June 2010

Art and Architecture of the Absurd

DISMAY OVER THE DISFIGUREMENT of an artist’s training by pretenses to metaphysical depth and invented meanings—call it skywriting—sent me to the library. What for? Not exactly sure. Anything to clear the palette, really. A good mystery would have done the job. But I had to pass down the architecture aisle to get to pulp fiction. John Silber’s Architecture of the Absurd caught my eye. So did its delicious subtitle: How “Genius” Disfigured a Practical Art. "And you can bet your life that the architect lives in a nice little villa in the country" (Mike Williams) It is a contentious book that earned Silber the title of Architecture Crank in 2007, the year it went to press. Continue Reading
The Pathos of the MFA, part II

IT WAS BARNETT NEWMAN, I think, who said: “Aesthetics is for art what ornithology is for the birds.” That is a gravelly way of getting to the point that philosophies of art are written for philosophers. Artists are not the intended beneficiaries. They need not approve and can easily cripple themselves if they try. Yet MFA programs still insist on cudgeling artists with syllabi soaked in a jumble of philosophy, art theory and aesthetics. Much of it clusters around the concerns of literary theorists. Continue Reading
The Pathos of the MFA, part I

I RECEIVED THE OFFER OF A TEACHING JOB, accepted it, and resigned all in the same day. Yesterday, I opened my computer to find an invitation to teach a graduate class called Art and Culture in a New York art school’s MFA program. It meant leading a weekly 90-minute seminar on assigned readings and attending, together with students, guest lectures by artists chosen by the department. Sounded good. The opportunity to guide and play devil’s advocate to young artists in their twenties and thirties who are committed to painting the figure appealed to me. Continue Reading
Wayne Thiebaud, Plato at the Dairy Queen

THE REOPENING OF PAUL THIEBAUD’S uptown gallery is a welcome event. Established on the West Coast, the gallery launched a New York branch in 2005. Four years later, the gallery closed the shutters and hung up a “by appointment only” shingle. Hearts dropped among those who loved the quality of its exhibitions and the pleasure of viewing them in the intimacy of a brownstone setting. Happily, it has opened its doors again with a splendid show of recent paintings by Wayne Thiebaud, father of Paul. Continue Reading
Christopher Blyth at Pelavin Gallery

CHERYL PELAVIN FINE ARTS, established nearly three decades ago, has changed its name. It is now simply Pelavin Gallery, under the directorship of Todd Masters, newly aboard as co-owner. Masters, an experienced gallerist, is the founder and CEO of Black Umbrellas, his own fine art consultancy. In its three decades under Ms. Pelavin, gallery inventory leaned toward floral motifs or diaphanous abstractions. Work was dominated by the kind of gossamer sensibility we think of, like it or not, as feminine. It is a bit soon to know for sure, but judging from the choice of Christopher Blyth for the this inaugural show, Masters brings with him a more robust—can I say masculine?—aesthetic. Continue Reading