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Taking the week off to paint

Post #1258 • November 19, 2008, 6:51 AM • 24 Comments

And spackle, tape, unpack, arrange, rearrange, and otherwise address the several hundred chores of moving into a new place.

Roller and roller tray, Boston, November 2008

The movers come this morning. Forecasters predict a high temperature of 37° and sunny skies. A fine day to move in.

We intend with all our might to make sure that this is the last time we do this for several years. returns Monday.




November 19, 2008, 10:49 AM

Have fun Franklin (&SG)!

IN other news, I read that Grace Hartigan died recently. I must admit, I'm not familiar with her work myself, but I remembered seeing her name mentioned in regards to the "Action/Abstraction" show the Jewish Museum organized, as in this excerpt from the NYT's Roberta Smith:

"“Action/Abstraction” is not so much a historical survey as a series of lavishly illustrated talking points. It proceeds through various pairings and groupings that illuminate who Greenberg and Rosenberg promoted or ignored, where they differed or overlapped. Their oversights included much sculpture (excepting David Smith) and most painters who were not white and male, as indicated by a section titled “Blind Spots” that contains works by Norman Lewis, Grace Hartigan and Lee Krasner, Pollock’s wife."

Naturally, this had left me with the impression (go figure) that Hartigan was one of Greenberg's "oversights", owing to her unfortunate "not white or male" status.

Imagine how shocked I was, then, to read in her obituary: "Ms. Hartigan won fame early. In 1950, the critic Clement Greenberg and the art historian Meyer Schapiro included her in their "New Talent" show at the Kootz Gallery, and a one-woman exhibition at New York's Tibor de Nagy Gallery soon followed."

So, I guess reports of Greenberg's "oversight", in this instance at least, are highly exaggerated...

One more reason not to ever believe a word Roberta Smith writes...


Chris Rywalt

November 19, 2008, 2:12 PM

Note that Roberta didn't title the section of the exhibition, the idiot curator(s) did. Roberta just had faith that they'd done their homework -- faith that was clearly misplaced.



November 19, 2008, 2:35 PM

Clem was not wild about Hartigan's work and thought she probably should not have been included in the very influential exhibit of American painting that MoMA sent to Europe in 1959 (especially in view of their omission of Hofmann) but he thought her a good and serious painter, as I do, at least the earlier work. The later stuff really falls off.

Just to make sure I don't neglect my contributions to Political Correctness, she was a real babe, too.

When it comes to Greenberg the curators (and whoever) are likely to rather believe anything negative than to "do their homework". It is not unlike the media coverage of the recent election.



November 19, 2008, 3:35 PM

Just goes to show, what everybody knows, ain't necessarily so..


Chris Rywalt

November 19, 2008, 3:56 PM

The photos I can find of Grace show her to have been very pretty when she was younger, but the best photo I can find shows that she grew into a lovely twinkly old lady.


Chris Rywalt

November 19, 2008, 3:59 PM

Don't these two look like fun to hang out with? (That's Grace on the left and Helen Frankenthaler standing.)



November 19, 2008, 7:15 PM

I recently saw some late (or later) work by Hartigan in person. I paid more attention to it than I normally would have because I remembered OP speaking well of her (earlier) work. However, I was not impressed, and concluded she must have "lost it" at some point.



November 19, 2008, 7:30 PM

FWIW, I sau the exhibition and Grace Hartigan's painting was a nice surprise.

Missing in action was Alice Neel who is better than all but the top five in that show. I guess she wasn't "abstract" enough.


Chris Rywalt

November 20, 2008, 9:24 AM

Maybe, just maybe, she wasn't good enough. You have your opinion on Neel, and others have theirs.

The one time I saw Neel's work I thought it looked really good, but it was next to a metric ton of total crap (including Damien Hirst), so almost anything would look good. I liked it okay, though.



November 21, 2008, 1:31 PM

Chris, that Ofili show you reviewed, looked like it could have been kinda challenging. Ofili has always intrigued me. he seems pretty sensitive to surface and there's a commitment. i want to dismiss him but can't. i like his sexy astroafroism . don't know much of the work but the few postdung pix i've seen make me think of Gauguin sometimes, another painter that doesn't hold me much but some of whose work is stellar. we had a post-impressionist show through town a few years ago and there was a very simple gauguin floral that i thought must have had batteries in it. his colour is tweaked and when he hits it it's a special kind of light.


