Tag Archives: New York

2013 – my year in review

I did a lot of travelling this year in Nth America and Korea this year. All this travelling meant that I now have a category for my posts about travel, mostly visiting art galleries and looking at street art in various cities around the world. Seeing New York was the personal highlight of the year. I needed to see to fill a gap in my in my knowledge of the art world with a few days worth of New York galleries that. I’m still processing all that information. On the the highlight of my trip was seeing the Barry McGee exhibition in Boston. Visiting galleries in Seoul filled in gaps in my understanding of art that I didn’t even know were missing. The rise of Korea in international art is impressive given that a century ago it was an antiquated colonised backwater. Seeing Korean contemporary art has changed my thinking in so many ways.

Barry McGee

Barry McGee

Meanwhile I was trying to keep my reviews of exhibitions very local this year for various reasons (cycling, ease, tired of public transport and keep mixing it up) while still trying to keep up with Melbourne’s street art and get a publishing deal for my history of Melbourne’s public sculpture.

HaHa robot in Coburg

HaHa robot in Coburg

Normally when I check the messages from the Black Mark Facebook page or my gmail there is another invite to an exhibition on the other side of the city, or some artist wanting attention. Rarely there someone is giving you a blog post or a story on a platter. This year, for sending me two stories, I’d like to thank Kevin Anslow, who created the Melbourne Street Art 86 site see my post “Melbourne Street Art Blogs” and also sent me the photos that made up the my post “Sexy Girls Girls Girls”.

I’d also like to thank all the guest bloggers who wrote posts this year: CDH (“Street art Salvage”, February), Pauline (“White Night with kids”, March), Jess Knight (“Refashioned: Sustainable Design Survey”) and Vetti (“Peter Fraser’s Lizard: A Box of Gaps”). I thought that I’d try having some guest posts – again to mix things up a bit.

I thought that I’d like to try having a monthly series of articles; I tried with my Persons of Interest. The Persons of Interest were people that had influenced my thinking about art so it was, in a way, autobiographical. I’m not sure how well that went as a series but it was interesting writing them.

Paul Yore, "Fountain of Knowledge", 2013

Paul Yore, “Fountain of Knowledge”, 2013

Meanwhile Australia’s own culture was going through a low point. On Saturday 1st of June in Melbourne Australia police raided the Linden Centre for Contemporary Arts and removed 7 collage works by artist, Paul Yore alleging that the art was child pornography. Then in September Bill Henson withdrew from the 2014 Adelaide Biennial after a campaign by an Adelaide police officer, Brevet-Sergeant Michael Newbury against art that he had not seen. With the police in Australia becoming the unofficial art censorship board any hope that Australia might become a liberal society capable of intelligent and informed debate has been dashed.

Enjoy the end of year festivities, knowing that I will be hard a work on my sculpture book during that time, and good luck for 2014 – I think we’re going to need it.

Phil Soliman, The Great Pyramid, Moreland Station

Phil Soliman, The Great Pyramid, Moreland Station


2Do @ An Art Museum

What do can you do in an art museum/gallery/institution besides look at art?

Some art museums are destination architecture – so you can look at the architecture and take a photo. The Guggenheim Museum in NYC started the trend of museums as destination architecture. The Guggenheim is an interesting experiment in art gallery design by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is a real mutant but not one with successful progeny, in that no other galleries have followed this new and curvy design. There is a fountain on the ground floor, a blank white pool with a single jet. There are also planter boxes with green indoor plants on several of the floors. After a few levels it was a relief to walk on a flat floor again but by the 5th level my calves and ankles felt oddly stretched. The Guggenheim in Bilbao is landmark architecture by Frank Gerrey and the photogenic equal of the New York building. However its curvy design does not extend floor to ceiling and the galleries are basically the same as other art museums.

New Museum NYC

New Museum NYC

Buy an entry ticket. The tickets, this is often a necessity for the institution to have some income. Generally you get a ticket and often a little metal tags or sticker that you to put on your clothes.

Put your coat and bag in the cloakroom. The cloakroom is necessary for your comfort and gallery security.

Toilets Boston MFA

Toilets Boston MFA

Go to the toilet. A necessity but galleries have turned this into a design display. In the best art galleries in the world there are baby change facilities in the men’s toilets. I don’t know how many men take their babies to art galleries but the facilities are there for them in many of major museums.

Sit down. The seats are another necessity as people do need to rest their feet and can be in high demand. Seating also allows the viewer to look at the art for longer. This presents a problem for contemporary art installations where a seat in the gallery may be interpreted as part of the art.

Eat at the cafes. This might look like a side earner, but it is another necessity in large art museums that take at least a day to see. The Boston MFA and Louvre have several scattered around the gallery. The Vatican Museum has one of the worst museum café, as it is located directly above their new toilet block. Jeff Lee of Recent Items has a post about the Tate Modern’s café.

Read in a reading rooms or library. The reading rooms in contemporary art galleries reading rooms are likely to be digital, but hopefully in no way resembling MOMA’s “O” (see my post O No). The pod overlooking harbour at the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art is cool, relaxing and informative.

Listen to music, musical performances are the most likely entertainment in an art gallery. Listening rooms, well I’ve been in one in a Neue National Galerie Museum in Berlin. The museum had a collection of music and headphones in a seating area, again very relaxing.

Play, mostly only for children, although adults can even play a boardgame in the reading room of the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum. There is a need for a dedicated children’s activities area for the younger visitors in major galleries.

Go to the Cinema. Tate Modern and a few other large galleries have cinemas with programmes co-ordinated with exhibitions.

Sketch. Sketching in US museums is encouraged. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum supplies pencils, paper and boards for sketching. The Frick Collection has regular sketching Sundays. This is in contrast to the NGV’s attitude to sketching (See no sketching).

And, in the words of Banksy, … exit through the gift shop.


European Art History’s Audience

Before I left for New York Hasan Niyazi of Three Pipe Problem ask me: “Just as a curiosity – if you ever do visit the Frick Gallery in NY, make a mental note of how many non whites you see there. I have this sinking feeling that western art history/art appreciation is a “white folks club” to a certain degree and I am hoping to be proved wrong.”

There are some problems that I faced in considering the race audience for European Art History in the USA.

Firstly I did this by casual observation rather than a proper survey with a comparison the visitor numbers to the general population. Observation is not a good way to determine how people identify themselves racially. I generally don’t like to do it; it feels too close to racism and I wouldn’t have done it if Hasan hadn’t suggested that I do it.

Secondly art history visitors are more to do with gender, education and class rather than race. So a proper survey would not only consider the percentage of racial groups in education levels and income.

Thirdly, how different are the visitors for European art history compared to the visitors for non-European art history and contemporary art. I did notice that there was a slight difference but the audience for contemporary art but not for Asian, Islamic, Inuit, Haitian or Amerindian art.

Given these problems the answer is still obvious. The black face in an art gallery is most often the gallery attendant. The overwhelming numbers of visitors at the Frick Collection in New York or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston are European with a few Asians and a couple of African Americans. This is the same case for exhibitions of non-European art history and this makes me thinking that this is more of an issue of education, specifically a liberal arts education, as well as income levels. To understand a painting in the Frick Collection you need to know both who Thomas Moore and Hans Holbein were and how they featured in English history. And it is education that is reason why a black face in any art gallery is with generally a school group.

Art history in America is largely a “white folks club”. Not that it intends to be, this is not a matter of content. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has Islamic and Chinese art in the collection. (Another place where you are likely to see a person of African origin a European art gallery is in the art, rather than amongst the viewers. This is more common than you might expect.) I am somewhat relieved that on the whole Europeans have learnt to appreciate the many cultures that they have conquered, colonised and pillaged.

The audience for modern or contemporary art is a little bit more racially broader there are more Asians, a few more Africans and a very few Arabs. With contemporary art you don’t require a specific knowledge of history or a liberal arts education. But the racial group that was most noticeably absent from any of the galleries that I visited in the USA were Indians.

Thanks to Hasan Niyazi for suggesting that I consider this issue.


Collections or Museums

A museum is a collection of collections. Some museums are encyclopaedic in their collections whereas others are more focused on certain types of collections. But single collections do not make museums, except that sometimes the naming of these institutions does get confusing. Some galleries and institutions have collections and others don’t, some places call themselves museums and others don’t.

Single collections do not make museums because the collector limits the collection in that you can to clearly see the identity of the collector in the collection. A collection of anything is similar to a work of art; it could be a work of art, consider Duchamp’s readymades and Danh Vo’s 2012 Hugo Boss Prize winning exhibition of the collection of Martin Wong. I saw Danh Vo’s exhibition at the Guggenheim in 2013 and it was a portrait of Martin Wong readymade from the things he collected.

Perhaps this is one of my problems with David Walsh’s MONA in Hobart, it is not a museum it is just his art collection (see my post on MONA). There are limitations on the number, quality and taste that a single collector can bring to a collection. A collection of collections fills in gaps in the have occurred in a single collection. In this respect an art museums collection may taste blander than that of a single collector that preserves the original taste of eccentricity.

You don’t have to be a multi-millionaire to be an art collector but it does help, a lot. There are collectors with important collections who aren’t rich (see my post on London Regionalism). But the collectors who open their collections and homes, or palaces in the case of Isabella Stewart Gardner, to the public are the very rich.

The Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston is an astonishing collection. It is well worth a visit even though but much of the collection is not of highest quality. I had a lot of fun at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum. I played at seeing how many works I could identify and put a date to and then check the room sheets to see how close I got to the correct answer. It is also a very eccentric collection, right down to the admission fee: free to people named Isabella or people on their birthday, a $2 discount to people wearing Boston Red Sox items and to people who have visited the Museum of Fine Arts in the last three days (I qualified for the last one).

Isabella Gardener was a dedicated collector but that was not her main love; that was art, music and literature. Collecting was simply a means to an end and it was not the only means. Gardener provided work-space, accommodation and even travelling expenses for artists, including John Singer Sargent.

The Frick Collection in New York has the same variation in quality and taste that can be seen in Isabella Stewart Gardener’s collection. It is a super collection with some of the best paintings that I’ve seen. However, the wall paintings of the absurd cherubs in the “Boucher Room” may not to be contemporary taste. Actually the Frick Collection is more a museum than the Gardener Museum as the Frick Collection has been added to considerably since the death of Henry Clay Frick.

With collections like Frick and Isabella Stewart Gardner, no wonder the Europeans felt that rich Americans were buying their culture. Gardner’s fantasy Venetian palace competing with William Randolph Hearst’s Castle in California and other American collectors like Frick. (Other collections on display see my post on Gustave Moreau’s Museum.)

(See my post on Types of Art Galleries.)


Black Mark in Chelsea

Most Thursdays I do a gallery crawl, but not today, in Melbourne the rain pouring down every hour. I regularly do a gallery crawl on a Thursdays, going around to as many different galleries as possible to get good sample of what is showing, a quest to discover something new. A few weeks ago I was in New York on a Thursday and the weather was cool and sunny. And there are a lot more galleries a few blocks in Chelsea than there are in all of Fitzroy, Collingwood, Richmond and the CBD combined.

DSC08246

There was not much different in the exhibitions, the same range of art from the brash and kitsch, the bland and commercial, and the ordinary to the exceptional. And there were usual percentage of galleries closed for installations or other reasons.

I had already been out to the Dumbo district, I didn’t get out to the artist run galleries and other more alternative spaces in Brooklyn, as many weren’t open until the weekend. I liked what I saw in Dumbo, not just in the galleries there was quality art everywhere, in bookshops, on the streets and on hoarding around a building site. It had the best stencil art that I saw in NYC. I buy two second hand books: a biography of Gilbert and George and a book about Banksy. It is sweet district. Most of the galleries in the Dumbo district are in one building at 111 Front Street, it was like a warm up for what I was to see in Chelsea.

