Category Archives: Contemporary Art

“Review: Your invitation to dreamland awaits at Ad Minoliti’s exhibition at Cherry and Martin gallery,” By David Pagel

“G.S.F.C. #4,” an acrylic on printed canvas, is among Ad Minoliti’s artwork at Cherry and Martin gallery. Ad Minoliti and Cherry and Martin


“Review: Your invitation to dreamland awaits at Ad Minoliti’s exhibition at Cherry and Martin gallery”

By David Pagel


Step into Ad Minoliti’s exhibition at the gallery Cherry and Martin in Culver City, and you feel like you’re drifting through a stranger’s daydream — something better than getting lost in your own reveries. The Buenos Aires-based artist’s whip-smart installation plays host so graciously that its whimsies seem to be yours, but not yours alone.

Everything that unfolds in “Geometrical Sci-Fi Cyborg 2.0” (also called “G.S.F.C. 2.0”) results from discrete elements intermingling.

Ad Minoliti’s installation, Geometrical Sci-Fi Cyborg 2.0, includes this acrylic on printed canvas, “G.S.F.C. #3.” (Ad Minoliti and Cherry and Martin)

The fun starts with the paintings. Minoliti uses stencils to spray-paint canvases. She then photographs her airy compositions, digitally prints the images on other canvases, stretches those canvases and applies more paint. If Wassily Kandinsky came back to life as a middle-school girl wickedly skilled at designing wallpaper, the compositions, palette and touch would resemble Minoliti’s.

The mischievousness continues in the photographs, each of which transforms a Julius Shulman picture of a classic Midcentury house into a jocular collage that pays homage to its source by reanimating its original insouciance.

Ad Minoliti’s works are hung alongside cartoons painted on the walls, including disembodied legs and wandering eyeballs. Ad Minoliti and Cherry and Martin

A realistic chicken perches atop a cartoon ball with an animal-like face in Ad Minoliti’s installation. Ad Minoliti and Cherry and Martin

The mix-it-up promiscuity hits a high note with the goofy cartoon murals Minoliti has painted on the gallery walls. Their stark shapes, depicting disembodied legs, wandering eyeballs, a hungry triangle and a happy circle, keep seriousness at arm’s length — without diminishing Minoliti’s ambitions, which are big.

A realistic chicken, perched on an oversized egg (a la Dr. Seuss) is the cherry on top of Minoliti’s playful romp through styles and scales, painting and printing, abstraction and architecture, analog and digital.

And that’s not all. The consummate host, Minoliti has made room in her exhibition for a monitor that plays “Mood Rings, Crystals and Opal Colored Stones,” a lyrical video by Zadie Xa, as well as a pair of gorgeous silk cushions — and matching feather-stuffed bolsters — by Yaoska Davila. On each comfy seat reclines a small painting by Minoliti, its abstract eye seemingly riveted to Xa’s dreamy video.

Minoliti riffs off artists she admires and invites others into the party.

Cherry and Martin, 2712 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A. Through Nov. 4; closed Sundays and Mondays. (310) 559-0100, www.cherryandmartin.com

Ad Minoliti has painted goofy cartoon murals on the gallery walls. Ad Minoliti and Cherry and Martin


Exhibition:
“Ad Minolta: G.S.F.C. 2.0 (Geometrical Sci-Fi Cyborg)”
Through November 4, 2017
Cherry and Martin, 2712 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles


By David Pagel, Reprint from the Los Angeles Times, 30 September 2017, © 2017 Los Angeles Times

“Is this a golden age for older artists?,” By Thomas Marks

Franklin Bowling (British, Guyana-born; b. 1936): Fishes, 2011. Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 38 inches. © Frank Bowling.


“”Is this a golden age for older artists?”

