When Abstraction Exploded in Form and Meaning

PHILADELPHIA — When I left the house a few mornings ago to see Expanded Painting in the 1960s and 1970s at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I had some expectations. The exhibition includes the African American painters Alma Thomas and Sam Gilliam, both of whom moved from the South to Washington, DC, and became associated with the Washington Color Field Painters. Moreover, the website’s description states that the work in the show “speak[s] to an upending of barriers — be they artistic, ideological, racial, or rooted in gender stereotypes.” 

At minimum, the description suggests the exhibition will put pressure on the display of mostly white artists in the museum’s Modern wing, while expanding the public’s perceptions of abstract painting and painters. Thankfully, a number of artists, teachers, museums, and critics are finally realizing that Thomas and Gilliam, as well as Howardena Pindell, Norman Lewis, and numerous other artists have been written out of prominent histories of abstract painting.

The works in Expanded Painting are significant and well chosen, but the size of the exhibition is not up to the task of showcasing the diversity of artists working at the time. Perhaps my expectations were too high. But given the increasing scrutiny of museum collections, isn’t it reasonable to expect a major institution to devote more resources and space to the diversity of this expanded field? 

Sam Gilliam, “Dakar I” (1969), acrylic on canvas, 9 feet 5 inches × 59 inches × 14 inches

Sam Gilliam’s multicolored acrylic on canvas, “Dakar I” (1969), exemplifies the show’s stated premise. The unstretched canvas hangs on the wall like a cape. Named after Senegal’s capital city, the title proposes that viewers see beyond the United States as the center of arts or social change. Senegal, like much of west Africa during the 1960s, was working to establish political and cultural systems independent from French rule and centered on Black identity. In 1966, the First World Festival of Negro Arts, held in Dakar, featured selections of Gilliam’s work. 

The canvas hangs from a screw and some twine. These simple pieces of hardware are not focal points, but they define the structure of the work, allowing its patterns and washed-out colors to overlap in the soft folds of the canvas. Strengthened by its originality, “Dakar I” feels grand, as if it were cut from theater curtains.

“1972/F003” (1972), by the French artist Claude Viallat, is among the most radical departures from traditional painting formats. This work is composed simply of dye on a wide, delicate net. The dye varies in intensity and color, requiring the viewer to step closer to see the gradations. 

Claude Viallat, “1972/F003” (1972), dye on net, 8 feet 2 3/8 inches × 6 feet 10 11/16 inches

Viallat is associated with the group Supports/Surfaces, whose main belief was in the materiality of painting. In the members’ view, a painting is merely a surface on a support of some kind. “1972/F003” embodies this thinking. The group had no manifesto, but developed its ideas with a mixture of Marx, Freud, and Mao, as well as the critics Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried. Viallat and some of his colleagues were also military conscripts during the Algerian war for independence. This had a profound effect on the development of their ideas. As new political systems replaced the repressive French colonial system, artists responded by continuing to push at the edges of accepted artistic practices.

In the United States, Lynda Benglis was among the female artists dismantling the expectations of women in a male-dominated art world. Her use of unconventional materials such as glitter and aluminum screen in conjunction with acrylic and gesso for “Epsilon” (1972) subverts standard methods, while the form, which resembles a knotted rope, sits somewhere between sculpture and painting. It takes its name from the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet, perhaps a nod to Benglis’s heritage, but the term also represents, in mathematics, an arbitrarily small quantity. Intentionally or not, this could be an ironic comment on the under-recognition of women artists at the time. 

Though more conventional in format, “Hydrangeas Spring Song” (1976) by Alma Thomas appears almost kinetic. Its dancing shapes, in various blue hues on white, recall punctuation marks, letters, and other symbols. Thomas seems to capture the moment between one song and the next.

Lynda Benglis, “Epsilon” (1972), Acrylic, enamel, glitter, and gesso on plaster, cotton bunting, and aluminum screen, 42 x 29 5/8 x 10 1/4 inches

In contrast, Dorothea Rockburne’s “Robe Series, The Descent” (1976), displayed on the same wall, feels placid. The work (part of a series) takes inspiration from the folds in the clothes of figures in Italian Renaissance paintings. While she uses some traditional materials, like oil and gesso, she rejects the standard rectangular canvas, instead layering canvases to produce sharp angles. 

Throughout her career Rockburne sought ways to move beyond traditional methods of composition. She developed her ideas for Robe Series while studying Renaissance painting in Italy in the early 1970s. This work fuses her interests in mathematical theory with one of the tradition-defining eras in art history. 

Thickly textured white acrylic paint coats John E. Dowell, Jr.’s “To Weave through Time” (1979), a work that seems very much about what lies beneath the surface. In the center, a few partial curls of color push through the top layer. A long, vertical rectangle, the canvas suggests a test sample cut from the infinite swath of time. The dominance of white throughout this painting, marked only by a few instances of color, alludes to a history dominated by whiteness. To weave through time, then, means to navigate a history where Dowell and other Black artists are continually confronted with their own erasure.

Dorothea Rockburne, “Robe Series, The Descent” (1976), gesso, varnish, glue, and oil on linen, as installed, from largest points: 55 1/2 × 36 inches

Jack Whitten’s “Special Checking” (1974), one of the show’s more fascinating works, is an early example of the artist’s “slab” paintings. Laying the canvas on the floor, Whitten would move large slabs of paint across it with squeegees, rakes, Afro combs, and, later, a large metal tool he called “the developer.” In contrast to Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, which allowed the artist more direct control, Whitten’s method opens to a wide range of surprising outcomes. He thought of these works as visual equivalents to the “sheets of sound” composed by free jazz musicians like Ornette Coleman. For Whitten, abstraction could have political significance. The social and political ramifications of the Civil Rights Movement were integral to his work. Through his paintings he paid tribute to Black artists and politicians, such as Jacob Lawrence, Thelonious Monk, and Malcolm X

While this exhibition clearly presents a significant history of painting, it offers merely a snapshot of a compelling time. It’s location in a hallway of the Modern wing, rather than a gallery, somewhat undermines the force of these works. A larger, more context-driven exhibition would better impress upon viewers how non-representational art can reflect social change. Considering the current attention on racial and gender justice, supported by the Movement for Black Lives and #MeToo movement, it seems high time for museums to provide the space and financial support for such an endeavor. Philadelphia would be a good place to start.

Expanded Painting in the 1960s and 1970s continues at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) through Fall 2021.

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Vicky Colombet’s Vision of Endless Change

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the shuttering of many stores and businesses in New York, it is still possible to discover something unexpected that might lead you down a path of reflection you did not plan on traveling when you started the day. This is precisely what happened when I went to see the exhibition Vicky Colombet: From the Floating World, at the Elkon Gallery (October 9, 2020 – April 9, 2021). 

From poetry to music to painting, artists working in different mediums have engaged with the work of other artists. By this, I don’t mean taking someone else’s recognizable image and turning it into their own brands, as Roy Lichtenstein famously did many times in his career. 

Nor am I thinking of Pat Steir’s engagement with Chinese ink painting and the subject of the waterfall, though this body of work and Colombet’s recent paintings both share a preoccupation with dissolution and — more importantly — diverge on the subject of time. 

Rather, I am thinking of an encounter that goes beyond style, as in Jack Spicer’s book of poems After Lorca (1957), which included an introduction purportedly written by the Spanish poet who had been murdered by the state in 1936, or the various works that Jasper Johns has made over the years in dialogue with the work of Edvard Munch.

For the past three years Colombet has been engaged in a visual dialogue with the work of Claude Monet, particularly his well-known paintings, such as “Bras de Seine prés de Giverny, soleil levant” (Arm of the Seine near Giverny, rising sun, 1897) and the foundational work of Impressionism, “Impression, soleil levant” (Impression, Sunrise, 1872), both of which are in the Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. 

Vicky Colombet, “Untitled” (2020), pigment, oil and alkyd on canvas (Ultramarine Blue R4), 36 x 36 inches

I mention this because the exhibition Colombet / Monet: Painting Like the River — the third in the the Unexpected Dialogues series — is currently at Musée Marmottan Monet (October 14, 2020 – May 2, 2021). 

Invited to respond to the work of artists in the Marmottan’s collection, Colombet chose Monet. In an interview with the French literary critic Marianne Alphant included in the Marmottan exhibition catalogue, Colombet stated: 

[…] In Monet you have this extraordinary mixture of simplicity and sophistication. Most painters are sensitive to the passing of time, to the fact that things are ephemeral. They create pictures, images, in order to stop time. Monet isn’t trying to stop it; he is in time, in the wind, with time, with the wind. […]

By titling her New York exhibition From the Floating World, Colombet connects this body of work to the Japanese belief that everything is transient and one must live in the moment, while remaining detached from material needs and desires (Ukiyo). The moment the artist lives in is the act of painting, beginning with the grinding of the pigments.

As the child of a French father and Filipino mother, Colombet spent a lot of time in the Philippines, India, and Southeast Asia. Later, while living in Paris, she studied in the atelier of Henri Dimier (1899-1986). In La part du hazard (The Role of Chance, 1984), a film portrait of Dimier working, director Patrick Bokanowski frequently shows the artist insisting that the goal is to have the paper “be aware of itself.”

Vicky Colombet, “From the Floating World Series #1456” (2020), pigment, oil and alkyd on canvas, 35 13/16 x 36 5/8 inches

In her work, Colombet seems to have joined Dimier’s insistence on revealing the nature of one’s materials to the Buddhist belief that the world is that which disintegrates (lujjati ti loko).

None of this occurred to me when I first saw Colombet’s paintings on my computer screen, as their surfaces appeared topographical and rough-edged. I imagined that I was looking at materially heavy paintings, akin in that regard to the work of Milton Resnick. That impression was quickly corrected when I saw the paintings in person, which are absolutely smooth, like glass. That contradiction between sight and corporeality was the first thing I noticed. Slowly, other nuances and variances made themselves apparent.

These paintings — and this is perhaps true of all good and great paintings — are apprehended at different tempos, from the immediate impression to a longer period of scrutiny to, finally, the time when one reflects upon what has been seen.

Colombet’s paintings reminded me that there are artists who use paint to achieve something and artists who paint. She belongs to the latter group. Her paintings are clearly the result of a process that is connected to her contemplation of the world and the relationship between materiality and transience. 

The other thing that struck me, particularly while looking at two square paintings, “Sunrise after Monet #1457” and “Sunset Series #1451” (both 2020), is that the real looking begins after we see the similarities between the work of Colombet and Monet, which includes comparable palettes and a preoccupation with the elemental world of water and light. Once the connection has been made, we must begin seeing the differences, of which there are many. 

Vicky Colombet, “Rising Sun After Monet #1459” (2020), pigment, oil and alkyd on canvas, 38 x 34 inches

While the horizontally striated, blue surfaces of “Sunrise after Monet #1457” and “Sunset Series #1451” evoke moving water, especially from a distance, the gaps between the irregular bands of paint are marked by particles of pigment, which become more apparent when seen up close. 

The paintings have two vantage points; we should see them from a distance and then pore over their surfaces. Not only are the surfaces absolutely flat, but they show no evidence of brushwork or the artist’s hand. While the striations orient our viewing, I learned from Colombet that the paintings were done on a flat surface. 

The recognition that something solid is changing and disintegrating seems, to me, to be the subject of these paintings. As much as they evoke moving water and light on their rippling surfaces — states of flux — they are also abstract paintings that have little to do with any of the art movements and stylistic tendencies that have developed in abstraction since the rise of Abstract Expressionism.  

The painting are not gestural, geometric, or stained. Everything is the result of a highly individualized process, which suppresses one component associated with authorship, the artist’s hand. In fact, the hand seems to have been completely removed from these paintings, which positions them on the opposite end of spectrum from Monet’s work, where the hand and touch are always present. The paint has been applied to a flat surface that is sanded down to achieve absolute smoothness. As the paint dries, it adheres to the surface in different ways, ranging from a band of color to a trail of dust-like particles. 

Vicky Colombet, “From the Floating World Series #1446” (2020), pigment, oil and alkyd on canvas, 35 13/16 x 36 5/8 inches

“From the Floating World Series #1446” (2020) recalls hoarfrost and cracking sheets of ice. As with many of the exhibition’s paintings, the palette of blues and greens quickens the viewer’s connection to water and ice, to an unstable world in which impermanence and change are the constant conditions.  

What deepens Colombet’s vision is the way the materials manifest themselves in her work. In the paths of particles strewn across her surfaces, one sees palpable evidence of mutability and disintegration. In this regard, each painting displays its own vulnerability and precariousness in an understated way. Rather than trying to stop time, Colombet’s work embraces time’s unavoidable pull toward chaos. 

I am struck by the fact that Colombet’s paintings resemble no one else’s and that they do not adhere to the illusion that time can be stopped and permanence achieved. Rather, she invites us to be open to the chaos, fluidity, and dissolution we encounter in her work. Looking becomes a contemplation of mortality without regard for the individual. What we see is the beauty of the world’s indifference to our existence. 

Vicky Colombet: From the Floating World continues at the Elkon Gallery (18 East 81st Street, Manhattan) through April 9.

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Thomas Gainsborough’s Quietly Passionate Portrait

The English portraitist Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) took no small pleasure in being known as “the likeness man.” Rather he than Sir Thomas Reynolds, his principle adversary. The fashionable flocked to him like pigeons to bread crumbs in St. Mark’s Square. He also, being human, grew sick of being forever “in harness” more appropriate to a horse, as he once put it, somewhat wearily. At least portraits sold, ho hum.

Given this fact, it is surprising and intriguing that, in spite of these professional demands upon his time, he also chose to paint portraits of his own family with regularity. He made more than 50 likenesses of them in all, many of which were never quite finished. Even the family dogs came in for attention. Some of the best known of these portraits show off his two daughters (there are six of these works), painted both when they were innocently young (once, and most delightfully, hand in hand, in the company of an imaginary butterfly that outpaces them), and then, much later, as a winning brace of fashionable and willowy belles.

Among the finest of his intimate portraits is of his wife, Margaret, around the age of 50. It may have been painted for her birthday. He tended to paint her on their wedding anniversary — such was the custom in her family. Margaret was a woman who knew her own worth. Gainsborough himself could be feckless. 

Here, the waves seem relatively becalmed, though this could easily be a calm before the next storm, we may feel. He shows her full-face, as if standing directly in front of us, blocking the view of everything but herself. Sometimes portraits contain various appurtenances indicative of social status or mortality — skull, map, plinth, book, antique column. Not so here. Here there is nothing but Margaret’s mature womanhood. And what an intimidatingly impressive presence she is! 

Margaret has a keen-eyed air of watchfulness, self-possession, and even indomitability about her. Her face looks so vividly alive and present in front of us that we might feel we are almost participating in the challenging relationship that she and the painter may have occasionally had. And yet there is also more than a hint of tenderness in her level gaze. She looks sumptuously bedizened, and this is entirely as it should be because, though illegitimate, she was the daughter of a duke and brought money to the marriage. 

By this pinnacle in his career, Gainsborough was living in Schomberg House on Pall Mall, at the very center of the fashionable fizz of London, and Margaret was with him there, sharing that pinnacle. He made six portraits of her during their time in London. 

Her black mantilla is held back from her face to reveal a fine, quite stiff sculpting of rising, powdery gray hair. Her hands — and especially the fingers — have a slenderness and even a certain sensual allure about them. Perhaps there is a touch of flattery in this. The way that the questing red tip of the first finger of her right hand negotiates its way up beneath the edge of the mantilla reminds us that flesh partially concealed is often more winning to the eye, more full of a promise yet to be revealed, than flesh wholly exposed. There is perhaps a small gesture of amorous beckoning in that finger, which is — given that it is also choosing to hide itself away, muffled now — slightly under wraps… 

The form of the black mantilla itself, and especially the part of it that we see cascading down the left-hand side of her body, looks boisterous, a little like silken black waves on the fold-and-turn. 

All this presenting of mixed messages — the serenely watchful stillness of the attentive gaze set somewhat in opposition to the questing finger and the boisterous presence of that upper body’s mantilla-wrap — lends a pleasing tension to the whole. A frisson of passion withheld — or sweetly anticipated perhaps. She, with her bow at the neck, is proposing herself as a wonderful gift of womanhood. Or is that his take? 

This essay is one of an occasional series, Great Works, devoted to single works of art. 

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A Film That Tests Assumptions About Race, Rape, and Power

A yellow dress, a man’s hand, a turquoise pendant dangling from a woman’s weary neck. Her long braids swing over a glass of water held between her thighs, about to spill. Red light suffuses the silent room. The man sits next to her on the edge of a bed, kissing her forehead and mouth.

The first few shots of Test Pattern, written and directed by Shatara Michelle Ford, are as blurry in context as in visual style. The woman is Black, the man is white, and it’s not clear what we are witnessing. Is the man consoling her? Making amends? Or is this something far more sinister? Ford purposefully puts us in a position of uneasy, if curious, spectatorship.

A few scenes later we meet Renesha (Brittany S. Hall) jamming with her girlfriends at a lively brewpub. She is the same woman we saw before, in a yellow halter and with straight, side-parted hair. A lanky hipster in a hemp necklace (Will Brill) joins her on the dance floor and later approaches her and her friends as they toast to another round on the terrace. “Hi, I’m Evan,” he says, hands fumbling in his pockets. “I was wondering — I know this is weird, sorry — if I could have your phone number ….”  “Yeah,” Renesha shrugs and smiles, bashfully typing in her digits. The two seem an unlikely pair, but the chemistry is obvious. Is this the post-racial meet-cute for the ages — where a skinny white guy in a Henley shirt can hit it off with a luminous Black woman, and her diverse girl squad can tipsily root them on? Where, a matter of days later, the pair can bond over posh pan-Asian cuisine, and cuddle after hot sex on the proverbial third date?

Brittany S. Hall and Will Brill in Test Pattern

Not quite, we’ll come to find out. Ford chronicles Evan and Renesha’s courtship and coupledom as a means of probing larger power asymmetries that surpass the scope of individual race, class, and gender identity. “I don’t know what I’m talking about,” Renesha demurs over dinner, back-peddling from her critique of her corporate employer. “You totally know what you’re talking about,” Evan responds. “I feel like you, like, always know what you’re talking about.” She, the hyper-achiever, becomes smitten with her beta suitor, a tattoo artist who “makes enough” and clearly lacks her LinkedIn credentials. When he stops by her place for the first time — a spotless loft with sweeping views — they are both palpably excited and nervous making their way to her bedroom, an endearing mess of clothes and accessories. As he slowly undresses her, Evan gushes, “That’s neat,” at the tat on her oblique. In the next, post-coital, shot they stare into each other’s eyes. “You’re very loud, and I like that,” Evan shares with mild drawl. “You’re a freak!” laughs Renesha, to which he responds, “Yep ….”

Amid an indie film scene where every other movie seems to take place in Park Slope or Silver Lake, the Austin setting feels refreshing, as does the off-the-cuff, organic cadence of the couple’s early banter. We don’t see a lot of biracial relationships, let alone sex scenes, onscreen in this country — and when we do, it’s usually a pretty white woman with a muscular Black man. It’s thanks to both the direction and acting that Evan and Renesha seem at all plausible, their connection transcending textbook compatibility. The two shack up in a hip suburb, in a house with a sun-drenched kitchen and verdant lawn; Renesha’s world of wrap-dresses and minimalism merges with Evan’s shabby chic aesthetics. He’s the kind of guy who makes a mean French press while listening to NPR in a floral apron, who takes a Polaroid of his “boss lady” before her first day at a new (non-corporate) job. Renesha nicknames him “Snoopy.” It looks like an ad for a dating app. 

If this part of the film feels a bit flat, it’s a foil to what follows. Ford builds this facade of post-racial Millennial bliss strategically to dismantle it in the second and third acts. When Renesha joins an old friend, Amber (Gail Bean), for a “girl’s night,” two men buy them round after round of drinks and enjoin them to dance. Renesha wants to go home, but her pal needs a wing woman, one who will gamely take the gummies offered even though she “doesn’t like weed.” The details of the scene become muddled as Renesha grows intoxicated. Was she roofied? Did she mix too much weed and bubbly? And what does it mean to even ask these questions? When, in the next scene, Renesha’s stumbling barefoot in a hotel hallway, trying to find her friend, we know she has been preyed upon. When she faces Evan the next morning at Amber’s place, her memory is fuzzy, and she just wants to go to sleep. “I woke up in some guy’s bed,” she says, to which he responds. “I think we should go to the hospital.”

Brittany S. Hall and Drew Fuller in Test Pattern

The tagline for Test Pattern is the fairly shopworn slogan “Everything is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” But to the film’s credit it actually avoids such generalizations; Evan and Renesha enjoy what seems a satisfying, respectful sex life. Her assault is less a suggestion that all sex is coercive than a backdrop for larger systems of entitlement explored in the rest of the narrative. Evan insists that Renesha obtain a rape kit, and she is too tired to readily object. Their pursuit takes them on a wild-goose chase, Renesha sluggishly toting a plastic cup of pee from one Austin clinic to another. 

Ford funded Test Pattern on a lean budget, and its strength is a testament to both their skill as a director and the acting chops of both leads, especially Hall. “White men and folks of privilege … are given much more leeway to make a movie in four days in a single room and all this lo-fi stuff,” the director told Filmmaker magazine. “But I know that people scrutinize over women and non-white filmmakers a bit harder and I didn’t want to get trapped into doing something without all of the resources I needed.” Ford clearly devoted much of their funds to realistically depicting the byzantine healthcare procedures in America — specifically the humiliating officiousness endured by women who seek to report a rape.

The film’s most brilliant, and brutally ironic, scene takes place in the waiting room of the Rogers Hill Medical Center, as Tchaikovsky’s score to the Nutcracker’s “Waltz of the Flowers” drowns out all other sound. Renesha fills out the forms with her left hand, the cup of urine clutched in her right. She and Evan sit down and stare in opposite directions; white placards behind them declare “Blue Cross” and “Blue Shield,” empty gestures toward valor and protection. 

Brittany S. Hall in Test Pattern

In the course an afternoon, Evan transforms from sensitive boyfriend to recalcitrant white dude — his paternalism shifting from sweet, if a bit cloying, to righteously indignant, to downright dismissive of Renesha’s desires. To what extent is his vigilantism even about her at the end? Are the rape kit, cops, and angry pleas just a way to restore his fragile ego?

Test Pattern doesn’t directly answer these questions. It offers instead, via clever framing and graphic matches between Evan and Renesha’s assailant, a more subtle indictment of whiteness and institutional power. By the end of the film, the outline of Texas inked on Evan’s skinny bicep doesn’t look so innocent anymore, nor does his act of tattooing Renesha’s entire left arm seem a sign of romantic devotion. For viewers seeking an “issues” film that didactically states who’s bad or good, this movie isn’t for you. But for those interested in going beyond the black and white, Ford’s debut proves a cogent, purposefully unsettling, viewing experience.

Test Pattern is available to stream through Kino Lorber Marquee.

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Mario Schifano’s Greatness

In September 2020, I received Words & Drawings by Frank O’Hara (1926-1966) and the Italian artist Mario Schifano (1934-1998) in the mail. I had ordered this book from Italy because it documented a largely forgotten collaboration, resulting in 17 poem-drawings that the two men had made while Schifano was living briefly in New York (1963-64). During this time he had a studio at 791 Broadway, which he had gotten through Elaine de Kooning. O’Hara had moved into the building earlier, in 1963.

As the work was in a private collection in Italy, I figured my only chance to get a sense of the collaboration was to obtain this book. I did not realize that Words & Drawings contained far more — it is 368 pages long, and includes texts by Anita Pallenberg, Raphael Rubinstein, Furio Colombo, Paolo Buggiani, and Achille Bonito Oliva, as well as a poem by Gerard Malanga and many photographs that Schifano took while he was in New York, along with reproductions of the entire collaboration. 

The reminiscences by Pallenberg, Colombo, and Buggiani add substantially to the reader’s understanding of who Schifano met, what he did, and what he made while he was in New York from December 1963 to July 1964.

Mario Schifano, “N. 3” (1960), enamel on paper on canvas, 23 5/8 x 27 1/2 inches, Private Collection (© Archivio Mario Schifano © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome)

The one problem with the book is Rubinstein’s essay. For each of the collaborations, he writes a descriptive analysis. In the portfolio’s sixth work, including the title page, he goes off the rails. This is Rubinstein’s statement:

Another strategy for obscuring writing is employed in the mirrored word just above the smudged “Homage to Jasper Johns”: “Liar.” Who, we ask, is the liar? Could it be Johns himself? It is impossible not to notice the word “liar” has been made with stenciled letters, a technique that Johns was closely identified with at the time.

Later, Rubinstein tells us:

In a recent communication to me, O’Hara’s close friend Bill Berkson wrote: “It’s unlikely that Frank would think ‘liar’ in regard to Johns.” I agree.

Rubinstein doesn’t notice that the mirrored word “Liar” appears above what O’Hara has written, like a title. A ruled line is drawn vertically between the words, as well as horizontally beneath them. The reversed “Liar” on the left is fainter than the correctly facing letters on the right.

The inclusion and placement of the stenciled words suggests that Schifano made them first, that this was the starting point for the collaboration, something Rubinstein either does not recognize or deliberately ignores. This is the only work in the portfolio with a formal title, which Rubinstein also apparently fails to realize. 

Mario Schifano, New York, 1963 (© Archivio Mario Schifano)

More importantly and tellingly, Rubinstein does not notice that Schifano’s choice of the word was inspired by Johns’s “Liar” (1961), which was included in a 10-year survey at the Jewish Museum (February – April 1964), curated by Alan Solomon. I cannot help but feel that Rubinstein’s analysis was motivated by his dislike of Johns’s work, with which he doesn’t seem remotely familiar.

Along with Words & Drawings, the exhibition Facing America: Mario Schifano 1960–65 at the Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA) includes more than two dozen works by Schifano, and a handful of works by Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jim Dine — whom Schifano met while he was in New York. To say the exhibition was an eye opener hardly does it justice. 

Schifano’s monochrome paintings are done in enamel on paper affixed to canvas. In these paintings (dated 1960–62), it is clear that, unlike his countryman Piero Manzoni, born one year earlier, or Yves Klein, whose work he might have seen in Milan, where it was first exhibited in 1960, Schifano was not interested in rejecting the past, being ironic, or searching for transcendence. Rather, he was interested in connecting art to everyday life. 

In “N. 3” (1960), Schifano coats sheets of paper in a glossy yellow enamel, which he collages to a three-dimensional stretcher, whose four corners extend beyond the painting’s perimeter, evoking a stiff pillow. The title is stenciled twice in black in the middle of the yellow field, with the left one correctly aligned and the right one upside down and backwards. This means the painting can be turned around, that it has no proper top or bottom.

Mario Schifano, “A de Chirico” (1962), enamel on paper on canvas, 66 7/8 x 59 inches, the Sonnabend Collection and Antonio Homem (© Archivio Mario Schifano © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome)

By collaging painted sheets of paper to the canvas’s surface, Schifano’s paintings share something with Mimmo Rotella’s décollage or torn-poster paintings. As “N. 3” and “Koka Kola” (1962) make evident, Schifano was interested in signage, graphics, and consumer products. He shares this with Rauschenberg and Johns, and anticipates it in the work of Andy Warhol.  

His gray-blue monochromatic homage “A de Chirico” (1962), as well as “Grande particolare di propaganda” (“Great Propaganda Detail,” 1962), “Leonardo (1963), and “En plein air” (1963), provide a concentrated glimpse of Schifano’s considerable achievement, before the age of 30, as a monochromatic painter and as an artist attuned to pop culture. 

By painting an abstract homage to Giorgio de Chirico and a linear portrait of Leonardo da Vinci, Schifano announced that he did not align himself with the Futurists, the first 20th-century avant-garde movement in Italy, which rejected the past in favor of speeding cars and warfare, or those who aligned themselves with that strain of thinking. By working abstractly, figuratively, and with graphic signs, all at the same time, he was creating art in a very different vein. 

In “Grande particolare di propaganda,” Schifano isolates a portion of the “a” and “c” of Coca Cola’s white letters on a red ground, which is very different than Warhol’s silkscreened appropriation in “Green Coca Cola Bottles” (1962). 

Mario Schifano, “Grande particolare di propaganda” (1962), enamel on paper on canvas, 74 3/8 x 59 inches, Private Collection (© Archivio Mario Schifano © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome)

Warhol seems to be celebrating capitalism’s concealment of class division when, in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again (1975), he wrote: “You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too.” By rendering part of the Coca Cola logo and calling it “great propaganda,” Schifano is proposing the opposite, that it is another part of a publicity machine spreading falsities. 

By conveying his view that Coca Cola is a small part of a larger indoctrination of Italians into the American belief system, Schifano expresses his misgivings about the Americanization taking place in postwar Italy. This must have been further complicated by Italy’s loss in World War II, as an Axis power, along with Germany.

In Words & Drawings, Schifano and O’Hara reference the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as well as the legacy of Harry S. Truman and the atom bomb, so I don’t think my suggestion of a politically and socially critical component to the paintings is far-fetched. It is also in their collaboration that both men refer to Futurism, which was linked with fascism and regarded by many art historians as a tainted movement. 

Installation view of works on cardboard by Robert Rauschenberg (photo by Dario Lasagni, © 2021 Dario Lasagni)

Schifano’s love of movies and movement  — which seems to have intensified during his time in New York — may have also sparked his interest in the Italian futurist Giacomo Balla, who was drawn to the whimsical rather than war and violence.  

The image in “En plein air” is derived from an Italian advertisement for the German-made Volkswagen, which had been adapted for families. The green image occupies the upper two thirds of the rectangle, with the title, “En plein air” stenciled just beneath it, on the left side. Schifano most likely used a slide projector to transcribe the image onto the sheets of paper. The car and family have been removed and replaced by a geometric shape that vaguely resembles a car.

Schifano’s painting can be seen as a reflection on the kind of mediated experience of nature you can have if you own a car. At the same time, I wonder if his choice of a Volkswagen might be a commentary on the bond between Germany and Italy during World War II. He was the citizen of a defeated nation. In this regard, I think Schifano is closer to a later generation of German artists, including Sigmar Polke and Gerhardt Richter, than to Americans, such as Warhol and Larry Rivers.

This exhibition is full of works that make me hungry to see more. 

A vitrine of seven untitled works done in gouache, ink, and paper collage on cardboard (all c. 1952) by Robert Rauschenberg sent my mind spinning. 

Mario Schifano, “En plein air” (1963), enamel on paper on canvas, 63 x 63 inches, Private Collection, Monaco (© Archivio Mario Schifano © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome)

Were these done while Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly were in Africa? Are they an abstract compliment to the North African collages and “scatole personali” that Rauschnberg made in 1952, which I have written about? Were they done after he visited Alberto Burri’s studio in Rome? Or are they part of the “black paintings” that he made using newspaper collage in 1951–53? Did any changes in his thinking take place while he was making these works?

The paintings that Schifano produced in the years covered by this exhibition, plus one done in cement from 1959, reveal an adventurous, restless, confident, open, tough-minded artist working with figuration, signs, and abstraction. He was inspired, rather than influenced, by his encounters with other art. His use of different materials, including the unlikely combination of enamel and paper, makes him a unique postwar Italian artist who should be far better known than he is, certainly in America. He is a major figure just beginning to get his due. 

Facing America: Mario Schifano 1960–65 continues at the Center for Italian Modern Art (421 Broome Street, 4th floor, Manhattan) through June 5.

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Required Reading

The Ghazni marbles are not the only artifacts from the Afghan government collection that have turned up abroad; Buddhist items from Afghanistan are also highly sought after. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, there is a room dedicated to the art of Gandhara, the ancient region that straddled present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. One bust is particularly striking, characteristic of Gandhara’s unique blend of Classical and Buddhist influences: a terra-cotta Buddha depicted as a Grecian-looking youth, his hair a mass of finely worked curls. Most unusual, his eyes are made of garnet stones; an amber light shifts in their depths. “Afghanistan, probably Hadda,” reads the inscription. On the Met’s website, you can find a little more information on its provenance: The statue was purchased by the museum in 1986, from the London dealer Spink & Son. (The auction house, which has since changed ownership and no longer deals in ancient art, said it had no records of the object, but no reason to believe that the previous owners hadn’t complied with the law.)

The blog started, as so many anonymous online projects do, as vengeful public shaming masquerading as social criticism. I was fine-tuning my moral compass and coming into my own as a feminist. So when I noticed classmates making sexist jokes on Facebook, including some about me, I started taking screenshots to post on a Tumblr called Calling Out Sexists. My policy was that I would take down a post only if its author publicly apologized.

A group of students brought the blog to the attention of our school’s administrators, who threatened to take legal action if I continued to write about them. Meanwhile, other Tumblr users had begun submitting screenshots featuring statements from minor celebrities. With graduation hanging in the balance, I shifted my focus away from my peers and toward public figures. I rebranded. Money and fame had protected them since time immemorial. What harm could my little blog do?

The influence Musk is having on a generation of people could not be more different. Musk has used the medium of dreaming and exploration to wrap up a package of entitlement, greed, and ego. He has no longing for scientific discovery, no desire to understand what makes Earth so different from Mars, how we all fit together and relate. Musk is no explorer; he is a flag planter. He seems to have missed one of the other lines from Pale Blue Dot: “There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”

Sagan did believe in sending humans to Mars to first explore and eventually live there, to ensure humanity’s very long-term survival, but he also said this: “What shall we do with Mars? There are so many examples of human misuse of the Earth that even phrasing the question chills me. If there is life on Mars, I believe we should do nothing with Mars. Mars then belongs to the Martians, even if [they] are only microbes.”

  • Lorraine O’Grady is having a moment (and a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum) and you can read a profile of her in New York Magazine by Jillian Steinhauer:

Within a few years, she started hanging out at Just Above Midtown, a nonprofit gallery devoted to avant-garde African American art that Linda Goode Bryant had opened in 1974. O’Grady found her way in by volunteering there, which she now calls a “bougie thing to do — ‘Oh, I’ll lick stamps! I’ll lick envelopes if you want!’ ” She got to know Black artists for the first time in her life, people like David Hammons, Senga Nengudi, Maren Hassinger, and Dawoud Bey. It was a community of support and possibility. “The condition of my life until I came to New York and joined Just Above Midtown was that no matter where I went, I was always going to be the only Black person in the room,” O’Grady said.

Still, even among the JAM artists, she didn’t feel entirely seen; her life experience wasn’t considered a “typical” Black American narrative. Her family didn’t come from the South and hadn’t experienced American slavery; she’d grown up more class than race conscious. O’Grady has said that before she entered the art world, she considered herself “post-Black.” Coming face-to-face with racial discrimination, she embraced her Blackness — but she still identified, and continues to, as a Caribbean American, rather than as African American. “It was difficult, even in the New York art world, to mention a connection to the Caribbean without feeling as if I were somehow claiming superiority,” she told an interviewer for her Brooklyn Museum catalogue. “But what if those are the problems you are dealing with?”

But let’s also look at Hollywood math, and how Hollywood makes movies. I remember one time, one executive, the first weekend we met was the weekend of “BlacKkKlansman” ’s opening, and he told us that it was going to bomb, and we told him it was gonna be a success. We saw the way people were talking about it, the culture, everything. And he was, like, “We crunched the numbers, and it’s gonna bomb.” And you and I both know that movie was a tremendous success. Later, when he lowballed us, I reminded him that he predicted that “BlacKkKlansman” was going to bomb because of the algorithm. And that he was using the same algorithm to determine that our movie was not going to make enough money at the box office to give us the money requested. That proved to me that even the math in Hollywood is racist.

Between the 1820s and 1880s, according to Aydin, something changed. A new ‘consciousness of racial and geopolitical unity and difference’ began to challenge the imperial consensus. Before the 1800s, he suggests, it would have been natural for a French colonial official to regard Muslim subjects within the French Empire as importantly different from the Muslim subjects of the Ottoman Empire: the fact that they shared a faith wouldn’t have led him to assume they belonged to a single racial group or political community. But during the second half of the 19th century, a new political order began to obscure the differences between Muslims from as far apart as Montenegro and Malaysia, India and Egypt, and the idea of a unified global Islam started to coalesce. In the first half of the century, ‘there were no hegemonic and monolithic narratives of Islam versus the West’; by the 1880s, they were everywhere.

Using donated funds, the industrial city on the edge of the Bay Area tech economy launched a small demonstration program, sending payments of $500 a month to 125 randomly selected individuals living in neighborhoods with average incomes lower than the city median of $46,000 a year. The recipients were allowed to spend the money however they saw fit, and they were not obligated to complete any drug tests, interviews, means or asset tests, or work requirements. They just got the money, no strings attached.  

…  An exclusive new analysis of data from the demonstration project shows that a lack of resources is its own miserable trap. The best way to get people out of poverty is just to get them out of poverty; the best way to offer families more resources is just to offer them more resources.

  • A fascinating report from Smith College (Northampton, MA) and how the intersection of race, class, and power created a system that victimized a lot of people and left some people untouched:

Less attention was paid three months later when a law firm hired by Smith College to investigate the episode found no persuasive evidence of bias. Ms. Kanoute was determined to have eaten in a deserted dorm that had been closed for the summer; the janitor had been encouraged to notify security if he saw unauthorized people there. The officer, like all campus police, was unarmed.

Smith College officials emphasized “reconciliation and healing” after the incident. In the months to come they announced a raft of anti-bias training for all staff, a revamped and more sensitive campus police force and the creation of dormitories — as demanded by Ms. Kanoute and her A.C.L.U. lawyer — set aside for Black students and other students of color.

But they did not offer any public apology or amends to the workers whose lives were gravely disrupted by the student’s accusation.

The study, posted in February as an online preprint item on the Social Science Research Network, is the first of its kind to measure a possible correlation between BLM and police homicide numbers. It found that municipalities where BLM protests have been held experienced as much as a 20 percent decrease in killings by police, resulting in an estimated 300 fewer deaths nationwide in 2014–2019. The occurrence of local protests increased the likelihood of police departments adopting body-worn cameras and community-policing initiatives, the study also found. Many cities with larger and more frequent BLM protests experienced greater declines in police homicides.

… The difference was significant in this study: it found police killings fell by 16.8 percent on average in municipalities that had BLM protests, compared with those that did not. When Campbell compared municipalities that already had similar trends in police homicides before BLM began, the estimate rose to 21.1 percent. The specific mechanisms that might be involved in such a decline remain unclear. BLM protests may have this effect because they push police departments to adopt reforms such as body cams or community policing, as the study found. Another reason may be that the protests affect police morale, causing officers to adopt a less aggressive patrolling posture that reduces police-civilian interactions in general. And not all cities experienced declines amid the protests. Police homicides increased in Minneapolis, Portland, San Francisco and St. Louis during the five-year period Campbell studied.

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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Art That Goes With the Floe

In his essay accompanying apexart’s online exhibition, Goodbye, World, curator Raimar Stange wonders, “What options do the visual arts have in the face of the climate catastrophe?” He responds with several platitudes about art’s capacity to raise consciousness, but the exhibition’s valedictory conceit proposes a more original, if less comforting, answer. Stange and his co-curator, Andreas Templin, have gathered 10 artworks, by 10 artists, and installed them on an ice floe in arctic Sweden, where the works will remain until the floe melts and they sink into the ocean with it.

While this conceit’s spirit of withdrawal is promising in ways I’ll discuss, the conceit as realized is ineffectual and melodramatic. Similar to Olafur Eliasson’s Ice Watch installations — grandiose arrangements of melting iceberg chunks intended to prick our species’ climate conscience but that instead evinced climate fatalism — Goodbye, World fixates on the idle symbolism of its farewell gestures. Both place too much faith in the efficacy of artistic consciousness raising, while at the same time reducing consciousness raising to an exercise in confronting audiences with symbols of what they already know.

Nika Fontaine, “Bread of Shame” (2020), bread sculpture, active charcoal, wine, Weihrauch incense, dimensions variable

Take, for example, Nika Fontaine’s Bread of Shame (2020), which embeds tragi-comic looking skull sculptures, fabricated out of bread, in a charcoal-dusted snow mound. In video footage of a ritual performed during the installation, Templin reads a fire-and-brimstone artist-authored invocation — “I welcome [the earth’s] wrath as an act of self-care and preservation. One more swing of the eternal pendulum of life and death” — then pours wine over the blackened, skull-studded mound. Jonathan Monk’s “The Tragic Tale Of” (2020) is less theatrical but equally flat-footed. On a tombstone-shaped wooden board, the artist has spray-painted the stencilled words “OCEAN WAVE,” in reference to the eponymous sailboat artist Bas Jan Ader rode on his ill-fated final voyage in 1975.

The show’s more successful symbols have greater nuance. The mannered formality of the place setting in Olaf Nicolai’s “Picknick, égoiste” (2020), for instance, appears knowingly absurd given the desolate arctic environs. Stefanie von Schroeter’s multi-color painted animal bone, “Großer Knochen (animal bone)” (2012), is a compelling blend of the primal and the artificial. Eliana Otta’s wraith-like “Vicarious fragile pilgrims” (2020) — three white paper streamers hanging from a rectangular gateway made out of tree branches — alludes to the annual Peruvian Qoyllur R’iti, or “bright white snow,” pilgrimage. Otta’s makeshift structure, a portal to nowhere, loosely recalls the form of the draped orange gates that comprised Christo’s and Jeanne-Claude’s notorious 2005 The Gates, minus the latter’s sturdiness and self-assured pomp.

Olaf Nicolai, “Picknick, égoiste” (2020), dishes, flatware, basket, dimensions variable

But it’s the exhibition’s farewell premise, more so than the intricacies of any particular artwork, that raises the most interesting questions. The decision to install an art exhibition on an ice floe is an act of withdrawal on several different levels: geographical, commercial, ontological. As a one-off symbolic gesture, such withdrawal is mildly clever and mostly obvious. As an eco-minded ethos, however, it has considerable potential.

What might it look like for artists and curators to pull back from capitalist expectations of production on environmentalist grounds? What artistic possibilities exist for eco-minded withdrawal that aren’t fatalistic? What forms — aesthetic, interpersonal, institutional — could make such withdrawal viable as an ongoing practice rather than an isolated gesture? What would be a meaningful yet realistic scope for such practices? Admittedly, these are challenging, often counterintuitive questions, whose potential answers can conflict with artists’ and curators’ basic need to earn a living. But if your artistic response to the climate crisis is going to be impractical anyway — and it doesn’t get much less practical than installing an art exhibition on an arctic ice floe — half-measures make little sense.

Templin intuits as much in the conclusion to his own curatorial essay. To make the case for “radical hope,” Templin quotes gadfly philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s answer to an interviewer’s question about hope in the post-covid world. “One can hope,” Žižek contends, “but in a paradoxical way! I advocate a courage of hopelessness. If we want to hope, then we should accept that our old life is over. We should invent a new normal.” That sense of necessary invention, that search for alternatives to extant, failing structures, is precisely what’s missing from Goodbye, World.

Indeed, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has hastened the sense that new artistic normals might be more possible than once thought. The market-minded Artnet News has this winter been publishing a steady stream of articles focused on the environmentalist structural changes — some voluntary, others forced — adopted by art industry stakeholders during the pandemic. Galleries are rethinking how and why they transport artworks, attend art fairs, and implement programming in both virtual and brick-and-mortar spaces. Institutions are grappling with similar questions, as well as the conservation implications of increasingly common extreme weather events, such as museums’ loss of heat during Texas’ recent deep freeze.

Individual eco-artists may not always have their hands on the levers of institutional power but they can draw on precedents to exercise their own fugitive agency. From Tehching Hsieh’s classic No Art Piece (1985-86) to American Artist’s more recent A Refusal (2015-16), artists have experimented with Thoreauvian strategies of principled withdrawal. Cultural traditions that emerge from what scholar Gerald Vizenor calls “survivance” (survival and resistance) of catastrophe — indigenous American, African diasporic, and Jewish diasporic, among others — can also offer promising templates, as can philosophical paradigms such as recent queer theoretical demurrals against what scholar Lee Edelman pejoratively calls “reproductive futurism.” What these varied practices and beliefs share, vital to anybody in the arts concerned with climate change, is a commitment to imagining what world might come after the present one.

Goodbye, World, curated by Andreas Templin and Raimar Stange, continues online at apexart until March 13th.

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Nazi-looted Watercolor by Egon Schiele, Given to His Dentist as Payment, Will Be Returned to Heirs

Since 2005, when Germany’s advisory commission on Nazi-looted art made its first determination regarding the restitution of looted cultural property, it has issued between zero and two recommendations each year. The commission recently picked up the pace, issuing two recommendations in February alone. On February 2, the advisory panel concluded that a painting by Erich Heckel in the collection of the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe should be restituted to the heirs of Jewish journalist Max Fischer. Six days later, the panel recommended that a watercolor by Egon Schiele in the collection of Museum Ludwig, Cologne, be restituted to the heirs of Jewish dentist Dr. Heinrich Rieger, who accepted artworks as payment.

Schiele’s delicate 1917 watercolor “Crouching Female Nude” was donated to the city of Cologne in 1966 and has been in the collection of the Museum Ludwig since 1976 when it was transferred from the Wallraf-Richartz Museum. The work previously belonged to Dr. Heinrich Rieger, a Viennese art collector and dentist who accepted art as payment for dental work. Rieger amassed some 800 contemporary artworks, with pieces by Schiele, a patient, forming his collection’s core.

When Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Rieger was banned from practicing dentistry, and he and his wife Berta were persecuted. In letters to their son Robert, who fled for New York, Berta wrote of forced sales of their possessions, including art; Aryanization also contributed to the loss of their art collection. In 1942, the pair was deported to the Czech concentration camp Theresienstadt, where Heinrich was murdered. Berta was killed at Auschwitz, where she was transferred in 1944.

As with Heckel’s “Siblings,” sections of the provenance of Schiele’s “Crouching Female Nude” remain murky despite extensive archival research; in fact, the commission even gave the city of Cologne three extra months to conduct further research. Walter Geyerhahn, the son of a Jewish merchant, sold the watercolor to an art dealer in 1965, leading to its purchase for the Wallraf-Richartz Museum the next year. However, it is unclear how Geyerhahn acquired the work.

Though the city of Cologne argued that Rieger might have sold the work before the 1938 annexation, there was no evidence to support this hypothesis. In its decision, the panel flagged that it was rare for Rieger to dispense with works by Schiele prior to 1938 (when the collector was operating under duress); Cologne would need to substantiate its claims. Museum Ludwig director Yilmaz Dziewior and Cologne’s head of culture Susanne Laugwitz-Aulbach both expressed support for the recommendation to return the work to Rieger’s heirs. A plan for the restitution will be decided upon at a city council meeting on March 23.

Erich Heckel’s oil painting “Siblings” (1913), the other subject of the commission’s February recommendations, depicts the Die Brücke artist’s frequent model and future wife, the dancer Sidi Riha, with her younger brother. “Siblings” entered the collection of the Kunsthalle Karlsruhe in 1967, loaned and then donated by Heckel himself. Before coming back into the artist’s possession, the painting belonged to Max Fischer, a Berlin-based correspondent with a doctorate in history.

In 1926, Fischer inherited the painting from his parents Ludwig and Rosy Fischer, prominent art collectors in Frankfurt who built one of the foremost private collections of German Expressionist art between 1905 and 1925. Following the institution of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws in 1935, Fischer fled Germany, leaving behind his possessions, including his art collection, which was ultimately misappropriated by the Nazis. Max Fischer died without children in 1954. His younger brother Ernst escaped to the United States in 1934 with the other half of their parents’ collection intact.

Heckel seems to have come into possession of the painting sometime between 1934 and 1944, under unknown circumstances. The state of Baden-Württemberg, which owns the Kunsthalle, suggested that Heckel may have legitimately purchased the work from Fischer before Fischer fled the country. However, the state located no documentation to this effect, and German restitution guidelines regarding potentially Nazi-looted artworks taken from Jewish collectors after 1933 place the burden of proof on the work’s present owner.

The successful claimants, Ernst Fischer’s children, have promised the work to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond, which acquired over 200 works from the Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection through a gift-purchase agreement in 2009. “Siblings,” which will be on view at the museum in June, is the third work from Max Fischer’s collection to be recovered by his heirs and subsequently enter the VMFA’s collection.

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In Never-Before-Seen Drawings, Robert Colescott Satirizes Art History

Robert Colescott, “ROBERT’S complete HiSTORY of WORLD ART: from the pyramids in Egypt to the modern era” (1979), watercolor and graphite on Arches paper, 29 3/4 x 22 1/8 inches (© the Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Courtesy of the Trust and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo)

LOS ANGELES — “I kind of blew apart abstract painting and put it back together again,” says the late artist Robert Colescott. That may be a bit of an understatement. Colescott didn’t just “kind of” blow apart painting, he exploded the entire conceit of art history itself — and in putting it back together again with his trademark sense of satire, he revealed cracks in how art history tells its own story. This is the subject of Colescott’s never-before-seen series of works on paper ROBERT’S complete HiSTORY of WORLD ART, now on view for the first time at Blum & Poe.

Robert Colescott, installation view (2021), Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (© the Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, courtesy the Trust and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo, photo by Dan Finlayson)
Robert Colescott, “art history 3: ROME” (1979), watercolor and graphite on Arches paper, 29 3/4 x 22 1/8 inches (© the Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Courtesy of the Trust and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo)

The way Colescott chooses to begin says it all: kicking off the series are four buxom, fleshy women dressed in thigh highs and garters, each holding a cigarette between her fingers. Though each one is supposed to represent an early art historical period, you’d hardly know it from first glance. Rome, for example, is personified by a woman with her legs splayed, puffs of cigarette smoke wrapped around herself as if it were a feather boa. Only after looking at the contortions of her body entwined in smoke does it recall the famous Roman sculpture “Laocoön and His Sons.Similarly, Islam is portrayed by a Black woman with a mound of pubic hair peeking out from behind her salacious getup. The only indication that she is supposed to represent Islam is her veil, and perhaps the arabesque clouds of smoke that descend in curlicues around the figure. The false modesty of the veil pokes fun at, if not outright mocks, the caution surrounding nudity and representation of the figure within traditions of Islamic art.

Robert Colescott, “art history 4: Islam” (1979), watercolor and graphite on Arches paper, 29 3/4 x 22 1/8 inches (© the Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Courtesy of the Trust and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo)

Throughout the series, Colescott does much more than just insert his own version of the art historical isms. He takes the yearning to see oneself reflected in art history and, wary of that instinct, challenges the viewer’s idea of how things should look like, skewering notions around propriety, race, beauty, and art. Rather than offer a single message of celebration or critique, the drawings refuse an easy reading. Despite the fact that the body of work represents nothing less than the grandiose attempt to critique the entirety of art history, it never loses sight of the ridiculousness of it all.

Robert Colescott, “art history 16: AMERICAN ART” (1979), watercolor and graphite on Arches paper, 22 1/8 x 29 3/4 inches (© the Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, courtesy the Trust and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo)
Robert Colescott, “art history 18: BLACK ART” (1979), watercolor and graphite on Arches paper, 29 3/4 x 22 1/8 inches (© the Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Courtesy of the Trust and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo)

Robert Colescott, “art history 19: CONCEPTUAL” (1979), watercolor and graphite on Arches paper, 30 x 22 inches (© the Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Courtesy of the Trust and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo)

Robert Colescott: Two Drawing Sweets continues by appointment at Blum & Poe (2727 South La Cienega Boulevard, Culver City) through March 6.

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A Glorious, Visceral Reissue of a Carolee Schneemann Artist Book

Parts of a Body House Book (1972/2020) is a text that requires full physical engagement. 

With no page numbers, or even a static orientation, our role as readers of this book involves constantly turning and flipping, and holding it up very close to our faces to look at tiny, blurry details. Sometimes those details reveal themselves to be traces of bodily fluids, increasing the visceral nature of the experience..

The titular “body” could just as easily be Schneemann’s oeuvre or her physical person, so central was the latter to her practice. Her works — a blazing, complex range of experiments with film, sound, movement, objects, people, assemblages, writing, fucking, painting, and large scale sculptural construction — revolve around the body. Like many of her projects, Parts of a Body House Book refuses traditional (read: patriarchal) formal expectations, advancing something more poetic, sensual, and textural.

From Carolee Schneemann’s Parts of a Body House Book (Women’s Studio Workshop, 2020)

The book’s movement between text and other layers of material (some physical, some stained/stamped, some handwritten,) reflects a feminist, multivocality. Throughout, Schneemann models a celebration of ongoing inner dialogue (along with the repressions that inflect it) without shame. 

This is not the original Parts of a Body House Book, produced with Felipe Ehrenberg, for Beau Geste Press in 1972, in an edition of 60, but it’s a very, very faithful facsimile of Schneeman’s personal copy of that edition. In fact, the project began under her supervision in collaboration with the radically anti-institutional Women’s Studio Workshop (WSW) in Rosendale, NY, located very close to Schneemann’s home base. (The artist passed away before the project’s completion.)

Parts of a Body House Book is both a catalog and artist’s book, and an argument for self-documentation.The volume includes essays, scores, sketches for expanded cinema and kinetic theater projects, letters, snippets of dialog, a recipe (from her work “Americana I Ching Apple Pie”), and even data from a two-year long ethnographic research project, comparing women’s self-reported sexual responses to different partners’ love-making approaches. 

From Carolee Schneemann’s Parts of a Body House Book (Women’s Studio Workshop, 2020)

Interspersed and overlaid among these are various stains and marginalia of all manner — some stamped, some scribbled, some smeared — giving the book a three dimensional, or even a fourth dimensional quality: We stop being sure what was there when we first started paging through the book, and what we’ve since added with our own touch.

Schneemann has taken everything constraining, conforming, and oppressive out what a book has been in the past and replaced it with something that feels alive, challenging, human, sharp. Inserts include a two-page spread that looks like the sky and a piece of toilet paper with a dried splooge of menstrual blood.

Parts of a Body House Book raises glorious, delicious questions about what it means to reproduce something that was originally so handmade: How do you re-embody/re-present something that was once so integrally related to an individual’s body? According to WSW, the answer lies in the “interventions,” which include “corrections, stamping, staining, drawing, and highlighting, [all] recreated to the artist’s exact wishes.”

From Carolee Schneemann’s Parts of a Body House Book (Women’s Studio Workshop, 2020)

Indeed, the book feels like a living scrawl of Schneeman’s own hand, extracted from the womb of the beyond.

Parts of a Body House Book (2020), by Carolee Schneeman, is now available from the Women’s Studio Workshop.

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An Online Haven for Lovers of Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder’s beguiling kinetic sculptures are among the most immediately recognizable works of American modern art. From his swaying suspended pieces and lively motor-activated sculptures — which prompted Marcel Duchamp to coin the term “mobiles” — to his stationary abstract “stabiles” executed in sheet metal, Calder’s work enchants international viewers in museums, plazas, parks, and countless other public spaces.

Even before the pandemic, however, few were able to peruse the artist’s paper archive, an incomparable collection of unpublished photographs, rare documents, ephemera, and other materials housed in the Calder Foundation’s New York headquarters. Now, with the launch of the foundation’s new online research archive, the trove is available to anyone with an Internet connection — an unprecedented step in expanding access to Calder’s work.

Calder with “Old Bull” and an oil painting, 7 Villa Brune studio, Paris, November 1930 (photograph by Thérèse Bonney © Estate of Thérèse Bonney / Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley © 2021 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

The platform is a growing database, with newly digitized materials added periodically. So far, the archive includes over 1,300 Calder works across different media; 1,000 photographs and archival documents; and 48 historic and recent texts by the artist, his contemporaries, and present-day scholars. The platform also features over 40 microsites exploring Calder’s exhibition history, a gold mine for academic researchers looking for hard-to-find checklists, installation images, and inventory drawings.

Viewers can discover public installations of Calder’s works around the world using a new interactive feature on the website, including temporary and permanent outdoor displays and museum holdings.

“Our goal with this project is to offer visitors a version of the extraordinary experience I had going through my grandfather’s papers from Roxbury and Saché when building the Calder Foundation’s archive,” the foundation’s president, Alexander S. C. Rower, said in a statement. “I believe it will transform our understanding of his genius.”

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Observing a Changing Wuhan Along the Banks of the Yangtze

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Wuhan was known simply as “River City,” due to its proximity to the Yangtze. Along its banks, the area is always in flux; new bridges are built, development sites mushroom. The fast-changing geography delivers the promise in the city’s motto: “Wuhan, Different Everyday!” What if something is irremediably lost amidst the fast-moving progress? In A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces, which recently had its world premiere at Berlinale, Wuhan-born filmmaker Shengze Zhu tries to answer that question. 

“The city now is like an endless construction project,” Zhu tells Hyperallergic over a video call. Having moved to Chicago in 2015, for Zhu, going home meant having to adjust to a deeply transformed environment. “It’s really difficult to distinguish between a ruin or a building site, so it was really hard for me to feel familiar again.” These neverending transformations gave Zhu the idea for her documentary, which she started working on in the summer of 2016. “I wanted to examine the relationship between the residents and the space they inhabit.” She envisions the city as a stage on which she captures citizens carrying on with their lives. To do so, she decided that a static camera would dictate the visual grammar of the film. “By using static shots, I wanted to give the audience enough time to familiarize themselves with the landscape, to synchronize with the calm rhythm of the river flowing in the background.” 

Shengze Zhu

Through each composition, A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces shows heterogeneous scenes of everyday life along the banks of the Yangtze. People take a dip, walk their dogs, dance to a Chinese riff on Auld Lang Syne, or assemble to watch a light show projected over the skyline at night. To counterpoint those quotidian occurrences, other sequences document the relentless urbanization. The cityscape is peppered with excavators plunging their buckets into the soil, while engineers look like tiny birds perched on the enormous scaffolding. When Zhu started filming in 2016, at first she simply used her smartphone. “The river site is enormous,” she remembers, “so there were many locations I had never been to.” These prolonged explorations not only helped her draw and retrace a morphing map of the city, but also connected her to the core of her film: “Gradually, I realized I was deeply interested in the concept of a transient space, and I started to look for all those places that are about to either be renovated or disappear.”

From A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces

A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces is built upon dichotomies — old versus new, nature versus city. However, none resonate with deeper urgency than the invisible juxtaposition between the human drive to move on after a crisis and the need to remember what was lost to it. For a film about Wuhan coming out today, ignoring the impact of the pandemic was out of the question. Of course, Zhu wasn’t expecting her hometown to become infamous because of a virus, and she hopes that with this film, she could “add something to the existing portrayal of the city.” COVID changed the structure of the documentary, which is now assembled in reverse chronological order. It opens with excerpts of CCTV footage showing a deserted Wuhan at the beginning of 2020, and ends on images of a severe flood from 2016. In between are sections captured in different years. For anyone unfamiliar with how Wuhan looks, “it’s not clear that the footage isn’t shot over the same period of time,” but “for me, this structure means a lot.” Without knowing it, we’re shown that nature always heals itself. First we see people taking a stroll on a promenade over the river; later that same spot is flooded, the water reaching the roof of a pavilion. Nature transforms the landscape, but its cycle ensures that balance is eventually restored.

From A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces

A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces is permeated with the notion of fluidity. The film’s form might be static, but its images suggest endless movement. The water in the Yangtze can’t stop flowing, and so does life. When the COVID lockdown on Wuhan was lifted, Zhu read an interview in which a resident welcomed the news. “I understand the urgency of moving on. I look to the future too. But for many people, life stopped that winter. How can we move on so fast?” she asks. In the name of progress, people are discouraged from dwelling on the past. At the same time, when remembering becomes unbearable, “wouldn’t it be better to forget everything instead?” Zhu doesn’t offer a clear-cut answer. Rather, she gives voice to those who grieve their loved ones through text on the screen. Against the constant reminder of the passage of time stands the Yangtze, placid and immutable. “I wasn’t in Wuhan when the pandemic hit, so I asked the river to help me understand. Among people’s different reactions and circumstances, some kind of consolation eventually emerged: That in the end, life moves on, many things will flow away, many others will be erased and replaced.” And yet, as one of the letters in the film comments, “the river doesn’t forget.”

A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces is currently playing various film festivals.

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Week in Review: Judy Chicago Desert X Artwork on Hold; Over 160 Confederate Symbols Removed in 2020

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.

Arts Advocacy

The Museum of Modern Art will temporarily cover a gallery placard bearing Philip Johnson’s name with an artwork by the Black Reconstruction Collective. Last year, the Johnson Study Group raised concerns about Johnson’s “commitment to white supremacy was significant and consequential.” The work will be up through the run of the museum’s first exhibition on Black architecture, Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America.

Hundreds of arts and restaurant workers joined forces to oppose the closure of Jing Fong, a historic banquet hall in New York City’s Chinatown. The eatery is the neighborhood’s last unionized restaurant and a popular venue for arts events. The group is pressuring landlord Alex Chu and his son, Jonathan Chu — co-chair of the Board of Directors at the local Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) — to help salvage the legendary Chinatown institution.


Anthony Fauci donated his 3-D model of COVID-19 to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The epidemiologist used the figurine to demonstrate during briefings to lawmakers and the press throughout the pandemic.

The Otis College of Art & Design and Californians for the Arts released several studies on the impact of the pandemic on the cultural sector in California. Over 175,000 creative jobs were slashed in 2020, and over $140 billion was lost in creative economic output.


The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston received a gift of 48 silver gelatin prints by Henryk Ross, a Jewish photojournalist who documented life in a Polish ghetto during the Holocaust. He was tasked to take propaganda photographs but secretly documented the brutal living conditions to leave a historical record of atrocities committed by the Nazis.

A Ming Dynasty porcelain, valued at up to $500,000, is heading to auction at Sotheby’s. The bowl was originally purchased at a yard sale for just $35.

logbook signed by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 from jail in Birmingham, Alabama, fetched $130,000 at Hake’s Auctions.

Anthony Fauci during a virtual event for the Smithsonian’s “Great American” medal award ceremony (courtesy the National Museum of American History)

In Other News

After a local resident raised concerns over a Judy Chicago artwork’s potential environmental impact, the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens withdrew from its partnership with Desert X to host Chicago’s smoke-based artwork.

After artist Jeresneyka Rose published her portrait of late rapper Nipsey Hussle on social media, her followers alerted her that Walmart was selling prints of the painting without her permission. “They edited the picture and removed my signature and changed the background to yellow, but my watermark was still in the hair,” Rose said.

Over 160 Confederate symbols were removed in 2020, according to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center. All but one of the removals occurred after the murder of George Floyd, which spurred international protests against institutionalized racism.

President Biden revoked Trump’s executive order mandating that “classical architecture shall be the preferred and default architecture for Federal public buildings.”

See the 10 most Googled paintings of 2020, from Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” (c. 1503–19) to “The Garden of Earthly Delights” (1503–1515) by Hieronymus Bosch.


Jennifer Anglade, Coco Killingsworth, and Elizabeth Moreau were named co-interim presidents of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

Danny BaezJoeonna Bellorado-Samuels, and Aron Gent have joined the board of the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA).

Nora Khan was appointed Topical Cream‘s first Editor-in-Residence.

Mihnea Mircan and Kasia Redzisz were named curators of the fourth Art Encounters Biennial.

Honor Titus is now represented by Timothy Taylor Gallery.

Awards & Accolades

Kathryn Maple is the winner of the John Moores Painting Prize.

Jamila Minnicks Gleason is the recipient of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

Twelve writers will receive the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers: Heather Aruffo, Lindsay Ferguson, Isaac Hughes Green, Amy Haejung, Nishanth Injam, Khaddafina Mbabazi, Mackenzie McGee, Mathapelo Mofokeng, Alberto Reyes Morgan, Stanley Patrick Stocker, Pardeep Toor, and Qianze Zhang.

The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation announced the recipients of its 2021 grants. | SDRF

In Memoriam

Alan Bowness (1928–2021), former Tate director who helped originate the Turner Prize | ARTnews

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919–2021), poet, painter, publisher, and owner of the celebrated San Francisco bookstore City Lights | New York Times

Antoine Hodge (1982–2021), bass-baritone opera singer | New York Times

Toko Shinoda (1913–2021), abstract artist who utilized styles from Abstract Expressionism and Japanese calligraphy | CNN

 Bunny Wailer (1947–2021), last surviving founding member of the reggae group the Wailers | AP

Paul Witte (1926–2021), creative product designer and philanthropist | Inquirer

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Japan House Los Angeles Presents Visions of this World and Beyond in Japanese Woodblock Prints

The Japanese have long revered their natural landscape. Its beauty has been a central focus in Japanese culture, as has its power. All of this is rooted in the belief that supernatural forces and beings — from ghosts to shape-shifting animals to trickster spirits — inhabit and influence the natural realm. A new exhibition at Japan House Los Angeles, Nature/Supernature – Visions of this World and Beyond in Japanese Woodblock Prints, vividly portrays these ideas through woodblock prints.

For centuries, Japanese artists have illustrated these themes, reaching new heights in the Edo (1603–1868) and Meiji (1868–1912) eras with the rise of woodblock printing. Step into the sub-gallery — virtually, from the safety and comfort of your own home — and experience the history and process of Japanese woodblock printing, the world’s first form of “mass media.” Very early examples of printed images as well as woodblocks, tools, and pigments set the stage for evolution to come.

Enter into the main gallery, where a collection of more than 60 prints from the Scripps College collection in Claremont, California, depicts striking visions of Japan’s various landscapes and changing seasons. From rich, green forests and majestic mountains to scenic waterways and sacred temples, these colorful woodblock prints, created by celebrated artists including Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), will transport you.

Continue on to the second half of the main gallery, where nature’s supernatural influences take center stage, with artists’ depictions of forces that can be both benign and bountiful or angry and destructive. Many of the prints here depict scenes from well-known Japanese folk tales or legends, featuring kami, yōkai, and many other beings, spirits, and demons in between. Immerse yourself in Nature/Supernature and come away with a deeper understanding of Japan’s singular natural environment and some of the ancient beliefs that continue to inform Japanese culture today.

Explore the virtual exhibition at japanhousela.com.

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Raphaël Barontini’s Slick and Stylish Historic Inversions

CHICAGO — It took three months of failed attempts to get to the Raphaël Barontini show at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, only to discover it would close in a few days. Covid-19 delayed the exhibition’s opening date for months. Then an Illinois ordinance prohibited cross-state travel, followed by several snow storms — not to mention the general malaise that comes from 12 months in restricted confines.

Raphaël Barontini, “Creole Prince” (2020), acrylic, ink and silkscreen on canvas 86 5/8 x 61 1/8 inches

But there I was, out in the world, standing in the middle of the gallery, a 5,000 square foot space of high ceilings and wood columns. The Night of the Purple Moon, Raphaël Barontini’s first solo gallery exhibition in the US, features about 15 works. I am told by a gallery assistant that the entire show pre-sold. “Toussaint Louverture’s Triumph,” (2021), a large 98 x 90.5 inch-work, dominates with its equestrian sculpture of Napoleon Bonaparte overlaid with an image of the Haitian revolutionary. Their historical fission is underscored by the marvelous irradiated green face of General Louverture, as if a high school student highlighted in marker this heroic text instead of the Western version. Barontini might apply as many as 25 layers of screenprint to achieve his textured, seductive, collage-like surfaces. He works on canvas, which gives the pictures a toothiness, enriching the merging, gliding dazzle of these composite constructions influenced by Hannah Hoch, Romare Bearden, Robert Rauschenberg, and the musician Sun Ra. 

Raphaël Barontini, “Toussaint Louverture’s Triumph” (2021), acrylic, ink and silkscreen on canvas, 98 3/8 x 90 1/2 inches

The layered mentality of the work relates intricately to its content. Barontini, who was born in 1984 in France where he still lives, interjects the power poses of Western art history with heroic Black figures from revolutionary movements in the Caribbean. His family history — which straddles geographies from Réunion Island (a French territory in the Indian Ocean) to the Caribbean, Italy, and Paris — offers a parallel compendium of influences. Barontini’s subjects may be suggestive of specific individuals such as Dutty Boukman, a Vodou priest and activist, or fully fictive “creole hybrid” inventions. This may sound familiar (think Kehinde Wiley), as these historic inversion tactics now feel like a recognized trope. What makes the works enthralling, however, is their physicality, the play of screen-printed textures, the layers, confections of pattern, glowing aerosol backgrounds. The work manages to be slick and stylish while also ceremonial, with lingering traces of street pageants, military parades, or Carnival. It is especially delightful when Barontini edges an un-stretched canvas with fringe, turning a painting into a print into a banner and then again, later, into a flag as he whooshes through the visual channels of the honorific. The age-old memes of stance, parlance, fashion, and scale command respect, while co-mingled histories that still circulate on colonial breezes flutter through the exhibition. 

Raphaël Barontini, “NJinga” (2021), acrylic, ink and silkscreen on canvas, 86 5/8 x 63 inches

Smaller scale works in the show, such as “Black Centurion,” (2019), take a different tactic. Less authoritative in tone, it mixes and matches ancient Roman statuary with a ceremonial mask, a statue from Nigeria, and an ethnographic photograph to yield a stew of influences out of tersely edited, simplified shapes, beckoning a sculptural presence. All of this, Barontini’s process and his pageantry, seems to inch closer to some kind of a truthful reflection of how histories amass as conglomerations and contrasting parables that need continual sorting and ironing.

Raphaël Barontini: Night of the Purple Moon continues through March 6 at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, (437 N. Paulina Street, Chicago, IL). 

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Sam Houston State University’s New MFA in Art & Social Practice Emphasizes Community Engagement

The Department of Art at Sam Houston State University is expanding their emphasis on community engagement with the new MFA in Art & Social Practice. This three-year, 60-credit-hour program provides students with opportunities to develop interdisciplinary projects and collaborate with local organizations and serve a meaningful purpose to the surrounding communities who help create them. 

“Social Practice is a relatively new and growing field in which art is a means of civic empowerment, community organization and development, activism, and education,” said Michael Henderson, Professor and Chair of the Department of Art. “Students will learn artistic methods to help communities discover their histories and cultural identities while providing voices for stories that need to be heard, especially in underserved areas.”

Students are provided with individual off-campus studio space in the newly renovated Natural Science and Art Research Center and have access to all facilities in the Dana G. Hoyt Fine Arts Building, including design, animation, photography, painting, drawing, and sculpture studios as well as galleries, computer labs, and photography darkrooms.

Students also work directly with local art centers, museums, galleries, advocates, non-profits, and visiting artists on community-based projects. Their work is displayed publicly at the end of their first year and at the conclusion of the program, which includes a collaborative publication and thesis exhibition featuring work from third-year students.

Graduate assistantships are available to provide MFA students with the opportunity to work alongside faculty and gain experience in gallery practices and operations.   

“This MFA program is unique to the state of Texas, and our graduates will be entrepreneurs who create programs that engage communities through non-profit as well as commercial organizations,” said Henderson. 

Applications for Fall 2021 are open through April 12.

For more information, visit the MFA in Art & Social Practice homepage or email Rebecca Finley at bfinley@shsu.edu.

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Can Art Criticism Be Both Collaborative and Ethical?

The agenda for a 1979 general meeting of the American section of the International Association of Art Critics, signed by then-president John Perreault, includes reference to a “heated and lively discussion” at the meeting prior. The subject of debate was a proposal by member Corinne Robins (the pen name of Connie Robins Romano) that the association produce guidelines delineating the ethical obligations of art critics. Robins was tasked with penning a statement which the membership could decide whether to formally adopt. It is worth reproducing in its entirety here:

Because as art critics we are in the middle between the artists, the gallery dealers and the public, and subject to pressures from all of the fore-going, it is important for our organization to set forth in writing a series of ethical guidelines for members of our profession. The following are suggestions to this effect:

  1. A critic should not try to interfere with or influence artists’ sales by discussing art prices or market values in print, but rather should confine him or herself to aesthetic issues.
  2. The critic should not solicit or accept monies offered by artists or gallery dealers for the writing of articles for which said critic receives payment from magazines, newspapers, etc.
  3. To preserve the critic’s integrity, he or she should not allow his or her judgement to be swayed by artists or dealers. In the event a critic accepts a gallery or artist’s invitation to write a catalog essay or introduction to an exhibition (on an agreed upon fee), the critic should not allow his or her writings to be edited or altered in any way if the understanding is he or she is producing a piece of signed criticism rather than writing a press release.
  4. It is hoped that critics should recognize their obligation to familiarize themselves with as wide a spectrum of work as possible as part of their responsibility in appraising the current conditions and climate of the art world.

These precepts may seem anachronistic at a time when those who sell art significantly influence its press: Major galleries are launching their own magazines as independent arts publications flounder and public relations firms manage relationships between galleries, writers, and editors to ensure high visibility placements for exhibition reviews and artist profiles. While press remains an important part of dealers’ marketing strategies, critics themselves — let’s be real — have little if any influence on the sale and pricing of artworks. Instead, the primary directions of the art market are influenced by private consultants and by the relationships between wealthy collectors and institutions. Furthermore, audiences are more interested in hearing about art directly from the artist than secondhand, filtered through the critic. Critics no longer have the power to make or break an artist’s career. Rather, art critics depend more and more on maintaining friendly relationships with artists, galleries, and publicists in order to consistently secure paid work. In other words, art critics today seem less “in the middle” between artists, dealers, and public than tailing all three.

To foreground the differences between then and now, consider the art critic’s responsibilities as outlined above: attention to aesthetic issues and to the current conditions and climate of the art world. Point four in particular presents a somewhat utopian vision for art criticism — instead of staking writerly claim to a niche set of concerns or narrowly focusing on a particular subgenre of art, the art critic is obligated to appraise the situation of art more broadly, and so must make an effort to seek out artworks that might otherwise evade her notice as a matter of course. While we might take issue with a mandated avoidance of addressing market dynamics from a critical standpoint, the prohibitions in the statement aim to protect the writer’s freedom of expression and capacity for independent judgement, both necessary preconditions for genuine critique. The project of detailing ethical obligations for art critics also eliminates the necessity of intuiting “unspoken rules” so frequently at play in professional relationships, especially where significant financial interests are concerned.

Another document of the same era envisions art critics and their professional relationships quite differently. In her 1983 essay “Power Relations Within Existing Art Institutions,” Adrian Piper laments divisions of labor in the arts, which she believes is one cause among others of the artist’s alienation from her work and the world. She imagines an interdependent art world, a blurring of boundaries in regard to professional roles that would produce the conditions for an art adequate to its moment. In her words,

[A] mutual exchange of roles and skills might engender both more artists who are critically adept and socially responsible, and more critics, dealers, and curators whose interests in art are personal and social as well as professional…. Although artists would have less time to produce art, the art they produced would be more fully their own. For they would collectively determine its meaning, value, price, public dissemination, and material fate.

Piper’s analysis of the conditions of possibility for creative freedom through interdependence seems at first to conflict with Robins’s proposal. But both projects are motivated by ethical questions. For Piper, multidisciplinarity makes generative collaboration and creative authenticity possible. In contrast, for Robins, the threat of blurred boundaries in art world relationships puts the integrity of art criticism at risk.

Artist Brad Troemel critiques art-world power relationships via the satirical language of memes, such as these art-critic archetypes featured in an Instagram post of October 10, 2019 (courtesy Brad Troemel)

However, both projects share a utopian kernel that stands in stark contrast to the contemporary situation of the adjunct, non-salaried, and independently contracted workers in the hustle-centric gig economy upon which the production and distribution of art rests. Though motivated by material necessity, Piper’s multidisciplinary artist doesn’t starve. Rather, she develops autonomous creative expression through meaningful collaboration. In reality, the donning of multiple hats by artists and art critics, most often borne of necessity, further constrains the possibility for a free, genuine, and critical practice. All of this rings true in a time when livelihood is emphatically never ensured. Far from provoking ingenuity, ruthless competition in the wake of failing print publications and a dearth of paid writing opportunities leads to compromise: listicles, puff pieces placed by PR firms, and regurgitated press releases become a means to the very real end of paying rent for many writers with otherwise critical inclinations.

Robins’s ethical guidelines hinge on a conception of art criticism as a culturally transformative and, hence, a necessary activity. Why else should the critic’s free expression and capacity for judgement be protected from undue influence? The statement speaks to a time when art critics were recognized as arbiters of art and culture in a way that few art writers, if any, are today. If we take up both Robins’s recognition of the necessity of critique and Piper’s vision of generative collaboration — if we invite these promises to make good on themselves through collective organization and rigorous appraisal of current conditions, adequate to, but not beholden to our moment, we might find ourselves in a less vulnerable position where transformative critique becomes possible.

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Bansky Scaled the Prison That Once Jailed Oscar Wilde to Paint His Latest Mural

A new mural by Banksy appeared on the exterior wall of a defunct prison in Reading. (all images via Banksy’s Instagram)

Blockbuster street artist Banksy has laid claim to his latest work of public art — an olde tyme prison escape stenciled on the wall of the defunct HM Reading Prison in Reading, Berkshire, England. The prison, also known as Reading Gaol, was built in 1844 and operated until early 2014. Until this week, it was perhaps most famous for housing writer Oscar Wilde during a two-year imprisonment (1895-1897) after a conviction for “gross indecency.” Following his release, Wilde published The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a poem that narrates the 1896 hanging of Charles Thomas Woodridge, convicted of murdering his wife.

The Banksy mural features a figure in prison stripes and a cap. He appears to be climbing down the exterior brick wall on a rope ladder instead of a ream of paper, anchored by a typewriter. The image is likely an allusion to Wilde as Reading’s famous inmate and his subsequent poetic work that both documents Woodridge’s hanging while also identifying with him as a fellow prisoner.

A video released on March 4 documents the elusive street artist applying the mural.
Though the figure on the wall can only be thought to resemble Oscar Wilde in the most generic terms, the presence of the typewriter and written sheaf of paper indicate the connection.

The artist left his work open to speculation for a few days before taking to Instagram with a video documenting the mural’s clandestine application, with narration supplemented by overlay from Bob Ross’s famous public access painting program, The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. The audio selections first seem to merely narrate the creation of the mural, details of which are captured in the tight halo of the artist’s headlamp, but once we cut to shots of the mural in full view the following day, the audio clips telegraph the artist’s statement on the work.

The prison, which was decommissioned in 2013 and put up for sale by the city in 2019, is now being considered as an arts building.

“Painting, to me, represents freedom,” says Ross, as we watch our escaping inmate and take in the full scale of the wall meant to contain him. “I can create the kind of world that I want to see and that I want to be part of.”

A drone shot pans up and over the wall to show the empty prison yard with wire-topped fences.

“We just want to show you a technique and let you loose on the world,” says Ross. “Just absolutely let you loose on the world.” The video cuts to police officers encountering the mural.
“That really is the fun part of this whole technique,” Ross concludes.

Oh, Big Brother, Banksy is watching you!

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The New Issue of Create! Magazine Is Out Now

Cover image by Patty Carroll

We’re delighted at the release of Create! Magazine’s Issue #24, which was curated in part by our editor-in-chief, Christopher Jobson. Colossal readers might recognize some of the artists and photographers featured in the winter edition, including Patty Carroll (previously), Greg Olijnyk (previously), and Rose Sanderson (previously), alongside Bryane Broadie’s digital collages teeming with colorful patterns and ethereal, illustrated portraits by Line Holtegaard.

In 2013, Ekaterina Popova founded Create!, which now boasts an international audience of more than 170,000 readers across digital and print and hosts a podcast featuring contemporary artists, curators, and entrepreneurs. Pick up a copy of Issue #24 in the Create! shop, where Colossal Members always get 20 percent off.


By Bryane Broadie

By Hine Mizushima

By Line Holtegaard

By Cara Guri

By Dylan Gebbia-Richards. Photo courtesy of Stephen Ironside

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Varied Patches of Color and Textured Stitches Delineate Expressive Embroidered Portraits

All images © Brenda Risquez, shared with permission

Brenda Risquez is deliberate in her use of texture, density, and color in her boldly embroidered portraits inspired by friends and pop culture icons. Varying patches of long, single-stitch rows and rounded tufts map onto the subjects’ faces, many of which display the textile artist’s affinity for pronounced, single-hued cheeks. Her hoop-bound portraits are expressive and dotted with playful elements, like a jaw outlined in pink or highlights stitched in bright, geometric shapes.

Textiles have played an outsized role in Risquez’s creative trajectory—she holds degrees in Fine Arts from the University of Granada and Textile Art from the School of Art of Granada—although she only started embroidering in the last five years. Currently, she teaches at Workshop Granada and is exploring a variety of techniques involving fabric painting and pattern design. Find shots of works-in-progress, along with information on commissions and other opportunities to buy her dynamic pieces, on Instagram.


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A Flurry of Feathers and Leaves Surround Spirited Birds in Fio Silva’s Vivid Murals

Castelar, Buenos Aires. All images @ Fio Silva, shared with permission

Fio Silva tucks clusters of oversized birds and botanicals into otherwise stark urban spaces, creating striking murals awash in puffs of feathers, petals, and leaves. The Buenos Aires-based artist focuses largely on movement, a thread that runs through both the vivid renderings of winged subjects as they appear to take flight or perch for just a moment. “It was that lack of stillness through work and searching for walls to paint that I found meaning in my time,” Silva tells Colossal.

When working in color, the artist starts with blues, yellows, and reds before expanding the palette based on the “moods and to intensify, in some way, what I want to convey, if it is something rather clear, bright, or something… more subdued or desolate,” Silva says. “When I paint, I try to convey a certain force, that by seeing it or sharing it I can move someone, in whatever way.”

Silva plans to complete a few murals in Argentina during the next few months and will travel to Europe during the summer, with an exhibition of smaller paintings slated for October in Paris. Keep up with the artist’s monumental public works on Instagram.


Olivos, Buenos Aires

General Roca, Rio Negro

Olivos, Buenos Aires

Left: Berlin, Germany. Right: Belsh, Albania

General Roca, Rio Negro

Patos, Albania

Patos, Albania

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Countless Starlings Flock Together in a Miraculous Bird-Shaped Murmuration Over Lough Ennell

Image © James Crombie, licensed for use

After months of chasing starlings alongside his colleague Colin Hogg, Dublin-based photographer James Crombie captured a phenomenal shot of the flock as it swelled into an enormous bird-like murmuration. Hogg recorded the awe-inspiring experience in a short clip that shows the winged formation taking shape and hovering over Lough Ennell, a lake near Mullingar in central Ireland.

Crombie is known for his sports photography, and last week, he was named Press Photographer of the Year for his shot of a fan perched on a ladder watching the semi-final between St. Brigid’s and Boyle from the edge of a graveyard. Follow Crombie’s work that takes him to soccer fields, bucolic landscapes, and remote marshes on Instagram. You also might enjoy this series documenting murmurations over Danish marshlands.


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Banksy Creates Bob Ross-Dubbed Process Video of New Work Depicting Oscar Wilde Escaping Prison

What begins as a soft-spoken clip of America’s most iconic TV painting instructor, Bob Ross, suddenly shifts into a frenetic and extremely rare behind-the-scenes video of Banksy creating his latest work in Reading, Berkshire. Titled “Create Escape,” the clip was just posted to the artist’s social media channels and depicts the real-time creation of a stenciled artwork of a prisoner escaping the high, red brick walls of HM Prison Reading (formerly known as Reading Gaol). Unlike the bright studio lights that illuminated Ross’s bucolic landscapes, “Create Escape” captures the frantic yet precise execution of a work done in near darkness by an artist completely governed by police response time.

The expansive and unblemished prison wall was a daring and perfect spot for a Banksy piece. It’s best known for its most famous inmate: Oscar Wilde served two years in the prison from 1895-1897 for the charge of “gross indecency” for being gay. The work is clearly a tribute to the poet, as the escape mechanism appears to be a long strand of paper emerging from a typewriter in place of the usual bed sheets. Wilde recounted aspects of his imprisonment in the poem “The Ballad of Read Gaol,” which centers largely on the execution of Charles Thomas Wooldridge.


Still from “Create Escape”

Still from “Create Escape”

Still from “Create Escape”

Still from “Create Escape”

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Researchers Digitally Unfold a Renaissance-Era Letter Using X-Ray Technology

A 3D rendering of the letter as it unfolds. All images via Unlocking History Research Group archive

Six centuries after it was penned, the contents hidden inside a Renaissance-era letter plucked from a trunk at The Hague are finally readable. The correspondence, which we now know was likely spurred by questions about an inheritance, was part of a larger collection of nearly 600 letterlocked notes, a complex method that involves meticulously folding, rolling, tucking, and adhering the paper into its own envelope. Prior to the advent of other sealing practices, this security measure ensured that no one transporting the note became privy to its contents.

According to an article in Nature, a group of MIT researchers, who work as Unlocking History, digitally unraveled the letter, which otherwise would have to be opened by cutting through the paper, damaging the object and potentially leaving it unreadable. Instead, they employed a particularly sensitive X‐ray microtomography scanner designed for dental practices, including mapping the exact mineral content of teeth. After scanning the paper, researchers constructed 3D models alongside an algorithm built to determine specific folding patterns, allowing them to open the note without physically altering the artifact.

Dated July 31, 1697, the letter contained a request for a death certificate from a man named Jacques Sennacques to his cousin Pierre Le Pers, who lived at The Hague. “His request issued, Sennacques then spends the rest of the letter asking for news of the family and commending his cousin to the graces of God,” researchers said. “We do not know exactly why Le Pers did not receive Sennacques’ letter, but given the itinerancy of merchants, it is likely that Le Pers had moved on.” It’s unclear why this letter or the hundreds of others, which are written in Dutch, English, French, Italian, Latin, and Spanish, never reached their recipients.

Head to Vimeo to watch Unlocking History unfold replicas of infamous and fictional correspondence—the collection spans from Mary Queen of Scots to Harry Potter to Beethoven—and dive further into the practice on the group’s site, where you’ll find folding guides, a lengthy history, and an entire archive of discreet missives. (via Science Alert)


The scanned letter from July 31, 1697

Digital rendering of the letter as it unfolds

The trunk at The Hague that contains hundreds of letterlocked notes

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We’re Back! The Colossal Shop Is Restocked

We just added a few fun goods to the newly reopened Colossal Shop, including these (reversible!) face masks featuring some of art history’s most iconic works. Head to the shop for pins, magnets, and pop-up greeting cards that’ll find a permanent spot on your fridge. Each purchase directly supports Colossal and independent arts publishing, and remember, Colossal Members get 10 percent off nearly everything: just log in to your account and grab the discount code before check out.


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Archaeologists Uncover a Lavish Marble Floor from Ancient Rome in Southern France

Image © Bertrand Houix, Inrap . All images courtesy of Inrap, shared with permission

Developers of an apartment building in Nîmes, France, had to halt construction last month when archaeologists discovered an opulent tiled floor that once blanketed a Roman villa, or domu. Dating back to 1-2 A.D., the checkered design is comprised of marble from multiple empirical provinces that’s inlaid into the foundation, a style called opus sectile that was prevalent during ancient times. Spanning multiple feet, the multi-colored pattern is thought to occupy what once was a reception area.

During their dig, archaeologists also uncovered plaster sheets that had caved in on the impeccably preserved tiles featuring classic frescoes on red and black panels. Lines score the back of the decorative pieces, which would have helped them adhere to the earthen walls. Other findings indicate that this domu, along with another nearby, were particularly lavish and featured a private bath, a concrete floor speckled with decorative gemstones, and a large central fountain made from Carrara white marble. One room even had remains of hypocaust heating, an inventive system that sent hot air underneath the flooring to warm the home. (via The History Blog)


Image © Charlotte Gleize, Inrap

Sheets of decorative plaster covering the tile floor. Image © Pascal Druelle, Inrap

Image © Pascal Druelle, Inrap

Two rooms of the domu, with evidence of the heating system on the left. Image © Charlotte Gleize, Inrap

Marble gemstones decorate the concrete floor. Image © Bertrand Houix, Inrap

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Dozens of Mushroom Characters Populate a Family Tree in Whimsically Painted Photographs by Jana Paleckova

All images © Jana Paleckova, shared with permission

An affinity for fleshy spores runs in the long line of ancestors laid out in a family tree by Jana Paleckova. The Prague-based artist layers antique photographs with playful oil paintings of spindly enoki or ribbed chanterelle, creating hybrid characters brimming with fungi-fueled personalities. “There are many types of mushrooms, all of which have different characteristics. Just like people,” she says.

In a note to Colossal, Paleckova says she was prompted to start the whimsical project when she was flipping through her family’s atlas of fungi. “Czech people are known mushroom hunters. It’s quite common for families to go out looking for mushrooms together,” she says. This atlas later served as a reference point for the 90 small portraits, which consist of the dozens of vintage photographs that the artist sourced from flea markets, that comprise the sprouted kin.

Paleckova’s body of work features a variety of surreal combinations, like eggheads, human-spider hybrids, and balloons shaped like children, all of which you can find on her site and Instagram.


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Plants Embedded in Wax Sprout from Fragile Hands in Memory-Infused Works by Valerie Hammond

All images © Valerie Hammond, shared with permission

In Valerie Hammond’s series of wax drawings, protection is two-fold: the artist (previously) encases dried flowers and ferns in a thin layer of wax, preserving their fragile tissues long after they’ve been plucked from the ground. In outlining a pair of hands, she also secures a memory, or rather, “the essence of a gesture and the fleeting moment in which it was made.”

Centered on limbs lying flat on Japanese paper, the ongoing series dates back to the 1990s, when Hammond made the first tracing “partly in response to the death of a dear friend, whose beautiful hands I often found myself remembering.” She continued by working with family and friends, mainly women and children, to delineate their wrists, palms, and fingers. Today, the series features dozens of works that are comprised of either hands tethered to the dried botanics, which sprout outward in wispy tendrils, or others overlayed with thread and glass beads.

Although the delicate pieces began as a simple trace, Hammond shares that she soon began to overlay the original drawing with pressed florals, creating encaustic assemblages that “echoed the body’s bones, veins, and circulatory systems.” She continued to experiment with the series by introducing various techniques, including printmaking, Xerox transfers, and finally Photoshop inversions, that distorted the original rendering and shifted her practice. Hammond explains:

The works suddenly inhabited a space I had been searching for, straddling the indefinable boundary between presence and absence, material and immaterial, consciousness and the unconscious. For me, they became emblematic not only of the people whose hands I had traced but of my own evolving artistic process—testimony to the passing of time and the quiet dissolution of memory.

Hammond’s work recently was included in a group show at Leila Heller Gallery. Her practice spans multiple mediums including collage, drawing, and sculpture, all of which you can explore on her site and Instagram.


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A Dazzling Series of Photos Captures the Soft Glow of Firefly Mating Season in Japan

All images © Daniel Kordan, shared with permission

An enchanting series by Russian photographer Daniel Kordan (previously) frames a sea of flickering fireflies as they populate a dense bamboo forest. Captured in pockets and trails of light, the insects radiate across the thick vegetation on Japan’s Kyushu Island, which Kordan visited back in 2019 during their mating season.

The beetles search for partners from about May to July, with the males first producing the flashes of light and the females generating responses. Generally swarmed together, the exchanges have a twinkling effect that emits a continuous soft glow across the area. “Fireflies are very sensitive. They need clean water nearby, warm humid air (but not rain), and no lights,” Kordan says. “Not a single photo can show how beautiful it is—shimmering and blinking forest full of little stars.”

Kordan shares technical details about his equipment and timing for the magical shoot on Instagram, and if you’re interested in adding the radiant images to your collection, pick up a print in his shop. (via designboom)


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Poetic Sculptures by Valérie Hadida Cast Composed Women with Coiffed Hair in Bronze

“Seaside,” bronze, 42 x 23 x 15 centimeters. All images © Valérie Hadida, courtesy of Galry, shared with permission

For Valérie Hadida, the deep, protective partnerships fostered between women provide the foundation for her practice. The French artist casts bronze sculptures that are poetic and nuanced, depicting female figures wearing contemplative and composed expressions. “Coming from a large family where women reign supreme and play a key role, they have established a bond of serenity, trust, and complicity with me,” she tells Colossal. “The heroines of my works are always women because I am deeply convinced that it is they who will change and save the world.”

Hadida begins with a sketch before building the figures that eventually are covered with green patina. In recent years, the size of the sculptures has grown from smaller works into those that stand more than a meter high, an expansion that brings the scale of the works closer to a human body. “I prefer to work on the curves, the flesh more than the muscles. These seem to me disabling because they are hard and violent,” she says. Most of the sculptures depict teenage years or middle age, a time that’s marked with transition and change.

Generally seated, the figures’ poses and gestures appear temporary as if the woman has just shifted or is precariously settled on a stone. Although the bodies are still, their curls often swell upward to imply movement and sometimes are embedded with smaller silhouettes like in “Nocturna.” Their locks “typify each woman in her origins, in her age… The hair moves like the branches of a tree,” the artist says, noting that the plumed strands both accentuate and stabilize the figures’ supple curves, elongated fingers, and overall shape. “These women are marked by life. I do not represent perfect or idealized figures. These silhouettes are on the contrary very marked, very cut out. But their imperfections highlight their femininity,” she says.

Hadida is represented by Galry in Paris, and you can find a larger collection of her elegantly sculpted works on Artsy.


“La grande zénitude” (2021), bronze, 39 2/5 × 31 1/2 × 13 4/5 inches

Detail of “Nocturna” (2017), bronze, 25 1/5 × 17 7/10 × 7 9/10 inches

Left: “La rêveuse” (2018), bronze, 32 7/10 × 8 3/10 × 10 1/5 inches. Right: “Nouvel Amour” (2020), bronze, 29 1/2 × 11 4/5 × 11 4/5 inches

Detail of “Trio de femmes” (2018), bronze, 21 3/10 × 15 × 7 9/10 inches

“Trio de femmes” (2018), bronze, 21 3/10 × 15 × 7 9/10 inches

“Nocturna” (2017), bronze, 25 1/5 × 17 7/10 × 7 9/10 inches

Detail of “Nouvel Amour” (2018), bronze, 75 x 30 x 30 centimeters

Detail of “Nouvel Amour” (2018), bronze, 75 x 30 x 30 centimeters

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Swaths of Tulle Billow from Site-Specific Installations by Ana María Hernando

All images © Ana María  Hernando, shared with permission

Fueled with a sense of rebellion, yards of colorful tulle cascade from windows and down staircases in site-specific installations by Ana María Hernando. The soft, pliable material breaches existing architecture and entwines trees in swaths of mesh, creating works that are both visually striking and subversive.

Evocative of ballgowns and garments that are traditionally worn by women, the tulle explodes into a flood of fabric as a way to break with social constructions surrounding feminity. “As a Latina, I explore how the feminine comes forward in strength and flexibility, in beauty and in (an) unstoppable abundance of generosity,” the Argentinian artist says.

Though she’s worked with a range of materials, Hernando shares that she always incorporates a textile element, which seems “to be an expansive conduit for my work” and references her childhood in Buenos Aires, where she observed the women in her family sewing, crocheting, and embroidering together every day. She explains:

The things they made from fabric and thread were expressions of their spirit. All the beauty—the hours of work, the washing and ironing—was made invisible once the table was laid and stained with food. I explore the unacknowledged feminine force of work as a prayer that I have known my whole life.

Hernando mainly works from Boulder, although she’s spent much of the year so far in a forest in Tennessee’s South Cumberland Plateau. If you’re in Colorado, view the artist’s multidisciplinary projects in the coming months as part of Present Box at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and in a September solo show at Denver Botanic Gardens. In 2022, you can find her at the Sun Valley Museum of Art and Denver’s Robischon Gallery. Until then, explore an archive of her tufted, textile-based projects on her site and Instagram. (via Cross Connect Magazine)


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Architecture and Bold Geometry Fragment Cubist Portraits by Patrick Oberhi Akpojotor

“FELA the Rattle” (2019), acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches. All images © Patrick Oberhi Akpojotor, shared with permission

In his architectural portraits, Patrick Oberhi Akpojotor visualizes the exchange between humans and their built environments, whether real or imagined. The artist’s spatial body of work, which explicitly contemplates the relationship between interiority and exteriority, is founded in his childhood in Lagos, a city checkered with traditional, colonial, and contemporary structures where he still lives today. “I saw how a former residential area became a commercial one changing how people interacted with that community,” he says.

Rendered in bold blocks of acrylic, Akpojotor’s paintings encourage introspection as they consider how identities inform the design of single buildings and infrastructure, which in turn shape the people who occupy those spaces. The anthropomorphic structures evoke cubist geometry and illusion, fracturing the body with a staircase, brick chimney, or entire house, and some works shown here, including both “In Memory of the Living” pieces, are self-portraits.

Beyond his surroundings in Nigeria, Akpojotor derives inspiration from ancient African sculptures and masks, particularly “the way the forms are intentionally distorted to pass messages and symbols of their (beliefs),” he shares. “In my work, the way object(s) are placed does not matter. What is important is that the object(s) are represented, and the message is passed.”

Find a collection of Akpojotor’s paintings, drawings, and sculptures on his site, in addition to studio shots and glimpses at works-in-progress on Instagram. (via Juxtapoz)


“In Memory of the Living I” (2019), acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches

Left: “In my Image” (2020), acrylic on canvas, 96 x 63 inches. Right: “Oga Boss” (2020), acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches

“Girl with Red Ribbon” (2021), acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches

Left: “Witness to the times” (2020), acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches. Right: “Time” (2019), acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches

“In Memory of the Living II” (2019), acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches

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Intricate Paper Animals Spring from Textured Sculptures by Artist Calvin Nicholls

All images © Calvin Nicholls, shared with permission

In Calvin Nicholls’s sculptural forms, feathered and furry creatures are meticulously crafted from small pieces of white paper. When viewed up-close, their texture resembles the fullness of a wintery landscape, but in full form, the Canadian artist’s animals are so vivid that they appear as though they could leap, fly, and spring out of the canvas. Nicholls (previously) seamlessly examines and sculpts every detail of an animal’s body, from the difference in plume texture in doves to the strained muscles of a giraffe to the intoxicating stare of a tiger stalking its prey.  

Every work is crafted from archival cotton paper that prevents yellowing and fading. Nicholls uses minuscule amounts of glue to secure the individual pieces, employing knives and texturing tools to precisely sculpt each delicate part. For the artist, crafting fur and feathers are equally challenging, and how long a piece will take is difficult to predict. He shares:

The largest sculptures I’ve done require several hundreds of hours while the more modest pieces keep me busy for two or more weeks. Familiarity with the subject is a big factor as well. My love of birds often propels me through pieces much faster than when sculpting subjects with (an) emphasis on musculature and structure.

Nicholls’s fascination with paper as a medium stems from graphic design classes in college, in addition to later collaborations with a colleague. These experiences further forged his interest in experimenting with various materials and papers that he had become familiar with through the graphics trade.

Follow additions to Nicholls’s monochromatic menagerie on Behance and Instagram, and see the originals and prints he has available in his shop.


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An Asian American Landscape Artist to Be Reckoned With

For many years, Kim Van Do, who is Vietnamese and Dutch, and grew up in New York, has been part of a weekly drawing group that has included, at various times, Eric Holtzman (whom he has known for many years), Altoon Sultan, Joe Giordano, Marjorie Portnow, Yvonne Jacquette, Rudy Burckhardt, and Jack Beal. All are artists committed to making work based on direct observation. Do, who is in his mid-60s, is known among artists, but he is almost unknown in the art world. 

Today is the last day of Kim Van Do: Light and Air of Summer, his debut exhibition at Blue Mountain Gallery. When I asked him where he had previously shown, he said this was first solo show in New York in 25 years, which I found both astonishing and predictable. With few exceptions, observational painting has long taken a backseat in American art, despite many powerful and compelling practitioners committed to painting what they see. 

Kim Van Do, “Our Backyard” (2001), 44 x 80 inches

Do is a landscape painter interested in the perceptual shifts that occur when we stand in one place and turn our heads in order to survey what is before us. A student of Neil Welliver and Rackstraw Downes in the late 1970s, he has taken the latter’s conceptual understanding of a changing viewpoint and has run with it. 

The 21 works in the exhibition can be divided into three groups of paintings: those on saws, rectangular canvases, and round canvases. Their dates range from 1993 to 2020, a span of more than a quarter century. They were done in upstate New York, in the Hudson Valley, and on the coast along Northern California. 

Painted nearly 20 years ago, “Our Backyard” (oil on canvas, 44 by 80 inches, 2001) is one of the exhibition’s highlights. The view is of a farmhouse with a screened-in porch, in which someone is reading, on the right, and a treehouse on the left. 

A clothesline cuts across the painting, from its left edge to a corner of the farmhouse, at a diagonal. The clothesline’s angle, which our eye follows along, underscores the skewed spatial dimension of the painting and the sharp diagonal of one side of the roof. Two things hang on the line. The largest, most prominent item is a semi-transparent green poncho, situated in the lower middle of the composition. 

Kim Van Do, “Looking Through” (c. 1998), oil on canvas, 48 by 84 inches

The poncho, which is a brighter green than everything around it, animates the entire painting. As a counterpoint to the green grass, the grass hue in the shadow of the house, its green trim, and the dark green oil tank against the house, it invites the viewer to pay closer attention to the changes in color, and the effects of sunlight and shadow. 

It also functions as barrier between the observer and the reader on the porch, as it is located almost directly below her. The connection between the reader and the garment is further enhanced by the fact that she is wearing a muted variation of the poncho. 

This painting made me keenly aware that Do’s use of color, within a circumscribed palette dominated greens, blues, browns, whites, and grays, was something I should pay close attention to. 

In the symmetrical composition “Looking Through” (oil on canvas, 48 by 84 inches, c. 1998), Do illustrates a radical shift in perspective. As the river bends around the far shore, as if making a U-turn, the change in the color density and reflections in the river, as well as the different trees on the right and left sides, disrupt the mirroring effect. 

In this and related paintings, Do takes the full range of our vision, from left to right and sky to ground, to an extreme. It is as if he is squeezing the whole of a panoramic view into a smaller format.

Do takes his fascination with changing perspectives to another level in what call his “Oculus” paintings, done on circular canvases. He composed these works by tracing a circle around the spot where he was standing, and then dividing that circle into predetermined sections, like cutting a pie. He then transcribed the view to a round surface. 

Kim Van Do, “Oculus Buteo” (1995), oil on linen, 60 x 60 inches

In the exhibition’s three “Oculus” paintings, dated between 1993 and ’95, Do paints the line of sight from small rocks to the sky overhead along a circular trajectory: we seem to be looking down and up simultaneously, as head and body turn in a tight circle until we arrive back in our original position. Once I got over my amazement, I was able to see these paintings, which are full of details and all kinds of perceptual shifts.

One minute I was looking at rocks on the ground and seeing delicately painted yellow dandelions, and the next my eye seemed to be speeding up, as I wanted to see where the rocks led. The underlying abstraction of the circling band of earth, and the shift from the earth to sky, is delightfully dizzying. I might notice that the concentric circles that compose “Oculus Inversions” (oil on linen, 60 inches in diameter, c. 1994) depict the same view from different distances, so that the position of a rock in the outer circle is seen again in the smaller, inner circle; it is in exactly the same place, but it is a different size.

In “Oculus Buteo” (oil on linen, 60 inches in diameter, 1995), the land curls from the top into the painting’s center, like Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970), except instead of being surrounded by water, we see land and sky. 

Kim Van Do, “Two-Person Saw” (2014), oil on steel, 12 x 72 inches

I don’t how many paintings Do made in this format, but in these three he does not repeat himself. Together, they form a unique body of work that should be better known. 

In “Two-Person Saw” (oil on steel, 12 by 72 inches, 2014), another loosely symmetrical composition, Do uses the narrow format to depict a highway stretching from the left to run along the bottom, above the saw-tooth blade, and then curve away, receding into the distance on the right. On the other side of the road, there is a field with grazing cows, a farm and silo on the right, and rolling hills in the center. Painting on handsaws — a tool for making — he has constructed his own inimitable world.

In this exhibition, which amounts to a survey of his landscape paintings, done in familiar and unlikely formats, Do reminds us that landscape painting is far from exhausted and that — despite all its known conventions — invention is still possible. 

Kim Van Do: Light and Air of Summer continues at Blue Mountain Gallery (530 West 25th Street, 4th floor, Chelsea, Manhattan) through February 27.

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Trippie Redd, Louder and Crunchier

Emo-rap has opened a new emotional space. Ten years ago, attempts to fuse rap and rock were seen as isolated novelty moves, but now they’re everywhere. Critics who panned Lil Wayne’s rock experiment Rebirth (2010) and ridiculed crunkcore groups like 3OH!3 and Brokencyde might be surprised to learn that the same exact synthesis has become hip-hop’s surreal, SoundCloud-inflected future. Be careful who you mock, lest their ghost come back to haunt you.

Trippie Redd’s new Neon Shark might have been hailed as a Rebirth-esque rock move had the Ohio rapper released it as a standalone album. Instead, it’s a deluxe edition: 14 bonus tracks tacked onto his previous album, Pegasus (2020), which was conveniently rereleased as the composite Neon Shark vs. Pegasus. One of the music industry’s more expedient recent practices, deluxe rereleases are designed to artificially manipulate streaming algorithms and Billboard’s chart rules to send the original album rocketing up the charts a second time and nudge it closer to gold or platinum status; they usually consist of leftover throwaways from the original album’s recording sessions. 

Redd has already released another augmented version of Pegasus, bundled together with his Halloween-themed Spooky Sounds EP, which is basically a collection of glorified sound effects; minute-long tracks like “Laugh” and “Growl” sound exactly as you’d imagine. Conversely, Neon Shark deserves its own billing. Produced by Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, it establishes a totally new distorted rock sound, louder and crunchier than Redd’s previous genre collages. If Redd or his label were concerned about commercial risk, they needn’t have worried. It’s a pop-punk gem. 

Redd surfaced as one of many SoundCloud rappers with a predictably eclectic stylistic palette encompassing hardcore rap, emo ballads, and psychedelic haze, with a particular fondness for vulnerable R&B crooning. He moved between modes sequentially rather than blending them, as if looking for a sound he could call his own, and only occasionally did he sound fully committed to a form (“Topanga,” soaring over garrulous piano chords and a chipmunked snippet of gospel singer Maurette Brown Clark’s “It Ain’t Over,” was a delightful single). Pegasus itself was the sort of overlong album designed to rack up streams; constantly changing moods, its 26 meandering songs hardly belonged together except insofar as all were dragged down by the same torpor. The relative tightness and focus of Neon Shark gratifies — he’s found his groove. Perhaps the album’s status as a bonus project relieved some creative pressure on him, and allowed the music to breathe. 

The album’s garish electronic colors and evocations of runny eyeliner spring from the rainbow-tinted emo-rap aesthetic defined by Lil Uzi Vert (who has played the deluxe-edition game too), but Uzi has never assembled such a rousing set of power riffs — Neon Shark rocks hard. Driven by Barker’s powerhouse drumming, it flows like a punk album, cresting and exploding over one raucous guitar figure after another. Yet it still feels conversant with hip-hop, thanks to Redd’s signature ad-libs (“Bah!”); so too does his squishy sense of where verses stop and choruses begin follow the conventions of melodic rap. 

Trippie Redd, Pegasus (2020)

Redd lets out a considered groan (“Ahhhh!”) after each chorus on the catchily miserable “Swimming,” exhorting the drums and guitars to push even harder; had an emo band released it in 2005, it might have topped every rock chart on the planet. On “It’s Coming,” the guitars work up such a rumbling churn they almost drown him out as he consoles himself in an echoey whisper (“Face your fearssssss”); when he switches to a scream, the tension startles (“Run awaaaaaaay!”). 

Redd’s singing embodies his synthesis, combining the garbled, pitch-corrected drawl common among SoundCloud rappers with pop-punk’s characteristically nasal whine. The hybrid voice, consisting of two fused archetypes, sounds eerie, like you’ve heard it before but can’t place where. On “Sea World” he duets with himself, entwining his Auto-Tuned warble around his death growl, as Barker frantically rattles off drumrolls.

Songs as dense as these point to the ultimate futility of disentangling the genre strands. Since rappers (and some rock bands, too) have been blurring these gestures for a decade, sorting songs or even individual instrumental flourishes into separate rap and rock buckets is like engaging in revisionist history. What fascinates about albums like Neon Shark and Machine Gun Kelly’s recent Tickets to My Downfall (a flatter, more one-dimensional pop-punk move, also produced by Barker) is their lens on how rappers conceive of rock, and especially emo, as a vehicle for raw and therapeutic outpouring that sits uneasily with rappers’ typical self-presentation; it’s as if the live drums and electric guitars provide cover for venting feelings their peers might otherwise consider unmanly. 

Straightforward rap also abounds with anxiety — about romance, drugs, mental health, existential panic, daily horrors, anything at all — but usually it’s sublimated, concealed by other, boastful speech acts that adhere more strictly to genre conventions. By switching to what they consider an expressionist form, rappers like Redd and Kelly (who contributes several guest verses to Neon Shark) can write about those topics directly. Since emo historically has been a site for self-aggrandizing displays of masculinity as well, the gendered anxiety behind these gestures is particularly salient: on Tickets to My Downfall, Kelly’s macho bluster is hardly more palatable presented as earnestly expressed emotion. 

Redd, thankfully, is a gentler goofball. Lyrically, his confessions of dread are so simple they cut deep (“Life’s full of lies, and then you damn die”), and his love songs ache. “Female Shark” glides over a diaphanous, glowing riff, as his voice shudders; when he declares “You’re so emotionless, freaky girl, you show no emotion/and I love you, I can’t denyyyyeyeyeyyyyy,” while nearly lurching into vibrato, it’s almost embarrassing, like you’ve heard something too intimate to share. “Leaders,” the requisite acoustic ballad, plays through a wispy sonic cocoon: while croaking a childhood reminiscence, his voice softens into a warm blur, shimmering in the fading light; you can hear him smile.

As a deluxe add-on, Neon Shark will likely give Pegasus another chart boost while remaining unnoticed itself, thus once more consigning rap-rock to novelty status. The most plaintive moaners moan alone. 

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Garth Weiser Explores the Limits of Technical Wizardry

In an essay included in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition Garth Weiser: Paintings, 2008-2017, organized by the Contemporary Austin and curated by Louis Grachos, Weiser (quoted by Charles Wylie) says of his paintings: “The surface and the bottom really fight with each other.”  

That dynamic, which is less apparent in the exhibition Garth Weiser, at Casey Kaplan (January 28–March 6, 2021), is what I want to examine. 

In earlier works, Weiser superimposed one kind of abstraction (geometric) on another (gestural), binding together image, form, and texture in ways that were riveting, if not also visually astringent. 

Weiser’s postmodern abstractions shared something with Jack Whitten’s “Energy Fields,” David Reed’s luscious layered abstractions, and Gerhardt Richter’s blurred photo paintings, but Weiser staked out his own area of exploration. However, there is a difference between the perceptual disruptions found in the work of these three major artists and Weiser’s overlays, which becomes more explicit in his recent art. 

Weiser’s work does not yet have the breadth or depth of inquiry that Whitten, Reed, and Richter — exploring different bodies of work — have attained. A deepening investigation is what he seems to be pursuing in his current exhibition.

Installation view, Garth Weiser at Casey Kaplan, New York (courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York. Photography: Jason Wyche)

Weiser incorporated digital media in these paintings, a process he has not previously used. Over a mélange of diverse images printed onto the canvas — appropriated from science fiction, art history, and popular culture — he superimposed a topographical pattern of paint.

The recurring images in the exhibition’s nine paintings include eyes; segmented metallic or multicolored tentacles; extraterrestrial hands with long, pointed fingers; the dates 2020 and/or 2021; the red-capped, white-spotted hallucinogenic mushroom amanita muscaria, which is often seen on Christmas cards and associated with shamanism; red valentine hearts; the word “Gilead”; an extraterrestrial creature possessing humanoid features; containers with logos on them; and less legible things.

By including the dates, which will be remembered as the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, Weiser seems to be reaching for a topical relevance that I don’t think the cringy sci-fi imagery quite supports. The extraterrestrial images, along with the gargoyle, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and valentine hearts are empty signs. Trying to connect them to the pandemic seems to me a fool’s errand.

Garth Weiser, “2021” (2021), oil and digital media on canvas, 120 x 93 inches (courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York. Photography: Karen Pearson and Jason Wyche)

At the same time, the fact that Weiser is seeking to expand his possibilities, as well as create something that is neither purely optical nor abstract, is to be commended. I wonder if the recent change has to do with the times. Why else would Weiser feel the need to include the date in many of the paintings, essentially making them diaristic records? 

In his earlier work, Weiser fixed a tactile, striated moiré pattern over his version of gestural abstraction. He was able to hold the viewer’s attention because neither mode of abstraction completely dominated the other. That balance could be his commentary on the stylistic options available to artists of his generation (he was born in 1979). Op Art, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Color Field painting, Pattern and Decoration, and process art — all were at his disposal as a readymade collection. 

Hearts, segmented tentacles, and hallucinogenic mushrooms are also readymade symbols, but they come with a different history; superimposing a series of ridged lines over them is not enough to establish a dynamic relationship between what Weiser has called “the surface and the bottom.”  They neither fight nor dance with each other, at least not at the intense pitch of his best earlier works. I felt as if I were looking at the combination of detailed images and abstract marks through a scrim, and that the entanglement did not add anything. 

One of the exceptions was “reality farm” (2020). At close range, the painting’s topographical surface — composed of rows of raised black bumps, many of which are topped by bits of silver paint — appeared radically different from the mélange of incommensurable images dispersed across the canvas.  

Garth Weiser, “reality farm” (2020), oil and digital media on canvas, 89 x 72 inches (courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York. Photography: Karen Pearson and Jason Wyche)

Looking at this painting was like experiencing a pleasant form of whiplash, where the tactile and visual both join and separate in extreme ways. There was no ideal place from which to view it. Either the tactile or the visual dominated, which is antithetical to most two-dimensional works. 

The topographical surface of “2021” (2021), the largest painting in the exhibition, is uneven; in places, an unseen force seems to tear it apart. As with “reality farm,” the conflict between printed image and topographical surface seemed more engaging, but this felt less true of other paintings.

By going beyond the confines of the abstract signs found in his earlier work, it seems that Weiser wants to invest his paintings with social and philosophical meaning. The extraterrestrials, oversized fingerprints, and dates bring up instability, the body’s unique identity, and time — which can be seen as the artist’s recognition of our vulnerability as living beings. By overlaying printed images of eyes with a tactile surface, Weiser calls further attention to the split between eye and body. 

Inspired by Jean Baudrilliard’s postmodern theories about simulacra and signs, there are those who believe the digital realm has become our primary mode of experience, and that we have become disembodied entities existing in an algorithmic domain. We are eyes without bodies. 

The uneven surfaces of Weiser’s recent paintings remind us that images, now matter how seductive or threatening, are not physical entities. Whether or not we are on our computers, a deadly pandemic reminds us that we do have bodies, and, at least for the past year, we have had to “socially distance” our bodies from others. Weiser’s floating extraterrestrial hands don’t evoke that state of necessary isolation.

Installation view, Garth Weiser at Casey Kaplan, New York (courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York. Photography: Jason Wyche)

As of today, February 27, 2021, more than half a million Americans have officially died from COVID-19. 

I don’t think that artists have to take on the pandemic as a subject. But once artists add the dates “2020” and “2021” into their work they have moved beyond the sanctioned fine art territory of “art-about-art” and postmodern notions of simulacra, and entered the messier realm of mortality and death — subjects some artists choose to face and others don’t.

It will be interesting to see what Weiser does next. 

Garth Weiser continues at Casey Kaplan (121 West 27th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through March 6.

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Books to See and Feel

I, like most of the world, have experienced the last ten months from a distance. Avoiding physical closeness in public spaces has become a collective reflex for most of us, all while everyday we crave it more. How strange, then, to be invited to an exhibition that encourages, even necessitates, touch. Out of Sight, Beyond Touch opened in January at the Center for Book Arts in New York City. Curated by Maryam Ghoreishi, the exhibition takes on the timely task of investigating the role of haptics in art and life. Although the symbiotic relationship between sight and touch is the show’s stated subject, it seems to be just as much about translation — between verbal and visual, between visual and physical, and between perceptible and comprehendible. The works by Masoumeh Mohtadi, Shirin Salehi, Bahman Mohammadi, and Amina Ahmed investigate the generative potential of these forms of translation, as well as the rifts in communication they cannot repair. In what ways does navigating across senses enrich our understanding and in what ways does it confound?

Of the works shown, Amina Ahmed’s series Un-furling, Iqra — only velvet feels like velvet. (2016–18) embodies the show’s titular phrase “out of sight” most completely. Her books are concealed under a glass case covered by a blue velvet cloth, which creates an air of indulgent mystery. After reading the wall-mounted dictate to engage physically with the art, I took an apprehensive look around the empty gallery and reached my recently sanitized hands under the shroud. Upon encountering the first book my uneasiness softened into a calm curiosity. The book had what I discerned to be a velvet cover, broad like a children’s book, with exposed stitching where the pages were bound together. The pages themselves were soft, grainy, embossed with varying shapes or patterns. A series of small raised bumps marched across one page like a line of ants. Dutifully, my fingertips followed suit, progressing with the intimacy of running one’s hands over another’s scars.

Amina Ahmed, “Un-furling-Iqra — only feels like velvet” (2016-2018), embossed books on paper and graphite with velvet binding and cotton thread, variable dimensions, 6 x 12 inches, photograph by Samoel Gonzalez

Another piece by Ahmed I left unhandled despite its vulnerable position on a plinth at the center of the gallery. “I rolled your letters into one, and dipped them in water” (2008) is a dense, standing cylinder of papers, bleeding with ink and wrapped in an outer layer of mesh, through which I could almost read the writing underneath. The self-contained piece provokes a heartrending sense of estrangement, of being physically with a loved one but emotionally distant, or physically distanced but emotionally tethered. To touch it, I feared, might be a breach of the artist’s trust. And still, it might remain unintelligible to me in my hands.

Along with translation, (il)legibility is a central theme of the show — what it takes for something to be not only perceived but also understood. If all comprehension is a subjective process of translating imperfect senses into sense, then how can we ever truly understand one another? At a virtual Center for Book Arts event with the artists, Ahmad proposed a series of rhetorical questions: “What is text but something that is woven?” “What is perception but grasping or trying to grasp something and understand it?” And if we take these to be true, “What is perception of reading but grasping for something that is woven?”

Mohtadi’s work takes this idea of weaving text literally. Her origami books include pages of cut outs, which layer together into unique three-dimensional works. In her other pieces, pages of published books are sliced up and interwoven to create collaged objects that cannot be “read” in the traditional sense. Mohtadi’s works combine Persian and English texts or forgo language all together to challenge the seeming immutability of communicative structures, and to “search for an independent system outside the contractual boundaries of language.” She manipulates a physical form of language — the published book — that feels fixed and unchangeable, revealing it to be a permeable construct like any other, creating what she calls “an expansive chain link of signified connections.” With these “unreadable” objects, touch becomes a grounding force, a language that offers a different definition of literacy.

Shirin Salehi, “From the series ‘Back from a walk,’ clay tablet I“(2018-2019), inscriptions on black porcelain clay, 3 x 1.5 x 0.20 inches, image courtesy of the artist

Touch is a particularly personal sense; contact leaves a mark, and in doing so confers responsibility. In pandemic times, we are particularly aware of the invisible traces we pick up and those we leave behind. Salehi plays with the material of language to explore what’s left behind, “the grammars of mystery, withdrawal and silence.” In her series Back from a walk (2018–19), delicate inscriptions in Farsi are carved into crumbling clay. Rather than being the message in Salehi’s work, the writing is meant as a “sign or a trace of presence of a body or a memory of somebody who has been in a specific place and time.” Like relics or keepsakes, the physical objects act as a substitute for, or translation of, intangible matter, ideas, and memories, even of silence. Faced with illegibility, meaning moves from the content of the language to the physical form it takes. (“What is perception of reading but grasping for something that is woven?”)

Bahman Mohammadi, “Protozoan Self-portrait” (2011-2020), wood, acrylic, and wood glue exposed to water, sunlight, and temperature shifts and manipulated by the artist within a 9-year process, 4.5 x 8 x 2.5 inches, 4.5 x 8 x 1.5 inches, photograph by Aidin Baftechi

Whereas Salehi explores traces as near-imperceptible ghosts of material beings, Mohammadi’s Protozoan Self-portrait series (2011–20) can be seen as an amplified depiction of the impact of touch over time. His wood blocks were painted with abstract designs and exposed to the elements for four to nine years as an experiment in evolutionary development. In these organic works, touch and time explicitly co-create the finished product. The physical exposure that Mohammadi subjected the blocks to over many years made them what they are. By positioning this as a self-portrait he points us back to the materiality of our ever-changing bodies in space and time.

Leading with the sense of touch recalls childhood, when putting your hands on objects was the best way to get to know the world. Well before language there is a desire for tactile contact. This exhibition foregrounds those physical, material qualities which make up a work of art, advocating for a more holistic sensory experience in gallery spaces, and positing another route through which to grasp, or attempt to grasp, meaning. 

Out of Sight, Beyond Touch continues at the Center for Book Arts (28 West 27th Street) through March 28.

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The Rise of the Machines

Mechanized mayhem bedeviling the (perhaps late) Anthropocene era. Salacious cyborg simulations of civilization’s projects. Computerized bugs, bombs, and — yes — viruses. These artificial ingredients permeate the text of Oh You Robot Saints!, a romp of robotically obsessed odes and profiles. Frank’s new poetry volume showcases how our hyper-intelligent, heavy metal duplicates swarm us with their duplicities and inorganic corrections, proliferating prototypes of virtual and all-too-real menace.

Organic ontology be damned, for in Frank’s vision, the robotic takeover has already taken place and we soft machines can only conceive of ourselves in relationship to their surpassing, thrumming identities.

It turns out that machines are in the woman (and man) and the woman/man is a machine, automatism is set against the natural, and all human constructions end up being impure artifice. Perhaps this cold conception is apt for our tech-obsessed age.

Or maybe we have been compromised from the very beginning. The origin myth in “The Mechanical Eves” relates how:

Oh, man has made her—
mechanical Eves have been around
 for thousands of years,
fetching your tea, serving
you wine: the early “female”
automatons didn’t have a mind
were built from the ribs 
of men’s brains, from their longing
to be gods and make a life 
like a woman could. 

No anachronistic creation, the unequal virtual automaton lives on as not only slavish and objectified but also commodified and readily available for service:

Oh, man has made her in his own image
 for beauty and service, oh, man has
made her, a more pliable Eve
with no desire of her own.
Sold her online for $xxx.99.
Given her a hollowness of the body,
a phonograph for a heart. 

Elsewhere, relentless critiques of anti-feminine histories and discourses prevail — critiques of sexism, bodily objectification and violence, and other acts of gender debasement foster Frank’s feminist poetics tied to this robotic theme. But these poems are also philosophically preoccupied with themes of agency and identity, authenticity (the phrase “real thing” appears more than once) versus simulation, and originality and imitation, as well as the impact of technologies, especially militarized ones, across the precarious geopolitical landscape.

How the self is or can be reconsidered and displaced by a slew of mechanized forms is constantly evoked, lending an ominous atmosphere to, and invoking a disturbing prophecy in, many of these poems.

Frank’s poetic universe is home to a haywire recombinant conceptual machine that recalls and recasts mythologies, resurrects Sophocles and Descartes for strange new scenarios, smashes the atoms of humans and the wires of their robotic counterparts into hybrid intelligences, and riffs on the work of other poets, like Robert Frost and William Butler Yeats. The latter’s “Sailing to Byzantium” is channeled in two poems, “Mechanical Birds” (“…the wind through/bronze birds make the sweetest sound…”) and this volume’s tour de force, “Ode to the Robobee.”

Though a sinister mechanized bee, not a metallic bird, is the flying subject here, the echo of Yeats’s transcendent Byzantine mortality design registers. (So, too, does homage to Yeats’s “Lake Isle of Innisfree,” with its phrase “bee-loud glade” copied in Frank’s anti-pastoral dystopia, here “buzzing like a drone.”)

Composed of 14 sections of varying lengths, linked by the repetition of each section’s last line as the next section’s first line, the narrative tracks scientific engineering from its early innocent humanist ambitions to its inevitably dubious legacies:

Over time, our harmlessness proved
that we knew little, and when we paused
to learn more, we shuffled and shoved
our way through the labs, gassed
the creatures we could no longer use.
Now a small tool can undo a single
bee and make it new. We commingle
life and death, making robots in the image
of the bee, which dies in part to cause
you pain. Our job was to make less
than the human eye could discern: the laws
of identification rely on someone’s best
guess: “Oh—honey bee?” A minor sting. 

Soon that minor sting is made major as robobee grows from a child’s playful drone into a strategic surveillance system, our voyeuristic avatar:

Look out those camera eyes by staring
 at your screen from the comfort
of your own home. We, too, can go 
to Iraq, Russia, North Korea, inside
any school. We too can follow the bomb
as if we were the sniffing dogs.
Watching everything unfold again
and again. The mini-robot 
flies where we don’t dare go.
The mini-robot can navigate anything. 

Beware of this full-service wunderkind. The flight path of this infiltrating flying device encompasses and invades the narrator herself, for robobee can also “remove anything”: “Unwanted waste, bombs, the growth/that has been wrapping itself around my uterus.” The site of human female reproduction now has been visited by the bee, that acts as a surgical implement. The poem muses on how the biological potential for life has been both superseded and assisted by its rival, by the seemingly endless future of the machine. What else may the robobee and its mechanical cohorts accomplish when “anything” is possible?

And yet, notwithstanding any potential harm the roboobee/drone/extractor might do, we will still envy its immortality á la Yeats’s Byzantine owl, and wish to be gods of our own artificial re-creation:

Soon, we’ll be reincarnated like a robobee.
Sentience shrunk into a chip packed 
with human memories. We’ll see 
everything about us that’s been tracked,
our digital and photographed past.
Breaking news: a frog’s heart and skin
cells beat the xenobot, programmable at last.
Like the robobee, it knows no pain, no sin.
I long to be its maker, to be the creator
like everyone around me makes
life through lust or labor, a fate we’re
told is natural. There are no fakes… 

The impulse to which Frank alludes is to create inanimate life and also be the custodian of self-redundancy — a chilling ambition. The equivalence here among human manufacturing efforts is gloriously sarcastic, a nod perhaps to the flattening out and consensus logic of social media platforms.

But taking stock of contemporary technological and sociological tremds is not the only enterprise on display in these pages. To play God is to invoke the divine and Oh You Robot Saints! pays homage to holy subjects, objects, likenesses, statues, dolls, and fetishes.

This current runs parallel to the book’s nightmarish automaton-induced scenarios. Though more intermittent and less pronounced, the references to miracles, spiritual transcendence, and holiness give the volume a dash of metaphysics and imaginative escapism to offset the predicted robot apocalypse. Spiritual contemplation becomes another form of creative engineering. Even so, here beyond the technological we are still out of our league, for, as Frank notes with Rilkean aplomb, “Every Angel is terrifying.”

Given the primary conceits on display — the robo-pathic and theo-logic — some of the poems lack context and seem arbitrarily jammed into an already lengthy book. While offering strong, even poignant personal perspectives, poems like “Bread” and the extended “The Girlfriend Elegies” seem completely out of place, all robotic/machine/technological subject matter entirely absent.

Moreover, given the onslaught of mechanical threats confronting us, one might wish for the poet to intensify the fight against them by expanding her formal and tonal range, and maybe, in doing so, produce lines less staid and standardized in their evocation of the technical menace. One certain way to disrupt artificial intelligence is to evade its code by oblique, ambiguous, and multiform approaches not subject to static representation.

Regardless, Oh You Robot Saints! amasses many compelling visions and intriguing premises. It also holds out for the human subject’s liberation from technological subjugation by fighting back — as Frank writes in “The Archer in the Tomb,” in which a bold heroine defies capture from her mechanized minions, “This is a new transfiguration: she programs herself, sets her crosshairs on you.”

Oh You Robot Saints! (2021) by Rebecca Morgan Frank is published by Carnegie Mellon University Press.

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A Tattoo Artist’s History of Tattoos

Henk Schiffmacher is a famous Amsterdam-based tattoo artist and historian; TATTOO: 1730s-1970s. Henk Schiffmacher’s Private Collection, an enormous, luxurious coffee table book, presents more than 700 of his photographs of tattooed bodies and of the colorful designs employed by tattoo artists the world over. 

Chapters on such topics as Maori and other indigenous tattoos, tattoos from Japan, and exhibitions of American and European designs up to the present day detail global histories of tattoos, both abstract and figurative. Maori tattoos, Schiffmacher tells us, signified “who you are, where you came from, and what you’ve done.” Tattoos still do that. 

Sometimes tattoos, those from Thailand, for example, collected in the 1980s, the original dates unknown, have sacred significance; they were meant to protect you from accidents. In North America, indigenous people historically had a thriving tattoo culture. Japanese tattoos, as the book shows, are often elaborate, incorporating imagery such as fish, geishas with brilliant garments, or fantastical animals like a garishly hued dragon that does battle with an eagle. There are also drop-dead gorgeous images of butterflies.

In a most extraordinary image, one tattoo artist, Ralph Johnstone, has drawn a portrait of another, Milton Zeis, whose body is completely covered in tattoos, including his bald head, which is adorned with an image of Christ. 

Portrait of world-renowned tattoo artist and collector Henk Schiffmacher (© Rudi Huisman; image courtesy Taschen, Cologne, Germany)

Some religious cultures forbid tattoos. Leviticus 19:28 states: “You shall not make gashes in your flesh for the dead, or incise any marks on yourselves: I am the Lord.” Yet Pope Francis, according to the Jesuit publication America, has recently taken a different tack, saying, “Don’t be afraid of tattoos.” A tattoo, he suggested, “is a sign of belonging”; ” asking people about their tattoos can be a way to begin a dialogue through which “you can approach the culture of the young.” 

TATTOO is strong on the presentation of examples, many of them extremely colorful and intricately designed. But the book says very little about the meaning or changing significance of these artworks. And because it is a record of one man’s very large collection, we perhaps don’t get a full account of all cultures. Schiffmacher’s Private Collection focuses on recent tattoos, while we are left wondering why certain cultures foster the practice of tattooing, while others do not. Kant, in his treatise on aesthetics, rejects tattoos on the grounds that they add superfluous decorations to the body. That analysis fails to address their role, as discussed in Schiffmacher, in a variety of cultures: in Burma in the 1930s, rebels thought that tattoos would make them bulletproof; in late 19th-century Bosnia, women wore tattooed crosses to thwart religious conversions and fend off witchcraft; and in mid-20th-century Japan, gang members wore them as identification. 

Famous American tattooed woman Artoria Gibbons, ca. 1920s, one of the longest-performing tattooed ladies ever, who worked the circus sideshows, dime museums, and carnivals until 1981 (© Courtesy of the Schiffmacher Tattoo Heritage; image courtesy Taschen, Cologne, Germany)

People of my generation didn’t usually think of getting a tattoo, but of course they are now commonplace for among a great many people, including my daughter. When men who are now my age grew their long hair as adolescents and young adults, they were rejecting the grooming standards of the military in protest of the Vietnam War. Does today’s desire to permanently brand oneself have a political dimension? 

Tattoos can’t be associated with youthful rebellion when almost everyone has one. And they are suspect as an assertion of individuality if most of their designs are drawn from a readymade selection of patterns. Tattoos are a form of fashion, and when fashion changes, it is useful to understand why. And their function as visual signifiers also make them works of art, which increases the imperative to understand their social significance. Even though most are copied from cliched stock images, they are the most democratic form of art ownership and display, a development that raises fresh questions about the class divisions in visual culture.

TATTOO provides a splendid array of examples, but doesn’t theorize — a missed opportunity when the subject involves so many challenging views about the body and holds the potential for a diverse range of racial, gender, and LGBTQIA+ perspectives. 

The abstract painter Sean Scully, in the book Inner: The Collected Writings and Selected Interviews of Sean Scully (Hatje Cantz, 2016) tells the story of one of his students in Munich who was covered with tattoos that others could understand only if she explained them. I expect that she would not want to make paintings that also were meaningful only to friends. 

By dramatic contrast, the meanings of almost all of the recent tattoos in TATTOO are accessible to virtually anyone. In this way, they are akin to successful rock’n’roll songs — brief and intense. 

TATTOO: 1730s-1970s. Henk Schiffmacher’s Private Collection (2021) by Henk Schiffmacher and Noel Daniel is published by Taschen.

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Required Reading

In 2018, the three design historians—Bengaluru-based designer and independent researcher Nia Thandapani, London-based Petra Seitz, who is working on a PhD at The Bartlett School of Architecture on the intersection between politics and design, and Gregor Wittrick, assistant collections manager at The British Museum—who met while doing a history of design master’s course at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)/Royal College of Art, started deconstructing the dominant narrative around Chandigarh Chairs—that after the deaths of Le Corbusier and Jeanneret, the furniture was left to rot in godowns and warehouses till it was “rescued” by certain European art dealers who elevated them to their rightful status as luxury objects.

To be sure, this kind of narrative-building is not unusual; the design historians acknowledge that there are enough examples from Western design where common, everyday and originally affordable objects, like the furniture designed by self-taught French architect Jean Prouvé for schools and offices, have turned into highly sought-after collectibles. But they believe that in the case of Chandigarh’s modernist furniture, this process was accelerated by the continuing impact of colonialism, and is in fact a form of exploitative capitalism.

  • Frieze has published a brief, but useful history of house galleries in Los Angeles. It reads mostly like an oral history and focuses on high-brow spaces (it is published by a publication that also has an art fair, so…), but there are a lot of good nuggets. I hope someone takes on this topic and fills out this incomplete history. Here’s a sample:

1980 When Tom Jancar and Richard Kuhlenschmidt opened a gallery in the basement of their apartment building in 1980, the LA art scene was particularly sleepy, with most galleries huddled together on a stretch of La Cienega Boulevard. The Los Altos Apartments, a mission-revival complex in the Mid-Wilshire district, was a relic of Hollywood’s golden age, its elaborate stucco detailing and palm court in a state of prolonged desuetude. Inspired by the pathbreaking Claire Copley Gallery, which in the 1970s had introduced Angelenos to European conceptualism, Jancar Kuhlenschmidt hosted the first West Coast exhibitions of LA artists such as Christopher Williams and William Leavitt, and of New York-based members of the pictures generation, including Louise Lawler, Matt Mullican and Richard Prince, before closing in 1982.

What wasn’t publicly known until now is that Facebook actually ran experiments to see how the changes would affect publishers—and when it found that some of them would have a dramatic impact on the reach of right-wing “junk sites,” as a former employee with knowledge of the conversations puts it, the engineers were sent back to lessen those impacts. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, they came back in January 2018 with a second iteration that dialed up the harm to progressive-leaning news organizations instead.

In fact, we have now learned that executives were even shown a slide presentation that highlighted the impact of the second iteration on about a dozen specific publishers—and Mother Jones was singled out as one that would suffer, while the conservative site the Daily Wire was identified as one that would benefit. These changes were pushed by Republican operatives working in Facebook’s Washington office under Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan (who later made headlines for demonstratively supporting his friend Brett Kavanaugh during confirmation hearings).

Asked for comment, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone would only say, “We did not make changes with the intent of impacting individual publishers. We only made updates after they were reviewed by many different teams across many disciplines to ensure the rationale was clear and consistent and could be explained to all publishers.”

  • Writing in the Undefeated, Soraya Nadia McDonald discusses the persistent movie trope known as “magical negroes” and their clueless white friends:

Why do I bring this up? Because in the fun house mirror that displays Magical Negroes, there is always a hapless Mister Charlie or a helpless Miss Ann standing next to them. Magical Negroes cannot exist without a clueless white person — sometimes an entire family of them! — who requires their aid, which of course is offered for free, or close to it. (Art that’s got a Magical Negro and no white people in it is minstrelsy.) While trying to come up with names for these types of white characters, I figured they needed to be as retrograde as “Negro,” hence “Mister Charlie” and “Miss Ann,” as opposed to the more contemporary “Chad” and “Karen.”

All the films cataloged in this project re-create the same dynamic, one that has roots in Lost Cause ideology. Over and over, in the white imagination, Black people exist only to serve or help or comfort white people or teach them lessons about life. The white people in these stories are usually incurious, whiny or co-dependent, and utterly lacking in self-awareness. But perhaps these hapless Mister Charlies and helpless Miss Anns can finally learn to assist themselves without the aid of a Negro whose only purpose is to usher them along in their personal growth or otherwise save them from themselves. In Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar, the new comedy starring Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, there is a talking crab named Morgan Freemond, an obvious reference to the actor Morgan Freeman, one of the most notorious inhabitors of Magical Negro characters in the history of American film.

The 2011 letter by the now-dead officer, Raymond A. Wood, stated that Wood had been compelled by his supervisors at the New York Police Department to coax two members of Malcolm X’s security team into committing crimes, leading to their arrests just a few days before the assassination. They were then unable to secure the entry to New York’s Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X had been speaking when he was killed.

Wood maintained that the arrests were part of a conspiracy by the NYPD and the FBI to murder Malcolm X, who had become disenchanted with the Nation of Islam and left the Black separatist group to start his own organization, the Muslim Mosque.

I’m sorry to be rude or flippant, but the next time someone tells me that my demonstrably different brain chemistry can be solved by a quick shift in socioeconomic policy, I’m going to unhinge my jaw like a fucking rancor and swallow them whole. Please forgive the emotional hyperbole (another hallmark of ADHD) but the repackaging of eugenic rhetoric as liberatory theory truly sets my teeth on edge. There is no utopian vision of a communist society where developmental and learning disabilities simply cease to exist. Any suggestion that a post-capitalist revolution will eradicate the otherness is bordering on genocidal fan fiction. The rhetoric is dangerous, violent, and ableist. It should be torn to shreds immediately and without hesitation. 

  • The popular electronic museum group Daft Punk called it quits this week (it was founded by Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter in 1993) by releasing this rather poetic video:

In early January, [Ozoz] Sokoh finally launched Feast Afrique, but as an online archive instead of a print journal. The website contains almost 250 links to online books, covering West African, African-American, and African diasporic culinary history. With texts dating back to 1828, many of these books contain some of the earliest documented histories of West African cooking. For example, Practical West African Cookery,published in 1910, has the first documented recipe for jollof rice (and is the first book in Feast Afrique’s monthly reading challenge). Other books, like Austin Clarke’s Pig Tails ‘n Breadfruit, a culinary memoir of traditional Bajan foods from his childhood, provides readers with a culinary map of slavery’s effect on the foods of the Caribbean.

However, the collection is ultimately a celebration of the influence and history of West African cuisines on the world. “My artistic practice has a lot to do with cooking, but also documenting. What you don’t know, you can’t reference and what you can’t reference, you can’t use to shape future plans,” Sokoh says. “It’s important to show people that we do have a food history that stretches back centuries, and documentation that stretches back as well.”

  • USA Today reports that “US counterterrorism operations touched 85 countries in the last 3 years alone.” (Though it should be noted that the civilian deaths listed are very low, and many estimates place the number much higher.)

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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Logbook Signed by Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham Jail Breaks Auction Record

On April 16, 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr. was imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama, after leading peaceful demonstrations against racial segregation. As a flurry of correspondence arrived to the jail for King, he signed for each piece of mail in a logbook that has now fetched $130,000 at Hake’s Auctions in Pennsylvania.

The ledger, which includes entries from March 4 through November 27, 1963, dates to the period when King wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” a manifesto on nonviolent resistance and one of the most important written records of the Civil Rights era. There are 12 signatures by King in the logbook in total.

The ledger includes 12 signatures by King.

The documents were consigned by an anonymous woman with the help of WorthPoint, a firm specializing in researching and appraising antiques and vintage collectibles, and a team of signature experts. Hake’s then had the lot authenticated by James Spence Authentication in New Jersey.

According to a catalogue essay, a Birmingham jail employee had been asked to discard the documents, but instead held on to them and passed them on to the consigning family. Prior to Hake’s sale, they had not been displayed publicly.

Twenty-eight bidders competed for the lot, which sold for 10 times its minimum bid of $10,000. The buyer has not been identified.

“As pleased as we are with the result, a world auction record for an MLK signature, it is even more pleasing to see the deep level of appreciation extended by the dozen bidders and countless individuals who reacted to this offering,” Scott Mussell, Americana Specialist at Hake’s, told Hyperallergic.

He also emphasized the rarity of surviving artifacts dating from or related to King’s incarceration, describing the lot as “the penultimate piece for collectors and institutions seeking tangible material from these history-altering days.”

“The result is indicative of the importance of not just Martin Luther King but the struggle for Civil Rights and how it shaped and continues to shape our shared history,” Mussell added.

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Sea of Surveillance: Christopher Gregory-Rivera Exposes Policing in Puerto Rico

Surveillance is never sexy, contrary to what decades of Hollywood films would have us believe. At worst, it is a violent violation of privacy and independence; at its most innocuous, it is boring, including hours of stake outs and trailing people, supposedly in the name of safety. 

While popular culture glorifies the spies, Las Carpetas, Christopher Gregory-Rivera’s photography exhibition currently on view at Abrons Arts Center, focuses on the surveilled. For nearly four decades, the Puerto Rican secret police, with support from the FBI, tracked the movements of local activists, who were part of the Puerto Rican Independence Movement. The police and FBI would compile photographs, documents, even stolen books and other activist’s belongings, into a “carpeta” meaning file or binder. The contents of those files were then often used as the basis for prosecution, even execution. 

Installation view of Christopher Gregory-Rivera, Las Carpetas series (2014-2017), Abrons Arts Center, 2021

At the exhibition’s entrance, viewers are first confronted with a photograph of a sea of army green folders with white, typewritten labels, peeking out of a rusted gray metal file drawer. To the right of this initial image is another color photo of even more files, some half opened, some with labels falling off. 

Gregory-Rivera spent six years capturing the contents of these now declassified carpetas, and when they’re not in drawers, he trends to photograph them in stacks, like Jenga towers of wasted paper. The tall stacks demonstrate the sheer scale of the secret police’s reach, but the artist’s message is blunted by the lack of compelling visuals; it’s ultimately a photograph of manila folders. 

Christopher Gregory-Rivera, from Las Carpetas series (2014-2017)

This is the tension that sits at the heart of my experience of Las Carpetas: This period is a significant and overlooked part of US history, and the exhibit is a critical step in exposing the actions of both the mainland and Puerto Rican governments, but are pictures of folders, drawers, and file cabinets the most effective way to tell the stories of real people whose lives were needlessly impacted, and sometimes violently upended, by such surveillance? 

The most compelling parts of the exhibition are when Gregory-Rivera turns his camera away from the files, and towards people: photographs of activists at the airport, people caught mid-stride, and stark black-and-white images of a student and faculty strike at University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras Campus all lend human faces and further depth. Below these scenes sits a numbered list of names, written on a sheet torn from a legal pad. At first glance the list of names is just that. According to the exhibition guide, at least one of the individuals pictured was captured and killed by police nearly three years after the picture was taken. Equally important is Gregory-Rivera’s short video documentary, which features interviews with a few of the activists. Like the images of the activists and the strike, it gives the rest of the exhibit much needed human stories, and faces. 

Christopher Gregory-Rivera, from Las Carpetas series (2014-2017)

While the police were able to bury their violence in a sea of paperwork, Las Carpetas works to resurface some of those misdeeds. Meticulous accounting aside, Gregory-Rivera’s work is most rewarding when it leaves that paperwork behind, instead focusing on the lives each folder affected.

Las Carpetas continues through March 14 at Abrons Arts Center (466 Grand Street, at Pitt Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan). The exhibition was curated by Natalia Viera Salgado. 

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Devendra Banhart Exchanges Breath and Rhythm for Pencil and Ink

LOS ANGELES — The Grief I Have Caused You, currently on display at Nicodim Gallery, is artist and musician Devendra Banhart’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles. “The ‘you’ in the title is you,” Banhart clarified in an email to Hyperallergic. The show’s press release alludes to the shared experience of the pandemic, along with a constellation of references akin to an Allen Ginsberg poem. “I recently realized that when I first started making art it was all about ‘being me’ as much as possible,” Banhart wrote. “Over time, I’ve realized that it’s really about being less and less and less ‘me.’”

Installation view of Devendra Banhart: The Grief I Have Caused You at Nicodim Gallery

This theme takes the form of the body’s undoing, a literal unraveling of selfhood. The exhibition is rooted in the artist’s study of Chöd Buddhism and the practice of offering up one’s entire body. The painting “The Kiss”(2021) implies a fragmented affinity with the self, a fleshy, double-orificed face folded inwards. Banhart plays with repulsion, figures turning themselves inside out until the body is defamiliarized. “I would paint something repulsive till it started to crack me up,” Banhart wrote. Many figures retain this mix of the grotesque and funny — impish, puckering faces that look on the verge of either vomiting or laughing.

Devendra Banhart, “The Kiss” (2021), oil on canvas, 25 x 20 inches

In a mash-up of European modernist styles, Banharts’s works also feature landmarks such as the Brahmaputra River and Jongsong Peak. The Venezuelan-American artist has never been shy about incorporating other cultures into his work. However, the dogged East-West dichotomy in the show echoes the trope of Western artists mining Eastern philosophy for aesthetic fodder. Declarations of universal suffering from a white male celebrity can come across as condescending in a city like Los Angeles where the pandemic’s impact is decidedly stratified.

Devendra Banhart, “Barbarous Nomenclature” (2020), oil on canvas, 33.50 x 25 inches

The high symbolism and complex imagery of Banhart’s lyrics also find their way into his paintings. “Barbarous Nomenclature” (2020) is a tangle of strange signifiers — a crumpled ice cream cone, a toothy deity, a pair of cherries grazing a dick — tying together the divine, the erotic, and the monstrous. Any fan of his music will recognize the minimalist drawings from his album covers. An admirer of Cy Twombly, Banhart speaks to his own sparse use of line: “I will go through 50 to 100 drawings to get to the right line, the one that emits … the one you can hear.” It’s as though he is exchanging breath and rhythm for pencil and ink. While Banhart falters in his assumed ability to speak to any “you,” his drawings, which are kind of shaky and sparse, succeed in being intimate and vulnerable without making grandiose claims about universal suffering.

Devendra Banhart: The Grief I Have Caused You continues at Nicodim Gallery (1700 S Santa Fe Ave #160, Downtown, Los Angeles) through March 20.

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SAAM Highlights Cecilia Vicuña, Coco Fusco, and Mariam Ghani at Third Women Filmmakers Festival

Join the Smithsonian American Art Museum for our third annual Women Filmmakers Festival. This year, the festival is presented exclusively online with screenings and programming that highlights a different, singularly-inspiring artist each week. Organized around the theme of “Her History Lessons,” the featured filmmakers all create works that look to the past for insights into urgent issues of today. 

Register for Conversations With the Filmmakers

Conversations take place virtually each Wednesday of the festival at 5:30pm (EST).

  • March 3: Lessons from Environmental Histories with Cecilia Vicuña
  • March 10: Lessons from Activist Histories with Coco Fusco
  • March 17: Lessons from Pandemic Histories with Mariam Ghani

The 2021 Women Filmmakers Festival at SAAM features three groundbreaking women filmmakers: Cecilia Vicuña, Coco Fusco, and Mariam Ghani. Acknowledging the momentous events of 2020, the selected videos reflect on topics like colonial histories and the growing climate crisis; legacies of artists, activists, and state repression; and more than a century of pandemics tied to social upheavals. By showcasing these artists and inviting them into conversation with Smithsonian curators and audiences, the festival this year reckons with challenges that traverse generations and have much to teach us in navigating the road ahead. 

We will highlight a different woman filmmaker each week of the festival. On Mondays, we’ll release a longer video work by the featured artist, which will be available for viewing any time during the week. Viewers are encouraged to enjoy the film and submit questions and comments. These will be compiled and discussed each Wednesday in a live virtual conversation featuring the filmmaker and Smithsonian curators. All films and artist talks are free, but registration is required. 

Mark your calendar and register at americanart.si.edu.

Women Filmmakers Festival at SAAM is made possible by the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, Because of Her Story.

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A Field of Dried Grass Is Suspended from the Ceiling in ‘French Exit’ by Artist Tadao Cern

“French Exit,” (2020-2021). All images © Tadao Cern, shared with permission

In Tadao Cern’s sweeping installation “French Exit,” a cloud of feathery grasses looms over the room. The immersive artwork juxtaposes the ephemeral, dried material with the viewers who stand underneath as it creates a soothing and introspective space to consider the notions of farewells, whether it be the close of a party or more profound experiences, like the end of a relationship or death.

Cern tells Colossal that the title refers to the colloquialism about leaving a social gathering without saying goodbye. “This is something that I usually do because as an introvert, I can not bear with the attention that you get once you say that you have to go. A ping pong game starts of, ‘I have to go,’ and ‘please don’t go,’” says the Lithuania-based artist (previously) says.


Emitting a soft glow, the long-stemmed grasses connect to both the organic nature of the life cycle and the human desire to situate ourselves within a broader context, particularly when confronted by aging and death. Cern writes:

I tried to focus more on the aspect of what we would be missing the most during the last seconds of leaving this place.. My guess (is that) it would be something banal, like fields of wheat during the sunset… Banality is a result of such a strong love and affection with something/somebody that you even get sick of it. And hanging everything on the ceiling creates an illusion of floating for the viewer as if you are being taken to the sky.

Cern finished initial sketches for the installation—which also includes CGI elements and a massive arrow pointing downward—just before the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Months later, he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, coincidental timing that altered his understandings of death and how we collectively say goodbye. “Once the pandemic is over, hopefully, we’ll have a chance to contemplate our farewells in reality. If there is such a thing,” he says.

Purchase prints of the artist’s meditative projects on Patreon, and follow his latest installations on Instagram and Behance. (via Ignant)


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When More Than 5,000 Workers Resisted Rupert Murdoch’s UK Media Takeover

Of the many feelings conjured by Wapping: The Workers Story, the most striking is the proud working-class solidarity which is presented as a normal element of the Fleet Street newspaper business in the ’80s, before the unions were hobbled by the double threat of Margaret Thatcher and Rupert Murdoch. Filmmaker Christopher Reeves, assisted by editor of the New International Dispute Archive, Ann Field, assembles a wealth of archival footage, newspaper clippings, and interviews to tell how Murdoch sacked 5,500 printworkers in 1986, and how they then took to the streets for over a year, amidst a climate of police brutality and the media distorting their motives. They may have ultimately lost, but the printworkers, many of whom are featured here, have a clear perspective on the methods Murdoch used against them. This clarity is immensely valuable in understanding the unstoppable mogul, who at 89 shows no signs of curbing his appetite for power for power’s sake. As I write, he is preparing to launch a TV news channel in the UK

In 1986, Murdoch’s global expansion was well underway. After building on his newspaper proprietor father’s legacy in Australia by acquiring a large number of titles and effectively creating the modern tabloid format, in 1968 he entered the UK market, purchasing the News of the World (this would be followed by the Sun in 1969 and the Times and Sunday Times in 1981). He was well-known in Australia but yet to be established in the UK (and American growth was to come). As Terry Smith, who worked in the Sun’s composing room, puts it: “The Australian Labour Party had sent a delegation over at one time and said, ‘You know you’re dealing with a snake, and a not very nice one either.’ But the union said, ‘Look, this bloke is giving our people work, jobs, okay? We’ll watch the situation, but as far as we’re concerned, we want this to work.’”

Granville Williams of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom believes that Murdoch’s desire to replace a unionized workforce with a more pliable one traced to the UK miners’ strike of 1984-5. The Murdoch-controlled press put out hate-filled rhetoric about the miners, including a front-page feature about the president of the miners’ union, Arthur Scargill, bearing the headline “Mine Fuhrer.” The printworkers, who had already shown cross-industry solidarity by donating money to the miners’ fund, refused to print it. “Murdoch really hated the idea that people whose wages he was paying could even challenge his right to own a newspaper,” says Williams. 

A young Rupert Murdoch in Wapping

Shortly afterward, the mogul bought a new plant in the Wapping neighborhood of London, which was so heavily guarded that it became known as “Fortress Wapping.” He furtively brought in a new workforce, offered his existing workforce unacceptable terms of employment, and promptly fired them all when they did not accept. A leaked legal letter confirms that he had been looking into “the cheapest way of dispensing with the present workforce.” This method was indeed cheap, for it meant no redundancy pay and no unfair dismissal claims. 5,500 people were instantly off the payroll after a lifetime of loyal service, their survival be damned. This workforce had learned their trade when newspapers were made with printing presses, necessitating a range of typesetting jobs supported by strong unions in SOGAT (the Society for Graphical and Allied Trades) and NGA (the National Graphical Association). The sacked printworkers were portrayed as luddites, unable to adapt to changing technologies, and their actual grievance over the nature of their dismissals was buried. 

This ruthless posturing can be seen today in the climate change denialism rampant across Murdoch’s Australian newspapers, such as the Australian, the Daily Telegraph, and the Herald Sun. After the forest fires that raged across the continent in 2020, these publications instead blamed land management, arson, and even the policies of the Green Party. (Read the whistle-blowing on this disinformation campaign by a brave former employee, Emily Townsend.) The reactionary culture of simplifying reality with no regard for the consequences has long been part of the Murdoch modus operandi, with Fox News in the US as the most consistently stark example. Anything goes, so long as it keeps him at the top of the pile. No scandal has so typified the “ends justifies the means” logic of the Murdoch press more than the News International phone-hacking scandal of 2005, in which it was discovered that journalists working for News of the World and the Sun had hacked the phones of celebrities, royals, and even murdered schoolgirl Millie Dowler. 

A protest in Wapping

Yet despite the demise of NOW in 2011 and the Leveson Inquiry which followed, Murdoch himself remains untouched, a shadowy figure floating above all that he enables. This is because, unlike someone like Donald Trump, who craves the spotlight, Murdoch prefers to wheel and deal behind closed doors. His power stems from access to the figures and machinery of state. During the Wapping dispute, he was able to bring about in days court proceedings that would normally take months. In Australia in the ’60s, he convinced mining magnate Lang Hancock to sell him mineral prospects by offering the Western Australian government, which had been blocking the sale, “a headline a day or a bucket of shit every day. What’s it to be?” (The Crikey documented this episode in its dive into the nature of Murdoch’s power.) Over 50 years on, this influence has only intensified. Murdoch and his senior executives met with senior ministers and officials in government over 200 times in 24 months, according to 2018 research by Hacked Off, a campaign against press abuses established in 2011 in response to the phone-hacking revelations, with victim actor Hugh Grant amongst the key personnel. 

Murdoch’s controlling interests flow down as well as up. “He only appoints people who are in the sense a facsimile of him,” says Williams, citing as an example The Sun editor from 1981-94 Kelvin MacKenzie, a notorious bully who also hated unions. This view is substantiated by the late Harold Evans, a former editor of the Times, quoted in The Crikey as saying that Murdoch executives: “act like courtiers, working towards what they perceive to be his wishes or might be construed as his wishes … They act this way out of fear, certainly, because executions are so brutal, but the fear also reflects a more rational appreciation of the fact that his ‘wild’ gambles so often turn out to be triumphs lesser mortals could not even imagine.” Perhaps the most striking expression of how Murdoch’s interests pass wordlessly into his employees comes from biographer William Shawcross, who describes how his wishes and views “merely emanated from him, rather like ectoplasm.” Faced with such an intimidating authority, the temptation is simply to stand aside. What is so moving about Wapping is that the printworkers didn’t do that. They pushed back with the story as they knew it to be, and continue to do so to this day in the hope that, by paying their insights forwards, others will take the baton and the truth will eventually win out.

A mobile boycott campaign display from a demonstration in Wapping

Wapping: The Workers Story is available to stream via Vimeo.

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Sheets of Frosted Glass Obscure Floral Bouquets in a Photographic Series About Ambiguity

All images © Studio Lernert & Sander

Exuding elegance and obscurity, Foggy Flowers is a two-photograph series by Sander Plug and Lernert Engelberts that centers on our collective outlook for the future through a blur of frosted glass. The duo, who work under Studio Lernert & Sander, unearthed the delicate shots from their archive—the images were taken in 2018 during a week-long period when they worked continuously on various projects—in May 2020 for Volkskrant Magazine, which asked them to epitomize their creative process during lockdown.

They didn’t want “to jump on the ‘look how very creative we are during this lockdown’ train,” Plug says, and despite their anachronistic context, the two-year-old series fit the studio’s perspective. “When I look back, I see that the blurry and fuzzy flowers are about ambiguity,” he writes. “It symbolizes the way we looked to the future then and how everyone sees the future now. There’s no point in worrying because no one can say how things will turn out now.”

Based in Amsterdam, Plug and Engelberts have been collaborating for about a decade, creating a variety of commercial photography and film projects. A few limited-edition C-prints of the blurred bouquets are still available on their site, and head to Instagram to explore more of their work that ranges from documentaries to animal portraiture to installations filled with cubed cheese. (via Iain Claridge)


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How Miami’s Museum of Art and Design Censored Forensic Architecture and Retreated From Social Justice

When I was working on my proposal for a Forensic Architecture exhibition at the Museum of Art and Design (MOAD) at Miami Dade College (MDC), news headlines were awash with the horrors of the Trump administration’s immigration policy and the normalization of disinformation in public discourse. A 40-minute drive south of MOAD, the Homestead Child Migrant Detention Center stood as the reification of both illiberal practices. Children were detained in unsanitary conditions, allegedly without adequate medical care, subject to sexual abuse, and exposed to toxins as well as damaging decibels of noise from the surrounding airbase.  Much about Homestead was obfuscated, and still today it is unclear what will happen to the children who were taken from their parents and then deemed “unaccompanied.” Other facts were well-established. For one, the prolonged detention of children seeking safety violates the Flores Agreement. The profit motive is even more troubling. Trump’s family separation policy was proposed by John Kelly when he served as Secretary of Homeland Security. He continued to advocate the policy as chief of staff and then financially gained from it by joining the board of Caliburn International shortly after the company received a $341 million no-bid government contract to operate Homestead as a for-profit temporary influx shelter. 

Forensic Architecture was no stranger to investigating detention centers, nor to investigating board members who profit from violence toward asylum seekers. Its contribution to the 2019 Whitney Biennial, Triple-Chaser (produced with Praxis Films), presented evidence that the Whitney Museum’s then vice chairman was in the business of manufacturing munitions used against immigrants and civilian protesters. As with investigatory artist projects such as Andrea Fraser’s 2016 in Museums, Money, and Politics and Nan Goldin’s PAIN Sackler direct actions, Triple-Chaser reminded viewers of an important duality. Museums are often embroiled in unscrupulous systems of patronage. Concurrently, they are potent spaces for publicizing, examining, and protesting injustice.

Video still from Triple-Chaser (2019); during the process of training a “computer vision” classifier, bounding boxes and “masks” tell the classifier where in the image the Triple-Chaser grenade exists (image by Forensic Architecture/Praxis Films).

It occurred to me that while child welfare services, state inspectors, journalists, and activists were denied complete access to Homestead, Forensic Architecture’s mode of “counter-forensics” demonstrates that it is possible to peer inside nonetheless. Defined as a civil practice that turns the forensic gaze against state perpetrators of violence, counter-forensics often involves community collaborators and employs cultural forums to expose culpability along with the very ways culpability can be obscured. I also understood that displaying Forensic Architecture’s investigations, techniques, and theoretical principles would turn MOAD’s galleries into forums for accountability. The public programming would need to correspond. Therefore, I proposed dedicating the exhibition’s discursive and pedagogical events to supporting research and presenting evidence of human right violations at Homestead. My proposal was approved by the museum director, Rina Carvajal, and became the basis for an ill-fated collaboration with Forensic Architecture on its first United States survey exhibition, Forensic Architecture: True to Scale.

Video still from Triple-Chaser (2019); we asked activists around the world to find, and film, examples of the Triple Chaser grenade. We used photogrammetry to turn those images into a precise 3D model (image by Forensic Architecture/Praxis Films).

From the beginning, the Homestead project required significant but achievable divergence from normative museum operations. In addition to inviting guest speakers, we were forming a coalition. Besides hosting lectures, we would provide practical training on investigatory techniques and facilitate further evidence gathering and presentation. Beyond marketing the exhibition, we were drawing attention to the humanitarian crisis at and within our borders. Initially, the reorientation of our work seemed more like the natural fulfillment of MOAD’s mission than the intolerable threat to the institution’s power structure that it turned out to be. At the time, the museum’s mission statement professed: “art and design can change our communities and the world … MOAD strives to be a catalyst for action and a place that empowers people to rethink and remake their city.” With this project, there would be evidence that we meant what we said.

And indeed, there is ample evidence of the museum’s commitment to the Homestead investigation as well as our progress working with Forensic Architecture and program participants to lay the groundwork. We planned on finalizing logistics during Forensic Architecture Director Eyal Weizman’s trip to Miami. We would then visit the detention center and coordinate next steps with all of our partners. But two days before Weizman was to board his flight, Homeland Security revoked his visa-waiver.

Less concerned with Weizman’s denied entry than with my comments on it to the press, the museum director and MDC’s director of cultural affairs Natalia Crujeiras (who previously oversaw content for the propaganda broadcast Radio and TV Martí) called a meeting with MDC’s director of communications Juan Mendieta. He was particularly concerned in light of what he said was “grumblings from the board.” Board members appointed by Trump sycophant and anti-immigration hardliner Governor Ron DeSantis had recently filled a power vacuum left when the long-term college president announced his retirement in February 2019. The mere presumption of their disapproval was becoming a curatorial consideration. The museum director vocally fretted that the two previous projects I organized (Navild and Sosa: Black Power Naps/Siestas Negras and Paul Ramírez Jonas: Alternative Facts) might inspire them to cut our budget. She often said that we needed to include more Cuban exiles in our programing to placate one member in particular, who proposed turning MOAD into another Cuba museum

Mendieta told me not to discuss Weizman’s visa because it would add to an impression that the entire exhibition was critical of the Trump administration. I argued that True to Scale was about fact-finding, not partisan politics. I explained that an investigation of a US drone strike in Pakistan took place under the Obama administration, one of a racially motivated police shooting in Chicago occurred under a Democratic mayor, and that, per the director’s request, an interactive model of the site where Venezuelan security forces killed anti-Maduro rebels would be on view as well. They requested material pertaining to those works and adjourned so I could complete the install.

Video still from Triple-Chaser (2019); Rendering images of our model against bold, generic patterns, known as ‘decontextualised images’, improves the classifier’s ability to identify the grenade (image by Forensic Architecture/Praxis Films).

A misalignment emerged. True to Scale approached human rights as both a subject to discuss and the object of our professed principles, that which we would actually defend and meaningfully advance. The institution understood it as an indexical term that could swivel between two antithetical dispositions: woke to the left-leaning art community and anti-socialist to the power brokers of Miami. Just like MDC’s self-generated tagline, “Democracy’s college,” it served as ambidextrous virtue signaling to fundamentally conflicting stakeholders. The museum mouthed the words of social justice but with the realization that those words would preface consequences, it began to choke.

On February 19th, Forensic Architecture team member Dr. Ines Weizman inaugurated the exhibition by reading her husband Eyal’s statement announcing the launch of the Homestead investigation. MOAD began disavowing and suppressing the investigation the very next morning. Their argument began ad hominem. The director told Weizman that I had been acting “rogue” and “without authorization.” Explicit mention of our intention throughout a successful $120,000 Knight Foundation grant application, correspondence with the dean of visual arts on an internship to create augmented reality visualizations of the facility, the press release, a promotional video … reams of documents prove the contrary. The next argument deployed circular reasoning. It was impossible to approve a project that was not “fully-finalized.” To be fully-finalized, it had to assume “a neutral position” regarding Homestead. Ergo, approval was contingent on formally resubmitting a proposal for programming that did not investigate Homestead. 

Neutrality, of course, is not a non-position. It is a tacit endorsement of the status quo. In art history, the neutrality of institutions is both what Institutional Critique has long disproven and the pretext first used to censor art work rooted in this critique. Recall how the Guggenheim Museum excluded a pair of Hans Haacke’s investigatory works from a proposed 1971 retrospective because it “violates the supreme neutrality of the work of art and therefore no longer merits the protection of the museum.” Then as now, the act of censorship exposes precisely what these museums try to conceal: their own complicity.

According to Cuban dissident artist Tania Bruguera, the “suggestion” was Cuba’s first form of censorship. Similarly (and ironically), we can trace MOAD’s erasure of the Homestead investigation to a suggestion the director of cultural affairs made in October 2019. Since True to Scale “has controversial elements in our current political environment,” she wrote, “it is in our best interest to find a way to include some exploration about Cuba and Venezuela to generate a balance.” In December, the suggestion intensified into being “of outmost [sic] importance” and was reframed as a desire, “to include/represent the countries of origin of Miami’s majority immigrant community.” But wasn’t Homestead already checking that box? By exclude/othering the predominantly Latinx child detainees from consideration, the suggestion policed our discourse with the same immigration biases through which ICE polices US borders. Nevertheless, I developed programming to satisfy that problematic category. However, in February when the suggestion became a directive to remove all practical applications of Forensic Architecture’s techniques, achieve “balance” through a “diversity of opinions,” “divorce ourselves from the concept of investigating,” and use Latin American and Caribbean content to “divert attention from Homestead,” I could not capitulate.

My gag order grew to encompass all inquiries related to True to Scale. Reference to the Homestead investigation disappeared from our website despite Forensic Architecture’s strong objection. All marketing campaigns ceased until resubmitted through a new approval process whereby they were swiftly rejected. The marketing manager, Nicole Martinez, was wrongly accused of insubordination and resigned in exasperation. I was berated about the budget although nothing about it was amiss. With punitive implications, an exhibition I had been working on for a year was canceled along with our plans to make simple, inexpensive finishing touches to the True to Scale installation, such as re-painting a wall. Curatorial Assistant Gladys Hernando’s contract was prematurely terminated shortly after the director reprimanded her for expressing distress over the sudden hostility toward me.

Installation view of the Study Center within Forensic Architecture: True to Scale at the Museum of Art and Design, MDC, curated by Sophie Landres (courtesy Gladys Hernando)

Barred from further coordination with Homestead participants, I attended a mandatory MDC “Professional Development Day” event on the day I would have visited Homestead. It opened with the acting president boasting of “better inroads with the governor’s office” and “a new level of respect from the state government.” Two days later, I was sent a drastically gutted, “approved” version of our new proposal, which both Forensic Architecture and I found unacceptable. Tellingly, an edit to a panel description inaccurately added Cuba to the US State Department’s 2020 list of Latin American countries where Russia launched disinformation campaigns. That simply was not true.

The pandemic caused the museum to close before Forensic Architecture and I had a chance to respond. Working remotely, I drafted proposals to salvage parts of the project through virtual programming. Instead, MOAD reallocated the Knight grant funds to produce Dora Garcia’s nostalgic I Remember Miami homage to the city’s sun-bleached past. They described it as a “gesture of solidarity.” Then, although MOAD was set to reopen before True to Scale would close, I was placed on leave until my contract expired and was made aware that it would not be renewed. Yesterday (February 23, 2021), the Miami Herald reported that the Biden administration plans to reopen the detention center, now renamed the “Biscayne Influx Care Facility.”

Museums are rarely in a position to obstruct human rights investigations, but MOAD is not the only institution that censors art, castigates employees, and holds allegiance to political operatives that do far worse. Nor is it the only one whose Instagram grandstanding and social justice buzzwords are a form of misinformation. A current trend in political philosophy is to reclassify authoritarianism less as a regime type than as a practice that subsists in democratic countries and autocracies alike. Manipulating information to sabotage accountability is its defining attribute.  Producing knowledge to pursue accountability is “counter-forensics.” We need more of the latter in our museums because when we put this type of work on view, it looks right back at us.

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A View From the Easel During Times of Quarantine

This is the 194th installment of a series in which artists send in a photo and a description of their workspace. In light of COVID-19, we’ve asked participants to reflect on how the pandemic has impacted their studio space and/or if their work process has changed while quarantining. Want to take part? Please submit your studio! Just check out the submission guidelines.

Tamara English, Portland, Oregon

In my studio practice there are usually between 10 and 30 paintings in process at a time. I find working with multiple palettes and sizes cultivates more exploration and experimentation. This body of work, called The Great Uplift, first appeared in 2019, arising out of some research I was doing on studies about the effects of consistent meditation practices, responding to meditators’ reports of experiences of spaciousness and buoyancy. 

When the coronavirus pandemic began to cause numerous countries to implement stay-at-home orders, I reflected on this idea of living in interior space, both physically inside and also more inside oneself. As an artist working in a home-based studio, my daily process in the studio barely changed. What did change for me was a deeper understanding of what it means to tend to the well-being of one’s inner life. In the studio I would ask these questions: Can we meet the uncertainties of this time with a spaciousness that allows us to rise above worries and concerns in our inner landscapes? Can we be uplifted inside, so that we can navigate these strange times with resilience and grace? These paintings feel so perfect for this time.

Richard Keen, Brunswick, Maine

For over a decade, my primary studio has been within Fort Andross, an old mill in Brunswick, Maine. It is an exciting community to be a part of, and my studio has amazing high ceilings, big windows, and lots of natural light bouncing off the Androscoggin River. It’s a stunning space, and I feel really fortunate to be there. When the pandemic hit, and Maine went under a “shelter in place” order from the governor, I decided to create a “bunker” studio in the basement of my home. My small home studio is simultaneously challenging and comforting. The ceilings are low, the windows are small, and I have the sounds of my family life going on above me — but these limits and the increased intimacy between my art and my home life have pushed me to see and interact with my work in fundamentally different ways. I’ve begun to think of my home studio more as “incubator” than “bunker,” and when I move the paintings from home to my mill studio for completion — I’m just amazed. It opens them up in entirely new ways.

Tyler Barnett, Malibu, California

Here’s a picture of my studio located in Malibu, just steps away from the Pacific Ocean. In the beginning of 2020 I expanded this space with the intention of opening up a gallery called Enso Gallery; however, the pandemic put a temporary hold on that plan.

I had the space to myself. My thoughts, which were once calm, were now running wild. The walls, which were completely white at the beginning of the pandemic, were now starting to become part of my creative process. There’s something about painting your walls that triggers a part of your brain to let you know that it’s OK not to hold back your expression.

Those circles you see are the enso, which inspires much of my work. Drawing the enso helped me control my thoughts, which was difficult to do amid the chaos of last year. The roman numerals next to the masked face represent a quote from Nikola Tesla that I think about often: “If you knew the magnificence of three, six, and nine, you would have a key to the universe.” Every time I look at these walls, I feel at peace and my creative potential feels unlimited.

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Week in Review: Australian Arts Orgs Impacted by Facebook Ban; NYC Loses 66% of Creative Jobs in 2020

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.

Impact of COVID-19 on the Arts

Researchers at the Berlin Institute of Technology say the risk of COVID-19 transmission is far lower in museums and theaters than any other indoor activity, including supermarkets and restaurants.

Employment in the arts, entertainment, and recreation in New York City has plummeted by two-thirds during the COVID-19 pandemic, the largest decline among the city’s economic sectors in 2020.

Dartmouth Community Opposes Leon Black-funded Arts Center

Dartmouth College alumni and students are calling for the school to rename the Black Family Visual Arts Center following revelations of Leon Black’s financial ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. “The building represents an ever-present insult to all Dartmouth survivors,” said members of Dartmouth Community Against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence.

Facebook “Unfriends” Australian Organizations

Last week, over 500 Australian arts organizations discovered their Facebook pages had been removed as a result of the platform’s reaction to a recent federal regulation over media guidelines. The government soon announced that Facebook “intends to restore Australian news pages in the coming days,” but the repercussions for small organizations could be long-term.

In Other News

The Baltimore Museum of Art has received gifts totaling over $1 million in support of its long-term financial plan to increase access and equity within the museum. The museum had previously planned to fund the initiatives using proceeds from the sale of three major artworks, a proposal that drew sharp criticism from many in the arts community.

The Palm Springs City Council rejected a bid to fund the installation of a Desert X artwork, citing the biennial’s partnership with Saudi Arabia.

Meme artist Tommy Marcus raised over $1 million for Planned Parenthood, donated ironically in Rush Limbaugh’s memory. During his life, the ultra-conservative commentator lambasted the national nonprofit and accused it of “sexual perversion.”

New findings reveal that a curious inscription on Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” — saying the work “could only have been painted by a madman” — is by the artist’s hand.

While protests over free speech in Spain rock the country, the last statue of dictator Francisco Franco has come down.


Thomas R. Ellis and Brian Robinson were elected members of the Guggenheim Foundation board of trustees.

Tim Kent is now represented by Hollis Taggart.

Christine Kuan was named president and executive director of Creative Capital.

Candice Madey has opened a new, eponymous gallery.

Cameron Shaw was appointed executive director of the California African American Museum, where she has served as deputy director and chief curator since September 2019.

In Memoriam

Rajie Cook (1930–2021), assemblage sculptor best known for creating the ubiquitous pictograms used to identify restrooms, emergency services, and more | New York Times

Peter G. Davis (1936–2021), classical music critic for the New York Times and New York magazine | New York Times

Arturo Di Modica (1941–2021), sculptor of the Wall Street “Charging Bull” | Wall Street Journal

Milford Graves (1941–2021), free-jazz drummer, scientist, and educator | NPR

Barry Le Va (1941–2021), sculptor and installation artist | ARTnews

Rupert Neve (1926), pioneer in modern studio recording | Guardian

Helen Rae (1938–2021), contemporary artist | Tierra del Sol Gallery

Douglas Turner Ward (1930–2021), founder of the Negro Ensemble Company in New York | Playbill

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Biden Revokes Trump’s Executive Order Mandating “Beautiful” Classical Architecture

During the last weeks of his presidency, Donald Trump signed an executive order to make federal buildings “beautiful again” by imposing a neoclassical style of architecture. On Wednesday, February 24, President Joe Biden nixed the mandate, among a series of other Trump-era executive orders and memos.

Titled “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture,” Trump’s executive order mandated that “classical architecture shall be the preferred and default architecture for Federal public buildings.”

America’s landmark buildings should “inspire the human spirit, ennoble the United States, command respect from the general public,” the order added. It went on to attack contemporary architectural designs that had been approved by the General Services Administration (GSA) as “unappealing,” “lack[ing] dignity,” and straight-up “ugly.”

“The resulting Federal architecture sometimes impresses the architectural elite, but not the American people who the buildings are meant to serve,” Trump’s order argued. An earlier draft of the order came close to banning 20th-century Brutalist and Deconstructivist architecture entirely, but a softer language was used in the final version, allowing different styles of architecture “where appropriate.”  

Biden’s decision to scrap the order might put him in a conflict with Justin Shubow, the Trump-appointed chairman of the US Commission of Fine Arts. Shubow, who is also president of the National Civic Art Society (NCAS), is believed to be the driving force behind Trump’s executive order.

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After Canceling Controversial Deaccessioning, Baltimore Museum Receives Over $1M for Equity Initiatives

The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) has received three major gifts totaling over $1 million in support of its Endowment for the Future, a long-term financial plan meant to increase access and equity within the museum. The BMA had previously planned to fund many of the initiatives using proceeds from sales of artworks in its collection. When a proposal to deaccession a trio of modern paintings last fall came under scrutiny by local and national cultural figures in a controversy that roiled the art world, however, the museum reversed course only hours before two of the works were set to go under the hammer.

Thanks to a $1 million lead gift from philanthropist and collector Eileen Harris Norton, announced today, the Baltimore institution will be able to materialize many of its diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEIA) programs without parting with the works by Brice Marden, Clyfford Still, and Andy Warhol that critics of the deaccession plan deemed “some of their most valuable.” (The sale of the paintings was expected to bring in a whopping $65 million.)

An additional $350,000 from the Rouse Company Foundation and $110,000 from honorary trustee Jeffrey A. Legum will be used to establish evening hours and implement immediate pay increases for hourly workers, from $13.50 to $15.

“I knew the BMA was unable to accommodate an increase in the minimum wage this year so I decided to help them until they could afford it,” said Legum, who served on the BMA’s board for 23 years, in a statement. “I am glad that so many people on the staff will immediately benefit from this gift.”

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Rich Gradients Flow Through a Luxe Set of Chocolate Bars with Matching Packaging

All images via Little MOTHERHOUSE

Whether subtly shifting from lemon balm to mint or more dramatically from chestnut to beet-soaked maroon, Little MOTHERHOUSE’s sweets are infused with elegant gradients that permeate both bar and packaging. The white-chocolate treats are produced from cocoa beans grown on a farm in Sulawesi, Indonesia, and then dyed naturally with fruits, teas, and other edibles. Their luxe aesthetic dovetails with equally sumptuous flavors, including black pepper yuzu, matcha raspberry, and cassis brandy, all of which coincide with one of Japan’s four seasons. Pick up a single bar, or more realistically try all 12, by heading to the designer’s shop. (via Present & Correct)


Matcha x Raspberry

Black Pepper x Yuzu

Blueberry x Ginger

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MoMA Receives Donation of 100 Photos by Women Artists Spanning a Century

Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob), “M.R.M (Sex)” (c. 1929-30), Gelatin silver print, 6 × 4 inches (15.2 × 10.2 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Helen Kornblum in honor of Roxana Marcoci. (all images courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, New York)

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York announced a gift of 100 photographs by women artists from the collection of psychotherapist Helen Kornblum, who has avidly collected work by women photographers for four decades and joined MoMA’s photography committee in 2014. The donation spans over a century and encompasses everything from commercial studio photography and photojournalism to highly experimental work. Among the 76 artists represented are early modernists such as Claude Cahun and Gertrud Arndt, as well as contemporary practitioners including Catherine Opie and Carrie Mae Weems.

For some of the artists, like Cara Romero, a recent recipient of NDN Collective’s Radical Imagination Grant, it is the first time that their work has entered MoMA’s collection. Romero’s inkjet print “Wakeah” (2018) comes from the Chemehuevi photographer’s First American Girl series, a group of colorful, stylized portraits of Indigenous women made to resemble dolls in boxes, challenging stereotypical representations and emphasizing their self-possession. 

Dolls are also a motif in the work of Hungarian-born Mexican photographer Kati Horna, whose silver gelatin print “Doll Parts” (c. 1938) is included in the donation. This is the eighth work by Horna, a close friend of Surrealists Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo, to enter MoMA’s collection. 

Friendship between women artists underlies Mexican photographer and gallerist Lola Álvarez Bravo’s 1945 portrait of Frida Kahlo, also featured in Kornblum’s gift. Álvarez Bravo was a close friend of Kahlo’s and gave the Mexican Surrealist painter her first and only solo show in Mexico in her lifetime.

Cara Romero, “Wakeah” (2018), Pigmented inkjet print, 52 × 44 inches (132.1 × 111.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Helen Kornblum in honor of Roxana Marcoci. (© 2021 Cara Romero)

Kornblum made the donation in honor of Dr. Roxana Marcoci, senior curator in the Robert B. Menschel Department of Photography at MoMA. Marcoci has worked at MoMA since 1999, curating or co-curating exhibitions including Louise Lawler’s first New York museum survey show in 2017 and the US debut of a major photographic project by Taryn Simon in 2012.

Sharing her sentiments on the donation in a statement, Marcoci said:

We are honored that Helen Kornblum has made this extraordinarily generous gift, and for her far-reaching vision. The collection raises a whole set of questions: How do we go about unsettling established art historical narratives? Unfixing the canon? Researching counter-histories? This gift offers the perfect platform to examine women photographers’ self-agency within a diversity of artistic strategies and activate new readings about their contributions to contemporary culture.

Works from Kornblum’s donation will be featured in collection installations and an exhibition, with an accompanying scholarly catalogue, planned for 2022.

Susan Meiselas, “A Funeral Procession in Jinotepe for Assassinated Student Leaders. Demonstrators Carry a Photograph of Arlen Siu, an FSLN Guerilla Fighter Killed in the Mountains Three Years Earlier” (1978), Chromogenic color print, 15 13/16 × 23 1/2 inches (40.2 × 59.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Helen Kornblum in honor of Roxana Marcoci. (© 2021 Susan Meiselas)

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Facebook Lifts Australia Ban, but Arts Organizations Will Face Long-term Repercussions

Over 500 Australian organizations, many of them small publishers, had their Facebook pages temporarily disabled as collateral damage in Facebook’s sweeping ban. (illustration by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

This article was first published by ArtsHub Australia.

On Tuesday, February 23 — almost as quickly as the ban was introduced — the federal government announced that Facebook “intends to restore Australian news pages in the coming days” after amendments were made to the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code. In short, Facebook’s news ban worked and the government responded to get pages back up.

It comes as cold comfort for art organizations who woke to blank Facebook pages  and a barrier between them and their audiences on Thursday, February 18.

Elliot Bledsoe, director of the communications consulting firm Agentry, assembled a list of impacted arts organizations last week.

“I started a public Google document to keep a record of affected pages and domains and to provide lists of affected pages and domains directly to Facebook,” Bledsoe told ArtsHub. His list was open source so names could be added by anyone.

Within 72 hours, the list had 500 names. “But undoubtedly there are hundreds more individual artists and small arts organizations who have been impacted and don’t even know it.”

Small Press Network’s General Manager Tim Coronel saw many organizations shut down last week — many of them small publishers.

“This came as a shock, as they didn’t consider themselves “news” organizations. Book publishers of all sizes use Facebook extensively as a means to communicate directly with readers and to promote books, authors and events,” he said.

Who Decides What Constitutes “News”?

For many, it was the indiscriminate nature of the shutdown that was hardest to understand. At the time of writing, literary journal Meanjin (with over 13,500 Facebook followers) was still down, but Island Magazine (a literary journal with 5,560 followers) was restored. Newly re-opened ACMI was quickly restored last week, but Darwin Visual Arts was still left out in the cold.

ArtsHub also heard from Garland magazine, Multicultural Arts Victoria, Australasian Dance Collective, Stanthorpe Regional Gallery, and many more that they were shut down, though some have since been restored.

What do all of these organizations have in common? It’s hard to see any link, but Facebook likely applied an algorithm (looking for all sites that used the word “news,” for example) and then manually restored some pages — based on lists like Bledsoe’s open-source document.

The Facebook ban seems to have been deliberately broad in order to have as much impact as possible and influence the Federal Government to re-think its News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code.

The arbitrariness of the ban struck a nerve with the Media and Entertainment Arts Alliance (MEAA), which — while relieved to hear that the Facebook ban on news organizations was to be lifted — believes the code caters mostly to big media outlets.

“For small publishers who fail to make side deals with the tech giants, they could be locked out, further entrenching the narrow ownership base of the Australian media market,” MEAA Media Federal President Marcus Strom said in a statement.

While high-profile media outlets like Guardian Australia and Nine News able to strike up those deals with Facebook and Google, smaller publishers and arts organizations will miss the boat.

“We now face the strange possibility that the News Media Mandatory Code could be passed by Parliament and it applies to precisely no one. It will just sit in the Treasurer’s draw as a threat to misbehaving digital companies, which could later counter threat to turn the tap back off,” Strom continued.

For many, the legislation has been as rushed as Facebook’s ban, without enough consultation with smaller organizations who have relied on the social media platform to build their audiences.

Bledsoe explained, “What the news block on Facebook demonstrates is that changes to platforms can have wide-reaching and unintended ramifications. Regulation should be carefully thought out and implemented to minimize disruption and uncertainty, and should include wide stakeholder consultation with all parties that may be impacted.”

Coronel agrees that greater consultation is needed, as he has seen many small presses dealt with indiscriminately, and with almost no communication from either the federal government or Facebook.

Like many organizations caught in the ban who are now considering closing down their Facebook pages and working on other channels to contact their audiences, Coronel is cautious about the future.

“What this saga really demonstrates is how reliant we’ve all become on a global, commercial platform that doesn’t really care about a few million of its users in Australia. There is much talk of alternative platforms, but in reality, publishers and arts organizations need to be where their audiences are, and that is still going to be Facebook and its wholly-owned subsidiary Instagram,” he said.

Facebook was approached for comment for this story but had not responded by the time of publication.

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Two-thirds of New York City’s Arts and Recreation Jobs Have Been Lost to the Pandemic

Employment in the arts, entertainment, and recreation in New York City has experienced the largest decline among the city’s economic sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic, plummeting by 66 percent in 2020.

The sector, which includes museums and performance venues like theaters and opera houses as well as sports arenas and casinos, has also shown the slowest improvement in employment, according to a new report by the state comptroller’s office (OSC). In February 2020, nearly 87,000 people were employed in these entities; by April, that number had dipped to 34,100, where it has fluctuated since December.

For museums, historical sites, and similar institutions, year-over-year employment was 13,800 in December 2019 and 8,700 in December 2020, a drop of about 37%, an OSC representative told Hyperallergic.

Museums, parks, and historical sites make up 15% of the arts, recreation, and entertainment sector’s jobs, with performing arts and spectator sports accounting for 50% (amusement, gambling, and recreation make up the remaining 35%). Though some of these businesses have started welcoming visitors as part of the state’s phased reopening plan, most establishments in the performing arts and sports subsector have not been allowed to reopen. The Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet have both announced they will not reopen until September 2021.

Since last March, 59% of arts and entertainment businesses in NYC have shut down, reports Crain’s New York. More than 60% of the city’s arts venues received loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), with the number of approved loans for museums and historical sites specifically nearly equaling the number of establishments.

To help soften the blow, cultural organizations have taken steps that would be considered dramatic pre-pandemic, like dipping into endowment funds or deaccessioning artworks. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent announcement that it is considering directing funds from deaccession sales to cover collection care costs and salaries has been met with sharp criticism, including by the likes of Met Director Thomas Campbell. Others argue that the moves are justified if they protect hard-hit arts workers.

In a victory for the performing arts community, Congress passed a relief package that included $15 billion for shuttered live venues in December, but the Small Business Administration has not yet started accepting applications or announced a launch date for the program.

A full recovery of the sector will only be possible with increased government assistance, said Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has had a profound and negative impact on the industry. It has forced facilities to close, thrust thousands into unemployment and pushed businesses to the brink of collapse,” DiNapoli said in an announcement Wednesday.

“The challenges facing the arts and entertainment sector require direct and impactful support from policymakers to maintain the city’s extensive cultural offerings,” he added in the report.

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Algae Sequins Embellish a Petroleum-Free Dress Designed by Phillip Lim and Charlotte McCurdy

All images © One x One, shared with permission

“Sequins are synonymous with plastic waste,” says renowned designer Phillip Lim about an endeavor to combat the egregious amount of pollution generated each year by the fashion industry. He’s part of the 2020 cohort for One X One—a Slow Factory Foundation initiative that matches scientists and designers with an eye toward regenerative technologies, equitable production, and circular economy models—in which he collaborated with Charlotte McCurdy, a researcher who’s undertaken a variety of sustainable-fashion projects. Together, they created a luxe A-line dress covered in algae sequins that’s free from petroleum and other synthetic materials.

In their partnership, the duo drew on McCurdy’s process of pulling carbon from the atmospheric reservoir and binding the organic substance together with heat, a method she used previously to create a water-resistant raincoat made from marine micro-algae. The bioplastic then is poured into custom molds and emerges in sheets that the pair cut into long, arced sequins. Because the algae-derived substance wasn’t suitable for the dress form, Lim and McCurdy sourced a mesh base from PYRATEX, a Madrid-based brand specializing in a seaweed-and-bamboo fiber called SeaCell that’s both an antiperspirant and thermoregulating.


Algae sequins in sheets

Speckled near the neckline with mother of pearl, the resulting dress is covered in the translucent green fringe, a color McCurdy derived organically from minerals. “The majority of our modern dyes and pigments are petrochemical in origin,” she told Dezeen. “But we had a huge, rich vocabulary of color before the Industrial Revolution that was not taking fossil fuel out of the ground, so I looked into traditional approaches to producing oil paints, which involved mineral pigments.”

Lim and McCurdy’s design isn’t for sale commercially but rather serves as a prototype for garment production in the future. For similar initiatives, check out the two other projects generated by the 2020 cohort, which include leather sneakers grown from bacteria and an apprenticeship in sustainable fashion for women from low-income and immigrant communities, on One X One’s site.


Sheets of the algae-based substance in molds

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A Documentary Lays Out the Boy Scouts Sex Abuse Scandal

Though not without their share of image problems, the Boy Scouts have long been considered as American as apple pie, baseball, and secret bombing campaigns. And it seems that it’s just as American to facilitate a space for uncontrolled abuse and manipulation, then spend massive amounts of money to scare the victims of that abuse and manipulation into staying quiet and unseen. Available now from Field of Vision alongside an investigative report at the Intercept, the short documentary Church and the Fourth Estate is a powerful and harrowing indictment of massive American institutions. Brian Knappenberger tackles a subject many filmmakers or journalists might be too daunted or intimidated to confront: the absolute plague of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse inflicted on Boy Scouts by pedophilic Scoutmasters. The number of legal cases against the organization is rising to the point where they stand to overshadow the Catholic Church’s similar scandal. But there’s another massive, well-organized religion involved in this: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, another deeply American organization that had been inseparable partners with the BSA for a century. 

Knappenberger’s brief investigation narrows its focus on one specific case, making clear that it’s only the tip of an iceberg. A thousand films and miniseries could be spun out from this subject matter, which deserves deep focus and serious reporting in multiple media forms, but it’s obviously a complicated topic. And as the film demonstrates, there are extremely powerful forces conspiring to keep these tragedies under lock and key — existing only in whispers, the repressed memories of survivors, and filing cabinets in Salt Lake City and BSA headquarters outside Dallas.

Poster for Church and the Fourth Estate

I imagine that Knappenberger gravitated toward this specific case because it is a rare instance of abuse within Scouting that has been thoroughly reported, examined, and tried in the public record. The film finds space both for sensitivity toward the victims and righteous anger toward corrupt institutions. It creates a safe space for Adam Steed — a former Boy Scout from Idaho Falls, Idaho who went public as a teen against a Scoutmaster who continually abused him and other boys — to share his pain and story, and to connect with other victims who are building up the strength to share their own trauma. The investigation into Steed’s case by the Idaho Falls Post Register was met with fierce pushback by moneyed interests connected both to the Boy Scouts and the LDS Church who were willing to defend their traditions at any cost. Their fierce propaganda campaign left even more victims in its wake — not just the boys already scarred, but also reporters and writers like the Post Register’s Brian Zuckerman, who was slandered and harassed for his reporting. Zuckerman quickly became the subject of local scandal and controversy, as his sexuality was specifically targeted and rumored about in order to discredit him in the eyes of Idaho Falls’ largely conservative, deeply Mormon population.

I find it hard not to respond so personally to this film because of my own life experience. I grew up as an active member of both the BSA and the LDS Church, though I never finished my Eagle Scout and strayed from the Mormon faith in my late teens. I feel immensely lucky that I never encountered traumatizing situations or overtly abusive Scoutmasters, and avoided what has been revealed as an epidemic. But Church and the Fourth Estate made me wonder what darkness might have been hidden from me, or what was harder to detect at a young age. Though the documentary implicates the LDS Church in its very title, it takes more of a shadowy backseat to Scouting. After all, the BSA is now bankrupt due to the many legal cases, whereas the Church’s endowment (funded by tax-free donations and the 10% tithe on income which all active members are required to pay to access the temples and participate in their ceremonies) is potentially in the hundreds of billions.

Toward the end of their existence, the Boy Scouts attempted something approaching a progressive rebrand, reversing policies restricting the participation of openly queer Scoutmasters and Scouts. Those regressive policies had been part of what pushed me away from the organization as I became older and began to question authority figures in my life. The Scouts then went a step further, ditching the explicit gendering entirely and welcoming people besides cis males for the first time in its history, renaming itself, somewhat blankly and blandly, the “BSA” — perhaps reflecting the organization’s diminishing sense of identity as the contradiction in such attempted diversification forced a reckoning with its roots in imperialist military hegemony and its hidden history of abuse. Scouting’s attempted change of heart led to the end of its longstanding relationship with the LDS Church, their biggest sponsor, partner, and defender. As BSA’s feelings toward queer people and women softened, the church’s heart grew harder, and it began to untangle its male youth programs from Scouting in 2017. 

As Steed points out, for many generations of men and boys, there’s no separating being a Boy Scout from being a young Mormon. They were one and the same for me as well; Scouting’s conservative ethics and emphasis on tradition, loyalty, and self-reliance easily bled into Mormonism’s adoration of the same principles. If the LDS Church had still been involved with the Scouts in recent years, as these cases increasingly came to light, it’s possible that the BSA might have had the financial and legal power to keep the more unseemly skeletons in the closet. (It’s also quite possible that the Latter-Day Saints might have wanted to part ways with the Scouts because they knew this storm was brewing.) Though Church and the Fourth Estate leaves many lingering questions about the complicity of the LDS Church, the film makes it undeniably clear that we’re only beginning to learn about a rot that festered for years within these institutions.

Church and the Fourth Estate is available to stream via Field of Vision.

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Was the GameStop Frenzy an Artwork?

Was the GameStop scandal some kind of massive, participatory activist artwork? In late January and early February tens of thousands of small-time investors seemingly organically organized themselves on Reddit and other online forums to use stock trading apps to get their revenge (and make some money) at the expense of several Wall Street hedge funds.

For those of us who have followed the ways that contemporary art has responded to finance, the digital swashbuckling, mass participation, and symbolic jouissance of the GameStop frenzy felt very familiar, almost as if it had been curated by the New York political social practice platform Creative Time or orchestrated by the Yes Men to reveal just how ludicrous and vindictive the economic system of late capitalism is. In spite of frankly silly pronouncements on the internet that the GameStop frenzy would or could lead to the dethroning of Wall Street, it did, for a moment, reveal a kind of collective power hidden in plain sight. It also revealed the depth and breadth of a lust for vengeance against a financial sector whose investment banks and hedge funds have made out like bandits in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis (that they caused) and have profited from the ongoing pandemic.

