Jul 13, 2012

Billionaire Leon Black Revealed As The Man Who Broke All Records To Buy 'The Scream'

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The owner of the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction - which just so happens to be the world's most famous artwork, Edvard Munch's The Scream - has been revealed as New York financier Leon Black.

The billionaire paid $119.9m (£74m) for one of only four versions of the painting in existence at Sotheby's last month.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that several close friends of Black have confirmed he is the man who sent a shock wave through the art world, spending big even by the standards of the global art trade.

scream auction
The Scream goes under the hammer in May


Black is a well-established art collector who already counts works by Vincent van Gogh, Raphael and JMW Tuner amongst a $750m collection. He also serves on the boards of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.

His personal fortune is estimated to be at $3.4bn.

The 1895 version of the painting was sold in 12 minutes in May and included a hand-painted frame and by Munch and a poem by the artist describing how he 'shivered with anxiety' when painting it.

Black's triumph didn't come easy: 5 bidders from the US and China made initial bids as the American took part via telephone. 

It was to be the most successful auction for an artwork ever


When the price reached $80m is was down to him and one other collector against whom he eventually won out by offering the record fee.

The enduring fame and fascination with The Scream will ensure Edvard Munch continues to be one of the world's best-known artists.

However, a current show at London Tate Modern is offering UK art lover the chance to consider his work outside the shadow of his most well-known masterpiece with an exhibition exploring other work by the Norwegian Expressionist.

Bal Du Moulin De La Galette by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, $78.1m (£48.3m)
Sold at Sotheby's in New York in May 1990.

Le Bassin Aux Nympheas by Claude Monet, $80.5m (£49.7m)Sold at Christie's in London in June 2008

Portrait Of Dr Gachet by Vincent van Gogh, $82.5m (£51m)Sold at Christie's in New York in May 1990.



William Wegman

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Left and right: William Wegman, untitled, 1993, silver gelatin print, 20 x 16”.

Throughout his career, William Wegman has consistently created drawings, paintings, photographs, and videos about and within the natural world. From July 13 to October 21, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art will present “Hello Nature,” an exhibition featuring some thirty years of work inspired by Maine, where the artist spends his summers. Here Wegman discusses his long-standing relationship with nature and how it has influenced his work.


I GREW UP IN RURAL WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS in the 1940s and ’50s in an era when parental supervision wasn’t so important. We didn’t have play. We were on our own. In the summer I rarely slept inside—I was always in a hut I built or on some adventurous camping trip with buddies. You could just take a thirty-mile bike trip and maybe come home that night, maybe not. People didn’t worry about kidnapping. You could even hitchhike. I’m sure it was dangerous, but no one really knew that. It was a great time to be a kid. I played baseball and hockey and swam in the sandstone quarries that were in everyone’s backyard. I had a paper route. I mowed lawns. having read in the Book of Knowledge. I painted pictures of Indians using pigment made from berries. Some of my friends hunted. I fished. I knew every pond and brook you could bike or walk to. Waters beyond beckoned.

I probably first heard of Rangeley, Maine, in an issue of Field and Stream circa l955. President Eisenhower had famously fished a stream there around that time. My best fishing buddy Donald, the first of us to turn sixteen and therefore the first to drive legally, got his driver’s license and we drove there with two other teenagers. I was fourteen. It was an all-day trip from our town in Massachusetts. On the twelve-mile dirt road to Kennebago Lake, the most alluring of the Rangeley Lakes, we hit a rock and disabled our car. Bud Russell put us up at his camp, the Kennebago Lake Club, and treated us royally. He even had our car fixed. We were shown incredible fishing spots. It was a memorable eight days in l957.

Then I went to high school, college, and grad school. In l970 I moved to LA, fished the Sierras and rivers near by. My dog Man Ray, besides being an amazing photo and video subject, was a great fishing companion. He was very respectful of the water, never disturbing the pools. A few years later I moved to New York City and fished the classic Long Island, Catskill, and Adirondack streams.

In l978, after a spell of exploring nearly every lake and river in the Northeast, I found myself in Rangeley again. I ended up buying a cabin on a small lake in the Rangeley region and ten years later an old lodge across from it, which, seven dogs later, I continue to work on and in.



Opening Doors With Art In Madeira

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The Painted Doors of Rua Santa Maria

Le Petit Prince peers down a serpentine alley. A  woman turns to shield herself from pedestrians. The phrase "No one can dream your dreams but you" is written over and again. 

These are some of the many scenes and words painted onto the deteriorating doors of Santa Maria Street in Funchal, the capital of the Portuguese island of Madeira.

Two years ago, José Maria Montero had an idea -- to have artists paint the deteriorating doors of abandoned shops and homes. He asked over 100 artists, most of them island natives, to participate in the Arte Portas Abertas project, and gave them simple instructions: pick a door and create whatever you want on it. Not limited to paint, some artists used clay, metal, ceramic tiles and even the keys to a computer keyboard to create art on 161 doors. One artist used iridescent glass and stones to create a sunset over a pebbled beach. Another sculpted hundreds of tiny faces into the surface of a door.

The youngest participant was only 9 years old; the oldest, 65. 

"We have all kinds of artists: professionals, amateurs, politicians and students - everyone who wanted to express themselves could," said Montero. 

The doors have opened up the street to creativity and prosperity. An area the New York Times described in 2001 as "rundown and vacant" is now bustling with cafés and tourists. 

"You wouldn't believe the huge difference that was felt on Rua Santa Maria - it was a dark, badly referenced part of the city and now it is blooming with restaurants and tourists and life," said Roberto Macedo Alves, one of the artists involved in the project, who painted an archangel near the city's chapel. 

The project is going to be expanded to other parts of Madeira and mainland Portugal.

"We are bringing art to people who never had the habit of visiting exhibitions or museums," said Alves. "We are surprising them on their way to work."



FREE SPEECH ZONE | Greg Lipelt—painting the light

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"Stoney Point"

A retrospective is a time to reflect. Greg Lipelt’s “Selections from a lifetime in art,” showing at the Frameworks Gallery from July 14 to August 25, will mark the artistic journey of one of Minnesota’s most talented painters and allow him to share his views about art and life.

“That’s the spirit of this entire show,” Lipelt said. “I want to talk not just about art, but how life has left its imprint on me and my view of art.”

Lipelt’s view of art has changed over the years and he has worked hard to achieve the loose, painterly style that distinguishes his oils and watercolors today. His art journey included painting signs and murals for the army in the 1960s, and working as a commercial artist from 1977 to 2002. As an illustrator, Lipelt mastered drawing and developed an eye for detail. But the same  skills that made him a successful illustrator became an impediment to the kind of painting he wanted to do.  

“Illustration and painting are two different things,” he said. “Illustration’s job is to explain something,” and this often requires loading an image with detail. Painting is just the opposite. “The job of a painter is to select, edit and simplify; to put down as little as you possibly can. Nature never gives you a painting. Leaving more out and getting the viewer to participate and finish it for you, that’s what you want to do.”

Contrary to the view of artists he considers too model-dependent — “They feel it’s a moral violation if you don’t paint exactly what you’re seeing…there’s not a single edge that’s lost” — Lipelt strongly believes that painters should have a point of view and express their individuality:

You don’t just go out and put down what you see. Sometimes you have to move a house, or move a tree, or eliminate a tree. It’s about you the seer, more than the seen. Most of us, whether we like it or not, are more derivative than we believe. We’re real good at employing discoveries—we’re not very good at making them. But you’ve got to impart something of your own uniqueness to the scene or you don’t have you—you only have a collection of facts. Art is where you are—it is in the seeing, not in what is seen.
Lipelt credits two artists with helping him make the transition from illustrator to painter. Jerome Ryan, who also started out as a commercial artist, “had that loose, forgiving, non-neurotic look to his work,” said Lipelt. “He was the one who really helped get me out of illustration and into painting.”

Then there was William Reese. Lipelt recalls that, “Around 1989, when I was a beginning artist, I went to see William Reese, a well-respected painter, and I asked him to critique some of my paintings. He took a look at my work and said two things: You’re seeing too much, and you’re way too dark. He made it clear to me that if you’re going to depict the light, your shadows have to be filled with bright color.”

At the time, that was a revelation to Lipelt, but since then he has studied the artistic development of several great artists and noticed a common progression from a tonalist to a high-key palette:

You see it again and again in art history. They lighten up, they leave more out at the end of their careers. Monet’s palette lightened up. He started out as a tonalist—all his darks were gray, umber, going all the way to black. But no black in his later period, all the colors were up there, lighter. Even the darks were fairly high key. That was his journey; he went up in value. That was the lesson Bill Reese taught me, he got me to raise my palette. And ever since, I’ve tried to put more pure colors into my shadows.
This is evident in Lipelt’s plein air paintings, which are full of vibrant and spontaneous color notes even in the darker areas. Like all plein air painters, Lipelt is conscious of light effects, but he handles them in an interesting way. His shadows are not simple, static shapes. They move and ripple, and are central to the energy of the painting.

