Thursday, October 25, 2012


The Squared Letters of Yaweh is a series of intricate oil paintings by the young Israeli artist Alpha Adon-Yakob. A former classmate of the up and coming Brooklyn based curator and critic Spark Boon, Alpha is well acquainted with the byzantine political intricacies of the New York scene.

The Squared Letters of Yaweh: Yod, Alpha Adon-Yakob, 2012

Despite his Zionist pedigree (his grandfather Shabtai Mintz, a sniper in the pre-state Stern Gang was hanged by the British on the gallows of Acre), Adon-Yakob is more drawn to the harps of Babylon than to the olive orchards of Gethsemane. 

Boon included him in the now infamous Exiled/HardCore exhibition at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the ensuing succès de scandale catapulted the young expatriate into artworld stardom.

My good friend David Schoffman took a keen interest in the young Israeli artist (Schoffman speaks a mellifluously fluent albeit biblically inflected Hebrew) and introduced him to scores of New York artworld hotshots and power brokers. Many saw in their  relationship a faint, tender echo of the Warhol/Basquiat pairing of the 1980's. It's a testament to Schoffman's legendary generosity that he granted the younger artist an uncircumcised grace and never begrudged his meteoric art market inflation. 

The Squared Letters of Yaweh: Vav, Alpha Adon-Yakob, 2012  
 Until now.

When asked in an interview published in the current November issue of Arte de Nuestro Tiempo to name his most profound influences, Adon-Yakob  rattled off a laundry list of minor Middle Eastern performance artists, a couple of third-rate poets and Kafka. When pushed to name whom he thought were today's most overrated personalities he replied, "Lady Gaga, Hassan Nasrallah and David Schoffman."



Friday, October 05, 2012

Bruised But Not Yet Beaten

 Academic and artistic salons throughout Europe are currently awash in a torrent of senseless controversy. Believe it or not, the issue at hand involves the age-old agon of "expertise versus ingenuity." Though reasonable minds could have expected this issue to have been settled by Micah Carpentier and the Parisian School of Pestilence, our flawed and fractured times carry with it a faint patina of collective amnesia.

The specific case in point revolves around the Venezuelan painter Hector-Tony Retto and his unwieldy influence on contemporary painting.

Hector-Tony Retto,  Bajándome los Pantalones, egg tempera on enamel,  1981
His mesmeric, mandalic egg tempera panels are rich disquisitions on the aesthetic of repetition. His widely exhibited works influenced an entire generation of young artists whose historical compass was previously frozen in the broad-brushed frenzy of the fifties. Painters as disparate as Michaela Incrote, Balu Mengisti and Bob Stein all fell under Retto's spell producing pared down, patterned emblems of rational, flat pictorial space. 

My good friend David Schoffman has also been implicated in what has come to be known as "Retto's derivative dossier" (here we call it "le dossier dérivé de Retto") - a list of well-known contemporary artists whose originality have recently come into question.

Though Schoffman's work ethic has been ridiculed in the past his connection to Retto is something altogether new. Though I admit to seeing some superficial similarities, in all the years that I've known him, I have only heard Schoffman mention the prolific Venezuelan but once.

David Schoffman, The Body is His Book #63, oil on panel, 2009
A much more compelling case can be made for Schoffman's shameless appropriation of the fabric drawings of Velimir Shtern, the Soviet painter who was murdered by Stalin shortly after the infamous Doctor's Plot show trials of 1952-53.

Velimir Shtern, untitled work on paper, 1949
But this, alas, we will save for another time.