Mid-Year Highlights in the Art World: Koons, Donovan, Minkisi and More

Mid-year highlights of the Art World

by Barry Kostrinsky

Half of 2014 is behind us. What was new and different, exciting and outrageous, unpredictable and surprising in the NY art world? That's right, not much. Like a large yacht the art world turns slowly. As usual, it seems like money is at the helm captaining the course of art history. This is not new; Leo and Peter Paul worked for the moneyed men of the day. In the past this would mean Princes, Kings and the Church. Now, money has let go of it's need for a title ( except for Sir Paul) and huddles around businessmen. Entertainment and luxury good CEO's, corrupt hedge fund ass-holes that pay almost $2Billion in fines and drug dealers dress up their persona with art, cocktails parties and world class trips to stay firmly footed as the top dog in the art world. Shuddered-in academics sit slumped somewhere outside the periphery of the art world irrelevant and non-consequential to the Chelsea crowd. Some artists look more like bankers than beacons of vision. But what of the art, what has made the grade, or not for the first half of 2014 to make it memorable?

Recency Bias makes it hard to remember what happened yesterday, so I will start backwards with the brightest,most recent, most visible and most self promoting exhibit of everyhting wrong in the art world on exhibit now at the Whitney: Jeff Koons- Me, Myself and I win. Okay, maybe I corrupted the title a bit but if the shoe fits.

Koons Play-Doh and the whole show feels like his is playing for doe.

All large survey shows are worth seeing. Something is present in the grouping of the art that can not be garnered from an essay, a few pieces or a book. This is the subtle beauty of a good exhibit for better or worse. What does the large Whitney survey of Koons work reveal? Yes, there is expert craftmanship, tromp-l'eau tricks, faux plastic turned metalic and a few naked shots to keep the males interested as well as a large sloppy play-doh mess the envy of any kid. Often the beauty of a poor object, be it a simple drawing or a small sculpture made with the hands imprint without studio assistants exhudes an air of serenity,reveals the human touch or hightens our sense of humanity. Koons works seems to do the opposite. But this is only half of what gets my goat. I saw Jeff Speak a few years back and could not help but hear him throw out key phrases to brand himself. He responded to questions much like a politician, avoiding them, and making irrelevant statements. Koons told of a seminal experience as a kid, when he would take a large bottle of coke and sell it cup by cup to the golfers on the course. He realized his greatest act of magic, he was a shaman, an alchemist and he created value. Poor rich Jeff let this story slip and thus revealed what he is really about. But enough Koon's bashing, it is so dereguer, easy and simple. Keep a close watch on the Tappan Zee Bridge. Most folks are unaware Jeff was brought in as an art expert for the new design. Don't be surprised if you see a touch of Koons somewhere in the bridge and Jeff boasting he has made the largest sculpture in the world.


A good contrast to the work of Jeff Koons is the sublime creations of Tara Donovan.

Donovan's pile of napkins makes the ordinary fascinating and hints at the sublime simplicity behind complex structures

Tara's work has left a large impression on me ever since I saw her straw blown bubble drawings and her gazillion stacked cups at Pace. With Donovan we get common objects used to their extreme, stacked, grouped and morphed into something more. There is no faux material here, just materials gone bananas. Her work hits the viewer with awe and profundity. Donovan's work is similar to Koons in that it requires a team to produce and is on a scale only Midas would want for his guilt home; often I wonder who is the artist making this kind of work for? Tara's work is shamanistic, she makes us see beyond the trees and ordinary materials.Her projects are touched with magic and speak of a simple beauty and not just money thrown at an art project. The Pace exhibit has been extend to mid August, it is THE must gallery see of the year. You'll never look at a napkin the same again.


This image from one of Todd Levin's curated show's in Chelsea contrast with our vision of a new car and a sexy model and speaks of Detroit's car death and the crumbling city in a poetic way.

Detroit's woes are still alive in the art world as the city is dying. What will happen to the museum's collection due to the city's debt problems has the art world begging to avoid the ultimate yard sale. Todd Levin, once a motor city baby is one of the most respected art advisors and most knowledgeable guys in the art world I have come across. He has a deep passion for Detroit's problems and has curated two shows in Chelsea down the road from each other, one at Marlborough and one at Marianna Boesky's. Todd's efforts have served to bring and keep this issue at the forefront of the art world. If you are unaware of the issues, I could not think of a better or funner way to educate yourself about the issues and sence the problems in the two exhibits. To a large extent I do not feel politics, money and bridges are the highlights of the art world. To me it is about our humanity, our compassion and what we are and are not that art can reveal. However the art world loves drama and Detriot has all the drama that would make for a good movie. The shows darkened rooms both do and do not stir the feeling of lights out in Detroit.

The tent at Frieze on Randall's Island lays out one of the more enjoyable art fair experiences

In May over ten art fairs were in town spread out from Randall's Island to Chelsea and onward downtown near the Seaport. Chelsea held the largest cluster of fairs but just south of the Bronx on a little visited island adjacent to Manhattan is where Frieze, the Queen Bee of the fairs hovered. The sting of contemporary art is over. From the 7 fairs I visited none left a infectious urge to scratch and reveal a deeper understanding of man, art or visual form. Yes, Ceramics was a standout as far as mediums go, but all the regular forms, emotions and intellectual comments were displayed on supermarket like slivers of space and expansive well paid for plots. Mall like art boxes of interesting, bright, erased, minimal, wordy, psychedelic, gutteral and other stylistic art did not evoke an awakening of something new, a bright light of youth or age, nor a feeling of awe. Yes there was some cool art, some hot art and many enjoyable works...even a few that made me laugh.

The Armory Show at Pier 94 is still THE fair to see in NYC if you only go out once a year.

Just a few months earlier in March it was the Armory show and all the other hanger on fairs. With some time to reflect all these fairs have merged into an obominal mesh. As I walked these fairs I often wondered what would Vincent think seeing this spectacle? It helps me to put art in prospective. It helps me to ground the art world and to remember, yes this is what it is about and this is what a party is about. At times it is hard to remember that the feeling you get when you draw, paint of make ceramics is the essence of art. So much has been made of the money of art, the collecting power, the price escalations and the bargains to be had by knowing collectings and insiders that this pulse, this beat of art gets lost in the gloss and finish of a well smoothed faux plastic surface . Our eyes are tricked but who is the fool?

A power figure-one of many minkisi from Africa on sale at Sotheby's earlier this year. The moral question of whether these works should leave the villages they were made in is perplexing.

A strong highlight of the first half of the year was a visit to an auction at Sothebys of the Allan Stone collection of African, Pre-Columbian and native American (Indian) Art. My attention focused on the African Art. Indeed going to a Sotheby's auction should be on everyone's bucket list. The power figures or minkisi have captivated me since. These figures were made for a variety of reasons- often to help with fertitliy, to consolodate power, to bring good luck or to mess up your enemy. The works served as receptacles for spirits that were hopefully attracted to the objects made under a trance like meditative state. The objects were packed with a variety of objects-hair,blood,dirt and the likes to ignite the spirit. What did these works from civilizations only one or two hundred years removed from the now but centuries away from cable TV reveal? They speak of the artist as shaman, the artist as creator that evokes spirits and conjures powers from unknown sources. Koon's shamanistic qualities lay in his ability to make a basketball float in a liquid solution- a great third rate bronze ribbon science fair trick.The African artists forms are the same forms artist have always worked with- dotting, circles,spirals and common lines yet the form evokes and reveals more than a Krappy Kollection of Koon's Kitch.

Polke at MOMA shows how deep,diversified and poetic an artist can be while riding the line of sanity. His use of a basketball is quite different than Koons and shows their different temperments.


Don't miss the Sigma Polke exhibit at MOMA. The museum never looked so good and though you will not able to take away bit and bite sized blurbs of explanation you will see what a real survey of an artists ouevre can expound. You will both know and not know Polke and leave fascinated and perplexed and visually stunned. Indeed Polke's use of dots as compared to that of the once top art star Damian Hirst leave me feeling Damians' Dot's ridiculousness and Polke's dot's delectable.

Hirst's Dot's ridiculous.

There is more art out there to see, everyday. Treat yourself to a free trip to the MET, tell them Barry sent you. Better yet, take the plunge, begin to draw or paint and see what words can't convey and what all this fuss about pulled paint and charcoal is about.

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From This Author Barry Kostrinsky