About me: I earned my MA in the History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London and am currently working towards a PhD in Art History at the University of Washington later this year. My experience in the art world has included positions at museums, art magazines, non-profits, and artist foundations. If you own the rights to any of these images and would like to request their removal, please contact me. Please send me an e-mail at

Maira Kalman

It’s springtime. Flowers are blooming, birds are singing, and even the Brooklyn-Queens expressway seems to hum with refreshed energy. Indoors, away from the sunshine and reverie, Maira Kalman’s work brings springtime to bookshelves and computer screens, even in the dead of winter.

An established force in design and illustration, Maira Kalman so perfectly evokes the joy and humor that best suits the season. I’ve been looking back at her work with a much deeper consideration in recent weeks, finding that when someone’s work often greets you on the cover of the New Yorker, its easy to forget its artistic merit. Kalman’s work in design, photography, and nearly performative illustration all seems effortless. Her brilliant use of color and type is overshadowed by her spirit and whimsy. Her illustrations evoke the rainbow-hued vistas of Hockney’s Hollywood Hills and recent Yorkshire landscapes, and her portraits evoke Alice Neel at her brightest and most telling. 

Kalman was born in Tel Aviv and raised in Riverdale, New York. She taught herself art and illustration, forming an idiosyncratic style free of rules or limitations. Her lack of training perhaps also led to her freedom to move between media: her illustrated version of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style is just as popular as the umbrellas and watches she designed with her husband, Tibor Kalman, for the MoMA. Her New Yorker covers are bright, intelligent, and inviting, and her series of columns for the New York Times (The Principles of Uncertainty and The Pursuit of Happiness) have invited praise from all over the world. There are fabric designs, clothes for Isaac Mizrahi, opera set pieces…Kalman approaches every medium with color, intelligence, and humor.

Like Saul Steinberg, Kalman treads the fine line between art and illustration, her sense of humor only serving to complicate matters further. Some would argue that hers is not high art and would not warrant display in museums. Others would say that her painterly images, her intelligent use of photography and text, and her general aptitude for expression would put her on the same pedestal as the greatest American artists. 

Perhaps Kalman’s path to canonization as an artist will follow that of Alexander Calder. Calder was first associated with humorous newspaper columns, too, only to be viewed now as a major figure in the development of modern American art. Kalman would also qualify for such a rise in the ranks, and I look forward to betting on her odds.

Chatroulette as Art

Will Chatroulette have an impact on our culture? Since its creation three months ago by a 17-year old boy in Moscow, the simple video chat program has become a source of fascination for millions. The program is basic and spare: upon logging onto the Chatroulette website, a visitor is greeted by two boxes, one labeled “Stranger,” the other labeled “You.” By clicking the “New Game” button, you are immediately connected via webcam to a random stranger anywhere in the world. Though some predict the technology is well on its way to becoming a mere graveyard for pornographic behavior, I would like to believe that perhaps it may play a part in the growing collaborative spirit of contemporary artists.

When viewed in light of Nicolas Bourriaud’s “altermodernism,” Chatroulette displays the potential for new kinds of art making and global creative communication. Clearly visible is “the new modernity that (is) based on translation: What matters today is to translate the cultural values of cultural groups and to connect them to the world network.” (Bourriaud) Though I firmly hold belief in Chatroulette’s potential, I haven’t seen it lead to any new work so far— that is, until I saw the composite images of French photographer Pierre- Arnaud Gillet.

His series “Next” explores the interiors of the random strangers who briefly let him into their homes via the internet. He writes:"Next" is my latest project, based on the amazing world of Chatroulette. Chatroulette is a very diverse world where the worst alongside the best. A microcosm of our society through the small window of our webcams, there are all due to its random mode. Unlike the practices of social networks today, you never know who or what you’re gonna fall. We manage all our image. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Skype, our virtual image is everywhere, and multiple and we try to control it better.Because these people “gave” their self image to strangers at the other end of the world, I wondered how they would react to a goal when they are already at a goal. One of their own webcam. Camera at the screen, I press “Next”, click, I take a picture. Fingers, threats and smiles. Some hide in shame, others enjoy the game and play, laugh in his lungs had been caught in the trap. By comparing these responses, creating meetings by associations of images, I create a link between partners who have not met. I tell new stories, probable or improbable. Visually, the frame of each camera, its texture, the choice of framing the “partner” brings an incredible set of images of our world in 2010. Sex, fame, love, talent. Tout est sur Chatroulette. Everything is on Chatroulette.Via Muuuz. Read more about Pierre-Arnaud Gillet at his website.

Bonham’s European Sale

Last night I visited the preview of the Bonhams European Paintings sale with a group of Courtauld alumnae/i. Occupying the former space of the Dahesh Museum of Art in the IBM Building, the new Bonhams space is ideally suited for the incredible collection of works currently on display.

The sale, which takes place April 21st, is full of surprising, strange, and beautiful pictures. Standout works include a stunning drawing of a male nude from the school of Rubens, a female portrait from the circle of William Dobson, and a turn of the century sledding scene by the Scottish painter George Houston. 

But, between the hundreds of pictures hung in an academic style on the Bonhams walls, only one work made everyone skip a breath. The picture, titled “On the edge of the marsh,” was painted by William Page Atkinson Wells in 1917. I had never heard his name before, and the specialist did not elaborate on his biography. The painting is so modern, so quiet and curious, that I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

A woman, all alone, stands in a marsh. The sky is infinite around her, consuming all visible space between the reeds and beyond. The horizon line hovers near the bottom of the frame, sacrificing all unnecessary land for sky. Whereas in most contemporaneous pictures everything is pattern, character, story, decoration, and allegory, here it is quiet. She is not afraid and she is not alone. She is reflected in the surface of the water on the marsh, and her reflection is her only company. The way the sky and earth are so clearly and geometrically divided evokes the clear geometries and considerations of Mark Rothko, while the figure and her psychology remind the viewer of Andrew Wyeth. It’s Christina’s Worldfound in the Seagram’s murals. All this from a quiet picture, painted nearly a hundred years ago. 

The European Paintings sale takes place tomorrow, April 21st at 1:00 p.m. Bonhams is in the IBM Building at 580 Madison Avenue.

A Humanist Biennial

In recent years, the Whitney Biennial has come to be associated with shallow, grandiose, and grotesque gestures. Every other year, the Marcel Breuer-designed modernist building on Madison Avenue fills itself with works which beg the question, “But is it art?” Cynicism routinely holds court with barbarism, often provoking visitors to wonder if the curatorial staff are not having a laugh at the expense of the art world and its followers. Even Jerry Saltz of New York Magazine writes “By now it’s clear that there is no such thing as a “good biennial.”

Recent Biennials have given us such works as Urs Fischer’s violent holes in concrete walls; Gedi Sibony’s sculpture composed of industrial carpet, plastic bags, and plywood; and musician Momus skulking in the elevator with a bullhorn. These works, though sometimes provocative when framed by context, were more often alienating and inhumane. The Biennial has long been an experiment in marketing the brazenly new, without regard for the more humanist aspects of art-making.

The 2010 Whitney Biennial, simply titled “2010,” is a completely different beast. Where one would expect to find filth, perversion, and black humor, this year’s offering is quiet and dignified. In contrast to its often maniacal scale, this year’s showing is intimate and small, evoking a more thoughtful feeling about the selection and curation of works. With fifty-five artists, the exhibition is half its usual size.

Guest curator Francesco Bonami and Whitney curator Gary Carrion-Murayari designed a more humanist, figurative, and feminist Biennial than ever seen in recent years. Since the last Biennial, the global economy has collapsed, and in light of the recession, our lives have slowed down to include more cooking and growing and thinking. In the age of the contemporary depression and environmental crisis, we have all been forced to be more considerate of our resources, our humanity, and even our artistic output. Modern life has been shifted into a gear of thoughtfulness and intentionality. The attitude, subject, and process of past Whitney Biennial artists would be patently at odds with our current pace and thinking. At its smaller scale and slower pace, “2010” reflects how art and artists have been affected by the general crisis of supermodernity, environmentalism, and the failed economy.

Just off the second-floor elevators are two mural-sized photographs by James Casebere. Like the photographs of three-dimensional models by Thomas Demand (who he influenced), Casebere constructs large environmental scenes on tabletops, which he then dramatically photographs. But unlike Demand’s work, which shows grim places like cubicles, staircases, and airport security, Casebere’s images portray a sweet (and surreal) suburban neighborhood. Modeled on the utopic homes found in Dutchess County, the images are lit to echo dawn and dusk. The homes look idyllic, quiet, and peaceful—a stark contrast to the usual Biennial cacophony and chaos. The little houses, made of paper and cardboard, seem so fragile—like they are waiting to be destroyed. The total absence of people in the homes and on the streets would make someone in 2010 wonder if there had not been a natural disaster (earthquake, hurricane, Icelandic volcano) or a man-made disaster (foreclosure).

A much-discussed work in this year’s showing is “Detroit,” a short video by Ari Marcopoulos. Shot in the city while Marcopoulos was visiting friends, “Detroit” shows two young boys experimenting with amplifiers and pedals as they collaborate on making noise. The boys, aged 11 and 14, kneel and rattle in a yellow bedroom, tackling an immense board of foot pedals. Incredible screeching, buzzing, and beeping erupts in a nefarious style—until the boys look up and you see the rapturous looks of joy on their faces. Despite the aural assault, it’s hard to disdain the boys for their passion.

Personal and provocative photography also has its place in “2010.” Two photographers particularly demonstrate a mindful and sensitive approach to politics as seen through the lives of those directly affected by unrest. Stephanie Sinclair’s photographs of women in an Afghan burn hospital portray those who, without any other options, lit themselves on fire in response to the abuse they suffer at the hands of their husbands. The women bravely share the most intimate moments from an incredibly difficult and physically painful time in their lives. There is no shyness, no awkward relationship between the camera and the sight of singed flesh being cooled by damp linen cloths.

Nina Berman’s work also successfully brings a photojournalistic approach to the artistic context of the Biennial. Her series Marine Wedding, previously seen in the world news as a piece on soldiers coming home, is shown here as art. The photographs show the daily life and recovery of Ty Ziegel, a marine who was horribly disfigured in Iraq. He came home to his small town in Illinois following a year and a half in hospital, following his second tour of duty. Berman follows Ty as he gets stared at by children, manages daily tasks without the use of an arm, and gets his dressings changed by his mother. He also marries his high school sweetheart, Renee, who looks on with a profound degree of acceptance which makes her seem so much older than her eighteen years. Though one may expect such images to be executed in an exploitative manner, Berman’s photos are sensitive and matter-of-fact. Ty clearly accepts his new life, Berman accepts him, and the viewer has no choice but to appreciate such honesty on the part of the subject and the artist.

