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How an Exclusive NYC Cult Influenced the Post War Art Scene
"I was like reborn," the art critic Clement Greenberg once remembered, "it was the most important event in my life."
The event in question was his encounter with Sullivanian therapy. His biographer, Florence Rubenfeld, once wrote that it would not overstretch the facts to say that after the late '50s, Clem's comportment in the art world can only be understood in this context. Yet despite how large Clement Greenberg looms as the most impactful U.S. critic of the 20th century, few people know this history.
A new book called The Sullivanians, Sex, Psychotherapy, and the Wild Life of an American Commune is raising the subject once again, as literally one chapter in a much larger narrative. A lot of other people shared Greenberg's experience of rebirth. From the 1950s to the 1980s, hundreds of bright, educated people looking for purpose and community passed through the doors of the Sullivan Institute for Research in Psychoanalysis on New York's Upper West Side.
Formulated into a doctrine by Saul Newton and Jane Pierce, this experimental therapy promised to liberate devotees from both creative and sexual repression. In the course of the 60s, it would evolve into a multi-decade experiment in polyamory, collective living, and group child rearing, before eventually coming apart in scandal when the inner workings of the group were exposed in the 1980s.
Recently, the author of The Sullivanians, Alexander Stile, joined Ben Davis to talk about both about the Sullivan Institute's contact with U.S. art at mid-century, and more importantly, about the larger story of what this group became and what it represents now.
How to Look at the Met's Blockbuster Manet/Degas Show
One of the biggest art events of the year is currently up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. That, dare we say, once-in-a-lifetime exhibition is “Manet/Degas.” Through more than 160 works of art, including landmark loans from dozens of institutions, it puts into dialogue two of the most famous French painters of the 19th century, Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas, born two years apart.
The show has been a blockbuster, first when it debuted at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, and now in its current iteration in New York City, and has attracted a chorus of rave reviews. One of the highlights, of course, is Manet's painting Olympia, a stunningly modern portrait that is on view for the first time on this side of the Atlantic. But there's so much more.
Artnet’s art critic Ben Davis recently had a moment to go to the exhibition, and spoke to editor Kate Brown about what stood out to him at this major museum event. We also dug into some of the unexpected history behind some of the artworks he discovered through the Met show, which may actually change the way you look at Manet and Degas, together and separately.
How Artist Marcel Dzama Brings Surrealism to the Stage
Marcel Dzama has an immediately recognizable style as a visual artist, but his energy has far exceeded the realm of visual art. Born in Winnipeg, Canada in 1974, Dzama got his start with the Royal Art Lodge, a group of students at the University of Manitoba who banded together in the mid-1990s.
Their collaborative working method, where one artist would start a work and others finish it, recalled the "Exquisite Corpse," a parlor game associated with the Surrealists. As Dzama developed his own independent practice, moving to New York in 2004, he continued to explore the surreal in watercolor and ink.
His work is replete with dancers and masked figures, whimsical animals, groovy monsters, human-plant hybrids, and grinning moons, all in an intricate but deliberately naive style. Dzama has permuted these offbeat interests into a variety of other media as well, from zines to dioramas to films. He's done album art for They Might Be Giants and Beck, made films starring Kim Gordon and Amy Sedaris, and created costumes for both a Bob Dylan music video and the New York City Ballet.
Now, he's expanding his list of collaborations even further. New York's performance art biennial, PERFORMA, is returning, with a roster of artists commissioned to do new work in experimental performance of various types. Marcel Dzama's piece, titled To live on the Moon (For Lorca), is among the highlights promised by the 2023 program.
In it, the artist fuses multiple threads of his practice, blending costume, dance, drawing, and film. And he also returns to his surrealist inspirations. Specifically, this work is Dzama's tribute to the life and work of Spanish Surrealist poet Federico Garcia Lorca. It incorporates both Lorca's tragic life story and an obscure, unproduced, Surrealist screenplay called A Trip to the Moon, which Lorca wrote while he was living in New York in 1929.
It's fascinating material to dig into on many levels. Ahead of the opening of his show at the Abrons Art Center, Dzama came into the Art Angle studio to talk with critic Ben Davis about his work and interests, the impact of Federico Garcia Lorca, and about what surrealism does and doesn't mean today.
"Marcel Dzama: To live on the Moon (For Lorca)" is on view at the Abrons Art Center from November 11–14, 2023.
Curator Helen Molesworth Looks Back on 30 Years of Art Writing
In 2018, Helen Molesworth was unceremoniously dismissed from her position as chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles. The move proved controversial among industry insiders, many of whom cast it as an example of an institution punishing its employee, a straight talking, strong willed feminist, for refusing to march in line.
