Ed Clark

Ed Clark.

CHESTER HIGGINS JR./THE NEW YORK TIMES

The artist Ed Clark, whose radiantly colored abstractions charted exhilarating, inventive, and elegant new paths for painting, has died at the age of 93 in Detroit. The gallery Hauser & Wirth, which represented him, announced the news on Friday night.

Over the course of more than 60 years, Clark earned a reputation as a ceaseless innovator—one of the key abstract painters of the postwar period. In 1957, he showed one of the first shaped canvases. Just a year earlier, he had begun developing a method of producing luminous, action-packed paintings on his studio floor by pushing paint with a broom, a technique he honed thereafter.

Clark was, for a long stretch, known as something of an artist’s artist, a figure admired by friends and peers like Donald Judd, Joan Mitchell, Jack Whitten, and David Hammons even as many important museums and powerful dealers ignored his work. As an African-American man, certain possibilities in the mainline art world were closed off for him.

“I couldn’t get into a commercial gallery where a white person was running it,” Clark once told Whitten in a wide-ranging interview. But he found other ways to show—helping to found a co-op gallery and sometimes renting spaces on his own, and his work found supporters. “I was making money any fucking way,” Clark went on. Leading dealers and museums would eventually come knocking at his door, though only late in life.

Ed Clark, 'Untitled,' 2005

Ed Clark, Untitled, 2005.

© ED CLARK/COURTESY THE ARTIST AND HAUSER & WIRTH/PHOTO: THOMAS BARRATT

At the heart of Clark’s practice was his love for travel. He reveled in seeing how his work shifted when he painted in different locations, under different light. He spent long stretches in Crete, Martinique, New Mexico, China, Brazil, and elsewhere. “I’ve traveled everywhere with my art,” he once said. “Places that people wouldn’t go, I went.”

Edward Clark was born in New Orleans in 1926 and moved to Chicago with his family in 1933 as part of the Great Migration. He recalled classmates and some teachers praising his drawing abilities at an early age, which pushed him to focus on art.

But as a young child, Clark also became aware of the adversity he would face. He recalled a nun in kindergarten telling his class to draw a tree, with a gold star going to the best artist. Clark was certain he won. “She came to mine—she didn’t like me for whatever reason—and rather than give me the gold star, she just dismissed the class,” he told Whitten. That made me realize [that] I could be the best all my life and not get recognized.”

Before finishing high school, at the age of 17, he joined the U.S. Army Air Force to participate in World War II, and served in Guam. At the war’s end, he enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on the G.I. Bill, even though he did not have a high school degree, and then decamped in 1952 to further his studies in Paris.

Installation view of 'Ed Clark Paintings, 2000–2013' at Hauser & Wirth, New York, West 22nd Street, 2019

Installation view of ‘Ed Clark Paintings, 2000–2013’ at Hauser & Wirth, New York, West 22nd Street, 2019.

© ED CLARK/COURTESY THE ARTIST AND HAUSER & WIRTH/PHOTO: DAN BRADICA

Living in the French capital, he became part of a circle of expatriate African-Americans who included the writer James Baldwin and the painter Beauford Delaney, and it was there that he would shift from making immaculately rendered representational art into abstraction, after becoming fascinated by the French painter Nicolas de Staël.

“When I first saw his work, I didn’t even know it was figurative,” Clark would recall later, as he described his encounter with de Staël’s work depicting football players via thick, flat slabs of color. Only later, reading about it in the newspaper, did he discover its actual subject, he said. “I didn’t even know that or care.”

Working in his studio in Montparnasse one day, he found himself wanting a wide brush, and discovered a janitor’s broom in his building. “I started using it right away,” he said in a 2015 interview with the Pérez Art Museum Miami. With that, he was on on his way to making some of the signal works of the era, which shimmer with disparate colors and an ineffable élan.

Clark termed his broom method “the big sweep,” and he told the writer Quincy Troupe in 1997 that what it provided was “speed. Maybe it’s something psychological. It’s like cutting through everything. It’s also anger or something like it, to go through in a big sweep.”

Ed Clark, 'Untitled,' 1978–80.

Ed Clark, Untitled,
1978–80.

BROOKLYN MUSEUM/COURTESY OF WEISS BERLIN/PHOTO: STUDIO LEPKOWSKI

After returning to New York in the mid-1950s, he fell in with the thriving Downtown art scene that centered on Abstract Expressionism, congregated on 10th Street, and drank at the Cedar Tavern. Along with other future giants, like Al Held and Nicholas Krushenick, he founded the co-op gallery Brata in 1957, where he would show that early shaped painting, a scintillating, untitled abstraction on a rectangular panel to which he affixed a slice of painted paper that spilled beyond the work’s edges. (It now resides at the Art Institute of Chicago.)

Clark’s paintings in the ensuing decades exude the rare and exquisite sense of having come instantly into being with just a few pushes of his broom. Their brash, joyous confidence comes from the tool’s movement, but also from his unique sense for color—where, say, mint green, lava red, and aquamarine can hover together gloriously.

He painted un-stretched tondos that can recall magnificent sunrises, splattered paint in quick attacks on canvas, and sometimes turned brooding, gliding dark, shadowy forms alongside one another. Clark’s most recent work, from the past few decades, can have a particularly explosive presence, a few vibrant glides made atop unprimed canvas. There is nothing else like them.

Like many Black artists of his generation, Clark was historically sidelined in many accounts and exhibitions of the period, though he showed continually, and he had retrospectives at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Detroit (in 2011) and the Studio Museum in Harlem (1981).

Ed Clark, 'Untitled,' 2005

Ed Clark, Untitled, 2006.

© ED CLARK/COURTESY THE ARTIST AND HAUSER & WIRTH/PHOTO: THOMAS BARRATT

Clark bristled at his work being categorized as “Black Art,” the critic Antwaun Sargent wrote in a 2018 essay on the artist, but he took inspiration from the Black Arts Movement, comparing its energy to what he had experienced on 10th Street earlier in his career. “So both times when I came back from Paris after a long stay, it was like a shot in the arm,” he said in an interview with art historian Judith Wilson, quoted by Sargent, in which the artist recalled his return in the city in the late 1960s. (At one point, he traveled to Cuba with the movement’s cornerstone figure, writer LeRoi Jones, later to be known as Amiri Baraka.)

In recent years, Clark’s star had risen, with his work appearing in the traveling exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” and major one-person shows at Mnuchin gallery (a 2018 survey) and Hauser & Wirth (2019), both in New York. Those exhibitions had been preceded by two solos at Tilton Gallery in New York, in 2014 and 2017, the first of which was curated by Hammons, a longtime friend who collected his painting.

Improvisation was essential to his art, Clark said in the interview with the Pérez Art Museum. He would look around his studio, select a few colors, and start experimenting. “When I get into painting like that,” he said, “you don’t get into something that you understand, right? You just let it go.”

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MoMA as it prepares to open to the public in full on October 21.

VANESSA CARVALHO/SHUTTERSTOCK

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News

Roberta Smith weighs in on the new MoMA. Up at the top, by the headline: “Give the curators an A+ for effort—and wait. This is just the beginning.”
The New York Times

“This U.S. government looks more like Iran’s every day.” So says Iranian artist Shirin Neshat in an interview occasioned by a show at the Broad museum in L.A.
The Art Newspaper

In a report from the FIAC art fair, David Zwirner talked about his move to Paris. “I thought of having a second leg in Europe since a few years, but Brexit did accelerate that process.”
The New York Times

Reviews

The Washington Post reviewed the Hirshhorn Museum’s exhibition “Lee Ufan: Open Dimension,” the first time in 44 years that the Smithsonian museum devoted its plaza to a single artist. “It’s easy to see what Lee Ufan’s minimalist sculptural installations are made of. To see what they are is more complicated.”
The Washington Post

