Art News and Opinion: December 11, 2010

Julie Mehretu. Rising Down. 2008. Ink and acrylic on canvas, 96 x 144″

Kyle Chayka of Hyperallergic reports that The Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition “On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century” purports to display the radical transformation of the medium of drawing throughout the twentieth century, but it really narrows the definition of “drawing” considerably, limiting works not by medium but by execution—almost every work in the show is non-objective. Chayka finds that the result is visually impressive but conceptually lacking, especially considering it is supposed to be a century-long survey of the medium. Although some truly lovely movements and artists are represented, the installation appears too final, especially lacking in figure drawing. Chayka concludes his lament with, “Abstraction is never the final word. Haven’t we been through this already?”

Contemporary art can sometimes be allowed to spill into other genres, and that’s okay, so long as it isn’t a sound installation from this year’s winner of the Turner Prize Susan Philipsz, writes Richard Dorment of The Telegraph. In the exhibition that accompanies the Turner Prize, visitors step into a nearly empty gallery to find themselves surrounded by Philipsz’ unaccompanied voice singing a sad Scottish folk song about a ghost. Dorment assures his readers that his lack of appreciation for the artist’s work has nothing to do with it being a sound installation—indeed, even as an art critic, Dorment says he can appreciate good music. Philipsz’ wailings simply do not fit into this category—he goes so far as to say that appreciators of similar such authentic folk songs “belong in the ninth circle of hell.” Despite this less than cheerful assertion of her work, a congratulatory nod is certainly due to Philipsz, who enjoyed an exhibition earlier this year featuring dirge-like madrigals recorded at different sites around London.

Two weeks ago, after receiving fueled complaints from conservatives and the Catholic Church, The Smithsonian Museum removed a video entitled “Fire in My Belly” by artist David Wojnarowicz, part of the “Hide/Seek” exhibition. Amongst the louder complaints, The Catholic League issued a statement called for the reduction of funds to The Smithsonian Institute as a whole for hosting an exhibition they claim is filled with anti-Christian sentiments—the video featured a host of ants crawling over a Christ statue. Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City demands that the museum take a stand and reinstate the video, stating that “if we believe that art is transformative, moving and transfixing, then we have to dedicate venues for its display.” Johnson maintains that the financial risk the Museum would undertake in this venture would be worth it for the sake of art, and as a respectful salute to the legacy of Wojnarowicz.

Left: John Stuart Cloud (American, 1914–2007). Photograph for The Dugout (detail), 1948. Gelatin silver print, 9 13/16 x 7 9/16″ Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust. Norman Rockwell Licensing,  (Brooklyn Museum)

While ants crawl over Jesus and sound is hailed as art, Americana favorite Norman Rockwell is as popular as ever. Ken Johnson of The New York Times reviews a new exhibition entitled “Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera” currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum. It is no secret that Rockwell relied on photographs to achieve the seeming naturalism of his paintings. But the extent and sophistication of his use of photography from the late 1930s on will come as a surprise to many of his fans, as displayed in this exhibition featuring over 100 black-and-white photographs from which Rockwell drew his inspiration. Despite this fascinating insight into the artist’s method, Johnson writes that Rockwell was not proud of relying on photographs. He considered it a form of cheating, a necessary evil by which to substantiate his unreal, sentimental fantasies. Rockwell must be rolling in his grave.

For an exemplary artistic life in modern Britain, it’s worth visiting Colin Self’s exhibition “One Thousand Sketches” at the James Hyman Gallery in London, as reviewed by Jonathan Jones of The Guardian. Self is well-known for being one of the British artists of the 1960s that competed with America’s Pop Art movement, using clever sarcasm to confront big picture topics such as war, steering far clear from soup cans and celebrities. At a time when folk songs were usually seen as the style of protest, Self showed how a pop iconography could be turned against the cold war. In this new exhibition at the James Hyman Gallery, Jones notes Self’s continued use of humor and fun. The artist’s obvious passion for drawing married with his fascination of modern images makes for a compelling and worthwhile show.

Laura Lawson paints when writer’s block strikes and writes when painter’s block strikes. She has studied fine art at LCAD and is pursuing a degree in journalism. Recently diagnosed with the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, she strives to bring hope to those without vision through her blog. She is currently working on her first book about coping with vision loss.

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