The neo-impressionists used tiny, separate strokes of saturated color, typically applying them to dry canvas, unlike the Impressionists, who often mixed colors on the canvas with alla prima or wet-into-wet methods. It was both a response to scientific developments in color theory and optics and a logical extension of earlier impressionist and French Romantic attitudes toward color in painting. “The enemy of all painting is gray!” Eugène Delacroix once wrote, and the neo-impressionists acted accordingly, doing their damnedest to avoid dull, neutral tints and shades.
Take, for example, Maximilien Luce’s “Camaret, Moonlight and Fishing Boats” (1894). In this depiction of a fishing village in Brittany, Luce renders the night sky as a brilliant carpet of pale green, violet, and ultramarine quanta. Edge to edge, top to bottom, the piece is evenly activated by incremental tonal contrasts and leapfrogging complementary colors. As with so many neo-impressionist canvases, the effect seems to mimic retinal fatigue and the floating after-images brought on by exposure to bright light in nature. More than a century after it was created, this piece can still over-stimulate the eye. READ MORE
Instead of offering romantic immersion in unspoiled natural abundance, Tribe’s pieces feel more like artifacts from a military reconnaissance mission. They present unremarkable anywheres—desert canyons, verdant hills, and mysterious craggy terrain dotted by patches of snow and ice.
Mind you, even those few details can be misleading. “3747-3780,” for example, shows a large, mountainous area as seen from high in the sky; the most distant peaks and valleys are ringed in atmospheric haze. This haze, of course, is an invention—as are the modulations of color from olive green, to bleached earth, to snow. None of that information is based on data. Even the play of light and shadow across these geographic features is arbitrary, selected by the artist for purely aesthetic reasons and generated by software. READ MORE
For most of his 50-year career, Richard Estes has painted a subject that he doesn’t seem to like much: New York City. A shy loner from Evanston, Ill., Estes moved to New York in 1958, working as a freelance illustrator before finding his voice as an artist. Around 1967, Estes began translating photographs of the city’s banal storefronts and corridors into hard-edged, detailed paintings.
The resulting body of work is visually arresting, but often feels chilly and unglamorous—as if the artist is unable to identify with his surroundings. “I don’t enjoy looking at the things I paint, so why should you enjoy it?” he said in a 1972 interview with Art in America magazine. “I’m not trying to make propaganda for New York or anything. I think I would tear down most of the places I paint.” READ MORE
The piece intercuts scenes from Garland’s 1939 breakout in The Wizard of Oz with snippets from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Easter Parade (1948), and the 1962 television special “Judy, Frank, and Dean: Once in a Lifetime.” In the resulting mash-up, instead of being deposited in Munchkinland by a Kansas tornado, young Garland as Dorothy Gale has a face-to-face encounter with her older self—an ex-movie star wracked by hepatitis and approaching premature death at the age of 47.
The video moves from left to right and back again across two makeshift screens, unevenly backlit rectangles floating a few inches off of the wall. On the left, Dorothy runs away from home—until Professor Marvel gazes into his crystal ball, spies Garland’s face some two decades hence, and makes an ominous prediction. Panicking, Dorothy backtracks as a massive storm bears down on her. Suddenly the sky catches fire, transforming into melting, bubbling celluloid, signaling a transition from the narrative we know to something more sinister. READ MORE
Curated by the Hirshhorn’s acting director and chief curator, Kerry Brougher, and UCLA professor Russell Ferguson, “Damage Control” offers a string of creepy and disconcerting images and actions with flashes of lacerating wit. It’s smart, strange, and a memorable affair overall. Yet the show’s inconsistencies, curious juxtapositions, and reliance on loose-knit thematic affinities instead of solid art-historical arguments seem more appropriate to a permanent-collection exercise than a big research project. READ MORE
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.” READ MORE
Photographer and filmmaker Alex Prager makes art that is shallow by design. The young Los Angeles artist likes to produce images of detached-looking women in wigs wandering through artificial environments. Her large-scale photos pair kitsch and desolation, inviting us to absorb countless quirky details, but she seldom allows the viewer to connect or identify with her subjects. Instead, the artist’s intentions tend to vanish in a spectacular fog of costumes, stereotypes, and classic Hollywood atmosphere.
