‘Jean-Michel Basquiat’ at the Brant Shows His Bifurcated Life

A few years ago, a plaza in Paris was named after the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, the Brooklyn-born painter who became a global sensation in the early 1980s and died at 27 of a heroin overdose. No similar honor has been bestowed upon Basquiat by the City of New York. However, the opening of the Brant Foundation Art Study Center in the East Village, with an exhibition of nearly 70 works by Basquiat created from 1980 to 1987, serves as a fitting temporary shrine. The Brant in Manhattan is also part of a wave of private museums opening across the country, including the Hill Art Foundation in Chelsea; the expansion of Glenstone in Maryland; and the Marciano and Broadcollections in Los Angeles.

But first, Basquiat. The story of this painter of Haitian and Puerto-Rican descent is one of the most documented in contemporary art history. Basquiat moved to Manhattan — partly to escape his strict accountant father — couch-surfed, lived off girlfriends and formed a post-punk band called Gray after “Gray’s Anatomy.” He sprayed poetic, enigmatic graffiti on walls in downtown Manhattan before moving to canvas and starred in an independent film, “Downtown 81.” He dated Madonna before she was famous and made paintings with his hero-turned-friend, Andy Warhol.

Five Artists Who Have Changed the Way We See Neon

Seedy motels, fast food joints and the romantic underbelly of urban life are all synonymous with the warm artificial glow of neon. Since the 1920s, the commercialization of “liquid fire” has seen countless industries quite literally put their name up in lights, and although other more high-tech forms of illumination are now available, no other form appears to equal its allure, particularly for artists.

While fluorescent light served as a pillar of minimalism (immortalized by Dan Flavin), the malleable nature of neon tubing has seen contemporary practitioners continually reinvent the form, using it to interrogate everything from violence and loss, to bodily identity and romance.

We’ve Been Looking at Jean-Michel Basquiat All Wrong. He Was a Conceptual Artist, Not an Expressionist—and Here’s Why

An exhibition at the Brant Foundation’s New York space reveals how much he had in common with Jenny Holzer and Hans Haacke.

Over the years, the biggest fans of Jean-Michel Basquiat have had a strange way of showing their affection: They’ve just about drowned him and his work in tired romantic clichés.

He’s supposed to be a tortured soul overflowing with passions that pour out through the tortured pictures he paints. One writer likened him to “a preacher possessed by the spirit,” an image that comes dangerously close to primitivist stereotypes. A curator insisted that Basquiat’s art channeled “his inner child,” the kind of talk that could easily veer into ideas of the Noble Savage. Basquiat himself complained that critics had an image of him as “a wild man running around—a wild monkey-man.”

To this day, he’s almost always billed as being more in touch with his emotions and the passions of urban life than with the orderly reasoning of post-Enlightenment culture.

Brant Foundation Opens Its New Manhattan Space with a Basquiat Bang

The East Village edifice—a former power substation and studio of contemporary artist Walter De Maria—was renovated by architects Gluckman Tang

“[Jean-Michel] Basquiat did most of his painting in a ten-block radius of here,” says the founder of the Brant Foundation, Peter Brant, gesturing out the large plate glass windows of the foundation’s new East Village space. “We wanted to give the audience an opportunity to see the best of Basquiat’s work in the right setting. You can look at Untitled (Blue Airplane), and see the same buildings that Basquiat painted through the window behind it.”

The Foundation’s new building, a former power substation on East 6th Street that was once the studio of contemporary artist Walter De Maria and was recently renovated by architects Gluckman Tang, is, indeed, the proper setting. “A lot of research was done to create the moment you experience when you enter the show’s second floor,” Foundation director Allison Brant adds.

This research paid off handsomely—the show, and the space, offer a breathtaking view into the artist’s world, underscoring a resonance between the artworks and their location that brings a new layer of meaning to our understanding of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Jasper Johns Stays Divinely Busy

A gallery exhibition in Manhattan gives the truest picture of the artist, at 88, who is continuing to work and innovate.

At 88, Jasper Johns is not slowing down. After spending more than six decades cultivating an extensive and influential body of work, he continues to be relentlessly productive and inventive.

His art has sometimes been described as somber or melancholic. His latest exhibition, “Recent Paintings & Works on Paper,” at Matthew Marks Gallery in Chelsea, depicts moments of inconsolable grief and concludes with a gallery full of portrayals of skeletons, albeit ones wearing dandyish boaters.

Yet in its sheer variety and vitality, this exhibition is optimistic, and generous in spirit. It reaffirms Mr. Johns as, foremost, a painter’s painter and a working artist rather than an art historical subject. In it he revisits three or four previous series — extending, editing or recombining their motifs — and introduces two new ones that more than meet the Johnsian standards of mystery, suggestion and painterly allure.

Robert Ryman, Minimalist Painter Who Made the Most of White, Dies at 88

Robert Ryman, one of the most important American artists to emerge after World War II, a Minimalist who achieved a startling non-Minimalist variety in his paintings even though they were mostly white and usually square, died on Friday at his home in Greenwich Village in Manhattan. He was 88.

His death was announced on Saturday by a spokeswoman for the Pace Gallery in New York, which has long represented him. No cause was given.

Mr. Ryman was perhaps peculiarly American in being an autodidact who never took a single art course. His art education consisted of seven years as a guard at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

He accordingly brought an American pragmatism to the mystical tradition of modernist abstraction, which had originated with early-20th-century pioneers like Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian, both of whom gave special place to white.

The rise and fall and rise of Patrick Painter

In the wake of a torrential downpour in early January, a sizeable and slightly random group of artists, collectors and art-curious celebrities descended upon the L.A. Convention Center for an “opening night premiere party”—hosted by Mad Men star Jon Hamm—celebrating the 23rd edition of the L.A. Art Show. Inside this somewhat inscrutable international sprawl, stateside dealers seemed split between kitschy street-art samplings and secondary-market standbys, while Asian and European powerhouses like Seoul’s SM Fine Art and Berlin’s König Galerie respectively showcased Korean Dansaekhwa masters and the in-demand minimalist sculptures of Mexican conceptual artist Jose Dávila. Elsewhere a silver-maned Matthew Modine entertained a gaggle of collectors admiring the actor’s photography from the set of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, while another group of Hollywood heavies in one of the fair’s larger booths circled around a husky wheelchair-bound dealer. He was wearing snakeskin tennis shoes, black Adidas track pants, a billowy black T-shirt, black knit gloves, blue-lensed Persols, and a tiny black beanie with a sequined Chanel logo that belonged to his wife.

Though he’d shed his second skin of cashmere tracksuits, custom Alexander McQueen furs and blinged-out Chrome Hearts baubles; and his hair had mellowed from its trademark platinum shock to a buzzed pewter; and his once-intimidating bulldog posture had atrophied around the chrome frame of his Nova wheelchair; and he was sober, headed home early—not famously passed out inside his booth in the salad days of Art Basel—there was no mistaking the man in black tonight. This was Patrick Painter, perhaps the most complicated and controversial, iconic yet problematic, Angeleno art dealer to reach the high climes of the international art world…and then all but vanish.

Meet Warhol, Again, in This Brilliant Whitney Show

A sweeping retrospective shows a personal side of the Pop master — his hopes, fears, faith — and reasserts his power for a new generation, Holland Cotter writes in his review.

Mr. Paradox, who never left, is back.

Although, technically, “Andy Warhol — From A to B and Back Again”at the Whitney Museum of American Art is the artist’s first full American retrospective in 31 years, over that span he’s been so much with us — in museums, in galleries, on auction blocks, on Calvin Klein poplin shirts — as to make a survey seem almost redundant. At the same time, his ever-presence has made him, like wallpaper, like atmosphere, only half-noticed. He’s there, but do we care?

We can’t not. He’s the most important American artist of the second half of the 20th century. The Whitney show vividly restores him to full, commanding view, and reasserts his importance for a new generation, but does so in a carefully shaped and edited way.

Despite the show’s monumentalizing size — some 350 works spread throughout the museum and an off-site display by Dia of the enormous multi-panel painting called “Shadows” — it’s a human-scale Warhol we see. Largely absent is the artist-entrepreneur who is taken as a prophet (malign or otherwise) of our market-addled present: the creator and promoter of Business Art, a venture in corporate Conceptualism that, in the 1980s, brought Warhol into the orbit of Donald Trump, who delighted in quoting the B.A. credo: “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”

Why now, man? Bruce Nauman at MoMA

As Bruce Nauman’s touring retrospective opens at MoMA, Jonathan T.D. Neil interrogates why the American artist remains so relevant today.

Why Nauman? For anyone familiar with Bruce Nauman and his wellestablished place in the history of contemporary art, the answer, ‘Because it’s Bruce Nauman’, will suffice. But what will follow, inevitably, are explanations that, since at least the 1990s, have begun to harden into doxa: ‘No other artist has so consistently defied the pull of a recognisable style’. ‘No other artist’s practice has tarried more with incoherence.’ ‘No other artist has moved so effortlessly between sculpture, film, video, performance, photography, installation, etc.’ ‘No other artist has so antagonised his audience.’ ‘No other artist has such important devotees.’ ‘No other artist has managed in art what Beckett managed in literature and theatre.’ ‘No other artist is so tricky.’ ‘No other artist is a cowboy.’ ‘No other artist is smarter.’ ‘No other artist…’

None of these answer exactly ‘why Nauman?’ The artist, now in his seventies, is the subject of a third retrospective, his first in 20 years, and his second at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (though this one opened at the Schaulager in Basel in March). Both this exhibition and Nauman’s previous retrospective were organised by onetime MoMA deputy director and now Rauschenberg Foundation executive director Kathy Halbreich, one of Nauman’s devotees. For Halbreich, the persistence of ‘disappearance’ as ‘act, concept, perceptual probe, magical deceit, working method, and metaphor’ in Nauman’s art is what distinguishes, or at least organises, this year’s retrospective. While preparing her show, this ‘oxymoronic’ appearance of disappearance, Halbreich writes in her introductory essay to the catalogue, ‘surprised – really sideswiped me’, insofar as it offered a new means to understand Nauman’s notoriously difficult practice.

Bruce Nauman Reappears: Pay Attention

“Disappearing Acts” lets us see with clarity where the artist stands and why he is pertinent to our wrenching moment.

If art isn’t about life and death, and the emotions and ethics that surround them, what is it about? Style? Taste? Auction results? Some artists focus on those, but the most interesting head for the uncool existential bottom line, which is what Bruce Nauman does. He’s approached this line by many paths: history, humor, shock, politics and formal variety. And he’s merged those paths into a bumpy superhighway of a career, which we’re invited to travel in “Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts,” a half-century retrospective that fills the sixth floor of the Museum of Modern Art and nearly the entire premises of MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens.

It’s a transfixing trip. Now 76, and still on the job (there’s work from this year in the survey), Mr. Nauman has done much to change the way we define what art is, and what is art. Without being overtly topical, he has consistently viewed the world through a critical eye, with the result that art he made decades ago is pertinent to our present morally wrenching American moment. And even his loudest, most outsized art feels personal, sourced from extreme emotions we all feel — panic, despair, disgust, hilarity — one by one.

How Does the Art World Live With Itself?

The lush new art-world documentary The Price of Everything shows us a system so waist-deep in hypermarketing and excess that it’s hard to look at art without being overcome by money, prices, auctions, art fairs, celebrities, well-known artists, and mega-collectors who fancy themselves conquistadors. In this, it’s a lot like most recent accounts of the art world — which are, all told, pretty accurate. I hate this toxic rot and junkie-like behavior. Yet I love art and the art world. I hate the portrait of that world contained in this movie, but I also recognize in it what I love.

That may sound like a contradiction or paradox, but it feels to me like something else. I used to believe the art world was at war with itself, that money was fighting art and vice versa. But I’ve been living in my own ambivalence about things for a decade now, or more, and I’m starting to think it’s not a war but a new equilibrium state, defined by that ambivalence. It’s not just me. Everyone complains about money in the art world, but few would ever leave. Everyone — from struggling artists to billionaire gallerists — hates the system. But none of us can live outside it, nor would we want to. I mean, why would we? For many of us the question is, how could we?

The Price of Everything is a portrait of this damaged system — a place where big-ticket art made by only a handful of people — maybe 75 mostly male artists — appears in high-end galleries, auction houses, and art fairs before being sold off at astronomically inflated prices. Art and money have always slept together; they’re just doing it more profligately now than ever. The patter of the high-enders in Price is so imperious and spiteful that it’s no wonder the public — and many art-world insiders — have grown cynical about it all. I left the premiere feeling sick to my stomach and ashamed. Oh, and also: I appear in this documentary. More on that later.

NYT Review: ‘The Price of Everything’ Asks $56 Billion Questions About Art

“There are a lot of people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” the art collector Stefan Edlis remarks in Nathaniel Kahn’s new documentary. The words, unattributed in the film and the source of its title, come from “Lady Windermere’s Fan” by Oscar Wilde, where they supply the definition of a cynic. But while this colorful and inquisitive cinematic essay on the state of the art world is occasionally skeptical and consistently thoughtful, cynicism isn’t really on its agenda.

Rather than lament the pervasive influence of money on contemporary art, “The Price of Everything” examines the relationship between commerce and aesthetics from different angles. “You can’t have a golden age without gold,” someone says, and by that standard we are currently in an epoch of platinum. The sale and resale of work by living and recently dead artists is a multibillion-dollar market, which bothers some people more than others.

