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.

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?

Collage Extraordinaire

June 29, 2011

Would you believe me if I tell you my life is about glue?

I like to take things apart and put the pieces back together. I love paper. I want the pieces to stick.

I make collage.

I like to juxtapose elements, mix and match media, and embellish with layers of paper, paint and ink.

My thinking process is also like collage.

I like to play with ideas and explore theme and variation and I like multiple choices.

I teach collage workshops and classes (collage is so contemporary and so user friendly).

I plan a theme for each workshop to jump-start the process.

Surprise! In many cases, people arrive with their own plan of what they are going to do (or not do).

It’s important to me that each person feels they do it their way. I never want to control input or outcome. I won’t touch their work with my own hand. We do dialog. I show images in the books I bring along to augment their ideas.

I typically do not know in advance who is registered for a workshop. I have to find out who they are when they arrive – so I ask people to tell me about themselves, if they’ve worked with collage or another media, what they like, and what they want to learn.

I want to share an interesting story.

Last summer I led a 6-hour workshop at the Newark Museum (Newark, NJ) titled Narrative Collage attended by adults, including identical twin sisters about age 50.

It was almost a disaster. One twin was keenly interested in the workshop and the theme narrative collage. One twin was keenly disinterested and verbally antagonistic to her twin about being there.  It was bizarre.

It was hard to persuade the resisting twin to participate.

But I am persistent and have my ways.

I showed her a book highlighting the life and work of the artist Ray Johnson (American 1927-1995). I had a hunch she would like to know about his work.

I am a great fan of Johnson’s work.

COLLAGE ARTIST EXTRAORDINAIRE

Johnson is known as a collage artist extraordinaire and has been called New York’s most famous unknown artist.

Ray Johnson was the original “bridge” between so many of the people and sensibilities of the international art scene and its fringes.  He was heralded as an innovator by the heroes-to-be of Pop and Fluxus (Mark Bloch (© 1995). Read MORE

Black Mountain College Dossiers #4 (Ray Johnson) is the title of the book I brought to the Newark Museum workshop. It includes collage images and an essay “With Ray: The Art of Friendship” by William S. Wilson (It’s an old book, and for some reason it’s very expensive online).

From 1946-48 Ray Johnson studied alongside Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly at the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Faculty members included Joseph Albers, Robert Motherwell, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, Willem and Elaine DeKooning, and others.

NEO-DADA  FLUXUS AND POP ART

After Black Mountain, Johnson moved to Manhattan (NY) and showed annually with the American Abstract Artists. He is connected to the history of Neo-Dada, Fluxus, and early Pop Art.

In his own way, he invented performance art and Happenings (he called them “nothings.”) He is credited with founding the MAIL ART movement – he called it the New York Correspondence School, and it still exists today.

Johnson’s mail art directed people to “send to” or “add to and return” or “do not send to.”

Ray Johnson

The above image is titled Four Eyed Bunny Postcard – November 26, 1977. See more images of MAIL ART sent from Ray Johnson to Mick Boyle.

The New York Correspondence School participants circulated and re-circulated lists, group portraits, reports, announcements, insider commentary and snippets of media that was an open-ended collage of gossip about members and the NY Art World.

Johnson said: I had this stockpile of materials, so I put them into envelopes and mailed them off to everybody everywhere. I’m very fond of the idea of the message in the bottle…and the chance of it being found or never being…That’s pure romance.

(quoted in Black Mountain College Dossiers)

TURN IT AROUND

Ray Johnson

Ray Johnson would take a word that turned up in conversation and reverse it to see if it yielded another word…

When he made an error in typing, he often took off from the error, not from the word he had intended to type.

The collage seen above is titled Taoist/Toast! (1957) 5×4 inches, is in the collection of William S. Wilson (reproduced in Black Mountain College Dossiers #4).

Johnson made an anagram from the word “Taoist,” turned it into the word “toast,” and with the letter “i” left over, turned the “I” upside down as an exclamation mark and wrote “Toast!”

