Tag Archive | Guggenheim Museum

Modern Art Monday Presents: Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Death of Michael Stewart

The Death of Michael Stewart 1983
Photo By Gail

At the time of his death in 1983, Michael Stewart was an aspiring young artist new to the scene, and the details of his death remain officially unsettled thirty-six years later. Stewart was arrested for allegedly writing graffiti in the First Avenue L train station in the early morning of September 15th, 1983, on his way home to Brooklyn after a night out with friends in the East Village. At around 3:30 AM, he was brought, hog-tied and comatose, by police to Bellevue Hospital, where he died thirteen hours later.

The Death of Michael Stewart (1983) represents the Basquiat’s attempt to envision Stewart’s encounter with the police that night, and pay tribute. Originally painted on a wall of Keith Haring’s Cable Building studio, laden with tags by numerous graffiti writers, Basquiat’s composition comprises three figures: two cartoonish policemen wielding their batons over the partially defined man between them. The figure, rendered in black paint, represents both Michael Stewart and the enormity of the history of violence against black bodies: it could have been any black man in the wrong place at the wrong time, in America. The word “Defacement?” hovers above the trio in the upper register, posing a question about defilement: Can the (alleged) desecration of property be an excuse for erasing a life? It is important to consider that during the 1980s, ‘defacement’ was frequently used interchangeably as a term for graffiti.

For Basquiat, who famously said about Stewart’s death, “It could have been me,” the tragedy brought to the surface his own conflicted status as a black artist in a city roiled by racial tensions and a predominantly white art world that in the early eighties was largely unengaged with the social and economic inequities of New York City. When Haring moved studios in 1985, he cut the work from the wall. In the spring or summer of 1989, he placed the painting in an ornate, gilded frame inspired by the decor of the Ritz Hotel in Paris where he often stayed. The painting hung above Haring’s bed until his death from AIDS-related complications in 1990, when it was bequeathed to his goddaughter, its current owner.

Photographed as part of the Exhibit, Basquiat’s Defacement: The Untold Story at the Guggenheim Museum in NYC.

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Modern Art Monday Presents: Asger Jorn, A Soul For Sale

A Soul For Sale
Photo By Gail

Asger Jorn (19141973) was a founding member of CoBrA, a European artists coalition active from 1948 to 1951 that emphasized material and its spontaneous application. Even after 1957, when Jorn began participating in the Situationalist International — a group of writers, artists and theorists who sought to destabilize societal practices and structures — he continued to work within the CoBrA aesthetic, as seen in A Soul For Sale (195859). With its expressive brushwork and its collapsing of foreground and background, figuration and abstraction, this painting articulates some of Jorn’s most significant interrogations of the precepts of geometric abstraction.

Photographed in the Guggenheim Museum in NYC.

Modern Art Monday Presents: Paul Jenkins, The Prophecy

The Prophecy
Photo By Gail

Though Paul Jenkins (19232012) briefly worked among the painters of the New York School, he remained committed to representational art until 1953, when he moved to Paris. There, he discovered the lyrical painterly style of abstraction known as Tachisme. Many artists associated with this movement attempted to express the unconscious mind directly through the act of painting. Jenkins, a devotee of the era’s popular writings on Zen, sought to join this ideal of unmediated expression with his spiritual convictions, aspiring to uncover metaphysical truths by relinquishing conscious control. His early explorations of this approach yielded turbulent, atmospheric compositions like The Prophecy (1956), that seemingly envision a plane of existence without articulated material differentiation.

Photographed in the Guggenheim Museum in NYC.

Modern Art Monday Presents: Vasily Kandinsky, Dominant Curve

Kandinsky Dominant Curve
Photo By Gail

After the Bauhaus closed under political pressure in 1933, Vasily Kandinsky was forced to abandon Germany for a second time, and he settled in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Sein. The artist increasingly experimented with materials and colors, favoring pastels and gold-hues reminiscent of Russian origin. Likewise, Surrealism and the natural sciences clearly inform Kandisky’s compositions from this period. In Dominant Curve (Courbe Dominante1936), a schematized pink embryo floats near the upper-right corner while the figures within the green rectangle in the upper left recall microscopic marine animals, These buoyant, biomorphic images suggest a hope for a postwar rebirth and regeneration, despite the worsening political environment.

Photographed in the Guggenheim Museum in NYC.

Modern Art Monday Presents: Ad Reinhardt, Number 22

Ad Reinhardt Number 22
Photos By Gail

Ad Reinhardt (19131967)  studied both Eastern and Western art history at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He deepened his understanding of Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies by attending the lectures of Zen teacher Daisetz Suzuki at Columbia University. Number 22 (1949) shows Reinhardt fusing Eastern and Western traditions by using calligraphic brushwork inspired by Chinese and Japanese calligraphy in a gridded composition influenced by those of de Stijl cofounder Piet Mondrian.

Ad Reinhardt Number 22 Detail
Number 22, Detail

In classical East Asian painting, the fragility of paper wet with ink limits the artist’s ability to rework the composition. The sturdier canvas support and slower-drying oil paints used throughout much of the history of Western painting allows artists to highlight various revision and layering techniques. Although he worked in oil on canvas, Reinhardt chose to restrain himself and not rework his painting’s surface, in keeping with Asian calligraphic traditions. The result is a far more controlled manner of gestural painting than those of the Abstract Expressionists.

Photographed in the Guggenheim Museum in NYC.

Eye On Design: Nixon Disposable Paper Dress

Richard Nixon Dress
Photo By Gail

In the mid-1960s, affordable, single-use paper clothing enjoyed a burst of widespread popularity when it was introduced to an American market eager for commodities. This Disposable Paper Dress was produced by the North Carolina factory of Mars of Asheville on the occasion of the 1968 presidential election. The surname of Richard Nixon is emblazoned across the garment in red uppercase letters along with alternating blue stars, transforming its wearer into a walking endorsement of the Republican candidate whose tenure as president would encompass the first man on the moon, the withdrawal of US forces from Vietnam, and eventual impeachment and resignation.

Photographed in the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan.

Modern Art Monday Presents: Voice of Space By René Magritte

The Voice of Space
Photo By Gail

Influenced by Giorgio de Chirico, René Magritte sought to strip objects of their usual functions and meanings in order to convey an irrationally compelling image. In Voice of Space (of which three other oil versions exist), the bells float in the air; elsewhere they occupy human bodies or replace blossoms on bushes. By distorting the scale, weight, and use of an ordinary object and inserting it into a variety of unaccustomed contexts, Magritte confers on that object a fetishistic intensity. He has written of the jingle bell, a motif that recurs often in his work: “I caused the iron bells hanging from the necks of our admirable horses to sprout like dangerous plants at the edge of an abyss.”

The disturbing impact of the bells presented in an unfamiliar setting is intensified by the cool academic precision with which they and their environment are painted. The dainty slice of landscape could be the backdrop of an early Renaissance painting, while the bells themselves, in their rotund and glowing monumentality, impart a mysterious resonance.

Text By Lucy Flint.

Photographed in the Guggenheim Museum in New York City.