Sometime in early 1952, Jackson Pollock almost ate dinner with Jean Dubuffet. The hard-drinking American Abstract Expressionist had agreed to host the French Art Brut pioneer and his wife in his East Hampton home, but at the appointed hour, Pollock was a no-show. Pollock’s neighbor, patron, and fellow painter Alfonso Ossorio had arranged this abortive meeting between his two heroes. He later recalled: “The idea was that we would have dinner at the Pollocks’, but Jackson decided it would be simpler if he and Dubuffet didn’t meet. With the host missing, it was the four of us and it was rather embarrassing … I have no recollection of seeing them together.”
This snub partly sums up the problem with the Phillips Collection’s current three-man show, “Angels, Demons, and Savages.” Co-curated by Phillips Director Dorothy Kosinski and Curator-at-Large Klaus Ottmann, the exhibition is designed to illustrate how avant-garde ideas flowed from France to America, between Dubuffet and Pollock, with Filipino-born American artist Ossorio operating as a wealthy, jet-setting go-between. As Parrish Art Museum Director Terrie Sultan writes in her foreword: “This exhibition illuminates a key moment in the history of American Abstract Expressionism that was profoundly influenced by the cross-cultural exchanges between these three artists.” Through 55 splattered and scraped paintings and works on paper, “Angels” argues that both Jackson Pollock and the history of Abstract Expressionism are more complicated than one might think—and that Ossorio deserves a better spot in the pantheon. READ MORE
Through words and images floating in seas of blank cream-colored paper, Simon asks big questions about nature, nurture, and human bodies tossed by the currents of history. The spare aesthetics of the work and the cool, disinterested pose of the artist mirror how scientists and statesmen in the modern era have tried—and failed—to see their world and its cultures with an empirical eye. And while the artist’s identical consideration of an Australian war on the Easter Bunny and, say, the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men might suggest extremely black comedy, make no mistake: “A Living Man Declared Dead” is a serious, deeply affecting show, even when it veers into the absurd. READ MORE
There may not be much point to interrogating the artist’s nonobjectivity. Diebenkorn, after all, was a double modern-art heretic: first for abandoning a perfectly respectable body of Abstract Expressionist work in the 1950s for a loose, San Francisco Bay Area-identified representational style; then, with the Ocean Park paintings, for shunting the figure aside and embracing a different, more stately and classicizing type of pictorial abstraction.
The first defection set the artist against formalist critics like Clement Greenberg. Greenberg thought that high-quality paintings should be nonobjective and resolutely flat, employing the canvas-staining methods of painters like Morris Louis or Kenneth Noland. Around 1956, Greenberg sent Noland to Diebenkorn’s studio to see what the West Coast painter was up to; instead of cutting-edge abstraction, Noland was apparently confronted by figure studies, self-portraits, and still life. “[He] as much as told me, ‘What the hell have you done?’,” Diebenkorn later recounted. “He was really very disappointed.”
Nam June Paik may be the father of video art, but his modern-day descendents don’t bear much of a family resemblance. The globetrotting Korean-American artist’s output of abused electronic devices, anarchic musical performances, and goopy abstract psychedelia from the ’60s and early ’70s seems pretty far removed from the slick, single-channel videos haunting galleries, fairs, and museums nowadays.
Granted, much of Paik’s technology is way past its sell-by date. Visitors to “Global Visionary,” the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s new Paik retrospective, will encounter a darkened room full of flickering cathode-ray tubes, waveform generators, and production values straight from the golden age of public-access cable. While the two wall-filling behemoth monitor grids in the show, “Megatron/Matrix” (1995) and “Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii” (1995), at least appear to have lumbered out of the early MTV era, much of the rest of the work looks much older than its actual vintage: If these distressed, clunky assemblages didn’t incorporate video monitors, one might think they were pre-World War II Dada or Constructivist artifacts. READ MORE
Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol are usually credited as the founding fathers of Pop Art, but the two men didn’t play for the same team. Sure, there’s something irresistible about the day in 1961 when Warhol dropped by Leo Castelli’s gallery, discovered Lichtenstein’s cartoon-inspired painting of a girl holding a beach ball, and, shocked and a little hurt, announced to gallery co-director Ivan Karp, “I make paintings like that.” Warhol was mistaken: He and Lichtenstein were making very different work, for very different reasons. READ MORE
The current show at the Phillips Collection, organized by Assistant Curator Renée Maurer and featuring 100 prints from five decades, not only feels complete without including a single major work by Johns, but also offers fresh insight into how one might reconcile the big split that occurred in Johns’ work in the 1980s. In that decade, the reticent creator of mute objects and seductive surfaces—flags, targets, and stenciled numbers rendered in translucent, skin-like encaustic—transformed himself into a self-referential remix artist, making paintings that look like bulletin boards pinned with floor plans for old family homes, tracings from 16th century altarpieces, and his own silhouette. READ MORE
In the history of modern art, Miró was the real thing: He could make an increasingly attenuated focus pay off in new and startling ways, decade after decade.
In “Ladder,” he emerges as an artist professionally committed to Surrealist strategies for throwing off repression and self-censorship via automatism and dream imagery—and as a man personally alarmed by fascism and war, afraid for his family in the face of violent upheaval. But these sides largely remained separate.