The Players Club

A Review by Maria Kozak (MFA 2011)
A lot of heavy hitters this week so I'll keep it short and sweet.

Gagosian has a major Rauschenberg show and Anselm Keifer in Chelsea and a John Currin show uptown. The Rauschenberg show consists of a survey of his work from his early 'Combines' to the silk screen paintings of the 1960's. The Currin show consists of new paintings in his typical idealized, perverse fashion. Also uptown a show of Jenny Holzer's early work is at Skarstedt Gallery. The show consists of Holzer's signs spanning a decade from the late 1970's to the late 1980's.

Kent Dorn

In Chelsea Kent Dorn Remains is at Freight and Volume. Dorn's multi media, dreamy landscape paintings celebrate disenchanted suburban youth and their search for nature.

If you like Kent Dorn's work then you can also go see his counterpart Kim Dorland's New Material at Mike Weiss.



Also in Chelsea Luc Tuymans Corporate and Raymond Pettibon Hard in the Paint are open at the two David Zwirner locations. In this show Tuymans turns his attention to modern day corporate culture. Pettibon's work on the other hand embraces a wide spectrum of American 'high' and 'low' culture.


If you haven't gone yet, don't miss Wangechi Mutu's incredible painted collages in Hunt Bury Flee at Barbara Gladstone in Chelsea.

Fellows: John, Maya and Austin

This post begins a new series on the Academy's blog about the unique opportunity offered through the Postgraduate Fellowship at the New York Academy of Art.

Each year, the Academy selects three outstanding graduating students to serve as postgraduate fellows. During their fellowship year, these artists are able to take advantage of studio accommodations at the Academy, exhibition offerings, tutorial support and opportunities for teaching assistantships. At the beginning of the school year following their appointment (September), the Academy holds an exhibition dedicated to the work the fellows have done during their residency.

Fellows often find this opportunity instrumental in the definition of their artistic voices. The 2010-2011 Fellows John O'Reilly, Maya Brodsky and Austin Park will be exploring this exciting time in their careers with a series of brief Q & A posts over their residency. Follow the fellows on this blog and see their progress!

What would you like to accomplish during your fellowship year?

John: During my fellowship, I hope to create more complex schematics and expand on my initial artist's statement by combing traditional modeling techniques with the exploration of contemporary ideas focusing on the commonalities between the human figure and animal species. I hope to collaborate and aid emerging artist by relaying my experiences to incoming students. I wish use this opportunity to start my professional career, paying tribute to the Academy by serving as an example of a successful rising artist in the contemporary world of art.

Maya: I hope to learn how to effectively express what is important to me.  To accomplish this, my strategy is to spend as much time as possible working in the studio, reading, writing, and looking at lots of art.  I often spend too much time theorizing and trying to figure out what I need to do, how to do it, and what isn’t good enough in my past work.  I hope to pause this practice in order to paint and see what happens. 

Austin: On the surface, the fellowship allows me to continue the momentum of a series of work that began the summer between first and second year at the academy. But most importantly, this opportunity keeps me immersed in an environment of feedback and dialogue about the type of art that excites and inspires me. It is an experience beyond just creating art as there is still so much more to absorb and learn in all aspects of being a professional artist during this time. There is potential for certain things I've discovered in my work but I'm looking forward to exploring some ideas that I haven't yet developed and experimenting more with materials. I plan on continuing to make work that uses the figure and environment at odds with each other and emphasize an infatuation with generic cinematic body language. I would like to also continue more printmaking, specifically reductive and multi-block woodcuts that were started near the end of last year.

Art & Culture Lecture: Lisa Dennison

Tuesday, October 26, 7:30 pm

Lisa Dennison, Chair of Sotheby’s North and South America, interned at the Guggenheim Museum while in college, and returned in 1978 after completing graduate studies in art history. Working her way up over a 29 year career at the museum, she oversaw many important exhibitions, advised multi-billionaire collectors, developed a reputation as a leading fund-raiser, and became an expert in Contemporary Art. In 2005 she was named director of the Guggenheim Museum, a position she held for two years before moving to the for-profit world to work for Sotheby’s Auction House.

Click to read about Ms. Dennison in The New York Times.

All lectures are free and open to the public, bring a friend!
Next up: Ken Currie, Tuesday, November 2, 7:30pm

Click here for a complete schedule of 2010 Fall Art & Culture Lectures

Hot Air Balloon

by Emily D. Adams (MFA 2011)
Paradise is the Persian word for Garden. Its literal translation is a ‘walled enclosure,’ and has been handed down from sometime around 4000 BCE through the Egyptians and the Moors, to the Spanish medieval cloister and the Italian Renaissance, changing in styles and scope like the English Gardenesque, the botanical, and the mighty National Park. With all its otherworldly connotations, it’s interesting to me that the origin of the word, paradise, and the history of the garden, imply a human hand in the creation of these spaces.

study, oil on paper
study, oil on paper

In preparation for my thesis, I am developing work that explores the theme of the garden through different configurations of aerial landscape photos and floral still-life. I’ve also been painting from film stills of singing women — a seemingly disconnected endeavor that will hopefully evolve in tandem.

In Vincent Desiderio’s painting seminar, we will be watching films by the great Soviet filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky. In the opening to his Passion According to Andre Rublev, a young man escapes from the roof of a church in a hot air balloon. As viewers, we are shown the aerial perspective of 15th century Russian landscape. It is a view, unthinkable for the time the film portrays, that returns throughout the movie as a metaphor, perhaps, for the perspective the artist is able to reach through his wild creative faith. But his faulty technological innovation, the hot air balloon, brings him crashing down after a brief moment of escape from the earthen world.

The scene reminds me of Daumier’s lithograph of Nadar flying above Paris in a hot air balloon, taking photos from the sky. Below the image, he writes ‘Nadar, elevating photography to the height of art’. If I’m not mistaken, Nadar’s were the first aerial photos ever taken, the second cousin thrice removed of Google Earth. While Daumier’s caricature may be a cranky prod at the day’s new media, I wonder if the artist himself might not be just a little bit moved by images of ‘space-ship earth’ and the capillary system that brings the Seine from the Alps, through Paris, to the English Channel.

For reference, I’m looking at my collection of airplane photos—all those grids and circles of American farmland—and wondering how I might translate them into paintings, and why. And, speaking of lithography, I’m also exploring the aluminum plate in John Jacobsmeyer’s printmaking class as another substrate for farms and flowers. Agricultural fields seem to be just another addition to the lineage of gardens; but then, farmland can also be considered a contemporary paradise, in keeping with the etymology. They’re a lot like roses: common, maybe taken for granted, a static image of something that has been changing with human innovations for quite a while now.

study, oil/ink-jet print on canvas

Lightning Rod: Hilary Harkness

Hilary Harkness is a painter represented by Mary Boone Gallery in NYC. She draws inspiration from multi-disciplinary sources - history (including WWII), literature (such as the work of Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein), and women's studies (focused on issues of inclusion and historical representation). One strategy she has employed to interrogate the historical narrative has been re-casting WWII events with all-female characters, allowing her to explore universals (e.g., power struggles, chains of command, the sheer exertion of will and desire) without the distraction of gender-biases. Her upcoming show at Mary Boone Gallery opens May 5th, 2011.

What was your greatest artistic "eureka moment," and what were you doing just prior to having it?

Art & Culture Lecture: Ross Bleckner

Tuesday, October 19, 7:30 pm

The Sun Into Ourselves, 72" x 96"
Oil on Paper mounted on Alumninum, 2009
Artist Ross Bleckner was born in New York City. He received an MFA from Cal Arts in 1973 and has taught at many of the nation's most prestigious universities. The Guggenheim had a major retrospective of his works in 1995, summarizing two decades of solo shows at internationally acclaimed exhibition venues such as SFMoMA, Contemporary Arts Museum, Stockholm Moderna Museet, and the Carnegie Museum of Art. Works by Mr. Bleckner are also held in esteemed public collections throughout the globe, including MoMA, MoCA, Astrup Fearnley, Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Not only has Mr. Bleckner had a profound impact of shaping the New York art world, his philanthropic efforts have enabled many community organizations to perform their vital work.

“His art has been largely an investigation of change, loss, and memory, often addressing the subject of AIDS. But Mr. Bleckner uses symbolic imagery rather than direct representation, and his work is visually elusive, with forms that constantly change focus.”
- Harrison, Helen A. "An Artist’s Investigation of Loss and Memory" The New York Times, January 2, 2005.

All lectures are free and open to the public, bring a friend!
Next up: Lisa Dennison, Tuesday, October 26, 7:30pm
Click here for a complete schedule of 2010 Fall Art & Culture Lectures

Action, and Traction

by Aliene de Souza Howell (MFA 2011)
Self-portrait, Till Fog and Clear of Midnight

The life of an industrious artist trying to make something of herself requires a lot of back and forth! But all good things, I was in a show with two other artists in Philadelphia. The exhibit opened Saturday evening at the Mural Arts Program's gallery. I showed the work I made in Leipzig in addition to a self-portrait I made during my first year at the Academy. There was a brief and only mildly nerve-racking Q and A session for each artist after we were introduced by the director of Philadelphia's Knapp Gallery. I was completely humbled when he introduced my work as "somewhere between Eric Fischl and Ceaser Chavez."

The thesis project has been challenging. Caught between conflicting critiques since my last post, I have been oscillating between different artistic paths and wrestling over what I believed in and what resonated the most with my work. I think the best decisions come from plain trial and error and sometimes you just have to buck up and fail in order to move on and make better pieces. So I tried to work it out instead of paralyzing myself with anxiety/indecision. I made another diorama with perspectival suggestions from Vincent Desiderio. And after testing out the antithetical ideas from the aforementioned conflicting critiques, I decided to combine them. One critic suggested I pursue large scale paintings in lieu of the dioramas and another was very gung-ho for them. So, I am projecting my dioramas onto canvas and painting from them. This way I can keep the linear dynamism of the drawing and the spatial relationships without giving up the purity of painting.

New Diorama with Desiderio suggestions!

For Narrative Printmaking, the idea for the class is to create one sequential story throughout the semester. After deliberating over different books, poems, etc and making lots of drawings, I ended up deciding to come up with my own story. The narrator will privilege a Chinatown umbrella as the leading protagonist. The story will follow its path from first finding an owner, through different adventures inside and out, and then breaking and being washed away in the gutter. This was inspired from the solid week of rain we had in New York recently and the countless broken umbrellas littering the street.

A bright spot last week was Alexi Worth's lecture. He is one of the artists that delivers a complete experience; he creates images that exist in their own fully-formed world. He told us about making storyboards to prepare the narratives for his compelling paintings which would explain the pathos his figures evoke. The compositions include the viewer as part of the picture, which is something I have just started to think about myself.

And I can't wait to hear what Odd Nerdrum has to say this week!

The Odd and the Crazy

This article was taken from ArtBabel, written by & courtesy of Richard T. Scott (MFA 2007). 
 "You have to distinguish between things that seemed odd when they were new but are now quite familiar, such as Ibsen and Wagner, and things that seemed crazy when they were new and seem crazy now, like Finnegan's Wake and Picasso." - Philip Larkin 

My painting, Andrew Wyeth and Odd Nerdrum,
inspired by a photograph found in the studio.
When I first came across the work of the Norwegian master Odd Nerdrum, I was in my studio during the summer following my first year at NYAA. I had just recovered from the culture shock of moving from rural Georgia to New York, never even having visited the city before. I had grown up in a trailer park, had experienced poverty and struggle, and had finally paid my way through college between three jobs and scholarships. I had escaped, though I never thought I would end up in New York. I had never in my life had access to museums such as the Met, and for the first time I could see the Old Masters in person. It was indeed a life altering experience. The incredible technical and theoretical training I was getting at the Academy gave me a newfound ability to understand these masterpieces from many different perspectives. In my mind, I had already achieved success.

