Grumpy, Old Men at National Academy Museum

Had I not read about the show, this image wouldn't have enticed me to see the exhibition.

The NA chose to feature this portrait by Peter Heinemann…

Paintings by a group of grumpy, old men currently line the walls of the National Academy Museum. “See It Loud: Seven Post-War American Painters” features work that “grew out of abstract currents, but shifted toward representation.” The artists are: Leland Bell, Paul Georges, Peter Heinemann, Albert Kresch, Stanley Lewis, Paul Resika, and Neil Welliver.

The exhibition “seeks to restore a sense of historical balance to the understanding of the history of American art.” According to the curator, Bruce Weber, “[a]ll of the artists in this exhibition insisted on the significance of figuration and landscape painting, even when it seemed irretrievably out of fashion.” It’s an intriguing idea. Perhaps another show will give that theme the breadth and dimension it deserves.

“See It Loud” would have benefited from asserting a more modest intention. The works on view are all on loan from the Center for Figurative Painting in Manhattan. As a result, the scope of the exhibition is limited by its source.

We weren’t merely being glib in calling these grumpy, old men. What came through in reading the wall texts and viewing the art was an essential disquiet among the artists. The show includes men exclusively, and they all seemed to be shaking their fists; embattled by an art world captivated by abstraction.

While the artists of “See It Loud” may have nursed wounds, feeling their work unjustly ignored, they reveled in their outsider status as well. Leland Bell referred to himself as “contentious…an odd man out. And a pain in the ass.” Peter Heinemann said he “had a problem with people throughout my life because I’ve been so egotistical.” Welliver too, was “ [a] pugnacious individual…” Each nurtured a complaint with the world. Were they all just dissatisfied art world outsiders; out of vogue and resentful? Or, was there something else going on unique to their “post-war” experience?

Stanley Lewis battled the canvas itself. He literally scored and cut his drawings and paintings. He found it “amazingly hard to start [the] drawings. The first couple weeks are HELL.” Well, they look it. It’s as if a relentless physical assault on the page would produce the result he desired. His works look tortured into existence.

Struggle manifested on Paul Georges’ canvases as well. Not a single one of his paintings possessed the balance and visual ease of inevitability. His attempt to “reconcile the scale and freedom of Abstract Expressionist painting with the figurative content of the Old Masters” was clearly fought with every brush stroke.

“See It Loud” will most likely add value and cachet to the collection of the Center for Figurative Painting. So, the museum achieved that goal. While the abstract vs. representational theme was probably the most obvious way to package these artists as a group, for us it didn’t really hit the mark. Still, it got us thinking about aspects of the post-WWII experience among artists who didn’t fully embrace the instruction of Hans Hofmann or Josef Albers. We wondered, not just about the choice to paint the figure and landscape in the face of the abstract expressionist juggernaut, but, considering this crew, the essence of masculinity at this time in history.

Neil Welliver's paintings looked great. This jpeg doesn't reveal why. (It's the paint.)

Neil Welliver’s paintings looked great. This jpeg doesn’t prove it, you’d have to see them in person.

What surprised us

Of the seven on exhibition we’re most familiar with the landscapes of Neil Welliver. We’d never been fans. His colors don’t meld. No scumbling, no washes. He’d simply start at the upper left hand corner of the canvas and work his way down and across. Perhaps our expectation of the sublime made his work appear dutiful and cold. He never seemed to really care about the Maine landscape he depicted.

Sometimes not liking an artist’s work is reason enough for us to seek it out. It’s a chance to either congratulate ourselves, or challenge our prejudice. This time we got schooled. We had to admit that Welliver’s canvases looked amazing. That hard-edged, paint-by-numbers quality was trumped by an exquisitely lush feeling for the paint. He had commanded his stroke across immense picture planes with fluid consistency. His images shimmered as if the paint were still wet. He was the highlight this time out.

If you decide to visit “See It Loud: Seven Post-War American Painters” there isn’t much time, the exhibition closes on January 26.

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Twelve Creches

To close the year we present 12 creches. St Francis of Assisi is credited with producing the first pantomime of the nativity in 1223. Performers still dress and play out the story of the birth of Christ in church and school productions. More ubiquitous are the sculpted versions of the scene. These depict Jesus lying in a manger with Mary and Joseph at either side. Depending on the complexity of presentation, there may be a stable setting and various characters – an angel with guiding star, animals, shepherds, the wise men and others. We found the examples below in a parking lot, on a fire escape, also in and around several local churches. Our critical eye tends to soften focus when confronted with these acts of devotion. We’re charmed by each display, humble or grand. Best wishes for the holidays, see you in 2014!

