(Un)Familiar Territory: Martin Puryear at MoMA

Atrium view of Martin Puryear at MoMA: Desire, 1981, with Ladder for Booker T. Washington in the background
Below: view of the sixth-floor installation at MoMA

Years ago, I had a dream in which I took an elevator to the top floor of a tall building. When the elevator opened, it was into a small square room with floor-to-ceiling windows on all four sides looking out to a pitch-black night dotted here and there with lights. Inside the room there were several raised pools of water that flowed into other pools, everything connected and flowing, serene and quiet. Upon waking, I recognized that the dream was a gift from my unconscious, a tranquil vessel in which to immerse myself whenever the waking world presses too crazily or stressfully against me.

I’m telling you this because walking into the sixth floor of MoMA during the Martin Puryear exhibition I experienced something similar. Instead of walking into my own personal dream, however, I felt as if I had just entered the collective unconscious of humanity. The forms were more or less recognizable—nests, wheels, vessels, tools, even animals and humans—and the materials, mostly vines and wood, were natural and familiar, but the formal relationships were unusual, dreamlike, otherworldly. I knew this place, but I didn't. Each seemingly recognizable object yielded something completely new and unknown. And the experience of being among the sculptures was reassuring, even if the work tugged uncomfortably from time to time at odd little strings in the unconscious.









.Above left and right: Brunhilde, 1998-2000, and Old Mole, 1985

.Below: Deadeye, 2002


In his blog In it For Life, my buddy Tim McFarlane describes his experience of the exhibition as "tantalizingly close to what we know in our world but just different enough to exist on another plane altogether." Yes, yes. I’m not alone in my perceptions.

I’d like to think that anyone from any culture could walk into that room and have a response similar to the ones Tim and I had. The work, after all, comes from an artist who has lived a fully engaged life on different parts of the planet and who, with academic training and a contemporary sensibility, connects to the preindustrial, even the tribal, with his handmade sculpture. His is craft grafted to art (or vice versa), the hand everywhere present, intuition stitched seamlessly to the idea of use, the unconscious made tangible.

Here are Puryear's own words from 2007 which appeared on a wall text in the atrium:

"I value the referential quality of art, the fact that a work can allude to things or states of being without in any way representing them. The ideas that give rise to a work can be quite diffuse, so I would describe my usual working process as a kind of distillation--trying to make coherence out of things that can seem contradictory. But coherence is not the same as resolution. The most interesting art for me retains a flickering quality, where opposed ideas can be held in tense coexistence."

are from the atrium, where photographhy was pe

Atrium view of Martin Puryear. The big wheel of Desire is in the foreground. And I love the poetry of how a sliver of Matisse's Danse is visible in the window above the work. (I never liked this atrium until now.)

Above and below: Ladder for Booker T. Washington. Specific information about each work is on the MoMa website, link at bottom

When you see this exhibition, certainly in person but even in pictures, it's clear that no recently minted 25-year-old MFA recipient could have created work with as much refined vision and raw power. These sculptures issue not from youth and accademia but from a lifetime of experience, where they were cultivated and constructed. So props to artists at midcareer, whether they're as celebrated as Puryear or appreciated by only a devoted few.

Happy New Year--and success to artists all.

Click onto the MoMA site for more images and excerpts from the catalog essays.

Click here for Jame Kalm's guerrilla video of the Puryear show (via Shark Forum)


FAIR FACTOR: Report From Miami

My coverage of the fair is complete as of December 23, 2007
. Prologue
Twin Peeks
. Basel Miami
. The Containers
. Aqua Art
. Flow
. Red Dot
. Art Now
. Bridge
. Feeling Flush
. Ink
Twin Piques

. Pulse
. Scope
. Aqua Wynwood
. Art Miami
. Open Thread

This is a multipart report, one post per venue plus the prologue. I've posted sequentially and adjusted the dates accordingly so that this first post remains at the top. There is a narrative to my reporting, so I hope you'll follow it through to the end. For more reportage, business news, and other points of view, Google "Miami Art Fairs" and "The Art Newspaper," which published special daily editions focused solely on Miami and the fairs. Links to all my posts are in yellow, above.

