Archive for March, 2014

Lobby Art

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Auction houses have hired well-connected lobbyists to prevent artists from receiving royalties when their work sells at auction, according to the New York Times.

Of course, artists deserve royalties when their work sells.  Art objects are not commodities, in the conventional sense.

Hilary Harkness, "Mother Lode," 2006 - (depicts a Christies auction of Rockettes and their gestation)


Then again: “The auction houses worry that the proposed royalty bill would encourage more sellers to abandon public auctions for private deals.” -This seems to be a valid concern, because private deals in the secondary market can be notoriously secretive.  Art professionals deserve a public record of secondary market sales, for which auction records suffice.  Moreover, auctions are better for the public because major sales usually include a public or semi-public preview of the art for sale, before it disappears into private hands.  And ultimately, if auction houses can bring a seller a better profit, which is likely, then sellers will stick to the auction houses.

But then: “‘The Internet Association does not support the American Royalties Too Act,’ said the group’s president and chief executive, Michael Beckerman, arguing it will constrict the free market.” -Actually, there is no such thing as a free market. That is just a myth that greedy people invoke when they don’t want to play by rules.  In fact, the auction houses already defy this so-called free market.  Here is an example: “Christie’s and Sotheby’s have had trouble widening their profit margins in recent years, partly because of incentives they’ve given to big-ticket sellers to win their business.”

The most crass argument: “Sotheby’s and Christie’s have also argued that royalties would benefit only the wealthiest artists and estates, because they are the ones most frequently sold in the secondary market.” -But royalties would allow these wealthy artists to invest in studio assistants, archivists, production specialists, web designers, and more.

Action Figures

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Dan McCarthy’s  fifth solo show at Anton Kern Gallery features deceptively brushy new paintings and drawings, and more than thirty Facepots – McCarthy’s ceramic vessels pegged with facial features.

Dan McCarthy at Anton Kern Gallery (Image: Anton Kern Gallery)

These images look simple and iconic, yet highly expressive.  The titles derive from rock album titles, while McCarthy’s subject matter seems to focus on a universalized summer of love, where individuals dance and revel, play guitar, skate, and commingle with birds – most of this while naked.  Gender is evident through bare breasts and phallic guitars, but it feels like a loose suggestion. Everyone in the paintings seems gleeful, perhaps aglow with sexual liberation.  That’s less true in the drawings, where the aforementioned birds seem too close for comfort.

Through an innovative process, McCarthy transfers these images, like monoprints, from a painted to canvas to another one, which is slathered with layers of marbleized gesso.  His figures are luminous with Easter-egg hues that could convey emotional states, colored festival lighting, or the magic hour around sunset.  Either way, the colors transplant their bearers to a higher order, where origin and language lose priority to immediacy and joie de vivre.

Dan McCarthy, "Peach Tree," 2013 (l) and "Partridge Family," 2013 (r) (Images: Anton Kern Gallery)

That is not to say that they are beautiful by conventional standards of appearance.  McCarthy does not tantalize us with titillating curves, attenuated midriffs, and defined muscles, which we might anticipate when pondering a Rite of Spring or utopian summer festival.  Then again, ecstatic liberty and play are more beautiful features than chiseled abs, aren’t they?

But what utopia is not engineered?  The chromatic, dancing figures remind me of the Crakers, the genetically engineered post-humans of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.  Here is how Crakers mate:

“There’ll be the standard quintuplet, four men and the woman in heat.  Her condition will be obvious to all from the bright-blue colour of her buttocks and abdomen – a trick of variable pigmentation filched from the baboons with a contribution from the expandable chromosphores of the octopus. … Courtship begins at the first whiff, the first faint blush of azure, with the males presenting flowers to the females – just as male penguins present round stones, said Crake, or as the male silverfish presents a sperm packet.  At the same time they indulge in musical outbursts, like songbirds. Their penises turn bright blue to match the blue abdomens of the females, and they do a sort of blue-dick dance number, erect members waving to and fro in unison, in time to the foot movements and the singing: a feature suggested to Crake by the sexual semaphoring of crabs. From amongst the floral tributes the female chooses four flowers, and the sexual ardour of the unsuccessful candidates dissipates immediately, with no hard feelings left.  Then, when the blue of her abdomen has reached its deepest shade, the female and her quartet find a secluded spot and go at it until the woman becomes pregnant and her blue colouring fades.  And that is that.”  

Like the gift round stones above, the glossy Facepots supplement the action.  They smile mutely; they are Mr.-Potato-Head caryatids, or graven sock-puppet ancestral busts.  The bright colors and bite-size scale might remind a viewer of candy, peppers, and fruit while studying the eyes, noses, and mouths of these ceramic faces.

"Facepots" by Dan McCarthy (Images: Anton Kern Gallery)

Dan McCarthy at Anton Kern Gallery (Image: Anton Kern Gallery)

 The Facepots series also serves as a bridge to McCarthy’s drawings in the back (maybe an Anton Kern Gallery tradition).  Here, the birds seem ready, or at least capable, to menace the splotchy faces, pecking at the eyes and mouths.  One blue bird either kisses or pecks at the cheek of a pompadoured face with a Joker smile.  Similarly ambiguous rictus-to-rictus contact occurs between a crying face and a blue hummingbird.  Finally, a canary seems to scale the disheveled face of a redhead with blue tongue sticking out, as if that head is turned on its side.  Who trusts who more?







American Art, American Dream

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Keith Mayerson has gained international recognition for his paintings and comics. This month, he reaches a career milestone, with an extraordinary painting installation at the Whitney Biennial that coincides with a solo exhibition at Derek Eller Gallery. Keith was kind enough to converse with me about painting, teaching, and how to “get personal” in art practice, in all the best ways.

Keith Mayerson at the Whitney Biennial 2014 (Image: Derek Eller Gallery)

MB: The works you exhibit in the Whitney Biennial represent each series of paintings you exhibited in galleries throughout the last twenty years, such as Hamlet 1999 and Good Leaders, Endangered Species.  But of course, each painting is part of a whole.  How did you choose what to include and exclude?

KM: I had ideas for one-painting shows, three-painting shows, etc., but also for a large cosmology to be entitled My American Dream.   As you know, Michael, I have been teaching at SVA for over sixteen years in their Cartooning and Illustration Dept., and am their “Cartooning Coordinator”, and feel in some ways an avant garde cartoonist. Even though I’ve published a graphic novel with the writer Dennis Cooper long ago in 1986 – and then again more recently, it was republished by Harper Perennial – the bulk of my artistic output is as an artist who makes nonlinear narrative installations of paintings and drawings that hopefully stand on their own for form and content, but also, when juxtaposed purposefully against other images, do tell a larger story.

My American Dream was born out of mostly the last four years of having painted from images I take myself of my own life of my own family and world (loving John and Yoko, post-Beatles, when they wrote and sang about their own lives and it was powerful and emotional enough to relate to others), after a long (I’ve been exhibiting for twenty years now!) career of appropriation (The Beatles, I feel, were the first post-modern band in that they would speak through avatars: they weren’t the Beatles, they were “Sgt. Pepper”; it wasn’t they who were lonely, it was “Eleanor Rigby!”) and abstraction (music without the lyrics, but for me also harnessing emotion and the unconscious in iconic form).

But as I got older, I realized that much of my work, mostly in the last decade, had a lot to do with the theme of My American Dream, and luckily, Stuart Comer, who also wanted to mix old and new, knew that I had success in the past with my salon-style installations, and allowed me to go for it with this super salon. He curated from a large cosmology of works I presented, than I edited from that and so on. Stuart had some terrific ideas for works that were outside the box of the American-only parameters I had been initially thinking of, and I also added some suggestions.   In the end, as soon as I found out how much space I had, I worked on the layout, thinking about the narrative and visual flow, the relationships between the works, and the way the viewer might navigate the works and come to their own conclusions of what ultimately of what My American Dream could mean for the Twenty-first century.

Keith Mayerson, "Husbands (Andrew and I)", 2012

MB: According to the Whitney, these paintings unveil a narrative that “focuses simultaneously on subjects drawn from cultural history and the civil rights struggle and from Mayerson’s own life.”  What do these cultural figures mean to you?  How does your life relate to civil rights struggle?

KM: As a gay man, who is married to my partner of over 22 years, I see that the civil rights movement has helped to forge the place where we are now. While still a struggle, it’s a place where all people can find their agency and live with the freedom to be respected and live how we wish and to create art commenting on our nation and being as individuals within our democracy to make it an even better place.

