Installation view of Picasso Sculpture. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, September 14, 2015–February 7, 2016. © 2015 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Pablo Enriquez
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The praise for the recent Museum of Modern Art exhibition, boldly but simply entitled Picasso Sculpture, contained one superlative after another. Roberta Smith, writing in the New York Times, asserted of the show that “Many exhibitions are good, some are great and a very few are tantamount to works of art in their own right — for their clarity, lyricism and accumulative wisdom.” Peter Schjeldahl told his New Yorker readers that he felt Picasso was likely “more naturally a sculptor than a painter,” though “all his “training and early experience, and by far most of his prodigious energy, went into painting.” Such claims as these mean that their subject occupies an immense place in the canon of great artists, and a pivotal position in the long stretch of art history. Though known for his nearly stupefying reputation as the master modernist painter, and now also as Picasso the genius sculptor, we need not let his repute become the be all and end all of our ways of looking at, and measuring the weight of, this complex individual (I almost said phenomenon). There have been negative assessments before this; John Berger’s The Success and Failure of Picasso (1965), for example, remains a book well-worth reading. But the amount of laudatory print on the subject, in popular and academic idioms, grows a bit more daunting every year.

More… “Measuring Genius”

Charles Molesworth has published a number of books on modern literature. His most recent book is The Capitalist and the Critic: J.P. Morgan, Roger Fry and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (U. of Texas).
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Takashi Murakami

 

Walking into the Murakami exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art is like walking inside a toy store that is itself inside of a comic book. You’re immediately confronted with a life-sized statue of Miss Ko, one of Murakami’s leggy cartoon broads, directly referencing the Japanese comic traditions of anime and manga. She fits somewhere uneasily between Saturday morning children’s entertainment and porn. The middle of the giant first room of the exhibit is taken up by “Second Mission Project ko,” in which Miss Ko characters are robotized. They are to be found in various states of transformation, from well-endowed naked females to futuristic fighter planes (plus a vagina and a breast or two). The surrounding walls are covered with typical Murakami canvasses: bright colors, shiny flowers, the bobbing face of DOB, a vaguely Mickey Mouse-like character who… More…

"360º room for all colours," 2002.

 

Olafur Eliasson likes light. He also likes color. He likes to combine light and color and then sometimes he likes darkness, the absence of light. The first room I walked into at his major MoMA/P.S.1 exhibit has a spinning prism in the middle. It throws colored strips of light onto the white walls, and when people walk around the room they too become colored. They also create black shadows on the walls. It turns out that people like to see themselves in different colors and that they also like to see their own shadows. They delight in it, really. I guess we’ve always known that. But Eliasson confirms the fact. People run around the room giggling and they take pictures constantly with phones, with digital cameras. Down the hall, an oval room changes color while, again, all the… More…

"Screen (for the rooms behind)"

 

It’s not a good time to be an art critic. Much of what’s written is pale. It is weak and descriptive to no purpose. Or at the other extreme it is pure jargon, laughable if read aloud to the uninitiated. Junk. In fact, if art critics actually believed that anything we said or wrote mattered, we would probably be shooting ourselves in droves.

It is, however, a good time to be an artist. The heroic days of hard drinking at the Cedar and a fistfight with Jackson Pollock are over. But on the positive side of the ledger you can do pretty much whatever the hell you want and there’s someone out there fully prepared to take it seriously. Some lament this fact; they want a criterion back. I don’t. Critics are the owls of Minerva, flying around… More…

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The people who put together 30,000 Years of Art: The story of human creativity across time and space were no fools. They realized that the preface, introduction, and justification would either have to be infinite or non-existent. They chose the void. Two pages into the book and you’re already looking at art. No discussion about what art is, what characteristics the works share, who chose the works, why they are representative. Nothing. There’s one brief statement running in a narrow column on the first full page. It says: “From the time when human beings can first be called human, they have felt compelled to depict themselves and their world — as gods, mortals, animals or abstractions.” It’s so broad as to say everything and therefore nothing at all.

Our woman in black from Brown.

Sometime in the middle of the 19th century painting started to get a little screwed up. It began to worry. Painters stopped simply doing what they were doing and started spending more and more time trying to figure out what they were doing and why. They got into the “What Is?” question. “What is Painting?”, “What is Art?” “What Is…?”

It’s hard to blame them for it. The “What Is?” question was in the air. Chalk it up to the vast and traumatic transformations that ushered in modern times. Everybody was trying to figure out what was different and what was still the same. In painting, the biggest change was in the abandonment of representation as the central task. Nobody was interested in problems of perspective anymore, in figuring out how best to make the world of three dimensions look vaguely like itself on the canvas of two dimensions. And… More…