Pollock Guggenheim Mural

We're discussing the mural Jackson Pollock did for Peggy Guggenheim's home at Paddy Johnson's. An anonymous commenter from Iowa (where the painting now resides) is trash-talking certain aspects of its legend based on opinions of nameless experts. All very interesting but we're waiting for some actual evidence.

Richard Prince at the Guggenheim

Notes on the Richard Prince's mid-career retrospective at the Guggenheim (his second--the first was at the Whitney in '92).

1. The signature early photos rephotographed from advertisements grab you with their icy coldness and near-claustrophobic perfection of composition/cropping. They are slightly eerie in their grainy, one-step-removed distance from their subjects, and obsessive in their focus on the banal: labels/logos, product photography (furniture, jewelry), male and female models (looking in the same direction).

2. The show gets worse as you move up the Guggenheim ramp. The photos, joke paintings, and car hood sculptures all get larger, messier, overworked, "painterly" for no particular reason, climaxing with the execrable "nurse paintings" and the even more execrable "De Kooning Women" paintings. Copying the "modern masters" is the kiss of death.

3. The exhibition curator mixes old and new work in apparent attempt to obscure this decline. The rephotographed "girlfriend photos" of biker babes mingle with the boring, Eggleston-lite upstate NY photos of the late '90s. The so-so car hoods are interspersed with the monochrome joke paintings as if to say "See, viewers? Both are minimal. Can you say minimal?" The "gangs" series of photomontages of '86-'87 (groups of related images such as battlefield photos, tidal waves, hair bands, more biker girls) is broken apart and spread evenly throughout the show.

4. Prince's content shifts with the winds of the market. After the Neo Geo era of the mid '80s he switched from photo-appropriation to "hard edged painting" (the joke monochromes). When the art world began embracing large scale photos in the late '90s (Gursky, Tillmans, Billingham), Prince returned to Marlboro cowboys, but larger, and began showing celebrity headshots and memorabilia. When the painting madness returned with the influx of Bush tax cut millionaire funny money, Prince went back to big paintings (cancelled checks, nurses). Of course he worked in multiple media all along, but these are the broad trends.

5. The early work is incisive and perceptive and earned him his "place in history." Too bad about the rest of it--at least it wasn't as horrific as late Johns.

"Paradise/Paradox" exhibition

Castle Gallery, The College of New Rochelle, Curated by Susan M. Canning

by Tom Moody

(Originally published in Sculpture, March 2004)

Middlebrook Bilbao

Jason Middlebrook, Guggenheim Bilbao, Part II (2002, wood, paint, polystyrene, 34.25 x 52 x 39 in.)

This sprawling, contentious exhibit, curated by Susan M. Canning, might best be described in terms of dueling aphorisms: “If you build it they will come” versus “Be careful what you wish for or you might get it.” The subject is utopia -- on the drawing boards, as built, and in actual practice. The show’s two-dimensional work includes plans, diagrams, flow charts, and working sketches, often detailing fanciful, quasi-alchemical schemes. Freestanding sculptures and tabletop models feature designs that inspire as well as those doomed to ignominious failure. Photos, videos, and installation pieces document collective enterprises -- from small communes to big cities -- where lofty dreams become unruly “facts on the ground.”

Much of the painting and drawing has an air of world-building or cataloguing, an impulse shared by 16th Century mages, 19th Century taxonomists, and 21st Century obsessives. Matt Mullican presents a kind of visual dictionary of forms, including crystals, silhouettes of bones, great monuments, classic statuary, and a veritable Noah’s Ark of animal species. Jesse Bransford’s multi-layered drawing (B.O.C.) Stairway to the Stars, 2000, expands the lexicon with a star map, a Gothic façade, and pictures of medieval demons. A lovingly drawn profile of a Federation starship from the Star Trek TV series gives Bransford's pastiche an edge of the “otaku” (fanatic collector) sensibility, while renderings of the Heaven’s Gate keyhole logo and an extraterrestrial “gray” wearing an astrological pendant represent the just plain fanatic.

The three-dimensional work in the show is a curious mix of the hopeful, the cautionary, and the misguided. Recalling a 1950s model kit for high school biology students, Michael Joo’s Small Vitrine, 2000, presents a seated Buddha in clear cast plastic, with plastic bones and internal organs completely revealed. Conspicuously absent is the Holy One’s head, perhaps reflecting the ancient Zen wisdom that it’s the body part that gets us into the most trouble. And as if to prove Joo’s point, Colin Keefe shows us an overdetermined idea of Heaven, 2001, a seven-foot-tall model of a gyroscope-shaped space colony, which perpetuates, out among the stars, many of the foibles of 20th Century urban planning. On the inner surfaces of this partial Dyson sphere, living space in the form of hundreds of densely clustered high-rise buildings is segregated on two of the rings while the third is empty greenbelt. Another work of Keefe’s, a drawing on a nearby wall, shows a series of barricaded enclaves separating city-dwellers from what appears to be unoccupied land. Yet if it’s truly empty, why have the barricades? Finally, Jason Middlebrook mocks present-day notions of Heaven on earth with an entropic, post-apocalyptic re-envisioning of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao design. The artist gets revenge on a pretentious architect by imagining the building partially collapsed, surrounded by weeds and rubble, and festooned with graffiti.

A recurring theme of the show is how the totalizing impulse shades over into the totalitarian. In Justine Kurland’s photo of the residents of Zendik Farm, an actual commune in upstate New York, several dozen happy, centered-looking people pose for a group portrait, but in Lenore Malen’s installation The New Society for Universal Harmony, 2002, which elaborately documents a fictional therapy center (also upstate), visitors are hooked to weird electrical meters and elaborately profiled, uncomfortably reminding us of a religion founded by a certain best-selling science fiction writer who shall remain nameless. Fred Tomaselli’s Utopia Mountains, 1998, a kind of psychedelic topographical map, imagines a host of famous communes all located within a few miles of each other. Tellingly, the list includes, in addition to Shakers, Perfectionists, and Harmonists, less noble enterprises such as the Manson Family and that famous colony of one, the “Kaczynski Cabin.”

michael manning at bill brady


Am not going to make it to Kansas City to see this show at Bill Brady's gallery but this intrigues, as a way to present digital painting and collage. Instead of the usual chin-scratching circuit around the perimeter of the gallery, moving from one expression to the next and saying, "I see," the viewer inscribes a much tighter circle, gawking "into" this tangle of overlapping (literally and figuratively) ideas. Not to say this hasn't been done -- think Maurizio Cattelan at the Guggenheim -- but it seems like a good way to answer the naysayers who think this is just commodified abstract painting as usual. A cynic might say this is commodified media art as usual but that's why we need to be in Kansas City, looking at the individual objects in this cluster. I know (a) it's a combination of canvas, video, painting, 3D graphics, media quotation and photoshoppery, and (b) it's probably smarter than any attempt to reduce it to a discussion about medium, or post-medium, based on seeing Manning's shows in NY recently. The artist's site gives some additional insight into what might be on those screens and surfaces.

Update: The gallery has some additional installation shots up.

59 people liked this


The first three "likes" are art writer/curator types of the "net art" persuasion -- can't tell from the screenshot (hat tip wigs) who else finds this funny or profound, only that there are 56 of them (is there an expectation of privacy here? Sorry!). Anyway, this is what cult of personality looks like, Facebook style. You can say something meaningless (except that it lets everyone know you think you're an artist) and have it instantly validated.

I am a male artist as much as I am a mail artist.
[Smedley Q. Moma, Earl Whitney, The Late Peggy Guggenheim and 56 others like this.]