Silicon Valley’s favorite mantra goes “Fail often, fail fast.” It captures the tech industry’s long history of dismantled startups, lost jobs, demoralization, and bankruptcy. One casualty was General Magic, an offshoot of Apple that strove to develop the next level in personal computing: a handheld computer. At the time they considered the project an advanced PDA, but today we’d recognize it as a smartphone. Before the iPhone, General Magic created the operating system for the Sony Magic Link in 1994. Sandy Kerruish and Matt Maude’s new documentary General Magic details the colossal failure that ensued.
Many things we take for granted about our phones today — immediate access to email and the internet, built-in work and productivity tools, games, emoji, apps designed in a grid-like system — were General Magic’s prototype software ideas. All in the early 1990s. What went wrong? As the company found out, if the technological infrastructure isn’t quite there yet to support your concept, then most people won’t invest $800 in a clunky box that only works a fraction of the time. When the team rush-released the Magic Link and sold a paltry 3,000 units, their investors pulled out, sinking the ship.
General Magic employed some of the most innovative figures in Silicon Valley — some of whom, like Andy Hertzfeld and Bill Atkinson, helped create the Apple Macintosh. Footage of the team’s collective enthusiasm, creativity, and technical prowess in the office is fascinating (as are some of their sartorial choices). It’s bittersweet to witness the contrast between their youthful vigor, as they manically brainstorm ideas and share delight in their inventions, and their older, wiser present-day selves contemplating their results. Many General Magic employees went on to bigger and better things. Megan Smith became a VP for Google, then the third CTO of the US under President Obama. Kevin Lynch helped invent the Apple Watch. Tony Fadell helped design the iPod. Despite its focus on a notable disaster, General Magic seems to affirm the idea of “Fail often, fail fast,” portraying the death of the Magic Link as a necessary step to get to where we are today. But the film doesn’t address some of the more difficult questions arising from this philosophy.
While the documentary is about the specific emotional journey of General Magic and the psychological impact of defeat, there’s a fair bit to unpack when we think more broadly about tech culture’s attitude toward failure. Who cleans up the mess? Who gets to fail and bounce back? How does privilege play a role? Do we only care about these stories if the people involved later triumph? Are we such suckers for the Hero’s Journey? Against this backdrop, the luminaries who do succeed dramatically change our lives, which could be seen to vindicate tech’s mythology of itself. After all, we feel the impact of those successes with every stroke of the keyboard, every block of a troll.
An issue about failure that the film doesn’t address, and which the tech industry rarely touches on, is the transmogrifying havoc technology is wreaking on the social order and human nature. The Magic Link’s slogan — “It Clears Your Desk, It Clears Your Mind” — perfectly encapsulates the irony of hindsight. The smartphone has cluttered our minds, not cleared them. Consider the evidence: the link between social-media-induced FOMO and depression, jacked-up cortisol levels from constant access to work emails, and digital addiction, among other phenomena. While there’s no need for a moral panic, our over-reliance on smartphones has made us oblivious to their negative effects. How many people in 1984, with the launch of the Macintosh, or 1994, when the Magic Link came out, or 2007, the year of the iPhone, could have predicted that a social networking website could heavily influence an election for the worse?
The lessons Silicon Valley learned in the ‘80s and ‘90s thanks to failures like General Magic helped create our digital revolution. Now that the future is here, it remains to be seen how “Fail often, fail fast” applies in realms outside of capitalism, whether it can help answer the thornier, messier questions about technology’s impact on society, politics, and the climate going forward.
General Magic is in theaters now.
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How does cannabis affect the flavor of a dish?
Like wine grapes, cannabis comes in countless strains with various flavors including, for example, citrus, berry, mint and pine. These flavours are created by aromatic oils called terpenes, which are secreted in the same glands that produce cannabis compounds including Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). Terpenes form part of the flavour profile of a cannabis-infused dish so it’s important to select ones that complement the other ingredients.
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Record-Breaking $110.7 M. Monet Painting Leads Sothebys Imp-Mod Sale to Robust $349.9 M. Finish ARTnews
Powered by a stunning Claude Monet landscape that doubled its estimate and elicited hearty applause in the grand salesroom, Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale in New York on Tuesday galloped to a market-affirming $349.9 million tally.
Only five of the 55 lots offered failed to sell, yielding a svelte buy-in rate by lot of 9.1 percent.
The buoyant result surged past pre-sale expectations of $252.6 million to $333.2 million. Those estimates do not include the buyer’s premium. (The hammer tally for the evening, before fees, was $300.5 million.)
The total also shot past last May’s $318.3 million result for the 32 lots that sold. The top lot at that sale was Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu couché (sur le côté gauche), 1917, which fetched $157.2 million, making it the most expensive work ever to sell at Sotheby’s.
Tuesday’s auction ranks as the highest-earning Impression-modern evening sale at Sotheby’s since one in May 2015 that took in $368 million.
Forty of the 50 works that sold tonight made over one million dollars. Of those lots, five exceeded $10 million, and three went over $20 million. Two artist records were set.
