Saturday, February 20, 2016


by Drew Martin

The other night I had an adventure. It was an evening of trying to get home from an event in Manhattan that ended in a swanky bar, and it involved a cast of characters: a group of Weill Cornell medical students on the panoramic 65th floor of 30 Rock questioning me about my prostate, a young Palestinian man who I met in the bowels of Port Authority after midnight and was studying something like liberation theology, Nora - a young waitress with whom I rode the last bus out of New York (1:30 AM) who told me about her Mayan ancestry and the Mayan words mixed with the Spanish they speak in the Yucatán, and Darren - a super nice bus driver, who told me that I looked like I lost my best friend when Nora got off the bus. Darren said he used to have a pest control business and would fumigate apartments in Brooklyn including the actor John Turturro's place. I thought about those famous people who avoid paparazzi but do not think much about people like Darren snooping around because they do not actually think of them as people. Darren drove me to my town, where we finally arrived at 2:30 in the morning. The last twenty minutes we were the only ones on the bus - driving through dark, wooded suburbia. We could not place the accent of the middle-aged cleaning lady passengers on their way home from their night shifts. One of them, a strong-bodied bleach-blonde, was the last of them to get off. When I offered that perhaps she was from from Albania, or somewhere in that region, Daren coolly replied, "I do not know where she is from, but I do know this: she has got a nice body." Typically I do not like when other men "go there" about women, but Darren said it with a special kind of admiration, and most men would not have looked twice at this woman. He told me a story about the night prior - a young man fell asleep and missed his stop, one of the first on the route, and did not wake up until the last stop, my stop. Darren did not want to let him off because it is a conservative town and the young man was "goth" so Darren took him on the bus to another town where he would have less of a problem and let him off at an all-night diner so that he would have a place to stay until the buses started running again. When I was getting off Darren reached to shake my hand and said, "Andrew, I hope to see you again." I warmly shook his hand and said, "Yes, but not on this bus." The evening had undertones of failure, starting with my not being able to get home to my family at a respectable hour (which I felt led to a chain of other events) - Nora and two of the medical students had been ballet dancers, and fell short of their dreams. Nora was divorced and one of the medical students told me in shock of how her hedge-fund boyfriend of three years had just kicked her out once she started talking to him about having kids. And that led to my remembering a line from a recent show I had seen in which the character says, "Your kids will always disappoint you." I thought about this long and hard as a father of three and as a son myself, and the affects of the successes of one on the other. I carried the idea over to the art world and the first work that came to mind was Van Gogh's The Potato Eaters from 1885. Though it has glimmers of hope, it is a painting about disappointment. And then, for some reason, perhaps because I looked at Giorgio de Chirico's The Melancholy of Departure from 1914 the other day, I had a dream about explosives being transported in bananas.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Vigée Le Brun: Courtesans and Countesses and Princesses! Oh My!

by Drew Martin
I often think about how the gender and personality of the photographer affects the expression of the person being photographed. I see it in the portraits I have taken over the years: the people in those pictures are looking at me with a certain look, which is usually a disarmed friendliness. But until today I never thought too much about the subject of paintings partly because I figured it was just a generalized expression since the process of sitting for a portrait could take a long time. I also assumed that most of the beauties in those portraits were glowing with fantasized returns of a male gaze. I do not recall coming across many female painters prior to the 20th century. So when I walked through the Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun show with my parents and daughter today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I was rather surprised by the sweetly intimate expressions of the ladies in the portraits from the turn of the 19th century.

Pictured here, clockwise from top left, details of the portraits of Princess Antoní Henryk Radziwiłł 1802, Countess Ekaterina Vasilievna Skavronskaya 1796, actress/courtesan Hyacinthe-Gabrielle Roland 1791, and mistress Isabella Teotochi Marini 1792.

The revealing portrait of Isabella (lower left) was painted by 
Vigée Le Brun as a gift to her friend, a diplomat and member of the Académie royale where she had studied.

"She painted the work in service of a relationship she knew to be a secret, creating a portrait that would fan the ardor of its owner."

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Putting Art into Perspective

by Drew Martin
Since the Museum of Peripheral Art is kind of a free-for-all arts and media web-log in the greatest sense, and I have decided to spend more of my time focusing on a specific project, I have launched a new entity to handle this thesis: the Institute of Theoretical Art ( Here is a repost of its first article: Putting Art into Perspective.

by Andrew Martin

Mathematics is an abstract language created by humans, which interprets universal patterns. It started in the physical/visual world as a way to quantify things: land, livestock, building materials, etc. Through its abstraction and withdrawal from specific computations it evolved to stand on its own as mathematics for mathematics' sake.

I recently watched the four-part BBC documentary, The Story of Maths, presented by Oxford professor Marcus du Sautoy, who does a great job of crunching the history of math into four hours, while taking the viewer around the world.

