20 March 2017


New York as Seen from Across the Body, 1913

As the Picabia show, which readers in these parts had herein been implored to see, is being taken down I’ll type some more with its glow still fresh. Amongst other things, it afforded the spectacle of Picabia quotations offered to the masses going up the Metro escalator at 53rd and 5th, a set of three or four including “I am a beautiful monster," “civilization created crime" and “live for your pleasure" rotated as Madison Avenue-style brainwashing sparing commuters a larger set that could include “Happiness is to command no one and not be commanded.”  “The world is steeped in sticky good taste and ignorance.” “There is no truth true to life” “Misery is illustrious like a triumphant god with circular gestures”  “Newspapers are daily leeches which you place in a crown around your head.” “‘Why do you write?’ Francis Picabia: I don’t know and I hope I never know.” “If you read Andre Gide aloud for ten minutes, your breath will stink.” “Art is a pharmaceutical product for imbeciles.” “War makes me want to laugh.” “I surpass amateurs, I am the super-amateur; professionals are shit-pumps.” “‘All the plants belong to me, that’s why I don’t like the country!’” “Don’t be fooled: artists are dry cleaners.”  “Life is today and today doesn’t exist.”  “Artists are the result of nature’s miserliness.”  “There is only one way to save yourself: sacrifice your reputation.” “Genius lies in ignoring others.” “Art is the worship of error.” “To fear the senses is to become a philosopher.” “Where art appears, life disappears.” “It’s better to suffer than be surrounded by scarecrows.” To Duchamp, Picabia was “a negator. With him it was always, ‘Yes, but..’ and ‘no, but..’ Whatever you said, he contradicted. It was his game. Perhaps he wasn’t aware of it.”


As with MoMA‘s wonderful presentation of Lygia Clark, the perplexed reviews tell you the artist has steered their vessel off the flat earth. I hadn’t read Financial Times’ Ariella Budick on Broodthaers, but as Clark, Broodthaers, and Picabia each added to art something it hadn’t seen before which has to this day been only partially excavated and tagged by others, her reviews have scored the trifecta of cluelessness towards anything that cannot be reduced to well-trodden art theory mantras.  “These products of Picabia’s nadir have re-emerged, not to be redeemed, but to suggest that their maker was something darker than a mere prankster or provocateur. At MoMA, he comes across as a spectacularly talented but insubstantial nihilist, an anti-artist propelled by the vacuum in his soul.”  As Picabia, the poet Max Jacob referred to as Tzara-thustra, and Bataille were the leading devotees of Nietzsche among Parisian modernists, she is parroting the lazy and inaccurate shorthand of “Nietzsche the nihilist” while anyone who actually reads Nietzsche ('Pour que vous aimiez quelque chose il faut que vous l’ayez vu et entendu depuis longtemps tas d’idiots') knows his entire oeuvre was involved in overcoming nihilism, saying art was a primary tool to do so, which drove Picabia to find belief in his own creations and discoveries rather than dogmatics, discoveries essential to both modernism and post-modernism with an impact only a handful in art can claim.

Burdick on his mid-40s works: “The mixture of turpitude and Aryan-friendly realism is troubling. It’s not clear whether he was cozying up to Vichy fascists or lampooning them, flattering through imitation or protesting with satire.”  Quoting Petras again contextualizes the source “The editors and columnists (of FT) have supported wars destroying the Libyan, Iraq, Syrian and Ukrainian economies..” in the case of the Ukraine, directly supporting neo-Nazis; in the case of Syria, supporting those who funded ISIS at a critical juncture.  Picabia: “I have no intention of talking politics, that’s something I absolutely loathe..”  Nietzsche's "Strict war discipline.. superiority of the leaders, unity and obedience among the led.. have nothing to do with culture” becomes Picabia's “A clan of nonentities .. cut off the heads of those who represent force and intelligence, who represent an aspiration of something better..” the "obedience among the led" illustrated in 1942‘s Adoration of the Calf (left). “Dear revolutionaries your ideas are as limited as a petit bourgeois from Besançon..”

