Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

New Images of Man

Blum and Poe, Los Angeles

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Enrico Baj, General Schwarz, 1961, oil, collage, trimmings, decorations and found objects on fabric, 148 × 113 cm. Courtesy: Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo

Today, figurative painting abounds, shaped – with rare exception – by concerns around identity and diversity of representation. In 1959, curator Peter Selz’s exhibition ‘New Images of Man’, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, also proposed a return to figurative painting and sculpture. Critics were upset by the show’s expansive reach and its apparent disrespect towards New York abstraction: it featured white male artists not only from the US (Richard Diebenkorn, Leon Golub, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock) but also white male artists from Europe, including Francis Bacon, Jean Dubuffet and Alberto Giacometti. Among 23 featured artists, Germaine Richier was the only woman. Read the rest of this entry »

Peter Saul

New Museum, New York

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Peter Saul, Donald Trump in Florida, 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 78 x 120 inches. Image courtesy of Hall Art Foundation

How much is too much, when it comes to the art of Peter Saul? How about: The big high box of the New Museum’s fourth-floor gallery stacked two-deep with more than two dozen large paintings in fluorescent hues? How about: Every gallery on the floor below packed with at least as many again, dating from 1960 to the present? How about: Three paintings that feature Donald Trump? Seven of electric chairs? Countless more figures with bullet-holes spewing glossy gouts of blood? A dog barfing onto the head of Rush Limbaugh, accompanied by a speech bubble that reads “BARF”? How about: One retrospective, only the second of the artist’s career, and his first in New York? Read the rest of this entry »

Naama Tsabar

Shulamit Nazarian, Los Angeles

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Naama Tsabar, Work on Felt (Variation 22) Purple, 2019, Felt, carbon fiber, epoxy, wood, archival PVA, bass guitar tuner, piano string, piezo microphone, guitar amplifier, 73 x 65 x 30 inches

I noticed no actual signage letting gallery visitors know that it was OK to touch certain of Naama Tsabar’s wall-mounted artworks. Fortunately, Israeli-born, New York-based Tsabar is becoming increasingly well known for her interactive Works on Felt series, begun in 2012: panels of thick felt, curling away from the wall (or, initially, the floor) under tension from taut piano wires. Those wires are connected to hidden microphones, which are in turn connected to cables that hang down and plug into nearby guitar amps. When struck – as a gallery director helpfully demonstrated, encouraging me to do the same – the wires produce a twang whose pitch can be modulated by flexing the felt. Stroking the felt creates a sound too. Four iterations of the series hang in this exhibition, variations (to use Tsabar’s terminology) 21 through 24. Read the rest of this entry »

Gladys Nilsson

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Gladys Nilsson’s “Plain Air” (2018), acrylic on canvas. Courtesy: Gladys Nilsson; John and Susan Horseman; Garth Greenan Gallery and Matthew Marks Gallery

In 1966, Gladys Nilsson and five other young artists organized an exhibition of their work in Chicago’s Hyde Park Art Center, and overnight became the talk of the town. The group called themselves the Hairy Who.

Their art could be caustic, outré, vulgar and loud; psychedelic patterns and clashing colors abounded. It was bad taste and brilliant fun. Tattoos, graffiti, comic books, fanzines, games and toys, newspaper and magazine advertisements were all influences, as was the encyclopedic, global collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Rooted in the Surrealist traditions of Chicago’s art scene, it was unlike anything else in America at that time. Read the rest of this entry »

Patrick Staff

The Serpentine Gallery, London

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Patrick Staff, On Venus (installation view) (2019–2020). Image courtesy of the artist and Serpentine Galleries © 2019. Photo: Hugo Glendinning.

What is commonly known as Hyde Park—central London’s largest public park—is actually two parks conjoined. To the west, Kensington Gardens contains Kensington Palace, currently home to Britain’s future king and his family, while Hyde Park, to the east, was once Henry VIII’s hunting estate. Both—as with Regent’s Park, Green Park, Richmond Park, and several other of the city’s major green spaces—are officially Royal Parks, which means that the public’s longstanding access to them is courtesy of the monarchy, which nowadays does most of its animal-rearing and animal-killing on more expansive estates further afield. Read the rest of this entry »

Charles Ray

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Charles Ray, Two horses, 2019. (detail) Granite, 120 3/8 x 178 1/4 x 8 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist and Matthew Marks. Photo by Josh White

I tend to think—and this can change—that the subject of the work is the dynamic of the confrontation with the work. And by that I don’t mean that the sculpture is aggressive, but that you’re wrestling with it into the world. How is the piece in the world? And, for me to think about that, I have to ask myself, “How am I in the world? How do I think of myself? How do other people think of me?”

– Charles Ray, Three Lectures at the Menil Collection

Earlier this year, I stood in front of Charles Ray’s newest work, Two horses (2019), at Matthew Marks Gallery, Los Angeles. The piece is hewn from a single, six-ton slab of rippling dark Virginia Mist granite, 14 feet wide and 10 feet high, mounted seamlessly on a pristine white wall. In shallow relief, a horse—unsaddled, unharnessed—is depicted in proud profile, its hind leg raised as if stepping forward into its ghost: a fainter relief, imperceptible at first, of another nearly identical horse, offset just a few inches ahead. The show was called “Two Ghosts.” Read the rest of this entry »

Alice Tippit

Grice Bench, Los Angeles

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Dress, 2019, Oil on canvas, 18 x 22 in, courtesy Grice Bench, Los Angeles

Groins abound in Alice Tippit’s exhibition of paintings and drawings at Grice Bench. They are not always easy to see, however – or rather, they disappear at second glance. What, you might ask yourself, is so crotchlike about that upside-down vase (Peer, all works 2019), that candle (Cinch), or that stick of dynamite (Safe)? Tippit is a master of the now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t school of visual innuendo, of drawing-room indecency, of wordplay that seems outrageously funny even if, on reflection, you can’t exactly say why.

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