Spring is officially here (even in Michigan) and all the major art magazines are up to speed, jam-packed with goodies on all the latest shows and fads. One recurring topic this month is the proliferation of artist-run "schools"; e.g., the Bruce High Quality Foundation University (BHQFU). In the current issue of ArtReview, critic Jonathan T.D. Neil calls this development "the pedagogical impulse" and attributes it to our inclination to colonize "new cultural landscapes and social territories." I call it education art, for lack of a better term, and I think it more intriguing than insidious.
Joseph Beuys would be one top example, with his Free International University founded in 1973, and Andrea Fraser another, with her 1989 performance as a museum tour guide (though Iím not sure she really wanted to teach us anything). In the current number of Art in America, Carly Berwick reminds us of the Bauhaus (founded 1919), Black Mountain College (1933) and a score of more recent, lesser known and dare we say inconsequential artist-run art schools. The notion underlying many of these projects, including the BHQFU, is "breaking down hierarchies" -- i.e., the idea that anyone can teach anything to anybody. Such optimism, if that is what it is, no doubt derives from our current great fleet of art schools and the ocean of tuition fees that keeps it all afloat.
Readily contributing to expanding the art enterprise is Creative Time, the well-known, 36-year-old New York-based nonprofit -- profiled in this monthís ARTnews -- that has helped fund the BHQFU, given the Yes Men a $25,000 prize, supported Jeremy Dellerís cross-country tour of his Iraq War project, and even underwritten an "anarchist ice cream truck" by the Center for Tactical Magic. As long-time director Anne Pasternak proudly notes, when the National Endowment for the Arts withdrew support for a performance by Karen Finley in the midst of the 1990s culture wars, Creative Time was able to step in and made sure Finley could go forward with drenching herself in chocolate. Chocolate and ice cream. . .† now thatís a tasty artistic mission.
In the same issue, ARTnews contributing editor Ann Landi explores the qualifications of art dealer Jeffrey Deitch to lead the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The self-appointed experts who condemn the appointment -- i.e., art critics and bloggers -- may themselves have no real experience, but we can be assured that plenty of professional museum people find Deitchís ascendancy irksome as well. But they should remember that Deitch is not a curator but a director, and thus the 21st-century ideal: a fun-loving moneymaker with plenty of hip friends and insider connections.
According to Landi, the art world has Warhol Superstar Jackie Curtis to thank for Deitchís brilliant career, since Deitch changed his major at Wesleyan from economics to art after seeing Curtis perform -- contrary to the hopes of McKinsey and Company, the consulting giant that had given Deitch a scholarship. After college he worked at John Weber Gallery in New York, wrote a little art criticism (on the 1980 "Times Square Show," among other topics) and frequented the downtown New Wave music scene.
Deitchís first big coup was to persuade Citibank to establish an art advisory program for its super-rich clients, now a common practice in the banking biz. In 1988, Deitch went into the art consultant business for himself, managing the portfolios of assorted unnamed collectors and brokering deals for people like Greek tycoon and Jeff Koons aficionado Dakis Joannou. He opened his gallery Deitch Projects in 1996, and it quickly developed into a fairly rare art-world beast -- a power-gallery with strong ties to both the super-rich and the "art street."
As we go to press Bloomberg News scribe Lindsay Pollock reports that once Deitch arrives at LACMA, he plans to mount a show of work by the ailing Dennis Hopper -- heís said to be suffering from terminal prostate cancer -- who recently exhibited in New York at Tony Shafrazi Gallery.
Now, research suggest that Klein made numerous leaps during this period, sometimes for photographers and sometimes not. The photo of the leap is a montage, this has long been known. But further details are uncertain. How did Klein do the leap? Did he jump onto a stack of mats, or a tarp held by friends? Philippe Vergne, director of Dia Art Foundation and co-curator of the retrospective, suggests that Klein may have just plain jumped, "Remember, he was a judo master," says Vergne. The Menil Collection in Houston has just opened "Leaps into the Void: Documents of Nouveau Realist Performance," Mar. 19-Aug. 8, 2010, organized by curator Michelle White.
The March Art in America devotes its features to senior figurative painter Irving Petlin, Chicago artist and art dealer Michelle Grabner, Washington Color School sculptor Anne Truitt and Gabriel Orozco, whose exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art of neo-Duchampian gestures -- including a chessboard and many objects inflected by "mathematical" vectors, as was The Large Glass -- is subjected to a thorough examination by Nancy Princenthal. After noting the Mexico-born artistís (undeniable) wit, skill, imagination and "conceptual agility," she accepts at face value his claims that he seeks to frustrate and disappoint his audience, which is almost certainly disingenuous (a common tactic for disarming critics, as seen in the recent Whitney Biennial).
