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    Artists as Reality-TV Stars

    Long before the American Idolization of every art form on the planet, the great humorist S. J. Perelman imagined a gnarly New York painter being asked by a vulgarian Hollywood movie producer: what exactly do you artists do in the studio when you get an idea? “I usually smite my forehead,” the painter replies sarcastically, “and shout ‘Eureka!’?”
  • The End of Political Art

    There's a double-gallery exhibition still up in New York called The Visible Vagina. It's another one of those didactic anthology shows purporting to bring some issue that artists think regular folk have either thought about incorrectly, or have repressed entirely, out into the open and, in the patois of today's art world, "address," "confront," "deconstruct," "unpack," and "interrogate" the hell out of it. Naturally, one of the galleries hosted a panel discussion. The participants included one male, Walter Robinson, an artist and editor of an online art magazine. (A few men, including Picasso and Robert Mapplethorpe, are represented in the show.) When his turn came to speak, Robinson said that, in the art world at least, the war with patriarchy is over, everybody knows all about vaginas—as well as penises—and nobody thinks anymore that women are mere sex objects subject to the infamous male gaze. From the audience—and this was a mild surprise—there arose only faint murmurs of...
  • Museums Suffer the Art World's Biggest Fallout

    When the art market collapsed along with everything else last year, the general public's first reaction was a resounding "Who cares?" After all, what skin was it off their noses if a Jeff Koons failed to sell at Sotheby's or some snooty London gallery shut its doors?Art museums, however, are another matter. People visit them by the tens of millions—often taking along the kids—and consider them markers of cultural cachet. When museums lay off staff, curtail hours, cancel shows, and start to look a little unkempt, people notice. The Great Museum Cutback is the second—but far worse—body blow delivered to art by the latest global recession.The most salient drama was played out in Los Angeles. The Museum of Contemporary Art dipped into its endowment's principal to pay expenses (the biggest no-no in the nonprofit world), flirted with closing or being absorbed by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and was temporarily rescued by $30 million from billionaire patron Eli Broad. But MOCA is...
  • Nauman's Own--Art

    Some people say that Bruce Nauman is the most influential American artist since Andy Warhol, but when Nauman arrived at art school way back in 1964, he had almost no idea where he was headed. Fresh from being a math and science student back in Wisconsin, the tall, laconic young Nauman painted the most mundane of subjects: landscapes. "I thought art was just something I'd learn how to do, and then I would just do it," he says. He'd landed almost by chance at the University of California, Davis, home to the most rebellious, irreverent artist-teachers around. (One of them, ceramist Robert Arneson, would have his officially commissioned monument to assassinated San Francisco Mayor George Moscone rejected in 1981 because it depicted the Twinkies from the assassin's "Twinkies defense" right there on its pedestal.) The faculty gave Nauman an empty room in a temporary building and told him simply to go to work. "I knew then," he says, "that I'd have to start out every day and figure out...
  • Three Decades In Madrid

    If Antonio Lopez-Garcia's "Lucio's Balcony" were not a great painting on its own, then the circumstances of its creation would clinch the matter. It took the 72-year-old Spanish realist 28 years to complete, from 1962 to 1990. That's partly due to his painting method: on site, same time of day, same season for each session. But it's also because he began the picture—which is now on view in a retrospective of his work at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts—as the setting for a portrait of friends, who soon moved away. Then the apartment changed hands three times. The most recent owners allowed López-García to set up his easel in the same spot and, decades later, finish.The result is a brilliant combination of the artist's early "magic realism" and his mature style of planar symphonies dedicated to the architecture of his beloved Madrid. The work looks restrained, but López-García gets more chromatic melody out of his muted, chalky palette than most artists do from primary colors. When he...
  • Still Life with Beach Towel

    The gift shop at the new Museum of Contemporary Art in New York doesn't sell standard museum fare—no Monet neckties or Jackson Pollock jigsaw puzzles. Instead, the NCMA, which just opened its new building in November, carries much edgier stuff. There are $540 smocks from a pattern by Andrea Zittel, an artist known for living out in the desert in mobile survivalist cabins. You'll also find $30 canvas totes by pop-noir draftsman Richard Pettibon and $68 beach towels by fey portraitist Elizabeth Peyton. "I've always thought that every artist ought to have a cheap line," says conceptual artist John Baldessari, who has a coffee mug inscribed with his cheeky aphorism TIPS FOR ARTISTS WHO WANT TO SELL available at the new Broad Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.Artist-made museum merchandise is on the rise. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art are all getting into the act, striking deals with...
  • A Modern Master’s Modest Art

    Sometimes I find it's best not to pay too much attention to the label. The one for "Railway Tracks," for instance, in the wonderful "Georges Seurat: Drawings" exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art, on view through Jan. 7, touts the "deep perspective of a winding road" and the "sensation of the earth in upheaval." While there is a bit of road at the bottom, and the drawing does depict a changing suburban area outside late-19th-century Paris, the beauty of Seurat's art lies elsewhere. In a current art world filled (to invoke an old Little Richard lyric) with a lot of womp-bomp-a-loo-bomp installations and video, this little miracle is the most economically poetic combination of technique, composition and sense of "being there" I've ever seen. Poor Seurat, who died of diphtheria in 1891 at 31, was only 23 when he finished it.As the poet-critic Gustave Kahn put it, Seurat was "a young man crazy about drawing." He worked in conté crayon (a kind of greasy charcoal) on toothy...
  • Is Photography Dead?

    How is that even remotely possible? The medium certainly looks alive, well and, if anything, overpopulated. There are hordes of photographers out there, working with back-to-basics pinhole cameras and pixeled images measured in gigabytes, with street photography taken by cell phones and massive photo "shoots" whose crews, complexity and expense resemble those of movie sets. Step into almost any serious art gallery in Chelsea, Santa Monica or Mayfair and you're likely to be greeted with breathtaking large-format color photographs, such as Andreas Gefeller's overhead views of parking lots digitally montaged from thousands of individual shots or Didier Massard's completely "fabricated photographs" of phantasmagoric landscapes. And the establishment's seal of approval for photography has been renewed in two current museum exhibitions. In "Depth of Field"— the first installation in the new contemporary-photography galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, on display...

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