“Dalí’s Melting Clock Will Head Down Under as MoMA Sends 200 Masterpieces to Melbourne,” By Julia Halperin

“Dalí’s Melting Clock Will Head Down Under as MoMA Sends 200 Masterpieces to Melbourne”

‘See the lineup of works headed to Australia for a sprawling loan show’

By Julia Halperin


The Museum of Modern Art’s collection is hitting the road—again. In June, around 200 works, including many of the museum’s best-known objects, will travel to the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne.

The show is a wide-ranging display of the museum’s greatest hits, from a 1957 Fender electric guitar to a series of portraits of Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol. Works that rarely venture outside MoMA’s galleries will be shown in Australia for the first time, including Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples (1895–98), Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Joseph Roulin (1889), Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913), and Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory (1931). (Although the show was announced in 2016, the lineup has not been made public until now.)

“They were interested in the masterworks of the institution,” MoMA’s director Glenn Lowry told the press at an event earlier this month. But curators have also included works by artists who will be less familiar to Australian audiences, such as Wifredo Lam, Lygia Clark, and Theo van Doesburg.

Pablo Picasso’s The Architect’s Table (early 1912). © 2019 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, NY.

MoMA’s masterworks have been racking up frequent flyer miles this year. While the museum is undergoing a major renovation, it has taken the opportunity to partner with institutions abroad to present highlights from its holdings. The entire collection will reconvene at the museum in 2019, when MoMA opens its expansion with a comprehensive reinstallation of the collection.

Last fall, the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris presented a similarly ambitious exhibition drawn from MoMA’s star-studded holdings. The show—which examined what it means to be modern and how MoMA managed to assemble a cutting-edge collection in real time—was considered a coup for the deep-pocketed institution.

Not to be outdone, Melbourne’s NGV has taken a more mass-appeal approach, surveying 130 years of art history through the lens of MoMA’s collection. (The show is the largest installment to date of the museum’s “Winter Masterpieces” series, which brings works from major museums around the world to Melbourne.)

Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl (1963). © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, NY.

Though there is some overlap—postcard-worthy works by Duchamp, Picasso, and Kahlo are included in both shows—the many differences between the two point to audiences’ distinct inclinations and the staggering depth of MoMA’s holdings. (Few other museums could do two best-of exhibitions and duplicate fewer than half the works.) The Paris show skewed more heavily toward photography and archival material, while the Australian exhibition has more furniture design and a larger presence by American heavyweights like Robert Rauschenberg.

A number of works in MoMA’s collection are too fragile to travel, but beyond that, nothing was off-limits for the NGV, according to a MoMA representative. The exhibition includes 127 works that have never been shown elsewhere since their acquisition and another 46 that have not been exhibited outside of MoMA in the past decade. The museum declined to comment on whether the Australian institution was funding the show and did not disclose whether MoMA received a loan fee.

While some have criticized museums for loaning out their best works—leaving audiences at home to encounter the most famous images only in the gift shop—Lowry told press that “the fact that we had many great works in Paris doesn’t take away from what we can show.”

Instead, he noted that the process of organizing these shows has helped inspire creative thinking from MoMA’s curatorial team, which hopes to vaporize “the distinction between loan shows and collection shows” when the new building opens. Sending some landmark works out on loan, he said, creates “opportunities to show other great works that might not be seen.”

See more works headed to Melbourne below.

Tomohiro Nishikado’s Space Invaders (1978). © Taito Corporation, all rights reserved. Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, NY.

 

Gerrit Rietveld’s Red Blue Chair (c. 1918). © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Beeldrecht, Amsterdam. Photo courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, NY.

 

Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940). © 2018 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, NY.

 

Kara Walker’s Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart. (1994). © 2018 Kara Walker, courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, NY.

 

Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #131 (1983). © Cindy Sherman, courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

“MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art” is on view at the National Gallery Victoria in Melbourne from June 8 to October 7.

Featured image, top: Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory (1931). Photo: courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí / Licensed by Viscopy, 2017. 


By Julia Halperin, Reprint from Artnet, 30 January 2018, © 2018 Artnet News Corporation.

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“The MFA Is Bringing Original M.C. Escher Art to Boston,” By Kalina Newman

M.C. Escher (Dutch, 1898-1972): Relativity, 1953. Lithograph, 10.9 x 11.5 inches (27.7 x 29.2 cm). © Cordon Art B.V. – Baarn – Netherlands.


“The MFA Is Bringing Original M.C. Escher Art to Boston”
‘A new exhibit called “Infinite Dimensions” will display prints never before seen in the city.’

By Kalina Newman


This Saturday—for the first time in Boston’s history—original works by graphic artist M.C. Escher will be on display at the Museum of Fine Arts. Titled “Infinite Dimensions,” the exhibit will showcase more than 50 pieces that range from his famous optical illusions to his earlier woodblock and pencil prints.

Escher’s art is known for inviting the viewer to transform the idea of time and space into something unknown and fluid. One of his most famous mind-bending works, Relativity, is a lithograph that depicts a collection of staircases going in several different directions. And though Escher passed away in 1972, it’s taken until 2018 for his original works to arrive in Boston.

“It struck me that when I looked at museum collections in the area that there are very few Escher prints, but yet there were so many people who are interested in the artist,” says Ronnie Baer, curator of the exhibit. “In Boston, his stuff was only known in reproduction—it had not been exhibited in original form.”

In addition to the art collection, Baer solicited feedback on Escher’s work from dozens of notable creative professionals such as musician Yo-Yo Ma and chef Barbara Lynch.

“[It’s] not so much an authoritative point of view, but a showcase of many different reasons to appreciate his prints,” says Baer of the feedback.

Statements from locals will be placed next to each work so that museum visitors may enjoy the art and consider other points of view at the same time. For example, astronaut Nicole Stott was asked to comment on the piece Three Worlds Illustrated, a print that depicts a koi fish swimming in a lily pond.

“Escher’s ‘Three Worlds’ is like seeing the Earth from space, encouraging us to understand the harmony and complexity of our home from a completely new vantage point,” said Stott in her statement.

M.C. Escher. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Another highlight of the exhibit is the display of Escher’s gigantic piece Metamorphosis II, a black, green and brown woodcut print that spans 13 feet across twenty blocks of wood. The print transforms from a chessboard, to a village, to a tessellation of cubes, among other shapes. The piece is set to take up an entire room, making it ideal for art-loving Instagrammers to photograph.

However, the exhibit goes beyond Escher’s gigantic and sometimes mind-boggling prints. Baer worked to gather dozens of Escher’s lesser-known works in order to represent the artist’s technical side. All of Escher’s printmaking skills are honored, from lithographs, to wood engravings, to linocuts of art.

“There’s a lot to see and explore,” explains Baer.

One showcase of Escher’s skill is the display of his close-up print, Eye. A series of six proofs, or rough drafts, will be displayed next to the piece to show the artist’s process in crafting the print.

“He’s really an underestimated artist,” says Baer. “This will give the public a chance to assess his artistry from his own images.”

“Infinite Dimensions” will be on view February 3 through May 28, 2018 at the Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, mfa.org.

Image courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston


By Kalina Newman, Reprint from Boston Magazine, 31 January 2018, 2018, © Metro Corp.


 

M.C. Escher (Dutch, 1898-1972): Rippled Surface, March 1950. Linocut in black and grey-brown on japan paper, 33.6 x 40.1 cm; image: 26 x 32 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. © Cordon Art B.V. – Baarn – Netherlands. Image: The National Gallery of Canada.

 

M.C. Escher (Dutch, 1898-1972): Hand with Reflecting Sphere, 1935. Lithograph, 31.8 x 21.3 cm. © Cordon Art B.V. – Baarn – Netherlands.

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“Michelangelo’s Divine Magnitude and Picasso’s Parade of Power,” By Barry Nemett

Pablo Picasso, ’Curtain for the ballet ‘Parade’” (1917), tempera on canvas,1050 x 1640 cm, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, © Succession Picasso, by SIAE 2017


“Michelangelo’s Divine Magnitude and Picasso’s Parade of Power”

‘The intimate drawings of Michelangelo Buonarroti and the largest painting Pablo Picasso ever made.’

By Barry Nemett


Recently, in two shows, on two continents, spotlighting two of history‘s greatest painters, sculptors, and draftsmen, I saw the biggest public display of drawings ever assembled by one, and the biggest painting ever created by the other.

The drawings (133 of them) are by the Italian High Renaissance titan, Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564). The mural-size painting (more than 30 by 50 feet) is by the 20th-century Spanish master, Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973).

“Parade” (1917), Picasso’s painted stage curtain for a Sergei Diaghilev ballet of the same name, is more than twice the size of the colossal “Guernica” (1937), his landmark anti-war statement of unmitigated suffering.

What could be bigger than tragedy? you might ask. The circus! The painting, with its winged woman in white balancing (sort of) on the back of a winged white horse, is “huger than the whole rest of the world.” as the awestruck little girl I overheard at the Palazzo Barberini in Rome proclaimed to her mom.

Meanwhile, back in the US, the minuscule was devouring the behemoth. Fingernail-scale examples of Davids wrestling Goliaths, Samsons wrestling lions, and other ink and chalk heroes wrestling other foes were busy stealing the show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The exhibition, which includes more than 200 works, is brilliantly curated by Dr. Carmen C. Bambach. It is called Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer (Nov. 13, 2017-Feb. 12, 2018), an apt title because Michelangelo comes as close to any artist, ever, to celebrating the sacred, whether he’s portraying an angel’s wings or a vulture’s.

Sure, there are near-life-size works, but for me the grandest, most impressive achievements in this exhibition are often no bigger than a thumb, or even a thumbnail.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, “Studies for the Libyan Sibyl” (ca.1510–11), red chalk, with small accents of white chalk on the left shoulder of the figure in the main study, sheet: 11 3/8 x 8 7/16 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, 1924

In his widely reproduced “Studies for the Libyan Sibyl” (c.1510-11), from heads to fingers to big toes, there’s enough divinity to fill the Vatican. But the drawing is not about religion. On the Sistine Ceiling, the mythical Libyan Sibyl is massive, brightly colored, elaborately draped, and holding a great big book. And she’s a major part of a gigantic, gridded masterpiece loaded with figures. At the Met, subdued to a single color, it’s just her. Well, not even. Just details of her.

But that’s plenty. Here, we’re given access to the drawing process itself — the dance of a “divine draftsman” angling in close, leaning back, and circling around a pose as he blocks out his seemingly “uncomposed” composition.

A light touch here; heavy crosshatching there — human anatomy in hints and details. A floating hand fingering an ear; a torqued torso colliding with a face; a face dreaming about a torso dreaming about coiffured hair; a woman who looks like a man (or is it a man who looks like a woman?) — this female prophet, whose model was male.

There are extra lines; changes of mind; separations; morphings; the contours of a hip turning into an ankle; a darkly defined left arm, rib cage, and back echoing the movement of the more lightly toned forms below; three stuttering big toes, and near the center of it all, a serene bodybuilder performing ballet. For, what is a body without its dance? We can identify anatomical parts. But identification is where representational art begins, not ends.

In “Archers Shooting at a Herm” (1530-33) we identify a dozen or so youths. But where are their bows? Or their arrows and clothes, for that matter? (Actually, there are a few arrows.) The drawing’s abstraction makes the curious absence of weapons beside the point. What heart-racing joy it is to be immersed in the archers’ theatrics, the group functioning as a kind of single, singular, heteromorphic creature, kneeling and sprinting and flying, its many cocked and outstretched arms engaged in synchronized flapping.

Meanwhile, in the lower right-hand corner, perhaps lullabied by a chorus of swishing arrows, an angel sleeps. Is this Cupid, with his stage prop of a bow resting uselessly across his lap, dreaming what’s going on above?

Michelangelo Buonarroti, “Archers Shooting at a Herm” (1530–33), red chalk; 8 5/8 x 12 11/16 inches, ROYAL COLLECTION TRUST / © HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II 2017, www.royalcollection.org.uk

The Cupid is a comma, not a full stop. The passage runs on — and flies — to the herm, which is a square column carved with the likeness of Hermes, used as a border marker in ancient times. Here, the archers are apparently using it for target practice. Arrows against stone? The herm has always struck me as a provocative non sequitur. Is it a holdover from an earlier sketch, a new thought for a subsequent one, part of a corresponding page now missing, or simply the kind of random thought that often worms its charming, doodly, sometimes sideways way onto an image where it doesn’t belong, yet somehow gets into the title? Or maybe it was meant as a whimsical stand-in for an arrow-ridden Saint Sebastian, serving to protect, superhero style, whomever or whatever is offstage.

There is no place for whimsy in Michelangelo’s “Christ on the Cross with the Virgin and St. John” (1555-1564 ). Here, Jesus is flanked by staggering, Guernica-like sadness. What could possibly be more heartbreaking than a mother helplessly standing beneath her child as he slowly suffers an agonizing death? Mary is so traumatized she’s hardly recognizable; actually, but for the title, I may not have known she was there, dissolving like a teardrop. And Jesus and John: what a tour-de-force pairing. So much is said with so little, Jesus in physical and spiritual pain; John emotionally devastated. The difference between them is both subtle and stunning.

Jesus: his head is drooping, arms splayed, hands nailed to boards that are as angled as the letter V. Also angled is the rulered stem of the T-shaped cross that backs the Man of Sorrows. Multiplied by pentimenti, his arms seem to flutter like a broken bird. A spot of color on Christ’s foot connects the men — a metaphor for John’s outcry, and a final glimmer of life hanging from the cross.

I’ve previously seen this image only in books. Even in reproduction, there’s magic. Viewing the original could convert an atheist. Or suck every trace of joy out of life. Unless, that is, you love drawing, in which case a few ghostly marks and smudges can be transformed into rapture. Devastation and joy at once — there’s no limit to art’s magnitude.

Like the figures, the paper out of which they are coaxed looks intangible. Pure vapor. Did the artist sigh the trio into existence? After all, for Michelangelo, drawing feels as natural as breathing. Of course, I don’t really care to know how the people Michelangelo portrayed were born. There’s a want of wonder in life, and so, even if it’s hinted at, why not, like a child at a circus, simply lose ourselves in the miracle of a drawing that’s “huger than the whole rest of the world”?

Michelangelo Buonarroti, “Three Labours of Hercules” (1530–33), red chalk, 10 11/16 x 16 5/8 inches, ROYAL COLLECTION TRUST / © HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II 2017, www.royalcollection.org.uk

Which, with a jolt, leads us back to Picasso’s colossal carnival curtain and the child’s declaration that it is “. . . huger than . . .” Though less hyperbolic in regard to “Parade” than it would be to most works of art, her appraisal gives free rein to her fantasy. Likewise, despite the generally naturalistic approach of Picasso’s visual language, as in the balletic “Archers Shooting at a Herm,” “Parade” is all theatrics.

If Michelangelo’s group of archers looks like a multi-limbed creature, in “Parade,” because of playful overlapping and the doubling of black-and white socks and slippers, Picasso’s awkwardly angled young man wearing a black-and-red diamond-patterned harlequin costume looks like he has four feet.

Circus is artifice and ambiguity. Accordingly, in “Parade,” the shuffle of illusion and reality abounds: the blue-shirted man sports a fake mustache; the fruit on the platter is fake, as are the awkwardly made tables with legs missing. The white horse sports fake wings, as does the footless acrobat in her white tutu. The woman in the tan bonnet, framed by what looks like a green canvas, is a painted portrait when we look only at her head and shoulders. She quits her canvas when we notice her leg, foot, and hand. The foal suckling beneath her mother becomes a symbol of the undercurrent of love and public intimacy amidst this closely knit cast of characters.

