is pleased to announce our 10th exhibition, Three in Doubles, a three
person show featuring the works of Kelly McRaven, Dona Nelson and Shanna
Waddell. Join us for our opening reception, Friday, April 5th from
Here is the Astronomy Picture of the Day website (apod.nasa.gov) which features inspirational and beautiful pictures of space, planets, suns, nebulas, comets, the sky, aurora borealis, the heat distribution of the galaxy, etc.
The recent revelation that Seattle-based artist Charles Krafft is a Holocaust
denier and white nationalist has brought about a wave of controversy regarding
the merits of his art. In the past, his work — which includes pieces made with
ground up human bones, porcelain AK-47s, and Delftware teapots, piggy banks,
and chia pets shaped like an eclectic cast of characters including Adolf
Hitler, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong-Il, Charles Manson, and,
randomly, Amy Winehouse — was considered satirical and widely
lauded. Kraft was a proud son, albeit a somewhat rabble-rousing one, of the
Seattle art scene. His work was featured in prominent shows and collections
throughout the world.
Now that Krafft’s
racist and anti-Semitic ideas have been exposed the art world is
wondering what to do with his works, whether they are neo-Nazi agit-prop
to be shunned or still effective pieces of art made by a provocative artist
with some outrageously ugly ideas. One Krafft piece that has drawn
particular concern of late is a Hitler-shaped Delftware teapot which was
donated to San Francisco’sde Young Museum by a famously
liberal — and Jewish — collector, Sandy
Besser. In light of the revelations that Krafft doubts the existence of
Nazi gas chambers and defines himself as someone who “is racially aware of
their whiteness and proud of the achievements of European civilization,” some
believe the teapot can no longer be seen as a work of satire; rather it is a
symbol of Krafft’s anti-Semitism and a cunning celebration of the 20th century’s
most infamous war criminal.
Detweiler, a Seattle-based curator spoke with NPR’s Kurt Anderson about
Krafft a few weeks ago. He makes it clear that from his curatorial standpoint,
the revelations about Krafft’s personal beliefs change the meaning of the work.
“When you are making an elemental statement about your work that it is saying
one thing politically and then you flip that meaning publicly… then that new
interpretation has to be taken strongly into account.” When asked if the work
could still be interesting, Detweiler replied, “Maybe to a different audience.”
In a report compiled in 2007 by Tim Burgard, the de Young Museum curator who managed the receipt of
Besser’s collection, the teapot was discussed at length: “It resurrects the
likeness of Adolf Hitler in the form of a souvenir teapot to comment on the
nature of evil, the persistence of fascism, and the role of kitsch.” Burgard
drew comparisons between Krafft’s teapot and Hannah
Arendt’s theory concerning “the banality of evil,” which posits that “the
Holocaust was carried out by otherwise ordinary people who accepted the
philosophy of the Nazi state, obeyed its laws, and abdicated personal moral
responsibility for their actions.”
In an email sent to ARTINFO last week, Burgard defended his initial interpretation of
“So far, no art world professional or member of
the public that has viewed this ten-year-old (2003) teapot in person or in
reproduction has perceived any interpretation other than a critical one.”
Burgard then reiterated details about the teapot’s “demonic-looking eyes” and “devil-like
horns” before concluding, “If the artist were to state now, 10 years after its
creation, that this teapot was intended as an homage to its subject, it appears
to have failed in visual terms.”
Such political iconography is present in only
a fraction of Krafft's work, and its presence predates his public avowal of
white nationalism and Holocaust denial by several years: the first Hitler
teapot was made around 2000, and it wasn't until 2010 that Krafft began to
identify as a white nationalist. As Krafft himself said to ARTINFO, he believes his work is satirical and absurd no matter what his
political stance. “I don’t think that one iota of the satire and irony that
went into those works has been diminished by this revelation.” When asked about
his feelings about Hitler, he replied simply, “He’s perceived as the epitome of
evil. He’s a cliché for evil. I’m trying to explore clichéd evil.”
In conversation, Krafft is a sort of
pseudo-historian prone to hyperbole. He describes himself as “getting off by
exploring evil,” because “the darker it is the more curious I am about it and
when I get into it...it kind of blows up in my face. It becomes less and less
powerful the more you look at it.” While Krafft has spoken publicly about his
white nationalism and Holocaust denial for several years now, it wasn't even
until 2007 that Krafft began his ‘research’ into the Holocaust after spending
time travelling around Eastern Europe with Laibach, a
satirical Slovenian art collective Krafft describes as a “post-modern critique
of totalitarianism.” In other words, as far as anyone can tell, his provocative
Hitler teapot predates his still more provocative beliefs about its subject.
“The question of whether he’s an artist or a
propagandist, or combination of both has to be judged from the outside, not the
inside,” said Steven Heller,
a former art director of the New York Times and prolific writer whose
literary oeuvre includes Swastika: Symbol
Beyond Redemption. The responsibility of interpreting the work, or placing it
into a social context, “must be self-policed by the artist’s establishment,” he
added. “If [Krafft] or anyone else is
putting things into their artwork that are questionable, you have to ask the
question of ‘why?’”
Was the establishment too easily seduced by
Krafft's kitschy satire to really ask 'why'? Or, more importantly, where is the
establishment left when an artist's explorations — which had previously been
celebrated for their edginess — lead to the wrong conclusion? Will it turn out
that the satire once implicit in Krafft's work is not static or solid, but
ultimately negated as a result of his reprehensible (and faulty) understanding
of history? These are the questions that will be left lingering even after the
uproar over the recent revelations has faded.
Joyce Robins' hybrid, anti-classic, ceramic abstractions are pictorial slates on which glaze (often acting as a resist), relief sculpture and painting collide on the surface. She has had over 22 one-person exhibits and has shown in New York, London, Chicago, Detroit, Dublin and Vallauris, France. This is her first one-person exhibition in Philadelphia.
URBN Center Annex 3401 Filbert Street Philadelphia, PA 19104 215-895-2548 firstname.lastname@example.org
WANGECHI MUTU: FEBRUARY 15 – MARCH 30
The work of Wangechi Mutu, an important contemporary artist, will be the inaugural exhibition of the Westphal College’s new Leonard Pearlstein Gallery.
Described as “one of the most exciting artists to be working in collage today,” by the New York Times, Mutu’s work is housed in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and numerous meaningful collections throughout the world. She regularly exhibits internationally and was awarded the 2010 Deutsche Guggenheim Artist of the Year.
Wangechi Mutu was born and raised in Kenya before moving to New York to study Anthropology at The New School. She received a BFA from Cooper Union in 1996 and an MFA from Yale in 2000.She currently lives in Brooklyn and shows at Gladstone Gallery in New York, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, and Victoria Miro Gallery in London.
Mutu’s exhibition will feature several highly regarded works includingSuspended Playtime and The Histology of the Different Tumors of the Uterus. Suspended Playtime explores the inventive practice of Kenyan children to make soccer balls out of bundled and bound garbage bags. Suspended they swing subtly as observers pass among them.
Thomas Nozkowski, “Untitled (9 – 24)”, 2012 (All images courtesy Pace Gallery)
By 1974, Thomas Nozkowski had made two decisions — he would paint on widely available, 16 x 20-inch, prepared canvas boards, and everything he painted would come from personal experience.
His reference to personal experience, as he stated in an interview I did with him in 2010, was meant in “the broadest possible way. Events, things, ideas — anything. Objects and places in the visual continuum, sure, but also from other arts and abstract systems.”
On the face of it, Nozkowski’s decisions didn’t seem radical, but they were, and continue to be. Since at least the 1980s, the art world has repeatedly and predictably equated challenging acts with spectacle and theatricality. Applying oil paint to modest-sized, inexpensive canvas boards didn’t qualify on that account, except to generations of younger artists who took cues from Nozkowski’s fiercely independent stance of making the modest into something ambitious.