By Thomas Marks


One no longer need be young to be an emerging artist. The news that artists over the age of 50 are, for the first time since 1991, once again eligible for the Turner Prize partly reflects wider efforts to reassess artists who have been unduly neglected, often because their race or gender has excluded them from the dominant narrative of post-war art. But it is also a welcome reminder that, when it comes to art, innovation and potential are not merely the preserve of younger generations. Critics who have complained that the prize risks becoming a lifetime achievement award overlook the fact that, although lifetimes may share certain inevitabilities, their different rhythms of opportunity, experience and inspiration mean that they are otherwise far from uniform.

Take the case of Phyllida Barlow, selected at the age of 73 to represent Britain at this year’s Venice Biennale. In an engrossing recent profile of the artist for the Guardian, the writer Charlotte Higgins set out how Barlow spent decades squaring her time in the studio with the demands of raising a family and teaching at art school, and how her retirement from the latter has coincided with new prospects for her work. Only now, with the backing of a blue-chip gallery, does she have the freedoms of time, space and budget to produce large-scale sculptures. These are works that have an urgency, and even a poignancy to them, for having been made possible at this stage in the artist’s life.

Part of Phyllida Barlow’s installation at the British Pavilion in Venice. Photograph: Ruth Clark / British Council / Courtesy the artist / Hauser & Wirth

It is satisfying to know that the Next Big Thing is now just as likely to be an artist born in the 1930s or ’40s as one born in the 1990s. The new retrospective approach, combined with a growing critical interest in ‘late style’, allows us to assess bodies of work that have been produced over extended periods of time. We can view them at a distance from the expectations that we frequently impose on young artists.

In the case of Frank Bowling, interviewed in these pages, the growing institutional interest in the artist’s work ought to bring deserving public recognition to an influential figure who has long been respected by his peers, but whose specific artistic achievements have rarely been given their due. Reading about his sustained experiments with paint, which continue today, I wonder whether his most inventive work has not at least partly been made possible by a career that has, until now, largely developed at a remove from the more dizzying altitudes of the market.

It can only be healthy, I think, for artists in their twenties and thirties to look to the example of the growing band of ‘emerging’ older artists and realise that their comparative anonymity at this point, though it may dishearten them, is neither a conclusive judgement on their ability nor an impediment to future acclaim. This is hardly likely to mitigate the challenges that most artists face in making a living from their work; but it may dampen their craving for early success, which brings with it different types of pressure to perform in an art world (and market) that is not always as caring as it seems.

There is an element of cynicism, perhaps, in the race between big commercial galleries to sign up and promote artists who are nearing the end of their careers, and who may have much work in storage, but whose market has yet to be established. All the same, these businesses are to be praised for focusing their resources on lesser-known artists and giving them an unprecedented prominence. So long as conflicts between commercial and institutional interests are carefully managed, it is clear that private galleries can also support museum programmes in bringing unfamiliar artists to a far wider public. The new-found interest in centenarian Carmen Herrera, who last year had an acclaimed exhibition at the Whitney, seems to owe much to the efforts of Lisson Gallery.

The combination of youth and talent is not about to lose its allure. At Apollo we promote it – and are proud to do so – through the annual Apollo 40 Under 40 list, featuring artists who may be hot property today but promise to be established stars in the future. But I increasingly think about whether an Apollo 40 Over 40 might be just as optimistic, and even more useful.


By Thomas Marks, Reprint from Apollo magazine, 29 May 2017, © 2017 Apollo Magazine.

“Sex and art by the Grand Canal: how Peggy Guggenheim took Venice,” By Judith Mackrell

Guggenheim on a gondola on the Grand Canal in Venice in 1962. Photograph: Ullstein Bild via Getty Images


“Sex and art by the Grand Canal: how Peggy Guggenheim took Venice”

‘In the 1940s, the heiress fled New York and, with a makeshift gallery, became the star of Venice. But she was not the first woman to dazzle the city. As the Biennale opens, Judith Mackrell tells their story’

By JUDITH MACKRELL


In the summer of 1948, the Venice Art Biennale was back in business after the long and isolating years of war. It was a historic event, celebrating not only international peace but also the end of fascism in Italy, and among its showcased artists were several who had been banned as “degenerate” under Mussolini’s rule. The main attraction, however, was not to be found in any of the national pavilions, but in the astonishingly wide-ranging collection of modern art exhibited by one woman, the American heiress Peggy Guggenheim.