SERENDIPITY: A CHAPTER TITLED TWINS

Chapter VIII in the Black Mountain Collage Dossiers book is titled “Twins.”

William S. Wilson wrote: The meaning…of Ray’s images often is complemented by…a twoness, a doubling, as in mirroring, tracing, carbon copies, repeating or other duplication…

It’s possible the twin found this chapter in the book. It brought her back into the group. I think – maybe – she is now a great fan of Ray Johnson’s work.

She began to work in earnest and made a collage inspired by one of the images in the book.

In research on Ray Johnson, I learned about a documentary video about his life titled HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY (2002) directed by John W. Walter.

Johnson loved to recycle old works into multi-layered new works. He loved collaboration. His MAIL art included bunny head portraits, puns and rhymes.

The image above is a portrait of Ray Johnson, his logo bunny and the title of the documentary How To Draw A Bunny (image: the Internet).

You may know Ray Johnson committed suicide in 1995. He jumped off a bridge, paddled backstroke and disappeared in the waters near his home in Long Island, NY.

The documentary HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY includes interviews with Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Chuck Close, Roy Lichtenstein, Judith Malina, James Rosenquist and others.  Read MORE

Thank you for visiting…let me know if you’ve seen the documentary HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY.

PS:  Please add your comments on the art of Ray Johnson and the NY Correspondence School…and I hope you’ll join me on Facebook and LinkedIn

 Nancy

EXCITABLE BOY: PAINTINGS AND PHOTOGRAPHS  by Adam Handler

This post is an interview (long and in-depth) with a very talented young artist having a solo exhibition at Media Loft Gallery in New Rochelle, NY. The show is titled EXCITABLE BOY (March 13-May 7, 2011) and includes 31 works: large format photographs, large mixed media photocollage paintings, photos of family and friends, paintings on canvas, collage and sculpture.

The opening reception is Sunday, March 13th from 2-6 pm. The closing reception is Saturday, May 7th from 4-6 pm. If you cannot attend the opening or closing receptions, gallery hours are by appointment. Visit Media Loft online for directions and to contact Adam Handler by email for for an appointment to see the exhibition at another time.

The image below is an installation view of the front gallery with 2 large photos and a sculpture by Adam Handler (photo © Christopher Lovi).

Adam Handler Installation in the Front Gallery at Media Loft

Adam Handler’s website includes the following Artist Statements:

I strive for originality, but will never forget the influences

that played a part in creating these paintings.

I hope to entice various generations with the subject matter while

exposing it in a way that has never been done before.

 

I interviewed Adam for this post and think his comments are as compelling and original as his work in the exhibition.The show is worth the trip to see in person.

CHARACTER AND ARTISTIC FREEDOM

Adam Handler wrote:

Mid-twentieth century America, Vietnam, the British Invasion, Andy Warhol’s simplistic commercial Campbell’s soup cans have long enticed me. To me, this era always depicted character and artistic freedom, liberation from “the man.”

Though I was born in the 1980’s, I have often speculated how the feelings and emotions that conflicted the youth then continue to remain relevant today.

That era in particular spurred my interests to create paintings that captured the rebellious energy of the time, while transforming the imagery into contemporary works that relate to my generation. Contemporary politics and economics, social interactions, views on love, life, and death are all compressed into my mixed media works. In many of the pieces you will notice small sayings or sexual innuendos – mostly taken from advertisements – inspired by the Dada poets at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. For me, using written words alongside commercial imagery and contrasting it with rapid brushstrokes and intense color create a modern scene that allows for the viewer to create their own personal interpretive narrative. © 2011, Adam Handler

MY INTERVIEW

The artist statement (above), websiteSaatchi onlinePS 1 Studio Visit, and the slideshow at ArtSlant helped me develop the outline for the interview that follows.

 

Robert Motherwell Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 70 (1961)

Q: You say you are inspired by the artists Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and say Robert Rauschenberg is an artistic hero to you.

In what ways do you think Robert Motherwell (American 1915-1991) inspires your work?

AH: Motherwell truly inspired me when I saw my first Spanish Elegy painting; I believe it was at the MET. What inspired me about this work was something much more subtle. The way Motherwell would take these large imposing expanses of black and then use small variations of color to accentuate his powerful abstractions inspired much of my current work. For instance, in the painting “Hung,” in the Media Loft exhibition you can see how I outline the main female figure with pinks and whites; if you look closely at this piece you can see Motherwell’s presence.

ELEGY to the SPANISH REPUBLIC, 70 (seen above) is by Robert Motherwell. It’s oil on canvas, 69 x 114 inches (1961) and is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, NY (photo: the internet).

The image below is by Handler and titled HUNG. It’s a mixed media photo with paint, 30×40 inches. The artist says this work was inspired by Robert Motherwell’s Elegy painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Do you see the connection?

Adam Handler, Hung

Q: This exhibition includes almost no collages.

In addition to his paintings, Robert Motherwell made collages. I saw your solo exhibition last year at the Bendheim Gallery in Greenwich, CT and you included many collages and photocollage paintings. Did you stop making collage?

AH: As an artist, I go back and forth between mediums. One month I will work only on collages, and then for the next six months I may work only on photographs. I really am not sure what forces an artist to change mediums or focus on different disciplines. Currently, I’m been experimenting with video which is all very new and exciting.

PHOTOS SLASHED WITH PAINT

Q: Why are your photos slashed with paint?

AH: Many of my photos are slashed with paint because the photograph was taken with the intention that paint would be added. Sometimes I’ll see something which, on it’s own, would be a boring photograph but when paint is added I’m able to alter the context and confuse people, which in turn creates something original and unique.

The image below, titled Happy Birthday Buttercup, is a photo and painting  (presented in a glorious gold leaf frame). It’s 10 x 10 inches.

Adam Handler, Happy Birthday Buttercup


Q: Do you have a special process that’s unique to your work?

AH: I wouldn’t say there’s anything particularly unique about my process other then I hardly ever have a planned idea. I guess you can say I’m a “go with the flow artist.” My work is about spontaneity and whatever happens, happens; I guess you can say this might be a Surrealist/Dada way of working.

Q: Do you work at a table or an easel, on the floor or on the wall?

AH: Hahaha, I would have to say all of the above. I’ve splattered paint of every surface I know. From the wall to my car, to my kitchen.

Q: Is your studio clean or cluttered? Does its condition affect your work?

AH: My studio is extremely cluttered and messy. It affects my work in the sense that when I step into my studio it’s as if I am literally a drip of paint on canvas.

Adam Handler, Photo of HIs Studio

 

Q: Talk about your studio. Is it located in a community of artists?

AH: My studio is located in Long Island City, NY. It’s a very industrial area which has a personality and feel all its own. My studio is located in the back of a 12,000 square foot custom framing factory, which is owned by my grandparents.

Q: Has the neighborhood and the location had any effect on your work?

AH: I don’t think the location has had an affect on my work. I guess I don’t know because I never painted anywhere else.

Q: Are you part of an artist’s community in LIC? Please describe it.

AH: No, I am not part of an art community per se. Since I work in a custom framing factory, I am constantly talking and discussing art with gallery owners, dealers and fellow artists.

Q: MAX’S KANSAS CITY was a place for artist, musicians, poets and politicos to hang out in the 1960s and 1970s. Is there a place like MAX’S that you and young artists go to talk art?

AH: No, I don’t have any hangout where I chill with other artists. It would be cool, but I feel that artists today are much more solitary then the 60’s.

Q: What kinds of paints do you use? Do you have a favorite color?

AH: I use many different types of paints. I’ve probably experimented with everything on the market from acrylics, oils, enamel, watercolors, Japan color, etc.

I usually do have favorite colors, but they come in phases. One month I’ll love blues, right now I’ve been into very pale pinks and light greens.

Q: What do your colors convey?

AH: My colors usually convey a feeling or an emotion. If I want a painting to feel modern and clean, I’ll use more black and white. If I want a painting to feel airy and light, I’ll use pale blues and subtle pinks.

Q: How do you describe your media? Do you call your works paintings? Photographs? Mixed media?

AH: I describe each of my works separately.  For instance, I will call a photograph with paint, a painted photograph. When painting with collage paper, I’ll describe the separate medias. For instance, “oil, wax and paper collage on canvas.”

Q: Do you take (and do you print) your own photographs? Is your studio set up with photo equipment?

AH: I take all my own photographs with the exception of various collage works; in that case, I use magazine articles and such. I do print my own photographs, however am restricted by the size I can print.

Adam Handler, My Friends, My Habits, My Family

For my larger prints, 20×30, 30×40, 40×60 inches, I use professional printers. I do collage photos and actually some of my most recent work, such as “My Friends, My Habits, and My Family” in the Media Loft show bears this technique. This work is large format and 40×60 inches.

Q: Your website shows you also work in sculpture. The works are expressive, figurative and made with clay. Why clay? Do the paintings relate to the sculptures?

AH: I started off sculpting in college, experimenting with marble, wood and clay. I worked with clay for the closeness it allowed me with each work. My sculptures really don’t relate to my paintings in any way.

The DADA INFLUENCE on your work

Dada was a cultural movement that began in Zurich, Switzerland during World War I, and peaked by 1916 to 1922.  It laid the groundwork for abstract art, performance art, postmodernism, and is still an influence in today’s art world.

Q: Your artist statement mentions Dada and the Cabaret Voltaire. In what ways does Dada inspire you?

AH: What inspired me about Dada was not so much the art itself but the idea behind the art; the freedom of self expression and passion and sometimes absurdity that made this movement a breath of fresh air to me.

Q: How is your subject matter contemporary for your generation (if it also harks back to an earlier time)?

AH: I am not really sure how my work is considered contemporary. I know that I’m contemporary for being a young artist currently producing work, but other then that I just don’t know.

Q: What response do you want viewers to have to your works?

AH: From my viewers I want intense reactions; whether they are overwhelming good or bad, I want them to really feel the work. Way too often I see exhibitions where people walk out the same way they walked in, which sucks! Art legally allows us to introduce people to a new world. It allows for us to offend or inspire in the confines of a room.

Q: You say Robert Rauschenberg was an art hero to you. His work was about performance and participation. How do you want your work installed and how do you want viewers to participate with your work?

AH:  I love playing around with hanging a show and experimenting with different lighting, but sometimes you need a good curator to understand and lay out your vision on the wall.

Q: You talk about originality. What do you mean? Do you believe an artist can be original in the 21st century, in a media saturated world?

AH: Being original in the 21st century seems nearly impossible, but I do believe it’s possible; I have to! I need to believe that there are still ideas and subject matter, poses, paintings, photographs that the world has not seen.

Q: How can an artist make subject matter excitable?

AH: I believe an artist can create “excitable” subject matter if they stay true to themselves. As long as your art reflects your life, personality, relationships, etc, you will be one of a kind.

Q: You say you want to expose subject matter in a way that has never been done before. How will you expose it?

AH: I expose my subject through my close personal relationships with my family, my friends, my fiancé, my cat (haha). Much of my work is based on my life, my dreams, and my fantasies. I find if you let yourself be vulnerable through your art people can see something that’s new, exciting and overwhelmingly personal.

I want to thank Adam again for being so real and personal, and hope every person who read the interview felt they got to know more about the artist and the ideas that inspire his work.

I welcome your comments below.

Please note images belong to the artist, so you may not copy without  permission or credit to Adam Handler, and also note this interview is © 2011, Nancy Egol Nikkal.

The real genius of Robert Rauschenberg is his art made us part of the picture.


Rauschenberg said: “…I am bombarded with TV sets and magazines, by the refuse, by the excess of the world…If I could paint or make an honest work, it should incorporate all of these elements, which were and are a reality.”

Robert Rauschenberg – Retrospective at the Gagosian Gallery in NY

The image nearby is part of Rauschenberg’s “Cardboard” series (1971-72). There are a lot of these at the current mega exhibition “Robert Rauschenberg” at the Gagosian Gallery, 522 W 21 Street, NYC (extended through Jan. 15). And there are a lot of Combines, paintings and sculpture. It’s a huge retrospective.

In the “Cardboards,” Rauschenberg reduced his palette to near monochrome (the boxes are the paint and the canvas). He stated “he liked to work in a material of waste and softness.” I think these works are a direct comment on the disposability of modern life.

Rauschenberg’s trash is art and expands what contemporary art can be.

“Gift for Apollo” (1959), seen nearby, is a Rauschenberg COMBINE, part of the Panza Collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, CA (Photo: COMBINES exhibition catalog, 2005).

“Gift for Apollo” includes oil paint, wood, fabric, newspaper, print reproductions, metal bucket, metal chain, dooknob and rubber wheels (size 43×29 inches, depth variable).

Did you notice the green tie? It probably belonged to Rauschenberg, who included his own wardrobe in his works. Some of his paintings include cuffs from his shirts!

I love things with wheels – it looks like a child’s toy that you play with – but this baby’s toy is anchored to an oil bucket.

Rauschenberg’s “Combines” are all about improvisation and a sense of joyous discovery.

Holland Cotter’s NY Times exhibition review said: You’ll see Invention, Adventure and a lot of Muchness (his words).

The gallery produced a lovely exhibition catalog if you want it.

Rauschenberg died in 2008 (not so long ago). He was – and still is – an immense presence in contemporary art. Like everyone in the gallery, I was mingling with art history.

Anselm Kiefer – “Next Year in Jerusalem”


On the same day I saw the Rauschenberg retrospective, I walked 3 blocks north to another location of the Gagosian Gallery (West 24th Street, NYC) to see  the mega exhibition “Anselm Kiefer: Next Year in Jerusalem.”

The show closed Dec. 18, but if you are a Kiefer fan (I think he is one of the most important visual artist alive today), you must purchase the exhibition catalog – it’s a work of art in itself, fully illustrated and includes Kiefer’s own words plus an essay by Marina Warner. I will definitely order the book. The images and layout are superb and I want to read the artist’s comments.

The image above, titled “Occupations,” is a huge steel container you cannot enter but can look into – and contains 76 enormous photographs mounted on lead (within) and a photograph of Kiefer from 1969 doing the Nazi HitlergruB (outside) at the rear end of the container.

Anselm Kiefer was born in Germany the last year of WWII and gained international fame in his 20s – he took photos of himself doing the Sieg Heil salute in front of places occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War. Kiefer currently lives and works in Paris, France.

Jerry Saltz reviewed “Next Year in Jerusalem” in NY Magazine. Jerry gives the show a Thumbs-up with an asterisk, and wrote: (the exhibition) is insanely over the top – a sort of walk-in mausoleum of enormous vitrines, containing objects like airplane engines, mummified wedding gowns, miniature submarines and real sunflowers. He did add: “As figurative and narrative as Kiefer’s work is, however, it’s quiote abstract and  poetic, seeming to bypass language and rationality while creating patterns of meanig via form, weight, color, texture and compression.”

Everything is somber, low-lit and ashen


The image nearby is an installation view of glass and steel vitrines, some as tall as 20 feet, that contain relic-like sculptures within. Walking through the exhibition space, you see through one glass and metal vitrine to another, to paintings beyond, and observe all the other  people as they move about. For me, the exhibition was a powerful commentary on war (seen through a glass darkly).