I had joined Ted Schmidt in copying at the Met, and was working on a copy of a Rembrandt in my studio when he stopped by with a heavy book under his arm. It was a large tome of Odd’s work and I was so taken by these bizarre and haunting paintings that Ted suggested I should study with him. I laughed. I didn’t think it was possible, but then again, I also never imagined I would be copying a Rembrandt in oils at the Met. I was a long way from Georgia, and eventually, I would be farther still.

Part of Odd's collection
of casts and sculptures.
I bought both of his large books and memorized every detail. I went to see his exhibition at Forum Gallery and started experimenting with his heavy herringbone linen, but I just couldn’t seem to crack the code. People told me horror stories about his vast temper and cult like students, stories of them wearing nothing but animal skins and living some kind of crazy ascetic lifestyle on the Norwegian coast. So I just forgot about the whole thing and concentrated on my immediate situation. I was graduating soon, with the burden of student loans on my back, an overpriced apartment in Brooklyn, and I was in desperate need of a job.

Luckily, a friend of mine was working as a painter for Jeff Koons and set up an interview for me. When I got the job I was thrilled, but after a year and a half of long hours and overtime I found that I was no longer painting for myself and was just making ends meet. I learned much (mostly about the Art market), but all my energy went in to Jeff’s work. Though it was a good stepping stone, I could not see myself working there for years, so I finally decided to take the risk and I sent Odd a letter. When, a few months later, I learned that I was accepted, I had a feeling of both elation and trepidation. I was elated because I knew many people had been rejected, but still I had no money saved up and I had student loans to pay off. This was not a practical decision. Of course, that hadn’t held me back before. The feeling only slightly lifted when I finally arrived in Norway, jet-lagged and bleary on March 1st , to find three feet of snow on the ground and even more swiftly falling. I couldn’t see ten feet in front of my face, but through the eddies I could barely distinguish a car waiting for me, and standing beside it, a tall, imposing figure wearing a long double breasted black coat and a shock of hair - writhing in the wind and white as the snow. This must be Odd Nerdrum.

The Studio
As soon as I entered the car, he began to drill me with questions, the first of which was "Why do you wish to study with me?" In my exhaustion I somehow managed to answer him coherently, then I collapsed on the bed as soon as his wife, Turid, showed me to my room. My first thought upon waking the next day was, what have I gotten myself into?

It turns out that what I had gotten myself into was one of the best choices I have ever made in my life. I soon discovered that Odd was not only a masterful painter, but also a very kind man with a quick wit and an enigmatic personality. He holds a vast knowledge of art history, philosophy, literature, and technique, all just as bottomless as his sense of humor. And yes, he is very eccentric, but quite open-minded. (During my first week there, he called me into his studio and asked me to tell him what was wrong with his painting. Then he actually did what I suggested!) I was not required to wear animal skins and paint post-apocalyptic scenes. I didn’t have to slave away as a studio assistant, grinding pigments by hand, stretching canvases, and modeling. Yes, I did have to do these things sometimes, but most of my time was available for painting and learning. After six weeks in Norway, Odd invited me to study with him for a year in Paris: an invitation I couldn’t refuse. My wife and I moved out of our apartment, put our things in storage and ventured onto the plane. In Paris for the first time, I went to the Louvre, Le Petit Palais, the Rodin Museum, and many galleries with Odd; all the while debating everything we saw. I recall fondly the time we were kicked out of a Scandinavian run gallery in the 4th arrondissement. The owner chased us out screaming something about "Nazi-Kunst". Apparently, they take Clement Greenberg very seriously in Finland.

Watching other students struggle to understand what he was trying to teach them, it dawned on me how many invaluable lessons I had learned at the Academy. Everything from aesthetic theory, anatomy, to historical techniques quickly sprang to memory and enabled me to grasp what he was demonstrating. Without this education, without these tools of analysis, I would perhaps have missed the deeper relevance and might have ended up going no further than a failed mimicry of his techniques.

Beginning with my first step into the Academy in 2005 and culminating with a year of study with Odd, my work has improved vastly. My dream of being a self-sustaining artist, once impossible, is now a reality. In the process I have made many great and long lasting friends, not the least of which is Odd himself.