MB: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” said Martin Luther King, Jr.  When I look at these paintings, I sense a story of progress.  Are you (or your paintings) optimistic?

KM: Definitely. As I get older, I realize that, in the meditation of painting, I want to create images that give me optimism and hope.   During the contentious Bush years, when many of these works were created, rather than “Bush is bad” works I could have done, I rather wanted to make works that provided positive questions and contemplations of where we could go based on great people, scenes, and things that inspired our country to be great for me the artist, but also for my viewers, to help inspire where we can go as a country and peoples.

MB: Despite your attention to narrative, a concentric-circle abstract painting beams like a sun among your imagery in the Biennial.  Is this abstract painting a departure from narrative?

KM: Some works from my first 10 years as an exhibiting artist also made it into the mix, which the Iconscapes, as I call them, are a part of.   As a son of a psychoanalyst, I have a penchant for the unconscious, and want my unconscious, which spills out in my brush along with my conscious hand whilst painting, to appear.

Keith Mayerson, "The Dalai Lama Teaching the Diamond Cutter Sutra and Seventy Verses on Emptiness at Radio City Music Hall Oct 14, 2007", 2008

KM (continued): These Iconscapes (which I still create) are meant to essentialize these emotions and, like a dream, iconic images and figures occur; and here, juxtaposed with the representational imagery, [the Iconscapes] provide emotive breaks, like musical interludes between lyrics in a song or opera, of what the narrative might be about, and also show how the representational works may break into abstraction in micromanaged moments, and how the abstract images might harness figurative elements…   The large circle Iconscape here is placed above the painting of the Dalai Lama at Radio City Music Hall, as if the lens flares in that painting (along with the mandala-like architecture of Radio City itself), could morph into a form of pulsating light and feeling.

MB: Your current solo exhibition at Derek Eller Gallery is called My American Dream (prologue) and functions as a “first act” for the larger narrative in the Whitney Biennial.  However, most of the historical figures you’ve painted did live and die before you.  Do you consider them to be ancestral figures, at least “in spirit” or outlook?

Keith Mayerson, "Superman", 2014

KM: Pictures of Superman (in the Eller show, a new work derived from the first Fleischer Brothers version of the iconic hero to coincide with the image in the Whitney I painted over a decade ago from the the first Superman comic strip by Siegel and Schuster), Kermit, Tintin, and more are iconic characters that, like Scott McCloud discusses in his his great book, Understanding Comics, we “suture into” while reading and watching them, having them become our avatars like in a RPG video game as we go on their journey.

Lincoln, Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are also for me icons that really lived that we can also suture into and relate to. For me, it’s while painting, to give me hope and inspiration, but also for the viewers, to remind them that what they stood and struggled for is still all-important.   -Like in a comic, when the viewer is participant in the creation of the ultimate content of the work when they, in an act McCloud deems “closure”, complete the action of one panel to the next in their mind to go on the journey along with the iconic avatars of a comic story, I hope that the viewer, like myself, can relate to these important figures and scenes that helped to forge the great America we currently live on thanks in part to some of these icons, and to inspire people to continue the struggle to make our country a better place for truth, freedom, justice and the American way….

It Depends

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

The fifth edition of Independent features 50 galleries from 14 countries, which already makes for greater international diversity than The Armory Show.  It’s also a more fluid and relaxed design than the Armory’s rigid booths.  Independent’s exhibitors unroll themselves among angled dividing walls, so the boundaries feel arbitrary and impressionistic.  There’s daylight in this former DIA home, and no hot lamps to make for the Armory’s panopticon anxiety.  It’s no wonder that Creative Advisor Matthew Higgs has called the site “among the most iconic and art-friendly spaces anywhere.”


Independent is decidedly separate from the other concurrent fairs and arguably a better use of your time than The Armory Show.  There’s a greater density of relevant-feeling art at Independent, but Armory includes panel discussions and lectures, along with a greater range of modern and contemporary work.  So which ticket is more “worth it?”  There’s a debate to be had, but for now, let’s look at some art…

Photo and sculpture by Alexandre Singh at Sprüth Magers
Armin Boehm at Meyer Riegger

