Museum has always been worth the trip.
|“Marilyn,” 1967, Andy Warhol, silkscreen on paper,
36 x 36, Seattle Art Museum bequest of Kathryn L. Skinner, The Andy Warhol
Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Photo by Paul Macapia.|
We drove up
to see “Pop Departures” at SAM. What a wonderful show!
I must admit,
however, that my enjoyment of this exhibition was based to some small measure
on nostalgia. I was in my sophomore or junior year as an art student when pop
burst on the scene back in the early sixties, and it was an eye-popping,
mind-bending, psychedelic trip. The very idea that serious artists could paint
pictures of soup cans and comic book images and make giant soft sculptures of
drum sets or a giant cherry perched in a giant spoon was the most radical thing
ever. It bothered me a little that the pop artists were said to be in revolt
against abstract expressionism, which I loved, but pop still floated my boat.
Hard on pop’s
heel came what was called hard edge painting: Ellsworth Kelly and Al Held and —
oh my god — Frank Stella. That era in American art history had to have been the
most exciting time ever. And yesterday I saw it all, all over again.
(Yellow),” 2004, Margarita Cabrera, vinyl, batting, thread ad car parts, 60 x
72 x 156, Anne and William J. Hokin Collection. ©Magarita Cabrera, photo
courtesy the artist.|
Departures” is a look back at work by the leading pop artists of the 1960s and
a jump forward to more contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons, Margarita
Cabrera and Mickalene Thomas who continue to follow in the footsteps of those ’60s
whole galleries devoted to Lichtenstein and Warhol, unquestionably the
brightest lights of the movement. Other artists represented in the show include
Oldenberg, Mel Ramos, Edward Ruscha, Robert Indiana and James Rosenquist
(inadequately represented by a single modest-sized painting).
“Untitled (Self in Progress),” 2001, Alwar Balasubramaniam,
Indian, b. 1971, gesso, wood, fiberglass, 72 x 47 x 35 in., Collection of
Sanjay Parthasarathy and Malini Balakrishnan. © Alwar Balasubramaniam, Photo
courtesy Talwar Gallery, New York/New Delhi.
dominates the first gallery with some of his most iconic images such as “Kiss
V,” one of his many paintings of romance comic images; “Varoom,” a comic-style
explosion in and garish red, yellow and orange with lettering; and “Red
Painting (Brush Stroke),” one of his famous paintings of an
abstract-expressionist brush stroke. (See, they weren’t rebelling against AE,
they revered it.) Lichtenstein’s brushstroke paintings were done to honor the
abstract expressionists whom he venerated while at the same time giving them
little digs — see, we can paint big, sloppy brushstrokes too, never mind
that they were done with mechanical precision.
early paintings have lost none of their power over the years and have gained
stature as pure design.
gallery are two of his paintings of famous modernist paintings, the best of
these being “Reflections on Painter and Model,” his copy in stripes and Ben-Day
dots of a Picasso painting. This is a marvelously composed picture that is,
like his brushstrokes, a lampoon of and homage to a hero.
Warhols in this show evidence just how expressive Warhol could be, despite his
use of mechanical means and his claim to want to be a machine. How well I
remember folks in the sixties saying Warhol was putting us on, that he wasn’t a
serious artist, that his fame would quickly fade. Fifty years later it is kind
of hard to support such claims. I suspect that many of the people who
denigrated Warhol’s art had never seen it other than in reproduction. When you
look at them closely it becomes obvious that his off-register silk screens were
just as expressive as many of the action paintings of the previous generation.
And what he did with color was simply astounding. Look at the milky green
blending to blue and the lemon yellow lips on the face of Richard Nixon in his
painting “McGovern.” These are indescribable colors that only Warhol could come
up with (and yes, it is a portrait of Nixon with the name McGovern written
across the bottom).
shot of Juan Alonso Studio, courtesy the artist.|
painting by Wayne Thiebaud was a terrific example of his lush paint
application. I wish there were more of his paintings. He was always seen as on
the periphery of pop, more of a classical painter, but his subject matter fit
right in, and man could he ever paint. And since this show “departs” from the
first wave of pop to feature later developments, it would have been nice if one
of his much later San Francisco cityscapes had been included.
favorite among the first generation pop artists in this show is Ramos. Clever
titles like “Val Veeta” (a naked pin-up girl on top of a box of Velveeta
cheese, note the spelling) do not erase the fact that his pin-up girls are just
as sexist as the commercialization of sex he supposedly lampooned. There are a
number of his paintings in this show, and they are not impressive.
best of the most contemporary works is Cabrera’s “Vocho (Yellow),” an
actual-size, beat-up yellow Volkswagen Beetle made of vinyl, batting, thread
and car parts including real bumper and tail lights. The loosely hanging
threads in the car lend a house-of-horrors aspect to the car. It reminds me of
some of Edward Kienholz’s installations. Obviously influenced by Oldenberg,
this is a more powerful piece than any of the Oldenberg’s in the show (his
sculptures look best in situ and these look weak in a gallery setting).
the more outstanding recent works is Barbara Kruger’s portrait of Andy Warhol,
“untitled (Not cruel enough).” This wall size portrait, 109” x 109”, would be
indistinguishable from a self-portrait by Andy if it were not for the insulting
descriptors printed all around and across the face — unflattering things others
have called Warhol.
Departures” is but one of many shows at SAM. I wandered into the galleries
featuring modern and contemporary works from the permanent collection and
enjoyed once again seeing paintings by Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock and a
couple of great Hans Hoffmans. I was blown away by two large Frank Stella
paintings and opposite them a wall-size painting by Al Held. One gallery had a
wall full of small paintings by Held, each about a foot square. We always think
of his paintings as being slick, flat and precise, but the paint application on
these looked like plaster spread with a trowel.
Masterworks” includes a selection of works by early American masters including
John Singer Sargent, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer and many more — dark and
somber works to counteract the glitz of the pop art.
Dwellers: Contemporary Art from India” offered interesting views on mostly
sculpture and photography by contemporary Indian artists. "Include Me
Out," an amazingly dense photo-montage by Vivek Vilasinia and "India
Shining V (Gandhi with iPod) by Debnjan Roy, a striking bright red fiberglass
sculpture of Gandhi walking with an iPod in hand stand out, as does "Untiled
(Self in Progress)" by Alwar Balasubramaniam, a haunting image in white of a seated figure with face and
legs buried into a wall and projecting out the other side.
SAM drove to Pioneer Square to visit the Juan Alonso Studio on Washington Street. Juan Alonso-Rodriguez was represented by the Francine Seders Gallery until it
closed. He has now joined the ranks of DIY artists who are marketing their own
work and opening their studios to the public. His latest work is a series of
abstract paintings with horizontal bands or stripes, many in brilliant colors
and often with abstract expressionist drips and slashes confined within forms
that are essentially minimalist and hard-edge, thus striking an exciting
balance between the two strongest movements in abstraction during the second
half of the 20th century. These are some of the more vibrant
paintings I have seen in a long time.
enjoyed my day at SAM and Alonso-Rodriquez’s studio and highly recommend you
visit both when you can.