Archive for August, 2008

Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.

August 20, 2008

Stella Adler

From 1905, at the age of four, until her death eighty-seven years later, Stella Adler dedicated her life to preserving and expanding the highest level of art in the theater. The youngest daughter of the eminent Yiddish tragedians, Sara and Jacob Adler, Stella began her career on her father’s stage at the age of four in a production of “Broken Hearts.” When she was eighteen, she went to London where she made her debut at the Pavilion as Naomi in “Elisa Ben Avia,” a role she performed for a year, before returning to New York. She spent the next ten years performing throughout the United States, Europe and South America, appearing in more than 100 plays in vaudeville and the Yiddish theater. She received a great deal of acclaim among Yiddish-speaking audiences as the leading lady of Jacob Ben Ami and Maurice Schwartz, yet she longed for wider recognition and the opportunity to play more varied roles.

Following her Broadway debut in Carl Kapek’s “The World We Live In,” she joined the American Laboratory headed by Richard Boleslavsky and Maria Ouspenskaya, both former members of the Moscow Art Theater. In 1924, she met Harold Clurman, the man who would become her second husband and a co-founder of The Group Theater, In 1928, she participated in the Actor’s Laboratory where she met Lee Strasberg as well. When Clurman, Strasberg, and Cheryl Crawford created an influential theatre group that championed realism and the teachings of Konstantin Stanislavski, in 1931 Clurman and Strasberg invited Stella Adler to become a founding member of that collective, The Group Theater. Although neither the politics nor the cooperative energy of the company appealed to her greatly, she nevertheless joined the ensemble having been promised leading roles and enamoured of Clurman’s vision.

While acting with the Group she did some of her best work, including the notable roles of Sarah Glassman in “Success Story,” Adah Menken in “Gold Eagle Guy,” Bessie Berger in “Awake and Sing,” and Clara in “Paradise Lost.”

Taking a brief leave of absence in 1934 to travel to Russia, she stopped off in Paris, where she met and studied for five weeks with Konstantin Stanislavski. (She was the only American actor ever to study with him privately.) When she returned to The Group Theater with a new understanding of his work and a new idea of what American theatre could be, she began to give acting classes for other members of the Group, including Sanford Meisner, Elia Kazan, and Robert Lewis, all of whom went on to become notable theatrical directors and acting teachers.

Although the Group provided her with some support she never felt comfortable there; in 1937, she left for Hollywood.

After six years as an associate producer at MGM, and a number of roles (under the name Stella Ardler) in movies such as “Love on Toast” (1937) and “The Shadow of the Thin Man” (1941), she returned to Broadway and London to direct and act in many plays, among them were the London premiere of “Manhattan Nocturne,” the Off-Broadway revival of the Paul Green Kurt Weil anti-war play, “Johnny Johnson,” as well as “Sons and Soldiers,” “Pretty Little Parlor,” and “He Who Gets Slapped.” Her last stage appearance was in the critically controversial production of Arthur Kopit’s “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet, and I’m Feeling So Sad” (1959).

Concurrent with her work as an actor and director, Stella Adler began to teach in the early 1940’s at the Erwin Piscator Workshop at the New School for Social Research. She left the faculty in 1949 to establish her own studio in which young actors could work, study, and perform. The studio is now approaching its sixth decade and has enriched every part of the American theatre and motion picture arts.

Combining what she had learned from the Yiddish theatre, The Group Theatre, Broadway, Hollywood, and Stanislavski, Stella created the Stella Adler Theatre Studio (later renamed the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting and finally the Stella Adler Studio of Acting). The studio offered courses in principles of acting, voice and speech, Shakespeare, movement, and makeup, along with workshops in play analysis, character, scene preparation and acting styles. Onstage experience was acquired by performances of scenes and plays before an invited audience. Among her students were Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Warren Beatty, Elaine Stritch, Mario Van Peebles, Harvey Keitel and Candice Bergen. Her belief in the supreme seriousness of her art kept many well-known members of the theatre coming back for her intelligent and passionate advice.

Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it.