As in recent versions of the Independent, there’s an interesting strain of comics-derived art.  It involves either drawn or appropriated comic images, then often reapplies them with darker or ironic results.  From the slightly more “outsider” end of the continuum is William Crawford, whose 900 erotic drawings, with impressive perspective and architectural drafting, and adult film narrative (such as housewife-on-plumber action) were discovered in an Oakland home and may have been created in a prison, according to Galerie Susanne Zander.  More insider is Julia Wachtel, represented here by a Miley Cyrus/cartoon mash-up.  Dan Graham and Antoine Catala present a CGI love triangle involving a dolphin, presumably autobiographical.  😉

William Crawford at Galerie Susanne Zander

Julia Wachtel at Elizabeth Dee

Dan Graham and Antoine Catala
Danny McDonald at House of Gaga

Reconstituted, recycled, and appropriated images pop up in works by Leo Gabin, Eloise Hawser, Josh Kolbo, Eva Kotatkova, John Stezaker, and Creative Growth artist John Hiltunen.

Leo Gabin at Peres Projects
Eloise Hawser at Balice Hertling
Eva Kotatkova tabletop fold-out photos at Meyer Riegger
Josh Kolbo at Société

John Stezaker at The Approach


Special adventures in materials are evident in a gunpowder abstraction by Tomás Espina, oxidized abstraction by Etienne Chambaud, and resin realism by Andras Ursuta.  Chambaud’s oxidized paintings are made from copper powder paint splashed with wild animal urine from jars; no paws or hooves touch the canvas.  Andras Ursuta presents blocks of resin embedded with resin-cast eggs, peas, and chicken legs – entirely inedible.

Etienne Chambaud at Labor
Adriana Bustos (l) and Tomas Espina (r) at Ignacio Liprandi
Andras Ursuta at Ramiken Crucible

Finally, there’s a semaphoric, geometric current encompassing David Diao, Paul Lee, and Richard Nonas.

David Diao at Office Baroque
Richard Nonas at McCaffrey Fine Art
Paul Lee at Maccarone

Other works that stood out to me were the cheeky text paintings by Morag Keil and the Matthew Brannon book in a jaunty booth with “mise en scene” designed by his wife, Michelle Elzay, and featuring an elegantly curved table by Jacques Jarrige. I liked the surreal works by Ruth Nemet and Enrico David, an Angela Davis poster by the politically active and St. Petersburg-based collective Chto Delat?, and Mark Dion’s squirrel.  Artist’s Space had tempting boxed portfolio editions available, including Carol Bove, Joan Jonas, Lawrence Weiner, Cory Arcangel, Stewart Uoo, and more.

Morag Keil at Real Fine Arts

Limited Edition prints at Artists Space

Three Star Books, featuring Matthew Brannon and John Armleder

Matthew Brannon's limited edition book at Three Star Books
John Armleder and Matthew Brannon works at Three Star Books
It says, "Knowledge is Power": A "Learning Poster" by Chto Delat? at KOW
Mark Dion at Galerie Nagel Draxler
Creative Growth artist John Hiltunen at White Columns
Creative Growth artist John Hiltunen at White Columns
Martina Kubelk at Galerie Susanne Zander
Glib Reena Spaulings postcards of art dealers at Campoli Presti
Reena Spaulings postcards of art dealers at Campoli Presti
Frances Stark photo of her boyfriend at Artists Space


And everything at Broadway 1602 looked great, with a special focus on 1960s and 1980s works by Evelyne Axell, Sylvia Palacios Whitman, Rosemarie Castoro, Experiments in Art and Technology Archive, along with new paintings and a sculpture by Paul P., who also appears in the Whitney Biennial.

Rosemarie Castoro at Broadway 1602
Sylvia Palacios Whitman (l) and Evelyne Axell (r) at Broadway 1602
Experiments in Art and Technology Archive (Leon Harman and Ken Knowlton) at Broadway 1602
Paul P. at Broadway 1602

Of course, the best photo on view is Judy Linn’s portrait of the late Hudson, founder of Feature, Inc., to whom this Independent is lovingly dedicated.

Portrait of Hudson by Judy Linn

Back for More

Friday, March 7th, 2014

If you have a solution to the seemingly deterrent 40-dollar admission fee, the sixteenth edition of the Armory Show offers 205 galleries from 29 countries, including shows-within-a-show.  “Armory Presents,” the renewed version of the former “Solo Projects,” highlights solo- or duo-artist booths by emerging galleries.  It looks excellent and even includes an OPEC gallery!  “Armory Focus” is the red-labeled section (seriously!  Red China) curated by Philip Tinari that features 17 galleries from our great Eastern rival Republic, many of which will be exhibiting outside of Asia for the first time.

