Called That One

The last mention of Lee Siegel on this blog was also the first. Since about three hours after he published that dumbass comment about Twombly, I’ve basically taken pains not to read his criticism. Life was just too short. And judging from the whorls of justified complaint and outrage in his online wake, I think it’s just as well.
For all the serious crit and insights into Siegel’s folly, the best response, though, has to be Dan‘s comment on Grammar.police, which came during a thread on Twombley’s Whitney show: “I frankly don’t think we can fully appreciate Twombly’s carpeting choice unless we understand that he is gay.”
Jed Perl, on the other hand, has duped me into reading him again and again, even though I usually find him to be a cranky and retrograde wet blanket. I guess I can’t fully appreciate Perl, even though I understand his taste in tapestries.
Advantage: Blogofascists [grammar.police via man]
Previously: Fatuous Writing Makes Art Lovers Head Explode!
How Conceptual Art Is Like A Renaissance Tapestry

MoMA-Hatin’ On My Mind, Nerves

Well, things could certainly be worse, but I’m pretty fed up with the achingly nostalgic, self-appointed populist heroic, knee-jerk MoMA-hating that passes for an enlightened, progressive cultural standpoint in certain quarters of New York these days.
James Wagner takes it personally and politically when PS1 won’t let him shoot images of the Greater NY show. The MoMA Man holding him down. Sure, it puts a cramp in your photodiarykeeping to not be allowed to take pictures, but please.
PS1 generally, historically–and GNY particularly, famously–is a seat-of-their-pants, chaotic circus. Photo release language in the lending documents–assuming there even ARE lending documents–is exactly the kind of thing I’d expect to slip through the cracks there. Little harm, little foul.
And as for those works being lost forever because you couldn’t snap’em? I thought the conventional wisdom about GNY was that everyone in it was already discovered, represented, and getting famous already. I thought up half a dozen artist names in the show and found images of their GNY work and more on their galleries’ websites. It’s more time-consuming than uploading from a digital, but that’s about it.
The one that really bugged, though, was critic/polymath Terry Teachout’s sob story of his visit to MoMA last Friday, how it’s a crowded mall now, not as good as Cleveland or as conducive to artviewing as the Met. Well, I happened to be at MoMA last Friday, too–I had a meeting there earlier in the day–and not only didn’t it suck, experience-wise, it was actually nice, and there were some revelatory art moments the likes of which Terry apparently couldn’t be bothered with, because he was bitching about the escalators too much.
1) The “mall” escalators are not a core element of the Taniguchi design, but they can be a core element of a visitor’s experience there if you choose them to be. First, they’re 1% the mall that Cesar Pelli’s escalators were. Remember those? Second, the stairs are not only less crowded, they’re highlights of the spatial experience. If you want a contemplative visit, leave the escalators to the tourists and take the stairs.
1a) In fact, the staircase Terry complains Diebenkorn has been shunted to is one of the most sublime elements of the whole Taniguchi building.


2) Terry’s right about the Monets; they’re finally in a gallery where they belong. But he has not a word for what replaced them: giant Cy Twomblys that have never looked better than they do right now, alongside the Museum’s latest purchase, Rauschenberg’s giant Rebus. As an awestruck friend pointed out to me, Twombly and Rauschenberg were hooking up at the time Rebus was painted, so putting the two artists side by side again–and making you think about where that scribbling on Bob’s canvas came from, or as I rephrased it, “You’re wondering where Cy’s hands were?”–is at once hilarious and important. That painting, as my friend said, is “the best $30 million spent on art this year.”
to PS1: but they’re called the visual arts, aren’t they? []
One Big Blockbuster [about last night]

