The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino


Chelsea: A Winter Wonderland
Photo by David Douglas Duncan . Source:
David Douglas Duncan, "Pablo Picasso"

There’s always something new in Chelsea and my latest visit did not disappoint. Going from Picasso to Gottfried in an afternoon may induce a bit of culture shock but it was a worthwhile experience.

No doubt Chelsea’s biggest photography show of the season, if only in terms of square footage, is “Picasso and the Camera.”at Gagosian. What’s remarkable about this exhibition is not just seeing a dazzling variety of Picasso’s paintings, photography and sculpture, but also the level of security that accompanies it. I was there on a rainy, dreary day and as soon as I walked in, I had to check my umbrella and laptop bag. “No pictures, no pens or pencils allowed.” But it was okay to take notes using your phone’s keyboard. And don’t even think of disobeying; there were a number of very large security guards stationed all around. OK, on with the show.

Besides seeing some of Picasso’s paintings that aren’t normally in museums, the show also includes photographs of his that have never been exhibited or published before. They reveal how he used the camera in his personal life and in the studio. Photography became a source of inspiration for him and a way for him to document works in progress so he could view them from other perspectives. Picasso also collaborated with photographers such as Brassai, his mistress Dora Maar, and Andre Villers to create original art. Also on view is a multi-media image that was begun in 1921 when Picasso’s friend Valentine Hugo made a pencil portrait of him. Sixteen years later, she apparently developed a passion for Picasso, had her original drawing photographed, and then enhanced it with black chalk motifs from his Guernica. Less dramatic perhaps but interesting nonetheless are his home movies of family and friends. There’s even at least one self-portrait – the term “selfie” doesn’t seem to fit the man.

As the most photographed artist of the 20th century, the show includes several iconic portraits by David Douglas Duncan, Lucien Clergue and Arnold Newman, among others. In fact, Picasso told Brassai, “ I want to leave as complete a record as possible for posterity.” So, he must have been an eager subject.

There is much to see and enjoy here, just leave your notepad at home.

Photo by Martin Schoeller . Source:
Martin Schoeller, "George Clooney with Mask" 2008

For something completely different, head over to Hasted Kraeutler to see Martin Schoeller’s ‘Portraits’. It’s a major retrospective that coincides with the publication of a new monograph on the same theme. Covering 15 years of Schoeller’s work, the show includes both color and black and white photographs of business, entertainment and political celebrities, ranging from Jack Nicholson to President Obama. It’s hard not to look closely at “George Clooney with Mask,” or for that matter, most of the other celebrities that he captured at a moment when Schoeller says, “their guard was down.” How did Schoeller get Robert De Niro to eat chips on the subway? It’s very funny. But it was sad seeing a humanistic portrait of James Gandolfini, and yet it was a better way to remember him than as tough guy Tony Soprano. Overall, it was a refreshing change seeing some of these celebrities in ways you wouldn’t expect. But that’s what Schoeller knows how to do.

Photo by Arlene Gottfried . Source:
Arlene Gottfried
Over at Daniel Cooney Fine Art, fans of street photography will enjoy Arlene Gottfried’s Sometimes Overwhelming, which is also the title of her 2008 book. This is classic street photography with the Gottfried perspective, namely humanity and humor. Featured are 30 vintage black and white prints from the 70s and 80s that reflect both the grittiness and diversity of her beloved New York City, from Coney Island to the Bronx. I liked her direct confrontational approach, which had to begin with her asking, “Can I take your picture?” Looking at some of the New York characters she captured, it would be much harder today to do that.

Photo by Nathan Lyons . Source:
Nathan Lyons, "Untitled" 1998-2013

Nathan Lyon’s Return Your Mind to its Upright Position is on view at Bruce Silverstein. Coinciding with the publication of his book by the same title, the series of photographic diptychs in the exhibition actually mirror the layout that’s in the book. The artist’s intent is to have his pairing of images read within a larger sequence. This is an ongoing theme of his and perhaps that explains the title of the book and exhibition…you really need to think about what you are seeing. He says in a 1971 artist’s statement, “This series of photographs is probably a series of questions about us and our stuff – pictures, objects and things. They may question us more honestly than we can ourselves.”

by Norman Borden

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