer William Eggleston’s show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976. Critics at the time turned up their noses at Eggleston’s super-saturated colors, his unglamorous subjects plucked from the streets of Memphis, Tenn., and his oddball compositions—which he claimed were arranged to mimic the Confederate flag. Visitors to the current Eggleston retrospective, "Democratic Camera: Photographs and Video, 1961–2008," aren’t likely to be riled the same way. The current show, organized last year by the Whitney Museum of American Art, will likely appear to contemporary eyes as simply venerable 1970s street photography: sometimes gaudy, sometimes ecstatic, but basically traditional—hardly the stuff of scandal. READ MORE