Thursday, April 21, 2011

critical conditions

It's official: The WaPo went in-house to fill its vacant art critic post. Starting May 2, Phillip Kennicott adds vis arts to his current mix of writing about architecture and culture. Read the official memo over at the WCP here.

"But what about Jeffry Cudlin?" you might ask, especially if you happen to be me. Hey, I'll continue freelancing for Los Posties as long as they're willing to put up with me...and it sounds like they're willing, for some reason: Look for my next museum review to run in the Sunday Arts section a couple of weeks from now.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

ault text

My review of the George Ault show currently on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum is in this week's Washington City Paper.

Read it here.

Pictured: George Ault, "January Full Moon," oil on canvas, 1941

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

laugh and the LAT poops on you

On a slow news day, some people crack lame jokes. Others pass the time by generating phony moral outrage. And then there are guys like Christopher Knight, who direct phony moral outrage at lame jokes.

Yes, Kriston Capps, John Anderson, Washington City Paper arts editor Jonathan Fischer and I
had a little too much fun musing on the unsuccessful attack on Gauguin's "Two Tahitian Women," on view currently at the National Gallery of Art in the exhibition "Gauguin: Maker of Myth." (Read my review of the show here.)

We thought: Why Gauguin? Are there other pieces that might've made better targets? Our answers were quite silly, and in no way intended to suggest that people descend on the National Mall with pitchforks and torches.

Christopher Knight at the LA Times took exception to our fun, though. My thoughts on his response are below:

The alternative tabloid proceeded to "recommend" three works in the museum's collection more suitable for trashing than the Post-Impressionist picture, which is on loan from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to a popular traveling exhibition.

Well, that's not exactly true. I didn't say I wanted to "trash" "Graft"; I just said I wanted to live in it, and maybe do some really bad performance art up there. I don't have a problem with the piece, personally. I just like the Wizard of Oz. And oil. And yelling at people from high places.

But, you know, if as a result of my offhand silliness, dozens of weirdos in silver face paint flock to the mall with welding rigs in tow, then I guess I owe Roxy Paine an apology.

The story appears in the paper's ArtsDesk blog, not on a comedy page, where standards would probably be higher.

Sadly, this is true. The Onion would never run a regular WCP Arts Desk feature like "Far Out Vs. Hot Dang."
But I suspect the shiver that ran down the spines of every museum curator around the globe when the Gauguin story first appeared, fearing possible copycats, will get a new jolt from what amounts to water-cooler tomfoolery now posted by art critics on the Internet.

Well, actually, Christopher, I'm a full-time art curator--I do this stuff for a living. So I'm on both the "jolt" and "tomfoolery" sides of this equation.

I guess this means you're actually trying to defend me from myself here. To which I say: Thanks for the assist, but I think I can handle this guy.

Look, I get it. It's always serious business when a priceless work of art is
not in any way physically harmed. And you know what? If, as a result of our writing, another work of art somewhere should happen to not actually get damaged, either, we'll take full responsibility for that.

Monday, April 04, 2011

i'll be seeing you

I had a review in Sunday's Washington Post of "Seeing Now" at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Read it here.

Deinstallation of "On the Road" starts today; installation of "Spring Solos 2011" starts later this week. Looking forward to seeing you next Friday, April 15, for a fabulous opening. Or defriending you if I don't.

Kidding! You just won't be able to post on my wall anymore.

Pictured: Mickalene Thomas, "Le Déjeuner Sur l'herbe: Les Trois Femmes Noires"

Friday, April 01, 2011

send in the clowns

Today the National Portrait Gallery announced an unusual addition to their 2013 calendar of exhibitions: portraits of jubilant clowns, all crudely rendered, and typically shown against bright monochrome backdrops.

The show, titled “Pogo: The Savage Mirror,” collects examples of prison art from notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

“It’s important to understand the Portrait Gallery’s mission,” explained gallery director Martin Sullivan. “In choosing to show any body of work, our museum must always ask about the cultural import of the figure being described—our shows are about context and representation first and foremost. And I don’t think you can argue that serial killers have not played an outsized role in American popular culture, and in our collective imagination.”

Gacy, executed in 1994, is known primarily for murdering 33 young teenage boys and burying most of them in the crawlspace of his Norwood Park, Illinois house. But Gacy also took breaks from the bloodbath to follow his other favorite pastime: clowning for the Moose club's Jolly Jokers group, designing his own costume and distinctive makeup for his merry alter ego, Pogo.

The 43 pieces in the show, all created while Gacy sat on death row, and all depicting smiling clowns framed by rainbows and balloons, are, arguably, self-portraits of a psychopath.

“The show brings up many interesting art-historical questions,” Sullivan said. “What is the relationship of art produced by those who have lost their freedom to the broader culture? Can we make aesthetic sense of an oeuvre tainted by tragedy? Why are clowns so creepy?”

Sullivan dismisses the idea that Gacy’s murders make mounting such an exhibition unthinkable. “Art floats free of the artist’s biography, misdeeds, and even his intentions,” he mused. “In fact, there’s a long history of creative types indulging in questionable behavior and still being honored for their work. Phillip Johnson was a National Socialist. Carl Andre pushed his wife out a window. John Currin might be a libertarian.”

“Most artists have skeletons in their closets—it just turns out that in Gacy’s case, the skeletons were actually skeletons. And they were buried under his house.”

Oddly, Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough seems unconcerned about possible scandal or outcry. “Look, there’s nothing offensive in these pictures—no crosses, no leathermen, no pictures of Ellen DeGeneres. I checked.”

“The only thing museum goers might object to is the context, the history. And we have a strategy for dealing with that: All wall text will be set in teeny tiny typefaces.”

When pressed about the wisdom of showing art by a mass murderer so soon after the "Hide/Seek" censorship debacle last winter (“I prefer to call it a debacle-tunity,” he insists), Clough is quick to frame the show in a broader art world context.

“People tell me that this show has a body count. Excuse me, but have you checked to see who’s underwriting major art museum exhibitions these days? Big insurance companies; big tobacco; defense contractors. Body count? Gacy didn’t even begin to put up those kinds of numbers.”

Editor’s note: Today is April 1.