Chris Rywalt

November 21, 2008, 5:18 PM

We've talked about Ofili, that show, and my review on this blog before. Mostly the regulars seemed to think I was mildly off my rocker. I think Opie even said I can draw rings around Ofili, which I take as a high compliment but for him probably qualified as faint praise.

All I can do is report as honestly as I can, and that show blew me away, which I think got across in my review. It gave me hope, too, that there is an audience for art that's maybe "past its expiration date," as I imagine many contemporary dealers might feel about Modernism.

He definitely has relations to Gauguin, too. He's all over the Postimpressionists and related artists -- Matisse, Picasso, Gauguin, Miro, guys like that. I saw a Gauguin show a few years back at the Met and was very unimpressed; nothing of his jumped out at me. It was good, you know, but not great the way Van Gogh is great. I still check his work out when I see it, just to see if this one's going to be the one that converts me, but nothing's sparked yet.


Bunny Smedley

November 22, 2008, 9:55 AM

Although I didn't see the Chris Ofili show you mention, I've seen some of his other work at various points, and there's something to be said for it.

At his best - a one-man show at the Serpentine, c. 1998, for instance - his work can be highly decorative, funny and sexy - a sort of Gustav Klimt for contemporary, magnificently multi-cultural yet rather dumbed-down and superficial London. But when he takes himself too seriously - at the Venice Biennale, or 'The Upper Room' at Tate Britain - he can come across as very limited in his range, more than slightly predictable, and indeed sometimes downright boring.

Needless to say, though, in his ability to make things that reward any sort of sustained looking, all this puts him light-years beyond most of the YBAs, Hirst included.



November 22, 2008, 11:21 AM

Bunny you have probably seen a lot more of Ofili's work than I have but so fr my experience of it in person & in reproduction has been neutral to negative.

It seems to barely skirt a kind of cloying cuteness, the color is often fulsome and although theypictures are put together reasonably well there is little strengh there - what one of my grads called "tension" in crit yesterday.

They come across like very nice panels for the decoration of some exotic restaurant or club, not necessarily bad as art but best seen as snazzy decoration.


Chris Rywalt

November 22, 2008, 12:13 PM

My only excuse is that all I know of Chris is that one show, and that one show had what I assume to be his latest work in it (or anyway latest as of the time of the show), and that was what I liked. Judging by the stuff of his I've seen online -- which doesn't really count, being reproductions -- the work I saw was somewhat different from his previous work.

Of course, I don't get out to London or Venice all that often (or, actually, at all), so I can't say anything about them.

Eric Fischl surprised me a couple of weeks ago, too. I've never seen his work in person, but the impression I get is that I wouldn't be all that fond of it; but his most recent show of sculptures at Mary Boone was deeply moving. I almost cried.

I wrote to Eric to send him a link to the review and he wrote back: "I know how hard it is to not like an artist's work and then finding yourself pried loose of those prejudices." Which is true. Although I find the converse is harder: Disliking the work of an artist you've liked before is tough. It almost hurts.



November 22, 2008, 1:37 PM

I agree with you about the converse. Chris. I am usually delighted to find something I like of an artist I did not like or was inclined not to like. This has happened to me with some regularity, with Basquiat, for example, and with some of Schnabel's work. I had to be won over to Hofmann when I was a kid painter and became a fervent admirer.

It is harder to accept when an artist you admire does inferior work or declines.

Fischl's response to you was sincere but not exactly logical . When you are using your eye honestly your take on work is not "prejudice", it is your take on the specific work. Prejudice can arise from experience, however


Chris Rywalt

November 22, 2008, 4:11 PM

Prejudice wouldn't exist (in art, anyway) if everyone were being completely open, honest, and weren't affected by other considerations beyond the thing (art object) itself. But I think that's a state one approaches, not a state one achieves.



November 22, 2008, 10:00 PM

Fischl's response may be using the assumption that art is judged by "type". Most art viewers that I know of regard certain types of art as "in", outers as "out". Depending on their bias, they may allow only illustrational realism, or only the farthest out of the far out. Those kind of pre-judgements are certainly prejudices.

Myself, I have usually found Fishl worth at least a "slow down" as I scurry through displays of "advanced" art. The guy can paint.



November 22, 2008, 10:09 PM

Regarding the sculptures, I like the baby shit brown color a lot. The bases in Ten Breaths: Damage interfere severely, though.