You are welcome to use text and images. Please provide a link to this blog, , crediting it as the Joanne Mattera Art Blog and identifying me as the author. Thanks.

There is an Open Thread at the end for your comments and links.



Reading over the dealer's shoulder at Pulse

The Mood and the Particulars

By all accounts the mood going into Miami was wary. Dealers in general were fearful that the bubble was about to burst, and the smaller dealers were concerned that the greater number of satellite fairs this year would dilute their sales. Apparently the big guns had no problems; Gagosian sold $10 million worth of art, according to Bloomberg News. Among the smaller galleries in the satellite fairs, the mood lifted as sales began to rack up. Many smaller galleries sold out, and most at least broke even. The mood going out was simply weary.
In an elevator conversation at my hotel, I listened in as an elegantly dressed Brazilian dealer explained the art of the sale to an interested shorts-clad tourist: "Before the fair, we send out J–pegs of the work we’re taking so our collectors know what we’ll have. Some have already made their choices before they get here." And you wondered how those red dots appeared in the first five minutes of opening.
By the end of the first day, the taxi drivers were so savvy that if you told them, "The Pulse Fair, please," they knew exactly where in the Wynwood section of Miami to drop you off. Hell, with 12 venues in Wynwood and an almost equal number along the Collins Avenue strip adjacent to the Convention Center, site of Basel Miami, those cabbies made a lot of trips back and forth over the causeways—and a lot of dough at $20-plus-tip a pop. Once I learned that Arden Gallery, showing at the Red Dot Fair, had sold one of my paintings, I splurged on the cabs. The idea of the fair-provided shuttles was good, but the waits could be long. Taxis got you there faster, and with 24 fairs to cover in four and a half days, faster was definitely the way to go.
Covering the Fairs
So how do you cover 24 fairs in four and a half days? You don’t. Well, I didn’t. I started by eliminating three categories—the photo fairs, the design fairs, and the under-the-radar venues—and then got selective about what remained on my list. I saw everything I wanted except the Containers, NADA and the three private collections that open their doors to the public this time of year: Cisneros, Margulies and Rubell. I just ran out of time. And being a Type-A type to the extreme (it’s a defect; it has to be), I was there when the doors opened in the morning and stayed until they closed every night, between 10 and 12 hours a day.

It sounds like work—and it is—but it’s also the most fun I have all year, equal parts reporting, schmoozing, and looking until my eyeballs ache. You could travel the world for a year and not see as much as what you see here in four or five days.
Some Particulars
You could see art in hotel rooms (Art Now, Aqua, Bridge, Flow, Ink, Red Dot) and shipping containers (Art Positions); under tents (Scope, Art Miami) and on a yacht (SeaFair); in a convention center (Basel Miami) and in warehouses (Aqua Wynwood, Pulse); even in a medical center (MASH) and the Miami Ballet (RAM). The spaces ranged from cheek-by-jowl claustrophobic (Bridge) to highway-wide aisles (the Convention Center), and from stifling (the AC was down on Saturday morning at Scope) to breezily open to the sky (Aqua, Ink, and the hammocks lining the entrance way to the Ice Palace, home of NADA).

This installation by Walter Robinson is as good a metaphor as any for the five-day Miamapalooza. Seen at the Catharine Clark booth in Pulse

Some (random) numbers
Total number of galleries: between 1200 and 1300
Artists shown: about 12,000 (figuring 10 artists per gallery, more or less)
Individual artists showing: 153 in four fairs (Gesai, Pool, Ram, Zones)
Artworks: 60,000 is a conservative estimate; factor in small works, prints, and works on paper and the number can easily reach 100,000+
Total attendance at Basel/Miami: 43,000, and that provides a good estimate for the satellite fairs as well
Price per night for a beach-view corner room at the Day’s Inn, where many of the artists and smaller dealers stayed: $160
Price per night for a city-view standard room at the Setai next door, where many collectors stayed: $1250, with the last of the suites going for a reported $9000 a night
Pounds of printed matter acquired in four days: 49. I checked an empty bag on the way down just so that I could haul my stash of catalogs, press material, brochures and cards.