As Peggy welcomed the Italian president to the opening of her collection, she had felt underdressed. She’d had to borrow some stockings from a friend and, unable to find a suitable hat, made do with a pair of huge, daisy-shaped Venetian earrings. But her collection had needed no formal window-dressing. Embracing European masters such as Picasso, Ernst and Dali, as well as young American contemporaries such as Jackson Pollock, it was a vivid register of the art movements of the previous three decades. The Italians, exiled from the avant garde for so long, found much of it a revelation, and some of it incomprehensible. An Alexander Calder mobile, made from broken glass and china, was almost thrown away as rubbish.

Peggy adored being the star of the Biennale. She went every day to watch the crowds who thronged her collection, and her two dogs grew fat on the ice creams fed them by admiring tourists. She’d already been planning to make Venice her permanent home, and her triumph that summer confirmed her decision.

She had arrived in Venice on a wave of disenchantment with her previous life in New York. Despite the success of her pioneering gallery, Art of This Century, and her bold support for emerging talents, she had routinely been patronised by the city’s very male, misogynist art scene. Too often, her gallery had been belittled as a rich woman’s vanity project, and too often she had found herself the butt of blatantly sexist and antisemitic attitudes.

Peggy was a striking woman, but for many her looks were defined by the large, fleshy nose she had inherited from her grandfather Meyer. She was also condemned for remaining uninhibitedly sexual in middle age. For much of her adult life, Peggy had been acquisitively promiscuous: her lovers included Samuel Beckett, Yves Tanguy, Marcel Duchamp and, briefly, John Cage. And when her short marriage to Max Ernst unravelled, she compensated by taking many more. Behaviour that might be considered rakish in a man, however, was unacceptable in a woman of 50. Even Pollock, who had benefited so much from her largesse, joked that he would make love to her only if she were covered up with towels.

Ice cream and sun … Guggenheim on the roof of her palazzo on Venice’s grand canal in the 1950s. Photograph: Frank Scherschel/Life/Getty

Venice promised Peggy a more civilised welcome and, after much house-hunting, she found a vacant palazzo on the eastern stretch of the Grand Canal. It was a curiously proportioned building, very wide but only one storey high. The Venier family, who had commissioned it in the mid-18th century, had imagined it rising to a monumental five storeys, but ran out of money (and male heirs). Locals derisively nicknamed it the Unfinished Palazzo, but for Peggy, who was living alone with her dogs and her art, it was the perfect size.

She remained there for the remaining 30 years of her life and, during the summer, opened it up to the public. It was an eccentrically informal arrangement, with Peggy’s collection mixed into the muddle of her domestic life. Guests staying at the palazzo would find eager art tourists wandering into their bedrooms and (given the lack of toilet facilities) catch them peeing discreetly in the garden. But over time, the Venier palazzo became one of Venice’s major attractions, and a spur to the city’s development as an international showcase for contemporary art.

Peggy also presided over an intellectually colourful salon. Her years in left-bank Paris, London and New York had brought her a collection of friends as stellar as her art. Stravinsky, Cocteau, Chagall, Capote and Gore Vidal all came to visit and Peggy, as a hostess, matured into her own raffish style of grande dame eminence. In Venice, she became known as l’ultima dogaressa, or the last female doge, floating around in her private gondola, in her trademark jazzy sunglasses, her dogs snuggled into her lap.

Peggy was not the first remarkable woman to have occupied the Venier palazzo. In the previous four decades, it had been lived in by the Marchesa Luisa Casati and, more briefly, by the English socialite Doris, Lady Castlerosse. Like Peggy, both had moved to Venice to relaunch their lives – and made a striking impact on the city.

In 1910, when Luisa had first viewed the palazzo, its crumbling walls had been overrun with ivy and its roof was gaping with holes. Neighbours had long petitioned to have it torn down, yet to her the building had an aura of gothic romance, and it seemed the ideal stage on which to present herself in Venice. Luisa, at 29, ranked high in Italian society. She was heiress to an industrial fortune and married to a distinguished aristocrat. But she had fallen under the spell of the writer and aesthete Gabriele D’Annunzio and, in thrall to his creed that “one must make one’s own life as one makes a work of art”, she was ready to walk out on her marriage and dedicate herself to art.

Treating her whole life as a work of art … Marchesa Luisa Casati in 1922. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Tall and thin, her hair reddened with henna, her eyes made enormous with kohl, Luisa set out to make every detail of her Venetian life into a creative spectacle. An army of builders went to work on the palazzo, artfully retaining its air of dereliction while creating a burnished interior of glass, marble and gold. A menagerie of parrots, monkeys and peacocks were imported, along with an elegant cheetah that accompanied Luisa everywhere, restrained on a leash by her 6ft black manservant, Garbi.

Her wardrobe was no less theatrical, as she paraded the city in harem trousers and medieval brocade cloaks. But her most elaborate costumes were reserved for her summer parties. At one particularly fantastical event in 1913, Luisa welcomed guests to her palazzo dressed as a harlequin, with a monkey and a macaw perched on her shoulder. At around 2am, her entire party was ferried down to the Piazza San Marco, which she had commandeered for the night.

Two hundred servants in 18th-century livery formed a human cordon to keep back the watching crowds. When Luisa made her entrance, wearing an enormous crinolined dress, she was accompanied by a retinue of flag-bearers, trumpeters and falconers, while a floating band of musicians serenaded her from the lagoon.

She became one of the tourist sights of Venice. When she and her cheetah floated around the canals, people gathered on the bridges to applaud. But Luisa wasn’t just interested in making herself a living work of art – she wanted artists to create a record of her. She began commissioning a lavish gallery of portraits. No fewer than five were exhibited at the 1914 Biennale and, over the following years, she would sit for Jacob Epstein, Augustus John, Man Ray, Kees van Dongen and Giacomo Balla – accumulating a collection as extensive but infinitely more narcissistic than Peggy’s.

After the war, Luisa also acquired a villa in Paris, where her experiments became more strenuously avant-garde. She went to the opera wearing a dress of white swan down, which moulted as she moved. She went to parties as Lady Macbeth, with a waxen hand attached to her throat. Her costume at one fancy dress ball was a Picasso-inspired “cubist dress” constructed from wire and electric lights. Mortifyingly, the dress was crushed as she entered the ballroom, and she suffered an electric shock.

There was an intensity to Luisa’s obsession with image that transcended vanity. She had a very erratic personality, both theatrical and intensely shy, and might have suffered a mild form of Asperger’s. Certainly, she found refuge in reinventing herself as an art work. Discomfort and ridicule meant nothing to her, nor did money, and by 1924 she had spent so recklessly that she was forced to give up the tenancy of her palazzo. In 1931, she was declared bankrupt.

After Luisa left the palazzo, it passed through a succession of owners, until Doris Castlerosse came to view it in 1936. Born Doris Delevingne (she was the great aunt of Cara), she had always been determined to fly the coop of her comfortable but conventional upbringing in Beckenham, south London. She had married a lord, accumulated trunkfuls of clothes and an address book of glamorous friends. But she was incurably restless and flagrantly unfaithful to her husband, Valentine.

Doris Castlerosse at the Venier palazzo in 1938. Photograph: Private Collection

Her long list of lovers – including such unlikely conquests as Cecil Beaton and Winston Churchill – had prompted certain English drawing rooms to close their doors to her. In Venice, she planned to make a fresh start as a European salonnière, and with money from her then current lover, Margot Hoffman, she had the palazzo refurbished to an expensive modern gloss.

During her first Venetian season, Doris was able to boast Beaton, Douglas Fairbanks and the young Prince Philip of Greece among her guests, and she seemed destined to become a social force. But the outbreak of war put an end to her ambitions and, tragically, to her life. By the time Peggy came to view the palazzo, there was little trace of Doris’s occupation. The troops billeted there during the war had graffitied her pretty stuccoed walls.

Peggy was unsentimental in eradicating the rest of Doris’s presence, stripping out the luxurious decorations and converting her black marble bathrooms into galleries. The result was light and functional. If Doris would have been offended by the palazzo’s new aesthetic, Luisa would been heartbroken. Almost nothing was left of the fantasy she had orchestrated back in 1910, and in the years after Peggy’s death, as the Guggenheim Foundation smartened up the palazzo into an air-conditioned museum, it was entirely denuded of what Luisa would have recognised as poetry.

And yet, while she may have railed against the destruction of her vision, Luisa might still have been able to salute Peggy and Doris as kindred spirits. All had lived their lives at odds with conventional morality, and all had occupied the palazzo as defiantly single women. There was an elegant irony in the fact that a building that had been planned as a monument to male Venier pride had been rescued from oblivion by this maverick trio of women.


Judith Mackrell’s The Unfinished Palazzo: Life, Love and Art in Venice is published by Thames and Hudson on 1 June.


By Judith Mackrell, Reprint from The Guardian, 10 May 2017, © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.

“Damien Hirst: Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable review – a titanic return,” By Jonathan Jones

A detail from Demon with Bowl by Damien Hirst. Photograph: Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd


“Damien Hirst: Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable review – a titanic return”

Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, Venice
‘Artist has once again found the underwater grotto in his mind where monsters live, making a fool out of all of us who lost faith’

By JONATHAN JONES


Art is magical. It is a fairytale. It can make you rich. It can make you poor. It can turn everything you thought you knew inside out and upside down.

It has made Damien Hirst rich, colossally so, and now it has done something else. It has redeemed him. For years he has appeared a figure of strangely wasted and ruined promise, whose commercialism snuffed out his artistic spark. Yet with his exhibition Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, which fills not only a Venetian palace but also the capacious halls of the ship-shaped Punta della Dogana at the mouth of the Grand Canal, the arrogant, exciting, hilarious, mind-boggling imagination that made him such a thrilling artist in the 1990s is audaciously and beautifully reborn.

The young artist who put a tiger shark in a glass tank never died, after all, and we who lost faith in him look like fools for failing to believe.

Not that he is taking credit for the Egyptian statues, Greek armour, Chinese bells, unicorns, medusas and other wonders that unfold in ever more mind-boggling richness and strangeness as you explore what amounts to an entire museum of ancient history and myth. Hirst claims a new role, that of archaeological impresario, presenting to the world one of the most important discoveries of recent times. In 2008 the wreck of a treasure ship called the Apistos (meaning “the Unbelievable”) was found on the seabed off east Africa. It sank about 2,000 years ago. Its unique cargo of global artefacts, assembled by a freed slave called Cif Amotan II, have spent two millennia undergoing a “sea change” straight out of Shakespeare’s Tempest, becoming wrapped in coloured corals and bizarre crustacean growths – until the archaeologists who found this sunken marvel asked Hirst to use his millions to help recover it.

Sphinx by Damien Hirst. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Sphinx by Damien Hirst. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

If you believe that, you’ll believe anything. The curators who told this bit of hokum straightfaced at the start of the press view deserve bonuses, if Hirst has not yet bankrupted himself creating this luxury masterpiece. Telltale clues that we are not really seeing ancient works of art include a barnacle-encrusted statue of Goofy, a sculpture of Mowgli and Baloo, and what looks like a Jeff Koons statue that has been left on the seabed for a few years. The multicoloured corals are mostly painted bronze.