"Goliath Conquered"
In the studio with a large canvas made straight and taught by an elaborate system of braces  

Odd once told me how, when he was about my age, he met a great American painter: a mentor. Odd felt that this man was one of the greatest artists to have lived and esteemed him along with the Old Masters. One day, he was leaving an exhibition in Philadelphia to find a limousine waiting for him outside. The driver informed him that the car had been sent by this artist and inquired if Odd would like to meet him. Odd accepted with surprise, and when he arrived on the farm, Andrew Wyeth and his wife were there waiting for him with glasses of champagne. They talked long through the night and there began a deep friendship, carried by letters and infrequent visits across the decades. Wyeth had just died when I met Odd, and it was very hard on him. He spoke of all the wealth the world lost when Wyeth passed on. And sitting there with Odd Nerdrum, before his paintings, thinking of his friendship with Andrew Wyeth, I felt a deep loss. I imagined myself at Odd’s age, mourning on the day when he will sadly, and inevitably pass. But I also felt a stirring hope. In this connection there was something. There was a taut string extending from me to Odd, from Odd to Wyeth, and connecting me through them back into the vanishing past. I sensed the similar connections I had made while studying with Steven Assael and Ted Schmidt, still vibrating within my chest. And in the accumulated vibrations of all those thin strings stretching across the ages, it seemed I could almost hear the distant voice of Rembrandt himself, as if whispering into a paper cup at the other end. They may have died, but their voices live on: faintly, but eternally.

Scott, Richard T., "The Odd and the Crazy." ArtBabel. August 23, 2010 03:20 PM. . October 11, 2010.


A Review by Maria Kozak (MFA 2011)
Exquisite Corpse: Head by Changal Joffe,
upper torso by Francesca di Matteo,
lower torso by Matthew Ritchie,
and legs by Nicholas Byrne

On Tuesday night, October 12, The Exquisite Corpse Project opened at Gasser & Grunert Gallery. Curated by David Salle, the exhibition features over 200 well known artists ranging from Vito Acconcci to Will Cotton engaging in the 1920's Surrealist parlor game favored by Andre Breton and Marcel Duchamp. The artists were unaware of who was participating in each composition and could not view the image or work provided by previous artist. Works were created over the past year at a number of drawing parties or were shipped from one artist to the next. Among the artists involved were Academy friends Ross Bleckner, Hillary Harkness, Eric Fischl, and Dana Schutz.

Alison Blickle, Augurs

On Friday night, October 15, Zabriskie Point, new paintings by Alison Blickle, opens at Thierry Goldberg Projects in the Lower East Side. In this series Blickle's heroines go on a vision quest in the California desert. Her vivid, almost psychedelic landscapes explore our longing for nature and desire for mystical experiences.

Mike Bayne: Untitled, from the series, "God, Shelter, Oil Paintings
and Hockey"

Already on view in Chelsea, check out the Mike Bayne show at Mulherin Pollard Projects. Oil Paintings by Robert Ayre is a series of of work depicting the banality of suburban strip malls and their signage. "Hyper-hyperrealist Canadiana" in the words of John Jacobsmeyer. Show runs through October 23, 2010.

Fred Tomaselli, Organism

A mid-career survey of Fred Tomaselli's work is now open at the Brooklyn Art Museum. His highly stylized collages are made up of paint, prescription pills, medicinal herbs, and cut out images of flowers, bids, hands, noses which are arranged in elaborate patterns encased in multiple layers of resin. Aside from their dazzling aesthetic sense, Tomaselli's paintings are successful because of his earnest desire to transport the viewer into a surreal, hallucinatory universe that begs transcendence. Show runs through January 2, 2011

Antonio Donghi, Circus (Circo Equestre)

Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918–1936
just opened at the Guggenheim. The show, curated by Kenneth E. Silver, examines the move toward figuration and the modeled form shortly after World War I. Among the artists included are Balthus,Otto Dix, Henri Matisse, Antonio Donghi, and Pablo Picasso. Show runs through January 9, 2011.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes,
A Nun Frightened by a Ghost 

Finally, The Spanish Manner: Drawings from Ribera to Goya is at the Frick. This exhibition is dedicated to the distinct tradition of Spanish draftsmanship. It includes both preliminary sketches and finished studies as well as twenty two late drawings by Goya from his 'albums.' Show runs through January 9, 2011.

