Housekeeping note

31 Mar

I’m blogging over at Arts+Culture Texas these days. You can keep up with my posts here.

The 10 best museum shows I saw in 2013

31 Dec
John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1778, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ferdinand Lammot Belin Fund, 1963.6.1. Image courtesy National Gallery of Art.

John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1778, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Ferdinand Lammot Belin Fund, 1963.6.1. Image courtesy National Gallery of Art.

1. (tie) American Adversaries: West and Copley in a Transatlantic World, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Works by Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein and Robert Rauschenberg join Byzantine icons in this dark, theatrically lit room. Photo courtesy of the Menil Collection.

Works by Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein and Robert Rauschenberg join Byzantine icons in this dark, theatrically lit room. Photo courtesy of the Menil Collection.

1. (tie) Byzantine Things in the World, Menil Collection, Houston

Jacques Callot, Les Supplices (The Punishments), before 1630, etching, Albert A. Feldmann Collection

Jacques Callot, Les Supplices (The Punishments), before 1630, etching, Albert A. Feldmann Collection

3. Princes & Paupers: The Art of Jacques Callot, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Marie Cosindas (b. 1925), Fernando, Key West, 1966 . © Marie Cosindas. Courtesy the artist

Marie Cosindas (b. 1925), Fernando, Key West, 1966 . © Marie Cosindas. Courtesy the artist

4. Marie Cosindas: Instant Color, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth

Ken Price, L. Blue, 1961. Ceramic painted with lacquer and acrylic on wood base. © Ken Price. Photo © Fredrik Nilsen.

Ken Price, L. Blue, 1961. Ceramic painted with lacquer and acrylic on wood base. © Ken Price. Photo © Fredrik Nilsen.

5. Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas

Antonio Berni, Juanito con la moto, c. 1972, oil, wood, and fabrics including glued cotton and sock; shoe; industrial trash including radio components, rubber tires, and plastic containers; metals including a chain and sheet metal, nails, and staples on wood, Private Collection. © José Antonio Berni

Antonio Berni, Juanito con la moto, c. 1972, oil, wood, and fabrics including glued cotton and sock; shoe; industrial trash including radio components, rubber tires, and plastic containers; metals including a chain and sheet metal, nails, and staples on wood, Private Collection. © José Antonio Berni

6. Antonio Berni: Juanita and Ramona, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Rashid Johnson, The New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club (Thurgood), 2008, Lambda print, Ed. 2/5, 69 x 55 1/2 in. (175.3 x 141 cm), Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Rashid Johnson, The New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club (Thurgood), 2008, Lambda print, Ed. 2/5, 69 x 55 1/2 in. (175.3 x 141 cm), Rubell Family Collection, Miami

7. 30 Americans, Milwaukee Art Museum

St. Mark and St. Luke; Right cover of The Washington Manuscript of the Gospels

St. Mark and St. Luke; Right cover of The Washington Manuscript of the Gospels

8. The Peacock Room Comes to America: Exhibiting Freer’s Bibles, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1899. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1899. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

9. Van Gogh Repetitions, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

Laura McPhee, Judy Tracking Radio-Collared Wolves From Her Yard, Summer Range, H-Hook Ranch, Custer County, Idaho, 2004; chromogenic print, 94 x 72 inches; Collection of Alturas Foundation and courtesy of Carroll and Sons, Boston, ©Laura McPhee

Laura McPhee, Judy Tracking Radio-Collared Wolves From Her Yard, Summer Range, H-Hook Ranch, Custer County, Idaho, 2004; chromogenic print, 94 x 72 inches; Collection of Alturas Foundation and courtesy of Carroll and Sons, Boston, ©Laura McPhee

10. Laura McPhee: River of No Return, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Mo.

Honorable mentions: James Turrell, The Light Inside, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; México Inside Out: Themes in Art Since 1990, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; WOLS: Retrospective, Menil Collection; Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Abraham Cruzvillegas: The Autoconstrucción Suites, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Fauno Rosso, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Mo.; The Dying Gaul: An Ancient Roman Masterpiece from the Capitoline Museum, Rome, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Color! American Photography Transformed, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth; Picasso Black and White, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; LaToya Ruby Frazier: WITNESS, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; Katharina Grosse: WUNDERBLOCK, Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas; PASIÓN POPULAR: Spanish and Latin American Folk Art from the Cecere Collection, San Antonio Museum of Art

“Detroit is the place to be”

11 Jul

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but this is lousy news:

Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr on Tuesday scrapped a scheduled bus tour for Wall Street creditors of the city’s worst areas.

Several creditors decided against taking the tour Wednesday and said they would rather spend time researching the city’s financial condition, the emergency manager’s spokesman Bill Nowling said.

