It Takes a Team

May 24, 2017

I visited the NYC Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) last week to see the exhibition Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction (through August 13). The show is fabulous and all the most exciting abstract artists (who happen to be women) are included. The curators selected works from the Museum’s permanent collection, including almost 100 paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, prints, textiles, and ceramics by more than 50 artists. I loved how the works were installed in the galleries. I am a keen critic when it comes to exhibition installation. It takes a team to select the great works and it takes a team to install the best exhibition.

The curatorial team included Starr Figura, curator, Department of Drawings and Prints, and Sarah Hermanson Meister, curator, Department of Photography, with Hillary Reed, curatorial assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints. According to the online comments, the installation was loosely chronological and synchronous, with works that range from gestural canvases by Lee Krasner, Helen Frankenthaler, and Joan Mitchell to radical geometries by Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, and Gego. There are fiber weavings by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Sheila Hicks, and Lenore Tawney. There’s collage Anne Ryan. There are paintings – both large and very white  by Agnes Martin and Yayoi Kusama. The last gallery includes a large sculpture by Lee Bontecou. There’s a hanging sculpture by Louise Bourgeois (it looks very heavy), and – my favorite – a wall installation by Eva Hesse done with industrial materials. It’s a stellar cast. I include some of these artists below with images taken at the exhibition (my iPhone) as well as images from the MoMA website. Visit the exhibition online here. I hope you get to see the show and see all the media and  all the artists.

 

Agnes Martin, The Tree, oil and pencil on panel, 1964

 

 

The painting seen here is 6×6 feet, done by Agnes Martin (American, born Canada, 1912-2004). Titled The Tree, it’s oil and pencil on panel, and dated 1964. Image: copyright Estate of Agnes Martin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. This is a very white painting with faint pencil lines on canvas. When you walk up close you see it clearly. From a distance everything is quiet and delicate. Agnes Martin had a recent retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in NYC – I made sure I got to see it more than once, and also attended a panel program at the Museum. I heard that Martin made all her pencil lines by hand. Amazing. Her work is highly regarded and her career and persona are fascinating. Here’s a link to see images and a video from the Guggenheim Museum show.

 

 

Carmen Herrera, Untitled, painting on canvas, 1952

The image nearby is by Carmen Herrera (born 1915, Havana, Cuba). It’s untitled and dated 1952. The artist is still working and showing her paintings and sculpture at age 102. I love this painting because it has black and white stripes that create the illusion of triangles. Notice the top and bottom of the painting where there’s black against white and white against black. Carmen Herrera was and is always focused on the edges of her paintings and sculptures. Herrera studied art, art history and architecture in Havana and then in Paris, France where she because part of an international artist’s group called the Salon des Realties Nouvelle. She distilled her geometric style of abstraction in Paris. She reduced her color palette to three, then two colors for each canvas. She created hard-edged canvasses at the same time Ellsworth Kelley (also in Paris) developed his style. The Museum website says: Herrera’s ascetic compositions prefigured the development of Minimalism by almost a decade, but the artist did not receive the critical attention she deserved. I saw this same image by Carmen Herrera at the Whitney Museum of American Art at her 2016/2017 solo exhibition titled Lines of Sight. See more images and read about the Whitney exhibition here.

 

Yayoi Kunama, Untitled, 1959

The work nearby is by Yayoi Kusama (Japanese, born 1929). I’m a great fan. Here work and career are amazing. This painting is very white and looks like lace. It has dimension. It’s untitled, done in 1959 and oil on canvas (41 ½ x 52 inches). Yayoi Kusama is almost 90 years old and still exhibiting everywhere. Her white painting in this exhibition looks nothing like current images that you see in galleries and museums. Recent exhibitions include installation with ceramic pumpkins and polka dots in mirrored spaces. When you think of Kusama, you think kaleidoscopic imagery and incredible color. The painting at MoMA is copyright 2017 Yayoi Kusama. I posted a blog about Kusama in 2012 – titled Collage Exploded – about her solo show that year at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC. All about dots. See it here. The David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea, NY, represents Kusama, and organized Infinity Mirrors, Kusama’s current North American traveling exhibition (2017-2019), a survey of the artists’ evolution to create art in immersive infinity rooms. The traveling exhibition includes sculpture, installation and large scale paintings. Read about Infinity Mirrors here.

Women Artists: Eclipsed Careers

Elsa Gramcko, Untitled, 1957

 

I’ve already said that every work in the exhibition Making Space: Women Artists and Postwar Abstraction  is part of the permanent collection at MoMA. But, many works are exhibited for the first time or in a long time. I’ve listed who donated the art to the Museum. Most of the artists – because they are women – were eclipsed in their careers by the “big guns” (i.e. male artists) and did not have a solo museum exhibition during their lifetime. That’s all changing now.

The image at left is by Elsa Gramcko (Venezuelan 1925-1994). It’s untitled, 39×13 inches, 1957, oil on canvas and painted with a deep Yves Klein blue, with black, white, red, yellow and green in a bold geometric design. The blue and white together are radiant. This is not a big painting in size, but the saturated colors and design are totally captivating. I noticed it immediately as soon as I walked into the gallery space.  The painting was a promised gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund, 2016.

 

 

Lydia Clark, The Inside is the Outside, 1963

 

I recognized the image at left as soon as I saw it. It’s a stainless steel curvilinear sculpture by Lygia Clark (Brazilian, 1920-1988), titled The Inside is the Outside, 1963, 16 x 17 ½ x 14 ¾ inches. Lygia Clark had a retrospective exhibition at MoMA in 2014 organized around three key themes: abstraction, Neo-Concretism and the “abandonment” of art (the last was participatory). The MoMA says Clark became a major reference for contemporary artists dealing with the limits of conventional art forms. Read about the 2014 Lygia Clark exhibition: The Abandonment of Art, 1948-1998 here. This curvy steel sculpture is another gift from Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund, 2011.

 

 

 

Eva Hesse, conceptual sculpture,1966

Here is my image of a sculpture by Eva Hesse. I saved my favorite image for last. I am intrigued with the industrial materials she used to make art, and by the shape the materials create on the wall. This conceptual sculpture is untitled, dated 1966, and made with enamel paint and string over papier-mâché with elastic cord, approximate size is 33 1/2 x 26 x 2 1/2 inches. Eva Hesse was German-American (1936 – 1970) and is associated with Minimalism and Feminist Art. In this work, contour is the primary concept. Notice the shape. Hesse’s work demonstrated to a new, postwar generation how to distill feelings and conceptual references down to a set of essential forms and contours. Her career spanned little more than a decade. Even though she died young, she left a huge legacy for others to follow. She said: In my inner soul art and life are inseparable. I think art is a total thing. Her work has remained popular and highly influential to important international artists who followed, including Louise Bourgeois, Bill Jensen, Martin Puryear and Brice Marden. Words associated with Eva Hesse’s works: wit, whimsy, evocative and spontaneous invention. Her media were casually found, everyday materials. Important critics describe her forms as languid and proto-feminist. Read about her Life and Legacy here.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

I am always impressed with the talented teams that curate an exhibition – what they choose to include and how they choose to organize how the show is installed. This exhibition is about great artists (who happen to be women) who were marginalized in the art world during the post World War II period. The MoMA, and other museums, are making amends for that exclusion.

This show feels contemporary. That’s a compliment from me.

I want to recommend a new book I’ve just read that I found at the MoMA bookstore after I saw the exhibition. I always stop at the bookstore to find a little book to add to my library. I like little books to carry and read if I’m on the train, waiting for an appointment, etc. Ideally, the book doesn’t have too many pages, there are lots of images and really good text. I found Who’s Afraid of Contemporary Art? An A to Z Guide to the Art World by Kyung An and Jessica Cerasi (2016, Thames & Hudson). The book is fun to read and answers 4 basic questions: What is contemporary art? What makes it contemporary? What is it for? And why is it so expensive? The authors discuss museums and the art market, the rage for biennales and the next big thing. Who’s Afraid of Contemporary Art? examines how artists are propelled to stardom, explains what curators do, and challenges our understanding of artistic skill, demystifying the art market, and much, much more. Every short chapter includes a 2-page commentary and an image by or about a significant work by a contemporary artist. Both authors are highly qualified to write about the contemporary art world. Kyang An is an Assistant Curator at the Guggenheim Museum, NY and Jessica Cerasi is Exhibition Manager at Carroll/Fletcher and was Assistant Curator of the 20th Biennale of Sydney in 2016.

 

Get the book Who’s Afraid of Contemporary Art? and go see the MoMA exhibition before it closes August 13. You’ll find there are artists you love and didn’t know about. There are more than 100 works by 50 artists to see. Email  me your comments about your favorite artists and works in the show. Tell me if you agree that many works also seem contemporary in spirit in spite of the fact they were created so many years ago. Tell me what you think about the sculpture by Eva Hesse. Thank you for your comments.

Nancy

Painting Papers for Collage 2

September 22, 2016

Two of the collage artists I admire most– Romare Bearden and Henri Matisse – created collage with painted papers.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

The image above shows the French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) sitting in a wheelchair in his studio in Nice, France (1952). He had recovered from cancer surgery. Notice there are a lot of cut papers on the floor. Following his surgery, Matisse discovered his genius for collage. He called it his second life, and he is world-famous for collage. Studio assistants painted white papers for Matisse with Linel gouache, a water-based paint. The colors are gorgeous. See more images here.

Painted Papers

Painted Papers

We painted papers as a warm-up for the collage class I teach at the Pelham Art Center. The image above is a beautiful mix of blue and hot pink acrylic paint – painted on a page torn out of ARTForum magazine. Can you notice there is text below the paint? It was applied so you can see some of the magazine paper below.

I tell the class I do the same warm up exercise when I arrive at my studio. It gets me into a creative groove. It’s also a lot of fun to do. See my video online at my website – Painting Papers with Nancy Egol Nikkal. Email me and ask for a free PDF step-by-step outline to make a portrait collage with painted papers.

Etched Painted Paper

Etched Painted Paper

The image above is a beautiful mix of blue, pink and orange paints, done by a student in class. It shows an etched, swirling pattern, created with a palette knife while the paint was wet.

When we paint papers in class, I set out coated paper plates with acrylic paints and a little acrylic medium to thin the paints for each student. I demonstrate how to use a plastic palette knife to mix the paints, move colors around, and spread the wet paint onto the magazine paper. I encourage everyone to allow some of the magazine paper to show through the paint.

All my collages include painted papers, torn from contemporary art magazine pages like ARTForum and ART News. FYI: I do read the magazine articles. I do tear out pages that are perfect for collage and then I tear out more pagers to paint. There are always enough pages.

10 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD PAINT PAPERS:

It’s eco-friendly – it’s recycling magazines

It’s economical because magazines have so many pages

The process is quick and easy and you can create a lot of papers in a short time

Painted papers are very arty when you allow some image to show through

The different ways you apply paint shows personality, style and creativity

You can create layers, pattern and texture

You can create papers in all the colors you want

Painted papers are strong and easier to work with in collage

Painted papers are washable and durable

Painted papers can be repainted and you can create a new palette of colors

Two more reasons: Painted papers are beautiful and become a personal statement in every collage you make.

 

Henri Matisse, Blue Nude II

Henri Matisse, Blue Nude II

The image above is a painted gouache cutout titled Blue Nude II (1952). Notice it’s all blue painted papers. It was included in the exhibition “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs (Oct 22, 2014-Feb 10, 2015). I visited the MoMA exhibit 3 times. There were more than 100 cut-outs, as well as a video that showed Matisse cutting painted papers with a long scissor while an assistant held the paper as he cut. Read about the exhibition here:

Thank you for your comments below. Tell me if you saw the MoMA exhibit Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs. Were you amazed at his collage technique and the colors in his painted papers? I was/am.

Link here to my post Painting Papers for Collage (October 2012) with images and more about Henri Matisse. He said he painted with scissors. He called his works gouache decoupes.

For fun: Ask me why I paint papers from contemporary art magazines. If you like, email me to get a free PDF with a step by step outline to make a portrait collage with painted papers (inspired by a famous contemporary artist).

Your comments are always welcome

I am always pleased to receive comments and questions on the blogs I write, especially when they require me to dig deeper and locate information and learn something new in the process.

Duh Chuen Wang Priefnitz commented on the Dec. 18, 2013 post Robert Motherwell and Contemporary Collage, and asked about Motherwell using Japanese rice paper in his collage practice.

It’s true. Motherwell incorporated Japanese rice papers into his collages.

I re-read the exhibition catalog Robert Motherwell Early Collages, especially the chapter by Jeffrey Warda on papers and materials that Motherwell used in the 1940s (pp 55-67) and learned the Japanese papers were called unryu. See an image of the paper below.

Japanese Unryu Paper

Japanese Unryu Paper

Unryu is one of the most popular papers from Japan, and is commonly referred to as mulberry paper. It contains strands of fiber that are added to the sheet to create contrast and texture. Tear Unryu Paper in any shape you desire and you create a soft, feathered edge. The name translates as “dragon paper” and refers to the long fiber swirls that are unpulped, unbeaten kozo fibers. Unryu paper can be tissue thin or thick enough to support a print. The long fibers are typically made of kozo, but can be gampi or hemp. See what the papers look like at NY Central Art Supply.

Motherwell Modified Collage Papers

Jeffrey Warda wrote Motherwell modified his papers with ink and paint – always exploring how the papers changed as he applied new paint or ink layers. Unryu is especially strong and can withstand manipulation with water media.

It made me think about what I saw at the exhibition, and how the surface of the collage papers were wavy and the edges were irregular.

Robert Motherwell, Pancho Villa Alive and Dead, 1943

Robert Motherwell, Pancho Villa Alive and Dead, 1943

My favorite Motherwell collage (seen above) is titled Pancho Villa Dead and Alive (1943).  It includes gouache, ink, oil and pasted German decorative paper, colored paper, Japanese paper and wood veneer on paperboard (size: 71.7 x 91.1 cm – 28 x 35 7/8 inches), collection, the Museum of Modern Art, NY. Image: Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA.

Please notice how Motherwell created a geometric background with rectangles and circles in layers of paint in dusty blue, faded pink. creamy white and yellow with 2 abstract black stick figures painted over. Notice papers on top of papers. See red black and tan paper on the right side. This is his German decorative paper. Motherwell added splotchy dot patterns with pale red, pink blue and black.

In the catalog essay, Warda tells us Motherwell loved to work with fine quality artist drawing papers for their matte appearance and subtle textures. We learn Motherwell selected commercially printed decorative papers for their bright colors because the papers reminded him of long visits to Mexico with artist Roberto Matta. Warda also discussed how Motherwell experimented with Japanese rice (unryu) papers to see the response he got from ink and paint stains he applied to the thinner Japanese papers.

Robert Motherwell, detail, Joy of Living, collage

Robert Motherwell, detail, Joy of Living, collage

 

The image above is a detail of the collage Joy of Living (1943) and shows how the green ink puddled and spread.  Notice the  wavy irregular texture of the green paint. We don’t know how many layers of water media, ink and paint Motherwell applied and reapplied because he wanted to see how the paper changed as it absorbed each new application of ink or paint. Please note also that the colors faded and some changed over the years. Warda shows examples of color changes.

Robert Motherwell, Joy of Living, Collage, 1943

Robert Motherwell, Joy of Living, Collage, 1943

The image above is a full view of Joy of Living (1943). The collage on paperboard includes Japanese paper, colored paper, construction paper, printed map and fabric, ink, gouache, oil, crayon. Collection: the Baltimore Museum of Art. Image: Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA (size: 110.5 x 85.4 cm – 43 ½  x 33 5/8 inches)

Robert Motherwell, View From a High Tower, 1944-45

Robert Motherwell, View From a High Tower, 1944-45

The image above, titled View from a High Tower (1944-45), is collage with tempera, oil, ink, pastel, pasted wood veneer, drawing paper, Japanese paper, and printed map on paperboard. Size: 74×74 cm – 29 z 29 inches (private collection). Image: Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA

Notice the torn edges of various collage elements and the wavy, buckled edge of the large light grey paper on the left side. Texture is an important visual element – almost as important as the geometric patterns with straight and wavy edged papers in red, brown, blue, white, yellow, green, black and grey.

Robert Motherwell, Blue With China Ink (Homage to John Cage)

Robert Motherwell, Blue With China Ink (Homage to John Cage)

The Motherwell image above is titled Blue With China Ink (Homage to John Cage). It’s collage with oil, ink, charcoal, pasted Japanese paper, colored paper, drawing paper and fabric on paperboard (101.6 x 76.2 cm –  40 x 30 inches). Image: Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA. Motherwell love to paint with a light blue and variations on yellow ocher.

Motherwell produced nearly 900 works with collage during his lifetime, and said collage influenced his paintings.

Read the exhibition catalog essays. They give critical insight into how Motherwell began working in collage, and how important it was to his creative practice.

Final Thoughts

The Guggenheim Museum exhibition was an opportunity to see and share Motherwell’s love affair with paper and collage.

On Feb. 6, 2014 I gushed: I love how Motherwell painted over his media, used patterned papers, painted onto so many different papers…I love how he tore off layers of papers to expose raw paper surfaces below…

I was excited because I had never seen so many Motherwell collages in person before the exhibition.

Please add your comments below. Tell me what you think about the papers Motherwell used. Do you work with Japanese papers? Do you paint your papers for collage?

My recent blog, Drawing and Collage: The Journal as Art (January 23, 2014), encouraged you to explore images and ideas in a 90 cent notebook (or a more expensive book with fine paper).

Experts say if you keep a notebook, your memory improves.

Advice: Get a notebook with blank pages and carry it with you so you can fill it up each day with personal notes, observations, contact information you collect, to do lists, doodles, drawings, and ideas.

Alexander Calder, journal page, pen

Alexander Calder, journal page, pen

The image above is a journal page by Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976) from the book  titled Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists’ Enumerations (from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art), by Liza Kirwin.

Notice Calder’s Paris address book page included sculptor Constantin Brancusi and the artist Hans (Jean) Arp in his list. Notice Calder’s calligraphic line. The page with cursive penmanship is a beautiful drawing.

Calder is best known for his wire sculptures and mobiles.

Calder said: “I think best in wire.”

The image below is a motorized mobile with painted wood, painted metal, metal wire and string, 23×24 3/4×7 (1931) Smithsonian Institution, gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn. Do you see a face in profile? I do.

Alexander Calder, Motorized Mobile

Alexander Calder, Motorized Mobile

See images of 3D wire portraits, sculpture, and toys in an online review of a 2005 the 2008-2009 Whitney Museum exhibition: Drawing in Space – Alexander Calder: The Paris Years (1926-1933). Image, courtesy the city review.com.

