Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Francois-Marie Banier at Villa Oppenheim, Berlin

I confess I'm a sucker for art that includes text. Duane Michals' work was some of the first art to ignite my passion for photo collecting. Since then I've been excited by Augusta Wood, Graham Dolphin, Carl André, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, and many others. So, I was eager to see the Francois-Marie Banier show at Villa Oppenheim in Berlin ( The artist has led a remarkably varied artistic life. He has painted, made photographs, written novels and plays, and is a regular contributor to magazines on both sides of the Atlantic. He is well-known in Europe and has a social life that has included some very famous names.

His photographs are often of those famous people, but the photos are usually the least of the work. Mr. Banier writes on his photos. Now when I say he writes, I mean he covers his prints with lines and lines, and lines of swirling text. I am reminded of the scenes from the movie "A Beautiful Mind" where the schizophrenic math genius John Nash is shown to have covered every inch of his garage with obsessive, psychotic text. There is something obsessive and perhaps mentally unbalanced about Mr. Banier's photos. They are each one-of-a-kind works that display a kind of verborrhea one rarely encounters in stable minds. The viewer is assaulted by words covering, in some cases, every available space of the photograph.

I struggled to find my way with these photos. I am, as I said, attracted to art work that combines text with image. I also like work that has an obsessive nature. But my initial reaction was to be a little put off by the photos. Perhaps it was because many of them are in French and my francophone skills weren't up to the translation. Still, I wondered whether these words were meant to be read in their entirety. It would be a huge task to read an entire Banier photo. Even the ones in English were hard to decipher and had a rambling, stream-of-consciousness quality. Then I started to look at them as a graphical device. Now, a new door was opening for me. The text took on a visual rhythm that, in it's best examples, was synergistic with the image. The photo itself was maybe not so engaging, and the text by itself was not so engaging, but together they had undeniable power. Favorites of mine are a massive photo of a park bench at the edge of a lawn called "Jardin du Luxembourg" (2005), and a portrait of Vladimir Horowitz that is one of the artist's first written photos.

It has been said that great art asks questions. If that's true, then this is great art. It is impossible to see this work and remain neutral. It fills your eyes and brain with questions and a desire to see and learn more about the work. Check it out and let me know what you think. His website is I would love to start a discussion of his work.

A list of A-List work I saw at Miami/Basel

In no particular order and with hyperlinks where I could find them:

Thorsten Brinkmann had his first showing on this side of the Atlantic with Berlin gallery Kunstagenten ( devoting their entire Scope fair booth to his photos and sculptures. I have been a huge fan of his work since I stumbled across it at ArtForum satellite fair, Kunstsalon, 2 years ago. It seemed that he was a big hit with a number of museum curators taking notice of him for the first time. Check it out on the gallery website. It's wonderful work and going fast.

Felix Schramm - Really intriguing photo collage. His sculptural work revolves around destruction and re-formation of space. In his photographic work, he photographs his installations then tears up the photos to use as materials in photo collage. There are no photos of the photos on this website, but you can find the work at this gallery.

Miyako Ishiuchi - Remarkably fearless and unblinking photographer. Hardly known here even though she was the Japanese representative at the 2005 Venice Pavilion. Two portfolios on view at Photo Miami were amazing: "Mother's" and a group of portraits of a 90+ year old Butoh dancer. The "Mother's" series includes shots of her aging mother mixed with details of her possessions, some of them post mortem. Beautiful and horrible at the same time. Filled with love and obsession.

John Slezaker - I have blogged on this artist before. He was part of a large show at the Rubell Collection as well as a solo artist booth at the main fair by "The Approach Gallery", London.

Danica Phelps - I have been following this artist for over a year now. I saw her in the Daimler-Chrysler collection show in Berlin last month. Sister Gallery, LA ( and Ritter/Zamet Gallery, London (
were showing fine examples. Zach Feuer in NYC also shows her. I have to get off my butt and actually buy one. I love the combination of minimalist aesthetic with the obsessive indexical calculations. It's very personal and autobiographical work, but in such an objective way. I can get lost in the graphical nature of the visual field or start looking at the budget details of every day for a month.

Corbin Walker was represented at Green on Red Gallery
Tremendous computer generated work on paper. He writes a program that taxes the computer and the paper to their very limits. Once he has a print with which he's satisfied, he destroys the program leaving a one-of-a-kind image. Super.

Hew Locke had sculpture and photographs in his signature over the top voodoo baroque style. I thought the photographs were irresistible. Hales Gallery London teamed up with Pierogi and Ronald Feldman in a warehouse in Wynwood. An oasis for art lovers.

Matt Ducklo takes pictures of blind people as they are given access to touch and experience sculptures in museums.

Adam Fuss showed more of the smoke photograms I love at Galerie Karsten Greve including a non-photogram platinum photo that bewitched me. At Xaverier Hufkens Gallery I was shown African mask photograms that the artist produced specially for the gallery and which are only for sale in Belgium.

Latin american op-art sculpture was everywhere. Art Miami fair could have been billed as the greatest exhibit of Latin American Op-Art ever. Walking through the fair was a treat if only for this reason.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Musings in the form of a rant from Art Basel/Miami Beach

I don't usually use this forum to rant. I think it's important to remain basically positive since so many blogs are used as a venting festival. But something about this place just makes my blood boil. It seems to be a magnet for what I call VSIPs - Very-Self-Important-People. To have so many people in one place who are each convinced that their objective is the highest priority in the world is a recipe for mass bad behavior. At any second one is in danger of being clotheslined by some gallerist/art advisor/rich person with a cell phone glued to one ear. They all go barreling down the aisles with the phone up to their ear and the elbow sticking out. God help you if YOU are not looking out for THEM. You will certainly get that elbow in your face. Any conversation can be interrupted. There is no "excuse me" or waiting for a conversation to be finished. Just a tap on the shoulder to ask what the price or edition size is of this or that. Whatever conversation that was occurring before this must-know-this-millisecond question was asked could not possibly be as important as MY question. Get outta' the way.

Plenty of other people have written about how bad art fairs are, and what a terrible place they are to see or appreciate art. This is old -but true- news. Fewer have spoken about what an awful place they are to just stand in. One is bumped, and shoved, and pushed, and spilled on, and whatever else can happen when the people around you could not care less about civil behavior. People were barking on cell phones, cutting in lines, barking claims for preferential treatment, and crowing about this or that fancy party invite. I had the sense that it would be possible to look to my side and find a gentleman that was peeing on the spot while talking a deal on his phone - one just couldn't be bothered to go ALL the way to an actual toilet!