August 19, 2008

Robert Motherwell

Robert Motherwell was born January 4, 1915, in Aberdeen, Washington. He was awarded a fellowship to the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles at age 11, and in 1932 studied painting briefly at the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Motherwell received a B.A. from Stanford University in 1937 and enrolled for graduate work later that year in the Department of Philosophy at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. He traveled to Europe in 1938 for a year of study abroad. His first solo show was presented at the Raymond Duncan Gallery in Paris in 1939.

In September of 1940, Motherwell settled in New York, where he entered Columbia University to study art history with Meyer Schapiro, who encouraged him to become a painter. In 1941, Motherwell traveled to Mexico with Roberto Matta for six months. After returning to New York, his circle came to include William Baziotes, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, and Jackson Pollock. In 1942, Motherwell was included in the exhibition First Papers of Surrealism at the Whitelaw Reid Mansion, New York. In 1944, Motherwell became editor of the Documents of Modern Art series of books, and he contributed frequently to the literature on Modern art from that time.

A solo exhibition of Motherwell’s work was held at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery, New York, in 1944. In 1946, he began to associate with Herbert Ferber, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko, and spent his first summer in East Hampton, Long Island. This year, Motherwell was given solo exhibitions at the Arts Club of Chicago and the San Francisco Museum of Art, and he participated in Fourteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The artist subsequently taught and lectured throughout the United States, and continued to exhibit extensively in the United States and abroad. A Motherwell exhibition took place at the Kunsthalle D�sseldorf, the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, Vienna, and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1976–77. He was given important solo exhibitions at the Royal Academy, London, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., in 1978. A retrospective of his works organized by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, traveled in the United States from 1983 to 1985. From 1971, the artist lived and worked in Greenwich, Connecticut. He died July 16, 1991, in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

What experience has shown me is that is takes your life to become an artist.

August 18, 2008

Eric Fischl

Born in New York City, he earned a reputation as a New Image painter of the Post Modern movement, known for provocative, harshly realistic figure and genre scenes.

His interest in art began in 1968 when he worked in Phoenix, Arizona delivering patio furniture and became friends with a fellow truck driver who was attending art school. Fischl attended Junior College and then Arizona State University where he studied with Bill Swaim who encouraged him to apply to CalArts.

He earned a B.F.A. Degree from the California Institute of Arts at Valencia in 1972 and became an assistant professor of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax from 1974 to 1978. He also returned to the California Institute to teach art and then established a studio in New York City.

His narrative work, loaded with connotations of domestic drama, has recognizable figures and theme, a rebellion against the prevalent total abstraction. Others New Image painters are David Salle, Robert Colescott, and Georg Baselitz.

Any art communicates what you’re in the mood to receive.

August 17, 2008

Happy Birthday Larry Rivers

BBorn in 1923 in the Bronx, New York, as Larry Grossberg. In 1940 he began a musical career as a jazz saxophonist and changed his name to Larry Rivers. In 1943 he was declared medically unfit for military service. Until 1945 he worked as a saxophonist in various jazz bands in the New York area. In 1944-45 he studied theory of music and composition at the Juilliard School of Music, New York. His first encounter with fine art was through a musical motif based on a painting by Georges Braque. He began painting in 1945. In 1947-48 he studied at the Hans Hofmann School. In 1948 he studied under William Baziotes at New York University and met Willem de Kooning. In 1949 he had his first one-man exhibition at the Jane Street Gallery, New York. In 1951 he graduated in art from New York University and met Jackson Pollock. His works were subsequently shown by John Myers until 1963. In 1952 he designed the stage set for Frank O’Hara’s play “Try! Try!”. In 1953 he completed Washington Crossing the Delaware. In 1954 he had his first exhibition of sculptures at the Stable Gallery, New York. In 1956 he began a series of large-format paintings and was included with ten other American artists in the IV. Bienal Do Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, Brazil. In 1958 he spent a month in Paris and played in various jazz bands. He also collaborated with the poet Kenneth Koch on the collection of picture-poems New York 1959-1960. In 1961 he married Clarice Price, an art and music teacher of Welsh extraction. In 1965 he had his first comprehensive retrospective in five important American museums. His final work for the exhibition was The History of the Russian Revolution. Until 1967 he was in London collaborating with Howard Kanovitz. In 1967 he became separated from his wife Clarice. He traveled in Central Africa and made the TV-documentary Africa and I with Pierre Gaisseau. In 1969 he began to use spray cans, in 1970 the air brush, and later, video tapes. In 1972 he taught at the University of California in Santa Barbara. In 1973 he had exhibitions in Brussels and New York. In 1974 he finished his Japan series. He was represented at the documenta “6”, Kassel, in 1977. In 1978 he began his Golden Oldies Series, revising his own works of the fifties and sixties. In 1980-81 he was given his first European retrospective at Hanover, Munich and Berlin.

