My first exposure to Banksy — the pseudonymous British street artist (some say consortium) whose irreverent works of socio-political satire have appeared in site-specific locations across the globe — was a visit to his October, 2008 immersive Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill. Located in a Greenwich Village, NYC storefront and filled with surreal creations both familiar and exotic, the installation was designed to look like a typical pet store, but with a twist. While there was no actual Charcoal Grill serving food, rather than selling live animals, the store featured a variety of animatronic pets, including fish sticks swimming in a fish bowl, ‘chicken nugget’ baby chicks and a rabbit applying makeup before a mirrored vanity.
This is purely coincidental, but maybe ten days before I attended the massive new exhibit Jean-Michel Basquiat: King Pleasure, a pair of brazen art thieves attempted to steal one of the late artist’s paintings — valued at $45,000 — from a Chelsea art gallery in broad daylight. The crime was easily foiled as the couple — who, sadly, avoided apprehension — attempted to just walk out of the gallery holding the artwork. Ballsy! I mention this to illustrate the fact that Basquiat’s popularity hasn’t waned in the 34 years since his death from an accidental drug overdose at age 28. Though he did not get to live a long life, Jean-Michel Basquiat lives on through his art, and King Pleasure is here to make sure he is not forgotten.
Writing posts about exhibits in museums that are currently closed: this is now a thing that keeps content fresh when there is nowhere to go, unless a walk around the block counts as a cultural event. What can I say about Judd; the ambitious MoMA retrospective of a major force in contemporary art that was open for just over two weeks before Covid-19 temporarily shuttered this and other museums? Mostly, I feel fortunate that I took advantage of an opportunity to attend a Member’s Preview on February 28th, the Friday evening before the exhibit officially opened to the public. I made the trip uptown from my day job on Wall Street after putting in a full day, and I was pretty beat, but I was so excited to see dozens of works of art by Donald Judd all in one place that I figured it would be worth it. And it was.
I’ve been fan of Judd’s minimalist sculpture since I was studying contemporary art in college, so I knew there was no way I was going to miss this exhibit — but I thought I had months to see it. It’s funny how things turn out. If I hadn’t visited MoMA that Friday, I would have likely missed it for sure. And that would have been a shame. It’s lucky also that I took as many photos as I did, because I hadn’t intended to even write about the exhibit, beyond maybe a featured piece or two in a Modern Art Monday column. Everything is different now.
Until things are back to some kind of normal, it’s a bit of a consolation that I can still bring my readers Art in the Time of Covid. For those who aren’t already familiar with the artist’s oeuvre, let me provide you with basic background on Donald Judd and enhance your enjoyment of these exhibit photos by including text from Judd’s webpage at MoMA Dot Org. Enjoy!
“I had always considered my work another activity of some kind,” remarked artist Donald Judd. “I certainly didn’t think I was making sculpture.” One of the foremost sculptors of our time, Judd refused this designation and other attempts to label his art: his revolutionary approach to form, materials, working methods, and display went beyond the set of existing terms in mid-century New York.
His work, in turn, changed the language of modern sculpture. Bringing together sculpture, painting, drawing, and rarely seen works from throughout Judd’s career, Judd is the first US retrospective in over 30 years to explore this artist’s remarkable vision.
Donald Judd (1928–1994) began his professional career working as a painter while studying art history and writing art criticism. Among a new generation of artists who sought to move past the breakthroughs of Abstract Expressionism, Judd shifted from two to three dimensions, into what he called “real space,” relinquishing a focus on the artist’s gesture. In his constructed reliefs and wooden floor pieces from this time, he established a new type of object-making that rejected illusion, narrative, and metaphorical content.
By the mid-1960s, Judd commenced his lifelong practice of using industrial materials, such as aluminum, steel, and Plexiglas, and delegating production of his work to local metal shops. With the help of these specialized fabricators, he developed a signature vocabulary of hollow, rectilinear volumes, often arranged in series. In the following years, “boxes,” “stacks,” and “progressions” continued as Judd’s principal framework to introduce different combinations of color and surface.
Judd surveys the complete evolution of the artist’s career, culminating in the last decade of his life, when Judd intensified his work with color and continued to lay new ground for what ensuing generations would come to define as sculpture.
Judd was originally scheduled to run through July 11th, 2020, and I imagine there’s a slim chance the museum could reopen in time for people to still see this exhibit. But who can even say at this juncture.
Should the Donald Judd retrospective at MoMA still be on exhibit once the museum reopens, I enthusiastically encourage you to check it out. The museum is limiting the number of guests who can enter the galleries at one time, so that will definitely enhance your enjoyment of these unique, large scale works of art. Personally, I found the experience to be very zen, and heaven knows we will all be in need of both zen and art once this crisis is over.
Although he passed away when I was only three years old, Stuart Davis is an American painter whose works I’ve completely fallen in love with through seeing his paintings in the permanent collections of The Met, MOMA and The Whitney – the latter of which is currently hosting a career retrospective of Davis’ paintings entitled In Full Swing, which is just mind blowing.
Mitchell-Innes & Nash is currently hosting the first major painting retrospective of Tom Wesselmann in New York since the artist’s death in 2004. Organized in partnership with the Tom Wesselmann Estate, the exhibition examines Wesselmann’s role as the great innovator of the American Pop generation and includes a dozen significant works spanning the artist’s career from 1961-2004. Gallery owner Lucy Mitchell-Innes explains that with this exhibition, they hope to show how Wesselmann has filtered the canonical subjects of art — still life, the nude and the landscape — through a unique and personal lens using the media and technical innovation of the sixties, seventies and eighties, offering new possibilities for painting.
Tom Wesselmann is one of the leading figures of Pop Art who used collage, assemblage and shaped canvases to usher in a new vocabulary of painting. He is best known for his career-spanning series, Great American Nude, which featured female figures in intensely saturated interiors.
The works in the exhibition highlight a number of techniques that Wesselmann pioneered, and which are largely unseen among his Pop contemporaries. In an interior still life from 1964, Wesselmann incorporates a functional fan and a clock into the canvas, (see image below) pushing the boundaries of collage and assemblage in a sly nod to the notion of the ‘represented’ object.
Collages from the 1960s feature cut-outs from advertising billboards. Also included in the show are Wesselmann’s steel-cut works (a technique he helped develop), molded plastic paintings (a technique borrowed from commercial signage and used here in the context of fine art for the first time), and his iconic shaped canvases.
Being a fantastic introduction to Tom Wesselmann (should you not already be familiar with his work) this is a very cool and worthwhile exhibit to add to your next art crawl during the month of May.
The Tom Wesselmann Retrospective will be on view through May 28, 2016 at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, Located at 534 West 26th Street, in the Chelsea Gallery District.