Category Archives: Let’s Get Critical, Critical

Crème de Menthe and Armor: The Josiah Tell Interview

closeup500I first met Josiah Tell in the Spring of 1999, when he tapped me to ghost write his autobiography Josiah Tells All!: Notes from America’s Answer to Theodore Roosevelt. His erratic behavior—and his frequent absences due to the many arraignments he was required to attend over the years—made progress slow. The book was finally published on Tell’s GeoCities site last month, three days before Yahoo shut down the web hosting service permanently. Tell, who has claimed that backing up data is “for girls,” was left with nothing.

Tell has been known as the bad boy of the art historical world since 1985, when he provoked a fist fight at Pomona College’s annual Renaissance Art Symposium. (He repeatedly interrupted the keynote speaker by shouting from his seat in the audience that Leonardo da Vinci “was a big old Scientologist,” a claim that he stands by.) Since then, he’s traveled from museum to museum, shoplifting from gift stores and subsisting mostly on the free cru d’été served at exhibition openings.

In short, Josiah Tell is an abrasive outcast who only stays relevant by occasionally producing groundbreaking research. ArtForum calls his mode of scholarship the Stopped Clock method: unlike his peers, Tell doesn’t mind having his theories proved completely wrong. And because he’s never shy about sharing his libelous and paranoid theories, the law of averages states that eventually, a few of them will be correct—and fewer still, brilliant.

When he arrived at the Swedish Consulate General in New York, (where he’d demanded we hold this interview, since “The Swedes have never—and I do mean never—successfully prosecuted a submarine robbery”) Tell reeked of gasoline. “It’s Friday,” he shrugged, by way of explanation (It was a Tuesday). Tell grabbed the elbow of a passer-by and ordered “a piping-hot mug of crème de menthe.” Miraculously, the man, who I later learned was a senior diplomat, returned a few short minutes later with a steaming cup of liqueur, and nervously apologized for the wait. Call it the Tell Effect.

Tell wanted to speak about his recent visit to the Arms and Armor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but, being intensely suspicious of journalists, he refused to answer anything I asked. Instead, he conducted the entire interview himself, posing his own questions and pausing thoughtfully before responding.

Q: Are Arms awesome?

A: They are.

Q: How about Armor?

A: You bet!

Q: I was told you were a liberal elitist, and a socialist besides. Shouldn’t you hate guns?

A: Well, look: you can’t spell “Red State” without “Red.” So there’s something to think about. Plus, these weapons are all from Olden Times, before we had nations to protect us from Visigoths and bears and whatnot. Not to mention the constant threat of defenestration, which my research suggests killed more Europeans in the Premodern period than any other cause except witchcraft. So, sure, if I were living in Olden Times, you can bet I would have had as many muskets as I could fit in my castle. I would have worn a suit of armor, codpiece and all, in my sleep. Would have been crazy not to.

Q: That’s a really good point.

A: Thank you.

Q: Speaking of codpieces, if Prince were alive back in Arms and Armor days, what kind of codpiece would he wear?

A: You wouldn’t believe how often I get asked that question. He’d wear this one:

cock700Q: Rad!

A: I know, right?

Q: It assumes the wearer has an erection at all times!

A: Yeah, it’s pretty hilarious. I had to be escorted from the gallery the first time I went because I was laughing so hard.

Q: So what was your favorite piece there?

A: Definitely the seven-foot-tall suit of German fluted armor (below left). Look at it—the center suit’s a full head taller than the other two! Think how big the guy who wore that must have been. And this was back when everyone else was all atrophied and hunchbacked from gout and a diet of hardtack and dirt, so this two-metre Teuton would have been huge.

giant700Q: Well, the Days of Yore were some rough times, but I’m pretty sure people weren’t literally eating dirt.

A: Lots of people assume that. I actually was joking when I first said it, but apparently it’s a real thing called geophagy.

Q: Weird.

A: Totally weird! Eating dirt! But so anyway, you can imagine how terrifying this brute must have seemed in 1500, what with everyone else so malnourished and withered from eating rocks. If this ogre had started lumbering towards you in battle—

Q: Jesus Christ, I’d have pissed myself!