Along those lines, I will relate an actual experience I had. I went to the men's room and as I sidled up to the urinal, I overheard a cell phone conversation in one of the stalls. "Uh huh, uh huh, yeah, yeah, ok, I'll call you right back. Yeah, just a few minutes, I'll be right back to you. No, really, I'll call you back in just a few. Yep....ok. Bye" Just a second later there was the sound of an urgent evacuation. I didn't wait to hear if the conversation started again after the flush. This made me wonder, what was the conversation leading into the bathroom? What was SO urgent that it couldn't wait while the gent calmly walked to the toilet. I can imagine him barreling down the aisle, elbow out, "We can offer you the piece for $145,000. It's great work, but we've got a lot of offers. You're going to have to make a decision right away." he steps into the stall, locks the door and pulls down his pants....."No, we won't be getting more work and $145,000 is a fantastic price. Uh huh, uh huh, yeah, yeah, ok, I'll call you right back. Yeah, just a few minutes, I'll be right back to you. No, really, I'll call you back in just a few. Yep....ok. Bye". Flush. This is what I call doing your business. Chapeau to the gent in the stall. His focus should be an MBA class model.

There is another element that contributes to the unpleasant vibe in Miami and other like fairs. Unless one has a few hundred thousand dollars to bestow here or there(and sometimes not even then!), this fair is simply not intended for you. Now I am quite comfortable viewing, appreciating, and learning about art which I cannot possibly afford to buy. I don't waste anyones' time when I'm not serious about a work, but I'm happy to be there to see what is on offer. I mean, this is a grand bazaar where work to be sold is put up for public perusal. But that is not the assumption of most of the galleries here. They know the few hundred "real" buyers they want to meet. If you are not among the recognized few, you will be ignored to a degree that will make you feel like the fat, pimply kid at the fraternity rush. I make a baseball metaphor: If a pitcher and batter are roughly well matched, the batter may or may not swing. But if he does, there is some chance that he will actually hit the ball. However, if the pitcher is at a level too much above the batter, it won't matter if he raises his bat off his shoulder or not. If he swings, he will not connect. Faced with that kind of odds, what is the lure of trying to swing? There is no pleasure in guaranteed failure. Galleries at ABMB are not pitching to me, and after a few hours I feel the ennui of guaranteed failure seeping into my blood. Even when I love the art, I feel disconnected; this event has no relation to me. I am made to feel like an interloper and I cannot sustain my interest.

One could claim that this is sour grapes on my part. It could be imagined that I wish I could be a player, so when I meet the reality of a high finance art world, I'm bitter at my real world options. Maybe. But then, why make these public events? Why not just invite those few hundred high rollers and call it a day? Instead of asking to see the ubiquitous VIP cards at the door, insist on checking a recent bank account return. Perhaps that would thin the herd and make all participants happier.

Last, I was completely befuddled by the security check at the door that insisted that there be no cameras inside the fair. No cameras? There were more cameras inside the fair than in Times Square on New Year's Eve. There were camera phones, pocket cameras, disposable cameras, digital SLRs, and every other possible picture taking device. What could possibly be the genesis of this rule? And what could possibly be the reason for keeping it when it is so thoroughly and resoundingly ignored? To be forced to leave your camera at the coat check and then to find thousands of picture-takers inside was the yet another little indignity to be heaped on the hoi polloi. It was one more little reminder that you weren't really welcome here.

Not everything was so frenetic and unpleasant. For the second year in a row I spent an inspiring few hours at the Margulies Collection. Lat year was 90% photographs and 10% sculpture. This year the proportions were reversed. Much of the sculpture was devoted to explorations of representations of the human form. Anthony Gormley, George Segal, and Magdalena Abakanowicz were all beautifully represented. The wall text for Ms Abakanowicz' work included a short toast she gave in 1993. I found it touching and inspirational. I have thought of it many times since so I reproduce it here.

"I wanted to tell you that art is the most harmless activity of mankind. But I suddenly recalled that art was often used for propaganda purposes by totalitarian systems.

"I wanted to tell you also about the extraordinary sensitivity of an artist, but I recalled that Hitler was a painter and Stalin used to write sonnets.

"Art will remain the most astonishing activity of mankind born out of struggle between wisdom and madness, between dream and reality in our mind.

"Each scientific discovery opens doors behind which we are confronted with new closed doors.
Art does not solve problems but makes us aware of our existence.
Art prepares our eyes to see and our brain to imagine.
To have imagination and to be aware of it is to benefit from possessing an inner richness and spontaneous and endless flood of images. It means to see the world in its entirety, since the point of the images is to show all that which escapes conceptualization.

"I propose a toast to celebrate imagination which is more universal than any language."

I would raise my glass to that idea any time......

Other sculpture on display explored how one realizes a line in space: how can geometry exist off of the page. Marvelous work by Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Olafur Eliasson, and, especially, a remarkable light sculpture by Anthony McCall demonstrated the thesis with great panache. I was only missing a Fred Sandback piece to make my pleasure complete.

Elsewhere, Joe Amrhein of Pierogi Flatfiles and Ronald Feldman teamed up for a second year (this year with Hale Gallery from the UK) in a warehouse space in the Wynwood district. This was an art lovers' oasis. Yes, art was for sale. Yes, the purpose of the venture was commercial. What separated the venue from the rest was how much space was devoted to the work. One was encouraged to look, to pause, to discuss, to actually experience the art on view. The atmosphere was one of respect, fun, and curiosity. I couldn't wait to see what was in store for me around each new corner of the space. As it was last year, this was a haven of good art. What was new this year was a BBQ party on Thursday night. I have not had so much fun at an art party in recent memory. This was what all art events should aspire to. People were open, talking, laughing; there was good food and alcohol; and best, a diverse program of fine art was there to explore and discover. Heaven. A big ovation to the three host galleries for making it happen.

I could fill 10 more blogs with the stinkers and standouts of the art I saw. Maybe I'll post something later with a few names and photos. For now, it's good to think that all the VSIPs are scattering to the four winds. For next year I'll have to think whether the Pierogis and Margulies of the world make all the other aggravations worth the trip.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Neue Heimat at Berlinische Galerie

While in Berlin, I had a chance to see a marvelous exhibition at the Berlinische Galerie ( It was a mixed media show comprised of artists who currently make their home in Berlin. The title of the show, "Neue Heimat", had a triple message. The first was that these artists had made a new home in Berlin. The second was that much of the work explored questions of homeland, nationality, and the meaning of a home. The third and least obvious was pointed out to me that much of Germany's public housing projects were called Neue Heimat by the government. I love multi-layered exhibitions like this where there is so much to be read into every work. Of course, the theme of the show rises and falls on the quality of the work included, so it was high tide with the wealth of intriguing art on display.

Tea Mäkipää started things off in grand fashion with a to-scale re-creation of an apartment building stripped to the bone of all but its outer frame and interior plumbing. It recalled the triumph of Monica Sosnowska's installation at the Polish pavilion at Venice this summer.

Miguel Rothschild built a geometric tour-de-force in a Dürer inspired polyhedron made entirely from colored plastic straws.

Michael Sailstorfer had another to-scale piece representing an inflatable battle tank. It would take about 30 seconds to puff up to its full phallic mightiness, then, turret first, it would de-tumesce in a most satisfying fashion. If only actual battles could be fought with this work.