The meditation garden next to Saint Francis of Assisi Church at 135 West 31st Street.

The meditation garden next to Saint Francis of Assisi Church at 135 West 31st Street.

The view from Houston Street towards the creche of Saint Anthony of Padua Church on Sullivan Street.

The view from Houston Street towards the creche of Saint Anthony of Padua Church on Sullivan Street.

Left: the parking lot behind Saint Anthony's on Sullivan Street. Right: a fire escape on 14th Street.

Left: the parking lot behind Saint Anthony’s on Sullivan Street. Right: a fire escape on 14th Street.

Views of the manger and alter at the Church of Saint Bernard on 14th Street.

Views of the manger and alter at the Church of Saint Bernard on 14th Street.

The outdoor creche at Our Lady of Pompeii on Carmine Street.

The outdoor creche at Our Lady of Pompeii on Carmine Street.

Trinity Church near the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway.

Trinity Church near the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway.

View in front of Saint Patrick's Old Cathedral on Mulberry Street.

View in front of Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral on Mulberry Street.

The astroturf covered gangplank to the creche of Most Precious Blood Church on Mulberry Street.

The astroturf covered gangplank to the creche of Most Precious Blood Church on Mulberry Street.

Inside the church of Saint John the Baptist on 31st Street.

Inside the church of Saint John the Baptist on 31st Street.

In downtown Jersey City, at top the creche at Holy Rosary and below Saint Mary's.

In downtown Jersey City, at top the creche at Holy Rosary and below Saint Mary’s.

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Fran Lebowitz/The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The September 1981 cover of Interview magazine featured Fran Lebowitz. She looked sly and smoldering in the photo-based illustration by Richard Bernstein. Her eyes were piercing and she held a cigarette. Fran represented all that was smart and cool and she possessed the exact right balance of cranky humor. Later, the same illustration was used for the cover of her book Social Studies. However, the cigarette had disappeared––airbrushed away. Instead of leaning forward, intimately gazing at us through a wisp of smoke, Fran shrugged a hunched benediction. Or perhaps she just wanted us to shoo.

FranLebowitzI hadn’t intended to write about Fran Lebowitz. My assignment was to report on several small exhibitions currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: some recently acquired anamorphosis drawings; photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron; a group of Renaissance and Baroque bronzes, and a collection of works on loan from the Hildesheim Cathedral.

I started with the Hildesheim treasures and that’s where I became distracted. A gilded copper arm reliquary of the military saint Maurice caught my eye. The hand on this reliquary makes an elegant pinching gesture. It’s clear from markings that the fingers originally held an object soldered in place. It may have been an arrow to symbolize his warrior status or perhaps a victor’s palm branch. I’ve seen only a few arm reliquaries sculpted to depict objects held in the hand. Usually, they rest on their severed forearm empty-handed as those rubber glove molds at Fishs Eddy.

RelicOn the cover of Social Studies, we know what’s missing from the nonchalant vice of Fran Lebowitz’ fingers. But the knowing isn’t much comfort. The image is disconcerting––more so than the empty hand of St. Maurice. Maurice couldn’t care less about a palm frond; Ms. Lebowitz requires a cigarette. For the rest of my museum visit Fran Lebowitz remained in my thoughts. I wondered if she still smoked. If so, where? I wondered about the people and things that have changed or have gone missing from NYC since she graced the cover of Interview in ‘81. I wondered if those changes might have caused her perfect balance of cranky humor to skew towards persistent malcontent.

My reflections made the photo show of Julia Margaret Cameron more disagreeable than it might otherwise have been. Cameron managed to hustle some illustrious characters and profiles in front of her camera, but I’m not a fan of her milky heroines. The exhibition wall text excerpted a bad review she’d received during her lifetime. It included complaints about Cameron’s technical skill. It seemed less that the reviewer lacked sensitivity to Cameron’s vision and more that the critical language of the time came up short in articulating the underlying objections to her work. I doubt Fran Lebowitz owns any tender, sepia-toned photographs; hers are all black and white. They may be grainy, but they’re stark and exact. That’d be my guess. The edgy opposite of Cameron’s gentle maidens and disheveled luminaries.