Super heroes exhibition in Dumbo, NYC

Super heroes exhibition in Dumbo, NYC

Every building in a few blocks of Chelsea is full of galleries, sometimes two or four floors of galleries. Street after street, from West 19th St. up 29th St., ten blocks of galleries. I picked up a map of the galleries by Art in America magazine but I didn’t need it, as the streets were full of them. 181 galleries were listed on the map. There really aren’t many other businesses on these streets but on 10th Avenue at the end of each block you wouldn’t know that it was a gallery district, it is all car repairs, taxi businesses and gas stations. Up above this is the strange overhead park, the High Line, built on a disused elevated train line. I would have stayed longer on the High Line but it was more crowded with pedestrians than the street below.

Chelsea’s street level galleries are big and brash, when they do installations at a Chelsea gallery there is a truck with a crane and plywood sheets laid down to protect the gallery’s polished concrete or wood floor. On one block there were limos lined up from one end of the block to the other on one street, waiting for some event to finish. The galleries on the floors are more varied in their style and content.

Not that the artwork was all that great, it was the usual mix of bland commercialism to good art, emerging and established artists. Some of it was so bad that I wonder how some of these galleries pay the rent but there was enough good work to keep me interested, and walking from gallery to gallery. I’m not expecting to have an epiphany every block and there are plenty of entertaining stickers and paste-ups along the way to enjoy.

Chelsea stickers

Chelsea stickers

The new Jeff Koons exhibition wouldn’t open until next week and the gallery with the Kenny Scharf exhibition was closed so I didn’t get to see any exhibitions by any famous artists. These are some of the artists who did catch my eye like Jennifer Balkan and John McCarthy at Eleanor Ettinger Gallery. Or James Gortner’s paintings at Lyons Wier Gallery are magnificent; Gortner recycling op-shop paintings that he uses as material for a collage painting to which he adds femme fatale heads. And Randall Stoltzfus’s paintings at Black Space are beautiful, like the love child of Monet and the Klimt.

Kenny Scharf, Chelsea, NYC

Kenny Scharf, Chelsea, NYC

The Chelsea galleries are mostly commercial, some more than artistic, but I did see Doosan Gallery a Korean, not for profit space. I considered this fortuitous, as I will soon be visiting Korea and I will be writing about the art I see there.


MOMA is Overrated

There is a notice in the legal notice in foyer stating that 1200 people in MOMA is “dangerous and illegal”. It must have been approaching those numbers on the day that I visited. There were so many people at MOMA crowding around those must see works of art and taking photos on their mobile phones that I had to consider the following questions:

If mass population is the definition of lowbrow then has MOMA made some modern art lowbrow? For example, has The Scream become lowbrow? (There is art in MOMA that has not become lowbrow, there were very few people looking at the works by Joseph Beuys.)

The Scream at MOMA

“I don’t know how I feel about my selfie right now.”
—overheard at the Museum of Modern Art in the room with Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (Hyperallergic 17/5/13)

Does the game of life now score according to what photos you have on your iPhone? The 1001 works of art/buildings/places that you must see before you die. Do not do any of the 101 things you must do before you die because everyone else is doing them. Thousands of tourists trapped at Machu Picchu in late Jan 2010 and thousands more tourists line up to see Michelangelo’s David. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to find a great artist who you have never heard of before?

MOMA is in a cultural feedback loop of its own construction since has MOMA defined modern art through its collection. The howl of this feedback loop echoes through Munch’s Scream and the packed galleries of MONA. “The accounts of the past are constructed out of facts gathered with the express purpose of bolstering this proposition, whose truth has become axiomatic. The accent is placed on the idea that New York art was crucial to the further development of all art the world over and, further, that it somehow emerged from the final phase of the long march towards a purified modern art. These histories of course subscribe to the formalist analysis proposed by Alfred Barr of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, an analysis championed by Clement Greenberg throughout his career.” (Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art Chicago, 1983, p.7)

The second floor of MOMA does have contemporary art exhibited but this is a limited space. I enjoyed contemporary art more in at the New Gallery in the Bowery, the National Gallery of Canada or the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It was a better atmosphere to appreciate the art and the collections of contemporary art are just as good if not better.

MOMA starts modern art in the 1880s with Cézanne, Monet and van Gogh and ends it in the 1980s, rather arbitrary points, as modern art clearly started earlier and probably ended sooner. And there are some other serious gaps in MOMA’s collection, or at least the works on display. There no Basquiat and nothing from the Harlem Renaissance making me wonder if MOMA ignores black artists? It is all very white (see my upcoming post on European Art History’s Audience) except for the galley attendants who could probably trash any other gallery’s attendants in a game of basketball. There seemed to be other gaps in their German and English collection for example no Francis Bacon and no Neue Sachlichkeit paintings.

Claes Oldenburg's Mouse and Ray Gun Museums at MOMA

Claes Oldenburg’s Mouse and Ray Gun Museums at MOMA

I did enjoy the Claes Oldenburg exhibition that was on when I visited. I was particularly interested in the way that his Store works anticipated the contemporary interest in the “graffiti” and the “street”; these words were repeated in many of his works. But otherwise MONA is not a museum that I would consider visiting again, it is over-rated and over-crowded.

MOMA is not the most over-rated art museum that I have seen in this world; that honour must go MONA in Hobart. If MOMA is a greatest all time #1 hits compilation album then MONA in Hobart is a heavy metal compilation. (See my post on MONA.)


Paintspotting in America

Paintspotter, noun, definition: like a trainspotter but for people who look for street art and graffiti (a portmanteau word coined by Fletcher “Facter” Anderson, editor of Invurt).

Stencil Dumbo district NYC

Stencil Dumbo district NYC

I’ve recently returned from travelling in Canada, New York and Boston. When I visit other cities I am a stranger trying to get to know the place, finding the hidden places where street artists and graffiti writers like to work is even more challenging. I try to find a street art tour or a local who knows the scene but often this is not possible. I probably am not seeing the best locations for street art in these cities. Street art is such an insider’s game and that makes it difficult for a tourist to play. In this respect sticker art is the travelling paintspotter’s friend because it gives you a sample of local street art conveniently located on the backs of signs.

Railway graffiti Canada

Railway graffiti Canada

The way to see lots of graffiti is to travel by train. It is not a good way to photograph graffiti but it is a good way to see a lot (respect to all the Bridgeport writers). I did to train trips from Ottawa and Montréal and from NYC to Boston. The best graffiti that I saw in Canada was in Montréal’s plateau district; there were also a couple of impressive walls in London Ontario.

Wall, London, Ontario, Canada

Wall, London, Ontario, Canada

Street art in Montreal

Street art in Montreal

Of the notorious or famous artist whose work I saw Revok up high up in Montréal, Neckface high up in NYC’s Bowery, Shepard Fairey in the Bowery and a piece by Kenny Scharf in Chelsea – Scharf had an exhibition in a gallery just across the road but it was shut so I could only see it through the large windows.

Shepard Fairy Bowery NYC

Shepard Fairy Bowery NYC

Kenny Scharf, Chelsea, NYC

Kenny Scharf, Chelsea, NYC

Another way to find graffiti is to track down the art galleries and there will often be some street art and graffiti in the area. This rule proved true for NYC’s Dumbo district where I saw some of the best street art that I saw in NYC. I didn’t any further into Brooklyn but there was so so many things other that I wanted to see and do in NYC.

Graffiti Wall of Fame, Harlem, NYC

Graffiti Wall of Fame, Harlem, NYC

In Lonely Planet I read about the “Graffiti Hall of Fame”, a wall in NYC but when I got there it was small and capped. The other side of the wall was in better condition but less accessible. So there was I standing on the corner of this street in Harlem asking people passing by if they knew of any other good graffiti locations – New York is a very friendly city but nobody knew of any good walls.

Reverse side of the Graffiti wall of fame, Harlem, NYC

Reverse side of the Graffiti wall of fame, Harlem, NYC

I was just lucky in Boston on the way to the Barry McGee exhibition (see my post) I left the T station and right in front of me is this great wall by Os Gêmeos.

Os Gêmeos, Boston

Os Gêmeos, Boston


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