Required Reading

Michael Friedrich writes for the Believer about the sad billionaire park on Manhattan’s West Side as part of a larger tends of super rich-led urban planning:

But parks like this are not oases, nor are they a public good. Since New York City’s High Line opened in 2009, high-designed green spaces with major private funding, like the 606 in Chicago and the BeltLine in Atlanta, have become reliable tools to increase property values and spur luxury development, uprooting working people from previously affordable neighborhoods in the process—in other words, tools to engineer gentrification. Originally conceived by civic-minded community members, the High Line today is a model for cities and investors who want to remake whole neighborhoods for the wealthy.

Little Island, for its part, seems more like a death rattle than a new stage of life. The park was funded by media magnate Barry Diller and will be overseen by the Hudson River Park Trust, a nonprofit created in 1998 by New York State to develop parkland along a stretch of Manhattan’s shoreline. While Little Island is technically public, it has no clear purpose but to sell us a billionaire’s sleek SimCity fantasy. What happens when a neighborhood reaches saturation point for gentrification, and a city simply gives up the ruse that it’s anything other than a playground for tourists, the “creative class,” and absentee real estate investors? Little Island may offer the first true post-High Line answer.

Eloise Hendy writes about the abortion-relation paintings by Paula Rego currently on display at Tate Britain in London, and why artists should stop treating the medical procedure as a taboo:

The need to confront the issue is as urgent now as it was when Rego created her series. Art can be a powerful tool: the impact of Rego’s series was so significant it has been credited with helping sway Portuguese public opinion towards a second, successful referendum in 2007.

Rego’s work is being displayed at Tate Britain at an especially poignant time, as the UK government is currently examining whether to make at-home abortions a permanent option in England. Introduced temporarily during the pandemic, the measure allows those up to 10 weeks pregnant to receive the medical pills necessary for a termination in the post. It removes the need to travel to a clinic, making access easier for the most vulnerable in society.

Christopher Knight writes about three things not to miss in the LA County Museum of Art’s new Modern art installation:

Second surprise: Nearby, two small paintings made in California in the 1920s amplify the possibilities for discovery by artists who aren’t widely known. Miki Hayakawa (1899–1953) and Yun Gee (1906–63), immigrants to the Bay Area from Japan and China, respectively, and students together at the California School of Fine Arts, encapsulate a fractured, tumultuous period.

Hayakawa’s portrait of a handsome, dapper young Black man derives from the Postimpressionist technique of Paul Cézanne. Both the figure and its abstract space are chiseled from an orderly patchwork of short, considered brushstrokes.

For JSTOR Daily, Angelica Frey writes about soap bubbles in historical European art:

When it comes to the visual arts, we have to credit Dutch artists for making bubbles a popular subject. In 1574, the Dutch painter Cornelis Ketel depicted a husky putto (cherub) standing against a cloudy sky on a bed of grass, in the act blowing bubbles. The inscription above, in Greek, reads “man is a bubble.” This panel is on the reverse of a portrait of Adam Wachendorff, the secretary of the London offices of the Hanseatic League, a trading alliance of European cities.

“It is likely that Ketel’s painting provides the first appearance of a soap bubble, as opposed to the more traditional air bubble on a water surface as in the Dialogue of Lucian,” writes the mathematician Michele Emmer in the journal Leonardo. (In 2019, Emmer curated a monographic exhibition on bubbles across the arts in Perugia, Italy.) In 1594, Hendrik Goltzius completed bubble- and putto-themed engravings that cemented the soap bubble as an enduring theme in Dutch art. In one titled “Homo Bulla,” a putto languidly leans on a skull as he absent-mindedly looks at the bubbles he just blew.

Art historian Kimberly Orcutt writes to Panorama, the journal of the Association of Historians of American Art, about a recent issue that explores systemic racism. Let’s just say it’s worth reading. Also, the response from the editors is sharp. They write:

In her letter to the editor, Kimberly Orcutt writes, “The traditional definition of racism, as I understand it, is words, actions, or attitudes that show prejudice based on race.” While it may be true that this is in some respects a traditional definition of the term, it is equally true that it is a somewhat flattened one. By focusing on instances of racism enacted or espoused by individual people or institutions, it ignores the systems of power that support inequity. Systemic, structural, or institutional racism, unlike traditional definitions of racism, offers a corrective by opening up the conversation to include discussion of the accumulated beliefs, policies, practices, and patterns of discrimination that have assumed the superiority of white people and devalued and threatened the lives of people of color. Or as best-selling author of So You Want to Talk About Race Ijeoma Oluo succinctly puts it: “racism [is] a prejudice against someone based on race, when those prejudices are reinforced by systems of power.”1 Art, as a social system, participates in the exploitation, minoritization, and marginalization of people of color, and therefore its study engages in this discussion, as well. As noted by Director of the Peabody Museum Jane Pickering, “Museums and archives today are in the throes of profound change as they grapple with the fraught legacies of colonialism, imperialism, and slavery—all of which played fundamental roles in building cultural institutions of the Western world. Exploring and acknowledging the complex histories of their institutions, scholars and museum professionals are scrutinizing with new eyes the objects, documents, and photographs housed and curated in these collections.”2 We at Panorama are a part of this re-evaluation and reassessment, as we publish scholarship that engages with museum collections, institutions, and archives.

Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie has written an essay on her personal website, and her commentary about her students is something I think a lot of people will be able to relate to:

In certain young people today like these two from my writing workshop, I notice what I find increasingly troubling: a cold-blooded grasping, a hunger to take and take and take, but never give; a massive sense of entitlement; an inability to show gratitude; an ease with dishonesty and pretension and selfishness that is couched in the language of self-care; an expectation always to be helped and rewarded no matter whether deserving or not; language that is slick and sleek but with little emotional intelligence; an astonishing level of self-absorption; an unrealistic expectation of puritanism from others; an over-inflated sense of ability, or of talent where there is any at all; an inability to apologize, truly and fully, without justifications; a passionate performance of virtue that is well executed in the public space of Twitter but not in the intimate space of friendship.

I find it obscene.

This article about alien colonization of space is fascinating. Writing for Gizmodo, George Dvorsky explains:

Things start off slow in the simulation, but the civilization’s rate of spread really picks up once the power of exponential growth kicks in. But that’s only part of the story; the expansion rate is heavily influenced by the increased density of stars near the galactic center and a patient policy, in which the settlers wait for the stars to come to them, a result of the galaxy spinning on its axis.

The whole process, in which the entire inner galaxy is settled, takes one billion years. That sounds like a long time, but it’s only somewhere between 7% and 9% the total age of the Milky Way galaxy. 

I’m sure you’re all shocked by Media Matters’s discovery that nearly a dozen Fox News guests, who presented as concerned parents or educators opposing the teaching of so-called “critical race theory” in schools, also have day jobs as Republican strategists, conservative think-tankers, or right-wing media personalities:

Fox, the leading propaganda outlet for the GOP, plays a key role in this strategy. The network has mentioned “critical race theory” nearly 1,300 times over the past three and a half months. The purportedly sinister spread of “critical race theory” provides a perfect framework for Fox’s technique of highlighting local concerns to fuel the culture war. The network supercharges the individual, at times dubious, stories that filter up with the help of nationally backed local activists, other right-wing outlets, and social media. Fox has targeted the purported influence of “critical race theory” in corporate America, the military, and particularly schools, hosting parents, teachers, and other educators to talk about how they don’t want it taught in their communities.

In several of those cases, the locals Fox has highlighted are also Republican strategists, conservative think-tankers, or right-wing media figures — ties the network has downplayed or ignored altogether. This trend is particularly notable when Fox covers “critical race theory” controversies in Northern Virginia, a bedroom community for Washington, D.C., in a state where GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin has sought to make his opposition a central issue in the fall.

Anand Giridharadas pokes holes in the myth of the “good billionaire“:

But as America slouches toward plutocracy, our problem isn’t the virtue level of billionaires. It’s a set of social arrangements that make it possible for anyone to gain and guard and keep so much wealth, even as millions of others lack for food, work, housing, health, connectivity, education, dignity and the occasion to pursue their happiness.

There is no way to be a billionaire in America without taking advantage of a system predicated on cruelty, a system whose tax code and labor laws and regulatory apparatus prioritize your needs above most people’s. Even noted Good Billionaire Mr. Buffett has profited from Coca-Cola’s sugary drinks, Amazon’s union busting, Chevron’s oil drilling, Clayton Homes’s predatory loans and, as the country learned recently, the failure to tax billionaires on their wealth.

For anyone who reads local news sites, this will probably ring true:

Local news comment sections pic.twitter.com/ISd3LmULQC

— Brent Terhune (@BrentTerhune) June 15, 2021

Yes, people still have weird ideas about museums:

FYI #Museum Peers, someone told me that if it’s not in a museum it must not have been/be important to our American story.

Explaining museums were equally complicit in espousing the greatness of Western/European culture while devaluing others seems to be hard to grasp for some.

— Christy S Coleman (@HistoryGonWrong) June 7, 2021

Required Reading is published every Saturday, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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Nathaniel Mackey’s Epic Poem

Since 2015, following the Charleston Church Massacre, protest groups and municipalities across the United States have removed over 150 Confederate memorials. If toppling a statue is an exclamation point, challenging one interpretation of history, the empty spaces that remain leave us with a lingering set of question marks. One question — what to do with the vacancies — has prompted a variety of responses. Some advocate for erecting elaborate memorials to Black liberation, while others have proposed simply preserving the vestigial pedestals, with all distinguishing marks removed. But these questions sidestep the more central issue. The history of Black fugitivity — with its resistance to state-sanctioned power structures — stands at odds with the ideology of monuments on several grounds, the implicit embrace of fixity being perhaps the most apparent.

The tension between fugitivity and monuments nevertheless proves generative in the recent publication by the eminent scholar and poet Nathaniel Mackey. At over a thousand pages, his highly anticipated three-book box set Double Trio has monumentality written all over it. Laid flat, the hulking three-in-one tome itself resembles a vacant marble plinth. Yet Mackey suggests a different approach to the project of memorialization: Rather than fixing public memory in stone, the work attains its monumental size by abandoning such predilections. If monuments commonly exist as a means of taking hold, Mackey’s makes a monumental gesture out of letting go. Memories both collective and individual appear and disappear without warning — surrendering one makes room for another — in a meditative work that feels as if it could stop at any moment or continue on forever.

Over the past 15 years, Mackey has ascended to a status rarely achieved by writers of any sort, let alone those who avoid the call of conventional forms. His eminence in the fields of experimental literature and diasporic studies is in part due to his fluency with various kinds of writing. While poets have long written essays about poetic form, Mackey was part of an early generation to double as literary scholar, serving as perhaps the leading example of what we mean by the phrase “poet-critic.” In Double Trio, his idea of the poem remains in many ways a reflection on those writers who figure prominently in his own critical writing: Amiri Baraka, Kamau Brathwaite, Charles Olson, and Robert Duncan. Yet where they’ve gone through numerous stylistic changes over their careers, Mackey has stayed the course, arriving at a poetic idiom early on that has remained flexible enough to carry him through all six of his previous collections, each, like Double Trio, comprised of two ongoing serial poems, “Song of the Andoumboulou” and “Mu.

Photo by Nina Subin

This idiom — characterized by subjunctive syntax, permeative repetition, and hypnotic alliteration — draws heavily upon Mackey’s omnipresent interest in improvisational music. A one-time public radio DJ, he brings his discographic intelligence to bear on a range of expressive forms, from the epistolary novel and scholarly monograph to the long-form poem and solo editorship of the journal Hambone. In these endeavors, Mackey works out an ever-evolving canon attuned to dissonance, where diverse traditions of song coalesce and clash over the promise of utopia, at the margins of mainstream society.

Double Trio is the kind of literary object that only a prominent poet, with a string of awards (Ruth Lilly, Bollingen, National Book), could make, or rather get published. Even with the increase in notoriety, Mackey’s writing remains a vast, unwieldy chronicle of speculative migration — following as it does a roving band of troubadours from one outlandish outpost to another. Here, he extends the epic sweep that has been a part of his work going back to his first chapbooks to the level of book design. Far from being a superficial projection of literary reputation, this chance to experiment with the size of the container has enabled Mackey to bring his celebrated brand of cross-cultural poetics to bear on our moment of disputed monumentality.

This subject of monumentality materializes throughout the book as a thematic concern. One instance comes near the end of the first volume, Tej Bet.

Sister C stood white as a ghost, never more
naked, no coat of color in sight’s way. What
we saw in her face was its critique of sight’s
tease, musing forfeiture, straw we grabbed at,
grope
no matter we might. “Say something,” it said,
unremitting, “Say something,” meaning to or
not. “Say something,” the it underneath it also
said…
“Dreamt I woke up dreaming dream’s defeat,”
we all said at once. We held our noses at the polling
place. Not to get weary she counseled us, weary
though we already were. No one worth voting for to
vote
for, we broke into a dragged-foot walk. It was a
slow commencement walk, dirgelike, polis’s roots’
recall… Polis was a wall we remembered, polis
was

to keep others out. We make our peace with the
passing of things caroling complaint, peace our
bulería belied. Piled rocks, rock pile, part spill,
part
rumba, peace with the passage of time. Polis’s
would be reign armed against it, slow tread we gave
ourselves over too, up to, monument’s erosion we
re-
hearsed…

Returning to Olson’s idealization of the Greek city-state, Mackey, ever the wary contrarian, reminds us that polis is still the police, poll taxes, ineffectual polemics and territorial partitions. Mackey’s tendency to speak through an invocation of the unspeakable is contextualized here by the history of Black voter suppression and closed borders in the United States. The death of the dream, alluding to Martin Luther King Jr.’s renowned “I Have a Dream” speech and Ezra Pound’s “The enormous tragedy of the dream,” is felt in the material collapse of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, as well as the lack of viable options for minority representation.

Mackey’s meditation on political representation morphs into a consideration of the representational politics of the monument. He links the battered stone and the subjugated population through the invocation of “[p]iled rocks, rock pile.” The implied image of a chain gang suggests something larger than the monument. This something is the condition of common weariness, expressed as the work song, the rhumba, and the flamenco bulería. As a collective spirit, common weariness poses alternatives to monumentality. The “dragged foot walk” sets off a “slow commencement,” where slow implies letting go, in opposition to the aspirational permanence of state monumentality. The “slow tread” sees value not in standing the test of time but in “making our peace with the passing of things.” The work of alternative monumentality lies in the ongoing rehearsal of the monument’s erosion.

The ethos of letting go carries increased significance given Mackey’s admission in the preface that he wrote Double Trio in “a period during which earlier health crises continued to occur, with further complications and greater severity.” More than any of his previous volumes, this collection strikes a plaintive, almost confessional note. In a strikingly uncharacteristic poem, Mackey narrates the act of letting go of those material things that have made possible his poetic life, doing so, ironically, through letting go of his own unerringly regular sense of form.

The box of lens wipes on the desk
across the room rubbed away…
The sheen on the wood floor erased…
The

mug of tea on the coffee table up
in steam… The Frances Gray poster
gone in a flash… The rollaway, write-on
measuring tape dispatched… The Julius
Hemp-

phill record whisked away… The Leila
Pinheiro CD a quick mist… The Splen-
dours and Miseries
book fallen through the
floor…

All just barely a begin-
ning

                                                                    

The lyric has none of Mackey’s characteristic disembodied dialogue between characters as irritable as they are playful; no names rearranged to the point that naming becomes a philosophical matter; and no mythopoetic inquests to one of several African Orishas. In the absence of those formal features, that make Mackey’s line the equivalent of Miles’s muted trumpet, recognizable from around the block, the passage appears to be almost conventional. And yet, the poem only masquerades as an account of the everyday. It is a visionary experience, evident in the emphasis Mackey places not on the visible but the invisible, not on things themselves, but on their beguiling disappearance. The effect is melancholic, for it is a sobering vision. The material realm, with its illusions of certainty and solidity, has melted into air, an omen of the poet’s own undoing.

These two concerns — the external crises of white nationalism and the internal crisis of deteriorating health — account for the monumental size of the Double Trio. In the preface, Mackey discloses that such severities stirred him to turn with renewed commitment to the prospect of a daily poetry practice. “During this time,” he writes, “a certain disposition or dispensation came upon me that I would characterize or sum up with the words all day music.” What Mackey gets from the all day, as opposed to the everyday, is a sense of ongoing availability, a rhapsodic counterpart to the news ticker, enabling the poet some latitude to either digest or digress. The ongoing nature of the all day figures at the end of the lyric above. Though stripped bare of flourish, the lines maintain one of the characteristic tics of the Mackey style: the monosyllabic orphan word hanging perilously over the edge. This one remnant pulls us through the vision, never allowing us to settle too long in loss. Letting go is never gone; it continues on, “just barely a begin-/ning.”

Double Trio by Nathaniel Mackey is published by New Directions and is available online and in bookstores.

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Poetry at the Intersection of Art and Twitter

When you start “Self-Portrait, 1864 Self-Portrait, 1896 Self-Portrait,” the first poem in Ken Babstock’s Swivelmount, you might assume you’re heading into the realm of ekphrasis, a poet writing about a work of art — think Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts,” Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” or the passage describing Achilles’ shield in the Iliad. But Babstock’s too canny, and frankly too weird, a poet to begin a meditation on Cézanne just by looking at a picture. Instead, he’s following a Cézanne Twitter account (“the bot posting canvases, in no discernible order”) and listing, in an almost epic catalogue, the character traits he shares with the painter, based on the astrological implications of their shared birthday:

Ken Babstock, Swivelmount (Coach House Books)

stubborn, practical, not given
to extravagance, self-reliant,
detached, unfussed by material

goods, prone to morbidity,
patient to the point of inertia,
unmothered, emotionally

avoidant, driven to infer meaning
from context, overly fond
of sardine and whites

from the sandy Languedoc…

Art-viewing via Twitter makes for strange bedfellows: Babstock has a screen grab juxtaposing Cézanne’s “Rocks at Fountainebleau” (1898) with an Italian football scene and a snatch from Susan Sontag’s diary: “Nothing but humiliation and / degradation at the thought of / physical relations with a man.” 

If Sontag was put off by the male sex, Babstock observes, Cézanne was an utter failure at rendering the body in general:

Why did you ever go near

the human form, Paul? I mean,
your bathers are atrocious,
atrocious in your eyes

even as you painted
their buttocks and lumpy torsos
as turnipy, waxen, over-leavened

pains de campagne

Perhaps Cézanne painted human beings, however incompetently, because the “mass and relation” of landscape and still life were not enough, because (as Babstock writes in the opening poem) he “wanted release from the mountain’s chronic / dissembling,” and was “lonely in the face of stone and bough.” Thank heavens for Twitter, where Babstock, the painter’s fellow Capricorn, can find a “supportive community,” “so many subject-slices / you couldn’t have known / in the south.”

That last statement is bitterly ironic: the “subject-slices” of the internet are a poor substitute for actual human connection. “Self-Portrait, 1864 Self-Portrait, 1896 Self-Portrait,” it’s clear, is a “self-portrait” of the poet refracted through his encounter with the painter, a jittery, rambling meditation on how the artist’s — or poet’s — obsession with analyzing, taking apart, and reconfiguring the perceived world can ultimately leave that very world in fragments: “the mountain never / returns whole from having / been worshipped to pieces.”

A number of the poems in Swivelmount interact with artworks: several more Cézannes, the Paul Klee of “Die Zwitscher-Maschine” (the poem referring to the 1922 artwork of the same name), and the very strange poem “Dream of the Cerne Abbas Giant,” in which the ithyphallic English chalk hill figure bemoans his lot (“I am a stick thing”). Babstock is nothing if not an observant, looking poet: “I am present to you,” he writes in “Single Cell” (and in the voice of a temporarily earthbound Greek god), “by thunder / and by cameras on swivel mounts.” 

The “swivel mount” itself is arresting. A quick Google search reveals that these days swivel mounts most frequently serve one of two purposes: camera supports (as in Babstock’s line), and brackets for flatscreen televisions. The swivel mount, then, signifies a sensibility that is both active and passive, turning and peering at the world around him, and being fed the images and ideas of a mediatized culture. Babstock’s poems are both high-art camera and, as he suggests in “Velodome, We’re Not Out Yet,” mass-media viewer:

My 
happiness has always
needed a screen
onto which its forms
can be cast as ghosts. 

The visual arts are only a part of what falls under the poet’s gaze. “Category Mistake” is a sonnet for Anna Politkovskaya (1958-2006), the journalist assassinated (presumably) for her coverage of Russia’s brutalities in Chechnya: “She died / knowing the risks — or didn’t, and just died. / When the horse rears up, I eat pellets of sky. / When the horse of state rears up, I eat.” “Another American Massacre” is a chillingly bureaucratic tiptoe around one of our most recent domestic mass shootings — which massacre, Babstock does not specify.

Swivelmount is not a collection that revolves around a single set of themes, but rather a set of lyrical meditations, inviting us to accompany the poet as he works through ideas and impressions in impressively eloquent and varied language. Babstock presents a persona that is genial, intelligent, and full of a kind of thwarted passion for the world. One of the poems’ most characteristic affects is a kind of admiring, slightly fearful bafflement — a sense that the whole truth of reality is tantalizingly just beyond one’s grasp. The world is an endlessly fascinating and fearful place, full of joys, horrors, and surprises. Babstock’s language, pivoting around surreal metaphors and far-fetched juxtapositions, captures that fear and fascination, and does so in cunningly crafted explorations of how our language attempts — and sometimes fails — to take account of reality.

Take, for instance, the ending of “Tasked with Designing the Vienna House.” (The title refers to philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s design, with Paul Engelmann, of his sister Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein’s severely modernist Kundmanngasse townhouse.)

In Rotterdam I sat
in a very narrow folding seat while
Tranströmer played ‘Piano Concerto
for the Left Hand’ which Ravel
had written for Wittgenstein’s brother
who’d lost his right hand in the war.
A vessel burst in my right eye.
A vessel leaves port bound for my
right eye. Imagine the right feelings.

We begin with a moment of personal memory: Babstock watching the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, his left side paralyzed by a stroke, playing the piano. “Left” evokes “right,” which moves from denoting the “hand” (Paul Wittgenstein’s and Tranströmer’s) to the poet’s own eye, and then becomes a marker of decorum or rectitude — “the right feelings.” “Vessel” shifts from a blood vessel to a ship. The playing of Ravel’s concerto has become the playing of a particularly slippery “language-game,” to use one of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s terms.

“Selected Inventory” plays the language game of definition, solemnly scrolling down a long procession of items, taking inventory of the human life-world:

A clock, an instrument of measurement,
measures intervals.
Your face an instrument that measures change.
Change measures depletion in the self,
floaters in the visual field…

Measurement is key here, space and time parceled out according to one’s perception: “Time is slower at / the top of a six-foot ladder. Between / the rungs are intervals. Measured / by the change of your facial muscle.” Measurement and its cousin, comparison, are at once invidious and inevitable human responses to the world, and the poem registers this tension in the increasing strangeness of its inventory:

Translucent 
nymphs measure the
quotient of evil
in a city
through choral singing
and the rudimentary
use of tools.

A shark is a tool for testing
the veracity of claims for pathenogenesis.
Great Whites have been observed
off the Cape attempting to eat the sun.
Hammerheads, their own faces.
Greenland sharks are an analogue for unspoken
snags in your emotional geometry
left for years to drift silently under
layers of surface ice. The pressure is incredible.
The sun, also, is incredible.

The poem ends rather like Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921), whose lapidary last sentence places the ethical and the aesthetic outside the realm of logical argument: “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen” (Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent):

There
are words worth sharing,
after which we should
not say more. A candle
in the window is a door.

Babstock’s lines, gentler than the philosopher’s, gesture toward the mutuality of language; there are, after all, “words worth sharing,” and beyond them, the possibility of shelter from the storm of ultimately impenetrable phenomena, shelter in one another’s dwellings: “A candle / in the window is a door.” However wry, anxious, bewildered, and sometimes baffled they may seem to be, Babstock’s poems are a row of such candle-lit windows, inviting us to enter and share the poet’s engaging and compelling sensibility.

Swivelmount by Ken Babstock (2020) is published by Coach House Books and is available online and in bookstores.

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What to Make of Nero?

LONDON — Have you ever been bothered by a Roman emperor? This question has been plaguing me for centuries. It turns up after a bad night on the town. It turns up after a good day on the links. It is like the future — or indeed the present: it never stops coming. Fortunately, I have found a solution. And solutions are for the sharing …

That august, heavily pedimented institution in the heart of old Bloomsbury called the British Museum has just opened a new exhibition that, speaking for myself alone, addresses one of life’s most burning questions, and it is this: 

Did that tyrannical, matricidal blackguard Nero really fiddle while Rome burned? Or not? 

There are various ancillary questions with which I will scarcely trouble you. No, I shall trouble you with one. After all, a torment shared is a torment halved. That single ancillary question is: was Nero a fiddler by trade or not?

Terracotta relief showing a chariot-race, Italy (40–70 CE) (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

Today I addressed Nero in person (that is to say, the exhibition Nero: the man behind the myth), and there I found the truth at last (though somewhat nuanced — as truth, maddeningly, so often proves to be). 

From one little corner, tucked somewhat away from the great and glamorous, flood-lit parade of oversized, toga’ed and armored Roman heroes and heroines of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, all aggrandized and idealized in gleaming marble, with which this exhibition greets you, there comes the sound of roaring flames and helpless voices crying out … 

Yes, the exhibition has restaged the burning of Rome in 64 CE, albeit in a pared back sort of way. Stare into a long display case, and you can even see a great meshing of ancient twisted metal — genuine evidence of what happened. This is incontrovertible stuff. Twisted metal and smashed heads always are. 

But what of the emperor himself? Where was he to be found when the flames were greedily consuming everything and everyone in sight? And, more to my point, what exactly was he up to? 

Miniature portrait of Agrippina the Younger (37–39 CE), Chalcedony (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

In fact, he was not necessarily in Rome at all, comes the answer from the dust-laden experts in the back rooms. What is more, he did not even play the fiddle. But he was a performer — and the exhibition digs into his performing habits rather well. If it was not to be a fiddle, what was it then? The lyre! Of course! Who would not want to match Apollo, the greatest lyrist of them all? Yes, Nero did a great deal of very accomplished lyring in his time. 

He was an actor too. He relished performing in public. The bloodier and more tragic the role, the better. Orestes. Oedipus. Those sorts of people. In fact, he loved all kinds of public display, and he created magnificent buildings — the Circus Maximus, for example — to wow all those plebs whose loyalty he so desperately needed to buy, and especially given that the Senate was so undependable — as were most of the intellectuals of his day. They hated him. And hatred tends to feed willful misrepresentation, of course.

After Rome burned, he built himself a great palace, one much more opulent than the last. The exhibition tries to make as much as possible of the few sad (though beautiful) remnants that remain of it — bits of painted wall in plaster, for example — assembling them in an illuminated rotunda that almost possesses the visual allure of your local shopping mall. 

The Fenwick Hoard, England (60–61 CE) (© Colchester Museums)

What are the most humanly affecting objects in this show? Not these many images of idealized Romans. They are as cold and as humanly improbable as they are magnificent — with the exception perhaps of a small portrait head of Nero’s second wife, Poppaea Sabina. She is ravishing — and so touchingly realized by her sculptor. Women play quite a large part in the Nero story. Agrippina, his wily and overbearing mother, who was his chief advisor for a while, for example, at the beginning of his reign. Nero needed someone to hold his hand. He was only 16 years old when he became emperor, after all. Upon entering the exhibition you see a life-sized marble statue of this rather helpless, vulnerable looking, smallish boy-man who was being dragged into a terrifying future of factionalism and wars without end on various different frontiers. You surely cannot help but feel a modicum of pity for that child. Here was a boy who needed his mother. Unfortunately, she proved less useful, and less companionable, later. He had her murdered.

The other object that demands much sober inspection is a long length of metal shackling, each link fatter than a sausage. Its presentation, in a long display case within a section devoted to Nero’s endless military campaigns, is haunting. Not that he himself ever fought, of course, though images of him displayed on coins, on horseback in full armor, might suggest otherwise. No, he sent others to perish on his behalf, as mighty delegators so often do. This length of shackling — which is displayed on thinnish, columnar supports where it looks like a fat, malign snake on the slither — would have been attached to a human leg. And it bespeaks what underpinned the “greatness” of this empire: slavery. 

It all ended rather badly for Nero, of course. He faced too much opposition from the Senate and elsewhere, too much adversarial scheming, in the end. Having dispatched so many, he had to be dispatched too. He decided to do it himself, aided by his ever-faithful imperial freedman, Epaphroditus. Nero was 30 when he committed suicide in June 68 CE, still almost as young and as vigorous — and what a cute hairstyle he had! — as his many absurdly idealized images suggest. 

Head from a bronze statue of the emperor Nero. Found in England (54– 61 CE) (© The Trustees of the British Museum)

Chaos ensued in the immediate aftermath of his death. There were four claimants for the title of emperor, and they all fought each other bloodily. Vespasian won out in the end, and one of the final objects in the show is a portrait bust of the new emperor in marble, which, at one time — oh, not so long ago at all — had been a portrait of the head of Nero. With a little deft work it has been transformed into a bust of the new emperor. What skillful and cunning craftsmen these Romans were. No wonder the empire kept chugging along (if you discount the later, eastern bit) for another 400 years. 

Nero: the man behind the myth continues at the British Museum (Great Russell Street, London, England) through October 24.

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Matthew Wong’s Indelible Impressions

In his brief time as an artist, Matthew Wong (1984–2019) addressed a paradox that haunts artists who work in traditional mediums: how do you accommodate the medium while also becoming yourself. It takes some artists years to become themselves, while others seem to balance traditions and individuality from the outset. Wong belongs to the latter group. 

For Wong, an artist of Chinese descent, living and working in Hong Kong, Zhongshan, China, and Edmonton, Canada — the East and the West — the paradox encompasses cultural and racial considerations. I think this is reflected in his first choice of materials, which he continued to use throughout his the rest of his life. 

In 2012, shortly after Wong graduated from the City University of Hong Kong School of Creative Media with an MFA in photography, he began drawing. In 2014, in an interview in online magazine Altermodernists (October 29, 2014), he stated that he initially started with a sketchbook and a bottle of ink and making “a mess every day randomly.” 

He also stated: 

Art is all-encompassing in my daily life. When I’m not working, I’m at the library doing research into the history of art, figuring out where I can fit into the greater dialogue between artists throughout time, or on the internet looking at art-related websites and engaging in dialogue on social media with artists and art-world figures around the world.

Matthew Wong, “Untitled” (2015), ink on rice paper, 26 3/4 x 22 1/8 inches, 35 1/4 x 30 1/4 x 2 inches framed (©2021 Matthew Wong Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Photography: Alex Yudzon / Cheim & Read, New York)

Wong had his debut solo show in New York at Karma in 2018. His second show at Karma, Matthew Wong: Blue (November 8, 2019–January 5, 2020), was posthumous. While it was apparent from his first exhibition that drawing was central to his practice, and that he proceeded mark by mark, it was not clear until his current exhibition, Matthew Wong: Footprints in the Wind, Ink Drawings 2013 – 2017, at Cheim & Read (May 5–September 11, 2021), just how deeply his work is rooted in the practice of ink drawing on rice paper.

Rice paper was invented in China at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618–907 CE). Initially used to write on, it was not until the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368) ruled China that artists who wanted to break away from previous generations began painting in ink on rice paper rather than silk. I cannot imagine that Wong did not know this history. It seems that consciously being a Chinese artist was the foundation upon which he began and from which he never wavered, even as he absorbed a wide range of references and influences. In the catalogue published on the occasion of this exhibition, Dawn Chan writes: 

We know that Wong specifically fixed his attention on the art of Shitao, as well as those of his [Shitao’s] contemporary, Bada Shanren. Both artists were famous for pushing the envelope in their work — for moving ink painting towards surprising moments of expressive abstraction. Their influence is deeply integrated in Wong’s own works. Wong maintained a committed ink-art practice, making an ink painting every morning. Painting immediately after waking, before food or coffee, he experimented boldly with the medium, pouring paint and letting it pool on the page. 

It seems to me that this should change how we look at Wong. Instead of seeing him as a self-taught Chinese artist gesturing toward the work of western artists, such as Vincent van Gogh, Lois Dodd, and Julian Schnabel for inspiration and guidance, as Roberta Smith and Jerry Saltz proposed, he was absorbing the work of western artists through the lens of Chinese art, specifically ink painting, which cannot be revised or scraped away, as well as carved lacquerware. 

Matthew Wong, “Winter Wind” (2016), ink on rice paper, 31 3/4 x 27 1/8 inches,
40 1/4 x 35 x 2 inches framed (©2021 Matthew Wong Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Photography: Alex Yudzon / Cheim & Read, New York)

Like the older Chinese artist Liu Xiaodong (b. 1963), who has expanded the common view of realism and observational painting by working on site, often on a monumental scale, Wong has broadened what is commonly defined as calligraphic art and painting based on mark making. Liu redefined observational painting in order to subvert the propagandistic idealization of Russian-style Socialist Realism, which he learned in school, while Wong expanded ink painting out of a desire to make a space in which the two cultures that shaped him fit together. For these reasons this exhibition is important to an understanding of Wong’s work. It charts his development as well as underscores his decisiveness and self-directed drive. 

Given the misguided view among many westerners of Chinese art as a tradition based on copying, it is not surprising that the New York art world has qualified its recognition of Liu and Wong as innovative artists who moved both western art (realism) and Chinese art (abstract mark making) in a new direction. 

In “Untitled” (ink on rice paper, 15 1/2 by 27 inches, 2013), the earliest work in the exhibition, Wong stained the absorbent paper with different densities of ink, ranging from deep black to washy gray, essentially eschewing the calligraphic line. It is, of course, calligraphy that most appealed to western artists interested in line, from van Gogh to Mark Tobey and Robert Motherwell. 

By staining the paper with irrevocable shapes and marks, Wong undercut any evidence of tentativeness that he might have felt. What is remarkable about this early ink is the degree of confidence with which Wong evokes a complex, atmospheric space of near and far. 

Wong’s process for the ink drawings was incremental. In “Untitled” (ink on paper, 31 by 57 ½ inches, 2014), he poured ink as well as used a loaded and dry brush, depending on what he was after. As with the 2013 work, the subject is an abstract landscape that viewers cannot quite identify. Each mark, series of marks, or shape, seems to have called him to make another in response. 

Matthew Wong, “A Poet’s World” (2015), ink on rice paper, 62 3/4 x 31 1/2 inches, 66 1/2 x 35 1/2 x 3 inches framed (©2021 Matthew Wong Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Photography: Alex Yudzon / Cheim & Read, New York)

In “Untitled” (ink on paper, 30 ¾ by 57 ¼ inches, 2014), the dense, irregular grid of ragged, crisscrossing bands is made entirely by pouring, with the bands spreading in different areas and intervals. Already in these early works, the viewer should sense Wong’s restlessness and openness; he was not looking for a signature style. 

By 2015, he was combining large poured areas with swarms of small, repetitive marks, as in the overtly figurative “Untitled” (ink on paper, 26 3/4 by 22 1/8 inches), which is dominated by a silhouette of a what looks like a young girl that stretches from the paper’s top to bottom edge, amid a welter of vertical and horizontal marks of varying lengths and widths. A large, triangular opening in the silhouette’s rounded face is filled with lines, bonding her to the surroundings. The opening is echoed by another triangle that defines the space separating the nape of her neck, a braid of hair, and her shoulder. A thick brushstroke curving gently down from the front of the girl’s neck to the drawing’s bottom edge accentuates her connection with the surroundings, as the space between the brushstroke and her chest is filled with lines that are similar to those outside the thick line. 

2015 also marks the first time Wong titled a work. In the vertical “A Poet’s World” the silhouette of an outlined head and solidly stained body encounter a largely black, abstract landscape in the foreground. The dark landscape at the bottom edge transitions in the middle to outlined leaves and a pattern of parallel lines set at different angles. Above and beyond the figure and foreground, Wong has made a series of vertical lines, with a variety of marks in between. In the upper part of a tree trunk near the left edge, he has written the work’s title ideogrammatically. 

Matthew Wong, “Odyssey” (2017) ink on rice paper, 42 x 39 3/4 inches (©2021 Matthew Wong Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Photography: Alex Yudzon / Cheim & Read, New York)

It seems to me that Wong strongly identified with the Southern School of Chinese painters working in ink wash. Also known as the literati painters, they were more interested in inner realities than the outward appearances and devotion to realistic detail favored by artists associated with the Northern School. It is best to look at Wong’s art from this perspective. 

Remarkable as this might seem, it strikes me that by 2015 — just three years after he first devoted himself to art and drawing in ink — he had found his subject and assembled an abstract vocabulary of pouring, staining, and linework to create an entire world that is parallel to ours.

One of the recurring subjects of the literati painters was a lone traveler observing nature. This became a motif in Wong’s concentrated views of the inside of a flower or a figure gazing at the stars. At times, as in “Winter Wind” (2016), the hooded figure exudes a melancholia that brings to mind the work of Edvard Munch. 

In “Odyssey” (2017), a path ascends slowly as it recedes into distance, curving behind a dense archway of black tree trunks. Turning into the darkness, it is hard not to read this drawing metaphorically.    

Matthew Wong: Footprints in the Wind, Ink Drawings 2013 – 2017 continues at Cheim & Read (547 West 25th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through September 11.

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Rosemary Mayer’s Art of the Unseen

“Balloons can carry words, be deliberate signals for objects forcing connections. Then everything shifts in time and wind and mind.” — Rosemary Mayer, from Snow People series text (1979).

Time, memory, and change are at the center of Rosemary Mayer’s art. Although Mayer’s work has garnered some attention since her death in 2014 at the age of 71, she remains less known than many of her peers in New York’s 1970s post-minimalist and conceptual art scene (in which she was active, as an artist, critic, and founding member of the women’s cooperative gallery A.I.R.). 

Yet even at the height of her productivity in the mid- and late-1970s, her interest in the artists and rituals of the Renaissance and her unabashed embrace of emotion in her exploration of the evanescent set her apart from most artists working in her milieu. Even at its time, her work was untimely.

Installation view, “Pleasures and Possible Celebrations”: Rosemary Mayer’s Temporary Monuments, 1977-1981 at Gordon Robichaux, NY, 2021 (Courtesy Gordon Robichaux, NY. Photo: Gregory Carideo)

Mayer’s late-’70s performances, which she called “temporary monuments,” are the focus of “Pleasures and Possible Celebrations”: Rosemary Mayer’s Temporary Monuments, 1977–1981 at Gordon Robichaux (organized with the Estate of Rosemary Mayer). The exhibition features significant texts and ephemera for the performances Spell (April 1977), Some Days in April (April 1978), and the unrealized Connections, but the most compelling documents are Mayer’s drawings.

A group of drawings for Some Days in April states the title alongside a cluster of balloons — some barely outlined, others colored in — bearing people’s names as well as dates and the names of springtime stars and flowers.

The performance took place without an audience, in a field in upstate New York surrounded by trees still bare from the winter. Seven red, yellow, and white balloons, tethered to stakes festooned with ribbons, memorialized deceased loved ones who were connected by the month of April: her parents, both born in April, and artist Ree Morton, her close friend who died on April 30, 1977. 

Rosemary Mayer, “Some Days in April” (1978), colored pencil, ink, graphite, pastel, and watercolor on paper, 23.5 x 17.75 inches (Courtesy Gordon Robichaux, NY. Photo: Gregory Carideo)

In one drawing, several balloons crowd onto a sheet of light blue paper. Words on the balloons chatter like the voices they commemorate: on one, she notes her father’s name, Theodore, the number four for his April 4th birthday, the flower Columbine, and the star Regulus.

The blushing spring colors of the drawing evoke nature in full bloom; the celebratory atmosphere, the conviviality among the cluster of balloons, is all the more poignant for its elegiac undertones.

A text accompanying the performance elaborates on the balloons’ text in intimate, abstract language that eludes narrative. Mayer’s poetic descriptions have the hazy, dreamlike quality of memory, its ebbs and flows, its flashes of light that instantly recede into darkness. For her parents, she writes:

April was special because both their birthdays came then. There were presents, small parties on the nearest Sundays, cake after dinner or ice cream. The garden flowers came up; it wasn’t so cold; the days got a little longer.

Installation view, “Pleasures and Possible Celebrations”: Rosemary Mayer’s Temporary Monuments, 1977-1981 at Gordon Robichaux, NY, 2021 (Courtesy Gordon Robichaux, NY. Photo: Gregory Carideo)

A year before Some Days in April, Mayer created Spell. Her first temporary monument, it celebrated the annual opening of the Jamaica, Queens, farmers market with three giant white weather balloons. The phrases “iris returns,” “crocus returns,” and “hyacinth returns” written on the balloons heralded the coming of spring.

