Monday, April 26, 2010

Dan Asher 12/31/1947 - 04/23/2010

^ Dan Asher singing Karen Dalton's "Every Time I Think of Freedom" ^

News of Dan Asher's passing last Friday, April 23, has been slowly spreading through the downtown NY art world. He was an original, unique presence, an artist of rare expressive power with an uncompromising anarchic temperament. We will all miss him.

Asher was seriously ill with lymphoma/leukemia, a condition which had gravely worsened in recent weeks. He was receiving extensive medication and had been admitted to the hospital for chemotherapy and other procedures. A stem cell replacement was being considered.

In order to help raise money for this health care, the Gavin Brown gallery organized and hosted a benefit sale of Asher's mid-70s photographs of Bob Marley, which was announced in a previous posting on this site.

An exhibition of Asher's painting and sculpture is currently featured at Mitchell Algus Gallery in Chelsea, up through the end of the month. Loren Munk (James Kalm) has shot footage of this exhibition, which I have asked him to add in a subsequent posting.

Asher was given a survey exhibition in September/October 2008 at White Columns, organized by Matthew Higgs. The above installation shots are taken from that show, as is a succinct description of the artist and his work.

Working across all mediums, Asher’s drawings, paintings, sculptures, photographs and videos have been shown internationally for more than 25 years. Asher’s installation in White Room #2 consists of works produced between 1981 and 2008, including groups of drawings from discrete series initiated in 1981-83, 1992, 1995, and 2008. These works on paper are shown alongside a group of recent large-format photographic works of vernacular subjects shot across the U.S.A.

The Project Space installation consists of a recent single channel video projection, with a soundtrack performed by musician Liz Durrett.

Asher is a mercurial figure whose career extends back to his seminal photographs from the 1970s of musicians Bob Marley, The Ramones, and Debbie Harry, amongst others. Exploring both public and private iconography, Asher’s hard-to-pin-down work has long explored the thresholds and tensions between psychological and social space.

Another interesting commentary on Asher, similarly inspired by this retrospective, was published by Anthony Haden-Guest on the Saatchi website, including the following excerpts:
Dan Asher fits awkwardly into today's coolly professional art world, which doesn't really bother him much. Asher is an unreconstructed bohemian, a beat survival, an in-your-face hippy and a remarkable artist, whose work includes spikily enigmatic drawings, photographs, paintings, sculptures and film.

At first Asher's images can seem wildly unalike. In the mid-70s he began taking black-and-whites of musicians like Bob Marley and Patti Smith. Fast forward, and he is using a cheap camera to shoot glimmering icebergs, first on a one-day trip to Greenland, later in the Antarctic. He has also made bodies of work dealing with bloodied teenage backyard wrestlers, skies alive and shimmery with the Aurora Borealis, competitive eaters gorging on horribly unappealing foodstuffs and birds flying high in blue skies. You quickly "Get It". These pictures do not represent extremes, they ARE extremes.

from James Kalm:

Having known Dan Asher for over twenty five years, James Kalm is saddened to hear the news of his passing. This video was originally meant as a documentation of Dan's show at the Mitchell Algus Gallery, not a memorial. We'll all miss you Dan.

A 2008 single channel video by Dan Asher, shown as part of his survey show in the Project Room of White Columns, with a soundtrack - the song "The sea a dream" - performed by musician Liz Durrett.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Purvis Young R.I.P. 1943 - 2010

April 21, 2010. Purvis Young, the soul of the indigenous Miami art scene, was generally labeled an "outsider" or "folk" artist, but he was making it happen in Overtown and Liberty City decades before "Wynwood" was able to pronounce the words "Art Basel Miami Beach".

He died yesterday at the age of 67 at Jackson Memorial Hospital after a long battle with diabetes.

He was one of South Florida's most storied artists, a man who transformed a troubled life with brush strokes, painting the joys and sorrows of his people on objects discarded in his Overtown neighborhood -- a copious body of work that brought Purvis Young international recognition.

Yet Young, who died early Tuesday at Jackson Memorial Hospital after a long battle with diabetes, was penniless and friends were raising money to bury him.

He was 67.

Self-taught, Young loved to tell the story of how he turned his life around in the mid-1960s by painting vibrant murals and conceptualizing mixed-media expressionist works. He said he found his calling after serving a prison term for breaking and entering when an angel told him, "This is not your life."

Young made exquisite, thoughtful art from the garbage he plucked off the streets of Overtown. Abandoned doors, cardboard, pieces of wood became canvases on which he painted faceless figures and horses that celebrated freedom and angels that he believed healed and guided his life. His interpretation of the flaws and beauty of Overtown introduced the neighborhood to the world of art and vice versa.

"I come alive at night," he told a Miami Herald reporter in an interview last year. "That's when I do most of my painting."

His work was included in all of the major private collections in Miami and was exhibited at major art museums across the country. Several of his works are part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

"Purvis was one of the great geniuses of American art, a remarkable figure," said Jacquelyn Serwer, chief curator of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, which breaks ground in 2012. "He wasn't particularly nurtured, yet was driven to do this work. He was just one of those people who was born with this extraordinary vision and stayed true to it, producing work that had a kind of mythical quality to it."
Images of Purvis Young and his work:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Images from Eyjafjallajökull

April 18, 2010. This is the fifth consecutive day of eruptions of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull [pronunciation], spewing ash into the atmosphere and shutting down air traffic over much of northern Europe. The image above represents the situation this morning. Below are images from days four, three and one. Obviously the volcano, after being dormant for 200 years under its glacier, is now experiencing a very public moment of midlife crisis.

The following maps illustrate the volcano belt in Iceland

the exact location of Eyjafjallajökull on Google Maps (interactive).

and a closeup of the crater.

Here is Eyjafjallajökull at a gentler, more bucolic moment.

As the days pass and the volcano extends its activity, thousands of flights have been canceled, and many political and cultural events have been scratched, rescheduled or otherwise affected, including sporting events, concerts and the departure of Air Force One with President Obama to attend the funeral of the Polish president. The upcoming ART Cologne fair is still planning to open this Tuesday, April 20, and Art Brussels later in the week, but both are closely watching the progress of the volcano.

Previously, one of the major Icelandic additions to the art world came from Olafur Eliasson, whose otherworldly photographs of icebergs and glaciers were among the ecological and environmental concerns typically addressed in his work.

Now we can add these photos of Eyjafjallajökull to the category of recognizable Icelandic exports to the image bank.

Here is an overhead shot from April 16, which includes the crater of Eyjafjallajökull looking like the nightmarish face from Edvard Munch's famous expressionistic painting The Scream.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Uneasy Rigor: Dennis Hopper, curated by Julian Schnabel, at Jeffrey Deitch's MOCA/LA

April 16, 2010. News that the first exhibition planned by Jeffrey Deitch as the new director of MOCA/LA will be a survey of work by Dennis Hopper, curated by Julian Schnabel, must be greeted with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, Hopper is undeniably a prodigious, mythic presence on the American scene, mostly due to his extended Hollywood career as actor and director. He helped define the counterculture in Rebel Without a Cause and Easy Rider, and raised the stakes with fierce performances in Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet. He is also an early and important member of the West Coast art demimonde, friendly with many of LA's more radical practitioners, including Wallace Berman, Ed Ruscha and Billy Al Bengston. He started buying art in the late 1950s and owns one of the Warhol soup can paintings from the historic exhibition at Ferus Gallery, among a varied and extensive collection that includes Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat as well as Schnabel.

Hopper was himself a photographer, shooting portraits of fellow showbiz personalities and of the unique LA cityscape, as well as dabbling in paintings over the years that reveal various timely influences, from Ab Ex to Pop Art to graffiti.

Not to be ghoulish, but Hopper is seriously ill with prostate cancer and steadily weakening. His remaining time is short, and an homage would need be mounted quickly if he is able to contribute to its organization, let alone be there to attend the opening. So if Deitch is doing the right and righteous thing by honoring a favorite son and LA bad boy, then alacrity is all important. Unlike most museum exhibitions which require years of preparation, this one is scheduled for July 11, 2010.

On the other hand, this is exactly the sort of P.T. Barnum extravaganza, dripping with cronyism, star fucking and insider dealing, that Deitch's main detractors feared he would bring to MOCA. It feels like an extension of the titillating, fame obsessed, outré projects that often dominated his NY galleries. And the selection of Schnabel as curator, regardless of his personal connection to Hopper, reeks of the Koons/Joannou debacle at the New Museum. Schnabel has directed Hopper in his films. Hopper owns Schnabel paintings. They are "dear friends".

It is the height of nepotism. It makes one wonder about the need for actual, dedicated curators at museums, when they can be so easily replaced with wealthy, well known, well connected, ego-tripping artists, by institutions looking for big buzz and commensurate box office dollars.

Hopper's photographs are noteworthy, but in general his production as an artist is overshadowed both by his activities as a collector and more particularly by his iconic presence in Hollywood. He is certainly a true believer, a man who understands the vital importance of art and also the all-consuming, extravagant nature of artistic obsession. Undoubtedly these aspects of the man will be showcased in the upcoming MOCA show. But to be brutally honest, Hopper's art making, by itself, would not attract a second glance were he not also a movie star with a long career, a unique reputation, and many influential friends in the creative industries of film and art.

While no one wants to be disrespectful to the life and legacy of Hopper, it would be hard to imagine another situation - without time being of the essence - where this sort of exhibition would be tolerated, especially as the first effort by a controversial, incoming director of a major arts institution that was itself nearly bankrupt. The planned show favors glitz and spectacle over the interests of the community of hard working LA artists, and elevates the art of the deal, personal connections, fame and notoriety above aesthetic concerns. As a further indication of Deitch's unfortunate tendency to big name, big marquee ballyhoo, he has apparently contacted starchitect Frank Gehry about designing the exhibition.

From the CultureMonster blog of the LA Times:

Jeffrey Deitch has scheduled his first exhibition as the incoming director of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Reached by phone last night after a flight from New York to Los Angeles, he confirmed that it will be a survey of works by actor and artist Dennis Hopper, curated by larger-than-life painter and director Julian Schnabel.

“Dennis is a very inspiring figure for me,” said the art dealer turned museum director. “The American art world often likes to put artists into boxes. You’re an artist, not a filmmaker. You’re a photographer, not a painter. But Dennis shows you can blur those boundaries, which is very current and exciting.”

Although most big museum exhibitions take years to organize, Deitch had the idea for this show just a couple of months ago when visiting Schnabel, a longtime friend of Hopper, who, at 73, has advanced prostate cancer.

“We’re rushing this exhibition because Dennis is ailing,” Deitch says, “and I wanted him to be able to participate in the selection of works. He saw the space with us last week.”

“Art Is Life,” as the exhibition is called, promises to be one of MOCA’s flashier shows, given its art-meets-Hollywood connections.
A 2007 video shows Hopper walking through and commenting on his collection. "I think that probably I collect things I wish I'd made."