Take a Chance on Cage, Gerhard Richter’s Zippy Stripes
To perform John Cage’s “4’33",” musicians come out, bow and then remain silent for the duration. Premiered in 1952, it’s his most influential work.
At its core, the piece is little more than a Dadaist prank in full dress.
Engaging with Marcel Duchamp and the “I Ching” during the last 20 years of his life, Cage also applied chance operations to eliminate personal choice and create artless art.
In celebration of his centennial, Cage is everywhere this fall, from Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia to Budapest.
In New York, the National Academy Museum has mounted “John Cage: The Sight of Silence,” the largest U.S. gathering of his visual art in two decades.
The exhibition includes 60 Asian-influenced watercolors, prints and drawings -- some of which use the burn patterns of fire and smoke -- as well as photographs and videos of the artist performing and painting.
The most striking thing about this show, which feels in turns congested and empty, is its odd installation -- its random nature was determined by throwing the dice.
Some lonely works float near the ceiling like untethered balloons. Others hug one another or the baseboard, as if they were slipping off the walls. Neither Eastern nor Western, they’re mostly wan, washy, earth-toned works on paper.
Flaccid and unremarkable, they impress not as art but as accident -- as Cagean artifact.
“John Cage: The Sight of Silence” runs through Jan. 13 at the National Academy Museum, 1083 Fifth Ave. Information: +1- 212-369-4880; http://www.nationalacademy.org.
The Jewish Museum’s “Crossing Borders: Manuscripts From the Bodleian Libraries” is a rich, jewel-box exhibition.
More than 60 works have come to New York from the University of Oxford’s superb collection. Spanning the 3rd through the 18th centuries and covering subjects secular and religious, they include scrolls and books mainly in Hebrew, Arabic and Latin, executed on paper, parchment and papyrus.
Together they convey the great cross-fertilization and interdependence among Christians, Muslims and Jews.
The Spanish “Kennicott Bible” (1476), lavishly illuminated, is the show’s hallmark. Viewers can access all of its pages through touch screens.
The exhibition also includes a gorgeous 16th-century Quran, medieval versions of Euclid, as well as Christian-themed works such as a 15th-century “Book of Hours.”
Even without the latest digital technology, the analog portion of this show would be a hit.
“Crossing Borders: Manuscripts from the Bodleian Libraries” runs through Feb. 3 at the Jewish Museum, 1 E. 92nd St. Information: +1-212-423-3200; http://www.thejewishmuseum.org.
Gerhard Richter is a celebrated Jack-of-all-trades.
As a representational painter working in soft-focus Photo- Realism -- the master of the blur -- he has portrayed everything from rolls of toilet paper to German terrorists.
As an abstractionist -- the master of the smear -- he has squeegeed his way to stardom.
At Marian Goodman, Richter exhibits a handsome minimalist sculpture made of six glass panels and steel (2002-11). It multiplies as it dissolves your reflection.
But the 19 abstract digital works on view show he’s moving in a new direction. Richter has of late embraced the Cagean- Duchampian love of the non-intentional and is playing sophisticated digital games of chance.
It shows. Each of the “strips” -- the largest spanning 20 feet -- has hundreds of horizontal, razor-sharp candy stripes.
The pieces are cold, quick, decorative and frenetic, as sharp as an exposed dental nerve. Get too close and the lines appear to lurch toward you.
Yet the works are deadened by mechanical duration -- the numb of sameness.
With Richter’s prices moving ever higher, the financial success of the “strips” will prove inversely proportional to their aesthetic failure -- and then some.
“Gerhard Richter: Strip Paintings 2012” runs through Oct. 13 at Marian Goodman Gallery, 24 W. 57th St. Information: +1-212- 977-7160; http://www.mariangoodman.com.
(Lance Esplund is U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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