A Critic's Diary

August: To the Beach, Buffalo Wings, Golden Bullets, Silver Balls, and the End of Summer

An Eduardo Paolozzi at Kykuit in Sleep Hollow, New York.

The skies are darkening quickly, it looks like it is about to rain, and thunder is crashing around Downtown Manhattan. Any moment, lightning could strike one of the five ingenious sculptures—Brancusi-like columns made of kitchen colanders, each sprouting metal branches bearing metal pots and plastic fruit—that B. Wurtz is debuting as a Public Art Fund project this evening, the 7th, in City Hall Park. Mercifully, though, the gods hold back the precipitation until the end of the opening, and the sculptures do not become lightning rods.

Abdoulaye Konaté, Composition en jaune, 2018, in “Ravelled Threads” at Sean Kelly.

Despite it being August, that is not the only opening—or the only high drama—of the month. On the 2nd, the Whitney hosts an opening for Eckhaus Latta’s exhibition-slash-store in its ground-floor space, which has art and design objects by young guns like Torey Thornton, Amy Yao, and Jessi Reaves, and for some reason I buy a rather expensive shirt stitched together from various fabrics.

On the 5th I am told about a demonstration planned for the next day by MoMA union members, who are still without a new contract, so the next day at noon I am in the museum’s atrium, watching as scores of museum employees sing a version of “Solidarity Forever” (which I heard not so long ago at Essex Street, courtesy of the New York City Labor Chorus). After performing, they march out onto West 54th and around the block, ending with speeches and chanting, and then they return to work. [Video]

Early in the month, I get a call from Sharon Louden, the inexhaustible artist and educator recently named artistic director of visual arts at the Chautauqua Institution outside Buffalo. It seems that W. Kamau Bell has had to cancel a scheduled talk there, and a replacement is being sought. Would I be interested? You better believe it! On the 9th, I’m on stage in Chautauqua’s amphitheater talking about cross-cultural collaboration in the visual arts for a crowd of a couple thousand. What a thrill. It’s a too-brief trip, but I am delighted to tour the grounds of the institution, catch Cristina Pato, a master of the Galician bagpipes letting loose with the resident orchestra, and see Yo-Yo Ma—whose Silk Road ensemble is in residence this week—all over the place, though I never work up the courage to say hello and ask for a selfie.

Robert Longo, Death Star 2018, 2018, at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York.

A side bonus of visiting Chautauqua is being able to stop off in Buffalo, about a 90-minute drive away. I have never been, and so I am overjoyed to visit the Albright-Knox, where I catch “Robert Indiana: A Sculpture Retrospective, “Giant Steps: Artists and the 1960s,and “The Swindle: Art Between Seeing and Believing,” though I spend most of my time being entirely gobsmacked by one masterpiece after another in its collection. I knew, but I realize I did not really know. Giacomo Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912) is here! And Joan Mitchells—three of them! And Willem de Kooning’s Gotham News (1955)! The list could go on for a while.

Across the street, at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, I see “Enough Killing!,” which has a huge sphere of bullets by Robert Longo, and “Ten Years In,” then stop off at the original Anchor Bar, the reputed birthplace of the Buffalo wing, and have some of the best that I have ever had.

With most of the city’s commercial galleries finally closed for vacation, there is time to catch up on some of the longer-running museum exhibitions, many of which are nearing the ends of their runs. At the Jewish Museum, the Chaim Soutine survey positions him very clearly as one of 20th century’s essential painters, a master of pain and pathos—and meat; at Hunter College’s 205 Hudson Gallery, “Axis Mundo: Queer Networks in Chicano L.A.” offers a thick slice of art history that remains under-shown; at the American Folk Art Museum, which I visit with the adviser Jessica Wessel, the path-blazing geological drawings Orra White Hitchcock are irresistible in their confident originality; and at the Frick Collection, “Canova’s George Washington” studies the wild time in the early 19th century that North Carolina commissioned the renowned Italian sculptor to portray the first president of the United States in ancient Roman garb. How incredible is it that art encompasses all these different things?

Alberto Giacometti, The Nose, 1949 (cast 1964), at the Guggenheim.

