Saturday, March 30, 2013


While at San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art last Monday, I saw good things and bad things. Bad: the room of mainly British art from the last twenty years (above), in a room stuffed with Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Jenny Saville, and some others. Also bad: painting from the 80s, with the exception of Basquiat:

There's a big argument to be had here, but my patience was worn thin this time with work that I've tolerated more in the past, and I think it was because of the tedious unseriousness of the work, particularly in the painting of LaSalle, Clemente, Schnabel, and others. The slapdash nature of their whole enterprise just seemed unacceptable after looking at rooms with pictures by artists like Diebenkorn and Thiebaud (joky, but also serious):

And a classic Philip Guston abstract painting:

Even the Piet Mondrian picture, unfinished at his death, was fascinating because it still had the tape that he applied to the canvas and moved around to fix the composition:

And a set of Ray Johnson collages:

He's described as an outsider artist from the 70s, but his work seems more sophisticated than that to me. I first heard of him only recently via artist friend Bill Evertson, who met Johnson in Paris and is an enthusiastic proponent of Johnson's work. It was a surprise to see the work for the first time, and to discover how complex and layered it is.

There's also a big retrospective of photographer Garry Winogrand's pictures, which is worth seeing if you're in 'frisco before June 2013. 


  1. Nice article Philip, one correction, although I did have the opportunity to see a large collection of his mail art when I visited Matthew Rose's studio there last year, , I never met Ray in Paris.. It is a bit strange to hear him referred to as an outsider artist since he was well enough known (and influential) to everyone in pop and fluxus circles.

    1. I'm also surprised Ray Johnson is labeled an "outsider"!

    2. I sit corrected. I'm pretty sure that's what was written on the wall text, but my instinct about the pieces was right, it seems. Definitely more insider than outsider.


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