Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, AK

Another memorable place that I visited during my Christmas holidays is Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, a diaphanous shrine to American fine art. The museum, founded by Alice Walton, the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, opened on 11 November 2011 in an area that lacks any large fine art museums. First major art museum opened since 1974, the museum had $488 million in assets as of August 2008, of which over $317 million has been donated by Alice Walton. The museum first attracted public attention with Alice Walton’s purchase of the coveted Asher B. Durand landscape entitled Kindred Spirits  (Photo 4) from the New York Public Library for more than $35 million in a sealed auction in May 2005. Calming the concerns that a major American work of art will be forever disappear from the public eye, Walton revealed the extent of the ambition for the museum. I found the museum’s collection of  Colonial and 19th century work one of the best in the country covering well-known paintings such as Charles Willson Peals’s George Washington, 1780-82, Kindred Spirits, many strong Hudson River School paintings, excellent Thomas Eakins (Photo 9) paintings, including Professor Benjamin Howard Rand, 1874 and amusing oddities like Edward Dalton Marchant‘s portrait of Samuel Beals Thomas family (Photo 7).

The museum continues its ambitious acquisition program: in September 2012, the museum announced the acquisition of a major 1960 painting by Mark Rothko entitled No. 210/No. 211 (Orange). The abstract expressionist painting had been in a private Swiss collection since the 1960s and had only been shown in public twice. When I visited last month, the museum also unveiled the new acquisition of Andy Warhol, Coca-Cola (3), 1962 (Photo 21). The museum’s permanent collection Continue reading

Posted in Art review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Precious Moments: An American Sistine Chapel?

Over the Christmas break, I visited St. Louis, MO area where my boy friend is originally from. It is always a bit of a culture shock to leave the coastal enclave of cosmopolitanism (or den of atheism :)) that I am used to and visit the “heartland” of America. Here in Midwest, people at every store and restaurant are incredibly patient, pleasant and accommodating (almost making my inner New Yorker feel uncomfortable). Also refreshing is the utter avoidance of trendy diet fads (no carbs, no fat, paleo, gluten free diet, anyone?), foodie excesses (no artisanal hand-cured proscuitto made by a bearded hipster, who grew and butchered the pig himself) and stressed-out hollow-eyed women picking at salads for lunch. Instead, we see families of men dressed in matching camo hunting gears, who go out in the early morning to shoot the ducks, but refuse to eat them. (Apparently due to weird taste. See Anthony Bourdain‘s travel TV series, No Reservations, Season 10, Episode 5: Ozarks)  In this spirit of exploration of “the other,” we went to Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, MO.

Precious Moments Chapel is a theme park, run by Precious Moments, Inc., a catalog order company that sells “giftware” of figurines, but nonetheless cloaked in Christian spirits. The Chapel, designed by Samuel J. Butcher, is touted as inspired by Michelangelo‘s Sistine Chapel in Rome. It is decorated with gigantic murals with doe-eyed (or tear drop shaped, according to the promotional material) cartoon characters (Precious Moments messengers), depicting heavenly salvations and stories from the bible, and arranged indeed like classic Renaissance chapels like Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel (rather than much grander Sistine Chapel, but perhaps Giotto was too obscure for the target audience). My first impulse upon entering this kitschy yet pious sanctuary (after passing through obligatory gift shops and candy stores where you can buy many different figurines depicted in the murals) was a total dismissal and an outraged disdain at the audacity to compare itself to Sistine Chapel. It is perhaps pointless to Continue reading

Posted in Oddities | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Mike Kelley at PS1 MoMA and Isa Genzken at MoMa

This winter New York museums seem to have many interesting retrospectives of contemporary artists, and two of the best are Mike Kelley at MoMA PS1 and Isa Genzken: Retrospective at MoMA. The recent suicide of Mike Kelley (1954 -2012) was shocking to many people in the art world as he seemed to be at the apex of an art star career. The exhibition at at PS1 covers his entire career including early works from his MFA thesis shows at Cal Arts (California Institute of the Arts) in Los Angeles County (Photo 2) and gives viewers very good understanding of the oeuvre of Kelley, whose work encompasses performance, sculpture, painting, video, etc. all based on the esthetic of craft. The setting, a vast former public school turned into a contemporary art space is also perfect as Kelley was deeply concerned about the formative years spent in American public schools. What comes through clear after examining all the work spanning more than three decades is his commitment to skewer the myth of innocence and the sanctity of childhood, utopian fantasy of home, egalitarian social structure, and the dominance of masculinity in America Continue reading

Posted in Art review | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

October 2013 Gallery Round Up: Minimalism Rules

As it sometimes (or maybe often) happens in Chelsea or Lower Eastside, many galleries, either organically or not, decide to show very similar types of work at the same time. It seemed that October was a monochrome month in Chelsea. Matthew Marks showed Anne Truit‘s work from the 70s (Photo 1) and David Zwirner‘s new space on 20th Street looked good with John McCracken survey (Photos 3 & 4). In addition, there were many others: Morgan Fisher at Bortolami (Photo 2), Robert Ryman at Pace Gallery (Photo 5) and Josh Smith at Luhring Augustine Chelsea (Photo 6). Josh Smith might have shown painterly aspects of his monochrome paintings at his Chelsea show, but by the time I went into Luhring Augustine, I could not look at another monochrome/geometric abstraction. Smith’s show at Luhring Augustine Bushwick (Photo 7) provides Continue reading

Posted in Art review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chris Burden: Extreme Measures at the New Museum

The New Museum is showing LA artist Chris Burden‘s first extensive New York survey and his first major exhibition in the United States in over twenty-five years. Occupying all five floors of the Museum, “Extreme Measures” is not quite a career survey, but an important opportunity to see the arc of an epoch-defining major American artist. Interestingly enough, this exhibition is defined by what is not physically there rather than massive sculptures enacted on each floor. Burden’s career defining performance pieces from the 1970s are barely physically present at the museum unlike the re-enactment of many of Marina Ambrovic‘s work at her retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. When you enter the Museum, the ticket taker advise you to view the exhibition from top down. On the fifth floor of the Museum, there are binders filled with laminated photographs of Burden’s performances from the 1970s accompanied by type-written artist’s descriptions (There are also handful of videos). This simple presentation of the old performance pieces seemed more direct and personal than re-enacting the pieces with surrogates. Particularly wrenching was reading two seminal performances of Trans-Fixed (1974) and Shoot (1971). In Trans-Fixed (Photo 1), Burden is laid face up on a Volkswagen Beetle and has nails hammered into both of his hands while he was screaming in pain, as if he were being crucified on the car. The car was pushed out of the garage and the engine revved for two minutes before being pushed back into the garage. The idea of personal danger, central to the artist’s main concern, seemed even more palpable in this static documentation than a video presentation, particularly in Shoot, which ends so swiftly to diffuse the true sense of danger. Continue reading

Posted in Art review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Paris Galleries: Rentrée, 2013, Part III

This is my final post about the galleries in Paris, which focuses on abstract paintings and installations, which stood out for diverse and interesting use of materials (particularly Eduardo Terraza’ show at Almine Rech Gallery, Photos 7-8). I am always grateful that I am an artist and interested in seeing as much art in any place that I travel as I get to search many different neighborhood in different cities, which always turns out to be an adventure. Exploring galleries in Paris is particularly engaging and exacerbating endeavor. On the one hand, most galleries in Paris are in a vibrant and commercial neighborhood in 3rd and 4th Arrondisement, where one can enjoy not only some great art but also some serious window shopping. In addition, there are so may pleasant places to take a break for a cup of coffee or a drink on an outdoor cafe and watch the beautiful people go by. (I particularly recommend Café Suédois inside the court yard of Institut suédois for the most serene repose and good desert.) On the other hand, it is almost impossible to find a well organized gallery guides with a reliable map and exhibition information online as most Paris art information online is dedicated for more “touristic” art galleries than contemporary art. Once you get to Paris, there is one gallery guide that can be found in many blue chip galleries with all the pertinent information (address, exhibiting artist, opening date, etc) called Galerie mode d’emploi, which is online, but in a particularly French twist, never comes up in a Google search, and has an impossibly long and peculiar web address. So I always end up just going to Yvon Lambert (very convenient location on 108, rue Vieille du Temple, 75003, Paris) and Continue reading

Posted in Art review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paris Galleries: Rentrée, 2013, Part II

This is Part II of my Paris gallery report with the focus of installation art. Aside from Lee Bul‘s show at Galerie Thaddeus Ropac and a fun group show of functional art at Galerie Hussenot, most of the installation shows at Paris were what I call a “floor” art show, where some ready-mades (raw canvas, empty frames, etc.) are either laid flat on the floor or leaned against the wall with the ostensible purpose of examining the legacy of Minimalism and Duchamp with a renewed emphasis on the exploration of materials. These strategies was already becoming stale in the 1970s, but there are still many artists with conceptual bent insisting on mounting these colorless and joyless exhibitions. I am not opposed to all Post-minimalist work; I thought that French artist, Eric Baudart‘s show Continue reading

Posted in Art review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paris Galleries: Rentrée, 2013, Part I

During my stay in Paris in late September, I spent a couple of days walking around the old Jewish neighborhood known as Marais, now home to many pricey boutiques and most of blue chip and emerging contemporary galleries in Paris. This stroll reinforced the idea that the contemporary art business is truly global as I saw the same artists’ shows in big international galleries in Paris that I see in New York. At the same time, I saw the works of many French and European artists that I have never seen before. Overall there was a strong emphasis on material exploration in both abstract paintings and installations with the continued interests in Minimalism, but there were some strong figurative and realistic works. This post will focus on figurative paintings and installations that I found interesting in Paris.

Starting with a big name in Paris, in Galerie Perrotin, two Chinese artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu filled two rooms with hyper realistic and surreal figures, using human fat, rubbish or live animals and parodying power relationships (both domestic and international). Their work is reminiscent of Ron Mueck or Maurizio Cattelan with a dark humor (Photos 1 & 2). Berlin artist Michael Sailstorfer also uses sardonic irony Continue reading

Posted in Art review | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Masculin / Masculin: The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day at Musée D’Orsay, Paris

I went to Paris in late September and had a marvelous time seeing many interesting shows in galleries and museums as well as hanging out with friends and enjoying wonderful food. This is the first of some blog posts dedicated to the exhibitions that I have seen in Paris.

I was excited to see Masculin/Masculin: L’homme nu dans l’art de 1800 à nos jours at Musée D’Orsay. Unlike the female nude, prevalent in all periods of art history and presented often in major museum, the exhibition focused on the male nude has never been presented in a major institution until the show at the Leopold Museum in Vienna in 2012 (Nackte Männer). Based on this initial show, Musée D’Orsay mounted Masculin/Masculin, drawing from its own vast collection and other French public collections, exploring all aspects of the male nude in art through two centuries down to the present day (and in many different media, including painting, drawing, sculpture and video). The curators divide the exhibition thematically rather than chronologically, bringing interesting dialog across the history in some cases (Photo 1), Continue reading

Posted in Art review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fall Art Season Begins: Socrates Sculpture Park and Lower East Side

The art season began in earnest last Sunday with an opening at the Socrates Sculpture Park’s annual Emerging Artist Fellowship Exhibition and a block party on Orchard Street and many coordinated openings at many of the Lower East Side (LES) galleries. EAF13 at the sculpture park did not lack a certain controversy caused by a provocative but playful sculpture made by Thordis Adalsteinsdottir (photo 7). Daily News posted a blurred image of the sculpture in an article titled, “Bear bites – and possibly arouses – naked man in Queens sculpture.” Be sure to read the commentary section of the article for some much needed hilarity. Continue reading

Posted in Art review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment