"Blues for Smoke" is an odd duck. The big new exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art's warehouse space in Little Tokyo is filled with a lot of terrific art from the past half-century, including many works by artists who should be far more widely known than they are. There's much to discover.
Its central theme — that a good chunk
of contemporary art evokes the ethos of the blues, the great musical
legacy that is arguably America's first distinctive contribution to
world culture — is provocative and engaging. Still, the show can be
difficult to follow.
Sometimes a painting, sculpture or other
work's blues ethos is easy to see, either in obvious subject matter or
structural form. Elsewhere the connection is hard to grasp — and
occasionally impossible. Head-scratchers are not uncommon. It's the kind
of show that is best approached in a loose-limbed and improvisatory
way, which may itself be a reflection of its blues theme.
entry, five flat-screen televisions display film and video clips that
range from 1935 musical numbers by Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday to
today's hip-hop performers. The show's title, "Blues for Smoke," comes
from a prominent 1960 recording by jazz pianist Jaki (John) Byard, which
launched his career. (He then worked with influential composer Charles
Mingus.) For the exhibition, the blues spreads like smoke, born in the
Civil War era from slave shouts, field hollers and gospel and eventually
encompassing bop, free jazz, R&B and more. It's intrinsic to the
sociocultural atmosphere in which visual art is made.
Delaney's portraits of Jean Genet, Charlie "Bird" Parker and an
unidentified musician record the artist's own remarkable path through
Modernist painting, jazz, bohemian Paris and same-sex explorations. His
portrait of James Baldwin, who was a great admirer of Delaney's art,
shows the powerful writer enthroned — albeit not in a regal chair.
Instead,Find turquoise beads from a vast selection of Jewelry & Watches.We recently added Stained glass mosaic
Tile to our inventory. Baldwin floats serenely in a seated posture,
legs crossed and arms raised on absent chair arms, hovering like a
latter-day Sun King within an explosive patchwork of blazing color.
Nearby, Bob Thompson's big 1960 canvas, "Garden of Music," is a homage to jazz,The oreck XL professional air purifier,
its Arcadian landscape populated by Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Sonny
Rollins and others, recognizable and not. The composition is loosely
derived from works such as Matisse's "Joy of Life," which also orbits
around a colorful revelry of music and dance. But Thompson's painting
deviates from the French painter's more idyllic vision to encompass a
detached feeling of alienation.
His figures work as a unified
composition, its vertical forms arrayed across the horizontal field
almost like notes on a staff. But each man and woman is self-contained,
absorbed and isolated in his or her own world.
Works like these
begin to inflect perceptions of more familiar art, such as Romare
Bearden's great 1960s Cubist collages of urban and rural life. Bearden
mixed drawing and painting with angular images scissored from newspapers
and magazines, their clipped visual rhythms syncopated and snappy. In
this context, frequently pictured guitars reverberate against bebop as
much as against Picasso.
Across the way, the scrawled texts
cyclically repeated across Jean-Michel Basquiat's five-panel 1983
painting, "Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta,This document
provides a guide to using the ventilation system
in your house to provide adequate fresh air to residents." give up
their musical origins in call-and-response vocal schemes. And the
searing red-vinyl interior of Rodney McMillian's one-room chapel,
commissioned for the show, gradually unfolds in layers: The relentless
heat of the Gulf Coast delta where the blues was born, the soulful
energy of song, the transformative blood of the Passion and even the
fire next time are all illuminated in the stark glare of a bare light
bulb suspended from the ceiling.
At the other end of the emotional register is a muted,Selecting the best rtls
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utterly exquisite 1972 abstraction by Washington Color School painter
Alma Thomas. The surface of a chrome-yellow rectangle is covered in
short, firm, vertical strokes of dark blue-gray paint. Three marks at
the upper right are further layered with lighter blue, and as your eye
gets pulled in for a closer view other small inflections of green
emerge, sprinkled here and there. The thin streaks of yellow shining
forth from between the slate brush strokes fall like steady rain in a