A visit with Justin Adian, Bushwick, New York

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Justin Adian, photographed by James McKee for W Magazine, 2014

I visited Justin to preview works that will be shown at Almine Rech Gallery in Paris next month. Justin’s work is, simply put, a hybrid of painting and sculpture.

Justin Adian ’s work is influenced by artists such as Richard Tuttle and other sculptors of the 1960s, but he creates something that is completely his own.

I’m with Brady Doty, Partner at Skarstedt Gallery. As an art advisor, I am always looking for young artists who put their own stamp on important movements or genres from the past. Justin’s work is influenced by artists such as Richard Tuttle and other sculptors of the 1960s, but he creates something that is completely his own. Justin starts by carving thick pieces of foam into a specific shape, affixed to a wooden stretcher.  Next, he paints on canvas, tightly wrapping it around the foam. Justin goofs on Minimalism by padding geometric forms in the same way that Claes Oldenburg softened sculpture in the 1960s.

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Color and surface play a big role, evidenced by the lacquered and sprayed finish of this two-tone, two segment sculpture. Justin dusts some iridescent paint in places, highlighting the edges where canvas wraps foam. The entire underside is cheekily painted hot pink, which reflects on the wall. While the pink halo calls to mind Dan Flavin’s fluorescent sculptures, Justin’s gestures are more intimate and completely handmade.

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Another sculpture backlit with neon pink paint. This open network of curves is reminiscent of a horseshoe. Justin is from Ft. Worth, Texas, which was also the title of his recent one-man show at Skarstedt Gallery.

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A new series of two-dimensional works on paper, casually displayed in an open flat file. Justin applies a single swath of acrylic to glass, allowing it to half dry. Lifting the acrylic, he drapes it onto a sheet of thick paper, smooshing two colors into a two-dimensional sculpture. Below, another collision of black and gold paint is reminiscent of a flattened John Chamberlain sculpture.

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What’s in a frame?

What’s in a frame?  A trip to Bark Frameworks reveals just how much is involved. Below is an image of a Christopher Wool work on paper, recently acquired by a client. The medium is ink on translucent rice paper.

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Christopher Wool , One Monotype in Black on Suzuki, 1989; 37 x 24 inches

To choose the right frame, I consulted Jed Bark, owner of Bark Frameworks, my framer of choice for over 20 years. Jed is an artist, and also a craftsman. He creates frames that are equal in beauty to the art being framed, but Bark frames never claim center stage. Jed’s designs allow the art to be the main event.

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Jed examines the work to be framed. Delicate rice paper hinges will be applied to the reverse of the art, shown above. The hinges will allow the art to float free within the frame, stabilized by an acid-free backmat.

We start by considering three painted wood options, but decide that these options are too flat.  We agree that this simple stem profile, modern in feel, is appropriate for the work.

Next we consider three different shades of a waxed aluminum frame. The tone is right, but the frame is too heavy for the delicate rice paper.

Pale white gold over a black clay underground seems the perfect solution.  The frame enhances the art, as opposed to matching it.  This frame has restrained glamour, with just the right amount of subtle shine.  The sides of the frame will remain natural maple to complement the handmade quality of the rice paper.

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Bark’s master gilder lays down the white gold leaf in several layers, so that no seams interrupt the finish.  After the frame is gilded, the face will be burnished to a soft glow.

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A detail of the finished frame, with a perfect face of burnished white gold over black clay and waxed maple wood on the side.  The maple’s warm tones complement the color of the rice paper, as does the warm, white backmat.

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The finished framed work of art.

 

Photos 6, 7, 8 by Jennifer Clark, courtesy of Bark Frameworks.

Modern Faces

I visited the newly renovated Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University and was spellbound by the collection of Maurice Wertheim ‘06, founder of the investment bank, Wertheim & Co.  Modern faces stared at me from within ornate frames, reflecting the collector’s urbane sophistication. Renoir’s Self- Portrait was the first face to catch my eye. It has none of the trappings of the typical artist’s self-portrait. Renoir is depicted as a fashionable, successful young man. His anonymity is his modernity.

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Pierre-August Renoir, Self-Portrait, 1876

This candid snapshot of the artist at the height of his initial success stands in stark contrast to Van Gogh’s anguished Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin, executed a decade later. Van Gogh also takes a modern approach to the genre, but everything about the composition suggests anxiety. The ice blue ground is reflected in the whites of Van Gogh’s eyes, which seem to evade and simultaneously confront the viewer.

