Friday, March 30, 2007




For the art world, the celebrated glamour photographer David LaChapelle (b. 1969) is a guilty pleasure. His sex-soaked color photos of celebrities and fashion models are just too high-key. Nothing is held back. The lily is not only gilded, but drenched in rhinestones, draped in haute couture and surrounded by the most exotic props imaginable.

It's about time. Minimalism is, like, so 40 years ago.

In addition to his photographs, the Los Angeles-based LaChapelle has made many music videos for performers ranging from Elton John to Gwen Stefani. He's published half a dozen photo books, most recently Artists & Prostitutes 1985-2005, a 688-page collection from Taschen that retails at an impressive $2,500.

LaChapelle's new photographs are on view at Tony Shafrazi Gallery in Chelsea in an exhibition titled "Awakened," Feb. 24-Apr. 28, 2007. The title photographs are a dozen life-sized portraits of what seem to be revival-camp followers floating in limbo or upwards to heaven (the subjects were posed in a large water tank). A related group of photographs depict a "Deluge" and are inspired by the Biblical narrative of the flood, though the events are transposed to the present day, with one mural-sized picture seeming to take place in Las Vegas.

Still another group of photographs, printed on a smaller and more intimate scale and displayed in their own back gallery, have a 1970s look. These works, dubbed "Drunk Americans," seem to be everyday snapshots of middle-class gatherings -- with the addition of a few drunk hayseeds with guns.

Despite his success as a commercial photographer, or perhaps because of it, LaChapelle's work is much in demand in art galleries (several pages of his photographs are displayed in the gallery section of Artnet, for instance). His works can be found at Guy Hepner in London and Los Angeles, Goss Gallery in Dallas, Jablonka Galerie in Cologne, Muruani & Noirhomme in Knokke, Belgium, and several others. The Palazzo Reale in Milan plans an exhibition of LaChapelle's works this summer.

LaChapelle's photos are typically produced in larger sizes in editions of three, and priced at $28,000, or in smaller sizes in editions of 10, priced at $8,500.

The following exchange is excerpted from an interview that was conducted at Tony Shafrazi Gallery on Mar. 3, 2007.

Mary Barone: Congratulations on Rize, your 2005 film about the "krumping" dance culture in Los Angeles -- it was astonishing and moving. Did any of those kids turn out to be stars?

David LaChapelle: Most of them are doing great, and a lot of them achieved their goals. Dragon's gone on to be a minister, Little C has danced in Madonna videos and Miss Prissy went on tour with Madonna.

We've had a lot of fun with the film, which became number one in Japan, beating out Mr. and Mrs. Smith. That was great, since this little film that cost us $1 million went up against this giant Angelina Jolie-Brad Pitt vehicle and won. It's pretty amazing.

MB: So what's going on with the "Deluge" series, and what's going on with "Drunk Americans"? These come from two very different places, I think.

DLC: "Drunk Americans" goes on while "The Deluge" is happening in the next room.

MB: The settings in the "Drunk Americans" photographs -- suburban living rooms and back yards, in the main -- look so 1970s. This is a mystery -- how did you set that up?

DLC: It's pastiche! I bought these old photographs on eBay and added figures and details. This guy here is actually a carpenter in my studio. His hair's bleached, so he looks like a Ken doll. This woman was already in the photo, but I added "Bush Kills" to her shirt.

But don't tell anyone. We don't want to take the magic out of them. . .

MB: You told an interviewer for Time Out that you wanted to move away from commercial photography and back to making art.

DLC: Yes, that's right. . . I did it, I had fun. . . but you can only do so much with that medium of fashion photography and celebrity portraiture, and now I feel like it's time to move on.

MB: You were born in New York?

DLC: I was born in Connecticut and came to New York when I was 15.

MB: Did you go to art school here?

DLC: No, I went to art school in Winston-Salem in North Carolina, a high school for the arts, and then I came back here and started working and I was using this woman's darkroom at 303 Park Avenue South -- it was Lisa Spellman, the dealer who now has a gallery named 303 -- and I asked her if I could do a show in her loft -- she was working for the fashion designer Jean-Paul Germain at the time -- and she said sure.

We all came back from Danceteria one night and I said, "You should call it the Lisa Spellman Gallery," and she said, "No, let's call it 303." So I did the first show at 303 in 1984, called "Good News for Modern Man," and then I did the third show there two months later -- we didn't know you should wait a year between shows -- called "Angels, Saints and Martyrs."

A lot of people came, and we sold a few things. Charles Cowles bought some and Andy Warhol came with the Interview crowd. After that I started working for Interview. I did Andy's portrait and I kept doing commercial work for magazines to make a living. Back then, a photo sold for something like $300 -- and not very many of them sold for that.

I really loved popular culture, and I photographed everyone I could get to sit still for me, which ended up including everyone I was interested in, basically. People ask me now, "Who do you want to shoot," and at this point there's no one. As far as celebrities go.

It ended for me with Paris Hilton. I loved the superficial emptiness, the blonde hair, the extensions, the contact lenses, the spray-on tan. . . she's so perfect.

MB: What about these photographs in "The Awakened" series, people who seem to be floating, up to heaven or into the light or. . . .

DLC: I'd been working so long with models who were quite conscious of the camera, and I wanted to find a way to make people unconscious of the camera (without feeding them "roofies" or knocking them out). I wanted to figure out a way to keep my subjects from posing. So I got this large tank and filled it with warm water, and it fit right in with the idea of "The Deluge" to have a series of images of submerged people. It's about the fear of drowning, or the end of the world, or fears of the flood of the future.

We were basically dunking them. Some of the people didn't even know how to swim. I went to Goodwill and got clothing that was really ill-fitting, sweaters and nylon pantyhose and flat shoes and stuff that looked pedestrian. I wanted it to look personal, not styled.

MB: What about the kid in the altar boy costume -- that's personal but not particularly Goodwill.

DLC: I really didn't want to put anybody in costume, but one of my friends said, "Why don't you do an altar boy," and I thought that was a good idea. I wanted to be careful about the clothes, because the project is about rebirth and the question is, are they dying or are they being reborn or are they being enlightened?

The water illuminates the event. The people in the tank are basically forced to relax, all they can see is a big blur. And they're not professional models -- I got people off Craigslist or went up to people at Trader Joe's and said, "Would you like to be in a dunk chamber?"

MB: The big "Deluge" photograph shows a vast flood in Las Vegas, overwhelming all these bodybuilders and pinup models. Where did this idea come from?

DLC: I was working on the Elton John show at Caesars Palace, and I felt like I was a slave, and I was reading a lot about Michelangelo, reading his whole life story, and he was working for the Pope and I began to imagine that working at Caesars Palace for six months was like being in ancient Rome. I had just finished Rize and was doing Gwen Stefani's Rich Girl video and it had been 11 months since I'd had a day off. I was on a treadmill. So that was it.

MB: So, "The Deluge" photographs are expressing some degree of ambivalence towards the human ideal as a mass-market commodity?

DLC: With Michelangelo we have the idea that physical perfection equals divinity. A lot of people in Los Angeles have perfect bodies, but when they all showed up after answering the ad on Craigslist, and I laid out all the Polaroids I took of them, it became clear that what worked for Michelangelo wasn't going to apply in the same way to contemporary photography. A nude in a photograph just means something completely different than a nude in a painting.

You can't help but look at people in photographs as if they're real. You check out whether the men are "cut" or not, you look at the size of the women's breasts, you look at the pubic hair. Michelangelo was able to make everyone look both generic and ideal, with no portraits of actual people there.

I think we're in a post-pornographic time, and nothing seems shocking, but everything remains carnal no matter what you do. We can only look at the people and their flesh and how beautiful they are next to each other. After all, perfect bodies of today are striving toward lines defined by the classicism of Michelangelo, which was derived from the classicism of Greece.

MB: One of your photos depicts a deluxe picture gallery that has been horribly flooded, and I thought it was the New Orleans Museum of Art for a second, but it doesn't have those pictures.

DLC: For me, "The Deluge" is about the craziness of being faced with danger, with imminent death, when every material thing is taken away. You have to find some sort of enlightenment when everything you value suddenly becomes worthless. Michelangelo's Deluge in the Sistine Chapel shows humanity at its best, people helping each other.

When we had 9/11 here in New York, people were so kind to each other, and it turned out that in the face of losing everything a calm came over people. At the moment of crisis there is an opportunity for enlightenment, and that's what happened on 9/11.

You can't really get very close to this idea on a fashion shoot. So I thought that if I was really going to do this project, I should show it in an art gallery.

MARY BARONE is a photographer whose "Out with Mary" regularly appears in Artnet Magazine.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Schlingensief's 18 Images a Second at Haus der Kunst

Schlingensief's 18 Images a Second at Haus der Kunst


Christoph Schlingensief, Production still from the film "African Twin Towers", 2005
© Aino Laberenz.

MUNICH, GERMANY.- The film and theater director and artist Christoph Schlingensief will present his installation "18 Images a Second" at the Haus der Kunst, a work created especially for the building’s former Hall of Honor.

"Time and again I am mistaken for the theater director: My background, though, is in film, not theater. And I fondly remember the times when films were shot on Super-8/16 mm or 35 mm. I remember the destruction of negatives. The painting over memories. The possibility of looking at material years later, when it seemed like a worn out retina, scratched up, detached, shot at by flashes. Everything the eye does, the film material does.
And since I am about to hand over another Wagner opera to the people in Manaus, at the Haus der Kunst I will make allusions to my destroyed past. 18 loops, film loops... destructible, rattling, smelling... no digital anything. Rather an acknowledgement to the lost central thread.
The procession of the blind.
The resurrection of the dead.
The realization that no dead man will be evil.
The joy that God cannot die.
We, however, can. That makes us a film. 18 images of hope and 18 times death."

For the last two years Schlingensief has again begun dealing with the medium film more intensely, something that is clearly reflected in his work for Haus der Kunst. Two filmed work complexes form the installation’s focus: African Twin Towers and short films that are now being shot while the artist directs the Flying Dutchman at the Teatro Amazonas in Manaus, Brazil.

African Twin Towers is a film about Richard Wagner, the attacks of September 11th, Hagen of Tronje, Odin and Edda, living and dead Hereros (members of an African herdsmen tribe), spirits of the present and past. The film location is a "rotating disk," referred to as an "animatograph" by Schlingensief, on which a ship with two masts stands. On these masts hang the Twin Towers. All this stood in Lüderitz in Namibia, a former German colony in south west Africa. The German present is staged and each day the movie begins anew under the constant surveillance of different cameras. This time Schlingensief is everything: director, actor and one of four cameramen. He unites the Nordic and European world of legends with African shamanism and the present, the music of Patti Smith with texts by Elfriede Jelinek and the acting of the Fassbinder actress Irm Hermann. At the same time he has designed a portrait of everyday occurrences in which political "heroes" appear, as well as other figures. He is, metaphorically speaking, constantly in search of charging and discharging, of light and dark contrasts.

Schlingensief will shoot 18 short films in connection with his work on the Flying Dutchman in Manaus. The project’s central theme is the idea of salvation. Richard Wagner was constantly preoccupied with this idea and in his last opera, Parsifal (1882), which Schlingensief staged in 2004 for the Bayreuth Festival, he tried to come to terms with it once and for all. According to Schlingensief, the Flying Dutchman is in search of an image that grants him salvation but finds none. And even Senta, as his loving wife, has an image that she would like to have redeemed and yet finds no happiness in it.

Schlingensief embeds the Manaus films in an installation, which is dominated by an oversized carnival float on which Jesus and Mohammed partake in the Lord’s Supper.

Located underneath the carnival float are various swimming pool changing booths, in which the 16 mm format films from Manaus and Africa rattle away. The entire footage of the film African Twin Towers is shown on 18 monitors located in a crypt-like space, with a total playing time of 18 hours. Despite the collective rattling of the projectors and the aesthetics of the 16 mm Bolex camera used, each room is dedicated to a specific theme and creates its own celestial bodies.

"No film cutting can create what one can do with a Bolex. Even blind people can use the Bolex. It shoots... and after 30 seconds the material is used up. Then it needs to be reloaded. Even if you are blind you can shoot with it. Image for image... individual images... like with a revolver. And it is less cryptic than our family tree." (Schlingensief)

With the use of a rotating aperture, handmade fade-ins and fade-outs, material developed partially by hand, the grain of the black and white material and short loops, Schlingensief achieves a speed that carries viewers away. And still the viewer is kept grounded by the center created with the camera’s gaze.

Schlingensief’s radicalism lies in his subjective selection and in the non-hierarchical juxtaposition of images, themes and people. He believes in the sensual power of images and in the observer’s ability to free himself from his desire for linearity.

Following his overlapping installations in places such as Neuhardenberg (Animatograph II) and the Burgtheater in Vienna (Area 7), in which he transgressed the limits of theater towards installation, Schlingensief now will have his first large solo presentation in an art institution.

"For Schlingensief it is not a question of sharply focused things but rather haziness. I would like to endorse this belief since things that are clear are not inspiring. The world in its entirety is, in fact, incomprehensible." (Stephanie Rosenthal).

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pop Art at Princeton: Permanent and Promised Opens

Pop Art at Princeton: Permanent and Promised Opens


Andy Warhol, Blue Marilyn, 1962, Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, 50.5 x 40.3 cm, plexi wall vitrine: 23 x 19 x 23 3/4 in. Gift of Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Class of 1922, and Mrs. Barr. Photo credit: Bruce M. White.

PRINCETON, NJ.- This March the Princeton University Art Museum will present the exhibition Pop Art at Princeton: Permanent and Promised, a celebration of the museum’s comprehensive collection––acquired over the last thirty years through purchases, bequests, and gifts, past and promised––of paintings, prints, drawings, and sculpture by leading figures of the American Pop art movement. The exhibition also includes examples of seldom seen later works by Robert Indiana, Alex Katz, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Andy Warhol, and Tom Wesselmann, providing a broad historical overview of Pop art as it has been practiced from the movement’s origins to the present day. The exhibition and associated programming have been made possible by Merrill Lynch.

On view through August 12, 2007, the exhibition has been organized to coincide with the publication in March 2007 of Pop Art: Contemporary Perspectives, the first in a new series of Princeton University Art Museum Monographs that will offer in-depth explorations of the Princeton University Art Museum’s rich collections.

