Monday, March 10, 2014

The New York Art World is So Much Fun.

Or maybe I think that because I didn’t go to any art fairs.

Spent an afternoon seeing several exhibits.
Even though 90% percent of all art sucks (my students say 99%) there’s always at least one great show out there.

Hauser & Wirth has Selections from the Onnasch Collection on view. It felt like I had walked into a wing of the Museum of Modern Art. Perhaps instead of knocking down buildings in midtown the Modern should consider simply buying exhibits, building and all, and make them satellite branches of the museum. Since galleries put on museum quality shows on a regular basis these days (like the recent exhibits by Richard Serra) this approach could help facilitate museum expansions, even by museums from out of town.
In H&W there was room after room of classic hits. First, a room with paintings by Newman, Still, Noland and Louis. Then one with work by Twombly, Rivers, David Smith, Motherwell and Kline. Followed by Rauschenberg, Dine and Segal. Leave that room and there’s one dedicated to Oldenburg. That leads to one dedicated to some Tuttles. How great is that? Tuttle is always best when it looks like he spent about $25 on materials for the entire show. He spent even less here.
There’s a Dieter Roth (although at first I mistook it for an Arman, I guess that was part of the joke), a bunch of dusty Kienholtz’s, a couple of cool sculptures by George Brecht and a delicate balance of tonnage by Serra (remember when people hated him for creating aggressive anxiety causing pieces, especially his bigger ones? That was before he produced the elegant ribbons of enclosed space that he is now lauded for. We love him).
The great thing was that H&W didn’t have any of those annoying museum guards in each corner, just a couple of young people here and there keeping an eye on things.
Before I left I again thought of having a drink at their bar, but they still don’t have a restroom.
511 West 18 Street. Through April 12.

Postscript: Hauser & Wirth.
When I got home I mentioned to my wife that H&W had a greatest hits show of postwar American art. And she said, oh, you mean like Helen Frankenthaler? No. Louise Bourgeois? No. Eva Hesse? No. Any women artists? No, but it was a great show.

Rudolf Stingel had several big paintings at Gagosian. They were of mountains. Some looked like he had laid them on the floor after he painted them, where they then functioned like tarps, collecting drips of paint while he painted the other canvases. I had the impression that the drips were smeared by Stingel while pacing about. Thus the smudges and random markings reinforced the idea that Stingel worked on his paintings. Or at least that’s what it looked like.
The concrete floor of the gallery was remarkably polished and unscarred considering that Serra had recently planted tons of steel on it.
522 West 21 Street. Through April 19.

I then went next door to Barbara Gladstone. She also had a perfectly polished concrete floor, absolutely identical to Gagosian’s. Maybe there was a two for one deal. I’ll have to look into that.

Peter Buggenhout had a couple of funky and dusty industrial heaps in the space. It was as if the early funk-meister sculptures of Bruce Connor went gigantic and heavy metal. Although these dirty accretions appeared strong, and dense, parts of them were actually fragile. I touched them. There were no guards there.
530 West 21 Street. Through April 19.

Spoiler Alert (I love the Work of Diana Al-Hadid).

Boesky’s uptown space is a seemly unaltered, very narrow, townhouse that consistently houses must see exhibits on a quiet upper eastside block.
Al-Hadid is in the house with a great selection of freestanding and wall mounted sculptures. Fragile looking beyond belief, they are large, fragmented, figurative, raw and architectural at the same time. Associations run in all directions but she tries to anchor the show by including a bronze sculpture by Medardo Rosso. Although it was a nice touch I didn’t think it was really necessary. The show’s title says it all: Diana Al-Hadid: Regarding Medardo Rosso.
118 East 64th Street. Through March 19.


Polish Movies, or No Happy Ending Required.

Went to a spate of Polish films recently. One series was at the Walter Reade Theater (love that theater), another at BAM (love that theater a little less). I have always been interested in the work of directors who came out of the Lodz Film Academy, but also Polish filmmakers in general. And the last 100 years of Poland’s history has certainly provided them with an endless source of material. Re-examining pre, post and war, ridden Poland, and all that entails, is certainly a monumental challenge. No happy ending required.
For example, last year I saw In Darkness, a recent film by Agnieszka Holland (she also directed a few episodes of The Killing, highly recommended and available on Netflix).
Darkness was a great film based on real events that occurred during World War II. In it Leopold Socha is a Polish sewer worker who helps save a group of Polish Jews during the war by hiding and caring for them in the sewer system for fourteen months. Grim conditions for sure, but at the end of the war they emerge triumphantly filthy, glad to be alive. Happy ending? Yes, that is until the credits reveal that Leopold was run over by a truck and killed a short time after saving the Jews. It was a great film.

At Walter Reade: Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema.

I saw three films:

Camouflage: a mind fuck of a film about academia that could also be used as a rallying cry against tenure.

The Hourglass Sanatorium: based on the writings of Bruno Schulz, it was a delirious, trippy, Through the Looking Glass, never ending, tale in which at times it was impossible to tell what was a movie set and what was real. All of it would have appealed to Ed Kienholtz.

Blind Chance: a film that had three sections, each based on whether or not a young man catches a train on time. He often doesn’t and thus is pulled into the politics of the day. No happy ending required.

At BAM: Kino Polska: New Polish Cinema

I saw two films:

Ida: set in the 1960s, Ida is an orphan raised in a convent. On the verge of becoming a nun she discovers that she is Jewish. She reconnects with an aunt who helps Ida discover how her family was inexplicably murdered during the war. They were being sheltered and hidden from the Nazis, but things went bad before the Nazis could find them (trying to not give too much away here). Ida returns to the convent.

A beautifully shot and acted bummer of a movie. It was great.

Papusza: another black & white beauty/bummer of a film. This one is based on a true story about Bronislawa Wajs, the Roma poet known as Papusza. Most of the actors are non-actors and gypsies. They give an insightful look at Roma life before, during and after the wars. Fantastic characters. Another film with locations that often seemed unreal, but probably were real. It dazzles, and leaves you feeling very sad. But if I ever have a daughter I’ll name her Papusza.

All of these films added insightful moments in a casual and straightforward manner. Like when Leopold is at home after a day spent in the sewers. He’s having a relaxing conversation with his wife as she finishes the last of the dirty dishes, which were soaking in a large tub. As she pulls the last dish out Leopold strips down and gets into the tub to bathe. Same tub. Same water.

There were many other Polish films at both locations that I did not get the chance to see. Gritty, somber, realistic, surreal, beautiful films. Next time for sure.