The Whitney To Present “Making Knowing: Craft In Art, 1950–2019,” Highlighting Rarely Seen Artworks From The Museum’s Collection

On November 22, the Whitney Museum of American Art opens Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019, an exhibition that foregrounds how visual artists have explored the materials, methods, and strategies of craft. Beginning in the 1950s—at a time when many artists embraced fiber arts and ceramics to challenge the dominance of traditional painting and sculpture—Making Knowing moves through the next seven decades, presenting works that speak to artists’ interests in domesticity, hobbyist materials, the decorative, vernacular American traditions, “women’s work,” and feminist and queer aesthetics.

Drawn primarily from the Whitney’s collection, the exhibition features over eighty artworks in a variety of media, including textiles, ceramics, painting, drawing, photography, video, and large-scale sculptural installation. The more than sixty artists represented include Anni Albers, Richard Artschwager, Ruth Asawa, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Robert Gober, Shan Goshorn, Harmony Hammond, Eva Hesse, Sheila Hicks, Mike Kelley, Yayoi Kusama, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, Simone Leigh, Robert Morris, Claes Oldenburg, Pepón Osorio, Howardena Pindell, Ken Price, Robert Rauschenberg, Faith Ringgold, Miriam Schapiro, Arlene Shechet, Kiki Smith, Lenore Tawney, Peter Voulkos, Marie Watt, and Betty Woodman.

Liza Lou (b. 1969), Kitchen, 1991–96. Beads, plaster, wood and found objects, 96 × 132 × 168 in. (243.8 × 335.3 × 426.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Peter Norton 2008.339a-x. © Liza Lou. Photograph by Tom Powel, courtesy the artist

One of the greatest pleasures and responsibilities that comes with digging into the Whitney’s collection is the way it continually compels us to reevaluate our received ideas about taste, style, and even what counts as art at any moment,” remarks Scott Rothkopf, Senior Deputy Director and Nancy and Steve Crown Family Chief Curator. “By focusing on materials and techniques associated with craft, Making Knowing will offer jolts of surprise, emotion, provocation, and discovery through an incredible range of works, more than half of which have never been on display in our galleries.”

Harmony Hammond (b. 1944), Hug, 1978. Acrylic on fabric and wood, 64 × 30 1/4 × 14 in. (162.6 × 76.8 × 35.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Rosemary McNamara 2017.208a-b. © 2019 Harmony Hammond/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Making Knowing is organized chronologically and thematically, beginning with a gallery of works from the 1950s. Throughout this decade, artists such as Ruth Asawa, Robert Rauschenberg, and Peter Voulkos experimented with wire, scavenged fabric, and clay. Others, including Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, and Ann Wilson, explored weaving, both on and off the loom, and painting on found quilts. By employing marginalized craft media, they challenged the power structures that determined artistic value. Presenting these artists together reveals the profound influence that craft had on abstraction during this period.

Betty Woodman (1930–2018), Still Life #11, 1990. Glazed and polychromed ceramic, 35 × 10 1/4 × 7 5/8 in. (88.9 × 26 × 19.4 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Julia Childs Augur 92.25. © Betty Woodman0

Subsequent galleries demonstrate how artists working in the 1960s and 1970s frequently questioned why fine art was more accepted and valued than more vernacular or utilitarian traditions. Among them, Richard Artschwager, Eva Hesse, Yayoi Kusama, Robert Morris, Howardena Pindell, and Alan Shields experimented with unconventional materials such as rope, felt, and string, and in doing so influenced various art historical movements, including Pop Art, Minimalism, and Process art. In Shields’s J + K, 1972, the canvas border creates a satirically legitimizing frame for craft materials like strands of beads.

Alan Shields (1944–2005), J + K, 1972. Acrylic, thread, beads on canvas, 107 × 252 7/8 × 2 3/4 in. (271.8 × 642.3 × 7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Paula Cooper 2017.165a-l. © Estate of Alan Shields

Making Knowing also highlights modes of making from the 1970s and 1980s frequently categorized as “women’s work.” While this phrase denigrated certain materials and aesthetics associated with femininity, artists purposefully worked in these ways in order to question gender roles in both the art world and society at large. Artists such as Barbara Chase-Riboud, Harmony Hammond, Kim MacConnel, Elaine Reichek, Miriam Schapiro, and Betty Woodman used cloth, embroidery, sewing, and ceramics to elevate the often-disparaged tradition of the “decorative,” and to attest to the impossibility of tethering these techniques to a single use or means of expression.

