Terry Winters: Facts and Fictions at The Drawing Center

Above: Terry Winters, Untitled (Page), 2011, Graphite on paper, 11 x 8 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.

By Jonathan Goodman

Terry Winters, one of our very best abstract artists, quietly achieves a genuine difference in effect in his works on paper, beautifully on show now at The Drawing Center. It is quite difficult to characterize this bit of originality available in the works, which manage to be both geometric and organic at the same time. Perhaps it has to do with an organizing intellectual principle that shows up regularly in the the body of work. This has been remarked upon before; the design, then, of the images tends to read rationally even more than we see the pattern as an intuitive construction. Working like this, generally within the idiom of the New York School, makes Winters look analytically perceptive in a field that doesn’t always take such a point of view to heart. At the same time, this body of work brings up conceptual notions of pattern and organization that we don’t associate at all with the expressive abstraction that has come, more or less, to take over much of the recognized image-making available in New York. Indeed, it is best to understate the long arm of the New York School, which, tentacle-like, has established a domain that many may feel constrained by. This has nothing to do with the genuine achievements of the style, but its current ubiquity has a lot to say about the vagaries of the market, which everyone downplays but no one can afford to ignore.

But, even so, even if we acknowledge the unusually strong achievement by an artist like Winters–and we should do so–we also need to recognize the need for a new idiom, one that would neither supplant nor replace what we already have, but would rather add to the tightening conditions that have resulted from the obligation to promote sales and maintain the market. What the details of this new style might be seems impossible to imagine ahead of its time; one might argue for a hybrid recognition of figuration and abstract insight. But this is only a guess, and our chief focus here is the very good work of Winters, whose combinations of styles and patterned phenomena begin an argument for difference–even when we acknowledge his late stage of lyric abstraction. This kind of work, like all the abstraction we see today, has its origins in the consequences of modernism and its investigations into a language that would resist realism yet be visually stimulating within the innate paradigms of the genre: color, shape, line. Winters’ work is so very good it can be thoroughly enjoyed even though it is not committed, on a conscious level, to a visual idiom that repeats thinking in love with the past, nor does it demand social equity, the major focus of much art today.

The task facing the New York art community–artists, curators, gallerists, and viewers–is to engender a language that will not plummet in the face of already established visual vernaculars. The same is true in poetry–which offers a sorely needed expressiveness that is ignored because of its inability to generate assets that could yield profits greater than the high two figures! We are all more or less in a standstill in the arts, but that doesn’t mean imagery and language can’t continue to develop. Still, it is extremely hard to cut a path out of so deep, and so monetarily oriented, a forest. Some work making use of comic-book imagery, as happens in the art of Robert Williams, offers an alternative to the stranglehold of gestural abstraction, and it is also true that ambitious artists such as Nicole Eisenman and Dana Schutz are establishing a striking, if also highly idiosyncratic, style whose rawness rejects almost all historically established approaches in realism. In counterpoint, Winters clearly seems content to work out a point of view that is both intuitive and analytic, with a conceptual edge directing the overarching design he submits his individual elements to. It is the conceptual edge–a form of analytic intelligence–that saves Winters from the vapid repetition characterizing so much contemporary abstraction. It is clear he is smart, and it is clear that his intelligence saves him from a romantic emotionalism–now, sadly, keyed to the bank.

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Terry Winters, Untitled (Page), 2011, Graphite on paper, 11 x 8 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.

In one 2011 work, Untitled (Page), consisting of graphite on paper, the patterns are particularly evident. Looking overall like a flower, the image is composed of small diamond-shaped forms arranged in slightly curving rows. They elaborate an image of true elegance and vibrancy; the center of the bloom bulges slightly, giving the image its three-dimensional cast. This kind of drawing is deliberately arranged, so that its composition relates to systems theory as well as natural phenomena, like a beehive, that present an ordered facade. Images such as this one play with differing means of organization, both tight and free. In many of these drawings, Winters does lean toward imagistic cohesion resulting from an organized architecture. Usually, we think of lyric abstraction as something intended to be emotionally free–even liberating for a studious audience. But good art can also belong to rational procedure, which can stabilize emotion so that it does not turn wild. Perhaps we can build a point of view that serves as an opposition to the supposed liberation of feelings focused on alone. In this case, the imagery would be influenced by moderation and restraint–virtues that are suggested, if not overly weighted, in Winters’ art.

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Terry Winters, Schema (57), 1985–86. Graphite and watercolor on paper, 12 x 8 1/2 inches. Private collection.

But the argument for a rational outlook can only be taken so far. It is as much a wish as it is a perception; the extravagance of feeling often seen in art of the New York School cannot be evaded in the way Winters works. In one recent drawing, Schema 57 (1985-86), we see a dark sphere whose surface is covered with equally spaced, darker holes. Above it is a quincunx of sorts–five dots, each a different color, surround an outline of a circle. There is little overarching organization–merely a suite of dots just above a rough ball of an image. We are hesitant to openly determine meaning in this case, or in the rest of works on paper. Visual abstraction, fervent or muted, cannot have its message unpacked like a symbolist poem. It exists on its own terms, without a visible social reality accompanying it. Critics can try to socialize the conditions of formalism, but it looks like this movement is best considered on its own terms, rather than being politically contextualized.

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Terry Winters, Untitled (2), 1999, Gouache on paper, 44 1/4 x 30 1/2 inches. Private collection.

The last image to be discussed in this review is Untitled (2) (1999), a stack of four horizontally oriented lozenges, outlined and partially filled with thin lines that are drawn on a monotone ground. It is a fine, resolutely nonabstract image–one that asserts the primacy of esthetic independence. Maybe Winters’ autonomy underlies the strength of his art; he is not easily joined to other artists’ styles. The best art both reflects and transcends the Zeitgeist, and perhaps this is the case with regard to the work we see here. To summarize, Winters is important to contemporary art, but his competence–indeed, his excellence–also indicates how stuck we have become in the protracted pursuit of a style that, like all styles, is constrained by a limited trajectory. If this point has been repeated a bit too often, it is because the need to move on is reflected in the history of the New York School–Sean Scully’s merger of abstract expressionism and minimalism is a good example of a painter’s refusal to walk the same terrain. So it can be done. Winters looks original still, but within a history we know exceedingly well. We may have had too long a romance with newness for its own sake, but this is the demand we currently place on the imagination. Winters’ very fine show demonstrates the real need to make use of a language that not only looks backward but ahead.

View Terry Winters: Facts and Fictions at The Drawing Center through August 12, 2018.

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Jonathan Goodman is an art writer based in New York. For more than thirty years he has written about contemporary art for such publications as Art in America, Sculpture, and fronterad (an Internet publication based in Madrid). His special interests have been the new art of Mainland China and sculpture. He currently teaches contemporary art writing and thesis essay writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

 

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The Border #1: An Exhibition of Immigrant Art Curated by Jamie Martinez

By Jonathan Goodman

Jamie Martinez, an artist originally from Colombia and founder of Arte Fuse, the increasingly recognized art blog, has rented a small space on the first floor of the 56 Bogart gallery building in Bushwick. “The Border #1” is his first show there; it is composed of five artists, including Martinez himself. This show, and his project generally, comprises a comment on and support of the immigrant artists in New York; as everyone needs to recognize, and current politics is determined to evade, we are all from somewhere else–either recently or a few generations ago. This is obviously true in recent art, especially in New York; if we think of abstract expressionism’s importance, two of the artists making up its famous triumvirate, de Kooning and Gorky, were born outside America (the third, Pollock, of course was not).

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Installation view, The Border #1. © Jamie Martinez.

The infusion of work from artists new to our shores is nothing new, especially now, and Martinez is determined to offer space to and document the very good art being made by people recently established here. In this highly interesting show, five artists from elsewhere else offer works that do not necessarily look like they come from a geographical distance–an artist’s origins are no longer easily Identifiable at all, in a formal sense, in contemporary art. But the point needs to be made repeatedly that the current influx of artists globally to New York, who are attracted by the city’s history of international modernism and social freedoms (not by its high rents!), are contributing to the scene some of the best work being made today. This show demonstrates this high achievement extremely well.

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Installation view, The Border #1. © Jamie Martinez.

Martinez put himself into this small artists’ group deliberately, being that it is the first exhibition in the space he himself set up. His art consists of pages taken from The Book of the Dead, their individual hieroglyphs framed and emphasized by thin copper wire; a printed poem, “America” by Maya Angelou, treated the same way; and two abstract sculptures, made of triangles of metal and thin, pink neon-lit lines. If we think about it, the hieroglyphs describe, seemingly visually but indicating something readable, a voyage somewhere else, while Angelou’s poem presents the harsh but actual reality of many people’s experience here. Finally, Martinez explained in conversation that the triangles of metal in the two wall sculptures demonstrate the social process of tringulation, suggesting the meeting of people.

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Jamie Martinez, (L-R) Copper Mesh 1, modular sculpture with copper, plexiglass, paper, jump rings and rubber cement, approx 20 inches with fiber optic lights and battery. Flow, Steel and fiber optics and battery, approx 36 inches. © Jamie Martinez courtesy Jamie Martinez.

 

The space is small, and so Martinez’s works are too; but he communicates the inevitability of an American world that is based on immigration–to say otherwise is lying! The artists in the show mostly make work that doesn’t directly address immigration, or New York, with the exception of the Peruvian-born woman artist C.J. Chueca, whose wall of whole and broken ceramic tiles, titled the Wall #1 (New York) (2016), clearly references our subway system. The piece is added to by a small black ceramic work on the floor, which partially represents a black plastic bag tied at the top. Called Shoes in a Trash Bag (2016), it combines with the tile wall to capture the physical decay and detritus that is so much a part of the New York experience, strange as that may be in so wealthy an urban place. Other artists’ efforts here are not so transparently illustrating New York life.

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C.J. Chueca, Wall #1 (New York), Ceramic tiles over wood, 2016. © C.J. Chueca courtesy Jamie Martinez. 

 

Peter Kaspar’s large, flat wooden piece (2018) must be activated by a small rock-shaped magnet that is placed on top of a rectangular box containing necessary machinery; when this is done, tiny lights, separated a bit from each other on the expanse of the wooden plane, come on. The effect is exquisite–a bit like stars flashing in a night sky (the pieces is best viewed in semi-darkness). On the other side of the panel, there is an intricate nest of wires used to activate the lights in front. There is no ostensible orientation toward the immigrant theme in this remarkable, low-tech but highly achieved work of art. But Kaspar comes from Slovakia, and that is far away. He participates in the intersection of technology and the sublime that is part of recent art history, and this work shows he is very good at it.

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Peter Kaspar, wood, aluminum, rocks and fiber optics with machine, 2018. © Peter Kaspar courtesy Jamie Martinez.

 

Levan Mendiashvili’s suite of three small, plaster-and-wood building fronts and cloth-backed photo of what looks like a discarded building’s facade, both taken from his ongoing series “Urban Archeology,” feels like an abstracted treatment of homes and city fronts taken over by decay; it is impossible to specify the specific place of either the reliefs or the photographic image. Still, the point is made–we are living in a time when urban life is constantly being rearranged by the rebuilding of neighborhoods. It doesn’t matter where–this is happening all over the world. This Georgia-born artist creates work that documents the change without specifying where it comes from, so that it becomes a general feature of immigrant/urban experience.

The last artist to be mentioned, Aphrodite Desiree Navab, is of a mixed background: Iran and Greece. Her suite of eight small ink-on-paper works, titled “Love Labyrinth,” refers to the Minotaur myth, in which Ariadne gives Theseus the string to make his way out of the labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull figure ruling the maze. According to Navab, after Ariadne betrays her father King Minos by giving Theseus the thread to escape, Theseus betrays her love for him. The artist makes it clear in notes that the drawings, beautiful improvisations on a maze-like form, are meant to illustrate the problem of such a story occurring regularly in real life. It is the theme of betrayal, referred to indirectly, which concerns the artist. As for the drawings, they are marvelous squared or circular treatments of a labyrinthian form. This is ancient mythology, treated in a contemporary fashion; we remember that the artist’s background is Iranian and Greek, sites of archaic stories.

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Aphrodite Désirée Navab, “The Love Labyrinth”, 2018, Ink on paper, 8” x 10.” © Aphrodite Désirée Navab courtesy Jamie Martinez.

 

Despite their very old origins, the drawings feel quite new; they were executed this year. They are not relevant to the notion of immigration in a particular manner, but we know that an immigrant made them, and the myth originated in the Mediterranean’s venerable culture. Navab, like the rest of the artists in this very fine introductory show, is committed to making something new. But her inspiration here, like the visual materials made available by Martinez’s use of The Book of the Dead, is very, very old. The themes must be contrasted with art experience in New York City, where our vision is supposed to be utterly new. Novelty may not be possible visually anymore–we may have come to the end of the road, imagistically speaking (this can be argued about). But the real-life event of immigration provides a continuing newness to the art world in this city. One of the excellent things about “The Border #1” is its penchant for originality, as expressed by people who are recently established here. It doesn’t matter if the origins of the work are archaic or recent, but it is very important that we take notice of art made by people whose lives might, wrongfully, be considered too marginal, or too recently evident, to take part in our political and cultural life.

Take a tour of the show here courtesy of Jamie Martinez and © VTV:

 

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Jonathan Goodman is an art writer based in New York. For more than thirty years he has written about contemporary art for such publications as Art in America, Sculpture, and fronterad (an Internet publication based in Madrid). His special interests have been the new art of Mainland China and sculpture. He currently teaches contemporary art writing and thesis essay writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

John Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time at Lesley Heller Gallery

Above: John Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time (installation view, Lesley Heller Gallery, New York, 2018). © John Torreano courtesy Lesley Heller Gallery.

By Jonathan Goodman

Now in his late seventies, painter and sculptor John Torreano has been well known as an artist for half a century. He is recognized particularly for his inclusion of acrylic gemstones in his art. His studios are set up in New York and Abu Dhabi, where he has been teaching in the last few years. In this show at Lesley Heller Gallery, Torreano is exhibiting both paintings and wall reliefs; he remains an unrepentant abstractionist, someone whose art connects with the well-established history of the New York School. His synthetic gemstones, though, add a bit of decorative play to his nonobjective language; because of their artificial character, the gems provide Torreano’s efforts with a partially ersatz character that undercuts the high romance of the abstraction. This is likely a good thing, late in the second decade of the twenty-first century, as we seem to have tired of the idea of noble motives alone. But, whatever the intentions behind the paintings and wall reliefs, we see that Torreano is not only a craftsperson of note, he is also an esthetician of considerable ambition. His works stand out both as examples of skill and as efforts meant to communicate a paramount belief in beauty. Perhaps his experience in the Middle East is leading him further in the direction of beauty; the long horizontal wooden panel painting, titled Sea Sky Gold (2018), feels like it owes its exquisite colors–dark blue and gold–to a geography we do not find here in New York.

JohnTorreano_SeaSkyGold_2018_300dpi (1)John Torreano, “Sea Sky Gold,” 2018. Acrylic paint and gold leaf on plywood 45 x 180 inches. © John Torreano courtesy Lesley Heller Gallery.

Sea Sky Gold is the major work of this excellent show. Its dimensions are more than considerable: 45 by 180 inches. The work consists of four panels of deep blue, with numerous oval gouges, clumped in groups and covered with gold. Its appearance begins with a surface of decorative flair, but then moves beyond that to a place of elegance and artistry (not that decoration always excludes such qualities!). Torreano appears to have learned something about the inherent attractiveness of well-appointed color–an insight evident throughout the exhibition. The danger exists that this painting, a genuine tour de force, would end up overwhelming the show, but this doesn’t happen; instead, it serves as an anchor for a body of works that cumulatively appeal to the audience. For example, DM’s & Hot Stars (2015), a large painting in a small space at the front of the gallery, works its effects seamlessly within an allover compositional field. The squared painting, consisting of four large panels, exists in a matrix of organically shaped contours–mostly tan and blue, with a bit of black. Although the work’s title skews it toward science, it very much exists within the established language of abstract expressionism. It can be easily argued that we have been revisiting this movement too often and too long, but, as still happens regularly in New York, Torreano’s painting establishes itself without bowing excessively to the past.

JohnTorreano_DarkMattersWithoutTime_2018_InstallView04_300dpiJohn Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time (installation view, Lesley Heller Gallery, New York, 2018). © John Torreano courtesy Lesley Heller Gallery.

The column wall sculptures–thin sticks of color studded with mock jewels–look at first like objects of deliberate desire (they range in dates from 2014 to 2017). And so they are, up to a point! These four works, arranged on a side wall, descend slightly in size from left to right. The acrylic gemstones stud all of them, adding to the surfaces’ sculptural intricacy and presenting an alluring, albeit entirely synthetic, exterior. They do enact a singular attractiveness, but that doesn’t really matter–what counts is the artist’s willingness to undercut the abstraction with an imagery that clearly is counterfeit. This is likely an attempt to remain resistant to the pull of something overly attractive. Even as the show refers to high culture, there is a healthy disregard for its imagistic excesses, driven as they are by ego here. But, at the same time, for the more seasoned among us, the use of such fakery causes some anxiety–at what point does the falsehood take over and make barren the eminent history that precedes it? This is a question for philosophers and art historians more than it is a query for the general public, composed as it is of artists and, usually, connected viewers who want the simple chance to enjoy what they see. Torreano’s art does this wonderfully well, providing admirers with the chance to lose themselves within a language both established and new. And his slight disregard for the fulsomeness of New York’s painterly past is a welcome reminder of its historical limitations.

View John Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time at Lesley Heller Gallery through Sunday, April 8, 2018.

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Jonathan Goodman is an art writer based in New York. For more than thirty years he has written about contemporary art for such publications as Art in America, Sculpture, and fronterad (an Internet publication based in Madrid). His special interests have been the new art of Mainland China and sculpture. He currently teaches contemporary art writing and thesis essay writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

A Heavy Rhetoric: Leon Golub at the Met Breuer

Above: Leon Golub. “Bite Your Tongue,” 2001. Acrylic on linen, 87 x 153 in 221 x 388 cm. © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

By Jonathan Goodman

Leon Golub’s show at the Met Breuer shows him to be an allegorical artist working by way of polemics,  although he cannot be faulted for cynical, self-aggrandizing intentions. Formally, his work is problematic. It is often muddy and unclear. This lack of clarity holds sway over the subject matter as well–it is not clear what unhappy situation Golub is referring to, although, generally speaking, we know the paintings are about torture and murder in Latin America, as well as racial contestations in South Africa. But we know these things from outside information; they are not available in the paintings themselves; this historical vagueness exists in contrast to the great political painting, whose outrage can always be dated to a specific event. Witness Goya’s The Third of May 1808, which documents Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s army during the Peninsular War. A similar particularity is not found in Golub’s art.

I am not trying to undermine Golub’s intentions, which are entirely honorable. Instead, I am criticizing the American penchant for casual political internationalism at a time when so much here in the States is so very wrong. The well-known and well-regarded poet Carolyn Forché traveled to El Salvador to document the political suffering there in the 1980s. Many see this as a noble attempt at social empathy, but I wish to counter that opinion by suggesting there is something unreal about the writer’s decision to concentrate on political events outside her culture. It is clear that Forché’s motives are of the highest kind, and it is also true that artists and intellectuals have often shown international solidarity with causes not directly affecting them–witness the extraordinary example of the British-born, American-based classicist Bernard Knox, who fought in both the Spanish Civil War and the Second War. But, even if we recognize the intensity of moral purpose in Forche’s poetry and Golub’s paintings, the implications of their supposedly empathic response to suffering so far away from them cannot survive in full trust.

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Leon Golub. “Mr. Amok,” 1994. Ink and gouache on paper, 8 × 6 in. (20.3 × 15.2 cm). © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Why is this so? First, it is clear that other cultures are much better than American culture in addressing political suffering. Think of Pablo Neruda, from Chile, or Cesar Vallejo, from Peru. These artists managed to produce writing whose political effect is authentic. But, in America, while poetry readings given in opposition to the Vietnam War were certainly earnest, I cannot remember a single poem whose art rose to the level of work by the Spanish-speaking writers I mentioned. As for Golub–it goes without saying that his sympathies were genuine. But it is also true that his paintings of mercenaries don’t ring as being entirely believable. The paintings cannot be fully trusted–as good as they are!–because our manner of life here is both comfortable and socially autonomous, making it impossible to free ourselves from the trappings of privilege. Gigantomachy  II (1966), a huge painting facing the elevators of the Met Breuer, continues our penchant for an imagined connectedness with trouble, on a mythic level. The word “gigantomachy” refers to the battle between the giants and Olympian gods in Greek mythology, and Golub portrays the conflict in epic style. Two groups of figures, all of them naked, fill the dark-brown background. Painted as if their skin had been flayed from their body, the combatants grip and lunge and push each other in some obscure conflict, a close-to-mad attempt to establish dominance.

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Leon Golub. “Gigantomachy II,” 1966. Acrylic on linen, 9 ft. 11 1/2 in. x 24 ft. 10 1/2 in. (303.5 x 758.2 cm). © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

It is clear that Golub has painted an arresting, if murky, tale of violence by men toward other men–a theme he returns to again and again. Man’s inhumanity to man is regularly lamented, but we won’t break free of the wish to overpower our opponents. Gigantomachy II owes its power to our recognition of the conflict, but its mythic origins lie at the center of the painting.  In the later works, based on actual history and places, Golub loses mythic power but gains in realism. Almost always, Golub’s audience must read the wall plaques to gain a sense of the situation being referred to. In the painting Two Black Women and a White Man (1986), two black women sit on a bench against a yellow wall. They are old and poor; both wear hats, and the woman on the left holds a cane. On the right, a vigorous white male, in his forties, looks away from the women; his gaze goes beyond the confines of the painting. He is wearing a red, short-sleeved shirt and khaki pants; as a male figure at the top of his game, he is young and powerful and seemingly indifferent to anyone’s complaint, the black women next to him included.

Leon Golub. “Two Black Women and a White Man,” 1986. Acrylic on linen, 120 x 163 inches. © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

The man’s overt lack of feeling is both a report and a judgment. He doesn’t give exact details, so we assume it is a work reporting on conditions where segregation, or at least profound prejudice, exists–perhaps South Africa. One might argue that not knowing the painting’s circumstances helps the artist convey the general banality of evil, but the fact remains that our inability to pinpoint the situation is disturbing enough to result in a false first step in interpreting the composition. The elements of the painting seem to be at cross purposes with each other; none of the three figures interacts with the other two. There is an implicit loss of faith from the start. Whatever the particulars of this composition may be, it is clear that the main atmosphere in which the three figures are engulfed is just shy of overt hostility.

It may be that the best art contains a realism based on experience and a more imaginative view of that experience. But what if the violence is indescribable in its extent and quality? Maybe Golub is leaning toward the allegorical because a truthful report would be so troubling as to do away with its esthetic potential. The aggression in Golub’s paintings is usually indirect–although also truthful enough in its report for his viewers to be able to imagine the aggression clearly. It is true enough that art cannot match real life, but it can embellish–and deepen–our understanding of things.

11. Leon Golub. Head. 1988.jpgLeon Golub. “Head,” 1988. Acrylic on canvas, 21 1/2 × 19 1/2 in. (54.6 × 49.5 cm). © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Golub was also interested in depicting inequalities of power in gender relations. The painting discussed implies but does not directly address gender inequalities. In Horsing Around IV (1983)–the “Horsing Around” series is based on photos of mercenaries from Africa and Central America (Golub often worked from photos)–shows a white man, with a hideous face, grinning, holding a bottle of liquor, and pulling at the white blouse of a black prostitute with short, straightened hair. The woman’s dark-brown dress ends above her thighs, and she is laughing as well, although her seeming happiness is clearly being paid for.

The prostitute sits on a bar stool, her breast revealed. Golub is making an open connection between political and sexual violence. As takes place in most of Golub’s paintings, the violence is implied rather than actual. In general, this show reveals Golub’s disgust with the behavioral excesses of power, both public and private. He is telling us that the mercenaries are more than dead souls; they are active perpetrators of malevolence. But the problem of generalization in his art remains. Violence is never generic but always specific–a particular person is doing something to a particular person. If the details are left out, the visual narrative becomes allegorical and symbolic.  Despite Golub’s claim on our sympathy, true empathy is not achieved. These works portray images meant to introduce sympathy in a nearly stereotyped manner; Golub reports more than empathizes.

But reportage, a journalistic rather than an imaginative endeavor, usually results in intellectual insight rather than empathic identification. This is the problem facing all of us who have had the good luck to evade the kinds of tragedies Golub paints. It may be that good fortune, in the form of material comfort, gets in the way of our ability to sympathize with the poor and the disenfranchised. In the last painting discussed, Contemplating Pre-Columbian (no date), we see a full skeleton drawn in red chalk. The figure is in a sitting position, bent over, and with its arms bent at the elbows but also rising upward. Beneath the skeleton is a pre-Columbian skull, with a full set of teeth. The image is distraught, though there is no way of telling so. Perhaps Golub is acknowledging his own frailties: advancing age and death.

10. Leon Golub. Contemplating Pre-Columbian.jpgLeon Golub. “Contemplating Pre-Columbian,” ca. 2000. Oil stick and acrylic on tracing paper, 10 × 8 in. (25.4 × 20.3 cm). © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Golub feels like a major artist, but a narrow one. He is uncommonly brave to direct so much attention to worldwide injustice, as well as paying attention to the long historical ascendancy of the male gender. But even so, criticism of his political vagueness seems justified in light of our need to know who did what to whom. His paintings are sometime too generalized. Golun evoked a feeling we don’t come across much in American art–a commitment to the portrayal of injustice on an international level. If Golub’s global politics prevents him from a precise demonstration of evil, it also provides him with the space to amplify the point that, these days, morality is heavily damaged everywhere. We now find acceptable, everywhere, what was once condemned. Golub even looks at the politics of gender relations, moving from the public to the private sphere. His outrage may be slightly too generic to be absolutely convincing, but his emphasis on the consequences of violence–physical, emotional, and mental–makes him an artist of high merit.

View Leon Golub: Raw Nerve on view at the Met Breuer through May 27, 2018.

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Jonathan Goodman is an art writer based in New York. For more than thirty years he has written about contemporary art for such publications as Art in America, Sculpture, and fronterad (an Internet publication based in Madrid). His special interests have been the new art of Mainland China and sculpture. He currently teaches contemporary art writing and thesis essay writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

Art Publishing Now: Noah Becker In Conversation With Katy Diamond Hamer And Deianira Tolema

(Above, L to R: Deianira Tolema, Founder, D/Railed [Photo Credit Francesca Ciri], Katy Diamond Hamer, Founder, Eyestowardsthedove)

By Noah Becker, publisher of Whitehot Magazine

When I started publishing about art in 2005, it felt like there were no art magazines on the web. But rather than stake a claim at being the founder of online contemporary art publishing, I’ll keep it an active playing field and let history do its thing. I’ve always been a successful oil painter, so my perspective as an artist and publisher has spoken to this generation of art interested readers in a voice they recognize. I’m also a Jazz saxophonist – I read and write music. This understanding of time-based art has assisted me a great deal in my writings. But when I say art magazines I mean the development of websites devoted to contemporary art (in the sense of) and presentation of a print magazine online. My favourite art website at the time I started publishing was Artnet.com, where writers like Jerry Saltz, Charlie Finch, Ana Finel Honigman and Walter Robinson wrote regular columns. Paul Laster was another regular Artnet contributor at that time. As some of you know, since 2005 and the founding of my magazine called Whitehot Magazine, I’ve published over 300 writers. Now there are numerous multiple contributor based platforms devoted to writing about art. School of Visual Arts even started an art writing program for young art writers.

Some examples of semi-recent and long term platforms are: Art F City, Hyperallergic, Artnet, Artforum and so forth. Now in 2016, I find myself discovering new publishers who are dedicated to art and run their owns new platforms. Writer/publisher Katy Diamond Hamer and her site Eyestowardsthedove is worth looking at. Also publisher/writer Deianira Tolema with her site D/Railed is another that comes to mind.

My interest in their motivations for pursuing art publishing inspired me to speak with them for Artifactoid.

Noah Becker: Why do you write and publish about art?
 

