Tuesday, October 13, 2015

James Hyde

James Hyde

Volume Gallery is a small space in one of the westside  gallery buildings that I frequent. It specializes in decorative objects - like the above - which looks a bit too cute and uncomfortable to me. (but then,,, you would never want  to see how we decorate ourl living space!)

James Hyde

I'm also not  thrilled by these home furnishings that seem to practice the  'uglification" trending in certain corners of the contemporary artworld.

James Hyde

But now, this Brooklyn artist has  got my attention - with this conglomeration of glass and paint that reminds me of a muddy, trashy riverbank -- but much more beautiful.

James Hyde

And then there's  this set of paintings executed over ink-jet printings of spacious Western landscapes.

His colorful markings are so perfect for the deep, dry canyons that recede behind them.

It's exactly how I feel when visiting such places -- with my gangly, temporary human nonsense silhouetted against the eternity of natural forces. 


This work gives me too much delight to be called 'merely' decorative.

It makes me happy to be alive.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Robert Natkin

Robert Natkin (1930-2010)
Untitled, 1957 (74" X 86")

It's hard for me to believe that the heroic painting shown above remained unsold and stashed away in the artist's studio until now.

It's also hard for me to believe that the artist was 27 when he painted it.

But the world of art is full of surprises.

Not that I am recommending its dismemberment, but it could be cut down into about a dozen wonderful paintings.

Every area seems to open up endless vistas of  delight.- much like Kandinsky's Campbell panels, painted 40 years earlier.

And it seems like an exhaustive catalog of what kinds of things look good with each other.

Most amazing, of course, is that all these wonderful details fit together into a very large space.

How did the painter sustain so much focus?

Apparently he would soon require psychotherapy -- possibly to recover from the expense of so much manic energy.

Willem De Kooning's Excavation was installed in the Art Institute in 1952, and apparently this large piece (81" X 100")  was an important influence on this Chicago artist.

But Natkin's painting seems driven by the thrill of beauty rather than anxiety and compulsion.  Unfortunately, that must not have appealed to buyers of contemporary art, in either Chicago or New York, during that period.

This is a work from the early 1950's - when the artist had just graduated from the Art Institute..

I would not have minded if he continued to bring Matisse to the Midwest - but he soon abandoned that project.

Here's another piece from the mid to late fifties. There is a greater feeling of effort and struggle.  It appears that the artist was trying not to do the same painting twice.

Here's another large one from 1957 (102" X 80")

I don't know which large painting was done before the other - but some large shapes in this one seem to be looming - as if to suggest impending trouble.

It's hard to be an impecunious young person with big dreams.

Here's the artist standing beside it.

What a fine young man!

1958 - pastel

I love how the emptiness of  that big lasso shape sets off the entire design.

There seems to be an endless - and successful - experimentation with varieties of mark making.


All it needs is a few figures to become a mythopoetic scene.


This is the kind of  show that makes me appreciate the gallery that presented it even more.

If Thomas McCormick did not have a gallery -- not only this show, but this entire genre of mid-century ABX would likely not be shown in Chicago  today - just as early 20th C. Chicago landscape painting disappeared from view when R.H. Love Gallery closed its doors.

Friday, October 09, 2015

If I ran the Art Institute

The upcoming retirement of the museum's current director has got me thinking about how it might be run  differently.

Here is my discussion of that Director when he first took office four years ago  As he said in an interview at the beginning of his term:

 I want to strategically grow our collections. Collection growth is terribly important, and I'm speaking now with the curators. Maybe now is the time to ask, "Are we thinking strategically enough about acquisitions? Should we be trying to make some of the more transformative types of acquisitions as we've made recently, like with the (Kazimir) Malevich and the (Robert) Rauschenberg?

Here is my discussion of that acquisition; while here is my discussion of the pieces  sold to raise cash to buy it.

He would probably consider the subsequent acquisition of the $400 million  Edlis-Neeson collection as  the highlight of his career, but I would call it an even worse disaster.  It commits significant museum wall space for the next 50 years to specific pieces of Post-Modern art, a genre that would appear to deny the significance of anything for longer than 15 minutes.

I would prefer that art museums went in precisely the opposite direction:   emphasizing temporary or rotational display over permanent  installation; and allowing a wider variety of genres to be displayed as contemporary.

But I've also read that museum leadership is talking about adding yet another building for additional galleries of contemporary and Asian art.  Hopefully that will take their East-Asian displays beyond Japan, and expand the contemporary displays to include work that is lyrical and maybe even beautiful.

Would it be too shocking for the museum to display a contemporary landscape that applies rather than deconstructs the tradition?

The search for a new director has begun, and the Tribune reports that the board is looking for another professional scholar.  But as with the current director,  what interests a scholar is not necessarily what looks very good.   Scholarship looks for  intellectual context, but I want museum directors who just want to look at art - the kind that demands endless viewing. 

