Riffs on the classics, part 2: from Artschwager’s altarpiece to Kanye’s hoodie
The 12-12-12 Sandy Relief Concert united old masters like the Stones, the Who, Bruce Springsteen, and Paul McCartney. Sharp-eyed art-history-minded viewers spotted an even older master on stage. He was Caravaggio.
The Italian painter’s Entombment of Christ, a 1602-04 painting owned by the Vatican, was emblazoned on the hoodie West wore that night to complement his Givenchy leather kilt. This neo-Baroque ensemble was designed by West’s creative adviser, Virgil Abloh, who appropriated the devastating post-Crucifixion scene for the “Youth Always Win” collection in his Pyrex brand. If you’re still looking for that art-themed holiday gift, the hoodie is available for $225; Abloh’s other Caravaggesque garments cost a bit less.
Even given Caravaggio’s reputation as a transgressive realist, it does seem a bit odd to see his naked, prostrate Christ adorning someone’s baseball cap, giving new meaning to the saying that his art is in your face. His Bacchus might have seemed been more appropriate. Yet, in its new setting, the iconic Christ figure more than holds its own. It really pops. The Entombment of Christ line of urban wear is just one more example of the useful role that Europe’s Old Masters continue to serve as fodder, inspiration, and raw material for the arts. Given what’s been hanging around Miami and New York lately, it looks like it’s time for a new installment in our ongoing series on ways contemporary art is rocking the classics.
Like a Virgin
The Bass Museum of Art likes to spark such encounters by letting artists loose in its historical collections. That was its strategy in staging one of the most talked-about shows during the Miami fairs, a witty and inventive project called “The Endless Renaissance—Six Solo Projects.” The exhibition, on view through March 17, features six installations that use art from the past as a prologue–in terms of narrative, spirituality, or its identity as an object of desire. These included Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook’s “Two Planets series,” in which members of Thai villages discuss several well-known European paintings; Barry X Ball’s seductive computer- and hand-modeled heads; and Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s stunning three-screen video projection, The Annunciation, which retells the biblical story using professional actors and amateurs from a center for social services.
There’s Something About Mary
Moving a bit further in the story, we found the Madonna with child at the Rubell Collection, where Paloma Varga Weisz’s Waldfrau, getarnt (Forest woman disguised) presides from a lime-tree log. Her camouflage robe does not help this latter-day Mother Earth blend into her surroundings.
Finally, at NADA, we picked up the narrative at On Stellar Rays. They were showing an image from
Judgement, a delirious game by video artist (and our April 2011 cover guy) Brody Condon, who based the action on a Flemish masterpiece, Hans Memling’s The Last Judgment (1467-71), adding a dose of Bosch for good measure. (Check out Leon Ferrari’s more Hellish take on Memling’s painting at the Tate.)
In New York, at the opening of his recent show at Sean Kelly’s new space, Antony Gormley explained that several of his abstract sculptures have figurative ancestors. He demonstrated (using an assistant’s body) the way he modeled Clasp, this cast-iron work, on the sensuous water carrier Ingres depicted in his iconic painting (itself inspired by classical statuary) The Source.
Velázquez at MoMA
Amidst the tschotskes, underwear, curiosities, and Mercedes in Martha Rosler’s Meta-Monumental Garage Sale at MoMA last month was this pixelated version of the infanta in the Spanish master’s Las Meninas. The low-res princess sold, and disappeared.
Richard Artschwager’s Whitney retrospective is replete with Old Master references, from his Rembrandt-riffing Polish Rider I (1970-71) to his multiple takes on Vuillard’s domestic scenes to his affectionate appropriations of the building blocks of medieval and Renaissance art. These include an enormous, irregular, and somewhat trippy acrylic-on-plywood cross from 2004 and the triptychs he made throughout his career based on the traditional altarpiece format. Instead of religious imagery, Artschwager has adorned his panels with anything but–ghostly blankness, an orgy, quotidian domestic interiors.
Taking a Swipe at Olympia
Manet’s Olympia, the notorious painting of an insouciant odalisque that turned Titian’s Venus of Urbino into a courtesan and her doggie into a black cat, gets a workout (and some scratch marks) in David Humphrey’s current show at Fredericks & Freiser.
Decoration of Independence
The Hudson River School, Romare Bearden, Henri Matisse, and Édouard Manet are on the list of artists who inspired Mickalene Thomas for “How to Organize a Room Around a Striking Piece of Art,” her current two-gallery Lehmann Maupin show. Also, and especially, Claude Monet, whose home and gardens at Giverny were imprinted on her brain during a recent residency. Channeling those influences through The Practical Encyclopedia of Good Decorating and Home Improvement, she merged her passions for the contrasting sensibilities of allover ornament and minimalist monochromes, producing kaleidoscopic collages that play havoc with perspective and the good old modernist grid.
Knew She Had To Come Up Soon For Air….
The press release for Carroll Dunham’s current show at Gladstone identifies the art-historical models for his bathers as artists ranging from Cézanne to Bonnard, but this Amazonian figure also evokes a counter-culture Mona Lisa who’s on the lam.
Station of the Cross
By next March, when “Burst of Light: Caravaggio and His Legacy” arrives at the Wadsworth Atheneum from LACMA, the Connecticut museum will have its Caravaggesque counterpart ready. In February it debuts a new acquisition, a Bill Viola video called Ascension (2000). Watch as a figure violently crashes into a still body of water, and then rises…
THE DOUGLAS TRACY SMITH AND DOROTHY POTTER SMITH FUND, 2011.12.1/COURTESY WADSWORTH ATHENEUM MUSEUM OF ART.