A: Precisely, you’d have pissed yourself. And suit of armor, remember, is impermeable, so it’s not like it would eventually have evaporated like that time you wet yourself after drinking a pint of ethanol that you stole from the the Rutgers Chem lab that caused you to pass out in a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, and when you woke up your cargo shorts smelled like frat bathroom but at least they were dry.

Q: I beg your pardon—I’m sure I don’t know what you’re referring to. And it was a tollbooth.

A: Yes, that’s right. You know, I haven’t been able to listen to Prairie Home Companion since that night. Who would have guessed that Garrison Keeler was such an adept cage fighter?

Q: He literally bent that guy’s arm backwards! Like with the elbow all going the wrong way! That’s a nice segue, actually, let’s move on to Arms. Were any of the handguns displayed in such a way that they appeared to be floating?

A: Yes. This revolver, manufactured by Samuel Colt, was displayed in exactly that manner:

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Q: Super cool! That’s some nice curatorial work.

A: It is.

Q: Well, this has been a wonderful. Thanks for your time.

A: The pleasure was mine.

At this point, Tell lurched out of his seat and asked to use the phone at the receptionist’s desk. He dialed 411, and after politely requesting the operator’s name and social security number, made his query. “New York City, The Internet. Yes. I need the number for The Internet. You can just put me through directly (pause). It’s some kind of a computer thing, I’m pretty sure it’s like Sega. Have you played Sega? (pause) Well look, I need Paypal to wire some money over to the Swedish embassy. I’ve just now realized I’m short on cash and unable to pay my bar tab, so I need money moved from my Party Poker account in Mauritius to the— (pause) Hello?” Tell’s face fell, and he slowly returned the receiver to the desk attendant. “My deepest regrets, Your Grace. Evidently my bank refuses to do business with Scandinavians. On account of the War—you understand.”

And with that, Josiah Tell bowed deeply from the waist and sprinted out the door, into the night.

Sergio Holl is an arts writer based in New York City.

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Installment 3: Kymia Nawabi

kimya-sculptureKymia Nawabi stood out at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Swing Space show. Her whimsical, yet somewhat disturbed drawings, paintings, and sculpture have the illustrative quality reminiscent of Tim Burton, giving characters multiple limbs or mix-matched bodies, and overlapping pattern over pattern –a complex world that begs to be dissected. A first generation Iranian-American, which she explains has contributed to her social anxiety disorder, her work addresses the personal struggles of her identity. Her mythology is given the name “The Nincompoop and The Superior Super Senses Stalkers,” as each of her senses is exaggerated and distorted in an episode of anxiety –whether it be in infancy, childhood, adolescence, or adulthood.

kimya-moleskinMoleskin sketchbooks, which read like storybooks, hang from the ceiling in one corner, while large scale drawings hang in the hallways and the walls of her studio space. Disfigured small-scale sculptures sit patiently on the table, some housed in their own small cupboards, while larger scale sculptures sit free form outside. Each work seems to represent a different episode, or a different manifestation of her feelings as a new character (or doppelganger, as she says). Incredibly detailed and fantastical, she is right in assuming that “the works are initially understood as playful, cute and humorous, but this is merely a polite disguise, just as one uses a smile to hide a despicable body and mind that has gone berserk. Thus, through the lens of my own experience, I direct the viewers’ visions to the complex, deep-level, make-up of who we are, and make us dwell on the abject nature of being human.”

Swing Space is a space grant program that connects artists and arts organizations with vacant commercial space downtown. Studio, rehearsal, office, installation, and exhibition space awards are typically for one to six months and may be accompanied by a project stipend of $300-$3,000, when funds are available. Housed in an expansive upper-level office floor in a skyscraper in the Financial District, the 10th floor of 77 Water Street is the summer home of the Swing Space visual artist studios. Twenty former bankers’ offices lining the nearly 20,000 square foot floor offers selected artists space to complete proposed projects in the visual arts. With sweeping views of the East River, New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty and the office buildings of the Insurance District, 77 Water Street serves the Swing Space program’s goal to place artists in uncommon and unique environments in Lower Manhattan.