I continued on towards those Italian Renaissance and Baroque bronzes. The bronzes were as good an excuse as any to amble through the exquisite rooms of the Robert Lehman Collection. All that velvet and panel inclined me to wonder what it had been like for Fran to hang out with her millionaire chum Malcolm Forbes. I pictured them cozy among his extraordinarily distinguished artworks and furnishings smoking tight, expertly rolled joints and drinking port.

Next stop — Anamorphosis: The Playground of Perspective. These mathematically distorted images from the 1400s to 1600s are terrific and fun to look at. One of the drawings is displayed with a shiny silver cylinder that makes it possible to decipher the mutated image. Engaging as the collection is, this area of the museum is my least favorite. No matter how good the exhibition, the 2nd floor space devoted to the drawing collections feels transitory. It’s a hallway on the way to something else––something bigger and better. As currently configured the area doesn’t encourage the thoughtful engagement the displayed works deserve.

Although I’d meant to focus on the small exhibits I couldn’t help but duck in for a quick preview of the Balthus show. That’s where I discovered yet another emptied hand. Among the not yet self-conscious, drowsy, dreaming girls was one who fully, luxuriously, occupied a green upholstered chaise longue. Balthus did a small oil sketch of her languidly stretched out with a knee propped up and her arm dropped to her side. Her hand absently caresses a cat. Perhaps Balthus was jealous of the attention the cat was receiving, because in the final, large canvas the cat is absent. The girl’s hand hangs at the exact moment she seems to anticipate finding her cat, but the gesture is unfulfilled.

BalthusThe theme of my visit, inspired by the portrait of Ms. Lebowitz, focused on missing parts. It was in conjuring her companionship that prevented the day from becoming a maudlin meditation on longing and loss. That’s why the Cameron images seemed so vapid. Her models play-acted an imagined past without vigor. No blood coursed in the veins of those characters. It’s impossible for me to imagine Fran Lebowitz as listless in the face of any loss, of whatever dimension. What has been taken away, or remains out of grasp can fuel desire and passion.

Something that hasn’t gone missing is the reliable presence of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a vast place. Offered here, a humble reminder that in addition to the attention grabbing, blockbuster shows, the many small galleries contain bountiful treasures. You won’t have to shoulder your way in to see them either. There’s plenty of room. One additional note, and I’m certain you know by now, kindly, no smoking.

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Halloween visit: Woodlawn Cemetery

Woodlawn_aWoodlawn_bWeeping cherubs, tabulating angels, draped urns, broken columns, faux bois typography – we fully embrace and celebrate memorial iconography. Woodlawn cemetery in the Bronx is home to many wonderful examples and one of our favorite spots to indulge the romantic lure of mournful sentiment. The work of McKim, Mead & White, Daniel Chester French and Louis Comfort Tiffany are among those represented in the 400 acre National Historic Landmark.

We thought it appropriate to pay a return visit this Halloween. We would commune with the spirits and, in keeping with our mission to explore intimate spaces, take particular note of the mausoleum interiors. There was a passing rain, but ultimately the light shimmered and the leaves presented a deep-dyed autumn palette as we tramped the wet sod and followed the gravel paths.

Woodlawn_cThis visit we made it a point to avoid getting locked in after dark. Last time we had to hoist ourselves over the spiked iron fence to exit. That wasn’t the first time we’d found ourselves locked in a cemetery after hours. We’d also gotten a bit turned around at Green-Wood in Brooklyn. TIP: if you find yourself surrounded by barking guard dogs simply stand still. Don’t move at all. Really. Personnel will eventually arrive in response to the ruckus. Even if you were up to shenanigans you might prefer to take your chances with the humans as opposed to the highly trained canines.

If you’re interested in celebrity Woodlawn has its share. Without searching it out, we stumbled upon Herman Melville’s rather modest stone. Anna Hyatt Huntington (we wrote about her briefly) is also among the permanent residents.

This is the time of year we like best to visit, but they’re open year-round, it’s free and photography is welcome.

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Gowanus Open Studios 2013

The weeks before the Gowanus Open Studios found us tooling about town, as most everyone, taking in the fall season shows. We left the compiling of ‘must see’ lists to others. Generally because what we saw was big — big work in big spaces. You know we prefer the intimate encounter. And that’s what we found in Gowanus. Here are just a few of the artists who were kind enough to invite us into their studios.

Installation view, studio of Diane Bertolo.

Installation view, studio of Diane Bertolo.

We began at 543 Union. First we visited with Diane Bertolo and then in the adjacent studio Sasha Chavchavadze. We’re continually intrigued by the work of both artists. Ms. Bertolo for capturing a considered sense of nature’s fragility with the rhythmic use of black dots, cut circles, old paper, sticks and stones. Ms. Chavchavadze for a similar sense of the fleeting, articulated with the use of matches as her medium.

Ms. Chavchavadze is also the founder of Proteus Gowanus. A constant hive of activity, Proteus Gowanus is one of our favorite places (also located at 543). We’ve collaborated with PG and share an affinity with their approach to art and inquiry. This year they explore the theme of water. We reacquainted ourselves with some of their projects in residence (The Reanimation Library, The Hall of Gowanus, plus the newly named gallery, BKBX.) We were about to head out, but a postcard taped in the stairwell lured us up to the top floor. There we met Edwina White, who was as charming as her delicate, stylized portraits. Naturally I was ultimately complimented to have it hinted that I might be an appropriate subject.

The studio of Sasha Chavchavadze.

The studio of Sasha Chavchavadze.

We explored a few other buildings nearby and eventually landed at the Gowanus Arts Building on Douglas Street. We discovered Liz Sweibel’s tiny, wood sculptures. They average maybe an inch to 3 in size. These beautifully composed works retain an aura of history. The found wood fragments of which they’re sculpted are from earlier works the artist began in 2002. Each is a confounding presence considering their diminutive size. From her statement: “My practice matches my experience of the world as the accumulation and juxtaposition of small decisions and acts that seem simple but aren’t: they reveal us; define our relationships to each other, our histories, and our environment; and open to possibility, stasis, or pain.”

Untitled #12, 2012, Wood, paint, 1.75 X 1.5 X .5 inches by Liz Sweibel

Untitled #12, 2012, Wood, paint, 1.75 X 1.5 X .5 inches by Liz Sweibel

Most of our stops throughout the day were unplanned. However, we knew we wanted to see Karen Schiff at 112 2nd Ave. We had met Ms. Schiff earlier this year at a TSA Gallery reception for an exhibition curated by Vincent Como. She had described her interest in handwriting as a departure point for drawing as well as a series that explored illuminated manuscripts. We noted sympathetic themes at play in our work, so we were eager to see more. We were thrilled to see her ideas so exquisitely rendered. We also appreciated her ability to thoughtfully explain her approach and processes.

Looking for new experiences - mw4mw - 2925 (San Francisco) 2013 Paint chip sample mosaic on panel, vintage swing frame 8 X 6 inches. by Carlton Scott Sturgill

Looking for new experiences – mw4mw – 2925 (San Francisco) 2013 Paint chip sample mosaic on panel, vintage swing frame 8 X 6 inches. by Carlton Scott Sturgill

Just down the hall Carlton Scott Sturgill took what were essentially soft core, amateur porn shots from Craigslist personal ads and recreated them as paint chip sample mosaics. These works retain a bit of their lurid essence yet they’re painstakingly executed, elegant and amusing too.

We never expect to see a fraction of the studios that are open during these ever expanding studio tours. We also forgive ourselves the tendency to peek and dart when we start to reach our saturation point. We thank the artists mentioned here and the many others who offered their hospitality.  If you missed the tour, or didn’t quite manage to see all 200 or so participating artists, you can still catch a glimpse of them online. You just won’t get cheese cubes.

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A weekend with Curious Matter

left to right: an image and the invitation to Additional Narrative Possibilities; Le Bouquiniste; the entrance to the Department of Reparative History

left to right: an image and the invitation to Additional Narrative Possibilities, Le Bouquiniste and the entrance to the Department of Reparative History

We’ve been busy here at Curious Matter –– an exhibition of work by Arthur Bruso in the gallery, Le Bouquiniste, our small & independent press kiosk is back in town, and a special installation from the Department of Reparative History. We’re excited to have all this going on beginning the weekend of October 5 & 6 during JC’s annual two-day celebration of the arts. There will be other studios and venues to visit in the neighborhood. Get off at the Grove Street PATH stop as you usually do when you visit Curious Matter and grab a map to locate other spots to hit. We’ll have special extended hours too, noon to 6pm. See you then!