For “In the Tower: Kerry James Marshall,” Associate Curator James Meyer highlights the museum’s 2011 acquisition of the Alabama-born and Chicago-based artist’s “Great America” (1994). The painting, depicting black men and women on an amusement park boat ride, entering a tunnel haunted by white hooded figures, is paired with nine additional acrylic and collage pieces and 22 related works on paper. READ MORE
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. 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.”
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
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
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
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.
“30 Americans” contains a lot of great artwork, but it’s not exactly a great show. This assortment of 76 works by 31 black artists—most of whom were born in the 1960s, ’70s, or ’80s—delivers big helpings of smartly turned-out spectacle and sharp, thorny content. What it doesn’t provide is a sense of history: why and how these artists came to make these works; how the works function in the art world at large; or why, aside from the color of their skin, any of these artists belong in a room together. READ MORE
True visionaries need no explanation. This seems to be the main message behind “All Things Round: Galaxies, Eyeballs & Karma,” the 17th annual themed exhibition at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. It’s a show that’s chockablock with jaw-dropping oddities created by artists from all over the world, using all manner of unlikely materials. It’s visually dense, but light on continuity and context. Visitors should expect to be wowed and bewildered in equal measure. READ MORE
At first glance, this work might seem unlikely to provide any aesthetic kick. Baltz depicts his subjects through a weirdly anti-picturesque strategy: The stucco walls of shoddy retail buildings are shot head-on so that they fill the frame and block out the sky. Nearly all visible lines — sidewalks, windowsills, gutters — are parallel with the top, bottom or sides of the composition, creating a world of 90-degree angles and blocks of rough texture. There is no background, and few or no objects in the foreground — just a fixed middle distance that stops the eye dead.
In other words: If a photo is a window on the world, then Baltz’s window has been bricked in, and the viewer is stuck examining the mortar. READ MORE
In one room, you’ll find gelatin silver prints of performance artist Vito Acconci in 1970, naked and furiously biting his legs. In another, you’ll see Edward Burtynsky’s large-scale digital print depicting an Australian landscape destroyed by mining operations in 2007. And in yet another, you can see Andres Serrano’s “Black Supper,” a group of photos taken in 1990 for which the artist spray-painted tiny figurines representing Christ and the apostles and submerged them in soda water.
With indelible images such as these, “Seeing Now” demonstrates that the BMA has been collecting edgy, challenging, up-to-the-minute work. That said, the show has problems, many of them stemming from the sheer quantity and variety that Hileman has grouped under one big, unwieldy umbrella. READ MORE
Nemerov deserves credit for assembling an entertaining and thoroughly researched picture of 1940s visual culture, and for bringing together weird works by many lesser-known artists. Standouts include two startlingly crisp, dreamlike paintings by Indiana artist John Rogers Cox, depicting alien-looking clouds hovering over barren farmlands; and Byron Thomas’s “Pine Trees” (1946), an obsessively elaborated painting of tall trees silhouetted in the moonlight, reminiscent in their quirky shapes and curlicued branches of early Henri Rousseau. Paintings like these make a certain amount of sense next to Ault, and begin to define an eccentric strain of distinctly American painting.