Nietzsche respected Buddhism but eventually found it lacking the individual affirmation that could overcome nihilism.  Breton to Picabia in 1952: “Tell me, was not Dada perhaps, at its best, a flake of Zen wafted as far as ourselves?” Picabia’s “Andre Breton and I have never been on bad terms, the rumors going around are stupid made-up stories dictated by idiots” was by all accounts the case, but the way they agreed to disagree on aesthetic matters, in my view, reflected the latent rift between Picabia the Nietzschean and Breton the Hegelian, the source of which predates Nietzsche, commencing when his “educator” Schopenhauer loathed the popular Hegel ("the clumsy charlatan") so much he scheduled his Berlin lectures at the same time.  Hegel believed in the inevitability of the state though his has been, as Walter Kaufmann noted, exaggerated; Picabia joins Nietzsche in aversion to the herd.  Rousseau, admired by Breton, was dialectically superseded for Nietzsche by Goethe’s Faust.  The Freudian-influenced Breton wrote appreciatively in the Anthologie de l'humour noir “Nietzsche’s whole enterprise in fact tends to justify the superego by increasing and expanding the ego.. to restore to man all the power he had invested in the name of God. It might be that the ego dissolves at that temperature..”

In that 1952 letter Breton wrote Francis "I would like you to read (Daisetz T. Suzuki's Zen Doctrine of No-Mind), because if anyone has set himself the task proposed in this book, of transcending discrimination in all forms, it is certainly you." In Zen "no-mind" the innate non-discrimination of perceived entities stands apart from conditioned notions of dualism, closely resembling Breton’s “supreme point” noted in the Second Manifesto, which I’ve seen as an epigraph for a book about the Dalai Lama: “Everything leads us to a point in the spirit in which life and death, real and imaginary, past and future, communicable and incommunicable are no longer perceived as contradictions. It would be in vain to look for any other motivation in surrealist activity than the hope of determining this point.” My immediate impressions upon reading the Suzuki doctrine was that it bore an uncanny resemblance not just to this point but also to Breton’s “communicating vessels,” first formulated in his 1928 essay Surrealism and Painting which mentions Picabia amongst many others (over twenty years before the Suzuki translation became available in French), but since he wrote Communicating Vessels thereafter during what Michel Carrouges called in 1950 “the period when Marxism exercised its strongest hold on Breton” he could not reconcile the Eastern asceticism with Hegelian dialectical materialism, relating it rather to Picabia’s version of Dada unencumbered by materialism.  Deleuze: “The dialectic is the natural ideology of ressentiment and bad conscience. It is thought in the perspective of nihilism and from the standpoint of reactive forces.. powerless to create new ways of thinking and feeling"

Communicating Vessels was published in 1932, wherein Carrouges notes that in an elaboration of the supreme point “life for the sake of life and of Revolution” replaces past/ future and life/ death, saying elsewhere “..the supreme point can remain for the surrealists the place, at once real and ideal, where all antimonies are resolved, the meeting place of all the divine energies that Nietzsche dreamed of recuperating.” In 1937, after his formal break with Moscow, Breton wrote about the supreme point “these antimonies, cruelly felt, must be gotten rid of.. this suffering..” which sounds Buddhist.  In 1955 Ferdinand Alquié, picking over Carrouges’ interpretations, went to to great pains to downplay Breton’s concern for dialectical materialism, quoting Wolfgang Paalen in 1953 “(Hegel’s) philosophy permits the justification of all the totalitarian regimes,” but concedes “Breton could not but admire in Hegel the will to negate all transcendence or, which amounts to the same thing, to project all transcendence onto a horizontal plane” which itself sounds like Zen.

Breton’s selection for Nietzsche in the Anthologie de l'humour noir was a flight of non-discrimination, Friedrich’s letter to Jacob Burckhardt in 1889:

‘I have reserved myself a small student’s room.. I pay twenty-five francs, including service, buy my tea, and do all my shopping myself, suffer from torn shoes, and thank heaven every moment for the old world for which men have not been simple and quiet enough..

