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."

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