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Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Paul Gauguin, 1888

Toulouse-Lautrec’s The Hangover, a portrait of the artist Suzanne Valadon, also conveys nervous tension through the swirling lines of paint that seem to conjure the figure out of thin air. Originally a circus performer, Valadon modeled for artists and also had a successful painting career. Unlike carefree Renoir or angst-ridden Van Gogh, Valadon is portrayed hungover. She is neither an object of veneration, nor an object of lust. She is Modern because she is believably real.

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Gueule de Bois, 1887-1889

Gauguin’s Poèmes Barbares, painted a decade later, posits a new idea of Modernity, one linked to a sense of timelessness. His Noble Savage is, to our eyes, a Colonialist’s vision of purity. But in Gaugin’s time, this was a radical concept, one that linked Modernity to the idea of the “primitive.”

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Paul Gauguin, Poèmes Barbares, 1896

Picasso absorbs this lesson in Woman with a Chignon, painted at the dawn of the 20th Century. The ivory skin of the figure and her chiseled features appear set in stone, suggesting a primitive carving. But this figure is utterly of her time. Picasso painted her during his blue period, reflecting the lonely, downtrodden years he first experienced in Paris. The figure is rendered Modern by her confrontational gaze, which seems to both beckon and reject the viewer.

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Pablo Picasso, Woman with a Chignon, 1901

Venice Biennale 2015: Time Warp

For a few months every two years, Venice plays host to a riotous infusion of Contemporary art, spread across public parks and infiltrating ancient, private Palazzi; this is the Venice Biennale. This year I was moved by the juxtaposition of old and new, which allowed me to reconsider the works in a new light. Below are a few visual comparisons that particularly struck me:

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Chris Marker, Passengers, 2011 / Pablo Picasso, Peggy Guggenheim

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Qiu Zhijie, nato, 1969 / Venetian iron gate

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Peter Doig, Spear Fisher, 2015 / View from the back of my boat

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Lee Lozano, Punta Della Dogana / Peter Hujar, Punta Della Dogana

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Sarah Lucas, British Pavilion / Auguste Rodin, Ca’ Pesaro

Botticelli, Palazzo Fortuny /Martial Raysse, Palazzo Grassi

The Art of Stretching

Here’s a little tutorial on how a big painting with a fragile surface gets stretched. Shout out to Art Crating Inc., a specialty art handling and fabrication company, and Christine Fröhner of Contemporary Conservation!

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Rita Ackermann, b. 1968, Hungary, lives and works in New York.

Chalkboard Painting XVIII, 2014, Acrylic, spray paint and chalk on canvas, 112 x 75 inches.  Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.


Putting the stretcher together

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Unrolling the canvas (face down)

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Lining up the canvas and the stretcher

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Stapling the tacking edges to the stretcher

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Voila!

Ruth Asawa and Beyond

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Ruth Asawa’s Untitled, S. 080 (Hanging Five-Lobed Continuous Form Within a Form), ca. 1950, Iron wire, 76 3/8 x 16 x 16 inches

I was asked to choose a few highlights from the Christie’s Contemporary Art auction for the Artsy website, prior to the sales in early May.  I like to focus on auction underdogs, namely, important artists who have made unique contributions to the history of art, but who are not household names.  Here are my comments on one such artist, Ruth Asawa, as compiled by reporter Meredith Mendelsohn for Artsy:

“This is a stunning woven sculpture by a California artist who no one paid attention to for so long,” says Wendy Cromwell, a New York-based advisor and president of the Association of Professional Art Advisors.  “Her market is a good value compared to Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, and others of her generation.”

This work was estimated between $700,000 and $900,000 prior to the auction. Due to its rarity and desirability, the sculpture soared beyond the high estimate, selling for $1,300,000, including the buyer’s premium.  Asawa crocheted with metal wire, using a traditional “women’s handicraft” to create astounding sculptural form.

To see other highly regarded artists in a much lower price bracket, who similarly transform our expectations for what art can be through the use of nontraditional materials, consider the following works.  Anna Betbeze burns and dies flokati rugs that hang on the wall with all the power of abstract painting.  Sheila Hicks, most recently seen in the Whitney Biennial, makes a wide range of works using gorgeous skeins of hand-dyed fiber.  Francoise Grossen uses braided ropes to create suspended sculptures that reference organic forms.  There is great value to be had in unconventional, boundary-breaking art forms.

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Anna Betbeze, Playtime, 2015, Acid dye, ash, wool, 144 x 118 inches

courtesy of the artist and Kate Werble Gallery

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Francoise Grossen, Study for Embarcadero, 1970,

Natural manila, 72 x 44 x 7 inches, courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe

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Sheila Hicks, Dervish, 2011, Steel, linen and wool, 16 x 16 inches

courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Rob Pruitt at The Brant Foundation

Rob Pruitt with Wendy, holding a pillow depicting Pruitt’s gradient face painting STUPID, 2012.

