Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York
16 February-25 March 2006
Although generally known today merely as the father of the modern British painter Ben Nicholson (and Mr Kasmin’s great-grandfather), the elder Nicholson came to prominence during the Yellow Nineties as one half of the celebrated Beggarstaff Brothers, a pair of young English artists who redefined the poster. (His brother-in-law, James Pryde, was the other half.) On his own, Nicholson became one of England’s most influential illustrators, famous for 'An Alphabet' (1898) and similar oversized albums of coloured woodcuts and lithographs. He also had the honour of designing all the costumes (except that of Peter) for the original London production of JM Barrie’s classic tale Peter Pan. He is perhaps best remembered in the USA as the illustrator of Margery Williams’s The Velveteen Rabbit (1922). Eventually, Nicholson abandoned commercial art to devote the latter part of his life to painting only what amused him.
Although Nicholson was a brilliant caricaturist and portraitist, as exemplified by his series of coloured woodcuts of Queen Victoria, Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt, James McNeill Whistler and other celebrities, created in 1897, the portraits displayed at the Kasmin Gallery are less compelling. Like most painters, Nicholson was at the mercy of the vicissitudes of his sitters. His still-lifes have been compared to Chardin’s, but Nicholson was, perhaps, more in tune with his fellow Englishman, William Hogarth. Nicholson's brushstroke was more aggressive, more vigorous than that of the cool, calculated Frenchman. His pictures are not so much painted as frosted. He borrowed much from Whistler and Manet for his subdued colour and composition, and painterly effects, with a good dose of Sickert tossed in. His early 'Lady in Yellow' (1893) might have been called 'Whistler’s Daughter', being a sweetly tasteful arrangement in tart lemon rather than one in grey and black.
Like Rembrandt and the other Dutch masters, William Nicholson breathed life into his studies of the everyday world around him. He dignified even the most banal subjects with his adroit handling of the brush. As had both Whistler and Sickert, Nicholson captured the interminable dark, dank greyness of London by gaslight in his cityscapes and interiors. His silvery still-life works, 'Stocks and Silver' (1918) and 'Tall Pewter Jug' (1933-39) are stunning monochromatic arrangements that look like vintage photographs. 'The Silver Casket' (1919) would be merely another study in creamy greys, if not for the pair of pale blue gloves and coral necklace reflected in the silver jar. The blood-red blossoms jolt the otherwise subdued blue and still more black and grey in 'Fuchsias in Wedgwood Jug' (1909). Those ruggedly rendered scarlet boots, along with the delicate silk ribbon of a pocket watch make all the difference in 'Miss Simpson's Boots', also of 1919. Nicholson learned from Whistler how a well-placed touch of pink can entirely transform a composition. Perhaps the closest to an abstract painting in the show was the minimalist 'Seascape' of 1909. Its supernal interplay of earth, sea and sky with just a blush of pink on the right shore and a sail in the distance is a small masterpiece of economy. It is time that this exceptional artist was the subject of a proper retrospective in the USA; one that embraces the full range of his achievements.
Michael Patrick Hearn
Douglas Gordon: Superhumanatural
The film and video artist Douglas Gordon had his first one-man exhibition in Britain at the Lisson Gallery in 1994, sponsored by its perceptive director Nicholas Logsdail, to which he returned again in 2001. The following year, he was to exhibit 'Entre'Act 3' at the Stedelijk Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven. 'Fuzzy Logic' followed at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and from about this time his work really took off internationally.
The National Museum of the American Indian
Almost 500 years after the "discovery" of America, at last the original inhabitants are being recognized with a new edifice on the Mall of the United States capital. On September 21, 2004 the National Museum of the American Indian opened to the public, the building designed by Douglas Cardinal, a Canadian Native American architect, and its contents reviewed by natives from all the Americas.
Ettore Sottsass: Architect & Designer – book review
Perhaps the most surprising statement in this book (at least for a European) is that Ettore Sottsass is still virtually unknown in the USA. This despite the shock and horror of 'Memphis' (and the film parodying its style, 'Ruthless People', starring Danny De Vito and Bette Midler), the work of ex-Memphis designer Peter Shire in California, and the fact that Sottsass himself designed the GE115 computer, which was made jointly by Olivetti, Bull in France and General Electric in America in 1967.
Book review: Archaeology of an Urban Desert
Jon Naar is a British photographer who has been based in New York. In 1974 he joined up with the late Norman Mailer to produce The Faith of Graffiti (1974), which contained around forty of his photographs. This combined survey was immediately successful, and is now a rare collectors' item. At that time, Naar's pictures captured brilliantly the spirit of the times, from inside the closely woven infrastructure of New York City, opening the very arteries and veins of the urban complex.
Towers: from Manhattan to Moscow
Renzo Piano's New York Times Building, situated on 8th Avenue, Manhattan, was opened this month to considerable approval from New Yorkers, architects, critics and particularly the press, who will work within Piano's superb spaces. The tower is 52 storeys high. Being in the centre of Manhattan, the architect and clients have wisely sought to create, in this context, a classic variant of the traditional skyscraper format for which the city is so famous.