Richard Long review – modern primitive sees the cosmos reflected in mud

The wandering artist’s perennial walks have led him to contemplate sun, moon and stars with the devoted awe of mankind’s early ancestors.  Mud is not a promising medium to draw with. It is dull, thick, unpromising stuff. A muddy drawing sounds like a vague and boring one. Miraculously, however – or maybe just because he’s spent 50 years making art in and of the land – Richard Long’s huge new mud drawing Gravity Crescent is hypnotic, full of complex 3D curves that snare the eye.

It looks as if eels are nesting in the wall. They writhe and wriggle, each tubular body created by a swerve of Long’s mud-stick. The raw wet earth with which he created this towering work, on a pristine white wall in London’s Lisson Gallery, comes from the river Avon, so perhaps the material is haunted by the river’s flashing, silver-scaled creatures. His muddy swirls mass in an engrossing swarm. The flow and life of the river seems caught in this whirlpool of mud.

Gravity Crescent forms part of a vast unfinished circle. Below one section, muddy drips plummet like raindrops. The filled-in segment is crescent-shaped. Is it a croissant? Is it a piece of cake? No, it is the waxing moon. And beneath it, a stone circle fills the floor. It is a perfect disc, made simply by arranging radiating lines of rocks.

Once again, Long’s feeling for nature lets him do something artistically magical. The stones are all flints. Their glistening white surfaces shine brightly, set off by flecks of black, to create a dazzling circle of light. It is the sun. Long’s installation is a cosmic picture of the two great discs in the sky. It is as if the megalithic builders of the stone age have set up shop at one of London’s top commercial galleries.

Why Joseph Beuys Spent 3 Days Locked Up with a Wild Coyote

With a major retrospective opening in London this week, we focus on a crucial turning point in the career of the pioneering German post-war artist.

Joseph Beuys famously declared “every human being is an artist”.  The German artist believed creativity to be a universal principle that extends into all areas of human existence, and was thus preoccupied with what he saw as the revolutionary power of art to transform society; if each person is an artist, then society itself is one enormous artwork, continuously being made and remade.

An enigmatic, trailblazing and provocative artist, Beuys paved the way for many of his contemporaries in the field of post-war German art. Combining painting, sculpture and performance, Beuys was well known for working with unusual substances, such as fat, felt, copper, sausages, and everyday objects, incorporating the demotic into his exploration of the universal.

From the Green Market to the Gallery Wall

Karin Sander’s Kitchen Pieces draw your attention to the rhythmic ridges of an acorn squash, the bumpy peel of an orange, and the spiky surface of a yellow dragon fruit.

I wanted to write about German artist Karin Sander’s exhibition Kitchen Pieces at Carolina Nitsch in New York from the outset; it’s that novel and striking. The exhibition opened during art fair week, when one gazillion (or more) artworks flooded New York, all competing for attention at the fairs and in exhibitions. Sander’s were among the most startling and compelling I saw — if not the most startling and compelling.

I held off writing, though, with the understanding that it is important to note how Sander’s artworks change over time, which they most definitely do. They can be pristine and exquisite, but they also sag, leak, grow brittle, and decay. Sometimes, when they decay too much, they are replaced by fresh versions, which is just fine with the artist. More on this in a minute. 

For those unfamiliar with Sander’s “Kitchen Pieces,” which have been realized in different incarnations and at different locations since 2012, but not in New York until now, an initial encounter is often marked by wonder and humor, bafflement and unease, because you are not at all sure exactly what you are seeing. Your eyes are enamored, but you don’t trust them. How could a cauliflower be this riveting? How could a single beet be so absolutely compelling? How were they made? What you are seeing looks very familiar, but at the same time strange and unreal.

Museums Shake Things Up by Mixing Old and New

HAARLEM, the Netherlands — Frans Hals, a Dutch Golden Age portraitist of wealthy merchants and jolly rogues, was popular and successful in his lifetime, but before he died, he fell out of fashion. His loose, bold brush strokes were too rough for the 18th century. But the Impressionists rediscovered him in the 19th century, and resurrected Hals as a modern master.

Nowadays, Hals ranks with his compatriots Rembrandt and Vermeer in the pantheon of art history, but Ann Demeester, director of the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, prefers to see him as a “transhistorical” figure, whose influence leapfrogs across time, and into contemporary art.

That is why she has taken the unusual step of rehanging highlights from the museum’s permanent collection of Hals works and other Golden Age art alongside the works of living artists such as the photographer Nina Katchadourian, the multimedia artist Shezad Dawood, and the painter and sculptor Anton Henning, for “Rendezvous with Frans Hals.” She hopes to demonstrate that today’s artists are still inspired by Hals’s 350-year-old legacy.

