Parrish Art Museum | Artists Choose Artists 2013

Mel Kendrick, Parrish Art Museum

Mel Kendrick, Untitled, 2013

What could be more intriguing than a show where artists select artists?

Such a format allows for us not only to see new artists and their work alongside their jurors, but also to see the combined curatorial vision of the museum and the artists. Putting on an artist-selected exhibition seems particularly fitting for the Parrish Art Museum; as the institutional representation of the vast-reaching yet closely-knit artistic hub that makes up the East End.

Conceived in 2009, the Parrish Art Museum’s Artists Choose Artists show began with 300 online submissions and a panel of artist jurors—Laurie Anderson, Judith Hudson, Mel Kendrick, David Salle, Ned Smyth, Keith Sonnier and Robert Wilson. From that initial group of seven, each chose two; thus including: Don Christensen, Christine Sciulli, Elise Ansel, Carol Hayes, Virva Hinnemo, Koichiro Kurita, Rick Liss, Rossa Cole, Brian Gaman, Tucker Marder and Ezra Thompson.

David Salle’s “Syrie (Yellow),” and “Syrie (Pink),” both 2013, are among the first encounters. Painterly and confident, both versions of Syrie demonstrate Salle’s mastery of the figure in a certain coolness that brushes up against Alex Katz but departs stylistically in that Salle’s zoomed-in and high-contrast figures are both more confrontational and the temperature is much warmer.

In an adjoining gallery, thematically organized around “American Home Life,” we enter a world with a mildly disturbing sound coming from Robert Wilson’s video with performance artist William Pope and a little lamb puppet who hauntingly sings “Mary had a little Me” over and over again, with an extended and off-key “meeeeee” in utter contrast to the crib-mobile-like instrumental. Directly across from the screen is Tucker Marder’s “Mantel,” in which two ducks were photographed in that typical blue-backdrop we all endured for yearbook portraits and placed over a creamy-yellow faux-fireplace mantel. From the mantel upward, shelves expand, making a V-shape; each shelf longer than the one below it, and each one fitting more of these framed photographs. Methodic and structured, one duck’s photographs are aligned on the left and the other on the right. Beneath the mantel is a hooked rug, the kind you see near sinks or near doors, with two ducks on it. The installation is simultaneously very kitsch and entirely original.

Entering another space, a photograph by Ned Smyth, “Portrait 5,” 2013, stuns. One of a series of rock “portraits,” the enlarged, highly defined image of a stone inspires as the mundane (a typical, unpolished granite rock), is revealed in its beauty—a topographic landscape made up of grooves and differences in elevation—simply upon closer observation. Natural materials are mirrored in works by Rossa Cole—whereby found materials, like twigs and sticks, are the media for eco-centric designs such as “Roundhouse Half Timber Frame Eco House,” 2010. The dollhouse size allows for self-envisioning in a home that would rely on solar panels. Mel Kendrick’s sculptures echo the organic shapes in Smyth’s photographs, the use of wood in Cole’s and the black and white/grey palette of Elizabeth Dow’s vertical works. Kendrick’s shapes are studies in positive and negative space. In “Untitled,” 2012, curvilinear negative-space shapes are carved out from a wooden square and the inverted positive image is recreated and stacked right above it. In the positive image, the shapes are painted white, further questioning which is positive and which is negative.

Other compelling works in the exhibition include Koichiro Kurita’s, “Dark Cloud (Nagano, Japan series from Chi Suiki),” 1987, whereby hair-like grass rolls over a hill with fluidity, while ominous clouds move in an opposite direction, creating a moment of suspension along the horizon line, an installation of designs painted on wooden benches by Don Christensen and two spectacular examples of recent neon-light works by Keith Sonnier.

Concurrent with the exhibition is a documentary film in the Lichtenstein Theater showing the artists in their studios—a personal glimpse inside their creative process that enhances the experience of viewing their work on museum walls and ties together the overarching appreciation for the continuum of artistic creation on the East End.

Artists Choose Artists will be on view through January 19, 2014. The Parrish Art Museum is located at 279 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. Call 631-283-2118 or visit

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Thomas Moran at Guild Hall

There must be something innately human that causes that standstill moment of awe upon seeing something astounding in nature. Late autumn sunsets with their pink and violet streaks across the sky and that bright orange ball filtering through tree branch silhouettes evoke powerful, emotional responses. Landscape painters—from the Dutch Jacob van Ruisdale, figurehead of the Golden Age of painting in the Netherlands, to those of our Hudson River School sought to capture this same intensity using oil on canvas. Thomas Moran (1837–1926), is one such artist. A member of the Hudson River School and of the Rocky Mountain School of landscape painters, Moran is currently featured at Guild Hall in an exhibition titled “Tracing Moran’s Romanticism & Symbolism.” Curated by Phyllis Braff, co-editor of the Thomas Moran Catalogue Raisonée, the selected paintings include several painted in East Hampton, where Moran designed and built his studio in 1884.

Depictions of East Hampton date back to 1878, upon his first visit, which inspired many of his etching motifs. One such etching, a magnificent example, is “The Resounding Sea,” 1880, part of Guild Hall’s permanent collection. Small and intricate, the etching gave the image, the stormy sea on one of East Hampton’s beaches, recognition through wide distribution, as explained in text beside the artwork. Next to the etching is a much larger version of the image painted in oil, titled, “The Much Resounding Sea,” dating to 1884 and belonging to the collection of the National Gallery of Art. In dark blues, greens and black, the angry ocean churns, throwing waves this way and that—splashes of white emerge where they crash—making for a distinctly East End beach scene. The exhibition explains that ocean waves symbolized a constantly renewing force; conceivable for anyone who has jumped in and emerged anew or for those who have stood there and witnessed the continuum in amazement. The title comes from a passage from the Iliad, “boiling billows of the much resounding sea, swollen, whitened with foam.”

Other titles also reveal Moran’s interest in literature and poetry. “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” a majestic painting from 1859, greets you when you first enter the gallery space. The title comes from Robert Browning’s poem, appropriated from Shakespeare’s King Lear. English Romantic poets, and their American counterparts, play a role in Moran’s subject matter; most of which reveals a deep appreciation for nature and the vastness of Earth. The occasional figure sits small in comparison to the dramatic mountains and valleys before him. In 1872, after acceptance into the Yellowstone Territory with the U.S. Geological Survey Expedition, geologists used Moran’s watercolors to get Congressional approval for Yellowstone as the first National Park.

Scenes like “Glimpse of the Sea, Near Amagansett, L.I.,” 1909, bring about that same type of longing for land preservation on the East End. A vibrant, orange sun sets over the ocean, in a sky of purple leading into a quintessential late summer sky, pale blue with warm tones from the sun reflecting in the drifting clouds. A tiny, lone figure makes his way down a sandy path through a pastoral field, with tall trees in the dunes to the left. The asymmetrical composition adds intrigue and creates a circle, drawing the viewer in to take part in reflection on this incredible landscape.

Landscape continues at Guild Hall with “Landscape Selections from the Permanent Collection,” featuring works by Jimmy Ernst, Robert Dash, April Gornik, Jeff Muhs, Paul Georges and many other well-known East End artists. Both exhibitions are on view through January 5.

A Gallery Talk will be given on Sunday, November 10, also at 2 p.m., with Christina Massaides Strassfield, museum director and chief curator, on the exhibition “Landscape Selections from the Permanent Collection.”

The Museum at Guild Hall is located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton and is open Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Call 631-324-0806 or visit

Published in Dan’s Papers, 11/6/13:

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Robert Dash at The Drawing Room

Robert Dash, The Drawing Room

Robert Dash, “From Blue Hill IV,” 2013. Courtesy of The Drawing Room


Robert Dash (1931–2013), the beloved Sagaponack artist, writer, gardener and creator of Madoo Conservancy, is remembered with an exhibition of his pastels, From Blue Hill, a series based on memories of Blue Hill, Maine, on view at The Drawing Room in East Hampton. Elegantly framed, each work is like a small treasure—subtle at first, the powerful sneaking up gradually, like making your way down a garden path to the crescendo moment of discovering open space.

