Monday, December 31, 2007


Graffiti on the side of a building on St. Catherine St.
I was taken by the scale of the image, against the relatively human scale of the buildings that typify Montreal, which is much more human scale than NYC.

After visiting my family for Christmas in Vermont, I thought I would take myself on a little vacation to Montreal, since I was two thirds of the way there; that is how far North my family is. I went to Montreal for the first time last summer for just two nights, and totally enjoyed it; of course the main attraction are the gay strip bars, which are unlike anything in the States. There I worship before the altar of another sort of beauty, than usually reviewed in these pages.
But in addition to the wonderful freedom Montreal offers, it also has some really good art to be seen. I have only begun to explore the art there, focusing mainly on the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which is pretty big, and has allot to see. But there is also a good Museum of Contemporary Art, and the McCord Museum, devoted to the history of Montreal, and others such as the Redpath Museum at McGill University which was not open and which I have not seen yet. In addition I understand there is something of a gallery scene, but being the holidays, none were open. So I have more to see on future trips.

Berri UQAM subway station, which has a beautiful back lit stained glass window over the tracks, and the enormous scale of the Ipod ad somehow seemed more art like than ad like in this setting. The subway in Montreal is clean, attractive, easy and a pleasure to use.

But enough of street art, after doing the obligatory shopping, which is great there and doing some damage, I made my way to the Museum of Fine Arts.

This is the old section, built in 1879, the first building in Canada specifically built to house art. Interestingly much of Montreal's history echoes that of New York City, the Metropolitan was established in 1870, the Montreal Museum was started in 1860, so around the same time. However, this museum is much smaller than the Met, as is the city.
This is a view of the Gilded Bronzes of Cartoceto di Pergola, and amazingly, this is the first time they have been displayed outside Italy. Belonging to the class of gilt bronze statues that the Marcus Aurelius of the Capitoline and the Horses of San Marco belong to, these statues, fragmentary as they may be, are rare survivors. For me they are a bit crude, the details and quality of the work is not fine, but workmanlike, although at a distance they are quite effective and splendid. It reminds one of two things, ancient art varies in quality, and that it was made for specific functions which were more important than their aesthetic appeal. These sculptures honor a family, there are two draped female figures and a man mounted on a horse, who they are is unknown at this time. While of high rank their quality indicates they were not imperial; even so a statue was a very important honor to have been granted, giving them a life into eternity.

Here are the two Roman portraits in the museum, both actually quite good. The forward one is identified in the label as being of Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, or Caius Cassius Longinus, dating to the First Century A.D. It is a type which is known from other copies, two of which are in the Louvre, so the person depicted, whether or not it is the two identified, was a man of very high rank to have commanded multiple images of himself. This one is of really beautiful quality and is very well preserved, intact as far it exists with all its features, including the nose, which is usually damaged. The rear portrait is identified as the young Emperor Severus Alexander, dating to 222-235 AD. Again a very fine and well preserved portrait, and of an attractive subject so appealing on a number of levels. So while not rich in Classical art, at least the Montreal Museum has managed to get some good pieces.

Relief from the Temple of Isis at Behbeit El-Hagar, Egyptian, XXX Dynasty, ca. 378-341 B.C.
Carved of Granite. The scene depicted is Nectanebo II making an offering to a god.

Detail of relief above showing the god receiving the offering. Note the superb quality of this relief.

This relief is of beautiful quality, while in very low relief, every detail has been carved, and the style is that smooth ideal style of the Ptolemaic period and later. The temple that this relief comes from is well known an antiquarian circles as fragments from it come up for sale occasionally and in 2004 one of them was for sale at Christies and returned to the Egyptian government when they were able to prove it had been taken from the site in the 1990's. It was a large temple, dating to the Ptolemaic Period, and this relief is from the Persian Period just before the Ptolemy's. I believe the Met has a relief from this temple.

Statue of Vishnu, South Indian, Chola Period, ca. 1200 A.D., in grey granite.

Keeping to the sculpture part of the tour, I was struck by this beautiful Chola sculpture. My eyes have been opened to the quality of Chola stone sculpture after seeing the glorious Shiva from the Albright Knox sold at Sotheby's, so I note them where-ever I see them. Typical of Chola stone sculpture is the soft carving style, which looks as if it were pecked out of the hard granite with a rounded chisel or a hard pebble, with very little surface polish, unlike the hard precision of Egyptian stone carving. Even so, all the important details of jewelry and raiment are successfully indicated to convey a richness, and the surfaces appear that they would be soft and smooth to the touch, even though not polished. (Sadly I have never touched a Chola stone statue, I need to do so at some point. I have Egyptian statues, and I can testify to their smoothly polished surfaces.) While a modest example of Chola sculpture it is of quite high quality and is a very good example of its culture and time.

