ROCKWELL TURNS POLITICAL IN 2001
The traveling retrospective "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People" finally rolls into New York City, opening tomorrow at the Guggenheim Museum, Nov. 3, 2001-Mar. 3, 2002 -- two weeks earlier than originally scheduled (the reception is still slated for Nov. 15). The collection of some 70 oil paintings, spanning over 50 years, from 1914 to 1969, has already appeared at the High Museum, the Corcoran Gallery and four other venues. Here, it's installed in the Gugg's two annex galleries, which seem spacious enough, while the rotunda remains occupied by "Brazil: Body and Soul." Needless to say, crowds are expected.
The pictures themselves, so familiar from reproduction, look remarkably good in person. Realist painters should like the show. Indeed, the Gugg has organized "A Love Affair: Contemporary Artists on Norman Rockwell" at 7 p.m. on Nov. 27, featuring appearances by painters George Condo, John Currin and Alexis Rockman, along with curator Robert Rosenblum and critic Deborah Solomon. (Also on tap, "Confessions of a Reluctant Model," a discussion by Rockwell son Peter Rockwell at 7 p.m. on Nov. 26.)
One thing is clear -- today, Rockwell is nothing if not a political artist. He's long been an exhibit in the epicene art-world debate pitting high against low, modernist vs. postmodernist. Like any good illustrator, he makes avant-garde pyrotechnics look like a walk in the park. Besides the notorious Triple Self-Portrait (1960), which introduces the show, there's also his Fruit of the Vine (ca. 1930), a precise pastiche of Vermeer done as a commercial assignment for Sun-maid raisins.
Rockwell's fanciful Cradle to Grave (1946), a autobiographical "stages of man" for the cartoonist himself, shows the artist painting (in his dotage) a perfect Cubist canvas. The palette in Art Critic (1955) (who is in fact a fellow painter) bears real, 3-D blobs of paint, while the wonderful Babysitter (1947) includes an actual safety pin stuck through the canvas.
More interestingly, Rockwell's work is emblematic of real political issues. When did his "Four Freedoms" (1943) -- the much-reproduced series that includes his Thanksgiving scene and the Lincolnesque everyman rising in assembly, that was commissioned to illustrate a war-time speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- become so... Republican? And dead, corny, false, one might add.
On the other hand, the three Civil Rights pictures included in the show remain resolutely progressive and relevant. The Problem We All Live With (1964), showing a delicate little girl being escorted to school by federal marshals, is an ennobling report of an inhuman incident that is still being repeated today, most recently in Belfast with Catholic schoolkids running a gauntlet of Protestant protestors.
New Kids in the Neighborhood (1967), which shows white and black kids curiously eyeing each other in a middle-class suburb, presents a more difficult reading. Rockwell's hope seems to be that good intentions can right things in the end, a sentimental, Disneyfied view (one embraced by traditionalists) that is clearly insufficient now.
Who might advance Rockwell's mission in our times? The contemporary painter Frank Moore comes to mind; perhaps he'll show up at the panel discussion mentioned above.
MOMA SHOWS OFF Q-N-S
The economy may be in recession, but the Museum of Modern Art is forging ahead with its $650-million expansion. MoMA has raised $507 million in its capital campaign, said director Glenn Lowry at an Oct. 31 press conference at the museum. He noted that recent political and economic difficulties, while giving cause for "prudence," would "not deter us from our mission." Down the block, bulldozers roared in the huge excavation for architect Yoshio Taniguchi's new facility, which promises to be dramatically larger than the present museum.
The assembled press, generously gifted with a black cloth carry bag embroidered with "MoMA Builds" (and lined in red, perhaps in recognition of the Halloween holiday), boarded two buses to head out across the Queensborough Bridge for a "hard-hat tour" of MoMA QNS (pronounced Q-N-S). Conveniently located on 33rd Street at Queens Boulevard just opposite the second Queens stop on the #7 subway -- long known as the International Line for the various communities along its route -- the 160,000-square-foot former Swingline Staple Factory is fast being transformed from an industrial space to a first-class museum one.
Some 15,000 square feet in gallery space is being designed by California architect Michael Maltzan, whose most striking architectural gesture is an open, cantilevered Project Space thrusting like a whale into one of the first gallery areas. As for the rest, MoMA QNS has typically soaring Chelsea-style museum spaces, still under construction, that museum staffers bragged were larger that those at the Whitney Museum.
MoMA's West 53rd Street facility closes at the end of May, with "Gerhard Richter: 40 Years of Painting," Feb. 14-May 21, 2002; "The Russian Avant-Garde Book, 1910-1943," Mar. 21-May 21, 2002; and "Projects 75:Layla Ali," Mar. 14-May 21, 2002.
MoMA QNS opens in late June or early July of 2002, with a show of collection highlights, an exhibition of contemporary art called "Tempo" and a show of MoMA's oddest collecting specialty -- its automobiles. In the meantime, get used to Queens Boulevard!
$600,000 MATISSE PRINT AT CHRISTIE'S
Print dealers were beside themselves at the news that Christie's New York had sold what may be the world's most desirable contemporary print, Grande odalisque à la culotte Bayadère by Henri Matisse (1925), for a record $666,000 (with commission) at its 19th- and 20th-century print sale on Oct. 31, 2001. In all, Christie's sold 256 of 339 lots, or 76 percent, for a total of $3,962,761 -- numbers that suggest that the recession is still being kept at bay -- at least in the specialty world of fine prints.
An auction record was also set for a print by Paul Klee when the artist's Der Held mit de Flugel-Inv. 2 (1905) sold for $127,000 (est. $100,000-$150,000). Other top prices included $248,000 for a complete set of Andy Warhol's 1967 screenprint of Marilyn (est. $250,000-$350,000) and $127,000 for Marc Chagall's set of 38 unsigned lithos, 23 in color and 15 in black and white, from 1967, Cirque (est. $100,000-$150,000).
ART BASEL POSTPONES MIAMI BEACH
The much-anticipated premiere of Art Basel Miami Beach, planned for Dec. 13-16, 2001, has been postponed. "Unsafe circumstances in the U.S. since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, warnings of potential attacks in the future, the anthrax incidents and the state of war," plus "increased difficulties in air travel as well as goods traffic and insurance" led to the decision, according the organizers of the show, a company called Swiss Exhibition, which expects to write off $4 million in lost expenses. Over 150 top galleries were slated to attend.