From the highlight reel, here are some memorable works at Pier 94, the contemporary wing of the fair.

A few glimpses of power (authority), power (energy), and technology are evident, especially in an infrastructure-in-drag landscape by David Lachapelle, constructed from drinking straws, hair curlers, water jugs, and cardboard – followed by an ancestral gas-guzzler by John Wesley and a miniature control room by Roxy Paine:

Daniel Rich at Peter Blum Gallery


Detail, David Lachapelle, "Land Scape Castle Rock," 2013 at Galerie Daniel Templon
John Wesley at Fredericks & Freiser
Roxy Paine, "Maquette of Control Room Diorama," 2013 at Kavi Gupta Gallery
Joseph Kosuth at Sean Kelly

Here is a heartbreaking work by Colombian artist Miguel Angel Rojas at Houston’s Sicardi Gallery, which features a former Colombian soldier who lost part of his leg in a battle with FARC guerillas. Rojas asked the soldier to pose as “David;” the soldier didn’t know the work. Profits from sale of this work have supported the soldier and his family, where they own a farm in Colombia. Meanwhile, art insiders can pose for a full-body 3-D scan portrait by Karin Sander.

Miguel Angel Rojas at Sicardi Gallery
Karin Sander at Galerie Nachtst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwalder

Whitney Biennial co-curator Michelle Grabner has tons of work at James Cohan Gallery and women artists are a vital force in this fair.

Whitney Biennial curator Michelle Grabner, "Oyster #5" at James Cohan Gallery
Shingle rhymes with Stingel: Marianne Vitale, "Shingle Painting 7," 2013, at Zach Feuer
Nicole Eisenman, mostly 90s paintings, at Koenig & Clinton
Anoka Faruqee at Koenig & Clinton
Jenny Holzer enamel signs from 1981 at Spruth Magers

Some hotspots at Armory Presents include Hayal Pozanti’s pop-Stuart Davis abstract paintings, accompanied by animated gifs on iPads, some rigid retro-design abstraction by Thomas Raat, and documentation of urban growth in Saudi Arabia by Ahmad Mater.

Best gifs in show: Hayal Pozanti at Jessica Silverman

Saudi artist Ahmad Mater (also a doctor in real-life) at Athr Gallery, Jeddah

Saudi artist Ahmad Mater (also a doctor in real-life) at Athr Gallery, Jeddah
Thomas Raat at BolteLang, Zurich

William Powhida keeps subjects in perspective, while Charlie White flattens subjects against a grid.

Detail, William Powhida at Postmasters
Charlie White at Loock Gallery

Some vintage works snap us out of shiny bijoux worship.

David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (Man with Rifle)," 1983 at P.P.O.W.
Betye Saar, "Wizard," 1972, at Roberts and TIlton

Matthew Hale’s effusive collages also boast this forced-perspective frame.

Matthew Hale, "Page 9 of Miriam's Body," 2013 at Ratio 3

Sean Landers’ paintings look nicer every time I see them, especially with this plaid squirrel writing equations; hopefully, he will keep a distance from Kati Heck’s cat.

Super Sean Landers, "Golden Section," 2013 at Galerie Rodolphe Janssen
Super Sean Landers, "Golden Section," 2013 at Galerie Rodolphe Janssen
Kati Heck, "Deal!," 2014 at Tim Van Laere Gallery

Projects in “Armory Focus: China” feature a broken Roomba and retina-bending op art.

Nadim Abbas at Gallery EXIT, Hong Kong
Li Shurui at Aike Dellarco, Shanghai

After combing this show, you’ll more than satiated, ready to exit with Derrick Adams, retire to Urs Fischer’s bed, go thrash some public art, perhaps flee to the wild unknown captured in Robert Longo’s Burning Man tableaux, or move permanently to Bali, like Ashley Bickerton did.

Derrick Adams, "Welcome Back," 2014 at Tilton Gallery
Urs Fischer from 1997 at Eva Presenhuber
Still from Raphael Zarka, "Riding Modern Art," 2005 at Michael Rein
Robert Longo, "Burning Man," 2013 at Thaddaeus Ropac
King Ashley Bickerton at Lehmann Maupin