Installment 2: The Female Gaze

cheim & readUnfortunately, we missed this one on the gallery hop last Thursday night in Chelsea, due to unexpectedly closed doors at Cheim & Read, but it is on the agenda for the next trip to the west side. The impressive roster includes names from Jenny Holzer to Kara Walker to Bernice Abbott, and of course, Louise Bourgeoise.  From photography to painting and sculpture, the gallery aims to present a twist on the traditional understanding of the gaze in the canon.  The curator has selected female artists looking at female subjects.  The French feminist movement started to challenge what Laura Mulvey identifies as the “male gaze” in her essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema: “the male, based on his desire for the female form, determines the way in which the female is perceived, thereby reducing her role to one of passivity and pleasure.”  The female identity and voice is traditionally only created and communicated by the male’s representation.

“The show seeks to present a collection of works which reclaim the traditional domination of the “male gaze” and reorient the significance of the female figure to allow for more varied interpretations… This exhibition attempts to debunk the notion of the male gaze by providing a group of works in which the artist and subject do not relate as “voyeur” and “object,” but as woman and woman. It would be interesting to ask the question how we would feel about the works in the exhibition if we were told they were made by a man.”

See the gallery walkthrough here, courtesy of the Douglas Kelly Show.

Unfortunately, we don’t see the aesthetic cohesion across the 41 (count them, 41) works, although the thought was nice in collecting these works in one place, maybe (when do “feminist artists” become just artists?) But are these works representative of each artist’s body of work?  Or are these carefully chosen to make the curator’s point for this single show?  We’ll have to see it in person (at 547 West 25th Street) to decide if the room by room arrangements make a strong enough statement… QUICK -it’s only up until September 19.

(installation photograph courtesy of Cheim & Read)

Europeans Can’t Get Enough of That Sweet, Sweet Classicism

Seriously? Edison's inventing movies and you're making this? Writing on wall, let me introduce you to neoclassical artists.
Seriously? While Orville and Wilbur are inventing the airplane, you’re making fluted vases with nautical décor? Hey, writing on wall, let me introduce you to neoclassical artists. (German, 1911)

The Met’s Sculpture and Decorative Arts 1850-1900 gallery shows European art at an exciting crossroads. Conservative Neoclassicism in the 18th and 19th centuries demonstrated that Western visual arts were due for a change. The idea behind neoclassicism was that Greek, Roman, and Italian Renaissance art were empirically superior to anything that came before or since, and so contemporary artists should copy their themes and forms. (To our eye, the Baroque and Rococo styles that preceded neoclassicism look a lot like ancient Greco-Roman art anyway, so a reactionary movement like neoclassicism seems redundant, but what do we know?)

About half of the work in this little room in the Iris and Gerald B. Cantor Galleries gave us the sense that sculptors and designers in 19th century Europe were just itching to get out from the crushing burden of classicism. How many urns depicting Homeric  myth does it take before everyone gets bored of business as usual and just wants to try something new?

To wit: the Cantor Galleries contain a bronze statue of Perseus (1890), a vase (1911) with the same decorative motifs you see in the objects in the Hellenistic Galleries, and commemorative medals with sitters in profile (1880s) that are almost indistinguishable from those that had depicted Caesar or Alexander. It’s crazy. These artists were living in the age of the railroad and phonograph and telephone and automobile, but they kept emulating the art that Athenians and Romans were making before the birth of Christ.

And then something weird happened (in the flow of history, not in the Cantor Gallery). In 1854, under pressure from Commodore Matthew Perry, Japan opened its borders to the West for the first time in more than 200 years. The concisely named “International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine” in Philadelphia in 1876 was America’s first world fair, where pavilions from thirty-odd countries—including Japan—exposed 9 million westerners to the wonders of the “Orient.” European avant-gardes like Toulouse-Latrec and Van Gogh began combining the clarity of line and flatness of picture plane from Japanese woodcuts with European techniques like oil painting.

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Clarity of line and asymmetrical composition recall woodprints from Hiroshige and Hokusai. (French, c. 1870)

The resulting biracial baby was named Japonisme, and it was awesome. No surprise there: when previously isolated cultures cross paths, cultural upheaval and fertility results (The Met’s own website has a concise entry explaining how a similar phenomenon had unfolded due to the silk and spice trade nearly two thousand years before). The Cantor gallery shows objects in both the conservative neoclassical and the radical japoniste modes.

