Sunday, June 30, 2013

Gay Pride Weekend 2013 and Patricia Cronin's Memorial to a Marriage Reconsidered

Gay Pride March 2013, begins 11 am at Fifth Avenue and 36th St.

New York Arts Exchange salutes Gay Pride Weekend with a big shout out to the Supreme Court for striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, of 1996.  How wonderful to celebrate together this landmark decision.

With that in mind, I am thinking of Patricia Cronin's masterpiece Memorial to a Marriage (2002) and the significance of the work within the context of this new development.  Will it lose its transgressive edginess which galvanizes so much of Cronin's work?  Maybe . . .maybe not.  Only time will tell.

Once again, here is my review of the artist's exhibition "Bodies and Soul" which took place in Washington, DC in 2011


Patricia Cronin, Memorial to a Marriage, 2002 in bronze and marble.

Patricia Cronin: Bodies and SoulConner Gallery, Washington, DC , Febuary 4 - March 10, 2011

In July 2010, this blog celebrated the marriage of New York artists Patricia Cronin and Deborah Kass, whose long-time commitment inspired Cronin's sculpture Memorial to a Marriage, 2002, permanently installed in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.  The marble mortuary sculpture was meant to accomplish in death that which seemed - in 2002 -  impossible in life.

Now the exhibition of the bronze version of this sculpture, on view at Conner Gallery in Washington, DC, celebrates the transition of this artwork from depicting a dream to immortalizing reality. 

Memorial to a Marriage is based on Gustave Courbet's Sleepers or Sleep (1866)

Gustave Courbet, The Sleepers, 1866

and the American neoclassical tradition of the 19th century (Patricia Cronin studied and appropriated Harriet Hosmer's work for her exhibition Harriet Hosmer: Lost and Found  (June 2009-January 2010).

Harriet Hosmer, Beatrice Cenci, 1856.

We have in Cronin's sculpture what the artist calls "institutional critique."

For more information on Patricia Cronin's work, please visit her website:
And read her interview in Sculpture Magazine.

Vive l'amour et la passion,
Beth New York

aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Paul Werner gives us the Woid on Venice Biennale 2013

Fresh off The Orange Press blog, New York Arts Exchange faculty-at-large member Dr. Paul Werner's gives us the latest on Venice Biennale 2013

Plus a review from The New York Times

For more VB photographs, the report from The Huffington Post

For more on the artworks, the blog Contemporary Art Daily

And, of course, Blake Gopnik's take on The Daily Beast:

Ciao, bella/bello -
Beth New York

aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
New York Arts Exchange 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Max Ferguson and a Year of Magical Thinking

My Father on Fifth Avenue, 2011
oil on panel, 9 1/2 x 12 inches
Private Collection

On Father's Day 2012, I posted a review of Max Ferguson: Portraits of My Father on view at the Hebrew Union College from April 16 through June 29, 2012.  It was a strange show: portraits of a father before and after he passed away.  A bit melancholy with a touch of Magic Realism.

Then a few days later my own father passed away at the same age as Ferguson's, 92.  A lot has happened in this year, including thinking often about Ferguson's portraits of his late father.  It occurred to me that we all create an image in our minds of everyone, especially of the dearly departed.  These personalized portraits, which are expressed in eulogies or shared reminiscences, actually expose our relationship with the other person and, as such, might teach us about ourselves if we take the time to examine our motives.  With this in mind, Max Ferguson's paintings no longer seem so melancholy and weird.  Rather they become invitations to contemplate our own fictitious portraits of our parents - and the degree to which we too mythologize the real person.

Here, once more, is the review of Max Ferguson's work:

Max Ferguson, My Father at a Water Fountain, 2011
oil on panel, 10 x10 inches, Courtesy of Henoch Gallery

Some critics see Edward Hopper's urban loneliness, some critics see Johann Vermeer's geometry.  I see none of that, really. Max Ferguson's Post-Modernist Realism is warmer than Hopper's and more complex than Vermeer's. That complexity doesn't stop with his formal considerations.  Ferguson takes on the complexity of a  relationship.  In this case, the Father and Son Relationship, which has so many dimensions. From hero worship to disillusionment, from constant camaraderie to unspoken boundaries, fathers and sons slog through different stages of their development together and, hopefully, remain friends.