Also seen: the pugnacious Mel Chin, in a full-dress retrospective (Queens Museum); “Ravelled Threads,” a beautiful group show of contemporary textile work from Africa (Kelly); “This Is Not a Prop” (Zwirner); “Voice of America” (Gladstone); Christian Jankowski (Petzel); “The Seam, the Fault, the Flaw” (Greenspon); a Raul Guerrero sampling platter put together by Beau Rutland that invites a full-scale follow-up (Ortuzar); a group show (Arcadia Missa at Lomex, part of Condo); Ann Craven (Karma); “Commonwealth and Council” (47 Canal, the last show the gallery will hold at that address, apparently); the kaleidoscopic Rammellzee spotlight (Red Bull Arts); Giacometti (Guggenheim); “One Hand Clapping” (Guggenheim); “Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele: 1918 Centenary” (Neue Galerie); and, at MoMA PS1, a long roster of shows, by Seth Price, Sue CoeFernando Palma Rodríguez, Walter Price, Elle Pérez, “Body Armor, Reza Abdoh, Gauri Gill, Julia Phillips, and Zhang Huan and Li Binyuan. In the lobby of the old public school building is a paper stack by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Death by Gun), from 1990, each sheet printed with the names of 460 people who were killed by guns during the first week of May in 1989.

Detail of Bill Jenkins, Substation 9, 2018, at 9 Herkimer Place.

The pace of summer seems to speed up as it nears its end, with no sign of the lull that often arrives in the latter half of August. On the 17th, the MoMA union announces it has reached an agreement with the museum on a new contract that meets many of its demands. One weekday, I attempt to visit the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art on Staten Island, but it is closed for reasons that remain unclear. (This is the second time I have been thwarted in this way!) And on the 29th, I go with my colleague Anne Doran to 9 Herkimer Place, for the closing of Substation 9, an installation that Bill Jenkins has assembled there. The main attraction is a kind of cave, made by Jenkins from cardboard, black plastic, and wood that begins at the garage-door entrance and recedes like a tall ziggurat turned on its side—or a study in perspective—until it reaches a point at its end. The gallery itself is almost pitch black, and walking around the ramshackle construction feels like encountering an ancient alien technology in an airplane hangar.

September begins on the Saturday before Labor Day, and Lauretta and I take the train to Tarrytown, to visit Kykuit, the onetime estate of John D. Rockefeller and three generations of his family. It sports a nine-hole reversible golf course, a basement filled with art (Lee Bontecou, Grace Hartigan, Alexander Calder, a bunch of tapestries of Picasso paintings that Nelson Rockefeller commissioned from Madame J. de la Baume Dürrbach), a copy of Miró’s Hirondelle Amour, 1933–34 (Nelson donated the original to MoMA), a garage filled with vintage cars and carriages, and grounds dotted with sculptures by artists one might expect—Henry Moore, Louise Nevelson—and by some one might not, like Eduardo Paolozzi and Karel Appel. It is an insane place.

Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden, 1966–, at Fort Tilden.

On Labor Day, the 3rd, the final day of the art summer, I take the subway out to Fort Tilden to see Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden (1966–), 1,500 stainless steel spheres spread around the floor of a rundown train garage in a presentation organized by Klaus Biesenbach, who just a few weeks earlier was named director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, a pick that provokes sharply differing opinions). I arrive about an hour before doors open and am relieved to find only a small coterie of hardcore Kusama fans assembled. I am inside in no time, soothed—and almost hypnotized—by all of those shimmering balls. It would have been worth a longer wait. Kusama first presented the piece as a rogue installation at the 1966 Venice Biennale, and it’s appeared in various places over the ensuing decades; now it is along the Atlantic Ocean on the edge of Queens, delighting fans for a few more hours.

Over in Astoria, along the East River on another edge of Queens, it is also the last day of Virginia Overton’s show at that New York City jewel known as the Socrates Sculpture Park. Overton has gone big for the occasion. She’s hung a wooden beam from a roughly 14-foot-tall steel gantry to make a kind of industrial swinging bench and assembled steel trusses in a diamond-like structure that would look great as a backdrop for a monster-truck rally. Speaking of which, Overton’s showstopper is a 1990 Ford F 250 pickup truck—all black, with blacked-out windows. From a little crane at its back, she’s hung a cylindrical steel drum that resembles a giant gong or some inscrutable religious symbol. It is a menacing sight, but out there on the river, with the Manhattan skyline glowing in the distance, it is also a majestic one.

Virginia Overton, Untitled (Mobile), 2018, at Socrates.

It’s getting late. All summer long, I have been wanting to visit the new Ample Hills ice cream shop in Astoria, to try a special flavor they have there called Nectar of the Queens—honey cinnamon ice cream with chunks of galaktoboureko and baklava from Artopolis Bakery. Now is my chance. It’s only about 20 minutes away. I walk past the Welling Court Mural Project, through an action-packed street market that stretches for blocks, reach the store, and finally taste it. It is delicious, like a flaky, spiced version of cookie-dough ice cream, if that makes any sense.

Heading for the subway back home, thinking about all the writing and editing I have to do to finish this column, it seems impossible that a full year has passed since I started it. The first big openings of the new season are just three days away. I can’t wait.

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