Seeing Cy Twombly Naked

Actually, when I saw Cy Twombly, he wasn’t naked, and neither was I. I’d gone to Houston for work, right after graduating from college, and I had an extra day, so I set out to find this Rothko Chapel I’d heard about. No luck, or maybe it’s that low-slung grey clapboard building. With the blackboard Twombly in the lobby. Holy moley, what is this place?
It was, of course, the Menil Collection, and while I was standing in front of one of my favorite paintings, a tall, elderly man came around the corner from behind it and stood there, too. I looked at him, then at the painting, then back. “Excuse me, are you Cy Twombly?” “Yes I am.” I babbled something—I was obviously clueless but well-meaning–and he was gracious, then he left.
I later learned he had come to do an interview for the exhibition catalogue of “Rauschenberg: The Early 1950’s,” a tremendous show which was organized by Walter Hopps at the Menil, and which traveled to the Guggenheim. (Remember when the Guggenheim used to have good shows?)
I was reminded of this incident by the article in the Times about the panoply of Twombly shows in Houston at the moment. The artist told of a Menil guard who came upon a French woman standing naked and transfixed in front of a large Twombly canvas.
A Celebratory Splash for an Enigmatic Figure [nyt]
Buy Hopps’s 1991 Rauschenberg: The Early 1950s catalogue for –sheesh, $255?? [it’s that and more–up to $400 on abebooks]


It’s been a pretty crappy day, already, so don’t make me decide which writing is more annoying, self-reflexive, and wilfully misinformed and misrepresentative about its subject:

  • Lee Siegel’s free-associational riffs in Slate about Cy Twombly’s “doodling,” which, after all these years IS apparently just like your kid could do. Bonus quote: “You cannot fully understand Twombly’s art unless you know that he is gay.” [huh?? I DID pick up “fatuous” from here, though.]
    updated link:
  • Hilton Kramer’s self-contradictory, dishonest, and obtuse reading and critique of Pace Wildenstein’s amazing show, “Logical Conclusions: 40 Years of Rule-Based Art.” Kramer–why am I even mentioning him??–starts in on Minimalism, too. Oy. And the Communist Threat, blah blah blah. Save it for that big Flavin/Judd/Kramer panel discussion in the sky, Hilly. It’s 2005 already.

On Art At MoMA

I heard there was art at MoMA. Here are some highlights:

  • City Square, Alberto Giacometti’s tabletop sculpture of personages on non-intersecting trajectories used to be embedded in the wall at the entrance of the post-war galleries. Now it’s installed in the center of the room, so you can walk all the way around it.
    Giacometti described his attenuated figures as existing on the edge of perception, as if they just came into view on a hazy horizon. I’ve always wanted to make a movie recreating this sculptural scene on Utah’s Salt Flats, the existentialist remake of Eve Sussman’s 89 Seconds at Alcazar. See City Square on the Flash site for MoMA’s 2001 Giacometti retrospective.

  • One, (Number 31, 1950), 1950, Jackson Pollock: One of the iconic works in MoMA’s collection, it now feels more closely situated with the of the artist’s work; you easily take in several paintings at a time. [One page]
  • The old classical–and aesthetically magical–enfilade installation of One (Number 31, 1950) and Barnett Newman’s Vir Heroicus Sublimins (also 1950) has been replaced by a less privileged lateral, room-to-room hanging. Now, from a diagonal vantage point, you can take both of these paintings in at once instead of turning your back on one, then the other. I’m sure there are plenty of interpretive and ideologically significant ways to read this.
  • The giant Twombly in the contemporary gallery is the new One, a painting to fill and overwhelm your field of vision. This wall and approach is much worthier of it than the oblique, cramped partitioned space in Philip Johnson’s old ‘basketball court’ gallery, where it hung during the Twombly retrospective.
    Still, the most rewarding Twombly experience is upstairs, where two later, graffitoed paintings face Rauschenberg’s contemporaneous drawing/collages. It’s the kind of dialogue that the Rauschenberg in the Fifties show at the Menil and Guggenheim could’ve captured, but didn’t. [Cy and Bob traveled to Rome together as kids.]

  • The entire drawings show is a masterpiece; you could spend all day there, if it weren’t for the pull of the rest of the museum.
  • WPS1: Picking up speed, and not just because I’m on it

    Ok, they’re definitely getting the hang of it. This week, WPS1 broadcast an archival MoMA artist panel that was, in retrospect, formative to me, one of the art events that really resonates with me:
    In 1994, Kirk Varnedoe hosted Richard Serra, Brice Marden, and Francesco Clemente in a discussion of Cy Twombly. I went for the Twombly and Marden, but I stayed for the Serra.
    Through sheer intelligence and what I later came to recognize as great panel stunts–tossing off the exact measurements of a 1959 Twombly canvas as if he’d memorized the catalogue raisonnee, witty tie-em-up-with-a-bow metaphors and descriptors–he OWNED the evening.
    One offhand comment he made haunted me for years, how art history since had been based on a misinterpretation of Cezanne. By about the third time I talked with him, I finally had to ask what he’d meant. He politely pretended to remember what the hell I was talking about, but he didn’t, in fact, have some deeply revisionist art historical theory lurking beneath his thick paintsticked hide.
    [In painful contrast, Schnabel was there, too, on the front row, pointedly not on the panel, but nevertheless he put himself on it with a rambling self-congratulatory statement about “Cy” and “Cy and Jasper” that took up a big chunk of the q&a.]
    I asked my question of Marden, though, and his reticence bit me in the ass. Clemente jumped in and mis-answered my paragraph-long question–the last of the evening. Marden asked me to repeat it, to groans from the audience. For his answer, I’ll just say, let’s go to the tape. But over a year later, I got stopped on the street and asked if I was the guy who’d asked that question at that one MoMA event. And then he laughed at me.
    In any case, Marden taught me that making highly successful work doesn’t automatically mean he has to talk very garrulously about it; if Marden could convey everything he wanted to in mere words, he might not need to paint.
    In another future-historical broadcast, WPS1 also has Yvonne Force, Tom Eccles, and Anne Pasternak talking for an hour about laying casino carpet in Grand Central.
    And last but not least, Steven Schaefer interviews Danish director Per Fly about his new film, The Inheritance.

    On Collecting Art, On Collecting Taxes

    US Attorney/curator with posters of Rothko, Bacon, deKooning and either Twombly or Clemente,
    purchased by Sam Waksal with an 8.25% discount, at least.

    In the grand tradition of deposed CEO’s, but with downtown sensibility (and far better taste), Sam Waksal pleaded guilty to evading sales tax on $15 million in paintings he purchased through a major New York dealer. It was the old, “send it to my factory in NJ, nah, just fax the invoice there” ploy, which has been tripping up art world naifs since the 80’s, at least. (Clearly, it’s worth it to work it and get your 10% discount from the dealer instead.) Waksal’s lawyer tells the Washington Post that his client was “not the architect of the scheme.” Yow.
    Since no report names all nine works involved, here it is, a exclusive:

  • Mark Rothko, Untitled – Plum and Brown – $3.5m. Didn’t reach $2-3m estimate at Sotheby’s last May. Pic above, or buy a painted copy of it online for $275 [!!?].
  • Francis Bacon, Study from the Human Body – $3m. Also unsold at Sotheby’s, against a $2.5-3.5m estimate. City Review has the war story of the failed sales.
  • Franz Kline, Mahoning II – $3m (via the Posts. Mahoning is in the Whitney.)
  • Willem deKooning Untitled V – $2.4m (via NYNewsday and AP/ABC).
  • Roy Lichtenstein, Landscape with Seated Figure – $900k. (via AP/ABC)
  • Cy Twombly, Untitled (Rome) and Solar Barge of Sesostris – $1.3m and $800k. (via Boston Globe. The first was exhibited at Knoedler in 2000, and the second was shown in 2001 by the Dealer.
  • Francesco Clemente, Lovers – $60k. (via The Post.) Eh. For a Clemente, you risk jail? A definite Koslowski moment.
    That adds up to $14,960,000. Any guess what the last, $40,000 work could be? According to the Times, it’s Richard Serra. His sculptures can go for more than $1m, but $40k for a painting is doable. What’s more, these last three artists show with the Dealer. Waksal can brag about the sweet deal he got on them, all while paying the Dealer super-retail for what amounts to personal shopping.
    [Update: The NYPost pegs Waksal’s total at $15.31 million, which means the Serra was $350,000. That sounds like Sam didn’t even get a discount on the in-house stuff. No wonder he’s fingering The Dealer. Update #2: Turns out the Serra was titled, The American flag is not an object of worship. Don’t let FoxNews get wind of that sale.]