Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Out West: Water and the Desert at the Palm Springs Art Museum

William Allan, Sanger Ranch, Wyoming Pond, 1997, oil on canvas,
gift of Neal Schenet (c) William Allan
"Especially in the desert, where it is scarce, water is even more vital for survival than in places where it exists in abundance. Its very lack defines the desert, and yet even that ecological system could not exist without it."

An excerpt from the statement to Reflections on Water at the Palm Springs Museum in California reflects one of the primary purposes of this succinct show of thoughtfully-selected art. Through works in many media—painting, photography, pottery, basketry, print-making and video—a single gallery provides the viewer with many evocations of water's meaning to humans in a region where it is a very precious element  The Northeast coast has been the subject for landscape and nautical painters; we know New England waters well as scene and fury. But this show asks us to consider water as a biology and ecology—as life or death, as time or extinction. Water in desert art is not only aesthetic, but urgent with prayer and reverence, and with arresting imagery of the world that wastes it.

William Allan's painting, "Wyoming Pond" is a touchstone. The shimmering reflections of greenery on still water, the implied coolness, and the sense of enduring peace all speak directly to deep human longings. The sight, sound, and scent of gently moving water are universally reassuring. Given our biological need, our psychological and emotional cravings for the sights and sounds of water, this painting is an idyllic point of departure. 

Stanley W. Galli, Vaquero Time for Talk, 1977, acrylic on linen,
gift of the artist 
This Romantic view of waters calm beneficence can be seen throughout  Reflections on Water. Water provides the setting for spiritual reflection and for unity with nature that washes cares away.

Whether or not Stanley Galli's 1977 painting of Mexican cowboys at a watering hole is supported by historically accurate pictorial details, he uses still water and morning light to add convincing piquancy to this moment of quiet camaraderie. The dust and lather of the vaqueros' work is implied by the cool and peacefulness of the pool where the horses drink.

Among the large selection of photographs in the show, there are several Romantic portraits that present Native Americans in sepia-toned paradise where they were One With Nature.This Edward S. Curtis image of a Native woman gathering water is particularly beguiling. The contrast between the barren land and the flowing water divides the picture, with the plump, musing woman sits in the middle, turned toward the burnished stream. The symbols and the composition are simple; the tone is warm; any possible menace nature could hold is swept away on the current. The woman is safe even if she is alone: the water is not only what she is gathers, but what she worships too from her prayerful position on the bank.
Edward S. Curtis, Getting Water - Havasupai, Plate 75 (from The North American Indian), 1903, photogravure on tissue,
 gift of Mrs. Ray Ingram 

The nostalgic scenes of peace, plenty, and unity with nature tend to involve individuals, not larger social groups. Mankind—contemporary, non-Native Mankind—this show suggests, doesn't go down to the river to pray. Rather, as a collective, people despoil what is precious, beautiful, and necessary in short-sighted pursuit of pleasures, or as the result of insufficient technologies.

Several beautiful and chilling photographs of the Salton Sea demonstrate the grief of despoiled waters. The Salton Sea is the largest lake in California, located in a basin that has been, over geological time, sometimes desert and sometimes filled with water. In the early twentieth century it became a thirty-five-mile long lake, due to engineering mistakes that allowed water from the Colorado River to overflow irrigation channels and run off into the land below sea level. The Salton Sea was subsequently developed into a popular get-away for fishing, boating and recreation. Insufficient drainage beyond evaporation, and the agricultural run-off that fills it with chemicals have ruined it. The salination has risen to extreme levels, the pleasure sites are long-since abandoned, [Richard Misrach, Stranded Rowboat, Salton Sea, 1983, chromogenic print, museum purchase with funds derived from a previous gift from Kirk and Anne Douglas (c) Richard Misrach], and the lake reeks of dead fish rotting in water that sustains neither biological nor spiritual life.

Photographer, David Maisel's disturbing and disorienting, "The Lake Project 22," is from a series on the environmental effects of immense water-diversion projects in the West. [David Maisel, The Lake Project 22 (from the series , 2002, chromogenic print, gift of Joe and Pamela Bonino (c) David Maisel].  The image is in itself beautiful—the reds with touches of blue; the idea of a blood vessel running through what otherwise appear to be roots, sand, and other features of landscape. The mixture of colors and textures and colors is puzzling, but when connected to the word "Lake, then the weirdly beautiful becomes beautifully terrible—the sinister site of a calamity or killing that we didn't expect to find in nature. Do we see this from a distance, or close up? Either way, we hesitate to know. 

