Faith Ringgold, The waking and resurrection of the two-hundred-year-old Negro, 1975-89.
Photo: Ron Amstutz, courtesy Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland.
The paradigm of the art world of the 21st century is paradoxical. On the one hand, there is the large, interconnected network of artists, collectors, curators, critics (hello!), Advisors, galleries and fairs that make up the art world as a fulfillment center, with assets that can be sent anywhere, anytime . Huge amounts of money are pumped into this aesthetic matrix of people who came stronger through the financial collapse of 2008 and the pandemic with even more accumulated wealth. But instead of buying only modernist masters or post-war stars, many of these people buy art as a way to signal ethical correction and self-improvement, a way to benefit those whose lives have been hell under the system that generated their wealth.
Art and money have always slept together. Maybe the art world has just become more kinki over it. It’s no surprise that an actual Murdoch – James, son of Rupert – is now a major stakeholder in the company that hosts Art Basel, a trade show that publishes an equity-minded publication under his shindigs. It’s like Laurie Anderson’s text: “This is the hand, the hand that takes … For when love is gone, there is always justice / And when justice is gone, there is always power.”
Either way, the dice are rolled. No matter how shady, disturbing and affected it is, something flourishes in the paradox. Without sacrificing the great art of the past, we can finally begin to see more than 50 percent of history. In our own backyard, the rewriting of art history could not begin in a better place than with a full-on study of Faith Ringgold, including her gigantic, hand-painted narrative quilts and installations. Further up in the city, Met puts a toe in brave water by presenting the work of the west coast’s sculptural giant Charles Ray – while at the dull end of the spectrum we will see a solo show by the most expensive living artist. With good, bad and very bad shows within our reach, anyone who says art is just awake and mediocre by 2022 will seem from another era.
Charles Ray, Sarah Williams, 2021.
Photo: Charles Ray, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery
Charles Ray appeared in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s and is among America’s leading sculptors. IN Ink line (1987), Ray gives us a carbon black line that looks like a string going from floor to ceiling. Take a closer look and you will quickly discover that this solid shape is in fact a stream of black ink flowing out of a small hole in the ceiling to an equally small hole in the floor. (A recirculation pump embedded in the wall carries the ink back to the top – a postmodern fountain.) Spinning Spot, made the same year, resembles a circular pencil line drawn on the floor. Again, space seems to falter; you notice that a disc rotates so fast that it appears to stand still. And Ray just kept getting better, with huge sculptures of a twisted car wreck and a fire truck, hyper-realistic self-portraits and almost classic stainless steel sculptures. All of this culminated in 2015 with his controversial Huck and Jim, who portrayed Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, who bends over to look at something, while Jim – who in the book is a fleeing slave trying to get on his way to the river – stands over him and looks into the distance. Both figures are naked. The Whitney Museum rejected this commissioned work for fear it would offend. Finally, in this retrospective of Ray’s work on the Met, everyone will have a chance to come to terms with it. The body’s questions struggle for attention with societal issues.
Faith Ringgold, Woman on a Bridge # 1 of 5: Tar Beach, 1988.
Photo: © Faith Ringgold / ARS, NY and DACS, London, on loan from ACA Galleries, New York 2021
When MoMA opened the new installation of its acclaimed modern art collection in October 2019, many waves of change paid homage to the museum’s mating of its basic masterpiece, Picasso’s The ladies of Avignon (1907), with Faith Ringgold’s American People Series # 20: Die (1967). Young ladies was the picturesque shot heard around the world. In Ringgold’s lively painting in mural, we see murder in the streets: Black and white figures carrying weapons and knives. Some run in horror. Children crawl underfoot. It summed up America in that time of civil rights. It still sums it up, unfortunately. Now the New Museum – one of the best in the world to give great but underrated artists their right – puts a retrospective of this 91-year-old master innovator. While Ringgold is an excellent painter, what she calls her “story quilts” stand as a towering testimony to the power of an artist who uses the necessary medium to smash the walls of the cannon. Here, the sledgehammer happens to be made of fabric and paint. Meet the long-worn half-siblings of modernism, craftsmanship.
Beeple, EMOJI, 2021.
Photo: Lent by artist and Jack Hanley Gallery
Get ready to rumble with this gallery show from Mike Winkelmann, also known as Beeple. This is the famous NFT star who in March 2021 out of nowhere sold his digital crypto work Weekdays: The first 5000 days for $ 69,346,250 – a record-breaking price for a living artist. The rest is history: the envy, quarrels, and oceans of NFT artists and entrepreneurs rushing in. The gatekeepers of the art world not only saw this coming, they are not even sure if Beeple is an artist. Or, if he is an artist, whether he is a bad one. Or, god forbid, a good one. It’s not uncommon for a glimpse of the money bucket to appear in a gallery – but Beeple will show up with one of the coolest galleries, Jack Hanley in Tribeca.
Hanley’s bona fides are impeccable after being an early champion of San Francisco street performers and other avant-garde. He has always been an almost outlaw. (About 15 years ago at a Christmas party, he gave me a cork size of hash. When my wife and I were driving home, we were stopped at a routine Christmas check by the police near Holland Tunnel. When the officer smelled the weeds, he told me, that I should stop. I handed the hash to my wife, who threw it out the window before we parked, ten meters down the road – thus saving weekly art criticism for a year or so.) The Beeple show here on the spot. , at this point, could throw a key at the works of an art world that, for good and bad reasons, is suspicious of the NFT gold rush. Pop some corn and follow along.
Henri Matisse, The red studio, 1911.
Photo: © 2021 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
It is almost an aesthetic rite of passage to be swept off the feet The red studio. Matisse painted this epoch-defining masterpiece from 1911, when he was 42 and in the thick of a supercharged no two with his rival, 30-year-old Picasso. It gives new meaning to each view. First, there is the miracle that it is almost red – not a crimson or a ruby, but a smoldering, border-to-border, ecclesiastical costume red. Then there is the vision that Matisse paints his own paintings in his own studio and makes them all live again in this sacred space where they were created and where reality begins for the artist. (Or ends.) The space in the painting is so flat that it can be read both as a simple, almost childish rendering and as one of the most advanced visual operating systems ever devised. Only MoMA, the caretaker of this monad, could reunite it with six of the real paintings that Matisse depicted in it. This mirror room opens before your grateful eyes.
Senga Nengudi performs Air Propo at JAM, 1981.
Photo: Courtesy Senga Nengudi and Lévy Gorvy.
The Just Above Midtown Gallery – or JAM as it was always called – opened in 1974. Originally located on West 57th Street, it had to relocate due to rising rents, and finally closed in 1986. During this short period, the gallery’s visionary owner / director / everything Linda Goode Bryant, who founded the space at the age of 23 (!), featured artists who were unknown at the time, but who are now almost canonical, including David Hammons, Howardena Pindell, Lorraine O’Grady and Senga Nengudi. JAM was a huge exception to the almost all-white, all-male gallery model that mostly featured color artists. The artists that Bryant worked with continued to twist the form of painting and sculpture in ways that changed the flow of art – proving that quality is quality, without having to qualify as an advocacy company. Take a look at this long-delayed MoMA retrospective.