Archive for January, 2014

Project Miele

Monday, January 27th, 2014

SVA alumna Joan Di Lieto recently debuted Project Miele, her permanent painting installation at Mount Sinai’s new Hess Center for Science and Medicine.

Joan Di Lieto, "Project Miele," 2014

Project Miele is a triptych of eight-foot tall, abstract oil paintings that integrate into the south wall of the Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill-designed Hess Center. Like ceremonial scrolls, the paintings illuminate and preside over the open and transparent first three floors, with dramatic sight lines from any vantage point. They feel especially inviting when viewed from below, which maximizes their towering dignity.

Joan Di Lieto and "Project Miele," 2014

With richly textured surfaces and densely layered strata of abstract forms, the paintings emphasize a relationship with organic movement and geometric structure. They seem to freeze a moment within a process. Flashes of light burst from a connective honeycomb field, while spindly tendrils and effervescent vacuoles coalesce. Like Monet’s Waterlily paintings, the two outer paintings could continue beyond their edges; while the middle panel seems to draw its elements toward its center.

Joan Di Lieto, "Project Miele," 2014

Together, the luminous images invoke cellular biology and its applications. Indeed, Ms. Di Lieto is a cancer survivor. She writes, “Like the bonds in the double-helix structure, these works represent the complex and close relationship between physician and patient, combined with the green-gold healing properties of light.”



Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Museums are a big deal and New York museums are the biggest.  In 2012, American museums took in 850m visitors, more than all the big-league sporting events and theme parks combined. Most of those visitors went to MoMA if modern art was on their list.


This week, MoMA announced its new expansion.  This is bad news to art and architecture critics, who have closed ranks against the new design and unfavorably compared the museum’s restless, relentless growth to a shark needing to move and a perpetual state of war.

The first problem is that MoMA will destroy the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) because the latter is in the way of connecting MoMA to the incoming condo designed by Jean Nouvel.  AFAM has drawn mixed reviews (“useless” – Jerry Saltz; “majestic” -Paul Goldberger), but nobody can doubt the wastefulness of demolishing a building erected just over a decade ago.

The second is that the expansion, envisioned by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, will have too much glass.  Critics are right to object to glass exhibition walls, because paintings can’t hang on glass – though sculptures might thrive.  But “glass” here is metaphorical, too.  The expansion sounds as if it will sacrifice intimacy and focused study, and instead invite in people-watching, distraction, and relational acrobatics.

IMAGE: Diller Scofidio + Renfro

The unspoken problem is that MoMA looks like a bully, or even a cannibal.  It condemned the Folk Art Museum to death after buying its building (or bailing it out?) in 2011.  And now the avant-garde and pedagogical DS+R look like its pinheaded enablers: Kissinger to Nixon, Smithers to Burns. They requested six months to review the salvability of the FAM, but determined that it had to go.  Martin Filler disagrees, supporting his position with a forensic study of photos: “The top floor of the Folk Art and MoMA buildings line up almost exactly, and any incongruities on other levels could have been easily corrected by slight inclines.”  Justin Davidson, more physiologically, sees it MoMA’s way: “The connective tissue between one structure and the next would have created disfiguring scars, the mechanical apparatus on top would have occluded the lovely skylights, and the idiosyncratic staircase would have to have been amputated in any case.”

IMAGE: Giles Ashford and NYRB

I join the disappointed appeal that DS+R, with MoMA, could have tried harder.  If they can’t wind a new program through that building, then they look unimaginative.  (Filler even proposes housing the Taliesin/Frank Lloyd Wright archive there.)  But there’s no evidence for claiming that  DS+R is a) negligent or b) abusive.  And anyway, when it comes to patching together buildings, isn’t it possible that these practitioners might exceed in technical scrutiny the critics outside?

Jerry Saltz, our most effective critic, frets about tearing down the walls to the Sculpture Garden.  Doing so will ruin that sanctuary.  Martin Filler predicts “a tourist mob scene indistinguishable from Times Square.”  But St. Patrick’s Cathedral, with free entry and about the same frequency of visitors, seems okay. Sure, it is bigger, but there are more Catholics, too.  Saltz also worries that the new design will “create havoc” on West 53rd Street.  “People carrying synthetic coffee drinks will stand there gawking at people who are trying to focus on the art inside this box.”  (This, you call havoc?)  But will performances in the Gray Box and Art Bay (“glass squash courts” – Saltz (ha!)) really be more compelling to watch than one’s own Instagram feed?  And how about that Art Bay?

+”The “Art Bay” is a triple height, multipurpose gallery with an operable glass wall that opens to the street.”


+”Fitted out with a technical ceiling and a floor lift that can subdivide the space into two levels, the Art Bay can be used for exhibitions and performances, as well as spontaneous events, all free to the public.”

-Floor lift?  That sounds really cool!

IMAGE: Diller Scofidio + Renfro

What doesn’t sound cool is the possibility that MoMA’s new performance spaces will house spectacles – staring contests, rain rooms, timed entries – to draw bigger and bigger crowds.  After all, MoMA’s attendance still lags behind its NYC siblings, such as the Met, with its crowds of six million, while the Whitney has fish in a barrel over at the High Line.  If putting Tilda Swinton in a glass box succeeded in winning hearts and minds, then bigger glass boxes seem expedient.  But What’s in the Box?  “It’s all the same flimflam: flexible spaces to accommodate to-be-named programming, the logic of real estate developers hiding behind the magical thinking of those who claim cultural foresight,” writes Michael Kimmelman.