Four drawings included in the exhibition root Spell in historical seasonal rituals.  In two of them, drawings of the balloons and a woman in festive Renaissance attire overlay specifics of the performance. Another juxtaposes a similar drawing of a woman with a brief history of artists and pageantry (it begins, “It was artists who marked celebrations with decorations”), and a fourth merges musings on these histories with family memories. 

The drawings, along with performance flyers and notes, speak to the importance of text and, more broadly, language to Mayer’s practice. In Spell and Some Days in April, texts on the balloons serve as invocations, spells in themselves, summoning spirits across time. Other texts mark the events or record forgotten histories, but all foster a sense of intimacy with Mayer. She engaged with the nature of time and memory by immersing herself, and her audience, in their power. 

Installation view, “Pleasures and Possible Celebrations”: Rosemary Mayer’s Temporary Monuments, 1977-1981 at Gordon Robichaux, NY, 2021 (Courtesy Gordon Robichaux, NY. Photo: Gregory Carideo)

Mayer’s drawings, often composed of concentrated areas of detail and vibrant color that dissipate into slight, gossamer lines, have a provisional quality that reflects her temporary monuments. The passage of time is imbued with a sense of melancholy, of something already lost to the past.

Two sculptures round out the exhibition, “Scarecrow (model) for a field” (1978–79) and “17th Street Ghost” (1981/2021). Both recall the draped fabric sculptures Mayer produced in the early ’70s, here animated by their forms. For “Scarecrow,” the only extant sculpture from the time, fabrics in rich red, lilac, and brown hues cloak a skeletal armature made of wooden rods, a brown tulle “head” perched atop. 

“Scarecrow” represents a transition for Mayer from site-specific projects to the gallery space. Joyous and makeshift, it symbolizes seasonal harvests and harvest festivals; unsurprisingly, it feels somewhat stifled within the gallery.

Installation view, “Pleasures and Possible Celebrations”: Rosemary Mayer’s Temporary Monuments, 1977-1981 at Gordon Robichaux, NY, 2021 (Courtesy Gordon Robichaux, NY. Photo: Gregory Carideo)

“17th Street Ghost” is installed in a separate gallery space, along with a drawing for Spell. The work is related to “Scarecrow” but its radiating wooden rods are wrapped and layered with transparent materials such as glassine paper and cellophane instead of fabric. The natural light from a window transforms it into a mutable body that seems to materialize and dematerialize with different vantage points. 

Mayer intended her Ghost sculptures to be disassembled after being exhibited. In the 2018 book Temporary Monuments: Work by Rosemary Mayer, 1977–1982, art historian Gillian Sneed states that she reused materials from one to make another; none remain intact in their original form. For “Pleasures and Possible Celebrations” Mayer’s estate re-conceived the work, with artist Amanda Friedman.

“17th Street Ghost” is at once unruly and ethereal. The glassine and cellophane suggest plastic grocery bags or food wrappers, insignificant things that are used and discarded, or carried away by a gust of wind, lending the work a greater, and more profoundly melancholic, sense of impermanence. 

Rosemary Mayer, “Some Days in April (Theodore)” (1978), colored pencil, graphite, ink, and watercolor on paper,, 26 × 20 inches (Courtesy Gordon Robichaux, NY. Photo: Gregory Carideo)

Other artists of the same generation examined the passage of time through light and nature. What separates Mayer is not only the warmth of her work but also the way that it evokes what is unseen or fleeting: moments of celebration and loss distilled into a name or symbol but never fully grasped, always slipping away; an image suspended between memory and imagination; a flicker caught in a sideward glance. 

In her essay “The Moon Tent” (1983) Mayer writes: 

No one has never seen a ghost. You prefer not to remember. It’s easy. They’re visible only for seconds and even then they change. They live in the fall of a sleeve or skirt, the shapes in a coat laid over a chair. When the light changes, they’re different or gone. Stare at something as the moon or sun rises or sets and see what you see. Any number or things or creatures like what you see in clouds or currents in rivers, or ocean waves. They live one way for seconds or minutes, then have some other form. What you see depends on the way you think.

“Pleasures and Possible Celebrations”: Rosemary Mayer’s Temporary Monuments, 1977–1981 continues at Gordon Robichaux (41 Union Square West, #925 and #907, Manhattan) through June 27. The gallery will host an event to draw “17th Street Ghost” from 2 to 6 PM on June 26, by appointment.

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The Gallery Dealer as Tightrope Walker

Klaus Kertess opened Bykert Gallery in New York in 1966 with the financial backing of Jeff Byers, a classmate at Yale; the gallery’s name is a combination of theirs. The previous occupant of the space Kertess rented on 57th Street was the Green Gallery (1960–65), run by Richard Bellamy. During its brief run, the Green Gallery gave Mark di Suvero, James Rosenquist, and Dan Flavin their first solo exhibitions, as well as presented the work of Ralph Humphrey, Yayoi Kusama, Pat Passlof, Myron Stout, Lee Lozano, and Jean Follett. This legacy was on Kertess’s mind when he started. 

Bykert’s first show was of Humphrey. This is how Kertess described his initial response to Humphrey’s work (“In Conversation: Dorothea Rockburne and Klaus Kertess,” Brooklyn Rail, December/January, 2004–05):

Ralph was the first artist I showed at Bykert. At that time you could see every gallery uptown in a week without any trouble. I remember walking into the Green Gallery and saw this exhibition of Ralph’s paintings. They had a gray center, not uniform gray, with a border that went around the outside of the rectangular support of the canvas. The paintings totally baffled me. I couldn’t believe anyone could paint anything that nihilistic, purposefully empty. I kept returning to the show because it made me so crazy. In the end, I realized Ralph’s paintings were like a mirror for me: they were desolate and yet they had an amazing giving component at the same time. He wasn’t easy to find. I kept asking people “Where’s Ralph Humphrey?” and no one knew. Finally, I looked him up in the phone book.

Installation view, 13 Artists: A Tribute to Klaus Kertess’ Bykert Gallery 1966-75 (courtesy David Nolan Gallery)

Open for less than a decade (1966–75), during a time in which the art world started inching toward the corporate model that now dominates, Bykert was an anomaly, beginning with it not being named after the dealer. Kertess gave Brice Marden, Alan Saret, and Barry Le Va their first shows, and he was the first gallerist to exhibit Lynda Benglis. Bykert also represented the work of Chuck Close, Joe Zucker, Robert Duran, David Novros, and Deborah Remington. 

Rather than identifying with a style or brand, as many other galleries went on to do, Kertess was remarkably independent in his choices, and was not averse to risks, even though his operation was not financially secure. In the same Brooklyn Rail interview, he makes a telling remark: 

When we opened on 57th Street at Dick Bellamy’s funky old space, the Green Gallery, the rent was very low, the elevator was no worse than Pace’s elevator. I painted the gallery, cleaned the toilet. I did everything by myself.

Later on, he stated:

The first mark of success was when I could hire a painter to paint the gallery. It would be hard to do anything like that now and get away with it.

Barry Le Va, “Installation #2: Right Angle Section” (1968-69), chalk, dimensions variable (courtesy David Nolan Gallery)

Some part of this history is currently recapitulated in the wonderful exhibition 13 Artists: A Tribute to Klaus Kertess’ Bykert Gallery 1966–75, at David Nolan (June 3–July 30, 2021). The show includes work by Lynda Benglis, Chuck Close, Robert Duran, Ralph Humphrey, Barry Le Va, David Novros, Brice Marden, Paul Mogensen, Deborah Remington, Dorothea Rockburne, Alan Saret, Richard Van Buren, and Joe Zucker. 

While these artists have been associated with Minimalism, Photorealism, Pattern and Decoration, and post-studio and process art, it is clear that all of them blazed their own trail, with some gaining much more attention than others. 

As everyone in the art world knows but is seldom willing to talk about, financial success is no measure of an artwork’s contribution or importance to culture, nor is its popularity. The art world is a business, and Kertess did not care about this side, because he was focused on aesthetic issues. This is why he is so interesting.This is why he is so interesting. You know that you have left the path of popularity when you decide to give shows to Le Va and Bill Bollinger, whose work is sadly not in this beautiful and challenging exhibition. 

Installation view, 13 Artists: A Tribute to Klaus Kertess’ Bykert Gallery 1966-75 (courtesy David Nolan Gallery)

In their Brooklyn Rail conversation, Rockburne asks Kertess: 

Do you recall Bill Bollinger’s show where he installed a pile of graphite on the floor of the gallery?

His answer — which is full of humility — is priceless:

I still remember Marion Javits coming in with [US Senator] Jake [Javits], and there was that green cleaning compound piled all over the floor, then swept. That was in one room. Then there was a pile of graphite that went from the edge to about the middle of the next room. Marion looked at me and said, “Would you explain to the Senator what this is?” I replied, “Not today.” There was related work that Virginia Dwan and Betty Parsons were showing, so I certainly wasn’t alone.

Can you imagine walking into a gallery today — especially if you are a United States Senator — and not having someone come out and provide all the details and theories as to why whatever you are looking at is important? And, more significantly, to not claim that you are the only person who recognized its importance?  

The exhibition includes works from the 1960s and ’70s by artists who have long deserved a deep and thoughtful second look. Some, like Remington, seem to be in the first stages of rediscovery, while others still need to find their champion. It was great to see “Untitled” (1973) by Humphrey, which was done in casein and modeling paste on a tall vertical canvas with rounded edges. The work was a reminder that Humphrey has not received his second look. The same could be said of Rockburne, Saret, Van Buren, Duran, and Mogensen. 

Installation view, 13 Artists: A Tribute to Klaus Kertess’ Bykert Gallery 1966-75 (courtesy David Nolan Gallery)

To begin to sense the breadth of Kertess’s openness to bold and conceptually rigorous artists, look at Zucker’s tightly packed, relief-like painting “Esox Lucius [Pike]” (1969), made of paint-soaked cotton balls and balls of aluminum foil, and consider what else was being done in that year: Pop Art, Minimalism, Color Field painting, and Painterly Realism. Once you have recognized the formal and stylistic difference between Zucker’s hybrid painting and what his contemporaries were producing, you might wish to consider that his subject is the pike, a carnivorous fish that anglers go after because of their aggressiveness and size. 

Winslow Homer is one of America’s finest artists and a passionate angler who traveled long distances to fish. Is Zucker any less American in his subject matter than Andy Warhol? This is one of Kertess’s enduring legacies. He recognized that the questions one should ask while looking at art are more important and challenging than the answers the art world establishment is often quick to provide.

13 Artists: A Tribute to Klaus Kertess’ Bykert Gallery 1966–75 continues at David Nolan Gallery (24 East 81st Street, Manhattan) through July 30. 

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Maine College of Art’s Online Summer Art Sale Benefits Artists, Designers, and Students

Maine College of Art’s (MECA) annual COLLECT Online Summer Art Sale, benefitting student scholarships, artists, and designers, is a unique opportunity to discover emerging artists, view new work by established artists, and build art collections — all without leaving home. Visit shop.meca.edu now to preview some of the finest art made in New England and beyond before the sale opens on June 24.

The three-day event will kick-off on Thursday, June 24 at 5:15pm with a virtual reception that is open to the public. Co-presented by media sponsor Decor Maine, the reception features a panel discussion with gallerists and collectors, as well as participating established and emerging artists.

The art sale includes more than 400 works — paintings, jewelry, sculpture, textiles, prints, furniture, photography, and more — by MECA alumni, students, faculty, and friends. It opens promptly at 6pm on Thursday, June 24 and runs through 6pm on Sunday, June 27.

This year’s sale includes an auction on Thursday, June 24 from 6–9 pm and will feature works from selected artists, including the William Wegman piece shown above.

To learn more and browse the works on sale, visit shop.meca.edu

About Maine College of Art (MECA)
Maine College of Art, a nationally recognized college of art and design anchored in the heart of Portland’s vibrant Arts District, provides scholarships, state-of-the-art facilities, robust programming, and vital opportunities to hundreds of students each year through our undergraduate, graduate, and Continuing Studies programs, giving them the tools they need to become successful artists, designers, visionaries, creators, and citizens. 

Founded in 1882, MECA offers Bachelor of Fine Arts in 11 studio majors (including Animation & Game Art), Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art, Master of Arts in Teaching, and the Salt Graduate Certificate in Documentary Studies, as well as Pre-College and Continuing Studies programming.

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An Eclectic Group Show Features Sound Sculptures, Collages, and Toy Assemblages for the Annual BBA Artist Prize

By June Lee. All images courtesy of BBA Artist Prize, shared with permission

A broad, varied collection of work from 20 emerging artists converges in a group exhibition for the sixth-annual BBA Artist Prize. Living in ten countries and working across mediums, this year’s finalists include Steve Parker’s touch-activated horn sculptures, Fiona White’s vivid collaged paintings, and June Lee’s figurative assemblages of toys and everyday objects. The winner of 2021’s award will be announced on June 25, with all works on view at Kühlhaus Berlin through June 30. Get a preview on the BBA site, and check out artist Ming Lu’s blue-and-white porcelain sculptures, which won the 2020 competition.

 

By Ewa Cwikla

By Fiona White

By Ernst Miesgang

By Steve Parker

Left: Nina Ekman. By Right: By Juliette Losq

By Sandra Blatterer

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Traditional Chinese Characters and Motifs Cover Ming Lu’s Porcelain Busts and Ducks

“Dialogue, Reaching the Station We’ll Never Reach” (2019), blue and white porcelain, 26 x 18 x 18 centimeters. All images © Ming Lu, shared with permission

Artist Ming Lu melds multiple facets associated with Chinese culture in her delicate blue-and-white porcelain works. She utilizes traditional craft techniques to sculpt ubiquitous cultural symbols often found throughout the streets of Chinatown, encompassing both the Berlin-based artist’s broad cultural connections to her native country and more personal interactions.

In the three busts that comprise “Dialogue,” for example, Ming Lu transcribes conversations with her partner in calligraphic script. Titled “Reason,” “Trick,” and “Reaching a Station We’ll Never Reach,” the self-portraits embody a contemporary change in situation and perspective through a classic medium. Similarly, a trio of butchered ducks evokes the popular dish in form and are coated in a traditional floral motif, a cracked glaze, and characters depicting an old-fashioned spelling of “I love you.” Each of the birds strikes a balance between history and more contemporary culture, which Ming Lu describes:

It’s a funny experience when I first went to Chinatown and I saw these roast ducks hanging on the restaurant windows. We don’t do this in China, at least not in the cities I’ve been to. It’s a funny experience for me. And when you go to a museum, in the “China” (the country) section, you see many porcelains. It also represents China in a way as in history, especially in Ming and Qing dynasties, (porcelain) was one of the largest export commodities, so I put them together.

Ming Lu works across mediums, and you can see more of her sculptures, paintings, and embroideries on her site. Some of the pieces shown here on view through July 3 as part of her solo show Tigress, Tigress at BBA Gallery in Berlin and in a group exhibition running June 24 to 30 at Kühlhaus Berlin.

 

“Blues Is My Business” (2019), blue and white porcelain, 30 x 16 x 9 centimeters

Detail of “Dialogue, Reason” (2019), blue and white porcelain, 26 x 18 x 18 centimeters. Photo by Christian Schneider

“Dialogue, Reason” (2019), blue and white porcelain, 26 x 18 x 18 centimeters. Photo by Christian Schneider

“Blues Is My Business” (2019), blue and white porcelain, 30 x 16 x 9 centimeters

“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” (2019), blue and white porcelain, 30 x 16 x 9 centimeters

“Wonderful World” (2019), ge porcelain, 30 x 16 x 9 centimeters

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A Delightful Animation Chronicles a Peaceful Spring Hike through a Camera’s Viewfinder



Viewfinder” is a charming animation about exploring the outdoors from the Seoul-based studio VCRWORKS. The second episode in the recently launched Rhythmens series, the peaceful short follows a central character on a hike in a springtime forest and frames their whimsically rendered finds through the lens of a camera. Watch the first episode, which goes on a similarly calming snowy adventure, on VCRWORKS’ Vimeo. (via The Morning News)

 

 

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Week in Review: 10 Weeks of “Strike MoMA” Conclude; Met Repatriates Two Benin Bronzes

Week in Review is a weekly collection of news, developments, and stirrings in the art world. Subscribe to receive these posts as a weekly newsletter.

Strike MoMA

Hundreds of activists attended the final week of “Strike MoMA” demonstrations. Activists unfurled a “Strike MoMA” banner at a courtyard in the museum and projected protest messages on the museum’s facade after dark.

Repatriation and Returns

The Metropolitan Museum will repatriate two Benin Bronzes to Nigeria.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian returned a pre-Incan gold ornament from its collection to Peru’s government.

Artists Supporting Communities

Yazmany Arboleda, the NYC Civic Engagement Commission artist in residence, repurposed a corrections vehicle from Rikers to encourage New Yorkers to vote.

Artist and iron worker Bernard Klevickas unveiled a COVID-19 memorial dedicated to his fellow NYC Department of Sanitation workers who have been affected by the virus.

Supporters are raising funds for a Bethlehem arts center that was raised by Israeli soldiers.

The Freedom Quilting Bee Legacy, a nonprofit in Alabama, has received a $250,000 grant from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation and Community Partnership.

Hidden Art History

Barcelona’s city council has pledged to preserve a Keith Haring mural tucked behind the DJ booth at a former nightclub, which is slated to become a home for seniors.

Two scientists uncovered and reconstructed a Modigliani portrait hidden beneath another work by the artist.

In Other News

The Hood Museum acquired over 6,000 photographs of Old Hollywood.

People want Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to buy the Mona Lisa and eat it.

Nintendo is opening a museum in Kyoto, Japan.

Awards & Accolades

Nobutaka Aozaki, Beverly Acha, Jane Benson, Kim Brandt, Theresa Daddezio, J.A. Feng, Ronald Hall, Heidi Hahn, Athena LaTocha, Jeffrey Meris, Cy Morgan, Ebecho Muslimova, Louis Osmosis, Marianna Peragallo, Amelia Saul, D’Angelo Lovell Williams, and Andrew Paul Woolbright were named 2021-2022 residents at the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program.

Transitions

Freya Chou, Renée Akitelek Mboya, Robert M. Ochshorn, and Pablo José Ramírez were named curators of the 58th Carnegie International.Gregory Harris was appointed curator of photography at the High Museum of Art.Ibrahim Said is now represented by Yossi Milo Gallery.Lily Snyder was appointed Colnaghi’s managing director of modern and contemporary art in North America.

In Memoriam

Mary Beth Edelson (1933–2021), multidisciplinary artist | Washington PostAlain Kirili (1946–2021), sculptor | Brooklyn RailJanet Malcolm (1934–2021), journalist and author | Washington PostMilton Moses Ginsberg (1935–2021), filmmaker | DeadlineEva Sereny (1935–2021), photographer | HeraldDonald York (1947–2021), musical director of Paul Taylor Company | New York Times

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An Undulating Roof Made of Cedar and Steel Flows Out from a Pool House in Ontario

All images courtesy of Partisans

A steel slatted roof ripples across a property in southwestern Ontario, providing a meditative enclave under its gently sloping cover. Contrasting the stark black metal with softer strips of cedar, “Fold House” by Partisans features a two-story living quarter with a lengthy undulating structure that branches out from one side. It’s bisected by a staircase leading to an upper walkway and covers a luxe in-ground pool.

Partisans is an architecture studio based in Toronto that frequently works with organic shapes and textures, which you can see on its site and Instagram. (via This Isn’t Happiness)

 

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The History of Anti-racist Protests in Brooklyn, From Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter

On July 20, 1964, over 1,000 people flooded the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, New York, to protest the police killing of James Powell, a Black 15-year-old. The demonstrations, part of an early wave of protests against police brutality in the United States, had originated uptown, in Harlem. But in the Brooklyn neighborhood, home to one of the city’s largest African American and Puerto Rican populations, activists amplified demands for justice, facing brutal police retaliation that left more than 100 injured and one killed.

To honor the long history of Black-led activism in Kings County, the Brooklyn Public Library’s Center for Brooklyn History (CBH) is launching Brooklyn Resists, a new “public history initiative” opening this Saturday, Juneteenth. Mounted in response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black individuals who lost their lives to racist violence, the project spans exhibitions and programs curated around the CBH’s archival holdings as well as crowdsourced images.

Demonstrators cheering during the Downstate Medical Center protests in 1963 (photo by Bob Adelman; courtesy Adelman Images, LP)

Led by CBH Director Heather Malin and Assistant Director for Collections and Public Service Natiba Guy-Clement in collaboration with historian Dr. Brian Purnell, Brooklyn Resists will bridge the past and present of anti-racist mobilizations in Brooklyn — from the Civil Rights Era to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The CBH was founded last October when the BPL and the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) merged their collections, creating the world’s largest trove of materials related to Brooklyn history. Among the new collaborative institution’s goals are democratizing access to the archives and diversifying the way the borough’s history is told and represented.

Protesters carrying a “Say their names” banner gather at Grand Army Plaza for a Black Lives Matter demonstration. (photo by Gregg Richards; courtesy the Center for Brooklyn History)

In line with this effort toward a plurality of voices and in partnership with Urban Archive, the Center will launch an open call for images, audio, oral histories, and texts, encouraging Brooklynites from all walks of life to share their own experiences of activism. The CBH will also work with local photographers to document contemporary instances of protest and resistance in Brooklyn. These and other initiatives, says BPL President Linda E. Johnson, will enrich the CBH’s holdings to “reflect the critical narratives that formed the borough as it stands today.”

Other aspects of Brooklyn Resists seek to emphasize and illuminate the center’s substantial historical archives. As part of an interdisciplinary project with Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, creative writing students and professional playwrights will be asked to respond to materials in the collections through written poems or short monologues, to be performed next year.

“From the murder of Arthur Miller in June of 1978 to the murders of Yusuf Hawkins in 1989 and Amadou Diallo in 1999 by New York City police, and the murders of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Tamir Rice, Brooklyn has a long history of racial protest, most recently with its amplified call for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright,” said Dr. Purnell in a statement. “It is vital that we document, investigate, and reflect on our shared histories.”

Jon Batiste at Barclay’s Center “A revival”, June 2020. (photo by Bob Gore, courtesy the Center for Brooklyn History)Woman being arrested by police officers, 1960s. (photo by Bob Adelman, courtesy Adelman Images, LP)George Floyd Memorial Rally

March 1974 cover of Black News in the Rioghan Kirchner Civil Rights in Brooklyn Collection (courtesy the Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History)

Brooklyn Resists debuts this Saturday, June 19, with an outdoor exhibition at CBH in Brooklyn Heights (128 Pierrepont St., Brooklyn), featuring historic texts and images that will be projected on the building’s facade. The show is curated by Dr. Purnell and designed by Little Mega, and will be open to the public through September 30, 2021.

Through in-person and virtual talks, the initiative will also address urgent issues that are inextricably tied to calls for racial justice, such as gun violence, domestic abuse, and other scourges heightened by systemic racism. BPL’s 2021 Katowitz Radin Artist-in-Residence, Chloë Bass, will present her multiform installation The Parts at CBH’s Central Library.

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An In-depth Look at the Art-Pop Music Duo Sparks

Over their astonishing 50-year career, the singular art-pop outfit Sparks has consistently demonstrated a distinctively cinematic sensibility. The pair’s songs are often conceptual and narrative-driven, with rich characters and shifting points of view accompanied by a kind of symphonic flair. The scenarios laid out by the tongue-in-cheek compositions of brothers Ron and Russell Mael — a boy nervous to introduce his German girlfriend to his Jewish family, or a man who regrets marrying a Martian —  frequently resemble the plots of short films. So it’s only fitting the band has turned to the screen numerous times. They appeared in the forgotten ’70s disaster thriller Rollercoaster, collaborated on unrealized projects with Jacques Tati and Tim Burton, wrote original music for films by Guy Maddin and Tsui Hark (and even recorded a very strange song with the Hong Kong auteur), and most recently wrote Leos Carax’s upcoming musical Annette

When held up against that list of credits, The Sparks Brothers, Edgar Wright’s passionate documentary deep dive into the lives of these underappreciated but influential and inventive artists, feels somewhat slight, or at least rather conventional. The Maels express some joking hesitance about the kind of navel-gazing which autobiographical reflection can lead to, but watching them talk never gets old, each possessing a sense of wry humor and off-kilter warmth. Their tendency for self-effacement and parody is ultimately undercut by Wright, who has built an entire career on introducing people to the media he loves, much like Nick Frost in Hot Fuzz making his new partner watch Bad Boys II. It’s telling that when Wright shows up as a talking head in his own film, he’s billed as “Fanboy.” This is as adoring and worshipful as music documentaries get, though Sparks undoubtedly deserves the high praise.

Unlike Maddin or Carax, Wright feels less in concert with Sparks and more at a distance, observing them rather than truly collaborating. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — The Sparks Brothers moves at a breakneck pace, even if it approaches 2 1/2 hours, digging through decades of archival footage, live performances, interviews, and music videos, while also unpacking some of the band’s most beloved songs. But it’s so in-depth that it likely won’t appeal much to viewers who aren’t already Sparks enthusiasts. The use of famous fans like Jack Antonoff and Beck, who show up to make the case for their canonization, ultimately feels like preaching the #1 song in Heaven to an already converted choir.

The Sparks Brothers opens in select theaters June 18.

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What Happened to Electronic Civil Disobedience?

On April 10, 1998, the website of Mexico’s then-president Ernesto Zedillo slowed down, crashing intermittently. It was the anniversary of Emilio Zapata’s death, and people in 23 countries were taking part in Electronic Disturbance Theater’s act of electronic civil disobedience in solidarity with the Zapatistas. Their “FloodNet” applet allowed participants to input “requests,” for truth, justice, or freedom. Participants received an error code, 404 justice not found, while these requests piled up in the website’s server logs. This was just the dress rehearsal; EDT would perform nine acts of “FloodNet” in that year as the protest form began to grow.

I first encountered electronic civil disobedience when researching a later project by EDT. My journey into the topic was littered with broken links, 404 pages, static screen grabs. I wondered why these works of net-based protest art had been largely forgotten, and whether there was any merit in dusting them off today. 

Electronic Disturbance Theatre, “FloodNet” (1998), screenshot of preserved website for April 10th performance (screenshot by author).

Developed by Critical Art Ensemble in their 1996 text, electronic civil disobedience sprung from conceptions of the streets as “dead capital.” Power had become increasingly dispersed and liquid, and so resistance should be too. Cyberspace was to be the primary site of struggle. Belief in this increased. Two years later, EDT member Stefan Wray claimed definitively the coming century would see the emergence of electronic civil disobedience as a genuine mode of protest. And, for a while, it was, and not just on a small scale. While CAE believed it should be an “underground activity,” practitioners turned it into a public spectacle, actively engaging large numbers of “ordinary” participants. EDT’s “SWARM the Minutemen” (2005), had allegedly over 75,000 participants throughout its two-day duration, and Electrohippies claim to have attracted 400,000 to their 1999 action against the World Trade Organization

But from the mid-2000s, engagement with the form declined. This is unsurprising: so much of the language, the ideas, the justification for the form was contingent on conceptions of the internet that now seem outdated. In 2019, I interviewed artist Ian Alan Paul, whose 2011 work “Border Haunt” staged a “symbolic haunting” of the United States/Mexico border. He too argued that the politics on which electronic civil disobedience rested had “largely been abandoned” and now treated with “skepticism and suspicion” at best.

Central to these politics was the idealistic differentiation between cyberspace and physical space. While physical space lagged, cyberspace presented open planes of opportunity, to be shaped as the agitator saw fit. In contrast to physical space in the US, which EDT front-man Ricardo Dominguez described as almost entirely privatized, Dominguez argued the internet could “still serve as a commons” for people to create social change. It’s a compelling idea, and one that makes clear why this move to net-based protest felt so urgent. In 2021, this seems idealistic. Mainstream use of the internet is now largely controlled by a small number of corporations. Cyberspace has been privatised too. 

More broadly, electronic civil disobedience was built on the assumed empowering potential of the internet not just as a “commons.” Advocates for the equalizing power of cyberspace often subscribed to a dream that the internet allowed identities like race, gender, class, and nationality to be ‘left behind’. But ignoring these identities let the offline structures that shaped them replicate in cyberspace. This criticism is perhaps less obvious when it comes to electronic civil disobedience; after all, these performances were often constructed in solidarity with minoritized groups. As works that relied on the mass participation of individuals, practitioners employed this same universalising approach, that everyone had equal potential to participate, all connected through the borderless terrain of cyberspace. Communications scholar Fidele Vlavo went as far as to question whether these “visions of so-called transnational solidarity and global mobilisation” actually minimized the distinct struggles of affected groups or populations. 

Is, then, there any future left for electronic civil disobedience? While I am skeptical of the merit of rehashing the form verbatim in an almost alien context to that in which it arose, I don’t think it’s time to close the door altogether. As recent years have seen increasing levels of online activism that amount to expressions of visibility politics, now is an ideal time to consider how we can use the internet within resistance. When speaking to Paul, he argued that “resistance, by its very nature, is always speculative” — the outcome, the impact is never known before you embark. I often think of the language many practitioners of the form used, referring to their performances as “experiments,” or as “gestures.” And while these experiments were often contradictory, perhaps resistance should inhabit contradiction, and should experiment, in search for new ways to disrupt and confront liquid and dispersed power.  

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New Technology Reveals Hidden Modigliani Portrait

Artists paint over their finished canvases for many reasons — out of frustration at a failed design, because they lack the funds to buy more material, or even to spite whoever or whatever they’ve depicted. The latter was the case in Amedeo Modigliani’s “Portrait of a Girl” (1917), an oil painting of a sullen, seated brunette now held in the collection of the Tate. X-ray studies of the canvas conducted by the museum in 2018 revealed that the piece was originally a full-length portrait of another woman, a slender blonde with angular, elongated features. A portion of this hidden painting — now on view at Lebenson Gallery in London — was uncovered and reconstructed by two scientists using a combination of stereoscopic imaging, artificial intelligence technology, and 3D printing.

Neuroscientist Anthony Bourached and physicist George Cann joined forces in London in January 2019 to found Oxia Palus, a scientific project that uses machine learning to reconstruct what the duo calls “NeoMasters,” or artworks that have been previously hidden from view under the layers of later paintings. Their past efforts have uncovered a Blue Period nude by Picasso, a Madonna by Leonardo da Vinci, and a landscape painting by Santiago Rusiñol that was later painted over by Picasso, the artist’s friend and mentee. To discover these ‘lost’ works, Bourached and Cann apply a neural style transfer algorithm to X-rays of paintings that are suspected to have another artwork hidden below their surfaces. The technology utilizes imagery from the scan, as well as information from the artist’s other works, to reproduce colors, brushstrokes, and other distinguishing features.

X-ray image of Modigliani’s “Portrait of a Girl” (1917) (photo by Mark Heathcote and Abbie Soanes/Tate Photography)

Unlike conservators or other art specialists, Bourached and Cann bring uniquely non-art areas of expertise to the pieces they analyze. “George’s inspiration comes from his research on the surface of Mars for the detection of life,” Bourached explains in a recent email to Hyperallergic. “In fact, the company name is a region on Mars and is inspired by this idea of looking under the surface.”

Bourached is a researcher in neuroscience with an interest in art’s ability to educate us about history. He said that “using AI to analyze art is the inevitable next step in understanding our past better.” The team’s technology has huge implications for scholars, collectors, and art lovers alike, and complicates our concept of a true masterpiece or ‘final’ work. But Bourached is up for the challenge. “To paraphrase Alan Turing,” he wrote by email, “perhaps only a complex model can solve a complex problem.”

And who was the woman whose likeness has suddenly been unearthed more than 100 years later? She’s thought to be Modigliani’s ex-lover and muse, the English poet, writer, and literary critic Beatrice Hastings. Despite noting that the artist “looked ugly, ferocious, [and] greedy” after first meeting Modigliani in a Paris café in the summer of 1914, Hastings soon fell in love with him. The two years that the couple shared an apartment in Montparnasse were creatively productive for both: Hastings published prolifically, and is known to have posed for at least 14 of Modigliani’s portraits. But their relationship was also plagued by alcohol addictions, explosive personalities, and violent confrontations. “Even within the bohemian milieu of Paris in the 1910s, Hastings and Modigliani made a feral, wayward pair,” writes Chloe Aridjis, curator of the Tate’s 2017–2018 Modigliani exhibition. 

It was perhaps to symbolically scorn his former lover that Modigliani painted over her portrait in 1917, but, thanks to the two London scientists, Hastings has found a way to see the light again. As she wrote in 1937, “Civilized woman wants something more than to be the means to a man’s life. She wants to live herself.”

The Hidden Picture continues at Lebenson Gallery (150 Curtain Road, London) through June 25.

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At SVA, MFA Grads Look Beyond the Pandemic With Resonant Projects

Are we living together again, or still existing in isolation? This question comes to mind while perusing the School of Visual Arts (SVA) MFA Fine Arts thesis exhibition, Here Together. The immersive show, open for just 10 days, features the work of 25 artists across multiple floors of 79 Warren Street in Tribeca. Each artist’s work blends into another’s seamlessly, representing a range of media from painting and sculpture to documentary footage and readymades. 

The pandemic occupied much of the candidates’ final year, forcing them to create their thesis projects in quarantine. But these artists nonetheless looked outside the temporary crisis to address larger social issues that continue to resonate. Here are some highlights from the show:

Alyssa Freitas, “Living on Lite” (2021), video installation and custom software, dimensions variable

In “Living on Lite,” Alyssa Freitas curates an insular, padded room of secluded self-reflection. A tiny flash drive in a jar appears on a pedestal and in a video installation promoting a diary app designed by the artist. On the wall, a QR code ingeniously leads to a video walkthrough. The distinctions between reality and advertising feel blurry here, hinting at the innovative yet toxic roles of tech and social media.

A friendly blackbird peeks from between blades of tall grass in Dan Xie’s playful mixed media piece, “Hiding in the Grass for a Peace.” Nearby, another work shows this same bird peering through a windowsill, its gaze piercing through a batch of fake flowers over the pane. Xie made friends with the birds outside her window throughout the last year, and these works speak to the poetic humility found in nature.

Internet artist XiangLong Li critiques US foreign policy on China through his video Learning Chinese with XiangLong. Instructional and absurdist, it uses highly pixelated block figures to present mock lessons on Chinese idioms. Li interweaves photos of Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo beneath the flag of the Chinese Communist Party, inserting racist news headlines from the pandemic outbreak in early 2020. The elementary nature of the piece emphasizes the skewed understanding of China that US propaganda imposes on its population.

XiangLong Li, detail from “Learning Chinese with XiangLong – A Collection of Chinese Idioms” (2021). Video.

A set of plush and plastic stalactites hangs from the ceiling in a mixed media sculpture by Kristian Battell. The artist gathered a month’s worth of plastic water bottles from one family member, inserting them between colorful cones of stuffed newspaper. Titled “Anthropocene Cavern,” the work calls attention to the built world forming from human waste and the gradual erosion of geological formations.

Kristian Battell, “Anthropocene Cavern” (2021). Plastic water bottles collected from one family over the course of one month, plastic tape, newspaper, plain newsprint, wheatpaste, matte medium, original silkscreens printed on lokta paper. 9 x 12 x 2 feet

An impressive readymade installation by Boyang Yu occupies the entire back wall of the top floor. A wooden chair, pieces of lumber, a handsaw, an apron, and other pieces of debris float in place, suspended on wire cables in a moment of sheer disarray. The disparate pieces form a shadow of a tree against the back wall of the gallery — a mere illusion of stability — while the overall composition evokes the chaos and uncertainty of our contemporary era.

Here Together continues at 79 Warren Street, Tribeca through June 20. The exhibition was curated by María del Carmen Carrión.

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In Remote Russia, Willem Dafoe Confronts His Demons

Abel Ferrara’s films see characters torn between the mania of creation and destruction, pushing the human body to the edge of oblivion, with sex, violence, and art clashing within a fiery realm of spiritual ecstasy and moral decay. His latest movie, Siberia, departs somewhat from those expectations. Completing an unofficial trilogy with Pasolini (2014) and Tommaso (2019), it’s situated in the abstract world of the subconscious, centered on the spiritual loneliness of Clint (Willem Dafoe), who’s retreated from civilization to a remote Siberian cabin. Set mainly in his head, the film’s nightmare logic drives us through various spiritual planes where Clint faces his darkest demons, confronting fathers, lovers, and himself.

In this liminal space where paranoia and hope cycle through childhood patterns and adult fears, Siberia reaches beyond the pains and pleasures of the human body. It confronts transformation as a source of both nightmarish possibilities (aka annihilation) and the faint hope of transcendence. Where do we go when we’re gone? and What do we leave behind? are central questions that remain unanswered, because they are unanswerable. But the innate frustration in this unknowingness is also one of the great pleasures of Ferrara’s work. As solemn and dense as Siberia gets, it also embraces the poetry of consciousness. In perhaps the film’s best moment, Dafoe dances off into a metaphorical sunset against the backdrop of Del Shannon’s “Runaway.” It’s one of those moments of chaotic reverence that sets Ferrara’s spiritual reflections apart from the rest.

Siberia opens in select theaters June 18.

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AAMC Foundation Welcomes Applications for Curatorial Membership Program

Established in 2014, the AAMC Foundation’s Mentorship Program has welcomed mentees across 28 US states and nine countries, with 77% securing new and/or elevated positions since participating. The 2021–2022 Mentorship Program will include both virtual and in-person components.  

Open to nonprofit curators with six to nine years of experience, the program provides opportunities to advance professional development, investigate important issues in the field, cultivate strong bonds with peers, and develop an independent relationship with a mentor. Up to 10 mentees are selected through a competitive, open application process. Program highlights include a learning residency, a partnership with a mentor, a cohort network, a final workshop, and full access to the Association of Art Museum Curators’s vast community and annual conference. 

All elements of the application are due Thursday, July 8, 2021 at 5pm (EDT). 

To apply to the AAMC Foundation’s Mentorship Program, visit artcurators.org.

The Mentorship Program is made possible through the generosity of Barbara Futter, Catherine Futter, the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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Herds of Life-Sized Elephants Roam Through London’s Parks for a Global Conservation Project

All images © CoExistence, shared with permission

Sixty migrating elephants pass between Piccadilly and Buckingham Palace in London’s Green Park in one of nine herds roaming throughout the city. The lumbering creatures are part of an ongoing collaboration between two nonprofits, CoExistence and Elephant Family, that explores how humans can better live alongside animals and the larger ecosystem through imaginative public art projects.

As its name suggests, CoExistence’s aim is to identify mutually beneficial modes of living considering that within the last century, the balance between world population and wilderness has shifted considerably: in 1937, 66 percent of global environments were intact with 2.3 billion people on Earth. Today, those numbers have undergone a dramatic change, with a world population of 7.8 billion and only 35 percent of wilderness remaining.

The organization’s most recent effort brings the gargantuan animals to urban spaces throughout London that are typically closed off to wildlife. The herds can be spotted in St. James’s Park, Berkeley Square, and even the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall’s homes at Highgrove. In addition to generating awareness of environmental crises, the installations raise funds to support grassroots organizations throughout India that promote Indigenous culture and establish technology and infrastructure that allows humans and animals to live symbiotically.

 

CoExistence plans to install approximately 500 animals around the world in the next few years, and with the help of The Real Elephant Collective, each nation will receive a herd designed specifically for the location. The collective partners with Indigenous communities from the Tamil Nadu jungle in southern India, who live alongside the real-life animals, to create the sculptural iterations that stand up to 15 feet tall and weigh nearly 800 pounds. Each creature is constructed from long strips of lantana camara, an invasive weed that spreads in dense thickets and disturbs the environment—the video below documents the process—and by removing the plant, the artists help to reinstate the natural ecosystem.

Thirty-seven endangered and extinct birds will join the herd in Green Park on July 6. Using steel, clay, and bronze, seven artists created the flock, which includes a three-meter-tall curlew by Simon Gudgeon that’s as large as some of the elephants. The avian additions are the product of a collaboration with WildEast, a group focused on restoring biodiversity in the U.K. and finding new methods of sustainable farming, and will be sold to raise money for conservation efforts.

To support CoExistence’s efforts, you can adopt, donate, or commission one of the elephants, and there are smaller goods and prints available in its shop. Follow the herds’ movements on the nonprofit’s Instagram, and see more on Elephant Family’s account.

 

Elephant sculptures in Tamil Nadu



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The Japanese Town That’s Been Fighting Industrial Pollution for Decades

“Even though we might speak about privacy in terms of an individual’s values or sensibilities, if I look more closely at the way each individual experiences the world — their feelings — I’m led to believe that those very values, those different ways of sensing the world, contain an institutionalized, and thus self-contradictory, element. So when I take up my camera to try to challenge those institutionalized elements, I must aim at the world of feelings within individuals. As a result — or as a necessary consequence — I have no choice but to cross into the realm of privacy.” Japanese documentarian Kazuo Hara wrote this in Camera Obtrusa, a compendium of reflections on his numerous films. It aptly encapsulates his approach to his latest, monumental work, MINAMATA Mandala. Fifteen years in the making, it embodies his dedication to the lived experiences of outcasts. 

The film is a comprehensive account of the exhaustive, decades-long legal battles fought by residents of Minamata, a small town in southwest Japan. In the late 1950s, widespread cases of a new neurological disease were identified there. This was ultimately determined to have been caused by methylmercury poisoning stemming from wastewater from a chemical factory owned by Chisso Corporation. It took years for any official recognition of the problem, after which Chisso reluctantly agreed to pay sporadic compensation to the victims. To this day, the Japanese government has yet to fully acknowledge the extent of its responsibility, which translates into a lack of financial and medical support for Minamatans who continue to suffer. 

From MINAMATA Mandala

Hara follows in the footsteps of Noriaki Tsuchimoto, whose Minamata documentary series gave the victims extensive opportunities to speak for themselves in the 1970s. But the film is also in line with his interest in turning his camera on entire communities. 2016’s Sennan Asbestos Disaster looks at the inhabitants of Sennan, Osaka, who seek legal reparations for having been exposed to lethal toxins. Reiwa Uprising (2019) charts the upstart Reiwa Shinsengumi political party’s groundbreaking leftist campaign in the 2019 election. MINAMATA Mandala finds a cohort of subjects to constellate its generous 372-minute running time, allowing the viewer to see them as more than mere victims. We can appreciate Hideo Ikoma’s cheerful stubbornness, Shinobu Sakamoto’s unfulfilling love stories, or Takako Isayama’s soft spot for Disneyland. These vignettes contrast with the jarring and emotionally draining scenes detailing the government’s callous stance on the Minamata issue.

We occasionally catch glimpses of Hara operating the camera, and he’ll often engage in conversation with his subjects. He functions at times as an intradiegetic narrator, and is at his most entertaining when he tries to stir the pot with trenchant comments. In response to one of many out-of-court settlements with Chisso, he ponders, “It looks to me they’re selling their souls for a measly 2.1 million yen.” Looming over the film is the shadow of Japan’s unyielding bureaucratic apparatus. In such an ecosystem, any victories not only appear feeble but are also often short-lived. Against this, the resilience of the people populating MINAMATA Mandala is tremendously inspiring.

MINAMATA Mandala is available to stream through July 2 via Japan Society, as part of its program Cinema as Struggle.

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Photos Capture Golden Age of Discos “Before Bottle Service and Bland Design”

Multicolored laser beams, day-glo dance floors, mirror-plated ceilings, kitschy patterned carpets, giant spaceship sculptures: from its nascence in the 1960s, discotheque aesthetics has been defined by the whimsical and the offbeat. Those familiar with artist Adrian Wilson, better known today for his humorous, subversive interventions across New York City, may be surprised to learn that he got his start reveling in this unique typography, capturing the heyday of European disco design in the late 1980s and ’90s.

As a freelancer for trade publications like Disco Mirror and European Discotheque Review for 11 years, he shot over 800 venues, including Ministry of Sound in London; Ku Club in Ibiza; and Le Malvern in Arzon, France. Using medium format slide film, Wilson says, he “documented the golden age of discos before bottle service and bland design.”

“After I stopped shooting for them, the magazines threw out all the images,” the artist told Hyperallergic. “I don’t blame them — at the time, I saw no value in 10-year-old random discos either, but now I think these would make an amazing book.”

Kudos Nightclub in Wigan, UK (photograph by Adrian Wilson)

Because the magazines depended on the advertising dollars of the companies that furnished the spaces or installed equipment, Wilson always photographed the clubs empty. As a result, the images are strikingly crisp, rare views of legendary venues like the 65,000-square-feet Genux club in Rimini, Italy — which featured a massive light fixture in the shape of a human brain suspended above the dance floor and claimed to be the largest disco in the world.

“Suddenly it became a kind of fantasy world where everyone was doing these themed nightclubs with crazy things like viking boats and volcanoes, anything to attract people,” Wilson said.

His favorite disco, however, Club Paradiso in the Northern Italian city of Rimini, was not the most eccentric but rather “supremely elegant.”

“It was the best-designed place in the world,” he continued. “I seem to remember they had cameras pointing at other tables so one could check out the other customers by looking at a TV screen on the table instead of looking at them.”

Seen today, when mass-produced minimalism and mid-century modern monotony continue to dominate the landscape of design, Wilson’s images of the quirky and extravagant disco interiors are immediately enchanting. But that wasn’t always the case, the artist says; when he approached Architectural Review with the photos a few years back, an editor described 1990s disco design as “universally abhorrent.”

“There was a snobbery toward discos,” Wilson said. “Because they weren’t really bound by taste or anything. They were meant to be a fantasy land, escapism. And that’s kind of missing nowadays.”

Kudos in Wigan, UK (photograph by Adrian Wilson)

Le Malvern in Arzon, France (photograph by Adrian Wilson)Club Paradiso in Rimini, Italy (photograph by Adrian Wilson)Ku in Ibiza, Spain (photograph by Adrian Wilson)A bathroom featuring golden urinals in Le Mirage in Plzeň, Czech Repbulic (photograph by Adrian Wilson)Equinox nightclub in London (photograph by Adrian Wilson)Ministry of Sound in London (photograph by Adrian Wilson)Liberty’s in Swansea, Wales (photograph by Adrian Wilson)

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An Alabama Quilting Collective Receives $250K to Build a Museum

The Freedom Quilting Bee Legacy, a nonprofit in Alberta, Alabama, has received a $250,000 grant from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation and Community Partnership to build a museum honoring the legacy of a historical quilting collective that operated until the late 1990s in Alabama’s “Black Belt.”

The original Freedom Quilting Bee collective (“The Bee”) was established in 1966 by civil rights activist and Episcopalian priest Francis X. Walter to provide a source of income for Black women in Rehoboth in Wilcox County. (It was separate from the better known Gee’s Bend Quilters Collective, whose members reside in the nearby community of Boykin.) In its early years, the collective gained enormous success with an exhibition at the Smithsonian. They also attracted interest from artists like Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner and retail clients like Sears, Roebuck, and Saks Fifth Avenue. In its busiest period, the collective produced 5,000 shams a month. But beginning in the late 1980s, demand for the Bee’s products began to dwindle, and its founders began aging; many have since died. In the late 1990s, the collective ceased its activities, and its historical building, dedicated in 1969 to Martin Luther King, Jr., fell into disrepair.

The Souls Grown Deep grant will be used to repair the collective’s historical building, which will house the Freedom Quilting Bee Heritage Center and Museum. The planned center and museum will celebrate the Bee’s artistic legacy; provide educational programming on the historical contribution of Black women to their communities during the Jim Crow era; and promote quilting and textile manufacturing jobs in the impoverished areas of rural Alabama.

The grant was made in honor of Estelle Witherspoon, a founding member and longtime manager of the Freedom Quilting Bee. A member of the Civil Rights Movement, Witherspoon participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 and was arrested in 1971 during an un-permitted march for school desegregation.

“The Black Belt of Alabama has amazing stories of fortitude and resilience that go untold,” said Elaine Williams, President of the Freedom Quilting Bee Legacy, in a statement. “With this new center and museum, the Freedom Quilting Bee will not be lost to time and the women who made an economy of selling quilts in this hamlet will not be forgotten.”

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Summer of 85 Captures the Power (and Angst) of Queer First Love

On its surface, Summer of 85 is the story of “how he became a corpse.” Told by protagonist Alex (Félix Lefebvre), who uses a combination of direct address, writing, and recollection to try and reconstruct the unexpected events that leave him on the cusp of a major turning point in his life, the film’s narrative is Alex’s attempt to remember. It gives way to a second story lingering beneath the surface: an attempt to make sense of what it means to grow older. 

The latest feature from acclaimed director François Ozon, Summer of 85 is animated by the idea of memory: what we lose, what we remember, and how we choose to record it. Awaiting sentencing for a mysterious crime, Alex is advised by a sympathetic teacher to write down what happened. His ensuing narration introduces characters with phrases like “Enter David” and “Enter Kate” (played by Benjamin Voisin and Philippine Velge, respectively), as if each figure is moving in and out of the drama of his life. Alex first agrees to this exercise as a way to help his case, a way of getting to the bottom of why these things happened, and how he ended up in this situation. As he dives deeper into these events, he tries to understand not only why these things happened, but to make peace with the beginning, and end, of his first love affair — what’s remembered, and what gets lost along the way. 

(L to R) Benjamin Voisin, Philippine Velge, and Félix Lefebvre in Summer of 85, dir. François Ozon

The moments that Alex narrates — the story of the past — are vividly shot and hyper-stylized; like when he and David  are at a dance club, the world seems to slow down around them; or when the two of them sit alone together in the mezzanine of a cinema, in their own utopian world. This is a way of highlighting not only the (un)reliability of Alex as a narrator, but also the gulf between the possibility of adolescence and the darkness of the “real world.” Present-day sections, anchored by the lead-up to Alex’s sentencing, and his attempts to write through his past, are grey and dreary, drained of life.

The explicit queerness of Summer of 85 is vital to how it frames coming of age. The film isn’t interested in closets or other traditional queer drama tropes; instead it imbues queerness into everything; from Alex’s utopian memories of his time with David, to the soundtrack, the timeline, and the growing intimacy — both physical and romantic — that the two young men share. Alex refuses to retell his first night with David in any kind of detail, and the eye of the camera — the eye of Alex’s memory — lingers on the shut door, keeping the audience/reader at a safe distance, stopping them from becoming too intimate with Alex himself.

Félix Lefebvre (left) and Benjamin Voisin in Summer of 85, dir. François Ozon

This gap between confession and intimacy is one of the things that makes Summer of 85 something of a tough sell; its reliance on memory can be self-indulgent, but in many ways, that’s the point. Alex, for better and for worse, is a teenager and Ozon displays this for all of its messy imperfection, with the world of Summer of 85 literally revolving around him. 

From the response Alex has to David’s bisexuality, to his continual desire to see himself as doing the right thing no matter what, Summer of 85 captures the power of first love, as well as the flaws inherent in memory in a way that’s both fascinating and frustrating. Ozon invites audiences to remember what it was like to be young, in love, and to feel like you’re the center of the universe, the lead character in the high drama of your life, and all the ways that might be (mis)remembered.

Summer of 85 opens June 18 in theaters in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. A national release will follow. 

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Illuminating Professional Wrestling’s Most Unsavory Episodes

More than maybe any other art, professional wrestling lives on the line between fiction and fact. It might be fixed, choreographed, frequently scripted, and self-consciously performed in a way that other athletic events are not, but that doesn’t make it “fake,” as detractors eagerly claim. The physical and emotional pain of putting one’s body on the line 350 days out of the year, along with a hard lifestyle of constant travel and precarious employment, are all too real. Though there have been decades of tell-alls and documentaries digging into the often tragic lives of performers outside the ring, few have explored this subject with the honesty and depth of Viceland’s series Dark Side of the Ring. An overwhelming number of wrestling documentaries are essentially propaganda produced in-house by World Wrestling Entertainment, telling history as the company higher-ups (particularly longtime executive Vince McMahon and his family) want it remembered. Now in its third season, Dark Side of the Ring is a potent and much-needed corrective to that slanted coverage. 

The first season tread somewhat carefully, recounting stories that are mostly well-known, like the tragic love story between “Macho Man” Randy Savage and his manager/wife Miss Elizabeth, or the notorious Montreal Screwjob. As the show has grown in popularity, it’s grown confident in peeling back the layers of more controversial stories. A Season 2 episode explored Vince McMahon’s role in covering up the horrific murder of Nancy Argentino by her boyfriend Jimmy “Superfly” Snooka. An upcoming episode of the current season will dive into the infamous 1990s steroid trials, which changed the business completely. 

From Dark Side of the Ring

A recent episode on the cartoonish Ultimate Warrior aired the same week as the superstar’s official A&E Biography episode, offering two very different views of him. Dark Side of the Ring recruits legends like Jim Ross and Jake “The Snake” Roberts to talk shit about how the Warrior was careless in the ring, difficult to work with, and an unrepentant bigot. Meanwhile, the WWE-approved biography is much more sympathetic, casting him as a misunderstood, complicated man with some personal troubles instead of a right-wing egomaniac. 

Though it trades in expected stories around true crime or substance abuse, Dark Side of the Ring is at its most insightful when tackling the workings of the industry itself. It’s even explored wrestling’s relationship with foreign policy and global politics. A recent episode looks at one of the most unexpected events in wrestling history: the 1995 Collision in Korea, a two-day show in Pyongyang, of all places, which to this day holds the all-time attendance record for a wrestling event by a margin of tens of thousands. This unexpected landmark was aimed at promoting international goodwill, a strange collaboration between the North Korean government, Muhammad Ali, the Ted-Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. (At the time, New Japan founder Antonio Inoki also headed his own political party, the Sports and Peace Party, and he’s even held office.)

From Dark Side of the Ring

The Season 2 episode “The Slap Heard Around the World” is centered on a moment that lasted seconds but had decades of ramifications. Thanks to the massive success of the first Wrestlemania and the company’s early partnership with MTV, pro wrestling as represented by the company then known as the WWF reached new heights during the 1980s. But with that popularity came greater scrutiny from outsiders. The gruff-and-tough redneck brawler David Schultz was on his way up the ranks when McMahon asked him to assault a 20/20 reporter who was poking around backstage asking if the whole thing was “fake.” At that time, protecting the secrets of the business and “selling” the show as genuine was of the utmost importance, even if most fans knew it was rigged. McMahon wanted Schultz to sacrifice his reputation to make wrestling look as real and painful as possible. Schultz’s slap led to a massive lawsuit, a falling out with WWF, and the end of his wrestling career, after which he became an in-demand bounty hunter. 

But what’s most interesting is when Schultz voices his feelings about McMahon’s complete change of heart a few years later. During the 1990s, the doors busted wide open on how the wrestling industry actually worked, largely thanks to fan discussion on the internet. But the end of that era also came because of McMahon, who had once sworn to protect wrestling’s secrets. After WWF came under increased government scrutiny following the steroid trials, the McMahons went to court in New Jersey to argue that wrestling was not a genuine sport, but entertainment, and thus it should not be subject to the regulations that sports are — like state-run commissions, certain taxes, or steroid testing by an outside body. They won their case, and wrestling was henceforth “sports entertainment.” After demanding that Schultz sacrifice his career to defend wrestling’s honor, McMahon was willing to air out all the dirty laundry just to keep more money for himself. Though wrestling has been an open book for many years now, few have been brave enough to ask certain questions and push back against the McMahon dynasty. Dark Side of the Ring produces some of the most engaging nonfiction television work in years (about wrestling or otherwise) by daring to take that monopoly to the mat.

New episodes of Dark Side of the Ring are currently premiering Thursdays on Viceland. It can be streamed on various services.

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Harry Houdini and the Great Copyright Escape

We might think of intellectual property as a modern concept, but the politics surrounding ownership of innovations at the turn of the 20th century were an absolute bloodbath. With patent trolls like Thomas Edison and Charles Goodyear staking claims on the intellectual property of others — to the tune of tremendous profit and influence — it’s no wonder that protecting one’s inventions was top-of-mind for innovators of the day.

Since there was no process for patenting or copywriting magic tricks, famous illusionist Harry Houdini (neé Erik Weisz/Erich Weiss) found a way to perform a little legal sleight of hand to protect his professional trickery. In 1911, he developed a famous act, titled “The Chinese Water Torture Cell,” comprised of the magician’s feet being locked in stocks before he is suspended in mid-air from his ankles with a restraint brace, and then lowered into a glass tank overflowing with water. The restraint is locked to the top of the cell.  

As Houdini learned from a previous trick, called the Milk Can Escape, owning a patent for a trick did little to stop imitators from stealing his thunder. So for the Chinese Water Torture Cell, he took a new approach. Before taking the trick public in 1912, Houdini first performed the escape for a single-person audience in the guise of a one-act play he called Houdini Upside Down! He then copyrighted the play, thus securing his ownership of the trick contained therein. Only then was he ready to take the act into a public performance, debuting the escape at the Circus Busch in Berlin, Germany, on September 21, 1912. He continued to perform this signature escape until his death in 1926, and though several movies depict him dying in the torture cell, it had nothing to do with his demise in actuality.

The Chinese Water Torture Cell was one of three famous illusions that the Hungarian immigrant and magician registered as “playlets,” or short plays, with the US Copyright Office between 1911 and 1914. Dramatic compositions have been eligible for copyright protection since 1856, and Houdini’s approach ensured that he had legal grounds to protect his legacy — a practice which he pursued aggressively, according to historic rumor. The scripts of Houdini’s playlets are now held within the Reader’s Collection of the Library of Congress Copyright Office Drama Deposits, but the lesson for those who wish to make their mark on the world is clear: it is not enough to innovate the art, but also to innovate the systems that enable artists to profit from their own IP. One suspects that Mr. Houdini would be busily minting his own NFTs if he were alive today.

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The Industry and Leisure of the World’s Largest Middle Class

This riveting non-narrative documentary travels to the factories, etiquette centers, fashion live streamer offices, security schools, and other contemporary curiosities of China. With a fixed gaze, it shows the allure of this mundane world that has helped the planet’s most populous country create the largest middle class of any nation. This isn’t a meditation on consumption alone, as the sights and sounds are accompanied by all the aspirational trappings that such an upwardly mobile population hungers for. The result is a fascinating commentary on the everyday, often punctuated with humor (such as a visit to a sex doll workshop). Director Jessica Kingdon allows the audience to parse each scene without coming across as a soulless record of the impact of industrialization.

The title, Ascension, suggests the arc of the story. At the beginning, migrant workers are being offered jobs at the infamous Foxconn factory for 220 yuan ($32) a day, while being told men can’t wear earrings, have colorblindness, be over 1.75 m tall (5’7”), or have tattoos (a recruiter later walks that back and suggests having as few tattoos as possible is desirable). The pristine factory interiors stand in stark contrast to the rusty and dirty factories that have come to dominate the US imagination around industrialization. The buzz and whistles of the factories work in unison with the film’s excellent score by Dan Deacon, as clicking plastic parts of bottles together or steam burst help build mood and anticipation.

From Ascension

In one scene, the film shows us peculiar billboards covered with feel-good slogans that sound troubling in English, such as “Be civilized. Set good examples.” or “Work hard and all wishes come true.” At a few other points, there is a blurring of military and corporate worlds when it’s unclear why a group of executives are greeting a group of soldiers who eventually do a ceremonial march. We also see a machine embroidering “Keep America Great” patches, and a woman in a “Be a Daydreamer Is Not Bad” sweatshirt switching out small nail-file-like objects to be stamped with a machine. Altogether, there’s a slightly dystopian tone, even if the movie never slips too far down that rabbit hole. But there is one sad scene that verges on suffocating near the end. In what looks like a business etiquette workshop, people in suits talk about traveling to Xinjiang for business. One man takes on a more serious tone and calls himself a “patriot” before parroting Chinese media talking points about Xinjiang, where most Uyghurs live, as a violent place.

Ascension raises as many questions as it answers, capturing the aspirations of an ambitious new middle class in China, dominated by Han Chinese culture, and we watch it unfold with limited dialogue. By the end, there’s a sense of arrival at a comfortable place, where skyscrapers mimic the scale of giant Buddha shrines and seaside cities suggest the leisure the new middle class seeks solace in. The suggestion is that commercialism is the new religion for a country still climbing the ladder of success, and the film certainly helps you see why this is seductive for so many.

From Ascension

Ascension can be streamed via the Tribeca Film Festival through June 23.

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Lowy Virtual Framing Makes Framing Art Easy

At Lowy, we know that being able to test frames digitally is fundamental to an evolving art world. That’s why we’re thrilled to announce that our new virtual framing tool is now live on lowy1907.com.

Lowy Virtual Framing is an invaluable tool for those in the fine art industry and beyond to visualize artwork in our frames with the tap of a button. Integrated into Lowy’s website, our online virtual framing platform is free, easy to use, and requires no downloads.

Clients can preview up to 4,000 antique and contemporary frames from Lowy’s vast collection with any artwork of their choice. Once an image is uploaded, users can save a high-quality JPEG of their framed artwork and download a comprehensive PDF containing all relevant information about the frame.

Lowy Virtual Framing includes the ability to upload an image of your desired room or surface, and then digitally place your framed artwork on the wall to scale.

By making framing accessible to anyone, Lowy Virtual Framing is set to change how the art world approaches these services.

Visit lowy1907.com to learn more.

For questions, please contact lsadek@lowyonline.com.

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The O’Keeffe and Wheelwright Museums Present Following Enchantment’s Line

Join the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum on Thursday, June 24, at 8pm (EDT) / 5pm (PDT) for an evening of dance and beauty. The virtual event will include the premiere of Following Enchantment’s Line followed by a panel discussion with the artists.

The O’Keeffe and Wheelwright museums have partnered to produce a short film, Following Enchantment’s Line, which celebrates the diverse cultural connections of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Following Enchantment’s Line draws inspiration from the lines, shadows, and light seen across the northern New Mexico landscape, which has influenced many artists throughout time.

Directed by acclaimed filmmaker and artist Steven J. Yazzie (Diné/Laguna Pueblo/Anglo), the film showcases nationally renowned dancers Jock Soto (Navajo/Puerto Rican) and Harrison Coll. The soundscape features the music of classical composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate (Chickasaw Nation). Coll has studied dance with Soto for 17 years at the School of American Ballet, the official school of New York City Ballet. This project marks the first time they are performing together.

Learn more and register for the premiere of Following Enchantment’s Line.

This event is partially funded by the City of Santa Fe Arts & Culture Department and the 1% Lodger’s Tax.

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Sleek Wooden Ribbons Spiral in an Infinitely Looping Installation in Hong Kong

“Time Loop” (2021), 9.2 x 3.6 meters. All images © Paul Cocksedge, shared with permission

A new installation by Paul Cocksedge (previously) creates an endless circuit of coiling wood in Hong Kong’s Yue Man Square. Made of sustainably sourced timber, “Time Loop” evokes the infinity symbol and represents the city’s history of continual growth and change. A poem written in two languages is engraved in the spiraling structure, which stretches more than nine meters across and three meters tall to allow passersby to stop and rest amidst the bustling environment. “When people sit on ‘Time Loop,’ they become part of the movement of the city, as well as its transformation,” Cocksedge says. “It reflects a place that’s endured for many years, but remains constantly moving and evolving. And that’s the symbolism of the form.”

“Time Loop” was a gift from the property development company Sino Group to Hong Kong, and you can explore more of Cocksedge’s architectural projects on his studio’s site. (via designboom)

 

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A Magical Series Captures the Gnarled Branches of Socotra’s Dragon Blood Trees

All images © Daniel Kordan, shared with permission

Russian photographer Daniel Kordan (previously) is adept at locating extraordinary environments around the world—he captured this dazzling series of Japan’s firefly mating season a few months ago—and his recent excursion to the Socotra archipelago is similarly enchanting. Situated between the Guardafui Channel and the Arabian Sea, the remote island is populated by dragon blood trees, an evergreen species with upturned branches that splay outward and produce a bristling canopy.

Kordan’s photographs, which are shot at dawn, golden hour, and under a star-illuminated sky, frame this unique growth pattern that leaves the trees’ gnarled wood underbelly exposed. Combined with the deep red sap that seeps from its trunk, this otherworldly feature ties the species to local lore. “According to legend, the first dragon blood tree was created from the blood of a dragon who was wounded in a battle with an elephant,” the photographer says.

Kordan details the techniques and equipment he used in Socotra in a post about his travels, which you can follow on Instagram. He also has dozens of photographs of the white-sand deserts and life on the Yemeni island available as prints in his shop.

 

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Metallic Specimens by Dr. Allan Drummond Perfectly Replicate Prehistoric and Modern Insects in Bronze and Silver

“Thorn,” bronze and sterling silver, approximately 4 x 2 x 3 inches. All images © Allan Drummond, shared with permission

Dr. Allan Drummond works at the intersection of art, design, and science with his metallic replicas of wide-eyed spiders, ants, and other winged insects. He buoys his research in the departments of Medicine and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at the University of Chicago into a creative practice that casts biologically realistic specimens with a focus on anatomical elements of prehistoric organisms most likely to be lost in the fossil record, including underbellies.

Each creature starts with a digital rendering created in Blender that’s 3D-printed in individual pieces—you can see examples of these initial models on Instagram. Drummond then casts the replica in bronze or silver with the help of jewelry designers in his current city of Chicago and later assembles and finishes the metallic components, which results in a meticulous copy of the actual insect whether life-sized or enlarged to magnify its features.

In a note to Colossal, he writes that the body of work shown here utilizes more advanced techniques than his previous models and came together with the help of two mentors, sculptor Jessica Joslin and the jewelry designer Heather Oleari. “Feeling the pieces for the thorn bug snap together in my hands—a total rush—was less a relief from stress and more a confirmation that, at least when it comes to building giant metal arthropods, I know what I’m doing,” he says.

If you’re in Seattle, head to Roq La Rue Gallery before July 3 to see Drummond’s exacting metal insects in person, and dive deeper into his process on Instagram.

 

“Proudhopper (Dictyopharidae),” bronze and sterling silver, approximately 5 x 3 x 3.5 inches

“Naphrys,” bronze and black glass, approximately 10 x 14 x 2 inches

“Naphrys,” bronze and black glass, approximately 10 x 14 x 2 inches

“Semibalanus,” bronze, steel, and silver, approximately 4.5 x 4 x 3.5 inches

Detail of “Semibalanus,” bronze, steel, and silver, approximately 4.5 x 4 x 3.5 inches

“Thorn,” bronze and sterling silver, approximately 4 x 2 x 3 inches

“Proudhopper (Dictyopharidae),” bronze and sterling silver, approximately 5 x 3 x 3.5 inches

“Bellacartwrightia,” sterling silver and patina, 5.5 x 4 inches

“Farm To Table,” bronze ant, sterling silver aphid with black glass, two-carat cubic zirconia, approximately 9 x 5 x 2.5 inches

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Working With Tobacco, Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill Offers Decolonial Possibilities

Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill’s first US solo museum exhibition inundates the viewer with the tantalizing, musky scent of tobacco. The plant is the principal material in the Métis artist’s show at MoMA, which juxtaposes, across sculpture and drawing, tobacco’s Indigenous history alongside its colonial legacy.

Hill recently became the first exhibiting MoMA artist to withdraw from museum programming in solidarity with the ongoing “Strike MoMA” protests, organized in response to the involvement of various museum trustees in violent neocolonial projects. The exhibition, meanwhile, remains open to the public, and offers a critical, much-needed survey of decolonial possibilities. 

Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, “Spell #9, sunrise on clark” (2019), tobacco-infused Crisco oil, oil paint, wildflowers, tobacco flowers, magazine cutout, spider charm, and thread on paper, 13 × 9 3/4 inches (image courtesy the artist and Unit 17, Vancouver, and Cooper Cole, Toronto © Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill)

Long before the arrival of European colonizers, who pronounced tobacco one of the most lucrative cash crops in the Americas, Indigenous communities traded the plant within distinctive gift economies. Resources were given, rather than sold. 

Fittingly, Hill lines the gallery walls with a collection of small drawings, which she often gifts to friends. She refers to each work, which she makes on paper drenched in tobacco-infused Crisco oil, as a “spell” that conjures timeless values like reciprocity and interdependence — central to a gift economy. Like in “Spell #14, petrovoloi” (2020), these drawings tend to be studded with locally sourced materials from her Vancouver neighborhood. In this case, thistle garnishes a deluge of smoldering red hues that invokes land ablaze. 

At the center of the gallery, sculptures made from Nylon pantyhose filled with deep-brown ground tobacco repeatedly take on rabbit, human, and hybrid human-rabbit figures. “Kiss” (2019) and “Exchange” (2019) both recall folded legs. Draped atop elevated white display tables, the sculptures pose like items for sale at a clothing store, inviting reflection on tobacco’s mass consumption while underscoring the routinely outsourced and concealed labor involved in the plant’s production.

Peering up, I am struck with a heightened awareness of place as I study the assertive flags that Hill crafts from disintegrating tobacco leaves. These works, whose dimensions scornfully replicate the US dollar bill, guard each wall and mark territory, reminding us that the museum, located on the island of Manhattan in Lenapehoking, occupies stolen Lenape land and like all Western art institutions, will never be a neutral space. 

Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, “Cousin” (2019), pantyhose, tobacco, thistle, spider charm, dandelion, and thread, 6 × 4 × 7 1/16 inches (image courtesy the artist and Unit 17, Vancouver, and Cooper Cole, Toronto © Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill)

Projects: Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill continues through August 15 at the Museum of Modern Art (11 West 53 Street, Manhattan). The exhibition was curated by Lucy Gallun. 

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Barcelona City Council Steps in to Preserve a Little-known Keith Haring Mural

Keith Haring’s mural at Billares Ars (formerly Ars Studio) in Barcelona, Spain (courtesy the Keith Haring Foundation)

On the wall behind the DJ booth at the former Ars Studio club in Barcelona is a little-known piece of street art history: a mural by none other than Keith Haring, the graffiti artist and activist known for raising awareness of the HIV/AIDS crisis through his unique, punchy iconography. Painted in 1989, a year before Haring’s death from AIDS-related complications, the mural of a dancing flower-headed figure faced an unlikely fate when the building’s current owners announced their decision to demolish the structure and build a home for seniors in its place.

Responding to mounting calls to preserve the mural, Barcelona’s city council has stepped in to salvage the work, appealing to Catalonia’s regional government for its preservation.

“We have guaranteed the mural’s protection under the special urban plan and have asked the Generalitat to declare it as part of our cultural heritage,” a spokesperson for the city council told the Guardian.

Haring painting at Ars Studio in 1989 (courtesy the Keith Haring Foundation)

Ars Studio, an iconic club frequented by DJs such as César de Melero, Spain’s “godfather of house,” shuttered in 1992 and now houses a billiards room called Billares Ars. Haring visited the venue during a visit to Barcelona in February 1989, when he also painted his larger and better-known mural “Todos juntos podemos parar el sida” (1989) — “Together We Can Stop AIDS” — near the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) in El Raval, a neighborhood deeply afflicted by the epidemic.

One night, Haring showed up at Ars Studio with leftover red paint from the mural and asked De Melero to clear a wall for him to paint.

“The place was packed, so I put on a record and pushed through the crowd,” De Melero said. “And there he was with his saintly, innocent face and I told the doorman to let him in and I said to the boss: ‘Champagne for Keith Haring.’”

“This painting should stay where it is,” he added. “First it was in a night club, then a billiard hall, now a care home. Why not?”

“Luckily, no one ever painted over it over the years,” Gil Vazquez, acting director of the Keith Haring Foundation, told Hyperallergic. “We’re very happy to hear that the local government is considering stepping in to protect the mural deeming it culturally significant and worthy of government protection.”

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Smithsonian Repatriates a Pre-Incan Gold Ornament to Peru

In a ceremony today, June 15, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian returned a pre-Incan gold ornament from its collection to Peru’s government. The repatriated item, an “Echenique Disc,” is recognized as the symbol of the city of Cusco in Peru, once the capital of the Inca Empire.

The repatriation ceremony was held at the Washington, DC, residence of Peru’s ambassador to the United States, Hugo de Zela. It followed the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Machel Monenerkit, acting director of the National Museum of the American Indian, and Peruvian officials, including the country’s minister of foreign affairs, Allan Wagner; minister of culture Alejandro Neyra; and mayor of the Provincial Municipality of Cusco, Victor Boluarte.

Hugo de Zela, Peruvian ambassador to the United States, and Amy Van Allen, project manager of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, at a repatriation ceremony in Washington, DC, on June 15

The “Echenique Disc” is a circular thin sheet of metal measuring 5.3 inches in diameter. It’s made of approximately 90% gold, 5% silver, and 5% copper, and crafted with techniques commonly used in ancient Andean metal work. The disc features a center face that includes two or three other smaller faces with various symbols on its outline. Slits made in the gold sheet would have allowed it to be worn as a pendant or chest ornament, according to the museum.

In 1986, the city of Cusco adopted the disc as its official symbol for its high cultural and national value. It is being returned to Peru as the country celebrates 200 years of independence. Peru’s ministry of culture said that it will incorporate the item into the country’s National Inventory of Cultural Heritage. It is said that in 1853, observers noted a similar gold disc in the possession of the Peruvian president, General José Rufino Echenique. 

In a statement today, Wagner said that the object’s return, concurrent with the celebration of Peru’s bicentennial of national independence, “will help to reinforce our values ​​of unity, solidarity and resilience and that, without a doubt, strengthens the historical and close ties of friendship between Peru and the United States.”  

George Gustav Heye, the founder of the Museum of the American Indian, purchased the gold-silver-copper alloy disc in 1912 from Eduard Gaffron, a German physician and antiquities collector working in Peru

George Gustav Heye, scion of an oil family and an American collector who founded the Museum of the American Indian in 1916, purchased the disc in 1912 from Eduard Gaffron, a German physician and antiquities collector working in Peru. The New York museum was based on Heye’s vast collection of Native American art. He also served as the museum’s director until 1956.  

Speculations about the origins and iconography of the disc varied over the centuries. Some early Western explorers, like William Bollaert and Clements R. Markham, hypothesized that the disc’s symbols represented calendrical or astronomical entities from the Inca empire, between 1438 and 1532 CE. This theory was later contested by several archaeologists, who have dated the item to the pre-Inca Early Horizon Period (800 BCE to 1 CE).

Julio C. Tello, who is known as the “father of Peruvian archaeology” and the first Indigenous archaeologist in Peru, described the center face as a feline sun deity. Jorge A. Calero Flores, a contemporary Peruvian archaeologist, suggested that the distinct icons repeated on the disc’s border represent the spirits of traditional plants and flowers.

Over the years, the ornament was included in several exhibitions at the Museum of the American Indian including Star Gods of the Ancient Americas (a traveling exhibition from 1982–1984); Our Peoples: Giving Voice to Our Histories (2004–2014); and The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire (2015–2021).

Referring to Peru’s celebrations of 200 years of independence, Monenerkit said in a statement today: “In recognition of this important event and the tremendous significance the disc has for the people of Peru, I am proud to mark this moment together. This return is consistent with the museum’s mission to facilitate the continuity and renewal of Indigenous cultural traditions.” 

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Laura Raicovich on How to Make Museums “Better for More People”

What would it mean if we started conversations about museums with a better understanding of what people actually want and need from them? What would become possible if we understood audiences as active participants in knowledge production, rather than passive receivers? In her new book Culture Strike: Art and Museums in an Age of Protest, Laura Raicovich mulls these questions and many others, making the case for a more responsive model of the museum.

For Raicovich, a curator, writer, and former director of the Queens Museum (as well as a former Emily H. Tremaine Journalism Fellow for Curators at Hyperallergic), questions about who gets to steward and participate in culture are fundamental. From its very first pages, Culture Strike roots itself in a desire to make museums “better for more people.” By consciously avoiding the faux-progressive framing of museums as already “open to all,” the slim yet incisive volume brilliantly problematizes the pervasive old myth of “neutrality,” employed for decades as a means of masking the very specific set of tastes and values that have organized every aspect of museum governance since their inception. By their very nature, as Raicovich contends, museums have never been neutral.

Ahead of the release of Culture Strike (out now from Verso), Raicovich and I sat down to talk about the need for “undoing and redoing” institutional structures as we understand them, better practices for making amends, and the role museums stand to play in an age of protest.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

* * * 

The cover of Culture Strike: Art and Museums in an Age of Protest, by Laura Raicovich (Verso, 2021; image courtesy the publisher)

Hyperallergic: You cover a tremendous amount of ground in this book, taking an interdisciplinary approach to everything from the history of the modern museum, to the Dana Schutz and Sam Durant controversies, to the ousting of Warren Kanders and growing calls for abolishing the philanthropic model in museums. Could you start by walking me through your process in selecting your case studies? 

Laura Raicovich: I really wanted to use each of the case studies to illustrate certain aspects of the problematics that I see in museums and cultural institutions. I thought the Sackler situation was really specific in its relationship to funding structures and philanthropy around museums, and most importantly, the power of an artist [Nan Goldin] to kind of crack that one open by basically refusing to have an exhibition if funding continued to be taken from the Sackler family. 

I have a really strong interest in this book not being just for the art world. [I want] it to be something that a more general public might be interested in reading. With the Sackler situation — especially because of the public health issues and the sheer number of people who’ve been impacted by the opioid crisis — that one held a lot of really important threads in the conversation.

I also wanted to address representation and how that works within the museum, so the Dana Schutz and Sam Durant examples were important. I chose those two in part to talk about how differently the institutions and the artists responded to critiques and protest, but also the kind of institutional responses that I think are core to the book because, in a sense, we all know that mistakes are going to happen. It’s a question of how we then confront those situations.

While it’s very improbable to me that the Walker didn’t imagine the implications of installing Sam’s work in the sculpture garden of Minneapolis, given that it’s on unceded Dakota land […] once the issues surfaced, I thought there was a kind of openness and an approach to making amends that was really quite important. [There were] genuine apologies that seemed to not ask for forgiveness. I think that learning how to apologize without asking for forgiveness is a really important piece of the puzzle because when you make a mistake, you have to own it. 

Protest signs on the fence near Sam Durant’s “Scaffold” (2012) in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (photo by Sheila Regan/Hyperallergic)

H: In the book, you talk at various points about this fear of failure that undergirds the supposed neutrality of museums. There’s this simplistic fear on behalf of largely white and wealthy leaders of saying or doing the wrong thing and offending audiences, which I think is tied to your point about getting past expecting, or even hoping, for forgiveness. 

As a former museum leader and as a white person yourself, how might you recommend moving beyond this position of defensive caution?

LR: I think it takes a certain amount of fortitude. I have been challenged in many different circumstances to confront my own positionality as a cis, straight, white woman who has a certain type of education and a certain class background. That’s something we each have to confront in our own way. One of the things that I’ve found to be extremely important is coming to that space with some sense of humility.

A lot of people are scared right now — a lot of white people, particularly — but those are the people who need to take the greatest risk, and I include myself in that group. The way we do that is to make space radically and to do it with care. That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to harm people along the way. We have to recognize that and be willing to be accountable and also to make amends. We have to recognize that the reason that those smaller things are hurtful is because they’re tied to systemic oppression that has evolved over many, many years and manifested itself in this moment.

Laura Raicovich (© Michael Angelo)

H: Absolutely; it’s an issue of which roles we have to play, whether collectively, institutionally, or even individually. I want to talk specifically about how that relates to the “neutrality myth.” You cite Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his point about neutrality being very little more than it means of upholding the status quo. We’re seeing this now with the growing cultural dissent against the Israeli government.

Could you talk a bit about how you think museums can act as accomplices, in spite of this myth that taking a position will somehow compromise public trust, or more practically, their tax-exempt status?

LR: I’ll take the tax-exempt status piece first because I think that there’s a lot of mythology around what is considered political speech by the IRS. If you actually Google and go to the IRS, it’s very enlightening because it turns out that really the only two things that might threaten your 501c3 status are advocating for a particular piece of legislation or a particular candidate. Anything else is up for grabs. 

So once you understand that, [that argument] becomes an excuse, and listen, I’ve been there. I know that you sometimes walk a thin line between biting the proverbial hand that feeds and speaking truth to power in ways that are really essential and important. However, the museum is a reflection of who we are as a culture — the good, the bad, and the ugly. That, in a way, makes it about as interesting and perhaps fruitful a place as any to experiment with how to make change.

This is why I write about the evolution of the museum in the United States. In Europe, the museum comes from the European concept of cultural patrimony, collected by royalty and the church. Whereas in the United States, [museums] start with white, wealthy male colonists who collected stuff they liked and made it public, either in their own generation or subsequently, or donated it to their alma mater. Those collections are very highly specific. They are raced and classed and gendered and all of the things, because they’re literally a collection of what that one person liked. And then that’s studied by generations of people, so the idea of excellence becomes defined by a very narrow demographic and by personal taste. There’s so much that’s just left out of that conversation.

If you acknowledge these foundational flaws, you then have to do your work in the context of them. And I want to be really clear that it’s not just in the galleries; that’s relatively easy to shift. It’s who’s making the decisions. How are they making those decisions? It’s who the staff is, how that staff is organized, how the board governance is organized, who’s on the board, and how the board functions. What’s the funding structure? All of those things are part of this ideology of the neutral — all of those things come out of a very specific set of social and economic conditions that make the museum what it is. 

So if you’re talking about making the museum better for more people, you can’t just say, oh, we’re going to show more work by Black people. That’s not enough. A lot of institutions have done a really great job at confronting representation in the gallery, but the bigger question I have is: How do we then take the next step?

