Painting the Infinite: Roman Opalka at Dominique Lévy

The show at Dominique Lévy is Roman Opalka’s first U.S. exhibition after the artist’s sudden death in 2011. Divided between two floors of the gallery’s Upper East Side brownstone building, Roman Opalka: Painting ∞ provides a synopsis of the artist’s career by showcasing over twenty five works in different media. Although Opalka’s art may at first appear modest, this show proves its uniqueness and complexity. By focusing on the artist’s inimitable technique, Roman Opalka: Painting ∞ offers insight into his scrupulous and orderly approach to Conceptual art.

Second Floor Installation View of Roman Opalka: Painting ∞ at Dominique Lévy. Courtesy of Dominique Lévy. Photo credit: Guillaume Ziccarelli.

Second Floor Installation View of Roman Opalka: Painting ∞ at Dominique Lévy. Courtesy of Dominique Lévy. Photo credit: Guillaume Ziccarelli.

Opalka, who was born in France but raised and educated in Poland, began his artistic career in Warsaw during the late 1950s by experimenting with the “phenomenon of disappearance.”[1] The gallery’s third floor, devoted entirely to Opalka’s earlier works, presents the effects of these experiments with two of his 1963 black-and-white Chronome paintings and the series Étude sur le Mouvement (1959-1960), made with black ink on paper. As one walks around the room, the artworks reveal themselves as precursors to Opalka’s later work in their conscientious method of execution and monochromatic aesthetic. The smudges of ink in Étude sur le mouvement, though visibly influenced by gestural works of the American Abstract Expressionists and their European counterparts, the Tachists, reveal his fascination with repetitive patterns. Across the room, two tempera paintings from 1963, Chronome II and Chronome IV, present an intertwining of black and white spots, creating a nearly monochromatic surface.

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Chromes at Home at Room & Board

An oft-forgotten fact about Ad Reinhardt, the American artist best known for his black monochrome paintings, is that he was an avid photographer who made a practice of presenting his pictures in slideshow format. Throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, he showed hundreds of slides from his travels to his colleagues and to Hunter College students in rapid-fire succession. Reinhardt grouped images by formal and compositional qualities irrespective of geography or culture, hoping to overpower viewers’ capacity for identification and to induce a new way of looking. Long attention spansReinhardt thought, were in increasingly short supply. In the face of a mounting onslaught of modern distractions, only time and patience would reward the diligent observer.

Details from the series “Northwestern Chromes” (2014).

Detail from the series “Northwestern Chromes” (2014), image courtesy Samuel Budin.

In terms of photographic technology, a lot has happened since Reinhardt’s presentations, but his ideas about an image’s ability to condition and edify its audience are not out of date. Last Saturday evening, a living room slideshow also sought to provide a counterpoint to the normal circumstances of contemporary art production and consumption. It was a festive conclusion to photographer Samuel Budin’s month-long stay at Room & Board, an “experimental residency” run by IFA doctoral student Julia Pelta Feldman. For a month, Budin lived at Feldman’s home in Williamsburg; while saving a month’s rent (no laughing matter in New York), Budin worked closely with Feldman to finalize the exhibition Northwestern Chromes and Other Chromes, a two-part documentation of his travels in the Pacific Northwest.

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Mark your calendars! Fall 2014 at the IFA

Tuesday, October 7, 2014, 6:30 PM
Artists at the Institute
Charles Simonds
Open to the public. More info and RSVP here.
(Don’t miss Simonds on Bomb!)

Monday, October 27, 2014, 6:30 PM
Artists at the Institute
Simon Fujiwara
Open to the public. More info and RSVP here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014, 6:00 PM
Latin American Forum featuring The Great Hall Exhibitions Artist Marta Chilindrón
A Conversation with Marta Chilindrón and Edward J. Sullivan
Open to the public. Please check back for RSVP details.

Thursday, November 20, 2014, 5:30 PM
Director’s Extracurricular
Conversation with Sheena Wagstaff, Chairman of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Event details to follow, here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014, 6:00 PM
The Daniel H. Silberberg Lectures
Photorealism: A History of Surfaces
Joshua Shannon, Associate Professor, Contemporary Art History and Theory, University of ​Maryland
Open to the public. RSVP here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014, 6:00 PM
Latin American Forum
Conceptualism in Latin America: A Conversation with Luis Camnitzer, Alexander Alberro, and Robert Slifkin
Luis Camnitzer, Artist
Alexander Alberro, Virginia Bloedel Wright Associate Professor of Art History, Barnard College
Robert Slifkin, Assistant Professor of Fine Arts, Institute of Fine Arts, NYU
Moderated by Edward J. Sullivan, Helen Gould Sheppard Professor in the History of Art, Institute of Fine Arts and College of Arts and Sciences, NYU
Please check back for RSVP information.

Blowing Up                                                   The Koons Effect

The Koons Effect, A Symposium at the Institute of Fine Arts, September 12, 2014. Photograph by Jason Varone.

The Koons Effect, A Symposium at the Institute of Fine Arts, September 12, 2014. Photograph by Jason Varone.

Adding to the ever-increasing influx of (add preferred noun here: airtime, hype, prestige, simple volume of written or spoken words) about Koons’s work in the wake of the Whitney’s current retrospective, the joint IFA-Whitney symposium, The Koons Effect was a game participant. Unlike much of the other dialogue around the show, however, The Koons Effect aimed for tough methodological questions from the start; indeed the symposium could be said to have centered on the question of whether Koons’s work proves itself beyond the pale of established historical interpretative frameworks and vocabularies, warranting something “new.” Two points were immediately clear: facile and default recourse to models (like the commodity fetish) or to figures (like Duchamp and Warhol) bear little fruit in the collective effort to advance the discourse on Koons, and the lighter the reliance on the artist’s own manicured explanations and language of self-presentation, the deeper the insight.

Rather than synopsizing the conference here, however, what follows are abbreviated summaries of four of Friday’s eight presentations, in part to signal their diversity (I consider only part two of the event, the September 12 proceedings, which were fully recorded and are available online). The challenge of precisely summarizing any individual talk points not only to the complexity of the ideas grappled with and the lines of inquiry opened up, but—and maybe more importantly—the supremely unresolved state of current thinking on the artist. Whitney curator Scott Rothkopf’s show is revelatory for bringing the full trajectory of Koons’s production into view, enabling—unbelievably—for the first time what one hopes will be a spate of ambitious art historical work based on direct experience and study of the objects.
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Modes of Defiance: Latin American Art, 1970 to the Present

For the inaugural meeting of this year’s Latin American Forum on September 9th, Professor Edward Sullivan moderated a panel discussion titled Modes of Defiance: Latin American Art, 1970 to the Present, which met in conjunction with the exhibition Bearing Witness: Art and Resistance in Cold War Latin America at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (now closed). The panelists included two IFA alumnae, Dr. Estrellita Brodsky, a chief curator of the exhibition, and Dr. Jason Dubs, the Museum Research Consortium Project Manager at The Museum of Modern Art, as well as Dr. Joaquin Barriendos, Assistant Professor at Columbia University, and Dr. Claudia Calirman, Assistant Professor at John Jay College.

Looking at artwork from Latin America during moments of violence and oppression – both historical and contemporary – the panelists spoke about the ways in which art can engage in various strategies of resistance. In discussing the scope of Bearing Witness, Dr. Brodsky laid out a few questions taken up by the exhibition that also served as touchstones for the following panelists. Probing the roles that historical images of violence play in today’s world (one already saturated with violent imagery), Dr. Brodsky asked if a work of art can help us understand our own complicity in the acts of injustice represented in the show and how it might compel us to respond. This raises important questions about what an artwork can accomplish through implicating the viewer. While not explicitly addressed in the panel, I found myself wondering: is the primary function of artwork that engages with powerful images of violence to spread awareness? Can, or should, the artwork do more? Perhaps most significantly, what is the responsibility of the viewer when encountering this kind of work? Questions about an artwork’s political agency emerged as the underlying framework for each of the panelists’ presentations.

Speaking on issues of witnessing and documentation, Dr. Barriendos discussed the ways in which archival material has been employed in exhibition settings as a way to provide witness accounts of violence. Calling for the creative reactivation of historical context within the space of the museum, Dr. Barriendos outlined several projects, such as Luis Camnitzer’s 1969 work Masacre de Puerto Montt (Massacre of Puerto Montt). Examples like this one offer alternative, often performative, methods of bearing witness in an endeavor to eliminate the perceived distance between the viewer and the artwork.

Lotty Rosenfeld, Una milla de cruces sobre el pavimento, Santiago, Chile, 1979.

Lotty Rosenfeld, Una milla de cruces sobre el pavimento, Santiago, Chile, 1979. Image courtesy Espaivisor.

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