Jillian Steinhauer reviews the new Betye Saar exhibition that is part of MoMA’s reopening in New York—a “smart but not entirely satisfying” show that tracks the printmaking and assemblage that led up to the artist’s storied 1969 work Black Girl’s Window.
The New York Times

Artists

Artists Julius von Bismarck and Julian Charrière built enormous fake models of geologic treasures in Utah, blew them up, and then watched as TV and newspapers covered them and wondered if they were real.
ARTnews

Gothamist has some clips of Downtown ’81, the totally weird (and kind of great) film written by Glenn O’Brien and starring Jean-Michel Basquiat as an artist making his way around downtown New York at the time.
Gothamist

Here’s the story of a Last Supper by Plautilla Nelli—”likely the first woman in history to paint the iconic biblical scene”—as it has been restored and returned to the Santa Maria Novella Museum in Florence, Italy.
Atlas Obscura

Misc.

Matthew Zapruder recounts a long poem he attempted to write in tribute to the Noguchi Museum, the beloved sanctum for sculpture envisioned by artist Isamu Noguchi in New York. “The poem is basically a catalog of poetic failure, and extremely painful to reread. And yet, I will quote sections from it now, in full mortification.”
The Paris Review

Some people think the photograph of Nancy Pelosi talking to Donald Trump around a table full of men at the White House is an artwork fit for the ages. “It shows the ambiguity and the double meaning that a photograph can have,” said Lisa Lipinski, an art history professor at the George Washington University.
The Washington Post

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Rihanna: Luxury Supreme Edition

Rihanna: Luxury Supreme Edition.

COURTESY PHAIDON

Last Friday, Rihanna hosted a glitzy party at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, where champagne flowed and canapés were bountiful. The event celebrated the release of one of the singer and designer’s latest projects: a 500-page “visual autobiography” featuring over 1,000 images from throughout her career.

The book, which will be published by Phaidon on October 24, includes photos from Rihanna’s childhood in Barbados as well as shots of her life as an artist and fashion icon, many of which have never been seen before. In addition to a mass-market printing, the publication will be available in three different limited-edition forms (and three very different price points), with bookstands designed by the Haas Brothers, the Los Angeles–based duo known for their whimsical, sometimes bizarre designs.

Rihanna: Ultra Luxury Supreme Edition

Rihanna: Ultra Luxury Supreme Edition.

COURTESY PHAIDON

The Fenty x Phaidon version is now available for purchase for $175; an oversized Luxury Supreme edition costs $5,500, and will be shipped beginning November 20, and the Ultra Luxury Supreme (“Stoner” pedestal) set, which comes with a 2,000-pound hand-carved stone pedestal, has already sold out, according to Marianne Boesky Gallery. Made in only an edition of 10 plus two artist’s proofs, it was priced at $75,000 apiece.

The collaboration between the singer and the Haas Brothers came about after a discussion between Phaidon and the New York and Aspen dealer Marianne Boesky, who represents Niki and Simon Haas. (They have a show at her Chelsea branch now.) The artists jumped on the opportunity to work with Rihanna, who subsequently visited their studio, and “we made some rad stuff together,” Niki told ARTnews in an interview.

The Haas Brothers have been fans of Rihanna’s music for years, and Simon called their work with her “truly a dream come true.” (Niki’s favorite song is “Consideration” and Simon listens to “Watch n’ Learn,” “What’s My Name?,” “Man Down,” and “No Love Allowed” most often.)

Her use of her platform to inspire independence in other people is admirable, wise, and powerful,” Niki said. “I have so much respect for everything she represents.”

The metal bookstand for the Fenty x Phaidon edition is based on Rihanna’s hands, and the Luxury Supreme cast-resin bookstand, titled Drippy + The Brain, was inspired by past Haas Brothers works that the singer particularly liked.

Rihanna: Fenty x Phaidon Editio

Rihanna: Fenty x Phaidon Edition.

COURTESY PHAIDON

Her hands are so iconic to me,” Simon said of the Fenty x Phaidon bookstand. “Her tattoos are very personal to her and we loved the idea of the stand being her offering the book up to the reader.”

At 66 pounds, Drippy + The Brain, which is is plated in an 18-carat-gold color with mirror-finish, is an art piece in its own right.

“We wanted [the Luxury Supreme bookstand] to feel more luxurious and perhaps carry more of the aesthetic of couture,” Niki said. “It is our art supporting a legend in photos, in an abstract and physical sense. We are giving our art to support something that feels bigger than us—that is the movement that Rihanna has created.”

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Dasha Zhukova

Dasha Zhukova.

LEXIE MORELAND/WWD/SHUTTERSTOCK

The art world officially has a new power couple. Two of the world’s top collectors—Dasha Zhukova, the Russian heiress and founder of Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, and Stavros Niarchos, heir to a Greek shipping fortune—married in Paris last weekend, just ahead of one of Europe’s most important art fairs, FIAC. Us Weekly first reported the news.

Zhukova is no stranger to being one of a duo of contemporary art’s major players. From 2008 to 2017, she was married to another of the world’s top collectors, Roman Abramovich. He has been listed on the ARTnews Top 200 Collectors each year since 2008, and from 2011 to 2016 the two were listed as a couple. They called it quits in August 2017, and ARTnews has listed them individually since the 2017 list, published each September.

Niarchos comes from a dynasty of Greek collectors who made their fortune in the shipping industry. His father, Philip S. Niarchos, was listed on the Top 200 Collectors list each year from 2001 until 2016, and his grandfather and namesake, Stavros Niarchos, was listed four times in the early 1990s. Beginning in 2017, ARTnews has listed the Niarchos family every year.

Over the years, the Niarchos clan has scoped up some of the market’s highest-priced artworks, including Pablo Picasso’s famed Yo, Picasso (1901) for $47.8 million in 1989, Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear (1889) for $71.5 million also in 1989, and Andy Warhol’s Green Burning Car I (1963) for $71.7 million in 2007, a record auction price for a work by the artist at the time.

Zhukova is a major supporter of contemporary Russian art, in particular, as well as global work. She is a founding board member of the recently opened New York arts space, the Shed, a project with a total cost of a whopping $475 million.

The couple was first spotted together in December 2017 during the VIP previews of Art Basel Miami Beach in Florida, and Niarchos proposed to Zhukova over this past summer.

The list of attendees at their wedding was a who’s who of the art world, including dealer Larry Gagosian and artist Dustin Yellin, as well as other celebrities such as David Beckham, Liv Tyler, designer Tory Burch, and journalist Derek Blasberg, a longtime confidante of Zhukova’s.

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A protest at the Museum of Modern Art's opening party on October 18, 2019.

A protest at the Museum of Modern Art’s opening party on October 18, 2019.

COURTESY DECOLONIZE THIS PLACE

With New York museums having become the subject of widespread protests recently, the newly reopened Museum of Modern Art is now in the crosshairs of activists and critics. A cause for celebration became an occasion for protest on Friday evening, as activists briefly interrupted a party at the museum intended to toast the results of MoMA’s $450 million expansion and renovation project.

The cause for their protest was a campaign being spearheaded by Art Space Sanctuary and New Sanctuary Coalition, two activist groups that have urged the museum to divest from financial services that have stakes in private prisons. The demands have largely been focused on Larry Fink, a trustee at the museum and an ARTnews Top 200 collector who owns BlackRock, a New York–based investment management company that is a stakeholder in the private prison corporations GEO Group and Core Civic. Activists have also alleged that MoMA uses Fidelity Investments, which owns stock in these private prison groups, to manage its pension fund.

In an email to ARTnews, a spokesperson for MoMA said, “The Museum of Modern Art does not invest in for-profit private prisons, and Fidelity does not manage our pension plan.” Asked to specify which company MoMA uses for its pension fund, the spokesperson said it is supported by an “investment committee.”

A spokesperson for BlackRock said in a statement to ARTnews that its funds “have democratized investing and broadened access to financial markets for millions of savers around the world.”

Over the past year, a number of protests have taken aim at major institutions, urging leadership to remove controversial trustees from their boards. The most prominent case of this occurred at the Whitney Museum earlier this year, when Decolonize This Place led a series of protests against the museum’s vice chair, Warren B. Kanders. After Kanders’s ownership of a defense manufacturing company that produces tear-gas canisters that have been used against protestors and migrants around the world, activists returned weekly to the museum, and Whitney Biennial participants demanded the removal of their works. In July, Kanders resigned.

But the campaign against MoMA is not about getting Fink to resign. Activists involved believe that lobbying the museum to kick Fink off the board would not solve the problems at hand. “For us, removing Fink from the board doesn’t get rid of mass incarceration,” Basma Eid, a program at Freedom to Thrive, an organization focused on immigrant safety that was one of the protest’s organizers, told ARTnews. “BlackRock is still going to be invested in Core Civic and GEO Group.”

A protest at the Museum of Modern Art's opening party on October 18, 2019.

A protest at the Museum of Modern Art’s opening party on October 18, 2019.

ALEX GREENBERGER/ARTNEWS

Friday’s protest follows an open letter circulated last week by Art Space Sanctuary and New Sanctuary Coalition, in which the activists called on Fink and the museum to speak with artists, community leaders, and immigrant rights organizations about their alleged connections to mass incarceration. Artists including Tania Bruguera, Hito Steyerl, Andrea Fraser, and Mika Rottenberg signed the letter, as well as more than 220 others. In that letter, activists also demanded that MoMA and Fink take the funds currently invested in private prisons, and reinvest them in organizations that would put them toward combatting climate change and the imprisonment of members of communities along borders.

The action began as the first attendees to the MoMA party began entering the building. A group of around 150 amassed near the museum’s entrance, waving signs at those who were entering the museum. One protester set up two blocks of ice—one with the phrase “ABOLISH ICE” emblazoned on it, the other with the word “MoMA” etched into it—that slowly melted while protesters chanted phrases such as, “Hey, MoMA, what’s the odd aroma? Prison profits really stink! Fuck you, Larry Fink!”

Briefly, some activists brought the protest into the party, toting signs that read “MAKE SANCTUARY NOT PRISONS” and “MOMA DIVEST!” Beneath hanging Philippe Parreno sculptures, the activists held their banners up to party attendees, who milled around drinking champagne in the museum’s svelte and newly refurbished lobby. While all this was going on inside, many of the protestors remained outside, chanting and leading a teach-in as a line to enter snaked around the corner.

For Amin Husain, a member of Decolonize This Place, keeping Fink on the MoMA board while urging him to change his investments could potentially lead to more progress than demanding his resignation. “Removing Warren Kanders didn’t stop tear gas from being used, but the divestment opens up a pathway for the museum,” he said.

Fink is not the only member of MoMA’s board that is being protested right now, however. The Brooklyn-based advocacy group Center for Popular Democracy has announced plans to lead a protest on Monday, the day of MoMA’s public reopening, in which attendees will demand the removal of businessman and ARTnews Top 200 collector Steven Tananbaum from MoMA’s board. Tananbaum is the founder of GoldenTree Asset Management, a hedge fund that reportedly owns at least $2.5 billion in debt from Puerto Rico, which is currently undergoing a financial crisis. (A representative for Tananbaum declined to comment for this article.)

The goal of Friday’s protest, activists said, was ultimately about getting Fink to alter his investments. “It’s not just divestment—it’s divest and reinvest,” Nitasha Dhillon, another member of Decolonize This Place said, feeling hopeful that Fink could get in touch with the local community and come up with a newer, more socially engaged cause to support. She said that the Fink/MoMA campaign could be a way of reaching a broader public than Decolonize This Place’s previous activism at the Whitney. “With Kanders,” she said, “we were talking about decolonization, but people outside the movement didn’t really understand it. Divest-reinvest makes sense now.”

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