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Initially, 25 people — mostly bondholders, insurers and other unsecured creditors from New York City and New Jersey — signed up but several have canceled in the wake of media attention and interest in covering the tour. The tour required creditors to sign a waiver indemnifying the city if anyone was injured or killed during the roughly three-hour trip.

“The creditors are pulling out — they don’t want their pictures taken,” Nowling said. …

The tour was conceived after some financial creditors balked at agreeing to concessions that would keep the city from filing the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. Some creditors also questioned whether Orr’s restructuring plan cuts deep enough and pushed the emergency manager to sell city assets, such as the Detroit Institute of Arts’ world-renowned collection.

Henri Matisse, The Window, 1916. Detroit Institute of Arts

Henri Matisse, The Window, 1916. Detroit Institute of Arts

The plan was to have bondholders ride a Detroit Department of Transportation bus — not a chartered coach — and likely be shadowed by armed security as the bus traveled through some of the city’s worst neighborhoods.

Bankruptcy experts said the tour was a novel approach, but unlikely to sway creditors who are focused on numbers, not emotion.

Meanwhile, Fodor’s offers one of those why-you-should-visit-now lists of the sort Houstonians are getting used to retweeting about our own city, padding out Detroit’s arts-and-foodie offerings with others such as year-round sports teams, Motown and “living history,” ending on this plucky note:

Once word gets out that Detroit is the place to be, you’ll have missed the best part. Show the city some early love and you’ll have a front row seat for one amazing comeback.

Don’t wait for a biennial. If you love art, it shouldn’t take one to lure you to Detroit.

Let us now praise lowish ceilings

10 Jul

I’ve got an early flight back to Houston, so I’ll have more to say about the David Chipperfield addition to the Saint Louis Museum of Art, which I visited today on the last leg of my Midwest/Rust Belt museum road trip. I’ll also have have more to say about museums I’ve already discussed and a few I haven’t, but for now, get a load of how art, monumental and otherwise, looks when it’s not being swallowed by monumental architecture:

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Say what you will about these ceilings — and there are plenty of nice things to say about them — but one thing that don’t do is soar, and that’s a good thing. Paintings, sculptures and installations that are meant to be monumental look that way in here, and those that aren’t don’t disappear into the ether.

And speaking of grand things, a (grand) housekeeping note: Arts + Culture Houston, where I’ve been the visual arts editor for a little over a year, and its (older) sister publication, Arts + Culture North Texas, are officially merging into Arts + Culture Texas and adding coverage in Austin, San Antonio, and other parts of of the state when merited, starting with the September issue. I’ll be handling visual arts and architecture coverage for the new statewide magazine, and Nancy Wozny will handle all things performing/film/etc.-related.

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Given the cross-pollination that goes on between Texas’s various arts communities, we think the move makes sense, and we’re excited. Like our new page on Facebook, and fasten your seat belt. This Midwest road trip was just a warm-up.

Tyree Guyton, museum curator

9 Jul

One bridge between the art I saw at the Detroit Institute of Arts and the blight I saw elsewhere in the city is artist Tyree Guyton, who has work both in the DIA’s collection:

Tyree Guyton, Rosa Parks, Heidelberg Fragment, 1986. Detroit Institute of Arts

Tyree Guyton, Rosa Parks, Heidelberg Fragment, 1986. Detroit Institute of Arts

And on Heidelberg Street on Detroit’s East Side. To a Houstonian, Guyton’s Heidelberg Project resembles a cross between Project Row Houses and the kinds of projects supported and maintained by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art:

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Guyton’s been at it since 1986, often with resistance from the city and individuals who, incredibly in the context of the surrounding ruin, view the Heidelberg Project as “an eyesore because of its dependence on recycled materials and those who favor more conventional forms of urban renewal,” writes John Beardsley in a booklet I bought in the gift shop.

Also writing in the booklet, Bradley Taylor, associate director of the University of Michigan’s Museum Studies Program, says:

In our focus on the Heidelberg Project’s unmistakable “otherness,” most have overlooked how closely aligned it is, in fact, to an institutional model that was very familiar to us — the museum. Like museums, the Heidelberg Project maintains collections of artistic merit, offers outreach and educational programs to its audience, attracts visitors who come from a distance to see it, is funded by a combination of grant monies, private philanthropy, and earned income, and is perceived to be an asset of significant value to the community. And, among his many roles, Tyree Guyton serves not only as artist/creator but also as artist/curator, one who cares for his collections and seeks to interpret them to the public. Far more than in any of these superficial similarities, however, it is in the unique integration of the Heidelberg Project in the community that Guyton’s work most closely resembles a museum – a brilliant model that was first promulgated over 100 years ago.