Katy Diamond Hamer: I first started Eyes Towards the Dove in 2007 as a platform for my own writing and used it as a way to project my written voice into the global sphere. Not writing about art was never an option.  Initially I used the space to write about my own art practice as well as the work of others. Self-publishing became a way for me to truly learn about my own text-based practice and in doing so informed my taste and understanding of contemporary art. Having a blog which has evolved into more of a magazine format, is the entry point that has catapulted my presence in the art world and without having to deal with restrictions put forth by others.

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Ai WeiWei and Katy Diamond Hamer

Deianira Tolema: Art has been used as a reflection of hierarchical imperatives in relation to the concepts of luxury and power, to demarcate the social-economic and cultural differences between the upper and lower classes. Art, as we know from art history, started out about ten thousand years ago as a means to explore and understand reality. It started out on a more perceptual level, then developed into a the first social-political stratagems – perhaps the first forms of subliminal psychological manipulation of the masses, where the products to be sold were nothing more or less than false gods. High ranking members of society employed techniques of divination that anticipated what we now know as modern self-mythologizing. In this light, to answer your question, the main reason I write and publish about contemporary art is to offer art professionals and interested readers a broader perspective of what art can be and mean – regardless of current trends. Thus, my ultimate goal is to use critical skill to push beyond aesthetics, to analyze the role of art in contemporary society.

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NB: When you started writing about art what was your inspiration to get involved?

KDH: Initially it was my own painting practice. One of my best friends at the time was writing for Artforum and spending time with him had an impact on my own fascination with the written word, descriptions of art –both two and three dimensional– and process of constructing a sentence.

DT: I started studying art, psychology, and sociology around age ten after reading many fairy tales and books about Italian poetry. Italy, my country of origin, is literally covered in archeological sites left by the Ancient Greeks, and the remains of the complex architecture that survived the fall of the Roman Empire. Imagine growing up walking among the ruins of temples and theaters from thousand of years ago. Academically, art history has always been one of my primary interests. Writing poems and essays about the art that surrounded me came naturally. Also, it must be said, I received a rather rigid education at home.

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Deianira Tolema at Galleria D’Arte Merighi in Genova; photo credit and courtesy Francesca Ciri Capra

NB: What do you plan to gain from all of this?

KDH: After spending time in Miami for Art Basel this past December, I realized that looking at art really quiets my inner thoughts. There is something that in the process of looking allows me to be the best version of myself, or at least it feels that way! In regards to contemporary art, I always say that my goal is to look back before going forward. Observing and thinking about contemporary art would mean nothing if I wasn’t familiar with all the other movements that have come before. I love meeting people: gallerists, collectors, artists and other journalists. These interactions can be just as valuable as the art itself.

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Katy Diamond Hamer speaks at Art Basel

DT: Well, first of all, honestly it’s fun! Nothing has ever made me happier than art, not even food. Mind you, in Italy food is considered a source of maximum pleasure – especially in the South. Also, I’d like to set an example for future generations with my work, not just to be remembered, but to contribute to the public dialogue with blunt criticism of conventional thinking and bad art. To make my little contribution to the evolution of humanity. I’m making a living working as a writer with artists, editors, and curators. It’s a 24/7 job, so I’m planning to acquire more money, and of course, more knowledge.

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Artist Violetta Carpino for Italian Feminism in Contemporary Art (sneak preview). Photo credit and courtesy Luigi Ieluzzo. Image provided by Deianira Tolema.

NB: How do you know the difference between good art and bad art?

KDH: The world is full of art and New York in particular is nearly oversaturated. Typically, we can describe art in ‘good’ or ‘bad’ terms, yet I don’t think that is necessarily the end goal of the critic. Returning to what I said earlier about going back before going forward, I personally establish much of what I like or feel is culturally or historically relevant based on what has come before. Then of course there is the simple definition that could refer to the skill level of the artist and his or her particular pastry of a medium yet even with skill, art can be subpar.

DT: For me it’s very intuitive. I’ve always been obsessed with beauty and symmetry. Once, as a child, prior to an afternoon tea party at the home of my mother’s friend I was almost driven by a subconscious need to frantically grab all the teaspoons randomly positioned on a table and align them to one another diagonally in a way so perfect that another child freaked out. There was an awkward moment of silence in the room that lasted for a good ten minutes. Aesthetics is a subject that can be taught at school in such a way so by the end of the class most students will have a good understanding of the differences between good and bad art. But, there’s an innate element that very few people have – an aesthetic sensibility that can be learned with years of training.

NB:  How can you tell the difference between good writers and bad writers?

KDH: I tend to link art and writing together. They are both practices that involve a multitude of components wherein the brush stroke could be compared to the linear quality of the lines that make up individual letters. Good art writers are able to successfully communicate thoughts and translate the visual language into the visual written language. It’s not an easy task as each writer must establish a particular sound while also adhering to rules of grammar, word count and importantly knowing when to stop. I also have a hard time when someone uses too many words to talk about something simple.

DT: Writing is, and should be, less intuitive. It has a lot to do with actually writing well, expressing concepts clearly, understanding grammar, creating text objectively, making logic structures that will lead readers through your maze-like argument or assessment. At least for me, there’s no space or time for subjectivity. It really just boils down to a combination of technical details and natural skill. I always try not to look at someone’s resume’ before reading their writing, so that my judgment is not influenced by a prejudice that might affect my opinion.

NB: Is art important in the face of all the distress and negativity in the world?

KDH: Art is everything. It can be about action in the political realm, love that brings people together or a place of respite in otherwise visual collision.

DT: Art can be a distraction from the distress of the world, or a way to investigate and defy negativity. I think there should be no obligation for artists to do anything deeper than than the decorative, so long as the expression is somehow meaningful.

NB: Do you see how artists and collectors are often opposing to each other politically?

DT: I do know what you mean. I think this is one of the many contradictions in how the art world works. In its guise of balancer of the opposites art has always conveyed the tension between antithetical elements that keep the universe dynamically static, or statically dynamic. On a less philosophical and more practical note, art has always manifested contrasting realities – imagined as colliding and blending with one another on the same existential plane. The artist/collector juxtaposition is an extension of this implicit quality of art. It is a moot point, as long as there’s no conflict between the artist’s ethics and the collectors’ demands.

KDH: Well, the question is fairly directive and leans towards this being something that you believe. Do you think they are opposing? Simply stated, artists are the creative force and collectors are those who support process, enjoy living with art objects and often play a role in the way that art is perceived at a later date. Artists can be collectors but it’s much rarer for collectors to also be artists.

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NB: Is there anything positive you feel that you could do in our current political climate through your publishing platform and your writing?

DT: Talking about Italy and Europe, there is much more that artists could do. I think of what American artists have been doing, for instance, in the wake of their presidential election. Unfortunately, after hundreds of years of taboos reinforced by the church and the demonization of creativity, and the economic crisis, I feel that, with some rare exceptions, we do not easily embrace art as a form of protest in this area of the world. Paradoxically, some of the best politically charged contemporary art comes from Europe. I’m trying to use D/railed Magazine to to talk about useful subjects. It turns out it’s not easy to keep all the writers focused on one theme. They have different academic backgrounds and priorities and address our readers on provocative, socially challenging topics without forgoing art talk. I hope those who come across my magazine can follow my lead. As far as I know, I’m the first Southern-Italian woman to have broken so many gender, classism, and cross-cultural barriers with a contemporary art project with an international impact. I hope they follow my lead and fight male chauvinists and win by flying solo and proving them wrong about any leftover claim of intellectual superiority (which is a big deal in Southern Italy, where the heterogeneous culture has yet to produce a generation of self-thinking, ambitious and independent women so powerful that they can shake the planet with a single thought). Imagine an army of American-like Southern-Italian amazons marching to war. To finally witness something like that – so rebellious and even erotic – before I die would make my day for a long time. I also want to keep bringing my Italian/European perspective to other cultures in front of an increasingly international audience – to produce a butterfly-effect in the minds and souls of readers who come from entirely different cultural contexts (which makes me sound even more megalomaniacal than usual). So back to your question, the only thing I can do in this precarious political climate between Brexit and everything else, is to keep doing what I’m doing with the help of some of the top art writers in the world.

KDH: I’ve been thinking a lot about this in the last month and a half for obvious reasons. I had been concerned about Trump winning the Presidency but two weeks before Election Day those worries started to subside. Now that he will be taking the highest political office in the United States, I find that art and the art world need to be more important than ever. In 2017 I am planning on being much more aware of the marginalized, black and brown bodies, queerness and female artists. Those who feel repressed, need to be heard.

NB: Would you encourage other people to start writing and publishing about contemporary art?

DT: No, I wouldn’t. I’m actually encouraging all the high school students I know to not pursue a career in this field, unless they have a really special talent. It’s not for everyone.

KDH: Yes! While the web has changed since I started and is much more dynamically competitive, having one’s own online venue to develop, share and practice is a worthwhile venture. There is an entrepreneurial aspect and strength that comes with the freedom of being able to self-publish and I would encourage anyone with a desire to be seen and heard to take the bull by the horns and go for it.

hamerpanelKaty Diaond Hamer

NB:  Is there anything specific you have noticed that you want to share about your experience in the art world?

DT: There’s an aspect of it that concerns ‘judging a book by its cover’. That, in my opinion, is rather superficial and interferes with art’s poetic/spiritual potential.

KDH: The art world is smaller than one might imagine. For anyone initially starting out, it can seem scary and unwelcoming but can be penetrated with the right amount of effort and desire. If the passion is there, keep going. I’ve had ups and downs in my career but art is all I know. My advice is to never give up and never stop looking.

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Author Noah Becker is a New York based painter and the publisher of Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art. Follow him @noahbeckerstudio, @whitehotmagazine.