Tag Archive | Modern Art Monday

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: I Saw It in a Dream By Saber

I Saw It in a Dream
Carved 323.5k Moon Gold Leaf on Molten Black Encaustic Bees Wax (Photo By Gail)

Ryan Weston Shook, also known as Saber, titled I Saw It in a Dream (2019) after a quote by Abstract Expressionist painter Jasper Johns and created the piece via an encaustic wax process, its layers creating a textural surface. The flag symbolism has evolved with the artist over the years, with him questioning its meaning for  broad swath of people. Saber’s paintings borrow elements, techniques and materials that he once used as a 21-year-old, rising to international fame in 1996 after painting the world’s largest graffiti piece on the bank of the Los Angeles River. Eight years after the fact, the LA County Museum of Natural History commissioned him to paint a miniature version of his piece on its riverbed diorama. The visibility of this 250-by-55-foor work (documented by satellites in space) and his years of press coverage for other creations shined a glaring public spotlight on the form. The artist’s studio work exemplifies his further exploration of movement and energy.

Photographed as part of Beyond The Streets in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Modern Art Monday Presents: Gun Magnet By Randall Harrington

Randall Harrington Gun Magnet Wool Tapestry
Photo By Gail

Randall Harrington’s Gun Magnet is but one example of the sculptor and painter’s statement work. Known for his high-concept fabrications of recomposed weaponry, Toastasaurus herds and eerily human robots, the Los Angeles-based artist found his niche in metal and mixed media after years of assisting big-name installation and performance artists working in film-set design. The Gun Magnet wool tapestry (2019, above) was inspired by the bronze sculpture (2014), seen below.

Gun Magnet Sculpture

Photographed as Part of Beyond The Streets in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Modern Art Monday Presents: Juan Gris, The Checkerboard

Juan Gris The Checkerboard
Photo By Gail

Hailed as “the perfect painter” by avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein, Juan Gris developed his signature approach to Cubism beginning in 1911. Using classic café subject matter — such as the newspaper, seltzer bottle, and glass seen here — Gris made subtle adjustments to the conventions of picture making that render ordinary objects both familiar and newly intriguing. For example, in The Checkerboard (1915) and its  bird’s-eye view of a tabletop, a cunning reorganization of pictorial space places objects that should have volume into a single compressed plane. With a nod to play, Gris shows us a fragmented checkerboard, an emblem of the strategy and gamesmanship at the center of his art.

Photographed in the Art Institute Chicago

Modern Art Monday Presents: Rene Magritte, On The Threshold of Liberty

Rene Magritte On The Threshold of Liberty
Photo By Gail

One of Surrealism’s most important patrons, Edward James, was a willing collaborator whose sense of play initiated commissions for his homes from such artists as Salvador Dali and Leonora Carrington. James was impressed with the work of Rene Magritte, which was displayed in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London, so he invited the artist to paint three decorative canvases for the ballroom of his London home. Magritte painted On The Threshold of Liberty during his stay there in 1937, as the centerpiece of the three works. Originally set behind two-way mirrors, the works would become visible when James changed the lighting, provoking what he called “a profound sensation.”

Photographed in the Art Institute, Chicago.