“Over the last thirty years, the Princeton University Art Museum has steadily augmented, by gift and purchase, its collection of Pop material,” notes Museum Director Susan M. Taylor. “These generous promised gifts highlight the significance of Pop art and mark an important addition to the museum’s collections in contemporary art. The pairing of the exhibition and the new museum publication series represents a singular opportunity for the museum to fulfill two fundamental, interrelated aspects of our mission: building the collection and advancing scholarship.” Ms. Taylor added that Princeton has a long tradition of interest in modern and contemporary art. “Since the early twentieth century, the university’s alumni and faculty have included important historians of modern art who also have been influential critics of contemporary practice—Alfred Barr, William Seitz, Sam Hunter, Michael Fried, Rosalind Krauss, Thomas Crow, and Hal Foster, among others.”

“Merrill Lynch is proud to sponsor Pop Art at Princeton: Permanent and Promised, an impressive collection of Pop art," said Jason Wright, Merrill Lynch senior vice president, communications and public affairs. "As a long-time patron of innovative arts and educational programs, we support the Princeton University Art Museum in its commitment to showcasing important exhibitions to the communities where our clients and employees work and live."

Pop Art at Princeton: Permanent and Promised presents more than eighty works of art by American Pop-era artists acquired by the Princeton University Art Museum over the last thirty years, including examples of seldom seen later works.

Designed by CoDe, New York, Inc., Calvin Brown, and Michael Jacobs, and installed in two special exhibition galleries, the exhibition will be organized around the works of individual artists.

The first gallery will feature the prints and sculpture of Indiana, a witty wall piece by Allan D’Arcangelo, and cut-out portraits by Katz, all pointing toward historical traditions in American art that have been imaginatively reinterpreted by these Pop artists. The works in this gallery also will introduce some of the subjects, cultural issues, and revolutionary techniques of the Pop era, through major prints by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jim Dine, as well as Dine’s five-paneled construction The Art of Painting (1972).

The second gallery will concentrate on promised gifts of work by Wesselmann, Oldenburg and Van Bruggen, Warhol, and Lichtenstein, and selected works from the museum’s permanent collection by George Segal, James Rosenquist, and Edward Ruscha. The exhibition will compare several artists’ early and later treatments of a single subject, pairing Wesselmann’s molded plastic Still Life #54 of 1965, for example, with his laser-cut steel Still Life with Orange and Tulip of 1986–92. The group of promised gifts is particularly strong in the rarely discussed late sculpture of these artists, and the exhibition will provide a number of opportunities to examine drawings and maquettes along with the finished pieces.

Pop Art at Princeton also will feature representations of the iconic motifs that became signature images for these artists in the Pop era––Johns’s targets, Dine’s bathrobes and paintbrushes, Warhol’s soup can and portrait of Marilyn––while the darker side of American culture will be presented in Rauschenberg’s layered illustrations appropriated from the news media, and in Warhol’s screenprinted images of social disaster.

With the addition of the promised gifts, the collections of the Princeton University Art Museum will be expanded to include a vision of Pop art that goes well beyond the boundaries of a historically defined period, pointing to the ways in which these artists, with distinctly individual styles, pursued their unrelenting dedication to a contemporary view of American life and the practice of art throughout their careers.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Le marché de l´art contemporain en France

Le marché de l´art contemporain en France


Pour sa neuvième édition, Artparis s´installe comme l´année précédente sous la verrière du Grand-Palais. Manifestation définitivement printanière Artparis accueille à nouveau les prestigieuses enseignes qui l´avaient rejointe en 2006, auquel s´est connecté un nombre important de galeries spécialisées en art contemporain.

En parallèle de ce rendez-vous, de nombreuses maisons de ventes, à l´image de Cornette de Saint-Cyr, Piasa, Artcurial - Briest-Le Fur-Poulain-F.Tajan, Neret-Minet profitent de l´événement pour organiser des ventes thématiques. Au fil des années, l´art contemporain se fait de plus en plus présent aux enchères. Dans le domaine des ventes, publiques, les transactions concernant des artistes nés entre 1920 et 1945 représentent 15,4% des lots échangés en 2006. Les ventes d´œuvres d´artistes plus actuels, nés après 1945, ne concernent encore que 4,2% des enchères françaises.

Le produit des ventes publiques d´art contemporain progresse désormais très rapidement. En 2006, le chiffre d´affaires généré en France par les artistes nés après 1945 a augmenté de +82% par rapport à 2005 et de +200% par rapport à 2003. Il n´a jamais été aussi haut. Cette augmentation tient à la fois de la hausse généralisée des prix dans ce secteur (+26% depuis 2003) que d´une forte pénétration du marché des artistes chinois, aux cotes souvent supérieures aux artistes français.

A l´image du marché de l´art mondial, la France a désormais ouvert ses salles des ventes à l´art contemporain chinois. En quelques mois les artistes chinois ont réussi a s´emparer des premières positions du TOP 50 par produit de ventes. Pas moins de 12 d´entre eux sont présents. Le premier de la liste, Yan Pei-Ming, vivant en France depuis 1982 et présenté à la Biennale de Venise en 2003, décroche la 3e position avec un produit de ventes de 707 226 euros en 2006, réalisé en seulement 13 enchères. Il détient aussi la seconde plus forte enchère française de l´année pour une œuvre contemporaine avec un grand portrait de Mao (1989) adjugé 210 000 euros chez Christie´s Paris. Le record de l´année revient à Miquel Barcelo, avec « Bodegon » (1984), vendu 750 000 € chez Tajan le 17 mai 2006, se hissant en tête du classement des artistes contemporains par produit de ventes. Les meilleurs résultats dérochés par des artistes français reviennent à Richard Texier (65 000 € pour "Homo Mundo" chez Calmels-Cohen le 3 avril 2006) et Robert Combas (56 000 € pour "Les Amoureux des Bancs Publics" chez Artcurial le 11 décembre.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Diego Rivera - « Je n´ai jamais cru en Dieu mais je crois en Picasso »

Diego Rivera - « Je n´ai jamais cru en Dieu mais je crois en Picasso »


Diego RIVERA fut l´ami des plus grands peintres modernes dont le grand Pablo PICASSO, mais aussi Amedeo MODIGLIANI, qui dressa son portrait, Piet MONDRIAAN ou André BRETON. En 1913, Rivera s´exerce au cubisme analytique avant d´affirmer un style aux formes simplifiées et aux couleurs vives, qualifié de « naïf ». Sa carrière prend son essor au Mexique, son pays natal, avec la réalisation de fresques murales qui ont fortement marqué les esprits de l´époque par leur engagement politique.

En 1931, le Moma de New-York le célèbre déjà en organisant une grande rétrospective. Aujourd´hui, les plus belles œuvres de l´artiste sont visibles dans des musées américains et mexicains. Les musées les plus riches en œuvres de Rivera sont, aux Etats-Unis : le Fine Arts Museum de San Franciso (Californie), le San Diego Museum of art (Californie), et au Mexique : la Fundacion Proa de Buenos Aires, le Palacio de las Bellas Artes et le Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino.

Les œuvres majeures sont dispersées aux Etats-Unis par les grandes maisons de ventes anglo-saxonnes Sotheby´s et Christie´s qui réalisent 94% du produit des ventes pour 84% des transactions. La France propose autant d´œuvres que le Mexique, soit 5% des lots, tandis que l´hexagone dégage 4% du produit des ventes contre moins de 2% sur le sol mexicain. Le marché des peintures est ténu : sur les 5 dernières années, on compte seulement entre 4 et 6 toiles proposées aux enchères. La rareté des chefs-d´œuvre expliquent une cote élevée : le ticket d´entrée pour espérer acquérir une huile de Rivera est de 100 000 € environ mais la majorité des œuvres de qualité s´échangent aujourd´hui entre 300 000 et 800 000 € ! Sur les 15 dernières années, il a décroché 8 enchères millionnaires en dollars pour des œuvres dont les sujets sont éclectiques : nature morte, portrait de femme ou paysage.

Chaque année, les maisons de ventes publiques proposent entre 20 et 50 dessins de l´artiste, essentiellement des aquarelles et des travaux à l´encre de chine. En 2006, les aquarelles les plus abouties on été adjugées entre 30 000 et 50 000 € en moyenne. A titre d´exemple, le Vendedor de jarros (27,6x38,7 cm) proposé chez Sotheby´s NY le 20 novembre dernier partait pour 42 500 $ (soit plus de 33 100 €). Il est cependant possible d´acquérir des papiers aquarellés de l´artiste au dixième de cette fourchette de prix : les œuvres sont alors de petits formats comme le Man with Rebozo de 13 x 9 cm pour lequel le marteau est tombé à 5 500 $ (soit près de 4 300 €) le 5 novembre 2006 à Los Angeles (maison de ventes Bonhams & Butterfields). Les études au fusain demeurent abordables avec une fourchette de prix comprise entre 1 000 et 10 000 €, soit les prix moyens des plus belles lithographies de l´artiste tirées à 100 exemplaires. Par contre, dès que les travaux au fusain sont agrémentés de couleurs (du pastel par exemple), les prix s´envolent dans la fourchette des aquarelles…

Art Grand Slam in Paris With Navratilova

Art Grand Slam in Paris With Navratilova


Juraj Králik and Martina Navratilova.

PARIS, FRANCE.- Roland-Garros, home of the French Open, presents Art Grand Slam, more than 60 canvases created by Slovak photographer and artist Juraj Králik and Martina Navratilova, 50, the Czech-born American legend of world tennis. Navratilova and Králik have been working on this project for four years.

Martina Navratilova said, "What I like is that you hit the ball but you don't exactly know what you're doing."

Kralik suggested the idea to Navratilova in 2000. They created the works on the courts of the the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments in New York, Melbourne, Paris and Wimbledon between 2001 and 2005. They covered the tennis balls with paint and then hit them onto a canvas.

More than 55,000 Visitors to Lichtenstein Exhibition

More than 55,000 Visitors to Lichtenstein Exhibition


Roy Lichtenstein, Collage for Seductive Girl, 1996. Private collection. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein / VEGAP, 2007.

MADRID, SPAIN.- More than 55,000 persons have visited the Roy Lichtenstein – Beginning to End at the Fundación Juan March in Madrid. The exhibition is on view through May 20, 2007. The exhibition presents a selection of 97 works created between 1966 and 1997 by Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) who, together with Andy Warhol, was one of the major exponents of American Pop Art. Organized in collaboration with the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation in New York and curated by Jack Cowart, this exhibition, for the first time, offers a complete and unedited vision of the different stages of the artist’s work process. Roy Lichtenstein: Beginning to End completes and expands upon the smaller exhibition presented in 2005 and 2006 at the Fundación Juan March’s Museo de Arte Abstracto Español in Cuenca and the Museu d’Art Espanyol Contemporani in Palma. Titled Lichtenstein, In Process, that exhibition revealed the intermediate phase of the artist’s work process, related to his sketches, drawings and collages. This new exhibition goes further and seeks to reconstruct the distinct phases of the artist’s creation in its totality and evidence its evolution from his sources of inspiration to the final consequences – the completed works – revealing Lichtenstein’s incessant search among the different pathways of art. They are routes that at first appear mysterious but that are gradually revealed by the very process of creation and development in the artist’s work over a span of four decades.

The works, loaned by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, New York; Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel; The Eli and Edyth L. Broad Collection, Los Angeles; and other private collections, offer scenarios that reveal Lichtenstein’s sources: there are popular figures from the cartoon world such as Dagwood, Tintin and Donald Duck. There are protagonists from girls’ comics like Girls’ Romances, Heart Throbs and Secret Hearts, or true classic symbols such as the Hellenistic Laocöon, landscapes by van Gogh and Cézanne, bathers and portraits by Picasso, nudes and interiors by Matisse, Monet’s waterlilies and Brancusi’s endless column. There are also diverse themes from art history, such as the landscapes of Chinese painting, still lifes and studio models, representations of interiors – that also allude to the artist’s own interiority – and exteriors that refer to the public domain. They are references with which Lichtenstein dialogues, and to which he pays, with his characteristic appropriations, particular homage, thus managing to popularize themes of high culture, integrating it with the images from mass media and opening a pathway to new readings and perspectives.

In addition, the exhibition includes a film that Lichtenstein made in 1970, commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art within the framework of an arts and technology program developed between 1967 and 1971, and on which artists and advanced technology industries collaborated. With the help of Universal Film Studios, Lichtenstein conceived of, and produced, a film of marine landscapes, directly related to a series of collages with landscape themes he created between 1964 and 1966, one of which also forms a part of our display.

The exhibition, moreover, is accompanied by screenings of The Drawings of Roy Lichtenstein, 1961-1986, and Roy Lichtenstein: Reflections, two documentaries produced in 1987 and 1993, respectively, by the Checkerboard Foundation, Inc., New York.

Saturday, March 24, 2007




Art consultant to the stars Kim Heirston whizzed by me on 72nd Street on the first day of spring as I stopped by Jacobson Howard Gallery to examine the show, "After Image: Op Art of the 1960s." Time was, say for few months in 1968, when every gallery on Madison Avenue boasted a Victor Vasarely. Now we get our opulent optical opportunities from art world glammies like Heirston.

The athletic Loretta Howard tried unsuccessfully to turn on one boxed Op piece for us, but the bulb had burned out, so we were left with a tight scholarly show of long-forgotten work timed to coincide with Op shows at the Columbus Museum, the Albany Museum, Pratt Institute and Tralfamador, famed planetary origin of Kilgore Trout. For Op Art is a long-past momentary confection, like one’s youthful fascination with the fantasies of Kurt Vonnegut. Or is it?

The Jacobson Howard selection is controlled, scholarly and not particularly psychedelic. The show includes some static chevrons by Bridget Riley, a gorgeous blue-in-green Gene Davis stripe painting, a lemony Albers homage, Julian Stanczak’s orangeade beads that feel like Agnes Martin through a straw, and a concave-convex Vasarely which resembles a robotic brassiere. All very sedate, with explanatory wall labels, which would hardly threaten Duchamp’s rotoreliefs, much less Terence "the Mummy" Koh.

Op Art, looking backwards, resembles nothing more or less than Color Field painting put through a thresher.

Silver machine manques by Fletcher Benton and Leroy Lamis are positively cuddly. No threat to the retina here in a beautifully sedate show. For sheer optical force, journey up Mad Ave to Cook Fine Art’s Helmut Newton exhibition. Though much is familiar there, a suite of three Newton pictures of four naked bush-pubed Amazons really, really strips the eyes with primitive force. These women are ready to make war with rays of lust, and I defy you to look away from their luscious gaze.

Around the corner, at M. Sutherland Fine Arts on East 80th Street, another young Chinese hotshot, one Yang Mian, proffers some milky beauties, pastel paintings based on Asian cosmetics ads. The work borrows a lot from Richard Phillips, though each painting is marked with a Julian Schnabel-style horizontal slash, although the Chinese artist diaspora rarely acknowledges magpieing Western contemporary art. They’ve just been doing the same stuff in an alternative universe, apparently.