Calendar Stone by Damien Hirst. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Calendar Stone by Damien Hirst. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

I was disappointed for a moment. Photographs and films of the salvage project Hirst’s team carried out in the Indian Ocean make you hope for an underwater exhibition or a boat ride through a sunken world. Instead, the display at Punta della Dogana starts with a gargantuan fake Aztec sun stone that frankly looks like a prop from an Indiana Jones film. Is this going to be any more artistically rewarding than a trip to the Harry Potter studios to see the sorting hat? But Hirst’s wizardry proves to be the real thing.

It takes a kind of genius to push kitsch to the point where it becomes sublime. Hirst’s hero Koons has done something like it with his giant reflective balloon dogs. Here, the kitsch doesn’t so much grow on you as wrap you in its tentacles and drag you down into its underwater palace. After one implausible fake of an unknown pharaoh’s portrait, I was disgusted. After a roomful, followed by rooms full of everything from Roman dinnerware (purportedly) to a massive coral-covered statue of a multi-armed woman fighting a writhing many-headed Hydra, I was intoxicated.

Detail from Hydra and Kali by Damien Hirst. Photograph: Andrea Merola/AP

Detail from Hydra and Kali by Damien Hirst. Photograph: Andrea Merola/AP

The exhibit that completely overcame the last shreds of scepticism was a display of two enormous skulls of Polyphemus, the one-eyed cyclops that tries to eat the heroes of Homer’s Odyssey. These are marble models of mammoth skulls: archaeologists believe, says a display label, that the hole for the mammoth’s tusks may have inspired the myth of a race of one-eyed giants.

The thing is, this theory really does exist, and you can read a similar label beside a fossil skull of a prehistoric elephant in the Natural History Museum. Throughout this exhibition, real historical information is offered about what are clearly fakes. Then again, some of the fakes are more plausible than others. Are those real Roman coins? Is that a real Roman spoon? I can’t tell.

Skull of a Cyclops and Skull of a Cyclops Examined by a Diver. Photograph: Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.

Skull of a Cyclops and Skull of a Cyclops Examined by a Diver. Photograph: Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.

It is the combination of intricate detail and stonking, mind-blowing scale and quantity that makes this collection so beguiling. By the time you get to a room full of gold objects, including a majestic-looking cornucopia (horn of plenty) and a gold replica of one of the sculpted portraits of life in west Africa, you feel drugged with history and art.

It is not just a random mass of stuff, but a subtle meditation on the practice of collecting, on museums and why we go to them. Throughout the exhibition, sculptures in rollicking bad taste alternate with glass cases that evolve Hirst’s oldest, most quintessential idea – putting things in vitrines and cabinets – into a profound image of the act of collecting. These cabinets contain things of apparent antiquity and historical meaning, arranged – as they might be in a very beautiful museum – by a fastidious curator. What are the principles of arrangement? How have the treasures of the Unbelievable been classified? How do we classify and know anything at all, and what drives people to do it?

This fictional museum is not only impressive, but moving. Hirst shares his passion with us. He obviously loves art, loves the dark and inexplicable mystery of it. He communicates, too, a love of history – or perhaps, rather, a love of time. Art is changed by time as wrecks are changed by the sea. Today’s spoon is tomorrow’s wondrous relic.

Will Hirst one day be in the history books as a genius? It looks a hell of a lot more likely after this titanic return to form.

Aspect of Katie Ishtar ¥o-landi. Photograph: Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd

Aspect of Katie Ishtar ¥o-landi. Photograph: Prudence Cuming Associates © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd

At Palazzo Grassi, you enter the second part of the exhibition to see a foot … a leg … It is the biggest statue I have ever beheld. Hirst has created a figure on the scale of ancient monuments like the Colossus of Constantine, whose marble foot survives in Rome’s Capitoline Museum. Even more disorientating, this figure that dwarfs and awes a now seriously befuddled crowd of journalists has been fitted into a tall, narrow galleried courtyard. It is a monstrous bronze man out of a dream or gothic novel. Some say it represents Pazuzu, and that the bowl it holds is for human blood – but the curator disagrees.

When did I last see a contemporary artwork that surprised, unsettled and delighted me as much as this? It was probably when I walked into the Saatchi gallery in 1992 and saw a tiger shark apparently swimming towards me, mouth open.

Hirst has once again found the underwater grotto in his mind where the monsters live.


Exhibition:

“Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable”
April 9 — December 3, 2017
Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana, Venice
Info: http://bit.ly/2oQ5RML


By Jonathan Jones, Reprint from TheGuardian.com, 6 April 2017, © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.

“Simon Starling: Modernism Gazing Into the Past,” By Jason Farago

Masks and Video From “Simon Starling: At Twilight,” an exhibition at Japan Society.
Credit Richard P. Goodbody/2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via DACS, London


“Simon Starling: Modernism Gazing Into the Past”

By JASON FARAGO, 29 December 2016


“Modernism is our antiquity,” the historian T. J. Clark wrote in “Farewell to an Idea,” his 1999 eulogy for the art of the last century. By which he meant: As Greece and Rome served as the base line for Western culture from the Renaissance onward, modernism itself had become our model and myth, to be reinterpreted at will but never really understood. Spend half a day in Chelsea, and you will see few gods and heroes — but you will trip over archives of failed utopian collectives, photos of crumbling tower blocks, rebooted avant-garde dances and all sorts of fragments of the recent past. Ulysses may be dead, but “Ulysses” endures.

Few contemporary artists have wrestled with the legacy of modernism as consistently as Simon Starling, a Scottish artist based in Copenhagen, whose previous projects have involved melting Bauhaus chairs down into beer cans or chucking a replica of a Henry Moore statue into Lake Ontario. Now, in an airtight but gratifying exhibition at Japan Society — his first at a New York City institution — he turns to William Butler Yeats and Ezra Pound, two modernist writers who had their own ornery gazes on the past. Yeats’s “At the Hawk’s Well,” a 1916 one-act play indebted to both Irish folklore and Japanese drama, provides the tonic note for Mr. Starling’s “At Twilight,” a forking meditation — featuring both his own art and significant historical loans — on modernism’s cross-cultural power and contemporary resonance.

This is a rare outing for a non-Japanese artist at Japan Society, and it has been curated by Yukie Kamiya, the director of the institute’s art gallery. It opens with a dark, spotlit gallery featuring exquisite lacquered masks, of the sort used in Japan’s highly ritualized Noh theater, attached to charred tree trunks. (The masks were newly made from Paulownia wood by Yasuo Michii, an artisan with whom Mr. Starling has collaborated before.) Rather than recreate the props of “At the Hawk’s Well,” Mr. Starling riffs on its creators and their colleagues in wartime Dublin, Paris and Tokyo. One mask depicts Yeats with a swoop of lustrous white hair, his jaw shut by knotted strings. The one depicting Pound, who served as Yeats’s secretary and translated Noh dramas, is all white and angular, repurposing the bust of the poet sculpted by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska in 1914. Already, then, Mr. Starling is both channeling Yeats’s original play and improvising, to create a remake that chases its own tail.

Yasuo Michii’s “Mask of Nancy Cunard (After Constantin Brancusi)” in the Simon Starling show at Japan Society. Credit The Modern Institute/2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via DACS, London

Yasuo Michii’s “Mask of Nancy Cunard (After Constantin Brancusi)” in the Simon Starling show at Japan Society. Credit The Modern Institute/2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via DACS, London

There are other masks. A gilded one has just two slits for eyes; it represents Nancy Cunard, the hard-drinking heiress who opened her home to Yeats’s performers and whom Brancusi sculpted in a similarly abstract way. Another draws on Jacob Epstein’s “The Rock Drill,” a classic of Vorticist machine romance that later came to symbolize the brutality of World War I. A stern bronze mask with long animal hair depicts Michio Ito, the Japanese dancer in “At the Hawk’s Well”; he played the title bird, who protected a well of immortality. (You may have seen the dashing portrait of Ito on the poster for “Human Interest,” the Whitney’s current show of American portraiture.)

A video features the alluring Thomas Edwards, of the Scottish Ballet, in a hawk costume, as he reimagines the play’s largely undocumented choreography. He swoops his arm down, in flight; he lunges backward, pushing his head to the ground; he bobs left and right, like a disco dancer, against a score of cymbals and horns that charges harder than the flute and drum backdrops of Noh. You can later see his ravishing steel-gray costume, which Mr. Starling designed with a Tokyo atelier.

Mr. Starling, who won the Turner Prize in 2005, first presented “At Twilight” in Glasgow, where the masks were used in a three-night performance of a new play whose characters included Yeats, Pound, Ito, Cunard and Mr. Starling himself. (A critic for the magazine Frieze called the performance “as much theatrical lecture as play.”) At Japan Society, the new masks and costumes are instead placed in conversation with impressive archival materials from Yeats and his circle: letters from the poet detailing the preparations for “At the Hawk’s Well,” on loan from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin; “The Rock Drill” from the Museum of Modern Art; and a newly cast edition of Brancusi’s Cunard bust.

Half a dozen Noh masks from the 14th century, and woodblock prints of Meiji-era Japanese actors, reintroduce the theatrical tradition that Yeats and his collaborators — with the confident universalism that we later generations can find suspicious — actually understood rather poorly. And, a bit weirdly, there is a stuffed Eeyore, A. A. Milne’s depressed poetry-writing donkey; Yeats and Pound waited out the war in the Sussex forest where Milne set “Winnie-the-Pooh.”

“At the Hawk’s Well (Grayscale),” a mask by Yasuo Michii. Credit The Modern Institute/2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via DACS, London

“At the Hawk’s Well (Grayscale),” a mask by Yasuo Michii.
The Modern Institute/2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via DACS, London

In other, more nervous hands, the kind of archival project that Mr. Starling has undertaken could become defensive, an easy way to buttress one’s own position in an art history that can seem infinite. (When everything’s been done, isn’t it safest to rework an older masterpiece?) What makes this project more engrossing — beyond the beauty of the masks and the elegance of the filmed dance — is Mr. Starling’s understanding of historical modernism as a transnational condition, indeed the first such transnational style, which an Irish playwright, an American poet and a Japanese dancer could share even if they understood it with slight differences. That promiscuous approach is one the globe-trotting Mr. Starling adopts in “At Twilight,” though here Noh theater and Irish legend have been supplanted, as source materials, by modernism itself: The recent past is our own mythology.

And yet gazing on Mr. Starling’s masks and on the photos and letters from a century ago, I felt that the distance between the two bodies of work was not so great. The idea that modernism may be our very own kind of antiquity emerged in the 1990s during a moment of relative peace and permanence that some thought signified the end of history. Two decades later, the themes of Yeats, Pound and other modernists — themes of alienation, decay, a world in fragments — feel more current than anyone expected.

Correction: December 30, 2016
An earlier version of this review was accompanied by a picture whose caption referred incorrectly to the work shown, “Project for a Masquerade (Hiroshima).” It is not part of the show at Japan Society.


Simon Starling: At Twilight
Through Jan. 15 at Japan Society; 212-715-1258, japansociety.org.

A version of this review appears in print on December 30, 2016, on Page C19 of the New York edition with the headline: Ah, the Ancient Classic Works of 1916!


Reprint from The New York Times, ART & DESIGN | ART REVIEW, 29 December 2016, © 2016 The New York Times Company