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

Collage Exploded

September 6, 2012

I walked into the last gallery at the Whitney Museum by mistake. I was there to see the Yayoi Kusama exhibition. So I saw the last works first – large flat acrylic polymer paintings in flourescent colors – instead of the early small, intimate collages.

Kusama, Encounter with a Flowering Season

Yayoi Kusama is well known for her use of dense patterns of polka dots and nets. She is known for her work in various media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, film, performance and immersive installation. The image above, seen at the Whitney Museum of American Art, is synthetic polymer on canvas, 51×52 inches. Image, courtesy the Internet.

I have never seen Yayoi Kusama’s works before. She was born in Japan in 1929 and came to the United States in 1957. She quickly became involved in avant-garde “happenings” and rose to prominence in the art world. She is considered a precursor of the pop art, minimalist and feminist art movements and influenced contemporary artists like Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. Read about her life and work

Yayoi Kusama in a red wig

Many of her early works were installation, performance, and ephemeral. Many disappeared.

She left the United States and returned to Japan in the early 1970s. Kusama is now acknowledged as one of the most important artists alive in Japan today.

Kusama, Late Night Chat is Filled with Dreams

My first impression of the dense painting installation was: Too many. Too busy. Too close – OVERLOAD.

The image above, titled Late Night Chat is Filled with Dreams, was in the first gallery I entered with all the recent paintings. It’s synthetic polymer on canvas, 64×64 inches and was completed in 2009. Image courtesy the Internet. The artist said she would like to finish 2000 paintings before she dies. This painting was about number 196.

 

Kusama, Mirror Room Pumpkin

The image above, titled Mirror Room-Pumpkin is an installation Kusama completed in 1991. It is made with mirrors wood and paint to create a dizzying effect. Kusama wanted the dots to appear to go on and on into infinity. The room is orange, like a pumpkin. It’s 69x69x69 inches. The work is now part of the permanent collection of the Hara Museum in Tokyo, Japan.

Kusama was the featured artist for the Japanese Pavilion at the 1993 Venice Bienniale. She produced a mirror room filled with pumpkin sculptures.

I walked through the galleries and saw a variety of different media, including an exploding chair sculpture (see below). The sculpture communicated a visceral, phallic, raw energy. It was soft and also sly. I liked it. It made me uneasy. It made me think of soft sculptures by Louise Bourgeois. Naughty.

Kusama, Accumulations

Continuing through the galleries, I saw psychedelic dotty installations. Kusama’s work is about dots.

Kusama, Air Mail Stickers

The image above is titled Air Mail Stickers (1962). It’s a large collage on canvas, 71×67 inches, in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. The entire surface of the canvas is covered with hundreds of air mail stickers. Kusama had to lick each sticker to get it to stick to the canvas. When the collage was created, stamps were not self-adhesive like today. This work is included in the current exhibition. Photo courtesy the Internet.

Continuing on to the early works, I saw paintings, photo collage and collage. Everything was getting smaller and more intimate. The collages and photo collages were really wonderful. The image below is a small collage, titled Self Obliteration. There were many other collages and photo collages. Each one was a unique work, and was more narrative and less abstract that the later works.

Kusama, Self Obliteration

I didn’t get to see the installation Fireflies on the Water on the first level at the Whitney Museum (I was too late to get a ticket into the space). Fireflies (owned by the Whitney and included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial) uses water and mirrors to reflect 150 tiny hanging lights. Only one person is admitted into the installation at a time.

The exhibition will continue through September 30, 2012.

HOW DOES COLLAGE EXPLODE?

I titled this blog Collage Exploded. That was a reaction I had when I saw the exhibition.

Collage is about putting lots of things together and that’s the experience I got when I walked though the galleries. The exhibition was a collage. Probably because the artist worked in so many different media and everything is included.