From the grouping of pastels in the front room of the gallery, Dash demonstrates a keen sense of balance and space. Using a beige-tone antique paper, he leaves vast areas untouched, and in these areas there is room to breath. The antique paper also allows for white to function as color, the way it does in the garden. “So provoking a color is white, I even have brambles I don’t mind and dog roses and mushrooms on the lawn, fraises de bois in constant bloom, and chamomile,” wrote Dash in Notes from Madoo: Making a Garden in the Hamptons, (2000) a collection from his East Hampton Star gardening column.

The negative areas, together with the areas filled with splashes of vibrant, natural color, form compositions that curve in opposite directions from the middle of the page—a mountain slopes from upper-left to mid-right, where it is met by a path leading from mid-right to lower left. Dash plays with variations on the two expansive, sweeping movements. In From Blue Hill II, 2013, a few sweeping blue lines form a mountain, sloping from upper left to mid-right, and hence from there black squiggling lines make their way back to the right, curving slightly downward, like a train coming toward you. The middle area is a lively and spirited collection of quick, undaunted marks of mostly blues and greens. In the foreground, an abstracted plant, in black pastel, completes (or begins) a line that brings us back to the mid-right.

Romantic and poetic, the From Blue Hill series are also as vigorous as the untamed nature they portray. From more definitive, recognizable landscapes like From Blue Hill IV, 2013, in which a rushing river, boulders, trees and plants are all distinctly recognizable, to the more abstracted forms, albeit still nature, in From Blue Hill XV, 2012–13, a sense of the wildness of nature can be felt.

Although the series was based on a Maine landscape, they were made in the artist’s studio at Madoo, which means “My Dove” in an old Scottish dialect, his home and workplace since 1967. “I do not paint in the way that I garden or garden as I would employ the brush,” Dash wrote, “although the process is often the same—both are arts of the wrist, the broadest, largest sort of signature, if you will, highly idiosyncratic, the result of much doing, much stumbling, and highly intuited turns and twists before everything fits and adheres to the scale of one’s intention. A good tree must often be moved to a more reticent spot when it begins to dominate and thus ruin the total orchestrations.” (Notes, p. 4) In this exhibition we can see the artist playing gardener, moving a tree here or there, a mountain this way or that; utilizing both memory and a mastery of composition to create something new.

Robert Dash, From Blue Hill is on view through November 4.  

Also on view at the gallery is an exhibition of drawings and wall architecture by Chuck Holtzman. The Drawing Room is located at 66 Newtown Lane, East Hampton. Call 631-324-5016 or visit

Published in Dan’s Papers, October 18, 2013.

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Moby Dick at Neoteric

Paton Miller, Neoteric, Amagansett

Paton Miller, ”Quequag” 2013. Courtesy of Neoteric Fine Art

The current exhibition at Neoteric Fine Art in Amagansett, Moby-Dick, pays homage to both the area’s rich whaling history and to Herman Melville’s classic novel. The show runs in conjunction with Janet Goleas’ “The Moby Project” at Mulford Farm, an English Colonial farmstead barn built in 1721, now part of The East Hampton Historical Society, where artists were invited to respond to various themes surrounding the book and the ocean.

Neoteric oftentimes presents thematic group shows featuring the work of local artists, many of whom are members of the original artists’ collective from which the gallery was formed. Ecological concerns are frequently voiced through various media, including found objects, demonstrating the deep connection these artists have to their natural surroundings. In one way or another, most of the exhibitions at Neoteric, if not all, extend beyond filling a gallery space with paintings—inviting the community to take part in listening to live music or presentations on new ideas, raising money for local charities and dancing to silent disco beneath projected light installations. This time, with still a clear connection to the culture of the East End, the focus is on history. Yet, in looking to the past, the show offers a fresh and contemporary reinterpretation.

The exhibition is in two rooms. Upon entering, I veered to the left, drawn in perhaps by the enormous multi-color creature hanging from the ceiling, “The Whale” itself. Made by the collaborative effort of the Neoteric Collective, using buoys, spray foam and pool noodles, the whale invites humor to the otherwise bleak tale. Positioned in the center of the room the sculpture also creates an interactive and metaphorical obstacle, causing the viewer to choose a route for their viewing.

Among a strong group, Paton Miller’s “Quequag,” is particularly powerful. Painted on linen that at a closer look almost seems rough like burlap, Quequag sits tall and proud, his body and face covered in scarification and his wrists cuffed in metal. There’s something Modernist and Gauguin-like about the treatment of the hands, the sloping, disappearing shoulder and the diagonal yellow line of the boat, dividing the background of the vast, dark blue unknown and the very brief foreground.

In the same room, Melora Griffis’ “Fishing,” recalls the Figurative Expressionist Jan Müller’s use of white paint and simultaneous allegorical, literary and dreamlike subject matter. Her flattened plane depicts three levels—the top, blue celestial, with a black-veiled female in an embryo-shaped form; the center green earthly, which includes a pregnant woman, hands over her belly; and a lower level of a white sea with a ship, swimmers and sinking bodies. Like a memory from a dream, “Fishing” awaits interpretation.

In the other room, “Scrimshaw” pieces by Dalton Portella, Melissa Mapes, Rory Evenson, Sue Heatley, Charles Ly and Peter Spacek, were uniquely etched in and/or drawn on wood carved to the shape of the bones and teeth of sperm whales, some adhering to the traditional look of scrimshaw, others taking a modern departure. Hanging above them is an exquisite work by Charles Ly, “The Widow.” In watercolor, pen and ink, mounted on distressed gold leaf paper, a woman clasps her hands together as everything below her bust is submerged into the water. There’s a quality of perfectionist illustration to Ly’s work mixed in with an understanding and love for the culture of his generation. The signature use of animal headdresses, sometimes befitting the person beneath them, other times, in sheer irony, not at all, adds an element of curiosity. The submerged woman appears not to be in good faith of the blessings gifted to the wearer of the fox (i.e. cunning, cleverness, wisdom).

Moby-Dick also includes work by Ted Victoria, Sophia Collier, Amanda Church, Emily Noel Lambert, Gregory Montreuil, Scott Bluedorn, Christine Lidrbauch and Burt Van Deusen and will be on view through October 18.

Neoteric Fine Art is located at 208 Main Street in Amagansett. Call 631-828-7518 or and for more information on the exhibitions.

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“Water” Overflows With East End Artists At Tripoli Gallery

Billy Sullivan, Tripoli Gallery, Yung Jake, Clifford Ross, Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, Matisse Patterson, Ross Bleckner, Keith Sonnier

Billy Sullivan, “Red on the Run,” 2013. Courtesy Tripoli Gallery

The viewer is quickly made aware of the ecological concerns behind the exhibition with a sculpture from neon-light pioneer Keith Sonnier’s “Tidewater Series,” Los La Butte, the first series in which the Louisiana-born artist used found objects in his work. Los La Butte has a yellow curving line of neon that extends the field of energy from within a lattice vortex, containing plastic bottles and debris, with an aluminum base made out of a washing machine tumbler. To the right of the sculpture is Stefan Bondell’s Missed the Mist, 2009; a canvas of blue topography resembling the ocean floor. In 2010, Bondell organized a poetry reading in the downtown New York Marble Cemetery, “Oil Kills Poets Spill,” featured a backdrop of one of his paintings, Currentcy, 20-by-20 feet large, and composed of shredded currency from the Federal Reserve, black and red ink, BP oil and blood, in direct commentary to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.The current show at Tripoli Gallery, “Water,” is themed as such. But what seems almost equally indicative of water, besides the numerous examples of artworks influenced by the element, is the curatorial fluidity; undoubtedly a challenge when the artwork ranges from a gilt-framed 1907 Thomas Moran to a 2013 conceptual work by multi-media artist Yung Jake comprised of three Fiji water bottles on a shelf and given an Emoji Icon title.

Billy Sullivan’s Red on the Run captures the excitement of a dog off the leash at the bay. In a quintessentially Sullivan palette, the intense brightness of the sun is captured in stark whites in the sand and the water behind it. To the right is a crystal sculpture by Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where her architectural background can be seen in the precision of the blue waves. Echoing the ripples of Lin’s Blue Wave are two photographs by Clifford Ross, whereby a clear body of softly moving water reflects overhead sunlight, temping us to dive in. Taken as abstractions, the variations in the repeated forms create movement within a fluid grid-like composition. To the right, the rippling water is seen in yet another form: a 1965 screen print and die-cut collage on blue Rowlux, a lenticular plastic that conveys a sense of movement when seen at different angles, entitled Seascape, by Roy Lichtenstein.

Remarkable groupings continue throughout: Darius Yektai’s The Shower, depicting a figure showering beneath a waterfall in a background of lush, tropical greenery is followed by two Ross Bleckner paintings, Black Monet I and Black Monet II, revealing beautiful pinks, yellows and reds of the lily flowers beneath a backdrop of blacks and greys.

Marsden Hartley’s Starfish, c. 1938, hangs adjacent to Willem de Kooning’s abstracted Sting Ray lithograph of 1971. Matisse Patterson’s intricate and curious Cornell-esque boxes include sand and water taken from local beaches, their titles, like Scott “The Cut” Cameron, revealing which one. A quietly peaceful Fairfield Porter, Beach, 1974, is flanked by a bright pink Mary Heilmann diptych and by a James de Pasquale quadtriptch—capturing Heilmann’s pinks and de Pasquale’s blue-greens.

Following the seascapes’ horizons we next encounter a Roy Lichtenstein print where diminishing dots simultaneously create depth and flatness, as his early-computer-graphic-trees add humor to the littoral scene. Lola Montes Schnabel’s mixed media adds excitement and brings us back to air after our metaphorical dive.  Lastly, it seems worth noting that the oldest work, an 1890s William Merritt Chase, Shinnecock Bay, is side-by-side with the newest work, a 2013 Nathalie Shepherd diptych, Bathing Beauty in the City of New York and Waxed Up.

On view at Tripoli Gallery, 30A Jobs Lane, Southampton, through Sept. 9. Get more info at

Published in Dan’s Papers. August 24, 2013.

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Alexandre Arrechea: Skyscrapers Land in Southampton

Alexandre Arrechea, Keszler Annex

Alexandre Arrechea at Keszler Gallery Annex, Southampton

Taking a space anywhere but on Main Street or Jobs Lane, in Southampton that is, might seem like a risk for an art gallery—but after a visit to the new Keszler Gallery Annex on North Sea Road, just south of Montauk Highway, it was clear why owner Stephan Keszler would choose the location.

The building, a former power plant, offers sky-high ceilings—suitable for large-scale artworks that could not otherwise fit—and massive garage-like doors that allow what’s inside the gallery (like that winking lenticular photograph “I Love You” by Derrick Santini) to be visible from the street. Old brick walls, painted white, and exposed overhead beams give the gallery a certain industrial, edgy rawness while sleek, modern and minimal gallery furniture let you know that Keszler is really all about contemporary art.

Currently on view, and visible from outside (anyone who’s been stuck at that red light on their way to Schmidt’s or Lynch’s will have seen it) are works by Alexandre Arrechea, who represented Cuba during the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011. The 15-foot-high curvilinear steel sculptures set on the grassy hill, “Helmsely,” 2013, and “Empire State,” 2012-2013, are modifications of the New York City skyscrapers, shrunken in size and altered to the extent that their tops are no longer pointing upward—”Empire State” is coiled up like a snail shell while “Helmsely” makes a giant ring. Turned inward, could this be a commentary on the current state of the city? The series, entitled “No Limits,” lends itself to a wealth of interpretations—no limits on the artist’s ambition to create, no limits to the self-handed bonuses within the financial sector.

Both works on view outside of Keszler Annex were part of the Park Avenue Project, presented by Magnan Metz Gallery, in partnership with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the Fund for the Park Avenue Sculpture Committee, where they were seen from March through early June of this year by New Yorkers making their daily commute up and down Park Ave. Featured on the cover of Time Out New York, as part of their “Amazing Outdoor Art” issue (April 25–May 1, 2013), ”Empire State” is photographed as it stood in early spring, on the Park Avenue median surrounded by mathematically planted tulips and taxi cabs. It’s strikingly amusing to note the difference surrounding scale makes in the overall impression of Arrechea’s sculpture.

In Manhattan, surrounded by skyscrapers, ”Empire State” and other works from the No Limits series seem large. Here in Southampton they seem massive inside the Annex, where more examples from No Limits are on view, along with watercolors and works on paper relating to the series, should a collector wish to partake in the series on a smaller scale. An adjoining room features artwork by Keszler mainstay artists—fashion photographer Marco Giaviano’s supermodels, skateboards with designs by Damien Hirst and Murakami, Bert Stern’s Marilyn portraits and Russell Young’s iconic screenprints, to name a few. Impressive and strikingly beautiful works by Zhuang Hong Y—made of rice paper flowers and paint on canvas—make use of the gallery’s high ceilings and wide space as they extend not only upward and outward but also towards the viewer in their sculptural relief. Bansky’s “Wet Dog,” 2007, the original, unique street work, will bid you adieu on your way out; the lasting imprint beckoning a second visit.

The current show at Keszler Annex will be on view through Labor Day. Keszler Gallery is located at 200 North Sea Road, Southampton. For more information, call 212-774-1906 or visit

Published in Dan’s Papers, August 10, 2013

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Street Artist Aakash Nihalani Tapes the Town

Aakash Nihalani, Tripoli Patterson, Parrish Art Museum, Midsummer Party

Aakashi Nihalani, “Drop,” 2013. Parrish Art Museum. Photo courtesy of Tripoli Gallery

We all gripe over our crazy weekends, running here, there and everywhere, but Aakash Nihalani has perhaps outdone us. The Brooklyn-based artist traveled to Southampton mid-week to begin installing at both the Parrish Art Museum and Tripoli Gallery. Driving back and forth between Water Mill and Southampton, always an ordeal, was now an experience in classic Hamptons traffic, on possibly the grandest scale yet, thanks to two major art fairs, the new one-week renters, and the numerous galas taking place on the weekend of July 13. Burning the midnight oil in the midst of this, Aakash successfully pulled off two very impressive site-specific projects.

On the South side of the new Herzog & de Meuron-designed Parrish Art Museum, visible from Montauk Highway, Aakash used white tape to create overlapping rectangular forms, resulting something reminiscent of toppling dominoes, blown over by wind from the East. On the Northern exterior wall, he created low-rise boxes (or, to get technical, a diamond-shape surrounded by two adjoining rectangles on either side)–the forms created by black tape. The box closest to ground level is the largest, and they diminish in size as they make their way up; creating the illusion of depth on the flat surface of the concrete wall. Those who flocked to the Parrish’s annual Midsummer Gala on July 13 had an opportunity to get up close to the work and take part in the altered view.

Aakash is forging his own territory in –isms, but certainly takes part in street art, op art and modular art, with a touch of minimalism in his clean lines and restrictive palette of black, white and fluorescents. As a street artist, he’s taken to sidewalks, walls and patios from New York City to New Delhi, using his tape to distort perspective and/or play around with existing forms. His work extends the dialogue of Frank Stella’s pulsating squares, Sol LeWitt’s self-imposed rules and mathematical precision, and Jasper Johns’ Usukuki print series, in which a linear motif is replicated and rotated.