Other works which stand out are the delicate works on paper: Charles Ray’s flower paintings and Storm Tharp’s portraits in particular. Rays flowers are seldom shown, despite their fragility and intentional, bright bursts of color. Tharp, an emerging artist from Portland, Oregon, makes intelligent and ephemeral portraits, seemingly sculpted from a foundation of ink and water. His portraits are evenly figurative and abstract, and so fragile that the characters seem to be on the brink of breaking off the page.

Aurel Schmidt’s detailed drawings provoke breathless wonder, and Dawn Clements’ full panorama is an incredibly detailed execution of space in pen on paper. Other highlights include Robert Williams’ surreal comic watercolors, and the Bruce High Quality Foundation’s video installation “We Love America and America Loves Us.”

Of course, there are less lovely and breathless things in “2010”—it would be unrealistic to expect non-Biennial behavior from the Biennial, after all. But if we focus solely on the successes of the exhibition, the great leaps and bounds of beauty and goodness that for so long had been absent from the concrete building on Madison Avenue, then there is clearly a great deal here. People will always approach the Biennial with too-high expectations. This is only natural for an exhibition which aims to show the best of the now and the current highlights of contemporary work. But if we focus on this goodness—the perfect paper houses, the boys making music in their bedrooms, the giant painted flowers—well, it says something wonderfully good about America and its creativity. Despite our current circumstances, we are still able to invent joy, beauty, and honesty.

Talking About Otto Dix

I’m Lauren Palmor, writer of The Art Object, in conversation with Jordan Rothlein, NY DJ and music journalist. Coming from an art history background, I enjoy discussing artists and exhibitions with people in other fields. These conversations often bring up new ideas, parallel practices, and general questions which may not present themselves when art historians speak solely amongst themselves. I wanted to speak to Jordan about the Otto Dix retrospective currently on view here at the Neue Galerie in New York, both in terms of its installation and its musical undertones.

The Art Object: Jordan, what is your familiarity with Dix’s work?

Jordan Rothlein: Hey Lauren! Thanks so much for having me on The Art Object. My main internet gig is writing about electronic music, so this is an exciting change of pace. I honestly knew very little about Dix before walking into the Neue Galerie. One or two of his paintings looked familiar, and I’ve heard about him from you before, but his work was pretty much all new to me.

TAO: Before viewing the Dix retrospective, what types of images would you have imagined seeing if confronted by Weimar-era German painting?

JR: I came in with a pretty blank slate. My exposure to Weimar-era culture was more or less confined to avant garde movements like Dada, Expressionism, and Surrealism, mostly by way of a film course I took in college. I guess I knew something about the state of art in Weimar Germany, but I didn’t have a preconception about what would be represented. I could have guessed that the physical and psychological aftermath of trench warfare would be present, but I was actually a bit surprised at how Dix dealt with a lot of this by way of city life and the debauchery that entailed.

TAO: You bring up Dix’s images of trench warfare, represented in the Neue Galerie exhibition by his “War” series—fifty prints showing all subjects related to the inhumanity of World War I. I found that the exhibition design perfectly transitioned visitors to Dix’s haunting and vicious world. For the sake of readers who are not able to visit the exhibition, could you please speak to Frederico de Vera’s exhibition design and the feeling you had upon entering the show and viewing Dix’s war prints?

JR: The exhibition begins with the war prints, which have been placed in a small side gallery downstairs from the rest of Dix’s work. The museum installed a strange, asymmetrical, charcoal wall (with a small reproduction of Dix’s signature) in front of the gallery that effectively sucks you into the exhibit. This gallery feels markedly different from the rest of the museum. The lighting is noticeably darker than it is in the surrounding, which certainly adds to the mood of the “War” series (perhaps to the detriment of actually viewing the art). His paintings and drawings upstairs aren’t as acutely brutal as the drawings in this series. But seeing them first, aside from whatever chronological sense the ordering makes, really brings out the shadow this violence cast over Dix’s worldview on display in his later work.

TAO: One element of the exhibition which was not explained in the media or the show itself is its use of scent and sound. The room of war prints had the soft scent of wet earth and the quiet chirping of crickets, bringing elements of the outdoor trenches to the indoor galleries. Upstairs, one room featured cabaret music and the scent of Guerlain perfume. Was your experience in viewing Dix’s work influenced by these subtle touches?

JR: Unfortunately, I think some of these well-intentioned environmental effects were lost on me. Perhaps they were supposed to fly under the radar? I found Dix’s art visceral enough that I didn’t need too much prodding to get into the mood. I caught the music upstairs but missed the smell. And the crickets downstairs might have been drowned out by the tail-end of a docent tour.

TAO: I’d especially like to hear if you could recall any specific prints in the 1924 suite of “Der Krieg” (“The War”) etchings. Throughout the cycle of fifty prints, many of the images are exceptionally graphic, violent, or depraved. The images were sourced from Dix’s personal experience as a machine gunner in the trenches of WWI. Was the artist’s personal relationship to his subject palatable in this series? How does it read as an introduction to both the exhibition as well as his later works?

JR: There are images in the series that Dix obviously wanted seared into his viewers’ minds — lumps of messy entrails, soldiers with half of their faces blown off, one particularly macabre sketch of a rotting skull with a tuft of hair still attached. But two subtler prints really stuck with me. One was of a group of soldiers wearing gas masks, and the other depicted a line of soldiers crawling through the trenches carrying something — pails? extra helmets? — in their mouths. Both prints showed more or less able-bodied humans ceasing to act and appear like humans. In the latter print, especially, Dix gives the soldiers an animalistic quality: their expressions resemble those of ravenous dogs. These were obviously deeply personal works. Dix’s emotions about the war and its dehumanizing effects seem almost unmitigated by careful thought. I get the distinct sense he didn’t want there to be a remove between the experience and its representation. I really felt the artist as the more jagged his lines would become, like it was a sign of him editorializing. I saw a lot of that in his more refined work from after the war.

TAO: As a DJ and musician, and coming from a musical background, do you see sounds in Dix’s work? Do you find any elements of his style to be particularly musical?

JR: Some of his paintings, like one of a topless pregnant woman with her head turned away from the viewer, are eerily, disturbingly quiet. But there’s a quality to much of Dix’s work that reminds me of distortion, as if he fed too much signal onto the canvas and “blew out” his perspective, so to speak. His use of painted texture reminded me of how a guitarist or maybe a noise artist might use aural texture. I’m thinking specifically about his depictions of prostitutes here: their flesh feels almost overdriven. Dix doesn’t always make pretty art, but it’s visceral and arresting. I’ve described a lot of my favorite records the same way.

TAO: Lastly, as a DJ, could you recommend a few tracks which might complement a viewing of Otto Dix’s work?

JR: The record that immediately springs to mind is the newest 12” by Oni Ayhun, an experimental and quasi-anonymous techno artist rumored to be the Knife’s Olof Dreijer. The untitled A-side denies itself every conceivable melodic touch, opting instead for bouncing, unidentifiable percussion and jarring, bomb-like bursts of noise. There’s a lot of feeling on this record, but not much warmth/fuzziness. This one pairs best with “Der Krieg.”

TAO: Thank you, Jordan! I’ll try and get a copy of that Oni Ayhun before going to see the Dix exhibition again (as it definitely warrants a second visit).

JR: Of course, Lauren. Let’s do this again soon.

Jordan Rothlein is a staff writer for His DJ work is compiled at

Otto Dix at the Neue Galerie

In the wake of World War I, Germany was a playground of excess, viciousness, and sin. The war wounded mixed with prostitutes, and cabaret girls were household names. Red lips kissed scarred faces, and the music played loud and carelessly. Anything worthwhile happened at night, and artists were on hand to document any seediness, desperation, and violence which showed its face.

Otto Dix (1891-1969) was one of the greatest painters of the twentieth-century, and one of the premier documentarians of Germany’s Weimar period (1918-1933). Along with George Grosz, Dix left behind the greatest visual sourcebook for the depths of humanity struggling to find its identity between the wars.

Though many of Dix’s works are iconic, and held in collections around the world, the artist has never before benefited from a retrospective in North America—until now. “Otto Dix” at the Neue Galerie in New York is the first large solo show of Dix’s work, making his inventive and aggressive prints, drawings, and paintings seem entirely fresh.

The exhibition opens in a small, dark room. Exhibition designer Frederico de Vera designed the space, as well as its scents and sounds: the room has the perfume of wet earth, and crickets softly chirp. Though the scents and sounds can be lost in a crowd, they subtly bring the viewers into the trenches of WWI- where Dix was himself a machine gunner and found inspiration in industrial warfare. The whole room is dedicated to a suite of fifty etchings from 1924 titled “Der Krieg (“The War”). In these prints, Dix graphically describes the brutality and primitiveness of life on the front lines. Faces have been decimated, bones and flesh collide with violent anxiety. Grimness pervades and, viewed as a whole, the series only points to the depravity and grotesque images to come.

In addition to the room of prints, the exhibition showcases many portraits—perhaps the work Dix is best known for. As a founding member of the Neue Sachlichkeit, or so-called New Objectivity with George Grosz, Dix was fascinated with man’s weaknesses and the anxieties of a country about to be stomped by fascism. His characters, both the virtuous and the despicable, are all seen as grotesque through Dix’s Weimar lens. Their skin is pallid, their eyes narrowed or yellowed, with cadaverous faces and hands. In Dix’s work, all of Germany resembles a cast of walking ghosts or human monsters.

Even innocent children can’t escape the artistic vitriol of Dix’s brush. In “Two Children,” a boy and a girl stand in the street. They look at the viewer through the distorted and innocent faces most associated with the portraits of Alice Neel, combined with the studious and typological approach of August Sander.

Dix even subjects himself to a similarly difficult treatment, sometimes exaggerating his seriousness and resolve in his self-portraits. His classic Aryan features, his squinting eyes, high cheekbones, and slicked-back “American” hairstyle seem like only a different version of the grotesqueness he applies to all his subjects, equalizing him with the prostitutes, sailors, war-wounded, and unemployed men he was most often drawn towards.

Unfortunately, most of Dix’s most recognizable works are markedly absent: there’s the pronounced space where his portrait of Sylvia von Harden ought to be. Perhaps this is due to the Neue Galerie’s status as a smaller institution, a fact which most likely complicates securing major international loans. So although this may be the first major retrospective of Dix’s work in North America, I’m not prepared to accept it as the last.

“Otto Dix” continues through Aug. 30 at the Neue Galerie, 1048 Fifth Avenue, at 86th Street; (212) 628-6200,

Za Zelazna Brama

Had the modernist visions of Robert Moses and Le Corbusier been fully realized, the urban residential environment might be drastically different today. Instead, many past utopian visions for post-modern apartment life have not fulfilled their initial vision. The incredible cages of towering blocks found in most large cities have led to violence, crime, and acts of aggression in their inhabitants. Mid-century Socialist housing experiments are generally regarded today as dismal failures.

Za Zelazna Brama is one of the largest Socialist housing experiments built in the center of Warsaw, Poland. Constructed between 1965 and 1972, Za Zelazna Brama was based on intensely rational and geometric principles. The entire housing project consists of nineteen apartment blocks, each towering sixteen floors above cramped outdoor plazas, all intended to house about 25,000 people. The blocks contain countless sub-standard apartments, with space originally intended to be allotted on a basis of eleven square meters per person. A husband and wife would be given a modest 22 square meters, while a family with three children would have some more space with a workable 55 square meters. 

The complex was once considered a potent symbol of Polish progress and the greatness of Socialist successes, but today Za Zelzana Brama has a different meaning. The blocks now look grey and tired, they even seem isolated, despite being located in the geographical center of the city. Filmmaker Heidrun Holzfeind has made a beautiful and simple film documenting daily life in these blocks as they stand today. Her documentary feature “Behind the Iron Gate” recently premiered at the MoMA in New York. The film contrasts conversations with the tenants with images of their particular individual responses to their modernist apartments and limited space. Given the same limitations of space, how do different people maintain individualized lifestyles or homes?

Za Żelazną Bramą was built on the ruins of “the Small Ghetto,” an area which used to be a center of Jewish life before WWII. The first cycle of inhabitants came from diverse backgrounds: they were famous radio hosts, writers, doctors, laborers. All tenants lived in similarly-styled apartments on identical blocks. The housing estate was at first considered a success—a declarative symbol of Poland’s Socialist identity and as a beacon of technological innovation. But today, the cramped apartments with their windowless kitchens are viewed as substandard, unpleasant, dull, or even dehumanizing. 

Holzfeind’s film is kind and patient. She takes great care in interviewing a representative cross-section of tenants: there is a yuppie couple who spent a great deal of money renovating their apartment to update it for the 2000s; there are the Vietnamese girls who are wary of their racist neighbors; there’s the elderly retired couple who fill their small apartment with antique arms and armor in “the Polish style.” Of today’s 25,000 inhabitants, many are new to Poland: there are Vietnamese schoolgirls, Israeli émigrés, and other Westerners who have been buying up apartments as an investment, making the project a kind of Warsaw Manhattan. 

Holzfeind easily portrays how these cramped, outdated living conditions have different meanings for everyone who lives on the estate. The tenants and shopkeepers talk about the buildings in terms of functionality. The old man who sits at the security desk talks about the attitudes of people who go in and out. The woman selling candy at the kiosk in the lobby reminisces about the television star who used to live in the building. Some occupants talk about racism and the “problem” of the growing Vietnamese and Jewish population in the estate, others complain about noise, filth, the lack of green space. Holzfeind’s conversations are honest, paired well with gritty, unglamorous footage of daily life in the Za Żelazną Bramą blocks. “Behind the Iron Gate” is a particularly smart and respectful documentary, one which showcases the inherent struggle between man and urbanism.

Size Does Matter

Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Harold Koda, Okwui Enwezor, and Shaquille O’Neal. Finally, we can breath a collective sigh of relief and add the 7’1” Cleveland Cavalier to the list of the world’s great curators. Joking aside, it is true that Shaq has successfully curated his first exhibition of contemporary art— a move which seems only natural for a man who has been named Rookie of the Year, released four rap albums, acted in films, earned his MBA, and works in real estate development for fun. It almost seems as if he had done everything else apart from curating an exhibition in a gallery space.

"Size DOES Matter" is the aptly-named show, which opened at the FLAG Art Foundation in Chelsea in February. After being approached by FLAG founder Glenn Fuhrman and director Stephanie Roach, Shaq selected 66 works out of 200 which were shown to him over dinner after a Cavaliers game. The resulting show is centered on the idea of scale in contemporary art, a relevant topic for a someone who wears a men’s size 23 shoe. 

In an interview with Linda Yablonsky in New York Magazine, Shaq reveals his art background. He says, "I used to go (to museums) a lot with my kids. Donald Trump is a great friend, and he has four or five Picassos on his plane. And that’s where I would look at them. One time, I was at a museum and tried touching a Picasso. You break it, you buy it, they said. I was told it would cost $2 million. (I’ve never tried painting) but I’ve met a lot of artists who wanted to paint me. LeRoy Neiman was one. He did it from a photograph. He made 20,000 copies, and we sold them all. Now I’m working with the greatest artist in the world, Peter Max."

It’s hard to tell, then, exactly how much “curating” Shaq did for the show— especially reading that he chose the works from a selection which was presented to him over dinner. In a way, the FLAG Art Foundation did the true curation: they chose the works, they chose Shaq. The curious people who attended the opening, like my friends and I, were expecting a much greater gesture of the basketball star’s creativity. The vision of the show, however, was filtered through that of the greater organization. 

Many of the artists in “Size DOES Matter” are international stars with big names: Chuck Close, Jeff Koons, Ron Mueck, Maurizio Cattelan. Real blue chip boys and girls. The redeeming quality of the show was its diversity. It is thrilling to walk through Robert Therrien’s oversized dining room set in No Title (Table and Six Chairs) and then stop by Maurizio Cattelan’s untitled miniature elevators. Ron Mueck’s monstrous Big Man is installed downstairs from Delia Brown’s tiny Eyes No. 3 and No. 4, two pairs of tiny kitten eyes painted on 1” x 3” blocks. 

The works in the show are generally humorous or inventive, though the general, arching theme is weak. Scale and its manipulation is not a strong enough link between the works to form a cohesive exhibition, and FLAG relies too heavily on the starlit name of Shaquille O’Neal. “Size DOES Matter” makes for a fun night out, if little more. 

Size DOES Matter is on view at the FLAG Art Foundation through May 27, 2010.

Pablo Bronstein

Pablo Bronstein manipulates history’s elasticity and human forgetfulness in his imaginiative and architectural works. The London-based artist addresses the history and potential futures of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in his current solo show “Pablo Bronstein at the Met,” his first in New York. Composed of large ink drawings, small etchings, and precise hypothetical architectural renderings, Bronstein fabricates the history of the physical museum buildings in a concise exhibition.

Bronstein examines art history from the perspective of an educated joker, presupposing ideas of new chronologies and reinventing the history of the largest museum in the Western hemisphere. His abilities as a precise draftsman include a number of varied styles, and this show alludes to everything from Versailles to Michael Graves. Baroque, Postmodernism, and Pre-Columbian pastiche all fits together in an imagined development of the gallery spaces. Slipping into the role of architect and engineer, Bronstein dissects the veneer of the Metropolitan’s architecture. In response, museum visitors may spend the rest of their time in the hallowed halls guessing at each room’s degree of authenticity.

In questioning the validity of the museum’s architectural history, Bronstein undermines the power and funds which were required to build this urban temple to world patrimony. What would it mean if his imagined scenarios were true? If perhaps the Temple of Dendur was brought to the museum by a stampede of ancient Egyptian horses, through a primitive Central Park as imagined by the artist?

In the pen and ink drawing “First and Second Installation of Precolumbian Objects at the Metropolitan Museum” (all works 2009), Bronstein shows two arrangements of small sculptures strangely placed in French-style Rococo galleries, ancient gods mounted on flowery cherub sconces. He disregards practicality and scale, prefering instead to deliver a tounge in cheek gesture at the institution.

The standout works, however, are Bronstein’s Six Affordable Neo-Georgian Futures for the Metropolitan Museum. Laid on flat tables under glass, the six computer renderings show potential future plans for a very different Metropolitan. In one plan, the entire museum save for the north and south wings has been destroyed to make way for a park. In another, the basement has been given over to retail space resembling a strip mall. The juxtaposition between myth and reality showcases the tension of such an enormous place as the museum, a place so big that it could easily all be a figment of the artist’s imagination.

Lord’s Media Centre

Most of Future System’s designs look not unlike the pod cities of the Archigram group. Many of their programs look as though at any minute, they may sprout legs and walk away, perhaps even as far away as the next urban landscape.

In 1999, the Future Systems-designed Media Centre at Lord’s Cricket Grounds was unveiled. It soon won the Stirling Prize, as well as the adoration of British cricket fans everywhere. Before winning the commission, Jan Kaplicky, the founder of Future Systems, had often experienced frustration and seldom found his designs come to physical fruition. In the years preceding the construction of the Media Centre, only a handful of his George Jetson designs had been built. But, the Media Centre ushered in a rush of accolades for Kaplicky, rising him to the ranks of international architect celebrity. Perhaps soon enough, halls will ring with the sing-song sound of “Ando, Hadid, Meier…Kaplicky.”

The Media Centre, built to accommodate 250 journalists, was Future System’s first public commission and the firm’s most important project to date. The pod-like, orbital design stands above the east side of the pitch at Lord’s. The design called for the use of a single-shell aluminum structure which was prefabricated off-site at a shipyard in twenty-six parts.

The Stirling Prize judges described the Media Centre as “a breath of architectural fresh air. It is its own thing, completely unusual and completely uncompromising…It’s a complete one-off: a wacky solution to a singular problem. It may not be the future, but it certainly works.”
Some would disagree and argue that the Media Centre is indeed the future—certainly the future of cricket’s image if not the future of sporting grounds architecture itself. Many cricket fans see the space-pod Media Centre as the defining image of the headquarters of English cricket. It appears on pub TV screens whenever fans gather to watch major matches, and it is an identifier of the heart of a national game, the ultimate symbol of the ultimate English field for the most dearly English sport.

As one cricket fan writes, “(Lord’s) is a juxtaposition of Victorian and modern architecture- as so many of our towns and cities are- and yet it is so resolutely beautiful. It is eccentrically designed and laid out - the ground slopes from one side to the other and the Media Centre is raised so that the MCC members can still see the plane trees from the pavilion. Either despite or because of its foibles, it has a magic and an aura that is impossible to replicate. There is no finer place to spend time with friends on a warm summer’s day watching the best players play the best game ever invented.”

Markus Schinwald

Austrian artist Markus Schinwald works with various ideas of prosthetics. In his first solo exhibition at Yvon Lambert, Schinwald built an installation of beams and pillars which serve not only as an artwork itself, but as an armature for other pieces in the exhibition as well. The beams, floating and crossing the white box space, act almost as a prosthetic, assisting the space in a visible external way.

The architectural crutch of Schinwald’s beams is paired with a series of paintings which line the walls. The paintings, all portraits he found secondhand and painted over, have been outfitted with ghastly and unidentifiable prosthetics. The painted faces smiling out of dime store frames wear bandages and mechanical parts. Schinwald’s additions to the found portraits are seamless, and the works beg the viewer to question which elements were placed there by the artist’s hand. Schinwald prompts his viewers to question these works: we ask who these people are, if they were truly ailing, and how they came to find themselves hanging on the walls of Yvon Lambert.

