Harry Cooper

  • “100 JAAR DE STIJL: PLAYING WITH LETTERS”

    The most famous hundredth birthday this year may be that of the Russian Revolution, but let’s not forget the founding of De Stijl, which is being well marked in its Dutch birthplace. De Stijl means “The Style,” a dogmatic self-designation if ever there was one, yet the movement produced a striking range of work and was, of course,  beset by its share of schisms. (In fact, on August 20, Amsterdam’s Stedelijk closed a show focusing on Chris Beekman, who left the movement out of frustration with its lack of political engagement.) This exhibition, part of

  • “Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time”

    Accompanied by a dense and lushly illustrated catalogue, this exhibition uncovers Picasso’s and Rivera’s parallel interests in antiquity—Mediterranean and pre-Columbian, respectively. A dozen great paintings from the teens suggest that, as a Cubist, Rivera possessed a sensibility that was as close to Juan Gris’s as to Picasso’s. But paintings are not the only attraction here: The show is notable for its wide range of media and epochs. Plaster casts that the two studied in school (and drawings by both

  • “Picasso Sculpture”

    This American survey of Picasso’s sculpture, the first in almost fifty years (since the 1967 MoMA show), will be unforgettable. With roughly 150 works, many from the Musée National Picasso–Paris, the chief lender and coorganizer, the exhibition will trace Picasso’s continual upending of the medium. The curators have decided to stay out of the way, allowing the story to unfold in chronological chapters corresponding to distinct periods when the painter threw himself into three-dimensional work. Sculpture, which suggests carving, is too

  • LIGHT REPAIRS: A ROUNDTABLE ON THE RESTORATION OF MARK ROTHKO’S HARVARD MURALS

    WHEN IS A PAINTING not a painting anymore?
     
    In 1962, Mark Rothko created the Harvard Murals, a set of six monumental paintings, five of which were displayed in the penthouse dining room of the university’s Holyoke Center, a windowed perch with stunning views. Deeply and delicately hued expanses, the canvases ranged in color from searing orange-red to light pink to dark purple. But in the decade that followed, continual exposure to daylight drastically changed the works, fading them so that some areas lightened to near white while others turned a dull black. Languishing in storage for many years, the works were thought to be beyond repair. But recently, a team of conservators and scientists made a new and unprecedented attempt to restore the pictures—not with pigment or chemicals but with light: For each canvas, they devised a highly complex colored-light projection that, when shone on the work, returns it to its original coloration. What we see is what was meant to be seen, ostensibly. But what are the risks of such an approach? Does the use of light open the door to virtual reality, to smoke and mirrors, turning the paintings into something else altogether? Or does it constitute a brilliant way of making the paintings viewable again, without so much as touching a thread of canvas?
     
    Conservator CAROL MANCUSI-UNGARO, who worked on the project; curators HARRY COOPER and JEFFREY WEISS; art historian YVE-ALAIN BOIS; Artforum editor MICHELLE KUO; and artists LYNN HERSHMAN LEESON, DAVID REED, KEN OKIISHI, and R. H. QUAYTMAN peer into the void.

    CAROL MANCUSI-UNGARO: Rothko’s Harvard Murals were installed in 1964, but after suffering differential damage, they were put in storage in 1979. They were included in a few exhibitions, two at Harvard and one traveling exhibition, but basically they hadn’t been seen or studied for decades.

    The murals are one of only three commissions that Rothko made. Scholars studied the Seagram paintings, and they studied the Rothko Chapel, but they largely skipped the Harvard Murals because hardly anyone had seen them. Most only knew the story about their fading and being removed from view. The works

  • the Clyfford Still Museum

    TAKING STOCK OF CLYFFORD STILL (1904–1980) in these pages on the occasion of a Hirshhorn Museum show in 2001, I made the not exactly daring prediction that even though it had been more than twenty years since his death, and even though single-artist museums in the US were a rarity, the estate would find a home. An American city would offer Still’s work its own museum, thus satisfying the terms of his strict will and receiving the lion’s share of his oeuvre—more than eight hundred paintings and almost all his works on paper, some twenty-four hundred pieces in all.

    I am happy to say that

  • “Frank Stella: The Retrospective, Works 1958–2012”

    Frank Stella has been producing art tirelessly for more than fifty years now, much of it huge, making it harder and harder for any museum to mount a full retrospective without bursting.