L'apotheose de Napoleon. Workshop of Thorvaldsen, Danish, ca. 1830, marble.
on loan from the collection of Huguette and Ben Weilder.

This amazing bust, by one of the greatest sculptors of the Neo-Classical age, depicts the French hero, General and Emperor of what he hoped would be the new Roman Empire, become a god. In the frontal view Napoleon is supported by an eagle, the symbol of Zeus, and he wears over his shoulder the aegis, also symbolic of Zeus/Jupiter and only worn by Roman Emperors when they became gods after death. The crown of laurel leaves completes the Classical references. But what most strikes me about this bust, is the treatment of the back, which has been fully finished with a carving of a date palm tree in relief, a clear reference to Napoleon's conquest of Egypt. The back of busts is always a problem, often they are left unfinished and roughly blocked out, sometimes they are smooth and polished, almost never are they carved. In this piece it is an important part of the sculpture so this bust was intended to be seen in the round.

The Napoleon Bust is in a wonderful exhibit All for Art! Our Great Private Collectors Share their Works. Culled from seventy collectors who live in or have a connection to Montreal, it is a wonderful selection across a broad range of art, from ancient to contemporary. This piece comes from collectors who seem to focus on Napoleonic art, judging from this and other pieces in the exhibition. Seeing them made me sad for the hubris that destroyed Napoleon, he really was a great ruler in some ways and energized the arts, and design. If only he had done what he did best, which was to bring France into the Modern world. Who knows, if he had not over reached, and was able to stay in power, perhaps he would have brought back the Gods of Antiquity, he certainly seemed to understand the pagan spirit.

This is it for this post, I will do more on what I saw in Montreal, it was allot.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Chelsea Galleries, December 2007

Again hardly a comprehensive tour, just a few highlights.

Yan Lei, Color Wheel, 2006, acrylic on canvas.
Robert Miller Gallery

Yan Lei is a Chinese artist, and since Chinese art is all the rage, I guess every gallery now needs to feature some. The show as a whole is strange and disconnected to me, but I enjoy these color wheel paintings, which are truly hallucinogenic, the next images will make that more evident:

Here is another one of the color wheel paintings. As you approach the paintings, because they are quite large, nearly ten feet square, your eyes do strange things, and I felt like I was looking through a fog, my eyes felt as if they lost their focus. In fact, the paintings are sort of blurred, the boundaries between the different color rings are not distinct, and blend into each other. The effect was a little alarming, and my friend Charlene took a few minutes to get over it. Whether this clever manipulative trick deserves credit as great art is a question, but at least it is something I have not seen or encountered before.

Pat Steir, Sunspots II, 2007
Oil on canvas, 127 x 109 inches.

Probably my favorite show this past tour was that of Pat Steir at Cheim and Reid Gallery. I have known her work since I worked at Robert Miller in the 1980's, and still like her work. The latest group belongs to her waterfall and drip series which she started then, and has been perfecting over the years. Many of the paintings in the exhibition are black, grey and white, but my two favorite were the tarnished bronze, above, and the orange fall painting.

Installation view taken from the gallery website showing Pat Steir's, PINK, 2007
oil on canvas, again 127 x 109 inches.

This painting is impressive as well, but only as you approach closer do you see the real depth of Steir's technique, the surface sort of dissolves into fractal elements, that seem almost infinite in depth. Somehow she got the paint to run down the canvas but like oil and water, not mix but form complicated drips. I know it sounds simple, but the effect is really beautiful and so controlled over such a large surface that it is a profound effect. It appears like a view of a landscape from a great distance above.

This detail taken from about four feet, gives some idea of the complex patterns formed by the drip.

There are other good shows but nothing that really stood out for me this past trip, other than the pit and chocolate Santa in the former post. Below this tableau did strike me:

view of exhibition of Charles Ray: New Works at Matthew Marks, showing Father Figure (the truck), New Beetle (the white boy), and Chicken (on pedestal)

This shot is of Matthew Marks Gallery space on W. 22nd Street, one of the City's most beautiful gallery spaces, in whose immense white void a mere three sculptures are placed, a huge tonka toy farm truck and driver, a sappy cute boy in white playing with a toy car, and on the pedestal a egg hatching. When I went into the gallery all I could think was what a waste of space, and dismissed the exhibition as so much self pretentious dreck. What does it all mean? I hate the exaltation of the banal, although the hatching egg did have a certain fascination for me I have to admit. Only on reading the review did I realize that these works are tours de force, the truck is eighteen-and-a-half tons of stainless steel, painted. It is eight feet tall and ten feet long. That is allot of expensive material for such a meaningless object. So I have new found respect for the sheer extravagance of the materials the skill exhibited in the exquisitely detailed hatching chicken egg commands my respect. However, I do not think the work is consistent, I don't know what one has to do with the other, nor do I think this work will age well; it will be meaningless in decades hence, as incomprehensible in the future as it is to me now.