Tumbling Woman is much better. As far as its relationship to September 11, 2001 - who cares?


Chris Rywalt

November 23, 2008, 1:37 AM

I think the relationship to September 11th is post hoc. You see the sculpture, it's moving in an incomprehensible way, you try to connect it to something. I made this conclusion more explicit in my first draft of the review, but then research showed that the sculpture was installed as part of a September 11th reaction kind of thing; originally I'd written it as if viewers had decided the sculpture was related entirely on their own.

As I wrote, I read somewhere, although I don't know where, that studies for the sculpture were made years before 2001. Certainly I found drawings of "tumbling women" from Fischl going back a few years earlier. Whatever I'd read gave me the idea that Fischl's sculpture was never intended to refer explicitly to September 11th, but was only connected by the audience.

However, from what I read while writing the review, Fischl made the final sculpt, at least, after September 11th, and the sculpture was first displayed as part of a September 11th commemoration at Rockefeller Center, where it was promptly generated complaints resulting in its removal. Fischl said in a later interview that, at the time, he was surprised and upset by the reaction and agreed with the work's removal, but that eventually he regretted going along and wished he'd stood up to the criticism.

But then some people are upset about his sculpture of Arthur Ashe, too. Looking at photos of it, and thinking about the sculptures I saw, I find a connection between Fischl and Rodin, in the way they make a very imperfect surface which brings life and energy to dead metal, especially as one moves around the sculpture.



November 23, 2008, 1:09 PM

Likely Tumbling Woman source.


Bunny Smedley

November 23, 2008, 2:22 PM

The Tumbling Woman reminds me of these distressing things.

Thanks, Chris, for setting out the work's relationship to 9/11 in some detail - fascinating stuff.

As for Fischl, though - although obviously here in London we can hardly engage in any of our traditional local pastimes without tripping over a few significant Ofili canvases on the way, I can count on one hand the number of actual Fischl paintings I've seen in real life, and still have quite a few fingers left over. Which I regret, actually, as at least in reproduction his work makes me want to see more.



November 23, 2008, 3:05 PM

You're right, Bunny, or rather let's say you told me what these sculptures reminded me of. I knew there was something familiar about them.

In the case of the Pompeiian casts there is of course an overwhelming given narrative which virtually precludes any appraisal of them as "art" whereas the artist-made character and gallery setting of the Fischl pieces lets us see them as we please. Unfortunately that's hard to do from the photographs, particularly with the odd lighting.

I have to disagree with John about Fischl's painting. He has a pretty good bag of tricks (that's a compliment, coming from me; painting is "all about" devices of some sort) but I find his rendering full of faults which are not retionalized by the actual pictures. Also, as is so often the case, the sketches criticise the paintings.


Chris Rywalt

November 24, 2008, 10:54 AM

I'm always interested in seeing originals and I always try to see them fresh, without any preconceptions, if I can. But Fischl's work in reproduction doesn't excite me: It all seems too messy, as if he considered being an academic painter but then got lazy. (Which I understand, believe me.) His work seems to be full of what I'll call errors -- mistakes in perspective, color, proportion, and so on. Not enough to appear intentional to me; just enough to look like actual mistakes. Also, in at least one article I saw the "digital composite" from which he worked, and from the looks of it, he copied it pretty slavishly. I think that photographic base shows through the final work. And finally his paintings exude, it seems to me, that ironic distancing common to figurative work after Pop. (Whereas a painter like Hopper, also technically not as accomplished as he could be, entirely lacked irony.)

Of course, a lot of these criticisms are similar to those you could make about, say, Rousseau, based on JPEGs (or, gasp, books). But a number of Rousseau's paintings are, to me, so absolutely great in person, and there's no inkling in the reproductions.

So there's hope for Fischl -- in person his work could be fantastic. I just don't know.

As to that painting, Ahab, being a source for the sculpture, I'm not so sure I see the parallel. Tumbling Woman is very dynamic, not posed the way the model in the painting is. I've seen models pull that pose. But I suppose they could be connected.



November 24, 2008, 1:04 PM

When I saw the Hopper show in Boston last year I was really impressed with the skill he had using the brush and mixing on canvas. I have always liked Hopper a lot but thought the surfaces were a little cruddy and that impression changed completely on the evidence of that show. I don't feel crudeness any more. Now I simply see another way to render. (this might be an example of "prejudice", or bias toward a limited concept of what comprises "good painting")



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