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Joey Parlett at Curious Matter

Your last opportunity to see “There’s a Moon in the Sky, It’s Called the Moon!” is this coming Sunday, September 15. The exhibition includes images and objects culled from the Curious Matter archives, and features works from artist Joey Parlett’s Space Drawing series. We asked Parlett a few questions about his process, subject matter, and whether monumentality can be achieved on an intimate scale.

Q&A with Joey Parlett

CURIOUS MATTER The moon is an incredibly potent subject. We project a lot of meaning onto it. Can you tell us what initially attracted you to the subject, or to the NASA images on which you based some of the drawings?

Space 19 (bootprints in the lunarstuff 2), by Joey Parlett,  2010, ink on paper, 12 X 12 inches.

Space 19 (bootprints in the lunarstuff 2), by Joey Parlett, 2010, ink on paper, 12 X 12 inches.

JOEY PARLETT I like high-contrast, black and white, reprinted film images that show a little grain and get slightly distorted in the printing process. I’m also drawn to the way designers cropped these images for print in the 1960s, which seem to have been given a little more care due to the importance of the space program at the time. The early moon surface images in particular have a strange quality; they’re not so consciously composed and have a level of distortion because of the technology available. I find that same other-worldly quality in some of the documentary photos of the civil war. At first the intense textures and weird shapes were difficult to draw, but eventually I got more familiar with the process, and it became very addicting.

CM I remember from childhood, when we were following the Apollo missions, the assertion that an astronaut’s aging process slowed during space exploration. Can you describe your relationship to time as you execute a drawing? Would you describe it as meditative or spiritual in any way?

Twin Peaks, by Joey Parlett, 2012, ink on paper, 12 X 12 inches.

Twin Peaks, by Joey Parlett, 2012, ink on paper, 12 X 12 inches.

JP My first hour working on a textural piece is usually a little scattered. After that I can focus and quickly work through several hours. I get excited to start a new piece, but the middle is the longest for me. That’s when I have to practice the most diligence and focus. I get the most pleasure out of finishing work. At that point I can step back and play around for hours finessing the details. I don’t consciously try to conjure any spiritual or meditative things from the practice. I try not to think of words or what I’m drawing and focus on the mark making, which can sometimes be meditative though.  I really love the repetition, and I find there is a percussive-like rhythm to the mark making.

CM Would you speak to your process and how you choose or approach your subject matter?

Space 28, by Joey Parlett, 2011, ink on paper, 12 X 12 inches.

Space 28, by Joey Parlett, 2011, ink on paper, 12 X 12 inches.

JP I collect several types of photographs, magazine clippings, jpgs from image searches, and picture books. There is no big concept to what I’m looking for; I let myself collect and then figure out how to use it later. I find reference materials at antique stores, thrift stores, and by taking a lot of reference photos. Through the years I’ve been increasingly diligent about indexing and categorizing my collection, and I’ve created my own database. Lately I’ve been thinking about a simple concept (like landscapes) and using that as a focus to collect and make. I’m currently getting a lot of material for landscape work that grew out of my love of the high contrast moon images, so its always a dialogue that leads to new avenues of research.

CM What do you think of the photorealists and do you see yourself as part of that tradition?

JP I don’t see myself as part of that tradition, but Robert Bechtle is my favorite photorealist. I like the quiet, ordinary stillness to his drawings and his compositions. He had a quote about his work being comprised of several tiny abstractions. I think about that often because when I can really look at something, and I’m no longer thinking of words, but I’m just recording shapes and texture and getting lost in the imagery, that’s when I feel my work is most successful.

CM Drawing is merely a preliminary in the service of a more important work – a painting. At this point that seems a quaint notion. However, do you think about what constitutes monumentality in relation to your own body of work? Does that notion interest you?

