27 July 2012

Switching Gears - Getting the Kids involved and The Guggenheim

I have been told by not a few people that maybe I should think about writing more about art geared towards family-friendly exhibitions ("what I can bring my kids to") which I already seem to do, since often my two little monsters are in tow when I am out looking at art.  So artntheapple will probably highlight exhibitions and art excursions that both the kids and the parents will find interesting.  And hopefully, I will contribute on a more frequent basis come autumn.

I find that looking at art with kids, at least with mine, becomes really an enlightening and much more pleasurable experience when they finally learn how to behave in a museum or gallery.  This has seemed to happen for me just recently when we were walking through Yayoi Kusama at the Whitney and  American Art galleries at the Met this summer, for about an hour and a half at each location, I didn't once have to tell anyone to slow down, not talk so loud, watch for swinging arms, stop fighting, etc.  This certainly didn't happen overnight and has been quite a struggle.  I have been dragging (yes, dragging is the word) my kids to galleries and museums since before they could talk - always knowing that it was going to be a short experience - around an hour max.  My son had a total meltdown, screaming and throwing himself on the floor to the mortification of his parents, in front of the Venus de Milo at the Louvre, when he was about 15 months old.  And when I used to take the double stroller to Chelsea, I quickly found out that visits to about 4 galleries are the maximum that we all could endure.

Now, that they are ages 7 and 9, I have found that my brainwashing has worked, and they believe that going to look at art is an essential component of our life.   If we haven't gone to a museum in a couple weeks, they ask to go and are more proactive about letting me know what they want and don't want to see.  I don't have to restate the rules before we enter anymore, but am still inclined to reward after a job well done at the end of our excursion.

As I said before, its been a fascinating experience going to look at art with my kids, because most of the time, they see things so much differently than me.  Their minds are not clogged with decades of imagery, past art history courses and compare and contrast essays, economic factors, etc.  They ask questions that would never come to my mind and sometimes have steered me to and from objects based on their own opinions.  I always find it interesting that one kid is consistently curious about when and the other how.  When was this made, what was happening at the time, why is he painted bigger than him, what was going on in this place to make someone paint this picture the way they did.  My other, could care less about that, but demands to know how and with what was this made.  If she could touch everything, she would be much happier.  She is interested in the materials, how to achieve different textures and what tools are used.

I guess these are all small tips for bringing kids to look at art.  I think most people in New York do already but what I have found helpful is - being clear what the rules are before going because you actually want to enjoy yourself, keeping it a short experience with respect to your child(ren) ages and tolerance level, focusing on one or two paintings in a room rather than trying to see everything, asking a ton of questions to your children - what does it look like, what's going on, how do you think its made, how does it make you feel - and sometimes letting them direct you to what they find interesting in the room rather than focusing on the "famous, well-known" work there.  If you go to a museum - focus on one exhibition or one area rather than trying to do it all. And before we leave a section or room, I always ask the what was their favorite and least favorite work and have them explain why - the answers  are always interesting and fun to hear.   If the kids forget the rules, I have been known to go up and have the security guard reexplain to them why talking loudly in a museum is not acceptable.  Hey - they will listen to someone with uniform that exudes authority than they will me, so I take advantage of it and it is really effective.

I do not go for the audio guides.  I know some friends swear by them for the kids, but really, I don't like anyone telling me what to look at and I think they are a big old distraction from looking with your eyes and using your mind instead of listening to someone prattle on.

We sometimes look at an art book at home and find a specific painting to look for on our outing (heard another version from someone else that they buy a postcard in the gift shop and then go on a hunt for that work in the museum - but I don't like the idea of purchasing something beforehand and they may miss everything else on the wall if they are really determined with their scavenger hunt).  We also have a game called "spot the portrait" (or history, genre, landscape, still life, abstract painting).  The kids have to discern the difference between these categories and they have fun talking about the differences of a portrait vs a group of people doing an activity or a historical painting vs a landscape.  They now have their favorite artists and we will always try to go to exhibitions where their artists will be showing - my son is crazy about Diego Velasquez, and my daughter loves Rothko and both are crazy about Jackson Pollock.   And, I always spot a bakery, ice cream shop or cafeteria that I can use as a reward (bribery) after we are done.

