Tag Archives: abstract art

Lame Adventure 416: “What are we here for?”

On a recent pay-what-you-want Friday evening at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Milton and I were among the first of the small spenders. We each paid five dollars, significantly less than the usual $20 admission fee.

Prized $5 ducts.

Prized $5 ducats.

Milton: What are we here for?

Neither of us had ever visited the Whitney before. I reminded him that it was for the Biennial; an exhibition the Whitney holds every other year showcasing contemporary art produced by lesser known as well as up and coming artists.

This year’s Biennial is the last at the Whitney’s current Madison Avenue at 75th Street location, an iconic building designed by Marcel Breuer.

The Whitney's facade resembling upside down steps.

The Whitney’s facade resembling upside down steps.

Next year, the Whitney will relocate to a much larger space designed by Renzo Piano in the very trendy Meatpacking district in lower Manhattan. After the Whitney moves, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will have exhibits and educational programming in that space. It is comforting to know that one building remains on Manhattan Island that has yet to go luxury co-op.

Three of the Whitney’s five floors are devoted to the Biennial that is on display through May 25th. But the top two floors feature an exhibition called “American Legends: From Calder to O’Keeffe” that runs through October 19th. Possibly due to the proliferation of smart phones attached to every 21st century museumgoer’s mitt, attendees were allowed to snap shots with abandon.

The first paintings we saw when we exited the fifth floor elevator were works by Jasper Johns.

Do I have triple vision?

Jasper Johns. Three Flags. 1958.

We saw exquisite paintings by Edward Hopper.

Edward Hopper. Early Sunday Morning. 1930.

Edward Hopper. Early Sunday Morning. 1930.

When we entered a gallery with flower abstracts, I declared:

Me: This has to be Georgia O’Keeffe, it’s so vaginal!

Georgia O'Keeffe. Music, Pink and Blue No. 2. 1918. (Sure looks like something else to me.)

Georgia O’Keeffe. Music, Pink and Blue No. 2. 1918.

The symbolism in a Jacob Lawrence painting from 1946 called War Series: The Letter made me reflect on how I feel about labeling tile at The Grind.

Jacob Lwrence. War Series: The Letter. 1946. (Or the agony of tile labeling.)

Jacob Lawrence. War Series: The Letter. 1946.

Milton was particularly unimpressed with the paintings by Burgoyne Diller.

Burgoyne Diller. Untitled. 1962

Burgoyne Diller. Untitled. 1962.

Milton: It blows my mind that something like this is considered significant. If your kid brought that home, you’d throw that shit away, or you’d find a way to hide it.

We entered a gallery where we were greeted with this painting by legendary pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

Roy Lichtenstein. Bathroom. 1961.

Roy Lichtenstein. Bathroom. 1961.

Milton: I can’t look at this room. I hate this!

Roy Lichtenstein. Still Life with Crystal Bowl. 1963.

Roy Lichtenstein. Still Life with Crystal Bowl. 1972.

Milton stormed into the next gallery where he was welcomed by this oil on linen portrait of poet, art curator and critic, John Perreault, painted by Alice Neel.

Alice Neel. John Perreault. 1972.

Alice Neel. John Perreault. 1972.

Me: At least you found something to look at.

Milton: Not that I enjoy it.

Milton has never been shy about how much he despises the paintings of Alexander Calder.

Calder. Contour Plowing. 1974.

Alexander Calder. Contour Plowing. 1974.

But he admitted that he liked this sculpture.

Calder. The Brass Family. 1929.

Calder. The Brass Family. 1929.

Milton: That’s fascinating. What’s it made of, wire hangers?

We moved onto checking out the Biennial. We first noticed that on every floor there was a speaker with plush toys emitting groaning noises.

Plush toys, scarves, stereo speakers and groaning.

Plush toys, scarves, stereo speakers and groaning.

This was from the 2013 collection of the artist, Charlemagne Palestine called:

hauntteddd!!

n

huntteddd!!

n

daunttlesss!!

n

shuntteddd!!

Apparently, spelling has lost relevance.

When we entered the exhibit, these were amongst the first works we saw.

This is great art.

This is great art?

This is big red art.

This is big red art.

Marble sculptures n

Alma Allen marble sculptures on wood bases.

