Rocky the artist takes a punch

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art News, New York art world in the 1990s

Just for fun, I went looking through my collection of old art articles from the 1980s and 1990s, and came across a piece on celebrities who dabbled in making art, from a magazine called “The Face,” issue #31, from April 1991. The title of the article was “A Load of Pollocks?” and featured Sylvester Stallone, below left, with one of his paintings, below right.

Sylvester Stallone and one of his paintings

The tone of the article was a bit harsh, with this question: “How gifted are these personalities and to what extent do they take advantage of the fame they already have?” This question was directed at Stallone, as well as writer William Burroughs, singer David Bowie, director David Lynch, and even Prince Charles, all of whom did some painting at one time or another.

It may be a little hard to see from this reproduction, but Stallone’s painting above right has the words “Tell the story of man vs. myth” along the top side of an abstract clock, with the words “Power” and “Sacred Place” along the bottom side. British art critic Sarah Kent was asked to assess this art work, and said: “This is one of the crassest images I have ever seen. It’s so silly and full of pretension.” Art publisher Mike Von Joel said, “It’s the sort of painting produced by somebody who’s incredibly and sincerely interested in art, but who falls foul of the concept that anyone can do it.”

Pow! Take that, Rocky! But this harsh criticism in 1991 certainly didn’t stop Stallone from continuing to pursue an art career, with an art museum show in Nice, France, as recently as 2015. The show was a retrospective of the actor’s works painted between 1975 and 2015. I guess Rocky has gone the distance, a full “12 rounds” in his desire to be taken seriously as an artist. Whether he is taken seriously as an artist by anyone even now is another question, but I thought it was fun to see him in this picture from 26 years ago.

Making the frame as interesting as the art: Pierre Legrain

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art History, Artist Spotlight, Products we'd like to see

I saw this piece by Francis Picabia, titled “Midi (Promenade des Anglais)” at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven. One of the things that grabbed my attention was the unusual frame; I have no idea what functional purpose – if any – the angled slats on the sides serve, but I wanted to try to learn more about it. What I learned was that the frame was not made by Picabia, but rather by Pierre Legrain, a French decorator, bookbinder, illustrator and cabinet maker … at least that’s the Wikipedia definition, it would seem he was a frame-maker and designer as well.

frame for a Picabia painting made by Pierre Legrain

Legrain made a number of frames for Picabia around this time – this one in particular is made out of snakeskin! Legrain also collaborated with André Masson, making the frame for his piece titled “Italian Postcard,” below left. I love this one, it’s like a cubist frame for a cubist painting – the sense of space and continuity is disrupted in both the art and the frame. The frame below right is also by Pierre Legrain, although what the original intended art work was is presently unknown. But it’s still pretty unusual in that it’s not really a “frame” in the traditional sense at all, it’s more of a wall mount, but with the decorative elements of the wood braces.

frames for art designed by Pierre Legrain

At any rate, Legrain looks like a pretty interesting designer in his other areas of expertise as well, we’ll have to pick this subject again soon and look at some of his other work.

Large scale sculpture by Liao Yibai

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art gallery exhibitions, Artist Spotlight, Sculpture

I recently posted something about an outrageously expensive spec home and a stainless steel sculpture of an oversized Leica camera that came with the house. The sculpture is by artist Liao Yibai, and I had also mentioned seeing Yibai’s work years ago at Mike Weiss Gallery. I was just going through some old pictures, and happened upon my original photos from 2010, which are included below. The exhibition was titled “Real Fake,” and the work was described as follows: “Yibai has collapsed the concepts of “real” and “fake” through mash-ups of luxury labels, the appropriation of real fake brand names, and the creation of his own luxury brands. Yibai with wit and originality questions China’s rags-to-riches story of material obsession through his exquisitely detailed, hand-welded stainless steel sculptures.”

