In describing “The listening dimension (orbit 1, orbit 2, and orbit 3),” part of Olafur Eliasson’s first solo show in New York in five years, continuing at Tanya Bonakdar through April 22, the press release explains that “the installation reinforces Eliasson’s insistence on actively engaging the viewer in the artwork.” Unfortunately, on a recent Saturday afternoon, that engagement became far too active, as a visitor to the gallery, mesmerized by the illusion created by the three-part work, poked at it, leaving a pretty serious mark that affected the power of the piece. For more than twenty years, Eliasson, who was born in Copenhagen, raised in Iceland and Denmark, and lives and works in Copenhagen and Berlin, has been creating mind-blowing works using various combinations of glass, refracted light, mirrors, and metal. “The listening dimension (orbit 1, orbit 2, and orbit 3)” consists of three large, rectangular sheets of silver Mylar from which emerge semicircles of tubes that jut out like rings around Saturn; the arcs are completed in the reflection, making them appear as full circles. Placed on three sides of the room, the work immerses the viewer into a series of repeated, neverending reflections that shimmer far off into the distance. “The listening dimension emerged against the backdrop of the 2016 US elections,” Eliasson says about the installation. “At a time when oversimplification is everywhere, I believe that art can play an important role in creating aesthetic experiences that are both open and complex. Today, in politics, we are bombarded with emotional appeals, often linked to simplistic, polarizing, populist ideas. The arts and culture, on the other hand, provide spaces in which people can disagree and still be together, where they can share individual and collective experiences that are ambiguous and negotiable. At its best, art is an exercise in democracy; it trains our critical capacities for perceiving and interpreting the world. Yet art does not tell us what to do or how to feel, but rather empowers us to find out for ourselves.” (That is true, except when it involves touching something that signs clearly say not to touch.)
Eliasson also melds art and science with “Rainbow bridge,” a row of a dozen globes on stands that seem to change color as you walk past them; depending on your angle of perception, they appear as all black, all silver, all clear, or organized in the colors of the rainbow, from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to indigo to violet. The globes also function as lenses, inverting the reflection of the person on the other side, distorting reality in humorous ways. Once again, do not touch.
Eliasson continues his exploration of light and color, gravity and orientation, natural and technological phenomenon upstairs, where a driftwood compass called “Rouge navigator” leads you to “Midnight sun,” a slightly concave mirror behind which a monofrequency lamp casts a glow that makes it appear that the disc is surrounded by a beautiful, fiery halo. Off in a room by itself, “Colour experiment no. 78” is a grid of seventy-two circular paintings that change color when you turn a light on or off. (This is the only thing in the exhibition that you are actually supposed to touch in order to activate the experience.) The exhibition concludes with “Space resonates regardless of our presence,” a trio of ghostly wall projections made by sending pinpoints of light through a glass lens; the resultant images include multiple colors and an intensely pleasing circularity. In 2008, Eliasson dazzled New York with the wide-ranging “Take Your Time” dual exhibition at MoMA and PS1 as well as “The New York City Waterfalls,” set up along the East River. You should certainly take your time when experiencing “The listening dimension,” which offers visitors a chance to reflect on their place in the universe. Just keep your hands to yourself.
In November 2011, Italian artist and prankster Maurizio Cattelan held a very public execution of his career, literally hanging his works from the Guggenheim’s skylight ceiling in a unique and extremely popular retrospective, called “All,” that he said marked his retirement from the art world, at the age of fifty-one. But five years later, the provocateur who drowned Pinocchio (“Daddy Daddy”), dropped a meteor on the pope (“La Nona Hora”), made a gentle, kneeling sculpture of Adolf Hitler (“Him”), taped his gallerist to a wall (“A Perfect Day”), constructed the famous Hollywood sign on a garbage dump in Palermo (“Hollywood”), and placed a giant marble middle finger in front of the Milan stock exchange (“L.O.V.E.”) is back with his first new piece in five years, “America.” In the Guggenheim’s fifth-floor single-occupancy restroom, Cattelan has installed an exact replica of the museum’s standard toilet, cast in glittering eighteen-karat solid gold — and yes, it’s fully functional. Since September 2016, museumgoers have been waiting anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours for the privilege of going number one or number two on the majestic throne, which is obsessively cleaned every fifteen minutes. You must sit on it; the seat should not be lifted, as one unlucky male user discovered early on after breaking it. Although the piece was created before Donald Trump won the presidential election, “America” certainly references his preference for gold objects, particularly when his name is involved; Cattelan has called it “one-percent art for the ninety-nine percent.” (Death might be the great equalizer, but so is the basic human need to evacuate waste; everybody poops.) The piece is also intrinsically linked with Toilet Paper magazine, a publication run by Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari. In addition, the work is an homage to Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain,” the upside-down porcelain urinal, credited to “R. Mutte,” that was rejected on April 10, 1917, from a supposedly all-inclusive exhibition; the ready-made urinal, which forever changed the art world, is currently celebrating its centennial, with special events and shows being held around the world.
