Abstract Minded: Works by Six Contemporary African Artists

Odili Donald Odita, “Metropolitan,” Acrylic on canvas, 68”x 48,” 2017 Like Nitegeka’s Constructivist-inspired paintings, we would like to see

Curated by Nigerian born artist Osi Audu, “Abstract Minded: Works by Six Contemporary African Artists,” at the N’Namdi Center, is an exhibition that surveys a confounding issue in the history of modern art, which is the lineage of the use abstraction in contemporary African art. For most people, their first association with African Art is ethnographic and stereotypical otherness, but also the exotic richness, of “primitive African iconography.” Thanks to the Detroit Institute of Art’s great African collection, many of us have grown up with that legacy. But now it is truly refreshing to get a glimpse of internationally known contemporary African artists in N’Namdi’s iconic space.

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Review: The ancients live on forever in Cy Twombly’s abstract art, now on view at the Getty

Cy Twombly, “Leda and the Swan,” 1962, oil, graphite and wax crayon on canvas(© Cy Twombly Foundation / © The Museum of Modern Art, licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, New York)

Immortality is what makes a god a god. Launching a thunderbolt is an attention-getter, while the transformation of a human projection into an animal avatar can be disconcerting. Feeding a multitude with just five loaves and two measly fishes — now that’s impressive.

But immortality seals the deal. Globally, assorted gods have patrolled assorted underworlds for millennia, with death as their gloomy guard duty. But, with rare exception, gods themselves don’t die. That makes them different from you and me.

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Richard Graville – ‘SOLUTION’ 2022 (100x100cm) and ‘CLEAR’ 2022 (80x80cm) both Flashe and acrylic on canvas

Returning home from the Private View for ‘We Like The Taste of Certain Poisons’, I am compelled to write something immediately about this small but compelling exhibition of Richard Graville’s paintings at NoHawkers Gallery, which is situated in the Rodhus complex of studios and workshops in Brighton.

Some sense of urgency (including the use of my iPhone photographs – so apologies to the artist) is due to the fact that the show is only open for two days and that if someone were to read this hurried review in time they might make it to see the exhibition.

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Philip Guston’s Pinks and Reds

Philip Guston, City, 1969, Private Collection

Philip Guston was one of the most courageous and controversial painters to come out of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. Critics called the 1950s Guston’s “mandarin” (influential) years. For years, he’d been creating paintings that were abstract and lush. Suddenly, he deviated, yearning to break free. He said, “I got sick and tired of all that purity! I wanted to tell stories!”

Thus began the paintings of political and social satire derived from Guston’s sense of profound distaste with current affairs.

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Betty Parsons – A Life In Art

In 1913, Parsons visited the Armory show, the International Exhibition of Modern Art. She was delighted and inspired by what she saw and described this pivotal moment years later: “It was exciting, full of color and life. I felt like those paintings. I couldn’t explain it, but I decided then that this was the world I wanted… art.”

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Norman Bluhm’s Second Act

Norman Bluhm, “Viper Lady” (1979), oil on canvas, 77 x 107 inches

The case for Norman Bluhm has been building for some time. He has been written about favorably on more than one occasion by discerning critics such as Raphael Rubinstein and Barry Schwabsky.  His monographic survey, Norman Bluhm: Metamorphosis at the Newark Museum (February 13–August 20, 2020), curated by Tricia Laughlin Bloom and Jay Grimm, expanded his legacy, but more remains to be done. His debut exhibition at Miles McEnery Gallery, Norman Bluhm (July 28–September 1, 2022), clarifies the degree of Bluhm’s innovation and individuality when he began making the best work of his career in the 1970s. 

Long considered a member of Abstract Expressionism’s “second generation,” Bluhm gravitated toward European painting far more than his contemporaries, with the exception of Joan Mitchell. Bluhm and Mitchell weren’t haunted by the idea that they had to embody “American” painting.

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Don Voisine’s Restless Shapes

Don Voisine, “Center Square” (2021), oil on wood panel, 12 x 12 inches

Don Voisine is an exquisitely refined, planar geometric painter. He works in oil and acrylic on wood panels that range from 12-inch squares to horizontal rectangles measuring 53 by 80 inches, which is about the largest he can physically move on his own. Within the limits of his scale, which tends toward the intimate, and his reductive, hard-edged geometric vocabulary — I don’t recall ever seeing a curved form in the years that I have been following and writing about his work — he has explored difference and similarity in a way that brings to mind the music of Philip Glass and Terry Riley. Geometric forms that are opaque and transparent, distinct and nuanced, cold and hot, brushed and smooth populate his sensuously restrained paintings. Within these parameters, he has broadened his possibilities incrementally, like a climber scaling a steep mountain with no obvious or visible passage. 

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What Abstraction Can Face Up To

Installation view of Return to Color: Ha Chong-Hyun at Tina Kim Gallery (image by Dario Lasagni)

Ha Chong-Hyun (b. 1935) is one of the central figures in the Dansaekhwa movement, along with Lee Ufan (b. 1936), Park Seo-Bo (B. 1931), and Yun Hyong-keun (1928–2007). The term, which means “monochromatic painting,” is applied to a group of abstract painters who emerged in Korea in the early 1970s, around the time that Park Chung-hee, the third president of South Korea, declared martial law in 1972, virtually ensuring his lifelong dictatorship. His repression of political rivals and denial of personal freedoms only started to end with his assassination in 1979 by Kim Jae Kyu, his lifelong friend and trusted member of his small inner circle. 

For this generation, which had already lived through World War II, Korea’s struggle with Japan for independence, the Korean War, and the division of the country into separate entities, Park’s repressive regime seemed like the ultimate betrayal.

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Julie Mehretu Reminds Us That Borders Are Meant to Be Trespassed

Julie Mehretu, “Black City” (2007), ink and acrylic on canvas, 120 x 192 inches (Pinault Collection, Paris, France, © Julie Mehretu)

For a painter, mark-making is tantamount to the practice of writing. When presented together, collections of strokes might typify a distinctive visual language, particular to the mark-maker. As a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design in the 1990s, Julie Mehretu developed a system of mark-making to record mercurial geopolitical processes like migration and globalization. These communities of emphatic strokes and gestures would go on to live in monumental abstract paintings, charged with political inquiry, that distinguish Mehretu as one of today’s most exceptional and critical visual artists. 

Mehretu’s remarkable mid-career survey blazes through the fifth floor of the Whitney Museum of Art, illuminating over two decades of her extensive practice. The retrospective is curated by Christine Y. Kim with Rujeko Hockley and was first installed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through September of 2020 before traveling to the Whitney. Across nearly 30 paintings and 40 works on paper, Mehretu, in this profound and timely survey, captures riotous geographies. Often overrun with communities that dispute, collide, and protest, the artist’s works remind us that borders are designed to be trespassed.

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