Saturday, January 03, 2009

Christmas Came Early to the House of Brent. (repost)


Blood (Donald Formey), 1975, Oil and acrylic on cotton canvas

NOTE: Things have gotten so interesting in the comments section that I'm reposting this puppy.

And it was Barkley L. Hendricks, not Santa, who was driving the slay. Not done with your Christmas shopping? Too bad. You need to make it to the Barkley L. Hendricks show at the Studio Museum in Harlem, like, NOW. Your loved ones can go without. You need to see this show. Hands down one of my favorite shows of the year. More later, but I wanted to post this so I could plan your day for you. You're welcome.

24 comments:

zs said...

Barkley Hendricks is out of control great. Good night and Merry Christmas!

Heart As Arena said...

Soooooooo great. I can't wait to see it again. AND a fellow USA Fellow. How very excellent.

JD said...

YEAH. These paintings not only smack you in the face, but they continue to expand in richness the more you think about them. I find it fascinating that he's not better known. He was making these amazing full-length portraits that fairly burst with contemporary feeling, but then he sank into relative obscurity compared to Chuck Close, Al Leslie, even Alice Neel. I guess it could be the way his paintings changed over time, or perhaps a retiring personality, but racism must be considered as a possibility, and I'm fascinated to try to figure out the mechanics of that. Maybe Hendricks made the WRONG KIND OF PAINTINGS for a black man? Like, treading on white mens' "highly skilled figurative traditions"? I think this annoying rule holds true for women figurative painters too, ahem, ahem.

zs said...

with you, JD. totally with you.

JD said...

zs, that's the way it seems to shake down these days. Questioning is about all we can do, I guess...?

Heart As Arena said...

JD. I don't know if you've met ZS, and verse vica. Zoe . . . Jenny. Jenny . . . Zoe. Rulers. Both.

JD said...

Thanks for that e-introduction, HAA! Merry Xmas to all...

Martin said...

race is surely a factor... but more so i would assume the fact that he has been living in small-town connecticut for thirty plus years.

close, leslie, and neel are/were all new yorkers, and networkers. comparing the success of hendricks with especially close is way off mark... is there a nyc money/art/society function which close does not attend?

Heart As Arena said...

That's a great point, Martin. All idiotic small-minded small-hearted art world limitations are welcome in explaining this bit of craziness.

And no. There is no nyc money/art/society function which Close does not attend. The dude even shows when it's fictional.

JD said...

Martin, you could be right about Hendricks: he's been living and teaching in CT for over 30 years, and it's possible that H. feels some discomfort with the NYC artworld. Of course this is all speculation, 'cuz we don't know the guy: he could certainly simply be shy, or just not care about art world success. But I feel like it's impossible to separate a lack of networking skills, or inclination to network, from difference, including racial and gender difference. Also, Alice Neel wasn't a networker: she didn't have a major show until her sixties, I believe. She was always an outsider. She lived on the upper west side and raised two kids, in poverty. And Chuck Close is certainly at many art functions these days, but the man has been a major star since the seventies, in a way that Hendricks never was, despite some initial success. I think the whole topic is worth discussing and exploring further.

Martin said...

have to disagree that neel was no networker... and definitely was not always an outsider... she spent the last twenty-five years of her life painting tons of artists, critics, and curators... and i think she did a fair amount of that in her earlier work, including meyer schapiro in the 40's.

Martin said...

ps - i'm definitely not denying that race is a factor in hendricks' reception, or intending to imply that networking is "bad".

JD said...

I agree that there's nothing wrong with networking. Hey, we've all got to do it!

I became intrigued about the question of how much of a networker Neel really was, because my impression from the documentary film on her was that she was pretty much on the outside of the art world until she reached her sixties. The chronology in the back of my Alice Neel book tells an interesting story. She always made work, but didn't have her first commercial solo show until the age of 44 (she was born in 1900). That's pretty late in a career to have your first solo, bless her heart. She had a couple more through the next decade or so, but really, not an artworld insider by any means. I remember an older scene from the documentary shot in the seventies, in which the camera panned over all of her famous paintings just leaning against each other in her apartment (including the Andy Warhol painting, which was made in 1970, when she was 70 years old). She painted lots of artworld insiders, but really, most of this happened toward the end of her career. She had a major show at the Whitney at the age of 74, which is what really brought her broad attention. Another interesting tidbit from the book is that she was in psychoanalysis to deal, in part, with her psychological blocks about pushing her art career. So my thinking about this is that Neel always wanted a great career, but faced obstacles (internal and external) due to being a single parent, a woman artist, and a Realist portrait painter at a time when pop and minimalism reigned supreme. She fought those blocks that she had, and eventually, heroically, deservedly, got the fab career. But I honestly don't think she was a major networker or insider for most of her life.

The Guerilla Girls focused on the external barriers placed in the way of women (less so people of color) by the art world and by our general culture. I think an equally powerful force is the internal obstacles that "outsiders" so often place in their (our) own way, in the way of the networking that seems to come so naturally to so many "insiders." It's an entitlement thing.

Martin said...

i pretty much agree with what you are saying... but still think she was an admirable networker, if a late-blooming one.

in not sure why i first commented here... maybe just to chip in that there are reasons a good artist may be overlooked other than what first seems most obvious (sex or race).

with hendricks, i think part of the renewed interest is related to the success of kehinde wiley, similar to the fresh attention paid to judith linhares after the success of dana schutz.

JD said...

Yeah, I guess my point was more that Alice was a late-blooming (and probably uneasy) networker, not that she never networked at all. And it's true, there can always be individual reasons for why an artist does or doesn't achieve success. I think with Hendricks' work, though, the relative lack of attention seemed so glaring to me...