See Calder’s miniature Circus (see it when you visit the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC).

Contemporary Artists Who Keep a Journal

I found an online interview of a contemporary artist (Harvey Tulcensky) who keeps a journal.

Written by Clair Corey, the article (INSIDE/OUT Dec 17, 2012) says Harvey Tulcensky works full-time at the NYC Museum of Modern Art, exhibits with Edward Thorpe Gallery (Chelsea, NY), maintains a studio practice, and keeps a notebook handy for traveling to and from work – and she adds – the artist says he fills his Moleskin notebook obsessively “like an EKG with his minute-to-minute existence.” 

The image below is an untitled drawing (detail from a notebook) by Tulcensky in ballpoint pen on paper. Image: courtesy the Internet.

Harvey Tulcensky, Untitled, (detail) Ballpoint Pen on Paper

Harvey Tulcensky, Untitled, (detail) Ballpoint Pen on Paper

Ballpoint Pen Drawings are the Hot New Thing in Contemporary Art

The January 2014 cover of ARTnews magazine shows a self portrait by Toyin Odutola in mixed media with the face and torso done in ballpoint pen. Read the article by Trent Morse (posted 01/08/14) titled “Making Cutting-Edge Art with Ballpoint Pens.

See Odutola’s blog for images and even works in progress.

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

Buy a notebook. Buy pens, Buy ballpoint pens (contemporary!).

Start a diary. It can be as simple as the diary kept by Pierre Bonnard – a record of what shoes he wore every day, that tells us where he lived and what the weather was like.

Discover what you like, and what you want to say. Explore your own creative ways to keep track of your life.

I hope you do.

Nancy

Pancho Villa Dead and Alive

My favorite work by Robert Motherwell is titled Pancho Villa Dead and Alive (1943).

I love the work for the color, texture, painterly surface, the look of the layered papers, and Motherwell’s exuberant approach to his collage practice.  It is mixed media to the max. It looks so contemporary.

What a treat to see this and other works by this artist when I entered the Thannheiser Galleries at the Guggenheim Museum  (through January 5, 2014) at 1071 Fifth Avenue at 89th Street, NY.

I did not expect to see so many – 50 plus collages and related drawings in ink and paint from the period 1943-1951. I did not know Motherwell created that many works in collage media.  Every work is large in scale (especially for collage and drawing).

Robert Motherwell, Pancho Villa Dead and Alive, 1943, Museum of Modern Art/Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA

Pancho Villa Dead and Alive was created with cut and pasted papers, ink and wood veneer on paper board (28 x 35 7/8 inches). Some papers are printed and embellished with more paint. The paints include oil and gouache (opaque watercolors).

Motherwell layered painted papers in the same color family (see the light blue section in the lower center part of the collage). Notice the paint drips.

Motherwell painted his papers in his favorite colors: black and white, ocher and pale blue.

He used flat light blue paint and faded pink paint for his background and some of the overpainted papers.

He painted red and black splotches and (faded) red and blue drips behind the child-like stick figures that imply two bodies (dead and alive) riddled with bullet holes.

Motherwell liked to work with fine-art drawing papers for their matte appearance and subtle color variations. He liked commercial coated papers, especially in bright colors, because they reminded him of the colors he saw in Mexico (during a 6 month stay with artist Roberto Matta).

Robert Motherwell, View from a High Tower (1944-45), Private Collection/Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA

View from a High Tower (above) was completed in 1944-45. It is 29 x 29 inches, tempera, oil, ink, pastel and pasted wood veneer, drawing paper, Japanese paper and printed map on paperboard (private collection).

I recommend the exhibition catalog for the four excellent essays. The first essay is about Motherwell’s early career with Peggy Guggenheim (titled The Theorist and the Gallerist, written by exhibition curator Susan Davidson). Another essay is about Motherwell’s  life-long fascination with themes of violence, revolution and death (titled Bloodstains and Bullet Holes, by Megan M. Fontanella). The third essay is about how he stretched the boundaries and the possibilities of paper as a vehicle for visual ideas (titled  Motherwell’s Risk, by Brandon Taylor). The last essay is about his materials (titled Motherwell’s Materials in the 1940s, by Jeffrey Warda).

Jeffrey Warda’s essay (page 56) mentions that all the commercial papers Motherwell used faded and the strong pink is now a pale flesh tone.

Robert Motherwell, Jeune Fille (1944) private collection/Dedalue Foundation, Inc./VAGA

Robert Motherwell, Jeune Fille (1944) Private Collection/Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA

Holland Cotter wrote a review for the NY Times (A Painter’s Cut-and-Paste Prequel: Robert Motherwell Early Collages at the Guggenheim, Dec. 3, 2013).

