Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

We Called Her General Girouard

Video still, Food, 1972, Gordon Matta-Clark, © Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

An ad, printed in the Spring 1972 issue of Avalanche magazine, trumpeted in boldface type ‘FOOD’S FISCAL FAMILY FACTS’. Most of the readers of Avalanche would, it was assumed, be at least part way familiar with FOOD, the restaurant opened in SoHo by artists Gordon Matta-Clark, Carol Goodden, Tina Girouard, Suzanne Harris, and Rachel Lew a few months earlier. It was already a fabulous success, and the Downtown art scene was tight knit in those days and more or less identical to Avalanche’s readership. Also, FOOD was the only decent restaurant in the neighborhood. 

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The Breakfast Club

The multigenerational artists’ salon hosted by Derek Boshier inside a fast food restaurant
Photograph: Steven Simko

The invitation, when it comes, is invariably by email and typically consists of the entirety of the note crammed into the subject line, plus a random image.

“Can you make Ricks tomorrow Thursday at 8.30 am…….derek,” read a recent message accompanied by a photograph of a headshot of Julie Andrews adjacent to a paper Union Jack. “Sent from my iPad.”

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Betye Saar

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Betye Saar, Palm of Love, 1966 Etching with relief printing 48×66 cm. Courtesy: MoMA, New York

Betye Saar has lived in the same shingle-clad house up a winding lane in Laurel Canyon for nearly 60 years. To reach the front door, on the house’s top story, visitors ascend several flights of steps, passing the kind of thickly planted garden—filled with ornaments and trinkets—that can only be created with decades of care and cultivation.

Saar moved to Laurel Canyon with her former husband, Richard, and three daughters in the early 1960s, shortly before the Hollywood Hills became the nexus of Los Angeles’ hippie music scene. Frank Zappa lived in a log cabin just a few doors down, and Neil Young, Brian Wilson, and Joni Mitchell were also neighbors. The Saars were a hip, artistic family: Betye was a printmaker and designer, and Richard a ceramicist and art conservator. They led a comfortable middle-class life but were far from famous. As with most Black artists of her generation—and virtually all female artists—Saar made her way outside of what little limelight shone on the local art scene. For years, she didn’t even consider herself a real artist.

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Still Kicking

 

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Miyoshi Barosh, Untitled (Crying Head), 2017, Steel, glass, neon, fabric, 68″x62″x12″. Courtesy: The Pit, Glendale

Last week, I was driving with my family through Malibu Canyon in southern California, on our way to the beach, when a grave motorcycle cop turned us back. An hour later, news broke that the basketball player Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash. The wreckage was apparently still smouldering on the hillside above the closed road. Read the rest of this entry »

Ree Morton

Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

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Don’t worry, I’ll only read you the good parts, 1975, oil on Celastic, 137×66 cm. Photo: Joerg Lohse. © The Estate of the artist. Courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York

 

Facts and suppositions about Ree Morton’s life might not be so integral to our reading of her art if she hadn’t died in 1977, aged forty, having started late, leaving behind just six or so years of work: a compact oeuvre of sculpture, drawing and installation that acquires an almost unbearable poignancy when framed by the knowledge of its sudden ending. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »