Friday, May 24, 2013

The Art Set: Art & Enthusiasm

Philip Haas, Four Seasons. Painted fiberglass sculptures in situ at The New York Botanical Garden, 2013. Courtesy The New York Botanical Garden.
The Art Set: Art & Enthusiasm
Charlie Scheips

Amidst the seemingly perpetual headlines of record auction figures and the art hype surrounding the most commercial sides of the contemporary art world — several shows and installations this month underscore how the impetus of love and passion for the arts and artists fuels the engines of civilization. 

Maybe the better word is enthusiasm.  My mother, a lover of classical languages, used to explain that the root of enthusiasm came from ancient Greek — enthousiasmos that stems from the adjective entheos — “having the gods (theos) within (en).” While in common usage it can mean having a passion for just about anything — its linguistic root come closest to why what we call art matters. Art is the love of life!

Shirley Goldfarb in Paris during the 1970s.
Enthusiasm for the arts builds museums and opens galleries. It also launches careers and inspires future generations. One aspect of inspired enthusiasm in the arts is readily present this month in New York — the lengths that curators and gallery owners go to mount exhibitions and create publications to help re-establish to importance of individual artists that either died before their time or chose to remain outside the mainstream intellectual or commercial currents of their era.

The Loretta Howard Gallery in Chelsea opened at the beginning of the month with a fascinating exhibition entitled Shirley Goldfarb: A Retrospective. The American-born Goldfarb moved to Paris in 1954 after studying at the Art Students League here — remaining in her adopted city until her death from cancer in 1980.

Goldfarb never gained the fame that many of her writer and artist friends did such as David Hockney — but she was a well-known character of the Paris bohemian art scene of the 1960s and 1970s. A couple weeks ago I was able to see this beautiful show (that includes a vitrine of personal artifacts, photographs and announcements) and experience a vivid posthumous glimpse of Goldfarb’s fabled personality.

This was thanks to actress Suzy O’Neill, who donned a pair of vintage oversize black sunglasses and performed a dramatic reading of excerpts from Goldfarb’s voluminous diaries particularly selected in the context of her struggling art career. O’Neill, seated at a café table with a pack of cigarettes and an espresso just as Goldfarb did daily for years at her favorite haunts like Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore, was mesmerizing.
Actress Suzy O'Neill as Shirley Goldfarb.
Placed in the corner of the Howard’s main gallery, surrounded by Goldfarb’s surprisingly subtle Abstract Expressionist canvases brought this fascinating character that I had always heard about to life. Loretta has also published a catalog on the occasion of the show.

After O’Neill’s performance, another of Goldfarb’s pals from the old days in Paris — the amazing garden designer Madison Cox — hosted a dinner for a dozen or so of us around the corner at Bottino. The group included some of Goldfarb’s friends such as Eric Boman and Peter Schlesinger, Joan Juliet Buck, Marian McEvoy, Karen Akers, Shirley’s son Marc as well as Loretta Howard and Howard Hurst from the Gallery. The exhibition is on view until June 8th.
Madison Cox and Loretta Howard.
Emily Contrastano, Charlie Scheips, and Joan Juliet Buck.
Allison Spear, Marian McEvoy , and Sharon Simonaire.
Howard Hurst, Madison Cox, and Joan Juliet Buck.
Peter Schlesinger and Kevin Ryan.
Tom Cashin, Allison Spear, and Jay Johnson.
A couple days after the Goldfarb show, I experienced another act of inspired enthusiasm when I headed over one morning to the Jewish Museum to a preview for Jack Goldstein X 10,000. Goldstein is having a renaissance as of late — having recently had a major gallery exhibition at the Venus Over Manhattan gallery entitled Where is Jack Goldstein?

Jack Goldstein
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1975
16mm film; color; sound
3 min.
And now, the Jewish Museum is presenting Goldstein’s first American retrospective curated by former MOCA curator Philipp Kaiser, who is now the director of the Ludwig Museum in Cologne. The show was originally organized and presented by the Orange County Museum of Art in California.

The Canadian-born Goldstein attended the influential Cal Arts and became part of a movement during the 1970s and 1980s collectively referred to today in art circles as the Pictures Generation. This “movement” includes better-known artists such as Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Laurie Simmons, Barbara Kruger, David Salle, and Robert Longo. Goldstein retreated from the art world in the years before his death in 2003.

He explored the intersection of pop culture, media and art (mainstream thinking now) by appropriating found images in his now widely admired films, paintings, sound recordings and experimental writings. The Jewish Museum show goes a good distance in bringing his experimental career to a larger public. Goldstein checked out of the art world while Goldfarb tried, but never succeeded to break in. Both are getting their just due with these two shows — their “enthusiasm” inspiring a new generation to bring it back to life.
JACK GOLDSTEIN x 10,000. The Jewish Museum, New York, 2013. Photography by Bradford Robotham.
After viewing the Goldstein show, I decided to walk down Madison Avenue towards a lunch date at San Pietro that I had a couple hours later. I stopped by the Carlyle Hotel and went upstairs to the second floor to see Blain|Di Donna’s exhibition of the Belgian quasi-Surrealist artist Paul Delvaux.

Like Goldstein several decades later, Delvaux was another iconoclast who distanced himself from the “political agendas” of the prevailing art world of his day — choosing to follow his own aesthetic path. This is yet another museum quality show of yet another enigmatic artist who may not be a household name to those outside today’s art world.
Paul Delvaux, L'Éloge de la mélancolie, 1948, Oil on panel, 153 by 255 cm © Paul Delvaux Foundation, Belgium.
I then travelled down Madison Avenue to 35 East 64th Street to see Moeller Fine Art’s spectacular Paul Klee: Early and Late Years: 1894-1940. The elegant gallery, designed by architect Thomas Kroeger, is the perfect setting to view the works of this Swiss master who also worked outside rigid aesthetic strictures of his day and transformed artistic premises of such diverse realms as Cubism, Expressionism, and Surrealism into his own whimsical and elegant vision.

He may be a more famous name than Goldfarb or Goldstein, but I doubt it gets dropped much in fashionable contemporary art circles.
Paul Klee, Nach. e. Impr. beim Milchhäusl, 1915, 131
Paul Klee, Auserwählter Knabe (Chosen Boy), 1918, 115
A few days later I took in Dickinson Roundell’s Paul Klee: The Bauhaus Years exhibition just two blocks north of Moeller off Madison Avenue at 66th Street. Go see both shows and you’ll get a good dose of Paul Klee at his most brilliant.

Last week, I was invited to a press lunch at Luxembourg & Dayan on 64 East 77th Street with an eye-opening survey of French artist and filmmaker Martial Raysse: 1960-1974.

Martial Raysse speaks to visitors at Luxembourg & Dayan.
Like Shirley Goldfarb, Paul Delvaux, Jack Goldstein, and Paul Klee, the Raysse distanced himself from the mainstream of his own contemporary art world to instead travel on his own unique artistic journey. But unlike those other artists, he is still very much with us at age 75. The exhibition focuses on Raysse’s early assemblages, paintings, sculptures, and films, and is his first exhibition in four decades in the United States.

Raysse spoke eloquently in a combination of French and English to the gathered crowd about his work and philosophy as well as his attitude to his life as an artist having “retired long ago from the commercial art world.”

But thanks to the show at Luxembourg & Dayan and a planned retrospective at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris next year as well as a major show at the Venice Biennale in 2015, Raysse's obscurity in contemporary art circles is destined to be lifted as attention grows on his seminal role as an influential artist comes into greater focus. You’ll be surprised how many of his works from this early period challenge our notions of the development and progress of art since the early 1960s.

Seeing these five exhibitions reminds us of how commercial galleries are now responsible for some of the art world’s most important exhibitions — on par with, and sometimes exceeding in quality, those of museums. Galleries such as these, by investing their resources in first class publications, are adding much to art scholarship during our times — and for the future.

And that kind of enthusiasm has its own rewards!
Installation view of Martial Raysse: 1960-1974, photo courtesy of Luxembourg & Dayan.
Martial Raysse, Tableau simple et doux  (Sweet and Simple Painting), 1965
Paint, photo collage, and neon on canvas
Photo: Adam Reich
Martial Raysse, Snack, 1964
Oil, acrylic, paper collage, plastic, wood, straw hat, plastic bird, enlarged photograph, and mixed media on canvas with neon lettering
Photo: Art Digital Studio
I found another kind of enthusiasm at the New York Botanical Garden late last week. My friend Philip Haas, who I’ve known since the mid 1980s, opened his installation of monumental sculptures of the Four Seasons (in the courtyard of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory). Philip today describes himself as “a recovering filmmaker.” Working as an artist during the past decade, he has recently created amazing 15-feet painted fiberglass sculptures inspired by painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

The Surrealists rediscovered Arcimboldo in the 1930s after centuries of obscurity. The Surrealists were drawn to Arcimboldo’s optical illusionary imaginary portraits that were composed using natural materials such as wood, fruits and vegetables, and flowers to replace skin, hair and facial features.
Philip Haas, Winter. Painted fiberglass sculpture in situ at The New York Botanical Garden, 2013. Philip Haas, Spring, 2013.
Philip Haas, Summer, 2013. Philip Haas, Autumn, 2013.
Inspired by Arcimboldo’s own paintings made in the 1500s of Winter, Spring Summer and Fall, Haas’s installation is all the more brilliant after one realizes that he had to imagine how to realize Arcimboldo’s work in three dimensions to remain faithful to the originals — while they also remain totally contemporary works in themselves.

In a sense, Haas has conjured the inner core of Arcimboldo’s imagination! Seen in the context of the lush nature of the Botanic Gardens we arrive at another visual paradox — the nature that provides the “backdrop” for the works seemingly all the more surreal. The Four Seasons will be on view there until October 27 — and don’t miss seeing the smaller maquettes used to fabricate the Four Seasons that are also on view in the New York Botanical Garden’s Library. 
Philip Haas, Winter and Summer.
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