I think that there are a lot of relatively easy fixes, in the first round anyway, like making sure that you list a (small) salary range on your job descriptions. I’m also really interested in thinking about co-leadership roles, because I actually don’t think that the role of the director is sustainable in the way that it is formulated currently. I think it would be really fascinating to see two or three people take on that role collectively — both to hold one another accountable, but also because I really do feel like there would be a huge benefit.

A real understanding of how the finances of the cultural institution function is totally an issue of equity. Finances are not the most exciting thing, sure, but if we understand them better and have some transparency about them, we can actually have a more interesting negotiation.

The ninth week of the “Strike MoMA” protests at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (photo by Hakim Bishara for Hyperallergic)

H: Absolutely. And I think that ties into a broader cultural hesitancy that we have, at least in the US, around talking about money. There’s this perception that talking about money is somehow impolite, which is obviously absurd because the only people who can afford to not talk about money are those who don’t have to worry about it. 

LR: Yeah, and I think the extremity of wealth inequality in the United States has deepened the distance between the life experience of say a philanthropist board member and a member of museum staff. And that distance, especially over the last 18 months, has heightened the visibility of all of these rifts in society; they’ve become so clear in a global pandemic, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. I think that that’s made everything far more tender, and I think that’s also why there is this sense of fear of making oneself vulnerable in this particular moment. But I think that for people in positions of power, that vulnerability is a necessity. 

H: One of the many things that sets this book apart is how frequently you pose questions to the reader. You’re sort of mirroring in praxis your discussion of the importance of public libraries as spaces that very intentionally engage their audiences as active participants, much like the Brooklyn Public Library has done with its “Art and Society Census,” which you co-organized with Jakab Lászlo Orsós and Cora Fisher.

What do you think museums could learn from libraries in terms of engagement and inclusion?

LR: What it boils down to is that, especially in the United States, because of the museum’s positioning as an educational institution, you end up losing the emphasis on the wealth of knowledge brought by the people who visit them. These institutions are only broadcasting their own knowledge.

Over many years, many museums have taken different tacks, especially via education departments where they’ve really sought to engage in public programs. But the primary operating principle of museums has always been to share its own knowledge. So how do you then invite a practice of exchange? This goes back to questions concerning a diversity of life experiences and how they might contribute to a richer cultural discussion.

For example, I value and love the work that curators do, but a very practical issue when I was the director of the Queens Museum was [that] here we were in this borough where there were over 165 different languages and dialects spoken, and yet our website and all of our texts — except for culturally specific programming — was in English. What does that mean? And what I realized in that thinking was that it wasn’t just about literally translating some texts into Mandarin or Bangla or Spanish; it was really about what register that language fell into in the first place. 

Curatorial language is important, but there’s a way of writing that doesn’t have to be in “international art world English” — a way of writing things in a more straightforward way so that more different people can understand them.

I had this fairly mundane idea about having people record their responses to important works in whatever language they wanted and making those available to the public. We actually got a Mellon grant to do some work around that right before I left. While I didn’t have a chance to fully delve into it there, I do think that that’s a piece of the process of communicating and exchanging on different registers, of finding space for more colloquial language in addition to curatorial language — space for the “both/and,” as Lorraine O’Grady says (both/and has become my personal mantra throughout writing this book.)

A protest organized by PAIN Sackler in the V&A’s Sackler Courtyard, demanding the institution remove the family’s name (image by Naomi Polonsky for Hyperallergic)

H: I think a core element of this book is the way that you hone in on this cultural and institutional amnesia around these long histories of dissent, and how damaging this has been to efforts to create these new and lasting systems that are rooted in exchange/shifting the work moving forward. What advice do you have for younger generations of museum workers who are very actively, and rightly, demanding more from the institutions where they labor?

LR: To paraphrase an Octavia Butler quote, there’s nothing new under the sun, but there are many suns. I particularly value that sentiment, because I think our histories are really important — the histories that we hold collectively, that society wants to marginalize. I think part of our responsibility is to reclaim those histories and interpret them in ways that are meaningful to us right now.

And I think what’s happening in all kinds of different organizing efforts in museums, whether at MoMA, whether in unionization efforts, whether working away quietly, chipping away small things all the time. I think that we have to be generous about the way things happen because it takes all of those efforts to actually make the change. It takes that kind of person who’s very quietly chipping away internally. It takes the big external statement. It takes the raw activism and harsh words. It takes the power that artists have in relationship to cultural space, which is not to be underestimated, as we saw with the tipping point around the Warren Kanders situation and with Nan Goldin.

I think it all nets up to the idea that cultural space is profoundly significant.  I don’t wish to see the abolition of the museum, even for all of its problematics. I want the museum to function differently within society. And I think I’m still optimistic about the ability for them to do that.

Culture Strike: Art and Museums in an Age of Protest (Verso, 2021) by Laura Raicovich, is now available on Bookshop.

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Juneteenth Performances, Art-making Workshops, and More at Creative Time’s Red Stage

There are few cities in the world that rival New York when it comes to people watching. Call me a booster, but as a born and raised New Yorker, there’s little I find more soothing than just beholding the city’s many microcosms in action. It makes sense then, that this summer, after over a year of hunkering down indoors, we city dwellers are clamoring to get outside and be (safely) among each other again.

Ever the responsive programmers, the folks at Creative Time have teamed up with artist Rashid Johnson to present Red Stage, “an open invitation and access point for artists, makers, and passersby to reclaim space through performance and experimentation,” based on the South Plaza of Astor Place. The month-long series of free public programs promises opportunities for audience members — as well as those just enjoying the great urban outdoors — to dance, sing karaoke, and once again engage in cultural dialogue on the streets of New York.

Creative Time’s Justine Ludwig with Rashid Johnson at the Resurgence Opening Party at Rashid Johnson’s Red Stage, presented by Creative Time (photo by Matteo Brandoni/BFA.com)

This weekend alone, highlights worth catching include musical performances by the Celisse, Ché Buford, and Mal Sounds in honor of Juneteenth (June 19); a Father’s Day Letter Writing Workshop focused on incarcerated parents and caregivers from Black & Pink: NYC; and a performance and sonic meditation on freedom by celebrated musician Jason Moran, with the Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts and Total Freedom (Ashland Mines) — also in honor of Juneteenth.

“The Red Stage has been a beautiful site for holding our shared grief and finding joy together through it all,” explained Diya Vij, Creative Time’s associate curator. As she notes, there’s also ample opportunity for the public to join in and propose their own programming: “Book [the People’s Stage] to organize together, hold discussions and reading groups, marathon readings, play music, recite poetry, perform, rehearse, rest, and gather. It’s open and available to everyone.” 

Creative Time presents Papi Juice at Rashid Johnson’s Red Stage (photo by Matteo Brandoni/BFA.com)

Sign up virtually up to 48 hours in advance and until 9am (EST) on the day of; in-person sign ups are also possible at Red Stage, until availability is filled.

When: daily through July 4
Where: Astor Place (South Plaza) (East Village, Manhattan)

More info at Creative Time

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Travel to Places “Heavy With History” in Deborah Stratman’s Films

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles just reopened this month and will be kicking off SCREEN — its program for experimental film and video art — with Deborah Stratman. Just last year, the Chicago-based artist had an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago, centered on one of her more acclaimed films, The Illinois Parables (2016), which we’ll now also get to see. MCA curatorial assistant Jack Schneider calls it “an eclectic chronology of the land known as Illinois.” For the film, Stratman traveled to 11 sites that tell charged, if overlooked, histories of the state, from the Trail of Tears to Chicago’s Black Panther headquarters, where, in 1969, police raided the building and murdered Fred Hampton.

Stratman says she wanted to travel to “thin places” — a Jesuit phrase, which, as she explained in a talk with Schneider, refers to the border between two worlds, “a place of energy.” She has interpreted the phrase for herself in more “secular” and “political” terms, to understand “places with a heavy history.”

Deborah Stratman, “Optimism” (2018), still

In addition to The Illinois Parables, you will also get to stream Stratman’s short film “Optimism” (2018), a glistening portrait of the Yukon Territory in northern Canada. Both will be available online beginning this Thursday, June 17.

When: Thursday, June 17–Thursday, July 15
Where: online via MOCA

More info at MOCA

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How an Art Museum Betrays Its Social Class Bias

From 2019 to early 2021, I worked as a security guard at the Toledo Museum of Art which caused me to consider the museum in a sense that I never had in my study of art and years of museum going. The daily experience of the place made me aware of the relationship between the museum’s hierarchical structure and its treatment of socio-economic class with regard to the presentation of art.    

In the year and a half that I worked security, I never had an interaction which amounted to more than a greeting with a curator, nor any other person involved in designing the presentation of art to the public. I don’t say this to indict individuals. As it happens, I found all members of the museum staff to be personally pleasant. Rather, I bring this up to show the lack of any mechanism by which the frontline staff (security guards, visitor services workers, custodians, etc.) can help shape the content of the museum. The position of the frontline staff is worth considering because they are the only group in a museum with meaningfully different class positions and interests from the funders and donors. The responsibilities of frontline staff in the museum workplace never intersect with the task of interpreting or contextualizing art. Furthermore, none of the people with that sort of power are obligated to significantly interact with frontline staff.

The duties of curation are assigned to a small group of people who have had the privilege to acquire multiple degrees (typically from private universities) and who, by their management of the museum collection, socially mingle with the funders of the museum. At the same time, curators are often socially disconnected from the communities which the museum nominally serves. At the TMA, all the curators I interacted with had backgrounds at other museums and universities, and had moved to Toledo for professional reasons. This is in contrast to the frontline staff, the vast majority of whom had personal connections to the area which preceded their employment at the TMA. Most significantly, curators, by the nature of their professional duties, have to cultivate relationships with the wealthy funders and patrons of the museum, but not with the frontline staff. Curators also carry out their professional duties in observance of their socio-economic position. The effects of this are on the gallery walls.

In the TMA’s collection, there is a painting by Jules Breton titled, “The Shepherd’s Star” (1887). The painting shows a farmer with a sack of produce lifted over her head as daylight fades in the background. The adjacent caption correctly identifies the scene’s relevance to the shifting social order of the late 19th century: “This agrarian lifestyle, however, was rapidly disappearing under the pressures of the Industrial Revolution, prompting a sense of nostalgia for what was being lost to modernity.” Curiously, the label text also states that “The painter gives the figure a classical monumentality and timelessness that removes her from any commentary on her social position.” These two notions are contradictory. How can one address the farmer in Breton’s painting in the context of her displacement by the Industrial Revolution without commenting on her social position? The otherwise obvious conclusion of sympathy for the subject of this painting on the basis of her social position is opposed by the museum’s presentation. Avoidance of the farmer’s socio-economic class here is the result of callousness or blindness towards such issues.

Jules Breton, “The Shepherd’s Star” (1887) oil on canvas 40.4 inches by 30.9 inches in the collection of the Toledo Art Museum (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The last show which opened at the TMA before I left was Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings, a retrospective featuring 100 works for the occasion of Thiebaud’s 100th birthday. Though this show was originally organized by the Crocker Museum of Art in Sacramento, the inclination against class analysis demonstrated with it is analogous to the issues I observed at the TMA internally. Thiebaud’s work is not overtly political in terms of subject matter. However, he began his career at a time when representation, especially that which tended towards realism (as Thiebaud’s did), was unfashionable because of its political connotations. This perspective was codified in Clement Greenberg’s foundational 1939 essay “Avant-Garde and Kitsch.” Greenberg argued that the dichotomy between avant-garde and kitsch was a result of class tensions: Kitsch is an “ersatz culture” made to placate the working-class subjects of industrial capitalism while the avant-garde retreats from existing culture into itself as a defense against the impositions of capitalism. This division Greenberg observed, in part, in terms of artistic style: For him, representation was increasingly associated with kitsch consumerism while the avant-garde trended towards abstraction.

While working as an animator in the 1930s, Thiebaud was fired for union activities and consequently considered pursuing a career as a union lawyer. His demonstration of class consciousness suggests Thiebaud’s awareness of the dynamics of industrial capitalism and their relationship to his art. This aspect of the work was ignored in the exhibition. Rather, the exhibition’s wall text focused on issues such as Thiebaud’s application of paint, his use of color, and his choice of subject matter. (Curiously, the show included two pen sketches Thiebaud made of Clement Greenberg.) The accompanying exhibition catalog features a brief passage on the relationship of Thiebaud to Greenberg and abstract art. However, there is a failure to mention the broader political context of the avant-garde/kitsch dichotomy or the class tensions which informed it, and how that might explain why, according to the exhibition catalog, Greenberg “would not have been sympathetic to seeing his portrait paired with candied treats.”

I did not feel that the presentation of Thiebaud’s work in this show was strictly incorrect. It did, however, underscore the persistent omission and dampening of analysis of the relationship between socio-economic class and the artist or the artist’s work throughout the TMA. Those at the top of the hierarchical structure of the TMA, like many private museums, discourage such readings as a matter of class interest.

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50 Years of Films About Japan’s Downtrodden

In 1971, director Kazuo Hara and producer Sachiko Kobayashi founded Shisso Productions. For decades, the independent film company has been the home for the married collaborators’ various documentaries about the downtrodden and outcasts of Japanese society. In honor of its 50th anniversary, Japan Society has put together an online retrospective of their work. Cinema as Struggle: The Films of Kazuo Hara & Sachiko Kobayashi features eight of the director/producer pair’s films, from their debut feature Goodbye CP (1972), about the lives of people with cerebral palsy, to their latest, the epic-length MINAMATA Mandala (2020), about the victims of a long-running industrial poisoning disaster.

The titles can be purchased individually to stream for $10 each ($8 for Japan Society members), or in variably priced bundles.

When: Through July 2
Where:
Online

More info available via Japan Society

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Laurie Anderson Hosts the Rubin Museum’s New Podcast AWAKEN

What is enlightenment? What does it mean to be awake? Are you awake? 

Explore these questions and more in AWAKEN, the Rubin Museum of Art’s new podcast, hosted by acclaimed musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson. Inspired by the Rubin’s current exhibition, Awaken: a Tibetan Buddhist Journey Toward Enlightenment, the podcast features personal stories of transformation from a diversity of guests. 

“With the podcast, we wanted to bring a human scale to the sometimes intimidating concept of enlightenment, with voices from a variety of perspectives — both religious and secular — that offer very different, personal examples of what awakening can feel like,” said Dawn Eshelman, head of programs at the Rubin Museum. AWAKEN guests include comedian Aparna Nancherla; gender non-conforming writer, performer, and public speaker Alok Vaid Menon; psychologist, author, and teacher of meditation, emotional healing, and spiritual awakening Tara Brach; master birth doula and world-renowned wellness leader Latham Thomas; musician, songwriter, and best-selling author Amanda Palmer; artist Tsherin Sherpa; best-selling author, activist, and Buddhist Teacher Lama Rod Owens; hospice and palliative medicine physician and author BJ Miller; Medicine Woman of Seminole heritage and traditional Cheyenne training Patricia James; and Tibetan Buddhist master Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.

Episodes 1–3 are out now. To listen and learn more, visit rubinmuseum.org/awakenpod.

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A 79-Foot Labyrinth Crocheted by Ernesto Neto Hangs from the Ceiling of a Houston Museum

“SunForceOceanLife” (2021), 30 x 79 x 55 feet. All images © Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, shared with permission

Brazillian artist Ernesto Neto (previously) is known for his enormous, fiber-based installations that plunge viewers into a multi-sensory landscape of organic elements: people are encouraged to walk through canals of stretched yarn and grasp the structural weavings, while spicy scents like turmeric and cumin are often diffused throughout the room.

Similarly immersive and imposing, Neto’s latest work at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is one of his largest to date. “SunForceOceanLife” is a hand-crocheted, walkable maze of yellow, orange, and green threads that stretch 79 feet across the gallery and spiral 12 feet in the air. The pliable installation centers around “fire, the vital energy that enables life on this planet,” the artist says, sharing that each polymer string utilized is burned at the end to further infuse the piece with sacred, meditative rituals. “I hope that the experience of this work will feel like a chant made in gratitude to the gigantic ball of fire we call the sun, a gesture of thanks for the energy, truth, and power that it shares with us as it touches our land, our oceans, and our life,” he writes.

Plastic balls also fill the pathway and shift underfoot, which forces those passing through the suspended structure to intentionally maintain their balance. Neto explains:

It directly engages the body as does a joyful dance or meditation, inviting us to relax, breathe, and uncouple our body from our conscious mind. The sensation of floating, the body cradled by the crocheted fruits of our labor, brings to mind a hammock: the quintessential indigenous invention that uplifts us and connects us to the wisdom and traditions of our ancestors.

“SunForceOceanLife” is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston through September 26, 2021. You can see more of Neto’s interactive, site-specific projects at Galerie Max Hetzler. (via designboom)

 

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Bright Tufts, Coils, and Lengthy Stitches Are Embroidered into a Textured Typographic Series

All images © Panna Eszenyi, shared with permission

Graphic designer Panna Eszenyi shifts her practice to a more tactile medium in a series that deftly merges embroidery and typography. Created as part of the 36 Days of Type challenge, the thread-based alphabet is Eszenyi’s foray into the craft and an exercise in utilizing a wide variety of stitches. The resulting series fluctuates in font, color, and style with both ornate cross-hatched letters, tufted flourishes, and more minimal, geometric interpretations.

Eszenyi just finished her second year at Eszterházy Károly Egyetem in Eger, Hungary, and you can follow her projects on Behance and Instagram.

 

 

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Otherworldly Sandstone Pillars Appear Like Totems of Billowing Fabric

All images © Zac Henderson, shared with permission

Between 140 and 180 million years ago, a cluster of Entrada Sandstone developed in a remote region of Utah. Wind, rain, and other elements have whittled down the formations over time, creating tall pillars that more closely resemble bunched fabric than ancient minerals.

For his series Draped Stone, photographer Zac Henderson documents these spectral columns, or hoodoos, that are developed when layers of hard and soft rock are worn down and produce smooth, billowing patterns as they age. Today’s structures flow in soft ripples from the walls and appear as ambiguous objects disguised by thick swaths of textiles. Henderson describes his encounter with the pillars:

It is almost as if fabric were draped over boulders to protect them from the elements. In another way, the rocks appear almost comically similar to a stereotypical ghost costume, needing only eyes to complete the ensemble. It is a strange thing for something so opposite to fabric to take on any sort of cloth-like appearance, yet here we are met with a most bizarre sort of muslin almost asking us to look underneath.

Henderson frequently travels and seeks out the unusual textures and colors of Earth’s landscapes, and you can follow his adventures on Behance and Instagram. Prints of a few pieces from Draped Stone are also available on his site.

 

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Supporters Raise Over $30K for Bethlehem Arts Center Raided by Israeli Soldiers

An online fundraiser has generated more than $30,000 to help repair a Bethlehem arts center founded by Palestinian artist Emily Jacir, which was ransacked by Israeli forces last month.

Israeli soldiers raided the Dar Yusuf Nasri Jacir for Art and Research (Dar Jacir) on May 15, causing damage to the building and confiscating equipment including computers, hard drives, cameras, and books. It remains unclear if Israeli authorities specifically targeted the center, which is located in “Area A” of the West Bank (an area controlled by the Palestinian Authority). A few days before the raid, the center’s communal garden — called the “Urban Farm” — was destroyed in fires caused by Israeli projectiles shot in the area.

Dar Jacir was founded in 2014 by family members Emily Jacir, Annemarie Jacir, and Yusuf Nasri Jacir, and is currently co-directed by Emily Jacir and Aline Khoury. The center offers cultural and educational programming to locals and hosts a residency program for international artists.

Organized by the Association for Modern and Contemporary Arab Art (AMCA) together with other nonprofit organizations, the campaign reached its initial goal of raising $25,000 within 48 hours from its launch. The organizers now hope to raise $50,000 to help sustain the art center’s long-term activities and restore and maintain the Urban Farm.

An Israeli army grenade found outside the Dar Jacir center

The initiative is led by Julia Bryan-Wilson and Anneka Lenssen from the History of Art department at the University of California, Berkeley, together with a group of supporters including Asma Kazmi, Ahmad Diab, Nada Shabout, and Sarah Rogers.

“The amount of damage was initially underestimated,” Bryan-Wilson told Hyperallergic in an email. “The new goal more accurately reflects the amount needed for repairs and to replace equipment.”  

Hundreds have contributed to the campaign, among them theorist Judith Butler and art world figures like Nina Katchadourian, Trevor Paglen, Jane Lombard, Michael Rakowitz, and Lori Waxman.

“Contributing — even in small amounts — is also a way to materially demonstrate care and solidarity with Palestinian artists,” Bryan-Wilson said.

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An Annual Exhibition Features Over 1,000 Illustrated Coasters at Nucleus Portland

Top left: By Kelly Louise Judd. Top right: By Lydia Nichols. Bottom left: By Mariya Pilipenko. Bottom right: By Molly Egan. All images via Nucleus Portland

Each year Nucleus Portland tasks hundreds of artists with creating original works on a miniature canvas usually reserved for dewy beverages. Salut! harnesses the friendly camaraderie associated with the word and gathers more than 1,000 coasters illustrated in an expansive variety of styles, including minimal color-blocked toucans, trippy starscapes, and dreamy, candid portraits. See some of Colossal’s favorite 4×4-inch pieces below, and browse the entire exhibition and available works, which are up online and in-person through July 5, on Nucelus’s site.

 

Top left: By Zoe Persico. Top right: By Sam Kalda. Bottom left: By Shinyeon Moon. Bottom right: By Vin Ganapathy

Left: By Megan Wood. Right: By Catherine Ho

Top left: By Juliette Toma. Top right: Chris Uphues. Bottom left: By Jennifer Davis. Bottom right: By Jialun Deng

Left: By Edward Cao. Right: By Hayley Powers

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An Artist Repurposed a Corrections Vehicle to Encourage New Yorkers to Vote

New Yorkers can practice ranked-choice voting — the recently implemented system for primary and special elections that requires ranking up to 5 candidates in order of preference — thanks to a new roving, artist-led project. The NYC Civic Engagement Commission and its artist in residence, Yazmany Arboleda, have repurposed a retired Department of Correction vehicle to bring voting education, arts activities, and other resources to communities in the five boroughs.

“The People’s Bus” made its debut this weekend and will continue to tour the city through Wednesday, June 16, the first of five days of early voting for the upcoming primary election. At each stop, passersby are invited to vote on the bus’s redesign using mock ballots featuring the ranked-choice system.

The bus departed on Saturday from Rikers Island, the jail complex notorious for human rights violations whose closure is uncertain despite years-long efforts by activists to shut down the prison.

The vehicle’s former life as a corrections vehicle is “an undeniable aspect of its story,” said Dr. Sarah Sayeed, Chair & Executive Director of the Civic Engagement Commission, in a statement. “The participatory process to transform the bus into a space of connection, resilience, and joy, now will become part of its new legacy,” she added.

Today, June 14, the bus will be stationed at Third Avenue between East 149th Street & East 148th Street in the Bronx until 7pm. Forthcoming stops include Union Square in Manhattan tomorrow, June 15, and Staten Island’s St. George Ferry Terminal on Wednesday, June 16, both from 4pm to 7pm.

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People Want Jeff Bezos to Buy the Mona Lisa and Eat it

A growing number of people online are urging the world’s wealthiest man, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, to buy Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa painting … and eat it! 

Yes, that’s a real thing that is happening in the world. An online petition posted by Kane Powell and signed by over 4,500 people is titled “We want Jeff Bezos to buy and eat the Mona Lisa.”

“Nobody has eaten the mona lisa and we feel jeff bezos needs to take a stand and make this happen,” reads the single-sentence petition. 

The Mona Lisa, famously housed in the Louvre Museum in Paris, is owned by the French state. Despite its absurdity — or perhaps because of it — the comical petition continues to gain supporters and draw media attention.

Most amusing are the comments left on the petition’s page by supporters, starting with Angel Flores from Phoenix, Arizona who wrote, “Gobble da lisa.”

“This is the most important petition in modern times,” argued Abhishek Ranjit from Kathmandu, Nepal. “Jeff Bezos needs to eat the Mona Lisa to save the world.”

“If not now, when?” Arnau Alier asked with a sense of urgency. “If not he, Who?”

Joe Kanaan from Toronto, Canada, made the case that the painting is “available online anyway,” and therefore “We don’t really need the original anymore.”

The multibillionaire recently announced that he will be one of the first civilians to fly to space in a rocket launched by his company Blue Origin. The flight is scheduled for July 20. Many online have encouraged him to take permanent residence in space.  

It must be noted that it’s not recommended for anyone to eat oil paintings. A famous example of its inadvisable effects is Vincent Van Gogh, who is said to have tried to poison himself by eating paint and drinking turpentine.

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Romance Turns Deadly in Three Movies About Love Triangles

If you enjoy tightly wound atmospheric thrillers, you’ll love these movies in which body heat runs high and nerves hang by the thinnest thread. All three feature distinctly independent approaches to the concept of a deadly love triangle, making the best of noir tropes and reviving the richness and dark flourishes of classic genre films.

Thou Wast Mild and Lovely (2014)

Don’t be fooled by the quaint title. This gem from director Josephine Decker is a nervy, sensuous portrait of a young woman and her possessive older husband. The couple’s bucolic life is upturned by the arrival of a young farmhand. Decker picked up the camera after starring in several micro-budget films by Joe Swanberg, whom she in turn casts here as the alluring other man.

On various platforms.

Sun Don’t Shine (2012)

Like Decker, Amy Seimetz is an undeniable rising talent on the US indie scene. In this compact thriller, a young couple goes on an impromptu road trip with unspeakable contents in the trunk of the car, then gets tangled in an even deeper web of romantic jealousy. It’s a masterful study in microscopic moods and tensions. With beautiful, breezy cinematography and Kate Lyn Sheil’s riveting lead performance, it’s a hell of a ride.

On various platforms.

Jerichow (2008)

This is a great time to dive into the work of German director Christian Petzold, whose new film Undine is now in cinemas. In this lush, slow-burn thriller, Laura (Nina Hoss), a woman with a complicated past, falls for a younger man, Thomas (Benno Fürmann), hired out as her husband’s chauffer. Petzold’s characters are often torn over money and loyalty. Hoss, Petzold’s collaborator on other noir-inflected films (like Barbara and Phoenix), gives a performance that’s equally passionate and calculated, as Laura plots her way out of the loveless marriage.

On Kanopy, MUBI, and Vudu.

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Why We Can’t Abandon Our Efforts to Revitalize NYC Culture

Since 2015 I have served on the Citizens’ Advisory Committee for New York City’s first cultural plan, CreateNYC — a set of recommendations and action plans, based on a year and a half of community outreach conducted by the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) to measure and articulate the value of the arts and needs of participants in an increasingly unequal and unsustainable city.

Despite the mix of embrace and criticism it has received — including the productive pressure of the People’s Cultural Plan, an alternate platform developed independent of city agencies — CreateNYC and its stewards have earnestly produced a plan that articulates a network of core inequities in our city and tracks needs that, once met, would contribute to a more equal, diverse, accessible, and sustainable city for artists and arts institutions. Expressed in 2017 as a static 180-page document, a 2019 update is now available as a web-based action plan that tracks line-item progress, gathers relevant links, and translates broad ideas into their bureaucratic terms and their cross-departmental entanglements. In short, CreateNYC has done the work of organizing community feedback and offering measurables that can be used to track progress and set coordinated goals.

From my perspective, this plan’s accomplishments and potential have largely been ignored by the cultural community as either too small, too slow, or too detailed to be of use for the social media inflected urgency that informs our movements. The plan has also been ignored by the City Council and in many ways the DCLA itself. There is still no clear definition from the DCLA identifying which actions are a product of the plan and which are not. In many ways the plan is only half-formed; relying on aggregated information and recommendations and lacking the collaboration and willingness from constituents and elected officials to turn data into meaningful policy.

Constituents’ core needs do not require more study. Those needs, as consistently relayed in outreach, include guaranteed baseline funding for small and mid-size institutions, programs to generate and sustain affordable space in all boroughs, and the empowerment of communities paired with an undoing of the centralized power of developers. We already know. Continuing to investigate these issues only defers material solutions.

As our city begins its long recovery from COVID-19, compounded by existing inequities, the information collected within CreateNYC should not be abandoned, but activated and engaged by the cultural community. We must elevate our knowledge, not only of what to demand, but of strategies for how demands can be addressed by the government, and how those strategies can be modulated over the course of the process — even when the process is unclear.

In this spirit, I offer the following observations and recommendations to the arts community and its advocates: 

1. Are we targeting the right people?

Predominantly relegated to distributing and managing budgets allocated by the City Council, the DCLA is frequently the wrong department for the conversations it hosts. For example, any demands regarding teaching artists in the public school system is mute without the Department of Education being involved. CreateNYC names the departmental collaborations necessary for each of its recommendations. This mapping is an asset in understanding a byzantine structure. Press for cross-department meetings.

Further, issues such as rent regulation and eviction protection are regulated at the state level, not in the City Council. Understanding where to deliver demands and which government body to engage will help in modulating strategy. The Department of Cultural Affairs should provide transparent information and guidance to arts advocates on these nuances.

2. Can we translate broad demands into the language of incremental achievements?

Long term goals which are too abstract are also easy to ignore. Public officials and their departments are run by relatively short-term interests which can be measured and accomplished in an election cycle. If the demand is “affordable space for artists,” be prepared to translate this into short-term goals which a bureaucracy can understand: “100 new subsidized units a year equally split across all boroughs” produces more leverage and accountability than a general statement.

Kenneth Pietrobono, image of the New York Botanical Garden (2021) 

3. Are we confusing the capacity of private dollars with our expectation of public dollars?

Something which has given me pause is the prevalence of private wealth stepping in to fund public issues, specifically in the arts. San Francisco’s “Guaranteed Income Pilot” and its recent expansion to 18 months of support for 180 artists, while wonderful, has been privately funded by Twitter and Square CEO, Jack Dorsey. A parallel guaranteed income pilot program launching in New York is funded by the private wealth of the Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

These programs, frequently referred to as “universal basic income for artists,” are nowhere near the scale of “UBI” which would require corporations like Twitter and owners of private wealth to pay their full tax obligations for government-implemented, subsistence-level payments to all qualifying people, regardless of profession. Are we adding to the weakening of government regulation by accepting the speed, abundance, and flexibility of private dollars for solutions?

4. Fight for the rights of all, not just artists.

Fighting for programs that solely benefit artists is a dangerous path. Many of the most common demands — “housing for artists,” “wages for artists,” “health care for artists” — are simply not possible at the government level, even if they were achieved in previous decades. Government agencies are very limited in their ability to define and regulate the class of “artist” and are doubly leery of assigning special privileges to certain classes of labor above others for fear of being accused of discrimination and violation of equal rights.

These needs should be fought for all people and not just artists. It is best to join existing movements and make sure artists’ needs are included as opposed to demanding artist-centered programs which only private wealth can offer.

It is for these reasons that I end my time with CreateNYC advocating for a continued and deepened engagement with civic processes rather than less engagement. Transformative change will be full of negotiations, incremental achievements, and concessions that will define how demands are actualized through each level of government. We should engage and not abandon what has been started.

Click through these links for more details about the Citizens’ Advisory Committee that will disband this year, including their 2019 CreateNYC progress letter to DCLA.

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Radical, Feminist Futures Blaze at the Bronx Museum

Installation view, María Berrío, “The Petition” (2019) in Born in Flames: Feminist Futures, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, 2021 (photo by Becca Guzzo)

In its exploration of more just realities, Born in Flames: Feminist Futures upends time as we know it. The past flows seamlessly into the present, swirling around dizzying conceptions of justice, morale, and hope. If time is liquid, elapsing like some fluid creature, our futures require channeling against oppressive currents. To be born aflame, as the featured artists suggest, is to blaze towards radical futures. 

Curated by Jasmine Wahi, the museum’s Holly Block Social Justice Curator, the group exhibition at the Bronx Museum of the Arts convenes fourteen femme-identified and non-binary artists — including Lizzie Borden, Caitlin Cherry, Chitra Ganesh, Firelei Báez, María Berrío, Sin Wai Kin, Tourmaline, and Wangechi Mutu — to envision alternative feminist realities unified by a shared desire for justice. This impulse flows through all the works in the show, conjuring entire worlds that respond to wounds inflicted by both capitalism and patriarchy. Facing the entrance of the exhibition, a projection of Borden’s 1983 documentary-style, feminist cult classic, Born in Flames, foregrounds a vast feminist and futurist lineage of artwork. The film, after which the exhibition is named, is eerily relevant to present-day struggles for social justice with its depiction of police brutality, sexism, and transphobia set in a fictionalized New York City; simultaneously a time capsule and a vision of an unjust present and future.

Installation view, Born in Flames (1983), dir. Lizzie Borden, Bronx Museum of the Arts, 2021 (photo by Argenis Apolinario)

These makings of what has yet to arrive are felt throughout the show. In “On rest and resistance, Because we love you (to all those stolen from among us)” (2020), Báez meticulously layers the skin of the body, transparent dress, an afro, and fauna to an almost-opaque effect. The texture of the painted flora mimics the texture of the figure’s rich coily hair, while one visible eye peeks through a spray of flowers. A copy of Octavia Butler’s acclaimed science fiction novel, Parable of the Sower is held open in the figure’s hand. Both the Afro-futurist text and figure are hidden in plain sight, impenetrable to any reality that lies beyond the fictional universe of the painting.

Mirroring the former painting “Untitled (New Chart of the Windward Passages)” (2020) hangs across the gallery’s walkway. Here, Báez paints the body as an engaged fluid, an ocean — if not a galaxy — of pigments churns within the dynamic figure, powerfully poised atop a mapping of the island of Hispaniola. Color is starkly contrasted between land and body, the former left devoid of it in its antiquated and colonial past. Báez’s diasporic futures envision empowered anti-colonial figures. 

Firelei Báez, “Untitled (New Chart of the Windward Passages)” (2020), oil and acrylic on archival printed canvas, 66 x 86.25 inches

This interest in re-narrativizing the body re-appears throughout the show. In Sin Wai Kin’s surreal and trance-like film, “Today’s Top Stories” (2020), the artist, painted in cat-like, blue and gold pigment, performs a reading of poetic prose while seated in the style of a news anchor. In a serene and monotone voice, they deliver lines like, “You will cease to exist” or “You are immortal” as animated butterflies revisit the screen, inviting more unstable conceptions of nonlinear time upon which the body can be understood as limited (mortal), and the self as unbounded.

Similarly, Tourmaline’s short film “Salacia” (2019) echoes this understanding of an immaterial sensibility. Through the film, time is made into space, as it reimagines the life of Mary Jones, a real-life trans woman that lived in New York’s Seneca Village in the nineteenth century. As Jones reminds us, chanting repeatedly in the film’s final moments, “We can be anything we want to be.”  

Sin Wai Kin, “Today’s Top Stories (still)” (2020) 6:30 second video, monitor (image courtesy the artist)

Born in Flames: Feminist Futures continues through September 21 at the Bronx Museum of the Arts (1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY). The exhibition was curated by Jasmine Wahi.

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Revel in the First Pride Flag, Long-assumed Lost, in San Francisco

The two original eight-color rainbow flags flying at United Nations Plaza during San Francisco Gay Freedom Day 1978. (photograph by Mark Rennie, courtesy the Gilbert Baker Foundation)

The first Rainbow Flag, adopted by the LGBTQ community as a symbol of pride and solidarity, was raised on June 25, 1978, at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. It was created by Gilbert Baker, an artist and queer activist, who described his rainbow-striped design as “something beautiful, something from us … it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things.” That day, two pride banners replaced the United States and United Nations flags hoisted at the United Nations Plaza.

The flags constitute a priceless piece of queer history, but until now, they were both presumed lost. This April, a 10-by-28 feet-long segment of one of Baker’s authentic pride flags entered the collection of the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, where it was unveiled last week as part of the ongoing exhibition Performance, Protest and Politics: The Art of Gilbert Baker.

A view from the stage in front of San Francisco City Hall at the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. The two rainbow flags can be seen flying in the far distance. (photograph by Crawford Barton, Crawford Barton Collection (1993-11), GLBT Historical Society)

The two flags flown during the 1978 parade were badly mildewed and damaged during storage at the San Francisco Gay Community Center in the years that followed, but Baker secretly managed to salvage a scrap of one of them. When the artist died in 2017, the historic piece of fabric landed in the hands of his sister Ardonna Cook, who loaned it to the Gilbert Baker Foundation two years later for the June 2019 Stonewall 50 Pride Parade in New York City. At that time, the Foundation was in the dark about the banner’s fascinating origins.

A man poses with one of the two original eight-color rainbow flags flying at United Nations Plaza during San Francisco Gay Freedom Day 1978, this one with stars in the canton (photograph by Crawford Barton, Crawford Barton Collection (1993-11), GLBT Historical Society)

After the 2019 event, the fragment of the flag was folded and kept in the Manhattan home of Charley Beal, the foundation’s director. That summer, Beal was coincidentally contacted by James Ferrigan, an expert vexillologist — or flag historian — and one of Beal’s collaborators in the 1970s who was on the hunt for the long-lost segment. Upon hearing Ferrigan’s description of the fabric scrap, Beal realized it was the very same banner that was sitting in storage in his home.

Following authentication, the iconic relic was donated to the GLBT Historical Society, a public museum and archive focused on promoting a deeper understanding of LGBTQ history, culture, and arts.

The segment of one of the original rainbow flags created for San Francisco Gay Freedom Day 1978 rests in its case at the GLBT Historical Society Museum. (photograph by Andrew Shaffer, courtesy GLBT Historical Society)

“People are moved to tears because of how important and significant that first flag-flying in 1978 was to them,” the museum’s executive director, Terry Beswick, told the Guardian.

Unlike the mostly six-color Rainbow Flags seen today, Baker’s original design featured eight stripes with a pink strip at the top — a nod to the inverted pink triangle, a badge enforced by Nazi Germany during its persecution of gay men that has been reclaimed by the LGBTQ community. The last few years have seen a wave of new LGBTQ banners: in 2017, the city of Philadelphia introduced its own “Philly Pride Flag,” which incorporates black and brown stripes to represent the Black and Latin communities. Others flaunt the baby pink and blue colors of the Trans Pridge Flag, which subverts the traditional hues associated with gender as assigned at birth.

Beswick notes that Baker deliberately chose not to trademark his creation and “died a pauper, despite the fact that millions and millions of dollars have been made using the rainbow as an LGBTQ+ symbol.”

“Gilbert not only created a symbol of our movement, but that creation has actually pushed our movement forward,” Beswick said.

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Detroit’s Electronic Music Scene, Seen Through Its Black Creators

Like so many people across the world, the first contact that artists Isaac Diggs and Edward Hillel had with the city of Detroit was through its music. Hillel’s first 45’s included Motor City greats like Diana Ross and the Supremes, Aretha Franklin, and Smokey Robinson; and Diggs discovered DJs like Underground Resistance, Theo Parrish, and the rapper J Dilla on the radio. Detroit is known internationally for its techno, house, and hip hop music, though the strong role its Black artists played in pioneering those genres is often under-recognized. And in recent years, it’s been painted as a city in decline, and even in ruins. So where does Detroit — and its Black music culture — stand today?

Diggs and Hillel’s new book Electronic Landscapes: Music, Space, and Resistance in Detroit (Kris Graves Projects, 2021) answers this question in over 80 photographs, two essays, and a series of interviews that celebrate the Black creatives who continue to sustain and innovate the city’s music scene. “Culture is vital to the life of our cities, a point driven home by its felt absence during the pandemic,” Diggs wrote in a recent email to Hyperallergic. The book highlights “artists who are not only making important music, but controlling, preserving, and transforming the spaces in which to do so.”

“Kenny Dixon, Jr. (Record Label Headquarters)” (2017)

Electronic Landscapes takes the reader from the urban exteriors of Detroit — shots of its downtown, Eight Mile Wall, defunct storefronts, and facades of its legendary dance clubs — and into the storied record shops and cozy home studios of its most important musicians, producers, and other cultural agents. Diggs and Hillel cultivated relationships with their subjects over the course of six years, and their photographs of Detroiters singing, working, and relaxing in their home studios radiate a special sensitivity.

“Slowly, musicians opened up their spaces [to us], shared their stories and directed us to specific places in the landscape they thought significant,” Diggs said. In one photo, musician Jay Daniel’s keyboards are set up next to his small, sunny kitchen; in another, Donald Lee Roland II sings in the padded nook of his rehearsal space, a home he inherited from his mother. The book grants us rare access to these creative and domestic spaces where intimacy, experimentation, and innovation intertwine.

