Thursday, March 22, 2018

Will Ferrell & Joel McHale Visit "Stories of Almost Everyone"

Christopher Knight called the Hammer Museum's "Stories of Almost Everyone" "an extravaganza of excessive self-contemplation" hampered by "a dreadful subject" and ultimately telling "a tale of institutional anxiety." Will Ferrell and Joel McHale's take on the show isn't all that different.

Ferrell agrees with Knight: The only good part of the show is the stripper.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Self-Taught Geniuses of the South

The California African American Museum has been given a set of 32 works by Southern self-taught artists, as a gift of collector Gordon W. Bailey. The donation includes works by Sam Doyle, Purvis Young, Hawkins Bolden, Robert Howell, "Missionary" Mary Proctor, Herbert Singleton, and Jimmy Lee Suddoth. At top is Doyle's St. Helena's Black Merry Go Rond, house paint on metal from the early 1980s.

Bailey curated CAAM's 2013 exhibition "Soul Stirring: African American Self-Taught Artists from the South" and has given works to LACMA, the Smithsonian's American Art Museum, and Atlanta's High Museum.

In recent years CAAM has become a significant venue for contemporary art. The permanent collection has focused on California artists. With the Bailey gift the museum will be able to offer a much-expanded presentation of Southern and self-taught art.
Robert Howell, Critter, 1980s. Photo courtesy California African American Museum

Purvis Young, Dudes Talking, 1990s. Photo courtesy California African American Museum
Leroy Almon, Of Two Worlds, c. 1995. Photo courtesy California African American Museum

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Rembrandt's East Indian Company

Bichitr, Jujhar Singh Bundela Kneels in Submission to Shah Jahan, ca. 1630-40. Image (c) Trustees of he Chester Beatty Library, Dublin
Rembrandt created 23 known ink drawings after Mughal Indian miniature paintings. They are a mystery of Rembrandt scholarship, for no one quite knows why he made them. All but three of the drawings have been brought to Los Angeles for the Getty Museum's "Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India." The exhibition juxtaposes the Dutch artist's drawings with prismatically colorful Mughal miniatures that were either his direct models or close facsimiles. In the Mughal empire, as in Holland, the "Golden Age" meant duplicating art for gold.
Rembrandt, Shah Jahan and Darah Shikoh, ca. 1656-61. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Govardhan, Shah Jahan Enthroned with His Son Dara Shikoh, 1630s. The San Diego Museum of Art, Edwin Binney 3rd Collection
Until recently Rembrandt's Indian drawings were deprecated as outliers.  Now they're prized as documents of the hybrid messiness of art history. "Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India" exemplifies a new interest in global interconnections. It shows that Mughal artists copied Dutch art as well as vice-versa.
One Rembrandt etching has been connected to a Mughal miniature of Four Mullahs (that, speaking of hybrid, was later incorporated, Hearst Castle-like, into a Vienna palace's wall decoration). Rembrandt copies the miniature in ink, with the drawing known as Four Mughal Elders Seated Under a Tree. The tree was originally in the miniature but was painted out in Vienna.
This Rembrandt drawing, in turn, must have informed the Old Testament figures of the artist's 1656 etching of Abraham Entertaining the Three Angels. The print's date, which is also the year of Rembrandt's bankruptcy, is used to guesstimate that the Mughal drawings are c. 1656-1661. Rembrandt was by then a mature artist in his early 50s.
The most plausible theory is that Rembrandt made the Mughal drawings for his private instruction and enjoyment. Middle-aged and broke, he figured he still had a lot to learn.
Attributed to Bichitr, Akbar and Jahangir in Apotheosis, c. 1640. Private collection

Monday, March 19, 2018

Jasper Johns and the Stroop Effect

John Ridley Stroop, about 1932
John Ridley Stroop (1897-1973) has had a small but estimable influence on art history via a fellow Southerner, Jasper Johns. In 1929 Stroop was working towards a Ph.D. in psychology. He invented a classic demonstration of cognitive dissonance. You are presented with a list of color names in the "wrong" color of ink (or pixels). The challenge is to call out the colors rather than read the words. It's hard. The left brain struggles to say "blue" when the retina sees RED. A typical reaction to Stroop's test is nervous laughter.
Jasper Johns, False Start, 1959
Jasper Johns learned of the Stroop effect and adopted it as a motif in the late 1950s. It inaugurated the artist's use of visual illusions and ambiguity. The Broad's "Jasper Johns: 'Something Resembling Truth'" includes several major Stroop effect paintings, such as False Start (1959) and Field Painting (1963-64). Johns has retained both in his personal collection.
A Stroop test card c. 1932
Stroop lived until 1973. He easily could have known of Johns' paintings, but I've not read anything indicating that he did. Stroop kind of dropped off the radar. After getting his Ph.D., he left psychology to become a bible scholar and preacher in his native Tennessee and surrounding states.