There was a period of time, my husband and I would get a sitter and go look at galleries on our own.  It was impossible to bring them - let's call it "the toddler years" -  and for any of us get any sort of enjoyment.  But one day, my son asked "how come we can't come with you to look at art, why do you leave us at home" and then I knew it was time to get them into the game.

So here is one great exhibition out of many that we saw this summer in NYC.

My "don't miss" top pick is the exhibition at the Guggenheim called "Art of Another Kind".  It ends in mid-September so try to see before the kiddies are back to school!!!


This exhibition focuses on Abstraction from the decade + between 1949 - 1960.  All the paintings are from the Guggenheim's permanent collection and a lot were shown at the museum in various shows during this period.  These were from a time when the museum switched directors and seemed to be "rebranding" itself, so the exhibition is as much as a history of mid-century abstraction as it is a history of the mid-century Guggenheim.   The show is impressive in scale, is excellently curated and installed and dominates the spiral loops around the museum.  What I love most about this exhibition is the focus on International Abstraction rather than American AbEx artists and how those European and Asian artists used Abstraction for the variety of avant garde movements during this period.  Its like a breath of fresh air from all the Pollocks, de Koonings, Rothkos that we normally see (although there are a handful of great examples here)!!   The second thing I love about this exhibition, is that these works, that have been in storage for decades, are in unbelievably pristine condition, and practically jump off the walls and hit you in the face with their vibrant colors and powerful brushstrokes.  They really pack a punch and while also being very cerebral at the same time.  There were a bunch of names in this exhibition that I was unfamiliar with - which is always exciting.

The first thing you see is there is an Alexander Calder mobile, always a crowd pleaser, that is suspended from the center.  My daughter really appreciated not only seeing it from underneath, but also being able to look down on it, a totally different perspective.  (I only was with one on this visit.)

I was really fascinated by the Japanese Abstraction included here.  These I was totally unfamiliar with.  Apparently, the Guggenheim will devote an exhibition to this body of artists in the future.  Below is a work by Kenzo Okada.  We had fun looking at these vs the early de Koonings and Pollocks.  There is almost a sheer mist over the surface of the painting making it atmospheric.  Less brash and bold than the Americans, there is power in its composition, technical qualities and its almost addictive serenity.  Its like staring at a beautiful still lake, contradicting the noisy city street outside.  I think its interesting that the director of the Guggenheim purchased these works not so long after WWII and internment camps in this country and was committed to embracing and showing all abstraction globally.  We can really benefit from this now.  There are also examples from the Gutai group based more on action painting along side Franz Kline works that were influence heavily by calligraphy.

Examples of the Yves Klein action works are present, and were very fun to talk about with my daughter.  She quickly points out any cobalt color as "Yves Klein" blue - a residual effect of my brain washing - and recognized his canvases immediately.  However, she was struck by the fact that they were not the solid textured canvases that she is familiar with.  Once she saw the historical photographs of blue painted naked people and I explained that the paintings were made by them rolling around the canvases - well, she was in a fit of giggles.  We talked about whether the act of making the painting or the painting itself was a work of art - and like all great art - couldn't come up with a definitive answer.   See example in the far right below.

We both really enjoyed the Grace Hartigan and Hans Hoffman abstracts (below respectively), with their determined strokes in rich colors and complex composition that you feel that you are looking out the window at a beautiful view of an alternate universe.

We really appreciated the collaged work by Alberto Burri (below) and Conrad Marca-Relli.  Burri with his sewn and painted burlap sacs so exquisitely reflects the Arte Povera movement in Italy and heavily influenced artists like Marca-Relli in his construction of paintings from pieces of glued canvas.  These are great examples of the movement from straight painting to integration of new and found materials combined with painting into their works (prescient of Johns and Rauschenberg).   Are these works paintings, sculptures?  We had a difficult time classifying them, and I think that's the point.

We also had fun looking at the Tapies (below) and Dubuffets that enliven the surface of the canvas with texture from the mixing of sand and paint and we seemed to have focused on this more than the composition of the works themselves.  We spent a lot of time guessing what materials were used and less on the meaning and structure of the work.  But the use of non-traditional materials was just as important a statement by the avant-garde artists as much as the subject, or lack of subject matter, so we probably came away with the good message.

In keeping with materials, we really enjoyed the sculptures in the show.  Again, the variety of materials was really intriguing to us.  Also the variety of structure, composition and technique were also fascinating.  We grouped these 3-dimensional objects into "scary" and "not scary".  Not so scary was the Louise Bourgeois (below) and Moholy-Nagy, Noguchi and Calder sculptures.  Scary was the Chillida (below) and the Theodore Roszak sculptures.  We had fun discussing the idea of the mobile and a suspending sculpture like Chillida.  (And a little bit off the subject, I have been insane for Roszak sculptures forever - last photo below in far left - and when, oh, when is someone going to do a major exhibition of his work?!?  The Hirshorn has many fantastic examples of his work.  But really its time for a big NYC museum exhibition of his work as he influenced a great deal of artists at the time.)

I cannot do "Art of Another Kind" justice here because the exhibition is exhaustive and the art varies so greatly.  All based on abstraction, however, the techniques are so different and the imagery so diverse.  This is what will completely intrigue you and the children.  Focus on the materials, the sense and feelings the work gives you, the idea of repetition or lack of repetition of forms and most importantly, how this broke with traditional art making during mid-century and why this important to look at now.  Enjoy!!!

(P.S. There is a great L'arte del Gelato stand right out front of the museum for a treat afterward!!)

21 May 2012

Fun things to see

Just a brief post of a few fun things to see right now.

Be sure to visit the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the site specific sculpture, Cloud City, by Argentine artist, Tomas Sarceno.  Well-executed, interactive and space-age.  16 "bubbles" are made of steel, plexi, mirrors, and you may enter and walk through the sculpture through a serious of staircases that lift you off the roof into different vantage points over, in my opinion, the best view of the city.  Ropes are pulled taut in between the bubbles in geometric 3-D patterns in order to accentuate the feeling of a great physics defying feat of the sculpture.  If you visit and want a timed ticket to get in, go directly to the 4th floor, to get the free ticket.  But be sure to wear flat soled shoes or they will not let you in.  And ladies - wear pants or shorts, because the transparent staircases and platforms will give everyone on the roof a free show if you are wearing a skirt.  Ahem.....

There is a once in a lifetime chance to see Frank Stella's early Minimalist paintings at     L & M Gallery (45 East 78th).  The photos above are the gallery's as I wasn't allowed to take pictures.  To see these works all together is very intense and overwhelming.  Although Minimalism has a reputation for being cold, sedate and slick, these works definitely don't fall into that category.  First of all, you have to think that during this time - the late 50s - when Stella painted these, the country was celebrating the home-grown Abstract Expressionists (the Life magazine article on Jackson Pollock was just two years earlier than when these were painted).  These were groundbreaking and really rebelling against popular art at the time.  It wasn't just subversive in his use of a monochromatic palette with what appeared to be a systematic or even industrialized treatment of the canvas with the repetition of lines.  Stella also turned the whole idea of the frame on its head.  The frame used to be a decorative border on a canvas or like a period at the end of a statement or at least accentuate what was going on in its interior. Now Stella's interior was dictated by shape and frame of the canvas.  This was quite a different way of looking at painting in that the canvas was shaped and the work painted on this basis, sort of straddling the categories of painting and sculpture. It was mind-blowing then and to see these in one statement is mind-blowing now.  But as I said before, although these seems methodically produced, what you cannot experience from the images and must go see in person is that these paintings almost vibrate on the walls.  Although these are some of the first Minimalist paintings that were produced, you can still see the hand of the artist.  The lines on the canvas are created by the absence of paint and they are all painted freehand (unlike the straight edged technique that was quickly picked up by Minimalists and many Contemporary artists use today).  You can see in this void, the preparatory pencil marks, and since the lines are not perfectly straight, the lines almost give the impression of moving or as I said before, vibrating.  Despite the repetition and single color, these canvases are very much alive and have influenced generations of artists.  We are so lucky to have the chance to see these works.  

At Luxembourg & Dayan (64 East 77th Street) is having an exhibition of Domenico Gnoli's paintings from the late 1960s.  This is really the first I have every heard of this artist and they are really something special. They are figurative paintings regarding the minute details of everyday objects in life. Painted with stylized, hyper-precision with oil and sand, there is a textured, otherworldliness to them.  There is something very surreal about them and once you see his fantastical animal drawings on the top floor, you'll understand even better.

Another museum quality exhibition by Gagosian (980 Madison Ave at 76th street) of Picasso paintings of his muse and alongside the paintings of Francoise Gilot.  Sorry, no images for fear of being tackled by the nervous security, but look at the website.  The colors are vibrant and earthly, all the mediterranean blues and greens especially, and his love and desire for her is clear.  His style is certainly mature here and goes beyond far beyond his earlier cubist works.  If you have time for only one floor, I think the top floor is what you should focus on.  

I am not a fan of his Hello Kittys, but artist, Tom Sachs, has impressed me here. He has taken over the Park Avenue Armory in his interactive, all-encompassing Space Program.   Tom Sachs has recreated the Lunar and Mars surface in the enormous interior of the building as well as utilizing his signature bricolage.  A to-scale lunar module that you can enter after passing the exams at the indoctrination station is plopped in the center surrounded by a repurposed Winnie and other small plywood structures or vignettes of cast-off technology, tools, recreated NASA gear as well as some that is the real deal.  The skateboarding staff are happy to direct you to the cinema to be "indoctrinated" as well as explaining the structures.  Lots of fun.    Go with a sense of humor and come out awed.

Stop by Mary Boone (745 5th Ave at 58th Street) to see Will Cotton's most recent paintings.  After seeing his prints recently at Pace, which I love, its also wonderful to get back to seeing his oils on linen.  These paintings aren't going to change the world, but these large, photo realistic paintings of candy environments are lush and atmospheric.  They are decadent and so much fun.  Cupcake Katy Perry, his recent muse, is surrounded by toppling cakes (remember that Cotton was involved in her California Girls video - she was inspired by his paintings).  There is a Ab-Ex inspired painting that was made with pastry nozzles as well larger cake 3-D sculptures he made with plaster and cake and pastry making tools.  The figurative paintings are the most beautiful and the colors are exquisite, but my favorite is the more monochromatic, sepia-toned canvas of a lollipop and candy-cane forest.

McKee Gallery across the hall from Mary Boone has a great Martin Puryear exhibition of his new sculpture.  Its simplicity and austerity are a breath of fresh air.  Just the notion of how much he time he has put into the craftsmanship and woodworking of each object is amazing.  Taking cues from the migration west inspired by fields of waving grain, and covered wagons, the sculptures are honed-down to their essence.  My favorites include the modernist take on the wagon - a smaller polished metal sculpture with wheels - and a beautiful table sculpture topped with individually carved dowels.  But the caged wagon really is fantastic.  This image just doesn't do it justice.  Inside the precisely constructed wooden cage is a magnificent large orb filling the space.  Half lacquered and half left unpainted, so you can see that this is almost impossibly made of wood.  The sphere looks like a large eye and when you peer into the plexi oculus that is facing you on one side, you can experience the interior with all its gothic wooden ribs - like a  cathedral in miniature.

Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend!

09 March 2012

Highlights from the ADAA

More from Armory Week.  Here are some highlights from the excellent ADAA Art Show.  There was lots to like but especially the many single artist shows in a lot of the booths this year.  I love this fair because its easily digestible and you feel like you can see a lot in an hour or two with our your eyes being exhausted and your head spinning from too many boothss.  My photography is again lacking but hopefully this will inspire you to head to the Park Avenue Armory to take a look for yourself.