Reflections in Water is rich in Native American art and artifacts. This is happily to be expected as the Palm Springs Museum is rich in holdings of the American West and its cultures. [Installation photo by author.] In several examples of Native art I saw acceptance of the enduring facts of desert life that lacked the cycle of aspirational technologies and eventual despoliation resulting from Eurocentric attempts to modify and control nature.

Most of the Native American artworks in the show are contemporary, though to the untutored they appear to be from the nineteenth century or earlier. Aren't clay pots always found at archaeological sites? Weren't Navajo rugs made for White trading posts that grew up along the train routes, using the materials East Coast merchants imported for them to deploy?
(See "Navajo Weaving at the Palm Springs Art Museum"). The Native American traditions are strong enough to insure looks as timeless as the concepts they embody. Rather than coping with the calamitous results of    human engineering that gives out in unforeseen ways, they invoke the rain-making gods. While the latter seems risibly innocent to technological civilization, to those who practice it, it must have the advantage of avoiding large-scale evil outcomes.

I was impressed by the scale of the Native American artifacts. The vessels for collection of water at a source were small bottles and jugs, all decorated with symbolic art and fashioned of the natural materials available on the land occupied by the tribe. In the vitrine pictured below, a ceramic water bottle stands in the foreground. To its left is a large basket, the magnificent "Rain Eagle Basket," with its interior decorated with two mirrored eagles, wings unfurled. It's made of sumac, juncos, and deer grass, and its function also is water collection.

A Native weaving [Navajo Crystal Storm Rug, ca. 1940] and hanging sculpture that incorporates symbols from a variety of tribes [by non-Native O.E.L. Graves, 1960] demonstrate the symbolic and spiritual communion with Nature, which stand in contrast with the urge to end it to the ends of human engineering. 

The rug pattern symbolizes the home in the center, with lightening bolts emanating to four mountains that define the ends of Navajo territory. Red water beetles swim on the vertical ends, between the mountains. The point of the tableau is not an invocation but a reminder of the importance of rain and the power of the storm. Whether water is present or not, it appears pictured as an ever-present force in daily life.

Graves's sculpture is an homage to the tradition of rain dancing, using such symbols as corn in one hand (a drought-resistant staple crop) and cat-tails in the other, as a symbol of wetlands. Native Americans have husbanded water efficiently with hand-dug irrigation systems, and celebrated rains with dances greater than sighs of relief.

In this piece I have constructed one of many narratives possible in this excellent show. I think that any way one puts the experience together, though, it has to be as art about desert ecology and the use of its resources. I found interesting and inspiring such an unforced and beautiful show that brings science and environmental issues to the forefront. Reflections of Water was chosen by Daniell Cornell, the Donna and Cargill MacMillan Jr., Director of Art and Curator, Christine Giles, whom I thank for such thoughtful planning and choices.

Reflections on Water remains open through May 1, 2016 at the Palm Springs Art Museum

(The author regrets that Blogger seems to have given out toward the end of this article, disallowing the movement of images and the removal of duplicates….)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Wexner Center Shooting: Property Damage, or a Hole in the Heart?

How many nuances of sorrow are there to explore in the November 29 tragedy at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus? 

Did you miss it? No surprise if you did. Compared to the mass killings in Paris and San Bernardino; the pursuits of terrorists around the globe; and the confusion between refugees, terrorists, and worshippers, apparently it takes a lot of spilt blood to register beyond the local news any more.

What happened in The Ohio State University's contemporary art center went beyond the grand realms of religion, guns, and politics into the profoundly personal. A man, a former University security officer, who had once been a guard at the Center, shot himself in the galleries after vandalizing unspecified works of art in the show Art After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists. There has been little public follow up but to say that the show has been closed and packed up. It is suggested that the damage to some of the artworks was caused by gunshots. 

Apparently the deceased had a contentious relationship with the University, where he had worked in several departments. Wexner was the last of these, so perhaps that's why he chose it as the death place. Or did it give him the greater scope for his anger by providing victims—"fish in the barrel"—in the form of art to deface and neutralize? Had he shot other people, we'd have called it a terrorist shooting. Yet by shooting up artworks, surely he caused more than property damage. This too was terrorism perpetrated on the living.

Khaled Hourani, Picasso in Palestine, 2011. Installation view, (IAAP) Ramallah.
Courtesy Khaled Hourani; Photo Khaled Jarar.
From the show at the Wexner Center, "
After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists"
The shooting has direct repercussions of all sorts of people. I can hardly imagine how unnerving this incident has to have been for the committed guards and staff who work in the building; for the administrators who are charged with guaranteeing the safety of millions of dollars worth of art loaned by collectors around the world; who have to balance access and security and insure that Wexner retains its reputation as a trustworthy place to loan: the Center has no permanent collection of its own.  And then there are the collectors whose works have been damaged: It's difficult to imagine the return of horror for their generosity in lending for the public's enjoyment.

These individual griefs and challenges are still not what I think form the heart of this episode. I mean that attacks on artworks are thinly-veiled attacks on all of us. In defacing visual art; burning books; or censoring the airwaves, a perpetrator attempts to weaken us all, to dilute our central community of human values and conversation. 

Any artwork—even a rosy-cheeked Renoir dancer—is a challenge to a person wracked with anger, doubt, or dogma. Artworks don't lower their eyes or try to avoid issues. The consequence of observation and detail is commitment that doesn't do an about-face when confronted by hostility  The implicit courage and conviction of art has to frighten the dogmatic, weak, or hostile. Maybe you can terrify the spirit, poise, and straightforward gaze of the artist's eye if you shoot the art, but art is notably durable.

Khaled Hourani's photographs in "After Picasso," seem all the more powerful now that the show has had its untimely close. In the image, a lent Picasso is heavily guarded, the presence of the loaned painting a remarkable event in the unstable Territory. No harm would be allowed to come to the precious painting—precious not only for its insurance value, to be sure, but for the effects it would have on a people hungry for its powers—aesthetic, spiritual, intellectual, political.

We are used to lightly guarded shows; we assume  we can see the world's treasures without inconvenience beyond entry fees. Hourani's photo and the Wexner incident both make me think that maybe we who go to see art or who go to concerts are the ones who are guarded. We keep ourselves within limits no institution need bother to set, for we do it ourselves. We stroll by; we sit in the rows nodding off. Why guard us who come as tourists, taking snapshots and moving on, neither seeking, wondering, nor committed to engagement beyond the surface—thumbs up or thumbs down.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

"The Waning of Justice" by Charles Atlas at Columbus College of Art and Design

Charles Atlas, The Waning of Justice, detail, 2015, video installation with sound.
Courtesy of Contemporary Art Space.
This Charles Atlas is not the one I grew up with, the grinning body-builder who defined the he-man. This one is the videographer whose career began filming for Merce Cunningham in the 1970s. Atlas expanded his work to develop dance explicitly for the camera rather than for live audiences. The Waning of Justice shows him working not in dance but with a melange of elements—landscapes of sunsets over the ocean, projected grids of numbers, a digital stop-watch ticking its urgent way to zero, enormous words splashed across the walls, replacing one another as if in esoteric  succession. Finally, all this ends by being a weighty, menacing introduction to a wildly upbeat performance by the drag queen Lady Bunny of "You Are the One," filmed close-up.

This massive work fills two high galleries at CCAD's freshly configured Contemporary Art Space. Atlas presents, edits, combines, and overlays video of several kinds into a work that staggers the viewer one way or the other. One either hastens through the room, shaking head  flashing cartoonish question marks; or one pauses with jaw dropped in bafflement. Some will decided to stay and try to answer the rhetorical question, "What the hell is this?"  

This is the question, I'll admit at once, that I asked myself when I encountered Atlas's installation. Had I not been accompanied by the curator, Michael Goodson; had I been in a sullen mood, it's easy to imagine myself as the visitor who decides that life is too short and then clears out quickly. Goodson's enthusiasm, based on his deep knowledge of contemporary art and acquaintance with this artist, held me. His excitement assured me that I should linger and think about this: Lucky me! Still, I lack a contemporary curator's acculturated comfort; each work is a new proposition for me, as it is for many gallery-goers. Trusting Goodson's informed eagerness, what was I to make of this?
Charles Atlas, The Waning of Justice, detail, 2015, video installation with sound.
Courtesy of Contemporary Art Space.

Approaching contemporary art, I search for an interpretation, a way to "make sense" of it. I think that I know when to stop rationalizing, for there are works that yield nothing words can explain. Such art  transports us through feeling or sensation with minimal appeal to our verbal understanding. Some of the art that affects me the most deeply—that is indeed most meaningful to me—is of this sort. 

I think what made The Waning of Justice so disconcerting for me was that the installation is filled with the markers of interpretation: number grids, words related to the projected seascapes, a count-down clock, and, of course, its title. Then, there is the whopping contrast of the final element, the amazingly costumed and be-wigged Lady Bunny gesticulating, shaking, adjusting her wig, completely lacking self-consciousness as she sings disco with spirited instrumental backup. "You Are the One." And how you believe it: She's singing to you.

Atlas produces all these common markers of verbal, rational meaning, but outside of a context that supports intellectual interpretation. They are superimposed on tropical sunsets; numbers line up to float in a vast, darkened space; words are massive but transparent—insubstantial—at the same time. They are juxtaposed with the atmospheric, with the contrast between the fiery red and yellow of the sun setting over the ocean; of the symbolism of the sunset intensified by the clock's running down; by the black void space of the room. The sensations the work delivers are in fact the matter; the words, numbers, grids are secondary to the feeling generated by atmosphere Atlas creates visually. When the clock expires and the sun sets, then Lady Bunny performs in the smaller room, deeply artificial and wondrously positive in her emphatic, multi-costumed performance. It's a change of mood, at the least.

 Charles Atlas,The Waning of Justice, detail, 2015, video installation with sound. Featuring Lady Bunny.Courtesy of Contemporary Art Space.

The Waning of Justice makes sense in the way that mood makes sense. The combination of natural beauty, numerical grids on a black background, the ticking clock, and the elegiac mood invoked by the implied relationships between setting suns and all the other elements reminded me of such usual experiences as reading the Sunday Times. Isn't that the way my world feels, the combination of daily countdowns, the anxiety of the all the half-understood numbers that constrain me, my fleeting perceptions of beauty, my sense of a world in decay? While none of the individual aspects of this installation seems to me to have exceptional meaning, the experience affects me as a scaled-up experience of the Zeitgeist. But with hope added in the form of art. Art of the most brazen, self-confident sort, affirming the viewer as well as the artist.

What an amazing artwork. I am glad l that I stayed to think about it. The thought that I put into it reminded me that the rational exists in a world that is not. If I remember it, I can use that relationship to my benefit.

Perhaps this is why people duck through galleries like this one, though. I can appreciate the urge to flee. Yes, it's time-consuming work to think about something as strange-looking as The Waning of Justice. Nearly everyone is put off by what is alien to their experience. But that doesn't make it desirable to shun new experience, especially experience in the safe zones of art. Where better to exercise the mind and imagination, to solve puzzles, to make connections with the minds of artists who experience and respond to the same world we are living in? 

America has become a place where people are willing to believe that what we don't recognize is alien and therefore threatening; that it is in opposition to us or harmful to us. This is the national attitude toward other people, other cultural practices, and even toward free speech. Contemporary art provides a route to surprises of joy, new ideas, and enhanced experience of the world we occupy daily. It reminds us how to observe closely, how to defuse our suspiciousness of of the odd or alien, and to come to identify with—and so, to love—what we invest time and attention in.

Nothing external makes us stay or go when it comes to art experiences. We like what we know, but what we know usually defines times and points of view long gone by the time we learn them. Even our ideas of beauty, so static, are nostalgic and can make us regretful of a world in which we have doomed ourselves to ignore beauty's new sources and expressions. 

Atlas's The Waning of Justice is, like many frightening new works, art that gives those willing to consider it a receptiveness to expanded ideas of beauty and how to retain them, both in the gallery, reading the market report, regarding nature, and moving through everyday's wildly disparate experiences of meaning, indifference, and absurdity.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Quisqueya Henriquez: Bending Cultural Assumptions in Santo Domingo

I recently had the very good fortune to visit an old friend who lives in the Zona Colonial in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The cathedral there is the first built in the New World;  It houses Christopher Columbus' bones, recovered from Spain at the insistence of his wife (whose remains lie outside the cathedral walls). Heroic statues testify to the uninterrupted luster of the Colon family reputation, for two of Christopher's brothers prospered there. Maintenance of the 15th century Spanish architectural heritage is clearly a point of pride. It is impressive in its dignity, scale, and austere beauty.

One of these ancient buildings is now in use as the Centro Cultural de Espana Santo Domingo. Like most businesses in that muggy city, its doors stand open to passers-by. From the street it is a delicious contrast, for the interior has been altered only by the addition of modern, minimalist glass walls and doors whose sleek transparency highlight the spectacular volumes of the enormous brick rooms with wood-spannned ceilings.
Quisqueya Henriquez, paint on woven blankets. Author photo.

This was a terrific venue for a show by Quisqueya Henriquez, a Cuban-born Domincan artist. She has shown extensively in the Americas, South (Brazil, Ecuador and all around the Caribbean) and North, particularly in Miami and New York City (El Museo del Barrio, and a mid-career retrospective at the Bronx Museum.) . Seeing her at home, however, is special, for this show is deep in Dominican culture: machismo and decorative motifs from Native Taino culture—what little has survived since the Spanish invasion of 1492.

Quisqueya Henriquez, artist
book. Author photo
Maleza is the show's title, Spanish for thicket or underbrush. It's a title I had to ruminate over as I looked, for it had at first no obvious connection to the abstract paintings nor to the stunning collages in books. All of the work refers to the body either literally or by suggestion. It's a show with huge impact, a one-two punch. The big abstract paintings are loud and direct; the altered and collaged photographs in the books require close inspection, then reward the viewer an assault of altered reality both precious and alarming.

Quisqueya Henriquez, artist book. Author
Henriquez's books are very large, and even though one looks at the pages through protecting vitrines, it's clear that the paper is of luxurious weight. She gives her images plenty of space on the pages, so that the viewer is indeed struck by the quality of the materials and craft, which subliminally highlight her radical suggestions about gender. From a masculine, blue-jeaned figure cut off below the waist, gold leaf menses flow. From the crotch of another truncated male, an exuberant thatch of pubic hair explodes, suggestive of the way an exposer unzips to reveal his goods.

Quisqueya Henriquez, artist book. Author
Quisqueya Henriquez, artist book.
Author photo.
Surely her expressions about baseball are almost as shocking for a Dominican audience. The passion for that sport is hardly to be appreciated in the United States. We introduced it during an occupation early in the twentieth century and now it represents the best way out of poverty for Dominican boys. Representing a woman with a batter's helmet is radical; representing native rock as divisions with faceless outcrops topped in helmets of American teams is absurd, satirical, and terribly sad. 

The gallery's walls are lined with painting that are stunning for their sheer visual drama and for the passion that surely created them. Against vivid geometrical patterns that I assume are taken from or mimic Taino art, are painted massive, symmetrical figures that must have been achieved by folding large amounts of paint. The results are organic shapes with sticky, raised, vein-like surfaces that bring the shapes to life.

Quisqeya Henriquez, mixed media. Author photo

It's just barely a metaphor to say that the surfaces "bring the shapes to life." It must take phenomenal control to produce the shapes that she does for a series this consistent, with all the paintings suggesting human organs—hearts, brains, or lungs. There is the notion of Rorschach tests in any random shape that's vertically symmetrical, but Henriquez's are hardly random. They are not two-dimensional ink-blots, but are sticky forms articulated with systems of raised blood vessels and delicate capillaries that reach between strong central arteries and the edges of the forms.

Quisqueya Henriquez, mixed media. Author photo.

Whose body parts are these, so vividly laid open on backgrounds of ancient geometries? Are these the martyred Natives of Hispaniola, the population that fell to the Old World conquerers? Do they represent the ironically and profoundly absorbed Catholic legacy of Dominicans, the living, beating heart of Christ, so often displayed in Catholic churches?  

I don't believe that Henriquez made these with a single, polemic intention. I think that their power is first in their tremendous visual impact and the marvel of the artist's brilliance in fabrication. Then comes the fact that they can be interpreted truly in so many complementary ways that all add up to observations uniquely about her place: the Dominican Republic. This is where Columbus met the Natives, where the Natives were virtually exterminated; but where Columbus and his religion are still venerated. This is where intense tropical color vibrates on the local, one-story wood houses that line the streets in neighborhoods near the severe 15th century city, canon-bristling walls and the monumental, white-washed brick palaces of the Spaniards. These are about life and living in a particular place, where history is always lived. 

The thicket? Perhaps it is the Dominican Republic itself with its cultural of mixtures and overlooked contradictions; a place, nevertheless, where rules about gender, skin color, and consequent behavior are strict. 

It was exceptionally good luck to see Henriquez's work in the country she lives and works in. This body of work made sense to me as it probably would nowhere else after spending a week experiencing the sights and mores of her own idiosyncratic place in the world.
Early 15th century civic building built by the Spanish in Santo Domingo.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists" at the Wexner Center for Contemporary Art

Mike Bidlo
Not Picasso (Girl Before a Mirror, 1932), 1986
Oil on canvas, 64.17 x 51.18 in. (163 x 130 cm)
Private Collection, Courtesy Galerie Bruno Bischofberger
I left After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists, the vast show at the Wexner Center of the Ohio State University, thinking that for such a big show I felt very few moments of joy. I know that Picasso makes pulses race, and the exhibition is predicated on this: Witness His artistic impact. The show is burdened by impact that is much, much less than Picasso's achievement. Alas, this academic location of influences, echoes, and salutes brings us work that barely stirs the blood—and it places interesting work in contexts where it appears lonely and small. Briefly, the show is thin on content touching primary human questions or emotions.

The occasion for After Picasso is the 25th anniversary of the Deichtorhallen Hamburg. Their celebration is this show: Huge artist and a theme that is more important in concept than the art that demonstrates it. Add loans from all over the globe and we've got an Event.

This show unsuccessfully tries to serve two audiences. While it may be a home run for academics, it fouls out as a show for a general, curious public. In its conscientious effort to conceive every possible overlap of "Picasso" and "influence," it wastes space and viewer patience on tedious appropriations of Picasso's work; on isolated figures or composition borrowed from Picasso; and on art that reacts to or riffs on Picasso icons or styles. We rarely see suggestions of how an artist's vision reached a plane inconceivable in a world untouched by Picasso. 
Cindy Sherman, Untitled 280, 1989-93.
Color print, 140x94x8cm. Courtesy of
Neda Young, New York.

Picasso's greatness is not an issue, so little is proven by the many demonstrations of his marks on artists who appropriate or borrow from his work. Except in an academic sense, we gain little appreciation of the borrowers as creators of art deeply interesting in itself. Our understanding of influence is even stretched by the fitting of some material to a curatorial narrative. Cindy Sherman's self-portraiture has for years displayed her interest in art history broadly cast. The Picasso inspiration for Untitled 280 speaks no more of a fascination with Picasso specifically than do her portraits using iconic images from a vast world of artists. 

Director of the Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Dirk Luckow, writes in the catalogue's preface (translated from German),
"The hypothesis of the exhibition is that the great influence that Picasso's art has today is because his work and his person cannot be separated…"

Galerie Leyendeker, Tenerife (T. Ü.)
1985, Silkscreen, 83,8 x 59,4 cm
© Estate of Martin Kippenberger,
 Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

No doubt about Picasso's personal fame. But I'm all for separating the work and the person. I found that by devoting a section of the show to his celebrity, the curators only reinforced my sense that they were less interested in what art is and can do than in its trappings. Picasso's ego—like any artist's—rightfully resides in his work. This has to pertain for all artists. Unhappily, I fear, we find this to be true of his imitators and satirists as well.

The inspiration for a series of photographs by Martin Kippenberger was a photo of Picasso in his underwear, shown here on the poster for Kippenberger's show. In the show (no images available) Kippenberger himself poses in the role of Picasso, wearing similar drawers, at ease  around a nondescript interior. Kippenberger's show, for better or worse, satirizes himself and his subject simultaneously. 

It would be easy to replace Picasso with a photo of shirtless Vladimir Putin or Whitey Bulger on a poster like this, in just such a broad stance, positioned slightly above the viewer: Grandiose virile posturing didn't begin with Picasso. Only to the extent that such characteristics inhere in Picasso's artworks should the curators move this theme from catalogue to gallery. It's a footnote, extraneous; regrettable or fun, as you wish to understand it.