Best window in Hudson this holiday

Windows of Mark McDonald's Gallery
555 Warren Street, Hudson

This extraordinary stained glass window is featured for the Holidays and I think it is just beautiful. It comes from a Miami Beach hotel, The Caribbean, designed by Murray Dixon in 1941, but who did the glass is unknown at this time. I love the waterlilies, which seem to be a favorite theme for artists, one just needs to think of Monet's which are so admired. Here we see them close up and gigantic, and I find them oddly peace inducing. Perhaps because they also are like the lotus, revered of the Egyptians and the Buddhists, as a symbol of spiritual transformation, the roots in the muck, the flower reaching for the heavens. Pretty exalted stuff for a tourist hotel, which just goes to show, great art can often be found where design is.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Pit, and the Chocolate Santa

my intrepid friend Charlene descending into the Pit, an installation at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in NYC

Like all New Yorkers, I read reviews, and this caught my eye, Holland Cotter's review of the artist Urs Fischer at Gavin Brown's Enterprise. Here I will quote a bit:

"The piece, titled "You", calls up many references from the past and the present: from Michael Heizer's earthworks to Chris Burden''s institutional underminings to Monica Bonvicini's simulations of the same. .......(it goes on and on about obscure references)....You have to stoop - an implicitly humbling posture - to enter and exit, as if at the door of a shrine or a tomb, and only one person can pass through at a time."

Intriguing I thought, I like tombs and shrines, I want to see this. What also impressed me was another review, I think it might have been on NPR, but not sure, that stated that it cost $250,000., to excavate that pit, and then of course it will be filled and cemented over again after the show. This is extravagance, a flagrant throwing of money away, tossing it into dumpsters, just to show that you can do it. While I love extravagance, I don't like waste, but wanted to see this for myself.

It is quite impressive, the small opening in the otherwise perfect gallery wall, and the pit has a kind of desert beauty, like some excavation in Egypt. It is intriguing and it would have been enough to simply look at from the entrance, but no, my friend Charlene quickly hopped down and made her way gingerly into it. I followed of course. It is impressive, but I think I can get this experience out in nature better. Also it smelled of dry dust, somewhat chockingly so.

It is certainly a concept, but would just remain that without the money that dug it, in a space in Manhattan. I cannot say I get this type of art particularly, or really care to, there is something disturbing about the casual destruction it entailed.

On a humorous note, we then quickly made our way up to Maccarone Gallery up the street, which has a huge installation piece that also demonstrates the tremendous resources being poured into contemporary art. It is a piece by Paul McCarthy, a complete chocolate factory in the gallery space churning out high quality chocolate figures of Santa, holding a butt plug as if it were a Christmas tree. It is pretty impressive, a complete fully functioning and staffed factory working making 1000 of them a day, and open 7 days a week to take orders. At just $100. a Santa, it is a relative bargain in the art world, although it really is best eaten.

The Santa's, hundreds of them, all lined up.

Cute, and at least produces something that can be consumed, and saved should you wish. Although they do tell you that it only keeps about a year. I am sure in some museum somewhere will be a nitrogen atmosphere glass case preserving one for perpetuity in case anyone cares in years hence.

Here they are all packed up, and carefully labeled, "Chocolate Santa and Butt Plug", in case you had forgotten. You could just put a toy in, close it up, re attach the label, keep it and sell it at an auction house in future years, who would know? Eat the Santa, it is good chocolate, we tried the samples they had available.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

the New Museum on the Bowery

By now everyone has heard of the New Museum, which just opened to the public, down on the Bowery. Watch out, this will be the next hot neighborhood, at least that is what is predicted by many. The building is odd, a stack of boxes off center, they look like they could topple. The skin of the building is in fact a metal mesh of large proportions, much like the mesh that plaster is put on, but much larger and of aluminum or steel. It does not read in the photos, but inside, looking out you can see the edges where they cut openings in it over the windows. Not sure what the mesh is supposed to do, but it is an interesting surface. Inside the museum, which officially has 60,000. sq. feet, does not feel that large. Each box is not particularly big, and you take an elevator up to the top gallery space and we walked down the stairs. I was not permitted to take photos inside, which is a shame, some of the spaces are beautiful, there is one stairway in particular that is dramatic and a beautiful space.

Another view showing more of the tower of boxes.

