Who Is Alex Israel, and Why Should I Care?

A still from Alex Israel's "As It Lays." (Courtesy the artist and Reena Spaulings)

Alex Israel is a youngish L.A. artist whose pastel-color panel paintings look like the sets of ’80s porn flicks; they’ve been selling like hotcakes at chic galleries in Paris and Berlin. I tried to see his recent one-man show at the übercool and cutting-edge Lower East Side gallery Reena Spaulings Fine Art, but the gallery is so übercool and cutting edge that, on the Friday afternoon I chose for my visit, it wasn’t even open. In fact, the two times I have ventured to this gallery in an attempt to see an exhibition, during regular gallery hours, they have managed to have the doors locked and the lights turned off. I’d given up on writing about Mr. Israel’s work, when I realized that I could simply review his new TV show, As It LAys, the one he’s recently uploaded to You Tube and for which he created a website: This interview show, with Mr. Israel as host, reminds me of Andy Warhol’s famous “Screen Tests”: both projects are, in superficially different but actually very similar ways, forms of video portraiture. Read More


Sunday at the Met With George: The Original Mad Man Finds Inspiration at the Museum

Lois’s work, influenced by art.

“You never see any real fucking New Yorkers at the Met. It’s always packed with people from god knows where, running around going, ‘Ooh, look at that.’” On a recent overcast Sunday afternoon, the advertising legend George Lois was plowing through the crowds at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on his way to plumb its encyclopedic contents for inspiration. For decades, he has been coming to the Met every Sunday for what he calls his “spiritual day of worship,” and it has been a wellspring for the Big Ideas that have powered his work, from the eye-poking ads that sparked Madison Avenue’s so-called Creative Revolution in the 1960s to the sizzlingly provocative covers he designed for Esquire during the magazine’s heyday. Over the past few years, however, Sundays have taken on a new significance: it’s when he has to sit through another episode of Mad Men. Mr. Lois takes the program’s debauched vision of his industry as a personal insult, and he has been waging a one-man campaign against it. Read More


Hennessy, XOXO

An announcement for the exhibition. (Courtesy the artist)

Last Friday afternoon as he prepared for his show at Family Business gallery, Jayson Musson, a k a  Hennessy Youngman, took a painting from a young man in glasses, who, as he gave over the work, reverently prattled on about politics, politics-news websites, art-news websites and politics podcasts. Mr. Musson actually followed him on Twitter, the novitiate informed him. Perhaps he recognized the handle? Read More


Is It the Art or Is It the Hype?

Dan Colen with a work by Robert Rauschenberg at Gagosian Paris. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

“Is it the art or is it the hype?” I’ve been asked this question so many times it makes me ill. It always comes from those who don’t look at art and are trying to explain why they don’t buy it. In a skeptical tone they slip me this line on a regular basis. “Yes,” I tell them with a smile, “it’s all a fraud. These contemporary art stars are all phonies and fakes, it’s the fancy galleries promoting this stuff and you’re the smart one who figured it all out.” But what I’m thinking is, “Cretin, you don’t understand a damn thing about art.” But now even most art believers have to admit that parts of today’s art scene have indeed gone too far. Yet when I spelled it out for the world in my satire of the Art Basel Miami Beach fair last December, I was attacked by many insecure pundits, advisers and dealers who felt threatened by the words. But forgetting the whiners, it’s what everyone was and is still talking about. Just last Sunday 60 Minutes ran a Morley Safer-hosted exposé bashing the fair, highlighting the hype in order to suggest that contemporary art is no more than a marketing circus. We can’t really blame old Morley Safer—he’s just another blowhard—but I was shocked to see one respected dealer, Tim Blum of Blum and Poe in Los Angeles, play right into Mr. Safer’s canard. “We’re from Hollywood, this is theater, only theater,” he said when asked about art prices. “It’s the wild west … competition is vicious … when the question of value comes up we drop the subject.” Mr. Blum misspoke—and that’s regrettable because, let’s face it, when the hype booms louder than the art, the art world invites the philistines right to its gates. Read More


Bob Nickas on Today’s Art World

A postcard for a performance by Michael Smith at Electronic Arts Intermix. (Courtesy EAI)

Following in the tradition of its Ice Cream and Creamier books, Phaidon just recently released another hulking contemporary art survey. This one is called Defining Contemporary Art: 25 Years in 200 Pivotal Artworks—the works are selected by eight top-flight curators like Bice Curiger, Massimiliano Gioni and Okwui Enwezor. It’s a pleasurable anthology, with some nice quirks. But more on that another time. We just wanted to share this tiny excerpt from a roundtable discussion among the participants and Phaidon editor Craig Garrett. Read More


All Hail Cindy Sherman! Once Again, Unanimity Rules Among New York’s Longtime Critics

'Untitled' (1981) by Cindy Sherman. (Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures)

I will never cease to be amazed by how much consensus I find among New York’s leading art critics as they all hail and salute the same things, or for that matter, as they all gang up and bash the same things, as they did with Maurizio Cattelan’s recent Guggenheim retrospective.

The unanimity bothers me; I wish someone would offer some counterpoint to the prevailing view, bring some fresh air into the dialogue. What’s the point of everyone saying the same thing? Do they really all like the same things or are they afraid to step out and say something different, even provocative? If I were an artist, I think I’d get suspicious if everyone in town chimed in about how wonderful I was. Read More


The Man Behind the Curtain: At MoMA, a David Hammons Hidden Behind Silk

After the unveiling: David Hammons's 'Untitled (Kool-Aid)' (2003) in "Printin'" at MoMA.

Though it is hanging on a wall in a gallery at the Museum of Modern Art right now, one work is strictly off limits for all but a few minutes each week. It’s obscured with a white silk cloth, through which a faint pink glow emanates, and it has an electric-blue terry cloth frame. A wall label advises that the work may be viewed only by appointment, at the request of the artist. An email address is listed. Read More


Anything Went: Florine Stettheimer at Columbia University

8 Photos

Florine Stettheimer's studio on West 40th Street, overlooking Bryant Park.

“Fame is a most uncertain garment,” art critic Henry McBride wrote in 1946, in a catalogue essay for an exhibition of work by an old artist friend. “Yet fame, apparently, is what the Museum of Modern Art now desires for the late Florine Stettheimer.”

McBride had high hopes for the MoMA show, which was organized by no less a luminary than Marcel Duchamp, who had once tutored Stettheimer in French, and who admired her work—party scenes from her family’s salon, and wispy, witty, faux naïf portraits of that group’s illustrious members. Stettheimer, who often appeared in her own paintings, sometimes hiding under a wide hat, had died two years earlier, at the age of 72. She had staged only a single one-person show during her lifetime; none of the pieces in it sold. Read More


Sushi in the Desert: Takashi Murakami Brings His ‘Ego’ to Qatar

Murakami. (Photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli)

It was a long 15-hour flight to Doha, Qatar, to see Japanese artist Takashi Murakami’s latest mega show. Why would I bother flying all the way around the world to see paintings I’ve mostly seen already? Perhaps because, according to the BBC, Qatar has quietly invested over $1.25 billion in art over the past five years—in fact, I’d bet it’s double that—and also because they are part of what’s keeping this crazy art market buoyant. And what about the facts that Qatar reportedly bought a painting (not mine!) from Cezanne’s “Card Players” series for $250 million, and is rumored to be the buyer of auction cover lots from Rothkos to Lichtensteins, Warhols and beyond? I also wanted to visit my favorite Murakami painting, Tan Tan Bo Puking, a.k.a. Gero Tan, and see how it compared to his newest one, a 300-foot long masterwork dubbed The 500 Arhats. Read More


Haunting MoMA: The Forgotten Story of ‘Degenerate’ Dealer Alfred Flechtheim

Mr. Flechtheim.

On a fall day in 1935, a broke and broken Jewish émigré from Nazi Germany named Alfred Flechtheim sat down and wrote a pleading letter to a New York art world potentate. Before the Nazis ran him out of Germany and turned his visage into the caricature of the “degenerate ArtJew,” Flechtheim had been Weimar Germany’s pre-eminent dealer, representing dozens of modern masters from Picasso to Klee. Now, he had a single modernist piece left in his possession, he said, and he desperately needed money. How much, he wanted to know, would donors to the new Museum of Modern Art pay?

Not too much, it turned out. Read More