Florian Slotawa had a marvelous idea to question the idea of home-ness combined with the questions of what it means to live with art. He was commissioned to photograph the collection of a museum. Rather than go on site, he had the museum deliver all of the art to his home for him to photograph there over the course of a few weeks. Then the photographs of the objects were displayed in the museum along with an installation sculpture comprised of all the packing materials that were used to bring the art to his apartment. Witty, fun, and full of good questions, I loved this piece.

Maria Vedder did a video work that placed her camera under opaque Plexiglas flooring in a public space. The upward-looking rhythms and geometries of the people as they passed over the camera were beautiful though vertiginous. The video display was placed above a door adding to the disorientation, since it was a place where it was just possible there could be a window. The light of the video was believable as daylight streaming in. First-rate video work.

Last and not at all least were the drawings of Jorinde Voigt. This is an artist I suspect is not so well known yet in the US. Her complex, layered, and text/number based work is not easy to parse, yet yields pleasures of both the intellectual and visual kind. Reproductions here would not read well enough to do her work justice. Check out her website and begin o explore this remarkable artist.

There was yet more to see in this rich, varied show. After the Berlin in Lights show this Fall at Carnegie Hall, perhaps one of the NYC museums would find it an interesting parallel to mount this show here as well. It is further documentation that Berlin is one of the true centers of creativity happening now world-wide.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Gee whiz in Berlin

Nothing brings out the little boy in me like a cool machine. And I walked around the Martin-Gropius-Bau show called "From Sparks to Pixels" like a wide-eyed 6th grader. Neat!

All kinds of toys and contraptions and whooziwuzzits were on display. I can't say all of them had me thinking of art, but the show certainly held my attention from start to finish (and we know how short the attention span of a sixth-grader is!). The best of them were remarkable.

The first work to really catch my eye was Gregory Barsamian's "The Scream". The press release for the show describes, "Gregory Barsamian combines his love of animation, sculpture and mechanics together with his strangest dreams. He avoids the heaviness of the zoetrope drum – that ancient forerunner of cinema – thanks to a stroboscope that is synchronized to the circular rotation of his sculptures. In this way, for each flash of the stroboscope, one sculpture representing a stage of the metamorphosis follows after the other, giving the impression of a constant transformation of its shape, the film being replaced by the material. " On a spinning wheel, Barsamian places a sculpture that is in a progression like a series of gels in a cartoon or a series of stills in a movie. In this sense the work is perfectly photographic and cinematic, yet it's turned on its head by being 3 dimensional and 100% sculptural. I sat and watched, and watched , and watched.

Christian Partos of Sweden had three works that seduced. The first was a maquette of a proscenium of a burlesque show. On the stage, the shadow of a dancer was limned by two criss-crossing spotlights. Only there was no dancer there. We had the undulating shadow of a woman as she strips onstage, yet there was no body or representation of a body to be seen. Talk about a tease. It was fun.

In M.O.M. - Multi Oriented Mirror, five thousand slanted mirrors reflect the illuminated wall on the opposite side of the room. By using micro gradations of slanting angle, each reflection has a different shade of gray. The reflections create a portrait of his deceased mother. It is trompe l'oeil at it's most beguiling - creepy and transient. It seemed the very essence of a ghostly visage.

Visp, is a light installation full of playful and hypnotic references.The piece is a continuously changing shape made of 5 light-wires, 30 feet long, spinning like skipping-ropes (imagine the playground game with 2 girls spinning multiple jump ropes for a third to skip in and out of). A computer, which also revolves, switches LEDs on and off to create animated patterns on the revolving surface. This was full-on gee whiz cool. The only thing that could have made it cooler for 6th grade eyes would be if someone could have gotten hurt by watching it.

Last on my list, and very much for adult eyes was Thomas McIntosh's Ondulation. The wall text states, "Ondulation created by Thomas McIntosh in collaboration with Mikko Hynninen and Emmanuel Madan is a composition for water, sound and light. McIntosh plays with the reflection of light on the surface of the water, which is set into motion by sound. The pool becomes a liquid mirror, visualising these motions and reflections." The piece is a huge installation in an even larger open room. In the center is a pool approximately 20x10 feet. Various lights are set around the room. Sound is directed into the pool creating patterns and textures on the water. As the sound changes (in very slow, minimalist sections), so does the light. We see white raking light, blue light from above, flashing lights - each of them interacting at that moment with whatever pattern is in the water to make a reflection on the back wall of the room. Think Turrell in 3-D with sound. This was great. I sat for long minutes to see what the next wave would bring. It was meditative in the best sense (I guess you could say meditation inspiring). It also made me want to keep looking and coming back to see again like the best art does. It also had a photographic slant to me in that it seemed that the light was being used to "print" on the surface of the water. Not permanent like a gelatin emulsion, but somehow photographic.

I hope the whole show comes to New York. It would be a big hit if we could find someplace that could house the scale of it. If it came, I would be a kid in a candy store.....

Friday, November 16, 2007

Less worried at Paris Photo

I am happy to report that Paris Photo seems to be undeterred despite all of the labor problems in the French capitol. On a selfish note, I got a cab at the airport with no delays, and my lodgings are just a few blocks from the fair. My informal sample of exhibitors and attendees yielded a few stories of long walks and frustrating waits for cabs. But overall, the stories I heard from people were positive and hassle-free.

The fair today was not elbow-to-elbow crowded, but there was a good, solid crowd all day. Many booths were quite busy and clearly there were sales happening. I asked about the professional preview, which I had missed. One gallerist said that it had been very busy, possibly because only the most serious collectors had made it a point to come. He said that the opening in the evening had been less well-attended, but the preview had made up for it. Combine that with a busy day today and I think it's safe to say that Paris Photo is alive and well. That's good news in my book. I had to miss a fun sounding collection visit/dinner this evening because there were simply no cabs to be had. I suspect there will be other stories of difficulties getting to less central satellite events, but at least the fair itself is thriving and humming with activity.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A magical evening in Lausanne (Ray K. Metzker at Musee d'Elysee)

William Ewing introducing Ray K. Metzker, "Mrs. Metzker" Ruth Thorne-Thompson, Laurence Miller, Ann Tucker, and Nathalie Herschdorfer

Mr. Metzker giving his remarks

A few installation views

Sometimes I just get lucky.

I won't claim luck in discovering the pleasures of the photography of Ray K. Metzker. I found it on my own and I've worked to learn more about and become familiar with his opus. It isn't really luck that I'm here in Lausanne for the opening of his new retrospective at the Musée d'Elysee. I mean, it was planned to coincide with the opening of Paris Photo, so I knew I'd be in the neighborhood, so to speak. It certainly isn't luck that Bill Ewing put together a great show. He's a top-notch curator who's deeply knowledgeable about Mr. Metzker's work, and the work is spectacular. It would be strange if that combination produced a bad show.

What was lucky was my experience of it. By New York standards, it was not crowded at all. I was able to really view the show, top to bottom. It's laid out on three floors in roughly chronological order: 1956-2007. I was lucky to hear Mr. Metzker's emotional and humble remarks of thanks to the curators and to his gallerist(of 25 years) Larry Miller. Larry Miller gave a heartfelt tribute to his friend and gallery artist. He said that one of the pleasures of Metzker's work is that, no matter how many times you look at it (and he's been looking at it intimately for over a quarter century), new connections, questions, and pleasures can be found every time you look. That idea led to where I started to get really lucky.