One such record-setting work was Claude Monet’s shimmering landscape Meules (Haystacks), 1890. The sales’s cover lot, Meules is dominated by an abstracted view of cone-shaped grain stacks beautifully illuminated by a setting sun. It fetched a record-breaking $110.7 million, selling to an unidentified blond-haired woman seated toward the rear of the salesroom. (The work bore an unpublished estimate in excess of $55 million.)
At least eight bidders chased the Impressionist prize in a drawn-out bidding duel that lasted eight minutes. It represents the highest price ever paid for an Impressionist work of art, and it ranks as the ninth-most expensive work of art to sell at auction. One of 25 works from an acclaimed and art-historically significant 1890–91 series, the Monet last sold at Christie’s New York back in May 1986 for $2.53 million.
Art historian R. R. Brettell once wrote of the “Meules” series, “Never again in Monet’s career was a single object to play so crucial a role in adorning a world in flux.” The painting sold on Tuesday was first owned by storied Chicago collectors and philanthropists Potter and Berthe Palmer, who bought the picture in Paris at Durand-Ruel gallery in 1892.
Fourteen works were backed by so-called “irrevocable bids” from third parties outside Sotheby’s, assuring those paintings will sell and, with it, a finance fee for the risk-taking providers. Sotheby’s took on one house guarantee, a form of insurance for wary sellers.
All lots reported include the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium for each lot sold, calculated at 25 percent of the hammer price up to and including $400,000, 20 percent of any amount above that, up to and including $4 million and 13.9 percent for anything beyond that figure.
The evening got off to a solid start with Jean Arp’s curvy and gold-toned 32-inch-high bronze Figure-germe dite “L’Apres-midinette” (Figure-Germ Called “The Little Afternoon”), from a 1964 cast from an edition of six, which sold for $800,000. (Its estimate had been placed at $400,000–$600,000.) Meanwhile, a jaunty and colorful Fernand Léger composition, Peinture murale polychrome (Polychrome Mural Painting) from 1949, sold to the telephone for $596,000 (on an estimate of $600,000–$900,000.)
A larger Léger, Le Campeur, 1er état (The Camper, First State) from 1954, this one replete with multiple figures and inspired by Édouard Manet’s masterpiece Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, went to another telephone bidder for $8.24 million (on a $6 million–$8 million estimate). The Léger work last sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 2005 for $7.63 million.
Of the eight Pablo Picasso offerings, the first on the block, a somber large-scale Nazi Occupation–era interior with a rich exhibition history, Nature morte à la chaise et aux glaïeuls (Still Life with Chair and Gladioli), 1943, sold to international dealer David Nahmad for $4.58 million, well within its estimate of $4 million–$6 million. Given that the painting last sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 1981 for a $210,000 hammer, it was freshly available when it hit the block tonight.
The first tranche of irrevocable bid–backed works from an anonymous private collection—sold to benefit, in part, science and music nonprofits—hit a high note with Paul Signac’s dazzling harbor view Antibes, Soir (Antibes, Night), 1903. That work sold to the telephone for $7.67 million (on a $4 million–$6 million), while Pierre Bonnard’s appetizing interior view Nature morte à la levrette (Still Life with Greyhound), from ca. 1923, made $2.15 million, placing it within its $2 million–$3 million estimate.
The Signac last sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 1985 for $253,000, and the Bonnard made $827,500 at Christie’s New York in May 1999.
If the Bonnard stands as proof, the market clearly desires well-traveled works with impeccable provenances. The canvas was last seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2009 exhibition “Pierre Bonnard: The Late Still Lifes and Interiors.”
But the standout entry from this anonymous grouping—and, for that matter, the entire evening—was the Monet Meules painting. All told, the eight Impressionist-era pieces from the collection tallied $129.5 million.
A second Monet, also from 1890 and (coincidentally) also once owned by the Potter Palmers, Prairie, ciel nuageux (Prairie, Cloudy), sold to a telephone bidder for $5.96 million (the estimate was $6 million–$8 million). The work features a panoramic plein-air view of the artist’s beloved Giverny countryside.
Yet another landscape painting by the Impressionist master, La Prairie fleurie from 1885, sold to the buyer of the record grain stack for $4.93 million.
Several works on offer from another private collection (the Levy Family) also elicited multiple bids. Gustave Caillebotte’s buzzy 19th-century Paris street scene, La Rue Halevy, vue du sixième étage (Rue Halevy, View from the Sixth Floor), 1878, shot past expectations and sold to the same buyer of the record Monet for $13.9 million, well above its $6 million–$8 million estimate. Paul Gauguin’s 1887 painting Chemin sous les palmiers (Path Under the Palm Trees), set on the Caribbean island of Martinique, sold to a telephone bidder for $8.24 million (on a $6 million–$8 million estimate).
A second Gauguin offering, Femme caraibe (Caribbean Woman) from 1889, featuring a dark-hued nude female figure set against a trio of giant sunflowers, was consigned from the storied Bakwin Collection, and most recently featured in the Art Institute of Chicago’s 2017–18 “Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist” exhibition. The work brought in $4.22 million on a $4 million–$6 million estimate.