    Frank Stella has been producing art tirelessly for more than fifty years now, much of it huge, making it harder and harder for any museum to mount a full retrospective without bursting. (The last attempt was by the Reina Sofía in 1995.) This fact alone makes the exhibition at Wolfsburg worth seeing. Uniting some sixty paintings and reliefs with a generous sampling of works on paper and a handful of models, the show will allow us to grasp the seventy-six-year-old artist whole, to consider his varied inspirations (music, literature, architecture, tools,

  • SPATTER AND DAUB: THE CONTRADICTIONS OF ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

    ABSTRACT: LITERALLY, “TO PULL AWAY.” EXPRESS: “TO PUSH FORTH.” Did Robert Coates, the critic who gave Abstract Expressionism its current usage in 1946 (it had previously been applied to the work of Kandinsky), sense the etymological contradiction? Probably not. Was it a coincidence that he was reviewing the paintings of Hans Hofmann, known for his “push-pull” theory of composition? Probably. For Coates, the term was simply more “polite” than “spatter-and-daub school of painting.”

    The Abstract Expressionists often insisted that their work had a subject, which meant that it was neither abstract (

  • Philip Guston

    Philip Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations, edited by Clark Coolidge. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010. 352 pages. $30.

    PHILIP GUSTON’S CAREER swung like a dangling lightbulb—from figuration (starting in 1930) to abstraction (around 1948) and back to figuration (from 1968 until his death in 1980). Yet he often insisted on the continuity of his work. In 1958, when asked about the “change in approach” in the late ’40s, he remarked, “I really don’t believe in change.” In 1979, a year of outlandish paintings such as Moon, which shows the artist at work in a barren,

  • Mondrian in Paris: 1912-1938

    Piet Mondrian spent the bulk of his career in Paris, sublimating its traffic and jazz into the “dynamic equilibrium” of his paintings.

    Piet Mondrian spent the bulk of his career in Paris (1912 to 1938, minus the World War I years), sublimating its traffic and jazz into the “dynamic equilibrium” of his paintings. Yet the French ignored their famous Dutch resident for far too long, and his work is still barely represented in his adopted city. This retrospective, comprising some eighty works from the painter’s Paris years, will be paired at the Pompidou with a substantial De Stijl exhibition (curated by Frédéric Migayrou and simultaneously on view), and together they promise a corrective, offering an

  • “Cy Twombly: The Sculpture”

    “One must desire the ultimate essence even if it is ‘contaminated’” Cy Twombly proclaimed in a rare published statement; in 1957. The year is significant, for he had just begun a twenty-year leave from sculpture to focus on painting. This shift is mirrored in the aphorism itself, as it slides from “essence,” the territory of Twombly’s sculpture, to “contamination,” which has more to do with his painting. To put it another way, Twombly’s sculptures have the purity that his paintings always seem to defile.

    Of course, that states the opposition too strongly. Twombly’s sculptures are frontal in their

  • “Cézanne: Finished-Unfinished”

    CÉZANNE'S OEUVRE is littered with paintings in various states of incompletion, and what glorious litter it is. By the time of his death in 1906, the most important color on his palette was bare canvas or (in the watercolors) bare paper, an unmark that made the marks around it shiver into life.

    With Cézanne “a form exists only by virtue of the neighboring forms,” R.P. Rivière and J.F. Schnerb noted in 1907. Corollary: A blank can be a form. This demonstration of the equal semiotic rights of unworked, unmarked areas made everything possible in modern art, from Pollock's use of bare canvas to Cage's

  • “Picasso and American Art”

    “PICASSO AND AMERICAN ART” is an opportunity (not to be) missed. There is no better story in modern art than the struggle of American artists to go through or around Picasso. Jackson Pollock said he wanted to get rid of Picasso and (another time, just to be clear) kill him. Picasso said he wanted to make paintings with “razor blades on all surfaces so no one could touch them without cutting his hands.” Great stuff. And the current exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art manages to drain all the blood out of it.

    Perhaps playing up the oedipal drama would have been too easy. Guest curator

  • AN EYE FOR AN EAR: ART AND MUSIC IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

    The dark secret of high-modernist visual art and theory has always been (shhh!) sound. No surprise, then, that the twenty-first century has already brought us two major shows devoted to the connections between eye and ear in the twentieth: “Visual Music,” co-organized by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, and “Sons & Lumières” at Paris’s Centre Pompidou, both with impressive catalogues. And there have been three recent exhibitions on the dialogue between Kandinsky and Schönberg: at the Jewish Museum in New York in 2003, at

  • Willem de Kooning

    The dominant view of de Kooning’s brushstrokes maintains that they were heroic masculine gestures, deposits of existential Self; I prefer to imagine that they were self- (not Self-) propelled. They have what a biologist would call motility. This is also true of the career as a whole, which was a kind of motor fueled by such self-recycling strategies as repainting, collaging, tracing, and opaque-projecting earlier work. But eventually, as demonstrated by two recent surveys celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the artist’s birth, all the movement ground to a painful and ambiguous halt.

    Both

  • Beyond Geometry: Experiments in Form 1940s–70s

    Minimalism is big this year.

    Minimalism is big this year. Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art rolled out “A Minimal Future? Art as Object, 1958–1968,” while the Guggenheim Museum in New York offered “Singular Forms (Sometimes Repeated): Art from 1951 to the Present.” With this pair of surveys, what more could one want? Enter “Beyond Geometry: Experiments in Form 1940s–70s,” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Where the former two shows focused on the heyday of American Minimalism, the LACMA exhibition is composed of an international selection of artists and reaches back to 1944 to explore

  • Max Beckmann

    “Curious that in every city I hear the lions roaring,” Max Beckmann noted in his diary in 1947, a few days after reaching New York from Amsterdam, where he had spent the war years in exile from his native Germany. Whatever the remark means, it reminds us that Beckmann loved the circus and identified with the big cats. In his 1940 painting In the Circus Wagon, two soulful tigers cower in a cage while a stern Beckmann, centered in the blaze of a lamp, reads the paper and hunkers over his own prey, an odalisque in pink resembling his wife. He dares the tigers to interrupt him, but he wouldn’t be

  • “Matisse Picasso”

    If the Kimbell Art Museum’s 1999 “Matisse and Picasso” had needed a complement, then “Matisse Picasso,” the touring exhibition organized by Tate Modern, the Grand Palais, and the Museum of Modern Art, would surely be it. But it didn’t, and it isn’t, not really. So what is it?

    The answer will have to be comparative, at least as a start.

    The Kimbell title, with its conspicuous conjunction, “Matisse and Picasso,” suggested a story. Jack and Jill went up the hill. And that is just what the show delivered, in four “acts,” from 1930 to 1954, with a prelude and a coda too. The curator, Yve-Alain Bois (

  • Ellsworth Kelly, Tablet: 1949–1973

    With the Pompidou-organized “Henri Matisse–Ellsworth Kelly: Plant Drawings” show alighting at the Saint Louis Art Museum (on the heels of the Pulitzer Foundation’s Kelly exhibition across town), not to mention the July SF MoMA survey of the artist’s work culled from the rich holdings of Bay Area collections, US fans of the artist have a lot to cheer about. Now, in an exhibition curated by Kelly authority Yve-Alain Bois (who also authored the accompanying catalogue), we can see 188 of the artist’s quirky assemblies. Around 1973 Kelly went through his files gathering

  • Alfred Jensen

    Location, location, location: That was my mantra as I stumbled out of Dia’s galleries and down those breakneck steps. No, I wasn’t thinking about Chelsea real estate but about the Alfred Jensen problem. Where do we put him? Where does he put us?

    But first, where did he come from? The biographical accounts are sketchy and do not always agree. Born in Guatemala in 1903, Jensen lost his mother at age seven and was sent to poor relatives in Denmark. At fourteen he went to sea. Two years later he jumped ship in San Francisco and set off on foot to his father’s home in Guatemala—shades of Brancusi’s

  • STILL AGAINST HIMSELF: CLYFFORD STILL IN RETROSPECT

    CLYFFORD STILL'S sustained disappearing act has made his achievement among the most elusive of AbEx masters. Now, as Washington, DC's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden opens a survey billed as a major “reintroduction” to the painter's oeuvre, art historian HARRY COOPER asks how the heard-but-not-seen artist's bite will compare to his bark.

    HERE'S A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT. Imagine a bunch of painters roughly the same age and working in the same place. After considerable struggle, each develops a distinctive style. They are celebrated by a few influential critics and start to show their work