A New Look for an Old Soul

Visitors to New York’s Museum Mile may like to take a wander through the newly designed third floor of the Jewish Museum at 1109 Fifth Avenue. Following its recent Modigliani exhibit and its Pierre Chareau exhibition, last year, that was orchestrated by Diller + Scofidio, the choice of starchitect was key to decoding the presentation of their somewhat weighty permanent collection.

Enter Calvin Tsao, of Tsao & McKown, who opened up the space establishing a visual link to Central Park and Stagmeister & Walsh who did the rebranding. Entitled “Scenes From the Collection” there is no attempt to overwhelm. Instead the collection has been curated minimally, with a “less is more” rotating philosophy, so as to remain fresh, fanciful, interactive, and critically, more Instagrammable.

Stylistic tribute has been made to international galleries abroad. As in the Tate Modern and Musee d’Orsay, the beauty of the original building, in this case the 1908 built home of Felix M. Warburg, is celebrated with its period charm restored. The mix of old and new is paramount not just in the architecture but in the collection itself, which  has been divided into seven galleries.

The first, “Accumulations”  provides a welcome interactive element with stereoscopes enabling 3D type views of last century Israel depicted in hand-drawn postcard sized twin images. Mostly traditional ceremonial objects are displayed in “Taxonomies”, while images and objects referencing the Holocaust are shown in  “Masterpieces and Curiosities”. A more modern take on  “Personas” shows the work of Man Ray and Cindy Sherman, with exploration of the Star of David and its symbolism explored through the art of contemporary artists in “Signs and Symbols”.  With a viewing station “Television and Beyond” attempts to catch visitors up to the present whilst examining the portrayal and impact of Jews in the media.

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Yet it is in the “Constellations” gallery that the real dialogue between modern art and heritage takes it rightful place.  Tradition and loss, have so far been presented. Continuity and the precarious balance of living with heritage is what is examined here. Mel Bochner’s The Joys of Yiddish, (above) is a true gem, contrasting bizarrely with Camille Pissarro’s Portail L’Eglise Saint-Jacques à Dieppe.




Arlene Shechet’s emotionally packed Travel Light, (seen above with Eva Hesse’s Untitled) is a restrained gypsum and resin reference to the generational value of familial objects interlinked with identity, escape and continuity.

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Framing this travel bag are displays of 60s feminism with painting by Joan Snyder (Hard Sweetness, above) and Eva Hesse as well as the more recent “Seder” by Nicole Eisenman.

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Hannah Wilke’s series Venus Pareve (above), is presented alongside the subtle relief of the Star of David in the rainbow colors of  Ross Bleckner’s expressed duality in his “Double Portrait (Gay Flag)” (below).

Ross Bleckner, Double Portrait (Gay Flag), Oil on canvas, 1993

wileyStanding proudly in its vivid lure, the ornate quality and frame of Alios Itzhak (above) by Kehinde Wiley from his World Stage:Israel exhibition at the Jewish Museum, 2012, mimics the intricate dark woodwork of the adjacent 19th century ark from Sioux City, Iowa. Both share the iconography of carved ten commandments, centrally placed at their top and both challenge ideas of memory and continuity. Wiley’s work goes further in portraying a proud, deliberate, noble element, typical to his work, yet it is the deliberate homoerotic element that is glossed over here, as is the subject of the integration and acceptance of Ethiopian Jews in modern Israeli society. The Jewish Museum could do well applying the same level of admirable critique to its curated content as it has done to its newly renovated galleries.

Still slightly disparate with unusual but exciting juxtapositions “Scenes From a Collection”  has promised a 6 month cycle which will undoubtedly keep the galleries and our appetite fresh as well as allowing for further curatorial experimentation. That is to be applauded.


An Englishman in New York

By Sarah Balcombe

A visitor to the David Hockney at New York City’s Met in Central Park, would be forgiven for breezing past Hockney’s early works and making a bee-line for the seductive pinks, aquas and yellows of his more familiar California pool paintings, as in A Bigger Splash, 1967 (below).

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When presented with these images of sun-drenched California it is easy to forget Hockney’s British roots. Yet his early paintings (below) tell a narrative of homophobic Britain before the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 ironically alluding to taboo practices deemed imprisonable offences at that time.

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Referencing  Andy Warhol’s celebration of everyday objects, in Cleaning Teeth, Early Evening (10pm) W11, 1962  (above right) these experiments in Abstract Expressionism are important references of a not-so disguised pre-Stonewall era.  Hockney’s Shame, 1960 (above left) depicts his post Royal College of Arts period, displaying Francis Bacon- influenced contorted raw angst.

Not so in his more confident Domestic Scene, Los Angeles, 1963 (below left)

hockney14  Man in Shower in Beverly Hills 1964 by David Hockney born 1937  and Man In Shower In Beverly Hills, 1964 (above right).

Gone is the angst, replaced by a perceived nirvana of tolerance and thriving, located in his anticipated homeland of Los Angeles, where scenes of male domesticity and casual intimacy were more acceptable. These paintings also depict the technical development of Hockney’s portrayal of water and splashes, a theme to which he later returns and refines.

However it is the unbridled optimism that triumphs and floods the remainder of this exhibition.  Even though the subjects of these initial paintings were conjured up from magazines prior to Hockney’s move to the US,  the paintings begin to be informed by the seductive pinks, aquas and yellows of his subsequent Los Angeles relocation.

And what a celebration he conveyed upon his arrival in LA in 1964. With explosions of color augmenting the modernist Neutra-like villas of art collectors and acquaintances, we have a glimpse of 1960s and 70s LA through Hockney’s exuberant lens.

Image result for american collectors (fred and marcia weisman) American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman), 1968, above.

California Art Collector, 1964, below left.

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As we peered through The Graduate‘s distorted pool in 1967, so we gaze as voyeurs into Hockney’s exquisite pools and seductive villas. Impeccably dressed characters suggest prescribed roles, some as art collectors (see above) others as fashion designers and friends in Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, 1971 (below left) and the remainder as more-than friends, as in  Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, 1968 (above right).

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Repetitive iconography of objets, such as the telephone, strategically placed flowers, fruit, hands, crossed knees, books, and distance between couples, portray domestic relationships, whilst inviting us into Hockney’s social circle and his world beyond the frame. His working studies of his subject are even more poignant in their intimacy. With the abandonment of every formal compositional element, as in his crayon sketch of Ossie Wearing a Fairisle Sweater, 1970 (above, right) a familiarity is suggested.

It is in this phase of portraiture that Hockney’s work revels in freedom and the anticipation of possibility whilst geometry and modernism provide a welcome element of composition and technical exactitude, see below, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972.

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Modernism as an influence is seen in linear delights such as Medical Building, 1966 (below left) and Savings and Loan Building, 1967 (below right) whilst surrealism is suggested in Hockney’s Rubber Ring Floating in a Swimming Pool, 1971 (beneath left).

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All this changes in the latter part of the exhibition when the 80s decade heralds color  infused with a more psychedelic Fauvism as in Outpost Drive, Hollywood, 1980 (above right). As a visitor stated “This is where Hockney turns into Matisse.” Whilst Matisse was undoubtedly an influence there is no doubt that these rooms are still Hockney. Continuing with his beautifully composed domestic scenes, adding a cubist reference, Hockney also explores landscape with ferocity, possibly as a reaction to his gradual deafness, and his claims that his perception of colors intensified in their vividness.

Image result for large interior la                                          Large Interior, Los Angeles 1988

Whilst terraces and pergolas interact with the landscapes, enticing the viewer with a differing perspective, the landscapes have become his refuge. Flitting between Hollywood Hills and Yorkshire visits, they excite and inspire. Yet it is his Breakfast at Malibu, Sunday, 1989 (below) that offers perhaps the most compelling combination of heritage. Informed by his humble Bradford beginnings, the traditional teapot and cups assume a Zen-like transcendental quality against the backdrop of the all-encompassing blue Malibu waves, a perfect cross-Atlantic blend of meditative anticipation.

Breakfast at Malibu  (1989 )

The visitor continues to be guided through freer, more abstract treats of the 1990s and 2000s, culminating in a dazzling I-pad display of Hockney’s embrace of technology.

Go, enjoy and be comforted by the fleeting angst, rigor, beauty and thoroughness of his art that is gradually reducing, like a good sauce, to a Picasso-esque squiggle of a solitary line of color.

Obama’s Choice of Kehinde Wiley Just got Political


Kehinde Wiley Fishermen Upon a Lee-shore, in Squally Weather (Zakary Antoine), 2017 (above) Courtesy Kehinde Wiley and STEPHEN FRIEDMAN GALLERY, London

Barack Obama’s choice, last month, to appoint Kehinde Wiley to paint his portrait to be displayed at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery could hardly be more timely. As in Michelle Obama’s selection of  Amy Sherald as her artist,  Barack’s choice is current, progressive and as of last week, political.