Another Bakwin entry, Chaim Soutine’s La Femme en rouge (The Woman in Red) from 1923–24, showing a figure with a floppy, wide-brimmed blue hat, attracted a trio of bidders and sold for $11 million (on a $6 million–$8 million estimate) to Swiss art adviser Thomas Seydoux.
Back in Picasso country, the regal Femme au chien (Woman with Dog), 1962, sold via the telephone to Wynn Fine Art LLC for a whopping $54.9 million (est. $25-30 million). David Nahmad was the underbidder. The work presents the artist’s wife, Jacqueline Roque, seated in a high-backed armchair and petting Picasso’s Afghan hound Kaboul, who really is the star of this picture.
A later Picasso entry, the exuberantly coiffed Mousquetaire à la pipe, painted in 1968 and scaled at 57 1/8 by 38 inches, sold to another telephone for $20.8 million (est. $20 million–$30 million). The painting last sold at Christie’s New York in November 2008 for $3.7 million.
Neither of the high-value Picasso offerings came to market with financial guarantees, providing a clearer picture of their true worth.
On the sculpture front, Alberto Giacometti’s bronze cast of his brother, Diego (Buste au grand nez) (Diego [Bust with Big Nose]), from edition of six and cast in 1959–60, sold for $4,820,000 (est. $3.5 million–$4.5 million), and Joan Miró’s 86-inch-high, boldly painted bronze Personnage—“conceived” in 1967, according to Sotheby’s—sold to Connecticut dealers David Yudain and Lily Downing for $5.96 million (est. $5 million–$7 million).
The Impressionist and Modern sales category is increasingly pressed to find more material for a hungry market, so a number of artist interlopers who might not normally have appeared in an auction of this sort made appearances on Tuesday. Rufino Tamayo’s watermelon-themed still life Sandias (1980) fetched $4.93 million (est. $4 million–$6 million).
An even stranger addition to the sale was William Bouguereau’s truly gigantic 20-foot-long scene La Jeunesse de Bacchus (The Youth of Bacchus), 1884, which was bought in at $18 million (est. $25 million–$35 million), meaning that it failed to sell. The work, which features a grouping of nude figures dancing in a forest glen as hoofed satyrs play the flute, was originally predicted by some to be one of the evening’s top lots. It was first exhibited in 1884 in Paris at the “Salon des artistes français.”
Despite a poor performance at auction, the painting looked rather spectacular during pre-sale viewing at Sotheby’s newly reconfigured and redesigned ground-floor galleries.
“The depth of bidding wasn’t as deep as Christie’s on Monday evening,” said Guy Jennings, managing director of the London-based Fine Art Group, “but there’s still a lot of money in this market.”
The auction action continues on Wednesday evening with a Christie’s postwar and contemporary sale, with Jeff Koons’ iconic Rabbit sculpture from the S.I. Newhouse Collection threatening to bring in as much as $70 million.
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Metropolitan Museum of Art Stops Accepting Donations from Sackler Family Tied to Opioid Crisis ARTnews
In another sign of arts institutions around the world reckoning with potentially problematic sources of funding, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has said it will no longer take money from the Sackler family tied to American’s opioid crisis.
The Met is the latest institution to cut connections with the Sacklers. The National Portrait Gallery and Tate, both in London, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York made similar announcements earlier this year. In 2018, a report by the Art Newspaper revealed that the South London Gallery had quietly returned a Sackler donation. In March, the Sackler Foundation, an arts organization that had distributed family funds to institutions across the United Kingdom, said it would “pause” donations.
Members of the Sackler family own Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company that produces the painkiller OxyContin. Currently the company and Sackler family members are embroiled in several lawsuits related to alleged withholding of information about OxyContin’s addictive properties. Both Purdue Pharma and the family have repeatedly denied the allegations against them.
Daniel H. Weiss, the Met’s president and CEO, said in a statement, “Every object and much of the building itself came from individuals driven by a love for art and the spirit of philanthropy. For this reason, it is our responsibility to ensure that the public is aware of the diligence that we take to generate philanthropic support. Our donors deserve this, and the public should expect it.”
In a statement given to the New York Times, the Sackler family said, “While the allegations against our family are false and unfair, we understand that accepting gifts at this time would put the Met in a difficult position.”
The Met has been the site of two notable protests related to anti-Sackler activism. Last March, Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (P.A.I.N.), a group led by artist Nan Goldin, staged a protest in the Met’s Sackler Wing. The group threw pill bottles into reflecting pools surrounding the Temple of Dendur, a reconstructed version of ancient Egyptian structure that serves as one of the Met’s most iconic sites, and staged a die-in.
In February, P.A.I.N. returned to the Met, where, after distributing leaflets and staging a die-in in the Guggenheim’s rotunda, they protested on the museum’s steps. The group has also held protests at the Harvard Art Museums and the Smithsonian Institute’s Freer Sackler Gallery.
According to a press release issued by the Met, the museum had been reviewing its guidelines for accepting gifts since January. The museum’s board has now established a new process for reviewing the acceptance of gifts by which donors’ dealings are taken into account.
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At Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern evening sale in New York last night, Claude Monet’s Meules (Haystacks), 1890, sold for a record-breaking $110.7 million. The auction concluded with a $349.9 million tally. [ARTnews]
Banksy seems to have made his own, unofficial contribution to the Venice Biennale in the form of a mural depicting a child wearing a lifejacket. The work may be responding to Christoph Büchel’s presentation of a ship that sank in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015, killing over 800 migrants. [The Art Newspaper]
See a slide show of work by some of the 33 finalists for the Hadley’s Art Prize for Australian landscape art, which comes with $100,000. [The Guardian]
“Weighty terms like ‘identity,’ ‘history,’ ‘gender,’ and ‘race’ are often trotted out to discuss Simpson’s work—and often they have the effect of distancing us from the formal mysteries and atmospheric eeriness of the work,” writes Doreen St. Félix in her piece on Lorna Simpson’s career and her latest exhibition at Hauser & Wirth in New York, titled “Darkening.” [The New Yorker]
The Economist weighs in on “Anish Kapoor’s menstrual art and the vexed question of appropriation.” [The Economist]
Lauren McCarthy’s video work in a new show at the Barbican in London presents “an investigation into what it means to be human in the digital era.” [The Guardian]
The Pérez Art Museum Miami has acquired works by 11 artists—including Maria Berrio, Abbas Kiarostami, Barthélémy Toguo, and Cecilia Vicuña. [ARTnews]
In an article detailing the shortcomings of Belgium’s newly renovated Royal Museum of Central Africa, Cole Louison writes, “There’s basically nothing in the museum that honestly confronts what went on in Central Africa.” [The Outline]
An ode to French composer and pianist Cécile Chaminade, who had a significant following in the U.S. at the turn of the century. [Vulture]
Former Smiths frontman Morrissey wore a pin touting the far-right For Britain political party during a musical performance on TV. [Pitchfork]
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LOS ANGELES — Across every metropolitan area, there are numerous electrical substations that keep power pulsing through the city. They’re home to steel behemoths that generate high-voltage electrical currents, which speed through the grid of cables and transmission towers until they eventually power the lights in our home. Substations are dangerous; a wrong step could electrocute someone in an instant. But amazingly, if you look carefully, you’ll see that electricity does not deter the life of flora and fauna. Poking through the gravel, there may be a fragile dandelion shedding its seeds in the wind.
On its surface, there is nothing linking a fleet of transformers to a delicate weed, but the anonymous art collective simply known as the Art Department — known for constructing a teahouse in Griffith Park, dropping jacaranda petals in alleyways, and nurturing bioluminescent algae — has found a way to show a kinship between these two subjects.
Last weekend, the Art Department welcomed visitors to a decommissioned building situated on the grounds of the Laguna Bell Substation in Commerce, which it had transformed into “a secret wish-processing facility.” Dandelions, we were told, was ultimately where the white, puffed seeds ended up after being blown by a dreamer — and it turns out that wishes don’t always come true. The seeds were analyzed in a logical, quantitative matter by busy bureaucrats juggling the millions of wishes that floated into their premises.
Visitors who wanted to make their wishes in person were handed a ticket and instructed to climb a flight of rusted stairs that led to a dilapidated administrative building. Inside, a grassy, dandelion-lined corridor pointed wishers to their first station: a cramped office where a brusk employee asked the visitor to describe their wish without spilling the specific details (the Department of Small Things That Float on the Wind, which oversees the wish-processing facility, firmly believes that sharing a secret wish automatically disqualifies it from coming true). The bureaucrat asked more general questions. Could the wish be categorized as altruistic or selfish? Did it pertain to romance or your career?
Then the wishers were ushered to the next station, where they took a more thorough survey on the WISH_TEK2000, an old, ’90s-era computer running on DOS. At the end of the survey — which asked you to rate your general luck on a scale of one to 100 — the computer spat out the likelihood of the wish being granted; for me, it was a long shot.
With the analysis wrapped, it was finally time to receive a dandelion and make the wish. A horticulturist gently snipped a dandelion growing in a vial and pointed to a pneumatic tube system where the seeds would be evaluated and eventually dumped into the seed sorting department, the archived collection of hundreds of thousands of dandelion seeds.
The whimsical journey, which was unique, beautiful, and expertly produced, may feel like it lacked depth conceptually, but was genuinely engaging. Even though it was visually impressive, it didn’t dissolve into Instagrammable gimmicks. Pulling visitors into the immersive script discouraged them from breaking the fourth wall by pulling out their phone, and the surveys put pressure on visitors to think more seriously about what they may wish for if they actually had the chance for it to come true.
But just as important to the performance was the Art Department’s choice of location, which presented an unlikely metaphor. By imagining the infrastructure of wish making, it also unearthed the role of substations. Like the ubiquity of dandelions, substations can be found in all corners of urban life, even our own backyards, but their pervasiveness rarely register in our conscious. While stepping through Dandelions, catching sights of the generators, transmission towers, and power lines that loom over the building through the windows, it felt as if the infrastructure needed to electrify homes for millions of people were also essential for granting the millions of dandelion wishes made every summer.
I began to wonder how much energy is spent on something often taken for granted. The heaps of seeds stored in the facility represented a staggering amount of labor; a representative of the Art Department told me it took over a year to collect enough dandelions for the two-day installation. The installation and the substation stored an astonishing amount of seeds and electricity, but were mostly unnoticed. Just a few people would stop and take the time to explore these places that, through granting wishes and generating power, keep Los Angeles humming.
Dandelions, hosted by the Art Department, took place at the Laguna Bell Substation (6319-6337 Garfield Ave, Commerce) on May 11–12.
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Thomas Nozkowski, whose quiet abstract paintings, drawings, and prints evoke notions of landscapes and cosmic forms, has died at 75. Pace Gallery, which represents the artist, confirmed the news.
In a statement, Arne and Marc Glimcher, the chairman and the president and CEO of Pace, respectively, said in a statement, “Tom was a great, innovative painter and a wonderful friend. He leaves a space that cannot easily be filled; but what an incredible gift he has been to all of us. He added brilliance to every life he touched, and his work changed the way we all see the world.”
Nozkowski’s paintings were often based on natural scenes that he observed, but rarely did they reveal their source material. (He never titled his works beyond a number given to each one.) As a result, describing his vision could be a challenge. In Artforum in 2000, Barry Schwabsky wrote, “Art is often said to put language to the test, and rarely is that quite as true as in the case of Nozkowski’s paintings.”
With their Matisse-like color schemes and Miro-esque organic forms, Nozkowski’s works recalled places or things their creator had glimpsed in the world. He described his paintings as memory devices. “By associating a color, a sign, or a shape to a memory, the more we own and can hold onto it,” Nozkowski told ARTnews in 2016.
Nozkowski began painting during the 1960s, when Conceptualism was in vogue and his medium of choice was considered unfashionable. In the years shortly after he began creating mature works, colleagues in New York responded to the stylistic shift by experimenting with painterly process--Jack Whitten, for example, began pulling acrylic across canvases using a squeegee, and Lynda Benglis contended with the three-dimensional qualities of paint by pouring it to make sculpture. Nozkowski’s innovation was to dramatically size down the non-figurative compositions associated with the Abstract Expressionists and to work on a small scale, rendering his abstractions down-to-earth and un-precious. The washes that acted as backgrounds for his compositions were often left uneven, so that droplets of paint appeared to have formed on his canvases.
One of Nozkowski’s preferred formats was a 16-by-20-inch prepared canvas, on which he painted blobby circles and grid-like patterns, sometimes on top of thin washes. Had they been painted at large scale, the starburst- and platelet-like forms might have more visual drama—but Nozkowski was content to resign himself to placidity and understatement, so that viewers could find energy within them on their own.
He often described the decision to do so as a reaction to work by Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and the like, who produced monumental canvases that were weighty in every sense of the term. “For political reasons, I found the kind of large scale, macho-man abstractions of early SoHo beneath contempt,” he told Artspace in 2015, decrying certain artists’ tendency to decide in advance how their canvases might look.
Because of their modesty—and in spite of having been featured in more than 75 solo exhibitions—Nozkowski did not receive widespread recognition for much of his lifetime. Among his biggest shows was a 1987 survey at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., with 24 paintings on view. (That show went on to travel to the Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art in Wichita, Kansas.) Nozkowski also appeared in the main exhibition of the Rob Storr–curated 2007 Venice Biennale.
In time, certain critics and fellow painters became outspoken proponents of Nozkowski. Last year, John Yau, who published a book about the artist in 2017, wrote in Hyperallergic that Nozkowski was “still to be recognized for being equally courageous and cutting-edge.” Yau cited the younger Chris Martin and James Siena as two of Nozkowski’s fans.
Nozkowski was born in 1944 in Teaneck, New Jersey. In interviews, he described coming from a working-class background and not realizing he wanted to be an artist until one of his school teachers—a former Abstraction Expressionist “of no real art-historical import”—influenced him to move to New York after high school. He attended Cooper Union because it was free, and when he graduated, he started out as a sculptor, exhibiting some of his earliest works in group shows at the storied Betty Parsons Gallery. Not long afterward, he transitioned to painting.
For more than four decades, Nozkowski painted almost every day, often in his studio in upstate New York. Speaking to ARTnews in 2016, he described continuing to come upon new discoveries in the studio. “For me, there’s always something new to find, something new to do,” he said. “I certainly hope that lasts forever. It feels like it will.”
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After a whirlwind week of opening events, the Venice Biennale has announced the winners of its prizes, the Golden Lions and Silver Lion.
The Golden Lion for best national participation at the 58th Biennale went to Lithuania, which presented Sun & Sea (Marina), an opera about climate change by Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė, and Lina Lapelytė that is set on a manmade beach in a building on the outskirts of the Arsenale. It was selected from among about 90 national pavilions.
A special mention in the national-participation category was given to Belgium, which presented animatronic figures by Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys.
The Golden Lion for best artist in the central exhibition, “May You Live in Interesting Times,” went to Arthur Jafa, whose contributions included the video The White Album (2018).
And the Silver Lion, which honors a “promising young artist,” went to Haris Epaminonda.
Special mentions were also given to Teresa Margolles and Otobong Nkanga for their work in “May You Live in Interesting Times.” In remarks at the press conference, Margolles dedicated her award to women who have died in Mexico as a result of violence linked to the drug trade and “to girls and women who are risking their lives today.”
[Read a review of the Biennale and other exhibitions in Venice.]
The jury for the awards was made up of an international cast of museum directors and curators: Defne Ayas, Cristiana Collu, Sunjung Kim, Hamza Walker, and Stephanie Rosenthal, who served as its president.
The Biennale runs through November 29; the next edition is scheduled for 2021.
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In Italy at the moment, Martin Puryear is representing the United States at the Venice Biennale, where his national pavilion has been one of the most well-received presentations at the exhibition. With Puryear’s U.S. Pavilion, now on view, we took a look back through our archives and pulled excerpts from reviews published by ARTnews that survey the artist’s career. The excerpts below chart Puryear’s rise from being a “sculptor’s sculptor,” as Steven Henry Madoff put it in 1986, to an international phenomenon known for his unique ability to synthesize Minimalism, modernism, and non-Western styles. —Alex Greenberger
“Washington, D.C.: Draftsmanship and woodmanship”
Wood simply cannot be overlooked, as steel sometimes can, or bronze, or even stone. This in part explains its unpopularity with modernists in the mainstream; wood simply has to be crafted. Two interesting recent exhibitions dealt, among other things, with precisely this condition of the material. One was the solo show of Martin Puryear’s recent work [at the Corcoran Gallery of Art]. Puryear, working in a recognizably post-formalist vocabulary, makes wood itself a central focus of this artistic activity, especially its associations with hard, necessary physical labor. In itself this is not assurance of quality; the least successful pieces in this show, Oldenburgian exaggerations, were as hard to make as the others. The best pieces, consisting of six elements attached to the wall (they could, alternatively, be displayed as discrete units), were extremely linear and beautiful to look at, and they called forth reactions on multiple levels (functionless, they looked farm-functional; hard to do, they looked “easy” from afar; “unnatural” in being partially constructed and in all ways worked upon, they looked almost like found objects, and so on). On all levels, however, the reactions had to do with their physical existence as wood objects.
“Washington, D.C.: Aunt Evelyn’s letters”
Martin Puryear’s vast talent is less of a secret in New York than it is here, given his recent inclusion in major exhibitions at both the Guggenheim and the Whitney museums. His latest show at the Protetch-McIntosh Gallery, however, would seem to indicate that his light no longer flickers under a barrel here. It was a sellout.
Puryear is a master at conjuring a feeling, a mood, with very minimal means. This show was devoted entirely to large wall-hung circles or loops of various sorts, all made from a variety of exotic woods which were bent, carved, constructed or coaxed into large hoops, each exuding its own distinctive mood. Some are smooth, slinky and sensuous, others are slick and modern. Still other examples are ruggedly carved, polychromed and seemingly of primitive origin. Even in such a small show, it is clear that Puryear is a visual poet of the highest order.
“During Minimalism, I felt like a holdover from the craft tradition,” says Martin Puryear, a sculptor who has lived and worked in Chicago since the late ’70s. Puryear, 45, is considered a sculptor’s sculptor by his colleagues; and his work is collected by major museums. His distinctive art has its roots in traditional woodworking, which Puryear studied during a mid-’60s tour with the Peace Corps in West Africa. Further study took him to Stockholm’s Royal Academy of Art, where he became interested in Scandinavian craft. Then he went on to Yale for an M.F.A. in sculpture.
“When I first saw Donald Judd’s work, it cleared the air for me to do whatever I wanted. And I wanted purity and simplicity. But I couldn’t be as distant as Judd—the working process was essential to me. After Minimalism, there wasn’t much to continue with. You can only rarefy something so much before you have nothing left. And I’m really committed to objects,” Puryear says, emphasizing the word and pausing for the kicker, “not to dogma.” . . . Yet his work keeps an ironic edge. He is orbiting Minimalism, but he combines his reductive, abstract shapes with a rippled, definitely unmachined surface.
“Reviews: Martin Puryear at Art Institute of Chicago”
This 40-piece traveling retrospective (now on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.) shut the book on sculptor Martin Puryear’s 12-year stay in Chicago, a time during which the artist achieved international acclaim. . . . Despite their large size, Puryear’s sculptures often allude to very private meditations. In the past he has constructed collapsible wood dwellings reminiscent of the yurt, the hut of the nomadic Mongols, as poetic metaphors for inner retreat. While none of these particularly powerful pieces was included in the show, unfortunately, such works as Sanctum and Bower share a similar feeling of fragile physical and psychological refuge. The former, although it offers an enclosed space of shelter, rests uneasily on the ground. The latter, with its open lattice framework, is disconcertingly ambiguous in its distinction between inside and outside. In these works the center become’s the artist’s focus. Yet ironically, for this truly eloquent sculptor, that center is almost always empty or hollow.