The longer you look at Aakash’s work the more you see. For his current exhibition at Tripoli Gallery, Aaranged, he created several tape pieces, which adhere directly to the gallery walls, as well as new tile works. The tile works are made up of modules that can be re-arranged (hence the exhibition title)–allowing for endless compositions. Each module in this instance is a square foot tile with magnetic backing and a surface of bright white paint and black silk-screened lines (slightly wider than the tape he uses). As you begin to look for patterns, you realize that your innate drive for rationality is thrown off by a chance rotation of one of the modules; as if the artist is toying with our notions of order and chaos. As a result, none of Aakash’s works are static—rather they are in motion.

Aakash writes, “All my geometric work is based/derived off of a vocabulary of isometric forms represented/ created from squares and parallelograms. I then take these shapes, or modules, and create different compositions, or variations. As Sol LeWitt said, ‘For each work of art that becomes physical, there are many variations that do not.’ The works in the show are about modularity, and the variations and compositions created by arrangement guided by rational and irrational rules.”

No stranger to the East End, in 2012 Aakash Nihalani was awarded a residency at the Willem de Kooning studio in East Hampton. Adhering to his neon colors, tape and modules, he created outdoor works in high-contrast to the trees and grass of the backyard. In situ photographs can be seen at

On view at Tripoli Gallery, 30A Jobs Lane, Southampton, through August 11. Outdoor works at the Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. Visit;

Published in Dan’s Papers, July 22, 2013.

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Bridgehampton Fine Art

Bridgehampton Fine Art, Ai Wei Wei, Basquiat, de Kooning

Bridgehampton Fine Art

Bridgehampton has long been a crucial part of the East End art scene—from staples like Bobby Van’s, where artists and writers once gathered, to New York’s top art collectors and artists calling it home. Indeed, there is something very special about Bridgehampton: the mix of old and new, of quaint and upscale. Strolling down picturesque Main Street is like a journey through time; from Candy Kitchen, the old-fashioned ice cream parlor, to Bridgehampton Fine Art, a gem of an art gallery that opened in May of this year.

Tucked back from the road, down a flower-lined brick pathway, the gallery holds museum-quality artworks from some of the most well known contemporary and modern masters. You’ll be greeted by awe-inspiring infinity light boxes and a series of horse paintings by one of their popular contemporary artists, Danielle Procaccio, but don’t stop there. Behind the corner are important works by Willem de Kooning, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sam Francis, Cristo, Louise Bourgeois, Ai Wei Wei and John Chamberlain.

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Darius Yektai: On Country Ground at Tripoli Gallery

Darius Yektai

Darius Yektai, “The Boquet,” (2012), Photo Credit: Gary Mamay. Courtesy of Tripoli Gallery

Darius Yektai’s current exhibition at Tripoli Gallery, “On Country Ground,” kicks off the summer season with a group of six large paintings, bathed in brilliant blues and deep, rich greens. There’s an immediate sense that Southampton-born Yektai is in touch with his natural surroundings. In these six canvases, Yektai has pared down and confronted the essentials of existence. The Boquet, (2012) is a large 96” x 72” painting, with an almost life-size solitary figure emerging from a mass of forceful brushstrokes of green, blue and black paint. It recalls running through one of our many nature preserve trails. The upper right corner and edges of the picture are painted a soft white and recognized as background, like an early-60s Joan Mitchell, while a section of the mid-left of the canvas is covered in a crisp, bright white that confronts the surface, thus interpreted as foreground. The figure sits somewhere between the two “whites,” the old and the new, potentially past and future. Stuck inside the canvas, he runs towards us on a diagonal. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s easy to see that the artist is more than a colorist. He is breaking down the picture plane, playing with depth and surface, and with his inclusion of the figure, he is also able to include movement and a hypothetical narrative.

While purely abstract works can undoubtedly capture movement, they can also leave the viewer with a longing for something more. So often we try to find recognizable images in non-objective works (just listen to the comments people make at MoMA in front of Pollock’s Number 1A). Art historians are trained not to make remarks like, “I think I see a face,” but perhaps it’s only natural to look for mirrors of ourselves; proof of our own reality.

Having studied Art History at the American University in Paris, and born into an artist family (his father is New York School Abstract Expressionist Manoucher Yektai), Darius Yektai is not unaware of the complexities of being a contemporary artist. In an age where boundaries have been broken from all angles, and, at the risk of sounding provincial, a junk pile can make headlines, working in the age-old medium of paint on canvas and embracing subject matter that (gasp!) comes close to landscape is a daring, bold move. While there currently seems to be yet another return to expressionism, figurative too, much of what is presented as art today still grabs our attention by use of disturbing imagery—an artistic cop-out. Here, with no pretense, we can enjoy the paintings and feel our spirits lifted in their presence. If art shall be taken as means of communication, then it would seem that the artist is bringing us closer to his own experience in nature. In From Tree to Sea (2011-2013), a mixed-media work, branches of a tree are made of painted paper that protrudes from the canvas, perhaps in an effort to further reach us. It brings to mind Eva Hesse’s 1966 Hang Up, whereby notions of the pictorial plane are questioned as a steel tube comes out (a few feet) from the rectangular, empty wall frame. In Yektai’s “From Tree to Sea,” a man hangs from the tree by both arms. From a few steps back, the man could also be seen as the tree trunk, supporting the branch above him. Either way, the connection between mankind and nature is literalized, as the figure looks out along the curving, tropical cove in the background.

“On Country Ground” provides a fresh example of contemporary art by an East End artist who has simultaneously placed himself in context with his expressionist predecessors and forged his own trail.

“Darius Yektai: On Country Ground” is on view at Tripoli Gallery, 30 Jobs Lane, Southampton, through June 20.

Published in Dan’s Papers: June, 2013.

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This Week’s Cover Artist: Chuck Close

Chuck Close

Chuck Close
John, 1998, 126-color silkscreen
64 ½ x 54 ½ inches
Parrish Art Museum, Gift of Chuck Close and Leslie Rose Close

Chuck Close (b. 1940, Monroe, WA) and his portraits are instantly recognizable. With his self-portraits hanging in museums nationwide, we have become familiar not only with his face and various pairs of glasses, but with his distinctive technique. His iconic large-scale close-ups, subject matter being the faces of his family, friends, artists, and self, are made up of tiny mosaic-like squares. Employing a gridded photograph and paint, Close blurs the lines between photography and painting, and between Realism and Conceptualism, while keeping his portraits in sharp focus.

Throughout his artistic career, Close has gone back and forth in self-imposed palette limitations. In his 1968 “Self Portrait,” he strictly adhered to black and white. Several years later, the pencil and ink “Robert/104,072” (1973-4) of MOMA’s collection, was made of 104,072 separate color squares.

Other techniques include the use of fingerprint marks, pulp paper, watercolor, tapestries based on Polaroids, and of course printmaking.

The cover of this issue is a reproduction of “John,” 1998, a 126-color silkscreen portrait of the artist John Chamberlain that took two years to complete. In a 2003 interview with Parrish Art Museum Director Terrie Sultan, Close, after expressing his previous concern on using silkscreen, with its connection to Pop, said, “A lot of my misgivings about silkscreen vanished when I saw that silkscreen didn’t have to be flat and opaque, that it was possible to get tremendous watery transparencies, and to make something that had an open, brushy quality where other colors flickered through. I realized a silkscreen could have the spirit and touch of the paintings.” With the Parrish Art Museum as home base, “John” has been around the world, exhibited in 2003 at the Blaffer Art Museum, University of Houston, and currently at the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg, Austria.

While maintaining a studio in New York, Close has lived in Bridgehampton since the ’70s. He has had more than 200 solo exhibitions in more than 20 countries, including major retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid and at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. In 2000, President Clinton presented him with the prestigious National Medal of Arts. More recently he was appointed by President Obama to serve on The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. This level of recognition during an artist’s lifetime is remarkable. It seems noteworthy to mention that with this degree of achievement, Close still makes  regular appearances at various museum gala after-parties, simultaneously indicating the breadth of his support for the arts and allowing for a fresh generation of faces to become acquainted with his.