“Stoney Point,” “Lake Harriet Bandshell” and “Midsummer Day, near Index, Washington” depict buildings, water, trees, mountains and rocks, with plenty of shadows and reflections, but none of these are the real subjects. Lipelt’s real subjects are light and atmosphere, and he paints them with delicate washes of color, close high-key values, fluid shapes, and edges that dissolve and reappear.

The visual effect lies somewhere between representation and abstraction, and challenges our ordinary understanding of how to look at a painting. We can look for the natural objects and appreciate their shapes, colors and values, but that’s not all Lipelt’s work offers. His paintings are also enchanting patterns of color and light that dance around the canvas, and that the eye never tires of following.  

Lipelt’s journey toward this freer, lyrical painting style was not simply a shift in technique; itrequired some psychological changes as well. He explained that, “The process is about shedding your fear of failing. People become too controlled—they don’t have the confidence to let go.”

Part of the problem is what Lipelt calls our “esthetic software”—our own artistic sensibility that is shaped by a lifetime of experiences:

It’s part of our job to get in touch with our esthetic software and decide whether or not we want to stay with that program, or change it. Developing confidence only comes by battling it through, doing a lot of really bad paintings and being honest enough to admit it. Take a look and say: Well I could have done that more simply. Then maybe do a second version. You have to fight through it.

Painters Lipelt greatly admires, and who have helped him loosen up his thinking, are Sergei Bongart, Olexa Bulavitsky and Charles Reid. “Sergei was a great painter, really expressive,” said Lipelt. “When he painted, he’d run up to the canvas and throw two strokes in there, and then he’d run back—it was an athletic performance! What appealed to me about him was the same thing that appealed to me about Jerome Ryan, that is, how they let go. They had confidence in throwing a stroke in there.”

Their freer style helped Lipelt change his “esthetic software”:

What I realized was that, you know what, you’re just going to start putting strokes in there and learn what that feels like, and get comfortable with that. And if it doesn’t land in the right place, you let it go, you don’t judge it. Get the experience, get your ego out of it and quit beating yourself up. All artists face that same internal battle, until they get centered and comfortable with who they are—and they don’t have to be a Rembrandt.
Bongart, in particular, reinforced Lipelt’s move toward simplicity. Thumbing through a book of Bongart’s paintings, Lipelt remarked, “That’s my idea of painting. Leaving out—just leaving in enough so that it’s not a total abstract, there are still images there. Look at the freedom, you can see colors underneath that he didn’t completely cover, and there’s stuff happening. There’s life.”

Lipelt realizes, however, that not all painters can paint what and how they want. The shadow of the art market hovers over artists of all ages and career stages. As a former commercial artist, Lipelt has a special insight into the effects the market can have on artists.

Illustration is about providing a service for a client, Lipelt said. “The client has the right to say, ‘change this, change that,’ and you’ve got to be able to do that without getting your ego involved. Commercial artists spend so many years pleasing people that they don’t know what they like. And they lose themselves.”

Lipelt cautions fine artists to paint for themselves, rather than for the market:

We all have a ‘phantom audience’ on our shoulder, but our job is to do the kind of painting we would do if we would never have another show, and if nobody would ever see our work. We would do more authentic work, and it would be ours. We wouldn’t be trying to please some phantom audience, some client, some relative, some teacher—we have these ghosts that work through us, and we’re not painting for us. We don’t know it, but part of the process is to become aware that this is happening and to shut it off. 
As for Greg Lipelt and his own future?

My goal is to attain what Jung called ‘individuation’ and to be free of those contaminating influences that have been with me all of my life—that are with all artists all of their lives. The degree of our liberty in attaining that freedom should be the goal, meaning: the marketplace will not dictate what I paint. I’m not going to be pleasing the client.

A while back, I found a dead moth in my car, and I painted it. That’s the difference between the way I used to paint and the way I paint today. I wouldn’t have done that in the days when I was more conscious of selling, making money, pleasing the client. Now I paint for me.