‘What is disagreeable and offends my modesty is that at bottom I am every name in history..

‘Tomorrow my son Umberto will come with the lovely Margharita, whom, however, I shall also receive here only in shirt-sleeves. The rest for Frau Cosima - Ariadne - from time to time there is magic.’

The communicating vessels, as described by Breton and illustrated by Rivera..


resembles the visual schema in Doctrine of No-Mind, while Picabia’s Transparencies intuit the doctrine, applying it to modes of sacred and profane representation in the West, providing both form and content to Polke's drama of the consciousness.


Some have speculated Picabia was hinting Breton was the central figure of Dresseur d'animaux (below) and Picabia the owl, but Breton’s letter of 1952 hinted that the Zen master ‘Shih-kung Hui-tsang of Foochow’ profiled by Suzuki could have unwittingly been the main figure in Dresseur d'animaux, as Picabia intentionally interrupted the outlines of him and the animals to portray him as the lord of illusion before Magritte adopted that theme.


Becoming, important to Nietzsche, appears in Breton’s 1946 “In Haiti at night..” “Bearing witness as no other and always quivering as if weighed in the balance of leaves, like egrets taking wing from the face of the pond where today’s myths are born, the art of Wifredo Lam streams out from the point where life’s springwaters reflect the mystery tree, by which I mean the preserving soul of the race, so as to shower with stars the becoming that must be for the betterment of humanity.”  The half-Cuban Picabia’s postwar works in his final period seem to be more distantly indebted to the liberties Lam took with Afro-Cuban iconography.

Where Picabia primarily departed from Duchamp, beginning with the machine period, was his will to discover in what Marcel pejoratively called the retinal something unknown and to believe in nothing else.  “‘Mr. S.S., of high Persian nobility’ praised Francis 'the truly beautiful thing is to paint an invention well. This gentleman - Cezanne, as you call him - has the mind of a greengrocer’” recounted Breton in 1922, the same year he wrote to Francis “the more I think about it, the more I feel I have always loved you.” At one visit I saw two elderly women riding down the escalator, one pointing to the large photo of Picabia “now that was good!” What glows is a spirit that could not be consumed in him or anyone that cares about him, a treasure map that the earliest modernists held from their first steps with more surprises to come. “I prefer not to spoil the surprise.”

05 March 2017

I found three or four live performances of pianist Horace Parlan, as well as his documentary, out of which this seldom viewed 1997 Geneva date features a trio with an unknown-to-me bassist and drummer after he'd moved to Southern Denmark..



and this '86 Round Midnight from Cologne with Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Jordan and others..



+ an hour with Archie Schepp. Not live but..


If you click on “Philly” on the last post you get “currently not on view.”  I can verify that I became aware of the existence of The Fatal Temple during a few short periods of public display after it languished in storage for years.  Apparently Arshile Gorky is wrong to think it is an important work of art, and the Philly brain trust knows better. It is an oil and not a light-sensitive work on paper. Arensberg’s donation of The Poet and His Muse from 1925 is also rarely exhibited, although this period and work is generally considered less significant than Fatal Temple there’s still a lot of people who’d like to see it.  Max Ernst’s seashell from 1928, the primary phase of frottage since its invention three years earlier, from Arensberg. They also have a good little Rouault collection from various sources but they generally don’t see the light of day, none at the moment.

Collectors know this is an historically important painting, but Philly hasn’t grasped it yet and only shows it once in a while:

Peter Doig, Figure in Mountain Landscape II, 1998-9

Look at all the redundancy in the modern galleries before you tell me about space restrictions. The expansion in three years will make room for more head-scratchers.  Expanding could have been a way to respect the John G. Johnson's estate's wish for keeping its collection together (once the courts rule the museum's way there's no looking back), and do the same for Arensberg, instead they keep major Arensberg gifts in storage and hang Johnson's Veroneses and Titians above eye level.  Without Arensberg and Johnson it's a quaint regional museum.