I do wonder if Kehinde Wiley's work brought more attention onto Hendricks. That would seem pretty ironic, given the massive influence Hendricks obviously was on Wiley. I could snark about the huge chasm in the quality of the two artists' work, but instead I will go watch some TeeVee.

Anonymous said...

After Hendricks got the teaching job, he kicked back. He made some incredibly bad art after these paintings that you never hear about--I remember an awful series of photographs of young, sexy asian girls combined with installations of his high heel collection. No matter what race or gender you are, living in a small town makes you feel irrelevant, and then you start making irrelevant art.

Heart As Arena said...

Yowza, Anon. Kind of unfair to make that generalization with Lee Bontecou on the planet. She lived in a town close to where I grew up. Was she making irrelevant art? I think not. And she was pretty sure she wasn't either. This is what works best for some artists.

To quote Ms. Bontecou, "All I ever wanted was the time and space to work.''

And yo, I LOVED those shoes.

JD said...

Yeah, I'd agree that not all artists who live outside of major art cities make irrelevant art. Of course, all of these generalizations can be punctured by individual cases.

Ya know, we got off on the networking track in this conversation, but I'm thinking that the real question is attention paid by the art world. I'm just asking myself why the only time I'd ever heard of Hendricks was when he was in the Black Male show, why I never see his work reproduced, and why none of my profs ever referenced him for me in grad school, even though his work had such obvious relevance for me. I want to understand the concrete mechanics of this, how a wonderful artist can fall into obscurity, especially as compared with white male artists making fairly comparable work.

I realize that it's probably a swamp of complexities. Any theories?

ec said...

What a great convo.

Alice Neel: I researched this issue about her career as the change in her work and career in the latter part of her life is so marked. I read the shrink asked her, "how do you meet the curators (Gedzhalder and so forth) to help your career?" because her paintings of East Harlem neighbors and her dedication weren't getting her where she wanted to go... hence the portraits and subsequent networking. As a woman you can probably get away with a lot more in your 60s than your 30s if (or) you are eccentric, a strongly developed artist and personality--the gender issues become less problematic as estrogen fades. Also, her children really helped her out: as rebels, they became professionals--lawyer, shrink?--and helped arrange the show at the Whitney and work with her career.

Henricks painted fabulously from '72-'79 (he began the teaching job in '72). As an aside, I'd like to take issue with the profound bias about teaching jobs, which become a dirty little secret if you want to be taken seriously. But this is another conversation and likely my issue. I do wonder though, if eventually a small town and likely very white environment stifled Hendrick's aesthetic relish in his gorgeous urban subjects. By 1980 he fell into a pastiche of his earlier portraits, losing the bite of synthesizing Europe and Africa within "white" paradigms of painting. I think of another artist who works as fluently as Hendricks: Kerry James Marshall, directly referencing the Italians in his Whitney work from 1997--1992.

But I've been thinking something else about Hendricks, that he (like all artists) wants to be free, and that for him eclecticism is the way to do that. So any and all forms of making becomes a jam-session, with parameters unrestricted. That might turn the issue to the ways we view painting as a single-minded pursuit, and the painter as an expert in a sustained line of enquiry. If so, Close, or late Neel, whose best portraits blend a French impressionist palette with abstraction), or almost any 20th century practitioner can't accommodate the way Hendricks works.

Further, Hendricks painted with such love--you can see it--and maybe he wants to hang on to that, the only center an artist has? Might he have found the demands of a career in the commercial marketplace indifferent to timing: the artist's need to refill, refuel, absorb, research work? We all face this, so it's not like anyone gets a pass. But I see the work, more and more, as a desire to break free and in the catalogue interview he shows amusement that only one body of work is highlighted: that closest to Kehinde.

This goes back to my point that we view and define fine art a certain way: we acknowledge art that cycles other art, and don't know what to do with art that comes out of alternative, more commercial traditions. At least I struggle with this. I wonder why Juxtapoz is so popular, and what is the difference between Cacciola and James Cohan? I answer for myself, but, it is interesting as a larger question, the kinds of distinctions we make.

Heart As Arena said...

EC, I loved this comment . . . "he (like all artists) wants to be free, and that for him eclecticism is the way to do that. So any and all forms of making becomes a jam-session, with parameters unrestricted."

I think it took some real guts to put those landscapes in at the end of the show. Very much NOT my favorite paintings, but I loved their improv spirit and the sense of freedom they carry. Like, this is totally what I want to do so I'm going to do it. And that self-portrait was hilarious. Sort of, "HaHa. I rule because I'm happy." I can't think of too many artists who would have been willing to make themselves that vulnerable.

Anonymous said...

No, really, Heart As, a lot of Barkley's work from the 80s and 90s is dreadful, kind of mid-life-crisis photography of young girls. And all those high heels. Not all artists feel irrelevant when they live outside the mainstream art world, but many do. I think he just lost the spark. Maybe it was all the weed.

Anonymous said...

EC here somehow unable to log on,

Anon-
Where are you seeing the photos of the women and all the other work? Not able to find it online, tho'can imagine it.
Kind of...
Heart as Arena-Yep, those landscapes were madcap...vestiges, in some, of the structure of the earlier works...esp the basketball courts...
but painting subtropical with oils seems incongrous (sp?), while his application in the early portraits, is gorgeous.

Heart As Arena said...

Oh, EC. "Madcap" is the word. On the money. And speaking of on the money, I hadn't thought of the connection to the basketball backboards but it's perfect. My reaction to both had little to do with the art and all to do with the heart.

Anon. Now I really want to see the work. Not familiar with the non-shoe work.

Anonymous said...

Saw the work at faculty shows. Not surprised there isn't an online record. Maybe a good curator to do something with it.