Of course, we’d all like subsidy for what we do, but artists are so concerned about getting acceptance that they overlook self-acceptance. And they end up using somebody else’s esthetic software. You have got to be true to yourself. I’ve know artists who have gone through their entire lives trying to please somebody else and they never even knew it.

I am not going to be Rembrandt, but that’s OK because I get to be me. My story is a moth I found in my car. There it is.



Jul 12, 2012

Happy Birthday Amedeo Modigliani!

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Today is the birthday of Italian painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani. Beloved Modì would turn 128 years old if he were somehow still alive today. 

Modigliani was born in Livorno, Italy on July 12th, 1884. His family was so poor that creditors attempted to seize their assets while Modigliani was birth at home. As a young child, he suffered from a host of health problems stemming from cases of pleurisy and typhoid fever. But it was at an early age that he began demonstrating an interest in the arts, and when, in a fit of sickness, he asked his mother to take him to see the great paintings in northern Italy, she obliged. Later, she enrolled him in art school in Livorno and his career was set in motion. 

He continued to study formally in art institutes in Florence, Venice, and Paris, and collected a number of famous art friends all over the world like Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris. Heavily influenced by the great Italian painters of the 19th century as well as the avante-garde stylings brewing in France, Modigliani is said to have produced a hundred drawings a day in his pursuit of his craft. His work was mostly figurative, creating paintings and sculptures with mask-like faces and elongated features. He is also well-known for his series of portraits completed between 1916 and 1919, criticized during his first and only solo exhibit for their "obscene" content.

While living in Paris, Modigliani earned his nickname, Modì, meaning cursed. He transformed from a modest, scholarly artist to the epitome of a tragic bohemian, drinking heavily. He eventually met an art student named Jeanne Hebuterne, with whom he had two children. Sadly, his health, undoubtedly weakened from his Parisian antics, caught up with him after years of persistent sickness and alcohol abuse and he died on January 24, 1920 from tuberculosis. 

The Modigliani legacy lives on though, as his art is revered as some of the best works of the 20th century and his legendary artistic spirit has inspired a number of films. So toast to the birthday of the great Modigliani!



Too good to be true? The Caravaggio conundrum

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‘Study of a Head’, a sketch said to be one of the undiscovered Caravaggios

To find one previously unknown work by one of art's undisputed geniuses may be considered good fortune. To discover 100 in one go might appear too good to be true. It should be no surprise then that last week's astonishing claims by Italian art sleuths to have found a cache of 96 paintings and sketches by the baroque giant Caravaggio in a workshop in Milan's Sforzesco Castle are facing increasing scrutiny and, in many circles, disbelief.

Art critics have expressed doubts that such a huge amount of work – almost doubling overnight the number of pictures attributed to the celebrated old master – could have gone unnoticed for so long.

And in response, authorities in Milan, no doubt miffed that art academics from the rival regional city of Brescia are claiming the glory for the discovery, are not sitting on their hands. Yesterday they announced two inquiries of their own into the veracity of the researchers' claimed methods and checks, and an independent assessment of the artworks' provenance.

Already the discovery is being tainted by serious claims and counter claims regarding dubious ethics and mysterious sorties at odd hours that could have come straight from the pages of the iconic painter's own colourful life.

The excitement began last Wednesday when a breathless Italian news agency reported the confident claims of art experts from the Brescia Museum Foundation that around 100 early works by Michelangelo Merisi, better known as Caravaggio, had been identified. An eye-watering price was soon put on them: €700m (£550m).

The cache was found, said the researchers, Maurizio Bernardelli Curuz Guerrieri and Adriana Conconi Fedrigolli, at the city's landmark castle in the old workshop of Caravaggio's master, the post-Renaissance painter Simone Peterzano. The researchers said their detailed comparison of the works with known pieces by the painter showed "the faces, bodies and scenes the young Caravaggio would use in later years".

"Caravaggio left the region of Lombardy with a rich collection of figures that he used throughout his career, but especially in his early years working in Rome. These works are proof," said Mr Bernardelli.

As The Independent reported at the time, Elena Conenna, the city council's somewhat-surprised culture spokeswoman, gave a cautious welcome to the "discovery". "We'll be very happy to discover it's true," she said. 

"But it's strange. They weren't in a hidden place, they were accessible to all." She said the city had not been informed about the discovery and would be "carrying out checks". Many people assumed the Brescia researchers had announced their discovery without warning to increase the impact.

Key to the Brescia pair's claims was numerous visits to the workshop during what they said was a painstaking two-year period of research into the paintings and sketches. Unfortunately, an email dated 11 May last year has now surfaced in which the pair appear to be requesting electronic copies of the works. Neither are there any official records of them having viewed the works in person, according to Francesca Rossi, the official in charge of access to the castle's art and antiquities. She told Corriere della Sera newspaper: "I've never seen them here.

 They've never had access to the collection, they studied the images exclusively from the computer disc."

Reports yesterday suggest the disc sent from Milan to Brescia contained over 1,700 jpeg images – at low resolution. And in a very Italian twist, authorities in Milan have also announced an internal inquiry to establish if unwarranted collusion and even corruption was involved.

Mr Bernardelli disputed the claims of the Milan officials. "We saw the collection various times, even if these were outside normal hours, accompanied by different people," he said.

Other art experts have taken issue with the pair's conclusions. One critic, Professor Philippe Daverio, said that identification of a Caravaggio's organic and ever-evolving work could not be made by looking for the presence of key "designs". "Design doesn't exist in the character of Caravaggio," he said. "And design wasn't needed in his painting. These sketches can't really be compared to anything."

Another critic, Francesca Cappelletti, who helped to establish that The Taking of Christ was painted by Caravaggio, was blunter: "To me, these pictures still seem like typical works of Peterzano." Another critic, Tomaso Montanari, said sarcastically the claim was akin to taking 100 drawings by Verrocchio (Leonardo da Vinci's master) and attributing them to the creator of the Mona Lisa.

It's perhaps not surprising that the latest controversy should centre on Caravaggio: fascination with the artist is at an all-time high. Some evidence even suggests that the artist, who added a revolutionary degree of grit and realism to the prevalent mannerist painting of his era, has even replaced Renaissance giant Michelangelo at the top of the unofficial Italian art charts.

Philip Sohm, of the University of Toronto, studied the number of publications devoted to both artists during the past 50 years, and found that since the mid-1980s the baroque painter has moved ahead of his Renaissance rival.

Interest has been increased by attempts in recent years to shed light on the mystery surrounding Caravaggio's death in 1610 at the age of 38. An investigation, involving DNA tests and comparisons with living relatives, led experts to conclude that the painter was probably buried in Porto Ercole, in Tuscany, after suffering an illness, thereby bringing centuries of speculation, including assassination theories, to an end.

Caravaggio was active in Rome, Naples, Malta and Sicily. But he often had to flee cities and leave works unfinished because of his tempestuous nature, which led him to kill at least one man. He eventually returned to Italy confident of obtaining a papal pardon, thanks to powerful connections in Rome.

Scepticism regarding the Milan paintings and sketches is in itself unlikely to harm sales of Mr Bernardelli Curuz's and Ms Adriana Fedrigolli's e-book, Young Caravaggio: One Hundred Rediscovered Works, dedicated to their claims and the pictures they are based on. But their publishing ambitions hit a snag this week with news that Amazon in Italy had withdrawn the book from sale, albeit without commenting on whether this was due to doubts over the quality of the research it contained.

Mr Curuz told Ansa: "The blocking of the Amazon system has damaged us because to understand the discovery it is essential to see the 1,000 images that we have collated."

The pair said they had no idea why it had been dropped, but added that it would be available on a website for self-published books. On his Facebook profile, Mr Curuz, was putting on a brave face. "We are calm and confident. The world will judge our work," he wrote.

But it is not only the world. It is also Milan's ever-busy prosecutors, who are looking into whether they should investigate the Brescia art historians for the illegal publication of private images.

Caravaggio: Life and legacy

Born Michelangelo Merisi, in Milan, on 29 September 1571.

Early life The family moved to nearby Caravaggio in 1576, from where the artist took his name. In 1592 he fled to Rome after a brawl.

Career Known for his rare naturalism and use of light and shade, a technique called chiaroscuro, that would influence later giants, including Rembrant. Despite lifelong fame – and notoriety – he sunk into obscurity after his mysterious death, only to be rehabilitated in the 20th century.

Expert view "He reclaimed the human form... there was art before him and art after him, and they were not the same." Robert Hughes, critic, in 1985.



An Artist Makes His Name

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Jayson Musson at the Salon 94 gallery with his sweater paintings, works made from cut-up sweaters that have been stretched and sewn together.


Since Jayson Musson began posting his "Art Thoughtz" videos online two years ago—a series in which he stars as a hip-hop-stylized art critic named Hennessy Youngman—he has ezxarned the attention of the cultural cognoscenti's YouTube set as an astute and wickedly funny art-world observer. 

While analyzing everything from concept of relational aesthetics to Damien Hirst, Mr. Musson-as-Hennessy sports a rotation of flat-brim hats featuring characters like Spider-Man and Dr. Seuss's Grinch; a fake-gold Sphinx-shaped chain; and Coogi sweaters, those wildly patterned and textured knits associated with Bill Cosby and the Notorious B.I.G.

It's the sweaters that have recently come to inform Mr. Musson's own work as a visual artist. An new exhibition of that work, "Halcyon Days," opened Wednesday at Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn's Salon 94 on the Bowery, where Mr. Musson is now represented. The show features pieces made from cut-up Coogi sweaters, stretched and sewn together. It is his first exhibition devoted to the sweater-based works (which he refers to as paintings) and his highest-profile outing in New York to date.

Mr. Musson's growing profile on the city's art scene has, not coincidentally, paralleled Hennessy Youngman's rise on the Internet. He made his New York debut this spring in a group show with Postmasters Gallery in Chelsea. 

Soon after, he curated an exhibition at Family Business, Maurizio Cattelan's new space, at the invitation of Marilyn Minter. It was Ms. Minter, who also shows at Salon 94, who introduced Mr. Musson to Ms. Greenberg Rohatyn.

"If it wasn't for Hennessy, there wouldn't have been the studio visit that led to this exhibition," Mr. Musson said. "The popularity of it has definitely worked in my favor."

The artist recently spoke with the Journal about collecting Coogis, performance art and being Hennessy.


Coogi sweaters make for unusual source material. How did you begin working with them? 

They're definitely part of a visual vernacular. I was looking for an outfit for Hennessy. Just perusing online, I saw this one particular sweater, a $300 Coogi hoodie. I was really struck by how much of a schlocky version of an Ab-Ex painting this hoodie looked like. Eventually, I decided on making these works—to actually take the thing that looks like a painting and return it to painting form. The first piece I made, I think I was buying sweaters for six to eight months because it took so long to acquire all the pieces. 

What kind of visual work were you making before this?

Most of my work had a punk-rock aesthetic where I didn't want to spend that much money on one thing. I did a lot of poster work. I did large-scale projections, [a series of text-based posters] called "Too Black for B.E.T.," making exhibition prints using Kinko's plotters. I would go in there and I would stuff all of these into a tube and pay for one, and have half of an exhibition done. [Making the sweater paintings] was like a total money pit. But I was like, it's going to turn into something. 

Where did the character of Hennessy Youngman and the idea for "Art Thoughtz" come from?

I started school in 2009 and the idea for Hennessy came about toward the end of the first semester. I was going back to school after an eight-year hiatus between undergrad and graduate school, and being introduced to the vocabulary, language and culture of talking about contemporary art, I was really displaced. I think because I was acquiring this new language, it would be funny if someone like a comedian—a black comedian, specifically citing a "Def Comedy Jam" comedian—began talking about fine art.

You get invited to lecture sometimes as Jayson Musson, other times as Hennessy Youngman. What does that mean for you? 

Hennessy, it's a project alongside other projects. To make something, to create something like this project and be asked to talk, to me that's a phenomenal opportunity. There's really no conflict. It's super awesome to make something and take something that's a passing joke and have that thing open up all these doors. I've been writing and doing the work that I've been doing for a decade. The Hennessy project started as a joke and for that to open up other opportunities to travel for me to share my voice with people, that to me is absolutely amazing. Hennessy, as a persona, we're very different, but it's still something that I created. It's still me. It's fun.

Do you consider yourself a performer, or performance artist?

I distance myself from the title of performer. I always felt that was a kind of default thing that people do when they go into grad school. Prior to the Hennessy project, I never did performance. It's not something I'm really heavily invested in as an artist. I do enjoy still making things, objects, drawings or writing. I like to be behind the scenes. 



Art Goes Up in Smoke

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Cheech Marin looks at paintings by Peter Max in Mr. Max's studio on the Upper West Side.

I haven't yet made it out to the Hamptons this summer, and I can't say I'm all that upset about it. (I might feel differently if I had a helicopter to get there and a private landing pad, rather than having to rely on the L.I.E.) However, I did the next best thing Tuesday afternoon: I got together with Cheech Marin, half of the Cheech & Chong comedy duo, at Peter Max's studio on the Upper West Side. 