Below left is “Hiphone,” 2010, measuring 36 5/8 x 19 5/8 x 8 inches. Below right is “Cinderella High Heel,” also from 2010, measuring 32 5/8 x 33 1/2 x 26 1/2 inches.

large scale stainless steel sculptures by Liao Yibai

New work by Tam Van Tran opens today

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art gallery exhibitions, Artist Spotlight

I was pleased to see an e-mail come in announcing an opening tonight of new work by Tam Van Tran at Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe. I hadn’t seen any shows by this artist since we last covered his 2013 exhibition in The Gallery Insider, so I’m glad to have the opportunity to see some new work. Below is an installation view of the new show as provided by the gallery. It opens tonight and runs through March 18th, so I’ll have to make sure to stop in and check it out.

new exhibition of work by Tam Van Tran in 2017

If you saw our Gallery Insider coverage, you’ll know that those earlier works were very textured, with ultra-thin sheets of copper that moved in response to any nearby movement of air. These new works also appear to have a strong sense of texture, as you can see in the two pieces below: at left, Good Governance, 2017, Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches, and at right, Roaming Lions, 2017, Acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches. The gallery press release describes them as “… highly tactile paintings in rich jewel tones that call viewers to see themselves in each. Hazy washes of color and defined geometries churn under raised patterns of tiny dots, each piece becoming both a mirror and a looking glass.” I look forward to seeing them in person, hopefully soon!

new art by Tam Van Tran

“Be Uncool” as a fine art sales pitch

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art gallery exhibitions, Art in Advertising

I saw an unusual ad in the NY Times Magazine: a painting by Alfred S. Mira titled “Greenwich Village, New York,” with the words “Be Uncool” overlaid on the bottom – see below left. It’s an ad for Questroyal Fine Art, an art gallery at 79th and Park in New York. They are suggesting that someone with “the best gadgets, the coolest fashions, and the swiftest cars” needs something to “counter nearly all twenty-first century thought,” and that’s to own some art. They close the ad with this: “It is wise to be uncool. Request our catalogue. We won’t tell anyone.”

Maybe it’s because I’m not running with the crowd the has the coolest fashions and the swiftest cars (although I do have some good gadgets), but since when did art become so “uncool?” Maybe they’re referring to their style of more-traditional art, compared to some of the more-cutting-edge contemporary art? I don’t know … I like some of their art too, so it’s all cool to me. In addition to the original ad with the image by Mira, below left, we have some more art from the gallery’s inventory, starting clockwise from top right with: “Indian Encampment,” by Albert Bierstadt; “July Harbor,” by Henry Martin Gasser; and “View of Brooklyn Bridge” by Jonas Lie. (For some reason the gallery’s website doesn’t list the dates of these works, so that’s why I don’t have them listed here)

examples of 20th Century American Art at Questroyal Art Gallery

1980s art now gone

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Architecture, art archives, New York art world in the 1980s

I haven’t made it over to the Whitney Museum yet for their show on 1980s art, but I was looking through some of my 1980s art articles that I recently rediscovered, and came across this great picture of a pterodactyl mural by David Wojnarowicz that was painted inside an abandoned West Side pier in NYC in 1983.

pterodactyl painting by David Wojnarowicz

Seeing the dilapidated state of this space, I think it helps to have some context of the piers for those who aren’t familiar with the west side of NYC, either in the past or in recent history. The west side piers were built in the early 1900s, and first used as the city’s passenger ship terminal. Later they were the embarkation point for soldiers departing for the battlefields of World Wars I and II; and finally, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the area was primarily used for cargo ships. By the 1970s and 1980s, many of the buildings on the piers were abandoned, and later torn down. Below left is a view of the west side piers in the 1970s, and below right is Pier 54 in 1991, before it was demolished. It was empty buildings like this one below right in which Wojnarowicz and other artists painted their murals. Considering these buildings are now long gone, photographs like the one at top are the only documented remains of the art that was made there.

historical images of west side piers in NYC

Artist Spotlight: Meta Warrick Fuller

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Artist Spotlight, Black History Month, Sculpture

I was recently introduced to the art of Meta Warrick Fuller (1877-1968), and thought it would be interesting to share some highlights of her career and art. She was a multi-talented African-American artist who wrote poetry, painted, and sculpted, and was a highly-accomplished person. As a high school student, she had an art project that was included in The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893; based on that, she won a scholarship to the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. After graduation, she traveled to Paris and within 3 years became a protege of Auguste Rodin. Upon her return to the United States in 1903, she became the first African-American woman to receive a U.S. government commission to create dioramas depicting African-American historical events.