Odd Nerdrum: "Marlowe"

Join us for a special reading of Odd Nerdrum's play, "Marlowe" Saturday, October 16, 5 pm.
"Set in a family home on the outskirts of a large coastal city, Marlowe examines the eternal human struggle between the sublime and the banal, the consequences of that struggle and ultimately one’s inability to live in an unpoetic world without beauty or imagination." - Greg Oliver Bodine, performer

detail from Self-Portrait as the Prophet of Painting, 1997
205,7 x 255,9 cm, oil on canvas

A stunning contemporary master, the Academy is honored to welcome Odd Nerdrum. Mr. Nerdrum will be conducting a Master Class for current students. Graduates of the Academy have studied with the reknowned painter, including Richard T. Scott, Robert Dale Williams, Chris Marshall, Fereidoun Ghaffari, Felicia Feldman, David Ransom, Halla Gunnarsdóttir, and also former faculty member Brenda Zlamany.

Moderated audience Q & A with the playwright to follow. This presentation is free and open to the public, so join us!

Next up: Ross Bleckner, Tuesday, October 19
Click here for a complete schedule of 2010 Fall Art & Culture Lectures

The NYAA Library has these resources available exclusively for NYAA students.

Are you going to Take Home a Nude?

Celebrating its 19th year, this event has become an art world institution with a devoted following of supporters and Take Home a Nude 2010 promises to be the most memorable yet. The Academy is proud to honor long time friend, Trustee and Senior Critic, Eric Fischl, a devoted champion of Academy artists for 20 years. Join us!

Click here to purchase tickets online - and don't miss it!

Eric Fischl: in Your Words

For the upcoming Take Home a Nude Art Auction & Party, the Academy is honoring a dear friend and amazing artist, Eric Fischl. Please share a story or memory about him here!
Photo by Joseph Maida, from "In the Studio: Eric Fischl" on ArtInfo

Art & Culture Lecture: Alexi Worth

Tuesday, October 5, 7:30 pm

Alexi Worth, Head and Shoulders, 2006

Artist Alexi Worth was born and raised in New York City. He attended Yale College (BA 1986) and Boston University (MFA 1993). He has exhibited with, among others, the Elizabeth Harris, Bill Maynes and DC Moore galleries; received awards from the Tiffany Foundation and the New England Foundation for the Arts; and is currently represented by DC Moore. In addition to his painting, Worth has written about art for The New Yorker, Artforum, Art in America, ARTnews, Slate, and other magazines. He is currently a Senior Critic at the University of Pennsylvania 's Graduate Program in Fine Art.

"Painted with sensuous neatness in a nicely simplifying representational style, Alexi Worth's pictures present curious visual puzzles slyly charged with sexual undercurrents."
-K. Johnson

All lectures are free and open to the public, bring a friend!
Next up: Reading of "MARLOWE," a play by Odd Nerdrum, Saturday, October 16, 5pm
Click here for a complete schedule of 2010 Fall Art & Culture Lectures

The NYAA Library has the following resources available exclusively for NYAA students.

  • Related titles on Pop Art, Rene Magritte, Alex Katz, and contemporary figurative work.
  • Access to articles and reviews written by and about Alexi Worth through Gale and Cengage Learning.
  • Images in ArtStor, collected in the Alexi Worth image group for easy retrieval.

PreView: October Issues

Each month, the Academy library highlights articles, features, and reviews from the most current issues of our extensive periodical collection.
Check these out and then let us know what you think!

  • Gormley, Michael. "Painting Life: Galina Perova and the Portrait Society of America.” American Artist. (2010). 48-55.  A review of Galina Perova’s work, and a new look at portraiture from life.

