Thursday, June 22, 2017

It's Complicated Being Cherokee (or Not)

The Hammer-organized Jimmie Durham show is about to open at the Walker Art Center, in the wake of the same institution's Scaffold controversy. The Durham show is already drawing fire of its own, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Durham is the art world's Sen. Elizabeth Warren, criticized for apparently unverifiable claims of Native heritage. "Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World" drew appreciative reviews in Los Angeles, without much controversy. But Durham's genealogy seems to be becoming more of an issue in Minneapolis. Native critics are blasting the Hammer catalog as "basically a pro-'Durham is Cherokee' text." "If Jimmie was able to make a statement about who his family is, about where his lineage is… we would all love to hear about it," says part-Lakota artist Dyani White Hawk. "And until he is able to or willing to do that, the speculation will continue and the research done will back up that speculation…"

Being Cherokee is complicated. Explains Cherokee artist America Meredith: "For many people, 'Cherokee' is this generic placeholder you use when you think you are Indian or don't know what tribe you are."

Monday, June 19, 2017

"Artists of Color" at the Underground Museum

The Underground Museum's "Artists of Color," conceived by the late Noah Davis, is an anthology of minimal and monochrome art, 1960s to the present. With significant loans from MOCA, it actually skews white and blue-chip. Above are works by Imi Knoebel, Josef Albers, and Donald Judd. Below is Dan Flavin's Untitled (To Charles Cowles), 1963, and Carmen Herrera's Yellow & Blue. 

Lita Albuquerque's Sirius is one of 99 cornflower (Yves Klein) blue spheres installed on Antarctica's melting Ross Ice Shelf in 2006. Each represents a star in the southern sky. Jean de Pomereu's photos of the full Antarctic piece, Stellar Axis, document one of the most fantastic installations that almost no one has seen.
Closer to home, Diana Thater has adapted her 2001 RGB Windows for MOCA to Davis' ever-evolving Purple Garden.

Lately we're all debating the proliferation of billionaire vanity museums. The billionaires say they're not donating their art to public museums because most of it would be in storage (the horror!)

I don't see that a few Ashley Bickertons in a museum storeroom is such a big problem. But assuming this was a real issue, the remedy would be more places like the Underground Museum. You'd want more non-collecting institutions that take art out of museum storerooms and present it to new audiences, ideally in free spaces outside of predictable arts districts.

Below is Noah Davis' 2004(1) (2008). The gallery text quotes Davis: "Purple is to black people what Yves Klein's Blue is to white people."

Friday, June 16, 2017

Jim Shaw Morphs Entrepreneurs to a Porno Hedge

Jim Shaw is finally getting hometown attention at the Marciano Art Foundation. Across town, the UCLA Hammer Museum is showing a delirious Shaw as part of "Living Apart Together."

The title of the Hammer's 2001 ink, pencil, and pen drawing-assemblage (a gift of David Teiger) pretty much says it: Dream Object (I was looking at drawings of successful business men which became increasingly distorted and became a pornographic hedge…)

Shaw uses draughtmanship to subvert vernacular photography, cubism, Weegee distortions, process art, and the spiders-on-LSD school of propaganda. Dream Object is also about pornography, the Saul Goodman to art's Jimmy McGill, ending up in a rude classical/Renaissance frieze that is also a Klimt park.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Getty's Parmigianino Fooled the World's Greatest Expert

The joke is that art history progresses through funerals. This is especially true of attributions. At any given time, there are only a few scholars qualified to offer opinions on whether an object is by the hand of a great historical artist. Consensus is subject to the volatility of the actuarial table. A case in point is Parmigianino's Virgin with Child, St. John the Baptist, and Mary Magdalene (1530s), the spectacular Renaissance painting the Getty Museum has just acquired.

A 1788 Christie's auction catalog described the painting as "One of the finest Pictures in Europe… and ever esteemed the most capital picture of this great master."

It was that until a 20th-century connoisseur decided it wasn't a Parmigianino, or all that.

"Parmigianino" is a diminutive of the artist's home town, Parma. Translation: "Lil Parma." He became the second great painter of the Emilian school, succeeding Correggio. In his Roman heyday, Parmigianino was hailed as the new Raphael. The artist died young and crazy, and his works are rare. Last August the Getty offered $31 million to buy Virgin with Child, probably the artist's last masterpiece in exportable hands.
Virgin with Child was documented in Rome's Barbarini collection by 1644. For the past 250 years it's been in a succession of British collections. Onetime owner George Watson Taylor appears in Peter Christoffel Wonder's Patrons and Lovers of Art (c. 1826-30). Taylor kneels next to Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne, now a prize of the National Gallery. Above his head is the Getty's Parmigianino. Dimly visible at upper right is Raphael's Alba Madonna. The Parmigianino is the most legibly depicted of this rarefied group.

In 1832 Taylor sold the Virgin with Child to James Morrison, not to be confused with the L.A. rock star. Morrison's collection passed by inheritance to the Dent-Brocklehurst family and is shown at Sudeley Castle. In recent decades the Castle's art has been sold to pay upkeep. The Dent-Brocklehursts sold Poussin's Landscape with a Calm to the Getty in 1997, and they were also the seller of the Parmigianino.

The latter's attribution had been challenged however. Cecil Gould (1918-1994, left), was a British spy, Monument Man, art historian, and Keeper of the National Gallery. Gould wrote definitive monographs on Correggio and Parmigianino. His influence was unparalleled. Gould advised the London National Gallery on acquisitions, recommending its 1974 purchase of Parmigianino's The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine (c. 1530, below). Gould judged the Sudeley Castle Virgin with Child to be by Parmigianino's cousin by marriage, Mazzola Bedoli.
Below is a Bedoli picture, the Madonna of the Magnificat with Saint Francis in Budapest. To the untrained eye Bedoli's holy family is stiff and doll-like, existing in a different visual universe from the psychologically nuanced Sudeley Castle painting. Gould's theory was that Bedoli churned out a lot of undistinguished work but, when he really applied himself, could rise to nearly the level of Parmigianino's achievement. The Sudeley Castle painting was Bedoli on a good day. Maybe the best day of his life.
There were dissenters among Parmigianino experts, but most Renaissance scholars, and everyone else, assumed that someone of Gould's reputation had good reason for this belief. The idea of Bedoli as a sometimes brilliant Parmigianino imitator gained traction across the globe. One anonymous Internet poster recalled that "the first curator of the Getty Museum" asserted the Sudeley Castle painting was by Bedoli.

More recently, named and well-qualified Internet commenters have dished theories of Gould's downgrade. Clovis Whitfield, who re-attributed the Sudeley Castle painting to Parmigianino in 1982, posted this comment on Bendor Grosvenor's Art History News last year:

"Maybe the NG's 1974 purchase of the 'Mystic Marriage' got in the way of recognition, (which they declared was the best Parmigianino in Britain) they hadn't heard of it and the powers that were decided to call the Sudeley work [as by] Mazzola Bedoli instead."

The glum Mystic Marriage lacks the star quality of the luminous Virgin with Child. There well may have been issues of ego and institutional face-saving. But connoisseurship is a difficult puzzle, and even the most perceptive expert can fumble when he's missing a piece or two. David Ekserdjian, whose 2006 Parmigianino monograph also championed the Getty painting as autograph, speaks in that book of a paradigm shift.

"I am convinced that the reason it [the Sudeley Castle Virgin] has frequently been doubted is that it has been dated far too early in Parmigianino's career. In compositional type it plainly resembles the Courtauld Virgin and Child, and even more the Madonna di San Zaccaria, but that does not mean it of the same period as them. Rather it belongs to his very last years, and consequently with the Cupid, the Dresden altarpiece, and above all with the Lucretia, whose cooly metallic blue and yellow draperies and overheated pink flesh tones it shares."
Parmigianino is esteemed for the few highly finished works of his last decade, the 1530s. This group includes the iconic Madonna of the Long Neck and the much-copied Cupid Carving His Bow (c. 1533-35, above left). The latter was the inspiration for Edmé Bouchardon's marble Cupid Carving a Bow from Hercules' Club, recently shown at the Getty, and even for Velázquez's Rokeby Venus, his only (female) nude. Parmigianino's Lucretia (above right) was the cover image for Ekserdjian's book.

Gould's 1994 death led to a prompt reversion to the mean. With no prominent voice arguing otherwise, the Virgin with Child was once more embraced as a genuine Parmigianino of the 1530s. London's National Gallery had it on loan from 2011 to 2015, and it's reported they considered buying it.

Just this week a Times article quoted Ekserdjian as saying that, of all the artist's works, the Getty painting is "the most entrancing and gorgeous of the lot… an elegant and stylish figural group, combined with a luscious landscape."

There are no more than three Parmigianino paintings now in American museums. They are at the Detroit Institute of Arts (probably a copy), the Kimbell, and the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin (a monochrome oil sketch for a print). None are comparable to the Virgin with Child.

Virgin with Child joins five Parmigianino drawings at the Getty. LACMA has another drawing, plus about 17 prints by the artist and his circle. Below is Diogenes (c. 1527), a chiaroscuro woodcut by Ugo da Carpi from a Parmigianino design. The plucked rooster is a dig at Plato, who defined the human species as a flightless biped. Parmigianino trolls wise-guy experts, pundits, TED talkers, and connoisseurs. "Nice job, Einstein!"