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Remembering Lester Johnson

Lester Johnson

Lester Johnson, Photo Credit: John Schiff

Having spent summers growing up in my grandparents’ house in Springs, it was not until much later that I realized what it meant to be an artist there in the ’50s and ’60s. The paint-speckled floor of the second-floor studio was where we camped out, with cots and sleeping bags, and, it being the country, spiders. The ceiling had a massive skylight—ideal for an artist, less ideal during August thunderstorms.

The house had undergone a few changes since Lester and Josephine Johnson first bought the property on Old Stone Highway in 1954. The land was sold to them from the next-door neighbor, Mr. Fields, a bayman who had a massive scallop shell pile back in the woods behind the house. Lester and Jo built the house from the ground up, with the help of Jo’s father and uncle, who helped dig to access well water, which was then brought up with a small hand pump. The house was a ranch at first, and the “studio” was a barrack-like shack in the backyard.

Lester loved the land because of the locust trees, which he captured in many of his watercolors in the ’90s. In the early years in Springs, to support his family, he would go clamming in Accabonac Bay and then sell his findings out of a bucket at the end of the road. People who bought the clams would send a check in the mail.

In the mornings, Lester would bicycle to Daniel T. Miller General Store (now Springs General Store) to pick up food for the day. From time to time, they’d drive to Southampton to go shopping, and to Sag Harbor to see a movie, or to pick something up from Mrs. Epstein’s Dry Goods store in East Hampton.

He spent time painting with ink and a sketchbook at Barnes Landing, Louse Point and Albert’s Landing, and back at the studio with oil and canvas; creating paintings similar to those he was working on in the city—dark, figurative images in heavy impasto.

In March of 1961, ARTNews ran an article by Lawrence Campbell, with photographs by Robert Frank, titled “Lester Johnson Paints A Picture” (a series that began in 1953 with “de Kooning Paints A Picture”). Describing his process and his tendency to destroy and rework a painting, Campbell wrote, “But coming on to it from a night’s sleep, he will see it not as full and rich, but as smaller, weaker, thinner than the night before. This revelation may come as a great shock. It is a call to arms. Suddenly he will feel free to wreck the image with a vengeance. He will replace it with an entirely new one, reworking every inch of the surface and all at high speed.”

Reflecting (and participating in) a certain Ab-Ex freedom, Lester told Campbell, “It is as though I had fought my way out from behind my own personality, and was able at last to expand and express   myself in a completely fresh way. When the painting is finished, I realize I can never repeat it. It came from a moment of absolute freedom. The moment came when I was able to set down a statement in paint which was the sum of the statements that preceded it.”

Taking part in the physicality of “action painting,” as described by critic Harold Rosenberg in 1952, Lester nonetheless set himself apart from his Abstract Expressionist peers by not only including the figure in his work, but making the human figure his vehicle for expression throughout his career.

The East Hampton art scene Lester and Jo took part in consisted of occasional cocktail parties with other artists, visits with neighbors like Rosenberg or Saul Steinberg, a drive once with Robert Frank and Jack Kerouac to Jungle Pete’s down the road, meeting Bill de Kooning and his daughter Lisa at Louse Point, or spending the day with Paul Georges and his wife and kids. On Sundays, the artists would gather at the one of the ocean beaches, usually Georgica or the “Potato Beach.” No parking permit was required and the beaches were empty.

In the mid-’90s, he painted a “Summer Scene” series based on the people he saw sitting at East Hampton Point. Quite different from his all-black paintings from the early ’60s, “Summer Scene #5” (1996) is particularly interesting in that it reveals many of the transitions that were made along the way—the inclusion of wavy-haired women, dramatic angles of arms and legs and intricacy of design within the fabrics, all in the greater pursuit of movement. In typical Johnson fashion, adhering to the “truth” of the canvas, he leaves the feet loosely painted with lots of dripping paint. However, this series, different in its slightly unfinished, watery quality and unusual colors (turquoise, blues, lavenders, and browns) leaves me certain that the water and distinctive light at Three Mile Harbor had its influence.

The South Fork underwent enormous changes during Lester’s lifetime. It’s hard to imagine witnessing the evolution from farmland to “playground for the rich and famous.” Through it all, he continued working on the East End during summers, eventually settling year-round in Southampton Village in 2006, where he spent his remaining years. Lester died on May 30, 2010, at the age of 91. An influence on a generation of younger artists as well as his contemporaries, his legacy as a leading Figurative Expressionist continues, and his work is in the permanent collections of both the Parrish Art Museum and Guild Hall. As a grandfather and as a person, he will be remembered as much for his career as for his sincerity and gentle nature.

Upcoming exhibitions of Lester Johnson’s work include:

Pioneers of Provincetown: The Roots of Figurative Expressionism, Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown, July 19–September 2, 2013.

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Thanksgiving Collective at Tripoli Gallery in Southampton


Tripoli Gallery, Aakash Nihalani, Nick Weber, Bosco Sodi, Darius Yektai

Image courtesy Tripoli Gallery


Summer in the city is a slow time for the art world. Galleries on the Upper East Side might as well shut down completely. After springtime over-saturation, with what seems like hundreds of art fairs, in the summer the city galleries see their art-sated clientele turning their attention away from art and toward the beach.

The problem with this cycle is that it causes one to miss the summer collectives, the group shows that are an art world summer standby. This type of exhibit gives galleries the chance to experiment with juxtaposing art styles and with innovative installations. The emphasis on the curatorial aspect of exhibitions has been on the rise, especially among younger galleries and “alternative art spaces,” in defiant rejection of more commercial models. Many established galleries reserve these types of shows for the slow summer months and perhaps for an occasional winter month when art-loving snowbirds head south.

So it was delightful to see a top-notch group show in Southampton just this past weekend at Tripoli Gallery. The show’s title, “Thanksgiving Collective 2012: Modern Salon,” refers to the combination of East End artists, both well-known and emerging and promising young talent from outside the area.

“Modern Salon” also refers to the way in which the show was installed. Salon style is curatorial parlance for an exhibit where art is hung from floor-to-ceiling, such as in the historic exhibitions of the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

The Brucennial, a group show in Greenwich Village this past spring, went the salon route, covering every millimeter of space. Tripoli’s new show is not quite that extreme, but it does utilize clusters of paintings instead of evenly spaced distribution.

Hanging contemporary art in the antiquated salon style has an interesting result: it simultaneously dramatizes the newness of the artwork and connects it with the past.

Ross Bleckner’s smooth-surfaced oil on linen, “Untitled,” 2012, is almost like a zoomed in, blurred, and distorted 18th century Dutch vase of flowers still life, beautiful with a touch of melancholy darkness. Left of this hang a group of pictures vastly bathed in white: Nathalie Shepherd’s ghost-like, female figure whispers on the canvas. It is situated above a de Kooning-esque woman by Felix Bonilla Gerena. Areas of painterly-ness, like Darius Yektai’s abstractions and Nick Weber’s introspective portraits, are punctuated by glittery and pulsatingEric Freeman paintings. Towards the back of the gallery space, Michael Chiarello’s geometric and angular sculpture is juxtaposed with the organic and curvilinear lines of Jameson Ellis’ vibrant painting.

On the opposite wall, Bosco Sodi’s rough surface and rusty hues of “Untitled,” 2011, contrasts with Mary Heilmann’s smooth and artificially pigmented “Acid Splash,” 2012. In the front of the gallery are a series of small heads by Darren Coffield, depicting that startling moment when you see someone from upside down and envision their eyebrows to be their mouth. Each work of art relates in some way to its neighbor, and in some way connects to the past.

In this “Modern Salon,” “modern” takes back its original meaning, before art historians and auction houses, through no fault of their own, disconnected the word from its definition. The 24 artists included in Tripoli’s exhibition created these works within the past decade—many just in the last year. Combining the work of international and local artists emphasizes the creative converging of histories and backgrounds on the East End and adds new meaning to “here
and now.”