Cotter’s final paragraph asks slyly if Motherwell relinquished his role as sole creator of his work (a defining feature of Abstract Expressionism) because gravity, chemistry and light deserve equal billing as collaborators since the works have changed color, texture and form. My comment: Change is good.

Embellish the Media

I love how Motherwell painted over his media, used patterned papers, painted onto the papers, painted out papers, added lines, dots, drips and splotches. The surface is dense and yet there is incredible freedom in the process, and so much energy in the execution. I love how he tore off layers of papers to expose raw paper surfaces below, and contrasted hard-edge cut papers with soft-edge torn papers.

The image above is titled Jeune Fille (1944). It’s 24 x 19.5 inches, oil, ink, gouache, pasted drawing paper, colored paper, Japanese paper, German decorative paper and fabric on canvas board (private collection).

Motherwell was an explorer – adventurous and exuberant in his practice. Everything in the exhibition looks cutting-edge and even edgy. That is why this show is so important.

Read my comments (below) on how Motherwell got the exhibition that launched his career in 1943 – see FINAL THOUGHTS – Who you know…

Robert Motherwell, 9th Street Exhibition (1951) Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph L. Tucker, 1963, Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA

Robert Motherwell, 9th Street Exhibition (1951) Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph L. Tucker, 1963, Dedalus Foundation, Inc./VAGA

Motherwell was a scholar and a founder member (who wrote about) the Abstract Expressionist movement of the 1940s – also known as the New York School – and (no surprise!) Motherwell’s collages are filled with the gestural energy prerequisite for Ab-Ex painters.

Read more about Abstract Expressionism at the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (Metropolitan Museum of Art) website.

The image above is titled 9th Street Exhibition (1951). It is pasted papers with gouache and ink on paper, Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, Donazione/Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph L. Tucker, 1963.

Read an excellent overview of Motherwell’s life and career (with images and links) at Wikipedia.

Also see the the humorous (and informed) post  about the Motherwell/Guggenheim exhibition (11/13/13) by Ariel at Collage Volupte called How Robert Motherwell Lost His Dada Cred – its about Motherwell’s connection to Dadaism and Surrealism.

At the end of the post, Ariel writes about an old parlor game called Exquisite Corpse – played by Dadaist poets and visual artists in Europe in the period between World War I and World War II.

Motherwell was fascinated with dada, Surrealism, and automatic drawing.

FYI: Roberto Matta introduced Motherwell to a version of the exquisite corpse game at his NY salon. Motherwell attended the salons regularly in the early 1940s. Read more about the history of the Exquisite Corpse.

FYI: As a game, the exquisite corpse can be played by poets or visual artists. Players add words or images (drawings or collages) in turn. The first player writes or draws, folds the paper and passes it on to the next player. The final image or poem is supposed to be a surprise. Usually there are three or four players but, depending on how the paper is folded, the number can be more or fewer players.

FYI: Pancho Villa is an historic Mexican Revolutionary general, celebrated for his extraordinary feats in battles in the Mexican War for Independence. He was never defeated. He was assassinated in 1923 when he tried to run for political office in Mexico. Many streets throughout Mexico are named for him.

WILL YOU BE IN NEW YORK FOR CHRISTMAS?

Try to see Robert Motherwell: Early Collages at the Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue at 89 Street before it closes January 5, 2014.

The exhibition catalog is excellent for the essays, but not for the images. You have to see the works in person. I can remember how bold and colorful the works are. I saw them. I will remember. The catalog colors and resolution is disappointing (it may be because the catalog was relatively inexpensive). The Motherwell exhibition archive and the number of images may change. Best to get to the Museum and see the works in person. If you are a collage artist and if you love collage, you must see this show.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Who you know and how you build relationships with the right people is critically important. It also helps to be a brilliant artist in the right place at the right time.

Robert Motherwell (1915-1991) was an intellectual who wanted to be a painter.

Motherwell got his BA in philosophy and French at Stanford University (CA) and started his PhD in philosophy at Harvard University. He left Harvard, went to Columbia University (NY), met and was mentored by Meyer Schapiro (art history professor with an extraordinary reputation and contacts) who advised Motherwell to quit philosophy and focus on painting.

Meyer Schapiro introduced Motherwell to European emigree artists in NY, including Andre Masson, Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. It was helpful that Motherwell was fluent in French, had studied literature and philosophy, and had been to Paris.

Motherwell became good friends with Chilean Surrealist artist Roberto Matta who introduced Motherwell to automatic drawing and Surrealism (which influenced Motherwelll’s artistic practice for the remainder of his life).

Matta also introduced Motherwell to Peggy Guggenheim who invited him (with William Baziotes and Jackson Pollock) to create collages for her upcoming collage exhibition at her gallery Art of This Century in New York.

