19 April 2015

What's up for six more days, v. XVI

Brian Maguire, Erika
Seeing Brian Maguire's painterly dispatches from Cuidad Juárez in person (514 w26th St, til April 25) not only allows one to take in the large scale paintings but throws in a screening of the 80-minute documentary Blood Rising, co-produced by and featuring Maguire (pdf). Blood Rising is a good name for the overall mood of the paintings, as they are angry, strident, and unambiguous, depicting the unrelenting violence afflicting the corrupt, gang-infested border city. Attention was first paid in the English language press to the 'feminocidio' of Juárez when Charles Bowden published an account of the post-NAFTA urban landscape in the December, 1996 issue of Harper's (pdf) in cooperation with local photographers, which led to the book Juárez: The Laboratory of Our Future which made a strong impression on me upon its release.

Molly Malloy, who has collaborated with Bowden, has offered the rejoinder after years of research that although Bowden, as intended, appropriately brought attention to the increasing violence in the city, by her count females were not a proportionately high percentage of the victims,* stating in an interview last year, "It’s almost like we’re fetishizing these dead women. To always be looking back at these women as if their bodies are this kind of sacrificial host—I find that to be troubling, in terms of our culture and our focus on life and death and what it means. In other words, if you’re constantly focusing on women as if they’re this symbol for suffering, you never move beyond that particular death to look at the social conditions that gave that kind of life, and that kind of death, for so, so many people." Malloy states in that interview "the violence associated with organized crime escalated" in 2008, and that "Nothing has been done to address the economic suffering that came from [the North American Free Trade Agreement]. Nothing has been done to address the issues of drug trafficking, and why it’s so appealing for people in Juárez to become a part of these criminal enterprises. No one has really created a public school system in Juárez that serves all of the children that need to be going to school rather than working in factories or joining gangs." Maguire reports a higher percentage of female victims than Malloy: 1,400 since 1994 out of a total of over 5,000, and joins others in describing a distinct phenomenon of legal impunity for the perps of feminicidio.

Several years before Bowden's article in Harper's, Roberto Bolaño developed a sustained, obsessive interest in the femicides that he intended from the start to be central to an upcoming novel. Any intention to link the murders to social and economic factors was an non-starter for Bolaño, whose mind was firmly planted in crime genre conventions. "[Sergio] González Rodríguez [reporter and reviewer for a Carlos Monsiváis-edited publication] told Bolaño how his findings suggested that the killings in Juárez were connected to the local police and politicians and to the mercenary gangs maintained by the drug cartels. The police don't seriously investigate the murders, he explained, because they're badly trained, or they're misogynists, or they've made deals that allow the narcos to operate with impunity.

"So there's no serial killer? González Rodríguez recalls Bolaño asked him... This revelation, González Rodríguez says, disconcerted Bolaño. By then, the writer had already devised an elaborate, ingenious structure for his novel, a structure that in some ways depends on the idea of a single serial killer."

Bolaño proceeded to fill 300 pages with graphic forensic details of murders of women, suggesting at one point that the murderer is Benno von Archimboldi, a novelist hailed by several literary critics in another section of the book, who symbolizes the effect created by the 16thC painter Giuseppe Arcimboldi when forms of vegetation combine to form a human face at a distance, similar to Salvador Dali's "paranoiac-critical method" and the garbage that forms Art History figures in the work of Vik Muniz, who refers to the 'magic' that takes place when seemingly unrelated objects take on a different form when stepping back. Revisions prevented by Bolaño's death leave us with the genre-induced intent of this portrait more than its refinement and realization, but the inaccurate, merciless caricature of Mexicans written in Spain and signed, conveniently, with a Chilean name, intentionally oblivious to the underlying social and political causes of the crimes, helped make 2666 a rousing success amongst Anglophone critics who would never praise the novels of, say, Monsiváis, too close for comfort to the actual people and their struggles.


Maguire moved to Juárez around the time of 2666's publication and got an NGO to introduce him to the victims' families on the condition that he teach their children, which led to the practice, chronicled in the documentary, of presenting portraits of the victims to their families. For whatever reason, the gallery show contains none of these portraits, but does include five large canvases of severed heads and limbs of male victims left dramatically by drug cartels. The deference given these cartels inspired the 2015 canvas Cash, a portrait of wads hung opposite the screening of Blood Rising, and the 2014 3x4 meter Police Graduation 2012 (Juárez) (above), as well as a lithograph series with the image of academy recruits giving a Nazi salute without the irony imbued on the gesture by Kiefer early in his career, while spare acrylic strokes and selective coloring remind me of Daniel Richter a decade ago, especially Richter's works on paper. Whatever the influences, Maguire's skill as a representational painter is evidenced in acrylics like Cardona Bridge (Juárez), depicting what appears to be real Mexican eagle on a sculptural pedastal.

If you want to see a film of birds flying without the tragic symbolism, Etel Adnan's birds and other scenes of nature are screened next door at Lelong 528 w26th til May 8, along with two ink and watercolor accordion books (below) and various pastels.


At 547 w25th Cheim & Reid has abstract paintings by Bill Jensen, who paints with Piri' Miri Muli's favorite artist film, Andrei Rublev, running, canvases full of references to Michelangelo's Last Judgement and Chinese poetry anthologies, til May 9.

