The best art-history class in New York right now is happening, free, in a cozy storefront gallery on West 24th Street called Freight + Volume.
That’s where Loren Munk, the shape-shifting voracious consumer and chronicler of culture, is showing his paintings that lay out the story of Modernism—its cast of characters, styles, trends, philosophies, politics, and innumerable interconnections, as told through his series of proudly garish charts, maps, diagrams, and flowcharts.
Munk, who is also known as the videographer James Kalm, has an unrelenting and contagious hunger for information, factoids, trivia, and anecdote, which he tames into bite-size logic with a scholar’s rigor and a sign-painter’s zest.
Some of these paintings take on big subjects like Modernism and the evolving notion of the avant-garde; others present data portraits of giants like Leo Castelli, Hans Hofmann, and Clement Greenberg (ARTnews is in it, and so is Walter Darby Bannard, the artist and critic whose luminous, rugged abstractions from the ’70s are showing at Berry Campbell gallery next door).
Of course the mapping of art history has a venerable art history itself, dating back to Picabia and Miguel Covarrubias and most famously to Alfred H. Barr Jr., MoMA’s founding director, whose influential chart of modern art, published on his “Cubism and Abstract Art” catalogue in 1936, ended in two categories: non-geometrical abstract art and geometrical abstract art.
The urge to organize information might seem counter to the sensibility of an artist-instigator like George Maciunas, founder of the irreverent, anti-institutional, international collective known as Fluxus. But in fact Maciunas was a relentless archivist who (like Ad Reinhardt, another master chartist) channeled his studies at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts into data visualizations of art history.
Maciunas made a series of wickedly learned charts from the mid-’50s to the mid-’70s, culminating in his enormous, unfinished masterwork, Diagram of Historical Development of Fluxus and Other 4 Dimentional, Aural, Optic, Olfactory, Epithelial and Tactile Art Forms (also known as “The Chart”). The piece, which lays out the interconnections of Fluxus to phenomena as diverse as the Roman Circus, Walt Disney, vaudeville, and the Bauhaus, is now on view in MoMA’s show devoted to John Cage’s “silent” sound piece, 4’33”.
Maciunas’s “Learning Machine” concept was a deep influence on Ward Shelley, the Brooklyn artist whose multicolored, meticulously researched timelines chronicle everything from the genesis of science fiction to the history of the Jewish people, which is the theme of one of his works in the current show at Pierogi Gallery in Williamsburg, “Idiom II.” The exhibition (featuring diagrams and charts by Shelley, Mark Lombardi, William Powhida, Beth Campbell, Justin Amrhein, and Jonathan Herder) also includes Shelley’s third take on Fluxus history, Extra Large Fluxus Diagram V. 3 (2011). Everything red in the chart stems from Maciunas. The deep green is La Monte Young, the blue-green is John Cage, orange is Joseph Beuys and Nam June Paik, and purple is Yoko Ono.
Autonomous Art V.1 starts with colonialism and the Enlightenment and ends in the age of the Internet.
Justin Amrhein channels the human impulse to reproduce, label, and comprehend the world around us in his fantastical annotated mechanical drawings, part of Pierogi’s “Idiom II.”
From Amrhein’s perspective, nearly anything can be looked at as a machine, or an engine. Duchamp, Diderot, Rube Goldberg, mad scientists, and post-apocalyptic futurists co-exist in the DNA of his data visualizations of organisms including a honey bee, monarch butterfly, and tomato. Each is represented as a series of intricate mechanical components, labeled with a key that transforms technical jargon into a charming geekish poetry.
Amrhein’s works in “Idiom II” include diagrams of a Replacement Cherry Tree and a Praying Mantis, this one illuminated with a light box.
Even as Ferran Adrià, founder and master chef of the legendary Spanish restaurant El Bulli, was pushing the boundaries of avant-garde cuisine, he was pursuing a more elusive target—the primordial beginnings of food-making. “Ferran Adrià: Notes on Creativity,” his show at the Drawing Center, includes charts and diagrams the Catalan chef made to explore the ways the human urge to cook has evolved.
Now that his restaurant has closed, Adrià is expanding his search for the genome of cooking into virtual space. With various partners he is working to establish Bullipedia, an online creative archive intended to organize and classify all knowledge related to cooking.
“I tend to figure things out in public, which is scary,” says Beth Campbell. Since 1998, in her signature manic colored-pencil scribble, she has transcribed her musings on possible outcomes of certain scenarios: her missing a bus, for example. The results in these flowchart monologues, titled “My Potential Future Based on Present Circumstances,” veer from realistic to fantastical to paranoid to magical thinking, with the artist ending up on top of the world or crushed by circumstance or in a bizarre parallel universe. Drawings from the series, and related abstract sculptures, are on view in Pierogi’s “Idiom II” and in Josée Bienvenu’s project space in Chelsea.
Campbell’s newest work, at Pierogi, is called My Present’s Past and Its Potential Future (or all the things that had to happen and some that never will). One stream begins, “Microsoft stays in Albuquerque,” ending with various outcomes ranging from “the foo fighters never form” to “human consciousness is forever altered.”
Such events are written in blue. But there are also parts in graphite here—true events in the life of the artist, whose husband and young son figure often in her work. “As I get older,” she says, “the past is present more.”