The image nearby shows two vitrines and a painting and wall installation beyond.

Kiefer’s huge, wall hung landscape paintings are thickly layered with ash, include lead, distressed materials and even a snakeskin, and depict iconic, barren landscapes of mountains, forests or the sea.

Roberta Smith, in a NY Times review of the Kiefer exhibition said: The power (of the show) is hard to deny…You will not see an art gallery look quite like this anytime soon. All the Kiefer installation photos (Gagosian Gallery) by Rob McKeever.

One of my favorite artists, Robert Rauchenberg (American 1925-2008) wrote: “I think a painting is more like the real world if it’s made out of the real world.”

I’m a collage artist. I think a collage is like the real world. Everything can go into it. An installation is a collage. So was the event called Art Basel Miami Beach (December 2-5, 2010).

In an article titled “Art Basel-The Week Miami Becomes the Center of the Art World,” Alesh Houdek (staff writer for the Atlantic, in Miami, FL) commented:

“Painting and photography, and even more recent media such as video art, have been largely relegated to the satellite fairs. Instead, most of the work in Art Basel consists of collages, assemblages, and other work that juxtaposes handmade and found objects for aesthetic and conceptual effect.

There are over 250 galleries with booths in Art Basel proper, almost all showing a wildly disparate grouping of pieces…the effect is a torrent of seemingly random imagery and objects, except that each item is presumably made by someone with impeccable credentials and an absolute commitment to their work.

The average price of works sold at the main fair is said to be in the six digits.”

I was there. I gifted myself a trip to Florida to see Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB). It was a VISUAL COLLAGE for me, overflowing with gallery installation and high-brow museum quality art, including many actual collages, assemblage, sculpture,  large format mounted photography that looked like virtual collage – and even paintings.

Everything was wildly expensive. Most of the people who purchase art at ABMB are VIPs who arrived early, and left a day  before I arrived on Friday, Dec. 3rd.

Photo credit for the banner image above: the Atlantic, Alesh Houdek.

Here are the facts: thousands of collectors, dealers, curators and artists descend upon Florida for Art Basel Miami Beach the first week in December to see and buy art. It’s the most important art show in the United States. It’s the sister event to the Art Basel show in Switzerland, considered the most prestigious art show worldwide. The Miami show includes top international galleries, plus special exhibitions, parties and crossover events, including music, film and design.

On Friday I met two new friends – Harry and Cyndi – at the Miami Convention Center. We had been in touch by email and by phone to talk about their art collection. They came to Miami to buy a painting. I was their guide for the day. It was a lot of fun to be with them and fascinating for me to be with new collectors. We looked at art that appealed to them, and art that interested me.

The image below, shown at ABMB, is by British artist Damien Hirst. it’s titled “Butterflies. I took the photo. Hirst’s work is hot. He had several works at the show and was represented by more than one mega gallery. My photo shows another person taking a photo of “Butterflies.” It’s a collage with real dead butterflies glued to the diamond-shaped support. It’s a collage but much, much more. Hirst’s work captures our fascination with death. The butterflies were exquisite and also macabre. There was a lot of interest in the work. I didn’t check the price.

Everywhere you walked at the Convention Center you saw a Modern Master.

I saw paintings by Pablo Picasso (Spanish expatriate, 1881-1973). Picasso was considered the greatest art genius of the 20th century.

I saw many mobiles and stabiles by Alexander Calder (American 1898-1976) whose kinetic sculpture gave form to an entirely new type of art. His market must be hot, because there were Calder’s everywhere, hanging as mobiles, and planted on tables and pedestals as stabiles. Calder will have two shows in 2011. Read more at the Calder Foundation.

The photo nearby (at ABMB) was a gallery installation of works by 3 modern masters: a diptypch – 2 geometric paintings side by side by Frank Stella, a hanging, primary color mobile by Alexander Calder, and a blue wall construction by Donald Judd – all major museum quality works. I was so happy to see them – especially happy to see the Donald Judd painted blue! I took the photo.

Frank Stella (American b. 1936) is recognized for his paintings, prints and wall hung works. He was one of a group of artists who revolutionized painting in protest against Abstract Expressionist art of the 1950s and 1960s.  Hear Stella’s comment on his work in a youtube video, which includes images like the geometric painting seen nearby.

The painted wall constructions by Donald Judd (American 1928-1994) revolutionized modern sculpture – he declined to call his work sculpture. There’s a lot of information on his philosophy at the Judd Foundation which is located in Marfa, TX. His concept is minimalism. Materiality was central to his work.

By about 2:30 pm, Harry and Cyndi and I departed Art Basel, ate a very late lunch at a hotel restaurant on nearby Collins Avenue, walked to INK, a wonderful small satellite location for works on paper (one of my favorites), and headed by taxi to midtown Miami to see paintings at Art Miami, a 100,000 square foot pavilion with 100 international art galleries that is a main anchor fair.

Art Miami seemed as huge as Art Basel at the Convention Center. We walked and talked and looked for the next 4 hours. Weary, and feet aching, we went our separate ways, prepared to do the art marathon the following day.

The next day, we met again at Art Miami. I was there to get the name of the artist – Heiner Meyer – who did the standing nickel-plated bronze Mickey Mouse titled “GroBe Mickey” (seen nearby). I took the photo on Friday, but didn’t have the artist’s name or title of the work. It’s an edition of 3, sized 55x28x28 inches, and priced at US $81,200. Where is Disney? I always tell my collage students: Don’t even attempt to do Mickey. Remember copyright infringement! This Mickey has his arms upraised in triumpth. He’s also very friendly. But he is definitely Mickey Mouse.

I also returned to Art Miami because I wanted to look again at a photo silkscreen on mirror  by Robert Rauchenberg (American 1925-2008). Rauschenberg proved that art can be anything and everything. What makes Rauchenberg so universally popular, and so important in contemporary art, is that he designed his works to incorporate the viewer as an active participant in the work.

I didn’t take a picture of the Rauchenberg, because the photo would have included me. I was looking at a mirror with silkscreened images.

Did you see the show of “Combines” by Rauchenberg at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY, NY in 2006? The Combines and paintings include throwaways he found on the streets in NYC near his studio, plus newspaper clippings, fabric, clothing, bedding (a mattress!), his own ties and the cuffs from his own shirts.

If you don’t own the “Combines” exhibition catalog, you can get it from the bookstore at the Metropolitan Museum.

And now – What about the stuff called Low Brow at Art Basel Miami Beach? There was lots of it (not at the Convention Center or at Art Miami), but I didn’t see too much. And what I did see, I didn’t like at all.

None of the trashy, funky, alternative art was done by anyone as hugely talented as Robert Rauchenberg who transformed junk into high art because he had vision.

See images and a good summary of the funky arty scene written at Hyperallergic, a forum “for serious, playful and radical thinking about art in the world today.” The image nearby is titled UP WITH MURAL, a project of the SCOPE Foundation (photo credit: Hyperallergic).

Next year in Miami, I plan to visit Pulse, SEVEN, Nada (New Art Dealer’s Association) and more. This year I saw the Red Dot fair. It was terrible. I went there because it’s across the street from Art Miami. I didn’t bother to walk into Scope, another pavilion near Art Miami. At the entry, the work looked as trashy and disorganized as Red Dot. Too bad. I don’t really want to be so down on the art.

I’ve emailed Harry since I’m home. My  friends bought a print and found the painting they want to own. I know the gallery that represents the artist. I introduced them to the gallery owner at the show.

Please comment below. I’d love to hear your opinions about the high brow-low brow art world divide and about the artists and works mentioned here. Does it interest you?