2.23 / Best Of: Year Two

Best Of: Leigh Markopoulos

By Leigh Markopoulos August 16, 2011

Image: Martin McMurray. Protagonist No.34, 2010; acrylic on wood panel; 19.75 x 23.75 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles.

Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento

Earlier this year I visited Sacramento for the first time. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long, but I’m very glad I waited until after the Crocker Art Museum opened its 125,000-square-foot expansion, which it did in October 2010. Designed by the New York–based firm Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects, the Teel Family Pavilion more than triples the Crocker’s size, and while it may not be the most beautiful, it is certainly one of the most functional museum spaces that I have recently seen. Housing a wide variety of generously proportioned galleries, many with views across the city, the pavilion provides display room for a much larger proportion of the fascinatingly eclectic collection. (Also within the building is a really excellent café, which is so good that you should give in to the slightest hunger pang, whatever time it strikes.)

As with the reconceived Oakland Museum of California, the new installations emphasize Californian art. It has astounding collections of Funk Art and studio ceramics, for example. The contemporary collection is by contrast somewhat patchy, but it is more than compensated for by the discoveries of widely unknown or overlooked artists like Irving Norman or Claire Falkenstein and by cleverly engineered surprises. For example, tucked away among the spectacular showpieces by Wayne Thiebaud, Joan Brown, and Ruffino Tamayo is Stephen Kaltenbach’s awe-inspiringly vast (ten feet by ten feet by sixteen feet) portrait of his father completed over seven painstaking years (1972-1979). The four hours I spent there were only enough to afford an overview, with some extended moments in front of the grotesquely wonderful ceramics of David Gilhooly. As the museum also has a historical collection with scads of international ceramics as well as Asian, African, and Oceanic art, I’m looking forward to returning at some point in the near future.

Art Publishing Now, Southern Exposure, October 10–October 12, 2010 / New York Art Book Fair, PS1, November 5–November 7, 2010

I don’t have a Kindle, and I don’t want one. I love books. Not surprisingly, therefore, two of my most inspiring experiences of the past year relate to mass book appreciation sessions in San Francisco and in New York City. Proving that publishing is far from dead and that we have a thriving local art publishing scene, the fair at Art Publishing Now gathered, in its words, “leading local groups from the burgeoning, independent Bay Area arts publishing community.”1 Participants ranged from 2nd Floor Projects and The Thing Quarterly to Little Paper Planes, The Present Group, TBW Books, and Rite Editions, plus many more.2 Luckily, the entire cohort was accommodated by Southern Exposure’s gracious new galleries on Twentieth Street. The offerings included “online periodicals, blogs, critical writing and essays, magazines, books, periodicals, podcasts, open source databases, arts editions, and newer hybrid forms.”3 The diversity, innovation, and downright quality of the materials exhibited could have given many art fairs a run for their money. This enlightened attempt at harnessing the Bay Area’s myriad presses molded independent activities into an intense burst of collective energy that jolted participants into recognizing the possibilities of local art publishing and artistic production.

The NY Art Book Fair is, as one would expect, a larger, more international convening, but in essence it is the same thing writ large. Approaching its sixth year, it started its life as a more modest affair before public interest and dealer success inflated it to fill all three floors of PS1, MoMA’s Long Island City offshoot. Apparently 16,500 people attended over four days.4 I can well believe it for the rooms were absolutely jammed. Not only the dealers did well, visitors also, almost without exception, left hauling bags of literary loot. With rumors that the next version of San Francisco’s art publishers’ fair is set to grow in recognition of the success of the last, perhaps in five years’ time we’ll be seeing it at the SF Mint?