I’m not an expert, but because the plans I’ve seen are sketchy, I’m saving my scorn for definitive plans, or even for the actual site experience itself.  DS+R needs to convince MoMA lovers that its design will alleviate congestion while adding viable exhibition space.  MoMA needs to convince us that it will fill its new squash courts with rigorous, inspiring activity.

Whether the new site will justify the wasteful destruction of the AFAM building is a good question.  A better question is why we trust the people behind the Taniguchi transformation with yet another transformation.  The Taniguchi reconstruction cost almost a billion dollars and its failures were immediately evident: not enough space for the art.  “All bemoan MoMA’s lack of space for the pre-1980 permanent collection,” says Jerry Saltz, who has been right about this since the Taniguchi overhaul.  (The new expansion doesn’t have a budget.)  And now MoMA is chronically crowded.  Who let that happen?

And why do they get another shot?

Flickering and Constant

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

T.M. Davy’s second solo exhibition at Eleven Rivington, Candela, continues a series of oil paintings scaled and composed for intimacy.  Smaller than letters written home, the paintings seize upon the candlelight that has illuminated Davy’s recent portraits of friends and family members.  T.M.’s hard, gem-like flame yields haunting visitations, sensual textures, molten contrasts, and coruscating color chords that shatter the monochrome fantasy.  This candle flame simulates the photosensitive ocular interface that orients the individual to others, and it is the unifying entry point among the series.

TM Davy, "Candela (Dad's Painting)," 2013

Candela includes portraits of artist friends, such as Paul Mpagi Sepuya and Scott Hug, and a painting of a work on paper by Melissa Brown.  They also include meaningful surfaces, such as the polished sheen of an acoustic guitar, a backdrop of one of his father’s seascape paintings, and a glass that shimmers in fractal subdivision, as irrefutable as Uccello’s chalice.  Finally, T.M.’s index brings us evocative materials, such as lace given to him by a great aunt, and the orchids, oxalis, and cactus plants that populate his Brooklyn loft.  Contemplating this imagery, a viewer might ponder about cohabitation, family, friendship, origins, and heritage – the concentric layers of the self, expanded.

TM Davy, "Candela (Man with Pipe)," 2013

For example, one special subject appears several times in Candela.  This is Liam, Davy’s husband of two years and mate of more than a decade.  In one of these paintings, Liam looks back at the viewer.  If two souls become one in marriage, then by the rules of psychological catoptrics, Liam is looking back at himself.  But one eye is occluded by the candle.  Is this painting about the eye that unifies the couple?  Or is one eye reserved for autonomy, for the inner layers of the person yet to be discovered?  Meanwhile, the couple’s non-human domestic companion, a housecat named Wyeth, cranes her neck outward; the tufts of her mane bloom like an Elizabethan ruff.  It’s a dignifying meditation on a friend, more than a portrait of a pet.  Does this inclusive embrace extend to the plants, which share the artist’s air?  And the textiles he paints?  Why not, if their fabrics convey the memories of the people whose hands have smoothed them?

TM Davy, "Candela (Wyeth)," 2013



TM Davy, "Candela (Honey's Lace)," 2013

Of textiles, Davy devotes one linen to a gray seascape painted by his father, a well-established mural painter whose tutelage brought T.M. to the present.  Here, T.M. literally depicts “his background,” whereby his father’s output includes landscape paintings and an exceptionally gifted son.

Finally, there are the harmonious “values” that might organize the thoughts of the people woven through T.M. Davy.  First, the glass goblet, like a compound spectroscope, refracts a single candle into its twinkling ROYGBIV array, a spectrum that brings painters under the same tent as cosmologists.  Likewise, the guitar strings embody the Newtonian color spectrum, approximately, and thereby summon Walter Pater’s proposal that “All art constantly aspires to the condition of music.”  Or there’s the wisdom that the painter (and violinist) Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres imparted to his students:

“If I could make musicians of you all, you would thereby profit as painters.  Everything in nature is harmony: a little too much, or else too little, disturbs the scale and makes a false note.  One must reach the point of singing true with the pencil or with brush quite as much as with the voice; rightness of forms is like rightness of sounds.”

TM Davy, "Candela (Blue-Grey Glass)," 2013

In other words, Candela offers the possibility that color alchemy or chord intuition attunes an individual to nature, including familial and social bonds.  Or maybe it emphasizes ways the elemental forces of color and music span generations, just like language and agriculture.  -But is one guitar string missing? Why that one?  Is this missing link a lapse, or is it a promise?

TM Davy, "Candela (Guitar)," 2013

UPDATE: T.M. Davy is also in the group show, “Totally Gay for Sports,” curated by Paul Brainard, at The Lodge Gallery, and he’ll host a book signing at Eleven Rivington on Sunday, January 5th, 5-7pm.  For a profile of T.M. Davy, read this: