The Veil of Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly was living in Rome when he painted Treatise on the Veil (Second Version), a massive canvas now on view at The Morgan Library & Museum (through January 25, 2015). It was 1970, four years after he’d delved headfirst into a world ruled seemingly absolutely by gray and white. Twombly’s shift in style could be seen as a return to the “blackboard” aesthetic he’d first pioneered in the mid-1950s with three thickly impastoed, staccatoed canvases, only one of which (Panorama, 1955, Daros Collection, Zurich) survives today. But the artist’s gray-ground period, a five-year stint between 1966 and 1971, illustrates an abandonment of the caustic scratches of his earlier work in favor of a line that is less fragmented and more fluid, less automatic and more calculated, less shrill and more lyrical. Indeed, Treatise was inspired by Pierre Henry’s avant-garde musical composition, The Veil of Orpheus, which records the tearing of a piece of cloth. In his translation of aural to visual phenomena, Twombly reduces his subject matter to its simplest parts, distilling and crystallizing its formal components so as to strengthen its visceral effects.

Cy Twombly’s canvases (including Panorama at back) in Robert Rauschenberg’s Fulton Street studio, ca. 1954.  Image courtesy Le temps retrouvé, Cy Twombly photographe & artistes associés, Collection Lambert (Avignon, été-automne 2011) via The Plumebook Café.

Photograph showing Cy Twombly’s canvases (including Panorama at back) in Robert Rauschenberg’s Fulton Street studio, ca. 1954. Image courtesy Le temps retrouvé, Cy Twombly photographe & artistes associés, Collection Lambert (Avignon, été-automne 2011) via The Plumebook Café.

The Morgan’s installation beautifully captures the visual harmony of Twombly’s work. In all its epic grandeur (the canvas stretches more than thirty feet), Treatise sits in the center of a single gallery, a crescendo amidst a twelve-drawing accompaniment. The drawings radiate centrifugally onto the surrounding walls, at once bracketing and barricading their attendant canvas. About twenty-seven by thirty-six inches each, the drawings are supplementary but not preparatory, and they are positioned as such: separate but equal. As the introductory text asserts, rightly, Treatise is “a meditation on time and space.”[1] The curators have done well to bolster these temporal underpinnings by orchestrating the drawings in approximate chronological order. But the sheer scale of Treatise, hubristic in its spatial demands, along with its diaphanous layers of media suggests something deeper stirs beneath the painting’s surface.

Cy Twombly, Nine Discourses on Commodus: Part VIII, 1963. Oil, wax crayon, and pencil on canvas, 204 x 134 cm. Image courtesy Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa.

Cy Twombly, Nine Discourses on Commodus: Part VIII, 1963. Oil, wax crayon, and pencil on canvas, 204 x 134 cm. Image courtesy Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa.

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Biomorphic, Electric, Robotic: Nam June Paik at Asia Society

“The real issue is not to make another scientific toy, but how to humanize the technology and the electric medium.” – Nam June Paik, 1964

The staircase at the Asia Society Museum leads to an enlarged, transparent image of Nam June Paik sitting between two illuminated globes, contemplatively with chin in hand, wearing miniature televisions inset in a pair of eyeglasses. The image exemplifies the artist’s prescient thinking and his futuristic worldview wherein today’s technological advancements could exist. It is a fitting introduction to Nam June Paik: Becoming Robot (through January 4, 2015), the first solo exhibition of the artist’s work in New York in over a decade. The exhibition, designed by Clayton Vogel and curated by Michelle Yun, is an effort to broaden the understanding of Paik’s practice beyond his legacy as the originator of video art in the 1960s, and to situate his use of technology as a medium within the wider framework of late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century art.

Paik, born in Seoul in 1932, studied music and aesthetics at Tokyo University and went on to continue his musical studies in Germany, where he met visiting composer John Cage, who largely inspired Paik’s experimentation in avant-garde music and art. Moving to New York in 1964, Paik began working mainly on music-based live performances until his experimentation with televisions catalyzed the shift in his practice to object-based work.

Robot K-456, 1964. Twenty-channel radio-controlled robot, aluminum profiles, wire, wood, electrical divide, foam material, and control-turn out. 72 x 40 x 28 in. (183 x 103 x 72 cm). Friedrich Christian Flick Collection im Hamburger Bahnof, PAIKN1792.01. Photo: Roman März, Berlin.

Robot K-456, 1964. Twenty-channel radio-controlled robot, aluminum profiles, wire, wood, electrical divide, foam material, and control-turn out. 72 x 40 x 28 in. (183 x 103 x 72 cm). Friedrich Christian Flick Collection im Hamburger Bahnof, PAIKN1792.01. Photo: Roman März, Berlin.

The exhibition at the Asia Society spans the entirety of the museum’s two floors. Moving thematically through Paik’s oeuvre, the show begins with a section dedicated to Robot K-456, a twenty-channel radio-controlled robot created in 1964 and crafted with aluminum, wire, wood, electrical divide, foam material, and control-turn out. Based in human proportions, the biomorphic assemblage was programmed to walk and talk and was the subject of numerous performance-based projects. Presented on a simple screen set into the gallery wall (which successfully differentiates it from Paik’s own TV-based works) is a news account of First Accident of the Twenty-First Century, which was performed in 1982 on the occasion of the artist’s major exhibition at the Whitney Museum. The choreographed piece subjects the robot to a car accident while crossing Madison Avenue at 75th Street. As the robot falls to the ground in the footage, the beholder hears distressed shouts, proving that Paik has created a subject biomorphically familiar enough as to incite empathetic reactions. At a time when technology was advancing into a more pervasive component of daily life, humanizing the medium was Paik’s attempt at making it more approachable. The work’s reception in television media muddied the line between art and popular culture, and the piece itself reiterates Paik’s intention of manifesting the human condition through the mediums of science and technology.

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An Exchange of Trust: Marina Abramović at Sean Kelly Gallery

Marina Abramović is back in New York City, but this time, she won’t be seen. On her last visit, Abramović performed The Artist is Present (2010) for the blockbuster MoMA retrospective of the same name. For 736 hours and 30 minutes, Abramović sat immobile in MoMA’s atrium faced, one by one, by silent visitors. Most recently, she spent 512 hours at the Serpentine Gallery, guiding visitors through an empty space and occasionally presenting them with an everyday object.

The author cautiously moving through the space. Image courtesy of Generator by Marina Abramović.

The author cautiously moving through the space. Image courtesy of Generator by Marina Abramović.

Now, at Sean Kelly Gallery, Abramović’s Generator—a participatory work that focuses on “nothingness” and sensory deprivation—is on view (through December 6, 2014). Facilitators place blindfolds and noise-cancelling headphones on participants before leading them into the main gallery. Once inside, participants can move however they want (though told it is a “slow-moving” piece), touch whatever they want, and stay as long as they want. When ready to leave, the blindfolded raise their hands and a facilitator guides them out. Every movement is documented and presented on Tumblr; this aspect of the piece, however, only becomes apprehensible once outside the space, in front of a computer screen. During the exhibition’s run, Abramović will partake, too—unannounced and daily—but, of course, participants will not be aware of her presence.

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Unfurling Sari Dienes

The exhibition of Sari Dienes’s work at The Drawing Center (on view October 8 to November 16, 2014) highlighted the artist’s innovative and experimental approaches to mark making in her large-scale rubbings of New York City streets from the 1950s. On November 13, the curators of the exhibition (and current PhD candidates at the IFA), Alexis Lowry Murray and Delia Solomons, led a public tour that introduced Dienes’s work by examining the dynamic interplays of processes and textures in her drawings. During the tour, Solomons and Lowry Murray gave context to Dienes’s practice by underscoring her creative exchanges with contemporaries such as Jasper Johns and John Cage. Following the tour, artists Alison Knowles and Gillian Jagger talked with NYU’s Julia Robinson about their mutual interests in using found forms and textures from natural and urban landscapes in their work.

Peter Moore, photograph of Sari Dienes demonstrating the street rubbing process, 1970. Gelatin silver print, 6.5 x 9.75 in.

Peter Moore, photograph of Sari Dienes demonstrating the street rubbing process, 1970. Gelatin silver print, 6.5 x 9.75 in.

Sari Dienes (1898—1992) was born in Hungary and was a student of Purists Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant. By 1936, she was Assistant Director of Ozenfant Academy of Fine Arts in London. She moved to New York City in 1939 where she soon befriended artists both established (Mark Rothko) and emerging (Johns and Cage, as well as Ray Johnson, Robert Rauschenberg, and others), many of whose names are listed in pages from the guest book from her studio. On Thursday night, Lowry Murray and Solomons emphasized Dienes’s willingness to experiment with found materials and new processes, and her subversive recoding of established notions of the authorial gesture, qualities that are as important today as they were to Dienes and her contemporaries as seen, for example, in the work of Ray Johnson, Rachel Whiteread, and Rirkrit Tiravanija.

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Finding Balance at Paris Photo 2014

This past weekend, photography fans and connoisseurs descended upon the Grand Palais for the 18th annual Paris Photo Fair. Held November 13-16, 2014, it boasted 143 galleries and twenty-six art booksellers representing thirty-five countries. Grandiose and historically rich, the venue provided ideal conditions for viewing photographs: the sprawling dome of the Grand Palais offered abundant natural light, while the tightly-packed booths were simple, cut-to-the-chase affairs, with off-white walls.

The upper level of the Grand Palais functioned as a non-commercial gallery space for recent acquisitions from the Museum of Modern Art as well as for the Alkazi Foundation for the Arts’ collection of early Indian and South Asian photography. Smaller wings displayed works sponsored by Giorgio Armani, JP Morgan Chase, and BMW. These spaces, located at the top of a grand staircase and away from the bustling ground floor, subtly linked the works on sale at Paris Photo with private, museum-quality collections, and underscored the potential for these photographs to act as investment pieces.

The beating heart of the fair was a social space at the base of the grand staircase, which was continually abuzz with visitors flipping through art tomes and awaiting artists’ signatures. Ample opportunity to encounter the artists themselves contributed to the sense that Paris Photo not only stimulates monetary transactions, but also the transaction of knowledge between enthusiasts and a shared passion for the medium.

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