JP I always default to the more intimate and quiet simple quality of smaller black and white drawings, etchings and engravings. Lately I’ve been thinking about scale and how to use the qualities I’m naturally drawn to, but amplify them. I have one 60” x 40” piece I did a year or so ago, and I like the way the intimate repetitive marks add up and blend together. I like when I have a big goal in mind, and I can see my efforts are leading to something. The time commitment and  practical parts of the production are exciting too. I don’t think something has to be wall-sized to be powerful though. My current favorite drawing is by Bruce Connor called 23 Kenwood Avenue. It’s an average, poster-sized, black and white drawing. It’s from a series where he was making these repetitive, abstract, blob-like black and white shapes on a rectangle grid with a circle in the center. It blends together from a distance but the energy of the work draws you closer, and I can get completely lost in the little shapes for a long time. Works like this force me to consider the way smaller marks, when grouped together, can add up to monumental statements, and I try to translate that into my own work.

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AIDS in New York: The First Five Years

1982 poster for AIDS vigil by David Emfinger.

1982 poster for AIDS vigil by David Emfinger.

In a few small rooms tucked in the back of the second floor at the New-York Historical Society the first five years of AIDS in New York are examined. Those years were also my first five in New York. A wide range of materials including news footage, clippings, posters and photos from the archives of NYU, the Public Library, the National Archive of LGBT History and private collections present a portrait of the city and the crisis between 1981 and 1985.

That time seems almost improbably distant, as if it were someone else’s history. Yet, the exhibition brought back a flood of memories, including the relentless undercurrent of fear, sorrow, and confusion that accompanied everything else that made up our lives back then. I was a teen, younger than most of the faces in the photos on display, but negotiating the same uncertain terrain.

Exhibited are posters offering ‘safe sex’ guidelines. I recall those guidelines were later and less reassuringly renamed ‘safer sex.’ My friends and I had discussed other strategies to protect ourselves. For example, dosing with lots of orange juice for vitamin C and/or drinking Scotch after sex to kill germs… seriously. We didn’t, and no one else knew what was going on. People were getting sick and dying, no one knew why.

The Anvil is closed, 1985. Photograph by Lee Snider courtesy of the Fales Library & Special Collections, NYU.

The Anvil is closed, 1985. Photograph by Lee Snider courtesy of the Fales Library & Special Collections, NYU.

I’m constantly reminded of the cultural gap that resulted from the losses of that time. At any museum or gallery showing modern and contemporary art I note the dim skew of artists born after the 40s. We’ve long talked about the artists lost, but it was also an entire network of writers, editors, curators, gallerists, mentors, champions, collectors, appreciators whose influence and spirit were lost, or faded in the wake of too much mourning.

One of the important aspects of this exhibition is the acknowledgement that while many creative voices were silenced too soon this history still needs to be told. With care, I believe we can summon and unearth more of what has been missing from the cultural narrative.

A group advocating AIDS research marches down Fifth Avenue during the 14th annual Lesbian and Gay Pride parade in New York, June 27, 1983. Mario Suriani/Associated Press

A group advocating AIDS research marches down Fifth Avenue during the 14th annual Lesbian and Gay Pride parade in New York, June 27, 1983. Mario Suriani/Associated Press

The show has been up for a while and I came to it late. There are a number of reviews already online. I recommend you visit before it closes on September 15.

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park W., at 77th St., New York, N.Y.
Among the reviews:
Edward Rothstein in the Times
Emily Colucci in Hyperallergic

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Janet West and Andy Warhol in The Garage

The booth of Janet West at The Garage Flea Market at 112 West 25th Street is our favorite stop when we’re scavenging cultural detritus. We know you don’t want us to use the word “curate” outside the gallery or museum setting, but once you visit you’ll understand. Ms. West curates a fascinating collection. A list of the varied objects she has accumulated won’t do justice to her sense of style, whimsy and history. When the Look Book folks from New York magazine talked to her last year she described her things as “kind of oddball stuff. Depression-era make-do things. And vintage children’s items–blocks and art, things like that.” That’s a hint, but it’s much more.

We thought we passed this guy on the way in. The 1966 cover of You Can be a Pop-Op Artist.

We thought we passed this guy on the way in – the 1966 cover of You Can be a Pop-Op Artist.

This visit the book “You Can be a Pop-Op Artist!” by Erle Yahn caught our eye. First, because the nearly 50 year old cover image looked absolutely contemporary. The credits don’t make it clear whether that’s Yahn himself on the cover, but the fella looks quite stylin’. Second, the book boasts an introduction by Andy Warhol. Really? Okay, we’ll take it.