Despite his brief psychological career, Stroop's name is known to every Psychology 101 student. Today the Stroop effect is used to study distraction, anxiety, and information overload—the holy trinity of our digital age. The words do not have to be color names. When they are foods (HAMBURGERPIZZA) a hungry subject is distracted by the semantic content and struggles to name the colors she sees. Someone who had just eaten has less of a problem, as quantified by the time it takes to name the colors. Similar Stroop tests are used to gauge reactions to buzzwords in political ads and the hazards of texting and driving.
Jasper Johns, Field Painting, 1963-64
Meanwhile Johns applied his maxim, "Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it" to the Stroop effect. Field Painting is a combine with 3D letters, one a neon light. Periscope (Hart Crane) goes meta. It's a Stroop painting and a gray painting. Monochrome is the "wrong" color for a Stroop test.
Jasper Johns, Periscope (Hart Crane), 1963
Johns once enumerated "the qualities which interest me—literalness, repetitiveness, an obsessive quality, order with dumbness, and the possibility of a complete lack of meaning." He was speaking of his crosshatch paintings, but his words also describe the flags, targets, maps, and Stroop effects. Like a map, a painting of a Stroop test is a Stroop test. It is what it is.

Nothing is more literal, dumb, and meaningless than words that say the wrong thing, or nothing at all.
Small detail of Jasper Johns' Souvenir, 1964

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Guercino Dog Has a Pup

A rediscovered portrait of a dog by the Italian Baroque painter Guercino was auctioned March 8 for £570,000 at Cheffins', Cambridge. Previously the artist's only known canine portrait was the Aldrovandi Dog (1625) in the Norton Simon Museum, bottom of post.

When portraits are given ambitious attributions, scholars talk up their psychological subtlety. This is true even when the sitter has four legs. "Seldom in paintings of dogs does one see such individuality and personality so wonderfully portrayed," said Lobkowicz Collection (Prague) curator John Somerville. "This told me at once this was not by any ‘dog painter’ but by a great artist."

And when the sitter is unknown, auction house experts may speculate that it's a self-portrait. "The personality of the Cheffins dog is so beautifully observed and conveyed," said Guercino scholar Nicholas Turner, "it is tempting to suggest that it was the artist’s own animal."

Friday, March 16, 2018

Broad Is Buyer of Mark Bradford "Helter Skelter"

The L.A. Times is reporting that the Broad was the buyer of Mark Bradford's Helter Skelter I, auctioned at Philips London March 8 for $12 million. At 34 feet wide, it's one of Bradford's largest collage-paintings, and the auction price was described as the highest ever for a living African-American. The sale also drew attention because of the seller, tennis star John McEnroe. McEnroe had said he hoped Helter Skelter would go to a museum.

Helter Skelter I as installed in John McEnroe's New York home
Also acquired by the Broad in the past year are Sam Francis' Why Then Opened II, 1962-63 (another auction purchase, for $3.8 million); Julie Mehretu's Congress (2003); the institition's first Kerry James Marshall painting and its umpteenth Jeff Koons sculpture; Sherrie Levine's After Russell Lee 1-60, a 2016 work reproducing a 1940 series of color photographs of Pie Town, N.M., by FSA photographer Lee; and what may be the biggest news for some, a second Yayoi Kusama infinity room, Longing for Eternity (2017). Evidently the Broad is betting that this infinity-eternity thing has legs.
Sam Francis, Why Then Opened II, 1962-63
Julie Mehretu, Congress, 2003
Kerry James Marshall, untitled, 2017
Jeff Koons, Ballerinas, 2010-14
Detail of Sherrie Levine, After Russell Lee, 1-60, 2016
Yayoi Kusama, Longing for Eternity, 2017
Yayoi Kusama, Longing for Eternity, 2017

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Undermining the Museum

Kara Walker's monumental sumi ink drawing, The Pool Party of Sardanapalus (after Delacroix, Kienholz) (2017) is now on view at MOCA. While the artist intended different atrocities, it's possible to read it as an allegory of a troubled museum. Philippe Vergne fired chief curator Helen Molesworth over "creative differences." That's being read as market-validated white male artists v. women and artists of color.

Pool Party is a cartoon massacre of white males by black females. It inverts (by gender and ethnicity) a less violent 2015 incident in at a public pool in Texas while invoking the ultraviolence of Ed Kienholz's Five Car Stud (1972) and Delacroix's The Death of Sardanapalus (1827).

In 2016 Molesworth told The Art Newspaper:

"The only way you get diversity is to actually do it. That means that certain men don’t get shows. There are only X number of slots every year on the calendar and the number of artists always exceeds the number of slots. If you are going to be equitable, some of the dudes don’t get shows that year. That’s what’s hard about it."

It's being assumed that Molesworth's candor, and math, was too much for Vergne and the MOCA board. Not in doubt is that MOCA has become a meaningless tragedy (yet again). Thus far Vergne's signature accomplishment has been hiring Molesworth. It's hard to imagine what he now can do for a follow-up.