“America” is also reminiscent of the scene in Mel Brooks’s History of the World, Part One when a caveman (Sid Caesar) creates the first known work of art, a painting of an animal on a cave wall — and then the first critic (Andréas Voutsinas) comes along and urinates on it. Cattelan has been met with much criticism during his thirty-year career — along with, of course, high praise and works going at auction for millions of dollars — but he’s probably reveling in the thought that so many people are happily relieving themselves on his usable sculpture. In fact, people are so used to being told not to touch art that many of those on line don’t initially understand that “America” is fully participatory; it is not meant to merely be gawked at and photographed. The “Guggen-head,” as Cattelan dubbed it, has also been added to the second edition of the “All” catalog, with former Guggenheim curator Nancy Spector explaining that it offers “unprecedented access to something of unquestionable value.” To find out more about Cattelan, who loves playing games with virtually every aspect of his life and career, check out Maura Axelrod’s documentary Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back, which opened April 14 at the Quad; although it is named for Cattelan’s first major show, in which he locked the door of a gallery and put a sign on it that read “Be Right Back” (in Italian), it could also refer to his return to the art world with “America,” which is on long-term view at the Guggenheim; however, there’s been no word whether it’s a onetime thing or the beginning of a new phase of his career, and even if there was, that doesn’t mean it’s real. In the meantime, head over to the Guggenheim and make full use of “America,” coming up with whatever metaphor you’d like as you relieve yourself of at least part of your daily burden. Or just simply enjoy the rare privilege of having private time with a rather beautiful and expensive work of art.
Italian artist and prankster extraordinaire Maurizio Cattelan has built his wildly successful career out of controversy, provocation, and mystery, taking on the very art world that has made him a superstar. Documentarian Maura Axelrod includes the same elements in her vastly entertaining film, Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back. The title refers to both the beginning of Cattelan’s career, a Milan solo show in which he locked the gallery door and hung a sign on it that said “Torno Subito” (Be Right Back) as well as what might or might not be the end, as he announced his retirement following the brilliant 2011 retrospective at the Guggenheim, “All,” in which he hung all of his works from the Guggenheim ceiling, as if signaling their death. “His career is based on anecdotes and lies and imaginary stories,” Milan gallerist Massimo De Carlo says in the film. “Some people are suspicious that Maurizio is pulling the wool over their eyes and he is some kind of flamboyant artistic con man,” adds art historian Sarah Thornton. “I think he’s probably one of the greatest artists that we have today, but he could also be the worst. It’s gonna be one or the other; it’s not gonna fall in the middle,” cracks one of his collectors. Axelrod also speaks with former Guggenheim artistic director Nancy Spector, former Public Art Fund director Tom Eccles, Cattelan archive director Victoria Armutt, Guggenheim curator Katherine Brinson, gallerists Marian Goodman and Emmanuel Perrotin, art critics Calvin Tomkins and Dodie Kazanjian, and Cattelan’s sister, Giada, former fiancée Victoria Cabello, and current girlfriend Victoria Yee Howe. They share stories about Cattelan’s working methods and proclivities, delving into such pieces as “Daddy Daddy,” a facedown Pinocchio in a pool of water that was inspired by Cattelan’s childhood; “La Nona Ora” (The Ninth Hour), a lifelike sculpture of the pope knocked down by a meteorite; “Another Fucking Readymade,” in which he stole the inventory of another artist’s show and claimed them as his own; “Him,” a rendering of a kneeling child who turns out to be Adolf Hitler; and “L.O.V.E.” (Libertà, Odio, Vendetta, Eternità), a marble sculpture of a giant middle finger in Milan’s financial district. He even staged his own pseudo–Caribbean Biennial, featuring such artists as Wolfgang Tillmans, Elizabeth Peyton, Gabriel Orozco, Pipilotti Rist, Chris Ofili, and Mariko Mori gathered together on the island of St. Kitts. (The critics were not amused.)
Meanwhile, the artist speaks profusely on camera, sharing such insights as “I knew what was expected of me and I decided I was going to be something else” and “I’ve always been very good at faking things.” Indeed, about two-thirds of the way through the film, there is a fabulous twist that only art-world insiders are likely to have guessed, as Axelrod takes a page from Orson Welles’s magical F for Fake. Writer, producer, and director Axelrod incorporates home movies, family photographs, playful animation, and new and old footage to try to figure out just what makes Cattelan tick, what he’s really like, but she lets viewers in only so far, like his tiny elevator installation in which no one can fit. Among the many words used to describe the iconoclastic artist and his oeuvre are “tasteless,” “profound,” “funny,” “tragic,” “disrespectful,” “vulnerable,” and “uncanny beauty,” as people also point out that he is anxious, very demanding to live and work with, and, while seeing art as commodity, uses the vanity of collectors against themselves. Of course, all of those are true, in one way or another. His art can be as thrilling as it is offensive, as silly as it is prescient as he explores such themes as failure, alienation, mortality, and personal identity. “You need to go pretty far, otherwise the piece doesn’t exist,” he says. “You need to push your friends and enemies and collaborators further, and you have to be uncomfortable about it. The further you go, the more satisfaction is created by the level of discomfort in which all the participants were put.” The last section of the film details “All,” which a clearly uncomfortable Spector had her doubts about but insisted that “the risk had to be real,” worrying that it would cause the Guggenheim to collapse within itself but they had to proceed. And as far as Cattelan’s retirement is concerned, this past September he installed “America” at the Guggenheim, an eighteen-karat-gold fully functional toilet, the first new piece he has exhibited since “All.” Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back opens April 14 at the newly renovated Quad Cinema, with Axelrod participating in Q&As on April 14 (with Spector and New Museum artistic director Massimiliano Gioni) and April 15 at 7:45 and April 16 at 5:30.
On Sunday, April 9, at 3:00, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has an extensive collection of works by French ready-made Dada master Marcel Duchamp, will host The Richard Mutt Case, a site-specific performance by members of Pig Iron Theatre Company reenacting the scandal over Duchamp’s most famous piece, the upside-down porcelain urinal known as “Fountain,” which the Society of Independent Artists rejected for an open New York exhibition exactly one hundred years ago. In celebration of the centennial, the museum is offering free entry between 3:00 and 4:00 on Sunday to visitors who say “Richard Mutt” or “R. Mutt,” the name used to sign “Fountain” (it actually says “R. Mutt”), at the admissions desk. The event is being held in conjunction with the exhibition “Marcel Duchamp and the Fountain Scandal,” which continues through December 3. So why is a publication entitled “This Week in New York” hyping something happening in Philadelphia? Well, there are numerous museums around the world participating in the free-admission password homage, including institutions in Beijing, Jerusalem, Stockholm, Basel, London, Kyoto, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin. No New York City museum has officially stated that it will be taking part in the program, which is too bad. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try. Getting rejected could make you empathize a bit with Duchamp, who wrote at the time to his sister, “One of my female friends under a masculine pseudonym, Richard Mutt, sent in a porcelain urinal as a sculpture; it was not at all indecent — no reason for refusing it. The committee has decided to refuse to show this thing. I have handed in my resignation and it will be a bit of gossip of some value in New York.” One hundred years later, it is still valuable gossip. (For an additional New York City angle, on April 10, Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, a major Duchamp collector located on West Fifty-Seventh St., will open “Marcel Duchamp Fountain: An Homage,” consisting of related works by John Baldessari, Marcel Dzama, Sherrie Levine, Sophie Matisse, Richard Pettibone, Ai Weiwei, and more than two dozen others that were directly influenced by “Fountain,” which went missing many years ago.)
It’s a push push world out there, with everybody always on the move, rushing from place to place, face-deep in cell phones, not paying attention to their environment. Even when they do go to museums for a much-needed respite, many people are more interested in snapping selfies than actually taking a moment and looking at the art they’ve paid to see. The average museumgoer spends approximately seventeen seconds with a work of art, the equivalent of reading a tweet instead of in-depth articles about topics they’re interested in. That’s essentially why Slow Art Day began back in 2009, initiated by Phil Terry, who was the CEO of Creative Good then and now heads Collaborative Gains. The idea is simple: On April 8, participating institutions around the world, which include the Rubin Museum and the American Folk Art Museum in New York City, encourage visitors to spend between five and ten minutes looking at five preselected works of art, then talk about the experience with a host or other museumgoers. “To view art slowly is to take the time to be fully present and to initiate a meaningful conversation between one’s own mind and heart and that of the artist,” Rubin Museum docent Jiawen explains in a statement. At the Rubin, which is currently showing “Masterworks of Himalayan Art,” “OM Lab,” “Sacred Spaces: Himalayan Wind and the Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room,” and “Gateway to Himalayan Art,” there will be Slow Art Day tours at 1:00 and 3:00, as well as a new mindfulness audio tour narrated by Sharon Salzberg and Kate Johnson. At the American Folk Art Museum, where “Carlo Zinelli (1916–1974)” and “Eugen Gabritschevsky: Theater of the Imperceptible” are on view, Slow Art Day offers visitors the opportunity to not only spend more time with artworks but to sketch them. Of course, you can take the Slow Art Day concept to any museum or gallery of your choosing, and you don’t have to do it only one day a year; it’s a fascinating way to get inside a work, and inside yourself, while understanding more about the world at large, which is what art is all about, all the time.
