Daniel Marcus

  • “Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis”

    If Baudelaire’s generation first proposed metropolitan life as a fitting subject for art, it was not until the interwar years that the urban environment was codified as a graphic style. At the center of this transformation was a single canvas: Fernand Léger’s The City, 1919. In this mural-scale painting, the metropolis becomes one in substance and signifier, its essence reduced to a spectacular shorthand cribbed from the billboards and music halls of Paris’s Place de Clichy. This seminal work is the focal point of “Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis,”which tracks Léger’s

  • Helen Frankenthaler, Eden, 1956, oil on canvas, 103 x 117".

    Helen Frankenthaler

    In the days following Helen Frankenthaler’s death, on December 27, 2011, my Facebook feed teemed with JPEG memorials, makeshift tributes to a painter many had forgotten. The image I remember best was a photograph of the artist in her studio, taken by Douglas Banks for Life magazine in 1956; it shows Frankenthaler sitting on top of, and surrounded by, her canvases of the previous half decade, including the breakthrough Mountains and Sea, 1952, as if ensconced in a sort of aqueous dream-cubicle.

    Banks’s portrait of Frankenthaler is seductive, but also troubling: While ostensibly emphasizing the

  • Georges Braque, The Round Table, 1929, oil, sand, and charcoal on canvas, 57 3/8 x 44 3/4". © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

    “Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life, 1928–1945”

    “Defeat is certain” was the admonishment given by Jean Paulhan, the former editor of La Nouvelle Revue Française and a stalwart of the French Resistance, to Claude Roy, a young poet who came seeking encouragement during one of the darker hours of the German occupation. In no mood to console, Paulhan instead steered his visitor before a small painting hung on the wall, Georges Braque’s Kitchen Table with Grill, 1942–43, a still life depicting a single cooked fish on a plate, accompanied by an iron griddle and a jug of wine.

    One can imagine the bewilderment Roy must have felt during this strange

  • Brian Weil, Untitled self-portrait (sex), ca. 1980–82, gelatin silver print, 31 3/4 x 33 1/4".

    Brian Weil

    Coordinating “deviant” sexual assignations in the pre-Internet era was no easy matter; doing so required magazine subscriptions, stealth, postage, and patience. This was how it was in 1980, when photographer Brian Weil began placing ads in fetish periodicals seeking participants for a project titled “Sex,” 1980–82. The result was a haunting series of some two dozen photographs of alt-erotic revelry: We see a couple fucking atop a pair of taxidermied deer, a man (or a woman?) getting fisted from behind, another man receiving aquatic fellatio from a carp—and so on. In a rare self-portrait,

  • Charline von Heyl, untitled (detail), 2003, photocopy, collage, and ink on paper, fifteen elements, each 24 x 19".

    Charline von Heyl

    In the run-up to what promises to be a marathon year for Charline von Heyl (a major survey of her work is currently on view at the Tate Liverpool), a recent exhibition of a decade’s worth of her paintings and works on paper at the Philadelphia ICA gave visitors a sampling of what is surely one of the more challenging, complex—and enjoyable—bodies of contemporary abstract painting. For von Heyl, painting is as alive as ever; it is the medium’s fecundity in the here and now that interests her most. If the burden of modernism is at issue in her work, it is as a storehouse of pictorial

  • View of Printemps de Septembre, Musée les Abbattoirs, Toulouse. Walls, from left: Josh Smith, Untitled (Toulouse I), 2011; Pablo Picasso, La Dépouille du Minotaure en costume d’arlequin (The Remains of the Minotaur in Harlequin Costume), 1936; Josh Smith, Untitled (Toulouse II), 2011. Floor: Ei Arakawa, See Weeds, 2011.

    Printemps de Septembre

    CURATOR ANNE PONTEGNIE could not have known that her title for this year’s Printemps de Septembre, “D’un Autre Monde” (From Another World), would resonate so well with the autumnal protests that swept the United States, for which another world is very much at issue—though she might have guessed that, at least for some viewers, the combination of these words and this contemporary arts festival’s titular “springtime” would call to mind last year’s spate of uprisings in the Arab world. But Toulouse is not Cairo, and this was not that kind of springtime. Far from it: Toulouse is a medieval city

  • Vija Celmins, Eraser, 1967, acrylic on balsa wood, 12 x 18 x 4".

    “Lifelike”

    One thing missing from French sociologist Henri Lefebvre’s phenomenology of postwar capitalism is an account of the objects that populate the everyday world.

    One thing missing from French sociologist Henri Lefebvre’s phenomenology of postwar capitalism is an account of the objects that populate the everyday world. Even for Jean Baudrillard, Lefebvre’s student, consumer goods function more as signs and ciphers than as obdurate things. But it is among these uncanny objects and signs that the routine dramas of daily life are played out; not surprisingly, this domain has attracted artistic interventions ranging from the typographic to the surreal and beyond. “Lifelike” brings together ninety examples of engagements with the quotidian

  • Cathy Wilkes, Non Verbal (detail), 2005, oil on canvas, mannequins, aluminum tray, corn oil, LCD screen, stroller, mixed media. Installation view, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. Photo: Ruth Clark.

    EYES IN THE HEAT: JEAN DUBUFFET, CATHY WILKES, AND JOSH SMITH

    IT IS 1946. The war has just ended, and Henri Michaux, an avant-garde poet turned painter, finds himself haunted by faces: “As soon as I pick up a pencil or a brush, ten, fifteen, twenty of them surge up to me on the paper one after the other. And most of them wild. Are all those faces me? Are they other people? From what depths?” In Michaux’s works of the period, these questions are redoubled on the page, where the human face is reduced to a zero-point of legibility. A year earlier, Michaux had started on a series of faces using thin washes of gouache, watercolor, and ink to evoke the eerie