By Justin Sean Brunelle

Sometimes in art, there lies the realization of some unknown fact. Pursuing it, often in an oblique way, is what makes life grand.  This stretch of imagination, like spring is a promise, a pretend hand, a magical explanation, vital bits of information on which we base some affinity, any natural drawing or inclination, or fear, a dictionary of ideas, ultimately evolving into another language to communicate the precious and the profane within a primal pretense.

Cherry Blossoms, Madison Square Park, Photo by JSB


Every idea of god is a fabrication.  We can see that in art.  It does not make it any less beautiful.  The Greeks set the precedent and the Italians strung it out for years, the infinite arch, Leda and the Swan from Michelangelo as far as Cézanne.  This love of creation continues today because mystery is filled with unknown realizations waiting for illumination.


Leda and the Swan, After Michelangelo, Oil on canvas, c. 1530
Leda and the Swan, by Paul Cézanne, Oil on canvas, circa 1880


I have not seen Anselm Kiefer’s lead sculpture, Uraeus, at Rockefeller Center but I can feel it in my bones because I know to what depths the artist has already visited.  It reminds me of the final conclusion of The Gates in Central Park, the struggle, the willful intention, the remarkable consummation of a dream come to fruition.  Maybe I am wrong, but you have to have faith in something.  And art is an act of faith.


America is a broad notion, a vast typewriter where Moby Dick or Lolita may be written.  America, where tribes are still fighting to be free.  In New York City one can see the full scope of grappling humanity.  That is the wonder of it all for me, like Nan Goldin conquering the Sackler Wing throwing prescription bottles into the reflecting pool at the Temple of Dendur, the mote that separates truth from fiction.  This is addiction to purpose.  This is what makes America great.


I walked into Lehman Maupin recently to see a map of the United States, each one separated, each one burnt to a crisp, something one may dismiss as trite, but it lingers in your mind like a piano smashed to bits or washed ashore.   Turning my attention to Catherine Opie’s photographs, desolate as a back of a billboard, helps me make sense of artificial flowers, liquor, the neon of nowhere, and tobacco mist.  This is a show called American Landscape, seemingly depressing and then surprise, Nari Ward restores my faith with one phrase, “This is a beautiful country,” articulated in colored shoelaces protruding from a white wall, Last Words of John Brown, whose struggle few know.


TERESITA FERNÁNDEZ, Fire (United States of the Americas), 2017, charcoal, Courtesy of the artist and Lehman Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, Photo by JSB


NARI WARD, Last Words of John Brown, shoelaces, 2017, Courtesy of the artist and Lehman Maupin, Photo by JSB


“A nation is a strange, abstracted construction: an aggregate of people, most of whom will never meet each other, who are nevertheless understood to be fellow citizens — that is, collaborators in some shared political project.” (1)


And therein lies the difference art makes, the great fortune to meet people, often without verbalization.  I think of Rothko Chapel, Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits, Turner’s Steam, Monet’s Water Lilies, intimations of the divine inter-connectivity.


Asher Brown Durand, Kindred Spirits, Oil on canvas, 1849


I did not know that Marty Cooper invented the cellular mobile phone and made the first call on 6th Avenue in New York City.  This grand achievement plays out in the Doug Aitken’s installation New Era at 303 Gallery, artfully expressing “the age of absolute connectivity” we are all living in.  Technology is the god, as Jim Morrison said “look where we worship.”  Similar to looking at Charles Atlas’s Reclining Woman and thinking of Juliana Huxtable or Manet’s Olympia.  Some things stick in your mind, persistent precursors, form and function of time re-imagined.  The world’s most enduring emoji, art,  A copy of ten marble fragments of the Great Eleusinian Relief (2017), mysteries unsolved, religious rites, there in front of your eyes at Matthew Marks Gallery from across continents and ages.


Charles Atlas, A copy of ten marble fragments of the Great Eleusinian Relief, 2017, Machined aluminum, Courtesy of the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery
Ten marble fragments of the Great Eleusinian Relief, Early Imperial, Augustan, ca. 27 B.C.–A.D. 14, Roman, Marble, The Met Collection


And it is all virtually meaningless. Yet history is the absorption of aesthetic contemplation, ideals, inventions, and circumvention.  I think to myself, there is no better place to see this parade of images like the 150 paintings of Happy Meal Toys sourced from Ebay by Oliver Clegg exhibited at Rental. “British-born Clegg is a conceptual artist who mines the fertile history of the past, particularly found objebts, and seeks to imbue these objects with some of their original magic.” (2)

OLIVER CLEGG, Four paintings from Euclid’s Porsche, Oil on Canvas, Courtesy of the artist and Rental Gallery


But, the change in the weather reminds me of the importance of public art, beyond four walls, the cherry blossom or the magnolia.  You don’t want to miss it and you don’t won’t it to end, the wonders nature has in store for us, regenerative possibilities, growth of imagination like the invention of electricity or the cell phone or matter still unseen, refreshing the soul from the doldrums of fiction day in and day out.  In some societies the flowering of trees is enough to meditate on.  Here we have it all.  Diana Al-Hadid’s glorious installation Delirious Matter in Madison Square Park epitomizes art of excitement, intoxication, and eternal spring.  Using classical ideals the artist provides an opportunity for repose.  Not fully whole her sculptural works have a cunning transparency, as see through reproductions of classical ideals like the Netherlandish painting Chastity.



Hans Memling, Allegory of Chastity, Oil on panel, 1475


Diana Al-Hadid, Sculpture after Allegory of Chasity by Hans Memling, Part of the installation Delirious Matter, Madison Square Park, NYC, Photo by JSB


In a recent article entitled “The puzzle of beauty” Shahidiha Bari lays out mankind’s historical understanding with that “radical jolt that awakens us to the world.” She goes on to state: “Sometimes, it is the sense of something precarious, a particular organisation of colour or sound that can be gathered together permanently but nonetheless bears a certain frailty as though both it and the coherence of my attention might fall apart at any moment. At other times, the beautiful can feel expansive, like air inhaled, filling my lungs endlessly. The beautiful demands repetition – reviewing, rewinding, revisiting – as though whatever it might intend to say could never be said enough or too much.” (3)

This “reviewing, rewinding, revisiting” can be seen in John Baldessari’s exhibition ALL Z’S (PICABIA/MONDRIAN), 2017 at Marian Goodman Gallery.  Baldessari has been creating his own reference points, art historical tarot cards that mash up imagery of artists with a enigmatic word or phrase at the bottom.  This personal lexicon has seen pairings of Giotto/Miro and Pollock/Benton.  All Z”S, matches Picabia and Mondrian.

“This was the first time I collided the two, Picabia and Mondrian. Mondrian is an icon of contemporary art. I felt it was the time to put the two together. Collision is a working principle of mine. When you collide two things, you see what makes them special or different.” (3)


JOHN BALDESSARI, All Z’s (Picabia/Mondrian): Zap, 2017, Varnished inkjet print on canvas with acrylic paint, Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery


Reappearance, in this endless space, that is what we are after, breathing life into ancient ideas or even newer ones.  Art illuminates this fact. Tomás Saraceno’s exhibition Solar Rhythms at Tonya Bonakdar reflects this cosmic essence, our tethered relationship to the sun, the invisible rotating chain of celestial circumstance.  And we have the favorable chance of drawing conclusions from these rites, private secrets, these acts of love and sacrifice made visible . . . “Grace/ to be born and live as variously as possible.” (Frank O’Hara).


Tomás Saraceno, Solar Rhythms installation view, courtesy of the artist and Tonya Bonakdar Gallery, Photo by JSB


  1.  Seph Rodney, Beauty and Disunity in Two Visions of the United States, April 20, 2018, Hyperallergic,