Lucas Schoormans Gallery September 7–October 14, 2006
Maki Tamura’s preferred medium is paper. In the past, the Japanese-born Tamura created large-scale scrolls that, with a nod toward her Asian roots, unrolled down the wall and onto the floor. Her new body of work marks an intriguing departure. Simply entitled “Enlightenment,” this exhibition draws its context from the cultural and philosophical ferment of 18th-century France.
Instead of mounting paper on linen scrolls, Tamura assembles small, three-dimensional handcrafted segments into elaborately symmetrical, jewel-like clusters redolent in ornate whimsy and sculptural depth. Sheltered behind Plexiglas, these faceted shapes, delicate edges and patterns of color determine an overall rhythm in which sequences of romantic miniature watercolor drawings unfold into naively sweet fictitious narratives of old time charm.
Aesthetically, the buoyancy of tonality and form in Tamura’s drawing recalls the Rococo movement, which briefly flowered between the dark drama of the Baroque and the severity of Neoclassicism. Rococo derives from “rocaille,” meaning “rock work” or “shell work”—natural forms that bear a relationship to Tamura’s paper structures. The individual watercolors comprising each work, however, allude directly to Enlightenment themes.
At first glance “Discovery” (2006) brings such visionary Rococo masters as Fragonard and Watteau to mind. Lush landscapes and a seductive pastel palette set the tone, while the era’s belief in reason as the supreme adjudicator of aesthetics, ethics and logic is illustrated by depictions of children at their studies, adults reading books and a scientist experimenting in a laboratory. Among the motifs, one small portrait stands out—a girl whose aristocratic pose, costume and hairstyle evoke a young Marie Antoinette, unaware of the combustible future awaiting her. Her execution in 1793 at the height of the French Revolution would come to signify the culmination of an era notorious for its decadence, frivolity, and excessive royal power.
To draw a parallel to today’s world of superficial media snippets, exhibitionism, quick and easy consumption, corruption and greed, as well as the monopolization of economic and political power, is not too farfetched. Although the thought that Tamura chose the struggles of late 18th-century France as analogues for contemporary problems is mere assumption, her works nevertheless give rise to questions like: How much has Western civilization improved in the past 350 years? Are we on the verge of progress or regression?
But whatever her message or motivation, all Tamura grants us are glimpses of thoughts, consummately crafted into elaborately beautiful surface structures. While they reward patience and close observation, these images resolutely remain verses of abstract poetry, resisting sheer literalism.
Jeff Wall with Barry Schwabsky
FEB 2022 | Art
Since the late 1970s, Jeff Wall has become renowned for his staged photographssometimes fantastical, sometimes so factually convincing as to be what hes called near documentary. He currently has two exhibitions on view, one of them being a surveyhis largest US show since his 2007 MoMA surveyat Glenstone Museum, in Potomac, MD; the other at Gagosian in Beverly Hills. Having written an essay for the catalogue of the show at Glenstone, I realized Id ended up with more questions than I started with, so I asked a few of them in a Zoom conversation with the artist ahead of his show in California.
Mildred Thompson: Throughlines, Assemblages and Works on Paper from the 1960s to the 1990sBy Susan Harris
MARCH 2021 | ArtSeen
Mildred Thompson: Throughlines, Assemblages and Works on Paper from the 1960s to the 1990s cracks the veneer of the 20th century, modernist canon to highlight a little-known body of work by an African American abstract artist who, in spite of being overlooked and criticized for her race, gender, and style, remained resolute in her vision.
Roots/AnchorsBy Lilly Wei
DEC 21-JAN 22 | ArtSeen
The Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art at Snug Harbor Cultural Center is part of a vast, venerable, and somewhat unruly complex on the northeast shore of Staten Island. Melissa West, the director of the Newhouse, zoomed in on the sites history to curate Roots/Anchors, an engrossing, multi-layered exhibition currently on view there.
Tony Cragg: Sculptures and Works on PaperBy Phyllis Tuchman
APRIL 2023 | ArtSeen
Possessing a well-honed, singular formal intelligence, Cragg breathes life into vibrant entities. He masterfully sets in motion rhythmic passages. Repetitive waves wash across his sculptures and enliven his compelling surfaces. His art is fluid, not unchangeable.