Art Review

No Other Appetite - Grolier Club, NYC

plathhughes.jpgTed Hughes and Sylvia Plath belonged to the last generation of rock star poets. The story of their disastrous marriage is one of our great popular romances. But that story has been told so often, and in so many ways, that it’s hard to approach the truth. The most popular version – that Hughes was a sexist brute who drove his brilliant wife to suicide – is simplistic, but it’s supported by some of the evidence. Other versions have tried to explain Plath in different terms, but they’ve also been a tricky mix of fact and slant. The Grolier Club’s public exhibition, “No Other Appetite,” is a collage biography of the legend. It presents the poets’ lives through found texts: letters, diary entries, manuscripts, and tellingly underlined books. It’s surprisingly intimate, and it’s as close as you can get to a completely impartial joint biography of Plath and Hughes. Read more »

The Triumph of Painting - Saatchi Art Gallery, London

AOehlen.jpgBack in 1999 when Guiliani was still mayor and not yet a national hero, a show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art entitled “Sensation” (made up of works from the Saatchi collection in London) blew the roof off America’s lingering cultural Puritanism. All kinds of unartsy folks got their knickers twisted over a work of art that used elephant dung in depicting the Virgin Mary. That the artist was of African origin, that elephant dung might have had ritualistic significance in his culture, and that he used it in a whole series of works, made no difference to those who would censor art under the twin banners of decency and reverence.

The culture wars have since taken a back seat to greater evils (the invasion of Iraq, torturing prisoners of war, etc.), but since I found myself in London visiting family recently relocated there, I thought I’d drop in on the Saatchi Gallery to check it out. Adding to its attraction, my Irreverent Guide to London informed me that this was the place to see “the young Turks of the British art scene,” which turned out not to be the case. Read more »

Philip-Lorca diCorcia: Lucky 13 - PaceWildenstein, NYC

pace.jpgPhilip-Lorca diCorcia’s “Lucky 13” is a collection of thirteen full-body portraits. His subjects are pole dancers at work. Some people will be dismayed by his choice to shoot these women. Others will be disappointed by his impartial eye, which doesn’t glamorize or vilify them. As for me, I was floored.

It’s become trendy to talk about the “mainstreaming” of the sex industry. However, most images of sex work tend to be informed by one of two ideologies. According to the first, sex work is de facto awful and everyone who does it is a victim, or pure evil. According to the second, sex work is endless fun, and everyone who claims to have been hurt or exploited by the industry is a liar, and pure evil. “Lucky 13” belongs to neither camp. The women in diCorcia’s portraits don’t look tragic, nor do they look like they’re having the time of their lives. They look like women at work. Read more »

Russia! - Guggenheim Art Museum, NYC

russiawebimage.jpgThe Guggenheim's "Russia!" exhibit is a sprawling, ambitious collection of Russian art, gathered from seven centuries of history. The curators have arranged the art chronologically, which gives the collection great momentum, coherence, and intensity. There's a unique perspective to be gained by watching a nation's history unfold through its art. If art history is the record of ideas, approaches, and subjects that have been considered beautiful or interesting, then this chronologically arranged procession of images represents the flow of consciousness and self-consciousness in the mind of the nation. It's like taking a walk through Russia's brain. The Guggenheim's spiral-shell design is perfect for this exhibit; the visitor circles through the centuries, finally emerging into the present. Read more »

Justine Reyes: My Uncle Vinny - Invisible Gallery, NYC

vinny.jpgThe first thing to know about Uncle Vinny is that he has a lot of face – big, heaping gobs of it. He’s not a pretty man, but in a tradition of portraiture that values psychological insight over surface appeal, he’s the perfect model. His features seem to testify to a lifetime of use and abuse. The rich, crinkling folds of flesh under his chin, his bloodshot eyes, his stubble – these things challenge you to look, and keep looking, in the hopes that you can divine the personality that drove
him through so much life.

In her exhibit My Uncle Vinny, Justine Reyes has chosen to photograph her relative along with the objects that he has collected over the course of his life. Her style owes a lot to Richard Avedon – her subjects are presented head-on, against an austere white background – and something to Catholic pop art, in which the objects that surround a saint’s image are supposed to testify to his life and virtues. Read more »

Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists

theirown.gifEven before multiculturalism first stormed the ivory towers of academia in the mid-1980s, the tendency towards “revising” or rethinking American history and culture to include the accomplishments of both women and racial minorities had been in evidence. Hence, it may seem surprising -- or even astonishing -- that our most recent era of Political Correctness failed to produce any comprehensive, scholarly study of African-American women’s artwork. Indeed, such a study has only emerged this year as a result of art historian Lisa E. Farrington’s tireless commitment to produce this extensive look at black women’s artistic contributions from slavery to the present.

In many ways, Creating Their Own Image: The History of African-American Women Artists attempts to answer one basic question: In a society in which the vast majority of black women are objectified, hyper-sexualized, and marginalized (socially, politically, and economically), what does black women’s art actually look like? Read more »

Syndicate content