Part of the joy of looking at art is getting in sync in some ways with the decision-making process that the artist used and the record that’s embedded in the work.

August 16, 2008

Chuck Close

Chuck Close (b. 1940, Monroe, WA) received his B.A. from the University of Washington, Seattle in 1962 before studying at Yale University School of Art and Architecture (B.F.A., 1963; M.F.A. 1964). Following graduation, Close was awarded a Fulbright grant and studied at the Akademie der Bildenen Kunste, Vienna; he began working from photographs at this time. In 1967, Close moved to New York City where, one year later, he began black and white portrait painting. Soon thereafter, his work was included in the “1969 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting” at the Whitney Museum of American Art—marking his first inclusion in a museum exhibition—and in 1970, Close received his first solo show. Nearly ten years later, during the late Seventies and early Eighties, Close began oil paintings and photography-based portrait series.

Close’s drawings, paintings, photographs and prints have been the subject of more than one hundred exhibitions in over 20 countries, including many organized by museums. Most recently, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid organized “Chuck Close Paintings: 1968 / 2006”, the first retrospective of works by Chuck Close in Spain. The exhibition then traveled to the Ludwig Forum for International Art in Aachen, Germany. Another important traveling retrospective was recently prepared by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, entitled “Chuck Close: Self Portraits 1967-2005” (2005-2006). Other venues included The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo.

A comprehensive monograph dedicated to Chuck Close’s career was published by Prestel in November. Chuck Close: Work by Christopher Finch is what Close describes as “the book [about my work] that I’ve always wanted.” In October, a major exhibition of new paintings and jacquard tapestries entitled Family and Others went on view at White Cube in London. Family and Others is set to travel to The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia in late February 2008. Around the same time, the Whitney Museum honored Close during their Fall Gala. Film Forum is also releasing a new feature-length documentary on the artist, which was produced and directed by Marion Cajori, on December 26, 2007. CHUCK CLOSE, An Astounding Portrait, will run through January 8, 2008. More information on the documentary is available on The Art Kaleidoscope Foundation and Film Forum websites: and

“Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration” organized by the Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston, has been traveling throughout the United States since 2003. Previous retrospectives include: “Close Portraits” (1980-81) organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, with additional venues including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; “Chuck Close: Retrospektive” (1994) organized by the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, which was also later presented at the Lenbachhaus Städtische Galerie, Munich; and “Chuck Close” (1998-99) organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, with subsequent venues at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; Seattle Art Museum; and Hayward Gallery, London.

Since 1969 Close has participated in over 400 group exhibitions of international scope, including Documenta, Kassel, Germany (1972, 1977), the Tokyo Biennale (1974), the Corcoran Gallery of Art Biennial (1975, 2001), the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial (1977, 1979, 1991), the Venice Biennale (1993, 1995), and the Carnegie International (1995-96).

Close has taught at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), The School of Visual Arts (New York), the University of Washington (Seattle), New York University and Yale University (New Haven), and has been conferred with twenty honorary degrees including those from The Art Institute of Boston, Skidmore College (Saratoga Springs, NY), Colby College (Waterville, ME), University of Massachusetts (Amherst), Rhode Island School of Design, Purchase College at the State University of New York, Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore), the Corcoran School of Art (Washington, DC), and Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson) and his alma mater, Yale University (New Haven, CT).

Honored by numerous cultural institutions throughout the United States, Close has been the recipient of many distinctions including: the International Center for Photography Annual Infinity Award for Art (1990), the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Medal (1991), the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Art (1991) and election as a member of the Academy the following year, the Academy of the Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts, Guild Hall of East Hampton, NY (1995), residency at The American Academy in Rome, Italy (1996), the New York State Governor’s Award (1997), election to Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1998), the Artist Advocate Award from the Alliance of New York State Arts Organizations (1999), the title of “Culture Laureate” by the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center (1999), the Independent Curators International Leo Award (2000), the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton (2000), Americans for the Arts Life Time Achievement Award, New York (2004), Gold medals from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy in Rome (2004), and The National Arts Club gold medal (2005). Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Close to The New York City Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission in 2003.

Close’s work can be found in over 60 major public collections worldwide including: the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; The Art Institute of Chicago; the Australian National Gallery, Canberra; the Carnegie Institute, Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; The Cleveland Museum of Art; the Des Moines Art Center; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC; the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester; the Library of Congress, Washington, DC; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Museum moderner Kunst, Palais Liechtenstein, Vienna; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC; the Osaka City Museum; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Seattle Art Museum; the Staatliche Museum, Berlin; the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, among others.

PaceWildenstein has represented Chuck Close since 1977. The artist currently lives and works in New York City.

To ask for paintings which are understandable to all people everywhere, is to ask of the artist infinitely less than what he is capable of doing.

August 15, 2008

Happy Birthday Jack Tworkov

A leading figure in the New York School of abstract expressionists and best known for his spontaneous brush strokes and rhythmic compositions, Jack Tworkov was born in Biala, Poland in 1900. After immigrating to the United States in 1913, he settled in New York, where he began taking drawing classes at Stuyvesant High School. He studied English at Columbia University (1920–23) and art at the National Academy of Design (1923–25) and Art Students League (1925–6). In 1921, Tworkov was greatly influenced by the work of Cézanne, whose work was exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum. Although New York remained his primary residence, Tworkov began spending his summers in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he befriended Karl Knaths. At this time he developed an interest in the ideas and work of European modernists Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Joan Miro. During the 1930s and 1940s, he worked on the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project (1935–41). In 1941, he had his first solo show at the A.C.A. Gallery, New York, and continued to exhibit frequently to critical acclaim.

During World War II Tworkov briefly stopped painting; however, when he resumed he began experimenting with abstraction, at the same time other artists —Jackson Pollock, Phillip Guston, and Bradley Walker Tomlin—were also developing their new ideas and creating purely abstract, expressionist works. By the 1950s, Tworkov had fully embraced the idea of using unconscious impulses in painting, an important aspect of abstract expressionism. He filled his canvases with gestural brushstrokes that combined to create forceful linear rhythms across his compositions. Within ten years, Tworkov felt that his abstract style had become predictable and repetitive, so he rejected the spontaneous gestures of abstract expressionism for a more linear geometric approach. This more disciplined structure typified his works of the 1960s and 1970s, where the use of a diagonal grid imposes a new sense of order on the surface of his compositions. While these later works show strong geometric relationships, his brushwork continued to function as a rhythmic element.

Throughout his career, Tworkov held various teaching positions, including chairman of the art department at the Yale School of Art and Architecture, from 1963–69. His works are included in many prestigious collections, both public and private. He has received many awards and honors, including a gold medal at the 1963 Corcoran Biennial.

When you’re young, you long to be accepted by a group, but by and large artists are not joiners.

August 14, 2008

David Salle

Born on September 28, 1952, in Norman, Oklahoma, David Salle grew up in Wichita, Kansas. At the age of eight or nine, he began taking life-drawing classes at the Wichita Art Association. During high school, he attended outside art classes three days a week. In 1970, he began his studies at the newly founded California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, where he worked with John Baldessari. Creating abstract paintings, installations, and video and conceptual pieces, Salle earned a B.F.A. in 1973 and an M.F.A. in 1975, both from CalArts.

After school, Salle moved to New York, where he supported himself by working for artists, including Vito Acconci; teaching art classes; and cooking in restaurants. He also did pasteup in the art department of a soft-core pornography magazine. When the publisher folded, Salle saved a group of stock photographs depicting nudes, sporting events, airplane crashes, and such, which he later used as source material for his paintings. An exhibition of Salle’s works on large rolls of paper was shown at Artists Space in New York in 1976. Around this time, he began experimenting with relief prints on unprimed canvas. He also made charcoal drawings on canvas of nude women in erotic poses and of objects such as telephones and airplanes.