These sculptures of marble on wood are by Alma Allen, a self taught artist who works independently of any movement.

Milton: I don’t know what that shit is.

Philip Vanderhyden recreated People in Pain, a massive installation in crumpled vinyl backlit with now primarily forgotten movie titles from the 1980s. Gretchen Bender originally conceived it.

People in Pain.

People in Pain.

When we saw the title to the film, Ironweed, film expert Milton observed:

Milton: The only people in pain were the audience.

On the next floor, Milton seemed particularly fascinated with this wall of tee shirts.

Wall of tee shirts.

Wall of tee shirts on hangers.

Me: Do you like the tee shirts?

Milton: I hate them.

We encountered this cast salt wall hanging, Limbs of the Pacific, but I prefer Milton’s name for it:

Limbs of the Pacific.

Limbs of the Pacific.

Milton: Fuckin’ sandpaper!

Someone did a painting of the actor James Dean masturbating in a tree.

Glamorous.

Rebel Without a Cause All Right.

Milton liked the concept but pronounced the painting:

Milton: Awful.

There was a series of paintings by Etel Adnan that were variations of this.

And we must work day jobs?

And we must work day jobs?

I stopped to look at this sculpture hanging on a wall, but I didn’t get its name, so I’ll improvise to the best of my ability.

Throw Something on the Wall and Call it Art.

Throw Crap on the Wall and Call it Art.

We saw these eight briefcases that musician, recording engineer and anti-war protester, Malachi Ritscher, used to store hundreds of concert recordings made on digital audiotape and cassette.

Eight brief cases, but feel free to count them.

Eight brief cases, but feel free to count them.

In 2006 Ritscher self-immolated himself near the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago to protest the Iraq war. I like to think that there are easier ways to be included in this exhibit.

We left the exhibit in silence until Milton spoke:

Milton: This breaks my spirit. Someone’s junk being honored!

But there was one bright spot: this fellow attendee’s tie.

Fellow attendee wearing floating tie.

Fellow attendee wearing floating tie.

Lame Adventure 343: Let’s Put On An Art Exhibit!

Once again, there’s free art on Broadway for the unwashed masses.  The Broadway Mall Association has organized a public art exhibition called Saint Clair Cemin on Broadway in collaboration with Chelsea-based Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation and the New York City Department of Transportation.  For anyone not inclined to toss so much as a single solitary toenail clipping inside a museum or an art gallery, for five subway stops in Manhattan between West 57th and West 157th Streets, you can easily find yourself gobsmacked with one of seven sculptures created by the Brazilian-born artist Saint Clair Cemin who has a studio in Brooklyn.

The first Cemin piece that caught my eye I noticed one evening in late August when I exited my go-to 72nd and Broadway subway stop on the West 73rd Street side.  It was a mirrored stainless steel object that brought to mind a drafting table.  This prompted me to think “WTF?”  It was too dark for me to take a good photograph of it, but a few weeks later, while heading into that same subway station, I noticed that it had been relocated closer to 72nd Street.  I hit the brakes on my Jack Purcell sneakers, reversed course and took a second look at that sculpture before catching a train heading down to The Grind. A sign had been added announcing that the piece is called Portrait of the Word “Why”.

Portrait of the Word “Why”, 2008, stainless steel

Frontal side view Portrait of the Word “Why” reflecting some cityscape.

Rear sideview Portrait of the Word “Why”

Others might look at this sculpture and modify its name to Portrait of the Words “Why Bother”.  The piece had the opposite effect on me.  It intrigued me so much I decided that I would forego my usual Saturday morning power sleep and check out the six other installations in daylight hours so early many of the denizens in this city that never sleeps were likely pounding their snooze buttons.

In my 100 block of travels up and down Broadway my quest was to determine if I might uncover any clues about what New Yorkers, when led to culture, think using my own weaknesses of observation.

I first inspected the sculpture on the south side of 72nd Street Cemin calls The Four.

The Four, 1997, corten steel

I think that New Yorkers think that they can use two of its sides to house their trash.

You had to stuff your napkin in there, really?

You could not walk ten feet to the nearest trash can?

I rode a 1 local train downtown to 59th Street Columbus Circle, and exited the 58th Street side where I encountered Vortex, a hammered stainless steel coil climbing 123 feet into the sky.

Vortex, 2008, hammered stainless steel

I looked up at it, semi-strained my neck and thought:

Me:  Wow, that’s tall.

I highly doubt that it will be installed in any swell’s living room any time soon.

I walked four blocks north to the street divider at 62nd and Broadway where I saw a crouching figure called O Pensador that’s made from hammered copper.

O Pensador, 2008, hammered copper

O Pensador, sideview

O Pensador, rearview

It made me think of a wrinkled abstract Buddha and I felt immense relief that Cemin resisted producing a surreal sculpture of the prophet Muhammad.

At 66th Street I caught the uptown express to West 157th Street.

Pretty subway stop sign if you overlook the century of grime.

There, I observed a seven-foot tall dancing marble figure Cemin calls The Wind.

The Wind, 2002, marble

I think that others are referring to it as The Repository for Lost Keys.

Keys in The Wind.

Keys ready for their close-up.

Next, I caught a 1 local downtown and exited at 116th Street Columbia University.  In the subway station, I saw a welded steel functional sculpture by Michelle Greene called Railrider’s Throne.

Columbia University 116th Street subway stop.

Railrider’s Throne, 1991, welded steel

How predictable that a woman would create art that is both aesthetically pleasing and actually useful.

Back outside, I walked a block north to 117th Street and inspected Cemin’s hammered copper sculpture called Aphrodite standing nearly eight feet tall.

Aphrodite, 2006, hammered copper

I thought:

Me:  Small breasts, big hips.

Pretty face.

Afterward, I hopped onto another 1 local heading downtown and exited at West 79th Street where I observed In the Center, a fourteen and a half foot tall hydrocal (that’s a William F. Buckley way of saying plaster of Paris), wood and metal behemoth in a gaucho hat holding a divining rod.

In The Center, 2002, hydrocal, wood and metal

This sculpture reminded me of the strict Catholic clergy that were chasing the mischievous schoolboy, Guido, in Federico Fellini’s 8 ½.  As much as part of me wanted to access my inner Guido and bolt from this monster, irrationally fearing that if it leaned forward it could impale me, the rest of me decided to relax and shoot these final images of this free exhibit that can be seen on the streets of Gotham City through mid-November.

Saint Clair Cemin on Broadway

Lame Adventure 177: Soft-core Porn 67 Years in the Making

It was a chilly and rainy night, perfect to stay indoors and read The New York Times online.  I have had a lifelong affinity for animation, so I was delighted to see that there was a feature about Shamus Culhane, who was the lead animator on the famous “Heigh-Ho” sequence in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

My colleagues and I singing, "Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, off to lowly paid hell we go."

This article did not dwell on Culhane’s contribution to this classic Disney film. Instead, it focused on the avant-garde images that he inserted into Woody Woodpecker cartoons he directed in the 1940s.  Tom Klein, a Loyola Marymount University animation professor, did the sleuthing where he detected that “Culhane essentially ‘hid’ his artful excursions in plain sight, letting them rush past too rapidly for the notice of most of his audience.”  Klein has published his findings in the March issue of Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal, titled “Woody Abstracted: Film Experiments in the Cartoons of Shamus Culhane.”

John Gilbert meet Amadeo Modigliani meet Errol Flynn: Shamus Culhane in 1932 when he was in his early twenties.

To illustrate the extent of Culhane’s unique style of artistry, the article includes hyperlinks to some of these Woody Woodpecker cartoons showcasing his abstract images.  I particularly liked the excerpt from The Loose Nut that shows Woody driving a steamroller through a doorway where the explosion of colors is shown in both real time and then in slow motion highlighting the abstract art aspect.

Now you see Woody ...

Now you don't.

Captivated, I clicked on every link.

Towards the end of the article, it’s mentioned that the shorts Culhane directed for Walter Lantz’s studio were more remembered for their visual humor.

“In 1944 he collaborated with the layout artist Art Heinemann on “The Greatest Man in Siam.” In it the Fastest Man in Siam bolts past doorways that are distinctly phallic in shape and peers at another that mimics a vagina.”

First I thought, “Huh?”

Subtle.

I next thought, “Where’s the link to that cartoon?”

It’s here, and even though it was made in 1944, it must still be too risqué for The New York Times online.  Fortunately, Lame Adventures has no standards.  Enjoy.