Saturday, December 19, 2015

More About Hans Hofman's Legacy







A visit to the Frost Museum of Art on the Florida International University campus is the occasion to discover a frequently omitted legacy from Hans Hofman with the exhibition Walls of Color: The Murals of Hans Hofman. The artist born in Bavaria, Germany, was a well-established artist and art teacher in Munich before he migrated to the United States in 1932. His reputation grew steadily as he opened well-attended art schools in New York City and Provincetown, eventually becoming known as the father of abstract expressionism in the United States. He is considered the theorist of the movement born after WWII, and shared his thoughts about art in his noteworthy book "Search for the Real". The first request for a collaboration toward a public art project came around 1950 when he was seventy years old. The Chimbote project commissioned by the Peruvian government never came to fruition, but was the start of a new period in Hofman's career, characterized by the production of larger scale works. The exhibition is made of abundant material related to the murals composed for public buildings, as the artist's collaboration with architects and developers flourished.
The magazines laid in glass cases at the entrance are filled with photographs showing the artist surrounded by colors in his New York apartment and five small works chosen among the artist's easel paintings hang on the wall, introducing the show. A fauvist landscape from the late 30's is followed by a cubist-inspired painting and finally an abstract work Out of this world, 1945, a gouache with hints of drips, while two inks on paper, 1949, experiment with shapes and depth. The exhibition progresses rapidly to the murals with two large longitudinal panels conceived for the Chimbote project, side by side, taking over the room. The project itself is presented in the same area with maps and drawings. The deep involvement of the artist is highlighted in the adjacent room filled with seven more panels, studies for the final product, mosaics. The interaction between colors and abstract shapes illustrates the "push and pull" technique of the artist, creating perspective and motion. Smaller drawings with gouache or crayon on paper complete the presentation of the project aimed at a local audience, peppered with indigenous symbols like snakes, Inca artifacts mixed with catholic crosses.
In 1955, closer to home, the mosaic for the lobby of the building at 711 3rd Avenue is introduced by an abundant material including reproduction of two panels, photographs and preparatory works. The technically challenging mosaic required half a million Venetian glass tiles in five hundred different shades. The ongoing collaboration with the architect William Lescaze led to the creation of another landmark in 1958 on the facade of the School of Printing 439 West Forty-Ninth Street and two studies are also displayed, labelled "Apartment House Sketch" which were not realized. Parallel to these, the paintings produced by Hofman at the same period reflect the influence of his public art. Hofman started to integrate rectangles in his works like in Lonely Journey, 1965, a gouache on paper from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a brownish background interrupted by islands of brightly colored rectangles and a reddish path wandering through the landscape. Two other paintings from the same period illustrate the changes and the use of rectangles by the painter. Working with architects for specific commissioned projects brought some limitations to creativity and some technical challenges. Hofman did not leave these deter him from his goals. Constrained by a limited palette of colors, he played with their juxtaposition to make them sing on the mosaics. The results are showing Hofman's commitment's to color and abstract shapes to engender spirituality, shining through his compositions.
The exhibition gives the opportunity to discover another stage in Hofman's career. Foremost a teacher, he never stopped experimenting and his public works provided the occasion to add another dimension to his paintings. The Chimbote project appears to have been a turning point in his maturation, as he kept spreading bigger fields of colors. The mosaics in New York City are the tangible result of his research and the exhibition is including appropriate material to illustrate these points.
Hofman was always a pioneer, introducing drip painting, redefining perspective, depth and dynamic with colors and shapes.
The exhibition succeeds in making an enlightening  contribution to Hans Hofman's legacy.

photographs by the author:

"Awakening", 1947
Chimbote Mural Fragment of Part I, 1950
" Push and Pull" (Study for Chimbote Mural). 1950



Monday, December 14, 2015

Rothko's Journey at the MFAH





Mark Rothko's large paintings with their signature rectangular fields of color stand out in museums, galleries, art fairs, attracting eager visitors. Creativity appears to have struck the artist like lightning, leading to swift recognition and fame. The exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Mark Rothko:A Retrospective will dispel such an assumption with more than sixty works displayed in chronological order offering a glimpse into the painter's career.
Most of the works are on loan from the National Gallery of Art and the first room is filled with early pieces from the 1930's. Figurative scenes featuring familiar surroundings like crowds in the New York subway, primitive compositions à la Gauguin or inspired by Greek mythology veer to surrealist and abstract pieces influenced by European movements. Forwarding to the late 40's with the series of "Multiforms", made of biomorphic colored blurry shapes followed by a period of "Transitional Paintings" in the adjacent room, Rothko's vocabulary is maturing with vertical abstract landscapes made with oil paint bleeding into the canvas. Yellows, oranges, reds surround the visitors as the walk through the exhibition leads to the "Classic Paintings" from the 50's. Rothko gave numbers to his paintings or left them untitled. Scholars and art critics defined and named periods according to the painter's technique and biography. Bathing in colors, I felt elated and heard music (The Ode to Joy from Beethoven to be precise). Following Rothko's advice, I stood 18 inches from the canvasses, letting my eyes overflow with luminous colors and limitless horizons. Being surrounded by the paintings radiating energy and life, is a unique experience which offers an occasion to participate in the artist's search for sublime goals. A similar exhilaration overtook me a few weeks later at the Phillips Collection while contemplating the four paintings from the same period in the Rothko Room.  The transition to his next endeavor is brutal. Drama, tension and ultimately doom transpire from the four variations in red commissioned for the Seagram's Four Seasons Restaurant followed by the black and violet compositions realized for the Rothko Chapel located a few miles away at The Ménil Collection. The paintings are somber and the commissioned works lack spontaneity. Lost in the darkness of the black fields, I could not find the thread leading to meditation. The last paintings are reflecting the artist's physical limitations. He changed his technique radically, downsizing the canvasses and using acrylic for his two-toned compositions in black and grey. However his last message is a vision in red, ethereal, a scream for life and hope, radiating pure energy.
The exhibition offers not only a didactic way to look at Rothko's career, but is also a unique venue to experience the physicality of his paintings. Expressing his philosophy through his work, Rothko makes it universal and timeless. Before undertaking his career shortened by his self-inflicted demise, Rothko reflected on art and philosophy in the early 40's and his writings gathered by his son Christopher were published in "The Artist's Reality: Philosophies of Art".
As a whole, the exhibition allows to follow the maturation of the artist's technique and his parallel inner journey and growth.
Rothko was very protective of his works and when looking at them I keep in mind this quote from the artist himself:
"A painting lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky and unfeeling act to send it out to the world."






photographs by the author

"Underground Fantasy", 1940
"Number 2", 1947
"Number 7", 1949
"Untitled", 1970

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Epic: Meads at the Ogden.





For the exhibition Bent Not Broken,  the Ogden Museum of Southern Art's fifth floor is dedicated to Michael Meads, a versatile artist, photographer, draftsman and painter. Presently living in New Mexico, Mead was born and raised in the deep South, Alabama, where he learned about the Crescent City through the Sunday sermons from Baptist preachers on the radio. He moved to New Orleans in 1998 and was an active member of the community till the disaster struck in 2005. Following hurricane Katrina, he left for good and is now living in New Mexico. Visiting home must be a bitter sweet experience and some nostalgia seeped through his presentation of the show on a Sunday afternoon.
The tour started with a photographic exhibition made of sixteen Cibachrome photographs
and nine Polaroids along the walls, mainly male portraits. Featured with  attributes related to Southern culture: guns, knives, snakes, beer, live or stuffed animals, … and surrounded by a rustic environment, the sitters breathe of eroticism suggested by subtle details like a flash of skin or a pose. The compositions are simple and repetitive with the subject in the foreground and little room left for the background. A slideshow titled It Was Lovely When It Lasted, composed of more than one thousand slides and lasting two hours (I missed some of it) is a visual diary of a kind with photographs of acquaintances and familiar surroundings.
No space is left empty on the way to the main gallery, from charcoal drawings lining up the white walls to masks in glass cases. This is a short introduction to the major show which at first sight appears bathed in a festive atmosphere with its twirling world of Mardi Gras corteges, beads and masked revelers... till a closer look reveals scenes of chaos, disasters and death. Love and sex, celebrations with heavy libations are depicted in the mist of end of the world scenes, life versus death. The subjects are grim, AIDS epidemic with Der Lieberstod (2013-2014), hurricane Katrina with Ghosts along the Levee (2012-2013) or the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with The Baptism (2012), gigantic narrative pieces, stories within stories, scenes within scenes. The magnum opus, The Grand Pageant of the Mystic Krewe of Saint George the Divine (2015) is about the disposition of Dureau's ashes in the Mississippi river. All the works are related to the yearly celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and the centaurs, Egyptian gods or archbishops are renditions of real people, actors in the compositions. We can recognize the painter George Dureau, well-known musicians or friends from the artist. Meads is a narrator of tales from real life. My visit could have ended then, following the enchanted time spent in front of these masterpieces.
The exhibition goes on in the adjacent hall, with a collection of works from watercolors to illuminated diaries and pieces salvaged from the artist's studio after the flood. But I just would like to remember Meads as the artist who, through his works, transcended New Orleans's culture to a myth. A labor of love, each major piece takes nine months to be completed, a symbolic number. He describes two months of feverish creativity followed by seven months of physically challenging manual labor, crouched or on his knees, days after days. With pencils and Velum paper, Meads stages operatic compositions (he relishes operas), translating the spirit of the city. As a whole, the exhibition is a display featuring the multi-talented artist, a retrospective of a sort, sometimes lacking critical insight to "show it all", cheapening some of the purely magnificent works.




photograph by the author:
"Plague Doctor, Mask I and II", Michael Meads, 2004

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Meet Taylor Mead at Boyd Satellite




Shocking? A male nude? Masculine/Masculine: The Nude Man in Art From 1800 to the Present Day, a thorough exhibition which included more than two hundred sculptures and paintings related to the subject took place at the Musée d'Orsay in 2013, and according to the curator, "the paradox is that we think we live in a very liberated society but the male nude still troubles people." This month, Boyd Satellite gallery is testing its visitors with three photographs of  a naked Taylor Mead taken by Andres Serrano. A collection of selfies made by Blake Nelson Boyd as part of the Taylor Mead photobooth series, paintings, drawings and memorabilia complete the exhibition Taylor Mead in Exile.
There is no way to avoid the three giant photographs (60"x 50") organized like a triptych at the entrance of the gallery. The unconventional portraits of Taylor Mead, cut at the level of the upper thighs, are showing a decrepit body supported by a cane, staged in provocative poses: contrapposto on the left, full derrière in the middle and prominent display of sexual organs on the right. He is obviously enjoying the session and above all, the then eighty six years old artist appears perfectly comfortable with his body. On the same wall, the series of photo-booth pictures taken in 1995 by Boyd look like miniatures. A younger Mead sits in different costumes, from tin man to Superman or Mickey Mouse, relishing the roles. Mead was a poet, an actor and also a painter. Five of his abstract and semi-abstract paintings surrounded by almost twenty of his drawings on the opposite wall attest of that. Each piece tells a short story and the subjects vary, but exposed genitals and cats provide most of them. A projection of the "Lonesome Cowboys", a film by Andy Warhol featuring Mead as one of the actors, next to photographs in black and white of Taylor Mead and friends, provides a sampling of the artist as an actor. Memorabilia, including cane, hat, glasses, a copy of  "On Amphetamine and in Europe" published in 1968, even a sample of his ashes, give a museum-like quality to the exhibition, a celebration of the artist's life.
Serrano's photographs steal the show. Nude? Male nude? Old male nude? One can see plenty of buttocks while visiting the Uffizi in Florence: warriors, athletes, ephebes or angels, but nothing like this. Serrano is not the first to show ugly old men, Lucian Freud comes to mind. The classical poses and the use of chiaroscuro, a venerable technique, with a black background shadowing the pale flesh, make the compositions a pastiche. Serrano and his sitter are a prefect match, both relishing controversy (remember Piss Christ from Serrano? ) What makes the photographs provocative? When looking at a nude, we are expecting to find beauty, but beauty cannot be old according to stereotypes. I found the nudes beautiful because genuine. Mead is not afraid to expose himself, embracing his appearance, his frailty, with a wink in the eyes, defiant of time, for ever young. What disturbs the viewer is that the photographs, like mirrors in fairy tales, represent the time to come. The recoil at first look is a learned behavior, similar to looking at spiders or snakes. Is not art supposed to bring us out of our comfort zone? To quote Mead:" You want to play around with poets but you don't want any of the dangers or consequences."
Mead is not in exile, he has found a place in New Orleans.




photographs by the author:

Taylor Mead pill bottles from Blake Boyd's collection

from the "Nude" series, Andres Serrano, 2012

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Finding Home




It takes a collection of memories and all kind of materials to rebuild "home". For the exhibition Expanded Media at the Carroll Gallery on the Uptown Tulane University campus the five selected artists include Anita Cooke, Mark Grote, Rontherin Ratliff, Nikki Rosato and Sadie Sheldon.
At first, the narrative piece from Sadie Sheldon overtakes the room with its huge brownish wave along the wall facing the entrance. In The Flood, 2013, a female figure steers a boat tossed by the storm. The materials used to build the work, tarp, heavy canvas and weathered metal, allude to an industrial world of shipyards.The resulting composition is a scene full of drama.
Close by, four recent "boxes" from Ratliff inspire various emotions but are all about loss and rebirth. Reconnecting with the past through found objects is the artist's specialty. With a variety of materials, from feathers to old telephones, playing with light reflections, he creates a faded world, desolate, abandoned, where life stays in suspense. The works of Mark Grote are displayed in one room, appropriately so. The brightly colored objects could take over the muted colors of fellow artists's works. The wall sculptures become fun toys, leaving the imagination run wild. Smaller but characteristic pieces of each artist are found in the next room and the visit proceeds with the "maps" from Rosato who transforms roads, interstates into the blood vessels of otherwise transparent silhouettes. Anita Cooke's pieces complete the show. Built with material like bicycle tire tubing, duct tape, felt, electrical parts, vinyl polyester ruffle yardage... they result in disciplined, minimalist compositions.
Looking back at the title of the exhibition, the materials used by the artists are so diverse that it becomes irrelevant to try to identify them. Transcending the media, each artist develops his/her own language, inspiring melancholy with Ratliff, humor with Grote, or drama with Sheldon. Refusing to abandon the debris left by the disaster, they built their practice around them, linking past and future, conceptualizing the objects and in the process giving them a new life.
With this show, the gallery has succeeded in making us aware of local artists with a well-balanced display of their works. Ten years ago, Katrina brought a lot of destruction but taught them a lesson that cannot be learned in art schools.



photographs by the author:

"Vulnerable Embrace", 2015, Rontherin Ratliff
"Not Your Mother's Apron #2", 2009, Anita Cooke
"The Flood", 2013, Sadie Sheldon

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Stories and History








For the new "art year" in New Orleans kicked off during White Linen NightArthur Roger Gallery presents an exhibition featuring three generations of African American artists, including the famous  Life magazine photographer Gordon Parks born in 1912 and the native artist Bruce Davenport in 1972. The show gathers a large collection of works from Willie Birch and introduces new pieces from Whitfield Lovell. The four artists, through different media and languages, contribute to a conversation about memory and history in their search for roots and identity.
Starting with the black and white photographs from Gordon Parks, nine portraits of the boxing champion known as Muhammad Ali reveal the multiple facets of the athlete's character, including his vulnerable sides, through subtle manipulation of light, shadows and composition. On the opposite wall, the four colorful large-sized works from Davenport relate to the iconic fighter who we learn, is the artist's father figure since childhood. With his naive technique, Davenport draws a bird's eye view of the ring encircled by rows of spectators themselves surrounded by smaller squares filled with side line stories, quotes and artist's thoughts. The felt pen drawn pieces viewed from afar suggest abstract geometric compositions and become alive as we come closer.
The thirty-four charcoal and acrylic drawings on paper from Willie Birch fill the largest gallery, plunging the visitor into a very New Orleans world. Black, white and all shades of grey, each drawing gets its inspiration from the city: lavish chandeliers next to abandoned sneakers and empty lots. A hose becomes a snake, shoes aligned on the pavement belong to a group of veterans marching in the street, a hat laid on a shawl is the artist's self-portrait. The simple graphics tell elaborate stories built around the object, life's witness. Willie Birch brings us on a stroll around the city while he teaches us how to see.
Sixteen of Lowell's works are found in the adjacent gallery. They include a selection of portraits of anonymous African-Americans borrowed from old photographs. Detailed profiles or full faces are drawn with charcoal on vellum, wood veneer or vintage wallpaper. Meditative, they exude gravitas, an expression usually associated with Roman statues or paintings, to which the artist was exposed during his travels in Europe. The windowless space creates a museum-like atmosphere, quiet and dark. The only bright color is the red from the American flags included in the piece facing the entrance. Featuring a full-length portrait of an African-American, the official portrait is close to another figure drawn on wood, surrounded by bombshell casings. Lovell states "I want to evoke a sense of place, to be able to feel the spirit of the past for a moment, to feel the presence of these people". Some  works may have gone one step further, setting African-Americans in their country's history.
The exhibition which includes respectively, "Ali", "The Dapper Bruce Lafitte Introduces: Draw Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee", "Seen and Unseen: Coupling" and "First Impressions", manages to define common grounds between the four artists and reveals the connections between the themes of their works. Through personal experience, anonymous characters or objects, with different media and style, the four artists are contributing to the African-American history and the carefully staged display results in a show with profound content.



photographs by the author:

"You're My Thrill", 2004, Whitfield Lovell 
"Say Hello to the Dapper Say Goodbye to Davenport, Jr.", 2015, Bruce Davenport, Jr.
View of the exhibition

Monday, August 3, 2015

Lights and Shadows at the MFA Houston




This Summer, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston offers a unique display with the exhibition Cosmic Dialogues: Selections from the Latin American Collection. The artists represented  have a common interest in light and movement, with works combining futurism, light art, op art, kinetic art and constructivism. Highly inspired by European movements, they are innovative in their concepts. A large area is dedicated to Gego, a Venezuelan artist, followed by the major installation from Gyula Kosice, The Hydrospatial City, (1946-1972). The last room allows to sample works from diverse artists, among them, Abraham Palatnik and Julio Le Parc.

In the hall, two hanging sculptures from Gego introduce the display of a significant body of work, which includes wall sculptures, more suspended sculptures, drawings and prints. Built with stainless steel wire and iron, the sculptures have the lightness of spiderwebs. Enclosing an empty space, spreading their shadows on the walls of the gallery, they stay decorative. The eyes must accommodate before walking in the next room where the visitor gets immersed in the world of Kosice. He took twenty five years to realize his installation based on the premises that "Man will not end his days on earth". The habitats conceived for the survival of humans after the destruction of the earth are interesting from an architectural point of view. A total of nineteen Plexiglas models float in space surrounded by seven light boxes along the walls. Bathing in a bluish ethereal atmosphere, the transparent structures are glowing in a golden light and project their shadows on the floor and walls. Designed for a futuristic world, they are a mixture of science fiction and poetic dreams. A pamphlet available for reference, contains technical drawings about each "station" and its function. A video and photo collages dedicated to the installation follow-up in the passage leading to the last room humming with the sounds of motors and livened up by flashes of lights. Each work has its own rhythm and the two Mòviles from Julio Le Parc, 1968 and 1960-1966, caught my attention first. Made of squares of metal suspended vertically, in perpetual slow motion, they reflect the lights with a disorienting effect. The artists are represented by one or two iconic works for a total of nine: Gregorio Vardanega with his "chromatic square spaces turning in a spiral" made in 1968, Martha Boto his companion in Paris, with a kinetic op piece Optique Electronique, 1965, as well as Horacio Garcia Rossi with one of his "unstable light structure" made in 1966. Two small wall sculptures from Kosice integrate water interacting with light. A special mention should be made about Abraham Palatnik who became an innovator and catalyst for the light movement in Brazil. His five minutes video, "a kine-chromatic piece" made in 1962, features an evolving abstract landscape in constant shift of colors, orange, violet, red, fuchsia, with no obvious start or end.

The spotlight given to Gego's work results in a long winded introduction to the show, a black and white monotonous display lacking surprises in an effort to show "all the collection". The following installation from Kosice is a welcomed adventure in a cosmic world of galaxies and space stations. The subject related to the future of the human race on this planet is more than ever haunting artists, among them Dawn Dedeaux in New Orleans. Kosice's transparent dwellings bring an Orwellian flavor with their promotion of a communal life where no privacy is expected. In the late fifties and sixties, a great number of the Latin American artists migrated to France where they found a nurturing environment and associated with French artists like Victor Vasarely who founded the GRAV (groupe de recherche d'art visuel). They brought innovative ideas and introduced media like light, Plexiglas, Formica, motors, pumps, water...
The relatively small exhibition provides a review of a significant movement and allows to discover or rediscover artists sometimes overshadowed by better known Latin American artists from the same period (who also came to Paris) like Carlos Cruz Diez or Jesús Rafael Soto.






photographs by the author

"Esfera No.7", Gego, 1977
"Optique Electronique", Martha Boto, 1965
"The Hydrospatial City", detail, Gyula Kosice, 1946-1972

Friday, July 24, 2015

Barnett Newman's Legacy at The Ménil




Barnett Newman never was on my list of preferred artists. Comforted by my ability to recognize the "zips" interrupting large fields of colors, when encountering one of his paintings at a museum or a gallery, I would walk by and, after a short glance, move on. I "knew" his work. The exhibition Barnett Newman: The Late Work at The Ménil Collection brought me to reconsider my approach and spend some time to reevaluate his legacy. Assembling not only paintings from the late period (1965-1970) and a few earlier works, the display includes also tools from the artist's studio, two sculptures and unfinished pieces.
The two first paintings on display start a dialogue with their similar but reverse patterns, echoing each other. Proof of the power of colors, the blue painting Untitled, 1970, generates serenity, while drama exudes from the fiery red of White and Hot,1967. The artist's tools are displayed in a glass case close by. Forget palettes and delicate brushes, they include paint rollers and other industrial devices. Facing each other, the next paintings are identical, but created at different periods, illustrating the technical growth and maturation of the artist. The first version of Be I was made in 1949 with oil based paint and the second in 1970, with acrylic. The only vertical zip is precisely in the middle, generating a diptych-type effect. The contrast is striking with, on one side, a flat, dull painting and the other, a bright, radiant, warm version. Nearby, Here I, 1959, standing on a pedestal reminded me of Cy Twombly's sculptures with its raw material covered with white plaster and its simple rough shape.
One room is dedicated to earlier works from the fifties, including Primordial Light, 1954, Ulysses, 1952, Day Before One, 1951, and an untitled wall sculpture from 1959, minimalist in shape, juxtaposing red and black. The paintings' titles provide a clue when looking at the compositions. For example, Ulysses with its two-toned blue separated by a vertical black line evokes a seascape, the sky and infinity. The main room gathers the late pieces like Midnight Blue, 1970, from the Museum Ludwig in Cologne,  or Shimmer Bright, 1968, a turquoise variation from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The display is arranged by colors, and one wall is dedicated to black and white compositions How II, 1967 next to White Fire IV, 1968.  The second sculpture, Here III, 1965-66, is a smaller version of Broken Obelisk which can be seen near the Rothko Chapel further down the street. The three unfinished paintings from 1970 in the last room were found in the painter's studio upon his death and provide a melancholic conclusion to the visit along a few sketches, photographs of the artist's studio and the cover of the October 1971 issue of ARTnews featuring Midnight Blue.
It is a difficult task to describe paintings which physicality needs to be experienced, and photographic reproductions are inadequate to convey the depth of their compositions. The exhibition creates an environment conducive to a full appreciation of the artist's legacy with its carefully selected works set in a chronological progression, disrupted only by didactic sidelines underlining subtle changes in techniques or medium. The bare setting of the rooms, with a bench in the center and soft lightning, provides plenty of space to immerse oneself in each large painting, allowing it to fill the visual field without distraction. The apparent repetitiveness of the paintings creates a language which triggers contemplation and reflection for the engaged viewer. They can provoke emotions and give a sense of infinity, thus reach a spiritual level. Finally, I was able to understand what the art critic Clement Greenberg describes in "Art and Culture" as "emphatic flatness", and feel the "colour breathes from the canvas with an enveloping effect".
At last, I "saw" Barnett Newman's work.


photographs were not allowed
photographs from Bing Images, Creative Commons licence for use

"Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?", 1966
"Voice of Fire", 1967
"Broken Obelisk", 1962