As for the art. Not much to say, a lot of old rags tied together it seems, one looking much like another, not a single well made or beautiful work in the entire exhibition. It reminds me of Whitney Biennials past, the ones that depressed me to go to. No surprise, Lisa Philips is the new director of the New Museum, she was formerly director of the Whitney. Compared to what is going on in the galleries in Chelsea this art seems tired and dated, and thank god craft, beauty, technique are back in vogue.

Below are some of the pieces on their website for a flavor of what is on view.

This piece is titled Elephant, 2006 and is by Isa Genzken.

This is by Shinique Smith, Split Endz (wig mix), 2005.

Pictures are worth a thousand words. What did I tell you, piles of rags tied up in different ways, by different artists. I don't have the patience to read what the artist is trying to say, I am sure something deep and profound; the object at hand is completely uninteresting to me. I for one like to look at art, not read about it.

Certainly one should go see for ones self, and see the building.

Their website is:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Highlights of the Hood Museum at Dartmouth

While we often think of America as being art poor when compared to Europe, there is actually quite a lot of good art tucked away in unexpected places. Small fine colleges frequently have very good museums, and Dartmouth has one that measures up to its high academic reputation. While not large, it is a satisfying museum with some very wonderful art. While the approach, above, is not very welcoming, inside it has great exhibition spaces.

At the entrance to the exhibition galleries I found this very curious juxtaposition, an abstract form of a black glazed vessel in front of the greatest treasure of the museum, the Assyrian relief panels. While at first I thought this vessel must be ancient it turns out to be a pot by a Kenyan born artist Magdalene Odundo. Currently living in England she is a professor of ceramics at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design University College in Farnham. No surprise, her work is inspired by ancient vessels and are so difficult to make, according to the information on the Dartmouth website, that she completes only a few each year. (This is the second ceramic artist I have stumbled across whose work is so laborious, an earlier post on a Chelsea tour featured the work of Eva Hild, another ceramicist doing coil built objects that take months to make. )

View of four of the six gypsum relief panels from the Palace of Ashurnasirpal, king of the Assyrian Empire in the 9th Century B.C. According to the museum label, these panels were discovered as part of the palace complex at Nimrud Iraq, in 1845. About 55 of the panels were exported to the United States, most to colleges, Dartmouth was able to get these six, some of the finest of the bunch. Interestingly the original gypsum slabs were one foot thick, in order to make them easier to transport the slabs were reduced to three inch thickness and cut into manageable sections.

Detail of one of the panels showing the King. Here you can get a sense of the incredible quality of the carving and preservation of these reliefs; each strand of hair is carved individually as are the tassels of his garment, and the details of his jewelry and weapons. One could mine these reliefs for ideas for jewelry designs that would be suitable today.

This detail of the same relief above is intended to show that the garments were embroidered with mythological scenes, incised in the stone and probably filled in with color, now lost. It is the first time I have seen that level of detail on one of the Assyrian reliefs, and I have seen a lot of them, the Metropolitan has a great suite of them. This was the only panel in the Dartmouth group with this level of detail, but I will have to revisit and look more closely at the Met's and those in other museums when I come across them.

One of the lost art forms of antiquity were the textile arts, which simply do not survive because of the perishable nature of cloth. This panel and some other sculptures from antiquity give a hint that it was a major art form in antiquity, one we can only imagine since no great textiles survive. On this relief we see a hint of what they may have been like.

I could not resist this little charmer, a Mochica vessel dating to 200 to 500 A.D., depicting a sick man pooping into a bowl. Those ancients, they would depict anything. No shame at all. It is wonderful. I wonder however about what is being depicted, administering drugs by enemas up the rectum was a big thing in ancient America, could something to do with that be the real subject of this arresting sculpture? Or perhaps it depicted an illness with an apotropaic purpose.

I cannot resist a beautiful young man, and neither could Paul Cadmus, the painter of this small gem, dating to the 1930's of a handsome factory worker on Mallorca. Done in a painstaking detailed technique inspired by Old Master paintings, that became Cadmus's signature style.

I also cannot resist the amazing technique and beauty of Maxfield Parrish's paintings, and this one, Hunt Farm (Daybreak), painted in 1946 is a great example of his style. The deep azure of the sky seems infinitely deep with billowing clouds set in it, with beautiful loamy moss like green ground and trees. It depicts a real site in Windsor Vermont, although it is so idealized and hyper real as to appear imaginary. One can see here why Maxfield Parrish was one of his times most popular and oft reproduced American painters.

Medusa, 1854, marble bust by Harriet Goodhue Hosmer.