As I began to tour the show, Larry joined me and added his deeply informed views on this picture and that. He always has a perspective on the work that comes from a place that I wouldn't have found on my own. Later, I ran into Ann Tucker, curator of the Houston Museum of Fine Art who had mounted her own exhibit of Metzker 20 years ago. Eventually, Larry, Ann, and I spent almost an hour in the last third of show discussing Mr. Metzker, his peers and photography in general. If there is a better way to see a show of work you love, I've not found it; looking at and talking about the work with two people who love it as much as me and know much, much more than me. It was an impromptu graduate seminar in Metzker with me as the sole student. Lucky!

Wall text at the museum informs us that Mr Metzker sometimes views his photography through a metaphor of music. He has themes, variations, tones, and rhythms. Seeing his work in a retrospective context, I couldn't agree more. While the various series of his career show tremendous variety, creativity and breadth, there is a thread that runs through. Just as it is fascinating to view the work year by year and decade by decade, it would be equally illustrative to see the work mounted as a set of themes and variations.

It's a treat to link work from disparate periods who are clearly soul brothers separated by decades. We see Mr Metzker's radical use of large spaces of pure white. Sometimes these spaces bleed out to the edge of the frame and into the white of the photo paper. It seems like some content has been ripped out of the photograph, literally torn like a constructivist collage. Yet on examination, the print is a straight photograph constructed purely in Metzker's camera and darkroom. We see these white spaces in work from every decade: early city views, City Whispers, Landscapes, and most notably in the prints from New Mexico.

The blacks, too, are remarkable. Sometimes there are fields of black so inky deep and dark, one can only get lost in them. Other times, further examination reveals the subtlest shadows in what at first seemed to be just blackness. That Mr Metzker's tonal range goes from white the color of undeveloped photo paper to a black that seems to absorb color shows what a virtuosic printer this artist is.

How Mr. Metzker organizes space is manifested in a multitude of materials that crop up decade after decade. We see chain link fences, stairs, bricks, and the geometry of dozens of city views rendered again and again into an abstract cohesion in his viewfinder. It seemed that one could organize a show just of his use of chain link fencing. Examples from every series except the landscapes come to mind. I posited to Ann Tucker that a difference between Harry Callahan and Metzker is that Callahan is almost always more in close and tight; the figure is more personal, while Metzker takes the more distant, objective view. She replied that she thought that Callahan was about the figure represented in a cityscape, while Metzker was more about a cityscape with a figure or figures included in this view. A subtle but important distinction, I think, especially since even now people conflate the student with the teacher.

Continuing the musical metaphor, I am reminded of a quote by the french conductor and composer, Pierre Boulez. He said after twenty years, he was finally beginning to be spontaneous. This is not a comment on stiffness and lack of inspiration, it's a paean to the creativity that comes from discipline. If you work and work and work, you become so entwined with the material that real improvisation is possible. It's fashionable to just "let it all go", or "just go up and jam", but this approach rarely yields true creative fruit. The best jazz artists, indeed artists in general in my view, find spontaneity from a rigorous work ethic and a strict intellectual foundation. I see this in every Metzker photograph. He is a WORKING photographer. That he can riff on his blacks, or his whites, or fences, or cityscapes comes from the foundation of a language rooted in visual philosophy. By taking pictures and working in the darkroom non-stop he anneals this language into a body of work that speaks in every picture of inspiration and freedom.

A famous french actor once said that to be a great performer one must have a cool head and a hot heart. Mr. Metzker's photos reveal him to be a performer at the highest levels of his art.

If you're lucky, you'll see this show. In any case, explore this artist's work. It is its own reward.

Musings from a trip to Japan (III) Kikai

How important is it for an artist to stake out new visual territory? Arnold Schoenberg once said that there's a lot of great music left to be written in C major. I would transpose that quote to photography by saying that there are a lot of great portraits left to be taken in black and white.

I bow again to Christopher Phillips for introducing me to the work of Hiroh Kikai (for a really good Kikai overview, go to Wikipedia site - ). I was immediately drawn to the work, but I discounted it because it was presented in the nostalgic vernacular of silver/gelatin, black & white prints. I had this argument with myself throughout the Japan trip. I saw many Japanese "versions" of Aaron Siskind, William Klein, Harry Callahan, etc, etc. Certainly Mr. Kikai's work is in, at worst, a strong artistic legacy that starts with August Sander and stretches through Lisette Model to Diane Arbus. During my internal argument, I was reminded of a conversation I had years ago with a musician as we listened to the jazz violinist, Stuff Smith. Smith had maybe the most nasty sound and questionable technique you could imagine a violinist could have. He made the violin sound like a cross between a saxophone and a trombone. Yet, he was irresistible. After a few moments of listening she said, "It really has nothing to do with technique, does it? You can hear in an instant if someone is talking through their instrument or not". Clearly, Mr. Kikai is talking to us. (And please don't confuse my analogy with any hint that Mr. Kikai's work is less than technically wonderful. His silver/gelatin prints are luminous, tonally sophisticated objects that seduce even without their complex subjects). If these portraits share a vocabulary with earlier masters, it's still clear that Mr. Kikai's personal voice rings through loud and clear. There is inspiration from the past, but no slavish homage. The work communicates directly and honestly with a perspective that is purely from the artist.

I remember speaking with a curator from a major NYC museum photo department about what attracted her to this artist or that. She offered that one characteristic she often looked for was an obsessional approach to a certain subject or process. She felt that this single-mindedness frequently yielded high quality work. This is nowhere more true than the Asakusa portraits of Hiroh Kikai. He has been going to the same temple in the same district of Tokyo for the last 30 years photographing the denizens of this particular neighborhood. I would compare it to perhaps going to Washington Square park over a similar period. While the population is not at all homogeneous, there still is a distinctive stamp to who one might find there. The artist has created a typology that doesn't pretend to be taxonomic, scientific, or objective. He finds subjects that appeal to him, asks them if they are willing to pose, then takes just a few shots over the 5-15 minutes he has to capture the picture. The results, often in front of the same backdrop of the temple, communicate a delight in humanity in all of its diversity and perversity. Though the subjects have often seen better days, there is no condescension, pity, or cliché. We are presented with portraits of men and women who are just seen as an individual in front of the camera. We are not asked to judge and Mr. Kikai doesn't judge. They are who they are - fellow humans.

As I mentioned earlier, the prints themselves are gorgeous. Part of Mr. Kikai's apprenticeship was working in a commercial darkroom. Clearly he learned his craft well. The photographs have a tonal sophistication and subtle light that is mostly not captured in the book reproductions. (I understand that there is a Steidl book in the works that I have no doubt will be a stunner.)

Like some other photographers with a single-minded approach - Friedlander, Winogrand, Sander, Bechers - these photos work exceptionally well as a group. Each photo is a strong individual, but when seen as a community, their power is synergistic. I'm eager to see a large professional installation of these portraits. I can imagine that it would be unforgettable.

So I guess this has been a long, long way around saying that my internal argument has been resolved. I believe the portraits of Hiroh Kikai are an important, unique, and deeply personal body of work. Like a beautifully dressed woman, they catch one's attention. But once you look past the clothes to look into her eyes, it's very hard to look away.

Paris Photo worries

I'm sitting in a hotel room in Geneva wondering whther I'll be able to get back to Paris on Wednesday for Paris Photo. I'm in Switzerland to attend the opening of a Ray K. Metzker show at Bill Ewing's Musee d'Elysee tomorrow(more on that in a dedicated post), but it is a question mark whether I'll be able to get back to France. The reason is a threatened general strike in France that has been completely under or un-reported in english language news sources. It threatens to grind Paris to a standstill if the rail and metro workers walk off their jobs tomorrow as promised. A similar event last month lasted only a day and yet took 3-4 days to untangle.

I'm worried for the success of Paris Photo and all my friends who have come here to sell, exhibit, or look at photography. Fingers crossed. The art world doesn't need another underperforming fair right now. I wonder how many collectors and art professionals are travelling to France unaware that they will meet a sea of stranded people at the airport all trying to get into the city?

I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Musings from a trip to Japan(II) Naoshima

I had never heard of Naoshima. Most of the art lovers I know have never heard of Naoshima. When I heard that the ICP trip was going to include a multi-leg, expensive trip to the site as part of its Japan trip, I said, "where?".

Well, there is definitely there there in Naoshima. (For a broader overview, go to It is simply the most remarkable synthesis of art, architecture, and nature I am likely to see. Broadly, one can break down the components of Naoshima into 4 categories: traditional Japanese houses given over to installations, outdoor installations, custom museums, and the hotel/spa/museum combo of Benesse House.

The most amazing one of these for me was the Tadao Ando-designed Chichu Museum. One walks up a small hill to enter a museum that is built almost entirely below ground. You enter at ground level at the crest of the hill after walking past Monet-like water lily ponds. These ponds are no accident for one discovers a room of late Monet water lily paintings set in a room that has been lit entirely with deflected daylight. One realizes that you have never seen paintings like these in natural light unless you are a billionaire collector. They hardly seemed real. But what made this place unforgettable was the synthesis of the architecture to the art of James Turrell and Walter de Maria. Mr Ando had created spaces in this maze-like cavern specifically to house and show these specific works. I've never been in a structure that was built to show half a dozen art works that are permanent and never meant to be rotated. It's a kind of commitment that I found awe-inspiring.

At every turn, Mr. Ando found a way to show you the art in some kind of optimal view, give you a feeling of spaciousness and contact with nature, and at the same time utterly controlling every view and angle. It's an experiential orgy. The building is built in such a way that there is no clear plumb line. You walk up or down a set of stairs and feel yourself to be on level ground, yet every thing you see tells your mind that the real world could be canted this way or that. You know which way is up since there are abundant sky views cut into the structure (including a prayer inspiring room for a Turrell sky painting), but other than that you are in M.C. Escher territory.

There is some debate about whether the architecture is the real star; whether the building so overshadows the art, that one only sees the building. For me this was not the case. I was stunned at how integrated the building and art were. I couldn't imagine one without the other. They seemed perfectly balanced. I've often said that DIA Foundation in Beacon, NY is the perfect place to see certain art. If you don't enjoy Sandback and Serra at DIA, then these artists will probably never speak to you. I felt the same way here. Turrell and de Maria will never have stronger advocates than the experience of this place. It shows their art to best possible effect and even makes it more than you thought it was.

There is so much more to report on about Naoshima, but I'll cut it a bit short here. I could fuss about the hotel rooms, I could extol the beauty of the George Ricky outdoor installations, I could swoon over the Miyajima and Turrell japanese house installations, and I could testify about the Hiroshi Sugimoto temple construction. But I won't. Naoshima is there to be seen and lived in. Describing it diminishes it somehow. It is a place art lovers should really try to just go to. It's a lot of work and bother, and it's not cheap, but it's a place like no other. In an art world that is always under threat of homogenization and global blandness, it's great to see a place that celebrates its sui generis status while being a forum for international art. Check it out.

Musings from a trip to Japan (I) Hatakeyama

Entrance to the Takahashi Collection

Up the stairs in an industrial building

Ritzy view from entrance of Takahashi Collection building

My reward for navigating and climbing. Complete "Slow Glass"

My first exposure to the work of Naoya Hatakeyama was at a Christies auction about two years ago. There were two prints from his "Slow Glass" series that attracted my eye and had a $4000-6000 estimate. I didn't know anything about what was behind the work. When the pair of photographs more than doubled their low estimate at the sale, I wondered who is this guy?

The next chapter in my Hatakeyama saga comes from Christopher Phillips, curator at ICP and well-known Asian photography scholar. We went through a number of Hatakeyama's books together. Christopher explained some of the underpinnings of the work, and took time to map out the inter-connectedness of of many of the series. I was hooked, but I had seen the majority of his opus only in book form.

Fast forward to a trip I took last month with ICP led by Christopher. I had the opportunity to see much of Mr. Hatakeyama's work first-hand. The photographs did not disappoint. What a marvelous, complex, and varied artist this man is. And combined with that, the physical reality of the prints is sumptuous and luxurious to the eye; something the books only hint at.

My first view of Hatakeyama on the trip was at the Obiyashi Collection. This is a private collection compiled by the owner of an international construction firm. He commissioned Tadao Ando to build a guest house/private museum space in a quiet, upscale residential neighborhood in Tokyo. When we were there, the installation was 100% Hatakeyama. The extra treat was that Hatakeyama-san was there to meet us and to talk a bit about his work.

Mr. Obiyashi clearly understands this art in that much of it is serial in nature. Where possible, he has collected and exhibited entire series. It was wonderful to see complete "River Series", "River Series Shadow", and "Bird". Also on view were examples of "Slow Glass", "Underground", and "Blast Series". My favorite was a small room dedicated to a collection of small "Light box/Maquettes". Mr. Hatakeyama explained that he had wanted to do an architectural project where the lights of the building were illuminated from the inside. However, when he tried to make his first attempts, he found that the light box made the black areas too gray. He experimented until he found a solution in binding a negative and a postive together. The light still emanates through the "light" areas but the blacks are dense and dark. It's dramatic work that needs to be seen first-hand.

A later stop on the trip was to Taka Ishii Gallery, which represents Hatakeyama. We saw new work from Brazil(I can't wait to see more of this), examples from the "Lime Works" series, and a few from the "Underground" series. While Hatakeyama is virtually unknown in the US, his presence in Japan and Europe is well-established. There just isn't that much work to be found on the market, so it was a pleasure to see a small trove at Taka Ishii.

On my own after the group had headed back to the states, I ventured to see the Takahashi Collection. They had an installation of the complete "Slow Glass" series. The gallery scene in Tokyo is not what Americans are used to seeing. There is no real gallery district like Chelsea, and often gallery spaces are in rather remote areas of the city in buildings that make west Chelsea look ritzy. There are also more private collections on view in private museum spaces than a US visitor would expect. While the trappings of these spaces aren't always luxurious, the art inside can be fatntastic.