  • Muchnic, Suzanne. A False Sense of Security.” ARTnews. (2010). 109:9. 90-93.  Even as artists embrace environmental practices, they ignore or remain uninformed about the toxic materials in their own studios.

  • Wilkin, Karen."Robert Taplin, Recent Narratives.” Sculpture. (2010). 29:8. 37-41.  A review of Academy faculty member Robert Taplin’s tableaux works.
Robert Taplin, Detail from Across the Dark Waters
(The River Acheron)
, 2007, wood, resin, plaster
and lights, 84 x 94 x 50 in.

  • Storr, Robert. “Reading Richter.” Art in America. (2010). 69-76. Three new books prompt critical praise and protest from the organizer of Gerhard Richter’s 2002 MOMA retrospective.

  • Princenthal, Nancy. “Sculpture in a Contracted Field.” Art in America. (2010). 165-169.  An exhibition of recent large-scale outdoor pieces by six young artists in New York’s City Hall park sparks an inquiry into the role of the figure in contemporary art and the function of public sculpture today.

  • Shields, David. Fred Tomaselli.” Interview. Bomb Magazine. (2010). 66-73.
    The influence of California counter-culture on Tomaselli's visionary paintings. 
Field Guides, 2003, photo collage, gouache, acrylic,
and resin on wood, 60×84 inches. Image courtesy of
Bomb Magazine and James Cohan Gallery, NY.

Mark Mennin on Messerschmidt, Huffington Post

This article was taken from the Huffington Post, courtesy of Mark Mennin.

Mark Mennin is a sculptor who is known mostly for his monumental granite carvings in landscape and architecture. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Artforum, Art in America, ArtNews, The Boston Globe, Departures and on the cover of Sculpture Magazine. On the graduate faculty at the New York Academy of Art, Mark has also written on Sculpture for Arts Magazine and ArtNews. 

Messerschmidt: An Accidental Visionary

FXM, The Ill-Humored Man, 1771-83
An exhibition opened on September 16, at the Neue Gallerie at 1048 Fifth Avenue in New York. There, one can experience work by an artist who addresses today's most significant figurative sculptural issues. What makes this artist particularly compelling is that Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, or "FXM" as many an obsessed historian may refer to him, died over two hundred and twenty years ago. His "character heads," are a series grimacing self-portrait busts executed at the end of his life. They remain powerfully resonant pieces for contemporary artists involved in any media.

This is the first comprehensive solo show of FXM in this country. However, it must be noted that New York gallery Cheim and Reid produced a brilliant three-person show curated by critic and essayist Jean Clair in 1998. This exhibition included a dozen of Messerschmidt's "character heads" along with works of Francis Bacon and Louise Bourgeois. With the convulsive gesture as their common ground, this was an unlikely ménage-a-trois between the historical and the contemporary, and an excellent preparation for some thirty heads now on exhibit.

FXM, Just Rescued from Drowning,
For the sake of simplicity, Messerschmidt has been loosely categorized in the surveys of art history as late Baroque, even Rococo. Though the artist's intrinsic drama does share something theatrical with these epochs, this assumption is a mere convenience. He has also been seen as a precursor to the eccentric expressionism from which sprouted the aesthetic angst of modern Germany and Austria. This could include any Teuton in Die Bruke-- to Austrians Klimt, Schiele and Kokoshka -- to more absurd melodramatists like Herman Nitsche and Arnulf Rainer. Some have appropriated FXM, some have "borrowed" and some have shamelessly plagiarized. But these moderns might have felt this to be their national birthright, call it national pride-- a strange notion in the arts-- though less dangerous than in politics around that region.

He has become many things to many other artists who have digested his work over time. Although the series of "character heads" that defines Messerschmidt's later life and place in art history, it is important to point out what led to this brilliant, disturbing work, following his early successes and prominence in Viennese society. Here's a brief background.
FXM obtained many of the better royal portrait bust commissions. He had a prominent position at the Vienna Academy, and had metallurgical skills, which allowed him to earn pocket cash casting bronze cannons and other military hardware at the Vienna Arsenal. He was by no means an "outsider" artist during his earlier years, but would become one later in life.