Salle has mentioned the influence of filmmakers Douglas Sirk, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Preston Sturges on his thinking beginning in the mid-1970s. Cinematic devices—from close-ups and zooms to panning, montage, and splicing—have indeed been recognized in his work. In the late 1970s, Salle traveled to Europe, where he made an effort to see as much work as possible by his German Neo-Expressionist contemporaries. Fellow painter Ross Bleckner introduced Salle to art dealer Mary Boone, who first exhibited his work in 1981. Salle soon gained prominence as a leader in the return to figurative painting of the 1980s. In 1983, he began working on very large canvases, some of which include art-historical references. His first solo museum exhibition was presented at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam in 1983.

Salle’s work for the stage began in 1981, when he was asked to design the set and costumes for Birth of the Poet, a play by Kathy Acker under the direction of Richard Foreman. He has designed sets and costumes for numerous works by Karole Armitage—an avant-garde choreographer and dancer with whom he lived for seven years—beginning with their 1985 collaboration on The Mollino Room, performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov and American Ballet Theatre.

Salle has continued to paint alongside his work for the stage, creating such series as the Tapestry Paintings (1989–91), Ballet Paintings (1992-93), and Early Product Paintings (1993). In the 1990s, he added sculpture to his oeuvre and began exhibiting his black-and-white photographs, many of which were made in preparation for canvases. He also directed the commercial film Search and Destroy (1995), which was produced by Martin Scorsese and features Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper, and Christopher Walken.

Solo shows of Salle’s art have been organized by the Museum am Ostwall Dortmund (1986–87), Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (1986–88), and Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1999), among others. He has participated in major international expositions including Documenta (1982), Venice Biennale (1982 and 1993), Whitney Biennial (1983, 1985, and 1991), Paris Biennale (1985), and Carnegie International (1985). The artist lives and works in Sagaponack, New York.

To make people free is the aim of art, therefore art for me is the science of freedom.”

August 13, 2008

Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys was born in 1921 in Krefeld, a city in northwestern Germany near the Dutch border. He grew up in the nearby towns of Kleve and Rindern, the only child in a middle class, strongly Catholic family. During his youth he pursued dual interests in the natural sciences and art, and he chose a career in medicine. In 1940 he joined the military, volunteering in order to avoid the draft. He was trained as an aircraft radio operator and combat pilot, and during his years of active duty he was seriously wounded numerous times. At the end of the war he was held in a British prisoner-of-war camp for several months, and returned to Kleve in 1945.

Coming to terms with his involvement in the war was a long process and figures, at least obliquely, in much of his artwork. Beuys often said that his interest in fat and felt as sculptural materials grew out of a wartime experience–a plane crash in the Crimea, after which he was rescued by nomadic Tartars who rubbed him with fat and wrapped him in felt to heal and warm his body. While the story appears to have little grounding in real events (Beuys himself downplayed its importance in a 1980 interview), its poetics are strong enough to have made the story one of the most enduring aspects of his mythic biography.

On his return from the war Beuys abandoned his plans for a career in medicine and enrolled in the Düsseldorf Academy of Art to study sculpture. He graduated in 1952, and during the next years focused on drawing–he produced thousands during the 1950s alone–and reading, ranging freely through philosophy, science, poetry, literature, and the occult. He married in 1959 and two years later, at the age of 40, was appointed to a professorship at his alma mater.

During the early 1960s, Düsseldorf developed into an important center for contemporary art and Beuys became acquainted with the experimental work of artists such as Nam June Paik and the Fluxus group, whose public “concerts” brought a new fluidity to the boundaries between literature, music, visual art, performance, and everyday life. Their ideas were a catalyst for Beuys’ own performances, which he called “actions,” and his evolving ideas about how art could play a wider role in society. He began to publicly exhibit his large-scale sculptures, small objects, drawings, and room installations. He also created numerous actions and began making editioned objects and prints called multiples.

As the decades advanced, his commitment to political reform increased and he was involved in the founding of several activist groups: in 1967, the German Student Party, whose platform included worldwide disarmament and educational reform; in 1970, the Organization for Direct Democracy by Referendum, which proposed increased political power for individuals; and in 1972, the Free International University, which emphasized the creative potential in all human beings and advocated cross-pollination of ideas across disciplines. In 1979 he was one of 500 founding members of the Green Party.

His charismatic presence, his urgent and public calls for reform of all kinds, and his unconventional artistic style (incorporating ritualized movement and sound, and materials such as fat, felt, earth, honey, blood, and even dead animals) gained him international notoriety during these decades, but it also cost him his job. Beuys was dismissed in 1972 from his teaching position over his insistence that admission to the art school be open to anyone who wished to study there.

While he counted debate, discussion, and teaching as part of his expanded definition of art, Beuys also continued to make objects, installations, multiples, and performances. His reputation in the international art world solidified after a 1979 retrospective at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, and he lived the last years of his life at a hectic pace, participating in dozens of exhibitions and traveling widely on behalf of his organizations. Beuys died in 1986 in Düsseldorf. In the subsequent decade his students have carried on his campaign for change, and his ideas and artwork have continued to spark lively debate.

-Joan Rothfuss, Walker Art Center curator

I don’t listen to what art critics say. I don’t know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is.

August 12, 2008

In memory of Jean-Michel Basquiat who died 20 years ago today

Jean Michel Basquiat was an artist who was born on December 22, 1960 to a Haitian father (Gerard Basquiat) and a Brooklyn born Puerto Rican mother (Matild).

Even as a young child Basquiat displayed an excellent talent for art which is mother strongly encouraged. Unlike the average graffiti artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat came to personify the art scene of the 80s, with its merging of youth culture, money, hype, excess, and self-destruction. And then there was the work, which the public image tended to overshadow: paintings and drawings that conjured up marginal urban black culture and black history, as well as the artist’s own conflicted sense of identity.

In 1977, along with a friend Al Diaz, Basquiat started to spray painting cryptic sayings on subway trains and around lower Manhattan and signing them with the name SAMO© (Same Old Shit). Basquiat always said that “SAMO© as an end to mindwash religion, nowhere politics, and bogus philosophy,” “SAMO© saves idiots,” “Plush safe he think; SAMO©”. Basquiat’s ploy was to write anti-materialism messages in plain view of some of the worst materialists around. This was not only a key to his rise to fame, but a stunning reflection of the tendency of the bourgeoisie to co-opt cultural opposition. When some of Basquiat’s early work, which was a combination of painting and graffiti, first appeared in an “alternative” Lower East Side gallery, he was discovered by Henry Geldzahler.

Within a year or so, Basquiat had developed his highly marketable style. It combined Afrocentric themes mixed with graffiti based on his own hermetic universe of symbols. Painted on unconventional media, including objects retrieved from the junkyard, Basquiat seemed to be attacking bourgeois society. As Basquiat became more and more marketable, there was more and more pressure for him to produce.

He was seen as the ultimate party animal, a wannabe streetkid and grafittist hiding his black Brooklyn middle class roots. Since he had an enormous appetite for drugs, expensive clothing, fancy restaurants and first-class travel, this meant that he was tempted to work around the clock. Stoked by cocaine and marijuana, he’d often paint 18 hours in a row and then use heroin to get to sleep. When he awoke, he’d start off where he left off.

As a modern-day equivalent of the Nibelungen, Basquiat labored away in the windowless basement of an upscale gallery run by an Italian woman named Annina Nosei who saw herself as an “ex-hippie”. If he was a slave, he was certainly a well-dressed one. Basquiat worked on his paintings in Armani suits and often appeared in public in these same paint-splattered $1000 suits–a testament to his affinity for both mammon and bohemia.

By 1984, many of Basquiat’s friends had become quite concerned about his excessive drug use, often finding him unkempt and in a state of paranoia. Basquiat’s paranoia was also fueled by the very real threat of people stealing work from his apartment and of art dealers taking unfinished work from his studio Basquiat as artist and icon was eagerly embraced by the “postal” academic establishment who saw his graffiti as a form of Derridean ‘ecriture’.

His work was often grouped with Barbara Kruger, whose trademarked neon works including slogans like “I shop therefore I am” often appeared on the walls of the same upscale residences as Basquiat’s.

Near the end of his short life, Basquiat hooked up with Andy Warhol. Basquiat gave Warhol the cachet of being connected to the personification of youthful energy, while Warhol supplied the younger artist with introductions to wealthy clients as well as serving as a surrogate father figure. Apparently Basquiat was the only African-American that Warhol ever befriended, let alone got within close proximity to.

The first time Warhol saw him striding toward his studios from across the street, he told an assistant, “Don’t let that coloured boy inside.” Despite this, their relationship continued until Warhol’s death in 1987. Basquiat also affected Warhol’s affectless style. After Warhol died, Basquiat went off the deep end even though he had once claimed to be drug free upon his return from his ranch in Hawaii.

 On August 12, 1988 he died of a heroin overdose. He was 28 years old.

Artists themselves are not confined, but their output is.

August 11, 2008

Robert Smithson

Robert Smithson was born in Passaic, New Jersey, on January 2, 1938. While still in high school in Clifton, New Jersey, he attended classes in New York at the Art Students League and the Brooklyn Museum School. He served in the United States Army Reserves in 1956–57, after which he moved to New York. In the late 1950s, he was painting, drawing, and making collages. Smithson’s first solo show was held at Artists Gallery in New York in 1959.

Smithson married artist Nancy Holt in 1963. Taking up sculpture in 1964, he produced Minimalist and geometric works. Visits to quarries, industrial sites, and abandoned wastelands in New Jersey and neighboring states began to impact his art in 1966. The places he explored soon expanded to include the American West and Southwest, deserts in particular. Among those accompanying him on various trips were Holt, Carl Andre, Michael Heizer, Donald Judd, Robert Morris, and Claes Oldenburg. Smithson worked on his Photo-Markers and Sites/Nonsites in the mid- to late 1960s. The Photo-Markers explored human intervention into the natural landscape. He photographed sites, enlarged the images, and placed these enlargements into the physical landscapes they depicted before rephotographing these (now photo-bedecked) landscapes. The Sites/Nonsites series comprised sculptures incorporating elements—such as dirt, sand, and rocks-gathered from distant venues and transported to the gallery space. Unlike the Photo-Markers, the Sites/Nonsites altered the landscape itself by the removal of materials. Smithson’s subsequent earthworks would use similar practices on a massive scale, the artist literally reshaping the land.

Smithson wrote many theoretical essays and variations on the travelogue genre. One such illustrated piece, “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey,” published in a 1967 issue of Artforum, was a tongue-in-cheek guide to such highlights as a sandbox and industrial piping. In 1968, photographer Bernd Becher accompanied Smithson through West Germany’s industrial Ruhr Valley. The next year, Smithson traveled with Holt and his dealer Virginia Dwan to Mexico, a trip that spawned the Yucatan Mirror Displacements (1969), the photographic essay “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan” (1969), and the related Performance [more] Hotel Palenque (1972). In addition, Smithson visited Stonehenge and other prehistoric sites of England and Wales in 1969. Meanwhile, his proposed large-scale project for an island in British Columbia was terminated as a result of environmental concerns.

Smithson’s best-known work, Spiral Jetty, was created in 1970 in the violet-red water off the northern shore of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. This gigantic spiral of some 6,650 tons of earth would at times be entirely underwater in subsequent years. After a great deal of hunting, Smithson purchased a Maine island and a site in Utah for future projects. In 1971, he completed Broken Circle/Spiral Hill at a quarry near Emmen, the Netherlands. Interested in “reclaiming” American land for large-scale art, Smithson presented more than fifty proposals to various strip-mining companies, but was stymied in these efforts. On July 20, 1973, Smithson was aboard a small airplane to document the site for a new work called Amarillo Ramp. The plane crashed, killing Smithson, the photographer, and the pilot. Holt and others completed Amarillo Ramp the next month. Before his death, Smithson was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship. His art was included in several group exhibitions that defined 1960s art, among them Primary Structures at the Jewish Museum in New York (1966), Minimal Art at the Haags Gemeentemuseum (1968), Earth Works at Dwan Gallery in New York (1968), and Earth Art at the Andrew Dickson White Museum of Cornell University in Ithaca (1969).