Saturday, July 27, 2013

Almost over: Paul McCarthy at the Park Avenue Armory

I just got an email from the Park Avenue Armory that Paul McCarthy’s installation is over August 4th. And not a moment too soon!

Debauchery seems so old fashioned, so last century, that McCarthy’s attempt to shove it down our throats (haha) with this massive installation seems almost quaint. There was a time when it might have been helpful to goose us (there I go again) out of our inhibitions, but we were liberated decades ago. We had the 60s, 70s, and 80s, “Satyricon,” “Last Tango,” “Eyes Wide Shut” and that Japanese film where the guy cuts off his penis—not to speak of Acconci masturbating under a platform and Mapplethorpe, whose S&M photos are now classics. With the exception of the New York Post and a few mouthpieces on the Christian Right we are, as a culture, un-shockable—and even those starched shirts are probably not really shocked, but simply using it as another weapon in their power play. In an era where Internet porn of every flavor is available 24/7, we need more debauchery like we need another film about cars blowing up.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Untitled, c. 1973 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.  Used by permission.

Further, it’s easy to be depraved—just as it’s easier to be sloppy than scrupulous, disgusting than poetic. The irony is that McCarthy, whose work is a reaction to super-scrubbed, sexually-repressed Disney productions, is not more artful than his stimulus. Like Disney, he insists on controlling the entire experience, leaving no room for the imagination.

Compare McCarthy’s heavy-handed interpretation with Judy Fox’s Snow White (2007), whose simple representation of a adolescent girl in all of her nakedness and vulnerability is actually more disturbing.

Judy Fox, Snow White, 2007, terra cotta, casein, 8.5 x 58 x 25 inches

Not to speak of her dwarfs--here Sloth (2007), not a character you'd like to find yourself in a dark corner with:

Judy Fox, Sloth 2007 terra cotta and casein, 21 x 16 x 16.5 inches

I was thinking that the most responsive audience for McCarthy’s piece would be the seventh-grade boys who won’t be allowed in, which led me to wonder what would happen if you got a bunch of those boys, gave them an unlimited budget, and told them to be as gross as they wanted. Now that might be interesting. It might even be funny.

Jerry Saltz on the McCarthy exhibition here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Gerhard Richter: Tapestries

For the first time in almost ever, I took a couple of months off from writing….anything. I was tired of having ideas, tired of the urgency to express them, wanted to concentrate on making art, not thinking about it. Well I found it didn’t pay—just like avoiding the gym doesn’t pay—because now what I’m left with is mental flab and a limp writing muscle. A paragraph that just a few months ago would take five minutes to write, now takes an entire morning—with myriad breaks for coffee and food. Therefore, like not exercising, not writing can be fattening—especially in England, where I am until tomorrow, and where everything goes better with double cream.

Also I hadn’t seen any art that knocked my socks off. The Paul McCarthy show at the Armory put me in such a bad mood, and even the Turrell installation at the Guggenheim, which I wanted to like in the worst way (more about that in another post), left me cold. I fled to Paris, anticipating “Dynamo,” an exhibition of sound and motion at the Grand Palais, but it was the white cheese and passion fruit dessert in the museum café that really turned me on. Sometimes I think I’ve chosen the wrong field.

However if anyone can pull me out of a torpor, it’s Gerhard Richter. Usually there’s a lot on in the London summer season, but this year the only thing I really wanted to see was the exhibition (up through July 27) at Gagosian on Davies Street of four Richter tapestries from 2009—which, as it turned out, could be his most magnificent work ever.

The tapestries are based on a single scraped painting: Abstract Painting (724-4) (1990). This is the same one he mined for his book, Patterns: Divided, Mirrored, Repeated (2012), from which he generated the the large-scale digital Strip Paintings, shown at Marian Goodman last season, which I reviewed for Art in America.

Gerhard Richer, Abstract Painting (724-4) (1990)

Woven on a mechanical jacquard loom, each tapestry represents a Rohrschach-like four-time multiplication of one quadrant of the original image. Dense and rich, they appear at once medieval and futuristic, tribal and Baroque, with varying texture, thick and thin, and colors that range from murky to brilliantly clear.

While my friend and I stood riveted for at least 20 minutes, a couple with a car and driver waiting outside, entered the otherwise empty storefront gallery, walked up to one tapestry, said “Wow!” and walked out.

Although photos cannot possible replicate the experience, here are some attempts (oddly, my iPhone photos have more vibrant color than the official ones):

 Gerhard Richter, Tapestries, 2009 (Installation view)

Gerhard Richter, Tapestries, 2009 (Installation view)

Gerhard Richter, Tapestries (Detail)

Gerhard Richter, Tapestries (Detail)