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Chelsea Ramble

The Bigger They Art

By: Charles Giuliano - 01/01/2014

 

During a recent visit to London’s Tate Modern there was an enormous exhibition Paul Klee: Making Visible entailing a glut of intimately scaled images by the German artist through March 9, 2014.

It was both a once in a lifetime but less than ideal circumstance to interact with Klee (1879–1940) the most intimate, diverse, and inventive of the Bauhaus artists. Although there were distinctly identifiable themes in the oeuvre it is mostly notable for rarely repeating itself. Each individual piece is an unique challenge in a modest but evocative manner.

The norm is to encounter a few works by Klee in the permanent collection of a museum. To be presented with such an avalanche of images induces a nausea of visual gout. It is just more than one can consume in a single gulp.

Particularly when fending off a mob of visitors. It is an impossible way to  encounter the absurdist,  enigmatic master.

It makes me reflect on the luxury, some years ago, of being all alone with a crew from BBC filming comments on a Monet exhibition at the MFA. Astrid and I enjoyed unencumbered proximity with a special exhibition which was later mobbed with visitors. What a rare pleasure to be alone with one's thoughts.

In Rome, Nora, our chain smoking and hacking guide, insisted that our group be first on line for the Sistine Chapel. We sprinted through the Vatican to have an incredible, unencumbered half hour before the tourists straggled in. It brought tears to the eyes of one of my students. We embraced in a moment I will never forget surrounded by such magnificence.

Most of us view museums and art galleries as cultural tourists. It is expensive to visit London, New York or the Louvre. There is a mandate to take in as much as we can during a concise burst of time and energy.

For Tate Modern we devoted a full Sunday including lunch. The visit ended with the closing of the museum. That moved us out to the Thames River, the Millennium Bridge, and a stand of Birch Trees that Astrid photographed. She "collects" images of birches.

We took the bridge back pausing for those wonderful views up and down river from the London Bridge at one end to Parliament and Big Ben on the other. After a nice walk we found the tube and the Piccadilly Line back to Earl’s Court.

Reflecting on that day at the Tate there is an ambivalence about the Klee experience. This first day of the New Year it has me musing on the issues of scale and critical mass as aspects of the spectacle of cultural consumerism.

There is that perennial dichotomy between the private and intimate vs. the onslaught of critical mass of material and aesthetic experiences that overwhelm us with their scale. It’s the difference between a  personal encounter with nature in a poem by Wordsworth, compared to standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon or next to Niagara Falls in the Cave of the Winds. Edmund Burke described nature as having three elements: Beautiful, Sublime and Picturesque. Babara Novak divided 19th Century American landscape painting between Grand Opera (Church, Bierstadt) or the Wee Small Voice (Heade).

Regarding the scale of things, in matters of aesthetic supremacy, does size matter?

During a blustery winter tour of Chelsea galleries, a few weeks after London, the evidence was emphatic that yes, indeed, size does matter a great deal. Typically, the vast spaces of the most “upscale” galleries were filled to the brim and bursting at the seams with super sized works. They argue that big is better.

Richard Serra
New Sculptures
Gagosian Gallery

522 West 21st Street
New York, NY 10011
T. 212.741.1717 F. 212.741.0006
newyork@gagosian.comThrough March 15, 2014

Having seen so many space gulping installations of rusted, curved and tilted corten steel sculptures by Richard Serra it is elusive to grasp what is new about New Sculptures.

But they are actually.

The industrial works intended for mega spaces this time are fabricated as elements of rectangular boxes, about a foot or so thick and just above eye level in height, standing on their edges. They are arranged in a variety of configurations including gaping V spaces in a series in one gallery and a kind of maze of free standing, steel walls we weave through in another.

We are, as usual, bludgeoned by vistas of massive works that force us to navigate through and around them.

There is absolutely nothing subtle or poetic about the experience.

I have always found the sculptures of Serra heavy handed, intimidating with their sense of danger, and oppressive.

In past installations I have looked on with a apprehension as people walk into the narrow canyons of balanced, curved and tilted steel. Perhaps the precariousness and sense of lurking danger, the fragile balance, is a source of thrills and excitement. There have been accidents with Serra's works resulting in losses of life and limb.

Roller coaster encounters with art putting one at risk, crawling in, over, around and under works, has never intrigued me.

The straight lines and dull surfaces of this new work was more enervating than usual.

Cyprien Gaillard
Today Diggers, Tomorrow Dickens
Gladstone Gallery

November 9, 2013 - January 30, 2014
New York 530 West 21st Street

Entering the large pristine space of Gladstone Gallery there is a disconnect that we have stumbled onto a construction site.

In an absurdist parody of Duchamp’s Found Object or Readymade the gallery displays a number of enormous, free standing earth moving forks of various scale.

The art derives from encountering the unexpected.

Where Duchamp extracted impact from a bottle rack, bicycle wheel mounted on a stool, or a comb the contemporary artist has to up the ante to an over the top level.

Perhaps here we insert “I feel the earth move under my feet” by Carole King.

Walking around midtown Manhattan how often do we linger at a construction site? Through a gap in the fence we stand transfixed as a huge steam shovel does its job.

If it is so fascinating in situ, Gaillard appears to argue, why not let us get up close and personal with these huge, pragmatic objects.

If these art objects are unsold they can be recycled to construction companies. If you want to add one to your collection, cut out the middle man (gallerist and artist) and order one on E Bay. It would make a nifty lawn sculpture but difficult to explain to irate neighbors.

Kaws
Mary Boone Gallery

541 West 24 Street
2 November to 21 December

Mic-key-Mo-u-se, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse.

Hey kids. All of your former Mouseketeers would have loved seeing the huge wooden sculptures by Kaws, that’s right just Kaws, at the Mary Boone Gallery.

She’s such a hip gallerist. Always showing the latest and greatest.

Well, maybe these really big, elegantly crafted sculptures are not exactly Mickey Mouse. Disney Corp. vigorously goes after anyone violating its copyrights. They were absurdly extended by that creep, the Sonny Bono law. The ex of Cher rammed copyright extensions through Congress on behalf of his pals in Hollywood and the recording industry.

So this sculpture is mousey but not enough to piss off Disney.

A former gallery artist, Damien Loeb, was indentured to Boone because she bailed him out from a copyright lawsuit over his early appropriation paintings.

In addition to the huge, funny sculptures there were a few paintings. One of them hung behind the desk of Ron Warren in the inner sanctum of the gallery. Over decades it’s been an ongoing conceptual, performance piece to see Ron seated at an ever morphing desk.

Susana Solano
A Meitat de Cami- Halfway There
Jack Shainman Gallery

513 West 20th Street
Through January 11

This first exhibition at Jack Shainman, by the Spanish artist Susana Solano, is a 26 year overview of her sculpture in a variety of materials and forms.

It is a departure from the norm of the gallery. Shainman, and his partner Claude Simard, are noted for their passion for African and African American artists and photographers.

Here we see a range of formalist, abstract sculptures. As visual non sequiturs we find ourselves probing to cough up their secrets and intentionality. Mostly, this is a confounding process that leaves us with their engaging sense of thingness in a variety of modes.

During a ramble around Chelsea we found this work to be a visual sorbet.

Ad Reinhardt
David Zwirner Gallery

537 West 20th Street
7 November to 18 December
Curated by Robert Storr

On the occasion of the centennial of the birth of Ad Reinhardt (December 24, 1913 – August 30, 1967) the David Zwirner Gallery mounted a museum level exhibition curated by Robert Storr.

While he was of the generation of New York’s abstract expressionists, and a founder of their hangout, The Artist’s Club, there was nothing expressionist about his work. That implies work fueled by angst and gut level emotions. Instead his cool headed rationalism was more a precursor of minimalism or the after images associated with the op art movement of the 1960s.

Upon initial encounter his generally large vertical canvases start as monochromes with black or earth tones. Eventually, when the eye adjusts as it would in the dark, we delight in overlapping, subtle shifts of rectangles with nuanced hues and chromatic range.

Arguably, compared to Gorky, Pollock, deKooning and Motherwell he is among the unsung heroes of post war New York School modernism. He and Barnett Newman, who shared aspects of his sensibility, belong to a subset of their era.

There was another aspect of his persona as a brilliant cartoonist and commentator on the art world and its theories. These he managed to break down and have us in stitches responding to spot on skewering of high dudgeon jargon, polemics and ego.

It is remarkable that commercial galleries have the resources to support such important projects. The motive here is far more informative and humanistic than strictly commercial. It is assumed that some of the work was for sale at impressive prices.

In this unique and provocative exhibition the work is truly priceless. The only regret is that I didn’t have the requisite hours to absorb all of the wonderful detail. There was a lot of text to read and study.

What a pity that currently there is no worthy satirist to prick the inflated hot air balloon of the art world.

Isaac Julien
Playtime
Metro Pictures

519 West 24th Street
New York NY 10011
7 November to 18 December

Time is of the essence when viewing the video works by Isaac Julien at Metro Pictures. In the art world we call them videos or installations. But the production values and expense of his works, in this case several short dramas, push into the realm of cinema.

For this project Julien  traveled to Iceland and Dubai. The two videos comment on global economy as does the third video which entails an insider revealing information on the art market and its fame games.

They were all interesting but I found the discourse with a maid in a high rise most absorbing. It is shot overlooking the staggering skyscrapers of the oil driven economic boom in Dubai. In order to support her family back home the uniformed maid has become a virtual slave to her billionaire employers. They won't let her go anywhere or do anything other than work for them. We wonder how Julien gained access to film her.

It is a familiar story of power, arrogance and inhumanity. By focusing on her poverty and entrapment in a land of such monumental wealth we consider the arrogance and abuse of mega rich oil Sheiks and their pampered families.

We wonder how video and installation artists earn a living. It is expensive to make work which we view for free in a gallery or museum. At Metro Pictures, however, stills from the productions are blown up as enormous, expensive collectables. The videos generate a market for overblown lobby cards.

Big photography is de rigeur in the current art world. The mantra is to take small ideas and blow them up huge. Big pictures bring big bucks. They've been pushing that idea since the Pyramids. Like what self respecting Pharoah would be caught dead in a little pyramid?

Hey, weren't they built by slaves?

Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains. 

 

 

Reader Comments
From "Arthur Yanoff"
01-04-2014, 10:59 am
very perceptive piece on klee ---abundance and scale. it is so true,doesn't matter how great the artist or how much you like him or her,the eye gets exhausted by too many works. scale with klee has always interested painters,curators,critics,etc. what would they be like on a large scale? for me, klee had become more important as i got older and more into a kind of abstraction. picasso liked klee a lot,called him napoleon. because most of the great modernists worked larger than klee,do you think that his small scale affects our judgment? to repeat,you wrote a wonderful review. something to grab onto.
From "Maxine Yalovitz-Blankenship"
01-03-2014, 04:09 pm
Size matters? Well, in some ways ; however, I've seen a Cezanne that was about 12" x 9" ... 'big as the world': expansion.
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