Basquiat: The Show Must Go On

Glenn O’Brien was among Jean-Michel Basquiat’s earliest advocates, recognizing the young artist’s immense talent before his work made the leap from grafitti to the walls of New York galleries. Basquiat executed Famous Negro Athletes on paper as a gift for O’Brien who would go on to become a close friend of the artist over the course of the 1980s.

Imet Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1979 when he was 19 years old. I had been curious about SAMO©, whose rude and amusing graffiti had recently popped up around downtown Manhattan. People who made graffiti were then referred to as writers, but SAMO© was the first one who actually wrote more than a name. He was a poet and a provocateur, writing cryptic messages marking himself as a sort of a metacritical institution. Kilroy was here . . . and then there was Samo. If this was graffiti at all, it was something quite different. Graffiti had been almost a sport, a way for young urbanites to publicize their existence in a world of corporate logos by marking out territory, a practice so primal that a dog would understand.

Has Robert Mapplethorpe’s Moment Passed?

The photographer’s once-taboo images have lost their power to shock, and feed into outworn stereotypes, a critic argues.

Thirty years after Robert Mapplethorpe’s death, the legend still obscures the photographs. His demise at 42 from AIDS, during the height of the American epidemic, gave a tabloid stamp to the authenticity of his sexually transgressive art. And right at that time arose the political controversy that enshrined him as a martyr to artistic freedom: Congressional uproar over a traveling exhibition and then a grandstanding criminal obscenity case in Cincinnati. His place in political history is secure.

But how do his photographs stand up? Are they, to invoke Ezra Pound, news that stays news? A yearlong exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, which aims to lionize the photographer, instead suggests that his sexually explicit images, once shocking, now look like clinical illustrations in a textbook on fetishes, while his glorifications of black men feed into old, odious stereotypes.

Harald Szeemann’s Revolutionary Curating

A re-creation of the auteur’s most personal show, madly grand and deadpan daft, essentializes a strange glamour that has leaked from the art world into culture at large.

The most bizarre exhibition in town this summer bears on the prevalence, lately, of “curating” as an honorific for the organizing of practically anything by just about anyone. “Grandfather: A Pioneer Like Us,” at the Swiss Institute, re-creates a show that the revolutionary, for good and ill, Swiss curator-as-auteur Harald Szeemann (1933-2005) mounted at his home, in Bern, in 1974. About twelve hundred objects, cunningly arrayed, document the life and work of Szeemann’s paternal grandfather, Étienne, who was a hairdresser with a peripatetic career in Europe. Most of the items—furniture, family photographs, a lethal-looking early permanent-wave apparatus, advertisements, religious kitsch, wigs, tools, mannequin heads, letters, no end of tchotchkes—belong to the Getty Research Institute, in Los Angeles, where a Szeemann archive and his personal library occupy more than half a mile of shelf space. Glenn Phillips, the head of the Institute’s modern and contemporary collections, describes “Grandfather” as “a project that for many curators has served as both a fantasy and a symbol of curating in its purest form—exhibition making as a creative act.” Madly grand and deadpan daft, the show essentializes a strange glamour that seems to have leaked from the art world into the culture at large.

Basquiat’s Memorial to a Young Artist Killed by Police

Distraught over the death of the graffiti artist Michael Stewart, he repeated, “It could have been me.”

“Basquiat’s ‘Defacement’: The Untold Story,” at the Guggenheim, is a small but timely and often surprising powerhouse of a historical show pegged to a not very good scrap of painting by a star-dusted name. The exhibition includes photographs, documents, and art works relating to the death, on September 28, 1983, of Michael Stewart, a twenty-five-year-old art student at Pratt and a frequenter of the time’s impoverished but raucous, creatively booming East Village and Lower East Side bohemia, from injuries incurred while in police custody. At some point later that year, Jean-Michel Basquiat used marker and acrylics to dash off a sketch of two fiendish cops beating an armless, legless figure, rendered in black silhouette. Lettered above the image is the legend “¿defacement©?,” with the second “e” crossed out. (The inverted Spanish question mark reflects the language of his mother’s Puerto Rican parents; his father was Haitian-born.) It was done on a graffiti-crowded plasterboard wall of the artist Keith Haring’s NoHo studio; unrelated tags of graffitists (Daze and Zephyr are legible) and random froths of spray paint share the surface. The police poses appear to have been loosely copied from a poster designed by the multitalented David Wojnarowicz, a then recent and increasingly forceful arrival on the downtown art scene, announcing a protest rally in Union Square that took place two days before the end of Stewart’s protracted death throes—he had been diagnosed as brain-dead—in Bellevue Hospital.

But Basquiat absolutely belongs in the Stewart story, as it’s told today. We are in an epoch both of grinding racial tensions, nationally, and of increasing numbers of African-American artists, in all creative fields, achieving success or being justly honored in retrospect. Basquiat can readily be deemed heroic from either angle, but he presents no convenient opportunity for tendentious interpretation. His message wasn’t a fight for freedom. It was that he was free.

Does Gagosian’s New Advisory Firm Create a Conflict of Interest?

Gallerists and art advisors suspect there could be ulterior motives to the industry leader’s latest power play, but Gagosian would beg to differ.

When one of America’s most powerful art dealers makes plans for the future, people pay attention. But some critics suspect that Gagosian’s plan to enter the art advisory field will lead to a major conflict of interest between the industry powerhouse and its clients.

Why Gagosian’s announcement has rattled the art world is a matter of mandate and scale. Barbara Guggenheim of Guggenheim Asher Associates doubts that galleries operating their own art advisory firms will have a client’s best interests in mind. “Among other reasons that dealers have a conflict of interest is in doing the due diligence,” she wrote to Hyperallergic over email. “Advisors start with the premise that a painting is wrong until proven right. That condition reports have to be independently done, not by a seller who may want to soft-pedal any problems. And advisors tell their clients the right price to pay and negotiate on their behalf.”

Rabbit by Jeff Koons

Vacuous, disposable and deathless. Exuberant, celebratory and perfect. There is little that has not been said about Jeff Koons’s seminal 1986 sculpture, which is offered in New York on 15 May

In the 33 years since it was created, Jeff Koons’s Rabbit  has become one of the most iconic works of 20th-century art. Standing at just over 3ft  high, this stainless-steel sculpture is at once cute and imposing, melding a Minimalist sheen with a cartoonish sense of play. It is crisp and cool in its appearance, yet taps into the visual language of childhood; its lack of facial features renders it inscrutable, yet its form evokes fun and frivolity.

PS Sorry about the commercial nature of this Post (for benefit of Christie’s) but what a great art ICON! – BAC

Here Are 3 Trends That Show the Hong Kong Auction Market Is Booming for International Art

We examine three trend lines from the recent slate of Hong Kong sales to determine where the market is headed.

Like a massive Companion balloon in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the mind-boggling $14.8 million paid for a KAWSpainting in Hong Kong earlier this month upstaged every other result from Sotheby’s recent series of sales in the city. But it turns out a welter of other head-turning market activity took place in the shadow of that hulking figure.

Sotheby’s sales—held at the same time as a buoyant, if uneven, Art Basel Hong Kong—exceeded expectations, surpassing the high estimate of $428 million to generate $482 million, the second-highest total in the company’s history in the city. (All totals include premiums unless otherwise noted.)

But select big numbers only tell us so much. To put these results into context, we dove into the data to determine how the market in Hong Kong has evolved over the past decade—and where it’s headed next.

Antony Gormley Celebrated With Royal Academy Solo Show

In September 2019, the Royal Academy of Arts will present a solo exhibition of the internationally acclaimed British sculptor Antony Gormley (b. 1950), the most significant in the UK for over a decade. The exhibition will bring together both existing and specially conceived new works for the occasion, from drawings and sculptures to experiential environments, that will take on the RA’s Main Galleries across all 13 rooms. 

Gormley sees the exhibition as a ‘test site’; engaging the senses, employing scale, darkness and light, and using elemental, organic and industrial materials. The works will interact with the Beaux-Arts galleries, creating a series of distinct encounters that will come together as a collective experience. It will be a summation of Gormley’s enduring concern with the inner dark space of the body itself and the body’s relation to its surroundings: the body as space and the body in space. Gormley said, “there is no subject until the viewer arrives and begins to engage.”

Want to Be a Crash-Proof Collector? Here Are 3 Things to Do to Stay Ahead of the Art Market During a Recession

Don’t be afraid to sell a masterpiece, look at the middle market, and more advice for cashing in on art when the stock market is falling.

Nothing gold can stay, and every art-industry veteran understands that the good times don’t last forever.

Beneath the big-money rumblings of last November’s New York auctions—a bellwether slate of sales unfolding just a few weeks after the 10-year anniversary of the Great Recession dredged up memories of titanic losses—it wasn’t hard to hear a consistent, if sotto voce, stream of concern about a looming market downturn. The chatter only grew louder after several of the week’s marquee lots were greeted by lackluster demand or failed to find buyers entirely, dimming sentiment on the decent yet somewhat uninspiring overall results—and perhaps on the market’s prospects as a whole in 2019.

A few months later, against the backdrop of Brexit and other political uncertainties, many in the trade remain wary about the near future. Another decline is inevitable. When it will begin, and how harmful it will be, remain open questions. Rather than speculate about those impossible-to-predict answers, however, we’ve set out to examine past market contractions for lessons that could prepare us for the next one. Because no matter how unappetizing it may be to sell art in a downturn, someone is going to have to do it.

What Makes Museums Great?

Money, morals and metrics

In such stormy times, what does it mean for a museum to be successful? For this, our 101st issue of In Other Words, we asked directors around the world how they evaluate achievement. From balancing the books to broadening the conversation; from creating communities to provoking public debate, museums have complex and differing agendas.

Historically, visitor numbers have been the standard metric, despite the fact that “most museum attendance figures, from a purely scientific point of view, are unverifiable” as the late Okwui Enwezor, the former director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, said in an interview with In Other Words in mid-December (read the full transcript here). “I truly believe there is a lot of fudging of numbers going on out there,” he said, calling the whole notion of attendance figures and visitor numbers “voodoo economics”.

‘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.