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Take that, classical antiquity. These here dishes are something new. (English, 1880-84)

Other great pieces in the gallery: a Russian cigarette case (1896-1903) designed for Fabregé, a creepy ceramic Infanta, and a terracotta Négresse, which stylistically could have come from quattrocento Florence, but whose inscription (Porquoi! Natre esclave!, or Why born a slave?) and year of commission (1867) make it a piece of political commentary. A bit late, but still, at least it’s not another bust of Ceres or Bacchus.

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La Négresse. (French, 1867-71)

And finally: How often have you found yourself in the unenviable position of having toasted six pieces of bread, but you lack a receptacle to hold them? Regularly? Good news, because Christopher Dresser’s 1881 toast rack solves that exact problem.

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Sorry, the toast rack holds what, now? (English, 1881)

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The Iris and Gerald B. Cantor Galleries: European Sculpture and Decorative Arts 1850-1900

Highlights: Toast holder, duh.

Memorable Quote
Mom: We’re not going to the store.
Kid: (calm but incredulous) What?
Mom: We’re at the museum to learn and to enjoy each other’s company.
Kid: (visibly agitated) WHAT?

Next week: African art. All of it.

Jerk University: The Nicholas Roerich Museum

Say, do you know which group of people is terrible? It’s polymaths. They’re a bunch of assholes. These overachieving Renaissance men and women make the rest of us look like sub-human layabouts by comparison.

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Oh, what’s that, Ghost of Michelangelo? You weren’t content to sculpt a top-notch marble relief at age 16? You had to design the Laurentian Library, where Vasari said, “boldness and grace are equally conspicuous”? And then you spent the next half-century creating the most iconic sculpture and fresco in the Western canon? That’s great, except it makes you an insufferable braggart.

If you want to engineer buildings or paint or sculpt, fine. But doing all three is just tacky. It says, “I think I’m better than you because I made the statue of David and designed St. Peter’s Basilica and you spent 45 minutes yesterday trying to figure out how to play ‘Smooth Criminal’ on the guitar.”

Well, I’m unimpressed by a broad ouvre. As the saying goes, “It doesn’t matter how many extracurricular activities you have on your application to Jerk University. It’s still Jerk University, and it’s still a shitty school.”

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The Russian artist Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947) was a notable alum of JU. While wandering through Manhattan’s Roerich Museum recently, I asked a docent what was up with all the religious paintings—was the guy a mystic? The docent half-smiled and shook his head. “No, he was a scientist.”

A note to aspiring artist-scientists: no one likes a showoff. If you try to wear too many hats, your work will suffer and you’ll look like a fool because you’ll be wearing several hats. Besides, people will get jealous of your versatility and they’ll spread rumors about you being a Scientologist, so it’s best to focus on a single discipline and go with that. For instance, I sacrificed a promising career in the sciences (C+ in high school chemistry; physics in summer school) to focus on my Art. And the decision clearly paid dividends:

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Roerich wasn’t content to be a mere scientist. Like Michelangelo and Dion Sanders, he was hell bent on making everyone else seem shiftless by producing a wide and profound body of work. Exhaustive research (the museum brochure and Wikipedia) reveals that Roerich studied at a fine arts academy while simultaneously pursuing a law degree. I mean Jesus Christ, come on. Nobody does that. He was also an accomplished archaeologist and a member of everything from the Mark Twain Society to the Red Cross to the French Ethnographical Society (which he founded). Oh, and Roerich did the set design for the infamous debut of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Late in his life he drafted a pact—ratified by FDR and 35 other heads of state—establishing the protection of cultural artifacts during times of war.

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But the worst part? The worst part of all of this? Is that his art is killer. Dude published 32 books and he still found time to develop a great painterly technique and earn multiple Nobel nominations. That smug bastard.

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The Roerich Museum’s 200 or so paintings are as gorgeous as they are soulful. Many show religious icons (Milarepa, “Mahomet”) that dominate the picture plane; in others, anonymous figures contrast with muscular landscapes and hallucinogenic skies. Nearly all of the canvases show Roerich to be a skilled draftsman with a powerful understanding of color and light. The Museum itself—an 1890s townhouse with stained glass windows and creaky stairs—is the perfect setting for his work.

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So there you have it. Nicholas Roerich: archeologist, writer, philosopher, lawyer, anthropologist, and painter.

And first-rate dick.