Khaled Hourani, Picasso in Palestine, 2011. Installation view, (IAAP) Ramallah.
Courtesy Khaled Hourani; Photo Khaled Jarar
When such poses are held by armed men protecting a work of art, then we are in a much more interesting and significant realm. I find this photo of a project that brought a Picasso to the West Bank much more moving than the many reiterations, imitations and reinterpretations of Guernica included in the show. Robert Longo was invited to do a new work for inclusion in the show, and his massive charcoal Guernica Redacted claims a significant position. Compared to Hourani's photos (of which this is one of several), one feels that Longo has, beyond the conceptual, no pulsing connection to war, torture, or even conflict.
Robert Longo, Guernica Redacted (After Picasso’s Guernica, 1937), 2014/2015
Charcoal on mounted paper, four panels, 111.4 x 248 in. (283 x 630 cm)

Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris – Salzburg

© 2015 Robert Longo / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Installation view at the Wexner Center, photo: Stephen Takacs

Rather than being stunted (or stunned) by Picasso's greatness, Hourani has been genuinely inspired by Picasso's art. What's more, he uses an apolitical Picasso painting to focus his anti-war message, to make it as localized and universal as art itself. The installation was a complex act of creativity that not only reacted to Picasso but built on and beyond him.

Folkert de Jong, Les Saltimbanques: Old Son "Jack T."Styrofoam, polyurethane foam, and pigment;
69.6 x 21.6 x 19.6 in. (176.86 x 54.94 x 49.86 cm)
 Private collection, New York.
Image courtesy of the Deichtorhallen Hamburg.

Folkert de Jong's sculpture, Les Saltimbanques: Old Son 'Jack T,'  is another of the show's highlights—a piece with a clear, acknowledged connection to Picasso but independent of  that for its vitality. It is launched by associations but unconstrained by them. The difference in dimensions—sculpture suggested by multiple figures in a painting (La famille de saltimbanques, 1905)— in itself liberates the piece from the presumed original. De Jong's artistry in his own medium creates a single figure that condenses the impact of several into one solid exemplar of debilitating isolation. Like Hourani, de Jong starts at Picasso and moves down his own road under his unique lights. 

The best works in the show, the ones that most clearly demonstrate Picasso's reach into the minds of artists who have come after, seem both by eye and by logic to be the ones in which Picasso's images do not appear. In the photo-collages of John Stezaker we have one of the very few opportunities in this massive show to encounter work by an artist who has so thoroughly digested Picasso that we as admiring viewers would, outside of this show, probably be surprised to have him pointed out in these pieces. In an exhibition with few surprises, Stezaker's work stands out, and it surely delivers the exhibition's best didactic moment. Appropriation, celebrity, and imitation aside, what have contemporary artists chosen to keep of Picasso? What of him has become unconscious/unavoidable by now?
John Stezaker
Marriage I, 2006
9.25 x 11.22 in. (23.5 x 28.5 cm)
Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London

"Marriage 1" is composed by collaging two black and white photographs that neither match nor don't match. We may study the piece steadily for long periods; it will remain the same, yet we will never be sure of defining the subject (it/her/him), describing the spatial orientation of the image, or answering any "normal" question about identity based on the image.

The Cubist perspective is fluently and elegantly invoked in the photographs. The sense of comforting reality that pictures give us is more persistent than the Cubist disorientation. The eyes hold us intensely: How can we not know this person; how could it be that we are not intimately known by someone who can look into us so deeply? As long as the eyes provide a deep focus, we assume order in everything around them.Our eyes skip around anything odd, out of place, incongruous, queer…For better? For worse? Marriage 1, like marriage for many, is locked in and shifting. The technique, the way of seeing was new with Picasso and friends. The subject and its presentation via a realization introduced to the world over a century ago are brilliantly Stezaker's. It's fresh and new and deeply informed.

I don't envy the task of planning a season at Wexner or any similar contemporary art space on a university campus. To balance the claims of the academic artists and art historians with those of an informed public—including non-specialist university students, faculty, and staff—has to be a sensitive and difficult task. This time the pendulum swung too far in one direction, I think. 

Among the works included, many may be secondary or irrelevant to the main themes of the individual artists' oeuvres. But even so, what there is in After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists is clearly of genuine, legitimate interest for art historians and curators. But since the show brings with it gallery upon gallery of art far less interesting than what inspired it—art with messages diluted from its sources—to see it is to work hard for what few rewards of content there are. 

My deepest thanks to Erik Pepple, Media and Public Relations Manager at the Wexner Center for the Arts, for his extended efforts in providing special request images for this article.