Emma Amos Eva the Babysitter, 1973 (above) Courtesy Emma Amos, The Amos Family and  RYAN LEE GALLERY (Tate Modern)
Barkley L. Hendricks Icon for My Man Superman (Superman never saved any black people — Bobby Seale), 1969. Courtesy JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY


Kehinde Wiley is no Wadsworth Jarrell, Emma Amos (top), or Barkley L. Hendricks (above) whose Civil Rights Movement inspired artwork, mostly from the late 1960s and 1970s, was exhibited recently at London’s Tate Modern’s Soul of a Nation Art in the Age of Black Power. Yet Wiley is influenced by these predecessors and his work remains relevant in a similar way.  Less militant and of a different time, Wiley’s art not only addresses local issues, it also tackles global  tensions relating to predomnantly male identity and acceptance, across China, Brazil, India & Sri Lanka, Lagos & Dakar, and more recently, Israel. This was seen in Kehinde Wiley/The World Stage: Israel in New York’s Jewish Museum in 2012.

Kehinde Wiley Abed Al Ashe and Chaled El Awari (The World Stage: Israel), 2011(© Kehinde Wiley; Courtesy Roberts & Tilton, CA) (above)
Detail from Kehinde Wiley Kalkidan Mashasha (The World Stage: Israel), 2011               (All images courtesy the Jewish Museum.) (above)

Wiley’s portraits, often focusing on the male skin and body as art, are softened by textiles, pattern and a certain vulnerability. Wiley is best known for substituting the elite and often religious subjects of traditional old master paintings with contemporary African-Americans, emphasizing their absence in these historic paintings.  By challenging accepted historic norms, Wiley comments on “the signifiers of power, the implications of the traditional portrait, which are about privilege, power, elitism…..that he was not included in.” (New York Times)

Kehinde Wiley  Leviathan Zodiac, 2011. Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton, California. © Kehinde Wiley.

His work has a contemplative and reflective quality with his current solo show at the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London  (see London’s Evening Standard) depicting everyday real Haitians (with their names in the titles) painted in heroic, maritime poses, as in Fishermen Upon a Lee-shore, in Squally Weather (Zakary Antoine), 2017 (image at top). Lacking the technical complexity of his earlier works, these portraits of migrants or seafarers, fisherman or villagers,  have acquired heightened political status, due to the Department of Homeland Security’s termination, last week, of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted by Barack Obama, to Haitians in the US.

With irony as the main ingredient of Wiley’s art, the timing of the exhibition of his Haitian portraits is not to be underestimated. Due to the secrecy shrouding Barack Obama’s anticipated portrait, it will be interesting to see to what extent Kehinde Wiley will reflect this relevant humanitarian TPS issue.

Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait (MOMA)

If MOMA realized that its latest exhibition on Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) would be running through Halloween, it certainly selected an appropriate artist. Her towering bronze spiders with their spindly legs and incarcerating abilities, continue to evoke fear and dread in even the most seasoned MOMA visitor.

IMG_8201Spider (1997)

Yet it was these arachnids that helped to turn Bourgeois into a legendary phenomenon. That the price of her work has more than quadrupled since 2000, when I first saw her 30ft Spider, at the Tate Modern in London and that Bourgeois’ work currently commands the second highest price achieved by a female artist, is not insignificant. Her work remains compelling and intriguing, especially upon closer inspection. With the fragments of her memories on display, depicting themes of feminism, entrapment, and abandonment,  a past is explored through composition, medium and material.

In Spider (1997), part of her Cells series (1991-2000), and the initial piece in MOMA’s second floor gallery, the visitor is introduced to a scene of disturbing domesticity, masquerading as an internal labyrinth of the mind. Here a vertical tapestry, hung like a bell-pull on the cage-like enclosure, references Bourgeois’ childhood spent assisting her family’s business in the tapestry restoration trade. An old covered chair and anthropomorphic draped fragments, fabricated from steel, tapestry, wood, glass, fabric, rubber, silver, gold and bone, suggest a confidence in her use of a wide range of material.

Nevertheless it is the 15ft spider itself, that steals the show. MOMA knows that it cannot compete in terms of setting, scale and impact with the Tate Modern’s vast Turbine Hall in London. Yet by situating Spider (1997) above the entrance, it tries. Uncomfortable in the gallery’s mezzanine, yet visible from the entrance, a sense of unease and claustrophobia is established.  Faced with apparently the rawest of constructions,  Bourgeois’ work deceives, in that it is fabricated, choreographed and very well considered, leaving nothing to chance. Yet the caged, domestic, territorial scenes depicted in her Cells series, remain current and topical, with feminist issues of neglect and abuse, prevalent.


The Smell of Eucalyptus (# 2) (2006) Soft-ground etching  (above)                                                Turning Inwards (2008) Soft-ground etching, with selective wiping (below)


The exploration of these introspective themes are displayed on the surrounding walls, where images of tangled forms are shown (above). Alluding to abstracted female parts, Bourgeois’ technique of soft-ground etchings, often with selective wiping, adds a certain vulnerability. It also appears to reference the fine pencil work of botanical drawings, providing an almost academic geometry, rigor and validation.

Organised by theme, rather than chronologically, what follows on MOMA’s third floor is unexpected. It also presents another side to Bourgeois, to those who know her only for her large-scale spiders and elaborate scenes.


Living in Paris, Bourgeois had met and married her American husband, Robert Goldwater, in 1938 and then moved to New York with him.  Goldwater was an art historian specializing in what was known then as primitive art, and Bourgeois’ sculptures of the late 1940s, shown here, reflect this discipline. With a verticality emerging in the forms of totem poles, and  towers, these works predate her Cells series (1991-2010) by approximately half-a-century.

Untitled (The Wedges) (1950) Painted wood (above)                                                              Pillar (1949-50) Painted wood (below)


Aesthetically they are more in keeping with her geometrical prints and fabric books, to which she returned towards the end of her life (below).IMG_8246IMG_8245

MOMA has juxtaposed the simpler Cell VI (1991 ) below to demonstrate that the Cells themselves varied. Whilst mostly complex and theatrical, dark and psychological, this atypical one also references primitive art and is more architectural. It presents a calm almost monastic sheltering quality, enhanced  by the dominant turquoise color.


Displayed alongside gentle watercolors on more formal engravings, the gender balance, and initial social and professional isolation, are all expressed in a more tentative manner.

The influence of her Surrealist peers is seen in Portrait of Jean-Louis (1947-49) below. IMG_8219

Famille  (1947-9)  draws strongly from the visual imagery of Georgio de Chirico’s work, particularly his The Painter’s Family (1926). The influence of Fernand Léger, another well-known Surrealist and Bourgeois’ teacher, during the mid 1930s in Paris, can also be seen in these early engravings, particularly in the industrial isolation of Pont Transbordeur (1946-7).



Famille (1947-9) topPont Transbordeur  (1946-7) above.  © 2017 The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA. From MOMA collection.

Yet the impact of the Surrealist movement on Bourgeois is incidental. A self-proclaimed Existentialist, familiar with the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre, it is likely that Gaston Bachelard’s the Poetics of Space, had a more profound effect on her work. Bachelard stated, “To inhabit oneirically the house we were born in means, more than to inhabit it in memory; it means living in this house that is gone, the way we used to dream in it.”

With Bourgeois’ art addressing this notion of memory and childhood, her structures suggesting both security and entrapment, and her family members abstracted within  her art, she repeatedly addressed her sense of abandonment over her father’s infidelity and her mother’s illness. Bourgeois suffered severe depression following the death of each parent and undertook extensive psychoanalysis.

As she plundered her memories and emotions for her art, so Bourgeois utilized her stored fabrics and remnants that she had accumulated for decades. Employing a seamstress, she formed geometries, repetitive patterns and architectural hierarchies, seeking order amidst the chaos of her formative years, and seeking solace in the memory of her early studies of mathematics at the Sorbonne, Paris.

With over 300 pieces of her work, this exhibition is successful in conveying the magnitude and variety of Bourgeois’ artwork, which displays an astounding variety of techniques explored during her lengthy career. Her collaborations with much younger artists in her later years, led to the development of new printing techniques. These allowed for the adding of handwork. Technically complex, they hint at a certain sense of respite in the craft itself. These prints displayed a remarkable mind, capable of innovation, even during the final four years of her life until her death, age 98, in 2010.


The exhibition’s grand finale, the polished bronze flaying Arch of Hysteria, 1993, above, suspended dramatically, is a reminder of her core unresolved issues and regrets. A female Pietà, hovering precariously, simultaneously victim and victor, cared for and abandoned, corpse and free spirit, it commands the attention of the room.

A seductive exhibition, one leaves spellbound in Bourgeois’ web of artistry, her memories become ours, her narrative intertwines with our own. MOMA’s choice to use Bourgeois’ work to launch their new interior project is unsurprising, as she was also the first artist used by the new Tate Modern, London to launch their original building in 2000 and their new ARTIST ROOMS gallery last year. In a recent article, Frances Morris, curator of the vastly expanded Tate Modern explains why, “Her art remains relevant, her themes intoxicatingly interchangeable with our own and the execution of her work , a delight to behold.”