Rob Pruitt with Wendy, holding a pillow depicting Pruitt’s gradient face painting STUPID, 2012.

At the opening of Rob Pruitt’s 50th Birthday Bash exhibition at The Brant Foundation in Greenwich, CT, visitors were greeted by a flowering carpet highlighting the artist’s name.  The carpet traveled inside to a huge flea market, the proceeds of which benefited the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard. All manner of personal Brant-family paraphernalia was for sale, along with custom-made pillows depicting Pruitt’s gradient face paintings. A parade of self-portraits surrounded the shoppers, while upstairs viewers were treated to a chorus line of cement-filled jeans. Pruitt’s silvered tire-towers and paintings of glittering pandas touch an elemental chord, you simply have to love them!

 

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Wendy pondering Pruitt’s Bright Eyes, 2015.

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Wendy and Pruitt’s Espirit de Corps (Hokusai’s Great Wave), 2015.

Yayoi Kusama: Obliteration Room

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Wendy attended the private opening of Yayoi Kusama’s new interactive sculpture, Obliteration Room, currently on view at David Zwirner gallery. Kusama has many obsessions, among them visions of a dot-covered universe. These hallucinations have both bedeviled and inspired her, serving as source imagery for her paintings, performances and sculpture since the 1960s. Now 86, Kusama has created a tour de force exhibition that includes Obliteration Room, along with paintings and a large-scale gourd sculpture. Participants are handed a sheet of neon dot stickers and encouraged to place them at will on white walls and white-painted objects within the space. Pristine white will eventually be subsumed by a tide of bright color and all evidence of personal gesture or mark-making will be unified within a mass of spots. Kusama’s concept is both joyous and tinged with sorrow – it celebrates the act of communal art-making while obliterating the self. 

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Cromwell Art Auction Insights

All eyes are on the Contemporary Art auctions this week, which combined, offer billions of dollars worth of art. Remarkable for their breadth and scope, the auctions are the perfect hunting ground for the true connoisseur. The masterpieces are obvious and all it takes is money to acquire an auction trophy. The true test of an art lover’s eye are the day sales, which are stuffed with works of varying quality by artists both young and old. These massive sales represent an opportunity for those with a clear vision of how they wish to collect. Below are some tips on how to navigate an auction. 

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1. Avoid the first 5-10 lots of any sale when possible. The sales are front-loaded with competitive, often trend-based material in order to drive momentum for the rest of the sale. 

2. Make sure to see everything firsthand; sometimes works look awful in the catalogue and when you see them in person they shine, and vice versa. If you can’t get there yourself, ask someone whose eye you trust, not an auction specialist. Auction employees actually work for the seller (in a fiduciary sense).

3. Don’t take the auction estimates at face value. Estimates are only a guideline and in some cases, when they are low, estimates are used as a marketing tool to hook buyers. Do your own research and find out what comparable works have sold for in the past, or find out current retail values by calling the dealer who represents the artist. This is not always possible to do, but in general, an informed buyer is a smart buyer. 

4. Don’t be afraid to overpay for something you truly believe in. If the quality is there, in time, the market tends to catch up with you. In some cases, the work you overpay for can actually seem like a bargain later down the road.

For a detailed analysis of the auctions, tune in to my next post!

Studio Visit: Brie Ruais

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Brie Ruais with three of her works. From left to right: Push Ahead, Turn 180 degrees, Repeat (132 lbs., Yellow and Violet); Push Ahead, Turn 180 degrees, and Repeat (132 lbs., Platinum); and Push Ahead, Turn 180 degrees, Repeat (132 lbs., Pewter)

Wendy recently visited sculptor Brie Ruais at her Sunset Park studio to discuss her forthcoming presentation with Nicole Klagsbrun at NADA, New York. Brie’s ceramic sculptures are evidence of her performative art-making approach. She follows a set of instructions for her hands and feet and uses her body weight to push the clay into organic shapes. Made on the studio floor, the works bear hallmarks of her fingers, fists, and feet. Brie cuts the unfired clay into grids that are placed in a kiln, where alchemy takes effect. The resulting glazed sculpture, simply nailed to the wall, is a three-dimensional object that behaves in a two-dimensional way. The visual tension created by the knife-cut grid, the organic clay, the seductive glaze, and the evidence of human touch makes for highly impactful works that take their lineage alongside female sculpture pioneers, such as Lynda Benglis.

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Entrance to Brie Ruais’s studio in Industry City, Sunset Park, Brooklyn. 

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Brie Ruais and Wendy discussing her latest work, made at Anderson Ranch, Aspen.