“Transhistorical” is something of a buzz word in curatorial circles these days, as museums seek new ways to ignite public interest in older art. The blending of old and new has drawn interest from collectors at art fairs such as Frieze New York, and auction houses are doing it too: Christie’s sold Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi” in a sale of contemporary art last year for $450 million.

Adrian Piper: The Thinking Canvas

She’s an artist and scholar, and at “A Synthesis of Intuitions” you see thinking — about gender, racism, art — happening before your eyes.

“Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions, 1965-2016” at the Museum of Modern Art is a clarifying and complicating 50-year view of a major American artist’s career. It is also an image-altering event for MoMA itself. It makes the museum feel like a more life-engaged institution than the formally polished one we’re accustomed to.

Despite the show’s retrospective cast, we find fiery issues of the present — racism, misogyny, xenophobia — burning in MoMA’s pristine galleries. The reality that art and its institutions are political to the core — both for what they do and do not say — comes through. And the museum, for once, seems intent on asserting this. For the first time it has given over all of its sixth floor special exhibition space to a single living artist. The artist so honored is a woman, who has focused on, among many other things, the hard fact of racism and the fiction of race.

Ms. Piper was born in New York City in 1948 to parents of mixed racial background. (Her father held two official birth certificates. In one he was designated white, in the other octoroon, one-eighth black.) Raised in a cosmopolitan environment, she studied at the Art Students League in her teens, and in 1966 enrolled at the School of Visual Arts. The MoMA show opens with a salon-style hanging of figurative paintings, including self-portraits, from that time, influenced by 1960 psychedelic graphics and by her youthful experiences with LSD.

My Life As a Failed Artist – Jerry Saltz

Decades after giving up the dream for good, an art critic returns to the work he’d devoted his life to, then abandoned — but never really forgot.

It pains me to say it, but I am a failed artist. “Pains me” because nothing in my life has given me the boundless psychic bliss of making art for tens of hours at a stretch for a decade in my 20s and 30s, doing it every day and always thinking about it, looking for a voice to fit my own time, imagining scenarios of success and failure, feeling my imagined world and the external one merging in things that I was actually making. Now I live on the other side of the critical screen, and all that language beyond words, all that doctor-shamanism of color, structure, and the mysteries of beauty — is gone.

I miss art terribly. I’ve never really talked about my work to anyone. In my writing, I’ve occasionally mentioned bygone times of once being an artist, usually laughingly. Whenever I think of that time, I feel stabs of regret. But once I quit, I quit; I never made art again and never even looked at the work I had made. Until last month, when my editors suggested that I write about my life as a young artist. I was terrified. Also, honestly, elated. No matter how long it’d been — no matter how long I’d come to think of myself fully as a critic, working through the same problems of expression from the other side — I admit I felt a deep-seated thrill hearing someone wanted to look at my work.

Of course, I often think that everyone who isn’t making art is a failed artist, even those who never tried. I did try. More than try. I was an artist. Even sometimes a great one, I thought.

Private Sales Offer Art for a Few Eyes Only

Private sales through auction houses are suddenly big, but are they new? “It was something that was kept under wraps at most of the houses for some time,” said David Schrader, who joined Sotheby’s last year as its head of private sales for contemporary art. “Now we’re being very vocal about it and putting more energy into it.”

There are compelling reasons for clients to sell far from the auction crowds. “The privacy is huge” as a factor, Mr. Schrader said in a telephone interview from Hong Kong, where he was overseeing the house’s first private-selling shows, timed to coincide with Art Basel Hong Kong. “A lot of people don’t want to see their work come up in a more public setting.”

How Should We Be Photographing Artwork?

An inevitable part of being an artist is having to take pictures of what you create, whether in order to digitally submit it for exhibitions or for promotional purposes. Unfortunately, people tend to be too sloppy when photographing artwork, and they often end up with photos that do no justice to the piece itself. This can easily cost the artist a potentially important step in their career as the piece can be overlooked simply because its photo was not up to par with its creative quality.

On the other hand, a good photograph of your art can severely increase your chances of getting into an exhibition or making that important sale, so it’s of vital importance to take good shots that will offer a mind-blowing first impression as well as display your overall professionalism.

So, although it may seem more like a chore of some kind, photographing artwork is necessary for both entering exhibits and selling work. However, since the process of photographing works of art is far from being straightforward and simple, we’re here to help you avoid all the common pitfalls preventing you from getting the absolute most out of your creation’s images.