In Max Ferguson's meticulous paintings of his father Richard Jacob Ferguson sometimes there is truth and sometimes there is fiction.  I asked the artist a few questions so that I might understand his choices.

Me and My Father, 1986
oil on panel, 26 x 26 inches
Private Collection, Palm Beach Gardens, FL

BNY: Which paintings are inventions of your father in circumstances that
he would not have participated in during his lifetime?

MF: Buying The Forward, selling tickets at a movie theater. Playing pool with me.

BNY:  How much of his true personality can we glean from your paintings?

MF: Some, but not all aspects. He was very physically active, and extremely funny, which I don't believe come across in the paintings. (Related. I have often thought that if someone had never met me, and just knew my paintings, they would have a radically inaccurate idea of me. Humorless? Constantly making jokes. A loner?   Married with three children. Tranquil? A ball of anxiety and nervous ticks.  Patient? Could not be less so...)

BNY: Do you feel that there is a bit of yourself infused in the person
you create on the canvas in the guise of your father?

MF: Absolutely. He and I are to some degree inseparable.
My Father in Katz's, 2005
oil on panel, 16 x 20 inches
Collection of the artist

BNY: Do you bring a deliberate concept to the characterization of your father?

MF: In one sense he is Everyman. In another sense he is very specifically my father.
People keep telling me they see their father in him, so is also a universal "father figure."
The more personal you get, the more universal you become.

BNY:  You spoke about a kind of Proustian desire to preserve a moment in
time as you recognize how quickly modern life changes our immediate
environment.  When did this desire first occur to you?
MF: I have always been hyper aware of the brevity and transience of life.
Never being one to quite accept the idea of death, I have long sought to hold back the hands of time. I tend to resist change of any kind.  It is hard to pinpoint any moment, but this idea of freezing time and resisting change has always been reflected in my work; but not initially as a conscious element, or catalyst.

My Father in the Subway III, 1984
oil on panel, 22 1/2 x 28 1/2 inches
Collection of the artist

BNY: You explained that 17th century Dutch genre paintings have been a
major influence on your work.  Would you call these paintings
portraits or genre paintings - or both?

MF: I think of them as genre paintings, but in a broader sense they are portraits.

BNY:  Do you believe that the culture of the 1950s and 1960s plays a role

in your formation as an artist?  Specifically, did the idealization of
 the father in late 1950s and early 1960s television and movies: Father
Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, Fury, Disney movies, etc. influence
your desire to idealize your father in your own art?  Have you ever considered this
question before?

MF: I have never thought about that, but I suppose one's environment (especially as a child) cannot help but influence one's perception and concepts of the world.
[I recently found something I had written when I was 8 that said in effect:
"When I grow up I want to get a job so I can support my family."] I was literally a child of the 60's, and certainly watched a good deal of television of that ilk so I am sure the influence was there. I am certainly prone towards idealizing and romanticizing. Certainly it is difficult for me to escape certain imposed gender stereotypes. For example: I might have found it difficult to paint women playing pool, or a man lighting Sabbath candles (even though when single I did just that).

My Father at Mount Sinai, 2011
oil on canvas, 36 x 52 inches
Collection of the artist

BNY:  You painted your father when he was alive and you continue to paint your father since he passed away in 2005 at the age of 92, perhaps to keep him alive in your daily life. How does it feel to bring your father to life on the canvas?

MF: As assiduously as I seek out realism in my paintings, I avoid it in my daily life.
No more concrete manifestation of reality than death. Mortality has never been my favorite thing. To continue to paint my father is both my way of dealing with his death and denying it simultaneously. To bestow on him a degree of immortality is my vain attempt to do the same for me. It is both resurrecting him (playing G-d in a sense), but also refusing to accept his death. It is comforting for me to still have him with me; if only two-dimensionally.

Quotes from the catalog:

On My Father in Katz's: "I began working on this painting of him in Katz's Delicatessen a short time after his death in 2005. The whole time I was working on it, I kept asking myself if this was my way of dealing with his death, or not dealing with it, by trying to keep him alive via this painting.  To stop painting him is to acknowledge his death. To accept his mortality, is to accept mine . . . " (p. 10)

On My Father in the Subway II: "I made the photographic studies for this in July, but my father was generous enough to wear a winter coat." (p. 18)

On My Father in Mount Sinai: "I often asked myself if my father would have approved of me painting this.  The answer is no.  Was I being disrespectful of him? I am not sure, probably yes.  Still, I felt not so much that I wanted to paint this, but had to." (p. 35)

Gail Levin, "Introduction," Paintings of My Father: Max Ferguson, New York: Hebrew Union College, 2012.
Max Ferguson, "Paintings My Father - Richard Ferguson, 1912-2005," Paintings of My Father: Max Ferguson., New York: Hebrew Union College, 2012.
Marie Elena Martinez, "30 Years of Paintings of a New York Everyman," New York Times, Sunday, April 15, 2012.
Jeanine Barone, "An Intimate Exhibition for Father's Day," The Huffington Post, June 15, 2012

The artist's interview with Chuck Scarborough, Tuesday, June 12: 

 Happy Father's Day, Dad.

David Gersh (November 1, 1919-June 20, 2012)

Beth New York
aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
New York Arts Exchange

Monday, June 17, 2013

"Kathleen Gilje: Revised and Restored," Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT through Sept. 8

Kathleen Gilje, Lady with an Ermine, Restored, 1997, 
oil on panel, 15 ¾ x 21 7/8 inches,  
Courtesy of the Artist, © Kathleen Gilje 2013 

Leonardo da Vinci, Lady with an Ermine (Portrait of Cecilia Gallerani) 1490
oil on wood panel, 15.0 x 21.6 inches, Czartoryski Museum, Wawel Castle, Krakow

Kathleen Gilje is an art historian's artist: a brilliant scholar and detective who can deftly copy masterpieces from different eras and then, with just an addition or subtraction of elements, transform the imagery into a highly charged, contemporary topic.

Known for her “restorations” (the artist’s term), Gilje’s appropriations grow out of a long and careful study of the each work of art.  She physically masters the artist’s style, material, and execution. Then she scrupulously researches the iconography, artist’s life and the socio-political context of the work in order to deepen her understanding of the artist’s decisions. Often her academic investigations uncover background stories or encoded narratives embedded in the art or swirling around the artist’s milieu that may inform her analysis. 

Gilje’s sly additions or adjustments in the works derive from her considerable research. Then, in an effort to break new ground, she paints revised art historical readings. Gilje calls this practice “restoration,” because she fantasizes a restoration of the meaning of the work which may not be visible in the original work itself.

Kathleen Gilje, Woman with a Parrot (Restored), 2001, 
Courtesy of the artist., © Kathleen Gilje 2013 

For example, in her 2001 “restored” version of Courbet’s Woman with a Parrot (1866) she replaced the bird’s perch with a nude male figure to emphasize the phallic symbolism of the original painting. The parrot in the Courbet may represent the petit ami who is privileged to gaze upon the female model [i] or the Kamasutra.   

Gilje painted her “restoration” of the artist standing over the frisky model and then painted an exact copy of the Courbet painting on top of her “restored” version. She had her exact copy x-rayed in order to show her faux “original” underneath the copy. Viewed as an installation, the 2001 copy of the Courbet painting placed next to the x-ray film of the “restored” version sparks a variety of associations. The perch clearly becomes the proxy for Courbet himself, who has eroticized his model for his own delectation.

Gilje’s installation also comments on scopophilia: pleasure derived from the act of looking, an aspect of the male gaze.[ii] In Gilje’s “restoration” of Courbet’s Woman with a Parrot, the artist enters into his own picture and experiences the pleasure of viewing the model directly. (The grainy texture of the x-ray also suggests that we are witnessing the artist’s dream or fantasy as he paints the nude with ardent desire.)

Gilje’s ability to alter the original iconography to serve her interpretation of the work elucidates what she believes lies beyond the physical evidence. In this way, she embarks on dialogues with art history’s masters that seamlessly integrate her feminist readings and sometimes incorporate the very history of the work itself.

Kathleen Gilje, Danaë, 2001, 
oil on canvas, 72 1/2 x 80 1/2
Courtesy of the artist, © Kathleen Gilje 2013 

Rembrandt van rijn, Danaë, 1643, 
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

In her Danaë, Restored (2001), Gilje alludes to the vicious slashing and sulfuric acid attack on Rembrandt’s painting Danaë (1636), which occurred at The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, on June 15, 1985.[iii]  Here, a puddle of acid flies through the air toward the nude heroine, instead of the supernatural golden shower of rain (Zeus’ transmogrification in the myth) which Rembrandt painted in the original. Gilje explained in a conversation that the golden shower in the myth is the Greek deity’s semen which impregnates Danaë with Perseus. Gilje views this sneaky sexual encounter as a romanticized act of non-consensual sex: a form of rape.