This was the case here. After struggling to find the place with GPS-equipped cab driver, I wandered up a truly industrial stairwell that led me to a stunning array of Hatakeyama "Slow Glass". The introduction to the exhibit was a transcription of a talk on the work that Hatakeyama gave in Germany. I had never read such a complete and clear overview of the substance of this work. Its basis is a sci-fi short story in which a new glass is invented that absorbs time. An image or light goes in one side of the glass and is "read" on the other side seconds, minutes, or years later. Hatakeyama takes this as a metaphor for photography but adds a complexity that seduces. He was in residence in an English town that had been the subject/victim of intense urban planning. While the roads had been planned to make for total ease of driving without jams, it also made almost no space for pedestrian traffic. Hatakeyama used this layout to drive in a car and photograph desolate, people-less landscapes through rain streaked windsheilds; the slow glass. The images are haunting, beautiful, expressive, and intellectually engaging. I love them. I wish more Americans could see them like this.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Silverstein Photography Annual

I was glad I caught the last day of the first Silverstein Photography Annual at Bruce Silverstein's gallery. He had a marvelous idea: invite ten curators to each nominate one less-well-known artist to be shown in the gallery. This is such a fresh idea and one that makes me smile. New York galleries are not strangers to the idea of inviting up and comers, recent MFAs, or newly hot artists to exhibit. But this had a different feel. I really felt that this was an opportunity to be introduced to some work that I ordinarily wouldn't see and that wouldn't easily get so much wall space in Chelsea. Of course, Mr. Silverstein is in business, and the work was for sale, but overall the show had a generous feel. It was almost irrelevant whether one liked the art, it was just good to be there. I also liked that the gallery devoted space for multiple works by each artist. One had at least a clue if the artist was on to a good idea or just made one pretty photo.

The list of curators/nominators was:

Philip Brookman, Corcoran Gallery
Joshua Chuang, Yale University Art Gallery
Julian Cox, High Museum of Art
Jeffrey Hoone, Light Work
Lisa Hostetler, Milwaukee Art Museum
Carol McCusker, Museum of Photographic Arts
Miriam Romais, En Foco
Britt Salvesen, Center for Creative Photography
Rod Slemmons, Museum of Contemporary Photography
Anne Tucker, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The photographers were:

Noelle Tan
Phillip Pisciotta
Barret Oliver
Zoë Sheehan Saldaña
Sonja Thomsen
Lisa Robinson
Lola Flash
Michael Lundgren
Curtis Mann
Will Michels

I was especially taken by Noelle Tan and Michael Lundgren's work, but, as I said, picking or rating this one or that one would be beside the point. The spirit of this group show took the day. Mr. Silverstein calls it the first SPA. I hope he's right and we can look forward to a second.

A shameless plug

Be on the lookout for the December issue of Black and White magazine. I am interviewed in the Collector Closeup section by Shawn O'Sullivan. What fun.....

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Berlin Art Fairs part 2

Of course, there was more to see than just emerging artists. I knew I could count on Rudolph Kicken to have a scintillating booth filled with a combination of stellar names and less-well-known artists. Of the first type, there were wonderful examples of New Objectivity school and an array of first class photos of Christer Strömholm. Also, I was taken by a beautiful and powerful photo by Ryuji Miyamoto.

Of the second type, there was a very large scale installation by the art couple Anna and Bernhard Blume. I was unfamiliar with their work. I was told that this work is in the collection of MoMA and that they are better known in European collections. This work was from the 80's. I was surprised by the scale(over 10 feet high and at least 20 feet across), and the surreal and serial nature of the work. I had not seen anything quite like it. I will be looking to learn more about this work.

I was really impressed by the show at Postmasters this past year of the young artist, Anthony Goicolea. Aurel Scheibler Gallery ( had a larger scale work from that show. It was a standout.

Galerie Anhava from Helsinki had a strong showing you would expect from Helsinki school artists ( Of particular note for me was the work of Pertti Kekarainen. The series on view was of hallways and glass doorways filled with light and geometric forms. These are "straight" photographs that compel with their formal rigor and luminous aspect. Unlike so much work that I commented on from day one in berlin, this work has the appearance of 3 dimensions while existing in the traditional 2 dimensions of a photo. One can walk into these photos. They may be a little emotionally cool for some tastes, but I like them alot.

Berlin Art Fairs part 1

I spent the last 5 days at the Berlin art fair, Art Forum, and the 3 concurrent satellite fairs: Preview, Berliner Liste, and Kunstsalon. I came for Art Forum for the first time last year and loved it so much, I made a point of coming back this year. Berlin is a wonderful place for art fairs. There are so many interesting large scale buildings and sites it seems that looking at the venues becomes part of the adventure. Art Forum takes place in the Berlin Messe Halle (as it did last year). The website describes the venue as having "spacious exhibition halls with 15m ceilings and natural lighting along with the Palais am Funkturm built in the 1950s providing an ideal setting for the experimental display stands and lounge designs typically found at ART FORUM BERLIN". It's a beautiful and spacious place to see art. The 3 satellites were all at different venues from last year. Preview was at a hanger at the famed Tempelhof airport. Liste and Kunstsalon were at repurposed industrial sites. They all have a scale and atmosphere that I simply don't see at other cities' art fairs.

Another pleasure of Art Forum is that it has a truly adventurous spirit. There is much less "blue chip" art on display than at the other big city fairs. This means the satellites aren't a ghetto for younger artists and experimental work. Of course, this means that there's a lot of art that misses the mark or is not destined for bigger things. Great! The whole weekend feels like one big studio visit. Left and right one is exposed to unfamiliar work. If this was ever the goal of Art Basel, FIAC, and Art Cologne, it is now long gone at those fairs. In the same spirit -- and maybe because there has been such a mushrooming of new galleries in Berlin -- there are a lot of smaller and unfamiliar galleries at these fairs.

It seemed that there were some ideas or materials that were popping up in more than a few places. I saw a LOT of work that used mirrors - photos on mirrors, sculpture made with mirrors, mirrors incorporated into a variety of genres. It's not like this is a new idea, but I believe I was seeing more of it than I've seen for awhile.

Another form I saw many times was the architectural maquette. At Kunstsalon, one gallery had a model that must have been 2yards x 3 yards and showed a city block both in exterior and in cross-section. But there were 2 examples that I thought were particularly noteworthy. One was at Zak Gallery, a newer entry on the Berlin Linienstrasse ( The artist is Szymon Kobylarz. The website describes the work accurately as follows:
"The series Architektura, consists in part of paper models based on existing buildings in Polish cities. By accelerating the effects of time upon them, and by exposing them to the effects of water and fire, Kobylarz reduces the models to rubble. As though the buildings were predestined to collapse even before their construction, the models – no longer immaculate proposals for the future – have already collapsed. They remind us that even our most stable and concrete buildings are less than certain, indeed, less than enduring. "

The other maquettes I saw were the work of Maurice Van Tellingen at Ulrich Mueller Berlin ( Mr. van Tellingen makes a combination open light box/interior maquette that he combines with a small speaker to make an arresting small wall envirnment. They were beautiful and engaging.

