The States of Art


As many of you are aware from postings on Facebook and elsewhere, I spent nearly two weeks in New York over the holidays, visiting the studios of as many Vasari21 members as I could fit into a crammed schedule. Most will be the subjects of forthcoming “Under the Radar” stories or interviews on the site, and I hope to return in June to meet with other supporters.

I had hoped, also, to catch a few museum and gallery shows but, alas, made it only to the Picasso sculpture show at MoMA and the jewel-like exhibition of Alex Katz’s works at the Met (featured in this week’s “Did You Know?”) And yet I feel I got a better sense of what’s going on in contemporary art by that admittedly limited sampling of studios than I could ever gain from any museum show, or even a week of cruising the galleries, had they been open during the holiday week.

This may be patently obvious to many, but it seems to me there are two approaches to art making as the 21st century continues to unfold. One is the tried-and-true evolution of style—as I a could see in studio visits with Leslie Wayne, Don Porcaro, Mark Sheinkman, and others. The artist’s attitude towards materials and imagery grows over time, perhaps taking a few detours, but in the main adhering to a consistent sense of development, so that it becomes possible to talk about early, mature, and late works.

The other way of art making is conceptual at the core. The artist has an idea and uses any means at his or her disposal to realize the concept—whether it calls for video, paint on canvas, drawings, ceramics, sculpture, or maybe even black coal dust, as was the case in Will Ryman’s “The Situation Room,” shown at Paul Kasmin Gallery in September 2015. Will’s projects, most of which contain wry and skeptical commentaries on the nature of American culture, have ranged from overblown cartoonish blossoms up and down Park Avenue to Abe Lincoln’s log cabin, fashioned from arrowheads, slave shackles, bullets, pills, tobacco, and even iPhones. When I visited him at his studio on the Bowery, the work that most captured my interest was Cadillac from 2014, a life-size version of the vintage luxury car, made from paper towels, stainless steel, epoxy, and fiberglass.

The ghostly car lingered in my memory long after seeing it, but what it means I really can’t say. In the next few weeks, I’m hoping to do a podcast with Will to find out more. And as 2016 wears on, we’ll be hearing from many other artists, working in many materials, with many points of view. All in all, it’s a remarkably healthy state of the art in the visual arts.

art critic Ann Landi

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