Sunday, June 22, 2008

Went to see the Philip Guston drawing show at the Morgan Library yesterday. I've never been really taken with his work, either before or after his shift from abstraction to realism though I'd preferred the former and this show cemented that opinion. His line rubs me the wrong way; I was trying to capture it in a phrase and the best I could do was "nervous globularity".

It's too itchy for my taste and maybe too impositional in some sense. But there were several lovely pieces in the room devoted to his work through about 1967, including a few severely "limited" ones (single or double lines, single smudges, etc.) and a striking gouache (I think) of an open book, one of hundreds of that subject, dirty red on dirtier blue.

The second room contained drawings from his later years and, as much trouble as I had with many of the earlier works, that trouble was, as it always has been, greatly compounded with the "realist" ones. Realist in the sense of cartoon-y, I'm afraid. I kept hitting on R Crumb, a fine enough illustrator but, shall we say, not a graphic equivalent of Feldman (one could readily understand the composer's anger at Guston's shift). There were a couple of exceptions, including a poignant "Smoking in Bed" but by and large I found a kind of surrealist banality and really a lack of good drawing. Carol, my gallery companion, wondered if there was some degree of mental deterioration at play and if we weren't seeing documentation of that; perhaps--I don't know his story very well at all.


I hadn't been to the Morgan for many years, certainly not since the large addition to the grounds had been built. There was a wonderful exhibition from their collection of illuminated manuscripts, focusing on hunting and trapping scenes from a southern French volume dating from about 1407. Really beautiful work.

The Morgan also has a small painting collection, my personal favorite being this gorgeous Hans Memling:


Recent arrivals

Alan Licht/Aki Onda - Everydays (Family Vineyard)
Korber/Moslang/Chulkil/Muller/Yukie/Kahn/Sangtae/Hankil/Joonyang/Miryung - Signal to Noise, vol. 6 (For 4 Ears)
Martin Baumgartner - Shoots Huft (For 4 Ears)
Olivier Capparos/Lionel Marchetti - Livre des morts (entr'acte)


Robert said...

I hardly know Guston's work at all, I've seen maybe a dozen in Galleries and don't have any books of reproductions. That being said the few I've seen I kind of agree with you in that they don't really grab me. I do have to say I rather like those drawings you posted here though.

You know Brian, I'm very interested in the current state of art, I can't really get a grasp on it at all. It seems like it all fragmented after the 70s and (with some exceptions like say Superflat) there just a bunch of disparate things going on. At the same time the newer stuff I see I just can't read much into a lot of it beyond just technique and cleverness. I mean I can't get a read of it meaning much. So what do you think about the current state of art? I keep asking people this but never really get much of an answer. You are the most tuned in I think of the people I know so I'd be curious to hear your thoughts.

Doug Holbrook said...

I'm sorry, I love Guston..

Why? I dunno...I just like him, I guess..

I can't explain..

Brian Olewnick said...

Hardly tuned in at all really. As you say, there's far too much going on to grasp it without devoting full time and, from what I get when I do dip my toes in, it's not worth the effort overall. Carol and I sometimes go "gallery-hopping" in Chelsea and the ratio of good to lousy (especially of the "slick posing as edgy" variety, similar to what you find, for example, in much indie rock or film) isn't heartening. More, a substantial portion of the good work turns out to be from older artists--last time out, some gorgeous drawing/paintings by Cage, for instance. There are always happy exceptions, of course--I think I wrote here about some last time we did it. But devoting time to trying to get even a remote grasp on all the activity--well, I just don't have the time or patience.

At Record Club, with three working artists in the core group (Julia Jacquette, Nina Katchadourian and Nayland Blake), listening to their conversations about the scene and participants thereof, it's not unlike what a semi-well versed music fan would feel listening to you me and Richard discussing the relative virtues of Taku Unami and Ryu Hankil, that is to say, 90% ignorance.

So I'm kind of content to just happen upon things on occasion, be directed to others once in a while, knowing that I'll be a good ten years late to appreciate a given person's work in many cases, if at all.

Brian Olewnick said...

You're excused, Doug. ;-)

I spent a good bit of time in that second room yesterday trying to figure out what I was missing. Didn't work, in large part though, as I said, there were a few exceptions. The hooded characters, for instance, I found impossible to read as other than cartoonish figures which might be enough for some but didn't compel my interest either on purely formal grounds or textually.

Herb Levy said...

Maybe it would make more sens to ask this is e-mail but given your response to Guston's later works, it might be helpful to me if you were to write something about Keith Rowe's paintings.

I don't think I've ever seen any of Rowe's paintings in person, and I'm sure I'm missing something, but from the reproductions I've seen, mostly, if not entirely as artwork for recordings, they seem sort of related, though with a less painterly surface.

Brian Olewnick said...

I can't say I ever made that connection with Keith's paintings. I've seen in the flesh most of those used for Erst covers (at the Abbey Museum of Contemporary Roweian Art)--if anything, the reproductions tend to smooth out a more painterly surface than one might think is there, no tin terms of impasto but with more of an agitated brushwork in some cases.

But otherwise, Keith's concerns seem to be different both in a formal sense (his obsession with clipping things at the corners or only leaving a corner visible) and thematically (Guston's very personal symbols--the hoods, the fingers, the head with the eye--, versus the more "historical" layers of meaning that Keith embeds in his pieces, the cover for "Rabbit Run" being a very good example.

Dunno, maybe Keith sees it differently; I'll ask.