Georg Baselitz: Only in Art the World is Whole

“The most intact world is the world of art. Nothing is better or more interesting to me than paintings.” Renowned German artist Georg Baselitz looks back on his life, his roots and inspirations, and considers where he is at today. “Obsessiveness is a distinctiveness. You always face considerable resistance. You consciously have to take the path of an outsider. They try to humiliate you, tear you down. And that’s why it’s worthwhile continuing.” According to his own words, the great contemporary artist Georg Baselitz seems to be a man who is all about resistance, wanting to stand out, prove himself and to be in control. In the beginning Baselitz got into art because he wanted to “get the girls” as he explains it, and was too lazy to succeed with music or poetry, he says. As an artist Baselitz went his own ways, and again found it most important, to stand out, and to do what had never been done before. Today his work is changing again. There is not going forward he says: “You stand at the stern of a boat and look back. Looking back at what’s gone the ‘passato’ is a more interesting viewpoint for me.

How to Fall in Love With Art

Art is good for you. But it’s not spinach. Its purpose is not to make you healthier or wiser — although that could happen along the way. The reason to nourish a relationship with art is the same as the reason for bonding with other people: to feel more fully human. Just like friendships or romances, these connections can be hard to initiate, and complicated to manage. But it will be worth it. We’re here to help you build confidence in your own taste and make a rewarding place for art in your life. 

Read on …

Seattle Art Fair Artistic Director Nato Thompson on How to Cut the Crap and Connect With an Audience

The Creative Time alum speaks with artnet News’s editor-in-chief Andrew Goldstein about the intersection of art and tech and how to add heft to art-fair programming.

Nato Thompson has a knack for putting artists and other thinkers together in a way that gets people talking. He did this to great effect during his decade at the New York nonprofit Creative Time, where he organized the annual Creative Time Summit—a freewheeling marathon of accessibly formatted art talks with a social-practice bent—and also managed such celebrated projects as Kara Walker’s giant sugar installation A Subtlety in 2014. Now, as the new artistic director of the Seattle Art Fair, Thompson has been tasked with recreating this same kind of engaging, civic-minded discussion around art, only in a city far removed from the slipstream of the in-the-know art world. And, also, within the generally antiseptic context of an art fair. It’s a challenge.

Thompson, luckily, is the right guy for the job—if only because the way he approaches art is less through think-y books of criticism (although he has written two, Seeing Power and Culture as a Weapon) and more as something that, when done right, can be intuitively grasped by the man or woman on the street.

Avant-Garde Psychopathology by Donald Kuspit

“I am sick of the art-adoration that prevails among cultured people, more in our time than in any other:  that art silliness which condones almost any moral or intellectual failing on the artist’s part as long as he is or seems a successful artist.  It is still justifiable to demand that he be a successful human being before anything else, even if at the cost of his art.  As it is, psychopathy has become endemic among artists and writers, in whose company the moral idiot is tolerated as perhaps nowhere else in society.”    

– Clement Greenberg, “The Question of the Pound Award,” Partisan Review, 1949                                                                                                         

Psychoanalysts haven’t been particularly happy with avant-garde art.  Even as some have tended to mythologize the artist as a superior being, others have criticized avant-garde art for its regressive nihilism.  Thus we have Julia Kristeva’s extravagant, even absurd assertion that “freedom does not seem to exist outside of what we agree to call an ‘artist’.”(1)  Erich Fromm goes even further, calling the artist the only “spontaneous…integrated personality”—the very model of mental health, as it were.  “Spontaneity is a relatively rare phenomenon in our culture,” Fromm writes, but the artist’s “thinking, feeling, and acting” is a spontaneous expression of himself because he alone has “positive freedom.”(2)  This adulatory privileging—idealization—of the artist is not without precedent.  Many avant-garde artists agree.  Wassily Kandinsky, for example, speaks, with self-congratulatory fervor, of the “unlimited freedom, depth, breadth, a wealth of possibilities” in avant-garde art.(3)  Nonetheless, what Kristeva and Fromm write is no more than a theoretical endorsement of the conventional modern idea that the artist is a totally free spirit.  And what Kandinsky writes seems more like a fantasy than a fact.  Can the artist and art escape every determinism to achieve unconditional freedom?  Even the gods are subject to fate.  Yet it seems clear that the avant-garde artist is in pursuit of what Meyer Schapiro calls “inner freedom”(4) or an “ideal domain of freedom.”(5)  Whether he has found it, as Kristeva, Fromm, and Kandinsky facilely think, is another question.