Peter Selzís appreciation of his friend Irving Petlin, a largely overlooked painter of deep political conviction who was one of the original organizers of the 1960s L.A. Peace Tower project and a member of the Art Workers Coalition, is not to be missed. Recently on view at no less than three top New York galleries (Feigen, Krugier and Kent), Petlinís unusual figurative paintings seem like a clear source for art-market favorite Peter Doig, while Petlinís Entry of Christ into Washington (2005) and Gaza/Guernica (2009) are monumental protest paintings in the most overt sense of the term.
AiA also reviews new books by Calvin Tomkins and Peter Schjeldahl, both longtime writers for the New Yorker, probably the best job in the business. Art critic Robert Atkins, who is currently compiling an encyclopedia of new Chinese art and long ago wrote a column for the Village Voice on art and politics, complains that Schjeldahlís fans "donít read him for insights into social history, queer theory, video art of gossipy promotions of new talent on West 24th Street." Heís certainly right on that score, goodness knows, but we do seem to remember Schjeldahlís offhand remark about "festivalism" becoming a touchstone for much subsequent commentary.
Another big deal this month is the huge Henri Matisse show opening at the Art Institute of Chicago. Five years in the making, "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917," Mar. 20-June 20, 2010, supposedly breaks new scholarly ground regarding the famously experimental works made in Paris during the era of Synthetic Cubism, before the artist departed at the end of World War I for a happy late-middle age on the Riviera. Organized by John Elderfield, curator emeritus at MoMA (where the show appears in July 2010), and AIC curator Stephanie DíAlessandro, the exhibition features 120 works and centers on two large paintings Matisse later called "pivotal," the much-modified Bathers by a River (1909-16) and The Moroccans (1915-16).
Both paintings have been newly cleaned and subjected to x-rays, spectro tests, paint analyses and other cutting-edge techniques that reveal, according to the curators, the very physical, even brutal, nature of their making. In ARTnews, Elderfield speculates that the intensity seen in these works, not to say their liberal use of the color black, may be a response to the war and the artistís ineligibility to enter the ranks (the 43-year-old very much wanted to fight, it seems, despite his weak heart).
In this monthís Artforum, art historian Jeffrey Weiss offers a deep "materialist" reading of these Matisse works, mediating on the newly (and not so newly) revealed studio processes -- that Matisse constantly revised his works, that he made second versions of them, that he used "sculptural" techniques like scraping and gouging (as in his famous "Back" series of bas-reliefs from 1913), that he would photograph his pictures in their various states of development. According to Weiss, the Matisse show, reliant as it is upon CSI-worthy gadgetry, marks a shift in the assessment of artworks. We are now in "the age of the forensic eye," in which technologically supported conservation techniques could well replace older methods of connoisseurship.
Much is made of all this and more -- forensic scrutiny allows us to substitute our restlessness for Matisseís own; Degas worked outside of his own libido; Matisseís painterly reworkings are antiheroic; radical method is now a necessary condition of new artistic practice -- which is of course Artforumís signature approach. Presumably the obvious reading of these great works, that they answer the challenge of the Cubist avant-garde within Matisseís own decorative project (and win), framed by the somber war context -- is left to lesser critics.
Other features of uncertain coherence address works by the Israel-born, Berlin-based filmmaker Keren Cytter, the Russian filmmaker Olga Chernysheva, the U.S. videomaker Alex Hubbard and the performer Kelly Nipper. Another long text proposes an alternative history of "Photography and Abstraction," which looks interesting (have to read that a little later) and the estimable Greil Marcus investigates former Sex Pistols overseer Malcolm McLarenís new video piece, Paris: Capital of the XXIst Century, which consists of a montage of 20-year-old French television commercials. The poet and art critic Eileen Myles, who once ran a write-in campaign for mayor of New York, and who is currently a subject of one of Catherine Opieís photographs at Gladstone Gallery, reviews a recent show at Harvard on ACT UPís early 1990s Popish propaganda re: the AIDS crisis. Last but not least, art historian David Joselit takes a barometer reading of Hans Haackeís last installation, Weather or Not, at the now-defunct X-Initiative.
ArtReview, one of the larger, glosser art magazines out there -- its signature has become putting photos of artists on its cover, rather than art -- is another London-based publication that keeps a close eye on NYC. This month it has reflections by a number of critics on current trends -- Jonathan T.D. Neilís aforementioned theory of the "pedagogical impulse" is one of these. Also good is the profile of artist Cory Arcangel, famous for his manipulation of video games and other digital media.
Best of all, however, is the magazineís Oral History of Western Art by Matthew Collings, a series of imaginary interviews with long dead art historical figures like Gustave Courbet. This month itís Berthe Morisot in the chair, discussing the inadequacy of the term "impressionism," the critic Clement Greenberg, feminism and the squabbles between Monet and Manet (her brother-in-law). The series is hands-down the most amusing thing Iíve read in art magazine in years, and I canít wait to see what Van Gogh says next issue.
Thatís all for this month! Enjoy the sunshine.
GRANT MANDARINO is an art writer based in Ann Arbor, Mich.