The works on display from the 1980s and 1990s exemplify how artists during this period looked at art and its relationship to devotional practices and often grappled with an ambivalence towards organized religion. Arch Connelly, Robert Gober, Mike Kelley, Lucas Samaras, Kiki Smith, and Rosie Lee Tompkins used wide-ranging materials including quilts, found and sewn textiles, candles, artificial flowers, and beads in artworks that reveal the relationship between the spiritual and the worldly. Working at the height of the AIDS crisis, several of these artists’ attention to handcrafting objects attempted to provide an emotionally reparative experience in the absence of aid from the government or religious authorities.

A gallery dedicated to artwork from the mid-1990s to the present broadly addresses issues of the body and place. Liza Lou’s monumental installation Kitchen, 1991–1996, is a handmade, life-size kitchen composed of sparkling beads. Through subject matter and materials, Lou combines the physical labor of domestic life and the painstaking making of an artwork. On view for the first time here are recent acquisitions by Shan Goshorn, Kahlil Robert Irving, Simone Leigh, Jordan Nassar, and Erin Jane Nelson.

Many of the artists in Making Knowing have taken up historically marginalized materials in order to upend hierarchies that have persisted in art history and in museum collecting practices,” explains co-curator Jennie Goldstein. Elisabeth Sherman, co-curator, continues, “Together they demonstrate that craft-informed techniques of making carry their own kind of knowledge, one that is indispensable to a more complete understanding of the history and potential of art.

Making Knowing offers a fresh look at a prominent, ever-present thread of the Whitney’s collection. The exhibition’s title reformulates the historical tension often separating craft and fine art by leveling the distinction between the world of the handmade, “making,” and the world of ideas, “knowing.”

Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019 will be on view beginning November 22, 2019, in the Museum’s sixth-floor collection galleries. The Whitney’s sixth-floor galleries continue to serve as a space to present challenging, thematic exhibitions that explore and rethink various threads of the Museum’s collection. Past sixth-floor collection exhibitions include An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940–2017 (2017–2018) and Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018 (2018–2019).

Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019 is curated by Jennie Goldstein, assistant curator, and Elisabeth Sherman, assistant curator, with Ambika Trasi, curatorial assistant.

Support for Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019 is provided by the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation.

This Just In!: David Breslin And Adrienne Edwards Will Curate The 2021 Whitney Biennial

The Whitney Museum of American Art announced today that its 2021 Biennial, the 80th edition, will be co-organized by two brilliant members of the Museum’s curatorial department, David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards. The 2021 Whitney Biennial exhibition will open in the spring of 2021 and is presented by Tiffany & Co., which has been the lead sponsor of the Biennial since the Museum’s move downtown.

Image credit: Adrienne Edwards and David Breslin. Photograph by Bryan Derballa

Alice Pratt Brown Director Adam D. Weinberg noted: “The central aim of the Biennial is to be a barometer of contemporary American art. Each Biennial is a reflection of the cultural and social moment as it intersects with the passions, perspectives, and tastes of the curators. David and Adrienne will be a great team. They are inquisitive, curious, and are acutely attuned to the art of the current moment. No doubt they will bring fresh outlooks to this historic exhibition and reinvent it for these complex and challenging times.”

With a long history of exhibiting the most promising and influential artists and provoking debate, the Whitney Biennial is the Museum’s signature survey of the state of contemporary art in the United States. The Biennial, an invitational show of work produced in the preceding two years, was introduced by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1932, and it is the longest continuous series of exhibitions in the country to survey recent developments in American art.

Initiated by founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1932, the Whitney Biennial is the longest-running survey of American art. More than 3,600 artists have participated, including Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, Alexander Calder, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Ellsworth Kelly, Richard Serra, Lynda Benglis, Frank Bowling, Joan Jonas, Barbara Kruger, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jenny Holzer, David Wojnarowicz, Glenn Ligon, Yvonne Rainer, Zoe Leonard, Kara Walker, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Mike Kelley, Lorna Simpson, Renée Green, Wade Guyton, Julie Mehretu, Cecilia Vicuña, Mark Bradford, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Ellen Gallagher, Rachel Harrison, Wu Tsang, Nick Mauss, Sarah Michelson, Laura Owens, Postcommodity, Pope.L, Jeffrey Gibson, and Tiona Nekkia McClodden.

The biennials were originally organized by medium, with painting alternating with sculpture and works on paper. Starting in 1937, the Museum shifted to yearly exhibitions called Annuals. The current format—a survey show of work in all media occurring every two years—has been in place since 1973. The 2019 Biennial (still on partial view on the Museum’s sixth floor until October 27) was organized by two Whitney curators, Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley. It featured seventy-five artists and collectives working in painting, sculpture, installation, film and video, photography, performance, and sound.

David Breslin was recently named the DeMartini Family Curator and Director of Curatorial Initiatives, a role he will assume this month. Since joining the Museum in 2016 as DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection, Breslin has spearheaded the Museum’s collection-related activities, curating a series of major collection exhibitions and overseeing acquisitions. Working closely with his curatorial colleagues, he has organized or co-organized four timely and thematized collection displays, including Where We Are: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1900–1960, An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940–2017, Spilling Over: Painting Color in the 1960s, and The Whitney’s Collection: Selections from 1900 to 1965, which is currently on view on the Museum’s seventh floor. In 2018, he co-curated (with David Kiehl) the landmark retrospective David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night.

Breslin came to the Whitney from the Menil Drawing Institute, where he created an ambitious program of exhibitions and public and scholarly events and helped to shape the design of the Institute’s new facility. He also oversaw work on the catalogue raisonné of the drawings of Jasper Johns and grew the collection. Prior to the Menil, Breslin served as the associate director of the research and academic program and associate curator of contemporary projects at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA; he also oversaw the Clark’s residential fellowship program and taught in the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art. Breslin co-edited Art History and Emergency: Crises in the Visual Arts and Humanities (Yale University Press, 2016), a volume that grew from a Clark Conference he organized with art historian Darby English.

In 2018, Adrienne Edwards was named Engell Speyer Family Curator and Curator of Performance at the Whitney. Previously, she served as curator of Performa since 2010 and as Curator at Large for the Walker Art Center since 2016.

At the Whitney, Edwards curated Jason Moran, the artist’s first museum show, now on view on the Museum’s eighth floor. She originated the exhibition at the Walker in 2018; it previously traveled to the ICA Boston and the Wexner Center for the Arts. The exhibition features a series of performances, Jazz on a High Floor in the Afternoon, curated by Edwards and Moran. She organized the event commencing the construction of David Hammons’s Day’s End, featuring a commission by composer Henry Threadgill and a “water” tango on the Hudson River by the Fire Department of the City of New York’s Marine Company 9. Earlier this year, Edwards organized Moved by the Motion: Sudden Rise, a series of performances based on a text co-written by Wu Tsang, boychild, and Fred Moten, which presented a collage of words, film, movements, and sounds.

For Performa, Edwards realized new boundary-defying commissions, as well as pathfinding conferences and film programs with a wide range of over forty international artists. While at the Walker, she co-led the institution-wide Mellon Foundation Interdisciplinary Initiative, an effort to expand ways of commissioning, studying, collecting, documenting, and conserving cross-disciplinary works. Edwards’s curatorial projects have included the critically acclaimed exhibition and catalogue Blackness in Abstraction, hosted by Pace Gallery in 2016. She also organized Frieze’s Artist Award and Live program in New York in 2018. Edwards taught art history and visual studies at New York University and The New School, and she is a contributor to the National Gallery of Art’s Center for the Advanced Study in Visual Art’s forthcoming publication Black Modernisms.

Scott Rothkopf, the Whitney’s Senior Deputy Director and Nancy and Steve Crown Family Chief Curator, said, “David and Adrienne truly represent the best spirit and ideals of the Whitney. Not only are they devoted to—and beloved by—living artists, but they bring to the art of our time a deep historical and scholarly awareness. The most recent editions of the Biennial have reaffirmed its vitality and relevance, and I look forward to discovering how another pair of Whitney curators will lend their voices to our signature exhibition.”

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Presents West Coast Exclusive of Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules

Major Retrospective Includes Vast Array of Work from the Boundary-Breaking Artist’s Six-Decade Career

Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules, November 18, 2017–March 25, 2018

A fuse was lit in the 1953 art world when Robert Rauschenberg convinced artist Willem de Kooning to allow him to erase one of his drawings; fellow artist Jasper Johns executed the inscription within the frame: “ERASED DE KOONING DRAWING ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG 1953.” Now seen as a bombshell that shook the foundations of Abstract Expressionism, Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953) is an outstanding example of Rauschenberg’s irreverent yet incisive style, and it famously pushes the limits of what art can be.SFMOMA logo 2

This special work was acquired by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) from Rauschenberg through a gift of Phyllis C. Wattis, an instrumental member of the board of trustees who befriended Rauschenberg late in her life. It now anchors the museum’s exceptional holdings of the artist’s early work and is a highlight in the West Coast exclusive of Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules, on view at SFMOMA from November 18, 2017, through March 25, 2018.