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

L.A. Gets Its First Jasper Johns Show in 53 Years

The Broad has announced it will host "Jasper Johns: 'Something Resembling Truth,'" a full-scale retrospective organized by the Royal Academy of Arts, London. It will run February 10 to May 13, 2018. While Johns isn't exactly lacking for museum love, the last Johns show in Los Angeles was at the Pasadena Museum of Art—in 1965.

Even back then, the L.A. Times' Henry J. Seldis was grousing about "one of the most thorough jobs of promotion ever contrived by a more and more Madison Avenue-minded art world… But without joining the uncritical chorus of adulation which has brought him to the pinnacle of the current art market, we conclude that Johns' vision is personal, powerful and persuasive."

(Shown Three Flags, 1958. The Whitney is lending it to the Broad but not the Royal Academy.)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Getty Wins a Parmigianino

The Art Newspaper is reporting that the Getty has won its nine-month-long bid to acquire Parmigianino's Virgin with Child, St. John the Baptist, and Mary Magdalene (1530s) for the equivalent of $30 million. No UK institution was willing to match the Getty's offer, and an export license is to be granted.

It's the most important Italian Renaissance painting to enter an American museum collection in over a decade. The Getty's last comparable purchase, a great Titian portrait, was in 2003. The following year the Metropolitan Museum added a tiny Duccio Madonna.

The Kimbell Art Museum made headlines in 2007 by buying a small painting that is credibly identified as the 12-year-old Michelangelo's copy of a Schongauer print, described by Vasari as the artist's first painting. It's jaw-dropping that any American museum could ever own a Michelangelo painting. Still, the Kimbell Torment of Saint Anthony is not a great Michelangelo. If MoMA owned a painted copy of a Manet etching by the 12-year-old Picasso, it wouldn't have it on permanent display. The Getty Virgin with Child is Parmigianino at the top of his form.

Cosmic Diagrams in El Segundo

The El Segundo Museum of Art's "Noema" (Greek for "thought") is a nonlinear history of diagrams, with lots of lines and skewing cosmic and Germanic. There are hand-made sketches by Wernher von Braun and Joseph Beuys; books and prints after Isaac Newton, Tycho Brahe, Marcel Duchamp, and Albert Einstein; the combined genius and madness of alchemists, modernists, performance artists, and mystics. (Shown is Paul Klee's 1927 Der Hafen von Split, hung on top of Matthew Ritchie's The Temptation of the Diagram.)
The exhibition centers on Ritchie, an artist-in-residence at the Getty Research Institute. He created The Temptation of the Diagram, a work existing in various forms but—only in El Segundo—as a 160-foot long wall drawing that fills three walls of the ESMoA shoebox. The floor is a vinyl decal of Ritchie's The progression from divination to projection (2014). Industrial vitrines hold books and prints from the GRI collection, spanning emblem books, the history of science, and Duchamp's A l'infinitif portfolio of 1966.  Below is the creation of the world for dummies: a woodcut from the workshop of Michael Wolgemut (Dürer's teacher) illustrating Hartmann Schedel's 1493 bestseller, the Nuremburg Chronicle.
Speaking of Nuremburg… Nazi-turned-NASA rocket scientist Wernher von Braun created one of the show's most intriguing objects. In 1953 von Braun wrote an article for Collier's magazine. He made a Baby Satellite Sketch on graph paper to instruct magazine illustrator Fred Freeman. 
The sketch was auctioned at Bonhams in 2010. Below is Fred Freeman's published adaptation (not in show). 
Von Braun's satellite was to send three rhesus monkeys into orbit. An attached TV camera would have been the solar system's first monkey cam. Given that the monkeys and their feces would be weightless, von Braun designed "an air blower [to] flush out the living compartment—both for sanitary reasons and to keep weightless refuse from blocking the television lenses." Another awkward reality was that there was no economical way of bringing monkeys back to earth alive. Upon re-entry the satellite would glow red-hot. "At last, a thermostat will set off an electric relay which triggers a capsule containing a quick-acting lethal gas. The monkeys will die instantly and painlessly."

Ex-Nazi-designed gas chambers were still a tough sell to the American public. The "baby satellite" was never realized. But four years later, Soviet space dog Laika must have suffocated miserably in the second Sputnik. The Soviet Union claimed that Laika was euthanized before the oxygen ran out. They had no technology for that small mercy. (Below, M.A. Peers' portrait of Laika, at the Museum of Jurassic Technology.) 
Tom Lehrer got a song out of all this. 

"Don’t say that he’s hypocritical,
"Say rather that he’s apolitical.
"'Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
"'That’s not my department,' says Wernher von Braun."