In addition to the paintings, there are wooden sculptures floating freely in the galley. The sculptures resemble parts of Chippendale chairs, repurposed like the portraits. And as easily as Schinwald dehumanizes painted faces by way of added prosthetics, he also humanizes chair parts, making them twist and bend with palpable discomfort. 

Schinwald’s work generally explores this divide between comfort and discomfort. Floating beams cut apart the natural white box gallery, making visitors feel anxious and confused, and painted portraits express a quiet tension, begging viewers to question how they found themselves in their present state. In his experiments with discomfort, Schinwald induces general unease. Viewers of this small and overwhelming show will undoubtably leave with contrastic feelings of impassivity and anxiety, pleasure and pain.

The Delian Mode

Before synthesizers and laptop computers, electronic music was a purely analog labor. The first electronic composers of the 1950s and 1960s relied on real sounds committed to physical tape which could then be cut with razors and spliced with sellotape. Tones were fed through oscillators and equalizers, frquencies doctored in order to create new compositions.

The epicenter for this field of experimentation could be found at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, tucked away in room #13 of the Maida Vale studios. Here, an enterprising young woman with dual Cambridge degrees in music and mathematics was creating electronic sound by hand. Delia Derbyshire was one of the greatest pioneers of early electronic music. She adjusted pitches and frequencies with calculating precision, filtering white noise and manipulating quotidian sounds to create iconic electronic soundscapes like the Dr. Who theme, “Happy Birthday,” and an abstract, lilting hum of beats and waves called “The Delian Mode.”
This eponymous, electronic experiment has recently lent itself as the title for the first film about Derbyshire, a 25-minute documentary by Kara Blake, titled “The Delian Mode.” The film, short and loving, profiles Derbyshire and delivers, at last, credit for her pioneering work— however long overdue. 

Blake’s film is an experimental profile, an exploration of musical beats by way of filmic ones. Disguised as a traditional documentary profile, “The Delian Mode” reveals itself as a collage of sound, interview, and mystery. The director seems more drawn to Derbyshire’s process than to her biography or chronology. The sources of her noises, like lampshades and door knocks, are studied and analyzed, while decade gaps are left unanswered for, as the limits of available technology are explored from multiple angles. The film leaves Derbyshire’s darker music and moods unexplained, glazing over haunting works like “Dreams,” a sound collage collaboration with Barry Bermange in 1964.

By merely implying Derbyshire’s biography, Blake does little to shine light on a figure who has long lingered forgotten by younger generations of electronic musicians. The film only touches on most of Derbyshire’s life (she only worked at the workshop in the 1960s and 1970s). She left the BBC after frustration with bureaucrats and limitations, eventually becoming a reclusive alcoholic who died, relatively forgotten, in 2001 at the age of 64. For decades, she seemed to have left music completely, returning in the 1990s to collaborate with Sonic Boom on new electronic music experiments. It was only after her death that 267 unknown tapes of Derbyshire’s compositions were discovered in her attic. Unheard for 30 years, the tapes have been transferred to the University of Manchester’s School of the Arts. One by one, they are being digitized— and perhaps Derbyshire will finally earn her deserved recognition.

"The Delian Mode" is a sweet and succinct, despite feeling incomplete. As a documentary, it is appropriately experimental and infectious, her sellotaped analog loops and sliced abstract beats acting both as biography and epitaph.

"The Delian Mode," Canada 2009, 25 Min, Color, English, Directed by Kara Blake

Playing With Pictures

This is a true wave of the avant-garde: an exhibition of dizzying abstractions of photocollage, compositions made of photographs and watercolors in the guise of the whimsical and imagined. Human heads are pasted onto animal bodies, babies sleep on cribs covered by pen and ink blankets, and dramatic shifts of scale lend some works a feeling of having been imagined by Lewis Carroll. No, this is neither Dada nor Constructivism. Rather, these are the works of aristocratic women who, in the 1860s and 1870s, played with photographs and their conventions.

"Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage" is a lovely and fascinating show of some of the most experimental photographic collages of the Victorian period. These images, made for personal albums rather than personal display, reveal the intelligence and awareness of their makers. Taking inspiration from textual sources as diverse as Punch magazine and Darwin’s "Origin of the Species," these private collages reveal the perception of photography in the era of its greatest proliferation. The women who created imagined scenes from photographs, glue and paper knives did not only challenge the physical problems of photography, but also the role of aristocratic women and their societal limitations.

The creative possibilities of being able to physically cut oneself from a photo were endless. One could place people into a scene at night, something which photography could not yet capture. Or, you could create a party scene, gluing in the pictures of all the people you’d like to attend. Don’t like the woman next door? Put her head on the body of a duck. Want to flatter the prince? Physically cut away some of his girth before you paste him in your album.

"Playing with Pictures," originally organized by the Art Institute of Chicago before its tenure at the Metropolitan, is the first to thoroughly study the little-known field of early photocollage. The works on show have rarely, if ever, been seen or reproduced. Coming from the US, Europe, and Australia, forty works are physically displayed. A further eleven more albums are accessible in facsimile on computer monitors in the gallery.

The women behind these images were largely self-taught. Photography was relatively new, far too recent an invention to invite widespread experimentation. Rather, the hobby of photocollage spread through the upper classes via private albums and correspondence.