Also up til the 25th are seven white sculptures of polyurethane resin by Janine Antoni that combine internal and external body parts at 531 West 24th Street.

* I recall in Zacatecas a young Mexican woman talking about how her friends wanted to move to Juárez and what a 'fun' city it was, at which time a chorus of gringo men recited what they had heard of the feminocidio which she downplayed, realizing then the mythological divide over the murders.

18 April 2015

What's up for one more day, v. XXXIV

If you are looking for a stroll on this pleasant day there are four shows at quite prominent Chelsea galleries ending today I have neglected to note for several of the common reasons that have created that tendency in this space. First of all, Mitchell-Innes & Nash at 534 West 26th St has "the most significant collection of Beuys multiples to be shown in New York to date," a claim I am in no position to dispute and indeed there are a lot of Beuys multiples packed into two rooms for your enjoyment, the second and larger of two sets assembled by collector Reinhard Schlegel. Beuys apparently created 557 multiples in his lifetime, affordable works quickly rendered out of common materials, of which there are dozens and dozens here.

One of the prototypes for the multiple (not in this show) was the 1968 box that he sold for two dollars with a penciled line drawn inside with the word "intuition" written above it, which would seem to me to be an illustration of Vedic texts, though Beuys was a devout Christian throughout his life that criticized the passivity of Eastern religion. Beuys' "When a human has self-confidence and pays no attention to the surrounding political structure, he can decide for himself how the future looks" suggests a preference for the synthetic rather than the analytical. His sculptures were more synthetic while his less famous works on paper more representational. He was influenced by Tàpies who was influenced by the East, both using crosses frequently but doing so, I believe, initially unaware of each other. I may have mentioned before that I regard Duchamp's readymades, like all of Duchamp's art, to be representational - which goes to the heart of the subconscious, passionate tension that led to Beuys' The Silence of Marcel Duchamp is Overrated, created seveal years before Intuition. Duchamp said he derived his view of the artist from the Sanskrit, which led him to seek a precise rendering of the world that demanded, at times, passivity and contemplation, crucially adverse to Beuys frenetic creations. Duchamp was the primary inspiration for the multiples.

Gagosian's In the Studio: Paintings (522 West 21st St, we're going N to S) is an all-star show in which the theme lets you compare/contrast to your heart's content. Three paintings in the exhibition's central room were very striking to me (conveniently all in the thumbnails): James Ensor's Skeleton Painter of 1896 strikes me as a combination of a Vanitas and Las Meninas, as the skeleton headed painter looks at the viewer by the easel, painted the same year as his famous etching Death Pursuing a Flock of People.  Other etchings of this period reflected Ensor's identification with the Christ figure, right before he was to attain recognition and see the originality of his subject matter decline thereafter. The painter of the first known Vanitas, Jacques de Gheyn II, and his teacher, early Vanitas painter Hendrick Goltzius were both born near Ensor in Antwerp in 1565 and 1558, respectively, while Pieter Claesz, another exemplar of the Vanitas, was born outside Antwerp in 1597, but all three moved to Haarlem to become artists, despite Rubens, Jordaens, and Teniers sticking around Antwerp at the time to go for a Baroque which itself made its way into Ensor's canvases.  Diego Rivera's 1954 The Painter’s Studio or Lucila and the Judas Dolls has an actress friend recline beneath papier-mâché dolls traditionally burnt in Easter rituals, a model airplane, a dove, and pre-Columbian sculptures, in which the flesh tones of her face flow into the red doll above her amongst the white, lifeless figures of the center.


Rear center, being shown from a permanent collection in Poznań for the first time in New York, is Jacek Malczewski's Melancholia (above),the most famous paintiing associated with Poland's resistence to Czarist occupation during the late 19thC.  Figures in flight in the style of Goya's etchings can be seen also in a slightly later nationalist canvas of his, Vicious Circle.  From the canvas fly children brandishing swords, leading to fallen soldiers and the disillusioned elderly, as Malczewski perhaps intends to show the compulsive heroism of the nationalist cause, "whirling in a weird dance of hope and death they struggle in vain towards the window of freedom, with no will to win."

I confided my distaste of portraits after Dubuffet a while back here but the Alice Neel show on the second floor of 20th Street Zwirner has numerous dramatic tableau from the 30s,  my favorite period of hers, including eight ink drawings of The Brothers Karamazov, which can be enjoyed on the web site if you can't make it out.

On 19th St, Zwirner's System and Vision show includes three or four small portraits by Margarethe Held, about whom I found this text on a web site: "In 1925 Margarethe Held entered in contact with the spirits and communicated with her deceased husband and her father. In 1950, at the age of fifty-six, she began drawing : four hundred pastel drawings in four months - all dictated by spirits. Siwa ordered her to show to other mortals, through her compositions, that the universe contained secrets, that every being had a destiny and that nothing happened without a reason. Later on, the spirits made her write a book in which she described the messages she received, her travels to Jupiter and other planets.

"The faces drawn by Margarethe Held have the appearance of masks, representing the dead, gods, spirits and elves. There are the 'good dead', who possess a magical protective power, but also the 'bad dead' who cause calamities and disasters. There are male or female elves, whose function is to help people in their work."