Yang turned out to be a jolly fellow with a glint of stardom in his eyes. Perhaps Chinese pop will magically displace the Warhols and the Rosenquists in a mass "carass," to use the term from Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. In the art world’s version of tulip mania, no one would notice the difference!

Friday, March 23, 2007




It was a cold, blustery day in Washington, D.C., but the wind swept me right into spring -- into the Smithsonian Institution’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, where in a rush to meet the cherry blossoms, the Sackler has mounted a brilliant show celebrating the gardens of the Orient. In "East of Eden: Gardens in Asian Art," Feb. 24-May 13, 2007, the pleasures of the garden are strikingly shown in 65 works of art displayed in sumptuous surroundings.

For centuries, princes, potentates, rich merchants or anyone else with money and power strived to create the perfect garden. These were gardens meant for seclusion and meditation, gardens for passion and secret trysts, sensuous gardens that intoxicate with their beauty, spacious gardens for the hunt. And the artists of Persia, Iraq, Turkey, China, Japan and the Indian subcontinent made lasting images of those perfect gardens, although many of them were certainly imagined rather than experienced.

Women, solitary or in groups, are often depicted in the Asian garden. For women, whose movement out-of-doors was sometimes otherwise restricted or forbidden, the garden provided a fresh, natural setting where they were free to socialize and wander about.

At the Sackler, in manuscript paintings, hanging scrolls, ceramics, folding screens and textiles spanning almost nine centuries, the gardens speak to us of the immense affluence of royalty, the splendid visions of their architects and the intense desire to come as close to nature as humanly possible.

Mughal gouache miniatures are generously represented here. In the early 16th century, the Mughals came out of Persia with fast horses and a vast complement of artists, and had conquered most of India by the 1550s, leaving only a handful of independent rulers in the north.

Among my favorite wroks is an opaque watercolor-and-gold-on-paper illustration, Jahangir and Prince Khurram with Nur Jahan ("Nur meaning "delight). Jahan was to become Shah Jahan in the early 17th century. Here we see the future Mughal ruler with his wife Mumtas, who, not coincidentally, was an ardent garden enthusiast. A party is taking place on the lawn of an opulent garden, and a meal is spread out on a rug vibrant with floral images. In the background is a magnificent garden edifice -- the Mughals were famous for their architecture -- next to a grove of trees. Jahan and his party graciously dine while richly clad servants await their orders. The carefully manicured grounds were typical of the period, and were often punctuated with ornamental animals, especially peacocks, deer and antelopes.

In Lovers, another watercolor with gold on paper which dates to the late 1500s, we see the Mughal Prince Murad with his young wife Mirza. The garden here is probably located in the region of Kashmir, home to several famous Mughal gardens, including the legendary Shalimar. A bedspread and carpet are laid out on a verdant lawn, and the couple is seen in amorous embrace. Gardens were jealously guarded by walls and fences or by natural barriers to keep out the curious -- fortunate in this case.

The most famed garden of India, as you might expect, is in Agra at the Taj Mahal, the world-renowned structure that was built as the tomb of Shah Jahan’s wife, Mumtas. Jahan had promised to care for their 13 children, to never remarry and to build her a magnificent tomb. We don’t know how well he took care of the kids, but he certainly made good on the tomb. In Bird’s Eye View of the Taj Mahal at Agra, we see that the structure was originally surrounded by a vast garden, with the tomb in the exact center. The plantings on the Yamuna river’s far shore have since disappeared, but Bird’s Eye View is proof that the garden did exist. It is known as the Moonlight Garden, and at its south entrance gateway a Koran verse reads, "Enter thou my paradise."

The Moonlight Garden was divided into four symmetrical sections in a configuration, called chahar-bagh, typical of Indian and Persian gardens. Each section in a chahar-bagh layout is separated by a raised walkway which typically doubles as a water course. Several gouaches in the exhibition show chahar-bagh gardens. With true poetic symbolism, the four sections were said to represent wine, honey, milk and water. But this configuration arose from more practical reasons. It was dry in India. The canals were filled with water from diverted rivulets and springs, and the layout maximized use of this valuable commodity. (No such arrangement is to be found in images of Japanese and Chinese gardens, where water was plentiful.)

Not content to leave the garden outside, artisans would bring the garden themes inside as decorations for household objects. We see the chahar-bagh influence in a quatrefoil ceramic lobed spice box dating from the 1650s. The box is fashioned of gold and topped with a ruby finial that rests on enamel lilies and furling leaves. The sinuous and sensual lines of the design suggest the aphrodisiac function of the cardamom pods and stuffed betel leaves that the box was designed to contain.

A lot is going on in The Garden of Heavenly Creatures, an ink drawing with gold and color wash that is probably from the mid-16th-century Persian Safavid dynasty. At first glance, it’s a serene setting where exquisitely attired angels are entertaining their queen. But lest we forget, lulled by the beauty of the flowers and birds, nature can be a cruel and treacherous force. A demon stands at attention, and high in a corner of the heavenly garden, a snake swallows a baby chick as its distraught mother flutters helplessly. The garden is a blend of the abstract and the sensual, the earthy and the mystical.