This overwrought bust depicts that favorite anti-heroin, Medusa as a beautiful woman with snakes decoratively entwined in her hair and under her bosom. Wings in her hair complete her attributes as the gorgon earth goddess slain by Perseus. Here she is sympathetically portrayed, as the young beauty turning into the monster she became. In the myth she was born beautiful, but was seduced by Poseidon disguised as a horse in one of Athena's temples. Angered, Athena turned the maiden into a fearsome creature. Interestingly her image changed over the centuries, in the Archaic Period she is truly horrific and fearful, later Roman images depict her as a beautiful woman with snakes in her hair, as one historian wrote, her face had the stillness of death. Whether beautiful or monstrous, her visage turned men into stone, even after death; Athena wore her head on her chest as part of her aegis, it protected her by turning her enemies into stone.

No one describes the transformation better than Roberto Calasso in his beautiful book, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. He is Ovid reborn, he retells the myths so poetically and sheds such insights into the meanings of the myths that this book should be required reading for anyone interested in antiquity. In his words:

On the floor of one of Athena's temples, Poseidon was licking Medusa's pearly body, white in the shadows, with his marine saliva. Athena stood before them, a statue in her cell, obliged to watch those two writhing bodies twining together in the silence of her temple....She raised the aegis to annihilate them....the soft filaments of Medusa's hair, spread out on the floor, began to swell, and already you could see that the tips were turning into so many snakes' heads.

The Hood Museum is worth a detour should you find yourself going near Hanover, New Hampshire.

Orozco at Dartmouth

My stepfather Stan Yarian in front of the huge fresco murals by Orozco at the Baker Library at Dartmouth.
The section seen here is the Coming of Quetzalcoatl, who was the great bringer of civilization in Aztec mythology. Described in their myths as a white bearded man, he is the large central figure with the pyramid temples of Teotihuacan, and flanking him are images of the ancient Aztec gods.

When I went to see my mother in Vermont, I decided to go to Museums on the way, I did the Clark on trip there, and the Hood Museum at Dartmouth on the way back. The great discovery of the tour of Dartmouth were the incredible mural paintings by Jose Clemente Orozco: The Epic of American Civilization. Painted in 1932 and 1934 they are a huge ambitious series of fresco wall paintings on the history of the Americas from the Indian point of view. Daring for its time, this subversive native view was made possible by a tutorial fund set up by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, but the commission was initiated by the College itself.

The murals incorporate the architecture of the large reading room, and depict the origins of the great Meso-American civilizations, from the immigrations into the Valley of Mexico, the legend of the coming and going of their civilizing god Quetzalcoatl, to the coming of white men and the destruction of the world of the native civilizations. It is a dark take on the usual triumphant American story, highly critical of the world we have wrought. The colors and painting are vivid and beautiful, Orozco is very much of his time, his style reminds one of other painters of that period, Rivera, Marsden Hartley even Georgia O'Keefe. This is one of the great art treasures in America today, there are very few large scale murals in this country.

Dartmouth has a great website with allot of information on the murals for those wanting more information, and the murals are accessible to the public during the hours the Library is open.

click to see more about the Dartmouth Orozco Murals

The panel above depicts human sacrifice as practiced in Meso-America; the victim here is splayed over the altar and the chest cut and the heart ripped out. The perspective here is varied, the victim is seen from above, the attendant figures from the side. While the victim appears to be hung upside down, he is in the painting laid over the altar which forced the chest up for easier access by the priests. The ritual of human sacrifice fascinated me as a child, I delighted in describing its gruesome details to anyone who would listen, so of course I gravitated towards this panel.

The panel above is harder to interpret, but certainly appears to be an indictment of modern civilization and education. In the brochure on the murals published by Dartmouth this panel is titled, Gods of the Modern world. It goes on to say that this panel depicts modern institutional education with the skeletal academics presiding over the birth of useless knowledge here depicted as a skeleton fetus. Pretty grim, and scary imagery that could also be interpreted as an indictment of our so called progress, which the rest of mural makes clear his view that it was done through the destruction of nature and the native cultures and peoples of this hemisphere. I personally subscribe to this view so found these murals thrilling in their intensity and darkness.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hudson Find

I was walking down Warren Street the other day and passing the windows of Rural Residence, and looked in the window and saw a framed watercolor that caught my eye.

English or American, 1824, page from a Personal Journal.

Not usually my sort of thing as at first glance this appears sentimental, something about it grabs me. It is superbly well drawn and executed the flowers are identifiable, botanical in accuracy of depiction, the colors vibrant, and the penmanship of the poem is just beautiful. This anonymous page from a personal journal reaches across time to touch us now; there is something amazing about someone executing the exquisite watercolor and composing this poem for their own private pleasure, this was not distributed and who knows who may have ever seen it during the authors lifetime. The flowers are cut out and glued down on the fine paper the journal is on, so this is a sort of collage. I wonder if in fact the flowers come from a book or printed illustration of some sort. They look like watercolors but without really examining them closely, they could also be from a print.

And it could be yours it is for sale for a modest price. Rural Residence, 315 Warren St. Hudson, NY.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Most incredible thing I saw last week

Bronze head of a sacred Bull.
Roman, ca 1st Century A.D.
from Octodurus, in Switzerland.

This monumental bronze head is nearly two feet tall at least, and is displayed on a very tall pedestal giving it real majesty. On loan to the Metropolitan Museum from the Gallo-Roman Museum in Martigne Switzerland, this is apparently the finest Roman bronze found in Switzerland. What strikes me about it is that it looks Near Eastern and hardly looks Roman, the treatment of the hair on the forehead is so spiky, each lock is a pyramid, almost flame like, in a stylized non naturalistic manner more akin to Persian or early archaic Greek sculpture than Roman. It apparently had a third horn in the center of the forehead, as a marker of its sacred nature, as if the sheer energy of the piece did not already make that plain. It really is a beautiful and arresting sculpture and wonderful to see.

What strikes one about this head is the sense of the sacred found in nature, which the Romans never lost. They may have created one of human kinds greatest civilizations, with immense cities and huge public works, but they never lost their connection and reverence for the natural. This bull is very much an animal, but also a god, a being to be worshiped. We often forget this about Classical civilization instead focusing on their buildings and complex social structures and fascinating history; but they never ceased to be nature worshipers. Of course all that ended with Christianity, the enemy of nature.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Critical Mass exhibition in Catskill, NY

Patrick Terenchin in his gallery, on the wall are the Frank Faulkner drawings.

Ending this weekend is a small exhibition of pencil drawings by Frank Faulkner, a long time resident of this area who has redone many houses in Hudson and Catskill, and who has a shop/studio space now on Warren Street, Smoke and Mirrors. The venue for the show is a new gallery in Catskill, Terenchin Fine Art, which is a beautiful clean exhibition space on the North end of Main St.

Frank Faulkner is best known for abstract heavily textured paintings combining organic shapes, leaves, branches, with abstract elements. Very beautiful they remind one of a forest floor with leaves and branches embalmed in bitumen. This current drawings are however a break from this in that they are of penises, not abstractions but closely observed and detailed drawings from life. Frank has been recruiting and drawing wee wees, as he calls them, for about two years now, building up a body of work that eventually may find their way into a book. He calls it serial imagery, the constant repetition of a form with many variations, which his paintings have always had. Of course there is a prurient element to the show and the process, which is part of the fun. I modeled for him, as have many men in the area, gay and straight, and it is an intimate, sexually charged experience, but no sex takes place, the artist is quite serious and intent on his work. For those who like penises, and that is most of the world, his show and the book will have a great deal of interest.

view of the Critical Mass exhibition, drawings by Frank Faulkner.

On Frank Faulkner's website and blogspot, is a description which says it best:

"Faulkner continues his interest in serial imagery concentrated on a specific form. Critical Mass takes this process to a new level by exploring the human figure and the human condition. In studio sessions using live models, the artist ignores the specificity of faces in favor of corresponding genitals: a body part useless for purposes of public identification. A readjustment and reevaluation of the tacit artist-model contract is required of the viewer. The images function as anti-portraits, concealing more than they reveal."

Link to his blog:

Link to his website:

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Christies Sale results

To be fair to the other premier auction house in the world, Christies, I will cover the results of this weeks sale. Christies had no great stars this time, unlike Sotheby's Guennol Goddess. The attendance after that spectacular sale the day before was sparse it was reported by an attendee, and the bidding anemic. However, even so, some pieces sold quite well, although there were some major disappointments.

Roman silver skyphos, two views. Lot 158, estimated $700,000. to $900,000. failed to sell.
In person the preservation of detail is not so good, it appears worn and unclear, even though the quality and complexity of the iconography indicates the highest level of production.

Primary amongst those was the failure of the Roman silver skyphos to sell. In the results you get online, if an object does not sell, is passed in auctioneer terms, its number simply is not there in the results. Judging by that, it did not sell, which given the high estimate, about one million dollars, must be a blow. Some other major lots failed to sell as well, including another silver piece below:

Roman silver platter, First Century A.D.
Estimated $300,000. - 500,000., failed to sell as well.
This piece is brilliantly well preserved with crisp details and a beautiful surface, it looks like it is only one hundred years old rather than the two thousand it really is. The failure of this to sell is harder for me to understand.

The two pieces above and the other items that did not sell in auctions illustrated the point that the high price realized by the Goddess does not translate to every antiquity.

Lest you think the Christies sales were a bust, there were some very good prices realized, below are a few highlights.