Formerly presented at Tate Modern, London, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the exhibition’s iteration in San Francisco pays special tribute to SFMOMA’s close and longstanding relationship with Rauschenberg. From hosting his first retrospective — organized by Walter Hopps in 1976 — to spearheading the recent Rauschenberg Research Project — an ambitious digital resource published on www.sfmoma.org that makes art historical and conservation research about Rauschenberg works widely accessible — SFMOMA has long been devoted to this extraordinary and trail-blazing figure. This presentation is also dedicated to Phyllis C. Wattis, in honor of her generosity and cherished relationship with the artist and SFMOMA.

Robert Rauschenberg, Retroactive I, 1963

Robert Rauschenberg, Retroactive I, 1963; oil and silkscreen ink on canvas; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, gift of Susan Morse Hilles; © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Robert Rauschenberg and Phyllis Wattis were kindred spirits,” said Gary Garrels, Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at SFMOMA. “Both were eager to discover new ideas that broke old boundaries. They relished life and art with expansiveness of spirit and always with a twinkle in their eyes.

A defining figure of contemporary art, Rauschenberg produced a prolific body of work across a wide range of media — including painting, sculpture, drawing, prints, photography, and performance — frequently and fearlessly defying the traditional art practice of his time. Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules marks the first retrospective of the artist’s work in nearly 20 years, celebrating the depth and scope of his six-decade career. SFMOMA’s presentation emphasizes his iconoclastic approach, his multidisciplinary working processes and frequent collaborations with other artists.

Largely organized chronologically, the exhibition begins with the artist’s wide-ranging early work, from bold blueprint photograms and intimate photographs to his delicate Scatole personali (boxes filled with found objects). These galleries introduce Rauschenberg’s eagerness to experiment with and break from artistic conventions, his innovative approach to materials and his multi-disciplinary and collaborative nature, all of which were driving forces throughout his career. This early period plays out across three locales: Black Mountain College, a fertile ground for experimentation where Rauschenberg studied with Josef Albers and Hazel Larsen Archer, and undertook his first important collaborations with Susan Weil, Cy Twombly, John Cage and Merce Cunningham; North Africa and Italy, where Rauschenberg traveled with Twombly; and lower Manhattan, where he set up his early studios and worked in close dialogue with Jasper Johns.

Among the many highlights of the exhibition is Automobile Tire Print (1953) in SFMOMA’s collection, made when the artist instructed composer John Cage to drive his Model A Ford through a pool of paint and then across 20 sheets of paper. The layered paper and fabrics in his Black paintings and Red paintings led to the artist’s landmark Combines (1954–64), a body of work that breaks down the boundaries between painting and sculpture. Collection (1954/1955) and Charlene (1954) are presented together for the first time in almost four decades, providing a rare opportunity to see and compare the range of strategies Rauschenberg explored in the Combines’ formative stages. Monogram (1955–59), his landmark work assembled from a taxidermied goat with a painted tire around its body, anchors this presentation.

The exhibition continues by presenting key periods of the artist’s career in depth, including a gallery devoted to transfer drawings and silkscreen paintings. For the Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno (1958–60), Rauschenberg clipped pictures from magazines and newspapers, illustrating Dante’s epic poem with images from contemporary American life. Rauschenberg’s merging of classical themes, art history references, contemporary politics and pop culture culminate in the silkscreen paintings, such as the vibrant Scanning (1963) and Persimmon (1964). Rauschenberg also actively explored technological innovations for his performances and artworks in the early 1960s. Collaborations with Billy Klüver and a team of engineers lead to the inclusion of embedded radios in Oracle (1962–65). For the sound-activated work Mud Muse (1968–71) the artist constructed an enormous vat of vigorously spurting and bubbling mud. Originally conceived for an exhibition in Los Angeles and inspired by a hydrothermal basin in Yellowstone National Park, this presentation marks Mud Muse’s first return to California since 1971.

In 1970, Rauschenberg relocated his primary residence and studio to Captiva Island, Florida, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. These new surroundings prompted the creation of the series Cardboards (1971–72). SFMOMA’s Rosalie/Red Cheek/Temporary Letter/Stock (Cardboard) (1971), one of the earliest of the series, encapsulates this move with a mailing label from Rauschenberg’s New York studio to his Captiva address affixed to its front. Far from isolated in Florida, Rauschenberg constantly welcomed visitors, many of them artists, and continued to travel frequently. A trip to India inspired his striking, lively series Jammers (1975–76); a 1982 visit to China ultimately lead to the launch of ROCI (the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange), an intense seven-year project encompassing travel, art-making and exhibitions in over 10 countries. Rauschenberg’s own photos from this period of travel appear in many later works including SFMOMA’s Port of Entry [Anagram (A Pun)] (1998). Continue reading

The Whitney Museum of American Art To Present Two-Floor Exhibition In Celebration Of The Portrait

Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection Complete The Reinstallation Of The Whitney’s Collection In Its New Building

The Selfie, often seen as the height of narcissism in what is essentially an increasingly narcissistic world, is the modern version of what has long been a celebrated art form throughout history: The Portrait. Portraits are one of the richest veins of the Whitney’s collection, thanks to the Museum’s longstanding commitment to the figurative tradition, championed by its founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

The mysterious power and fascination of the portrait—and the ingenious ways in which artists have been expanding the definition of portraiture over the past 100 years—are celebrated in Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection, to be presented at the Whitney Museum of American Art this spring. The works included in this exhibition propose diverse and often unconventional ways of representing an individual. Many artists reconsider the pursuit of external likeness—portraiture’s usual objective—within formal or conceptual explorations or reject it altogether. Some revel in the genre’s glamour and allure, while others critique its elitist associations and instead call attention to the banal or even the grotesque.

Drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection, the exhibition features more than 300 works made from 1900 to 2016 by an extraordinary range of more than 200 artists, roughly half of whom are living. The show will be organized in twelve thematic sections on two floors of the Museum, with works in all media installed side by side. Floor Six, predominantly focused on art since 1960, opens first, on April 6; Floor Seven, which includes works from the first half of the twentieth century alongside more contemporary offerings, will open on April 27. The exhibition will remain on view through February 12, 2017.

Once a rarified luxury good, portraits are now ubiquitous. Readily reproducible and ever-more accessible, photography has played a particularly vital role in the democratization of portraiture, and will be strongly represented in the exhibition. Most recently, the proliferation of smartphones and the rise of social media have unleashed an unprecedented stream of portraits in the form of selfies and other online posts. Many contemporary artists confront this situation, stressing the fluidity of identity in a world where technology and the mass-media are omnipresent. Through their varied takes on the portrait, the artists in Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection demonstrate the vitality of this enduring genre, which serves as a compelling lens through which to view some of the most important social and artistic developments of the past century.

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Barkley L. Hendricks (b. 1945). Steve, (1976). Oil, acrylic, and Magna on linen canvas, 72 × 48in. (182.9 × 121.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase and gift with funds from the Arthur M. Bullowa Bequest by exchange, the Jack E. Chachkes Endowed Purchase Fund, and the Wilfred P. and Rose J. Cohen Purchase Fund 2015.101. Image Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY.

Many iconic works from the collection will be included by such artists as Alexander Calder, Marsden Hartley, Edward Hopper, Jasper Johns, Alice Neel, Georgia O’Keeffe, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol. In addition, a number of major new acquisitions will be exhibited at the Whitney for the first time, including Barkley L. Hendricks’s full-length 1976 portrait, Steve; Urs Fischer’s 2015 towering candle sculpture of Julian Schnabel (making its debut); Joan Semmel’s painting of two nude lovers, Touch (1977); Henry Taylor’s depiction of Black Panther leader Huey Newton (2007); Deana Lawson’s striking color photograph The Garden (2015); and Rosalyn Drexler’s Pop masterwork Marilyn Pursued by Death (1963). The exhibition will extend to the Museum’s outdoor galleries on Floors Seven and Six, the latter of which will feature Paul McCarthy’s monumental bronze sculpture White Snow #3 (2012), also a new acquisition.

Following is a selection of several of the sections in which the exhibition will be divided:

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST

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Edward Hopper (1882‑1967). (Self‑Portrait), (1925‑1930). Oil on canvas, Overall: 25 3/8 × 20 3/8in. (64.5 × 51.8 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1165. © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by Whitney Museum of American Art

On the seventh floor, the section “Portrait of the Artist” brings together self-portraits with portraits of artists and other members of the creative community, a moving window into the way artists see themselves and their relationships with one another. On view will be Edward Hopper’s iconic self-portrait in oil in a brown hat, as well as a pair of drawings by Hopper and Guy Pène du Bois, each depicting the other and made during a single sitting. Other works depict artists with the tools of their trade—Ilse Bing is seen in a photograph holding the shutter release of her camera; Mabel Dwight uses a mirror as an aid in drawing herself; Andreas Feininger photographs himself regarding a strip of film through a magnifying glass. Other works in this section include Cy Twombly photographed by Robert Rauschenberg; Jasper Johns by Richard Avedon; Georgia O’Keeffe drawn by Peggy Bacon; Edgard Varèse sculpted in wire by Alexander Calder; Langston Hughes photographed by Roy DeCarava; Berenice Abbott by Walker Evans; Yasuo Kuniyoshi by Arnold Newman; and a double portrait of Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp taken by Man Ray.

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Rachel Harrison (b. 1966). Untitled, (2011). Colored pencil on paper, Sheet: 19 × 24in. (48.3 × 61 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Drawing Committee 2012.81. © Rachel Harrison

EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY CELEBRITY AND SPECTACLE

In the early decades of the twentieth century, a spectrum of new, popular leisure pursuits—vaudeville, theater, cabaret, sporting events, and above all, motion pictures—thrust performers and entertainers into the public eye as never before. For the crowds that flocked to see them, the stars of these entertainments became larger-than-life figures, and an array of media outlets, from tabloid newspapers to glossy magazines to radio, sprang up to broadcast their exploits to captivated audiences across the nation. Artists eagerly delved into these new phenomena, creating portraits that stoked the public’s growing fascination with celebrities. At the turn of the century, painters such as Howard Cushing and Everett Shinn investigated the changing terms of fame and glamour as flashy public spectacles eclipsed Gilded Age refinement. Following World War I many artists joined in the commercial opportunities offered by the booming entertainment industry—particularly photographers, whose easily reproducible images carried a special air of authenticity. Foremost among them, Edward Steichen pioneered the aesthetic of the “closeup” in his stylish magazine portraits of movie stars and other luminaries, such as Marlene Dietrich, Dolores Del Rio, and Paul Robeson. Other photographers such as James Van Der Zee, Toyo Miyatake, and Carl Van Vechten called attention to vanguard performers whose race or ethnicity placed them outside the mainstream, challenging the sanitized imperatives of popular culture.

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Toyo Miyatake (1895‑1979). Michio Ito, (1929). Gelatin silver print, Sheet: 14 × 10 7/8in. (35.6 × 27.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Photography Committee 2014.241. © Toyo Miyatake Studio

STREET LIFE

Under the rubric of “Street Life” the exhibition presents artists who took to the pavement with their cameras, photographing subjects as they encountered them, sometimes surreptitiously. These images, which often capture fleeting, serendipitous moments, present a counterpoint to the premeditated, sedentary sitter of historical portraits. At the turn of the last century it became clear that the camera could become an apparatus for the indictment of a society’s ills and a group of socially aware photographers became activists in addition to observers of the urban environment. An early work in the exhibition, Lewis Hine’s Newsies at Skeeters Branch, St. Louis, Missouri (c. 1910), exemplifies this type of politically motivated street photography. Other works documenting the spectacle of urban life include Walker Evans’s subway photographs; Helen Levitt’s images taken on the streets of Yorktown and Spanish Harlem; and examples from Garry Winogrand’s Women Are Beautiful portfolio. Artists featured in this section also include Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, and Nan Goldin. The tradition of street photography is carried through to more recent works by Dawoud Bey and Philip-Lorca di Corcia.

PORTRAITS WITHOUT PEOPLE

Is likeness essential to portraiture? The works in this section, spanning the past one hundred years, ask this question as they pursue alternate means for capturing an individual’s personality, values, and experiences. Often, the presence of the individual or his or her character is implied through objects and symbols that resonate with hidden meaning. Gerald Murphy’s Cocktail (1927), a bold, Jazz Age still life suggests a uniquely autobiographical approach: the accoutrements of a typical 1920s bar tray were based on Murphy’s memory of his father’s bar accessories and the cigar box cover shows a robed woman surrounded by items that allude to Murphy himself, including a boat (he was an avid sailor) and an artist’s palette. Marsden Hartley’s Painting, Number 5 (1914–15), a portrait of Karl von Freyburg, uses German imperial military regalia to stand in for the presence of the officer with whom the artist had fallen in love. In Summer Days (1936), Georgia O’Keeffe adopted the animal skull and vibrant desert wildflowers as surrogates for herself, symbols of the cycles of life and death that shape the desert world she made her home. Jasper Johns’s portrait of a Savarin coffee can full of brushes stands for Johns himself; and James Welling’s portrait of Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, CT, may be viewed as a sort of portrait of the famous architect. In a number of works in this section, body parts or personal possessions may allude to the subject, such as Jay DeFeo’s teeth; Alfred Stieglitz’s hat; and Ed Ruscha’s shoes. Forgoing likeness in favor of allusion and enigma, these artists expand the possibilities of the portrait, while also acknowledging that the quest to depict others—and even ourselves—is elusive. Continue reading

Art Exhibition: “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible” at The (New) Met Breuer, March 18–September 4, 2016

Exhibition Location: The Met Breuer, 3rd and 4th floors, Madison Avenue and 75th Street

Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible examines a subject that is critical to artistic practice: the question of when a work of art is finished. Opening March 18, 2016, this landmark exhibition inaugurates The Met Breuer, ushering in a new phase for the Met’s expanded engagement with modern and contemporary art, presented in Marcel Breuer’s iconic building on Madison Avenue (formerly the home of The Whitney Museum of American Art). With over 190 works dating from the Renaissance to the present—nearly forty percent of which are drawn from the Museum’s collection, supplemented with major national and international loans—the exhibition demonstrates the type of groundbreaking show that can result when the Museum mines its vast collection and curatorial resources to present modern and contemporary art within a deep historical context.

Alice Neel (American, 1900–1984). James Hunter Black Draftee, 1965. Oil on canvas_ 60 x 40 in. (152.4 x 101.6 cm). COMMA Foundation, Belgium. © The Estate of Alice Neel (1)

Alice Neel (American, 1900–1984). James Hunter Black Draftee, 1965. Oil on canvas_ 60 x 40 in. (152.4 x 101.6 cm). COMMA Foundation, Belgium. © The Estate of Alice Neel

The exhibition examines the term “unfinished” across the visual arts in the broadest possible way; it includes works left incomplete by their makers, a result that often provides insight into the artists’ creative process, as well as works that engage a non finito—intentionally unfinished—aesthetic that embraces the unresolved and open-ended. Featured artists who explored such an aesthetic include some of history’s greatest practitioners, among them Titian, Rembrandt, Turner, and Cézanne, as well as modern and contemporary artists, including Janine Antoni, Lygia Clark, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Rauschenberg, who have taken the unfinished in entirely new directions, alternately blurring the distinction between making and un-making, extending the boundaries of art into both space and time, and recruiting viewers to complete the objects they had begun.

Unfinished is a cornerstone of The Met Breuer’s inaugural program and a great example of the Met’s approach to presenting the art of today,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum. “Stretching across history and geography, the exhibition is the result of a cross-departmental collaboration, drawing on the expertise of the Met’s outstanding faculty of curators. We hope the exhibition will inspire audiences to reconsider the artistic process as they connect to experiences shared by artists over centuries.”

Using works of art as well as the words of artists and critics as a guide, Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible strives to answer four questions: When is a work of art finished? To what extent does an artist have latitude in making this decision? During which periods in the history of art since the Renaissance have artists experimented most boldly with the idea of the unfinished or non finito? What impact has this long trajectory had on modern and contemporary art?

The exhibition features works that fall into two categories. The first includes works of art that are literally unfinished—those whose completion was interrupted, usually because of an accident, such as the artist’s death. In some instances, notably Jan van Eyck’s Saint Barbara (1437), there is still debate about whether the artist meant the work to be a finished drawing, which would have been considered unusual at the time, or if it was meant to be a preparation for a painting. Because such works often leave visible the underlying skeleton and many changes normally effaced in the act of completion, they are prized for providing access to the artist’s thoughts, as well as to his or her working process.

The second category includes works that appear unfinished—open-ended, unresolved, imperfect—at the volition of the artist, such as Janine Antoni’s Lick and Lather (1993–1994). Antoni used a mold to create a series of self-portrait busts, half from chocolate and half from soap, fragile materials that tend to age quickly. After finishing the busts, she set to work unfinishing them, licking those in chocolate and bathing with those in soap, stopping once she had arrived at her distinctive physiognomy. Continue reading

New York Spring/Summer 2016 Fashion Week Review: Betsey Johnson Forever!