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Playing hide and seek with Yinka Shonibare

Brooklyn Museum period roomI’ve never quite understood the concept of reassembling historic rooms, putting a red velvet rope around it, and funneling tourists on a counter-intuitive path through a house, castle, or museum. But once Yinka Shonibare placed child figures ducking under desks or rocking on horses in the Brooklyn Museum’s “renowned” period rooms, peeking through an untouchable room’s window became a game.

Leaving his exhibit on the first floor of the Brooklyn Museum, I felt a bit cheated. I didn’t expect the majority of Shonibare’s survey to be film. But the map revealed there was more –the large-scale game of hide and seek brought me through other galleries to find those little figures in their clothes of “patterned Dutch wax fabric produced in Europe for a West African market” inside rooms that could easily have belonged to colonists.  According to the exhibition’s website, another site-specific installation, Party Time—Re-Imagine America: A Centennial Commission by Yinka Shonibare MBE,  will be on view at the Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey, from July 1, 2009, to January 3, 2010, in the dining room of the museum’s 1885 Ballantine House.  Would it be cheating to use 20th century transportation?

Cyberpunk’d: Cornell’s Boxes are Gorges

cornellSo a few months ago went all nerdcore and ordered $3 paperbacks of all of William Gibson’s old books. You know, guy who coined the word cyberspace, was writing about “the matrix” in the 80s, imagined we “jack in” to the internets through literal sockets in our skulls.

Anyway, we’re reading Count Zero at the moment, and a nodal point in the plot references Joseph Cornell boxes. Being embarrassingly unversed in art history, we looked ‘em up–little boxes of composed ephemera and second hand objects–french maps, cut outs of birds, newsprint–it’s like this guy is channelling an inner aesthetic we could never quite put our finger on. Here’s a little write up on a nice meta-collectors blog that we came across in our digging. We are amazed and inspired.

Modern Self Portraits

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A quickie this time. The Met’s Modern Art Mezzanine has an exhibition called The Lens and the Mirror showing self-portraits from the Museum’s own collection.

We loved the pair of William Roberts drawings, the first from 1911 (when he was sixteen!) and the second from around 1920. In both, the artist’s face is tilted down a bit, giving him a kind of menacing, Alex DeLarge look. There’s also an Egon Schiele watercolor, below, in which the artist appears eroticized and grotesquely emaciated. So, yeah, pretty much like any other portrait he ever did (ProTip: The Neue Galerie, just a few blocks north of the Met’s main entrance, has a fantastic Schiele collection in a weirdly intimate setting).

We enjoyed the Matisse intaglio, an expressive drawing by Umberto Boccioni (who was discussed previously on Suggested Donation) and the wonderfully rigid self-portrait by modernist photographer Edward Steichen (shown below as an unintentional self-portrait of a self-portrait—bad photographers and brightly lit objects behind glass do not mix. Metafictive! Kind of! . . . We’re like an accidental Charlie Kaufman).

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This group of work dates from the1880s through the 1940s; in August, curators will hit the reset button and put up another round  of self-portraits from the collection, this time from the 50s through today.

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READ THE SUN

Unlike everybody else, we dislike advertisements. We know. We’re taking a controversial position, but bear with us here.

We kind of think that economics is about as much of a science as witch doctoring. The world economy is short-circuiting right now because everyone went along with the sage advice of the financial gurus who thought up mortgage-backed securities and cutting bad debt up into traunches that could be sold as good debt . . . and on and on.
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As we understand it (full disclosure: we don’t understand it) one of the cornerstones of capitalism is that people act rationally and in their own self-interest, and even if capitalism stratifies the classes and ruins the earth with a consumptive ethos, we can at least reap the rewards of the generative engine of the free market. Innovation and production of wealth, blah blah blah. OK, fine, don’t love it, but at the moment, we’re too much of a wimp to rage against this machine.