Have I forgotten that this is a photoblog? No. But this three dimensional approach also found its way into a lot of photographic work.

Ji Yeon Heo ( a recent graduate from the class of Thomas Ruff. She employs the technique made famous by John Baldessari of using photos laminated onto foamcore in order to create a multi-layered photographic surface. Here are two views of the same work that show the literal depth of her work.

Her models are mannequins and her tableaux are scenes that recall soap operas or perhaps the covers of dime store novels of the 50's á la Thomas Allen. To my eyes, the work seems fresh and intriguing though rooted in multiple art traditions. I am eager to watch as she develops.

Those who remember William Ewing's "Re-Generation" show at Aperture will recall Martina Sauter's 3-dimensional explorations of cinematic frames combined with a mundane domestic frame. The best of them are thought provoking to me.

At Brussels gallery L'Usine, Jean Charles Delange explores 3 dimensionality by creating a sandwiched sculpture of glass, and then photographing the object with various lighting and angles. In the first image, the sculpture is displayed in front of the photo it generated. One sculpture can yield multiple photographic works as these two images demonstrate:

Artist Frederic D. from Berlin gallery "Nice and Fit" ( had a large scale work mounted to sheets of plastic. The result was surprisingly evocative. There was a craquellin effect on the surface of the plastic plus the surface of the plastic was wavy and textured. The subject of the work was a woman the artist had encountered by chance, but her affect was one of Madonna-like grace taken from 17th century painting. I'm not one to advocate technique over content, but this seemed like a happy marriage.

But the real find for me was Thorsten Brinkman. I first saw his work at the booth of Kunstagenten gallery at last year's Kunstsalon. This year year the gallery was showing at Preview. Mr. Brinkman creates whole environments. He builds the booth like a diorama in a natural history museum. He uses found elements of carpeting, rugs, paneling.....junk, to make sculpture, furniture, and atmosphere. But the stars of the show are the photographs. He makes self-portraits adorning himself with he same junk that fills the "room" and then positions himself in mock heroic classical poses. The result is a a scene that riffs on classical architecture, classical paiting, and classical decor. It's witty and fun with a sarcastic and serious underside that invites lots of further study and reflection. I'm hooked.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Revelations at the Lisette Model show at Aperture

The new show at Aperture is a real pleasure. It's a pleasure partly because one can always find new depths in the work of Model. Certainly part of the pleasure is the intelligent and layered hanging of the works chosen (kudos go to Diana Edkins and Larry Fink, co-curators of the exhibit). But, for me, the most pleasurable aspect of the show was the revelation of the work of her less well-known succesors.

I think most followers of photography are familiar with the opus of Diane Arbus. Followers of fashion work are probably aware of Bruce Weber. But I imagine that the other artists included in the show are not household names except to the most devoted photography lovers. Clearly, this should not be so, and perhaps this show will make headway into changing that.

The work of Bruce Cratsley occupies the entire east wall of the gallery and is the first work I saw as I entered the show. A photograph called "For Lisette" is the curtain opener.

Dark, edgy, mysterious...this is a perfect emblem for the whole show and a clear riff on Model's "Running Legs" series we see later in the show. Cratsley was a brilliant printer. The surfaces and tonal ranges of his prints support and augment the introspective and personal world he illustrates. After looking at just 3 or 4 photos I wondered why I wasn't more familiar with this artist. He seems to have no fear to explore any personal subject. Cratsley seemed to live Model's encomium "Don't click the shutter until the experience makes you feel embarassed". He is present at the sickbed and the deathbed of friends and lovers, and he turns the camera on himself with the same honesty with which he uses to explore extreme close-up portraits. This is wonderful work.

Mr. Cratsley's photos inform some gentle themes that run through the show. I say gentle because Ms Edkins and Mr. Fink present these themes as natural running currents, not as a didactic club. Self portraits are everywhere, but none are more honest and unflinching as Rosalind Solomon's.

Ms Solomon is known more for documentary work and has other powerful images in the show, but this is the one that haunts. Her eyes sear out of the photograph asking and accusing at the same time. Her two fingers censoring her pursed lips reflect onto the title, "Self portrait after 9/11", and make me wonder what combination of horror, anger, and sadness are being held in.

Another theme is portraiture of friends, colleagues, and lovers. This show makes it clear that these artists existed in a community. Peter Hujar photographs Lynn Davis and Gary Indiana, and Bruce Weber photographs Louise Bourgeois; Bruce Cratsley shows his partner from health to last breaths. It was fascinating to make my way through the show multiple times looking for connections and relationships.
Bruce Weber portrait of Louise Bourgeois.

Last on my list of special mention is Leon Levinstein. Mr. Levinstein delights in showing us the strange that resides in the normal and the normal that resides in the strange. We've experienced this perspective before because Lisette Model put it into our culture's visual cortex and then her most famous pupil, Diane Arbus, burned it in as if we'd looked at the sun without a filter. Still, Mr. Levinstein has his own syntax and adds a little dark humor besides. His untitled rear-view portrait could not be more prosaic or more strange but somehow stays in the mind's eye long after.

It's a fitting coda to an exhibition that shows how beautifully an artistic and pedagogical legacy can enrich and inform a cultural dialogue for generations. This is a remarkable show and a home run for Aperture. If you love photography, don't miss it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Akron Day 3 -- Laura Bidwell collection visit

My 3rd day in Akron I had the chance to view the collection of Laura and Fred Bidwell. The Bidwells were instrumental in making the Akron Art Museum expansion happen, and I knew that they are passionate photography collectors. They had an architect design their home for the optimal pleasure in viewing their collection. As I walked into the foyer of their home, the treasures that Laura first showed me did not disappoint.

First to catch my eye was a photograph that is among my favorites of all contemporary photographs: an Adam Fuss Daguerreotype of a water drop. I love this work and lust after it every time I see it. (The Daguerreotype theme was extended in another room with a haunting and lovely Dag of hands done by New York artist Jerry Spagnoli). Also in the foyer was work of Susan Derges. Those who read my blogs from the London shows know how much I like and admire this artist. A fine example from the "Observer and the observed" series was on view.

Photography fills this home. It is on every wall and catches your eye wherever you look. I could write a laundry list of the artists that fill the collection, but I think it's more important to say something else. I was really struck by how the Bidwells have commited to live with the art that they buy. It fills their home, their eyes, and their thoughts. While there are some "greatest hits" photographs, I was more struck by how personal the collection is. The Bidwells have followed their own muses. Also notable is how they have positioned the art so it creates conversations among the works. There are no real themes at play, but Laura and Fred have found harmonious juxtapositions that really encourage the art to comment on itself. The Dags are one example of this, but there are also interesting threads that include water, statuary, and cityscapes. It was a pleasure to see.