Runway Images by Dan Lecca/Front Row/Backstage Images by The Billy Farrell Agency

American designer and renowned fashion icon, Betsey Johnson returned to New York Fashion Week on Friday, September 11th to present her Spring/Summer 2016 collection, entitled The Curious Case of Betsey Button was a retrospective commemorating Betsey’s 50 colorful years in the fashion industry.

Backstage at the Spring/Summer 2016 Fashion Show (Photo Credit: The Billy Farrell Agency)

Backstage at the Spring/Summer 2016 Fashion Show (Photo Credit: The Billy Farrell Agency)

The show which was held at The Arc, Skylight at Moynihan Station (a soul-sucking show space, if ever there is any), was divided into six defining moments in Betsey’s career and kicked off with Betsey’s signature prom princesses of the 2000’s, followed by the “flower power” of the late 80’s/early 90’s. Next came late 70’s punk, followed by the “trippy hippy” early 70’s Betsey Johnson for Alley Cat. Rounding out the decades were the mod mavens of 60’s Betsey Johnson for Paraphernalia. Narration from Betsey herself played over each defining era, for a real trip down memory lane.

I have long held the view that, much like Bob Mackie and a select few designers that have shown at NYFW over the years, Miss Johnson’s collections are generally above review. By her own admission, she is not out to change the world (too much) or find a cure for athlete’s foot. (She is, however, a staunch supporter for finding a cure for Breast Cancer.) She is about creating a balance: injecting fun into her life and work, while still taking it seriously, BUT not too serious. Hence the signature cartwheel and split at the end of her shows, the seemingly wild, all-over-the-place but cohesive sense that marks the collections. Above all, she’s an extraordinary woman. It’s no wonder then, that she is one of the legendary women to be featured in Timothy Greenfield-Sanders‘ latest “List” documentary, American Masters: The Women’s List, to air on PBS on September 25th.

Betsey Johnson. Credit: © Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

Betsey Johnson is to be featured in Timothy Greenfield-Saunders‘ American Masters: The Women’s List, a documentary focusing on their individuals’ exceptional achievements, struggles and identities. All trailblazers in their respective fields, these women share their experiences struggling against discrimination and overcoming challenges to make their voices heard and their influence felt. Credit: © Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

The spring/summer 2016 collection, while mainly serving as a retrospective, had a lot going for it in the here and now. It was filled with ideas that would—and will– work for the season and beyond. Those strapless “prom princess” dresses were paired with long sleeve, street-ready metallic tops that a girl could wear with her skinny jeans and be on-trend. The Veronica Lake hair-dos was also an amazing addition to the overall looks. The second segment was made all the more delicious by the colorful corsets that circled the models’ waists.

In the “Mud Club” section, the standout piece was the red/black chevron pantsuit with a black leather bandeau top. Here, seeing nine (mostly blonde) models with semi-severe chignons, looking very much like Linda Evangelista in her 80’s prime, was a jolt but hey, it worked.

The fourth section was noteworthy for the scrimped, straight hair deftly reminiscent of the period. It was like watching (in a good way, of course) Square Pegs (starring a young Sarah Jessica Parker), a television sitcom from the 80’s. The standouts here were the fur-trimmed teacup print jacket (paired with the granny boots), the patchwork jacket with faux fur sleeves and the soft, draping long “Stevie Nicks” long-sleeve dress.

The iconic Max’s Kansas City was a nightclub and restaurant at 213 Park Avenue South, in New York City, which became a gathering spot for musicians, poets, artists and politicians (in essence, everyone who was anyone), in the 1960s and 1970s. It was opened by Mickey Ruskin (1933–1983) in December 1965. Max’s quickly became a hangout of choice for artists and sculptors of the New York School, like John Chamberlain, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, Larry Poons, Brice Marden, Bob Neuwirth, Roy Lichtenstein, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Richard Serra, Philip Glass, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, René Ricard, Willem de Kooning, and Barnett Newman. It was also a favorite hangout of Andy Warhol and his entourage, who dominated the back room, including some of the women represented in this section. It also showed the wide range of style of the time, including the navy polka dot mini with a white Peter Pan collar. Stunning.

2015 marked a year long celebration for Johnson. In addition hitting her 50th year in the industry, Betsey was awarded the CFDA Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award. The party will continue into Holiday 2015 as Johnson releases a limited edition 50th Anniversary Collection which includes dresses, activewear, handbags, shoes, jewelry all in a signature Betsey Johnson print. Continue reading