Saturday, December 27, 2014

BIG EYES 12/27/14

A short synopsis of what I thought of BIG EYES - Tim Burton's new film about Walter Keane and the paintings that made him the Thomas Kincade of his generation.

This is a strange movie - mixture of parody and feminism with an over the top Christoph Waltz whose performance as Walter Keane annoyed me to no end. As the movie trotted along I began to change my view, and thought that perhaps this was a quizzical and circuitous characterization of a wily, conniving huckster complete with Chaplin-esque rubbery movement. In Waltz's gestural extremes I detected Tim Burton's direction.

The movie portrays the role of women in the 1950's and '60's and how badly they were treated by men who use economic power to control them - particularly the single/divorced woman with a child - the stay-at-home wife, and the women in the workplace - many sacrificing and erasing their own identities for monetary survival. Amy Adams with her blonde wig-like hairdo - the 1950's Doris Day look - conveyed a mixture of goodness and innocence wrestling with betrayal and fraud.

Cliches abound - the artist, the "creative"process, the romantic reasons for making art, the market manipulations - all stereotyped and feeding into a superficial fairy tale view of artists. The audience for the paintings were as flat and dead as those strange repetitive paintings oozing sentimentality and nostalgia (with a few tears thrown in) reflected in those oversized black holes for eyes. AND to give the film a legitimacy and documentary feel, Andy Warhol and John Canaday were thrown into the mix.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Walking into the Egon Schiele (1890-1918) exhibition at the Neue Galerie, curated by Dr. Alessandra Comini brought me back to the past, when I was an art student drawing all day from the figure, carrying a really tattered Schiele book somewhere on my person - a source of inspiration.  I was intense, learning to see anew and drawing was the key to self awareness and into an odyssey of immutable possibilities that I knew instinctively would transport me into a future, embracing beauty, theoretical concepts, and struggle. I could do this for the rest of my life.

That feeling returned as soon as I stepped off the Neue Galerie’s elevator, but now, many years later, I saw the range of Egon Schiele’s oeuvre - a range that was revelatory - that I did not know existed. To speak of early Schiele’s, mid-career Schiele’s and late Schiele’s is compacting a young man’s passage of time; a young man who died from influenza when he was only 28 years old - but his art, from the early delicately realistic studies which penetrated the psyche of his subjects with a maturity that belied a 16 year old to the late works which were more stylized and experimental - color and forms break up, spidery lines invading the face, shapes splitting apart, finished and unfinished fields of paint abutting one another. 

The horror of being unjustly incarcerated - a traumatic incident  in 1912 - had a momentous impact on Egon Schiele. In 1963, Dr. Comini visited and took photographs of the prison where he was locked up for 24 days - a crucially essential component in understanding his prospective artwork. We access a small room - the area of confinement, where we are privy to documents such as arrest records, photographs of his cell, and Schiele’s beautifully descriptive drawings of the space - drawing becomes a cloak of sanity vital in order to endure this harrowing experience.

The exhibition is divided into other rooms that focus on periods of his life i.e. Family and Academy; Fellow Artists; Sitters and Patrons; Lovers; Eros; Self-Portraits and Allegorical Self-Portraits. In all of them HANDS become a vehicle of expression. I noticed a large photograph of Egon Schiele on the Museum’s stairway - his long, thin, delicate fingers splayed apart a gesture of exquisite communication both fervent and impassioned. In many of his portraits we see elongated hands as if Schiele had grafted an indispensable part of his own limb onto his subjects, literally melding into them.

The Eros room displays drawings, some delineated with gouache, pencil and watercolor - the dominant color red blaring as opposed to many of the later, darker mysterious paintings where the palette is denser and more subdued - light is inhibited from penetrating.  Vaginas peek out unrestrained like butterflies inviting your gaze. They are vibrant and so are the women in the drawings - women in embrace, other’s on their knees; in-your-face seductive portraits -  a counterpoint to Schiele’s “masturbation” drawings which convey pain, pleasure and guilt - arms without the ever present hands cut off - severed….