Their Demuth and Sargent watercolors are up now though.

04 March 2017

What's up for one more day (fair week edition)

It would seem I decide which art fair to go to by where Michael Werner is showing.  This works if you like German art from the 80s ‘neo-expressionist’ generation, though they of course represent others, and if you do, you know they’ll whip a few things out that are worth the time and price of admission, and the other booths are bonus stimulation.  That led me to the Independent once after they started charging for it, and this year to the ADAA Art Show, my first visit ever to this, which confusingly for some is being shown at the Armory while the Armory remains an art show.

Daniel Richter, Ophelia
I can recall going to the Armory twice while Zwirner had Daniel Richter, seeing his Owner’s History Lesson at one and his Ophelia at the other.  These were two of the great paintings of their era and I enjoyed staring at both immensely. However, Daniel Richter has for whatever reason moved on to Regen in LA and they are not at a NY fair it would seem.

Both Werner and the other booths delivered to my satisfaction.  Werner has two works on paper by Picabia to grab collectors coming from MoMA, a transparency and a Spanish woman from the 20s, several works on paper by Beuys including pencil drawing of a girl with her back turned in front of a cross which blew me away in its ‘multiples’ simplicity, three Doig landscapes from the early 00s, a wonderful Penck work on paper, a fun Polke, a Schwitters in the upper corner of their tight office full of works for sale, a Baselitz, etc., the best Werner booth I’ve seen.

As the show is considered stodgy, traditional, and geared to older Upper East Side collectors, the mix of old and new nonetheless meant there was a lot of great older stuff. The new work was generally not down my alley but hot NY names that are selling.

Leonora Carrington, El templo de la palabra, 1954

Leonora Carrington’s prices have gone way up since she died.  Had she sold well in her seventies or before she probably would have moved to New York or Paris, but she was dead broke most of her life, with Edward James at times supporting her by buying up what was around.  This has enhanced the history of Mexican art and perhaps made her more enjoyably impervious to NY fashions. At the Mary-Anne Martin booth "The Temple of the Word" (major, well worth seeing in person) is/was up for $2.5M + they have a few Carrington works on paper + works by Kahlo, Tamayo, Gerzso, and Toledo, great viewing overall.


Donald Morris had four or five Joseph Cornells which the staff will take off the wall to show his inscriptions and additional collages on the back. Hauser and Wirth had Gorky’s depressed eary 30s drawings from his Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia series (above), based on di Chirico's Fatal Temple, which I'm well acquainted with because Albert Eugene Gallatin donated it to Philly. All Louise Bourgeois at the Peter Blum booth. All Norman Lewis at the Rosenfeld booth. Gallery St. Etienne lists Heckel, Kirchner, Mueller, Nolde, Pechstein, and Schmidt-Rottluff but they also had two good works on paper by Schiele... not major works (to go with the minor selections of them at National Gallery East).. like the Vuillards at Jill Newhouse but worthy of being detained by.

Giorgio de Chirico, The Fatal Temple, 1914

Checked out Clio (open tomorrow) along with a bunch of new Chelsea shows (not open tomorrow) and, as usual, "independent" "outsider" "anti-fair" consists exclusively of art school trends, with the exception of two or three religious painters from around the globe who go by previous generations' art school trends. A standout for me, though, was the Georgian Ia Liparteliani.

20 February 2017

What's up for one more day

A year or so ago while reading interviews of Tapies I was thinking about a spacial representation in which Beckmann’s dramatis personae was in the front


Paris Society, 1947

with an empty room in the back. I hadn’t at the time seen  Beckmann’s  empty room, his last painting. (Met til this evening)

Backstage, 1950

Also the most recent and second time I had visited the St Louis Museum of Art I had not slept the night before, but figured that seeing their vast Beckmann collection red-eyed would be part of the fun.  Little did I know that they had a well-attended show of floral arrangements in front of, and matching the colors of, the paintings, which attracted crowds that would openly state their preference for the flowers over the Ernsts and Beckmanns. I was counting to ten, and if that didn’t work I would count to twenty, and as it turns out I managed to not make a major scene.  Especially large was the crowd around the floral arrangement in front of Columbine:


Carnival Mask, Green, Violet and Pink (Columbine), 1950

Don't miss at the 75th and Madison outpost the Marisa Merz retrospective through May 7, and gallery 464 at 5th Avenue has Krishna Reddy's mixed color intaglio from 1968 "Demonstrators." The highlight of MoMA's floor of 1960s art, up til March 12 and of which I may type more about, is Henri Cartier-Bresson's photographs of May '68, which I don't recall being up when the floor was initially hung.


Also there I cannot get enough of the Picabia retrospective: a masterfully curated show of one of the most influential and original painters of all time. Breton said he was the first painter he knew of to use abstraction. Michael Kimmelman wrote about the 'transparencies,’ images juxtaposed by layering, in 1989 “one need only visit the display of works by Sigmar Polke now at the Mary Boone Gallery to realize Picabia's influence.”  Pierre Cabanne said to Duchamp “the Picabia-Duchamp meeting largely determined the break you were in the process of making” to which Duchamp said “yes,” referring to the break from Cubism to non-retinal painting and readymades. Duchamp started painting machines first but related the practice immediately to Picabia who took it in different directions.  Picabia has had a deeply personal and emotional impact on me for a while and I am sorting through more typing about him for this space that I will return to in a week or so.

Bo's'n Pettibon's retrospective is up at the New Museum til April 9 and his tenth show at Zwirner opens this week (Update 3/2: 'Raymond Pettibon's exhibition TH 'EXPLOSIYV SHOYRT T  will now open at a later date') along with a new Alice Neel show. Near the New, David Diao waxes nostalgic about 5 1/2 years spent in Hong Kong as a child at 54 Franklin til March 11.



In Midtown, this is the last week for Flor Garduño's photographs at 145 e 57 3rd fl, an assistant to Manuel Alvarez Bravo (above).  DAG's selection of Bengali works is at 41 e 57 suite 708 til March 10, Pace McGill has free speech-related photos from the US.


I used to get upset when the Dia Beacon would take down Hanne Darboven's Kulturgeschichte rooms coinciding with my visits, but now a much larger version (above) is at their Chelsea outpost at 535 21. Wangechi Mutu's content seems to be moving towards the decorative, i.e. collector's living rooms, at 530 21. André Butzer's last figurative show received a critical trashing and now he's found abstract expressionist religion, “The ostensible uniformity of the paintings underlines the variations between them," 519 24Yinka Shonibare MBE's Victorian Philanthropist's Parlour is at 533 26.

10 February 2017

There was an article in the Guardian a while back ‘(Andrew) Motion, chairman of the judging panel for next month's David Cohen prize for literature, was trying to kickstart a debate on who was "the greatest living writer in the British Isles".

‘So far the engine has refused to spark into life. The suggestions are few, and one or two may be facetious: Amis, of course; the poet Tom Raworth; the novelist Lesley Glaister; the footballing penseur Wayne Rooney (why not Coleen?). ‘

I was the one who ‘suggested’ Raworth and join all the others in lamenting his passing.  I think a link and a second link got me to Motion’s website; otherwise I agree with Charles Bernstein this past October ‘If Andrew Motion is a poet, I don’t want to be a poet.’  So my loyalties as to who was the ‘greatest living writer of the British Isles’ had at least been noted in a formerly palatable newspaper.  If you ask me about the best reading I’ve ever attended his will come immediately to mind.. this one starts at 29:45..



Piri’ Miri Muli’ concerns: he uses the line break within the word a few times, including the first poem in his selected, to force an inversion of meaning within the sentence which came much more often in his verse, retaining a control of content used for anything but and other effects.  Also, having lived for a time in Mexico, he weighed in "Gaslight" on Enrique González Martínez’ owl in response to Rubén Darío’s swan..

poetry is neither swan nor owl
but worker, miner
digging each generation deeper
through the shit of its eaters
to the root - then up to the great tomato