I tuned into the series more as visual thinker than as a mathematician. It is easy enough to see how a quantity (of whatever) can be represented with symbols. Sautoy offers that even 0 as a symbol for nothing, a concept that eluded the early mathematicians including the Greeks and Chinese, may have come from the circular divet that was left in the earth when a counting stone was removed from its place.

What I found most interesting is that while some mathematics can be visualized, most situations are formalized through a formula. That is, except for perspective, whose solution was in the command of vanishing points. Of course there are numbers behind that system but it was a case of mathematics whose problem arose through two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional world, but was solved through a purely mechanical act by artists.

Basic geometry is a very visual kind of math but the question is, which came first the shape or the possibility of the shape? With a set of numbers/coordinates I can generate a shape but I can also create a shape that calls into play a set of numbers. Are the geometric forms we observe and (re)create merely byproducts of these "numbers" or do the shapes create a case for the numbers? Or is it that they are one in the same - the same information that can be represented visually or numerically?

[image source:]

That being said, the geometry of a cube is very different than the geometry behind the workings of perspective because in a cube the lines of opposing sides are parallel but through perspective they are angled to one, two, or three vanishing points. What this means though is that I can never observe a true cube because I will always be influenced by a perceived perspective.

A working perspective was not developed until the early Renaissance and was hailed as a truth. Ironically, within a few hundred years it became reputed as a lie. It seems, however, that the trickery is in our skewed observation: our stereoscopic eyes and visually comprehensive minds create an illusion that is as false in reality as it is on a wall or a canvas.

In terms of art history it is interesting to note that the use of perspective was often not used merely to recreate an environment so much as it was a way to create a more believable world to tell a story, especially one that no one was still around to refute. Pictured above is Raphael's School of Athens, completed in 1511 to depict a hypothetical mashup of ancient philosophers.

I find that the most interesting use of perspective was by the surrealists, who did not abandon it during Cubism, Abstract and other movements, because it gave them the power to create a space for their strange worlds, as we see 420 years later with Salvador Dalí's The Persistence of Memory.


Friday, February 12, 2016

The Tortoise and the Stare

by Drew Martin
Our experience of art is based on what the work shows us combined with the personal experience we bring to it. So when I entered the back room of the Kate Werble Gallery group show Duplify yesterday and saw a couple turtle shells split down their center with a piece of stainless steel, the formal presentation and comment on symmetry (and an “old” organic form/nature ready-made vs. the “new” shiny prefabricated material) was dominated by my remembrance of a recent article someone had sent me. It was about super-realistic 3D-printed decoy tortoise shells that are being sprayed with an off-putting substance, and scattered around the southwestern deserts in order to condition ravens (the main desert tortoise predator) to not eat them into extinction. 

I also thought about  the oversized tortoise shell I saw on a recent visit to Thomas Edison’s laboratories in New Jersey, which he had (along with elephant hides and animal hooves) to sample these materials for his (then state-of-the-art) experiments and products. Both of these thoughts altered the intended contrast set up by the artist (Andy Meerow) but enriched my own experience, which would have been less interesting without them.

This is also true of the work at the gallery by Émilie Pitoiset: two leather gloves – one posed holding the cigarette and the other fingering a coin. Seeing these, it is hardly possible for me to not recall Wisława Szymborska’s Muzeum poem, particularly the line The hand has lost out to the glove. Unintended by Pitoiset and Werble, the placement of these objects in a temporary show in a hip, modern gallery, with Szymborska’s words in mind is a brilliant stab at her nemesis – time and the victory of object over the owner  – and joins her in the concluding lines:

As for me, I am still alive, you see.
The battle with my dress still rages on.
It struggles, foolish thing, so stubbornly!
Determined to keep living when I’m gone!

Across from the gloves is a dress, of sorts: a multi-material conglomeration portrait on canvas titled Perched. It is a colorful and lively piece that satisfies painting and sculptural urges. Its hands, and other features, are a wonderful struggle of representation – a neurotic triumph over possible failure, and hyper-representation over realism. These hands do not fool use as hands but are an amazing representation of hands: restless, veiny, clawing.

I also enjoyed the untitled diptych by Ryan Mrozowski, which is a nice play of botanic shapes, where a silhouetting of half the leaves creates a masking of itself and has an op-art tension of what is camouflaging what. I too quickly walked past a “black on black” work and should go back so as to not dismiss it. And, I almost paid too little attention to a multi-channel video installation in the front room of the gallery until I noticed Watts Towers in the montage and engaged in a conversation about the piece with Margot, the associate director of the gallery. She explained the tokonoma reference of the work, which was not what came to mind for me but definitely made me think differently about the work and the show.