Good links:

. Overheard Conversations at Artworld Salon

. All the fair reporting on Artinfo


While I finish up the Basel Miami post, here's a little amuse oeil: the view from the Skywalk at the Convention Center. A wide, windowed corridor, the Skywalk spans the acres and acres that make up the exhibition hall and adjacent storage area. You take it to get to the press room. The shades are never open to the storage area. And this year, they were closed to the exhibition area as well. But your intrepid reporter jammed her lens into the uncovered space between window frame and window shade to bring you this little peek at the positive and negative views of the fair--just in case you wondered what the dealers did with all the crates and packing material the artwork came in..
A Skywalk-eye-view of the yin and yang of the fair

Next up: Basel Miami

FAIR FACTOR: Basel/Miami

Yinka Shonibare, Black Gold, wall painting with stretch fabric attachments, at Stephen Friedman Gallery, London

First stop on the FAIR FACTOR tour is ArtBasel/Miami Beach, which is only fitting since this is the event that started the December ritual known as Miamipalooza, The Fairs, or simply Miami. If you've been to the Miami Convention Center, home to Basel Miami, you know the place is huge: big booths, high ceilings, long stretches of wall. Big paintings are typically installed on the aisle-facing walls--part billboard, part preening, all fabulous show, like the installation above.

The most shocking thing about BaselMiami this year is that it wasn’t shocking. Oh, sure, there was the chocolate Santa carrying a giant chocolate butt plug, but the installation of neatly stacked figures on metal shelving, organized by size and placed against the matching Santa wallpaper was so clean and unrelentingly cheery that it could have been Macy’s Cellar. And that appliance? Its proportions made it look more like a lava lamp than a sex toy. The Santa was conceived by artist Paul McCarthy and presented by the Maccarone Gallery, which apparently has turned some of its West Village space into a chocolate factory.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Maccarone Gallery, but that's not a tree Santa's toting

.Below, the Santa wallpaper--different scale and background color--is the backdrop for Martin Creed's monochromatic pen-on-paper drawings at Hauser & Wirth, Zurich

An up-close look at Creed's drawings

Now, onto painting. There was more of it than I can recall in any previous outing (this was the sixth year of the fair). Moreover, it was painting that punched through the walls of drawing, collage, sculpture, quilting and carpentry. There was plenty of sculpture, some of which crossed the line into drawing and painting. There wasn’t much photography (which I assume found its way to the two big photo fairs in Wynwood) and even less video. Ah, my kind of fair!

There was so much of everything that you could make a strong case for whatever interested you: figuration, realism, pattern, expressionism. If you follow this blog, you know that I’m interested in geometry--from minimal to wildly configured--and in painting with a material sensibility. There was plenty to like.

Let’s start with the geometry . . .

Sarah Morris, Dragon (Origami), household gloss on canvas, 2007, at White Cube, London

Gary Hume, Jim (Little), enamel on aluminum, 1991, at Matthew Marks, New York

Delson Uchoa, Portal 1, acrylic on canvas, 2006-2007, at Brito Cimino, Sao Paulo

Mary Heilmann, Mode O'Day, oil on canvas, 1991, at 303 Gallery, New York

Dan Walsh at Paula Cooper, New York

By the way, I was practicing paperless journalism this time around--shooting the work, the wall ID, and then the gallery sign--in an attempt to eliminate the fumbling of camera, glasses, notebook and pen. It worked quite well, though not all dealers provided complete information on their wall text.

Rebecca Warren, Yes, Olga, painted clay, 2007; Bridget Riley, Red with Red 2, 2007; and Arturo Herrera, Loma, acrylic on felt, 2007, at Hetzler, Berlin

Material Abstraction . . .

