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MoMA Curators Ponder Polke Potato Problem


In 1967, Sigmar Polke crafted a rustic structure called Potato House (Kartoffelhaus). The piece is a lean-to made of wood-lath grids that are reinforced by hundreds of lumpy, matte-brown potatoes. Riffing on the precision favored by the Minimalists, Polke’s use of potatoes adds a brash roughness and clumsiness to the otherwise sleek construction.

Potatoes, which were a dietary staple in postwar Germany, made their way into several of Polke’s mixed-media artworks. Three of these pieces are included in “Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010,” a retrospective of Polke’s work that is on view now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibition will run through August 3, yet these edible tubers have an estimated shelf life of just one month.

When I walked through the show last week, I wondered what the plan for these perishable potatoes is. Over time, would they shrivel? Would they rot? Or worse, would they smell? My curiosity piqued, I contacted MoMA curatorial assistant Magnus Schaefer to find out just how the museum’s staff plans to keep Polke’s potatoes looking fresh for the duration of the show . . .

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Degas and Cassatt: The Untold Story of Their Artistic Friendship


In Mary Cassatt’s 1878 painting Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, a fidgeting young child slouches into the pillowy embrace of a turquoise chair. The girl’s scruffy black and brown dog sleeps on the seat next to her, adding to the tranquility of this domestic scene.

The canvas is a quintessential Cassatt. However, recent cleaning of the work and infrared images taken by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., reveal that brushstrokes from someone else’s hand are also present—Cassatt’s friend and colleague Edgar Degas. The French artist subtly changed the shape of the room. He had the floor intersect with the back wall at an angle, rather than perpendicularly, creating negative spaces that are strange and unexpected.

Upon discovering these details of Degas’s intervention on Cassatt’s canvas, a team of experts at the National Gallery decided to explore further. They organized the exhibition “Degas/Cassatt” to investigate the previously unknown depth of the pair’s artistic relationship. The show, which opens May 11, will feature a selection of 70 paintings, drawings, and works of mixed media by both artists to highlight their artistic dialogue.

Degas first met Cassatt (who was born in Pittsburgh but spent much of her life in Paris) on an 1877 visit to her Montmartre studio. “He recognized right off the bat that they had a shared sensibility,” says the show’s curator, Kim Jones, and he invited her to participate in the Impressionist exhibition he was organizing with his fellow “independent” painters. Their introduction marked the beginning of a friendship that lasted nearly 40 years. A lack of existing correspondence between the two makes it difficult to discern the specific details of their interactions, but their artworks—particularly those created between the late-1870s and the mid-1880s, the period of the Impressionist exhibitions in Paris—leave behind compelling clues about their friendship . . .

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Pierre Huyghe Brings Spiders, Quails, and (Hopefully) Rats to Lower East Side Gallery


“Spiders do not like living in galleries,” says curator Jenny Jaskey of the Artist’s Institute on New York’s Lower East Side. “They just don’t want to stay.”

Jaskey is referring to the group of nimble, brown cellar spiders crawling around the Institute’s intimate Eldridge Street basement space. She released batches of these spindly arachnids into the gallery three weeks ago as part of Pierre Huyghe’s current exhibition there, and many have since disappeared—venturing outside, burrowing out of sight, or getting stepped on at the show’s opening. But a few remain, slowly scaling the gallery’s matte-white walls.

The four-part show, or “exposure to witnesses,” as Huyghe calls it, examines the ways that spiders and other small organisms like flies and rats change, grow, and adapt over time. Inspired by chemistry, natural history, and evolution, the French artist’s scientific investigations have transformed the gallery into an experimental laboratory.

Huyghe’s meticulous program adheres to the distinct objectives of the Artist’s Institute, a non-profit organization established by Hunter College in 2010. Each year, the gallery mounts two six-month exhibitions of works by individual artists, which are supplemented by series of lectures and films, and aided curatorially by Hunter College graduate students. Past seasons at the Institute have been devoted to the work of Haim Steinbach, Lucy McKenzie, and Rosemarie Trockel, among others.

The aim of these long, but ever-changing shows is, as Jaskey says, “to give more time and attention to an artist’s work.” The gallery becomes an immersive space dedicated solely to the roots of the artist’s practice and process. This first installment of Huyghe’s show, titled “Il y a” (It is), reflects his fascination with physical processes like birth, death, and generation.

Jaskey reaffirms this on the second stop of our tour. After locating the spiders, she pointed out a large, metal grate hanging above the front desk. Two fluorescent, blue lights shine from within, resembling an indoor/outdoor space heater. It’s actually a fly zapper, she explains, by Mexican artist Fernando Ortega.

Every time an insect flies into the fly electrocutor device, the gallery’s lights are tripped, creating temporary darkness. The dead flies provide food for the spiders, and the darkness offers an opportunity to showcase Huyghe’s stunning, glow-in-the-dark creation Dress For Radium Dance . . .

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Anna Hyatt Huntington: The Most Famous New York Sculptor You’ve Never Heard Of

Flanking the Fordham Road entrance to New York’s Bronx Zoo are two sculptures of crouching jaguars. The beloved limestone creatures, which arrived at the zoo in 1937, are seen by countless visitors each day. Yet, the legacy of their prolific creator, Anna Hyatt Huntington, is unknown to many.

An exhibition opening tomorrow at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery aims to change this. Titled “Goddess, Heroine, Beast: Anna Hyatt Huntington’s New York Sculpture, 1902–1936,” the show will reintroduce audiences to the artist’s work, which can be found in numerous museums, parks, and institutions throughout the city. In addition to the Bronx Zoo, these locations include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New-York Historical Society, the Hispanic Society of America, and the National Academy Museum. The show will feature a selection of small bronzes from these venues as well as images of Huntington’s larger public projects, and videos of the artist at work. Curated by Barnard professor Anne Higonnet, “Goddess, Heroine, Beast” is the first exhibition to showcase Huntington’s early New York works.

The daughter of a Harvard zoology and paleontology professor, Huntington—born Anna Vaughn Hyatt in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1876—had a keen interest in animals and anatomy. She took private art lessons and learned to make small animal sculptures, before moving to New York City in 1902. There, she enrolled in the Art Students League. The artist quickly found a market for her statuettes in the city and worked with local foundries such as Gorham & Company to cast, stock, and promote bronze editions of her work. Her small sculptures sold from between $25 to $335 and larger works were priced at $1,500, allowing Huntington to make a comfortable living for herself . . .

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How Artists Across the Globe Are Saying ‘Yes’ to Picasso

“Picasso is not the greatest artist of our time,” says art historian Michael FitzGerald. “He’s not the one you have to take down—he’s someone to engage with as an equal.”

During much of Picasso’s lifetime, his works were regarded as the gold standard of modernist art. Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Arshile Gorky and other 20th-century artists channeled his style, while figures like Jackson Pollock competed with it directly. In an exhibition opening March 6 at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona, FitzGerald showcases works by a diverse ensemble of international artists, who, rather than challenging Picasso’s art, have engaged in conversation with it.

Titled “Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions,” the show features sculptures, photographs, paintings, and video installations by more than 40 artists living in 12 different countries. Faith Ringgold, Armando Mariño, Dia Al-Azzawi, Goshka Macuga, and Tadanori Yokoo are among the artists represented in the exhibition. By recycling, repackaging, and riffing on Picasso’s internationally recognized works and trademark techniques, these artists have made raw material out of what was once a definitive touchstone.

Here is a sampling of artworks that will be on view in the show:

“Bembe,” by Romuald Hazoumé
Just as Picasso employed unconventional materials to create his collages, Hazoumé crafts masks like Bembe (2012) using discarded gasoline canisters. By repurposing these plastic containers—which are symbols of progress and development—to form objects styled after traditional African artifacts, the Benin-born artist comments on the blending of cultures taking place in modern-day Porto-Novo.

“Quel avenir pour notre art? (What future for our art?),” by Chéri Samba
Congolese artist Chéri Samba examines Picasso’s legacy in this 1997 triptych. In the first scene (below), Samba replicated a 1952 photograph of Picasso by Robert Doisneau on the left side of the painting, and executed a portrait of himself on the right side. Unlike Doisneau’s original image, in which the artist’s hands are under the table and out of sight, Picasso’s right hand is seen here holding a pencil. He looks to his left toward Samba, who is situated at a table with a wooden log, a ceramic pot, and two wooden masks. As the work’s title suggests, it is unclear how these artifacts will factor into the future of art.

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Let Us Spray: Up Close and Personal with New York’s Early Graffiti Writers

Lee Quiñones, Howard the Duck, 1988, oil on canvas. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York.

Lee Quiñones, Howard the Duck, 1988, oil on canvas. Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York.

Lady Pink’s 1982 painting Manic Depression depicts the New York street artist—then just a lanky teen—vulnerably slumped on the floor of a jail cell, which she shares with two prostitutes. The walls of the cell are scrawled with notes and graffiti tags, the largest of which reads, “Lady Pink.” The work isn’t as self-assured or psychedelic as Lady Pink’s later canvases, which often feature ghoulish creatures navigating trippy, urban wonderlands, but artist and collector Martin Wong knew he had to have it. Why? Because it is the first painting the artist created using a brush, rather than an aerosol can.

This canvas is one of many that Wong procured from his graffiti-writer friends. A fixture of the Lower East Side art scene in the ’80s and early ’90s, the Portland, Oregon–born Wong was deeply and personally connected to the graffiti movement. Tags and other street-art motifs even crept into the artist’s own paintings of prisons, redbrick tenements, and downtown neighborhoods. (The Estate of Martin Wong is now represented by P.P.O.W and his paintings are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Metropolitan Museum, among others. An exhibition of Wong’s personal possessions was on view at the Gugenheim Museum last spring.)

Through trading his paintings and buying work directly from his friends, Wong amassed a vast holding of sketches, photographs, notebooks, and early paintings by graffiti writers including Futura 2000, Daze, Lady Pink, Lee Quiñones, and Keith Haring. After being diagnosed with AIDS in 1994, Wong donated his expansive collection to the Museum of the City of New York and moved back to the West Coast. Beginning February 4, the museum will present Wong’s collection for the first time in a new exhibition titled “City as Canvas.” The show demonstrates Wong’s dedication to collecting artworks that not only highlight his personal taste, but that, together, tell the story of New York’s graffiti movement. “City as Canvas” is curated by Sean Corcoran and is accompanied by a catalogue edited by Corcoran and curator Carlo McCormick. Read the full story on!

Dealer, Actress, Pop Icon: Homage to Holly Solomon

Holly Solomon sits in front of the nine-panel silkscreen portrait that Andy Warhol created of her. Courtesy Holly Solomon Estate.

Holly Solomon sits in front of the nine-panel silkscreen portrait that Andy Warhol created of her. Courtesy Holly Solomon Estate.

“I’m Holly Solomon and I would like to make an exhibition in this room,” Chelsea gallerist Pavel Zoubok recalls the flamboyant art dealer announcing to a waiter in La Maison du Chocolat’s cocoa-colored tearoom. It was 2001 and Solomon’s health had begun to decline, but she was still sharp-witted and imaginative. Inspired by the Upper East Side café’s chocolate-covered décor and swirling upholstery, the dealer, then in her late 60s, envisioned the space filled with works by artists she represented such as Julia Jacquette and Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt. “No matter where she went,” says Zoubok, “she could see the art woven into the environment.”

It is this spirit of adventurousness and ingenuity that Zoubok evokes in the upcoming exhibition “Hooray for Hollywood!” The show, which will feature works by such figures as Laurie Anderson, Robert Mapplethorpe, Izhar Patkin, Andy Warhol, and William Wegman, will pay homage to Solomon’s achievements as both a gallerist and Pop icon, as well as the enduring friendships she fostered with her artists. “Hollywood,” which is co-curated by Steven Sergiovanni and Heather Bhandari, opens Thursday at Pavel Zoubok Gallery and Mixed Greens gallery in New York.

Solomon’s dynamic personality is captured in the portrait section of the exhibition. The dealer, who studied acting with Lee Strasberg, reveals her theatrical side in works by Mapplethorpe and Wegman. Read the full story on!

‘Lick Boy Fat Art’: Keith Haring’s Language Art Decoded

A drawing from Haring’s journal dated August 27, 1982. ©Keith Haring Foundation.

A drawing from Haring’s journal dated August 27, 1982. ©Keith Haring Foundation.

“Art Boy Sin,” reads a sheet of graph paper from Keith Haring’s notebook.

“Fat Art Sin,” it continues.

“Sin Lick Boy.”

These phrases, penned neatly in black ink, were part of the script for Haring’s 1979 film Lick Fat Boys. In the video, the young artist reads off sequences that he created using letters from the title “First National Bank.” Each anagram is an allusion to New York’s gay subculture. The repetition continues until Haring ultimately forms the bawdy phrase for which the work is named.

Lick Fat Boys is one of more than 130 rarely viewed archival objects and artworks featured in the new exhibition “Keith Haring: Languages.” On view through February 28 at New York University’s Fales Library, the show focuses on text-based films, notes, collages, and sketches that Haring created in the late 1970s and early ’80s, shortly after moving to New York City. As the exhibition’s curator, Andrew Blackley, explains, these language studies “set the stage” for Haring to develop the iconic pictograms—barking dogs, intertwined male bodies, and happy, dancing people—for which he is known today.

On the pages of his notebooks, Haring worked to identify the limits of the written word and find a nonrestrictive language—one that would allow him to discuss topics that were, at that time, considered taboo. He performed operations on words, altering their form and questioning their value. He discovered clever ways to embed gay themes and vocabulary into a language that, in large part, excluded them. Read the full story on!

The Man Who Turned a Warehouse into a Vermeer

Tim Jenison assembles an experimental optical device. Photo: Shane F. Kelly, ©2013 High Delft Pictures LLC, Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.

Tim Jenison assembles an experimental optical device. Photo: Shane F. Kelly, ©2013 High Delft Pictures LLC, Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.

In a rented warehouse in San Antonio, Texas, inventor and tinkerer Tim Jenison whittles the leg of a wooden harpsichord. Midway through the laborious process, he realizes that the lathe he is using to carve ridges into the leg can’t accommodate its length. Rather than risk compromising the accuracy of the reconstruction he is working on by cutting it in two parts, Jenison improvises and takes a power saw to the machine, slicing it in two. This allows him to extend the lathe just a few more inches.

Jenison is in the process of constructing an exact replica of the scene in Vermeer’s The Music Lesson (1662–5) and this instrument is a key element. In the Dutch artist’s painting, a man and a young woman stand at a harpsichord in a sunlit room. Through a series of geometric tricks, lighting effects, and reflections, the viewer’s eye is drawn directly to the couple. By recreating the scene in fine detail and then painting it, Jenison hopes to demonstrate how Vermeer could have accomplished such optical illusions.

Jenison’s obsession is the subject of a new film by his longtime friends, the magicians Penn & Teller. Titled Tim’s Vermeer, the documentary opens in select cities Friday and nationwide on January 31. Read the full story on!

Barry X Ball Makes a 3D-Printed, Digitally Altered, Gold-Plated Sculpture

Studio assistant Mitchell Martinez uses vinegar to polish the bronze on an edition of Perfect Forms. PHOTO: STEPHANIE STRASNICK.

Studio assistant Mitchell Martinez uses vinegar to polish the bronze on an edition of Perfect Forms. Photo: Stephanie Strasnick.

Barry X Ball wanted to complete an artwork that Boccioni never did. Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, which wasn’t cast in bronze until after Boccioni’s death, is a modernist icon. Inspired by industrialization in Italy at the turn of the 20th century, the anonymous figure cascades through space—the wind distorting his speeding body.

Using 3D scanning and printing technologies, sophisticated computer software, resin, nickel, copper, bronze, and 24-karat gold, Ball created his own version of Unique Forms.

Titled Perfect Forms, Ball’s rendition measures nearly two feet tall. The abstracted body is meticulously contoured. The angles are sharp. The curves are smooth. The sleek, gold finish causes the figure to glow and perpetuates the idea that the man is in motion.

The prototype of Perfect Forms made its public debut in October as part of the exhibition “Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital” at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. On view through June 1, the show features clothing, artwork, furniture, and jewelry that were created using 3D printers and CNC mills.

On a recent visit to Ball’s studio—which occupies a townhouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn—I learned about the labor-intensive process involved in constructing Perfect Forms. He demonstrated the various steps using editions of the sculpture, which are mirror images of the MAD prototype. Ball and his team plan to make seven editions in total. The price of the editions has not been determined, but the prototype is selling for $225,000 through Ball’s New York gallery, Sperone Westwater. Read the full story on!