I know what you're thinking: What does Cheech, the seminal stoner—I like to think we hit it off and I can address him by his first name—have to the do with the Hamptons? If you wanted to expose yourself to the gentle breezes of Georgica Pond swagger, why wouldn't you interview some local swell like Ronald Perelman or Martha Stewart?

For starters, they didn't ask me. For another thing, Cheech is being honored this weekend at the ArtHamptons International Art Fair in Bridgehampton as arts patron of the year. Maui Waui might come up faster than Matisse were you to inaugurate an Internet search under Cheech's name. But he's been a passionate art collector for years, particularly the art of Chicano artists—he has the largest private collection of Chicano art in the world—which he has also championed, lending his art to shows around the country.

"I brought young artists, about 40 paintings," Cheech explained, of works that will be shown at the art fair. "They're in their 20s and early 30s. They're good but undiscovered."

As eager as I was to learn about Chicano art, that wasn't my primary motivation for getting together with Cheech. 

And as curious as I was to see Peter Max's studio—he's the '60s artist, still going strong, whose psychedelic posters helped distinguish an era and decorate many a college dorm room—that wasn't it either. I wanted to discuss and deconstruct Cheech's famous "birthmark" exchange with Tommy Chong in "Up In Smoke," their cannabis-inspired 1978 blockbuster film. 

I wasn't overly concerned that Cheech was no longer the pothead of yore—for all I know he still is; it never came up—but rather some old, rich art collector who demanded his taste be flattered at every turn. But even if I had been, Cheech quickly put me at ease.

Turns out we have much in common, or at least a couple of things. I don't know how we got started, but he confided almost instantly that he enjoys visiting New York, not just because of its cultural offerings, but also because of the beauty and density of its population. I suspect there are those who believe such interests crass. But I consider it a natural extension of his aesthetic discernment. And indeed, I consider the question about which major world city boasts the  ladies an entirely philosophical, one. There's obviously no definitive answer—how would you even devise algorithms?—but it's fun to debate, in the same way one might whether Michelangelo or da Vinci was the superior artist? 

From there we turned to our kids—he has several, including one, a college student, who at that moment was texting him because she was unhappy at her art-gallery summer internship. "All they're doing is teaching her code," he sighed. He added that he keeps counseling her to stick it out, while trying to persuade her of the value of developing proper work skills. You know it's not the '70s anymore when Cheech Marin is a spokesperson for the Protestant work ethic.

Cheech recalled that the first time he met Peter Max—who is contributing a six-painting installation of Jackson Pollock portraits, on the 100th anniversary of the artist's birth, to ArtHamptons—was through Timothy Leary. 

"Peter, I've known him for a long time. He's trying to figure out where he knows me from," Cheech said. "Timothy was a really good friend of mine. I miss him every day." 

Mr. Max briefly joined us. He seemed a bit distracted—between supervising assistants positioning his Pollock portraits on his studio floor to be photographed, and speed-signing hundreds of posters. "I've been on a vegan diet for many years," Mr. Max reported.

"That's my worst nightmare—I wake up and I'm a vegetarian," Cheech deadpanned.

"You don't know what to eat,' Mr. Max explained.

"Bushes," Cheech muttered under his breath, characterizing the vegan diet. 

I eventually raised the "birthmark" exchange, a cannon shot across the bow of political correctness years before the concept was in vogue, from "Up in Smoke." For those who haven't seen the movie, and I strongly advise you do, or who did but can't remember it because they left too many brain cells on the kitchen floor back in the day, it occurs as Cheech and Chong are going to score some dope from Cheech's cousin Strawberry, a crazed Vietnam Vet whose nickname derives from a distracting birthmark on his neck.

"Whatever you do don't say nothing about his birthmark," Cheech warns his buddy, "because he flips out."

"I ain't going to talk about nobody's birthmark," Chong vows.

"Don't look at it either," Cheech insists.

Strawberry is even crazier and more paranoid than predicted, especially after he catches Chong fixated on his blemish. Defensively, Chong turns to Cheech and says, "I wasn't looking at his neck, man."

I wondered whether anybody ever mentions the exchange to Cheech, or whether I'm alone in its appreciation, believing it one of the better bits in comedy history, but for reasons beyond my meager ability to articulate.

"All the time," he said. "It was so inappropriate. It's the height of stupidity and innocence."

Cheech went on the explain that Strawberry was a real-life stoner whom Tommy Chong based the character on, though the model for the character had earned his nickname because of his red hair. 

"'How are we going to make him Strawberry?'" Cheech remembered. "'Let's give him a birthmark.'"

They hired to play Strawberry Tom Skerritt, who had derived a measure of fame after playing Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould's tentmate, Capt. Duke Forrest, in Robert Altman's "MASH."

"Walking up to the door" of Strawberry's drug den, "we came up with that bit," Cheech said. "Which is how we came up with a lot of stuff. Tom loved it. It gave him something to work with."

Cheech said the movie, and the birthmark exchange, endure, refreshed by each new generation that watches it. (He wasn't blowing his own horn; I'd told him that my younger daughter's friend was impressed when he heard I was on my way to interview Cheech of Cheech & Chong.) "It's a rite of passage for 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds."

I innocently asked to what he attributes the film's popularity with the current generation, its comic genius aside. "That's when they're discovering pot on their own," he explained.



Jul 11, 2012

Impact of 'Guernica' is still felt

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Art lovers note the 75th anniversary today of Picasso's harrowing |anti-war painting

As Pablo Picasso's iconic anti-war painting "Guernica" marks its 75th anniversary today, its artistic power remains intact. Just ask Daniel Casares.

"My surprise was such and the sensation of all my feelings getting stirred up inside that I was stunned," says the flamenco guitarist who is performing today in Madrid in one of many tributes marking the anniversary.

Picasso was a painter capable of "breaking with all the artistic preconceptions", says film director Carlos Saura, who is preparing a movie about how "Guernica" came about. It's called "33 Days", for the length of time Picasso spent on the work. Antonio Banderas will portray the painter and Gwyneth Paltrow his friend Dora Maar.

The painting - depicting the 1937 bombing of the Basque Spanish town Guernica by Hitler's air force - has been analysed, copied by artists and reproduced on souvenirs.

Some aficionados say the 3.5-by-7.8-metre painting in black, white and grey is far from Picasso's best work. 

They criticise its composition and say its lack of colour makes it look like a sketch.

"Guernica" nevertheless remains one of the world's most highly valued and most influential paintings. About a million people come to see it every year at Madrid's Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art.

"Guernica" was commissioned for the Paris Universal Exposition in 1937 by Spain's republican government, which was engaged in a bitter civil war against the right-wing nationalists of General Francisco Franco.

It depicts the bombing of Guernica, the ancestral home of Spain's Basques, which was levelled by German aircraft in support of Franco on April 26, 1937. The attack, which sparked international outrage, killed up to 1,800 civilians.

The canvas, depicting tormented and distorted human and animal figures, became a universal cry against the folly of war.

Picasso, living in Paris at the time, was in a creative crisis, says Saura. "The bombing of was the stimulus he needed to begin painting" after a long period of "doubts and hesitation".

At age 57, "he is an incredible draftsman, very agile. He tackles the canvas and all the outlines pour forth in less than a month," points out artist Jose Ramon Amondarain, who has reproduced Picasso's creative process on eight canvases to mark the anniversary.

Despite an initially cool reception at the Universal Exposition, "Guernica" was soon being sent to numerous exhibitions, initially to collect funds for the republican side in the war and later just because of its fame.

It travelled to Scandinavia, Britain, Brazil and the United States. It was rolled and unrolled about 100 times, until the canvas cracked and the paint flaked.

It was finally decided that "Guernica" could travel no more. Franco won the civil war and Picasso did not want his work in Spain as long as the country was under the dictator's rule. In 1958 it was placed in New York's Museum of Modern Art.

The painting finally came home to Spain in 1981, six years after Franco's death and eight years after Picasso's.

Its condition was thoroughly analysed in 1998. A robot is currently producing millions of digital images in the most exhaustive analysis so far, says a Reina Sofia spokeswoman. The images are expected to reveal how Picasso worked and the changes he made.

The Spanish government and the Reina Sofia are adamant that "Guernica" will never be moved again. Their attitude has annoyed others wanting to house the masterpiece.

"It deserves to be at the Prado," said Miguel Zugaza, director of that art museum.

And Basque nationalists keep insisting "Guernica" should be displayed in the town it was named after, or elsewhere in the region.

But "independent experts have confirmed that the painting is in a delicate state and advised against moving it", says the Reina Sofia spokeswoman. The welfare of "Guernica" comes first.