According to Peter Plagens’s Wall Street Journal review (Robert Motherwell and the Exuberance of Invention, Wall Street Journal, Dec 5, 2013), Peggy Guggenheim wanted to juxtapose the work of pioneering European modernists with younger American artists just beginning to push into Abstract Expressionism. She asked the Americans to create collage for the Art of this Century show.

How could the young artists say no – they had to create the work – they wanted to be included in a show with European masters like Jean Arp, Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso.

Motherwell’s collages were a huge success in the Art of this Century show. Peggy Guggenheim organized a solo collage show for Motherwell the following year.

Pancho Villa Dead and Alive was in the second show and immediately purchased and is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art NY.

Please send me your comments. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

The summer class I teach at the Pelham Art Center:  Embellish An Image: Play with Collage includes a mix of new students and returning students, ranging in ages from younger than 20 to seventies and above.  It’s a great group. They are all creative and many are very experienced with art and collage.

Because it was the first class for the summer session, I asked the students to introduce themselves and say what they wanted to accomplish in the 8 classes. I wanted them to learn about each other and what they each expected. It’s important for the students to hear about each other’s goals, and sharing is important for the group experience.

COLLAGE and JEAN ARP

I planned the first class with a learning-to-see project that would be simple and also challenging: a geometric abstraction.

I brought individual sandwich-sized Baggies filled with tiny pre-cut papers, one Baggie for each person.  See the image below with the papers, a metal ruler, a pair of scissors, a pencil and an eraser. You can see how small the papers are in relation to the ruler and pencil.

IT LOOKS EASY…LOOKS ARE DECEIVING

The collage project is inspired by a work of art titled Rectangles Arranged According to the Laws of Chance by Jean (Hans) Arp. Arp’s collage includes 22 papers. Arp (French, born Germany – Alsace, 1886-1966) created many collages titled Squares (Rectangles) Arranged According to the Laws of Chance. See more images.

I wanted the class to pay attention the different shapes and sizes of the papers. If the papers were different, they would create a totally different work of art.

I showed a sample (reproduction) of Art’s collage. See image below. The original collage, completed in 1916, is about 10 x 5 inches.

Jean Arp, Rectangles Arranged According to the Laws of Chance

We discussed a little bit about Arp and the art movement called Dada. They all knew something about it.  I suggested that Arp didn’t arrange his papers by chance even though the title of his work says so (and Arp did multiple collages with that title).

I tossed a few loose papers onto the table to demonstrate that the papers didn’t – couldn’t – land in the same order as the sample collage I showed them.

We talked about how to begin placing the papers. I created a sample collage with the same papers that were included in the Baggies. See the image below.

Paper Sampler

I said the class project would be fun and challenging and test their ability to look carefully (it really was all about developing that skill).

I showed them the gluing technique I use: white PVA glue applied with a bristle brush, papers pressed flat with a plastic squeegee. I showed them how I applied the glue and used a piece of waxed paper as a barrier sheet between the collage and the squeegee as the papers are glued down.

I said they should study the collage by Arp and notice the spaces between the papers, the angles if they varied, where the papers touch, and if they overlap.

The papers in the Baggies ranged in color from white to warm grey and green grey to black, representing  5 different tonal values. Each person got a watercolor-weight paper substrate in a contrasting white.  The substrate is the bottom collage layer.

I showed the students that some of the papers in my sample collage were shaded with a pencil and some of the pencil markings were lightened with the eraser – all to create texture and tonal variations.

I brought artists pencils – 3B, 4B, 5B, and 7B. They tried out the different pencils and selected the pencil they wanted to use. B is a soft lead pencil. The higher the number, the softer the lead and darker the line. I also brought pencils H and HB, which are harder lead and make lighter lines. Nobody wanted to use these.

See samples of the collages created in the class below. Each collage is inspired by Arp’s collage, but each one is unique because each student decided to be original as they finished assembling the papers. Many took the collage to the next level and cut and pasted extra papers to embellish their image.

The images above include extra papers, curvy, cut shaped papers, and 3 dimensional cut papers.

Here’s more:

We all need creative time. The collage class is about play (it’s titled Play With Collage), but it’s really  about personal expression, developing an eye, and building confidence with each success.

I believe PLAY IS SERIOUS WORK.

I checked out “Adults Need to Play, Too (online) and found a link to many articles, including an article in Scientific American magazine titled The Serious Need for Play.

They say life flows with greater ease if we allow ourselves some time for play every day.

They say it makes us better adjusted, smarter and less stressed. Read more…

In my last post, I wrote about the artist Jean (Hans) Arp. He made collage according to the laws of chance.  He dropped squares of paper onto paper and gave the works titles like Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance. The image below is made with cut and pasted papers, ink and bronze paint (1917), image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.

