Made from a single piece of paper, Ed Ruscha’s Rusty Signs (2014) appear to have been rusted and weathered, reading as actual patinated metals. These remarkably realistic works draw upon motifs consistent with the artist’s career: components of visual culture, the passage of time, and Americanisms. Filtered through the language of common objects, the prints read DEAD END, CASH FOR TOOLS, and FOR SALE 17 ACRES in multiple iterations, as if they came from different locations, subjected to a different set of circumstances, with strikingly naturalistic gunshots and thick layers of rust and grime. In keeping with the course of his career, Ruscha is not merely representing the image of the sign as he has in the past through his paintings and photographs of signage but actually here recreates the sign itself.
In John Baldessari’s Crowds with Shape of Reason Missing (2012), individuals gather together in formation or haphazardly while captivated by the unknown – a somewhat silly white blob. The artist removes the predominant subject of the photographic image and replaces it with the nondescript form. Baldessari chose vintage movie stills that seem at once recognizable and yet unfamiliar. With the main subject gone, the focal point is unclear, which leads us to scan the faces and actions of the crowds: soldiers, onlookers, community members, and harem girls. The viewer then focuses on the reactionary rather than the primary. The artist elucidates: “Erasure is a kind of gap. The imagery that our culture produces tends to have its own coherence and legibility, and the set of expectations that comes with that legibility can be disrupted through visual interventions.” Baldessari effectively transfixes us by barring us from the action; he forces us to reconsider the now voided narrative.
There is something so harrowing about staring into Bontecou’s sculptures. They are at once primordial and other worldly, projecting outward and eerily enveloping you, overwhelming you. Her seemingly bottomless black holes reflect no light and no life, and yet, they are self referential — representing life itself as boundless and limitless.
Claude Monet, Boulevard des Capucines, 1872-73.
Edgar Degas, Place de la Concorde, 1875.
In comparing and contrasting the two paintings below, I dissect their formal qualitites to address the following two questions: First, how does each work relate to the larger project and goals of the Impressionist movement? Second: What is specifically “modernist” about each painting?
Renouncing the academic dogmas of the Old Masters, Impressionists strove to capture contemporary subjects and themes. Claude Monet’s Boulevard des Capucines (1872-73) and Edgar Degas’s Place de la Concorde (1875) present the viewer with masterfully depicted moments of Parisian life. The fleeting and the spontaneous of the everyday was a primary focus of Impressionist artwork. In Monet’s Boulevard, we see a crowded street from the vantage point of an onlooker — likely viewing from one of the Haussmann structures, whereas Degas’s rendition shows a more detailed and fragmented (literally edge-cutting) scene of an empty Parisian plaza. Both works attest to representation of the era’s Modernity: the Industrial Revolution of vast cities.
Clement Greenberg understood Modernism to be an art of “self-criticism.” This movement chose to criticize art itself, questioning all the artistic standards and expectations of the time. The Impressionists focused their practice on the act of painting, not the illusion of a painting. They acknowledged the materials of art’s process: the pigments of paint, the flatness of the canvas, and the limitations of its shape.
Here, both Degas and Monet utilize this “painterly” method. Monet’s interpretation is sketchy; he used quick dabs of paint, giving the work this unfinished, ethereal quality. Degas recognizes the canvas’s physicality with his emphasis his scene’s vast empty space.
They rejected the super-real mimesis of Neo-Classicism for the optical sensations of the ephemeral visions of Impressionism.
antiques and art
being a member of the friends for the israel museum group, i get the opportunity to peek into the incredible homes of patrons and collectors. Shapiro’s 1920s Spanish dream house in holmby hills reflects his globe-trotting proclivities and unbelievably ecumenical taste. the living room “is a distillation of what I’ve learned and loved over the past 30 years,” he says. he mixes the primitive and unpretentious with the elaborate and expensive. here are some images from elle decor, veranda, and architectural digest and a couple from the event.
Image: Andy Warhol’s “Sarah Bernhardt” (1980)