But the connections Nemerov attempts to draw—between Ault, events during his lifetime, and other people’s paintings—range from tenuous to ridiculous. The leaps he makes in order to explain Ault’s pictures are free-associative, dependent on affinities and not facts, and tell us far more about Nemerov’s passion for World War II-era Americana than they do about the cranky, dissolute, reclusive artist or the paintings he left us. READ MORE
Ultimately, “The Pre-Raphaelite Lens” shows how an incestuous group of artists wrestled with a massive upheaval in the business of image-making, and how they tried to solidify their place in the future of art by reaching into the past. This enthusiastic adoption of new techniques via new technology, paired with a search for old, honorable themes and some sort of gravitas, can begin to seem like not just a mismatch but a real failure of nerve—which is why Pre-Raphaelitism is so often thought of as that funny little cul de sac in the history of modernism. Still, what makes Waggoner’s exploration of this work so compelling is the human factor—the way artists freely riffed on one another’s discoveries and experimented at all levels, from enthusiastic photo amateurs to career portrait painters. READ MORE
If the folks at the Phillips Collection are looking to project a more contemporary image for their museum these days, surely they must realize that Giorgio Morandi isn’t the guy for the job. “Morandi: Master of Modern Still Life” pays tribute to an Italian painter who was hellbent on being the consummate ascetic modernist, so detached from the lives of people around him—and so driven to pursue the same subject in the same manner, over and over again—as to appear like an otherworldly, monomaniacal shut-in. READ MORE
“This IS Hawai’i” may not be a big show, but as an example of crosstown collaboration, it is a big deal. It’s a two-venue exhibit, occupying not only Transformer Gallery’s Logan Circle area storefront but also the National Museum of the American Indian’s Sealaska Gallery. The show features works from four contemporary native Hawaiian artists, but it feels like — and aspires to be — a much larger survey. READ MORE
Originating at the Tate Modern and now on view at the National Gallery of Art, “Gauguin: Maker of Myth” is the latest attempt to unpack the artist, and it follows a familiar curatorial strategy: Try reconstructing a modern artist so that he looks contemporary. To this end, guest curator Belinda Thomson emphasizes Gauguin’s reliance on narrative, his cross-cultural mash-ups of different codes and images, and his creation of an outsized celebrity persona. The makeover is not particularly convincing, but the show is nonetheless a welcome opportunity to see Gauguin’s freak flag fly in 100 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. READ MORE
Some art careers are cut short by alcoholism, drugs or the dark fog of depression. Not so with Pablo Picasso: His main vice was the studio itself. Toward the end of his 92 years, Picasso was still working eight-hour days, sometimes staying up past 2 a.m. to finish a canvas. Estimates of the Spanish-born, Paris-based artist's lifetime output hover around 50,000 artworks - a jaw-dropping number.
"There's never a time when you can say, 'I've worked well and tomorrow is Sunday,' " the artist once said. "As soon as you stop, you start over."
Producing was never the problem. Instead, what declined was Picasso's ability to make art that mattered, speaking to anything other than his own tastes, compulsions and restlessness. READ MORE
Rome conformed to the way Guston saw art history generally: Fragments of ruins dotted a landscape that has been subject to upheavals, repurposing, and strange juxtapositions. One need look no further than the broken marble foot of Serapis—a pagan god’s foot carted off by Christian powers which sat outside the shop where Guston bought art supplies. Once part of the likeness of a god, this fragment was transformed into mere decoration, and only hinted at its former life and grandeur. This foot is precisely the sort of ominous disembodied fragment Guston relied on; not surprisingly, it made its way into a number of the Rome paintings. READ MORE
“Hide/Seek” significantly overhauls the canon of American modernism, directing the viewer to what many curators have either failed to recognize or outright ignored about a number of major artists, including Thomas Eakins, Marsden Hartley, and Robert Rauschenberg. Further, “Hide/Seek” shows how different strategies in modern art image making—from ash-can school realism, to abstraction, to constructed photography with costumes and alter egos—have been used to telegraph difference. The show ultimately reminds us that homo- and heterosexuality have not always been as they are right now—that they are, in fact, fluid constructions, open to redefinition in relation to one another. More than the deployment of Christian icons or homoeroticism, that’s what really should make cultural conservatives nervous, or angry, or both. READ MORE
Arguably, no other artist has designed his own celebrity as thoroughly as Marcel Duchamp. The French-born artist, who drifted to New York around 1915 and took U.S. citizenship in 1955, made cultivating his outsized image his biggest artistic project. Toward that end, Duchamp turned a coterie of collectors, artistic fellow travelers, and female counterparts into his collaborators. Throughout Inventing Marcel Duchamp, the National Portrait Gallery’s current exhibition, curators Anne Collins Goodyear and James W. McManus make clear how Duchamp relied on others, converting them into enablers or co-conspirators in the creation of his own personal myth. READ MORE
It’s pretty hard nowadays to recapture the sense of outrage generated by photographer William Eggleston’s show at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976. Critics at the time turned up their noses at Eggleston’s super-saturated colors, his unglamorous subjects plucked from the streets of Memphis, Tenn., and his oddball compositions—which he claimed were arranged to mimic the Confederate flag. Visitors to the current Eggleston retrospective, "Democratic Camera: Photographs and Video, 1961–2008," aren’t likely to be riled the same way. The current show, organized last year by the Whitney Museum of American Art, will likely appear to contemporary eyes as simply venerable 1970s street photography: sometimes gaudy, sometimes ecstatic, but basically traditional—hardly the stuff of scandal. READ MORE