Jean Arp, Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance

Arp was a founding member of the Dada movement that started in Zurich, Switzerland in 1916.  A lot of Dada was about the laws of chance. The movement started as a political protest and dissipated after the close of World War 1. Many of the artists (Jean Arp, Kurt Schwitters, and Max Ernst) left protest for studio practice and went on to build stellar art careers.

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)

I am fascinated by Dada. I think it’s resurgent, and think a lot of contemporary art is inspired by Dada.

Dada and Marcel Duchamp

Dada is still with us because of the artist Marcel Duchamp.

Duchamp was not a member of the Dadaist movement (he resisted joining groups). But, he was a natural Dadaist all his life.

The Bride and the Bachelors

Read Calvin Tomkins book The Bride and the Bachelors: Five Masters of the Avant-Garde (Duchamp, Tinguely, Cage, Rauschenberg, Cunningham). I bought the paperback, first published in 1965.  The first chapter is about Marcel Duchamp (French, 1887-1968).

Duchamp said: “Why worry about art when life is what matters…Do unto others as they would wish – but with more imagination.”

Duchamp invented the term readymade – see the image below of “Bicycle Wheel” (1913/1964)

Marcel Duchamp, Roue de Bicyclette/Bicycle Wheel

Calvin Tomkins: Unlike the Surrealist objet trouve – a common object chosen for its accidental aesthetic value, the readymade has no aesthetic value whatsoever (according to Duchamp). Tomkins adds: therefore, it functions in a sense as a derisive comment on all art traditions and dogmas.

Read more  about Duchamp at the Centre Pompidou (Paris, France) website.

Every art movement that uses everyday objects today can thank Duchamp for leading the way.

One of Duchamp’s most famous readymades was titled “Fountain” – a porcelain urinal turned upside down with the signature R. Mutt.

Marcel Duchamp, Fountane/Fountain

Duchamp (and Joseph Stella) sent the sculpture to the 1917 exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists at the NYC Armory show. Duchamp was a founding member of the Society. The work created a furor.  The hanging committee refused to exhibit the readymade sculpture.

Calvin Tomkins wrote: Duchamp commented slyly: The only works of art in America are her plumbing and her bridges.

Fountain Art Fair, New York 2012

Flash Forward to 2012 and the Fountain Art Fair (March 9-11) at the 69th Regiment Armory at Lexington Ave. and 25th Street during New York Art Week.

This is the same 69th Regiment Armory where Marcel Duchamp famously hung his “Nude Descending a Staircase in 1913 (showing alongside contemporary artists like Edgar Degas, Edvard Munch and Pablo Picasso) – Duchamp would later secure a place in art history with his readymade (urinal) titled FOUNTAIN (1917).

In March, I participated with a group of 72 artists in a salon-style installation at the Fountain Art Fair with a group called Hullaballoo Collective – at booth E212. The collective was organized by Bernard Klevikas and several other artists who live and work in Brooklyn, NY. I exhibited 2 collages.

Here’s a link to the BlouinArtInfo blog with the title: Fountain Artists Honor Armory History with Playful Nods to Duchamp…

One Hullaballoo member made the connection from the Fountain Art Fair to  Marcel Duchamp, exhibited a work titled Idol Inaction, and arrived at the opening reception wearing a Duchamp jersey. See image of Brian Goings below at the Hullaballoo booth.

Brian Goings at Hullaballoo

Bernard Klevickas wrote the Hullaballoo statement:

Hullaballoo Collective is a diverse group of artists who have come together through social media to present a salon style exhibition at the Fountain Art Fair… We are artists. We are part of the egalitarian zeitgeist, the energy that underlies the new century and that uses new tools to reach broad audiences. There’s a Hullaballoo website. There was a lot of buzz.  The website shows works by the artists in the Collective.

The image below is my work, titled Recycle 1, collage, assorted papers recycled from old monoprints, 22×18 inches, cut and assembled in random order.

Nikkal, Recycle 1, collage

I don’t know if this year’s downtown Armory show was different from recent years. I’ve read reviews that say the show has changed and is getting upscale. I was expecting the space to be raw and unfinished and the art to be young and edgy.

According to Fountain organizers, this year’s show attracted over 10,000 visitors in 3 days. On opening night, there was a line around the block to get in – and we did get art critics Jerry Salz and Roberta Smith at our booth. Read about the record attendance

WHAT WOULD DUCHAMP SAY?

What would Duchamp say? I know he disdained the confluence of art and commerce (but managed very well – thank you!). some art critics say he gave up art for chess, but his readymades were re-made in the mid-20th century, shown to great fanfare, and his work is now known around the world.

I bet he would love the idea of social media and the possibilities of the Internet.

What do you think Duchamp would do about Social Media?