Course of Empire

April 23rd, 2015

Keith Mayerson, longtime SVACE faculty member, is included in America is Hard to See, the inaugural exhibition at the new Whitney Museum of American Art.  Keith’s historical paintings are finally getting the historical stature they deserve, after his inclusion in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, several solo shows, and his ambitious curatorial efforts, such as this and this.

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Keith Mayerson, “9/11,” 2007

 

Keith’s powerful 2007 painting, 9/11, is shocking.  Every 9/11 image is chilling, but 9/11 pinpoints the exact moment where history derailed.  Of the images available, Keith could have chosen the first plane, the fiery impact, or the dramatic collapse of our Twin Towers.  Instead, he focuses on the approach of the second plane, the flash of a moment where our abeyant incomprehension switched over to recognition.  That is, after the first plane struck at 8:46 am, many of us were confused:  What kind of plane was that?  Was it an accident? What just happened? But when the second plane struck at 9:03 am, confusion vanished.  It was an attack.  People had died. More attacks were plausible.  Our presumptive safety in the world was gone.

The rest is history.

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Keith Mayerson, “9/11,” 2007 (IMAGE: Tom Powell Imaging)

Carter E. Foster, Steven and Ann Ames Curator of Drawing at the Whitney, describes the place of 9/11 in the exhibition:

“Keith’s 2007 painting, 9/11, is in a section of the show called Course of Empire.  There’s a Mark Bradford painting related to Hurricane Katrina, an Ed Ruscha painting about the decline of America’s global dominance, and Aleksandra Mir drawings that depict Osama bin Laden as their subject matter.  Course of Empire explores the post-9/11, post-Katrina, post-financial collapse years: gloomy times in America.”

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Installation shot of “America is Hard to See” at the Whitney (IMAGE: Keith Mayerson)

 

“Keith’s painting makes an explicit reference to these subjects, and it gels with other Course of Empire works, which take different angles.  Consequently, 9/11 is a great summation of that room, while representing a type of history painting.”

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Installation shot of “America is Hard to See” at the Whitney (IMAGE: Keith Mayerson)

 

Regarding the personal and communal functions of 9/11, Keith writes:

“The 9-11 painting was a watershed work for me.  Although I didn’t personally take the photograph it is based upon, I did witness the event.  I used the image as a talisman for my own memories and deep feelings towards that day, the victims that were lost, and how the world changed because of the sublime atrocities of that day (and the subsequent travails we are still living through and with because of everything the event stands for and is surrounded by). ”

“I painted the picture because I ‘had to,’ to relieve myself of the anxieties of my nightmares and fears, and also because I finally wanted to bring the honesty of expression that I have strived for since the beginning of my career to the forefront.  I’m glad to have been able to express myself in this manner, and also grateful for the reaction of people who have been moved by the work, as I feel I am relating with them our shared experience and feelings, while also being able to bring to an oil painting an historical event of our contemporary times.  I hope it helps others remember this day and everything that it conveys symbolically and emotionally, and I truly hope it honors those who were lost and affected by one of the most tragically important mornings in our nation’s history.”

“It was my hope that a museum in New York City would acquire the work, as I didn’t want it to go to a personal collection, and that it would be safely in a museum in the city that was directly affected by the events of that morning.  I am very honored that the Whitney Museum of American Art would want to have this painting in their permanent collection.  That they would choose to exhibit it in the Course of Empire chapter of America is Hard to See, their inaugural exhibition, is most moving to me.”

 

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Keith Mayerson, “9/11,” 2007, detail (IMAGE: Tom Powell Imaging)

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Only in New York

April 20th, 2015

One of the many great things about New York Paintings, a solo show by John A. Parks at 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel, is how the show combines the New York one might want with the New York one actually has.  That is, the New York that attracts tourists and ensnares ambitious young people often eludes the New Yorkers who actually live there.

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John A. Parks, “Metropolitan Museum,” 2014

For example, in Metropolitan Museum, groups of museum visitors seem to enjoy an enriching, leisurely experience as they stroll through the Petrie Sculpture Court and snap photos.  As wonderful as this experience may be, it can be difficult for a New Yorker to achieve it.  Just look at the guard, who hides behind a sculpture.  Instead, a New Yorker’s experience, at least in parts of Manhattan, is closer to the frustratingly mundane affairs we see in Trader Joe’s.  (I often imagine calling my memoir A Life In Laundry.)  In Trader Joe’s, shoppers appear hurried, burdened, and moments away from chaos at the Chelsea branch of that grocery chain.  Indeed, that store can feel like rioting at Altamont – but still more peaceable than its Union Square competitor.

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John A. Parks, “Trader Joe’s,” 2014

And between the ideal New York and the actual New York, this show manages a uniquely blended combination. Madison Square Park (Shake Shack Line) is a good example.  A mostly random lunchtime crowd lines up for burgers, acceding to a substantial inconvenience because doing so is a bold expression of preference.  “Ideal” would mean facing no line, but the “Actual” line is part of the experience.  It’s kind of like battling crowds at the Farmers Market (“You wouldn’t believe what i had to do to get this watercress.”), or lining up at 6am for tickets to Shakespeare in the Park.  Of this mixed experience, what one wants versus what one has, John A. Parks seems to relish both sides of the equation – a bit like his willingly delayed subjects.

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Maybe it’s that ambivalence that opens up his panoramic richness.  Without judging the scenes he depicts, Parks avoids leaning into a “mood” and instead keeps his palette at a keenly-aware full spectrum.  Bright daylight suffuses his crowded scenes and unifies individuals on autonomous and exclusive trajectories.  Pictorially, there isn’t much more to really bring them together.  Compositions are loosened enough to almost defy gravity, scale seems unpredictable, and perspective does little more than establish a surveying eye level.  Which is great.  By untethering himself from these restraints, Parks is free to play with brilliant color and eccentrically rendered forms, like the leaning and wobbly Madison Square Park office buildings bowing around Shake Shack.

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The notable exception to these lively observations of Manhattan is Stock Exchange, which makes a literal dramatization of the otherwise invisibly indiscriminate destruction of day trading.  Parks imagines day trading as a doughier Rape of the Sabine Women comprising mostly men.  The brawl is funny, but what’s more interesting is the phalanx of terminal towers that preside over the violence.  They seem indifferent, even as one seems to fall over, as if they are part of a network that plays a longer game than today’s thrilling 6.5 hours of trading.

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Easy to See

April 13th, 2015

See Keith Mayerson, SVACE faculty member, in America is Hard to See, the inaugural exhibition at the new Whitney Museum of American Art!

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The new Whitney Museum of American Art opens May 1st!

 

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