Metropolitan West, West 46th St. between 11th & 12th Aves.
Ink48, 653 11th Ave. at West 48th St.
Saturday, April 1, and Sunday, April 2, $5
The 2017 MoCCA Arts Festival takes place this weekend at Metropolitan West, where more than four hundred artists will be displaying comics, cartoons, and animated works. Presented by the Society of Illustrators, the show will include the “Awards of Excellence” exhibit, selections from Drew Friedman’s “Heroes of the Comics,” and guests of honor Blutch, Cliff Chiang, Becky Cloonan, David Lloyd, Gene Luen Yang, and Friedman. Below are the special programs, being held at the nearby Ink48 Hotel.
Saturday, April 1
“Reading without Walls: Diversity in Comics,” with Gene Luen Yang, Damian Duffy, Hazel Newlevant, and Whit Taylor, moderated by Jonathan W. Gray, Garamond Room, 12:30
“Drew Friedman: Heroes of the Comics,” with Drew Friedman, Gary Groth, Al Jaffee, and Karen Green, Helvetica Room, 12:30
“Covering Trump: Steve Brodner and Edel Rodriguez in Conversation,” moderated by Steven Heller, Helvetica Room, 2:00
“Blutch in Conversation with David Mazzuchelli,” moderated by Bill Kartalopoulos, Garamond Room, 2:00
“Cliff Chiang Q+A,” moderated by Paul Levitz, Helvetica Room, 3:30
“Fit to Print: French Artists in the New York Times, with Lucie Larousse, Mayumi Otero, Eugène Riousse, Simon Roussin, and Raphael Urwiller, moderated by Alexandra Zsigmond, Garamond Room, 3:30
Sunday, April 2
“David Lloyd in the Spotlight,” with David Lloyd, moderated by Kent Worcester, Garamond Room, 12:30
“Teaching Comics Internationally,” with Jessica Abel, Guillaume Dégé, Ben Katchor, and Merav Solomon, moderated by Bill Kartalopoulos, Helvetica Room, 12:30
“Rutu Modan and David Polonsky in Conversation,” moderated by Tahneer Oksman, Garamond Room, 2:00
“RESIST!,” with Françoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman, Helvetica Room, 2:00
“Becky Cloonan Q+A,” moderated by Nathan Fox, Helvetica Room, 3:30
“Anthologies as Art: Kramers Ergot and Lagon,” with Sammy Harkham and Alexis Beauclair, moderated by Bill Kartalopoulos, Garamond Room, 3:30
200 Eastern Parkway at Washington St.
Saturday, April 1, free, 5:00 - 11:00
The Brooklyn Museum focuses on numerous aspects of the word “blue” in its April First Saturday program, “Beyond the Blues.” There will be live music and dance by the Martha Redbone Roots Project, Geko Jones and Chiquita Brujita with Fogo Azul and Aina Luz, the Brooklyn Dance Festival (with a workshop), and Queen GodIs with special guests; the pop-up poetry event “An Address of the Times” with Pamela Sneed, Heather Johnson, t’ai freedom ford, and Timothy Du White; a screening of Marcie Begleiter’s Eva Hesse, followed by a discussion with Helen Charash (Hesse’s sister) and producer Karen Shapiro; a hands-on art workshop in which participants can make marbled paper using the Japanese suminagashi (“floating ink”) technique; an Emerging Leaders of New York Arts booth where participants can write postcards in support of the arts, take part in a public art project, and take a #SaveTheNEA selfie; the lecture performance #sky #nofilter by Chloë Bass exploring racial trauma; and a “New York City Participatory Budgeting” program where people can propose and vote on projects in their community. In addition, you can check out such exhibits as “Iggy Pop Life Class by Jeremy Deller,” Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty,” “Infinite Blue,” “A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt,” and, at a discounted admission price of $12, “Georgia O’Keefe: Living Modern.”