Tripoli Gallery, 30a Jobs Lane, Southampton. Exhibition on view through January 24, 2013


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“Amagansett, Armageddon” at Neoteric Fine Art

Neoteric Fine Art, Alexander McCue

“Frank” by Alexander McCue, photo courtesy of Neoteric Fine Art


January 17, 2013

Neoteric Fine Art in Amagansett is bravely and refreshingly idealist. What owner, director, and visual artist Scott Bluedorn set up in 2006 to be an artist collective, representing young, emerging artists from the East End, has transformed into a gallery, as of 2012, and yet retains all of it’s initial mission. The artwork selected for Bluedorn’s latest show, “Armageddon, Amagansett,” reflects and builds upon that vision.

With an apocalyptic and prophetic theme, centered on the ancient Mayan end of the world date of December 21st, 2012, artists took various approaches to the given framework. There was an evident dissatisfaction and discontent, particularly from an environmental perspective, at the affects of greed, particularly in works by artist Rossa Williams Cole, such as “Credit Card Shanty Town” and “Deep Water Horizon,” a sculpture made of wood and bamboo.

Living so close to the ocean, it’s hard to imagine not feeling the impact of the elements and perhaps this generates an innate connectedness and appreciation. With the ever-changing winds and tides, we are truly at the mercy of this flux. One also bears witness to massive waves of people coming and going, often times with little regard to the impact they have on the fragile ecological balance. It is not rare to see artists at Neoteric, in this exhibition and in past shows, using natural and found materials, such as driftwood and clam shells, adding meaning to “the medium is the message.”

Other artists adhered to two-dimensional modes of expression; paint on canvas and graphic works. Alexander McCue’s “Frank,” is a powerful image of Donnie Darko’s malevolent rabbit. The garishly bright colors mixed with splashes and drips of black paint hark back to German Expressionist paintings, particularly Nolde’s “Still Life with Masks,” (1911). The Die Bruke movement (“bruke” meaning “bridge,” metaphorically between the past and the future of art) of which Nolde was a member, was interested in expressing extreme emotion through high-keyed color. McCue’s painting bridges a centuries-old medium with a subject matter very specific to his generation. Said subject matter (the creepy bunny) time-traveled back to the present from the future, providing one possible link to the prophetic/apocalyptic theme. Upon relating “Frank” to “Still Life with Masks,” it seemed particularly relevant that in the movie, Donnie asks Frank “Why are you wearing that stupid bunny suit?” to which Frank replies, “Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?” Is it our masks that lead us to ruin?

It’s not all gloom and doom. Bluedorn’s own work “New Atlantis,” is a vision of a future utopia. Made with Xerox transfer and watercolor on paper, hundreds of intricate details reminiscent of illustrations from Albertus Sebas’ 18th century “Cabinet of Curiosities,” have been combined, overlapped, and arranged to create an hourglass-like shape whereby the darker base, perhaps the decaying sea floor, is filtered through a rotating midsection, and gives way to a lighter and airier top, abundant with flora, sea creatures, a new pantheon, and a magnificent underwater city.

Maybe it’s because Bluedorn is an artist himself that the gallery lacks the jadedness of many commercial models. It’s clear from the openings that Neoteric not only promotes local artists, but also provides a venue for creative people in the community to congregate and participate in an exchange of ideas. The gallery has hosted book signings, poetry readings, multimedia experiments, “Amagansett AudioVisual Festival,” “First Friday’s Acoustic,” and numerous DJ sets, all presented by young, local talent. Onlookers and contributors alike have an opportunity to take an active role in an artistic dialogue, thus broadening their experience and adding to the cultural richness of the East End.

On January 25th, the “Neoteric Symposium,” will take a more structured approach to this discourse, inviting local artists, curators, ecologists, brewers, and other individuals to present in the “PechaKucha” format, as made popular to the area by the Parish Art Museum. What began as a discussion between architects in Japan has now expanded to over 500 cities globally and includes not only architects but also really anyone who creates anything (wine, fashion, music, gardens, you name it).  After the symposium, local singer/songwriter San Joaquin will perform from his newly released album “Zerosims.” The combined event is also a fundraiser, with a suggested $10 donation, to further help Hurricane Sandy charities. It’s easy to see that Neoteric is strongly connected to its environment from both a humanist and naturalist standpoint.

“Amagansett, Armageddon” is on view until the end of January, 2013.

“Neoteric Symposium” and “Zeroisms” performance will be on 1/25, 7-11 p.m.

Neoteric Fine Art

208 Main Street, Amagansett

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Raja Ram Sharma at the Drawing Room in East Hampton

Initially lured into The Drawing Room, a gallery on Newtown Lane in East Hampton, by their Jennifer Bartlett exhibition signage, I was surprised to find myself more intrigued by what was downstairs: a jewel-like show of miniature paintings by Contemporary Rajashtani artist Raja Ram Sharma. The above painting is one example of a room full of exquisite pictures created with single-strand brushes using a 17th century technique which Sharma was trained in and adapted within his own artistic expression. As relayed in the gallery’s press release, the artist is currently living in Udaipur and also works as a painter of pichwai, the “cloth paintings hung as offerings behind the image of the deity in Hindu temples.”

What is striking about this group of paintings is that while the process would be, to me, painstaking to say the least, there is an air of lightness to them, as if the artist himself was truly enjoying each little microscopic application of paint. There is a softness that subtly evokes a spiritual state of being without any overt narrative. The perspective, flat with the impression of everything falling towards you or towards the bottom edge, somewhat calls to mind the late 15th century illuminated manuscript Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, which depicts the month of June and is quite familiar to us Medieval criticism bookish types (get a ticket and stand on line!) as being the cover of Umberto Eco’s Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages.

Book of Hours

Similarly to this Book of Hours example, Raja Ram Sharma’s Study III, 2012, utilizes line and color to create simultaneous movement and balance. As the river curves down to the lower edge of the pictorial plane we are stopped by two bright red boats, their oars pointed diagonally back upward to the temple above whereby we can begin to make our way back down the river, thus going around and around in a circle for as long as one pleases, stopping and starting at any point. Along the way, the eye is tempted to slow down and observe the little brushstrokes, if one can use the word so freely. My Post-postmodernist art history professors would be cringing at my description of the eye’s actions but in this instance it seems appropriate and accurate, as there seems to be a devotional quality to the work; a person might be brought into it only through a slowing down of the eye and through the aforementioned circular movement.

The show is up until October 29, 2012.

Raja Ram Sharma image courtesy of:



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Akram Zaatari on Jean-Luc Moulene

Dia:Chelsea, Akram Zaatari on Jean-Luc Moulène

Akran Zaatari, “Nabih Awada. Book of letters from family and friends,” 2007

Leaving Dia:Chelsea’s fifth floor space on West 22nd Street, after a talk given by Akram Zaatari on Jean-Luc Moulène, as part of their “Artists on Artists” lecture series, I felt a sense of calmness. It could have been the mildly damp air and grayish blue sky, or the stillness of Chelsea on a Monday, or possibly still the purity and sterility of the room in which the lecture took place. Unlike the warmly decorated auditoriums of the Met and the Frick, with their wood podiums, velvety seats, and red curtains, (or in the case of the Frick, pinkish-taupe wallpaper with flecks of gold), the space at Dia:Chelsea, adjoining the Electronic Arts Intermix space (which, on a side note is a fantastic place to sit and watch any number of films by Gordon Matta-Clark, Vito Acconci, and others) has the same minimalist feeling as a Mac store. It was well suited for the lecture that followed, which had its basis in photography and ideas, which is really a clean art form when compared to painting. Akram, dressed in black, delivered an eloquent talk on his own work and Jean-Luc’s direct influence on him. He began with showing three Youtube videos: how to fold a tee shirt, how to make a paper that flies, and how to get a cork out of a bottle. I actually was able to find the exact one he showed for the last one:

His point was that there are so many of these videos out there showing how to do this or that; many of them useless or arbitrary. What the videos have in common are their attention to detail and use of gestures that involve geometry. They are simple and calculated, much like his and Jean-Luc’s projects. When he says simple, I don’t think he means that they lack depth and meaning, but rather that they are organized and neat, and are not elaborate in their final form.

Born in Lebanon, Akram intended on becoming a filmmaker, but upon finishing high school in 1983, because of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, his parents didn’t want him and his brother to leave the country, and since Lebanon didn’t have any film schools, he ended up going studying architecture. With no interest in becoming an architect for the Lebanese state, he returned to his interest in making films. (This background was not the crux of the lecture, but rather an answer to a question at the end.) The talk focused instead on the themes of “paths,” paths described as “taking from and giving back” in photography. Akram is especially interested in switching up the paths we take from one thing to another, and testing out the reverse. For example, in Jean-Luc’s current exhibition at Dia:Beacon, Opus  + One he has reversed the path of photography by presenting us with the object that would be photographed rather than the photograph of the object. This idea certainly echoes Duchamp’s Readymades, 1914-20, Magritte’s The Treachery of Images, 1928-29, and Kosuth’s One in Three Chairs, 1965.

His interest in paths carries through to a project he did that was based on an idea he had while in France. He noticed that during strikes, which are a part of French culture, the workers oftentimes do not stop working altogether but instead shift their work to creating subversive or not useful objects. Some of these objects speak directly as propaganda through their use of symbols, while others are silent. Similarly, he explained, that with the globalization of the economy, the items exported from Palestine, since it is not recognized as a country, are often not allowed to be imported/exported (because of Certificate of Origin regulations) unless they use a different name. So often times a bottle of olive oil would say from Gaza or some other city rather than “from Palestine.” The bottles become “tellers of a complex situation” and “charged silence.”

In another project, Akram has put his own former photographs into a “time capsule,” an idea he based on the Lebanese National Museum’s concealing and pouring concrete over their ancient sculpture during the bombing in Beirut. He and Jean-Luc are both interested in dismantling photography, or rather reversing the paths. Akram talked about trying to escape being dogmatic in his process, and ended his lecture by showing one of his works in progress. It was a film choreographed for two parts played by three different men. Titled “Adulthood to Childhood,” it began showing two men embracing, and gradually we saw their motions as being childlike, as one became vulnerable or demanding. It began with Act II and then went on to Act I, in true path-reversal form.

Perhaps my feeling of serenity upon leaving the lecture was based on this very notion; that we have the option to see things differently, and in switching up the paths there is a certain expansion that happens. In that expansion there is a freedom that occurs, opening up the mind and the eye.

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Naifeh and Smith’s Vincent van Gogh lecture at the Met

Letters to Theo, Vincent Van Gogh

Metropolitan Museum of Art – The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium
2011-2012 Season

Vincent van Gogh
Presented by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011

Attending the lecture, Vincent van Gogh, presented by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, in conjunction with the recent publication of their daunting and controversial biography on the artist (Vincent van Gogh: A Life), was an awesome experience. And I do mean awesome in the true sense of the word, as it was both impressive and daunting. I was in the final stages of my 70-page Masters thesis, pitying my labors, when Naifeh and Smith took the stage at announced the completion of their ten year long project and over one thousand page long book, with 600 plus pages of notes. Goodbye, violins.

In the graciously lit auditorium of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the authors, following an introduction by the unbelievably eloquent Susan Alyson Stein (Curator of the Department of Nineteenth-Century, Contemporary, and Modern Art at the Met), spoke sincerely and humbly. They were not standing behind a podium, but seated in two comfortable chairs that turned slightly inward to each other, with a coffee table in front of them on which they could rest a glass of water and their notes. Behind them, the massive screen illustrated various van Gogh artworks and ephemera. It created more of a round-table discussion vibe rather than a lecture. They began with mentioning their nervousness at speaking in front of a room full of the world’s van Gogh scholars and furthermore having this lecture be the first of their tour (which went on to various smaller institutions across the country). They got a chuckle out of the flattered audience. Another chuckle arose when they told us they met at Harvard, where they were both studying law, and realized that neither one of them wanted to become a lawyer. Thus they set out to pursue what they loved: art and writing.

There is an attorney-esque aspect to their work, though, as they choose to take somewhat of an investigative approach. Not mentioned in this lecture, their (Pulitzer-prize winning) 1989 Jackson Pollack biography (Jackson Pollack: An American Saga) was based on more than 2,000 interviews with 850 people. With a similar strategy, they read each and every (and there are over 900) van Gogh letter. Their new biography has been revolutionary in that is suggests and argues for an alternate ending to van Gogh’s death as we know it. Since, scholars have come forward, agreeing with Naifeh and Smith that the story as it has been accepted for so many years, doesn’t quite add up.

Not dwelling on this, or giving away their ending, the authors instead focus their lecture on what led them to write about van Gogh. It is a valid point, as there has been so much written already, and so many (as I was not aware until this lecture) who have spent their lives dedicated to “van Gogh studies.” They spoke about the world’s fascination with van Gogh, and our astonishing appreciation of his paintings. He is beloved unlike any other artist. What is it that we are drawn to, the myth? The insanity? The death? What they seemed sure of is that van Gogh was able to express something of what it is like to be human. Coming out of a near-death surgery, one of the authors mentioned this moment, which happened to be just before they had finished the book, where he just opened his eyes and saw everything before him in such an intensity, as if it could be the last time he would see it. He thought that van Gogh captured this feeling; how in something as simple as a branch from an almond tree there is such an emotional response. Vincent, they said, had a strong belief that what you see on the canvas is what is in the artist’s head. Thus, to study van Gogh, one must read the letters.

They had the help of someone who created a database of their 100,000+ notecards on the letters, and with this digital program, were able to do in ten years what would have otherwise taken thirty. This database, or at least a similar one is now available via the van Gogh Museum’s website. They are broken down meticulously, by period, by place, by correspondent, and by those including sketches. ( (There is a complicated searching method for which the museum has created a tutorial, but in my opinion if you just click on any one of them you will be blown away if not moved to tears by the artist’s outpours to his brother Theo.)

Naifeh and Smith argue, and make a valid point, that our letters to our family members are not always truthful and should not be read as journal entries. (Think, being in college, spending money on god-knows-what and asking mom and dad for more, assuring them that you are doing well and have joined campus community outreach club.) Theo was much like a father figure to Vincent, and he was overly dependant on him. The authors touched on van Gogh’s viscosity, his need to get extremely and smotheringly close to people, and the resulting alienation, which made it hard for him to be a part of an artistic movement, but also made him the great painter he was. They talked about his temporal lobe epilepsy, which during an episode rendered the artist unable to paint. And just as the audience was hooked and wanting the rest of the story, and their conclusions on his suicide/murder, the lecture came to an end with an announcement about autographed copies being available.  Thus we shall all have to read the book!

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On the eve of the Maurizio Cattelan opening at the Guggenheim, this seemed relevant:

Maurizio Cattelan, Hollywood,

Maurizio Cattelan, Hollywood, 2001

May, 2006, essay for my Conceptual Art class at SUNY Purchase:
Maurizio Cattelan’s “Hollywood”: Continuing the Dialogue When it Might Not Even Matter?

In 2001, for the 49th Venice Biennale, the artist Maurizio Cattalan created, or rather recreated the Hollywood sign and placed it on a hilltop just outside of Palermo.  For the opening ceremony, the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation of Turin, provided a flight from Venice to Sicily for certain privileged collectors and critics to see the massive nine letters sprawled out across the rocky, arid landscape that bears a notable resemblance to Mt. Lee in L.A.  The sign is 23 meters high and 170 meters long; an exact replica of the original.  The hill that it occupied for six months is Bellolampo, a landfill that is being used by Asja Ambiente Italia, a biogas energy conversion plant, that subsequently illuminates the sign with its “green energy”.  Although this fact is not highlighted by Cattelan’s New York galleries, Marian Goodman and Gagosian, Asja is a partner of the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation, and the foundation’s principal mission is to promote contemporary art to the community at large.)