Before I finish, I can't resist mentioning a few more faves. I loved the Abe Morrell camera obscura scene in the front hall as well as the two Tim Lehmachers to the immediate right and left a you walk in. Upstairs are 2 monumental Lynn Davis photos that provide endless opportunity for reflection and meditation in the bedroom. This collection visit was a perfect way to sum up my Akron trip.

When I was a child in Akron, my parents filled our home with art and artists. When I think back, I remember Akron as a place that was ripe with creative people and artistic pursuits. Coming back as an adult, I see it hasn't changed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Akron Day 2 -- In the archives

I am a big fan of the dye transfer photographs of Harry Callahan. There were 3 beautiful ones included in the room devoted to Callahan in the Akron Art Museum's photo galleries. When I commented on how much I loved them, Barbara mentioned that she had had to choose 3 favorites from a group of 21 that the museum owns. I asked if I might be able to take a look. Barbara was most generous in letting me come back the next day to take a look.

Arnold Tunstall, the museum's registrar, met me to lead me down to a room where he had the prints laid out for me to see. We went through three different boxes. Wow, what a treat. I think this is some of Callahan's least known work. Some of it recalls his best known black and white street scenes only now re imagined in layered, deep, dye transfer color. There were two photos that were like photograms or collage constructions. Unusual and hypnotic. The best of these for me, though, were multiple exposures that also often contained reflections in glass. The frame was filled with information. I could see in one moment a brilliant formal study and in another moment a jumble of conflicting metaphoric images. In one moment a surreal study would fill my view, in another moment I could see a crystal clear street scene that was documentary in its voice (a few were eerie premonitions of Philip Lorca di Corcia's work). That all of this philosophical layering was compounded and enriched by the literal layering of the dye transfer process made these photos a complete delight. I just love this kind of work -- work that provides a doorway in and yet provides and endless labyrinth to explore once you walk inside.

I know there's no shortage of books on Callahan and even a few choice examples of his color work. I would love to see a monograph devoted explicitly to his exploration of the dye transfer process. I believe it would yield wonders.

Thanks again to Barbara and Arnie for the Akron Art Museum for giving me the opportunity to enjoy this wonderful work. If you can find examples of this work, check it out.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Akron Day 1 -- Akron Art Museum

Ok, I'll confess up front, with pride and a straight face -- I was born in Akron, Ohio. This area that was famous for rubber factories, burning rivers, and skies made rainbow beautiful from the pollution burning off in the lower atmosphere, is nothing like what it was in the days of my youth. Still, then as now, northeast Ohio is filled with fine artists and remarkable cultural institutions.

One institution that has run in a thread through my entire life is the Akron Art Museum. It is where I took my first art classes and learned about primary and secondary colors. It's where my father took art classes and met the community of artists whose work still hangs on his walls. Later, I met director Mitchell Kahan and chief curator Barbara Tannenbaum who came to the museum in 1986 and 1985 respectively. They introduced me to Duane Michals in person and to the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto, Harry Callahan, and Ralph Eugene Meatyard in the collection. The Peter Keetmans I own I first saw at the exhibition in Akron of the Irmas collection of self portraits. It is one of my favorite all-time shows.

The Akron Art Museum embarked on an ambitious expansion project a few years ago. Last July the project reached its completion with a gala re-opening of a beautiful new space and a dramatic increase in its gallery space. (Read more about the new building, the architects, and the museum at Today, at the invitation of Mitchell and Barbara, my family and I had the pleasure of a private tour of the new museum space and the collection.

Above you can see a few pictures of the new lobby which feature a Claes Oldenberg and a color wall drawing by Sol LeWitt. To those of you who may be surprised to hear the names Oldenberg and LeWitt mentioned in the same sentence as Akron Art Museum, prepare to be genuinely astonished. The Akron Art Museum has some really, really good art. Art that would be at home in any major institution anywhere. And lest you think that Akron is just following in the wake of its bigger city sister museums, one look at acquisition dates on the exhibition cards tells you that this museum has been consistently ahead of the pack.

My favorite example of this refers back to my blog from the Venice Biennial. Remember those massive, byzantine, bewitching wall hangings from El Anatsui? Well, guess what the Akron Art Museum has. I was informed by Barbara that the Biennial catalog needed to use a photo of the one in Akron because they couldn't get photos of the Venice ones in time for the catalog. Cool.

Also, Akron has a stunning display of the work of Chuck Close. Next to a large scale painting of "Linda" are 5 dye transfer "studies" for the painting. Each photo is gridded out in Mr. Close's well-known detailed working method with paint on the margins exploring the palette necessary to match each layer of the dye transfer emulsions. That the artist took the time and care to make a dye transfer for each stage of his working process shows that these photos are not just studies. They also cast brilliant light on the finished painting. It was a treat to see.

Also on view were first rate work by Doris Salcedo, Oscar Munoz, and two sculptural chairs by Yayoi Kusama. Mitchell confided that one of these were donated from a gallery that, at the time(1970), couldn't find a buyer. The other was donated by a collector who had bought it from another collector for whom the work was just too unusual. Mitchell still thinks they're marvelous, but he mused that the fact that they are much sought after now points to the fickle nature of the art market.

Akron Art Museum has long had a reputation for its photographic eye and photo holdings. When the noted photographer John Coplans was its director, he brought many of his colleagues to show at the museum and a few found their way into the collection. Barbara Tannenbaum has furthered and expanded on this history. Some of you will know her from her work on many well known photo books including an important monograph on Ralph Eugene Meatyard.

In 1991, the museum started the Knight Purchase Award for Photographic Media. With a grant from the Knight Foundation, Akron Art Museum was able to collect in relative depth work of a variety of living artists. Often, the purchase of the work from the Knight Fund, spurred local philanthropists to add more work by the same artist. The roster of artists that have been chosen is remarkable not only for the high level of art but also for the fact that there are no weak links. If you look at the roster of prize winners at any cultural institution, one expects to find hits and misses. It's inevitable. I challenge anyone to name the weak link in this roster:

Vito Acconci
Dieter Appelt
Harry Callahan
Sophie Calle
John Coplans
Samuel Fosso
Adam Fuss (including one of my favorite smoke photograms)
Gilbert & George
Eikoh Hosoe
Isaac Julien
Mary Ellen Mark
Richard Misrach
Oscar Muñoz
Robert Rauschenberg
Thomas Struth
Hiroshi Sugimoto
Carrie Mae Weems

As we toured the exhibition space devoted to the Knight purchases, I was struck by the depth represented of each artist -- a room of Callahan, a room of Sugimoto, a wall of Weems, a room of Misrach. This is a fabulous collection. Its been put together with love, intelligence, connoiseurship, and taste. It also points to what can be done with a limited initial gift when it is handled so deftly. One doesn't need to make a Rockefeller-sized gift to me the seed of an important and satisfying collection. Other smaller institutions would do well to study Akron's example.
Though Akron is prettier than it was when I was boy, I still can't say that it's a destination travel locale. But if you want to see a really exciting and satisfying art collection with an emphasis on photography, go to Akron. You won't be disappointed.