Some collage makers stand out more than others. Georgina Berkeley’s album from 1866-1871 is a particular highlight. She liberated her friends and acquaintances from the dull, stoic studio setting of their cartes de visites and placed them instead in beautiful, lush landscapes. In one, a couple walks on a moonlit beach; in another, one woman rides a dodo bird, accompanied by a friend riding on the back of the tortoise (Ms. Berkeley was familiar with topical humor). In one picture, Ms. Berkeley even puts a gentleman’s head on the body of a trapeze artist, flying high above the audience of what appears to be the Royal Albert Hall.

These women were not only talented craftspeople, but apt painters as well. Their skills ease their characters into believable scenes, like Lady Filmer’s parlor picture, in which she shows herself working on her album with a pot of glue, while friends chat by the fireplace and children play on the carpet. In another untitled scene from Constance Sackville-West, a group of friends are gathered in a park on a lovely summer’s day to play a game of newly-popularized croquet.

"Playing with Pictures" is more than cutting and pasting. The makers of these pictures were physically altering their environments and the people in them, almost to radical ends. The exhibition is as much a commentary on the identity of photography and the history of appropriation as it is a study of parlor habits in the Victorian period. These images beg the viewer to consider the authenticity of a photograph, much like the work of Cindy Sherman or Jeff Wall might do today. By physically altering photographs, these women were able to change their personal relationships, as well as their relationships to the greater world outside their homes and families.

"Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage" is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of art through May 9, 2010 in the Howard Gilman Gallery, second floor.

The Lee-Chin Crystal

The centerpiece of the recent Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) remodel is the beautiful Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, designed by Daniel Libeskind and Bregman + Hamann Architects. Out of 50 entries in an international competition, the Libeskind design is a striking Deconstructivist crystalline form. Made of glass and aluminium, the jutting, crystal-shaped atrium houses the new entrance to the ROM, as well as shops and restaurants.

The jutting walls of the Crystal do not touch the nearby heritage buildings except to close a gap between the new form and the existing walls. The jutting, abstract form of the crystal fractures the space between the public streets and the private space of the museum.
Built from five interlocking, supportive prismatic structures, the Crystal looks like a natural crystal formation jutting from the older buildings. There are few right angles to be seen, and the sloping walls create fascinating, innovative interiors. Rooms are flooded with the light of the slashing, angular windows with create pyramidal views to the cityscape outside.

When the Crystal was opened in June, 2007 by Governor General Michaelle Jean, controversy erupted. The public was torn about its angular design. Some viewed the structure as angry and hellish. Others hailed it as a monument. No doubt its already become an icon, for good or bad, and its almost certain that Archigram would hail its futuristic, outer-space sensibilities and manipulation of space through innovation.

Maximilian Toth

Maximilian Toth uses agression as his medium, painting sketchy scenes of adolescent cruelty on the dusty ground of schoolhouse chalkboard. His figures suggest action and inaction simultaneously: his large works are dominated by images of beatings, ritualistic hazing,and phenomenal violance, all without the presence of conciousness or emotional awareness.
Toth’s process suggests speed and furious control, not unlike the characters in his works. In his most recent show at Fredericks & Freiser, titled “Little Beasts,” Toth experiments with the simulatenous physicality of both his technique and subject matter. Encompassing five large canvasses and two drawings, “Little Beasts” examines the moment in adolesence when innoncence is totally lost. His scenes are succinct and objective depictions of suburban boys stumbling through the dusty black chalkboard darkness towards some kind of general violence. These boys are newly savage, their lines repeatedly redrawn, emphasizing the constant shifts in their relation to each other and their “newfound strength and agression.”

In Breaking a Chair in Three Parts (2009), Toth shows a life-sized scene of a balcony at a raucous high school party. One boy has climbed over the balcony railing, holding the bars tight as he emphatically vomits, his can of Pabst Blue Ribbon still in his right hand. Behind him, three boys mercilessly beat another with baseball bats, some kicking him with their boots. The scene is completed by a teenage couple flirting on the balcony, so self-involved and hopped up on hormones that they notice neither the vomiting nor the beating behind them.

Another standout work is Kill the Carrier (2009), a nefarious, gut-punching gym class scene. A group of boys in matching gym clothes fights over a red rubber ball. The boy jumping towards it, suspended in the air, is about to be punched in the stomach, his t-shirt flying up with his leap. School games which had previously been played without disorder are now the scenes for a murderous vein of violence. The figures are set in space, floating on the dark ground, their dislocation making more the scene even more disjointed and disconcerting.

Toth’s works sit uncomfortably close to the liminal edges of youth. In discussing his work with Graham T. Beck of Art in America, Toth speaks fondly of a favorite YouTube video in which a boy shoots light bulbs with a BB gun. He says, “I love that kid (and whoever is supervising him). I love the way he uses the gun. He’s a decent shot, and still young enough not to think twice about walking up and slapping the glass with the barrel. Club, gun: no difference…He’s just figuring out that he’s got this potential. He’s not taking out his aggression. He’s not angry. He just likes the sound and sight of things breaking. Can you get a better image of a kid saying goodbye to childhood?”

With his thoughtful and insistent visions of aggressive and uncaged youth, Maximilian Toth accesses the most primitive recesses of masculine impulses. These scenes are the wild embodiments of the violent imagination. Painted on chalkboard, they could even be interpreted as lessons, the improvisational plans for dark ritual. Toth’s subjects focus on the delicately deviant, the secretly subversive, and the violent acts often committed in plain sight by fifteen year-old boys.