no more: Neil Winokur’s Telephone.
The Everyday Object in American Art
York State Museum, through July 10
Ho-hum—another exhibition of museum-quality pop and post-pop
artists comes to the Capital Region. Who would have thought
it possible even a few years ago to be bored at such a prospect?
But now, events like this are—amazingly—becoming routine around
here. Just recalling two shows from the last couple of years—Strangely
Familiar at the New York State Museum, which featured
postmodernist work from the collection of the Museum of Modern
Art, and the Tang Teaching Museum’s outstanding show drawn
from the Sonnabend collection in 2002—makes the point pretty
Yet, Extra-Ordinary: The Everyday Object in American Art,
which is the 13th installment in the Bank of America (formerly
Fleet Bank) Great Art series at the State Museum, is still
cause for celebration. Incorporating just over 40 pieces by
22 artists, the earliest a 1938 Man Ray ink drawing and the
latest a 2000 graphite on canvas by Shimon Okshteyn, the show
is a treasure trove of (mostly) witty and masterful works
by some of the best American artists of recent times, all
culled from the vast holdings of New York City’s Whitney Museum.
Curated by the Whitney’s Dana Miller, and accompanied by a
nice color brochure with several reproductions and an informative,
clearly written essay by Miller, Extra-Ordinary aims
to “[illuminate] unexpected facets of the familiar . . . through
artworks that compel us to examine our surroundings with fresh
eyes.” This goal is both apt and achievable by the show—except
for the likelihood that we’ve seen these works, or ones much
the same, over the several decades since Dada and pop swept
away the old conventions.
For many visitors to the museum, this will be their first
experience of this kind of art. But, for me, the show was
more a case of revisiting numerous dear, old friends. With
some, I shared nostalgic reminiscences, with others a new
conversation was begun—and then there were a few first-time
encounters, adding spice to the experience.
Among those, perhaps the freshest was that with Okshteyn,
whose extremely large pencil rendering of a battered metal
can bestows upon the subject both a monumentality and a microscopic
scrutiny that rattles back and forth between coldly observant
and passionately loving. This sort of relationship to objects
is the standard M.O. of pop art, and appears in many of the
pieces included here.
For example, the only photographs on view, three each by Ed
Ruscha and Neil Winokur, take a similar, dead-on approach
to manufactured products by setting them up on a studio tabletop
and placing them in the center of the frame. But Ruscha and
Winokur (working in 1961 and 1985, respectively) apply almost
opposite esthetics, and achieve very different results—Ruscha’s
somewhat soft-edged black-and-white images of a Sun Maid raisin
box and a SPAM can appear almost naïve in contrast to Winokur’s
slick, vividly hued Cibachromes of a Brownie box camera and
Jim Dine, a great, somewhat underappreciated contemporary
of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns (who are represented
here by one piece each), has two large paintings in the show,
both from 1962. A Black Shovel, Number 2 updates Duchamp
by placing a slyly modified shovel (its handle is far longer
than could be practical) across the middle of a long, horizontal
canvas. Both are painted soot-black, roughly, conjuring up
the brutish toil of coal miners and ditchdiggers.
Dine’s other piece has a far lighter tone. It presents four
variations on a toaster in the neat quadrants of a very large
vertical canvas; mirroring his contemporaries and certain
predecessors, Dine has placed the actual toaster in one of
the rectangles where the others have images of it. This painting
resonates with one by Vija Celmins (they hang roughly back-to-back
in the four-room space) from 1964 that presents a glowing
space heater as if it were an altar (which it may very well
have been to the young painter in her chilly studio).
Other common objects that get the star treatment here include
a handtruck with wrapped package by Christo from 1973; Alexander
Calder’s 1972 Chock, which transforms a coffee can
into a flying heron; a stunningly realistic 5-foot-tall fiberglass
sculpture of a simple paper bag by Alex Hay from 1968; Johns’
lush, liquidy 1985 ink-on-plastic Two Flags; and a
Jeff Koons showcase presenting four Hoover vacuum cleaners
as if they were in the Smithsonian.
No one, however, can outdo Claes Oldenburg when it comes to
elevating the common object to the level of an icon. The show
is, in fact, dominated by 12 Oldenburgs (a few give credit
to his collaborator Coosje van Bruggen), all of which are
pretty delightful in varying ways. Of these, probably the
most iconic is his model for a 45-foot clothespin, fashioned
in stylish Cor-Ten and stainless steel. A same-size pencil
sketch for the 5-foot model is also included, as is a related
sketch, in color, of a project for a huge safety pin sculpture.
These are classic Oldenburg: If you like his mix of blatant
humor and sweet reverence, you’ll love these and the others
in the show (including several particularly significant soft
sculptures, as well as several really fine graphic pieces).
I find Oldenburg more than just amusing, and his technique
is very impressive in whatever medium—but there is a bit of
the flash-in-the-pan about some of his ideas.
The show also includes excellent examples of two- and three-dimensional
work by Richard Artschwager, Robert Gober, Marisol, Fred Tomaselli
(my favorite, actually) and Robert Moskowitz—plus, of course,
Andy Warhol. I highly recommend it.
Garner, Michael Heroux and Kersten Lörcher
Street Gallery, through April 9
Sorry for the late notice, but if you can get
to the Fulton Street Gallery by Saturday, this
is a show worth seeing. It combines the work of
three more-or-less new artists on the scene who
ply diverse media but share the common ground
of abstract figuration.
Heroux, who paints in built-up layers of black
and gray gouache on little canvas panels, then
groups them in grids of four, occupies the rear
loft of the gallery, where the subtlety of his
work can be enjoyed in quiet intimacy. The paintings
are purely formal, suggestive of pieces of bone,
or nudes, or stones—like fragments of unearthed
Greek marbles. It’s a really nice debut for this
Garner, an architect and furniture designer, has
created a site-specific installation consisting
of two monumentally-scaled wooden structures modeled
after Japanese kimonos. The first of the two confronts
the gallery-goer at the entrance, then guides
you inside and embraces you, as the second spreads
winglike arms to carry you along. I found the
two pieces together a bit too imposing for the
narrow gallery, but was impressed by their high
level of design and craftsmanship in common materials.
Lörcher is also an architect. He has created an
extended suite of color photographs taken during
the dismantling process of a Troy landmark, the
tremendous, facially graffittoed King Fuels tank.
What Lörcher found in this subject was a scale-resistant
landscape of twisted metal, sometimes gritty and
fragmented, more often lyrically gestural. The
work verges on complete abstraction, except in
a couple of instances where figures can be seen
and the almost incomprehensible vastness of the
subject is revealed. It’s a fine body of work.