But here’s the problem. Advertisements. FUCKING LIE. THEY LIE SO HARD. So how are the discrete constituents (consumers) of a capitalist system supposed to make these rational decisions in their own self-interest if they’re bombarded with disingenuous images so often repeated that even the savviest of media consumers aren’t immune to their charms? And don’t give us that dreck arguing against Galbraith’s dependence effect, like this professor CSPU does: “needs, wants, tastes, and demand all originate within the consumer. A sign that says “Lemonade—5¢” cannot create a desire for the product if the consumer is not thirsty or does not like lemonade.”

stearnsWe’re not sure if this guy’s a moron or a liar but this is the Internet so we’re prepared to call him both. An ad can do exactly that fucking thing. It can create want. Absolutely it can. Are you telling us that fashion fetishists really just ‘need’ new clothes? No, they want the clothes that an adjacency in Vanity Fair has advertised. Are you seriously saying that Hammacker Schemmler’s products exist to fulfill needs that people already have prior to reading their catalogue on an airplane?

What we’re trying to argue here is that we really hate how the axiom of capitalism is that people act rationally, but then the organizations trying to sell us product don’t permit us to act rationally. They force us to act emotionally, out of lust or fear or greed. Even the way that TV ads are produced is designed to evoke emotional (as opposed to rational) response—audio in commercials is compressed in such a way that ads sound louder than TV programs. It’s harder to act “rationally” when you’re being sonically bombarded.
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We know, we know, this argument is tired and it’s been argued more coherently with more intellectual rigor by everyone from Naomi Klein to Adbusters, but all we’re trying to say is that misleading advertisements—and that’s almost all of them—aren’t fair, and they undermine a tenet of the system they’re nominally trying to prop up. It’s weird and despicable, like a skinhead on a unicycle. What.

What we hate a lot less are ads that just level with you, and there’s a good’un by Louis Rhead in the Met’s Rockefeller Hall (remember? This blog concerns museums!) It says, in its entirety, “READ THE SUN.” That’s it. Just a straightforward command: no emotional manipulation, no lies-by-omission, no disingenuous viral marketing, no false dichotomies, no lazily pregnant double-entendre. With this ad, we know where we stand, and we’re able to decide whether or not to comply with the all-caps instruction.

The rest of the ads in the hall use the same selling-of-dreams tactic that modern commercials do. But the hell with it. Our screed above doesn’t account for the fact that we’re pushovers Art Nouveau prints. The ham-fisted directive of Edward Penfield’s 1896 “Ride a Stearns and be Content” is pretty fun.  We also like the trompe-l’Å“il tiles on E. Pickert’s February 9, 1895 poster for the  New York Times, the rich colors in Rhead’s lithograph for Le Journal de la Beauté, and the way the lady is frenching a peacock on the cover of Will H. Bradley’s woodcut cover for his typography magazine.

Not much more to say on these guys. As Penfield wrote, “A design that needs study is not a poster no matter how well it is executed.”
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Sidenote: it’s the mark of a phenomenal collection when the hallways taking you from one gallery to the next are themselves packed with terrific art. A recent AP article on museum attendance spiking in this down economy states that, “At any given time, most museums display only 1 percent of [their] collections.” Let’s ramp that up, shall we? Per Andy’s bathroom post, we advocate for putting some of the works currently in storage in the Met’s bowels and annexes on the walls of the restroom.

The Rockefeller Hall

Highlights: All of them. Large-format Art Nouveau lithographs.

Memorable Quote: “READ THE SUN”

Next week: Self-Portraits in the Modern Mezzanine

‘Pressions

Oh, Impressionism. You’re the least offensive of art movements to our modern eye, with your treatment of light and refusal to delve into the tortured interior life of humanity. Who knew that, at your inception, you were considered shocking and radical? We did, thanks to taking Intro to Art History.

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Impressionism was distinct from earlier Euro painting styles in its focus on moments—how the light hits the facade of a church at a certain hour—but not moments of historical import. Impressionists traded in genre pictures (a term first defined as a negative—not a still life and not a history painting [NSFW if you W for Puritans]. Anyway, genre painting portrays everyday life–people walking around a city, sitting on a bench, or working in a field).

An Impressionist canvas might show light glancing off water, or smoke rising from a chimney, with just a few broad brushstrokes, but the viewer connects with it more intimately than he would with photorealistic representation. Maybe it’s something about omitting details so the audience has to unconsciously participate, supplying their own memories to fill in the broad patches of color.

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Who the fuck knows? Not us. What we do know is that these paintings are pretty as all get-out and seriously, you should be going to this museum all the fucking time. Someday you’ll have kids and you’ll move to Connecticut and it will be boring as shit and you’ll miss the days when one of the world’s great repositories of cultural history was just a subway ride away, but you blew your chance to be a regular there because you got high or spent time with your girlfriend when you’re missing the goddamn point because you don’t seem to realize that you would enjoy being high in the Jaques and Natasha Gelman Collection, or that you could french your sweetheart upstairs while looking at the fucking Rodins which are the most erotic objects in the universe, Legends of the Fall-era Brad Pitt included.

You fucking asshole.

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So anyway, in Impressionism, a premium was put on depicting light. Although paint was often applied impasto—thickly—and the style appears sketchy and imprecise, Impressionists slaved over their compositions as much as their pre-Raphaelite forbearers. A bit of wall text in one of the rooms in the Annenberg Galleries notes, “Despite the seemingly rapid brushwork and the summary treatment of detail, [Manet’s portrait of his wife] was preceded by at least two drawings and an oil sketch.” Which is of course great, because it takes so much mastery and practice to achieve this effortless, spontaneous effect.

Art. Is the best. Except for Damien Hirst.

PS A moment of silence for Leonore Annenberg, who sponsored 9 rooms of European 19th century painting (one of which we were nominally reviewing here) and who, despite serving in the Reagan administration, donated a shitload of art and money to the Met. The Annenberg Foundation has also given away some $3 billion dollars to institutions like PBS and NPR, which makes her A-OK in our book, Gipper or no.

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The Annenberg Galleries (1 of 9)

Highlights: Beardy McBarbarossa (below) (not his real name). He looks kind of sad, but still like he wants to be friends with me.

I accept.

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Memorable Quote: “Monet’s art depends on observation of his environment, and to that extent, it is always autobiographical. In his pictures, one can chart the seasons, the weather, or as here, the look of women’s fashion in 1873.” From the wall text for Camille Monet on a Garden Bench, 1873

Next week: Self-portraits in the Modern mezzanine.

The Jan Mitchell Treasury

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feet-smJust as the Jan Mitchell Treasury attempts to cover the breadth of pre-Columbian South American art in a single moderately sized gallery, we intend to review the Mitchell Treasury in the scant few minutes we have before we leave for California (by way of Eero Saarinen’s optimistic ode to Modernism, the freshly-restored TWA terminal at JFK! Cantilevered hyperboloids hell yes!)

The Mitchell Treasury is a winner. The wall text concisely explains the rise and fall of city-states, and many of the galley’s objects either A. Are made from Incan gold, or B. Depict skulls and bugs.

We have a confession to make. We visited the Mitchell treasury just after reading Andy’s post, “talk to strangers.” And we meant to speak with the lady snapping pictures of the artifacts with her digital SLR, we really did. Our borrowed point-and-shoot was running out of batteries (we’d taken too many shots of a fertility statue prominently featuring an erect penis). So we thought we’d introduce ourselves as a writer for the world-famous Suggested Donation, give her our email address, and politely request JPEGs of a few of her pictures for inclusion in this column.

Well. We failed. As we approached her, we were overtaken by the memory of the first time we’d ever asked a girl to slow dance in sixth grade. K— M——- (who we still have a crush on and would marry if the chance arose) rolled her eyes, sighed loudly and said, “fine” in the same tone of voice usually reserved for words like “treason” or “staff infection.”
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So, no progress on that front. Sorry, Andy. But it’s like we always say: “During the first half of the first millennium B.C., the ceramics of the southern Peruvian Coast were strongly influenced by those of Chavin, the expansionist religious cult of the central Peruvian highlands.”

The Jan Mitchell Treasury

Highlights: Foot jars; anything made of solid gold

Memorable Quote: See above

Next Week: The Dark Ages–just how dark were they?

kiosk kiosk

bullseyeWe turn now to Kiosk Kiosk, another vintage/antique shop which also dips its toes into the “exhibition” vernacular. And lo, they have an actual brick and mortar storefront on Spring St. in the City. We came across Kiosk Kiosk through the wonderful Reference Library blog, which specializes mostly in ebay finds (and losses, the best category is “Items I didn’t win“). Kiosk Kiosk boasts “mini exhibitions” which seem to be curated objects by friends or associates, for sale, from what we can tell.

They also have a very weird/cool/bewildering interface for their online catalogue. It’s not perfect but we like the effort.