Like their Indian and Persian counterparts, artists depicting Chinese and Japanese gardens make ample use of teahouses and gazebos, decorative walkways and stepping stones, elaborate fences and walls. But the gardens of Japan and China are less manicured and more natural. They show a liberal use of rocks, even boulders, plus sand and moss, as well as being set in watery landscapes. Japanese and Chinese gardens tend to be vast, encompassing long stretches of minimally landscaped areas, with hills or mountains in the distant background becoming an integral part of the garden design. Not exclusively reserved for the imperial courts, the gardens of Southeast Asia were often situated in sacred groves, around houses of learning, in the secluded mountain retreats of scholars where they were meant to inspire learning and meditation.

But not all Japanese gardens were so egalitarian. In many, fences, screens and walls enforced the mandatory separations dictated by local custom. Such boundaries are clearly demonstrated in Court Ladies among Cherry Trees. Within the garden fence, a group of aristocratic women have come to see the trees at their height of bloom, which stand in contrast against a green background. The ladies’ brightly colored garments let us know they are an important presence, their cherry-viewing activities noteworthy. Outside the garden their nondescript attendants sit leaning against the fence, taking a snooze. The two six-part folding screens gleam in gold impasto, achieved by the addition of ground seashells.

Gold was mined in Japan and was used liberally by Japanese artists during this time. In another example, a two-panel screen from the late 17th or early 18th century, flowering plants are arranged in asymmetrical fashion against a background of gold leaf, creating a luminous effect. Lilies, hollyhocks, clover and wisteria, a mix of wild and cultivated flowers, are pictured in varying stages of bloom. In reality these plants would not be found together in the same garden, but no matter.

Often, we feel as though we are in the garden, other times, as if we are looking out from inside. The persimmon tree in bloom on a three-panel screen appears to be just outside our window. The artist has carefully layered diluted pigments on leaves and tree trunk, suggesting the contrast between the brilliant red fruit at the end of autumn and the inevitability of winter. The screen is from the late 18th century Edo period.

The Tale of Utatane from the Muromachi period (1392-1568) is a good example of the Japanese tradition of storytelling with the aid of a handscroll. Here the artist provides us with a full view of a house and its garden by looking down from above at the roofless interior and the exterior spaces. By the 12th century, Japanese artists had perfected this manner of presentation, which allows us to appreciate the uninterrupted flow from indoors to veranda to outdoor gardens. In the Utatane scroll, a young princess inside her house can enjoy the gardens because the structure’s exterior panels have been moved aside. Within this peaceful setting, perhaps intoxicated by the sight and aroma of a cherry tree in full bloom, the princess appears ready for a nap.

A popular Chinese love story is played out in The Story of the Western Wing. A young scholar falls in love with Oriole, a beautiful maiden of higher rank. Interpreting a letter from the young woman as encouragement, he scales her garden wall. In this ink and color painting on silk, the youth is atop the wall and is about to drop down into a magnificent garden with banana trees, trellised vines and decorative rocks. An angry handmaiden is ready to give him a piece of her mind, while the object of his love sits to the side, seemingly amused. The date of the painting is unclear, though it was originally thought to be early 16th century, and subsequently from the 18th-19th century Qing dynasty.

In Japan, people took great pride in their gardens -- even identifying themselves by their garden. We sense that pride in the two versions of The Five Deer Hermitage, a small private Japanese estate located in Hebei Province. Evidently, the estate’s owner was so anxious to preserve the image of his property that he enlisted two prominent scholar-artists for the job. Their ink drawings on gold-flecked paper initially appear to be of two different properties. On close inspection, however, it’s clear they are both renderings of The Five Deer Hermitage -- the same buildings, the small island connected to the mainland by small bridges, the same basic outlines of the garden. Yet they differ in overall effect and in many details. Probably one or both artists created their drawings from memory or based on written or oral accounts, incorporating imaginary elements along the way. The idyllic settings created by the painters were said to have greatly pleased the property’s owner, no doubt in the same way a flattering portrait might please its sitter.

The beauty of the garden was also captured in ceramics and other materials. An exquisite example is a Japanese tea-ceremony water jar decorated with pale colored chrysanthemums and gold, suggesting a private garden setting. Tea mavens valued water from certain famous wells, and this water jar is in the shape of a wooden curb surrounding such a well. Autumn flowers predominate on a 17th-century, nine-inch-high inkstone case (suzuribako) on which pampas grass, asters and ague weed are presided over by a crescent moon.

From Jiangxi province comes a huge (more than 26 inches in diameter) Ming dynasty porcelain dish with cobalt under a colorless glaze. A garden with a stylized rock and distinctive flowers graces the dish center. Leaf and flower sprays circle the front and back cavetto. Pine, plum and bamboo on the back are, in Chinese tradition, "The Three Friends of Winter."

FRED STERN writes on art and antiques.