Thursday, 26 June 2014

JEFF KOONS at The Whitney, & Rockefeller Center, NY.

One of the most famous & popular living artists today, last year, JEFF KOONS also became the most expensivwhen his orange Balloon Dog sculpture sold for $58.4 million at auction. 
Tomorrow his major 35 year retrospective opens at NY's Whitney. Taking over 5 floors, (more space than the museum ever devoted to any single artist, including Rothko, Hopper or Georgia O’Keeffe,) it's the final show before the Museum moves down to its new building in Chelsea. Also this week his large scale public sculpture with real flowers, Split-Rocker, is unveiled at the Rockefeller Center. 

Making art out of kitsch & ready mades since the 1980s, Koons has been slammed by some critics, praised by others. Now Popeye, a Gorilla, Hulk Elvis, the Pink Panther & other toys (luckily he has 6 kids) join his early radical vacuum cleaners & footballs in glass vitrines.    

The overall effect is seductive, shiny & big. Koons loves glitter; loves colour. He also loves giant-size kittens & big bows, and all that sentimental stuff so appealing to the public.  "He's making rich people buy this shit" was one comment at the crowded opening.  And true enough on the second floor we find  Banality, a series of man-sized kitsch figurines unveiled in 1988 which made Koons the neo-Pop god that he is today. Memorable in its ormulo gold is Michael Jackson & Bubbles, 6 feet of porcelain. 
Koons is a Chicago graduate. Arriving in NY in 1976, he got a lowly job at MoMA, There is saw  Duchamp.  Skint, he began making art out of cheap inflatable toys. The rest is history!

I first saw Koons in action at the 1990 Venice Biennale. A master of publicity, this soft spoken, clean-cut guy with the choir-boy face had attached himself to La Cicciolina,  the controversial soft porn star (& MP - only in Italy!)  Making art as well as wopee, his Venice Aperto pieces depicted them having it off in various poses. Looking at the images on show at the Whitney one sees how young he was. Now 59, older, wiser & richer, his recent work is larger, more shiny but based on ancient Greek & Roman antiquity. 
He may now use advanced CT scans & digital imaging, yet Metallic Venus is just as shiny as it walks a fine line between low & high art, original & copy, traditional & modern.  Above all he celebrates excessive commercialization; merchandising at its peak. 
 Koons at the Whitney
Going chronologically from ground up, each gallery is devoted to one theme or subject: 13 in total: Luxury, Made in Heaven, Easyfun, Ethereal, Celebration etc. All simple concepts and greeting card words. He says there is no hidden meaning in his work.  

Totaling 150 works, (he has 100 assistants) they range from 1979 Inflatable Flowers & painstaking super-realist oils of food  to minimalist mirrors like a red  Kangeroo 1999 created after his disaster with the soft porn Made in Heaven pictures and sculptures. 

He married La Cicciolina in 1991. It ended badly when she abducted his son. The Easyfun mirrors were a reaction to these problems, and are his only later move away from his beloved over the top baroque style. 
Amid all the fancy frolics, these crisp, cool animal faces stand out, as do the early 1980 pristine neon & vacuum cleaners in their antiseptic chambers. "Won't guess what kritics are gonna say. But lines will be around the block every day. Krazy art world," comments Phyllis Tuchman Until 19 October. 

To coincide with this, Koon's weird 37ft high outsize flowering sculpture, Split Rocker, (a giant toy horse adorned with 50,000 plants) is at the Rockefeller Center while Sothebys, who have recently gone retail, show a $8m orange Elephant. 

The Koons artworks in the Whitney retrospective are worth a cumulative $504m!

Friday, 13 June 2014

WHISTLER in DC & HUDSON. Kiki Smith & Co in Hudson. The FRICK in NYC. GSA, Will Maw & Ashley Cook in Glasgow. 

I did my dissertation on Whistler many years ago. A first love. I have not seen the current major show: An American in London: Whistler & the Thames, in DC, but as my good friend Margaret MacDonald of Glasgow Uni, had a hand in it, it's bound to be good. 
Whistler was 25 when he settled in Victorian London in 1859, depicting the docks, bridges, workers, sailers, clippers, of the greatest port in Europe in all its detailed bustling activity. He lived within sight of the river & over time, captured its many moods. In the 1870s his style became atmospheric, almost abstract. These famous impressionistic "Nocturnes" are among the 80 paintings, etchings, lithos & drypoints which make up this lovely show which focuses solely on the Thames. 
For those not in the US, Glasgow's Hunterian Museum has arguably the world's 2nd best Whistler collection - which also has great portraits. 
It's these portraits, with their subtle, sombre tones & arrangements in grey & black, that have influenced Aline Smithson's striking photo portraits of her 85 year old mother in profile, titled Arrangement in Green & Black
"The idea sparked when I came across a small print of Arrangement in Gray & Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother by Whistler at a garage sale. The composition made me ponder the possibilities of using it in a photographic series. Within an hour, at two other yard sales, I happened upon a leopard coat hat, a cat painting & a chair similar to the one in Whistler's painting. A sign to proceed."
Taken with a Hasselblad, the photographs incorporate traditional photography techniques on hand painted silver gelatin prints. "My patient mother posed for 20 shots before she died. This series allowed us to be together. My mother brought her formal side to the portraits -she was very proper, but at home had a wicked sense of humou& fun. These portraits reflect her dignified self, but also show she was gameThe series encapsulated everything I love - searching for props in flea markets, setting up the backgrounds & styling. The whole series was a total joy."
Like Whistler, Smithson is  influenced by the Japanese concept of celebrating a singular object."I tend to isolate subject matter & look for complexity in simple images.
See these great pix on the poignancy of ageing at Davis Orton Gallery Hudson, NY.  

Hudson has a big advantage for such a small place. It's only 2 hrs from NYC and lots of artists live here abouts. 
Locals, the famous Kiki Smith, & Valerie Hammond, plus Kiki's sister Seton Smith have a superb 3 person show at Historic Hudson's 1812 Plumb- Bronson House. Beautifully installed by the artists themselves, the work both benefits from the amazing architectural spaces & derelict walls, and enlivens the house itself. 
Valerie Hammond

Kiki's large scale drawings of girls - often in pairs - are strangely arresting, and perfectly at home here. Seton's semi-abstract photos of architectural motifs could have been made specially for the house, (they are not!) while Valerie's miniature dresses and spooky hands echo the Victorian setting. 
Kiki Smith installation


Quite the most successful installation I have seen in years. 

The elegant Federal-style Bronson House, a National Historic Landmark in need of huge restoration & fundamental repairs, was built in 1812 for a wealthy Hudson merchant who established a tow-boat business on the Hudson River. The house was extended in 1839 & 49, including a spectacular 3-storey elliptical staircase. "The House captures a seminal decade in the development of the Hudson Valley Picturesque, which, during the 1840s & 50s, became the dominant national style.   Abandoned & neglected, it was almost demolished. Now $100,000 matching money is needed to leverage $300,000 in grants.

These 3 artists have contributed a great deal by their show. My only objection is the title - "3 Women Artists". For heavens sake!  I look forward to the next show:  "Three Men Artists"   Hope they make as good a job.

IN NYC the famous FRICK is making waves with a proposal to expand via a new 6 story wing. Expansion is all the rage in the US but maybe not a great idea here. The Frick is a joy because of its relatively small, intimate, town house mansion original setting & garden. True, it's exhibition spaces are not ideal, but SIX stories seems excessive. The recent Vermeer Girl with a Pearl Earring did of course cause queues along 5th Ave & 70th St, but that's a one-off.
The current enigmatic beauty, Parmigianino's Turkish Slave, (on loan from Parma) is not such a draw. Yet this small show in which she is surrounded by handsome Renaissance men, 2 painted by Titian, another by Bronzino, emphasizes what show-stoppers are in the Frick's own collection. 
Little is known about the lady, except that she is not Turkish & not a slave! Curator Aimee Ng, herself a beauty, hopes the exhibition will throw some light. "I think she's a poet!" There are no Parmigianino portraits in American museums so this is a rare chance.
Back in Glasgow, GSA students affected by the horrendous fire, show a single piece of digital work in the McLellan Galleries. 

Single handed, artist ASHLEY COOK does a great job curating, organising & promoting Scottish printmakers.  She curates Glasgow's The Brunswick Brutti Ma Buoni plus Gandolfi.     in  Glasgow. 
Recent prints there by Will MAWtitled "Half Life"  refer to nuclear physics plus our ever changing global situation. 
 Radio Brazil by Will Maw RWA
Royal College graduate, with long term connections to Glasgow, Maw has been busy completing two high-profile commissions: a suite of ten prints for Standard Life Investment’s London offices at The Gherkin was completed in April 2013 and a two-year project comprising of a suite of 21 prints and a portfolio edition for Coutts Bank was completed in July of the same year.  The large-scale ‘Departures’ works were made and exhibited at the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) in Bristol prior to Maw’s appointment as an Academician in 2013.
 by Ashley Cook 
Ashley's own always enticing, colourful prints are at The Brunswick Brutti Ma Buoni. She is also exhibiting in Barcelona at Sala Ramona Carrer Amistad. Busy girl!