Language at the art galleries

From the New York Times on the 11th, “Last Chance: Warhol, Basquiat and Other History Lessons” by Roberta Smith. I’ll be getting to Ruscha and Basquiat eventually, but first Smith’s background comments.

Right now the New York gallery world is awash in what are often called museum-quality shows. This term generally refers to outstanding commercial-gallery exhibitions of historical material — anything 30 years or older — that might almost as easily be in a museum.

These shows are good for raising galleries’ profiles and burnishing their brands, and also as selling tools, even though the art in them is usually borrowed and not for sale. They’re sort of like a gallery’s back room, exploded into the main space. They help collectors testing waters: Objects that arrive as loans to these shows sometimes shift to “on consignment,” available for sale.

From a more elevated perspective, exhibitions of this kind can be valuable public services: The best fill in historical gaps you didn’t know you had, and compensate for museums limited in time, money or curatorial vision. And the foremost advantage of museum-quality gallery shows is that they’re not in museums. They’re usually seen under quieter, less crowded conditions, without entrance fees.

The abundant historical shows right now concentrate on blue-chip art, isolating aspects of extremely prominent artists’ work. In Chelsea, you can see middle-period works by the painter Philip Guston at Hauser & Wirth (through July 29), as well as Jasper Johns’s monotypes at Matthew Marks and Sigmar Polke’s paintings from the 1980s and early ’90s at David Zwirner (both through June 25).

Further examples can be found uptown at less well-known galleries, most notably two show organized by the Austrian curator Dieter Buchhart that focus on language.

Ed Ruscha. An old friend, posted about on this blog on 5/4/11, and then in a section in a 11/13/15 posting, a section about Ruscha’s word paintings, including his ribbon paintings). From the Times:

One [of Buchhart’s shows] is “Ed Ruscha: Ribbon Words: 1967-1973” a dense, elegant “all-loan show,” according to the checklist, at the Edward Tyler Nahem gallery (through July 1). Its 51 drawings, mostly in gun powder, tease sly, worldly words spelled out in either looping ribbon or folded pieces of paper into superb explorations of language, space and perspective.

“Hollywood,” “Cut Lip,” “Sin” (three versions), “Fireproofing a Tiny Box” and “Corrosive Liquids” alternately sit on solid planes or float above them, recede in the distance, emerge from shadows or loom like skyscrapers. Mr. Ruscha began this series by simply writing out words, including his name. They hug the paper, but shine with potential.

A wall of Ruscha ribbon paintings (the photo by Adam Reich is an art work in itself):


Jean-Michel Basquiat.Surprisingly, not covered on this blog before. From Wikipedia:

Jean-Michel Basquiat … (December 22, 1960 – August 12, 1988) was an American artist. He first achieved notoriety as part of SAMO, an informal graffiti duo who wrote enigmatic epigrams in the cultural hotbed of the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s where the hip hop, post-punk, and street art movements had coalesced. By the 1980s, he was exhibiting his neo-expressionist paintings in galleries and museums internationally. The Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective of his art in 1992.

Basquiat’s art focused on “suggestive dichotomies”, such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. He appropriated poetry, drawing, and painting, and married text and image, abstraction, and figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.

From the Times:

The second of Mr. Buchhart’s shows is “Words Are All We Have: Paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat” at Nahmad Contemporary (through June 18), a handsome review of two dozen paintings from 1982 to 1988, most of Basquiat’s brief career. They suggest that his main achievement lies in turning words into images, creating paintings that, in effect, talk a kind of cultural stream-of-consciousness.

Their joining of spiky letters, hieroglyphs and images convey an innately sophisticated, roving intelligence — sports, jazz, American history, the Bible, the human skeleton, colonialism — undergirded by a profound understanding of the greatness and pathos of African-American achievement. This exhibition is not only museum quality, but it also forms a perfect addition to the Brooklyn Museum’s recent examination of Basquiat’s notebooks and poetry.

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