Nozkowski’s decisions enabled him to develop the variety of visual conundrums animating his work. His paintings are both representational and abstract. We intuitively know that his paintings are of something, but we usually have no idea of what.
In the Museum of Modern Art’s current show, Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art, the curator Leah Dickerman begins the exhibition with Pablo Picasso’s “Femme à la mandoline” (“Woman With Mandolin”) (1910), where the subject is impossible to detect. As we all know, Picasso backed away from abstraction and even denied its existence. Nozkowski comes at this demarcation from the opposite direction — he pushes toward representation, probing its borders, but never completely crosses the line.
At the same time, the modest scale of his paintings allowed Nozkowski to scrutinize the relationship between the events in the painting and its framing edge. On a literal level, he could always see exactly what he was working on, conscious of the painting’s physical limits. Unlike some of his contemporaries, who were also working on a modest scale, he wasn’t harkening back to early American modernists, such as Albert Pinkham Ryder and Arthur Dove because, frankly, he was not nostalgic nor was he interested in carrying someone else’s torch.
In terms of poetry, Nozkowski brings together two opposing tendencies — William Carlos Williams’ “No ideas but in things” and Stephane Mallarmé’s “l’absente de tous bouquets” (the ideal flower that is absent from all real bouquets). Nozkowski’s innovative synthesis of incommensurables, along with his Heraclitean commitment to honor the continuous variability of experience, is what further distinguishes him from his contemporaries, while linking him to a still potent strain of Abstract Expressionism.
Mark Rothko said that “a painting is not a picture of an experience, it is an experience.
And Robert Motherwell seemed to understand what his postwar generation had to face when he said “every modern painter carries the whole culture of modern painting in his head.” The difference is that Rothko and Motherwell wanted to make a naked painting, to strip it of all the rhetoric encrusting it, whereas Nozkowski understands that purity is an illusion, a necessary fiction for an earlier generation. He makes the act of naming superfluous to the experience of the painting.
Instead of striving for some kind of purity — be it in monochrome, or in reviving Ryder or claiming to be Cezanne’s or Matisse’s true heir — Nozkowski recognizes that the entire mechanics of painting and drawing can be used in any combination that the work requires. The only rules are the ones that you make up and believe in. In this regard, Nozkowski shares something with Mallarmé, who understood that language — from syntax and sound to etymology and individual letters — had to be unraveled and made fresh.
Increasingly in his work, Nozkowski subverts a deeply held and long cherished goal in painting, which is the unity of the pictorial and the material. Clement Greenberg argued that painting reached an apex in the poured paintings that Jackson Pollock started around 1947. He believed that an abstract painting had to embody all-overness and unity if it was to be radical. While Greenberg’s reductive, Formalist paradigm exerted a huge influence, it elided or misread the work of artists who explored a shifting, fluid relationship between figure and ground, solid and void — especially where it is unclear which is which and the work could not be reduced to figure and ground in the conventional sense. Here, Mark Rothko’s glowing ethereal layers, Jasper Johns’ layered compressions of encaustic and collage and, closer to the present, Nicholas Krushenick’s graphic subversions of the picture plane are examples of what I am getting at.
Nozkowski was never interested in the unities that Greenberg praised and others have sought. Painting was a vehicle for acknowledging difference, rather than a means of seeking harmony. His exploration of the mechanics and materiality of painting and drawing has led him to resist developing a style or what could be called a signature form of unity. He repeatedly undoes conventions in order to heighten the viewers’ consciousness of the very act of looking, in part because he is intensely self-aware of the various roadblocks, booby traps and detours anyone making a painting must negotiate. Even though each painting arises from an original experience, it seems that the question Nozkowski keeps in mind when working is: How do you keep the painting open so that anything can happen, while staying true to the initial experience? How do you resist the formulaic and mechanical? Nozkowski doesn’t try to move away from reality in his work, but to go towards it.
This is Nozkowski’s third exhibition at Pace since 2008. In his last exhibition he paired nineteen oil paintings with the same number of smaller, corresponding drawings, which were done in gouache, pencil and ink. These were not preparatory drawings, but works on paper that the artist made after he finished a painting. According to some critics, most notably David Cohen, Nozkowski’s sin was to pair the painting and drawing, compelling viewers to look at each and both. I wasn’t as bugged because I thought Nozkowski was trying to make us conscious of looking — that disentangling differences beneath similarities could become a high form of pleasure.
In the current exhibition, in addition to around two dozen paintings done on panels measuring 22 x 28 inches, he has included two paintings on 30 x 40-inch panels from a series that he started fifteen years ago. Nozkowski is also exhibiting nearly fifty works on paper across the street in a temporary space that was the former location of the CUE Foundation. The four large works on paper (22 ¼ x 30-inches) were done in oil, while the more than forty smaller ones (8 ½ x 11-inches) were done in a combination of materials, including ink, colored pencil, and crayon.
Thomas Nozkowski, “Untitled (L -5),” 2011
Nozkowski’s work runs the gamut from strange and mysterious to the cartoony and downright funny. I am thinking of “Untitled (L – 5)” (2011), an oil on paper that looks like two horses (or anteaters) cut lengthwise and stacked one on top of the other against a green ground. And yet, even as the viewer sees the ‘horses,” the overlaying of six circles, each a different color, on the uppermost “animal” confounds any straightforward reading. Nozkowski keeps tripping viewers up, making them aware of their expectations even as he effectively derails them.
Thomas Nozkowski, “Untitled (9 – 25) (Sam’s Point),” (2012)
About “Untitled (9 – 25) (Sam’s Point)” (2012), one of the large paintings in the exhibition, Jennifer Gross, in her catalog essay, astutely points out:
In this work, we observe Nozkowski’s admiration for the work of the pop abstractionist Nicholas Krushenick and pop-influenced materialism in contemporary art. The flat, primary-colored, hard-edged pattern at the top of the composition abuts the ethereal, Renaissance-style sfumato of the central field of the painting. The composition is grounded in a surge of transparent Venetian Red which courses from the left to the right edge of the canvas. The three strata convey a landscape.
By sandwiching the sfumato between hard-edged pattern and the blue-outlined surge of red along the bottom, Nozkowski spans five centuries of painterly approaches, as Gross perceptively points out.
By using a stacked, three-part composition to evoke a landscape — perhaps it’s a cropped view of a branch full of autumn leaves above red canoes — Nozkowski thoroughly and precisely undermines the unity we associate with paintings done since the early Renaissance. He has made the pictorial and the disparate inseparable without resorting to devices such as collage.
Thomas Nozkowski, “Untitled (9 -7),” 2012
At the same time, Nozkowski’s understanding of the conventions of cartoons and of Krushenick’s purposes in abstracting them is beyond dispute. In “Untitled (9 – 7)” (2012), which is mounted on a wall flanking the entrance to the inner room of the main gallery, he articulates a rounded yellow shape segmented by blue lines, which, for this viewer, stirred up comparisons to a beneficent Buddha as well as the distressing dolls of Hans Bellmer.
That Nozkowski can evoke such diametrical opposites with a single shape is indicative of his consummate mastery. On the other side of the wall flanking the entrance, the artist placed “Untitled (9 – 17)” (2012), which looks like a bulbous sea creature with tentacles topped by googly eyes. The two paintings are siblings in a family whose other members remain unimaginable — at least until Nozkowski reveals them to us.
Thomas Nozkowski, “Untitled (9 – 17),” (2012)
By bringing disparate and seemingly incommensurable ways of painting together, Nozkowski dislodges postmodernism from the orthodoxies advanced by such academicians as Benjamin H. D. Buchloh and Hal Foster, shifting it from a narrow focus on the death of the author and craft to an expansive use of pastiche and the imagination. This is one reason why Nozkowski is an important and influential artist.
In his poem, “Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself,” which references William Carlos Williams’ above-cited quote from Book I of Paterson, Wallace Stevens ends with these lines: