I was lucky enough to see Wayne Thiebaud: 70 Years of Painting at the San Jose Museum of Art (February 27–July 4, 2010) and write about it for The Brooklyn Rail (July–August 2010). As with that exhibition, many of the works now on view at the Aquavella Galleries’ posh, mirrored townhouse on Manhattan’s 79th Street (the artist’s first show there), a few blocks north of the Whitney Museum of American Art, came from the Thiebaud Family Collection, the artist’s studio, museums and private collections. Evidently, only a handful of the more than eighty works are for sale. On the day that I went to the gallery a man came in and asked the woman at the front desk for a price list because his wife had told him to “buy her something for Christmas.” This might bother some people, but some of those same people probably don’t see any problem with how much money reality stars spend on their underwear.
For anyone who has been following painting in New York since the beginning of the 21st century, it is not surprising that the mid-career survey devoted to Wade Guyton is currently the main attraction at the Whitney Museum of American Art. It is also not surprising that the show has been very well received in newspapers and magazines by the likes of Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz.
There are a many reasons to go see Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop, curated by Mia Freeman, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yves Klein leaps into the void and Lyndon Johnson’s nose grows long and pointed (would that this would happen to all politicians who lie to their constituents!). Freeman presents the work in thematic groups, such as “Politics and Persuasion” and “Novelties and Amusements.
It is one of those impossible questions that each artist answers differently. How much can you put in? And, of course, the obverse, how much can you leave out?
Can any theory about art’s mission be universal? Or is a theory, with its investment in a narrative of progress, more contingent and narrowly focused than the art world is willing to acknowledge — enthralled as it currently is with deskilling and relational aesthetics, as it once was with Greenbergian formalism? Isn’t a widely regarded theory (or vantage point) a sanctioned form of exclusion? An approved way of privileging one thing over another? A smart way of establishing a hierarchy while claiming to be aligned with Marxism?
If anyone wants an indication of the ever-widening chasm between the art world and the museums, look no further than the career of Ralph Humphrey (1932 – 1990), a painter whose works calls into question every marker of progress brought to bear on art. The current exhibition at Gary Snyder—his first New York show in fourteen years—brought to mind the refrain that has been repeated since the artist died, not yet sixty, more than twenty years ago: a museum really ought to do his retrospective.
What do you call Wendy White’s most recent works, which are made of two or more panels that rest on the floor, hug the wall and at the same time protrude from it? Combines and hybrids are the obvious answers, but those familiar designations hardly tell the story. There is something fresh about White’s work that these familiar designations don’t account for.
Well known for working on very large sheets of wax-coated paper for the past twenty years, Toba Khedoori’s recent easel-sized oil painting will come as a surprise. In fact, the largest painting in her recent exhibition was around four-and-a-half feet by three feet, which is hardly monumental. To give you an idea of how much she has downsized for this exhibition, a work on paper in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, dating from 1997, is seven-and-a-half feet by nearly ten feet. And the MoMA drawing is small for Khedoori, who first gained national and international attention for works on paper that are twenty or more feet in width.
Martha Friedman’s recent work marks a significant shift away from the sculptures that first gained her attention. Working within a territory that includes Rene Magritte, Claes Oldenburg and Vija Celmins, Friedman became known for casting enlarged versions of commonplace items; nails, cantaloupes, waffles, yucca plants, blue eggs, olives, rubber bands and cow tongues. Until this exhibition, her sculptures tended to be pictorial and irreverent, their wit something we associate with Pop art and the domesticated Surrealism of Roy Lichtenstein.
Sun Tzu’s Sixth Century treatise, The Art of War, is one of the precursors to Gertrude Stein’s How to Write (1931). Written in different epochs, under different dark clouds, war either in progress or just around the fork in the road, these manuals are invaluable to an understanding of writing and the written, but in dissimilar ways. The primary difference is that Sun Tzu believed in narrative, with its carefully constructed beginning, middle, and end. It was an arc, though not a rainbow.
A studio visit prompted these thoughts about Josephine Halvorson’s paintings, which Nancy Princenthal has characterized as “resolutely airless and mute.”
Halvorson depicts close-up views of largely flat surfaces, often with a rectangle framed within the painting’s rectangle. In addition to conveying little depth, the surfaces usually contain a space we cannot see into, or they feature a closed door or doors. These tensions inflect our experience of the artist’s work, with its slow dance between the visible and the hidden, and between sight and touch. She seems to want the viewer to smell her objects as much as see them, to become familiar with the scarred and punctured surface (or skin) of their silent “faces.” For her, painting isn’t confined to sight. She lives in a world of things, not images – a three-dimensional realm far removed from the flattened realm of popular culture and the mass media.
Richard Baker is best known for his still-life paintings of tabletops, often tilted at impossible angles and covered with out-of-print art books and other bric-a-brac, such as ceramic pots, to-go food containers, candy bars, and tulips. Ranging from the lowbrow Learn to Draw by Jon Gnagy (Mr. “Learn-To-Draw”) to the hefty catalogue of the exhibition Paris-New York (1977) — the year the artist graduated from high school — Baker’s non-hierarchical representations form an inventory of the books that have, at different times, been central to his ongoing education, stretching from when he was a teenager until the present.