Sunday, July 19, 2015

TAKIS, Solo at The Ménil



TAKIS: The Fourth Dimension at The Ménil Collection in Houston is dedicated to the Greek-born artist Panagiotis "Takis"  Vassilakis who, in his search for the fourth dimension, has produced works which defy the laws of gravity. This is the first museum survey in the United States for the sculptor who has a keen interest in science. He is better known in Europe and was recently featured at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris with an installation of his Magnetic Fields. The pieces selected for the show in Houston belong to The Ménil's permanent collection. The great anticipation which prompted my visit was somewhat dampened when I realized that the display filled only one room.
Overcoming my first impression, I progressed methodically, starting with the center piece, Ballet Magnetique I, 1961, a kinetic, hypnotic sculpture, featuring two suspended objects interacting with a central magnet placed on a base. The repetitive motion, energized by the electromagnet, draws rhythmic geometric patterns in space stirred by the "invisible force". Two glass shelves, one on each side of the entrance, are filled with small sculptures made in the early fifties, inspired by the art from the cycladic islands and Egyptian antiquities. Along the walls, Magnetic painting #7, 1962, is built with heavy objects made of iron. Attracted by a hidden magnet, they float in front of a monochrome yellow mustard canvas. Next is a piece of the same period, Tele-Peinture, 1966, aesthetically and technically less pleasing with its heavy black circle for background and protruding pieces of machinery. Facing these, two of The Ménil's latest acquisitions: Magnetic Wall- M.W. 038, 1999, a monochrome red painting using magnets to support coiled wires on the canvas and a musical piece, Musical-M.013, 2000, an hybrid composition adding sound to the visual experience. A collection of Signals running along the gallery length's wall completes the display. Like fragile stems, antennae toppled by small biomorphic or just plain geometric sculptures bend elegantly under their weight.The exhibition which assembles twenty-five pieces includes several Espaces Interieurs spread throughout the gallery. Made in the late fifties, the artist's first bronze sculptures are variations on the same theme, round shapes carved on the surface with deep lines arranged in different configurations.
As a whole, the exhibition is a resume of the artist's sixty plus years career span, assembling works from different periods, focusing on his roots with the early works, followed by the pieces which brought him to fame in the sixties. The proximity of the Cycladic statues in the nearby gallery may be fortuitous, but this is what The Ménil Collection is about: small exhibitions but significant and of great quality. This latest has succeeded in representing Takis's legacy. The artist, too busy creating art, is not interested in promoting his art: "It is a lot of energy to publicize yourself and rush to all the events. I don't complain about that because I wasn't interested in making money, I was interested in making art."
The artist is now ninety years old, and deserves to be better known on this continent. What makes him stand out is his faith in the mission of the artist as a demi-god who conquers invisible forces and transcends the matter by manipulating the laws of gravity.

No photographs allowed
photographs from catalogue

"Magnetic Painting #7", 1962
"Ballet Magnetique I", 1961

Due to time constraints, the blog was published after the close of the exhibition.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Somber Notes at the CAC




Radcliffe Bailey: Recent Works, the latest exhibition at the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans takes over the first floor of the venue. The show assembles six large new wall pieces and the eighth version of a site specific installation, Windward Coast. In addition, two works are set in the "oval gallery". The African American artist based in Atlanta keeps drawing his inspiration from the history of the Atlantic slave trade, espe-
cially the Middle Passage, music, and more recently, disasters.
Sounds of piano keys falling on the ground escape from a conch hung to the wall and a giant music stand supports a stack of wind instruments in a small space near the entrance, setting the tone for the exhibition. Music is also referred to in the next piece which fills the front of the main gallery and, viewed from the street, provides a great window display. Lost in the heap of wooden pieces, far away, a lonely black head covered with glitter bobbles in the middle of a sea of piano keys. The famous piece, Windward Coast, has already been much commented upon since its display for the exhibition Memory As Medicine at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in 2011. Conceptual art leaves plenty of leeway for interpretation, and I ventured into looking at the forlorn head as the artist himself.
Recent works fill the remaining space in the lobby of the Center. They include Clotilde, 2014 and Clotilde II, 2014, variations on the same subject. Both include a heavy coat of black sand covering objects like ropes, train tracks, cotton, a slave boat's replica, or toy-size railroad tracks. They refer to the scuttling of a slave ship in the Bay of Mobile in 1855 and are hung next to Black Night Falling, 2014, a graffiti of a sort. On a rough canvas, one can decipher the name of islands or countries (Haiti, Jamaica, Senegal, ...) or detect footprints, shadows, under a sliver of moon, surrounded by scribbles of heavy black paint. The next pair of works have a gory appearance with the preserved corpse of a crocodile for On Your Way Up, 2013, and dismembered doll's arms on a rubber backdrop for Congo, 2013,  alluding to "a surrogate crucifix", curios from European elites or the Nile River for the former and imperialist activities of Leopold II in Central Africa after the Berlin Conference in 1885 for the latter, according to the wall text. Comments related to the works are spread throughout the exhibition in an attempt to elicit a direct interaction with the viewers via social media like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
The predominant black color overshadows the exhibition filled with detailed historical references somewhat limiting the breath of the works. Over-inflated descriptions like "big things, large scale, minimalist, abstract sculptural works", "profound sense of serenity, with a hypnotic, repetitive aesthetic similar to Japanese rock gardens" or "Gargantuan" weaken the genuineness of the artist who also compares his studio to a church, a sacred space. His goal is to infuse a mythical dimension to historical events, ultimately give an Odyssean flavor to the sad slave trade. Conceptual art represents a challenge as a mean of narrating history. The flat sea of piano keys lacks energy, rhythm, "waves" and stays strangely silent. As a whole, the works trigger little emotions and lack vision for the future.
If any sound is coming out of the exhibition, it is a mournful tune.






photographs by the author:

" On Your Way Up", 2013
" If Bells Could Talk", 2015
" Windward Coast", 2009-2015

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Revisiting Edgar Degas







Edgar Degas: the private Impressionist at the Newcomb Art Gallery on the Uptown Tulane Campus  provides a glimpse into a less known scope of Degas' practice through its display of "Works on Paper by the Artist and His Circle". The famous sculptor and painter produced also a substantial body of work on paper. The drawings, prints, photographs and related pieces from the artist and his peers on view for the exhibition, were gathered by Robert Flynn Johnson over a forty-year period for his collection.

The visit appears daunting at first sight due to the voluminous material on display, its predominant black and white colors and the monotonous presentation along the walls. However, themes emerge as one walks through: Marie Cassatt at the entrance, or in the main gallery Edouard Manet, portraits of family and friends, studies after Old Masters or Classical sculptures also horses in one of the adjacent room and works from contemporaries in the other. Degas, the photographer, is well represented with a collection of shots made by the Master which contributes greatly to the worthwhile visit. So does the display of works on paper from peers like Ingres, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, ... or less known artists, spread within the show. Detailed wall texts are found next to each work and hand-outs are available for more information, including a glossary of graphic art terms. Etching, aquatint, drypoint, lithographs, first impression,..., the technicalities surrounding works on paper, prints in particular can be confusing but transform the exhibition into a didactic experience for an amateur like me. For example, one can learn about monoprints and monotypes which fell in disfavor after the sixteenth century. They are represented by three works by Degas who was introduced to the technique by Ludovic Lepic: Les Deux Arbres, ca.1878, Bust of a Woman, ca. 1876 and Heads of a Man and a Woman, ca. 1877-78. Most of the prints however are impressions from cancelled plates, made posthumously by Degas' dealer which means without the artist approval. Degas sold his cancelled plates to AmbroiseVollard as explained on page 40 of the book published at the occasion of the exhibition: "Degas' cancellation lines were clearly visible but done so as not to deface the compositions", "Degas himself rarely published or sold any of his work in the medium during his lifetime.". The assumption is that Degas intended to have further editions of the cancelled plates made after his death, which prompted Gary Arseneau to raise some polemic about the exhibition in his blog. The lonely sculpture Head, Study of the Portrait of Mademoiselle S. adds up to the controversy surrounding posthumous sculptures from Degas and appears irrelevant in an exhibition of works on paper. Likely the illustrations from Maurice Potin "after Degas" are subject to further scrutiny after reading the book: "Degas never exhibited the works in his lifetime", " Degas sold them... surely knowing that the dealer intended to use them as illustrations for further publication."...maybe.
The exhibition is a great venue to discover Degas, the photographer, and imagine the artist "at work" while looking at studies made in preparation for his paintings and sculptures. It shows Degas experimenting, presents his circle of friends and acquaintances, and brings up technical issues of interest to the collectors and viewers.
Degas was reluctant to be labeled an impressionist and preferred to be called a realist or independent, he may not approve of the exhibition's title and may also have some reservations about the content.
But who can tell?


photographs by the author:

"Manet Seated, Turned to the Right", ca. 1864-1865, Edgar Degas
view of the exhibition

Friday, February 27, 2015

Landscape vs. Manscape




This month, Good Children Gallery brings the visitor on a journey of a sort with The Horizon Tries, the latest exhibition curated by Lala Raščić. The multimedia show includes Raščić's works, a video from the Croatian collective Fokus Grupa, and a piece from Lana Čmajčanin. The theme, a reflection on landscapes, ultimately becomes an attempt to answer the question: "When we look at landscape do we see culture or nature?".
Going back in time, the visit can start in the far room, where a few items related to Elysée Reclus, the nineteenth century French geographer, anarchist, writer, are displayed in a glass case, including a facsimile of his obituary, books and a bottle of wine from the Cuvée bearing his name. This is a great introduction to the video No Country Other Than Liberty, 2013, from Raščić, featuring the artist on the right side of the screen, reading excerpts from Reclus's writings while images of industrial landscapes shot along the Mississippi River go by on the left. In a sobering note, the ominous comments made by Reclus in the 1850's are more than ever relevant to today's world. A gouache rendition of a Google earth view of the plantation where Reclus stayed during his trip in Louisiana completes the display.
In the front room, The Horizon Tries, 2014, gouache, glass and gold paint, also the title to the exhibition, is hung next to Into the Dusk Charged Air, 2014, a reverse painting on glass featuring a white web made of all the rivers mentioned in a poem from John Ashbery.
Across these two works, gouache paintings inspired by views from Google maps evoke abstract landscapes. For  Geometry of Time, 2014, Čmajčanin superimposes maps of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Roman time till the Dayton Agreement (1995). The black fuzzy contours represent a picture of old countries redesigned over the centuries at the whim of bureaucracies following wars. The resulting scribble summarizes centuries of history in one shot.  Next on a table, a series of five works from Raščić, gold painted words on layered pieces of glass, can be viewed as one installation under the glare of a single spotlight, the powerful association of words echoing in space and time: "Geometry of Exploitation", "Perseverance of Landscape", "Nature, Culture, Landscape, Manscape", ... Through a succession of views from natural parks, the fifteen minutes video There Aren`t Words for What We Do or How We Feel so We Have to Make Them Up, 2012, from Fokus Grupa, is an invitation to think about the relationship between landscape and culture, "exploring the notion of the ‘national essence’".  Looking at the succession of mountains, valleys, rivers becomes an aesthetic experience on its own.
The stunning landscapes could conclude the visit, but the well curated exhibition brings up lingering  thoughts. The dichotomy between "Old Europe" and "New World" could weaken the impact of some works when presented to the audience in New Orleans, however the bigger debate brought up by the exhibition is related to our relationship with nature, a subject binding continents and countries regardless of their history. As stated by the narrator in the video No Country Other Than Liberty "injuries to the natural world are injuries to humanity itself".







photographs by the author

Saturday, February 21, 2015

From Duchamp to Duchampian




At first look, Duchamp, A Biography, written by Calvin Tomkins is intimidating with its five hundred plus pages of dense text and black cover illustrated by Poster after Self-Portrait in Profile, 1959, from Marcel Duchamp. First published in 1996, twenty five years after the artist's death, the revised edition was printed under the auspices of the Museum of Modern Art.
A detailed description of  a major work from Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-1923, is followed by a chronological history of the artist's life in thirty chapters, each preceded by a quote from Duchamp or one of his close friends under the title.
The maturation of the complex character unfolds through the description of his life stories, on a background of wars and a fast changing art world. In his biography, Tomkins  not only provides solid facts, but also in-depth analysis of Duchamp's writings, interactions, interests and works. The illustrations accompanying the text include all the major pieces, family photographs and portraits of the artist and his friends.
Tomkins's easy style of writing makes the reading riveting with its succession of great stories. The material for the book was gathered during a thirty years period of research, and several hours of recorded conversations between the author and the artist in 1959 making it not only a biography but an insider's history of art. To quote Tomkins, the interview with Duchamp led to his "first interest in modern art". Following his personal interaction with the artist, Tomkins helps us evaluate the breath of his legacy.
As a testimony of his influence on the art world, Duchamp, who stated that "life is more important than art",
was posthumously awarded an adjective in the dictionnary, Duchampian.




photographs public domain
Marcel Duchamp, Library of Congress
"Rose Sélavy", 1921, Man Ray

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Birth of a Photographer, Emmet Gowin







Thesis are the culmination of years of education, and often hold the key to a future career. Through the portfolio presented for his undergraduate senior thesis at the Richmond Professional Institute (Virginia Commonwealth University) in 1965, Emmet Gowin provides clues to his early influences and sources of inspiration. The display of a rare unbound version belonging to the New Orleans Museum of Art's permanent collection is the occasion to discover Concerning America and Alfred Stieglitz, and Myself, a compilation of texts chosen from the book written about Stieglitz, America and Alfred Stieglitz: A Collective Portrait, published in 1934, and fourteen photographs made by Gowin when he lived in Virginia.
The black and white photographs are displayed in glass cases along the walls of a narrow passage between Joseph Cornell's works and the Modern and Contemporary Art gallery on the second floor of the museum. The text is available on printed copies or through a smartphone app, found next to Gower's drawing for the publication's cover. The scenes caught on camera in 1963 and 1964 describe people in their surroundings, using trees, rows of benches, buildings, … as props to frame the moment. Technically flawless in their compositions, the photographs are telling stories, suggesting sometimes action, sometimes reflection.
Reading the text is the next step. The selected writings imply the direct influence of the photographer/gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz and give an insight into Gowin's aspirations which are to meet the goals set by Stieglitz, among them: "The translation of experience through photography, the storing up of energy, feeling, memory, impulse, will, ..." or " fixing the intricate Idea through the momentary forms which actually reveal it".
A second look at the photographs underlines the influence of Alfred Stieglitz who introduced European art to America and promoted the idea of photography as art and Robert Frank, in particular his photographs with the text from Jack Kerouac published in the book The Americans, in 1958. The subject, discovery of the soul of America through its people, the construction of the images with vertical and horizontal lines, the setting of the human figures, all relate to the famous photographers' works.    

The small exhibition which at first appears to have been set up to fill an anonymous space, deserves attention and time. Not only does it provide a piece of the history of photography , it also represents the birth of a photographer and an artist. 







photographs from  the exhibition by the author

Danville, Virginia, 1963
Shilo Baptist Church, Shilo, N.C., 1963
Route 360, Virginia, 1964


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Not so Random






For Random Precision in the Metric of Time, his first exhibition at the Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans, the Austrian-born sculptor Erwin Redl presents a new body of work consisting of kinetic sculptures, wall pieces and prints. Best known for his LED light installations, the artist utilizes different media in his practice, including glass, laser, drawings, videos, computer installations... Through his diverse background, Redl acquired various skills, from carpentry, a family tradition, to music and Computer art  while attending the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna and the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
The swooshing sound of fans guides the visitor to two suspended sculptures, Ascension Circle-24, 2015, and Ascension X-17, 2015, hanging respectively from a metal circle attached to the ceiling and from four massive wood poles. Clear-glass pipes arranged in geometric shapes (a circle and a cross) compose the main body of the pieces, while white LED lights reproduce the figures on the floor intermittently, in sync with Ping-Pong balls rising and falling in the long tubes, propelled by small fans. The technical aspect of the works can distract from the visual experience which requires some time to be fully appreciated. Four small sculptures built with the same technology surround the riveting works. One or two Ping-Pong balls blown by fans move across a suspended piece of carved Masonite. The size, depth and shape of the carving determine the path of the spheres. The repetitive motion results in a mesmerizing sight. Four giant palimpsest prints covering one of the walls evoke the cartography of ancient ruins seen from space. The complex geometrical patterns are generated through a computer in the course of the kinetic sculptures' design. Layers of red, blue, black oil based ink, provide texture and mood. The prints are a clue to Redl's reverse engineering process for which he "assembles the material according to a narrow set of self-imposed rules which often incorporate complex algorithms, controlled randomness and other methods inspired by computer codes." The last group of works is a series of carved Masonite wall pieces, variations on designs and shades.
While Redl's light installations have been affiliated with the Light and Space movement, this new body of work reaches far beyond "retinal" art to art for the mind, a Duchampian quest. Exploring new dimensions like space and time, the artist aims through his art to control randomness "transferring an idea of randomness through precise calculations."
With its minimalist flavor, the show activates the spacious gallery's space, allowing the visitor to discover the artist through a variety of his compelling works.





Erwin Redl investigates the process of “reverse engineering” by (re-)translating the abstract aesthetic language of virtual reality and 3 D computer modeling back into architectural environments by means of large scale light installations. In this body of work, space is experienced as a second skin, our social skin, which is transformed through the artistic intervention. Due to the very nature of its architectural dimension, participating by simply being “present” is an integral part of the installations. Visual perception works in conjunction with corporeal motion, and the subsequent passage of ti - See more at: http://arthurrogergallery.com/artists/erwin-redl/#sthash.4CWkjkZO.dpuf



photographs by the author


Random Precision in the Metric of Time presents a new body of work that reveals unexpected variances through time-based media and processes. Manifestations of rhythmic arrangements are explored using various media, either through movement or layers of materials accumulated over time. The works in the exhibition are divided into four groups: kinetic sculptures made up of arrangements of vertically suspended glass pipes equipped with Ping-Pong balls, fans and LED lighting; suspended sculptures which utilize different variations of intricately shaped planes; large-scale CNC palimpsest prints and reliefs carved out of laminated layers of thin Masonite. Redl explains that the meticulously engineered works are exposed to uncontrollable parameters, which introduce random errors and distort the unvarying precision of the metric of time, thus allowing time to be experienced as an imperfect system. - See more at: http://arthurrogergallery.com/exhibition/erwin-redl/#sthash.RAdHf8we.dpuf
Random Precision in the Metric of Time presents a new body of work that reveals unexpected variances through time-based media and processes. Manifestations of rhythmic arrangements are explored using various media, either through movement or layers of materials accumulated over time. The works in the exhibition are divided into four groups: kinetic sculptures made up of arrangements of vertically suspended glass pipes equipped with Ping-Pong balls, fans and LED lighting; suspended sculptures which utilize different variations of intricately shaped planes; large-scale CNC palimpsest prints and reliefs carved out of laminated layers of thin Masonite. Redl explains that the meticulously engineered works are exposed to uncontrollable parameters, which introduce random errors and distort the unvarying precision of the metric of time, thus allowing time to be experienced as an imperfect system. - See more at: http://arthurrogergallery.com/exhibition/erwin-redl/#sthash.RAdHf8we.dpuf

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ghosts of the Past and Present






Carrie Mae Weem's works could not find a more appropriate place to be displayed than the George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art on Carondelet during Prospect.3. Walking through the porch of the antebellum house transformed in a museum is a great introduction to the exhibition which includes photographs from the Louisiana Project (2003).
Twelve pictures from the above series are found on the first floor, most featuring the artist seen from behind, leading the viewer on a 19th Century plantation's visit. The views are quiet and empty but soon get filled with the ghosts of the past, revived by the artist's presence, staged slightly off center, leaving room for the viewer to look at the scenes with her eyes, share her emotions and ultimately develop empathy. Carrie Mae West is reflecting on her roots, her people's history and slavery in this invitation to a trip down memory lane.
When watching Meaning and Landscape, 2003, a DVD projected on a television screen, one cannot avoid thinking of Kara Walker's work which treats similar themes set in Southern backgrounds. They both are great storytellers, but Carrie Mae West approach stays subtle, with innuendos and suggestions, as opposed to the raw violence and sexuality depicted in Walker's cut-paper silhouettes. Weems's chooses grayish images, blurred by a fence in the background, delivered at a slow pace, for this tale about race, gender and status.
Going back in time, on the second floor, Lincoln, Lonnie and Me-A Story in 5 Parts (2012) is a historical review of her ongoing themes. Short clips stage different characters including the artist, ghostly figures disappearing like magic on the stage defined by virtual bright red theater curtains. The Pepper's Ghost illusion, an old technique born in the 16th Century is used for the 18 minutes video which includes texts and music mixed for the soundtrack. The work in which the artists rekindles memories in a grey world of shadows was commissioned for the show Feminist And... which took place at the Mattress Factory,

Resurrecting the ghosts of the past to haunt our present...




photographs by the author

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Basquiat Belongs







With its catchy title, the exhibition Basquiat and the Bayou at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, part of Prospect.3: Notes for Now, is an attempt to relate Jean-Michel Basquiat's legacy to the culture of the Crescent City and the South in general. Nine paintings have been selected for the show which starts with a biography of the artist set along the hall leading to a vast room filled with the works.

Facing the entrance, Zydeco, 1984, a dark green triptych, color of "haricots" (beans), catches the visitor's attention with its reference to the music from Louisiana. The camera on the right panel focuses on the accordionist, the central figure. The left panel, harder to decipher, includes a black refrigerator, four black skulls topped by two iconic crowns and two seated black silhouettes. The painting is surrounded by Natchez, 1985, on the right, an aggregation of Xeroxed pieces on plywood mounted on a wood door, covered by texts and drawings treating a variety of subjects and, on the left, by CPRKR, 1982, dedicated to Charlie Parker. Facing these, two works appear loosely related to the theme of the exhibition: Embittered,1986, a complex juxtaposition of cartoonish figures including African inspired drawings and Back of the Neck, 1983, a painting inspired by Gray's AnatomyProcession, 1986, appears racially charged with its simple sinister cortege led by a figure wearing bright clothes and carrying a white skull, followed by four black silhouettes. Another prominent piece Exu, 1988, is a mythical painting radiating energy, a late work possibly made after Basquiat's visit to New Orleans. Two paintings, King Zulu, 1986 and Untitled (Cadmium), 1984, are similar compositions treating unrelated subjects. The first refers to New Orleans and the musician Louis Armstrong, the later has a religious overtone featuring a black torso and a sacred heart.
The physical relationship between the bayou (South) and Basquiat is tenuous at best and consists of one visit to New Orleans during Jazz Fest in April 1988, shortly before his death. Basquiat himself claimed his New York City roots which are not incompatible with his preoccupations with the South, racial bias, his Haitian and Puerto Rican origins, and his musical choices, as described by Robert G. O'Meally in his essay published in the exhibition's catalogue. So it is not surprising to find themes related to the South in his works long before his trip to New Orleans like in Undiscovered genius of the Mississippi Delta, 1983, or Jim Crow, 1986, among others, important works selected for the great retrospective which took place at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2010 for his fiftieth birthday. Furthermore, some of Basquiat's late paintings appear to be an attempt to reconnect with his preferred themes following his collaboration with Andy Warhol.
It is not surprising that the exhibition's intent feels somewhat contrived, twisting Basquiat's vernacular to make it fit into a Southern experience. Cataloged as a neo-expressionist artist, ultimately, Basquiat is recognized as Basquiat and like Gauguin, found at the New Orleans Museum of Art during the Triennale, it is fitting that he should be part of Prospect.3 because, referring to Tavares Strachan slogan floating on the Mississippi, he "belongs".

.

photographs by the author:
"Untitled (cadmium)", 1984
" Exu", 1988
" Zydeco", 1984

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Absurdist Pop









Icon, 2011, from Will Ryman, is located near the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park during Prospect.3. The thirty foot tall sculpture features five red roses, one of them climbing straight up to the sky and the gigantic red flowers are looking odd, profiled on a Southern autumnal background. The work meets all the definitions of Pop art with its monochrome meaty red industrial paint covering petals, stems and thorns made of stainless steel. The shorter version of the 2011 installation on the Park Avenue Mall in Manhattan is surrounded by a black fence which obscures the bottom of the sculpture- to prevent lovers from scribbling their initials?
Red roses are about love, but these roses, made to be eternal, are cold, harsh and threatening, with their thorns color of blood which means death. In one of his statements, Ryman, influenced by absurdist philosophy, alludes to a twist of humor in the piece. In the process, he transforms the symbol of the rose and its romantic undertone into a cruel and commercial cliche.
Another work from Will Ryman, part of the permanent collection at the NOMA,  America, 2013, is a massive gold log cabin containing all the country's historical attributes: shackles, coal, computer keys, car parts, candies, ... embedded in the walls. The superficial reflection on American history is ready for consumption by the viewers with its hodgepodge of cliches. 
Ryman requires a lot of space and material to produce works light in content. Pop art seems to be a treacherous mean of introducing philosophical hints. 

"Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose",...Gertrude Stein and Pop art is Pop art is Pop art.