I love Sarah Sze's work in Tanya Bonakdar's booth.  I have been following her career since she was first represented by Marianne Boesky years ago and she just finished up a fabulous exhibition at the Asian Society.  She creates these small worlds from detritus, household objects, string, wire, lights, water bottles, socks....its always a surprise to see what's in there.   The work seems delicate, but also expanding and invading your own space.  The work seems temporary, but also timeless at the same time.  She makes the 2-dimensional into 3-dimensional by using paint drips as a sculptural devices as well as the introduction of paper and 2-d images into her little worlds.  The important way to experience her work is to move around it and see it from as many perspectives as possible.  It will fool with your spatial perspective, wow you with how mundane items seem to be elevated to elegant, pristine art and the theatricality of it all keeps you fascinated.   It must be seen in person to really appreciate it.

Another great booth is Chris D'amelio's exhibition of Daniel Hesidence's paintings.  These are small jarring, violent expressionistic portraits of women painted on board in gorgeous tones of maroons, burgundies and reds.  The women have blood on their faces and their eyes are gouged and scratched through to the surface of the paint.  Its not easy to look at but there is a beauty in the textures, and the installation is wonderful.  This is a marked departure from the artist's previous abstractions and the first exhibition by the gallery under its new name D'amelio Gallery from D'amelio Terras.

Another great installation is Susan Frecon's smaller abstractions in the David Zwirner booth.  The colors and forms are deep and soothing with a heavy modernist touch.  Make sure that you ask to see her small works on paper hidden in the closet.  Those are the real gems - these deep tones on delicate paper.  They are wonderful!!

I have been a fan of Ori Gersht's work for a while - simply in the fact that its lovely and fun to look at.  In CRG's booth, they have dedicated the space to his very large photographs which I believe are film stills from him exploding enormous bouquets of flowers.  He does this by using fireworks and then lowering the temperature to a point where they will start to smolder and then explode.  You could look at this as a contemporary take on the French and Dutch floral still lifes of the 17th century but I don't think that they really go much deeper than that.  The real stars of the show are the much smaller works that are in the booth.  The smoke is just starting to swirl around the flowers just anticipating the moment of explosion and another is a close of up the explosion - these are really special and more spectacular than the massive photos.

Before I get to my favorite artist shown at the ADAA, the only non-single artist show that I really enjoyed are the Joseph Cornell and Ray Johnson collages at Richard Feigen's booth.  I am insane for Joseph Cornell boxes and collage in all there nostalgic, surreal glory and their references to nature and death - last year L&M had an amazing solo show of Cornell works at the ADAA show and it nearly brought me to tears.  I love these two crazy collages by him (the two first images) that are juxtaposed with collages by Ray Johnson.  It's an interesting dialogue between these two artists and worth checking out.

The highlight of the ADAA Art show was Margo Leavin's booth and her exhibition of the works by William Leavitt.  I don't think he is as well known on the East Coast as he is on the West, but he is an artist who came of age with the other Californian Conceptualists, namely John Baldessari et al.  He just had a retrospective at the MOCA in LA last year and he has been working in many different mediums - drawing, photography, painting, performance over the years.  His drawings have both a formalist quality as well as surrealist elements.  There is a lot attention and influence of architecture with modernist geodesic domes in the background as well idea of the curtain - something hiding and that could possibly revealed.  I find a big influence of deChirico in his Leavitt's early palette and spatial arrangement.  Like the Conceptualists, there is no narrative or a lot of ambiguity to the objects that are juxtaposed to one another and sometimes the space and arrangements do not make sense - which is the strength of the work as your brain tries figure everything out.  I was blown away by the timelessness of it all, and even given the very modernist influences, how up to the minute the work looked to me.  He is definitely an artist's artist and you can see how a lot of young West Coast artists have been heavily influenced by him.  My favorite works are the last ones - the photographs that are lovely in tone and keep your head spinning with questions about what it all means.  The formal qualities of the work are superb - the different textures, the cropping, the lighting, the noirish quality of the works - here he make Conceptualism sexy.  His work really blew me away.