And then there’s the canvas itself, which totters between being a major painted statement and an intentionally awkward 50-foot sketch that, due to the coarse, porous material and the scrubbed or sponged-on paint, looks like a fresco when viewed close up.

Near the Palazzo Barberini, at the Scuderie del Quirinale, there was until January 21st a simultaneous exhibition, Picasso Between Cubism and Neo-Classicism: 1915-1925. Major paintings like “Three Dancers” (1925), “The Pipes of Pan” (1923), and “Two Women Running on the Beach” (1922) — capering like ballerinas — occupied the first floor of the museum. As the titles suggest, music and dance played a central role in many of these works.

Almost the entire second floor was devoted to the artist’s theatrically related drawings. A 20th-century Renaissance man, Picasso designed sets and Cubist costumes for a number of performances, designs that became as inextricable from their respective productions as Erik Satie’s music, Leonide Massine’s choreography, Jean Cocteau’s libretto, and, of course, Picasso’s art were to “Parade.“

Michelangelo Buonarroti, “Design for the Tomb of Pope Julius II della Rovere” (1505–6), pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, over stylus ruling and leadpoint, 20-1/16 x 12-9/16 inches, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund, 1962

With his Renaissance counterpart, the father of Cubism shared greatness and ambition, and a love for preparatory studies. Performers call these studies “rehearsals.” Visual artists call them sketches. For many of us, they are often just as rewarding — sometimes even richer — than what they lead to.

Size, texture and many other qualities affect an artwork’s feel and magnitude, especially when those qualities are pronounced. Scale augments both the grandeur and intimacy of Michelangelo’s “Christ on the Cross with the Virgin and St. John,” and Picasso’s “Parade.” Viewed in books and online, they can fill pages and screens equally, although in reality, “Parade” is more than 80 times wider than “Christ on the Cross.” That’s one reason why, whenever possible, it’s important to see art in person..

Drawings and paintings have sizes. But there’s no limit to their magnitude.

Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer continues at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through February 12.


By Barry Nemett, Reprint from Hyperallergic, 27 January 2018, © 2018 Hyperallergic Media Inc.

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“A Documentary Lays Bare the Absurdity of the Art Market,” By Dan Schindel

Artist Jeff Koons in front of one of his Gazing Ball paintings in The Price of Everything, directed by Nathaniel Kahn (image courtesy HBO Documentary Films)


“A Documentary Lays Bare the Absurdity of the Art Market”

‘The Price of Everything, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, looks at the trends and gambles of the art market.’

By Dan Schindel


PARK CITY, Utah — Jeff Koons shows to a camera crew his massive, almost industrial workshop, where rows of assistants painstakingly create reproductions of old paintings for the artist’s Gazing Ball pieces. Koons is one of the most successful contemporary artists, and his works have broken the world record for highest auction price multiple times. Meanwhile, in upstate New York, Larry Poons trudges through the snow to his cramped studio, where he’s been working on large, brushstroke-heavy murals for decades. A contemporary of Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg, he’s since seemingly dropped off the radar of art buyers. What exactly separates these two artists? Why is one selling works for tens of millions of dollars apiece and the other not? Who or what even determines how much art is “worth”?

The smartest thing about the documentary The Price of Everything, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, is that it doesn’t try to pose definitive answers to these questions. In fact, director Nathaniel Kahn seems to understand that there aren’t any. Art is subjective, and value is determined entirely by complex vagaries of taste.

Painter Larry Poons walking to his studio in The Price of Everything, directed by Nathaniel Kahn (image courtesy of HBO Documentary Films)

Kahn interviews contemporary artists both notable and less known, getting their opinions about the auction world and granting an opportunity to watch them work. Besides Koons and Poons, Gerhard Richter, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, and Marilyn Minter are also featured. But since art and artists are the commodities rather than the players in the “industry,” the true lead subjects of the documentary are collector Stefan Edlis and Sotheby’s buyer Amy Cappellazzo. While the artists seem mainly baffled by the market and would prefer to focus on their work, Cappellazzo and Edlis come closest to articulating why shifts in trends happen. At one point, Cappellazzo predicts that Koons’s value is about to fall because his output is now “lobby art.”