“Brunhilde Stripped Bare”
Puryear’s works are rooted in the modernist canon—with a twist. His biomorphic abstractions are influenced by such sculptors as Brancusi and Arp, but they also go directly to modernist sources, to tribal and non-Western art. While more minimal than otherwise, his sculpture is not merely formal but double-dipped, mantled in symbolism and an array of postmodern readings. Brunhilde’s airy lattice of cedar and rattan—which also resembles a woven basket, a blown-up string bag, a vessel—is wholly open and wholly revealed. The inside is as visible as the outside, as if space had only been interrupted, lightly wrapped, and shaped—a reversal of the traditional notion of sculptures as mass, as solid, weighty form.
Puryear has said that he is interested in describing form without hiding interior space. He pointed out that he wanted to create a work that “strained at the skin” and had “internal expansion as though it were inflated, filled with something, like a filled bag, or an airship—like things that are inflated and are pushed from within.” The theme of insubstantiality—of imaginable forces—is repeated in the shifting pattern of shadows on the floor and surrounding walls that reimage the latticed construct as an ephemeral web, a delicate drawing that ebbs and flows with the light. The negative of the shadow paired with the positive of the structure is part of the rhetoric of opposition that makes up Puryear’s work, a kind of visual thesis and antithesis.
“Reviews: Martin Puryear at Museum of Modern Art, New York”
With this retrospective, organized by John Elderfield, MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, we finally have a chance to make sense of the artist’s oeuvre, which began in the Post-Minimalist 1960s. It’s possible to connect Puryear’s work to Eva Hesse and the so-called Eccentric Abstractionists, as well as to Process Art and the early ’70s instinct of rejecting the strictness of the Minimalists and emphasizing the handmade, the crated, and the organic. . . .
The galleries are full of such finely considered works as Puryear’s imperfect rings (each addressing a formal conundrum) and the improbable extensions and elongated necks of other pieces, suggesting African wildlife and tribal sculpture. These allusions to Africa combine with references to European modernism (Brancusi, Arp, Le Corbusier) and with materials, such as rawhide, cow hair, knotty pine, wire mesh, and tar, imbued with social implications. Puryear has said that he tries “to make coherence out of things that are contradictory.” But, for him, “coherence is not the same as resolution.”
When we finally encounter C.F.A.O. (2006–7), perched on a wheelbarrow (it was Alexander Calder’s), with its reference to the colonial trading company Compagnie Française de l’Afrique Occidentale and its inside-out impression of a Fang mask (borrowed from a 1935 Walker Evans photograph), we know we have plumbed the depths of Puryear’s various and complex allusions.
“Face to Face: Martin Puryear at Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.”
With nearly 100 works on paper including drawings, woodcuts, etchings, and preparatory sketches, this exhibition takes a bit of the mystery out of Martin Puryear’s gifts as a sculptor while, at the same time, it reveals his range and skill as a draughtsman. Titled “Multiple Dimensions,” the show gives us a great sense of the centrifugal force driving Puryear’s long career. Charcoals and woodcuts of children and animals he made as a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-1960s in Sierra Leone, with their distilled forms, point the way to the sleek, meticulously crafted wood sculptures he made decades later (and which were the subject of a fine 2008 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art).
Puryear’s sculptures did not emerge fully realized, as this important exhibition, organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, suggests. They were accompanied by years of experimentation on paper that yielded works of quiet power and grace in their own right. Many are deceptively simple. An untitled charcoal drawing of a seated infant girl from 1964–66, all smudges and shadow, draws startling emotional complexity out of a simple composition. Preparatory drawings for the sculpture Sanctuary (1982) show Puryear experimenting with subtle variations in the arrangement of the wooden stalk-like forms that hang sensually like legs from a wooden box.
Although focusing on paper, the show includes 14 mostly recent sculptures, many referring to race and the legacy of enslavement. Watching his ideas move from two dimensions to three, the viewer can see an innocent proposition mutate into a sinister vision. Shackled (2014), for example, is a jet-black, iron sphinx with a shackle piercing its head, a grim evocation of bondage. A series of earlier drawings and a wooden maquette appear as little abstract heavens—all flowing, curvaceous forms and orifices, and without the shackle.
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The Japanese-born, New York-based artist Naoto Nakagawa has been thinking about human thinking for a long time, both deliberately, through focused reading and research, and spontaneously, often in reaction to the unpredictable news of the day.
Nakagawa, who grew up in Takarazuka, a town near the port cities of Osaka and Kobe in south-central Japan, first came to New York as a young man in 1962 to study and pursue a career as an artist. He stayed in the United States and made the city his home. Just a few years ago, as he explained during a series of interviews conducted at his downtown Manhattan studio, he created his Earth Series, a group of about 15, mostly large-format, acrylic-on-canvas pictures. Their subject matter, which he depicted in his signature, realist style — stars, planets, and galactic cascades of flowers or swarms of monarch butterflies — collectively called attention to the vastness of space and time, and to the presence of the Earth, its inhabitants, and the larger galaxy of which they are a part within a greater, unfathomable universe.
Subsequently, since 2017, Nakagawa has been developing a new group of thematically related paintings that, as he tells it, emerged unexpectedly out of his work on the earlier one. Now, in this Mona Lisa Earth Series, the painter puts its central, mysteriously grinning, easily recognizable subject through a ringer of styles and technical treatments, as well as symbolic uses, in complex images whose ambitious artistic and intellectual reach echoes that of his earlier pictures. Each of these new acrylic-on-canvas paintings is exactly the size of Leonard da Vinci’s original Mona Lisa, which is on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris — 30 inches high by 21 inches wide.
However, if Nakagawa’s Earth Series aimed to capture a sense of the ineffable — to prompt viewers’ awareness of the nature of consciousness itself — his newer Mona Lisa paintings, rather than reach for the sublime, more often rummage through the cupboards and drawers of the messy, human mundane.
Over the past several months, Nakagawa generously allowed this visitor into his studio to observe his creative process and watch as some of the complex compositions in the Mona Lisa Earth Series evolved and found their form. Referring both to their broader thematic concerns and to the approach he now takes as a mature, experienced painter, he said, “They’re about life, philosophy, and what we are searching for — and about finding that for which we are searching.”
The character of the art he is making nowadays, he noted, as well as the attitude he brings to creating it, “is not about optimism or about tragedy; it’s just about being alive.” He said, “It’s about being, and I think that’s where my state of mind is right now. I see things so much more clearly, and that’s important to me.” For Nakagawa, “seeing” means comprehending what he perceives in and about the world — those things to which he bears witness.
He recalled, “With the Earth Series, I began focusing on the theme of human endeavor, of our human history — where we came from, where we’re going. I was interested in the origins of the universe and of humanity, and in the health of the Earth. After all, in the past, in a related way, a lot of my work had depicted nature.” He added, “I painted satellites and the Hubble Space Telescope, because they represent the kinds of tools we use today to search for information and truth” — at a time, he noted, when the very notion of truth is disputed.
Nakagawa’s Earth Series quotes such well-known images from Western art history as Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” (completed circa 1511-12), Titian’s “The Rape of Europa” (1562), and even Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” (1912) to evoke a sense of humanity’s perseverance in the face of timeless natural forces. With his Mona Lisa Earth Series, he also notably refers to Western art history — but his collage-like compositions also bring together a myriad of different sources, from ancient Egyptian pyramids and atomic-bomb mushroom clouds to Madonna performing in her cone bra. References to the 11th-century Chinese ink-wash painter Guo Xi and to James Montgomery Flagg’s iconic “I Want You” U.S. Army recruitment poster also appear in these new works. Nakagawa has indicated that he would like to produce a total of 100 paintings in the still-unfolding Mona Lisa Earth Series.
Among the canvases he has completed so far, “Gun and Silence” (2018) features Mona Lisa surrounded by clouds, with a big pistol aiming at her chest and an adaptation of a well-known news photo of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, walking in arms-to-shoulders, single-file formation following the mass shooting that took place there last year. In “Hello, A.I.” (2017), robots flank a Mona Lisa whose skin has taken on the look of lush vegetation, while the mechanical creatures’ eyes, set at the same height as hers, suggest, Nakagawa hinted, an equivalence between them and their human makers.
“Touching Deep Space” (2018), with its melting Salvador Dalí clock, shows Leonardo’s enigmatic sitter emerging like a celestial apparition among the stars and planets, with a painted QR Code that links to the website of the Hubble Space Telescope. The mountainous landscape in the background of “Double Your Pleasure” (2018) comes from a Guo Xi painting; the artist has also included a dinosaur (a tyrannosaurus) and three playful young people, painted twice, who give the picture its title, which comes from the old advertising tag line for Wrigley’s Doublemint chewing gum.
If the wide range of subjects that appear in the Mona Lisa pictures seems like just another postmodernist pastiche, Nakagawa would argue that, together, they represent the totality of the history of the human mind and spirit — and the prospects for its next chapters to come.
“As soon as I made the first paintings featuring Mona Lisa, I knew that I had found a powerful thematic tool,” he recalled. “I felt that I could speak through her, and that she could become a symbol of who we are as humans.”
Nakagawa refers to his mode of painting as “conceptual realism.” Each of his new works is, of course, an essay in what a contemporary painting can be — in what it can address and what it can say, and in how it may convey its messages. Nakagawa cites his close friend, the late, Japanese-born conceptual artist On Kawara (1932-2014), who became well known for his paintings of single dates rendered in white lettering against black backgrounds and for sending postcards to his friends reminding them, in simple phrases, of his existence.
“Just as Kawara’s works amounted to a record of his daily encounter with existence, for me, my Mona Lisa series has become my own personal kind of journal,” Nakagawa observed.
Examining his sketches for works in progress, whose imagery had been plucked from recent headlines (and literally depicted some newspapers’ front pages), and also included a burning sun, an aardvark, and the justices of the US Supreme Court, he seemed to savor his effort to pack as much into his new paintings as each one can hold. “Maybe I have something to say right now about this world, this universe, this big jumble of ideas, history and information,” he said modestly, both questioning and affirming his current enterprise.
But will 100 canvases be enough to accommodate the symbolic-aesthetic workout through which he is putting his ever-smiling subject and muse?
Nakagawa put down his pencil, counted the Mona Lisa canvases he had produced so far, and replied, “Well, maybe I’ll have to make as many as 1000!”
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