Herrera's painted felt painting moves us seamlessly from geometric abstraction to what you might call material abstraction, paintings whose image, whose essence, is formed and informed by stuff—thick paint, gobs of medium, collaged fabric, stuffing and whatnot. Here I'm looking not only at geometry but at a broader kind of abstraction.

Jonathan Lasker, The Equality of Apples and Oranges, oil on linen, 2007, at Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin

Jacin Giordano, Untitled Quilt Painting (Weave Texture), acrylic on wood, 2007, with detail below, at Frederic Snitzer Gallery, Miami

Rodney Graham, Inverted Drip Painting #12, liquid acrylic on linen, 2007, with detail below, at Lisson Gallery, London

Tomma Abts at Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Cologne. No info on the wall ID, but this painting, which is easel size, maybe 20 x 24, looks to be metallic oil on canvas

Roxy Paine, PMU #33, acrylic on canvas, 2007, at James Cohan Gallery, New York

Jon Pylypchuk, Let Me Hold You in the Water For These Last Moments, mixed media on panel, 2007, with detail below; not sure of gallery

Andre Butzer, Untitled 12, oil on canvas, 2007, at Hetzler Gallery, Berlin

Below, Arturo Herrero, Orfeo, 2007 (also visible in the image aboe). Medium is not given, but it's felt, so you can call it sculpture or painting. In either case it fits under the umbrella of Material Abstraction

(Herrero is represented by both Sikkema Jenkins and Hetzler, whose booths were adjacent and whose installations were so seamless I'm not sure whose wall this was on.)

Chris Martin, Mother Popcorn, acrylic and collage on canvas, 2007, at Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York

Also at Lisson: Daniel Buren, Zigzag for Two Colours (Blue and Green), paint, fiberboard and tape, 2007, left; Jason Martin, Limbo, oil on aluminum, 1998, with detail below

Thomas Glassford, Portitura Multicolor, anodized aluminum, 2007, at OMR, Mexico

To my eye, the dimensional painting flows seamlessly into sculpture, like Glassford's ridged aluminum piece, above. The work that most appealed was planar, like Helio Oiticica’s and Imi Knobel’s, but I found equal pleasure in Sirous Namazi's dimensional grid and Petah Coyne’s baroque bouquet of wax flowers, which could have come straight from a Neapolitan wedding.

Other big likes: Louise Bourgeois’s cast bronzes and carved marbles; Franz West’s lumpy, painted organic form-on-a stick; Antony Gormley’s hanging metal sculpture, whose linear materials--and certainly its shadows-- functioned as drawings in space. There was even a massive digging tool, about six feet in diameter, that scribed a huge drawing as it clawed its way around the surface of a cement floor.

Here’s some of what I liked:

Imi Knoebel, Twins, acrylic on aluminum, 2007, at Galerie Lelong, New York (and elsewhere)

Below, Helio Oiticica, Relievo Espacial No. 20, painted wood construction, 1959, also at Lelong

Sirous Namazi, Untitled, iron and enamel paint, 2007, at Galerie Nordenhake, Stockholm

Antony Gormley works on paper and sculpture at Sean Kelly, New York

Franz West, untitled sculpture, at the Grasslin and Nagle booth, Frankfurt and Berlin

Louise Bourgeois bronze sculpture and Joan Mitchell painting at Cheim & Read, New York

(This gallery's installations here are always distinctive and they always showcase the work of the women they represent. Last year it was Benglis and Bourgeois. Their roster includes Lynda Benglis, Louise Fishman, Jenny Holzer, Monique Prieto, Pat Steir and others.)

Petah Coyne, Untitled # 1243 (The Secret Life of Words); cable, chicken wire, bolts, wax, silk flowers and other materials, 2007, at Galerie Lelong

Detail below

From beauty, courtesy of Coyne, we move to beast, courtesy of Galerie Nicola Von Senger, where that giant grappling claw was caroming off the walls like a Roomba on steroids.

Arcangelo Sassolino, Untitled, modified hydraulic steel grapple, 2007, at VonSenger, Zurich. Presumably the tool and the drawing on the poured cement floor comprise the work

Watching this giant machine claw its way around the poured cement floor, I hung around to see if perhaps I could overhear a cell conversation along the likes of, "Yes, a grappling hook that moves on it own power. . . .Oh, enormous, maybe six feet, but its claws open and close, so sometimes it's smaller than that. . .Well, yes, it's a sculpture, but it makes a drawing on the floor. . .Um, yes, I suppose we'd we'd have to pour a floor. . . . The mechanic? I'll ask." No such luck.

A Splendid Installation
Walking by the Lehmann Maupin booth, I was struck by the installation: Teresita Fernandez’s quietly beautiful wall stones, Jennifer Steinkamp's haunting tree of pixilated light; Shirazeh Houshiary’s meditative, almost mathematical grids; Mickalene Thomas’s bling-y nude that challenges your gaze; Lee Bul’s chain mail chandelier. It was one of the strongest curatorial efforts I’d seen at the fair.

Foreground, Teresita Fernanez wall installation; background, Jennifer Steincamp video at Lehmann Maupin

Lee Bull sculpture, Shirazeh Houshiary painting

Bul sculpture in foreground; Tracey Emin neon on the wall

Mickalene Thomas glittery nude, with Emin in the background

The wall text, in light gray, stopped me in my tracks: This year, Lehmann Maupin Gallery is pleased to present a selection of works by the female artists from the gallery.

Feminism lives! I hung around to gauge the response. "Do it but don’t advertise it," said one man to his male companion. "I don’t think this is necessary," said another.

Au contraire, my testicular friends. It’s exactly what’s necessary. Not to get too pedantic here, but the art schools are full of women, and the art world is full of men. (Notice how many male names are attached to the work I show in this post?) What’s wrong with that picture is what makes Lehmann Maupin’s elegantly kick-ass installation so necessary.

And just to prove the point: Check out the twinned piece on ArtNet in which two reporters were sent on a virtual shopping trip at the fair, Robert Ayers with $10,000 and Judd Tully with $10,000,000. Their articles show and describe what they "bought." There wasn’t the work of even one woman in their cache. You can make the case for personal taste (of course they were free to select what they wished). But what’s shown and critically praised helps inform personal taste. So kudos to Rachel Lehmann and David Maupin and your (female) gallery directors for your good taste and smart strategy, which I can only hope will help inform that of others. And I hope you sold the hell out of that show.

First you walk though a tunnel to get to this new exhibition. Then the first thing you see are the storage racks. The booths are set along the perimeter, the same way the Art Nova booths are set around the perimeter of the large hall. Some of these galleries are heavy hitters, but this appendage felt like the kids table at holiday dinner.

And what’s the deal with the no-chairs-in the booth mandate sent down from management? I walked into one booth late one evening and the gallerist was slumped on the floor. "Are you OK?" I asked.

"Oh, yes, just tired," he responded. I offered to get him a chair. "They won’t let us have chairs in here," he said, stopping me as I went out the door in search of seating.

He wasn’t kidding. Another said wearily, "I came all the way from [a distant European location] for this?" He asked me not to name his city, because it would give him away, and he didn’t want the fair overseers to know he’d been lounging on the floor. OK. Why dim his chances to come back next year for another round of the same mistreatment?

By the way, according to today’s Miami Herald, 850 galleries vied for the 200 booths. Think about that next time you get a rejection letter. They know the feeling, too. Even the big ones.

What I liked--no, loved--here:

El Anatsui's aluminum and wire tapestry at Jack Shainman

Mindy Shapero’s fabulous material agglomerations, above and below, at Breeder Gallery, Athens. Shapero's shapes are organic and mysteriously familiar, like Martin Puryear's, but she's the anti Puryear: bright and shiny, with lots of buttons and trinkets making up the work

Next post: The Containers