In my own practice, I've been thinking a lot about using indigenous materials, concluding that the children's hand-me-downs laying all over the house are ripe for use as both still life and canvas for stretching. This idea of found and collaged fabric, sewn or glued together as a painting surface, became the theme of my visit to New York this week.
The first exhibit I caught was Sigmar Polke at the MOMA. In the atrium is a large canvas of (no paint) blue fabric and transparent white fabric, being pierced by pink fun fur. Fabric hangs loosely out the side of the stretcher. I was transfixed.
I especially loved this soccer piece for its campy calico and immediacy of mark-making.
The next stop was to see Xu Bing's Phoenix's at St. John the Divine. Their scale and materials made them worth the trip. I loved them in the cathedral.
On our way to the Whitney, we stopped at Gagosian and Nahmad. This became the highlight of the trip. One by Richard Prince blew me away. I was so enamored with the underpainting, collage, grotesque feet, and pink oily ground, sometimes over, sometimes under, the figures, that I didn't even notice the social content.
Of the show at Nahmad, Kenny Schachter said, "Basquiat, Twombly and Schiele at Joseph Nahmad was a profound, sublime show that no museum would or could touch (or afford) ... all in the most intimate and approachable form, works on paper. Extraordinary is not strong enough a word—it was modest and profound at the same time, no easy feat."
Also stopped at Acquavella to see the Basquiat drawings. (first love...)
For better or worse, the last stop of the day was the Whitney. I know nobody ever likes the Whitney Biennial, and maybe I was just too tired by then, but I didn't come away gushing. Although I admire many of the artists included, like Charline von Heyl and Molly Zuckerman-Hartung, I can't think of any specific work that resonated with me on the visceral level that other paintings had earlier that day. Seeing so much work all at once is mentally exhausting. I ended the day in Bjarne Melgaard's cock-pit of the apocalypse, laughing at a young security guard who was turning over one of the giant stuffed penises in his hands, presumably wondering, "wtf?"
The next day, a misty morning in Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Art Museum were just the antidote for Uptown burnout and penis art. I went for Ai Wei Wei but I what I really loved that day was Swoon. A giant, cardboard breastfeeding mother presiding over this surprise installation was music to my eyeballs.
The most moving of the Ai Wei Wei works was the room of undulating piles of straightened rebar, accompanied by a massive grid on the wall of thousands of names and birth years of children who were killed when shoddily built schools collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. There's a Vietnam Wall effect, traversing the vast scale of this list of lost children, some of them born in a year when I too, had a baby.
Judy Chicago's Dinner Party is on permanent display there. Experiencing the piece, I was surprised to find myself feeling empowered, noticing the slight unease of polite, middle-aged gentlemen walking with their wives past the dozens of celebratory vaginas . In this dark, cavernous space, somehow reminiscent of church, I suddenly felt like I was in the vagina club. I was comfortably in the know, and they were left out and how cute. I never felt quite that way before. It was oddly powerful. Is that what phallic art is asserting? Haves and have-nots and exclusivity?