Of course, actual beauty, talent, and innovation only factor marginally in this. Rather than deny this, the art dealers interviewed for the film are remarkably candid about how coldly they approach their trade. Seemingly everyone almost gleefully acknowledges that they’re riding a bubble. They are wealthy enough not to care about any pretense of nobility — Edlis jovially explains how he often prefers to “trade” art rather than write checks to dodge taxes. Cappellazzo can even code switch effortlessly between being a buyer and appreciating the art, in one scene evaluating Crosby’s collage work based on its auction potential and in the next earnestly explaining why Giacomo Balla’s “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash” is her favorite painting. Edlis is a fascinating enigma; while he seems very dismissive of most of the works he buys (he carelessly leaves Ugo Rondinone’s “still.life. (five lemons)” lying on the floor by his desk), he can explain what makes a piece interesting or not better than any of the professional critics in the movie.

Art collector Stefan Edlis in front of (l. to r.) artist Urs Fischer’s “Dried” collage and “Untitled (Candle)” sculpture as part of Edlis’s collection in The Price of Everything, directed by Nathaniel Kahn (image courtesy HBO Documentary Films)

Late in the film, it is predicted that the election of Donald Trump will prove “good” for the art market, the implication being that he will drive enthusiasm for further aesthetic excess. None of the buyers in the documentary can explain why they’ve shelled out millions for their pieces besides “this is what is chic” (that is, if they don’t just outright admit that they’re making investments). The Price of Everything is not about the love of art, but its exploitation, and that may cause some sincere aesthetes to cringe. Laymen, meanwhile, will likely remain baffled as to why big sculptures of metal balloon animals are selling for millions. The art market lays bare the absurdity of capitalism as a whole, in which value is not tied to anything tangible but to gambles based on trends. This movie may not be able to make full sense of the trends, but it’s a great peek into how the gamblers operate.

The Price of Everything by Nathaniel Kahn screens at the Sundance Film Festival Thursday, January 25 at 9pm and Friday, January 26 at 8:30pm.


By Dan Schindel, Reprint from Hyperallergic, 25 January 2018, © 2018 Hyperallergic Media Inc.

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“Remembering Kynaston McShine, the Visionary MoMA Curator Who Defined Some of Contemporary Art’s Most Radical Movements,” By Julia Halperin

Kynaston McShine. Photo: Marc Ohrem-Leclef, courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.


“Remembering Kynaston McShine, the Visionary MoMA Curator Who Defined Some of Contemporary Art’s Most Radical Movements”

“He organized some of the 20th century’s most consequential exhibitions and was the first curator of color to work at a major American museum.”

By Julia Halperin


Kynaston McShine, one of the most influential curators of the 20th century, has died. He was 82.

If you have visited a museum in the last 50 years and enjoyed a site-specific installation, participated in an interactive work of art, or been taken aback by a project that critiques the very institution in which it is shown, you probably have McShine to thank.

Over the course of his more than half-century career, McShine organized exhibitions that defined several of the most consequential movements in modern and contemporary art. In 1966, he presented the show “Primary Structures” at the Jewish Museum in New York, which introduced Minimalism to an American audience. (The artist Mark di Suvero called it “the key show of the 1960s.”)

His exhibition “Information,” organized four years later at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is often considered the first survey of conceptual art in America and one of the earliest shows to examine technology’s impact on art.

In a statement, MoMA director Glenn Lowry called McShine “a daring and pioneering curator with an unfailingly sharp eye and a keen sense of moment.” When he first joined MoMA in 1959, McShine, who was Afro-Caribbean, is believed to have been the first curator of color to work at a major American museum.

Despite the fact that he crafted some of the most famous exhibitions of the first half of the 20th century, however, McShine remained an elusive figure—he rarely granted interviews, and went so far as to decline Hans Ulrich Obrist’s invitation to participate in the 2008 book A Brief History of Curating. As of 2011, he didn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.

McShine was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, in 1935. He attended Dartmouth College, where he studied philosophy and worked at the school’s Hood Museum. He did graduate work at the University of Michigan (1958–59) and the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University (1960–62). He taught at Hunter College from 1965 to 1968.

After a stint in the department of circulating exhibitions at MoMA, McShine secured a gig as curator of painting and sculpture at the Jewish Museum from 1965 to 1967. He served as acting director from 1967 to 1968. There, in addition to “Primary Structures,” he organized solo exhibitions of work by Gene Davis, Robert Irwin, and Yves Klein. A statement released by the Jewish Museum described McShine as a “visionary curator.”

McShine returned to MoMA in 1968 as associate curator and later served as acting chief curator of the department of painting and sculpture. In the 1970s, he initiated MoMA’s Projects series, which offered younger artists—including, early on, Sam Gilliam and Nancy Graves—an opportunity to present experimental new work. He also organized solo exhibitions surveying the achievements of Andy Warhol (1989), Robert Rauschenberg (1977), and Marcel Duchamp (1973). He retired from MoMA in 2008 as chief curator at large.

“He was famous for his gruff manner, which masked a warm and deeply affectionate colleague who cared enormously about modern art and the museum that was home to him for more than forty years,” Lowry said.

Bard College gave McShine its award for curatorial excellence in 2003. He has received honorary doctorates from the San Francisco Art Institute (2007) and the University of the West Indies (2008).

The art historian Sarah Edith Kleinman, who is writing her dissertation on McShine, told artnet News that when she began her research a year and a half ago, many people told her he would be impossible to track down. She suspects that his disinterest in self-promotion was a holdover from an earlier era. With the exception of one or two big names like Seth Siegelaub and Harald Szeemann, curators in the 1960s and ’70s “were understood to be ‘behind-the-scenes’ decision makers,” she said. By the time art historians became public figures, “McShine had become entrenched in his unspoken policy of declining interviews.”

Nevertheless, McShine himself redefined the role of an art museum curator over the course of his career. “No longer a behind-the-scenes caretaker of art collections, the contemporary curator that McShine exemplifies is understood as a globally networked practitioner who shares with museum staff the duties of a collaborator, creator, manager, networker, planner, publicist, and fundraiser,” Kleinman said. “In the context of 1950s and 1960s New York City, where curators and artists of color faced blatant discrimination, McShine’s work is even more significant and groundbreaking, opening conversations about the intersections of race, identity, and power.”

McShine sometimes favored projects that needled MoMA’s establishment—but the guiding force behind it all was a fundamental belief in the power and importance of the museum. In “Information,” he allowed Hans Haacke to poll MoMA’s visitors about the views of New York Governor—and MoMA trustee—Nelson Rockefeller on the Vietnam War.

As ARTnews notes, McShine once wrote a memo proposing a show of MoMA acquisitions “which have enriched our collection as a result of Hitler’s Entartete Kunst campaign.” (MoMA’s leadership declined to bite, but the idea ultimately evolved into a show of political art from the collection, “The Artist as Adversary.”)

McShine also, however inadvertently, helped inspire the creation of the Guerrilla Girls. His 1985 exhibition “International Survey of Contemporary Painting and Sculpture” at MoMA—which sought to offer a snapshot of the current state of contemporary art—included 169 artists, only 13 of whom were women. McShine said that any artist who wasn’t in the show “should rethink his career” (emphasis ours)—prompting a group of young artists to gather together to protest.

Despite its demographic limitations, however, that show—like many of McShine’s exhibitions—expressed his belief that the museum ought to present the most challenging and visionary art of its era and never cease to interrogate its own role in the larger machine. In a rare interview with the New York Times, he described the show as “a sign that the museum will restore the balance between contemporary art and art history that is part of what makes the place unique.”

He added: “A serious public cannot depend upon the whims of commercial galleries. It has to depend upon museums.”


By Julia Halperin, Executive News Editor, Reprint from Artnet, 9 January 2018, © 2018 Artnet Worldwide Corporation.

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