Marjolijn Dijkman: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum / MATRIX 234, September 26–November 28, 2010

Is it me, or is the Berkeley Art Museum currently presenting a fantastically diverse and challenging program of exhibitions and events? Of the many shows I have enjoyed there recently, one that most remains in memory is Dutch artist Marjolijn 

Dijkman’s MATRIX project, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (2010). The title refers to the first true modern atlas, the Theater of the World, published by Abraham Ortelius in 1570. Initiated in 2005 and comprising more than nine thousand images, Dijkman’s compendium is an equally ambitious attempt at representing the world, in this case through photographing the places she has traveled. It’s the sort of work that by its very size and scope could be off-putting. However, the installation was appealingly simple, and the images proved after a very brief inspection to be doing what so many other works claim to do (though they are largely unsuccessful): they created a witty narrative of sorts out of snapshots of our everyday environment, in the process recategorizing our world according to the artist’s vision. A complex but refreshing experience and an excellent opportunity to engage with emerging international art back here at home.

Anselm Kiefer, Next Year in Jerusalem, Gagosian Gallery, New York, November 6–December 18, 2010

If Dijkman’s show, like most MATRIX presentations, emphasized an economy of means, Anselm Kiefer’s at Gagosian’s Chelsea space on Twenty-Fourth Street this past winter was all about extravagance. Call me a sucker, but I was completely and utterly blown away by the sheer scale of both the exhibition and the chutzpah and ego of the artist. I was sucked up into it, whirled around, and spat out again in a state of cathartic bliss. Sure, Gagosian has become a byword for all that’s crass about the commercialization of the art world. And yet many of the shows I have seen there recently are less about vulgar consumption and more about presenting museum-quality exhibitions often on budgets that museums can only dream about. The Picasso exhibition this April was a perfect example. But I digress. For those unfamiliar with this somewhat controversial German artist’s work, Kiefer is haunted by the weight of the Holocaust in particular and history in general, burdened with the guilt of his forebears. His iconography is accordingly traumatized—most of his works look like they have emerged out of the ashes of some overpowering inferno. Their heavily impastoed surfaces are built up out of agglomerations of paint and less traditional media such as lead, straw, clay, ashes, and seeds. Although Kiefer has always worked at scale this exhibition took things to an epic level. Entombed in monolithic glass cases at least fifteen feet high were the individual emblems or cameos he returns to repeatedly—sunflowers, fields, wedding dresses, airplanes, submarines, ladders, chairs, and books—creating a forest of his obsessions for us to walk through. His spidery copperplate script wrapped around various surfaces, the words poeticizing the objects inside—an artist’s visions made manifest. It is a gigantic, super-human effort to purge the obsessions of the past forty or so years. Kiefer created his own myth in 3-D and allowed visitors the run of it.

Art Publishing Now announcement; 2010, designed by MacFadden & Thorpe, San Francisco.

Martin McMurray, Dystopia – 1010 Years Ago, Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Los Angeles, November 6–December 11, 2010

I was particularly pleased to discover the work of Martin McMurray at Susanne Vielmetter’s new space in Culver City on a trip to Los Angeles this past November and was delighted to learn that the artist is not an emerging Euro-star but a midcareer and Berkeley-based artist. On display were series of mesmerizing, small format paintings, fraught with the tension of suggested histories. Working in the tradition of Neue Sachlichkeit’s dispassionate documentation of evil and injustice, McMurray presented a gallery of fictional characters, ranging from dictators to underprivileged Americans. For the former he drew on generic tropes of Latin American dictators, as we might imagine or have seen them—sinister, mustachioed, and sleekly uniformed. For the latter he was inspired by stereotypical profiles of Greyhound passengers—disadvantaged, escaping from small-town isolation and criminal pasts, etc. Whatever the implied scenario, the paintings absorb the viewer into their narratives, creating an intimacy that can make us feel as if we have almost read their stories in some desultory newspaper article. They are clever, clever portraits of types of people and situations that rely more on association than realism. The works are beautifully rendered in a particular and personal style. I hope that McMurray will consider showing locally in the near future.




1. From Southern Exposure's website: http://soex.org/Event/256.html
2. Full disclosure: Art Practical was one of the organizers of Art Publishing Now.
3. From Southern Exposure's website: http://soex.org/Event/256.html
4. http://nyartbookfair.com/about.php


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