Yves Klein: Blenheim Palace’s fusty furnishings feel the shock of the blue

Ai Weiwei’s crabs, Lawrence Weiner’s texts, Michelangelo Pistoletto’s smashed mirrors and Jenny Holzer’s redacted military documents have all given the baroque pile of Blenheim Palace – home to the dukes of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill – a jolt over the past few years. Inviting living artists to insinuate their works into this world heritage site, major tourist attraction and stately home is one thing. Mounting what the Blenheim Art Foundation insists is the most comprehensive exhibition of Yves Klein in Britain to date is another.

The huge rectangle of ultramarine pigment on the floor of the large entrance hall, a recreation of a 1957 Pure Pigment installation, is ravishing – a bottomless visual pool for the eye, thrumming across the floor. Klein died from a heart attack in 1962, at the age of 35. Had he lived, he would have been 90 this year. Later, we come to a large canvas covered in the same adulterated ultramarine, a colour Klein managed to patent as International Klein Blue (IKB). It is his signature colour, representing the void. The void at the heart of this show is also unavoidable.

The End of Exhibitions? As Attendance Plummets, New York Dealers Are Scrambling to Secure the Future of the Art Gallery

To lure the public back into art galleries, dealers are banding together and adopting vintage tactics like the old-fashioned gallery walk.

On Wednesday night in New York, 30 art galleries stayed open late to accommodate visitors to the inaugural Chelsea Art Walk, a new initiative spearheaded by the Art Dealers Association of America. It’s a “great example” of how galleries are “finding ways to work together to encourage the public to visit their spaces,” says Andrew Schoelkopf, the association’s president.

If you read between the lines, it’s also a great example of how New York galleries are pushing vintage approaches to art viewership to fight plummeting foot traffic—a trend that’s threatening not only galleries’ commercial viability, but also their existential purpose as a free place to exhibit art. To people.

“I’ve seen attendance diminish a lot,” says Julie Saul, who has run a gallery in Chelsea for the past 18 years. “So about six weeks ago my gallery director said to me, ‘We gotta get some people in here.’” That’s when she called up the Art Dealers Association with the idea for the gallery walk. “I don’t think this art walk is going to change anything that significantly,” she says, but special occasions do seem to drive traffic more than mere exhibitions these days. And indeed, the art walk—which also included performances and talks—drew a turnout more typical of the September rush than the dog days of summer.

The Gray Market: Could Auction Houses Really Help Save Struggling Galleries? (and Other Insights)

Our columnist follows the bread crumbs left by the rumor that Art Agency, Partners will offer gallery advisory services for a hefty fee.

It’s not exactly an analytical breakthrough if I tell you that the art industry is deeply troubled and, in many cases, deeply paranoid right now. A lot of people in the trade feel vulnerable. And the more vulnerable you feel, the more likely you are to lash out at any shadow that looks even vaguely threatening.

That’s why it was treated as a minor bombshell when, about two weeks ago, my colleague Kenny Schachter tossed out a few lines stating that Art Agency, Partners (AAP), the prominent art consulting firm and Sotheby’s subsidiary, “will offer up gallery advisory services” to sellers in the market’s battered middle tier. Schachter also whispered that said services would come in exchange for a fee “in the neighborhood of $250,000,” which he assessed would “bankrupt the companies that need support the most.”

The perceived scandal in this chatter stemmed from the not-uncommon belief that auction houses have been encroaching further and further into galleries’ and dealers’ territory for years now. The first flash point was the houses’ increased focus on private sales over roughly the past decade. More recently, Sotheby’s in particular has drawn scorn for acquiring AAP in the first place, before AAP attracted even more critics by providing advisory services directly to living artists and estates in 2017.

A Canadian Museum Promotes Indigenous Art. But Don’t Call It ‘Indian.’

Will a debate over terminology at the Art Gallery of Ontario help the progress of artists who are underrepresented in United States museums?

TORONTO — A group of visitors young and old gathered at the Art Gallery of Ontario in front of a well-known Canadian painting the docent called “Church in Yuquot Village.”

It was a peaceful 1929 image by a national figure, Emily Carr, showing a Mowachaht/Muchalaht settlement she had visited on Vancouver Island. The docent was careful to talk about Carr’s close relationship with “the First Nations,” the popular term in Canada for Indigenous people.

What she didn’t mention was the fact that the Art Gallery of Ontario — one of Canada’s most distinguished art museums — had recently renamed Carr’s painting, originally titled “Indian Church,” saying that the old terminology ‘‘denigrates and discriminates.’’

The action was lauded by some — the art critic for The Toronto Star said the change “pays respect both to the artist and the people she so admired” — and attacked by others as unnecessary political correctness. “I got a lot of angry emails,” Georgiana Uhlyarik, the museum’s curator of Canadian art, said. “People felt they were losing something.”