This is Diggs and Hillel’s second collaboration. Their 2014 book 125th: Time in Harlem focused on a single street in the New York mecca of Black culture. While their most recent project widens the lens to an entire city, both books investigate the lasting legacies of the Great Migration in the United States, and argue for the importance of Black creative space in modern American life. In the wake of ongoing racial injustices, Electronic Landscapes is a timely affirmation. “While completing this book during the pandemic,” Hillel reflected in an email with Hyperallergic, “the senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black folks, [and] the rise and solidarity behind BLM, it became crystal clear how necessary it is for stories like Electronic Landscapes to circulate, to express who we are and how we are building the future.” 

“Sterling Toles #2” (2017)

“Northland Roller Rink #7” (2018)“Maurice ‘Pirahnahead’ Herd and Diviniti #1 (Unites Sound Studios)”“Stacey Hotwaxx Hale” (2015)

“Peoples Records #1” (2018)

Electronic Landscapes: Music, Space, and Resistance in Detroit by Isaac Diggs and Edward Hillel is available online through Kris Graves Projects.

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Thinkspace Presents Cluster Fudge: A New Body of Paintings and Articulated Figures by Reen Barrera

All photos © Thinkspace + Reen Barrera, shared with permission.

Candid, passionate, and uninhibited, Ohlala is the character at the center of Reen Barrera‘s practice. The recurring figure functions as a vessel for the artist’s own experiences and emotions, which culminate in portraits rendered in acrylic, oil, aerosol and wooden figurines that stand a few inches tall or stretch to imposing heights. “There is this idiom that says ‘it’s written all over your face,’ which gave me an idea that regardless of what we say, our true feelings can still be emancipated by our facial expressions,” the Paris-born artist says in a statement. “For me, it’s a silent way of communicating something without noise.”

To convey the characters’ wildly varied emotions, Barrera subtly shifts the form, materials, and colorful motifs: Ohlala often wears hoods with animal ears and patchwork clothing with chunky, uneven seams; an amalgam of abstract patterns and small botanics coat the figure’s face; and oversized hands display unambiguous gestures. The artist leaves drips, splashes, and other mistakes visible, too, adding to the unmediated theme of his works.

If you’re in Los Angeles, you can see Ohlala’s many moods as part of a sold-out show titled Cluster Fudge on view at Thinkspace Projects through June 26—the gallery spoke with Barrera at length about the works in a recent interview. You can also watch the studio tour below, and check out his site and follow him on Instagram.

 

Photo © Birdman

Photo © Birdman

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Artist and Iron Worker for NYC Department of Sanitation Unveils a COVID-19 Memorial

Artist and DSNY ironworker Bernard Klevickas at the unveiling of his memorial sculpture, “Forever Strongest.” (All images by Colleen Deery and courtesy Bernard Klevickas)

Last month, the New York City Sanitation Foundation unveiled a commissioned memorial to honor sanitation workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The memorial, titled “Forever Strongest,” was designed by Bernard Klevickas, a DSNY Machinist for the Bureau of Building Maintenance.

“I have coworkers I know who caught and survived COVID-19,” said Klevickas in an email interview with Hyperallergic. “One of the mechanics where I am stationed caught and survived it, as had other coworkers I am in occasional contact with stationed at the Central Repair Shop and garages around the city.”

Klevickas has not caught the virus and is now vaccinated against it, but gave much thought to the impact on his colleagues. When he was approached by the Sanitation Foundation to make a memorial, he jumped at the chance. Klevickas took first place at the 2020 DSNY Art Show, and his previous works have been shown at Materials for the Arts, the Whitney Museum, MOMA PS1, the DUMBO Waterfront, and Governor’s Island.

The work, commissioned by the Sanitation Foundation, will tour DSNY locations before being permanently installed at DSNY headquarters on Spring Street.

“What inspired the work: Civic pride, the desire to want to do something creative and expressive during the lockdown,” he said. “To commemorate and honor those who have lost their lives doing a job that is needed but is seldom thought about.” Elements of the sculpture, which features a highly polished bird form drawing back a steel drapery to reveal an urn atop a pillar, came to the artist in a dream. In developing the design, Klevickas visited Greenwood and Woodlawn Cemeteries and the Metropolitan Museum to see the tomb effigy of Elizabeth Boott Duveneck. 

The unveiling ceremony took place on May 20 at the Department of Sanitation on Spring Street in Manhattan and featured Emerald Society Pipes bagpipers, the Honor Guard, a prayer by Rabbit Stuart Berman of the DSNY Clergy, and speeches by Sanitation Foundation Executive Director Julie Raskin, and Sanitation Department and city officials.

“Forever Strongest” is slated to tour at department garages throughout the summer before being permanently installed for public display back on Spring Street. In addition to commissioning the memorial, the Sanitation Foundation has also distributed 85,000 masks, 350 gallons of hand sanitizer and thousands of meals to the sanitation workforce, to date, and the sculpture is also a monument to their dedication to supporting sanitation workers in ways both practical and symbolic.

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PNCA’s Graduate Programs Support Experimental, Interdisciplinary, Collaborative Creative Practices

The MA and MFA programs of the Hallie Ford School of Graduate Studies at PNCA support the development of experimental, interdisciplinary, and collaborative creative practices through experiential learning, one-on-one mentorship, and transdisciplinary exchange.

Explore the artwork and creative projects our students are producing by visiting our online exhibitions, including the 2021 Graduate Thesis Exhibition.

The Pacific Northwest College of Art serves as a cultural hub for the creative community in Portland and beyond. We invite you to join us virtually for our upcoming summer lecture series, featuring visionary artists and writers from around the world. 

From June 15 through July 27, the Low Residency MFA in Visual Studies will host weekly lectures on Tuesdays with artists Young Chung, Natalie Ball, Ruth Noack, Keyna Eleison, Chloë Bass, Max Jorge Hinderer Cruz, Minerva Cuevas, and an Art and Economics Roundtable discussion on July 2. RSVP to join.

From June 24 through July 2, the Low Residency MFA in Creative Writing will host a series of readings by faculty and visiting artists Alison C. Rollins, Jay Ponteri, Vi Khi Nao, Sara Jaffe, Alejandro de Acosta, Jess Arndt, Juleen Eun Sun Johnson, and Cedar Sigo. The series culminates on July 2 with poets Juleen Eun Sun Johnson, Vi Khi Nao, and Cedar Sigo reading from their most recent works. RSVP to join.

PNCA offers eight programs of graduate study: MFA in Visual Studies, MFA in Applied Craft + Design, MFA in Print Media, MFA in Collaborative Design, MA in Design Systems, MA in Critical Studies, and low-residency MFA programs in Visual Studies and Creative Writing

Applications for Fall 2021 are open and scholarship funding is available.

Get in touch to learn more about joining our creative community: Grad_Admissions@pnca.edu.

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Hundreds of Activists March Through Midtown for Final Week of “Strike MoMA”

A guerrilla projection by the Illuminator collective and Strike MoMA on the facade of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (photo by Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)

When Strike MoMA activists arrived at Manhattan’s Urban Plaza on the afternoon of Friday, June 11, their usual gathering spot in front of the Museum of Modern Art had been fenced off on both sides. Undeterred by the unexpected barricade, more than 200 demonstrators marched toward MoMA’s entrance. (A lobby attendant at the building adjacent to the plaza, owned by Paramount Group, told Hyperallergic that the fencing was erected due to construction work and was unrelated to the planned protest.) At the museum’s doors, they began their final action in a 10-week series of efforts to expose toxic philanthropy and advocate for institutional reform.

The months-long Strike MoMA campaign has been led by the International Imagination of Anti-National Anti-Imperialist Feelings (IIAAF), a coalition of diverse activist and artist groups. By exposing the unscrupulous sources of wealth of several MoMA trustees, the strikers have shed light on human rights violations and environmental crises around the world, from toxic mining in Latin America to lethal Israeli strikes on Gaza

Over 200 protesters held space at MoMA’s entrance (photo by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

At the core of the new movement is the concept of “interconnected struggles”: oppressed peoples’ shared experiences of apartheid, settler violence, environmental degradation, and imperialist intervention. In recent actions, the group has focused on the intertwined plights of Colombia and Palestine, nations under siege by militaries heavily funded by Western powers. Through writings, research, and online discussions, the activists also sought to change the conversation around museum funding and imagine a future wherein institutions like MoMA are not beholden to billionaire donors. 

Alongside the weekly protests and teach-ins, the group Artists For a Post-MoMA future has carried out several online interventions, including a mock MoMA website satirizing its board members and announcing fictional exhibitions such as Modern Masters: Prison Slavery, Policing and Border Detention. Earlier this week, the group nominated MoMA as an “at-risk cultural heritage site” to the World Monuments Fund, arguing that “the well-being of the artworks inside the building is made possible by the discomfort and death of others we do not see.” Artist Michael Rakowitz, who is active in the group, has posted a series of satirical videos in the character of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” a painting in the collection of MoMA trustee Leon Black. The financier recently stepped down from his role as chairman of the board in the wake of several scandals, including his financial ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and connections to Constellis, a private security firm tied to the killings of Iraqi civilians.

The demonstrators spotlighted the suffering of communities in Puerto Rico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Palestine (photo by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Around 4pm, a swarm of activists huddled in front of the glass doors of the museum, where speakers kicked off the action with speeches about conflicts in Colombia and the Dominican Republic. They chanted “Out, Barrick Gold” — referring to the multinational mining company where Gustavo Cisneros, husband of MoMA trustee Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, sits on the board of directors. The couple may be best known for their patronage of Latin American artists, but Bronx activists Sandy Placido and Manny Roa amplified the Cisneros’s ties to the Pueblo Viejo mine in the Dominican Republic, one of the largest gold mines in the world, which locals say has contaminated groundwater, air, and soil. (Barrick Gold has not responded to Hyperallergic’s repeated requests for comment.)

“El agua es un tesoro, que vale más que el oro,” chanted the group — Water is a treasure worth more than gold.”

The protesters held traffic outside of MoMA (photo by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)The demonstrators crowded around the museum entrance and waved flags. (photo by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Inside the museum, the atmosphere was tense as the protesters blocked the entrance outside. MoMA staffers were on high alert, but a group of five activists managed to sneak in a large Strike MoMA banner and unfurl it at the museum’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. The protesters later told Hyperallergic that they were escorted out of the museum when they tried to unfold the banner inside the galleries. (MoMA has not responded to Hyperallergic’s repeated requests for comment.) 

Visitors mostly abandoned the art displays to record the spectacle at the entrance with their phones. Hyperallergic spoke with several patrons who were split on their opinions about the protest. 

“This gives me doses of anxiety,” said Angelis, a MoMA member from New Jersey. “They have no right to impinge on my moment.”

“If you nitpick on any organization, you’ll find these conflicts of interest but what does it have to do with me?” continued Angelis, a former journalist. “Am I going to stop coming to the museum because a board member is involved in something that these protesters think is unethical? I don’t even care about the board. I come for the art.”   

Her husband, who asked to remain anonymous, had a different view. “Bad donors should be kicked out of the board,” he said.

Protesters unfurling a “Strike MoMA” banner at the museum’s sculpture garden (courtesy of Kevin Allin)Protesters say they were asked to leave the museum when they tried to unfold the banner inside the galleries.

Thomas Lozada, a Bangkok-based architect visiting the city, sympathized with the protesters but disagreed with their tactics. “The cause certainly holds merit but they shouldn’t be blocking people from entering the museum,” he said.

Roni and Malka, a couple from Israel who were visiting their daughter, a student in Boston, shared their feelings about the Palestinian flags that were being waved outside the museum.    

“They have every right to be angry,” Malka said. “We’ve done some awful things to Palestinians.” Her husband opened up about his service in the Israeli army, saying: “I entered homes of old people in the West Bank, turned their beds and broke their walls. I did these things because I was scared for my life.”

The couple said that they believe in a two-state solution and denounced “extremism on both sides.”  

“It’s not too late to talk to each other,” Roni said. “Both sides can still negotiate and reach a compromise.” 

Two MoMA visitors following the protest from inside the museum (photo by Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)MoMA staff were on high alert while protests gathered at the museum’s entrance (photo by Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)The protesters marched through the streets of Midtown Manhattan. (photo by Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)

Led by a band of percussionists, the activists then marched energetically across Midtown Manhattan, stopping at key sites: the headquarters of BlackRock, a company owned by MoMA trustee Larry Fink that invests in private prisons; GoldenTree Asset Management, a hedge fund founded by trustee Steven Tananbaum accused of profiting from Puerto Rico’s debt crisis; and the New York City Police Foundation, among others. “This is class war,” they chanted at several stations. At BlackRock, they sprayed red paint across the building’s entrance.

This “zone of operations” was marked on a bright green map distributed to attendees. (When Hyperallergic reporter Hakim Bishara entered the museum during the protest, he was asked by MoMA security to discard the map before being allowed inside.) 

The “zone of operations” flyer was banned by MoMA’s security staff. (photo by Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)

Tensions at the museum have been high after clashes between protesters and museum staffers over the past few weeks. On April 30, MoMA security guards blocked protesters from entering the museum to lead a tour of the galleries. An activist and former MoMA educator said she was struck repeatedly by a guard, a claim corroborated to Hyperallergic by several witnesses. The museum alleged that two of its security officers were injured in standoffs with demonstrators, but has not provided evidence to Hyperallergic for these claims. Strike MoMA denied the allegations, condemning “MoMA leadership’s attempt to distort the nature of the confrontation at the museum” and calling Lowry a “gaslighter-in-chief.”

The following Friday, an action centered on the human rights of Palestinians culminated in the arrest of one protester, who was tackled by police. The museum has also permanently banned five activists who were involved in the April 30 incident from entering it grounds.

In a leaked all-staff email that was obtained by Hyperallergic, the museum’s director Glenn Lowry portrayed the protests as an attempt to “destroy MoMA.” But in its few public responses to the weekly actions, the museum has remained reticent, never addressing concerns about its trustees and rarely commenting on the demonstrations. The museum’s wall of silence has not prevented the movement from gaining steam, however, with the protests going from just a few dozen attendees to hundreds at their peak, and even drawing supporters from within the museum itself. Artist Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, who currently has a solo exhibition at MoMA, withdrew her participation from two activities at the museum this week in solidarity.

“It does not feel right to participate in programming for families sponsored by an arms manufacturer profiting from the death of those children,” she wrote in a letter to MoMA’s leadership, referring to the weapons conglomerate General Dynamics, owned by James Crown, husband of museum trustee Paula Crown. (General Dynamics has not responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.)

Strike MoMA members protesting against BlackRock, a company owned by MoMA trustee Larry Fink (photo by Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)The protesters ended their march at the Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan (photo by Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)

The protesters concluded the last action with a peaceful march through the streets of Midtown Manhattan at the Rockefeller Center, where they gathered in a circle to hear final speeches. “The money from the Rockefellers created MoMA,” said one of the speakers. “It’s no surprise that they wash their blood money with art. We will go to where these people feel comfortable to profit from our peoples and we will fight for Colombia and the Dominican Republic like we fight for Palestine.”

“The money from the Rockefellers created MoMA,” said one of the speakers. (photo by Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)The demonstrators created a circle outside of Rockefeller Center (photo by Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)

The demonstrators then returned to MoMA for an “after-party” to celebrate the conclusion of 10 weeks of action. The New York Police Department (NYPD) blocked traffic on West 53rd street while several officers guarded the museum’s entrance. Around 9pm, Strike MoMA and the Illuminator collective held a guerrilla projection onto the museum’s facade. The protesters erupted in cheers as messages such as “Strike MoMA,” “Strike Modernity,” and “Free Palestine” illuminated the building. Other projected images showed members of MoMA’s board with texts describing the allegations against them.

A guerrilla projection onto MoMA’s facade by Strike MoMA and the Illuminator (photos by Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)The text “Free Palestine” projected onto MoMA’s facade“Viva Puerto Rico” projection by the Illuminator and Strike MoMAA list of the countries that have mines managed by Barrick Gold, the company where Gustavo Cisneros sits on the board of directorsThe phrase “Dancing on the Ruins” projected onto MoMA’s facade by Strike MoMA and the Illuminator

With loudspeakers blasting tunes from Palestine, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, the protesters danced and socialized in front of MoMA until 10:30pm.

Two MoMA workers present at the action, who spoke to Hyperallergic on condition of anonymity, were enthusiastic about Strike MoMA’s aims and planned on attending prospective actions. Hopeful for the future, they said: “These 10 weeks were just tilling the soil and planting the seeds.”

The protesters preparing for their 10th and final week of action (photo by Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)A protester during the march in Manhattan (photo by Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)

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How Women Artists Have Been Marginalized in the Blockchain Discourse

The recent discourse around blockchain art retains a bias towards the stereotype of the white male engineer whose work is treated as apolitical and ahistorical. Recognizing the easy depoliticization of a set of aesthetics increasingly associated with blockchain, some curators and artists are addressing this bias. What works get discussed, how and why, contributes to the developing narrative around digital art in the popular imagination.

The early auctions of Spring 2021 didn’t focus on women, unfortunate given its reiterating a misunderstanding of women and tech. Women and female-identifying artists (across the article when I say women, I mean both) have been part of experimenting and developing the creative possibilities within blockchain technology since the beginning: Rhea Myers’s conceptually dense and ironic works from 2014 onwards; Primavera de Fillippi’s “Plantoid” (2015); Sarah Meyohas’s “Bitchcoin” (2017); Sarah Friend’s “ClickMine” (2018); Anna Ridler’s “Mosaic Virus” (2018) and “Bloemenveiling” (2019), among others.

Recent, curated blockchain art exhibitions have diversified artists being represented, many of whom engage and/or critique the technology: Nancy Baker-Cahill’s “Contract Killers” (2021), Danielle Braithwhite-Shirley’s “Terms and Conditions” (2021), Carla Gannis’s “Peep-o-rama” (2021), Claudia Hart’s “Kiki.object” (2021), Auriea Harvey’s “Stygian Hand” (2021), Anne Spalter’s “InfraredNFT” (2021)” , Alice Yuan Zhang’s “Autophagy” (2021), among a slew of others. In particular, I want to address three artists outside the more established art worlds (odd to say, given the general marginalization of digital art). If money drives the blockchain conversation, then these three women should compel the discourse, but they haven’t. Sidelining them misses once again opportunities to reimagine art and technology spaces.

Josie Bellini’s work was the blockbuster sale at Christie’s first NFT show Proof of Sovereignty curated by Lady PheOnix. For it, Bellini minted an earlier viral work, “Genesis” (2017), which shows a woman wearing a bull and bear mask. As a NFT it went viral again: for a realized price of $400,000 –– 10 times the prices garnered by the arguably more famous Jenny Holzer and six times more than Nam Jun Paik, both in the sale too. I realize $400k isn’t $69 million (Beeple’s NFT hammer price) but it is considerably more than others in this auction and notable for an artist who had not previously sold within such an established art context.

Bellini studied finance, worked at an asset management firm, invested in cryptocurrencies early on, and eventually left the finance world to study coding and begin producing digital works for various start-ups in the blockchain realm. Her work “tells the story of the crypto ecosystem,” as she describes on her website. For those who hailed the pop/graffiti aesthetic of the crypto scene, her work includes a wry feminist edge and more layers than much that has been celebrated. If the crypto whales can be interested in work like this, then perhaps they are more willing than their Wall Street brethren to respect and cultivate feminist figures … a speculation on which I am not placing bets, yet.

Itzel Yard aka IX Shells, “Dreaming At Dusk” (2021) which can only be accessed through the TOR APP  duskgytldkxiuqc6.onion (photo by and courtesy Itzel Yard)

Itzel Yard, also known as ixshells, produced a work in support of the Tor Project, garnering the highest price for a woman within the blockchain space. “Dreaming at Dusk” (2021) sold for 500ETH (~two million dollars at the time of auction, May 14), an important sale for a great organization that got surprisingly little attention. These are the moments that have me questioning what art, aesthetics, politics are being recorded for posterity. Sticking with finance, this price puts her on par with an established artist like Elizabeth Peyton. The high end for women is around seven million, apparent in artists like Cecily Brown and Cindy Sherman (far less than men). Though artists using blockchain have more divergent prices within their oeuvre than those selling in more traditional pathways, that a blockchain-based sale is comparable is remarkable.

Yard’s work in the Christie’s sale went for less than “Dreaming at Dusk,” but was in the range of her other work on the invitation-based platform, Foundation. She, like Bellini, is a self-taught artist, outside of the mainstream art world who is gaining traction. Based in Panama, she is a co-founder of Creative Code Art, a community of artists focused on generative art. One notable feature of artists using blockchain is their interest in buying art with the funds they receive, and Yard is no exception. This community-oriented attitude is reminiscent of early feminist practices and  worth celebrating, regardless of the artist’s gender identity.

Serwah Attafuah. “Galileo’s Gaze”(2018) digital mage, edition 1 + 1 AP (image courtesy of su-ku-ya and TRANSFER)

Serwah Attafuah had regular commissions by major brands but her independent work couldn’t establish footing within any “fine art” world, according to curator Wade Wallerstein who invited her to join the show Pieces of Me. When she joined Foundation, she sold her first piece “Consensual Hallucinations” (2021) for 10 ETH (~$27k at the time), significant for an artist’s first sale. Though Foundation gets chastised for their energy consumption and invitation-only practices, a spokesperson shared that seven out of their top-25-selling artists are women, including Itzel Yard. Why not more? Collectors need encouragement to notice, appreciate, and buy the works of women. The organization, Women of Crypto Art aims to shift that, and others urge the same, but sales indicate more is still needed.

The marginalization of certain aesthetics often comes from the discomfort of confronting the lived experience of “othered” artists. When blockchain narratives don’t celebrate women, they reiterate that marginalization. Some argue that to examine women separately is to marginalize them, but sidelined as they remain, I emphasize their presence to alter the record. Many of the women mentioned in this article represent a globally diverse population, with works about their communities and their politics. Sara Ludy used blockchain’s potential to develop new contract practices with her gallery. Claudia Hart imagined how feminism could influence the disruptive practices of blockchain in her Feminist Manifesta. Gender bias exists within the tech industry, but also the viability of aesthetics associated with technology. Technology can’t solve social ills, but we can begin to rectify those problems by being deliberate in how we adopt, design, and engage with technologies and the aesthetics they promote.

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The Met Will Repatriate Two Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

“Junior Court Official” (16th–17th century), brass (image courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is repatriating two Benin Bronzes from its collection, belonging to a group of thousands of artifacts plundered by British troops from present-day Nigeria in the 1890s. The move follows similar efforts by European institutions, where the bulk of the Benin bronzes currently reside.

The works to be returned are “Warrior Chief” and “Junior Court Official,” a pair of 16th-century brass plaques that originally adorned the Royal Palace in Benin City, the capital of the West African Kingdom of Benin. In addition to claiming countless lives, the British military pillaged and destroyed monuments, sculptures, and architectural landmarks. The brass plaques came from a trove of around 900 looted from the Royal Palace.

The pieces were first housed in the British Museum and subsequently transferred to the National Museum in Lagos. Though they were never deaccessioned, the plaques entered the international art market under uncertain circumstances after the 1950s, and were eventually acquired by a New York collector who donated them to the Met in 1991.

In collaboration with the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), the Met conducted research into the works and determined that they should be repatriated. They will be handed to NCMM’s Director General, Professor Abba Isa Tijani, when he is able to travel to New York.

“Warrior Chief” (16th–17th century), brass (image courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The museum is also helping to broker the return of a third object, a 14th-century brass “Ife Head” from the Wunmonije Compound in Nigeria. The work is not part of the Met’s collection, but the museum had been offered the sculpture for purchase. Further investigation revealed that legal title to the work had not been granted by the NCMM.

“The retention of these works within Nigeria’s National Collections is critical to the well-being of the museum community and to fostering ongoing cooperation and dialogue between The Met and our Nigerian counterparts,” said director Max Hollein in a statement. He also stated the Met’s support for the forthcoming Edo Museum of West African Art, set to be built on the ruins of the razed Benin City.

While some have lauded the NYC institution for its efforts, others think the return of the two objects fails to address the hundreds of other priceless works from Benin that remain in the Met’s inventory.

“The Metropolitan is repatriating two artifacts stolen from Nigeria in the 20th century, but not the many other artifacts stolen from that territory in the 19th century in its collections,” said Erin L. Thompson, a professor of art crime at John Jay College and Hyperallergic contributor. She cites the Rattle Staff: Oba Akenzua I Standing on an Elephant, an example of an ukhurhe usually placed on ancestral altars in Benin whose provenance states that it was “taken by British Punitive Expedition.”

“These artifacts — key parts of the sacred and political workings of the Kingdom of Benin — were taken during an orgy of violence intended to steal not just the kingdom’s treasures, but the kingdom itself,” Thompson added. “How can the museum boast of doing the right thing when it continues to display so proudly the fruits of such cruelty?”

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Raoul Peck’s Frustratingly Incomplete Treatise on Colonialism

There’s a telling scene in the third episode of Exterminate All the Brutes, Raoul Peck’s four-part HBO docuseries about Western colonialism and white supremacy. Peck talks about Swedish author Sven Lindqvist, whom he describes as a friend and whose analysis of 500 years of European violence and racism inspired the Haitian director to make the series. He gives a peculiar description of the Swede, delivered in Peck’s gravelly baritone: “Definitely not a white savior.” It’s one of many moments that prompts the viewer to ask who this was made for.

The show is remarkable for presenting a history never before told on such a mainstream, high-profile platform. The Oscar-nominated filmmaker describes its existence as “a miracle.” It punctures the myth of whiteness and empire as “civilizing” forces, and is a bold reminder that the barbarians were never at the gates, but instead manning the walls all along. Power is critical to the story Peck adroitly traces via the brutality of colonialism and its attendant hypocrisy of Western intellectual humanism. The series explores how physical violence was intertwined with, and sustained by, epistemic violence. It closely follows the conclusions reached by Lindqvist and two other scholars — American historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot. The latter’s analysis of how a European positivist conception of history has shaped the accepted narrative of Western imperialism is one of the show’s main premises.

But there are several glaring omissions that damage Exterminate All the Brutes’ presentation of exactly what Europe and its settler colonies like the US did to the Global South, and how those actions continue to shape the world. Because of this, the documentary simultaneously feels like too much and not enough. Its critique of Western imperialism includes no interrogation of several crucial elements, in particular capitalism and the hyper-sexualization of the Other. The word “capitalism” seldom appears, the word “rape” literally never. 

Capitalism was not a byproduct of colonialism, but rather an essential driver of it. Racism was invented to justify the brutal logic of settler colonialism that centered on the violent expropriation of land; potential profits legitimized slaughtering its original inhabitants and using enslaved bodies to cultivate it. Drawing attention to the grotesque violence enacted by colonialism (represented by actor Josh Harnett recurring as various nameless white agents) is not enough. The ideology of Liberal heroes like Edmund Burke and John Locke simultaneously justified the rapacious socio-economic practices of empire, and established a discourse that still overshadows its sheer material violence. The “free market” was only made possible by ensuring many were unfree. To ignore this is to contribute to the “bundles of silences” that, in Trouillot’s words, excise specific experiences from the historical narrative. 

What’s particularly frustrating is that the documentary sets up plenty of opportunities to connect the dots, but never explicitly ties them together. The first episode, for example, explores the history of rubber exploitation in the Congo and the barbaric violence the Belgians unleashed upon the Congolese, hacking the hands off those who did not cultivate enough rubber and exterminating anywhere between 1 million and 15 million people. But there is no attempt to connect this to the global system of unequal exchange that prompted such brutality, save a throwaway comment about “Dunlop tires.” Similarly, when discussing how the first American bonds market utilized enslaved bodies as collateral, there is no mention of the inchoate global financial system that sponsored such a grotesque practice. Credit from the Netherlands and London powered the American slave economy, and to point out enslavers and not landlords or financial firms is to leave a task half finished. 

This not only provides an incomplete picture of how colonialism operated in the past, but how it continues. The governing ethos of “coloniality,” as Cameroonian intellectual Achille Mbembe described it, thrives decades after the anticolonial movements of the 20th century. Be it India in Kashmir, Israel in Palestine, China’s treatment of the Uighurs, or US foreign policy in West Asia, the violent seizure of land along with the destruction of the native remains the two strands of capitalism’s double helix. In the case of the US, one only needs to look at South Dakota to see how Native tribes’ ties to their land are still considered unimportant in the face of profits.

From Exterminate All the Brutes

A particularly jarring omission is the silence on how the colonizer utilized hypersexuality to codify the colonized body as inferior. Like capitalism, this was no mere byproduct of imperialism, but essential to its functioning. For Africans – both enslaved and colonized on the continent – this lens simultaneously stereotyped Black women as being promiscuous and Black men as sexually aggressive. Once again, there are moments which dance close to the topic. The first episode ends in a flurry of archival photos of white men groping Black and indigenous women, followed by cartoons from the same time period of aggressive Black men accosting white women. But this is not mentioned again, and remains one of the few montages that does not tie in to the wider narrative.

The silence is particularly alarming when Peck traces the role Western natural sciences played in the invention of racism. In a striking showcase for how the show’s use of historical reconstructions range from confused to counterproductive, one sequence imagines early 19th-century French naturalist and racist Georges Cuvier giving a lecture on inferior “native brains” before a hall full of diverse, disgusted modern audience members. There’s no mention of “Saartjie Baartman,” the name given to an enslaved Khoikhoi woman whom Europeans like Cuvier exhibited as proof of native women’s “freakishness.” Cuvier would later dissect her body. Baartman’s remains were on public display in Paris until 1974, and only repatriated to modern South Africa in 2002. An opportunity to delve into how the bodies of Black women were codified by scientific racism (which continues to shape beauty standards) is instead used to construct an act of superficial defiance, as Peck himself makes an appearance to give Cuvier the middle finger.

From Exterminate All the Brutes

“This is a story,” Peck says of his project, “not a contribution to historical research.” But by sticking too closely to Lindqvist’s book (the Cuvier scene is based on a chapter in it), he reproduces its flaws. Some of the most thought-provoking moments in Exterminate All the Brutes come when Peck deals with materials he is intimately familiar with: film, photographs, and documentary footage. From using an upbeat dance tune to score Eva Braun’s home movies to montages of colonial photos set to chilling silence, he creates moments where he actually owns the story he’s telling. It is just a shame that story is incomplete.

Exterminate All the Brutes is available on HBO Max.

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After Pregnancy, an Artist’s Work Changes Course

SAN FRANCISCO — In Kimia Ferdowsi Kline’s show, Mother Tongue, at San Francisco’s Marrow Gallery, the colorful pieces like “Flight, Fight, Freeze, Fawn” (2020), “Burning House” (2020), and “Blood Line” (2021) incorporate pearls, beads, thread, and glitter, and are a response to her recent experiences with motherhood and living with her family.  

Kline made the work during the past year, when she left New York and moved in with her parents in Nashville. Kline, who is Iranian, said she experienced racism growing up in Nashville and had never wanted to live there again, but she has a toddler and needed help with childcare. She says being there made her work more personal.

“Moving back into my parents’ house brought a flood of memories and triggers and unresolved issues,” Kline said. “Because of COVID there was nowhere to go, and it was something I had to sit with and process and face, so all of that I put into the work. Carrie Fisher has this great line where she says, ‘Life will break your heart — put it in your art,’ and that’s what I always try to do.”

All the pieces in Mother Tongue are on papyrus, which Kline finds flexible to work with and evocative. A jewelry maker in college, she found her old jewelry box back home with a string of pearls inside, which she decided to sew into her paintings. Kline also previously worked as a bookbinder and made sculptures out of discarded wood, but she thought of her oil painting as her “real art.” Now, she sees this latest work as the coming together of all her practices.

Before, Kline’s paintings focused on looking out — how women’s bodies are portrayed in media, as well as on Iran’ s landscape. That changed when she was pregnant.

“You turn inward because you’re focused on this new life that’s housed inside of you. It’s also a work of art, like my body was building a spine, my body was building eyes and feet,” she said. “The other part was that it was so uncomfortable. […] I was forced to reckon with being stuck in a body in a way I never had been before. I would describe it as physical torture, I really would. That experience is what gave me an outlet to do work about what I was going through. And then it’s magical too! Your vagina is a portal that a human being comes through — are you kidding me?”

Kimia Ferdowsi Kline, “Flight, Fight, Freeze, Fawn” (2020), 19 x 17 inches, ink, oil pastel, and thread on papyrus

In the works in Mother Tongue, there’s a sense of the messiness of human relationships and how hard it is to be close. In the title piece, the central figure rests her chin in her hands and her feet fold back in towards her body, while many faces, some anointed with glitter and beads, circle her. In “Flight, Fight, Freeze, Fawn” — four responses to trauma — four heads are stitched together, while they all look out away from the others. The papyrus material of the works makes you think of the ageless difficulties of being part of a family.

Klines’s first language is Farsi, which she’s teaching her daughter. That’s partly where the title of the show, Mother Tongue, comes from — the language we learn from our mothers. But it means something else to her.

“I was thinking about how a mother’s tongue has the potential to be a weapon,” she said. “I think we all have memories of something our mother said, maybe off handedly, that has stayed with us our entire lives, and we’ve built an entire neurosis around.”

Kimia Ferdowsi Kline, “Clear Knowing” (2021), 19 x 14 inches, freshwater pearls, glass beads, glitter, ink, acrylic, thread, and oil pastel on papyrus

Kimia Ferdowsi Kline, “Mother Tongue” (2021), 49 x 49 inches, ink, acrylic, freshwater pearls, glass beads, lava fire glass, glitter, abalone and thread on papyrus

Kimia Ferdowsi Kline, “Twin Flame” (2020), 43 x 43 inches, ink, oil pastel, and thread on papyrus

Kimia Ferdowsi Kline: Mother Tongue continues at Marrow Gallery (548 Irving Street, San Francisco) through June 26.

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Contending With Urgent Questions About Art and Feminisms in Buenos Aires

Installation view, Cuando Cambia el Mundo: Preguntas Sobre Arte y Feminismos (When the World Changes: Questions About Art and Feminisms), Centro Cultural Kirchner, Buenos Aires, 2021 (photo by Manuel Pose Varela)

BUENOS AIRES — Pau Delgado Iglesias has been exploring how vision affects our embrace of stereotypes. In her video-installation “Estar igual que el resto (being the same as the rest)” (2014–2019), part of the exhibit Cuando Cambia el Mundo: Preguntas Sobre Arte y Feminismos (When the World Changes: Questions About Art and Feminisms) at the Centro Cultural Kirchner, Iglesias interviewed several blind people, concluding that many of their perceptions are remarkably similar to those of sighted people. 

The works of four other artists, each presented in dedicated spaces along the Kirchner’s 6th floor corridor, similarly question such stereotypes  of women, Indigenous and Black people, and the elderly. Together with Iglesias, Alina Motta, Esther Ferrer, Joiri Minaya, and Sebastián Calfuqueo form a diverse, intergenerational group of artists that at first glance do not have much in common, but each approaches their often very personal subject matter in a poetic way, inviting audiences to deconstruct their own views.

Installation view, Cuando Cambia el Mundo: Preguntas Sobre Arte y Feminismos (When the World Changes: Questions About Art and Feminisms), Centro Cultural Kirchner, Buenos Aires, 2021 (photo by Manuel Pose Varela)

In her three-channel film “(Outros) Fundamentos [(Others) Fundamentals]” (2017–2019), Motta searches for her roots in Nigeria, where she recognizes her physical traits but is considered an “other,” as she is in her home country Brazil. Calfuqueo also points to this otherness, when he looks for his feminine double in his film, inviting reconsiderations of gender. And Minaya literally shows the results of her #dominicanwomengooglesearch, having blown up, cut out, and hung the results of how Dominican women, like herself, are often objectified and sexualized. Ferrer closes with works criticizing exactly that same sexualization of the women’s bodies.   

With Ferrer’s project, the effects of objectification become deadly. The impressive installation  features empty black chairs circling a mannequin which holds a sign stating the amount of femicides in Argentina since the start of the year. With one chair per murdered woman, the installation has come to outgrow its space, as the number of femicides in Argentina this year has grown from 62 at the start of the exhibition in March to over 100. 

In Intimate and Personal, a series of photographs from performances from 1977 and 1992, Ferrer measures herself and others, showing the true sizes of a diverse group of models, beautiful in all of their shapes, ages, and colors. “Self Portrait over time,” an enormous photo series that flanks the large wall of the gallery, juxtaposes the artist’s younger and older selves through a split image, inviting overcome the perception of youth as a signifier of beauty. 

Installation view, Cuando Cambia el Mundo: Preguntas Sobre Arte y Feminismos (When the World Changes: Questions About Art and Feminisms), Centro Cultural Kirchner, Buenos Aires, 2021 (photo by Manuel Pose Varela)

Discussing the pandemic’s intensification of prejudice towards already oppressed groups, curator Andrea Giunta explained to Hyperallergic, “We can see it with the beatings [by] the police in the US and hatred toward Black people. We can see the disdain of [the] government towards the elderly at the beginning of this pandemic. And we can see it in the growth of femicides.”  Giunta maintains the importance of art that demands we recognize the urgency of the moment and how it can change the way we see the world.

Cuando Cambio El Mundo: Preguntas Sobre Arte y Feminismos continues through June 30 at the Centro Cultural Kirchner (Sarmiento 151, C1041, Buenos Aires, Argentina). The exhibition was curated by Andrea Giunta. Live talks with participating artists are broadcasted on the center’s Facebook page every Tuesday and on YouTube.

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The World Is Getting a Nintendo Museum

A museum dedicated to the gaming giant Nintendo is coming to Japan. The tentatively named “Nintendo Gallery” will be housed on the site of the Nintendo Uji Ogura Plant in Kyoto, where the company got its start producing hanafuda playing cards. Built in 1969, the Uji factory served as a video game console repair center until 2016, and Nintendo has been thinking of ways to repurpose the space ever since.

The news comes just months after the opening of the first-ever Nintendo theme park at Universal Studios Japan, which boasts an omnimover ride called “Yoshi’s Adventure,” a Mario Kart-themed augmented reality attraction, and “Power Mushroom” pizza bowls for sustenance.

Super Nintendo World, part of at Universal Studios Japan (via Wikimedia Commons)

Based on the limited details released so far, the museum appears to be a comparatively tamer venture focused on Nintendo’s “product development history and philosophy with the public,” according to a company statement. Think displays of landmark products like the ubiquitous Game Boy, first launched in 1989, which revolutionized handheld gaming; or exhibits inspired by its most popular videogames, like the 1981 arcade hit Donkey Kong or the more recent Animal Crossing for Nintendo Switch.

Meme by Greg81742 via Geeks and Gamers

“Does it not also contain the original Six Golden Coins, an interactive replica of Yoshi’s Island, and an Oculus VR rendition of the OG Virtual Boy library?” asked one anonymous gamer when asked by Hyperallergic what he expects to see in the new Nintendo Gallery.

Sadly, Nintendo fans will have to wait for answers: the hotly-anticipated institution won’t open its doors until 2024. (Cue Super Mario “too bad!” sound.)

Mario figure near Akihabara Station (via nakashi/Flickr)Super Mario Sunshine’s “game over” screen. (screenshot via thegamer.com)

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Required Reading

In the LA Review of Books, Fady Joudah writes about a poem rejected by the New Yorker:

Had The New Yorker accepted “Remove,” would I have written this essay? In the first place, the odds were stacked against their acceptance. When it comes to Palestine and Palestinian voices, The New Yorker, as a major American magazine of record, follows similar patterns as those of other publications. There are certain clarities that, when articulated by a Palestinian in America, are difficult to swallow in places that disseminate knowledge in the United States. The question above also presumes the need to obey the hand that feeds. The tokenization of Palestinians is not necessarily a new American phenomenon vis-à-vis minorities. In fact, tokenization is considered a step forward on the road to inclusion of suppressed voices. The point here is larger than The New Yorker and me. It addresses an immense history of curtailing and snuffing Palestine in English — through a “disciplinary communications apparatus” that “exists in the West both for overlooking most of the basic things that might present Israel in a bad light, and for punishing those who try to tell the truth” (Edward Said). In the best-case scenario, it is mostly non-Palestinians and, indeed, non-Arab or Muslim Americans, who utter clarities on the Palestinian question, even if Palestinians arrive at those same thoughts in the cradle. This essay has been writing itself way before a poem was rejected or another hellfire singed Palestinian souls.

Fareh Nayeri writes about the art Napoleon stole and why some of it went back:

He pilfered about 600 paintings and sculptures from Italy alone, she noted, adding that he sought to “link himself to these works of genius” and justify their plunder by invoking “the aims of the Enlightenment.”

Once Napoleon was defeated in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, his adversaries hastened to give back the Louvre’s looted treasures. It was “truly doleful to look at now,” wrote the British miniature painter Andrew Robertson at the time: “full of dust, ropes, triangles and pulleys.”