Scholars should not run art museums any more than they should run opera companies.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Death of a Critic

This passage from his last review   exemplifies what set  Michael  Weinstein apart  from most of his colleagues at New City:

"The work is one of profound visual poetry that intensely personalizes one of the great themes of existence."

I doubt this photograph would affect me the same way. (the self dramatization in the reproduction feels stiff and frivolous). But the reviewer hazards to speak authoritatively about  "one of the great themes of existence".  He's not just writing about art.

His review of the Paul D'Amato exhibit at the  DePaul Art Museum was his most significant contribution over the ten years that I followed him.  Contradicting gallery signage, he confronted the politically correct "Black-is-beautiful" genre of photography.  That drew the ire of many concerned parties, producing the best online debate about a Chicago artist that I have ever read

So I appreciated the many eulogies and especially how his passing lead right into the art editor's discussion of the "death of art criticism".

 “In the last three or four decades, critics have begun to avoid judgments altogether, preferring to describe or evoke the art rather than say what they think of it.”  As an art critic who is also an editor, I admit that this descriptive mode is the most common and the most dangerous pitfall I encounter in my own writing and in the writing of the critics with whom I work.(Elliot Reichert)

Yes!  Even if the language, focus, and subjects of description are the consequence of prior judgments, it's the rare critic who owns and proclaims them.  Though, I would not call it a "pitfall".  It's more like an unwillingness  to climb the mountain of understanding to get a higher view. And I question whether those who exclusively apply the "descriptive mode" could offer a good discussion of judgment even if they wanted to.

Perhaps judgment is shunned by an  awareness of self limitation and the challenges faced by the artists being judged.  But time and money are not limitless. Everyone has to judge where to spend them. Some  kind of  art criticism is the unavoidable result.

In part, this move from judgment toward evocative description is predicated on larger shifts in the intellectual and political economies in which art has come to circulate in our time. Once the arbiter of good taste, the critic’s claim to expertise has been hastily discredited in the frantic rush to dismantle the hierarchies of power that became broadly perceived as the defensive barriers of art’s elitism. Criticism, a voice that was once conceived of as an independent mediator between public spheres and avant-garde cultures, is increasingly regarded as a quasi-contracted tool of the institutions and markets that exercise real power. (Elliot Reichert)

The need to arbitrate good taste disappeared with aristocratic culture, while avant-garde culture has been institutionalized within a global educational system.  It has been so successful at eliminating any kind of standard or expectation, it has rendered itself obsolete except for the inexperienced. Dada is now a hundred years old, though it is still presented as contemporary.

 The institutional theory of art best accounts for the cultural life of our age, and its voice can only be descriptive. Likewise, Science,   the most authoritative voice in the modern age,  basing it's assertions on reason and impersonal evidence,  can only speak of art descriptively.  There is no  credible ground from which market value can be challenged.

As a curator, I have witnessed firsthand how the available “knowledge” around an artwork is ossified in the various institutional apparatuses that craft the language of object labels, wall texts, elevator pitches and press releases. At the institutional level, the meaning of art is increasingly shaped by mechanisms that more closely resemble marketing schemes than scholarship, or even good taste. (Elliot Reichert)

An interesting testimonial.

An autonomous,  non-descriptive art criticism can be based on nothing more than personal  resources  and experiences with life, art, and other critical thinkers in a variety of disciplines. It is too flagrantly subjective to serve either academia or the marketplace. It will  always be inadequate and un-verifiable.

Without arbitration or explication, criticism is nothing more than a one-way conversation among art  lovers. Depending on the critic,  that can be enough.  Though I hardly ever find art criticism that reflects a wealth of experience, and much less that convinces me that something important was at stake. Blair Kamin, the local architecture critic, is a frequent exception.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Strolling through the annual Chicago Art Fairs

(painting by Eric Fischl)

This is the 10th anniversary of Mountshang at the Chicago international art fairs - and here's what I've recorded so  far:

2007(1)   2007(2)  2007(3) 2007(4)
2008(1)   2008(2)  2008(3)
2009        2009 (Next)

How have these exhibits changed over that decade ?

I'm no longer finding contemporary figure paintings that interest me.  What happened to Bo Bartlett? Or Odd Nerdrum ?  Or William Bailey? Or Claudio Bravo? or Vincent Desiderio?

I've never cared much for shock-art, but neither am I thrilled that that the fair has become more about decoration than anything else. Isn't one annual SOFA show enough ?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Art Expo 2015

Japan, 19th C.

This piece reminds me of when the Merchandise Mart simultaneously hosted fairs in both antiques  and  contemporary art.  These days, there is no good reason for Art  Expo  to include a gallery of historic Asian collectables.  Apparently, somebody knows somebody.

However.... this piece offers  a happy contrast to the bulk of what the other galleries have on display.  Contemporary art either offers a puzzle, or it  screams " Woo-Hoo !Look at me! Look at me!"

As a traditional expression of a spiritual practice that had been in Japan for a thousand yeas, there is nothing puzzling about this image, nor anything innovative in its forms or  materials.

Something much more important is at stake.

Better examples of Buddhist sculpture can quickly be found --  but maybe not from the 19th C.

Nicholas Africano

Another anomaly in this show is  Nicholas Africano whose work has been shown by at least two different galleries  every year for at least a decade.

Apparently, there remains  a good market for his peaceful, moody, decorative kind of classical sculpture cast in glass.

Alfred Leslie, 1960

 Art Expo always offers many examples of mid-20th C. ABX painting. 

Many of them seem to record the dynamics of a struggling  human life - as well as dynamic designs and beautiful areas of color.

Last year, the art fair had examples of Leslie's later figurative work - which I also liked.

I'm guessing that he left abstraction when it stopped being essential to him. Good for him!


Alfred Leslie

Andy Pankhurst

There's never much contemporary figurative work  at these art fairs - but here's a nice one from a young British painter who paints the human figure as if it were an  apple in a still life.

Camilo  Restrepo

Here's a fragment of a wall size piece done by a young Columbian painter just out  of art school.

It offers endless visual variety -- and occasional fragments of text that advocate the legalization of drugs.

Jim Dine, 2015

I'm not a fan of Pop Art.

But Jim Dine is one helluva  ABX painter as he turns 80.


BTW - it turns out that he's from Cincinnati -- and we both went to the same high school.


Eric Fischl

Hah!  Here's a life-size depiction of people at an art fair

Here's my own version -- with yet one more fair-goer in the foreground to the left.

Eva Hesse

I feel her sculpture was joke-art, but this earlier painting by Eva Hesse is quite expressive.

Gertrude Abercrombie, 1946

This is an  early work by a painter who has never disappointed me.  The gallerista told me that the young Edward Gorey met and greatly admired her.  That's not surprising, is it ?

Andrew Holmquist

Here's a young painter from small-town Minnesota who consistently blows me away.  He just got an MFA last year

I wonder how far his human figures will ever emerge from his bodacious designs.  On the internet, you can find examples of his figurative illustrations for children's books.

If he could draw a more naturalistic figure, he could compete with the great Italian Mannerists like Pontormo.

John Little, 1960

Here's another great ABX painter that Thomas McCormick has brought back for an encore

This wall sized piece feels like an epic.


Franz Kline, Study for 9th Street, 1951

Franz Kline insisted that he was not influenced by the tradition of Asian calligraphy, even though he's doing much the same thing as he designs a balanced component that will then be expressed as gesture.

The tragedy of the contemporary artworld is that it will not allow this practice to be developed as a  tradition.

Kurt Lewy, 1959

Here's a Belgian abstract painter that McCormick has brought in.

It looks like the floor plan for an inescapable maze.

Catherine Maize

Like the stone Buddha at the top of  this post, here's a painting that's less concerned with attracting attention than in holding it.

Mark Calderon

This sculptor does not specialize in animals -- but  he's very good with reptiles.

This piece reminds me of  Albert Laessle's turtle  that I saw at the Met last year.

Matt Bahen

This young Canadian painter makes me feel the heat and smell the smoke in this remote, backwoods location.  This painting is not about scenery - it's about experience.

Pam Sheehan

Here's another painting about  experiencing a place  - -- though, in this case it's at the center rather than the periphery of our civilization.

This is Fifth Avenue, New York -- right outside the Met on a rainy day.

Milton Resnick

I don't really like belly aches -- but looking at one is not so painful.

Not many paintings  take nausea as  their subject matter.

Sam Francis, 1965

As I've read, there was a period in this artist's career when he left large unpainted areas of white in  the center of his canvas.  As if he were drawing aside the colorful curtains on a stage for which there was  no performance.

John Santoro

I've always liked his paintings, which are as much about landscape as they are about paint.

He's another artist who was shown by two different galleries at the show.

Tam Van Tran

The viewer seems to be looking up from the basement of a building that's just been blown up.

Toshio Miyaoka

I've craved  more pool scenes like this ever since I saw one by  David Hockney

Werner Drewes, 1939

This painting, by a renowned teacher of abstract painting, has a rather dry, academic feeling to it.

But that, too, is part of life -- and I tend to feel good whenever an attractive young woman is not fully clothed.

David Park, 1957

Here are some naked young dudes who also appear to be doing nothing more than posing in the studio - and I like that too.

Tragically, this was done near the end of the artist's  brief life.

Raimonds Staprands

This is the sort of thing that I expect to see at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern  Art here in Chicago.

The artist was Latvian via Southern California.

Qin Yufen

This Chinese painter has regretfully taken her colorful, stringy shapes off the canvas and begun installing them around the gallery.


Judith Goodwin, 1960

Here's another survivor from that second wave of abstract expressionists.

If you want to feel struggle and antgst -- she's got it.


Judith Goodwin, 1982

Her life feels more comfortable now -- but I still feel the edges of anxiety.


Emelio Vedova, 1962

This is the European version of ABX

David Sharpe

This looks like the map of a large, posh resort.

The artist must have moved into a happier place