Cattelan earns himself the title “prankster”, from press releases to interviews with the BBC.  That is slightly misleading.  A prank is a mischievous trick, and to see “Hollywood” or any of his work for that matter, in that way is to really miss the point.  “Oh how clever! He put the Hollywood sign in Sicily.”  More recently, for the 4th Berlin Biennial (now we are up to two hundred biennials world-wide), which Cattelan curated along with his Wrong Gallery colleagues, he installed a “Gagosian Gallery” on a quiet Berlin street.  “By using the Gagosian Gallery’s international brand name in a humble space and highly local context, Mr. Gioni said, the curators sought to ‘create a kind of tension between the global and the local’.”

By misplacing signs, Hollywood and Gagosian (which are strangely similar in a weird way), Cattelan seems to be calling attention to their new sites, and to their newly prescribed meaning within these locations.  The recreating of the Hollywood sign is highly conceptual.  What is means to have this sign in a place where it is not plays with our notions of truth and reality.  The letters that spell Hollywood have no meaning individually, but when we see the word we automatically come up with associations, the film industry, the physical place on the map, the image of the sign on Mt. Lee, the glorified movie stars, et cetera.

One of the sign’s functions is to mark a specific location.  What would it mean to take the sign that says “Welcome to Connecticut” on I-95 and move it to New Jersey?  It would be deceiving for an outsider.  This also brings up the fact that we take text to mean truth.  If something is written, it is trusted.  Compare this with art, which is not to be trusted.  Art, which is part of the word “artifice” and “artificial”, implies that it is not real.  It is a copy of the real thing.  A medieval concern in art was not to make anything that would appear close to reality because it would be deceitful.  When Magritte made “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” (1929), among other things, he illustrated not only the differences between images and text but also between real objects and pictures.  When Cattelan puts the Hollywood sign in Palermo, he seems to be saying that we shouldn’t trust words either.

In Ferdinand de Saussure’s “Course in General Linguistics” he makes the distinction between the “sound-image” and the “concept” using the example of a tree and the Latin word for tree, arbor,
“One tends to forget that arbor is called a sign only because it carries the concept “tree”, with the result that the idea of the sensory part implies the idea of the whole.  Ambiguity would disappear if the three notions involved here were designated by three names, each suggesting and opposing the others.  I propose to retain the word sign [signe] to designate the whole and to replace concept and sound-image respectively by signified [signifié] and signifier [significant]; and the last two terms have the advantage of indicating the opposition that separates them from each other and from the whole of which they are parts.”
The complexities of text and image were explored by Joseph Kosuth in “One in Three Chairs” in 1965, an installation of a fold up wooden chair, a photo of that chair, and a silk-screened dictionary definition of the word “chair”.  Kosuth makes de Saussure’s semiotics physically visible, and expands on it with two elements: our notion of the photographic image, and the printed text-definition.    It is an image of a chair, no less believable than the actual chair, because we understand the photographic reproduction to be true.  (More true than a chair painted on canvas).  Secondly, the dictionary definition, silk-screened, plays with our concept of “fact” vs. “idea”.  The installation itself looks simple, but the ideas are incredibly challenging.  Kosuth, and other conceptual artists, were aware of these complexities, and their knowledge is reflected in their writing.

In “Art after Philosophy”, Kosuth writes, “The ‘value’ of particular artists after Duchamp can be weighed according to how much they questioned the nature of art; which is another way of saying ‘what they added to the conception of art’ or what wasn’t there before they started.”  Knowingly or not, Cattelan is adding to the discussion.  By recreating the Hollywood sign, he is sort of doing what Warhol did with his Brillo Box in 1964.  When the sign is in Hollywood, it is just a sign.  But if the same exact sign in recreated for the Venice Biennale, does it become art?  The conception or idea is what, arguably, gives it its status as an art-object.  Maurizio Cattelan must be aware that what he is doing has been pioneered by Duchamp’s “Fountain” in 1917, Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” in 1928, Warhol’s “Brillo Box” in 1964, Kosuth’s “One in Three Chairs” in 1965, and even Sherrie Levine’s  re-photographing of Walker Evan’s photographs (questioning authorship), but his statements do not reflect a clear understanding.  Maybe an artist today does not need to articulate their ideas as much as they did when the world was still opposed to revolutionary ideas of art.  Perhaps the trails have been blazed and our notions of what is art have been expanded to such an extent that it doesn’t matter.  Or perhaps Cattelan does know what he is doing is not totally original, but assigns the role of explaining to the critic.

“Installing a reproduction of the Hollywood sign on the hill of Bellolampo is a dream constructed by cutting and pasting, where the images are productions of our desires and two different worlds overlap.  Hollywood is a work that tells us about the limits of our beliefs,” claims Cattelan.  This says little of semiotics or “art-objects” vs. “real objects”, which I think is at the basis of the work.  However, bassed on the artist’s conviction, we are reminded that a complete understanding of the work does not exist solely on the letters, but also on the space that it occupies.  Bellolampo is as much a part of “Hollywood” as the Guggenheim was a part of Daniel Buren’s “Peinture-Sculpture” in 1971.  Eventually rejected for the Sixth Guggenheim International Exhibition, the gigantic banner hung in the center of the museum, involving the circular space that it occupied as a crucial part of its viewing.

Placing “Hollywood” in Sicily, specifically above a landfill, can be interpreted in a number of different ways.  One perspective involves an understanding of Sicily.  Until rather recently, the Mafia had been the island’s protector against the poisons of the outside world.  While other parts of Europe have become Americanized (think McDonald’s in Paris), Sicily has held tenaciously to its own culture- a self sustaining economy that would rather be poor and enjoy la dolce vita then have to sacrifice their love of life for a booming capitalistic society.  Talk of a bridge connection Sicily to mainland Italy is a heated debate currently, as both older and younger generations worry about increased traffic, tourism, and ultimately the destruction of a beautiful country.

So, to get back to Hollywood, by putting this sign there, it is making a statement about the universality of the industry.  Hollywood is everywhere.  It doesn’t matter anymore that where the sign is placed, because Hollywood is actually inside homes, on TV’s, and at local movie theaters.  It is on magazine stands, on the cover of magazines like US Weekly, where thousands of Americans grab copies to see Brad and Angelina’s baby.

Throughout Sicily, ancient Greek temples remain standing.  Their placement is specific to the landscape, the sea, and to how the sun would illuminate them, at sunrise or sunset.  As people once walked uphill to lay an offering to the god or goddess of the temple, we have photographs of people going to see Cattelan’s “Hollywood”.  In procession, these people become part of the whole scene, and ironically climb the hill to Hollywood.  Are our exalted actors and actresses the gods and goddesses of today?  And then is Hollywood a recreation of the temple?

Maurizio Callelan’s “Hollywood” holds endless possible interpretations, but it is hard to give him much credit for total originality.  He basically reworked earlier ideas without coming out and nodding to those who forged his trail.  I am not sure if an artist is required to do this, or if the critic takes that role.  In any case, while his work is without question conceptual, it also lacks the “attack of the system” aggressiveness of his 1970’s predecessors.   An online biography of Cattalan describes him as “a knowing and sophisticated artist who teases the art world without ever falling into the naïve trap of thinking he can subvert a system of which he is part.”  In this way, he differs from Buren, Levine, Kosuth, and others who, albeit naïve, strove to break down institutional power and remove economic value.  Photographs of Cattelan’s installations sell at a huge price.  Under the name of the “Wrong Gallery”, Cattelan participates in a weak version of institutional critique.  Anyone who believes that Gagosian didn’t know they were making a mini-replica gallery for the Berlin Biennial is falling for the biggest prank of all.

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