Here’s an excerpt from “You Can be a Pop-Op Artist!” by Erle Yahn, Silvermine Publishers, Inc., 1966

What are Pop and Op Art?

A new kind of art has emerged during the past few years, derived from our mass-produced environment, that was early given the name of “Pop” – a slangy shortening of “Popular.” The innovators of the movement claimed that if the traditional painters (from Rembrandt to Picasso) could utilize such objects in their environments as fruit, vegetables, musical instruments, or bottles of wine to paint as still-life arrangements, then today’s still-lifes should properly be cans of vegetable soup, comic strips, traffic signs and smashed automobiles.

This page is the Warhol introduction in its entirety.

This page is the Warhol introduction in its entirety.

The new Pop art drew cries of delight from satiated art critics, nouveau riche collectors, moribund magazines, cultists of the chic, and those restless members of certain branches of society who relish any opportunity to thumb noses at the bourgeois–to say nothing of gallery owners, who can be relied upon to recognize a good bandwagon when they hear it coming.

Pop art allows the artist to explore the depths of bad taste, examine its structure, and remake it into a valid, exciting work of art.

This can be done several ways.

One way is by craftsmanship. Painterly skill, a searching eye for the essential and the absurd, and devotion to meticulous detail have made the reputations of many Pop artists.

Another technique might be called “extremism” – with no political undertones intended. Some artists work on gigantic canvases; some depend on the most garish colors, even fluorescent paints or neon tubing; some employ such pernickety craftsmanship that they seem as much interested in cabinetry as creativity. Another approach is the pursuit of the morbid: the art of the graveyard, or the post H-bomb. This is usually an “assemblage” of discarded junk glued together in seemingly artless fashion, then, perhaps, painted, or sprayed with color. For this style, of course, the inclusion of poignant reminders of children – dolls, broken roller-skates, etc. – is sine qua non.

Other shock tactics are used: emptiness (large canvases painted a solid color, with a thin line running down the side), pornography and scatology, lack of painting technique, or abstract non-representation carried to an extreme ( see page 57).

While Pop art was being developed, another kind of non-representational painting began to emerge, derived perhaps from Ad Reinhardt’s experiments with vibrating colors, and Joseph Alber’s experiments with pure geometry: it was given the name of “Op,” shortened from Optical, and quickly accepted as a designation because it rhymed with Pop.

Op art explore the induction of vertigo in the viewer either by blinding him with color combinations which overtax his retina, by reconstructing large patterns which seem to quiver on the canvas (many derived from optometrist’s test charts), or vertigo-inducing moiré patterns.

Several experimenters are exploring the relationship (or possibly the interchangeability) of Op patterns and hallucinogenic drugs. Perhaps one day Richard Anuskiewicz and Bridget Riley will be forbidden by Federal law, and only purchaseable with a doctor’s prescription.

Click here for The Garage hours and info.

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ArtBloc has landed…

Infinite possibilities within a limited space, that’s ArtBloc – two steel shipping containers parked in an otherwise empty, dirt and gravel lot. Adjacent to Hamilton Park in downtown Jersey City, ArtBloc has become home to an on-going series of contemporary art installations. The mission: “to give artists or performers (or anybody with a crazy idea) a chance to show or perform their work.”

The containers can be reconfigured to accommodate a variety of uses.

The containers can be reconfigured to accommodate a variety of uses.

The brainchild of Angus Vail and Julie Daugherty, ArtBloc took shape following a very successful online fundraising campaign. With some rejiggering of the doors and the installation of windows, the containers offer flexible configurations. Depending on the production it can serve as a stage, a gallery, or giant lightbox.

The ArtBloc team has tapped artist Brendan Carroll to organize the recent installations. Kicking off with artist-curated exhibitions along with the compact size of the venue gives us the feeling that this corrugated vessel is the industrial cousin to the parlor space here at Curious Matter. So, we’re particularly delighted to have this thoughtful new art neighbor just a few blocks away.

installation view, "Upward Mobility" by Ann LePore.

Installation view, “Upward Mobility” by Ann LePore.

Currently on view: a triptych projection, “Upward Mobility,” by artist Ann LePore. Cross-faded tree and plantlife images are juxtaposed with morphing building animations. The subject is “the landscape of Jersey City and its historical transformation from rural backwater to thriving urban center.” Check it out after sundown for the full impact. During the day, lean in close to hear flutey, “ambient sounds.”

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