But for Molesworth, whose resume also includes stints at the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Wexner Center for the Arts, The backlash didn't change the facts. For the first time in years, she was a curator without a home. Since then, Molesworth has struck out on her own, and she's been as active as ever.
She's guest curated critically acclaimed exhibitions of at David Zwirner, Jack Shainman, and International Center of Photography. She's also hosted a hit podcast, Death of an Artist, about Anna Mendieta, led a series of filmed artist interviews, and been profiled by the New York Times. The forward momentum has given the curator little cause to look back.
That is, until now. This month, Phaidon will release Open Questions: Thirty Years of Writing About Art, a career spanning collection of Molesworth's essays, all previously published in exhibition catalogs and art journals. Most of the written pieces are about artists, people like Kerry James Marshall, Catherine Opie, and Lisa Yuskavage. But the real subject of the book, of course, is Molesworth herself, and it's a rich text in that regard.
"I trained as an art historian" Molesworth explains, "I really believe in art objects as knowledge producers, and for better or for worse, in the history of the 20th century, museums are the institutions that allow and convey that knowledge.
Ahead of the book's release, Artnet News senior writer Taylor Dafoe sat down with Molesworth to talk about the project and the period of deep personal reflection it inspired.
The Art Angle Presents: What's Going On in the Asian Art Market Right Now
In today's global discourse, “Asia” often takes on an expansive, sometimes oversimplified, identity. Especially within the global art market, this vast continent is frequently painted with broad strokes, overshadowing its rich tapestry of cultures, intricacies, and nuances.
Over the past two decades, major global auction houses have been touting “the Asian market,” highlighting the fact that about one-third of its sales go to Asia. But exactly where and to who? We always hear about sales of blue-chip western galleries at art fairs in Asia, but little on their counterparts from the region. Is the art fair frenzy even sustainable in Asia as the art fair roster is getting more crowded? What about the region’s homegrown talents who are raved by local players but getting little attention in the rest of the world? And what is the future of Asia’s art market amid the economic uncertainties and geopolitical tensions?
These are some of the questions we aim to address with The Asia Pivot, our latest bi-weekly newsletter focusing on the art market of the Asia-Pacific region available to Artnet PRO subscribers. The Asia Pivot will bring exclusive market data, analysis, and insights about the region, breaking this big cluster into bite-size takeaways, while shining a spotlight on the local market and rising stars. We'll also trace the growing presence of the Asian diaspora and Asian market players’ increasing outreach in the western market.
To mark the launch of the newsletter, Artnet, in partnership with Asia Now in Paris, presents “New Frontiers and Fresh Challenges: The Future of the Art Market in Asia and the Asian Diaspora."
Taipei and New York-based art advisor Gladys Lin and Seoul-based collector JaeMyung Noh joined Artnet News's Vivienne Chow at Asia Now in Paris to discuss current market trends and challenges, as well as the hopes and fears of those living in the region. Drawing their various experiences and observations, Lin and Noh shared their insights that are rarely heard beyond the region.
The Art Angle Roundup: London vs Paris, Criticism in the Age of 'Parasocial Aesthetics,' and More Secrets of the Mona Lisa
This week, the Art Angle is returning with this month's edition of the Round Up, featuring Artnet News Europe Editor Kate Brown, National Art Critic Ben Davis, and Global News Editor Naomi Rea.
After a whirlwind two weeks of back-to-back art fairs at Frieze London and Paris+, the writers discuss if Art Basel's newest fair can usurp the flagship event in Basel as the most important art fair on the cultural calendar, and if Paris really has what it takes to be a "new" art market hub.
Next, Ben Davis delves into the recent articles he wrote addressing why a critical analysis of "parasocial aesthetics" is so necessary, after artist Devon Rodriguez's followers attacked him on social media. Finally, the trio address the news that rare chemical compounds were discovered in analysis of paint from Leonardo's Mona Lisa, part of a broader interest in the process of restoring major artworks.
Helen Molesworth with Taylor Dafoe
Great, candid interview/conversation with Helen Molesworth and Taylor Dafoe. Had to stop what I was doing and fully listen. Looking forward to the release of Open Question.
The Art Angle
Brilliant show! I look forward to every episode . I may not like the content but I do listen.
Ben Davis opens topics we need to see and hear. Great, consistent work.
An art gem 💎
Hey art lovers! "The Art Angle" is your go-to if you're after some juicy art tales. From overlooked artists to the wild world of A.I. art, the Artnet News crew really knows how to spill the tea. It's like eavesdropping on art world insiders—super insightful yet chill. Big thumbs up for the Leonora Carrington episode. Seriously, give it a listen!