A leap into space: Malevich’s Suprematist Composition

How this 1916 canvas, included in every major survey of Malevich’s Suprematist works mounted during his lifetime, revolutionised modern art. On 15 May it is offered in the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale  in New York.

On 17 December 1915, a series of new paintings by the Russo-Polish artist Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) was exhibited in the Dobychina Art Bureau in the recently renamed city of Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg). Unlike anything Malevich — or indeed any other modern painter — had done before, these geometric, completely abstract works were a shock to everyone who saw them. Indeed, they were so radically new that they seemed to many to announce the end of painting, and perhaps of art itself.

Malevich’s Suprematist Composition, painted in 1916, is one of the finest and most complex of these first revolutionary pictures. Composed of numerous coloured, geometric elements, it epitomises the artist’s vision of the world as he believed it would be experienced in a state of higher-dimensional, or ‘supreme’, consciousness. As in his other so-called ‘Suprematist’ pictures, this work does not seek to suggest a real or readily understandable image, but to articulate its own universe, brought into being purely through the act of painting.

How Is Western Art Really Faring in Asia? 3 Trendlines From Hong Kong’s Spring Auctions Reveal the Changing Market

Asian, postwar, and fine art are by far the most bankable categories in Hong Kong.

In recent years, Hong Kong has transformed in the eyes of the Western art industry. Formerly a destination that warranted attention primarily during Art Basel Hong Kong and a few scattered auctions, the region now hosts permanent spaces from many of the most powerful galleries in the world, while Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips are all seeking to expand their influence there in various ways.

So far, this season’s auction results suggest that the market’s steady expansion shows no sign of abating. Sotheby’s Hong Kong closed its main group of spring auctions on April 2 with $466.5 million in reported sales across all categories (and one epic, 40-minute bidding war). The vast majority of the total owed to continued strong performance in fine art sales, which generated just shy of $385 million.  While not an all-time high, that haul is among the highest since 2012 (the first year of data available from Hong Kong in the artnet Price Database).

Cy Twombly, Redefined by His Drawings

The gathering of works in Chelsea reconfigures the general sense of Twombly (1928-2011) as a lanky, slow-moving, ever-relaxed Southerner who worked in fits and starts and soaked up the good life on Italy’s Amalfi Coast or in Lexington, Va. — his birthplace, to which he returned in his later years. In its stead is a man driven by an almost demonic energy, who never stopped pushing and testing his aesthetic engine, drawing, making it ever bigger and more encompassing.

Paraphrasing Shakespeare, this show could be said to ask, “What’s in a line?” Everything: drawing, painting, language from vulgate to Olympian, mathematics, pictographs, architecture, writing in tongues, the body, the war between the sexes, myth and history, and nature, especially the sea.

Twombly was more traditional and more European, and not much of an appropriator, except in his sculpture. He also was not an urban artist, but a pastoral, romantic one — a lyric poet often inspired by nature who read omnivorously, breaking his experiences down, releasing them as a kind of visual music through the seismographic vibrations of his hand. He seems less drawn to transgressing the physical boundaries of media — although he does combine drawing and painting — than in expanding art’s capacity for direct emotional expression and radical vulnerability. It reverberates throughout this sumptuous show.

5 Post-War Italian Artists to Know

An essential introduction to Italy’s most collectible names ahead of April’s modern and contemporary art auctions in Milan.

Born in Turin in 1940, Alighiero Boetti is today recognized as one of Italy’s most important conceptual artists, and was a leading figure in the Arte Povera movement that revolutionized contemporary art at the end of the 1960s. As a teenager, he dropped out of business school to pursue art, discovering work by painters including the German artist Wols and creating oil paintings whose thick impasto resembled the works of Nicolas de Stael.

In the 1960s, after a period spent living in Paris, Boetti returned to his hometown of Turin, joining a close-knit circle of artists that included Michelangelo Pistoletto and Lucio Fontana. Together, they founded Arte Povera, or ‘poor art’ — a term coined in 1967 by art critic Germano Clement, to describe the group’s use of abandoned industrial materials and everyday objects. Boetti’s unconventional materials included biro pens and the postal system, addressing letters to himself from various cities in Italy.

Boetti’s earlier postal-system set the tone for works that followed, which returned to geography and systems of classification. Among his most famous series is Mappa: a series of embroidered world maps which, from their beginning in 1967 until Boetti’s death in 1994, charted the changing positions of countries following geopolitical crises.