Sunday afternoon yoga at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Sunday afternoon yoga at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Art/devastation tours, then and now

8 Jul

One of my most unforgettable experiences with the intersection of art and the life of a city was Prospect.1, an international contemporary art exhibition intended to assist in New Orleans’s economic recovery from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the governmental neglect that preceded and followed it. (Although Prospect New Orleans was intended to launch a biennial, cost overruns and the Great Recession have turned it into a more occasional series of exhibitions. Thee next one, which is to be curated by Los Angeles Museum of County Art chief curator — and former Menil Collection curator — Franklin Sirmans, was supposed to happen this year but was postponed until 2014 so as not to compete with bigger, more glamorous extravaganzas like the Venice Biennale.)

Mark Bradford's Mithra, 2008,  at Prospect.1 New Orleans

Mark Bradford’s Mithra, 2008, at Prospect.1 New Orleans.

What made the memory so powerful wasn’t just the art but the way Prospect.1 director and chief curator Dan Cameron, who’s now the TK at the Orange County Museum of Art, sited many of the installations in the Lower Ninth Ward and other ravaged areas — the idea being to force biennial-hoppers to confront the lingering wreckage firsthand. I vividly remember the jaded assholes on the press bus, most of whom had forgotten about more art fairs and biennials than I’ve ever attended — becoming a little less jaded and a little less asshole-ish with every stop.

So when I read that Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager for Detroit appointed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, plans to take the city’s creditors on a bus tour of the parts of the city most ravaged by the departure of some 1.2 million residents, I wanted to see some of the areas the Detroit News’s Laura Berman recommended for “a shock-and-awe tour of Detroit that skips the niceties.” What I saw was indeed shocking and all too reminiscent of the post-Katrina Lower Ninth Ward, only on a larger, seemingly infinite scale. Here’s hoping Orr’s tour also makes Detroit’s creditors a little less jaded and a little less asshole-ish at every stop and, as Berman puts it, jolts “hard-nosed creditors out of balky reluctance and into accepting his offer of a settlement: More or less, 10 cents on the dollar.”

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In my Facebook photo album, I’m alternating snapshots I took from my self-guided tour with some I took at the Detroit Institute of Arts, whose truly world-class — to borrow a term many Houstonians cringe-inducingly use in every other sentence — collection Orr has eyed for the auction block, because ultimately I can’t separate the memories.

Nicolas Poussin, Selene and Endymion, c. 1630. Detroit Institute of Arts

Nicolas Poussin, Selene and Endymion, c. 1630. Detroit Institute of Arts

From Toby Barlow’s article brilliantly explaining why the banks, not the DIA, should be the ones forced to sell art from their collections:

Over the past decade, the banks have evicted many, many people in Detroit from their homes. …

After these evictions occurred, the banks did not foreclose the homes. They simply let the houses rot.

In other words, as opposed to following the due diligence of a functioning system, wherein these banks would have gone through the legal process of actually foreclosing the home, earning back the home’s title, and then paying the taxes on the property until the property was sold to a new owner, they did nothing. They simply walked away.

So, for starters, they owe taxes on those homes. Not just a few homes; thousands of homes. That’s lot of taxes. When you’re done adding everything that’s owed, it’s probably worth more than a few Chagalls.

Then there’s this: by letting those homes rot, these banks caused the depreciation of all the other homes in all those neighborhoods, block after block, along nearly every avenue, street and boulevard. Each one of these abandoned homes pulls the value of all those other buildings down.

These banks were like the shark in Copley’s famous painting (at the Detroit Institute of Art, of course), attacking the vulnerable drowning figure in the water.

John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1777. Detroit Institute of Arts

John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1777. Detroit Institute of Arts

The victims were honest and hard working, and their homes were suddenly worth less. What followed was predictable: a shrinking tax base, the city unable to pay its bills, cut services. So now the police don’t show up, the firemen are understaffed, people are less safe, people move away, more homes stand empty, and the banks didn’t know or didn’t care. Having made the money they were going to make, they simply swam on.

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Architecture for art’s sake

3 Jul

After revisiting the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and loving its collection but its starchitectural addition not so much, I couldn’t have picked a better follow-up than the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which, like the Nelson-Atkins, has a grand neo-classical original building, designed by McKim, White and Mead that has posed a challenge for expansions. You don’t don’t want new wings competing with, or overshadowing this:

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Well, not only does the 2006 addition by Michael Graves, which expanded upon both the 1915 building and Kenzo Tange’s minimalist 1974 addition, not compete with the original, it dares to be dull in a way that drew yawns from critics like Blair Kamin when it first opened:

Some neighbors of the museum liken his addition to a mausoleum or a big-box store, a not-so-veiled shot at the wing’s chief sponsor, Minneapolis-based Target Corp. (which also happens to pay the Princeton, N.J., architect to design household products). Indeed, Graves’ mostly windowless expanses of stone turn a forbidding face to the street.

Good point about the apparent conflict of interest with Target.

His main entrance facade is better, its limestone walls, with their niches and thin columns, simultaneously conveying the weighty feel of stone and the lightness of folded paper.

The interior also has its moments, like a barrel-vaulted reception hall that reveals Graves’ talent for enlivening traditional forms with rich materials and colors. But, at root, it’s flawed, the result of a clash in sensibilities between Graves’ postmodernism and the modern spirit of the museum’s curators.

The curators, who furnished the second- and third-floor galleries chiefly housing 20th Century and contemporary art, faithfully continued the crisp aesthetic of the museum’s existing galleries, but at a price. They insisted, for example, on no natural light, a disappointing contrast to Renzo Piano’s planned new wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.

I wonder if Kamin would care to take those words back today. You hardly ask for a better example of what the obsession with natural light has done to museum architecture than the Piano wing at AIC. Kamin concluded:

The result is a generic collection of rooms, handsome when considered individually, but nothing special as a suite. Much the same can be said of this project as a whole: It’s burdened with compromises — classical, but no classic.

Marianne Combs’s Minnesota Public Radio piece, while also noting the Target conflict, gets the real point of the expansion:

To understand the impact of the new wing, consider the museum’s textile collection. Curator Lotus Stack oversees a collection of more than 10,000 textiles, but she’s been able to hang only a few of those pieces at a time in the institute’s hallways. Now she has four entire galleries to herself.

“It feels like I’ve landed in Utopia, I mean what else can you ask for?” laughs Stack. “It is a frustration of probably every curator, some more than others depending on the size of your collection — how much you can share with people, not only to represent the collection, but to give it context to give it greater meaning and relationships. And exhibitions, after all, are about relationships. The whole building is that way, so it’s thrilling for us all.”

The MIA’s expansion has had a ripple effect throughout the building. Every gallery has been reorganized, the art re-hung. As a result, the paintings, sculpture, and prints that adorn the MIA’s now 143 galleries seem to breathe more easily.

Then-director Bill Griswold and trustee Martin Weinstein had this to say to Combs about Graves’s addition:

Griswold says Graves successfully melds the neoclassicism of the MIA’s original building with the modern minimalism of the 1970s addition. But more important, Griswold says, Graves has created a space that allows the MIA to be even more dynamic and aggressive in its programming and its community outreach. Martin Weinstein says while he’s not totally pleased with the new exterior, he’s not too concerned about it.

“You’re not going to stand outside and look at the building too much, says Weinstein. “You’re going to be anxious to run inside and see what they have for you to see — the artwork.”

Weinstein says many museum expansions end up being all about the building. In the case of the MIA, he says, the expansion is all about the art.

In fact, it was only in the 1915 building’s too-grand hall housing 16th- and 17th-century Italian paintings that I noticed the architecture intruding on the art. There’s lots of wall space, but it’s mostly vertical, so monumental paintings are hung on top of one another, rising to the sky-high ceiling. I want to get up close and personal with Salvator Rosa’s St. Humphrey (Onuphrius) (c. 1660), not jockey for position to avoid the glare. There’s a reason for the weird distortion in my snapshot of what, as best I can tell, is a fantastic painting, because the only way to photograph it — and to see it — is to look up, way up.

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Never mind whatever was hanging above it. Meanwhile, get a load of this Max Beckmann and tell me if think it suffers from a lack of natural light:

Max Beckmann, Blind Man's Buff, 1945. Oil on canvas. Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Max Beckmann, Blind Man’s Buff, 1945. Oil on canvas. Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Do we really wish it was hanging next to something like this just to satisfy architects’ natural-light fetish?

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Steven Holl Architects, who will design the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s modern-and-contemporary building, made a lovely building for the Nelson-Atkins, but all the compromises were made by the art that’s inside and that takes forever to find. With Graves’s addition to the MIA, the compromises were made by the architect — and, no doubt, his ego — but the art shines, not just in his wing, but throughout the building. Back to Weinstein:

Weinstein says viewers should feel good inside the museum, even as they’re challenged by the art. The space should enhance their interest, and their ability to remember what they’ve seen. Weinstein says he experienced this himself, with a 17th-century portrait of the virtuous yet ill-fated Lucretia.

Rembrant Harmensz van Rijn, Lucretia, 1666. Oil on canvas. Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Rembrant Harmensz van Rijn, Lucretia, 1666. Oil on canvas. Minneapolis Institute of Arts

“I sat down in my most recent tour and just looked up at Rembrandt’s painting of this sweet, innocent young woman, and I was so taken with it,” says Weinstein. “I think that’s one of the best Rembrandts anywhere. I don’t think I ever focused on it as much as I did this last time.”

I’ll have more to say about the MIA’s mind-bogglingly good collection — see my Facebook photo album, which I’ll continue to add to, here — and how the museum works to engage viewers with it soon. For now, on to the Walker Art Center.

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