This exhibition is relentlessly contemporary, as well as being a reflection of Viennese society in the beginning of the 20th century. Portraits are both fragile and obdurate; often images are outlined in black - the body imprisoned - the encasing shell hard against the pliable intimacy of the visceral self. Heads with elongated arms and hair wildly breaking up space; diagonals creating a stretching tension; unpainted areas - the white of the canvas/paper background encroaching on the figure but never overwhelming it. A synthesis of the contradictory Apollonian and Dionysian balance and disproportion, Egon Schiele’s “presence” is always present.

“Egon Schiele: Portraits” runs through Jan. 19 at the Neue Galerie, 1048 Fifth Avenue, at 86th Street; 212-628-6200,

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


 I decided to go to MOMA to see the Matisse show and then wandered over to what I consider one of the most beautiful and poetic exhibitions of the year - not Matisse - but Robert Gober's gut wrenching paintings, objects and installations entitled THE HEART IS NOT A METAPHOR. His works transported me to tears, as I contemplated the tensile fragility of an artist who juxtaposes everyday objects into worlds of extreme delicacy and frailty – chronicling personal history tied to memory and a narrative of pain and injustice, so lovingly crafted that I could feel his touch on everything that I saw. Distance is bridged and we are confronted with an acute sensitivity, evident in the caress of his brushwork in an early painting that we first encounter upon entering the exhibition, when he was still a young man. Robert Gober is an artist whose work reveals his innermost self; his being is nakedly divulged and that rare authenticity is what so moves us.

Matisse made me smile; I really enjoyed watching a short film of the great man cutting shapes out of paper - a certain vocabulary of forms kept repeating over and over - with VERY large scissors. For ten years I did cutouts - totally different of course, with none of Henri Matisse's lightness of being but using small scissors and razor blades, so I was fascinated watching the “master” at work.  He constructs a world in his apartment that is sunny and bright  - colorful contours floating on the walls, doors, cutout remnants piled up on the floor; having been pared down to their essence – flat and simplified with the external beauty of gorgeous design and dare I say celebrating the "bourgeois" spirit. I also giggled to myself watching his assistant, a lovely young woman with bright red lipstick dressed in a gown, in high heels helping the elderly artist cut and snip away - delicately holding the paper for him - her fingers long and thin a replica of the slivers of paper curling onto the floor. Many of the pieces seen in the movie were on the walls of the Museum – a rich trove of Matisse’s work – including models for major commissions, studies, etc. I was also intrigued that some of his commissions were from collectors living in California often arranged by his son Pierre – a valuable ally.

I felt fortunate to see two artists – Matisse who died in 1954, and Robert Gober who was born that same year - exhibiting together at the Museum of Modern Art; one disbursing the cloudless luminosity of daylight, and the other the tender mysteries of the night complete with stars and the infinite range of human experience.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


In Brooklyn on a rainy night, my feet sloshing along the sidewalks, a newly bought hat with a large brim acting as a visor so that I could see through my fogged up glasses, walking in a city unused to quiet and quite beautiful with the reflecting lights breaking the silence - I visited Soapbox Gallery to see a “pop-up” exhibition of ARTIST IN THE WORLD - NEVER ENDING ART TRIP.  Andre Smits the itinerant, international artist who photographs artists in their studios ONLY from the back - so that the working space becomes  the key focus. Yet we all know that you can turn artists on their sides, upside down, even inside out - and the places they work will reflect something about who they are and their particular and often eccentric choices and tastes. 

I am a voyeur (of sorts) - I love blinking/spying on other people’s worlds, finding individuals surprisingly intriguing - once I get past my own personal prejudices  - which either dissolve or are modified - once I get to know more about a person through any channel - and viewing their work site is one of them. I feel many other people share this curiosity and that is what makes Andre Smits photographs seductively irresistible. He is photographing the “laboratory” where experimentation, dreams, disappointments, intense struggle and passionate creation occurs.

Andre Smits also “maps” a visual diary of his sojourns - in this case 2014 NYC and its environs, but he has traveled to China, Germany, Belgium, Russia, etc. leaving his home base in the Netherlands to restlessly explore outside his own country. Large black and white wall drawings, “home tattoos” taken from sources derived from doodles on snippets of papers which he always  carries with him - ball point pen in hand - making the connections between artists that he has visited each day of the year. The form the wall paintings take vary - sometimes he depicts  images of some of the works he has encountered, but they are always contained within the staccato outline of the tubular networks meandering like cellular technology snaking along the wall with the names of the artists illustrated  - those that he photographed during this particular period - forming patterns that are visually oscillating. We sense the passing of time in the wall pieces beginning with the administrative aspect to Smits’ process - phone calls, setting up meetings, traveling to and from the sites giving us a sense of time made palpable.

In the exhibition at Soapbox Gallery, Andre Smits invited Elise Tak  to collaborate with him; Elise who included her startlingly graphic and diverse portraits of “fictional actors” who have undeniable presence. She creates her own universe of fabricated imaginary actors, complete with screenplays, plots and posters “…visionary film stills and posters present the audience with chimerical scenes from non-existing films…”  The juxtaposition of her “constructed,” imaginary figures  floating among the outlined names of “actual artists” made me think about the ephemeral nature of art and how our ties to one another through the future and the past have a delicate beauty that is fragile and transient.

Monday, December 1, 2014


Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary NATIONAL GALLERY runs three hours; three hours of dissecting and analyzing the workings of one of the world’s great Museums - the National Gallery in London England. Probing paintings’ meaning and content; structure and design; the decisions involved in the way venerated and treasured  works of art are preserved, restored, cleaned, lit and hung.  We also are privy to the voices of the docents, curators, and staff talking about specific artworks connecting their audiences to the aesthetics, beauty, history, and science of conservation; the various pathways a painting takes from its original creation; its entry into various collections, and finally to its safe-keeping for posterity in the National Gallery Museum. We even listen to Nicholas Penny, the rumpled-haired Museum Director in a lecture taking a stab at Poussin - admitting that he is not sure if he likes the work, but is always intrigued by it. 

Questions of elitism and exclusivity vs.accessibility and egalitarianism in light of budgetary considerations are discussed at meetings; there are lots of meetings. The film might have edited out some of the discussions - but I felt that the prosaic, the boring, the everyday-ness was worth observing. The running of a museum is not always glamourous. The decisions that establishments have to make in order to grip the public’s interest - what lengths do they go to attract visitors, and at what price to their institution? 

Wiseman just lets his camera roll; he never uses “voice overs”. His working method and vitality at age 84 is unchanged - not intrusive - the filmmaker is always invisible - interviews are conducted by others. Frederick Wiseman lets us be the proverbial “fly on the wall” in a space that ordinarily would be bug-proof.

I loved watching one of the restorers discussing the cleaning  of Velasquez’ Christ in The House of Martha and Mary and passionately ponder the dilemma -  do we over-strip the varnish used 100’s of years ago and thereby brighten and change the artists’ original intent? Ethical problems and compromises come into question. An in-house construction of a triptychs’ impressive frame delicately carved by the crafts-men and women associated with the Museum, and the lighting of the finished piece held me spellbound, as did the issue of a cast shadow obscuring the top 1/4 of the painting once the work was installed. We also pay heed to restorers scraping away tiny slivers of paint with scalpels, Q-tips, eye-droppers, etc. and then put the minuscule paint shavings on a slide tray to be placed under a microscope to be scrutinized - to be thoroughly examined yielding a plethora of information; new scientific techniques today make this kind of investigation possible. We mark the fragility of time’s passing on art realizing that there are effects that you have to live with, and guard against, but ultimately methodical and deductive technical intervention will be called upon to “save” the work from aging and deterioration.

The camera also takes us outside the Museum with aerial views of Trafalgar Square lit by the  grays of daylight to the shimmering of the early darkness -focusing on the diverse community waiting patiently in the cold to to see the Da Vinci exhibition "Painter at the Court of Milan” (2012.) We are never far away from the human response to art - the intensity of the onlooker’s gaze, the curiosity, confusion, delight, horror and interior peace that art can inculcate.

 Other blockbusters such as “Turner Inspired by the light of Claude” and "Metamorphosis: Titian 2012” are exhibitions that we are fortunate to attend and hear curators/docents of varying sizes, ages and accents advocating for art’s fascination and magnetism;  confronting us  with their disparate styles - some humorous, others psychoanalytical - all informative.  Each artwork has a presence with an individual history and personal narrative imprinted on its essence - like life itself this movie is thrilling, enigmatic, complex and a singular jewel.