Cy Twombly and the Transporting, Transforming Power of Art That Barely Uses the Tools of Art

The first time I saw Cy Twombly’s aphrodisiacal paintings, I felt the way Patti Smith felt when first hearing the Rolling Stones: “I was doing all my thinking between my legs.” Something unrecognizable and distorted within me quivered. Twombly’s fevered phosphorescent blooms of runny jellyfish chrysanthemums with elongated, pulpy, tentacle-like sacks dripping down; his iridescent storms of inchoate cryptographic scribbles, floral scrawls, jittery jutting lines; pustules rising and falling like raw nerve endings, flying vagina dentata, plaited anuses, priapic phalli spouting involuntarily or drooping defenseless, and what his closest reader, MoMA’s late Kirk Varnedoe, called “anteater tongues” — all of it metamorphosed into my own inner Kama Sutra of urge. Sensory networks lit up; a new barometer fluctuated. It was abstract yet explicitly erotic. I was in voluptuous rut. But something like gravitas and immensity was preponderant within me, too.

Somehow, by deploying only the barest rudiments of art — jots, dots, lines, doodles, dashes, loops, scribbles, scratches, little glyphs, weird ruins, rising Gothic skeleton structures, ziggurats, wobbly frame shapes, and (perhaps more effectively than any Western artist who ever lived) hard-to-read handwritten words and phrases, whole poems, and the names of ancient poets and places — Twombly has been able to make an art that rises to the level of epic poetry and fills you up with the sweep of history and fiction. He’s one of the few 20th-century painters who produces some of the same capacious sensations we get while reading Virgil, Homer, Sappho, Keats, and others. A silent sonorous world opened. Twombly brings mythos and antiquity together with Smith’s “thinking between my legs,” and an undertow of the elemental interiority and abjection of Francis Bacon.

How to Tell if an Artwork is Fake

Confirming the authenticity of an artwork crucial before buying. We give 5 key factors to consider and uncover some of the most shocking forgery cases in art history

The notion of a forger conjures up a the image of a cartoonish criminal painting a knock-off da Vinci in some kind of darkened attic. But many forgers are frustrated artists in their own right, struggling to make a living by imitating others.

In fact, before he became an acclaimed Renaissance artist, Michelangelo made his money forging ancient Roman sculptures. He created a sculpture out of marble, intentionally broke it and then buried it in a garden. He later dug up the sculpture, claiming he had discovered a lost Roman antique, and sold it to an unsuspecting Cardinal. Years later, the Cardinal discovered the sculpture was fake, but rather than chastise Michelangelo or revoke his payment, the Cardinal recognized the genius talent the young artist possessed, and invited him to Rome, where his career soon blossomed.

The quiet genius of Vancouver’s Patkau Architects

Two of Canada’s greatest designers have made a brilliant new building. Why aren’t they eager to tell you about it?

“Underneath, it’s very quiet and dour,” says John Patkau. “But when the light hits it a certain way, it shimmers.” Mr. Patkau and his wife and fellow architect, Patricia, are walking around their latest project, the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver. And as they’re talking about the building, the sun comes out from behind the clouds; the rays coax from the gallery’s steel and aluminum facades a subtle ripple. “It acts with the light,” Ms. Patkau says of the building. “It changes dramatically, depending on when and where you’re looking at it.”

You could say the same about Patkau Architects. Long based in Vancouver, the couple have held a place among Canada’s most accomplished architects, recognized by international critics and awarded a series of major buildings including Montreal’s Grande Bibliothèque. And yet, even in their adopted hometown, they remain in the shadows. Nobody better represents the tensions in Canadian architecture between greatness and commerce, between public triumph and the quiet private life.

Bean There, Done That: Houston Gets a Precursor of Chicago’s Shiny Anish Kapoor

“I think much more than ‘Cloud Gate,’ ‘Cloud Column’ is meant specifically to capture the heavens and bring them down to earth” .

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) unveiled a new outdoor sculpture on Monday, a monumental reflective piece by Anish Kapoor that immediately brings to mind his iconic “Cloud Gate” in Chicago, more widely known as “The Bean.” The sculpture, known as “Cloud Column,” now stands on the newly developed plaza of the museum’s teaching institute, the Glassell School of Art. Never before displayed in public, “Cloud Column” is actually a precursor to “Cloud Gate,” and it stands upright rather than curve over the ground.

Damien Hirst Falling Off The Grid – Houghton Hall – Paul Carter Robinson

Last week I was a guest at the magnificent Houghton Hall, one of the most impressive Palladian houses in Britain. This is a house steeped in history and surprisingly still in the hands of the original descendants of Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of Britain.

Houghton Hall with its lavish interior design and detailing slightly overshadows Hirst’s spot paintings, but never the less by having so many installed in the grand rooms they become a focal point competing favourably with the surroundings. Think of the way contemporary art shines in the rooms of grand palaces between the covers of old issues of Architectural Digest and you have the essence of this fine display. Hirst has returned to painting spots loosely onto the canvas. Some are similar to his very first spot paintings with actual physical signs of paint, texture and drips. Others are in a Pointillist style and were likely painted by Hirst himself.

My all-time favourite Hirst figure is included in the exhibition. ‘Charity’ a sculpture modelled on one of the 1960s uncomfortably named ‘Spastic Society’ collection boxes, appears crowbarred open with the coins spilling out on the pavement. This is installed in a courtyard of outbuildings which intensifies the scale.

My trip to Houghton Hall each year is somewhat of a treat, for this jaded culture writer. With Hirst’s work love it or loathe it you can’t ignore it. It is firmly centred in the 1990s always a loud statement or soundbite. It is playful and often garishly irresistible. It is art for new money but does it work surrounded by old money? Yes, I can confirm it does.

Cy Twombly’s Extravagant Synesthesia

Rosalind Krauss misreads Twombly in more ways than I can enumerate.

In her essay, “Cy was here: Cy’s up” (ArtForum, September 1994), Rosalind Krauss made this observation about Cy Twombly:

Twombly “misreads” Pollock’s mark as graffiti, as violent, as a type of antiform. And this misreading becomes the basis of all of Twombly’s work. Thus he cannot write “Virgil” on a painting and mean it straight. “Virgil” is there as something a bored or exasperated school-child would carve into a desktop, a form of sniggering, a type of retaliation against the teacher’s drone.

This reading of Twombly fits in with the commonplace critical narrative that the past is dead, and that it is only good for appropriation and ironic commentary but not much else. Krauss’s condescension towards Twombly is evident in her use of the descriptors, “bored or exasperated schoolchild.” In her neat hierarchical construction — a negative way of thinking that is recurrent in criticism and politics — Jackson Pollock resides at the top of the food chain while Twombly sits, at best, somewhere in the middle.

Krauss is not alone in her need to construct hierarchies. There are still lots of critics, curators, and artists content to ally themselves with established viewpoints as well as assert for the umpteenth time that painting and drawing are things that have been used up, that they are old threadbare coats that should been thrown out long ago. This is capitalist aesthetics in a nutshell — everything is disposable.

Damien Hirst’s Post-Venice, Post-Truth World

The artist worked in secret on his first love, painting, for his new show. This is the anti-Venice, he says.

LOS ANGELES — In army green camouflage and black sweats and with two heavy gold chains swinging with each step of his Nikes, Damien Hirst was in an unusually quiet mood.

Sipping from a can of Diet Coke at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills, his jeweled fingers shining, the artist craned to watch as his last nine-foot canvas was installed. Mr. Hirst is used to directing a legion of assistants, but on this day he was pensive.

After so many years relying on others, every one of the works in his new series of “Veil Paintings” was done by his hand and his alone, he said. Twenty-four huge oil works in splashes of blood red, electric blue and rich gold are his homage to the glorious color harmonies by the post-Impressionist Pierre Bonnard. Their meaning?

“I make it up after the fact,” Mr. Hirst said. “I don’t even know what this kind of work is. They make me happy, they feel good to look at, they sort of confuse me.” Maybe the public is too busy trying to pin down one meaning, he mused. Maybe there is none. “Truth’s quite hard to find these days.”

Team Gallery’s Jose Freire on Why He Is Quitting Art Fairs for Good – Part I

The veteran art dealer explains why he has soured on the art market’s central apparatus.

The central driver of the modern-day art market, at least when it comes to galleries, is art fairs. They promise efficiency: for a hefty booth fee (plus travel and shipping costs), dealers from around the world can convene in a lucrative faraway region for a chance to sell lots of work over a short span of days to a churning swirl of eager collectors, the sales equivalent of fish in a barrel.

In recent years, these frenetic events have grown ever more important, offering increasingly busy art professionals and their clients a chance to socialize, exchange ideas, and hoover up information about new directions in art with such streamlined speed that it has begun to displace other traditional avenues, like going to the brick-and-mortar galleries themselves.

Some dealers, especially the biggest ones, find this to be an immensely rewarding system. Others, especially smaller operations like Team Gallery, have begun to find them a losing bet. That’s why, after a final appearance at Art Basel Hong Kong later this month, Team founder Jose Freire says he will never do another art fair again.