FXM, The Artist as He Imagined
Himself Laughing,

Messerschmidt had mastered everything he needed for a long prosperous career. However, in the early 1770's he began to suffer from the effects of an undiagnosed mental illness. This was when he began to develop the "character heads." It was also during this time that his behavior had become so erratic, that when he applied for the vacant head position at the Academy in 1774, he not only failed to obtain it, he was dismissed from the institution that by all accounts, he had been destined to lead.

He tried to keep his life afloat with commissions, but his efforts were fruitless. At the age of forty he retired up the Danube to Pressburg, now Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. He spent the last six years of his life working almost exclusively on these heads. Through this pain and frustration came a triumph of the conflation of madness and artistic brilliance, while the artist unwittingly set great precedents for the art of our century.

While observing these affinities, one must remember that Messerschmidt's efforts were in the earnest battling of his own demons, which were a result of real mental illness -- rather than a contrivance of artistic torment. His was real suffering. Some have guessed it was schizophrenia, but he had few visits by anyone qualified to diagnose his condition in the late 18th century.

Art throughout the ages has always had a place for articulated physiognomy and frenetic violent expression. There are wonderful oddities that preceded Messerschmidt's mad renderings, such as Bernini's "Damned Soul" as well as many other damned souls in both secular and religious art. Certainly Bosch, Goya, and even Daumier's caricature heads may comfortably fit into this genre. But what gives Messerschmidt his contemporary relevance is not only his compelling late-life process but also its direct relationship to many recent art trends. Here may be some to consider.

1. Minimalism. This involves reduction, serial repetition and the investigation of stripped down and essential forms. FXM spent the last obsessive years of his life using the simple format of portrait bust and developing its possibilities in over sixty highly rendered pieces only rarely straying from this presentation.

2. Process art. This involves both an awareness of the craft process in the making of a piece, and also the demonstration of the conceptual process. The roots of this body of work come from the torment of dreams. The fulfillment of a portrait was often a means for FXM to address these torments.

3. Performance art. Though not in front of an audience, any knowledge of FXM's process allows us to imagine the theatre of his small stoic studio. One lonely choreographed process was to approach a mirror, pinch himself in his side or gut, grimace from the pain, hold the pose, and render it in any of his chosen materials.

4. Art without patronage. Without royal portraits, or the academy behind him, this was an artist devoid of support or empathy. He was truly acting alone and in earnest, without even the incentive to fit into a movement or be part of a dialogue. Sculpture was rarely produced on speculation or for exhibitions in the 18th century, without royal or religious commission. But there are of course freedoms that come with this.

5. Body art. For millennia, the inclusion of bodfy torment, manipulation or contortion seems to have been celebrated ritually and tribally. Only recently has it been celebrated in a variety of ways within the context of fine art. FXM's process and ritual of inflicting pain to read the face and bring the head to new kinetic realms certainly would make it a protagonist in this discipline.

6. Arte Povera. Finally, in his later years, no commissions meant no possibilities of executing work in the finer expensive materials like marble and bronze. Still not one to compromise, he was able to develop tin/lead alloys from his metallurgical expertise that go beyond the limited cool finishes of bronze. This material lends the skin and pores on his portraits a frightening reality.

7. Return to the figure. In the end, the marketplace, auction houses and critical world have all colluded in recent years to be kind once again to the figure and the unconventional beauty that is possible in this idiom. It is certainly a time when the more progressive, technological and conceptual arts can live with the historical constants that keep the bass line of art history rhythmic and alive, and progressive.

It is impossible not to be awed by the anachronistic drama of this character and his work. The show is a collection of over half of the sixty plus heads Messerschmidt executed in the last years of his short life, on loan from where most of them still reside in Vienna and Bratislava. Like many artists not swimming in the mainstream, FXM ends up having perhaps a more lasting relationship with art history than the recognition he has been accorded. New York should savor this anachronism. Go and appreciate a great ancestor of so much contemporary art.

Mennin, Mark, "Messerschmidt: An Accidental Visionary." The Huffington Post. September 21, 2010 02:21 PM.
http.// September 27, 2010.