Mesopotamian Limestone Head, ca 2500 B.C.
At 4 1/2 inches high, this piece is monumental for its type, and nearly perfectly preserved with all its inlays. It must have come from a major sculpture, most of this period and culture are smaller. It was estimated at $150,000-250,000., and sold with the buyer premium for $241,000., a healthy price.

Egyptian Monumental Sandstone Head of Ramses II, ca. 1290 B.C.
my own photo, the Christies photos did not convey the drama of the piece.

Estimated at $400,000.-600,000. this sold for $517,000., including buyer premium. I was underwhelmed by the head from the photos online and in the catalogue, but in real life this is a majestic object, it is very well carved if damaged, and is just so big, it is over two feet tall, which does not seem like much until you are in its presence and you realize it is over twice life sized. It sold on the low end of its estimated range, but still respectably well.

Egyptian bronze scepter finial in the shape of the head of a jackal.
XIXth Dynasty, ca 1300 B.C., 4 1/2 inches high.

Again a piece I had hardly glanced at from the online photos, this in real life was a commanding if small object. I took my own photo because I found the ones Christies took did not capture the drama and impact of this little jackal head, probably the god Anubis. It was estimated at $80,000.-120,000., and sold for $229,000., again quite respectable and well over estimate.

The vulva gem illustrated in my earlier post on Christies also sold well for $27,400., it was estimated at just $1,000.-1,500. So obviously what drew my attention to it, did others willing to pay for it. The cover piece, the elaborate ring also in that prior post sold for $46,600., well over its $15,000.-20,000. estimate.

So all in all Christies realized the types of prices that the antiquities world is used to, healthy but not particularly noteworthy, no where near the values of Impressionist or Modern Masters or now even, contemporary art. The Guennol Goddess is a one of, until the next great antiquity in a public collection comes up for sale.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

the Guennol Goddess sold.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the goddess exceeded all expectations, selling for $57,161,000., including buyers premium, at Sotheby's. That is fifty seven million dollars, when I thought the estimate was ambitious at 14 to 18 million dollars. To me, that is a frightening amount of money; while I think the object is priceless, this is enough money to fund a small nation, to remake a museum, or city in the US, it is allot of money. It is abstract, which might be the whole point, when it comes to objects of world class importance and unquestioned provenance, the money is meaningless, nothing is too much.

I went to the reception at Sotheby's on Monday evening and the theatrical display of the goddess complimented the little video about it on their website. They created a room with panels of cloth, with huge blow up images of the figure in front of it, you entered behind one such image to go into a black draped room, in the center of which was a black stand with the goddess in a Lucite case, dramatically lit. It was a temple and the cult image was the Guennol Goddess. Very effective, it allowed for the monumentality of this tiny sculpture to dominate the space. I have never seen such lengths gone to before with the display of an antiquity at auction. Sotheby's was rewarded for their efforts with a sales result that is beyond any achieved before for a sculpture at auction.

Finally I was able to speak to someone who attended the sale, and have the scoop on how the auction progressed. The room was packed, this attendee had never seen an antiquity auction at Sotheby's so well attended, and at the beginning of the bidding on the Goddess there were eight to ten bidders. At ten million the bidding stalled, the tension and disappointment in the air was palpable. At this point George Ortiz started the bidding back up, and at about 20 million dropped out. By this point the unidentified English gentleman started bidding, against the phone. By 30 million or so, it was just him and the phone, and he won it at 51 million hammer, the buyers premium brought the total paid up to 57 million. The winning bidder was a small time London dealer, who wished to remain anonymous but known to the cognoscenti in attendance, who could scarcely believe that he was bidding at that level. It is thought that he was buying on behalf of the Sheik of Dubai, who is building a world class museum in his efforts to transform his nation and prepare for when oil can longer be its primary source of wealth. It is thought that the under bidder on the phone was another Middle Eastern potentate.

While this price could only be realized by a bidding war between several buyers, unfortunately not all ancient objects have gained in value. This is the highest auction price for a sculpture of any kind, of any period. This will be the second time that record has been set by an ancient object; the Artemis from the Albright Knox being the first at a mere twenty eight million dollars. Perhaps people will begin to look at ancient art with fresh eyes and interest.

Other pieces also did quite well, my favorite piece aside from the goddess, was the head of Zeus, above, estimated at 300 to 500 thousand dollars, which sold, with buyers premium, for $965,000. This seems right to me, just under a million dollars for a beautiful sculpture that is monumental in size and impact.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass.

View of the old wing, a beautiful neo-classical building in white marble. This is where the permanent collections are exhibited.
Because I did not go to my mothers for Thanksgiving, I paid her and my stepfather a post Thanksgiving visit. I prefer to see them when not too many people are around, and on the way I decided to make the most of the trip, which is a long drive, and go to the Clark which is on the way. It is one of my favorite museums, a rich and varied collection with many gems of art. Below are a few of my favorite, and I am sure that on future trips, there will be other favorites. This is why I like to go to museums repeatedly, you discover new things or new aspects of old favorites each time. Here are three to start with, the Clark is so rich, I came away with a trove of things, I could just go on and on.

Silver Soup Tureen and Stand, by Joseph Ignaz Wurth, Austria, 1779-81

I am not usually a big fan of silver, only responding to the most amazing pieces, of which this is one. I first paid attention to silver when the Ortiz Patino collection was sold at Sotheby's and the virtuosity of the pieces captured my attention and made me start to look at silver with different eyes.
I suspect that this piece may well have come from that collection, its acquisition date is 1996, and the sale was held at Sotheby's in 1992. This piece is on that level of those in the collection, the very best of 18th Century craftsmanship. The chasing of the details is superb, a detail below will allow you to better see why such pieces are some of the worlds great works of art. This tureen was commissioned for a member of the court of the Empress Theresa of Austria, part of what was called "The Polish Service," which comprised some 400 pieces. The museum label in the Clark states, that this tureen is one of the most important examples of eighteenth-century Viennese silver to have survived the Napoleonic wars. Wars destruction of art is something we often forget in our time, and silver in particular was often melted down for it s monetary value. This objects value however is not in its material, but is superb artistry and design.

This detail of the top I hope gives some idea of the quality. Depicted is a head of broccoli or a cauliflower, some leaves of chard or other leafy green and what looks like sorrel or parsley. The details are finely engraved and chased into the silver so that they appear almost to be botanical illustrations in silver sculpture. The organic disorder of the vegetables contrasts with the rigid order of the classical forms of the tureen below them. This is silver at its very best, when it becomes sculpture.

Joseph Heintz the Elder, German, 1604
Portrait of Konstanz von Habsburg, Archduchess of Central Austria, later Queen of Poland.

This amazingly strange and impressive painting is probably my favorite in the museum, although it is certainly not the most popular with the public or that highly regarded by the museum itself, you cannot find her image in the highlights of the collection. This picture does not do her justice, the unfortunate child of the Hapsburgs she inherited their ugly features including the distinctive jutting lower lip, seen in portraits of one of the greatest Hapsburg princes, Charles 1st of Spain, known from many paintings. What impresses me is the contrast between the realistically portrayed homeliness of this royal personage, encased in glory. Every detail of her equipage speaks to her high rank; the dress is green silk taffeta so thick and glossy that it looks more like a structure than a dress, her arms are encased in gold embroidered sleeves, her hands gloved in the most supple leather, her throat held up by exquisitely embroidered lace, she has a pet monkey on a leash which holds up a red globe, as if offering the orb of the world to her, looking up at her with love. One feels for this prisoner of rank, her pet being her expression of humanity, her face blank of emotion. I think the artist has done a masterful job of capturing not only every detail of her magnificent jewels and dress, but also of creating what is a surprisingly sympathetic portrait, I actually am moved by this painting, not something one expects from a court portrait. As such, for its sheer technical brilliance, and subtle emotional depiction, this painting rises in my opinion to the class of a great work of art.

The next favorite piece in the collection is another object, a piano, but unlike any piano you have ever seen or even imagined.

Grand Piano and Pair of Stools
English, 1884-87
Designed by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, with fall painted by Edward J. Poynter.

Alma Tadema was the leading practitioner of a style of Romantic painting inspired by Classical antiquity, his paintings depict scenes from ancient Greece and Rome, were informed by the archaeological discoveries being made in Italy and Greece at the time. I have no idea who commissioned this piano, but it must have been somebody very rich; this piano is one of the most extravagantly ornamented and yet elegant pianos made. While not an ancient form, every opportunity to follow ancient forms is taken; the legs are in the shape of winged lions with lion paw feet, delicate acanthus tendrils and flowers ornament the sides, brass inlays in the shape of lyres surrounded by wreaths of glory punctuate the sides as well and the fall is painted with a scene of nymphs dancing in a classical landscape. Below are some details that help illustrate why this is such an exceptional object.

This view is of the fall, now protected by glass which somewhat obscures the beautiful painted dream scape of classical antiquity.

Here is my favorite detail, the beautiful tendrils of a flowering vine like plant. It is in relief executed in colored inlays of wood, ivory, and mother of pearl. It is amazingly complex and beautifully carved. Every detail of this piano is of this quality, the brass plaques and the music stand are also of the highest quality of execution, this piano is one of the most perfect classically inspired and richly ornamented pieces of furniture ever made.