Rape, the violation of another’s body, is a perfect metaphor for the attack on the Rembrandt painting in 1985. Gilje noted that Danaë’s gesture in the original painting was meant to welcome Zeus as the golden shower into her bower. In Gilje’s “restoration,” Danaë’s raises an arm in a feeble attempt at self-defense, warding off the approaching acid. In the Gilje appropriation, Danaë’s gesture emphasizes the vulnerability of the woman in the painting and the artwork itself during the violent attack at The Hermitage. The title of Gilje’s work reminds us that Rembrandt’s Danaë is now literally a restored work of art.

Gilje came by her ability to reenact the masters’ touch as an apprentice in Antonio DeMata’s studio for restoration from 1966 to 1968. Then, she went to Naples with DeMata and his other assistants to restore masterpieces in the Museum of Capodimonte from 1968 to 1972. In 1973, she returned to New York City, her hometown,[iv] to work for Marco Grassi, where she restored paintings for various collections, including the Thyssen Bornemizsa Collection in Lugano and Madrid and the Norton Simon Collection in Pasadena. In 1976, she opened her own studio, restoring works for numerous public and private clients, such as Stanley Moss, Eugene V. Thaw, and Robert Dance.[v]

Kathleen Gilje, Bacchus (Restored), 1992
oil on linen, 37 1/2 x 33 1/2 inches
Courtesy of the artist, © Kathleen Gilje 2013 

Caravaggio (Michaelangelo de Merisi da Caravaggio), Bacchus, c. 1595
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Gilje’s concept of the “restored” painting (her Postmodern Appropriations) dates back to the early 1990s. Her Bacchus, Restored of 1992 (after Caravaggio’s Bacchus, c. 1595) features plastic wrapped over the bowl of fruit with condoms strewn alongside the succulent choices Caravaggio depicted in his original. Gilje’s “restoration” suggests that the beautiful young man in the seductively draped toga was indeed “forbidden fruit” for the patron Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, who commissioned Caravaggio’s work and delighted in beautiful young men.[vi]

 Gilje’s Bacchus, Restored belongs to the horrific first wave of the AIDs epidemic and historically marks the overwhelming concern that gripped the arts community. Simultaneously, Gilje explored the iconography of homoeroticism in art, which had recently gained recognition as “queer” theory among academic art historians and critics.

Today, a wonderful selection of Gilje's oeuvre has been beautifully installed in the Bruce Museum, on view through September 8, 2013.   This venue, which has welcomed numerous exhibitions of Old Master art, perfectly complements Gilje's paintings and drawings with its warm colors and informative text panels. 

The exhibition catalog deserves high praise too.  It features essays by the executive director Peter Sutton, critic John Yau, art historian (and subject in two Gilje portraits) Linda Nochlin, art historian (and subject in one portrait)  the late Robert Rosenblum, and an interview between the artist and art historian Francis Naumann (who exhibits Gilje's work in his gallery Francis Naumann Fine Art).  It is an elegant book, packed with valuable information about Gilje's work and the original pieces she copied - a delicious art history textbook in its own right.

Nevertheless, the catalog is not the real thing.  Seeing is believing.  This rare opportunity to see a large portion of Gilje's formidable body of work in public ends one week after Labor Day and then heads out to other parts of the US.  Catch it while you can!

(The New York Arts Exchange features two tours of Kathleen Gilje's exhibition this summer: Tuesday, June 25 and Tuesday, July 9.  Please visit our website for details and to make a reservation

[i] Mona Hadler introduced the notion that the parrot represents the privileged position of the male gazing upon the courtesan in her reading of her article “Manet’s Woman with a Parrot of 1866,” Metropolitan Museum Journal, v. 7 (1973): 115-122. Kam or Kamadeva, the god of love in Indian mythology, is best known for the Kamasutra. He flies through the air on his parrot. Therefore, the parrot can be associated with sensual love.
[ii] Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16, no. 13 (1975): 6-18, was very much on the minds of feminist artists and art historians during the late twentieth century, as well as the feud between Linda Nochlin and Michael Fried on gender bias and artistic intentionality in Courbet Reconsidered (Brooklyn: Brooklyn Museum, 1988). Kathleen Gilje directed my attention to the two articles in this exhibition catalogue.
[iii] The assailant slit the female figure across the stomach and thigh with a knife and then threw acid against the canvas. It took twelve years to repair. Danaë was put back on view in the Hermitage in 1997. (John Russell, New York Times, August 31, 1997.)
[iv] Kathleen Gilje was born in Brooklyn.
[v] Information culled from the artist’s website and interviews with the artist. Her own work belongs to collections all over the world, including the Musée Ingres, Montaubon; the Weatherspoon Museum, North Carolina; and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC.
[vi] Donald Posner, “Caravaggio’s Homo-erotic Early Works,” Art Quarterly 34 (1971), 301-24.

(The essay is an excerpt from "Portrait as Performance: The Theater of the Self in Kathleen Gilje’s Series of Curators, Critics and Connoisseur," written to honor Dr. Alicia Faxon, professor emeritus, Simmons College, whose scholarship has always been a source of inspiration.  The complete version will be published in a forthcoming festschrift dedicated to Professor Faxon, organized by Simmons College, where I taught from 1989-1991.)

Best regards,
Beth New York

aka Beth Gersh-Nesic
New York Arts Exchange

Monday, June 3, 2013

Last Call: Anselm Kiefer Closing on June 8th;


Paul Celan: wir schöpften die Finsternis leer, wir fanden das wort, das den Sommer heraufkam: Blume
(We scooped the darkness empty, we found the word that ascended summer: flower), 2012
Oil, emulsion, acrylic, on photograph on canvas
110 1/4 x 149 5/8 inches  (280 x 380 cm )
Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

Anselm Kiefer: Morganthau Plan, closes on June 8th at Gagosian Gallery, 522 West 21st Street.  Equally depressing and exhilarating in its magnitude (what we have come to expect from Kiefer), this exhibition introduces a new dimension in this German artist's thinking: "Beauty requires a counterpart. And in thinking about this flaw, the other flaw occurred to me as well: the Morgenthau Plan. For it too ignored the complexity of things."   Conceived by the United States Treasury Secretary Henry Morganthau in 1944, the so-called "Morganthau Plan" proposed that the transform most of Germany into an agricultural society might stymie industrial development, which might lead to another military build up and war. The plan was never executed.   

Kiefer imagines the enthralling beauty of flowers counterbalanced by the appearance of decay or blight. The press release explains:

Revisiting a process used earlier in his career, Kiefer paints directly onto color photographs of fields in bloom that he took near his property in southern France, then printed to fit canvases of various sizes. Der Morgenthau Plan depicts an area overgrown with flowers, rendered in thick impasto that completely obscures the original photograph. From top to bottom, the vast canvas dramatically transitions from light to dark, ending in a carpet of drab, black and green mulch.  Morgenthau Plan: Laßt tausend Blumen Blühen / Let a thousand flowers bloom conflates the travesty of the German post-war plan with Mao Zedong’s shrewd co-optation of the idealistic classical Chinese maxim, “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend,” designed to expose and flush out anti-Communist dissidents. Kiefer reflects on the misappropriation of this passage for autocratic purposes: amid pastel blossoms, black petals spring up above the rest into a muddled ochre landscape.

I am fascinated with Kiefer's questioning of beauty in the service of art: can something be too beautiful to be meaningful? Do we need ugliness or darkness to feel a sense of the profound or serious?  This is a question I hope to pursue in the future.

For now, please join me on Thursday, June 6th at 1 pm at Anselm Kiefer: Morganthau Plan for a conversational tour with the New York Arts Exchange group.  And please be ready activate those brain-cells as we work hard to understand works of art.
We will also visit the Jeff Koons show at Gagosian Gallery, 555 West 24th Street, to cheer ourselves up after a heavy dose of Kiefer's sturm-und-drang.  

Please confirm your reservation for June 6th at

I am off to Jackson's Mississippi Museum of Art to lecture on French Impressionism!

Auf wiedersehen/Au revoir,
Beth New York

aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
New York Arts Exchange