Roughly half of the Italian paintings that Napoleon had taken were returned, Saltzman said. The other half stayed in France, including “The Wedding Feast at Cana.”

Why weren’t the others returned? Many were scattered in museums around the country, and French officials resisted giving them back. Each formerly occupied state had to put in a separate request for the return of their artworks, which made the process even more complicated, Saltzman said.

This year’s list of 11 most endangered historic places, recently announced by National Trust for Historic Preservation, is devoted entirely to sites linked to the histories of people of color, including:

…Trujillo Adobe in Riverside, built in 1862 and connected to the story of migration and settlement in inland California.

Other sites recognized this year by the privately funded nonprofit preservation organization include the Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home in Georgia where Beatrice Borders, a Black midwife, persevered through Jim Crow-era racism to deliver more than 6,000 babies; the Oljato Trading Post in Utah, a shop and social hub for Navajo communities built in 1921; Black-owned farm properties that served as overnight campsites for civil rights demonstrators marching in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery in 1965; and the Summit Tunnels 6 & 7 and Summit Camp Site in Truckee, Calif., which tell the story of Chinese workers who built the Transcontinental Railroad through the Sierra Nevada from 1865 to 1867.

A Propublica investigation has revealed that the richest Americans are paying very little income tax or avoid it all together:

Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck, amassing little wealth and paying the federal government a percentage of their income that rises if they earn more. In recent years, the median American household earned about $70,000 annually and paid 14% in federal taxes. The highest income tax rate, 37%, kicked in this year, for couples, on earnings above $628,300.

The confidential tax records obtained by ProPublica show that the ultrarich effectively sidestep this system.

America’s billionaires avail themselves of tax-avoidance strategies beyond the reach of ordinary people. Their wealth derives from the skyrocketing value of their assets, like stock and property. Those gains are not defined by U.S. laws as taxable income unless and until the billionaires sell.

Moya Bailey, the inventor of the term misogynoir, explains the meaning and origin of the term on The Allusionist podcast.The tyranny of time? Joe Zadeh writes:

“European global expansion in commerce, transport and communication was paralleled by, and premised upon, control over the manner in which societies abroad related to time,” the Australian historian Giordano Nanni wrote in his book, “The Colonization of Time.” “The project to incorporate the globe within a matrix of hours, minutes and seconds demands recognition as one of the most significant manifestations of Europe’s universalizing will.” In short, if the East India Company was the physical embodiment of British colonialism overseas, GMT was the metaphysical embodiment.

The Western separation of clock time from the rhythms of nature helped imperialists establish superiority over other cultures. When British colonizers swept into southeastern Australia in search of gold, they depicted the timekeeping practices of the indigenous societies they encountered as irregular and unpredictable in contrast to the rational and linear nature of the clock. This was despite the fact that indigenous societies in the region had advanced forms of timekeeping based on the moon, stars, rains, the blossoming of certain trees and shrubs and the flowing of tides, which they used to determine the availability of food and resources, distance and calendar dates.

In 1970, five gay American activists took a six-week road trip in an attempt to help out the Black Panther Party. Writing for Harpers Bazaar, Hugh Ryan reports:

Joel: We went from Fayetteville, [North Carolina], to New Orleans, to Dallas, to Boulder, Colorado, to Iona, Minnesota. We would contact Gay Liberation in each area, and they’d invite us to speak about what we were doing. 

Living a revolutionary life, to me, is always questioning, always questioning myself, and questioning other people about what it is they know. It was a way of living. It was just … who we were. There was no thrill in wanting to have a revolution. Who wants to go through that? Unless you have to. 

But I wasn’t scared or anything like that. I never felt scared—well, no, the only time I was scared was in Dallas, when we got arrested.

Some Chinese intellectuals are being called traitors for taking part in a Japanese government-affiliated exchange programme:

The programme was started in 2008 to improve exchanges between the two countries, with 196 Chinese intellectuals having been sponsored as of 2019, the ministry said.

However, participants have been criticised by some people online, after the visits recently came to their attention. Among these were He Bing, a professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, writers Jiang Fangzhou and Xiong Peiyun, and journalist Duan Hongqing.

“[Jiang] got the money from the Japanese government and tried to flatter Japan – traitor,” one Weibo user wrote.

The right-wing angry towards Critical Race Theory continues to rage (Florida just banned it) and now the Washoe County School District in Nevada even suggested body cams for teachers to prove they aren’t teaching it in schools:

A conservative group even suggested outfitting teachers with body cameras to ensure they aren’t indoctrinating children with such lessons.

“You guys have a serious problem with activist teachers pushing politics in the classroom, and there’s no place for it, especially for our fifth graders,” Karen England, Nevada Family Alliance executive director, told Washoe County School District trustees Tuesday.

District officials there and in Carson City, where a similar debate is playing out, say critical race theory is not part of their plans.

The answers to this are fun to read:

My two oldest kids (8 and 6) ask me to tell them an “interesting fact” every night at bedtime. Having now exhausted my own supply of memorized trivia as well as several random lists on the internet, I’m taking suggestions below…

— McKay Coppins (@mckaycoppins) June 9, 2021

Awww:

Dogs always make everything better…for everybody. pic.twitter.com/Rxu4X5bq9G

— Laughs 4 All (@Laughs_4_All) June 11, 2021

Required Reading is published every Saturday, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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A Flawed Retrospective for a Surrealist Rebel

LONDON — Revolutionaries come in two varieties: the short-lived and the long-lived. The long-lived give themselves ample opportunity to recant. What exactly happened to Eileen Agar, one of England’s most celebrated  Surrealists, who lived to be just a few years short of an entire century, and whose career as a painter lasted for seven decades?   

She was born in 1899 in the sepia tones of Queen Victoria’s England and died in the cold light of 1991. We call her an English painter because she lived much of her life in England, but in fact she was born in Buenos Aires, into a family of great wealth. England claimed her very young. Her spirit of rebelliousness caused her parents to send her to private schools in England at the age of six or perhaps seven — far too young, anyway — in order to knock some sense into her. Those schools failed the parents, badly. Eileen fought back, and then went on fighting. She could not bear the idea of being presented at court as one of those swoony debutantes who hang limply off the arm of a man. In fact, she survived long enough as a fighting spirit for this posthumous retrospective to call her by the name of one of her best-known works: the Angel of Anarchy. 

That’s a marvelously pithy and punchy title, so much better than many of the works that it encompasses. 

Eileen Agar, “Angel of Anarchy” (1936-1940), plaster, fabric, shells, beads, diamante stones, other materials, 570 x 460 x 317 mm (© Tate Images)

Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy at the Whitechapel Gallery is huge, far too big for its own good: although Agar was a  fine and inventive artist, she was never a great one. In fact, to put it in a nutshell, the works suffer from a certain emotional thinness. The show never plumbs the depths. In spite of the fact that it is full of arcane symbols and rebellious gestures, much re-working of Greek myths (which always promises to be more than a nod in the direction of profundity), and many creative exercises that seem to be nothing more than willfully self-conscious dallyings with obscurity, it never quite excites you enough. In fact, it bores when it is spread over so many acres of wall space. 

What goes wrong then? She uses much color, but she seldom comes across as a great and instinctive colorist. The colors hang together with a degree of reluctance. Images coalesce, but without much conviction.

The show also suffers badly from some maddening tics of exhibition-making, which make looking at it in great detail an often frustrating experience. Many of the works of art come with individual wall texts, all quite small, which are placed below the paintings. I found that placing to be maddening, requiring repeated physical jerks — sharp knee bends and deep lowerings of the body — for me to see them. What is more, the texts are often too long and the font size too small — they are an effort to read. 

Photograph of Agar wearing Ceremonial Hat for Eating Bouillabaisse (1936), Photograph Private Collection (©Estate of Eileen Agar/Bridgeman Images)

They are also repetitious. You will find, as you move from one to another, that you are reading the same information over and over again, perhaps expressed slightly differently, as if their writers have assumed that you suffer from short-term memory loss (which is not necessarily the case for all members of the press). Works of art are described with a great and laborsome exactingness, as if we cannot really be trusted to draw our own conclusions. In fact, there is so much information handed to us on a plate that we risk completely forgetting what we ourselves might be thinking about, were we ever free to be independent beings coming fresh to a painting.

After all those schools failed to rein in her natural spirit of rebellion, Eileen shaved her head and took herself off to Cornwall, where wild spirits often flocked and nested and copulated with gleeful abandon during the 20th century. Then she went off to the Slade School in London to study painting, but the teaching was too conservative by half. Her self portrait of 1927, displayed against an exciting stretch of bright red-panel wall, looks robust and fierce, as if she is hying her way to a destination of her own choosing. 

Where would that be exactly? 

Eileen Agar, “Collective Unconscious” (1977), acrylic on canvas, 1050 x 1020 mm (Courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts ©Estate of Eileen Agar/Bridgeman Images)

During a trip to Paris in the 1920s, she met André Breton and Paul Éluard, who told her that she was a Surrealist. Could that really be true? The feverishness of Surrealism’s spirit of disobedience, its sensuality and irrationality, appealed to her. Yes, she quite liked the idea of being one of those, though she could never quite fathom how painting could be an expression of the unconscious. How could anyone really know what a faithful expression of the unconscious would really look like? 

Agar was especially fond of marine life, the murky floatingness and driftingness of it all, how all those oddly shaped and seemingly unrelated thingies are forever bumping into each other, or staring at each other on the seabed for at least a millennia, with more than a degree of mild-mannered malevolence. Perhaps the look of marine life, and the way it behaved, may be as close as it gets to the idea of the Unconscious? Discuss.

Eileen Agar, “Rock 3” (1985), acrylic on canvas, 600 x 600 mm (Courtesy of Redfern Gallery, London © Estate of Eileen Agar/Bridgeman Images)

This show makes much of the fact that she was a bit of a Cubist too, but then provides scant evidence for that bold assertion.

In later life, she reprised old themes and images (shells, birds, fossils, hands) and discovered the joy of acrylics. There is a freer play about much of this later work. The colors in “The Bird” (1969) are pure Tropics. 

She had mutated into a bit of a songbird by the end, a gentler and less fierce phenomenon altogether. Recanting? Not exactly, but somewhat akin …

Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy continues at Whitechapel Gallery (77-82 Whitechapel High St., London, England) through August 29.

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Sanya Kantarovsky’s Truth-Bearing Fantasy

“There is some wisdom to be had in taking the gloomy view and looking upon the world as a kind of hell.”(Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena, 1851)

I was surprised to think of Schopenhauer’s pessimism while at Sanya Kantarovsky’s current exhibition, The House of the Spider, at Modern Art in London, given that the artist’s work always has an element of humor, despite its general dark ambiance. The title is derived from a passage in the Quran that alludes to the precariousness of the human habitat, be it environmental, sociopolitical, cultural, or spiritual. It is a perfect metaphor for what we have experienced globally over the past year and what might have entered the painter’s thoughts while making this suite of paintings. 

Apart from the gloom that occupies the show, Kantarovsky’s work has developed from previous exhibitions, his paintings becoming more realistic and painterly than illustrative or cartoonish. The formal distortion of the human figures recalls post-Stalin Soviet poster art (for instance, agit-plakat), but the figures are more fleshed out with paint; the hands in “Examination” (2020), for example, evoke Lucian Freud’s handling of the paint as flesh. What replaces humor is an intensified level of irony and a solemn attitude to the eternal questions of life and death, suffering and injustice, power and powerlessness. 

Installation view, Sanya Kantarovsky: The House of the Spider, 2021, Modern Art, London

Kantarovsky has previously stated that he conceives of a series of paintings in an exhibition as a whole. The House of the Spider presents a cohesive narrative, reflected foremost in the placement of paintings. The pairing of “Next Right Action” (2020) and “Examination” in a corner suggests two adjacent pages in a book, indicating a sequence.

More curious is that “Next Right Action” is hung much lower than the average height at which paintings are usually hung on gallery walls. This deliberate gesture compellingly invites viewers of average height to bend down, reflecting the person in the painting. (Although, intentionally or not, it also acknowledges viewers whose height or line of vision is lower.) The placement hints as the heavy toll on the artist’s mind during the process of painting while manipulating the body that beholds the work. The painting’s placement not only interrupts but also enhances and opens up how we read the image. This decision shows that Kantarovsky has veered further away from his early practice of integrating paintings and multimedia installations, instead honing his skills in spatial organization.

The exhibition seems to unfold like a theater play, one act followed by another, each of them distinct yet interconnected. “Exfiltration” (2020) sets the tone of the play as it confronts us by the entrance. The painting portrays a crow eating from the nostril of a mummified human head afloat on a lotus pond, surrounded by an idyllic landscape. The subject matter inspires contemplation on the meaning of life and death, here married in nature. Perhaps the crow connects the two realms by traveling in between them. The unsettling contrast between the disgust induced by the feasting crow and the pleasant background is representative of the dark humor that permeates Kantarovsky’s oeuvre. 

Installation view, Sanya Kantarovsky: The House of the Spider, 2021, Modern Art, London

In reading these paintings it is important to acknowledge their literary influences. “Examination” might recall Franz Kafka’s The Trial (published 1925), which tells the story of Josef K., who is persecuted and executed by a faceless justice system without knowing what crime he is accused of committing. The painting also depicts an unclear situation, yet the power relationship is made very clear by two partially seen figures, one wearing black leather boots, the other holding his hands behind his back and bending over an emaciated, shirtless man with bluish skin curled up on the ground. It is an unbearably demeaning image that summons a deep sense of guilt and fear in relation to violence experienced or witnessed in reality.

An understanding of the Russian avant-garde idea of ostranenie [making strange], first coined by the Russian formalist and literary theorist Viktor Shklovsky in his essay “Art as Device” (1917) is beneficial when perusing Kantarovsky’s paintings. “What we call art exists in order to give back the sensation of life, in order to make us feel things, in order to make a stone stony. The goal of art is to create the sensation of seeing, and not merely recognizing things” proclaims Shklovsky in his call to see the world anew through art.

Under the influence of this literary device, Kantarovsky reconfigures tropes, symbols, and metaphors, aided by the disfiguration of human bodies in the manner of caricature, in order to delineate his lived and immediate experiences in terms of felt sensations rather than conventional perception. In this way, he disrupts the habitual and automatic perception of the viewer and forces us to question what at the same time seems familiar.

Installation view, Sanya Kantarovsky: The House of the Spider, 2021, Modern Art, London

“Birth” (2020), which directly addresses the subject of Death, depicts an infant being handed to a skeleton mother who has just given birth, her hospital bed tainted with a splash of blood. Traditional devices in art for contemplating life and death, such as Vanitas paintings or the Dance of Death, are defamiliarized by the sight of the umbilical cord that connects the baby and skeleton. The idea of “birth-giving death,” as in the cycle of nature, adds a tinge of bitter optimism to the gory scene. To paraphrase Plato’s Phaedo, which posits philosophy as the practice of death (meletē thanatou), painting is an exercise in dying, and a tool to reflect on our own mortality. 

“Annus Horribilis” (2020) is another example of defamiliarization. The power structure in the painting is made clear by the royal guard’s dominant position and his bearskin hat, which asserts itself as a supremely phallic object in Kantarovsky’s eloquent hands. Before British royal guards became welcoming mascots for tourists and public entertainment the hats were intended to intimidate, and the original connotation of intimidation is revived in this painting. “Annus Horribilis” raises the question of why this symbol of the pinnacle of patriarchy still exists today when the monarchy does not and will not protect its people anymore. Or have the tools of power ever served us? 

The most exciting and mysterious painting in the exhibition is “The House of the Spider” (2020). The combination of oil, watercolor, and spray paint intensifies the sense of unreality and its mesmerizing, psychedelic perspective, and the red jewel hovering above the protagonist’s forehead subverts gravity and incites imagination.

Sanya Kantarovsky, “The House of the Spider” (2020),oil and watercolor on linen, 94 1/2 x 65 inches

An ambiguous purple form in the top right corner could be the spider of the title, or an eight-petal flower. The title is rich in implication yet lacking specification. This invites prolonged viewing to follow the hints in the artwork. Maybe the confusion here is intentional — when viewers actively seek the spider on the canvas, they may end up finding a flower as the spider’s illusion or shadow, and the flower assuming the shape of a spider continues to bewilder and challenge our perception. 

This fantastical scene of mental frenzy may allude to what the spider house allegory in the Quran suggests, as interpreted by the spiritual philosopher Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri in the exhibition’s press release: the world as a stable habitat is but a fantasy and the quest for stability will only result in disillusionment.

Kantarovsky’s paintings unveil reality as a form of fabrication, a fiction; in this way he suggests reality’s true form is instability and transience. His fantastical images, bearing fruits of reality, also remind us that painting itself is not only a means of deception but also the answer to its own riddle. The pleasure of looking at these paintings is not a matter of beauty. Rather, it is an experience of confronting truth, which, as Leo Tolstoy wrote in What Is Art? (1897), “destroys illusion, the main condition of beauty.”

Sanya Kantarovsky: The House of the Spider continues at Modern Art (4–8 Helmet Row, London, England) through June 19.

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Terry Winters’s Allegiance to Science and Abstraction

A list of words came to mind: field, layer, cluster, shape, line, frame, and diagram. They did not come all at once, but slowly, as I walked around the exhibition Terry Winters: Table of Contents at Matthew Marks Gallery (May 14–June 26, 2021). The accumulation of these words seemed to echo Winters’s paintings, which feel as if a series of different visual vocabularies have been both worked out and bonded on the painting’s surface. 

Drawing might be the jumping off point, a way to begin, but the additive process of painting inevitably takes over. Working in oil, wax, and resin on seven paintings, all measuring 88 by 68 inches, Winters begins with a thinly painted, brushy layer, which he may cover entirely or partially with a linear structure or pattern of abstract shapes. 

The recent paintings, which are eight inches larger than the ones he showed at this gallery in 2018 (they measured 80 by 60 inches) and all vertically oriented, suggest that Winters is testing the limits of what could still be regarded as a human-scaled painting. 

Terry Winters, Table of Contents (2020), graphite, ink, and wax on paper, 26 sheets, each 11 x 9 inches

These paintings are complimented by five paintings on paper measuring 40 ½ by 30 ½ inches and Table of Contents (2020), a series of 26 drawings done in graphite, ink, and wax, measuring 11 by 9 inches, on the tabbed dividers you would buy in a stationery store. 

Working within these established parameters, with a vocabulary that is derived largely from the sciences, Winters suppresses the individuality of the artist but does not eliminate it: everywhere in his work we can sense his direct and passionate engagement with materials and processes, as he breathes life into what could be a dry undertaking. 

Winters employs a process that is about layers and different abstract vocabularies, working back into the painting, and making visible changes and adjustments. He leaves the work open enough for the viewer to consider the steps he took to arrive at the final painting. This is one of the many deep pleasures that his artwork offers us. It both invites scrutiny and provokes self reflection.

Terry Winters, “Index 3” (2021), oil, wax, and resin on linen, 88 x 68 inches

While Winters’s working method shares something with process painting (the working out of everything in the painting), the differences are crucial. If process art, which originated with Jackson Pollock and developed with the rise of Color Field painting and Sol LeWitt’s rule-bound wall drawings, was intended to minimize the importance of the artist’s hand, Winter brings the hand and drawing back into painting without nostalgia for gesture and signature flourishes. In fact, the link between drawing and thinking is decisive to his works. They are like diagrams charting the steps of their emergence into full view. In that regard, his paintings are visual proposals. 

By bringing together different abstract vocabularies used in different branches of science, Winters both reimagines LeWitt and turns his machine-like efficiency into an accumulation of handmade and visible decisions — into a state of forthrightness and vulnerability. Beyond the domain of art, which is to say in the realm of everyday life, Winters’s art is about decisions, choices, quality of attention, the shaping of one’s existence in time, owning everything you do, and staying intimately connected with the thing you are making. His works praise painting as an everyday activity

In “Index 1” (2020), Winters begins with a thinly painted, brushy turquoise ground, to which he adds a number of layers, each consisting of a specific set of open forms or perforated shapes (circles that are outlined and filled in with color). By accumulating a form that is open rather than solid and impermeable, he finds ways to join together his layers. The artist composes the wavering field of red circles, for example, by brushing red into the circles and outlining them in dark blue, with the turquoise blue of the background often still visible. As a result the red circles produce a halation effect.  

Terry Winters, “Magic Architecture” (2020), oil, wax, and resin on linen 88 x 68 inches

A large, irregular red circle seems to rest on one of the bands going from the top to the bottom edge of an off-center rectangle within the turquoise field. Is it part of the field of wavering circles, which imply motion, or is it separate? Can it be both? The use of warm (red) and cool (blues and greens) colors suggests the answer is yes. 

In the largely pink and red oil on paper “Curtain” (2020) and the other four works in this group, Winters generally brings together a few configurations of abstract patterns, usually circles and irregular shapes, and both joins and sets them at odds with each other. In “Echo” (2020), my attention shifts between how the different vocabularies connect and push against each other. 

“Thyreos” (2020) is dominated by an outlined salmon-colored oval that contains a smaller oval composed of perforated circles, many of which are outlined in red and cream and filled in with gray and black. (A thyreos is a large oval shield that was used by Hellenistic soldiers after the death of Alexander the Great.) The ghostly outlines of earlier circular shapes are visible in the pink oval, which is set within a perforated blue ground. These outlines are among the features that will cause viewers to refocus attention, as well as recognize the visual instability of the painting. 

Terry Winters, “Thyreos” (2020), oil, wax, and resin on linen, 88 x 68 inches

Winters establishes a dialogue among the various layers by setting the pink oval within the blue field and overlaying both with perforations. The openings and perforations brought to mind the incised and punctured ceramic works of Lucio Fontana, and prompted a feeling that the picture plane had been violated and damaged. His use of multiple abstract patterns shares something with Australian aboriginal bark paintings, but Winters is concerned with cosmology. He brings these associations to mind without resorting to direct citation or parody, deepening the breadth of his work. 

By superimposing perforated layers and fields of distinct forms, Winters arrives at a destabilized composition, where the boundaries between figure and ground are porous, while the smaller circles within the oval and the larger ones superimposed on them convey an irresolvable visual tension in which similarity and difference maintain a constant friction. That friction seems crucial to our experience of the work, as well as its meaning. We live in a state of continual contention and co-existence. 

Consider all the different abstract patterns and compositional structures that Winters has brought together in “Magic Architecture” (2021), and one senses his ability to choreograph and compress multiple vocabularies. 

Terry Winters, “Curtain” (2020), oil on paper, 40 1/2 x 30 1/2 inches

In “Curtain,” the superimposing of a dense field of outlined red circles on a pink, abstract curtain made me think of the computer-generated representations of the COVID-19 virus, to electronic microscopes and other ways of detecting the invisible — all the new apprehensions that have entered our lives. 

Winters’s attention to the world of science gives this exhibition a particular twist, given the pandemic we have been living through for more than a year. In the 26 drawings done on tabbed index dividers, viewers may sense that each index sheet frames the “contents,” but does not show what will be added. This adds a note of foreboding to the works in the exhibition, starting with the drawings, their patterns, clusters, tonal difference, and shifts in materiality. I think Winters is determined to make abstraction open to the world that he inhabits without becoming narrative or literal. This is one reason why he is a compelling artist. 

Terry Winters: Table of Contents continues at Matthew Marks Gallery (522 West 22nd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through June 26.

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Art, Branding, and the Illusion of Authenticity

Emily Segal’s incisive debut novel, Mercury Retrograde, is set in the years after the 2008 financial crisis in New York City, at a time when the boundaries between conceptual art, branding, internet, work, and life had begun to disintegrate. Segal provides a wickedly sharp and sardonic depiction of the socioeconomic and cultural conditions of a particular cross-section of well-educated, upwardly mobile creatives in the city. The story follows the narrator, also named Emily Segal, as she reflects on her post-grad years working at a branding agency, running an unexpectedly viral trend forecasting art collective, K-Hole (which coined the term “normcore”), and joining — then leaving — a tech startup turned failed creative experiment. The book chronicles the narrator’s efforts to decipher her emotions and motivations from this time period. “I map this out so you can see, so I can see, how people let things slide,” she says.

Emily Segal, Mercury Retrograde (Deluge Books, 2020)

Autofiction has gained prominence in the last decade as a genre that skirts easy categorization. It boldly asserts the realities that quietly underlie all memoir: that memory is subjective and all narratives are in some way contrived. At the same time, it reminds us that good fiction is frequently rooted in the truth. Cross-contamination proves unavoidable. Writing about autofiction for Vulture, Christian Lorentzen says that “the way the term is used tends to be unstable.” This, he adds, “makes sense for a genre that blends fiction and what may appear to be fact into an unstable compound.” The destabilizing quality of the genre plays well into Segal’s story. Through autofiction, she depicts and reinforces the semantic slipperiness of art, of advertising, of technology — of meaning itself.

Equal parts nefarious and seductive, the world of branding grabs Emily’s attention on aesthetic and theoretical levels. “Soon I was cracked out on a new observation,” she writes, “in brand strategy presentations it was totally acceptable to generalize, globalize, lob assumptions as truth, casually plagiarize, misconstrue sociological data, and worse, as long as it was persuasive and narratively coherent.” Emily characteristically sees this as fodder for her art: “It was the feeling I’d always yearned for when I’d tried to write fiction,” she remarks.

The book itself is propulsive and engaging, the narrator relatable if not always sympathetic, and prickling with humor aimed indiscriminately at herself and those around her. After hemming and hawing, she accepts a job at an overfunded tech start-up called eXe, justifying it as “a chance to write on the membrane of reality itself.” She’s compelled not by the business, but by the idea that she could “genetically engineer the brand as art” so that “even after I left the company, the brand would continue to show up in the world — on billboards, on collateral, on audience-generated memes.” She’s attracted by the idea that she could create an “infinite, large-scale artwork, without lifting a finger or going broke.”

Underwriting that ambition is a much more material one: she has less than $600 in her bank account and she sometimes “became so anxious about money that a metallic tang filled my mouth and I had to lie down.” The startup presents a path for transforming her “excess of cultural capital” into “actual capital.” eXe epitomizes tech bro-dom, and she soon finds herself knee-deep in the company culture, complete with meditation rooms and bottomless cab fare. The wunderkind “founder boys” ooze a cliched confidence and charisma. In the gendered work environment, sex, friendships, and creative partnerships become muddled.

Throughout the novel, Emily attempts to hack the “contradictions of working and ‘making work’ in the big city”; she wants the ability to participate in what she condemns and still get to condemn it. “I wanted a grander stage and less responsibility,” she admits. Unlike other artists who found it “normal to design Powerpoints for a corporate law firm by day, and conduct a Marxist painting practice by night, without ever admitting that one had anything to do with the other,” Emily actively seeks to intermingle and confuse these facets of her life. Or rather, she sees clearly that they are already — perhaps were always — inextricable.

As Emily reflects on this formative era in her life, she muses on the pseudosciences and belief systems that structure and arbitrate modern life, providing a framework for processing the unknown or inexplicable: astrology, trend forecasts, algorithms, art. “Mercury Retrograde was a question of social psychic energy writ large,” writes Segal. “Traditionally defined as the period in which the planet Mercury appears to be moving backwards in the sky, even people who didn’t believe in astrology had begun sighing and saying ‘well, it’s Mercury Retrograde’ all the time while reporting the increased intensity of its effects.”

The draw to astrology is an existential impulse to find a system that can explain not just why things happen the way they do, but why we are who we are. These categories offer a justification for identity or personality just pliant enough to serve any given situation, but rigid enough to maintain the illusion of truth. Anything can be fate if you frame it right. To Emily, Mercury Retrograde also comes to represent a deeper seated “glitch” in modern life, one in which the flow of information, and therefore the march of progress, is impeded or slowed.

Autofiction exaggerates the tension present in all literary authorship between, as novelist Namwali Serpell describes it, “authenticity and duplicity.” Segal investigates the creative potential as well as the ambivalence of oscillating within that space. Lost in her theorizing, Emily loses track of where the artifice begins and ends. Irony stumbles into earnestness and back in the span of a single sentence. “Could you be trolling and believe in it at the same time?” she wonders. As time goes on meaning cannibalizes itself, resulting in a “grave conflation of the theoretical and the everyday.” Ultimately she leaves eXe and starts writing what is ostensibly the very book we’re reading.

Mercury Retrograde may compel you to speculate on the veracity of certain people or events, to parse out how much of Emily the writer lives within Emily the narrator. This will be a waste of your time. What’s at stake is not what can be known, but the disorienting, all-too-human experience of not knowing.

Mercury Retrograde by Emily Segal is published by Deluge Books and is available online and in bookstores.

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Yikui (Coy) Gu’s Tour of the US

WILMINGTON, Delaware — I first saw the exhibition Yikui (Coy) Gu: Saying The Quiet Parts Out Loud at Gallery 456 in New York, which is sponsored by the Chinese American Arts Council. It was Gu’s first solo exhibition in New York. I went a few days before the exhibition closed, on May 21, 2021, but learned that it was going to reopen, with three added works, as Yikui (Coy) Gu: The Americans at the Delaware Contemporary (June 4–August 21, 2021), the artist’s first museum show. 

There are 18 works in the current exhibition, all measuring 18 by 24 inches and done between 2018 and ’21. The subject is the domestic life of an interracial couple (Gu is Chinese and his wife is German) living in the United States before and during the spread of COVID-19 and the exponential rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Starting this series before the pandemic, Gu examines his domestic life through the lens of the color yellow and its appearance in different circumstances. 

Working on Bristol board, Gu uses acrylic, gouaches, colored pencil, ink, and charcoal, with a wide array of found materials: photographs, fabric, plastic bags, Asian and non-Asian food wrappers, printed pages of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882). All of this gets at the disturbances flooding the daily life of the couple, living in America before and during the presidency of Donald Trump, while being surrounded by the deep, bottomless grievance of a significant portion of white America. 

Yikui (Coy) Gu, “No Synthetic Colors” (2019), gouache, charcoal, acrylic, printed first page of Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, colored pencil, gouache on photograph, and cardboard on bristol board, 18 x 24 inches

In “No Synthetic Colors” (2019), we see the hands of two people making a cake. The printed images of two white hands pour “flour” into a bowl; the flour is composed of a cutout shape containing the first page of the United States Congress’s declaration of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882). A yellow arm reaches in from the top edge. Two boxes of cake mix with “no synthetic colors” — Classic Yellow Cake Mix and Classic White Cake Mix — are on the table beside the bowl.  

This heightened awareness of one’s skin color is common to people of color living in the United States, and it is apparent in all of the exhibition’s works. Painted onto a wide screen, digital television is an image of Martha Stewart talking to her audience about the half-made layer cake in front of her. The implication is that Stewart is speaking to a white audience and is oblivious to racial divisions. 

Racism is insidious because it creeps into the most mundane parts of one’s life. Gu’s use of the Chinese Exclusion Act as flour, the prime ingredient of bread, suggests that America’s long history of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment may involuntarily come to mind in what is supposed to be a happy domestic moment, and that, more broadly speaking, it impacts every aspect of his life. 

Yikui (Coy) Gu, “Oriental Flavor” (2019), gouache, charcoal, acrylic, ink, gouache on photograph, chopsticks, Ramen noodle packaging, and flavoring pack on bristol board, 18 x 24 inches

In “Oriental Flavor” (2019), actor Mickey Rooney, who seemingly enjoyed playing the racist stereotype of a bucktooth Japanese character, Mr. Yunioshi, in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), is seen on the screen of an analog television, glimpsed between two black chopsticks. On the table we see a bowl of soup and noodles surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. A recurring motif in Gu’s work, Hokusai’s “Great Wave” rises out of the soup, suggesting an inescapable cataclysm is approaching. Condiment wrappers with the words “Oriental Flavor” are affixed to the scene.

While Gu could have found a reproduction of Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi, I think it is telling that he painted the portrait to fit inside the TV screen. The play between what is painted and drawn and the use of readymade reproductions are devices he uses throughout his work. By painting this racist representation, Gu is able to take possession of it. 

There is nothing subtle about Gu’s work: it is in your face because the racism he encounters is always there. I will never be able to look at a yellow smiley face or other yellow emoji in quite the same irked way as I once did. 

Yikui (Coy) Gu, “The Fist Bump” (2020), gouache, acrylic, gouache on photograph, printed newspaper ad, ink, yarn, colored pencil, and photograph on bristol board, 18 x 24 inches

The presence of cell phones, digital screens, newspapers, labels, and packaging in Gu’s art underscores the ubiquity of racist representation and language in everyday life. If agreement is an essential component of our use of language, and perhaps even civility, Gu recognizes that we exist in a state of disagreement bordering on chaos, and knows that it is not clear which way the country is headed.

We see the headline of then-presidential candidate Trump mocking the New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski for his disability in 2016. This and other despicable acts did not stop him from winning the election. Beneath Gu’s painted image of the front page, picturing the mocking Trump, is the line: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time” (Maya Angelou). 

On a cell-phone screen below the newspaper, we see comedian Dave Chappelle playing the character “Clayton Bigsby, the World’s Only Black White Supremacist.” On the right part, a collaged headline celebrates the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Gu also knows that in the world in which he exists Asians are either excluded or invisible. 

A lot has been written about artists who have carried on the legacy of political collage, as exemplified by Dada artists such as Hannah Höch and John Heartfield. Gu’s play with the painted image and printed material is inventive and unsettling, and his juxtapositions and recontextualizing of language open up an area of racial consciousness that has not been widely recognized or explored in art. He recognizes the role that sharp, edgy humor can play in his work. 

Yikui (Coy) Gu, “The Scenic Route” (2019), gouache, acrylic, gouache on photographs, plastic bag, and photograph on bristol board, 18 x 24 inches

Another striking thing about these works is the attention Gu pays to every part of the composition, from the perspective looking into the scene to the collaged materials. There is an unnerving dissonance to the collaged elements he disperses within his works. In “The Scenic Route” (2019), the view is a car’s front windshield and the road ahead, as seen from someone behind the two people seated in the front of the car, and only partially visible to the viewer. Why do we see the eyes of a smiley face in the rearview mirror? Is this a stand in for the emasculated Asian male, all of whom presumably look alike? What are the three Disney animals doing by the side of the two-lane road? What should we make of the face of a young woman with cat ears, nose, and whiskers on the cell phone held by the front-seat passenger? 

Walt Disney, who didn’t trust women or cats, did not want to hire minorities at Disneyland amusement parks, and used racial stereotypes in a number of his films, including Fantasia (1940) and Song of the South (1946), which the Disney Corporation decided was too racist to include on its streaming service, Disney+. 

Is America’s scenic route a view of Disney’s films and cartoons made while Walt Disney was alive? What falsities and stereotypes might we find at Disneyland? 

Anger, disgust, worry, tenderness, determination, sharp satirical humor, a keen eye for society’s use of language, and an awareness of history and popular culture are apparent in Gu’s work. He touches on the subjects of Asian stereotypes and racism, which have seldom been addressed in contemporary American art. I look forward to seeing where else he takes me, no matter how upset I might become. 

Yikui (Coy) Gu: The Americans continues at the Delaware Contemporary (200 South Madison Street, Wilmington, Delaware) through August 21.

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Alex Caldiero, Outsider and Naysayer

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — As a poet and performance artist, Alex Caldiero has been a steady fixture of the Salt Lake City scene for decades. He has read Allen Ginsberg’s Howl every five years, from the first lines of the foreword right to the end of the final section, “Moloch.” His readings often take place at Ken Sanders Rare Books, which might as well be his second home. Baggage: Alex Caldiero in Retrospect at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA) presents a new side of him: visual artist. His first retrospective, the show includes collages, assemblages, and objets d’art. Some are inscribed, some painted, yet all showcase his characteristic audacity.

Because of a refusal to pander to the status quo, mainstream success has previously eluded Caldiero. His materials can be cryptic. In one work, strings dangle between plexiglass panes bearing texts on transparencies. There are collections of rocks, dead birds, and animal bones. There are bricks among the bric-a-brac. Among these items, a penchant for the occult can be found. There are pentagrams, phrenology charts, Hebrew letters, and Rorschach tests. In this spirit, Caldiero can also be considered a shapeshifter. He is often in transition, wearing a new hat, reverse-coursing and turning inward; changing up his work as soon as typecasting looms. Over the years, he has redefined himself in many ways; the museum website describes him as a “polyartist, poet, wordshaker, scholar, sonosopher [philosopher of sounds], performance artist.” He has also been an outsider and naysayer and, on rare occasions, a troublemaker in Utah, where there is plenty to protest. 

Installation view Baggage: Alex Caldiero in Retrospect at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City

With Baggage, Caldiero’s love of language and myth shines through. This is evident above all in his chapbooks and their powerful, and at times enigmatic, titles: “The Long Breath In,” “Wake Up Covered in Language,” “Sound Mind,” and “Bones in the Balance” are but a few. Indeed, it is not enough to say that he is exploring language. He has been deconstructing it for decades; breaking it down to its elements; exposing not just the sounds and structures but also the ironies and the absurdities of words. In this way, he both demystifies and liberates language, making way for new musings to enter. 

Exemplary is a 2014 work, screened on video in the show, called “Spiraling the Jetty: A Trans-Environmental Performance” that took place at Utah’s land art landmark, Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty.” Caldiero assigned specific words (“water,” “circles,” “going”) to his students, which they recited at different times as they sloshed along to the epicenter of the jetty. The effect was both symphonic and cacophonic. The performance activated the “Spiral Jetty” in ways that complemented Smithson.

Alex Caldiero, In Tongues series (1993–2003), paint on birch wood

While many of Caldiero’s language experiments are rooted in the land, others are anchored in his body, at the junction between his brain and his larynx. This is evident in a 2009 print called “The Sonosopher,” which shows Miro-like chambers inside the artist’s bisected head. Beside him, a 16-line poem unpacks the machinations of his art. Beginning with “In my mind,” he continues, “I’m in my mind. I mind my mind. Don’t mind my mind. My mind is mine,” all the way to the inevitable conclusion: “Never mind.” These ruminations are the work of both an eccentric and a logophile, an academic and a dadaist. 

Seemingly abstract artworks from the In Tongues series (1993-2003) suggest anatomy — pustules or sex organs. Upon closer examination, the contours of Caldiero’s face become visible, with words forming in amorphous internal shapes or emerging from his mouth. His bulbous tongue prepares to launch ideas into the world like javelins. And yet his ideas are conveyed in the simplest of compositions. Caldiero’s palettes rarely venture beyond the primaries, his lines are sinuous, he has no interest in naturalism.

Installation view of Alex Caldiero, chapbooks, at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City

At a time when art is frequently associated with luxury and blue-chip galleries, Caldiero’s work is a reminder that art can emerge from the most unexpected of places and be born from the most humble of materials. This is an important distinction, particularly when compared with works by other language artists. We have only to think of conceptual works such as the LED signs of Jenny Holzer, which can appear cerebral, distanced from the embodied speaker, when compared with Caldiero’s “Sonosopher” shenanigans. 

Caldiero’s penchant for puns, his ear for idioms, his enthusiasm for English are not just the result of a contrarian character, but of his introduction to the English language and regional American dialects: he emigrated to the US from Sicily at the age of nine, and to Utah at 31. Grounded in sands of the West, embodied in his flesh, Caldiero’s visual and textual language attests to the experience of a lived life. In his connection with the earth and the land, he is a Golem with a twinkle in his eye.

Baggage: Alex Caldiero in Retrospect continues at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (20 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah) through June 19.

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Sand and Currency from Dozens of Countries Converge in an Endless Interchange of Culture and Economics

Corrie Francis Parks’s absorbing stop-motion short “Foreign Exchange” is all about perspective. Through a continuously evolving landscape of minuscule stones and banknotes, mini-universes emerge that meld the two materials into culturally significant tableaus. “Between the dazzling layers of currency and sand lie connections that can be mined in infinite ways. Each person who views this film will unearth different associations filtered through their worldly experience and national background,” Parks says.

Although the sand shown is small in quantity—Parks can hold all of it in her two hands—it’s sourced from more than 50 countries just like the paper currency, and both materials converge in a perpetual juxtaposition of culture, economics, and nature. The rocks flow across the screen like water and animals, while the colorful collages of ripped money contrast distinct national figures and heritage against a universal economic backdrop. “Canada’s interstellar pride meshes with the gothic arches of Prague’s St. Salvator’s Church. Portugal’s colonial conquests intertwine with a Singapore’s nostalgic market economy. India’s signature animals wallow beneath a Chinese waterfall,” the Baltimore-based animator says in a statement.

Watch behind-the-scenes footage of Parks’s micro-sand process, which involves moving each grain with a toothpick or tweezers before photographing, along with a few of her other animated projects, on Vimeo.

 

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Creativity, Resilience at Heart of UC Davis Grad Students’ Virtual Exhibition

UC Davis arts and humanities graduate students will showcase a variety of timely works in a multidisciplinary virtual exhibition on view through September 6 at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art’s website. 

Despite the pandemic, which has required many of the students to work remotely for a second year, 27 students across the disciplines of art, design, music, creative writing, Native American Studies, English, Spanish, and French are participating in the annual exhibition. “This year’s multidisciplinary online exhibition is a testament to our students’ resilience and creativity,” said Rachel Teagle, the museum’s founding director. “Their work reveals a thriving creative community that found ways to flourish even during a global pandemic.”

Individual web pages present the students’ work through installation photographs, video, audio, and written statements. Many of the projects connect with larger issues, including climate change, environmental destruction, political divisions, racism, immigration, and more, and take a wide range of forms, including photography, ceramics, augmented reality, illustration, and jewelry design. 

“This show reflects what our College is all about: thinking across disciplines, exploring today’s most pressing issues, and creating transformative works,” said Ari Kelman, interim dean of the College of Letters and Science. “From using design to retrofit old technology and bring new life into it to building interactive murals at the US-Mexico border to humanize deportation stories, the depth of cross-disciplinary thinking here is truly remarkable.”

A virtual opening celebration on June 10 announced the winners of the Keister & Allen Art Purchase Prize for an art student (Genevra Daley, work pictured above) and The Savageau Award for design (Kaylani Juanita McCard).

To view UC Davis’s Arts & Humanities 2021 Graduate Exhibition, visit manettishrem.org

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Rainbow Threads Are Knotted into Elaborate Macramé Wall Hangings by Agnes Hansella

All images © Agnes Hansella, shared with permission

Back in February, Agnes Hansella completed a staggering trio of macramé installations. The monumental works are a facet of the Jakarta-based artist’s practice, which spans large-scale pieces and smaller wall hangings extending a few feet wide. “I would like to not cage myself to a certain style, so in every piece, I really let my instinct do most,” she tells Colossal. “I always think of art as something that keeps evolving. It’s like a relay race where I’m one part that connects the past and future.”

No matter the size, each of Hansella’s works demonstrates an extensive repertoire as she blends dyed and natural threads into wildly varied combinations of twists, knots, and ties. The elaboratey woven pieces range from geometric shapes and abstracted rainbow glitches to a vast mountain landscape, which are direct products of the sights and sounds she’s encountered throughout her life. Through interactions with her father’s native Dayak tribe and a childhood spent in Borneo, she saw woven baskets and textiles that continue to impact her work today, as do the Indigenous songs she heard while studying cinema in Canada.

Hansella sells many of her fiber-based works, along with functional goods and supplies, in her shop, and you can follow her latest projects, which include a recently completed piece in Bahrain that’s 48-meters-wide and 4-meters long, on Instagram.

 

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Distorted Figures Navigate the Aftermath of Environmental Destruction in Portraits by Stamatis Laskos

“Losing the last rights” (2021), oil on canvas, 200 x 120 centimeters. All images © Stamatis Laskos, shared with permission

Fantastically tall figures with elongated limbs and torsos inhabit the distorted, mysterious realities painted by artist Stamatis Laskos (previously). The highly stylized artworks, which extend upwards of six feet, imagine a universe marred by unknown destruction: an elderly man wades through waist-high water while fire burns in the background, a woman retrieves a human skeleton from a flood, and a self-portrait shows the artist shielding his eyes with detached hands. Working with Earth tones and an implied dim light, Laskos shrouds each scene with shadow, which obscures the figures’ faces and casts an eerie tension over the degraded environments.

At once distant and deeply personal, each painting draws on ideas of collective unconscious and Jungian archetypes, whether portrayed through wise figures, an apocalypse, or the unification of opposing forces. “Giving them the necessary deformation, my archaic protagonists carve out incompatible and irreconcilable trajectories,” Laskos says. “The unconscious and the hidden memories are framed by colors, shapes, and situations that complement my compositions in such a way that each work is a page from my diary, always reminding me how and why it was created.”

Laskos is currently based in his hometown of Volos, Greece, and some of his works on canvas are on view through June 25 at Lola Nikolaou Art Gallery in Thessaloniki. Later this summer, he’ll be painting a larger mural in Athens focused around a theme of environmental ruin, and you can follow his progress on that piece on Behance and Instagram.

 

“Self-portrait” (2021), oil on canvas,110 x 80 centimeters

“Golden hour” (2021), oil on canvas, 180 x 120 centimeters

“Cretan” (2020), oil on canvas, 1,880 x 1,120 centimeters

Detail of “”Cretan” (2020), oil on canvas, 1,880 x 1,120 centimeters

“Soldier”

“Under the table” (2021), oil on canvas, 150 x 150 centimeters

Detail of “Under the table” (2021), oil on canvas, 150 x 150 centimeters

Laskos working on “Losing the last rights”

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A Clip in Extreme Slow Motion Shows Every Detail of Simone Biles’s Amazing Triple-Double



Simone Biles claimed her seventh U.S. gymnastics title last weekend, in part thanks to an impeccably executed triple-double (a.k.a. three twists performed during two backflips). A short clip captures the star athlete, who hasn’t lost an all-around competition in eight years, as she completes the perfect sequence in extreme slow motion—you might want to watch the full routine first for perspective—showing how she gently turns herself over in two backflips before launching herself multiple feet into the air. After a seemingly gravity-defying series of flips and bends, she nails the landing in an absolutely stunning feat. (via Kottke)

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A First-Person Interrogation of a Family’s Guilt-Ridden Past

Catharsis invigorates Angelo Madsen Minax’s documentary North By Current. Three years after the death of his young niece, Kalla — for which both Minax’s sister and her partner were treated as suspects — the artist returns to his hometown in rural Michigan. Initially conceived as commentary on the injustice of the criminal system, the project morphs into a lyrical rumination on accountability, trauma, and Minax’s own gender transition. Constructed in between the modes of a video essay and a road movie, the film pairs personal archive with interviews with family.

Minax often turns the camera on himself, especially when in conversation with his parents, to demonstrate how their insensitive comments wound him. Not only does Minax’s mother misgender him, but we also hear his parents equating his transition to Kalla’s death, spurring the teary-eyed filmmaker to run out of his own home. “I worked so hard to be alive,” he says as he looks at the night sky. This incident also inspires Minax to initiate a conversation with Kalla’s spirit, having her soothing yet acute commentary punctuate the film.

Minax’s out-front style opens to a voyeuristic approach to filmmaking. Old videos are cut and rearranged to respond to his interrogation of his family’s guilt-ridden past. Similarly, scenes that happened years before are reenacted, now through the mediation of a movie camera. Cinema acts as a form of absolution. Minax understands varying life upheavals as rites of passage — each fragment of the home movie footage he incorporates tessellates a path to a rapturous ending.

North By Current will be playing at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.

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“This Is Apartheid”: Kara Walker, Nan Goldin, and 16,000+ Artists Voice Solidarity With Palestine

Kara Walker, Nan Goldin, Simone Leigh, and Yto Barrada are among 16,000 international artists who signed a “Letter Against Apartheid” denouncing Israeli violence against Palestinians.

The open letter was drafted by an anonymous collective of six Palestinian artists. It was initially signed by 300 leading Palestinian artists, writers, and filmmakers, including Emily Jacir, Mona Hatoum, Larissa Sansour, Isabella Hammad, Hiam Abbass, and Elia Suleiman.

“This is not a conflict: this is apartheid,” the letter affirms and calls for an “immediate and unconditional cessation of Israeli violence against Palestinians.” It also calls to end the “support provided by global powers to Israel and its military” with an emphasis on the United States, which “provides Israel $3.8 billion annually without condition.”

In a statement to Hyperallergic, the organizers called the letter “an unprecedented display of unity” among Palestinian artists. “The Palestinians of Gaza, Lydd, Jerusalem, Ramallah, and throughout the world have shown that seven decades of Israeli policies have not broken their idea of themselves as Palestinians,” they said.

A protest for Palestine in Queens, New York on May 22, 2021

The artists urge their peers in the art world to “exercise their agency within their institutions and localities to support the Palestinian struggle for decolonization to the best of their ability.”

“We ask you to be brave,” the letter reads. “We ask you to come forward, speak up and take a clear public stand against this ongoing injustice in Palestine.”

This call was answered by an unprecedented number of world-renowned figures. Among them are writers Ta-Nehisi Coates, Angela Davis, Ben Lerner, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Rachel Kushner. Other signatories include filmmakers Michael Moore and Mike Leigh; actors Thandiwe Newton and Viggo Mortensen; musicians Marianne Faithfull and Brian Eno; and the Palestinian-American model Bella Hadid. Other artists who added their names to the letter include Vivian Suter, Bouchra Khalili, Coco Fusco, Rachid Koraïchi, Walid Raad, Molly Crabapple, and Alfredo Jaar.

“Apartheid must be dismantled,” the letter reads. “No one is free until we are all free.”

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Over 6,000 Photographs of Old Hollywood Acquired by the Hood Museum

More than 6,000 Hollywood photographs have entered the collection of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. The images span the history of Hollywood from 1916 to the 1970s and include film production stills, portraits, and publicity shots. They previously belonged to John Kobal, a film historian who wrote over 30 books on movies and movie photography; built an unrivaled collection of Hollywood portrait photography; and curated some of the first major exhibitions on the era.

Some of the images in the acquisition are by unknown photographers, while others are by figures such as Ernst Haas and Arthur F. Kales. Highlights include an atmospheric photograph attributed to Milton Brown depicting Lillian Gish shoveling sand in The Wind (1928), which was among the last silent films released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and John Engstead’s portrait of Marlon Brando for A Streetcar Named Desire, taken in 1950. The collection also includes Ernest A. Bachrach’s 1940 photo of French actress Michèle Morgan donning a chic getup and holding two canine sculptures by a leash.

Attributed to Milton Brown, Lillian Gish from The Wind (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1927), platinum print. (Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth: the John Kobal Foundation Collection: Purchased through the Mrs. Harvey P. Hood W’18 Fund. Object photo by Jeffrey Nintzel.)

Kobal was born in 1940 in Linz, Austria, and emigrated to Ottowa as a 10-year-old. Living in England as an adult, he had a brief stint as an actor and began collecting film memorabilia, photographs, and ephemera. He established himself as a film journalist, becoming BBC’s US film correspondent in New York in 1964. At that time, Hollywood was on the brink of a major transition. The influence of European art cinema, avant-garde film, and television made the old studio system appear staid, and new releases that might have been hits a decade prior were generating little revenue with an emerging youth market.

Amid the advent of “New Hollywood,” a period characterized by more experimental director-driven films, Kobal collected the remnants of Old Hollywood. He salvaged discarded publicity materials, including the numerous 11-by-14 portraits and “behind the scenes” photographs that studios sent to movie fan magazines to promote their films. Kobal’s subsequent writings, which included an important history of the American film musical Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance (1971), brought attention to forgotten photographers such as Laszlo Willinger, Clarence Sinclair Bull, and Ruth Harriet Louise, the first woman staff photographer in Hollywood in the ’20s and early ’30s. In the ’70s and ’80s, Kobal even united some Hollywood photographers with their original negatives, asking them to make new prints for inclusion in the exhibitions that he curated.

Kobal died at the age of 51 in 1991 from AIDS-related complications. Before he died, he created an eponymous charitable foundation to house his archives and promote the art of portrait photography. With the sale of thousands of photographs to the Hood Museum — a transaction that has been in the works since 2019 — the foundation will be able to support a new artist’s fellowship, which will be awarded every two years to a UK-based photographer.

Attributed to James Manatt, Buster Keaton for Go West (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1925), gelatin silver print. (Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth: the John Kobal Foundation Collection: Purchased through the Mrs. Harvey P. Hood W’18 Fund. Object photo by Jeffrey Nintzel.)

Mary Desjardins, Professor of Media and Film Studies at Dartmouth, plans to use the archive in her teaching. In a statement, she explained: “The collection is exciting as a pedagogical tool because it allows the historian-teacher to chart the history of twentieth-century American culture through the fantasies of and ideals created out of Hollywood films and their stars.”

A selection of photographs from the acquisition will be on view at the Hood Museum in winter and spring 2022. It’s not the first time that the museum has displayed work from Kobal’s Hollywood photography archives; the Hood first staged a show on the topic in 2010.

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First NFT Ever Created Sells for $1.4 Million

Kevin McCoy, “Quantum” (2014-21), non-fungible token (image courtesy of Sotheby’s)

The first non-fungible token (NFT) ever created has been sold. Kevin McCoy’s “Quantum” (2014-2021) raked in $1.4 million with fees at the close of Sotheby’s auction Natively Digital: A Curated NFT Sale this morning. The buyer, known by his pseudonym Sillytuna, sold a “CryptoPunk” NFT from his collection in the same auction for $11.8 million.

Over the past months, the NFT craze has spawned a seemingly endless stream of bombastic headlines, making stories about crypto art increasingly tedious and mundane. The sale of “Quantum” is a rare unique moment in the history of the medium, which McCoy is believed to have pioneered seven years ago.

The artist created or “minted” the token on the Namecoin blockchain on May 2, 2014, using a technology he developed with coder Anil Dash. The two collaborators envisioned a system that would enable digital artists to sell, track, and take ownership of their works, often shared on blogs like Tumblr with no credit or attribution.

When Dash and McCoy gave a live demonstration of their new “monetized graphics” system at the New Museum in New York City, their audience laughed.

Today, the pixelated image of an octagon filled with concentric circles hypnotically pulsing in fluorescent hues was among the leading lots in Sotheby’s NFT sale. The auction house described the token as a “seismic genesis work” comparable to Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) or Kazimir Malevich’s “Black Square” (1915) — watershed works that ushered in major artistic movements, at least according to prevailing Eurocentric versions of art history.

“For a while I was thinking that Quantum should go into the collection of a museum like MoMA but now I’m like fuck it,” McCoy said in a recent interview with Ocula Magazine.

While $1.4 million is nothing to sniff at, the price is a mere fraction of the $69 million paid for Beeple’s “EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS,” sold by Christie’s in March. And although Sotheby’s did not release a pre-sale estimate for “Quantum,” the final number is significantly below the $7 million hammer projected by reporters at Axios.

Recently, signs have surfaced of a cooling market for NFTs, though reports are conflicting, with some confident that crypto art is here to stay. A study by Protos.com found that the NFT market has dropped by 90% in overall performance since May 3. In the first week of June, only $19.4 million in NFT sales was recorded, down from a peak of $102 million in a single day.

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Photographer Captures the Unexpected, Everyday Choreography of NYC’s Streets

In Elizabeth Bick’s photographs, the street is a stage and passersby are performers. The New York-based artist draws from her background as a dancer to sharply and selectively capture unwitting moments of grace in the movements of strangers as they navigate the city. With their strong sense of color, light, and gesture, Bick’s carefully observed images inject a sense of theatricality and intention into the randomness of everyday life. 

Bick’s new exhibition Movement Studies at the Houston Center for Photography showcases three of her recent series created between 2017 and 2021. The first suite of works, titled “Movement Study I: Street Ballet,” are large-scale grids of 16 photos each, depicting pedestrian traffic on New York City street corners and sidewalks. Bick shot the images from a tripod set up at a distance away from or above her subjects, engaging in what the photographer described in a recent email to Hyperallergic as “an artistic scavenger hunt.” As her title implies, Bick captures strangers in visually dramatic, stage-like public spaces where unplanned movements take on a certain rhythm. Her multiplied images recall a film roll’s progressive passage of time, but her rigid, rectangular compositions also reinforce the heavy role of architecture in shaping our routine movement. Her photos are dominated by bold backgrounds, large windows, and shifting light. Enveloped by the surrounding shadows, reflections, and color fields, Bick’s human subjects resemble passing punctuation marks.

“After years of this working method,” Bick wrote, “I became more fixated on capturing facial expressions, details in people’s clothes, [and] nuances of movement.” Her “Movement Study II: 40.752200 -73.993422” hones in on one particular location — a street corner in Midtown — capturing people passing through it. In these images, people now fill the frame, cutting up the colorful background with their moving suitcases, bags, and bodies. Thanks to the photographer’s nimble timing, Bick’s camera captures an unexpected choreography of motion, this time with a more interpersonal flavor. In one image, for example, as a chain of strangers walks by in single file, the falling sun imprints their shadows on each other’s backs, visually linking them to each other, if only for a moment. 

Later, Bick grew curious about the passersby as individuals, asking herself, “What do their private lives look like?” She approached one of the people she photographed in “Movement Study II” and asked to follow them home. This was the beginning of Bick’s “Movement Study III: Circling a Hawk,” an intimate study of Bronx resident B. Hawk. Over the next months, Bick photographed Hawk commuting, socializing, modeling, and resting at home. At the time, Hawk was transitioning to identifying as a nonbinary trans person, a process which Bick refers to as a deeply personal, “interior movement.” This isn’t the first time that Bick has portrayed a single figure: her 2017 book Coda centers on the writer, dancer, and cancer survivor Linda Levin, whom Bick also met by chance in New York City. Once again, Bick’s Movement Studies uses the camera as a tool to get closer to people, their gestures, and their lives.

Elizabeth Bick, “Movement Study I: Street Ballet” (2018), archival Inkjet, 52 x 78 inchesElizabeth Bick, “Movement Study I: Street Ballet” (2018), archival inkjet, 52 x 78 inches

Elizabeth Bick, “Movement Study I: Street Ballet, (2017), archival inkjet, 52 x 78 inches
Elizabeth Bick, “Movement Study II: 40.752200 -73.993422” (2018), archival inkjet, 38 x 50 inches
Elizabeth Bick, “Movement Study III: Circling a Hawk” (2019), archival inkjet, 38 x 50 inches
Both images: Elizabeth Bick, “Movement Study III: Circling a Hawk” (2019), archival inkjet, 24 x 30 inches
Elizabeth Bick, “Movement Study III: Circling a Hawk” (2020), archival inkjet, 25 x 38 inches

Elizabeth Bick: Movement Studies continues at the Houston Center for Photography (1441 West Alabama Street, Houston) through July 11.

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A ’70s PSA Depicts Life for the Elderly as a Funhouse Nightmare

Ever wonder what a 50-minute public service announcement about aging in the United States might look like if it was commissioned by the Lutheran Society and directed by George Romero? In The Amusement Park, the recently rediscovered and restored 1973 film by the father of the zombie movie, ageism and classism run wild in an allegory on the plight of the elderly. Though not exactly a horror film, it’s decidedly horrific, following various older characters as they suffer abuse within a claustrophobic theme park.

One man can’t drive a go-cart because he fails an eye exam. An unreasonable, extensive list of criteria prevents most of the seniors from riding the roller coasters — “Must not fear the unknown,” “Must have income over $3,500,” “Must not SUFFER from dizziness, high blood pressure, diabetes.” The one “ride” that does welcome them masquerades as a fun house, but inside, a cluttered nursing home awaits. The film is a portrait of how the US has long been a punishingly difficult place to live for those at the margins of its winner-take-all, work-till-you-drop capitalist infrastructure. Once you don’t meet the rigid able-bodied, financially sound requirements, you’ll get conveniently dropped.

The Amusement Park is now available to stream on Shudder.

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We Don’t Need More Temporary Exhibitions of All Women Artists

Since their curatorial dawn in 1977 with Women Artists 1550-1950, temporary exhibitions of all women artists have attempted to respond to the systemic erasure of women from art history. The latest temporary exhibition of the Royal Palace Museum in Milan — Le Signore dell’Arte (roughly translated to the Arts’ Mistresses) — goes back to this model by showcasing 34 Italian female artists from the 16th to17th centuries. Although this format was revolutionary in 1977, today this curatorial approach has been criticized as self-defeating in furthering a feminist art historical discourse. Le Signore dell’Arte allows us to reflect on the practice of temporary exhibitions of all women artists and its impact on an inclusive and feminist art history.

Quoting the exhibition’s curatorial rationale, Le Signore dell’Arte aims to showcase the “incredible stories of talented, modern women.” The attention is placed on these artists’ “talent” which justifies their presence in the exhibition. Framing artistic worthiness on the basis of talent has been problematised since 1971 by Linda Nochlin. Artistic talent and especially innate talent long stood as the defining quality of “great artists” and as the determining criterion of inclusion and exclusion from the art canon. On this premise, the systemic exclusion from art history of women artists was justified by the belief in feminine systemic lack of artistic ability.

To expand the canon, it would appear logical to frame women artists as equally capable as their male counterparts by measuring them against the same metric of talent used to describe great, male artists. However, by embracing this qualitative, standardized approach — based on the concept of talent — feminist art historians risk reproducing an ideologically oppressive practice that fails to recognize the systems of oppressions that held back certain demographics from becoming artists. As Nochlin argued, the under-representation of specific socio-economic groups in the arts doesn’t depend on their lack of talent but can be traced back to social and ideological institutions (childcare, family relations, school, church, etc) that create systemic social inequalities. These reverberate in the arts as in any cultural forum. A curatorial approach that aspires to be inclusive and rewrite a feminist art history should instead unmask the ideological elitism of the canon not as dependent on artists’ “talent” but rather on the favorable socio-cultural conditions — gender, class, and race — that they enjoyed.

This socio-cultural lens should also be used to scrutinize women artists. Including women in art historical narratives without addressing the bias of art historical evaluative systems can become a tool of oppression for other women and demographics. For example, showcasing “talented women” perpetuates a problematic discourse of exceptionalism that dismisses the existence of systemic oppression that held back the majority of women, only to raise the profiles of a few chosen ones.

Moreover, all-women-artists exhibitions face the risk of further ghettoizing female authors. In fact, these shows often leave the canon unchallenged as women artists’ contributions are confined to the sub-category of “female art history,” as specified by Le Signore dell’Arte’s curatorial guide. This way male artistic abilities remain the unchallenged standard as we can see in Artemisia Gentileschi’s exhibition profile which describes her as “a fair competitor of her male peers.” Scrutinising its selected artists Le Signore dell’Arte could have contributed to the research of an inclusive curatorial approach by questioning why women of colour and working-class artists are greatly under represented in the exhibition and in 16th–17th century European art history.

Additionally, temporary exhibitions can be problematic since they achieve an ephemeral effect on the feminist fight for inclusion without any long-lasting impact like the acquisition of women and non-binary artists in permanent collections. The Guerrilla Girls highlighted this trend in their 2017 Whitechapel exhibition Is it Even Worse in Europe? They showed that women’s artwork acquired in European museums didn’t increase over time despite most institutions marketing their embrace of alternative histories to expand the canon. Institutions’ actual commitment to inclusivity should be done through acquisitions since permanent collections are the ones shaping public opinion and framing how history gets recorded for posterity.

To conclude, rather than attempting to expand the canon through an additive and ephemeral gestures, feminist curatorial approaches should address the systemic discrimination faced by under-represented socio-economic groups in the arts. I agree with Griselda Pollock as she claims that this archival, additive work should be paired by one of ideological contestation and socio-historical contextualization. Failing to do so may only lead to the creation of another discriminatory canon firstly limited by the definition of “woman” and harmful for other demographics affected by intersectional discrimination.

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Week in Review: The NYC Mayoral Candidate’s Cultural Plans; First-ever NFT Sells at Auction

Week in Review is a weekly collection of news, developments, and stirrings in the art world. Subscribe to receive these posts as a weekly newsletter.

Culture in NYC

As the June 22 NYC mayoral primary draws near, Hyperallergic rounded up the top six contenders and summarized their priorities for the cultural sector.

NYC will distribute $5,000 grants to over 3,000 artists as part of the City Artist Corps, a WPA-inspired initiative addressing the devastating toll the pandemic has had on the cultural sector.

A program organized by Museum Hue, the Laundromat Project, and Hester Street will map POC-led NYC arts organizations to encourage equity in the cultural sector.

The Met Museum partnered with Citymeals on Wheels to deliver monthly art-making kits to over 1,000 seniors in New York.

Strike MoMA

Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill is the first artist to withdraw from Museum of Modern Art events in solidarity with Strike MoMA protesters.

Hyperallergic reporter Hakim Bishara accompanied two Strike MoMA protesters on their journey from Queens to Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art for an insider view of the weekly protests.

Artists nominated MoMA as an “at-risk cultural heritage site” to the World Monuments Fund, citing several MoMA board members for their connections to “gentrification and displacement,” “extractivism and environmental degradation,” and more.

In Other News

The first-ever NFT, minted by artist Kevin McCoy, sold at Sotheby’s for $1.4 million.

Kara Walker, Nan Goldin, and over 16,000 artists, musicians, and more voiced solidarity with Palestine in a “Letter Against Apartheid.”

The Detroit Institute of Arts is facing backlash over a mural that depicts a group of police officers holding hands against the background of the US flag. Artists including Dawoud Bey, Jordan Casteel, and Kevin Beasley criticized the institution’s partnership on the mural, which has been labeled as pro-cop by many.

New machine learning technology can match ancient pottery fragments by rapidly sorting thousands of fragmented pottery designs into differing stylistic categories.

Awards & Accolades

Lulani Arquette and Roberto Bedoya were awarded the 2021 Berresford Prize by United States Artists.Koral Carballo, Roopa Gogineni, Bayeté Ross Smith, and Daniella Zalcman were named 2021 CatchLight fellows.

Transitions

Joy Bivins was named director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.Allison Glenn, Diya Vij, Dream the Combine, New Red Order, and Risa Puelo have been selected to curate the second Counterpublic triennial in St. Louis.Loren Rothschild will retire from the board of the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, becoming trustee Emeritus.Legacy Russell was appointed executive director and chief curator of the Kitchen.Portia Zvavahera is now represented by David Zwirner gallery.Jeffrey Gibson, Julie Tolentino, Torrey Peters, Alexis De Veaux, Will Rawls, and Constantina Zavitsanos have joined the Queer|Art|Mentorship program as new mentors.

In Memoriam

Gottfried Böhm (1920–2021), Brutalist architect | Wallpaper*Violetta Elvin (1923–2021), dancer with Britain’s Royal Ballet | New York TimesGeri Hooks (1935–2021), Houston art gallery owner | GlasstireCornelia Oberlander (1921–2021), landscape architect | New York TimesClarence Williams III (1939–2021), actor | Washington Post

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The Yale Center for British Art Presents a Special Online Film Exhibition

For the artist and filmmaker Lis Rhodes, “the provocation of conditions arrests continuity,” in which resistance is the only mode against inequity and curtailed liberties. The short films on view in the online exhibition Art in Focus: The Provocation of Conditions, including Rhodes’s Orifso, showcase four decades of experimental British filmmaking. Each film is a response, and a form of resistance, to different conditions, real and imagined, of their time. Distinct in subject and style, the films evoke our contemporary moment in relation to political unrest, civic protest, and enforced isolation. They explore the relationship between sound and image and push the boundaries between film poetry, documentary, and the claim to narrative truth.

Margaret Tait’s Colour Poems (1974) is a nine-part elegy to her native Scottish archipelago of Orkney, beginning with the repercussions of the Spanish Civil War. Rhodes’s Orifso (1999) takes the form of a historical fable, using archival and cartographical research to interrogate structures of power and surveillance in France and London between 1942 and 1998. Ori Gersht’s The Forest (2005) is a personal meditation on the reverberations and afterimages of the Holocaust. Finally, John Akomfrah and Trevor Mathison’s Numen (2014) is a fictional journey of post-apocalyptic survival.

To view the exhibition, visit britishart.yale.edu.

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Single Eyes Gaze Out of Antique Cutlery, Tins, and Other Objects in Miniature Paintings by Robyn Rich

All images © Robyn Rich, shared with permission

The Georgian era saw the rise in a jewelry trend that’s equally sentimental and peculiar: to remember spouses who had died or to honor clandestine affairs without revealing anyone’s identity, people would commission tiny renderings of a person’s eye to be painted on broaches, rings, and other accessories they could carry with them. Similar to a lock of hair or portrait hidden in a locket, the abstracted feature was anonymous and indiscernible to most but deeply personal to the wearer.

Robyn Rich evokes this centuries-old fad with a substantial body of work that nestles minuscule oil paintings into cutlery, tins, and other antique vessels. “With a love of reusing and recycling, the found objects I use give a simple and often nostalgic canvas, which offers little distraction, allowing the beauty of the eye to be the focus,” she says. “These objects that we use every day are often taken for granted, overlooked, and forgotten, but in my work, they have another life and help tell a story.”

Whether centered on the eyes, nose, or lips, each realistic snippet conveys a wide range of human emotions—the expressive works capture everything from surprise and worry to contentment—through a single, isolated feature. “I paint friends, total strangers, and the eyes from painted portraits from the past. Each eye I paint becomes a little part of me,” the Frankston, Australia-based artist says.

Alongside her ongoing series of works on domestic objects, Rich is currently collaborating with designer Kelty Pelechytik on a collection of custom wearables. She also has an upcoming solo show at fortyfivedownstairs in Melbourne. Titled I See You, the exhibition is the culmination of a call Rich put out in 2019 for women and female-identifying people to share their portraits and stories with her, resulting in more than 100 pieces that will be on view this October. Until then, find an extensive archive of her miniatures on Instagram.

 

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An Oversized and Eclectic Stack of Well-Loved Vinyl Slides into a Corner of a Reno Brewery

All images © Erik Burke, shared with permission

Flip through a treasured record collection and you’re likely to find tattered covers and faded, bent corners on the most played albums. Artist Erik Burke displays these signs of a well-loved LP in a new mural that amplifies music’s outsized impact to a monumental scale. Tucked into a corner at Reno’s Record Street Brewing, the towering artwork gathers a vintage collection—The Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die is slotted next to The Velvet Underground & Nico and Johnny Cash’s Live At Folsom Prison is side-by-side with Give ‘Em Enough Rope by The Clash—that’s an eclectic mishmash spanning genres and decades. “A large part of it was sourcing the original vinyl and choosing the most worn-and-torn covers to show how these records are a big part of our life and tell unique stories,” the artist tells Colossal.

Burke is known for his stylized portraits and floral murals, which you can see more of on his site and Instagram. He also has a few prints available in his shop.

 

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Exhibiting MoMA Artist Withdraws From Museum Events in Solidarity With Protesters

Artist Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, who currently has a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, has withdrawn from two activities at the museum in solidarity with the Strike MoMA protesters. Hill, a Métis artist and writer who lives and works in Canada, is the first MoMA artist to withdraw from programs at the museum since the weekly Strike MoMA protests began on April 9.

In a letter to MoMA today, June 9, the artist announced her decision to cancel her participation in an educational program called “Family Art Talk” that was scheduled for June 15. She has also canceled a planned submission to MoMA’s magazine.

“It does not feel right to participate in programming for families sponsored by an arms manufacturer profiting from the death of those children,” the artist wrote in her letter, citing the ties of trustee Paula Crown and her husband James Crown to General Dynamics, a weapons manufacturer that provided the Israeli army with the bombs it used against civilians in Gaza in May.

In an email to Hyperallergic, a spokesperson for MoMA confirmed receiving Hill’s letter, adding: “We respect the rights of all to make their voices heard, and have a long history of making space for many voices at MoMA.”

Hill’s exhibition is currently on view at the museum’s street-level galleries as part of MoMA’s Projects Series. The exhibition features sculptures and drawings made primarily from tobacco, a plant with Indigenous significance that was subjected to colonialist extraction.

“I realize I am in a contradictory position,” Hill’s letter continues. “I am currently exhibiting work at MoMA and so benefitting personally from the money brought in by the board. At the same time, I wish to align myself with those who struggle to abolish the prison industry, the carceral justice system, resource extraction which benefits the richest while costing the lives and the lands of Indigenous people and poor people across the world, the apartheid system of Israel, arms dealing, corruption and white supremacy.”

“But I also know I am not alone, that many people who work or have worked inside MoMA as artists or arts professionals also want an end to these things,” the artist added, “And there can be many ways for us to go on strike.”

Hill said she decided to respect her commitment to participate in a third program that will be co-hosted by MoMA and the American Indian Community House (AICH) in New York.

“As a Metis artist who is not from Lepapehoking, it is my responsibility to reach out to Indigenous New York, to ask what can be done,” she explained. “In entering a relationship with AICH, MoMA has made a long overdue commitment to begin to support Indigenous artists, Indigenous arts institutions and Indigenous curators, on their own terms.”

Read artist Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill’s letter, reproduced in full, below:

June 9, 2021

To Whom It May Concern:

I have decided to withdraw from two of the public educational programs I had previously committed to in conjunction with my current solo show at MoMA: a submission for Magazine, and a Family Art Talk, which had been scheduled for June 15th. This year, the activist group Strike MoMA, comprised of artists in New York and around the world, has revealed the financial ties of MoMA’s board to Jeffrey Epstein, Donald Trump, private prison companies Geo Group and CoreCivic, and the violent resource extraction of Barrick Gold. Most recently, we learned of the connections between MoMA’s board and the bombing of Gaza this May. Multiple board members have been implicated, including Paula Crown. The Crown family owns General Dynamics, a company that not only works closely with the Israeli Occupation Forces, but also manufactured the MK-84 bombs that were dropped on Gaza during the 11-day assault which claimed the lives of 250 Palestinians, including 66 children. As I have written in a previous email, it does not feel right to participate in programming for families sponsored by an arms manufacturer profiting from the death of those children.

The work I made to exhibit at MoMA Projects consists of sculptures and works on paper made largely from tobacco, a plant that has taught me a lot about capitalist colonial extraction but also about Indigenous economic systems, which survive and thrive despite all attempts to extinguish them. The sculptural forms reference rabbits, families, and mothering in order to acknowledge reproductive labor and other economies that spread out laterally, giving away and dispersing wealth rather than accumulating it. The works on paper, especially the “flags,” also contain many nods to spring, what’s coming up from the ground, and what’s “in the air.” For me, this particular body of work suggests the possibility of economic forms that offer an alternative to capitalism, by thinking through the ones we are already practicing. And while I know there is a long history of art institutions absorbing critical art to purify their own image, the intention of this work goes against the interests of the MoMA board members whose great wealth is derived from the death, dispossession and imprisonment of people and the land.

I realize I am in a contradictory position. I am currently exhibiting work at MoMA and so benefitting personally from the money brought in by the board. At the same time, I wish to align myself with those who struggle to abolish the prison industry, the carceral justice system, resource extraction which benefits the richest while costing the lives and the lands of Indigenous people and poor people across the world, the apartheid system of Israel, arms dealing, corruption and white supremacy. But I also know I am not alone, that many people who work or have worked inside MoMA as artists or arts professionals also want an end to these things. And there can be many ways for us to go on strike.

I am also in a contradictory position in that I am deciding to continue to participate in one program, one that will be cohosted by MoMA and the American Indian Community House (AICH). MoMA, which opened in 1929, was in operation for almost a century before they had a solo exhibition by a Native American artist: Edgar Heap of Birds’ Surviving Active Shooter Custer in 2019. The museum has not only failed to meaningfully engage with Indigenous artists and arts in the Americas, it has also neglected to develop relationships with the vibrant Indigenous arts communities living in Lenapehoking. AICH has been a hub of Indigenous community and Indigenous arts in New York since the 1960s and continues to offer programming despite the fact that they haven’t had a physical location since 2018. I can only imagine how devastating a blow to Indigenous arts and community wellbeing the loss of a space for AICH has been. We should all be asking ourselves, how is it acceptable that a space so fundamental to Indigenous arts in the city can be lost while one of the largest arts institutions, with billions of dollars of resources, continues to expand and accumulate more and more property? As a Metis artist who is not from Lepapehoking, it is my responsibility to reach out to
Indigenous New York, to ask what can be done. In entering a relationship with AICH, MoMA has made a long overdue commitment to begin to support Indigenous artists, Indigenous arts
institutions and Indigenous curators, on their own terms.

For everyone I know, this has been an incredibly isolating, alienating, and difficult past year and a half. It seems more important than ever to offer one another support, community, and collectivity, although at times it seems harder than ever to do so. I’m so thankful to the members of AICH, who have listened to me and offered sound advice and direction; for the support of those inside MoMA who stand with me as we strike, in many different ways, against a corrupt institution; and to Strike MoMA for the incredible amount of work they have put into demanding better from the art world and a better world for everyone.

In solidarity,
Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill

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19 Illustrators Celebrate What They Love About Asian Culture in a Print Sale Raising Funds to Combat Racism

By Jessie Wong. All images courtesy of Paperboy, shared with permission

Nineteen international illustrators have banded together to raise money to stop violence against Asian communities. Curated by the new platform Paperboy, a print sale called MUST BE NICE! asked the artists to share what they love about Asian culture, which resulted in an electric array of works celebrating everything from food and animals to traditional craft. Each sale directly supports the illustrators, and the remaining profits will be donated to organizations combatting discrimination and hate, including Besea.n, End The Virus of Racism, and Hackney Chinese Community Services. See some of the prints below, and shop the full collection on the Paperboy app, which you can download on its site.

 

Left: By Kimberly Morris. Right: By Christina Tan

By Matt Nguyen

Left: By Aga Giecko. Right: By Arose Garden

By Celine Ka Wing La

 

Left: By Amy Phung. Right: By Darcie Olley

By Subin Yang

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Consensus Grows About Two Artemisia Gentileschi Paintings in Beirut

Last August’s giant explosion in Beirut, which caused over 200 deaths and 7,500 injuries, as well as billions of dollars of property damage, was devastating to the Lebanese capital. Its impact on the city’s vibrant art scene was calamitous, with multiple arts spaces destroyed in the blast. One of the impacts on the cultural sector that has been little discussed is the fate of art in the collection of the Sursock Palace, which is adjacent to the Sursock Museum in the city’s historic Achrafieh neighborhood. 

Artist and art historian Gregory Buchakjian knew the 19th-century residence was close to the city’s port, where the blast took place, and was curious to know what happened to the building and its contents. In addition to the help he offered individuals impacted by the disaster, he turned his focus to two paintings that a growing number of experts believe are the work of Baroque-era painter, Artemisia Gentileschi.

Back in 1993, shortly after the end of the Lebanese Civil War, Buchakjian was working on his Master’s thesis at the Sorbonne in Paris, which focused on the art collection of the Sursock Palace. The works arrived in Lebanon in the 1920s with the marriage of Alfred Sursock, a member of the affluent Sursock clan, to an Italian woman from an old Neapolitan family, Donna Maria Teresa Serra di Cassano. It is a large art collection of mostly Italian Baroque and 19th- and 20th-century Lebanese paintings. The collection is known for Italian treasures by Luca Giordano, Andrea Vaccaro, and Matthias Stomer, but Buchakjian’s research would also lead to the discovery that two of the paintings, which had no clear attributions, were most likely created by the renowned 17th-century female painter. 

Gregory Buchakjian helps recover a painting in the destroyed library at the Sursock Palace

About his research at the palace, Buchakjian told Hyperallergic, “It’s a big house. There are no labels. It’s not a museum … Some paintings had labels, but they were not necessarily correct.”

“And my job was to identify what were these paintings, what were the subjects, and what were the artists?” he continued. “So I did my research, and this is how I got the attributions of some paintings, including the two Artemisia Gentileschi.”

How many artworks by Artemisia Gentileschi exist is still the subject of debate. According to scholar Sheila Barker, who considers herself conservative in her estimate, there are 58 confirmed works, excluding the Beirut paintings. Other, more liberal experts, she says, suggest the number might be as high as 68. 

A painting of St. Mary Magdalene, attributed to Artemisia Gentileschi, c. 1640, after Gregory Buchakjian fished it out of the post-Beirut explosion rubble.

Until the 1970s, when Linda Nochlin’s important “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” propelled Gentileschi’s life and work into mainstream conversations about art after centuries of misattributions and neglect, few people were looking to fix the historical recording regarding Gentileschi’s work. Since then, her reputation and the scholarship around her have grown exponentially and she has become a pop culture phenomenon as the subject of novels, plays, movies, and even memes.

“I showed the paintings to some experts at the time, but I would say that I was [still] doing a student’s work,” Buchakjian explained. “When I defended my thesis my teachers found it very convincing at the time and told me that I should go further in my research and publish it. But I didn’t do it, because at this time [in the mid-1990s] I came back to Beirut and I was completely overwhelmed by what was happening in the city, and I forgot about Artemisia Gentileschi. So my priority became what was related to the city here, reconstruction, et cetera.”

On the left wall hangs “Anthony and Cleopatra,” attributed to Johann Carl Loth, while the empty space on the right wall is where the painting of St. Mary Magdalene, attributed to Artemisia Gentileschi, was hanging before it fell to the ground.

Buchakjian’s research largely lay dormant for decades and didn’t reappear until the Beirut explosion, when his mention of the damage in an article in Apollo magazine last year raised the eyebrows of professionals in the field and led to an invitation by the Medici Archive Project (MAP) to discuss his research during an online event in April of 2021. Buchakjian compared the two paintings, “Hercules and Omphale,” dated to the early 1630s, and “Penitent Magdalene,” probably from the 1640s, to other existing Gentileschi works. He speculated that one had additions and possible alterations through the years, something that is common for some Old Master works. The researcher compared the jewelry, drapery, compositions, and subject matter to make the case. His research has been well received. 

Barker, who has a PhD in historical Italian art, has written a book on Artemisia Gentileschi, and is the executive director of the Friends of MAP, believes Buchakjian has presented solid art historical evidence. “Gregory’s visual analysis is unassailable given the complexity of the artistic landscape in 17th-century Southern Italy,” she explained to Hyperallergic, adding that his research contributes some important aspects to the growing body of knowledge about the artist’s work.

The damage sustained by the “Hercules and Omphale” (c. 1630) painting, which is attributed to Artemisia Gentileschi, can be clearly seen in this image.

 “I believe this is the first image we have of a Hercules by her hand,” she said, “although we have long known from documents that she painted several of them in her career, including an early one in 1619–1620 in Florence.” The works had been completely unknown to Gentileschi scholars before Buchakjian’s discovery. 

The “Hercules and Omphale” painting is considered part of the historia or history painting genre of art, which beginning in the 15th-century was considered the pinnacle of art by the European art establishment. “It is wonderful to have from Artemisia a large-scale, complex, multi-figure composition representing a secular mythology,” Barker explained. “The historia genre is not only the epitome of intellectual painting; it was also an arena in which few women artists dared to tread. Painting historia requires many skills, an appreciation of literary poetics, and knowledge of a vast body of other artworks upon which to draw.” 

A comparison of various jewels that appear in the art of Artemisia Gentileschi, including an example in the Beirut painting titled “Hercules and Omphale,” and attributed to the artist by Buchakjian. The image on the left is from Gentileschi’s well-known “Judith Beheading Holofernes” (c.1620) and her “Judith and her Maidservant” (c.1615) both at the Uffizi in Florence.

During the online presentation by Buchakjian, Barker appeared to be very impressed with the evidence suggested by the jewelry in the paintings. I asked her why that was particularly notable in the research around her work. “Few painters were as consistent in their use of jewelry in costumes as Artemisia was,” she said. Barker continued:

 Moreover, specific jewelry designs, like a facial type, or a way of painting fabric, can be a personal hallmark by which a specific maker’s hand (and mind) can be recognized. The documents show that Artemisia owned a lot of jewelry, even when she was just starting out in her career. It is also known that her grandfather was a jeweler. That she would show a predilection for cameos and fashionable earrings in her costumes for her heroines seems natural. The inclusion of beautifully crafted jewels happens to be a characteristic of her art throughout all periods of her long career.

During the Beirut explosion, a number of the works in the Sursock Palace collection were damaged or completely destroyed, including a portrait of Nicolas Sursock by Kees van Dongen and a portrait of Alfred Sursock by Habib Srour. But the believed Gentileschi works remain mostly intact, even if they sustained extensive damage. The hope is that this new added attention will hopefully encourage efforts to conserve and present the works to the local public. 

“I would like to see the palace renovated and brought alive in the process. It’s very important that it be open to the public,” Buchakjian said. “This would be wonderful for Beirut and for the people to have this place that is not only architecturally and artistically exceptional, but to have two paintings by Artemisia Gentileschi in Beirut. [These] would be the only works by her outside Europe and North America. I hope this dream will be realized.”

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Theo Anthony on How the History of Cinema Led to the Modern Surveillance State

Whether he’s making arthouse documentaries about urban pests and zoning or ESPN films about tennis review technology, Theo Anthony demonstrates a historically informed commitment to social justice. Each film he’s made has been increasingly keen on addressing the power imbalances inherent between filmmaker and subject. His latest, All Light, Everywhere, examines the historical roots of camera and surveillance technologies while following representatives from Axon (formerly TASER) and Persistent Surveillance as they manufacture police body cameras and seek permission to deploy spy planes above Baltimore, respectively. It’s fitting that it is also the most interrogative and reflexive feature that Anthony, who is white, has yet made, acutely aware of the representational and thematic challenges of its subject matter.

Just prior to the film’s recent release, Anthony made time to talk to me about the evolution of the film, the theorists and books that occupied his mind during production, and his increasing presence in front of his camera.

***

Hyperallergic: All Light, Everywhere is really your second film about surveillance, after Subject to Review. I was wondering how these are connected — if this idea rose out of this one, or if it was there earlier?

Theo Anthony: Yeah, actually I’m really glad to be able to be able to link these two. All Light, Everywhere started almost five years ago, and I actually made Subject to Review in the middle of it. I worked with the same composer, cinematographer, producing team, and we really treated it like this kind of phantom limb of All Light, Everywhere. We joked it was just another thread that went on too long. All Light, Everywhere is a lot more expansive, covers a lot more topics and history. Subject to Review is just looking at this one technology, but asking those same questions about power and authority.

H: Both Subject to Review and Rat Film have more omniscient voiceovers, albeit foregrounded in Subject to Review. At what point did you decide All Light, Everywhere needed a more self-consciously subjective, opinionated voiceover?

TA: Very early on we realized we were talking about this history of different media and technologies, this view from nowhere, this god’s-eye view, and the history of objectivity, which we were trying to complicate and deflate whenever possible. In my previous work I’ve always used the single voiceover, but in this film we were interested in having more of a Greek chorus and seeing how these different voices and perspectives could all fit together to form a much larger composite gaze. I think at one point we had three or four voices, and we eventually narrowed it down to just the two you hear in the film. We had specific roles for what the voiceover does and what the subtitles do. The subtitles are kind of like my director’s commentary, giving context to things that are outside the frame, while the voice is speaking to what’s inside the frame in front of you.

Director Theo Anthony

H: There is also a lot more of you in front of the camera with each successive film. Is this also about confronting the idea of objective visual evidence and how a viewer cannot see what’s behind any camera?

TA: Yeah, I think on a content level, as the film discusses, the evidentiary power of body cameras comes from the fact that you don’t see who is recording it, and it lends itself a certain assumed sense of authority. We found it productive mapping that onto the history of documentary as well. You look at early documentary, ethnographies always sort of erase the body of the filmmaker. We thought if we were going to be making a film about these topics, it would be hypocritical to not include myself in it. We were always riding this line, trying to make sure it wasn’t self-serving — it’s not about me, but I think it’s important that I’m implicated as the creator.

The funny thing is there was an earlier version that was a lot cleaner. You didn’t see me, and all these parts fit together almost too well. But just through conversations and feedback with trusted friends and collaborators, we realized that for this film to work, we had to make it a little messier and fuzzier and bring myself in more. So as we got closer to a final cut, it felt like parts of it were getting rougher and rougher.

Poster for All Light, Everywhere

H: What about the moment during the community meeting with the Persistence Surveillance CEO, where an African American man says something to the effect of ‘It’s always white people filming us,’ and points at your camera. Were you ready for that possibility?

TA: As someone who has worked as a journalist in the Eastern Congo, done journalistic work in Baltimore, who has been an outsider to the communities whose stories I’m telling, I’ve grown into this practice of making sure that whenever I’m filming with someone, we are very explicit about the boundaries of what we are and are not filming, and that we are including the subjects as much as possible. The community meeting was the one time that wasn’t possible. We were invited by [Persistent Surveillance CEO] Ross [McNutt] to the meeting with very little information. We were uneasy about doing it for those very reasons, and that was the night I think everything really changed, when we realized it couldn’t be this neat assembly, that we needed to implicate ourselves.

We were in a Black church that’s just blocks away from where Freddie Gray was killed, talking to people as they were coming in, saying, ‘We’re making this film, are you OK being on camera?’ If you’re in that community and you’re looking at four white people, and two of them work for a spy plane company and two of them are making an experimental documentary, you’re not going to stop and parse the difference. You’re going to say, ‘These people are outsiders.’ And rather than try to get into the weeds and separate who was who, being implicated and putting ourselves in the role of this outside gaze was productive for the film and made us rethink everything we were doing. There’s no easy takeaway from that. We just tried to give that [moment] the space and the agency to blow up what we had constructed.

H: It’s interesting that you were invited by Persistence. Did they know — and same thing with Axon — what kind of film you were making?

TA: The important thing to understand about a lot of these technology companies is that they’re always waging this PR war of their own. They’re trying to get their names out there and are very eager to talk to press in a lot of instances. Particularly with surveillance technologies, the way which they are pitched to the public is so often about increasing transparency, and that through that greater understanding we can have greater accountability. That’s the sales pitch. You have the trifold pamphlet, it’s like “transparency, understanding, accountability.” And I agree in principle, but in reality, these technologies only further obfuscate the way power functions. When we approach these companies, what we say is more like, ‘We think transparency is a great thing, we’d love for you to be transparent about how your process of transparency is going.’ You place them in a situation of either fulfilling their promise or appearing blatantly hypocritical.

Theo Anthony and Corey Hughes behind the scenes of All Light, Everywhere

H: You end with a thread which the subtitles say was a larger part of the film, but was all but eliminated. It’s about young Black students learning to think critically about how moving images relate to one another. Can you talk a bit about deciding to include that in the end, even if you decided there wasn’t room to include all of it?

TA: From the beginning, we knew we were telling this history of seeing and cameras, and it was a very particular violent strain of that history. But we always wanted to acknowledge that there were other histories happening all the time that weren’t necessarily centered on violence. Obviously, cameras can do great good in the world, and be incredibly important for people who would be painted as victims by these surveillance technologies. They can, in other hands, imagine other possibilities and generate different outcomes. And that’s been around from the beginning; Frederick Douglass’s Age of Pictures, all that. We wanted to be clear that we weren’t telling the whole story, and instead leaving these holes for other possibilities to seep in.

Our challenge was that we didn’t want to define those possibilities for ourselves, considering the roles we were in. The students were meant to be this thread of joy, of figuring out their own representation through these tools. There was this really beautiful footage; even apart from their participation in the film, it was such a positive experience being in that classroom for four or five months, teaching workshops, lending equipment, working on each other’s stuff. When we got to the end of that and put it in the film, it was doing all those things and was emotional. There was laughter in the film, which was really missing in a lot of earlier cuts. But there was something … It’s not even that complicated. You have a montage with a photo of a gun, or someone pointing a gun, or a cop in one image, and you have an image of a teenager — and not just any teenager, but a young Black teenager in a classroom. And given the state of the world we’re in — and obviously, everyone is seeing these images on our screens every day — you assume that person is a victim. And that was not a representation we wanted to enforce in any way. It’d be the exact opposite of what we wanted to do. We just realized it would not make sense.

Our time with the students, our conversations on both sides of the camera about how best to fit these images into the film, that is the invisible skeleton that you don’t see. The film looks that way because it was sculpted around those conversations, and it felt like an erasure to totally remove it. Having it at the end was a way of saying, ‘You know what, all of these things are happening all the time, they always have been, and it’s not this film to define what the outcome of that would be.’ We wanted to preserve a certain opacity with those subjects — that was a term we were using all the time, in the tradition of Édouard Glissant, a Martinique philosopher writing a lot about representation in postcolonial societies. People need to maintain a certain amount of opacity, and in that opacity there’s an agency in their own representation. In that spirit, we thought we could gesture toward this as an off-ramp to another history and another future that we aren’t defining within the scope of this film.

From All Light, Everywhere

H: As you’re filming, are you actively thinking about what you have cited, or do you tend to realize that your work is in conversation after the fact?

TA: We are constantly reading as we go. It’s always thesis, antithesis, synthesis — over and over and over and over again. We have an idea, we film something, something doesn’t work, something doesn’t feel right, we get together and huddle — we have a really close team, I’m talking all day with my producers Jonna [McKone] and Riel [Roch-Decter] and Sebastian [Pardo]. When we have something to show, we show it to a trusted friend and get their feedback.

It was a very head-spinning process. I feel molecularly changed by it. I feel like I started this film being one person and threw out all these ideas that I wanted to do because a lot of them didn’t work, and it was very humbling to learn why they didn’t work. As a filmmaker especially, in my position, it’s my worst fear that something that I make would end up reinforcing the very thing that I’m critiquing. And I feel that with everything I do. You can have the best intentions in the world, but based on institutional context or a conversation that is beyond your control, it can have an entirely different meaning. And the market is endlessly creative in coopting leftist narratives for their own profit. We’re always on the lookout and point people toward others who are doing the work. We’re not a lone island; we’re adding to a conversation that’s been happening for a long time. And that’s what keeps me grounded.

All Light, Everywhere is now playing in select theaters.

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Watching Our Ecosystem Slowly Lose Color

In 1814, Abraham Gottlob Wernerand Patrick Syme’s color taxonomy, Nomenclature of Colours, was published. Their charts drew on human conceptions of nature and grouped color into shades based on their appearance on bodies, vegetation, and landscapes. Developing shades such as “Gamboge Yellow” from its common appearance in sulfur, yellow jasmine and goldfinches, their work was used by painters, zoologists, and botanists alike, cementing not only conceptions of color but also ideas of how nature should look. Imbued with emotion and texture, their descriptions perpetuated ideas of nature as vibrant and pure, which has in turn crystallized our contemporary expectations. For instance, “sky blue” does not conjure the smog of pollution; “grass green” does not evoke the brittle yellow of drought; and “snow white” does not accommodate the grey slush of warming ice caps. 

In a recent installation at Tate Britain, entitled Salmon: A Red Herring, Cooking Sections — a London-based artistic duo (Daniel Fernández Pascual and Alon Schwabe) — showed how ecological degradation is affecting color. Their work consists of three main parts:  a diorama of white animals, a light display illuminating these models in shades of salmon, and an accompanying audio essay narrating the abuses of industrial farming. Specifically, this work intended to draw attention to the practice in Scottish fisheries of dyeing salmon “salmon pink” using Pantone color charts. Denied their usual diet of krill and shrimp, this dye masks the abuses of aquaculture — overcrowding, parasites, and genetic modification — which have manifested in the fishes’ grey pallor. Cooking Sections explains that “Salmon is the color of a wild fish which is neither wild, nor fish, nor even salmon.” This distortion of color is oddly ubiquitous and is equally applicable to both “orange” and “coral,” where temperature rise has led to oranges being dyed “Citrus Red No.2” for consumers and coral reefs being bleached white. While this may give us reason to challenge our comprehension of color, it also gives us grounds to reflect on our relationship with the environment and — to steal from Lewis Carroll — our proverbial compulsion to “paint the roses red” when it comes to its decline.

Examining the impact of coral bleaching on Western Australia’s coastline, at Kimberly (photo by Chris Cornwall, ARC Centre of Excellence via Flickr)

This desire to cover up ecological degradation through adding color constitutes a kind of denialism. In his photographic series Industrial Scars J. Henry Fair seeks to unearth the hidden impact of the things we buy. His work is largely concerned with color, presenting aerial images of lakes stained green from pesticides, metallic gray slicks from oil spills, and flats of vibrant red mud from toxic aluminum production. They evoke an insidious sensation of seepage — showing how the impacts of extractivism are already far out of our control. As Cooking Selection argues in their publication for Isolarii press (also entitled Salmon: A Red Herring): “Color exposes the global entrails of agribusiness and petro-chemical industries that feed, fill and taint bodies.”

Our disconnection from these scars evidences the simultaneous alienation of consumers and the control of industry. Connecting this with salmon, when we purchase a dyed fish, the dye not only conceals the experience of the fish itself but feigns away from these broader environmental threats and their entailed color shifts. At the same time, the very act of controlling color is one of subjugation; it is another means by which people can objectify and instrumentalize species in terms of our desires and emotions. In this sense, salmon is denied its autonomy as a living, breathing, and adapting thing, and is rather perceived as a blemish in need of correction. In effect, we, to quote Cooking Sections, “are reducing them to color instead of acknowledging their place in the flow of color,” and our desire to simulate the natural increasingly often comes at the detriment of nature itself.

Disrupting these expectations can help us re-engage with the ecosystems that surround us. In his Green River project, Olafur Eliasson used uranin — a water-soluble dye used to test ocean currents — to turn six rivers phosphorescent green, including waterways in Bremen, Stockholm, Venice, and Los Angeles. This project was met with a combination of admiration and derision but nevertheless achieved its intended purpose of reconnecting pedestrians with their surroundings.

Harmful algal bloom in western basin of Lake Erie (September 20, 2017) (photo by: Aerial Associates Photography, Inc. by Zachary Haslick via Wikimedia Commons)

These artworks show us that while color can render us passive, it can also be used to challenge our relationship with the environment. In the context of climate catastrophe, they reveal how the lines between natural and artificial color have been increasingly blurred. In particular, at a time where eutrophication and bright, emerald algal blooms are becoming more commonplace, Eliasson’s work takes on a new significance: More than disruption, it may also serve as a premonition of things to come.

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To Vaccine Selfie or Not to Vaccine Selfie?

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t over, but on social media it might feel like it is. In the United States, the happy, smiling faces of recently vaccinated friends and family members offer a slice of hope, but the vaccine selfie can elicit a mix of reactions. It’s awkward to feel annoyed at a vaccinated loved one, but it also makes one wonder: Did you need to post that vaccine selfie?

The vaccine selfie could be a source for good, encouraging others to get vaxxed amidst the rapidly spreading QAnon-inspired anti-vaxx conspiracy theories; medical inequity of the vaccine rollout both nationally and around the world; and vaccine distrust within traumatized communities of color. Similar to the “I Voted” selfie during election times, there could be a positive, greater good that comes from the vaccine selfie and thus halts the spread of COVID-19.

There have been more than one billion doses administered in at least 209 countries worldwide. Despite this positive outlook, the global inequity is stark. In 38 countries, including Georgia, Iran, and Senegal, less than 1% of the population is fully vaccinated. India is in the midst of a COVID-19 crisis, where there have been over 28 million infections and 335,105 deaths; approximately 26 million have recovered and only 3.3% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Even in Germany, where a husband-and-wife team of Turkish-German scientists presented the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with a 90% effective rate, only around 22% of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated. In the US, approximately 42% of the population is fully vaccinated, which is on the high rates based on global stats. Among the highest rates are Israel, where nearly 60% of people are fully vaccinated, and Seychelles, the chain of islands off the east coast of Africa where 65% of people are vaccinated, though the region experienced a new wave of infections, possibly due to the use of less effective vaccines Sinopharm or AstraZeneca.

In the United States, clinics and distribution centers have set up vaccine selfie stations to increase vaccine confidence. According to a Pew survey released in March, 70% of Americans intend to get vaccinated.

In a survey released in February, researchers at the Imperial College in London found that global vaccine confidence was growing. In the UK, 70% of respondents said they would get vaccinated, but in France that number was only 30%, citing worries about side effects and even that the vaccine could be a government conspiracy.

A reported published by the RECOVER Social Sciences team in collaboration with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control found that of seven European countries surveyed — France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Ukraine — only 36% of people strongly agreed that vaccines were safe.

Whether the vaccine helps with confidence or not, is the vaccine selfie necessary?

Pro-vaccine selfie

Visual activist and Bronx Museum curator Jasemine Wahi (@browngirlcurator), 35, posted her first of two vaccine selfies on February 26. In the selfie (reproduced below with permission), she stands on a street in New York, holding her vaccine card in her left hand, with a K95 mask covering her face.

Wahi has Type 1 diabetes and had been waiting anxiously for the vaccine while also feeling concerned about the medical inequalities that existed around who was “immune-compromised enough” to be eligible.

For her, posting the selfie felt important. “The benefits of sharing my experience outweigh the negative blowback, as being someone from a community of color that has a hesitancy to get the vaccine, period,” she said.

She wanted to put a face to the racial and economic disparities surrounding the vaccine, and also bring visibility to her “invisible disability,” busting people’s assumptions of what an immunocompromised or disabled person looks like.

Emily Lincoln’s vaccine selfie via Snapchat, using Mark Schoening’s lens (used with permission)

Dominic Quagliozzi, 38, of Los Angeles, enthusiastically posted a “jab selfie.” He has had a double lung transplant, and also lives with Cystic Fibrosis and diabetes. Initially he did not qualify early on based on California’s rollout plan. “I posted mostly because everyone I know had been asking when I was getting one,” he said.

Emily Lincoln (@rosebrick), 23, an educational equity specialist in Minneapolis, posted a vaccine selfie on her Instagram story using Boomerang. “I was like, it’s a little silly but I can get into it to get people to get vaccinated,” she said.

Later, she used the Snapchat vaxx lens, created by Minneapolis-based artist Mark Schoening, to further encourage people in her community to get vaccinated. He has three different lenses that people can choose from. A bouncing “jab” needle; an orange circular CDC sticker with a blue band-aid and green band-aid and text “I got my COVID-19 vaccine!”; and another sticker with just the scrolling word VACCINATED.

Considering the divide over the vaccine, Schoening’s gesture came from a place of pro-science. He hopes that if people on Snapchat see others posting the vaccine lens, they’ll be more likely to get vaccinated themselves.

Alicia Eler’s vaccine selfie via Snapchat, using Mark Schoening’s lens (image courtesy the author for Hyperallergic)

“I see the vaccine as a way out of the pandemic,” he said. “I was inspired to make them after seeing local health departments put out similar pro-masking Snapchat campaigns.”

He released the lens in mid-January, and by April it hit 100,000 views, a reflection of the increasing availability of the vaccine and vaccination enthusiasm, on Snapchat at least. But according to Schoening, on May 21, Snapchat rejected his COVID vaccine lens, stating that it had “content that could be perceived as shocking, offensive, disturbing, threatening or otherwise upsetting to Snapchat users.” By that time, it had received 500,000 views. Schoening requested an explanation but has not yet received word from Snapchat.

Hyperallergic followed up on the takedown in early June. A Snapchat spokesperson said: “This filter was reported by another user and mistakenly removed. Per our team, the filter has now been actioned correctly and is available for use again.”

No vaccine selfies, please

For every well-meaning vaccine selfie comes one that simply reads as “vaxhole” — someone who has been fully vaccinated and starts bragging about it by posting selfies and pics from their latest vacation spot. 

“There is an element of ‘bragging’ that can weave its way into social media, and I didn’t feel that an event — getting vaccinated — that I categorize as simply ‘the right thing to do,’ warranted posting or praise,” said Los Angeles-based actor and producer Che Landon, who decided not to post a vaccine selfie. “It’s a private matter and I’m happy to have done my part in preventing the further spread of coronavirus, but doing my part was enough for me.”

Brooklyn-based artist Kat Chamberlin, who is Armenian and grew up in Turkey, expressed her frustration with the selfies. “We need global vaccination rates to reach immunity levels in order to prevent new variants from proliferating,” Chamberlin wrote on Facebook in April. “When I do get vaccinated, I will not be sharing my vaccination card publicly simply because I know it is painful for others to see.”

In April, the Turkish government created a program that was intended to boost tourism. Anyone who worked in the tourist industry could get vaccinated. A video showing said vaccinated people, wearing yellow masks with “Enjoy, I’m vaccinated” printed across the front, was taken down after criticism that the government was treating its own people “like cattle for tourism.” When the video came out, the country was in the midst of its harshest full lockdown yet, effective three weeks and ending May 17 .

Turkey began phase two of the vaccine rollout in late March and early April, making the vaccine available to frontline essential workers, including those in the education sector. Currently, about 16% of Turkish citizens have been fully vaccinated.

Queer Olympix member and barista Elif Kaya of Istanbul uses the “Enjoy I’m vaccinated” filter during Turkey’s full lockdown (used with permission)

For Minneapolis-based, Florence-born artist and curator Zoe Cinel, the questions about sharing a vaccine selfie or not were up in the air. She didn’t share her vaccination card because of how slow the rollout is in Italy. Currently, about 22% of the country is vaccinated. In Toscana, where most of her friends and family live, vaccines are mostly available to people aged 60 and older.  

“Keeping it quiet felt like a form of respect and solidarity for the many people who are still jobless because of pandemic, who are in the hospital or who are seriously at risk to be impacted by exposure to COVID,” she said. “But I told my closest family members and friends that I got vaccinated.”

San Francisco-based community organizer and researcher Emi Kane has been helping book vaccine appointments mostly for undocumented immigrants who have either gotten COVID-19 or lost a close family member to the virus. She also saw many friends who were chronically ill or disabled that couldn’t get a vaccine appointment.

“A jubilant vaccine selfie felt like it could be salt in the wound for others in my circles, so I chose not to take or share one online,” she said.

But that moment of relief following the shot didn’t escape her. “I allowed myself to indulge in a moment of relief after getting the vaccine. We need those little moments to help us get through.”

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Sundance Institute Awards Grants to 18 Documentary Film Projects

The Sundance Institute has announced the latest round of grantees for its Documentary Fund. Eighteen projects at different stages of development have received a total of $590,000, financed by a variety of institutional and individual donors. The grants come with no restrictions on usage. Past films supported by the fund include Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Time, and Collective.

Supported projects include The Tongue of Water, about an Indigenous woman in Cambodia trying to rebuild her life after her home is destroyed by the construction of a dam; The Therapy, about gay conversion therapy in Israel; and Black Mothers, following two Black women fighting police racism in the US.

Sundance Institute is also accepting applications for the next cycle of funding through July 26.

The recently announced grantees are:

Projects in development:

The Gardeners (US)
Director: Crystal Kayiza
Producer: Crystal Kayiza

Gross National Happiness (Bhutan, Hungary)
Director: Arun Bhattarai, Dorottya Zurbó
Producer: Noémi Veronika Szakonyi, Arun Bhattarai

The Ship and the Sea (Mozambique, Brazil, Portugal)
Director: Lara Sousa, Everlane Moraes
Producer: Matheus Mello, Emerson d’Almeida, Joelma Oliveira Gonzaga, Elsa Sertorio

The Tongue of Water (France, Cambodia)
Director: Polen Ly
Producers: Rithy Panh, Lucas Sénécaut, Thibaut Amri

Under the Dance Floor (Hungary)
Director: Sára Timár
Producer: Krisztina Meggyes

In production:

Against the Tide (India)
Directors: Sarvnik Kaur
Producers: Sarvnik Kaur, Koval Bhatia

Do You Love Me (working title) (Lebanon, Germany)
Director: Lana Daher  
Producer: Lana Daher, Jasper Mielke 

Igualada (Colombia)
Director: Juan Mejia
Producer: Juan Yepes

Inverse Surveillance Project (US)
Director: Assia Boundaoui
Producer: Nouha Boundaoui

Rising Up at Night (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Belgium)
Director: Nelson Makengo
Producer: Rosa Spaliviero, Dada Kahindo Siku

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood (Estonia, France, Iceland)
Director: Anna Hints
Producer: Marianne Ostrat, Juliette Cazanave, Pierre Jestaz, Hlín Jóhannesdóttir

The Therapy (Israel)
Director: Zvi Landsman
Producer: Ori Szternfeld, Zvi Landsman

Untitled (US, Canada)
Director: Sura Mallouh
Producer: Sura Mallouh, Laura Poitras, Yoni Golijov

In post-production:

Black Mothers (US)
Director: Débora Souza Silva
Producers: Débora Souza Silva, David Felix Sutcliffe

Hazing (US)
Director: Byron Hurt
Producer: Natalie Bullock Brown

Liquor Store Dreams (US)
Director: So Yun Um
Producer: So Yun Um, Eddie Kim

Silent Beauty (US, Mexico)
Director: Jasmin Mara López
Producer: Jasmin Mara López

Untitled Muscogee Nation Documentary (Muscogee Nation, US)
Director: Rebecca Landsberry-Baker, Joe Peeler
Producer: Conrad Beilharz, Garrett Baker, Tyler Graim

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Artists Nominate MoMA as an “At-Risk Cultural Heritage Site”

A group of artists has responded to the World Monuments Fund (WMF)’s open call for at-risk cultural heritage sites with an unconventional nomination: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, the epicenter of recent protests against toxic philanthropy.

The application, reviewed by Hyperallergic, was submitted by Artists for a Post-MoMA Future (A4PMF), a coalition of activist groups exposing museum trustees’ indirect ties to human rights abuses, climate change, and other violations around the world. For the last ten weeks, they have hosted demonstrations and teach-ins outside of the building under the banner of “Strike MoMA,” a campaign to advocate for alternative institutional models.

“It has become increasingly clear that the well-being of the artworks inside the building is made possible by the discomfort and death of others we do not see,” A4PMF wrote in the application, submitted last month.

The group went on to list and denounce several MoMA board members, including Leon Black, Steven Cohen, Glenn Dubin, Steven Tananbaum, and Larry Fink, for their connections to “war, racist prison and border enforcement systems, vulture fund exploitation, gentrification and displacement of the poor, extractivism and environmental degradation, and patriarchal forms of violence.”

The nomination was made for MoMA to be included on the 2022 World Monuments Watch, the WMF’s biannual list of 25 global heritage sites considered to be endangered by a range of risk factors. In its most recent call for applications, the organization encouraged submissions focused on three specific threats to cultural sites: climate change, underrepresented heritage, and imbalanced tourism exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

A4PMF tailored its responses to address those risk factors through the lens of MoMA trustees’ problematic sources of wealth and the museum’s own activities. In response to a question about the pandemic’s impact, they cited the 76 contracted museum educators laid off at the height of the crisis last year.

In a section calling for 12 images illustrating the threats to the nominated site, the group attached eight portraits of MoMA trustees as well as photos of tense altercations during peaceful protests at the museum. One of them depicts security guards refusing entry to demonstrators; another shows strikers being confronted by New York Police Department officers at the institution’s Queens affiliate, MoMA PS1.

“If we are included in the 2022 World Monuments Watch, it would allow for people to see that there are more ways in which art and culture is damaged that is less visible than iconoclasts wielding sledgehammers or acts of nature like erosion,” the group said in the application. “Should the World Monuments Watch take this application seriously, it would deepen our conversation about these issues in a manner that is unprecedented.”

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Michael Richards’s Visionary Sculptures Mourn Dreams Deferred

MIAMI —  Incongruous and riveting, the golden-hued sculpture of a life-sized aviator pelted with toy airplanes commands immediate attention. Here, intimations of a child’s unusual game slide into an ominous realm. With its title, “Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian” (1999), Michael Richards’s sculpture melds a racist slur with  iconic imagery from art history, conjuring Roman arrows stabbing a Christian martyr. Presented within the context of his first museum retrospective, Are You Down? — now on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami — the sculpture, as well as the rest of the works installed, conveys a shocking prescience. 

Michael Richards, “Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian” (1999), resin and steel, 90 x 36 x 24 inches; installed at Stanford Art Gallery (image courtesy the Michael Richards Estate; photo by by Henrik Kam)

At age 38, Richards perished in the 9/11 attack on Tower One of the World Trade Center, where he had been working in a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council studio. Prescience has invariably become a word used in discussions about the artist’s posthumous career.  For this particular work, Richards cast his own body, clothed as a Tuskegee Airman, to layer allusions to severe injustice and fatal sacrifice. Throughout the retrospective, the artist’s focus on issues of exclusion remains remarkably resonant in the context of long-standing inequities exposed by the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Unspooling the trajectory of Richards’s career from 1990 to 2001, Are You Down? explores themes of flight, failure, spirituality, and systemic racism. In “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder (He Lost His Head)” (1994), stacked boxes supporting pairs of cast feet wed Minimalist forms to the body, evoking  aspirations often deferred for people of color.  Highlights include four recently conserved works never seen in public since Richards’s passing.

Michael Richards, “Are You Down?” (2000), Fiberglass, Bronze Bonded, Resin, Concrete & Black Beauty Sand 2 feet, 10 inches x 22 feet, 6 inches x 22 feet, 6 inches; installed at Franconia Sculpture Park (image courtesy the Michael Richards Estate)Michael Richards, “Are You Down?” (2000), Fiberglass, Bronze Bonded, Resin, Concrete & Black Beauty Sand 2 feet, 10 inches x 22 feet, 6 inches x 22 feet, 6 inches; installed at Franconia Sculpture Park (image courtesy the Michael Richards Estate)Michael Richards, “Are You Down?” (2000), Fiberglass, Bronze Bonded, Resin, Concrete & Black Beauty Sand
2 feet, 10 inches x 22 feet, 6 inches x 22 feet, 6 inches; installed at Franconia Sculpture Park (image courtesy the Michael Richards Estate)Michael Richards, “Are You Down?” (2000), Fiberglass, Bronze Bonded, Resin, Concrete & Black Beauty Sand 2 feet, 10 inches x 22 feet, 6 inches x 22 feet, 6 inches; installed at Franconia Sculpture Park (image courtesy the Michael Richards Estate)

A sense of poetic justice prevails throughout the retrospective. Raised in Jamaica, Richards spent significant periods of his professional life in Miami during the 1990s, as well as New York. Exhibition curators Alex Fialho and Melissa Levine believe Richards’s largest solo show in his lifetime took place in 2000 at Ambrosino Gallery, then located across the street from MOCA, and it’s clear the artist would have surely become a major voice of his generation. Richards developed a close relationship with Miami’s art community and is fondly remembered by many who met him during his artist residency at ArtCenter/South Florida, now Oolite Arts.  From 1997 through 2000, he would spend three months each winter producing work in his studio there, including “Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian” and the titular “Are You Down?” (1999); the latter remains on permanent display at Minnesota’s Franconia Sculpture Park and in 2012, it was recast in bronze, fulfilling the artist’s vision. Here, MOCA displays the original sculpture, cast in resin, metal, and tar. 

Michael Richards in his Studio, Miami Beach, 1998 (image courtesy Carolyn Swiszcz)

“Are You Down?”comprises three identical figures cast from the artist’s own body, each dressed as Tuskegee Airmen. The downed, awkwardly posed pilots lack parachutes, appearing to sink into pools of tar.  “The pilots serve as a symbol of failed transcendence, and lost faith, escaping the pull of gravity, but always forced back to the ground, lost navigators seeking home,” Richards is quoted in a wall text. In fact, his visionary voice resonates throughout; wall texts provide 23 direct quotations. In each, Richards’s sentiments echo the nuances his titles gesture towards. “Are You Down?” conveys various meanings: a question about whether someone is oppressed or is “down” for making lasting change. The latter, as the curators insist, is “a question for all of us.”

Michael Richards: Are You Down? continues through October 10 at the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami (770 NE 125th St, North Miami, FL 33161). The exhibition was curated by Alex Fialho and Melissa Levine.

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Brooklyn Public Library Presents a Congress on Art & Life

“First the plague, then the renaissance!”

— Kelsey, Art & Society Census participant

You spoke and we listened. From 6–7:30pm (EDT) on Tuesday, June 22, the Brooklyn Public Library and curator Laura Raicovich will present a culminating event to announce the results of the Art & Society Census, and discuss the changes that a broad cross-section of the public wants to see in arts and culture in the United States. 

This virtual assembly brings together the work of participants and organizers of the Art & Society Census, a project which first surveyed people from across New York City and the US, then developed a series of focused working groups dedicated to reimagining cultural encounters, funding, and the ways in which art intersects with our everyday lives.

Catalyzed by a pandemic and urgent calls for social justice and reform, the Congress on Art & Life will share the Proclamation on Life & Art, a document synthesized from conversations between the leaders and members of the public working groups. During the event, organizers will listen to the desires articulated in the Proclamation and examine the critical demands and imagined possibilities for cultural and civic change.

The event will be held online, streamed, and will include a Q&A session.

To register for the Congress on Art & Life, visit bklynlibrary.org.

Art & Society Census is funded by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation’s Innovation Fund.

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Animated Tutorials Whip Up Fiber-Rich Lemonade and Banana Splits by Andrea Love



Andrea Love (previously) cooks up some treats just in time for the summer heat, although their woolen ingredients might make them less thirst-quenching than usual. From her miniature kitchen, Love films short stop-motion animations that show her squirting spools of juice to make lemonade or coating heaps of ice cream with a thin line of chocolate yarn. The refreshing snacks are the latest in the animator and fiber artist’s archive of felted fare, which you can watch on YouTube and Instagram. (via The Kids Should See This)

 



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Preserved Grasses and Twigs Radiate Outward in Delicately Embroidered Sculptures by Artist Kazuhito Takadoi

All images © Kazuhito Takadoi, shared with permission

Artist Kazuhito Takadoi (previously) tames the unruly grasses, leaves, and twigs grown in his garden by weaving the individual strands into exquisite radial sculptures. Stitched into paper or bound to wooden discs made of cedar of Lebanon, oak, elm, or walnut, the abstract forms hover between two and three dimensions and utilize traditional Japanese bookbinding techniques to secure the threads. Each artwork, whether an intricately overlapping mass or pair of circular sculptures, is an act of preservation and a study of inevitable transformation: although the materials won’t decompose entirely, subtle shifts in color and texture occur as they age. “As the light changes or the point of view is moved, so the shadows will create a new perspective,” the artist says.

Born in Nagoya, Japan, Takadoi is currently based in the U.K. His meticulously woven works will be on view from June 22 to 29 at Artefact in Chelsea Harbor, and you can find a larger collection of his pieces on Artsy and jaggedart.

 

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With Astonishing Tapestries, Erin M. Riley Claims Space for Healing

When I was fourteen I went into the bathroom with a powder blue Swiss Army knife and I pressed it against my arm. I was shocked by the bright red color of the specks of blood that began to appear against my pale skin. Self-harm brings everything into sharp focus, yet it also feels fuzzy, like your body is floating. I thought about these dichotomies — sharpness and softness, and their relationships to trauma, as I walked through The Consensual Reality of Healing Fantasies, fiber artist Erin M. Riley’s solo show, now on view at PPOW Gallery. In Riley’s grandly scaled, astonishingly detailed tapestries, the bright, shocking colors of violence and trauma break through muted grays and whites — the yellow caution tape surrounding freezer trucks outside a New York hospital during the pandemic; a bright yellow walkman in a pile of photographs, CDs, and dirty laundry; the red blood of a bruised hand — flashing like the vibrant feathers underneath the dark wings of a bird you might learn about in a science textbook. Each strikingly realistic image disguises the handwoven process behind it. The artist sources wool from shuttered textile mills around the United States and washes, strips, and hand-dyes her yarn before weaving on a Macomber loom. 

Erin M. Riley, “Beauty Lives Here” (2020), wool, cotton, 64 x 48 inches

One of the tapestries, called “Beauty Lives Here” (2020), features a marble composition notebook with the name “ERIN” written on it, the words “THERE IS A WAY OUT… THERE IS!!” scrawled in all caps across its binding. In a May 26th panel discussion with artist Joe Houston and PPOW Director Trey Hollis, Riley talked about walking around high school with the notebook this piece is based on. “Nobody ever said, ‘what do you need a way out of?,’” the artist noted. These works call to mind how quickly our culture is prone to minimize the concerns of young women. Riley’s works unapologetically claim space for subject matter that’s often hidden from larger society — domestic violence, female sexuality, and self harm, along with everyday images of women’s lived experiences — elevating them via a medium most associated with religious iconography and Middle Age nobility. Her work builds on the traditions of feminist artists like Ana Mendieta, Faith Ringgold, and Judy Chicago, who, as Vivien Green Fryd writes in Against Our Will: Sexual Trauma in American Art Since 1970, each used artwork to “speak the unspeakable and make public the crimes of rape, incest, and domestic violence.”

Erin M. Riley, “Anxiety” (2020), wool, cotton, 72 1/2 x 100 inches

In her tapestries, Riley puts experiences that are often dismissed as shallow expressions of attention-seeking young women front and center. “Anxiety” (2020), shows a photograph of scars from dermatillomania, a form of self harm, usually kept hidden under clothing. Several works in the show depict a tattooed woman posing naked for a webcam, negotiating bodily pleasure in a way that’s often considered narcissistic and maligned by our culture’s hypocritical attitudes about sex. What is so wrong with craving or enjoying attention, these works ask. They present the challenges of navigating trauma as normal parts of life, as everyday as taking a sexy selfie or watching a TV show on your laptop. In “Affair, The” (2020) a computer screen shows a JPEG of a naked selfie; behind the photo are open browser tabs for a news story about domestic violence, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and watching The Affair TV series on Amazon. This piece is in conversation with several other works rendering domestic violence pamphlets from the 1970s (“SOS,” “WAVAW,” “Celebrate”, and “Community Problem,” all 2020), which the artist noted are “emergency orange,” communicating the need for help in code, much like a cryptic phrase scrawled on a notebook. Riley said she began creating these pamphlet images during the pandemic, due to an uptick in domestic violence.Through these works, Riley imagines how such messaging impacted her own mother’s relationships with men. 

Installation view, Erin M. Riley: The Consensual Reality of Healing Fantasies, PPOW Gallery, 2021

Riley’s artwork presents different modes for coping with generational trauma and reclaiming our bodies as our own. From sexuality and creative expression to drug use and self harm, The Consensual Reality doesn’t pass judgement on how best to heal. Rather, Riley places these various avenues in front of the viewer for us to bear witness, refusing to let these experiences be dismissed or ignored. 

Erin M. Riley: The Consensual Reality of Healing Fantasies continues through June 12 at PPOW Gallery (392 Broadway, Tribeca, Manhattan).

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