Pictured below, clockwise from top left: a photo of Meta Warrick Fuller; Mother and Child, 1914; Self-portrait, 1915; Silence and Repose, circa 1930; and The Talking Skull, 1939.

sculpture by Meta Warrick Fuller, African American artist

We can barely scratch the surface of Meta Warrick Fuller’s life and work in this brief blog post, but hope that you’ll be intrigued enough to learn more about this important artist of the early 20th Century.

Video Preview of “Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim”

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art Museum exhibitions, Historical Figures in Art, Videos

Opening today at the Guggenheim is Visionaries: Creating a Modern Guggenheim, an exhibition featuring over 170 modern works from the Guggenheim’s collection. More specifically, the exhibition focuses on six pioneering collectors and patrons, including museum founder Solomon R. Guggenheim, German‑born artist Hilla Rebay, artist and curator Katherine S. Dreier, German art dealers Justin K. Thannhauser and Karl Nierendorf, and Guggenheim’s niece, Peggy Guggenheim, who was an avid collector. Their collections came together to form the core holdings of the Guggenheim Museum, and includes works by Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, and Pablo Picasso, among others.

Here is a video preview of the exhibition, narrated by curator Megan Fontanella:

Something smells here … or rather, it’s supposed to, but I don’t smell it

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art gallery exhibitions, Art That Makes You Go "Huh?"

I walked into the Marlborough Chelsea Gallery last week and was a little surprised to find it empty. What you see below is what I saw – nothing. (scroll down for more …)

empty space at Marlborough Chelsea

Then I walked to the rear gallery space (see photo below), and that too was empty, other than this large column in the middle of the room. I was a little confused, so I made my way back to the front desk to find out the status of the show. Granted, I just walked into this gallery as part of my usual rounds, so it’s not like I arrived expecting something specific – I just figured that since they were open, I’d walk in and see the show. I saw a great show of works by Lars Fisk there this past fall, so I started making this a regular stop on my gallery visits.

empty space at Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea

When I reached the front desk, I looked first at the press release, and saw that it’s an exhibition titled Tender, by Mike Bouchet. I read further to see that Tender is “… a new sculpture by Mike Bouchet … occupying the entire 45,000 cubic feet of gallery space, Tender is the synthesized fragrance of US Dollar bills. Although invisible, the sculpture, in fact, fills every molecule of the space.”

I stopped, sniffed around, and didn’t smell anything. So I asked the woman at the front desk if the smell was stronger at different times of the day, or if it only came on at specific times, and she said no, it was on all the time. I sniffed some more, and told her that I didn’t smell anything. She said it was very faint, and if I hadn’t taken a shower, or just had some coffee, or liked to smoke cigarettes, maybe one of those smells was blocking out the smell of money. At that point, I didn’t say anything else, because I had taken a shower, I didn’t have any coffee, and I don’t smoke. Plain and simple, I didn’t smell a thing.

I don’t want to sound too down on it, though – the idea has “currency,” so to speak (forgive me for the pun). I do think that currency has a specific smell, and I do think that it is capable of triggering thoughts and emotions related to money. So I do find the idea somewhat interesting, I just wasn’t able to experience it, because I couldn’t smell the manufactured smell.

I do find it a bit odd though too, that the gallery didn’t have any hints for those not “in the know” as to what this show was about. They must get asked about it every day, all day. Even if you came in and smelled the money, if you didn’t know that’s what the art work was, then you’d probably still be confused by 45,000 cubic feet of empty space.

Oh well, what else can I say? The show is open through February 25th, so if you go and smell the money, let me know in the comments section below.

Wearing a farmers’ market on your head

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Art and Fashion, Art History, Art That Makes You Go "Huh?", Finding visual references

I found these two unusual watercolor illustrations on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Collections” page, and they’re described as “Fantastic Hairdresses with Fruit and Vegetable Motifs.” They’re both by an unknown 18th Century French artist. It’s hard to imagine what these drawings were for, other than fantasy images, since the way they’re depicted suggests an impossible set-up. (scroll down for more …)

18th Century French drawings of women with fruits and vegetables in their hair

While these French watercolors are unusual oddities, they do inspire visual associations with two other artists: Carmen Miranda with her fruit hat (below left), and Giuseppe Arcimboldo and his painting “Summer,” below right.

Carmen Miranda fruit hat and painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo