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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. New shows: "events;" how to support the online edition: "works."



El Greco, Christ Driving the Money-Changers From the Temple, ca. 1570, Minneapolis Institute of Art


Ever since Marcel Duchamp mounted a bicycle wheel on a chair, and voiced his famous pronouncement that anything is art if an artist says it is, many (and in recent years, almost all) critics have followed tamely in his wake. So have galleries, museums, auction houses, and collectors – to say nothing of other artists, who in recent years have charmed in-groupers and bemused most of the larger public with every sort of "art" from pickled sharks to shattered antique vases, and from bananas festooned with duct tape to self-destructing pictures. Can the moment possibly have arrived when at least one small but prominent team of critics is willing to say hold, enough? Read More 

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Installation view of Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946–1964, on view May 8, 2021 through September 26, 2021. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar


Borrowing a title from Ernest Hemingway, I want to call your attention to a most attractive show at the Museum of Modern Art.  As installed in one large, airy, clean, neat and well-lit gallery, it celebrates a group of talented amateurs in "Fotoclubismo: Brazilian Modernist Photography, 1946 – 1964" (through September 26).


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Alice Neel. American, Merion Square, Pennsylvania 1900–1984 New York, Linda Nochlin and Daisy, 1973. Oil on canvas, 55 7/8 × 44 in. (141.9 × 111.8 cm), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Seth K. Sweetser Fund

Like the Morgan, with its David Hockney show, The Metropolitan Museum of Art knows that the surest way to pack in crowds – even in a pandemic – is to give them representational images of "contemporary" people in a "contemporary" style.  Thus we have "Alice Neel: People Come First" within its hallowed halls (through August 1).  When I visited it (on April 8) the line stretched from the elevators nearest Fifth Avenue to Galleries 999, on the west side of the building.  Nor will this be the end of Neel's exposure: the show is scheduled for the Guggenheim Bilbao (September 17 to January 23, 2022) AND the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (March 12, 2022 to July 10, 2022. Michelangelo, eat your heart out! Read More 

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Installation view, 'David Smith. Follow My Path,' Hauser & Wirth New York, 69th Street, 2021. Courtesy the Estate of David Smith and Hauser & Wirth. © 2021 The Estate of David Smith / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo: Thomas Barratt
Shown: "The Hero"and "Study for 'The Hero'"


"David Smith: Follow My Path" is the name of the latest look at that master sculptor, currently at the East 69th Street branch of Hauser & Wirth (through July 31). Taking its name from a lecture that Smith (1906-1965) gave at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1962, it turns out to be a learning experience for the viewer, much as it must have been for the artist himself. Read More 

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Frank Bowling (b.1934), Flogging the Dead Donkey, 2020. Acrylic and acrylic gel on canvas with marouflage, 102.5 x 185.5 x 5 cm.(40 3/8 x 73 x 2 in). (c)Frank Bowling, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Photo Thomas Barratt


The last time this column looked at the art of Frank Bowling, this prodigious painter, was on June 29, 2019, when David Evison, the British sculptor, reviewed his memorable retrospective at Tate/Britain.  Since that time, Queen Elizabeth has knighted him, and as "Sir Frank" he has graduated from the relative obscurity of the Hales gallery to the big leagues of Hauser & Wirth.  


His new gallery is honoring him with two shows -- both titled "Frank Bowling – London/New York."  The London one is at its Savile Row space and closes on July 31, while the New York one is at its Chelsea space and closes on July 30.


I only review shows that I can see, so I must confine my remarks to the New York show. However, I am delighted to be able to welcome to this website a review of Bowling's London show by Evison..


Herewith is the report from Evison on the London show of Bowling:


"Hauser & Wirth is situated on the ground floor of a new Savile Row building and has direct access from the street.  On entering, one is confronted by a 9 ft. x 6 ft. painting and the desk is situated to the right of it.  Hung high above it is a medium sized painting which is a masterpiece.  It is called, "Flogging the Dead Donkey." Read More 

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"Frank Bowling: London/New York," Hauser & Wirth New York 22nd Street, 2021 (c)Frank Bowling, Photo:Thomas Barratt. "Texas Louise" at right.

Herewith my own review of Bowling's New York show -- which I seem to have liked less than Evison liked the London show --at least until I started to take it picture by picture.


I started out feeling that this  was not my favorite Bowling show.  The man's a great painter, but his work in this case has been "edited" in a way that makes him appear less rather than more great. At any rate, that's my opinion, though admittedly it's only an opinion and I'm sure I'm in the minority (as usual).  Read More 

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Morris Louis (American 1912-1962), "Mira." 1962. Acrylic on canvas, 82.52 x 32.99 inches, 209.6 x 83.8cm. Photography, Jason Mandella.


At Yares Art, on Fifth Avenue 34 blocks south of the Jewish Museum, we have two eminently satisfactory exhibitions of more recent abstract art. The first is "Larry Poons/Frank Stella: As It Was/As It Is." The second is "Fields of Color III" (both through July 31).  They afford a contrast that parallels my own development as a writer on abstraction. The first show equates to a period before I'd awakened to abstraction, and before I'd met either artist.  The second represents a period after I'd met them both, and after Bill Rubin had sensitized me to abstraction--though much of the work in it was also done prior to the spring of 1968 (when Rubin effected this sensitization). Read More 

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Installation shot, "Modern Look" at The Jewish Museum


As I was raised in an era when the word "modern" was commonly supposed to  mean the latest and most adventurous style around, I was naturally eager to see "Modern Look: Photography and the American Magazine" at The Jewish Museum (through July 11).  However, this elaborately-installed show of 150 works including vintage photographs, art book layouts and magazine cover designs from the 1930s, '40s and '50s offers a very different view of that era from the one I myself experienced as a child, a younger journalist and a more mature scholar.   Though I'm sure this new exhibition was carefully planned, and affords a wealth of technical information that I never knew before, visually I found it far less appealing than I was expecting upon the basis of my own knowledge of the three magazines it centers around.


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Willem de Kooning, "Woman," c. 1950.  Graphite and wax crayon on paperboard, double sided, 13 1/8 x 10 inches (33 x 25 cm).  Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery.  © 2021 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


I don't know when I saw a neat, lovingly precise pencil drawing of Elaine de Kooning created ca. 1940-41 by Willem de Kooning.  Was it 1968, when one such drawing was reproduced in the catalogue to MoMA's de Kooning retrospective of that year? Or has it – or another like it -- been displayed more recently? 


Anyway, I hoped to re-view it, and/or see other drawings of women like it, when I visited "Willem de Kooning Drawings" at Matthew Marks (through June 26).  I didn't see it, or anything like it, but two later drawings of women led me to award de Kooning a title that he might not have liked, but that his postmodernist fans should appreciate: "Step-Dad of Pop" Read More 

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Friedel Dzubas, Nightroot, 1973. Magna on canvas, 61 x 140 in. Courtesy Leslie Feely Gallery

I'm enthusiastic about the paintings of the great modernist painter Friedel Dzubas, and happy that he's had a show in Manhattan in all but one of the past five years. I've reviewed every one of these shows, as well as publishing the review of a book about him in 2020, the year he didn't have a Manhattan show. I'm happy that Leslie Feely is enabling me to keep this string of reviews unbroken by staging "Friedel Dzubas, 'Color Release:' Paintings from the Lipman Family Collection"  at a Special Exhibition Location, 507 West 27th Street, (through May 31,  Tuesday through Saturday, 12 to 6). My only problem is that I'm running out of fresh things to say, and I hate repeating myself. Read More 

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