There is no evidence that any artist catalyzed the GameStop online peasant’s rebellion that attempted to use the masters’ tools (investment apps) to dismantle his steel, glass, and fiberoptic house. But one might be forgiven for the optical illusion that it was an art project in the era of the “participatory turn.” Indeed, the idea of using the armature of art to sculpt social energies into some kind of impossible rebellion against finance has been appealing to many artists, especially in the past decade.

Perhaps the best known such attempt came from activists allied to Occupy Wall Street who realized that many were in some way artists, and most were deeply in debt. Strike Debt emerged as a platform for creative resistance which first tried to organize a coordinated boycott of repayment of student debt. This is a tactic they soon abandoned but is today being very successfully mobilized by a subsequent group involving many of the same members: the Debt Collective. In 2012 Strike Debt found a way to use Wall Street’s own tools to crowdfund a war chest to buy up heavily discounted sub-prime medical debt for pennies on the dollar and simply forgive it. Strike Debt never presumed their tactic, the Rolling Jubilee, would eliminate all debt. (Ironically, they were helping create a market for such derelict debts, driving up the price.) Their actions, like many participatory art interventions in recent years, aimed to rupture the way society imagines debt, money, and power and offer a taste of the kind of solidarity that, if embraced, might make radical change possible. This inspiring tactic has also led to a recent efforts in the UK under the banner of The Bank Job, which culminated in the performative explosion of an armored bank van.

Screenshot by the author of the Rolling Jubilee web page (February 2021)

Strike Debt and similar projects mobilize art to find a new constellation of grassroots political power hidden in plain sight. If neoliberalism and financialization have transformed us all into competitive risk takers, how can we take new, radical risks together for different futures?

Such questions were the impetus for another Occupy Wall Street offshoot, Occupy Museums, who began to curate shows of art about debt based not on style or theme but on to whom the artist owed their medical, personal and student debts. For their station at the 2017 Whitney Biennial, Occupy Museums used digital screens to display works submitted by artists across America and Puerto Rico and took the opportunity to chastise museum board member and multi-billionaire Black Rock CEO Larry Fink for his profiteering from the debt economy. But their effort was not simply aimed at drawing the visitor’s attention to the scourge of debt and its impacts on artists (and everyone else). Their database of artists, arranged by common creditor, was intended to become a platform for debt refusal and rebellion for people who have never met and would never otherwise meet but who were bound together by a shared framework of oppression. It is in this invisible mass, what in another context Gregory Sholette calls the “dark matter” of the art world, that some new, yet unforeseen power resides, a power that briefly flashed in problematic ways in the GameStop frenzy.

Occupy Museums, Debtfair, (2017) installation view at the Whitney Biennial (courtesy the artists)

Why has it become art’s job to challenge finance in these ways? We have been led to imagine that art stands nobly above the vain, venal, and material concerns of the world and has a privileged moral vantage on the crass world of money. But that is far from the truth. In fact, “art” as a category of human activity distinct from craft and ritual only came into existence in the shadow of and because of the market created by capitalists from the Italian Renaissance onward. From the age of imperial looting to today’s equally violent global capitalist network, art has always been shaped by finance — one need only look to the boards of major contemporary art institutions to see the links. But, ironically, it is this intimacy that gives art its critical edge to upset and challenge finance and, importantly, to help us discover the otherwise hidden sources of collective potential in a financialized world.

As the gap between rich and poor has widened since the 1970s and the neoliberal revolution, and as public services have been cut back to pay for tax breaks for the rich and corporations, poor, working and (supposedly) middle-class individuals and families have increasingly had to borrow to make ends meet. One element of this matrix of financial oppression is the credit rating industry whose opaque algorithms have massive impacts of individuals’ ability to secure employment, education and housing.

In response to the way debt, foreclosure and poor credit had punished her own working-class family on the outskirts of Chicago, artist Cassie Thornton used a small arts grant to found Give me Cred! Extremely Alternative Credit Reporting , a kind of tongue-in-cheek but nonetheless effective anti-capitalist startup. The artist developed template forms and advertised on Craigslist to do long interviews with debtors about their financial and personal story of poor credit, which would then become material for an alternative document Thornton would pen that participants could ostensibly use instead of their besmirched official credit report. Thornton reports that many of the participants found success with their alternative reports, not because landlords or employers paid much heed to the weird artwork but because the process of telling their stories and having the artist reflect those stories back was deeply validating and affirming, giving them renewed confidence and a sense they weren’t simply hopeless losers. Thornton had hoped that those who received these alternative credit reports would, in their turn, interview and create reports for others, but it was not to be. However, her latest project, The Hologram, which is a lightweight, viral framework for peer-to-peer health support, has thrived in this way in the pandemic, and in a moment when medical debt continues to be a leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States. (Full disclosure: the author and Thornton are partners, having met during the research for the book that informs this article.)

Cassie Thornton, “Give me credit!” (2013) alternative credit report template (courtesy of the artist)

Other examples abound of art that intervenes in and seeks to mobilize the world that finance and financialization have made. In Loophole for All Paolo Cirio got access to a list of corporations registered in the notorious tax haven of the Cayman Islands and fabricated new incorporation certificates which he sold for pennies online, theoretically allowing anyone to establish an offshore bank account, “democratizing” a tool of finance usually jealously hoarded by the super wealthy. Like the Rolling Jubilee, this form of art-activism may indeed be useful for a few but is more importantly revelatory for many: It displays just how profoundly undemocratic the economy really is, in spite of neoliberalism’s false claims to once and for all wed economic freedom to political freedom.

Paolo Cirio, “Loophole For All” (2013) installation view (courtesy the artist)

All of these projects represent efforts by artists working amidst and as part of the participatory turn to find, assemble, and organize a new form of power that appears, tantalizingly, to have accidentally been placed in our hands by the needs of financialized capitalism — the power to wield increasingly digital forms of money not out of individual desperation but with collective political intent. None have succeeded in their wildest ambition, but they have kept alive hope that this potential might be realized, which, perhaps, is art’s job in a disenchanted world where we have been taught to settle for little more than a slow motion economic and ecological apocalypse. In the GameStop frenzy, the power of collective action within, against, and maybe beyond financialization sparked for a moment on the public stage and the financialized world looked, for a moment, a little different: Some shadows deepened; others evaporated.

In terms of its impacts on capitalism and finance, the GameStop frenzy is practically meaningless, no threat whatsoever to the power of Wall Street. But when contextualized in a longer history of attempts to seize the moment to mobilize collective power otherwise, perhaps it points to a different potential that artists and others might yet seize.

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Fake It ’Til You Make It: A Documentary Peels Back the Veneer of Online Influencers

Nick Bilton was one of the prominent journalists regularly singing the praises of social media in publications like Wired for over a decade. But like many others, his tech utopianism has since fallen to Earth, as the downsides of online platforms have revealed themselves. Now Bilton has written, directed, and produced Fake Famous, a documentary in which he and his crew audition three potential Instagram influencers to propel to fame. They lure them with a simple question: “Do you want to be famous?” They received roughly 4,000 submissions. 

The chosen influencers all end up on different trajectories, with two rejecting the astroturfing of their fame (through Bilton’s easy purchases of likes, followers, and comments) in favor of more organic growth. But the last one hits it big. Even though the first 100,000 or so followers were bought and paid for, the illusion of success eventually perpetuates real fame — reinforcing the old adage “Fake it until you make it.”

The film suffers from a lack of style, but the story is important. Most people have no idea how the influencer market — cha-ching — works, though I’m not sure that it’s too different from Hollywood, Silicon Valley, or even the art world. All similarly revolve around buying press and the semblance of success for mediocre talents that have deep holes to fill inside. This is the essence of luxury commercialism. 

I have known and know my share of influencers, and while many are cognizant of what they’re doing, others start to believe their own PR and get lost along the way. What makes things different this time is the scale. Bilton points out that there are over 40 million Instagram accounts with at least a million followers, and more than 100 million with at least 100,000 followers. “How can over 140 million people — the equivalent of over half the population of the United States — all be considered famous?” Good question, though the film doesn’t answer it.

Fake Famous is available to stream on HBO Max.

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A Serendipitous Shot Frames a Meteor Soaring Over Russia’s Klyuchevskaya Sopka as It Erupts

Image © Daniel Kordan, shared with permission

In a single, fortuitous photograph, Daniel Kordan proves his astute eye as he documents two of nature’s rarely seen phenomena: the brilliant trail of a meteor streaking through the sky and Klyuchevskaya Sopka as it spews a mass of glowing lava. Striking and similarly explosive, the pair even reflect in the small body of water in the foreground.

Raised near Moscow, the now-itinerant photographer took the unexpected shot while leading a 2016 workshop at the Kamchatka Peninsula, which sits at the northeast corner of Russia facing the Pacific Ocean. The group was in the area hoping to capture the dramatic eruptions from Klyuchevskaya Sopka, which is the tallest active volcano in Eurasia—records show it’s been live since 1697—and the highest in the region scaling 15,580 feet. “We stayed with my group at camp close to a small pond,” Kordan says. “We caught reflections of volcanoes, and accidentally, I also caught a shooting star during a long exposure (of) 25 seconds.”

Kordan is known for his stunning landscape and outdoor photography, including shots of the jagged icicles on Lake Baikal, Namibia’s rippled sand dunes, and Lofoten, a fairytale-like town in Norway, to name a few. Follow his travels on Instagram, and pick up a print in his shop. (via PetaPixel)

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Last Statue of Spanish Dictator Franco Comes Down

A monument to General Franco, created in 1978 by sculptor Enrique Novo Álvarez, is the last Spanish statue of the dictator to come down. (image via Wikimedia Commons)

The last public statue commemorating General Francisco Franco, the fascist dictator who was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and violent human rights abuses, has come down. Located at the city gates of Melilla, a Spanish enclave on the northern coast of Morocco, the monument was erected in 1978 to commemorate Franco’s role in the Rif War, a conflict between Spanish colonial forces and the Berber tribes of the Moroccan Rif region.

“It’s a day for history,” tweeted the local government of Melilla, along with images of the sculpture being dismantled and carried off Tuesday night.

Franco rose to power during Spain’s bloody Civil War and ruled the country in a one-party military dictatorship until 1975. His regime is remembered primarily for its silencing and assassination of political opponents and civilians during and after the war, a period known as the White Terror or Francoist Repression.

In 2007, Spain’s former Socialist government passed the Historical Memory Law, which mandated the removal of any Franco symbols, including monuments and street names. But the process has been slow going. As of 2019, more than a thousand streets and squares in Spain still bore the names of Franco-era government figures, according to data from the National Statistics Institute (INE).

During the vote by the local assembly this Monday, Javier da Costa, a deputy of Spain’s far-right Vox party, defended the statue as a “cultural asset and part of Melilla’s history.” He also argued that the monument was a tribute to Franco as Commander of the Spanish Legion forces that protected Melilla during the war, and should thus be exempt from the Historical Memory Law.

Nevertheless, the motion to remove the sculpture passed by a majority vote, with only the Vox party voting against and the conservative Popular Party (PP) abstaining.

The symbolic move to reckon with its past comes as Spain grapples with a tumultuous dialogue over free speech in the present. Over the last week, mass protests have rocked the country following the arrest of Pablo Hasél, a rapper who was given a nine-month prison sentence for tweets and song lyrics praising terrorist organizations and criticizing the Spanish royal family. The incident has spurred a national debate about freedom of expression and international and calls for Spain to repeal legislation that curtails artistic liberties. A petition signed by hundreds of Spanish cultural figures, including film director Pedro Almodóvar, said Hasél’s detainment endangers all public figures who “dare to openly criticize the actions of state institutions all the more evident.”

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Museums Are Safer Than Any Other Indoor Activity, COVID-19 Study Says

These are testing times for museums and performance venues across the globe. With the COVID-19 pandemic still walloping the world, these institutions have been frequently forced to pause their activities, accruing mounting revenue losses, with some being forced to shutter permanently. In some cities, like Los Angeles, museums have been forced to remain closed since March of 2020. This has been a source of growing frustration among LA museums in particular, as they are required to keep their doors closed while shopping malls, restaurants, and hair salons have been allowed to reopen.

But what if museums are safer than almost any other indoor environment, assuming that safety guidelines are being followed? A recent study at the Berlin Institute of Technology (TU Berlin) in Germany claims just that, determining that the risk of COVID-19 transmission is far lower in museums and theaters than in supermarkets, restaurants, offices, or public transportation.

The study, led by Martin Kriegel and Anne Hartmann, conducted a comparative evaluation of indoor environments to assess the risk of infection via aerosol particles. The analysis considers the average length of stay in a given space (two hours at a museum; eight hours in an office; one hour in a supermarket; etc.), the quality of the airflow, the type of activity carried out in the space, and the dose of aerosol particles inhaled by people in a room, among other variables. Each environment has been given an R-value, indicating the number of people that one COVID-19 carrier can infect on average.

A ranking of the risk of COVID infection in indoor spaces, from lowest to highest (courtesy the Berlin Institute of Technology)

The researchers found that if kept at 30% capacity with everyone wearing a mask and following proper precautions, museums, theaters, and operas are safer than any other activity studied. In museums, the R-value stands at 0.5 compared to 0.6 in hair salons and 0.8 in public transportation.

Shopping at a supermarket with a mask is twice as risky as visiting a museum, according to the study, with an R-value at 1.1. Risk of infection is more than doubled when dining indoors in a restaurant at 25% capacity (1.1), or exercising in a gym at 30% capacity (1.4).

Eike Schmidt, director of Italy’sItaly’s Uffizi Gallery, recently cited the study while pleading with authorities to allow the museum to remain open. The Uffizi was forced to close just two weeks after it reopened on January 21 due to a surge in cases in northern Italy. Prior to that, the museum was closed for a period of 77 days, the longest since the end of World War II.

A hallway at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy (Wikimedia Commons)

Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), expressed the same sentiment in an interview back in October.

“We need to open museums,” Govan said. “Every other […] big metropolitan museum in the United States, is already open, other than ours. And there are hundreds of thousands, if not over a million, visitors that have visited those museums since July. And so far, not one single case of COVID transmitted in museums.”

Celeste DeWald, the executive director of the California Association of Museums, told the New York Times in a recent interview: “It’s frustrating to see crowded shopping malls and retail spaces and airports, yet museums are completely closed and many have not been able to reopen at all for the last 10 months […] There is a unique impact on museums.”

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) (Ayleen Dority/Flickr)

Currently, the only indoor space open to the public at LACMA is the museum’s gift shop (at 25% capacity), as it falls under the category of commercial retail space. There’s no telling when visitors will be allowed into its expansive art galleries.

In a column for the Los Angeles Times, art critic Carolina A. Miranda slammed California Governor Gavin Newsom’sNewsom’s policies as “absurd.”

“The wildly uneven criteria speak more to the powerful, well-funded lobbies helping shape public health policy than to anything resembling science or even common sense,” Miranda wrote. “At a moment in which it is possible to get a tattoo or paw the goods at Chanel in Beverly Hills, it should be possible to visit a museum. Period.”


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NFT Art Goes Viral and Heads to Auction — But What Is It?

At 10am EST tomorrow, February 25, Christie’s will become the first major auction house to offer a purely digital artwork — Beeple’s “EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS,” a unique NFT (non-fungible token) consisting of 5,000 individual images created every day between 2007 and 2021 and posted on the artist’s Instagram. Previously, Beeple’s works had only been offered in what are known as “drops,” timed online sales by blockchain-backed marketplaces like Nifty Gateway, where they have fetched up to $3.5 million in a single weekend. In another first, the house will also accept payment for the artwork in cryptocurrency, a coin known as Ether. (The buyer’s premium, a set of fees tacked on to the principal, must be paid in dollars.)

NFTs are not new; they’ve been around for years now. But Christie’s upcoming sale has decidedly catapulted them into the mainstream, with digital creators reaping the benefits of the crypto-collectibles craze in enormous ways. Micah Johnson, a former baseball player turned artist, sold $1 million in NFT art in one minute. A unique NFT for the “Nyan Cat” gif, created 10 years ago by artist Chris Torres, sold for nearly half a million dollars on Foundation, a platform that gives artists 10% of secondary transactions. 

For those among us who love the smell of turpentine and a good stretched canvas, the rise of NFTs is quite mind-boggling. What, exactly, is an NFT artwork? That was our first question for Noah Davis, a specialist in the Post-War & Contemporary Art at Christie’s in New York who is leading the upcoming sale. Understanding NFTs is “an exercise in abstraction,” Davis conceded. “The actual NFT-based artwork is just a code. It doesn’t exist. It has no objecthood.”

The sale — which Davis predicts will be more like “a mosh pit” — goes live in less than 24 hours. Read the full interview below.

* * *

Hyperallergic: Beeple’s work is described as “an entirely digital artwork with no physical component.” What is it, then? If you put in the winning bid for this artwork, what are you buying?

Noah Davis: It’s important to define the artwork itself and the symbol that represents the artwork, separately. The actual NFT-based artwork is truly just a non-fungible token — it’s a long series of letters and numbers that is dropped into a digital wallet. But the symbol that represents the token is the monumental collage that Beeple put together, and one could argue that the token basically implies that this is contained within it. It’s the first 5,000 images from his ongoing project The Everydays, in which every day he makes a new image. More recently, they have been very politically or pop-culturally inclined. But the actual NFT-based artwork is just a code. It doesn’t exist. It has no objecthood. We are not selling a painting to hang on your wall. That being said, Mike [Winkelmann, aka Beeple] is very interested in collaborating with the ultimate owner of the work to display it. A lot of artists are very controlling about how their work is displayed, shared, disseminated, but Mike is much more of the mind that it’s up to the owner of the work how they want to live with it and how they want it to be shown.

H: Let’s say I’m the buyer of the artwork and I want to look at it. Forget displaying it for other people — I just want to look at the 5,000 images that I purchased. How would I go about doing that?

ND: You could look at it on your phone, your computer, your tablet, or in virtual reality. Really, the only pre-requisite is a screen that has access to the image. It’s not something that you can think of and conjure in your mind’s eye just yet — you do need that portal. Maybe there will be a chip that can be implanted in your head one day, but we’re not quite there yet.

H: Maybe in a couple of months. Okay, so why would anyone buy this? Like an NFT, a painting is also completely unique, but it’s also a physical object. Could you argue that NFTs are making a market-driven art world even more speculative, because they’re a non-tangible investment?

One of the 5,000 images included in Beeple’s “EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS” (courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2021)

ND: There’s a lot of good questions there. The most provocative one right up front is why would you buy this, and there are very many correct answers. There are people who are going to look at this as a volatile marketplace that represents an opportunity for speculation and potentially a windfall down the line. Even though this is probably going to command an extraordinary price, there are people out there who are looking at this as a potential investment opportunity. Then there are people who are looking at this as a radical declaration of philosophy or values or investments in the concept of a future where blockchain technology and NFTs and cryptocurrency become the norm for transacting in the financial marketplace.

And there’s also people who are great lovers of art and novelty and rarity, and this plays to their desire, their thirst for something new and different and challenging — from both the literal, philosophical perspective but also from a very art historically-oriented perspective. I think of the people who were interested in Maurizio Cattelan’s “Banana,” for example. It’s the same kind of bravery — maybe even foolishness sprinkled in — but there’s always going to be an audience for something that challenges and disrupts. What’s the ultimate price tag? Well, “estimate unknown” is there for a reason.

H: There’s a lot of talk about the starting bid for Beeple’s work being quite low — $100 — and in that way the barrier to entry for people who may not even self-identify as collectors being low as well. At the same, time, how quickly will this $100 starting bid skyrocket? If I had to guess, I would say in seconds we would be in the tens of thousands.

ND: This is what makes this exercises so interesting. I hope that for at least an hour or two it remains accessible for a wide array of people, because it’s going to be fun — it’s going to be like a party, really, when the bidding opens up (or a mosh pit). But I do think there are differing approaches in terms of the collector audience. NFT collectors are used to drops that take place over an hour or several hours or maximum a day. Our bidding window is much wider [February 25-March 11] to accommodate for a collecting category that’s used to having 10 to 14 days to bid.

I believe we will get a lot of activity up front from the traditional crypto and NFT collecting category. We will likely see a plateau in the bidding, whether that’s in the first couple hours or days, and then a lull, and then finally another flurry of activity in the last 24-28 hours of bidding. The established, old guard collectors who are very savvy at this kind of thing and have done this a million times will be bidding at the eleventh hour against the most competitive of those first bidders.

From the artist’s “EVERYDAYS” series, posted on his Instagram on September 1, 2020. (courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2021)

H: I want to shift gears now to the consignment of a digital artwork. In this case, the consignor — the person who is selling the work through Christie’s — is Beeple himself, correct?

ND: The consignor is Beeple and MakersPlace, which is another NFT gateway, a primary marketplace for NFT drops, and they’re also a digital wallet.

H: Some platforms like Zora allow artists to take a percentage of future resales, and the blockchain makes that easier because it’s a perfect tracking system for the provenance and movement of a work. Can this work by Beeple be resold, and what happens if and when it is resold, does Beeple get a cut?

ND: That’s a good question, and that’s a bridge that we have not crossed yet. I imagine we will be crossing it soon. But the resale issue with NFTs is undefined. We’re going to have to address the question at some point.

H: Because I think what’s interesting is that, being an NFT, this work does not necessarily need to be resold through the art market. I don’t need to go to a gallery and consign my work and have them be the middleman — this is something I can sell anywhere. In a way, the walls are coming down.

ND: Totally. The artwork can’t disappear. It cannot be stowed away in a Freeport; it can’t be hidden. It is there for anybody that wants to find it. So it does democratize things in a pretty radical way. And we’re only just beginning to see how this kind of technology can be woven into the art collecting interface. It’s very possible that we will see blockchain technology being utilized for other purposes that nobody anticipated in the art world.

H: And in line with that, I guess we’ll also know who the buyer is because it’ll be recorded on the blockchain, right?

ND: Well, at the very least you’ll know which wallet the artwork — the NFT — is contained in. But that doesn’t necessarily ID the person who controls that wallet. A lot of people in this space use pseudonyms, aliases, that sort of thing. I suspect that the buyer is going to want to publicize their identity just because of the nature of the sale, but we’ll see.

H: I’ve also heard authenticity will no longer be an issue with the blockchain. No one can copy this work, and no one can question who made it. That’s pretty significant, right?

ND: Well, it is, and it isn’t. It’s funny how it also allows for anybody and everyone to be able to copy it, in the sense that you can take a screenshot of the artwork that’s illustrated on the website right now and you essentially have the artwork in a more traditional way of understanding art as the drawing or the product of the artist’s creative energy. But the actual NFT is totally intangible and inaccessible to anybody. It’s another exercise in abstraction. It completely eradicates the question of authenticity in that these codes can only exist in one place at one time, but it also disrupts the way we think about the discrete art object. Anybody can have it — it’s on his Instagram, that’s the Duchampian readymade he’s playing with.

Beeple, a digital artist and motion designer, uses software like Cinema 4D to create a new image every day. (courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2021)

H: In a way, it is like Cattelan’s work. I can also buy a banana and tape it to the wall, but I don’t have the certificate for one of the numbered editions he made, which were sold by the gallery.

ND: Exactly. That’s the secret sauce, whatever you want to call it. That is the residue that enchants an artwork, this idea that you’re establishing its identity and scarcity, its rarity, and that is what’s so great about blockchain. You can do that in a way that is very obvious, even if it is a little bit beguiling and tricky because we’re so used to thinking about art in this very literal, real, lived way. But I think the shutdown and everything that has happened in the last year has really prepared people for a reality where we’re equating the virtual with lived experience. I think people at the beginning of quarantine becoming obsessed with “Animal Crossing,” for instance, and building homes and interacting with each other in a way that was just as genuine and authentic and real as going to somebody’s house and hanging out… You can do that via this conduit, and it’s the same thing with art. It’s not that big of a leap.

H: As we see more digital artworks, do you think that traditional, physical art become even rarer and more valuable?

ND: In their sort of retro-physicality, right? It’s possible, who knows. I don’t believe we are at the point now where NFTs are going to overtake paintings, sculpture, and drawings, as investment classes and things that people love to experience and engage with, because that’s never happened in the history of art. I don’t think we’ll ever lose that physicality, even if we wind up in a world that is more or less lived completely virtually. There’ll still be a place for fine art as we understand it right now.

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Hurt by Public Response to “The Scream,” Munch Inscribed Hidden “Madman” Message

An infrared scan of an inscription written in pencil in the top left-hand corner revealed the handwriting to be the artist’s own. (photos by Borre Hostland; courtesy the National Museum)

A text scribbled in pencil on Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (1893), which reads the work “can only have been painted by a madman,” is by the artist’s hand, new findings reveal. Curators at the National Museum of Norway made the surprising revelation while restoring and researching the painting ahead of a 2022 exhibition.

“The writing is without a doubt Munch’s own,” said museum curator Mai Britt Guleng. “The handwriting itself, as well as events that happened in 1895, when Munch showed the painting in Norway for the first time, all point in the same direction.”

The inscription was likely added two years after the work was completed, when “The Scream” was shown for the first time in Munch’s native Kristiania (present-day Oslo). The painting prompted public indignation at what was deemed the work’s disturbing imagery — a figure in a twisted grimace that has become a universal symbol of human angst — and questions about the artist’s mental state.

Munch, who was deeply hurt by the response and wrote about it extensively in his diaries, is thought to have added the “madman” line as a bitter rejoinder. (Both Munch’s father and sister suffered from depression, and the Norwegian painter was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown in 1908.)

The enigmatic sentence had long puzzled scholars of Munch’s work, some of whom speculated it was an act of vandalism — ironically, they thought it might have been written by one of the many outraged critics of the painting that spurred Munch to pen the line himself.

The museum made the surprising discovery during an infrared analysis of the work. (photo by Annar Bjorgli; courtesy the National Museum)

This historical context, combined with infrared scans of the top left corner of the canvas and comparisons with other texts by Munch, led the museum to determine that the graphite inscription was the artist’s own. The findings complicate and deepen our understanding of the artist’s life and the initial, troubled reception of a work that later became iconic.

“New research adds greatly to our experience of artworks,” says Karin Hindsbo, director of the National Museum. “We will never be finished with Munch’s art. Every time we ask a question about his works, new answers and perspectives comes up.”

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How a Legendary Boxing Area Became a Lens for Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — If you’ve driven the 10 freeway from Mid-City to Boyle Heights, then you’ve passed by the Grand Olympic Auditorium — you just might not have recognized it. The legendary sports arena, turned punk rock venue, is now a Korean Christian Church called the Glory Church of Jesus Christ. 

In 18th and Grand, a new documentary feature film produced by Genpop Entertainment, writer and director Stephen DeBro explores the city’s history through the lens of a venue that could only exist in Los Angeles.

The Olympic Auditorium has been memorialized in films such as Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1980), the original Rocky (1976), and Million Dollar Baby (2004). Known as the “Madison Square Garden of the West,” the 10,000-seat venue was built in 1924 and opened a year later in anticipation of the 1932 Olympic Games. While the Olympic Auditorium sometimes hosted Hollywood stars like Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra, as well as politicians and mobsters, the venue’s biggest fans were largely Mexican American and working-class people.

Positioned on the edge of Downtown LA, the Olympic Auditorium garnered a notorious reputation and eventually the nickname “the bucket of blood.” When attendees weren’t happy with the night’s results they would shower the ring with beer and cups of urine. Knives and weapons sometimes made it inside (this was before people were searched at the door) and there were several riots. In an interview with Hyperallergic, DeBro described the auditorium as a “theater of violence.” 

Andre the Giant in the center a Battle Royal in the ring of the Olympic Auditorium (photo by Theo Ehret, courtesy Willard Ford)

In the early 1980s the Olympic Auditorium was sold to a Downtown developer and was briefly converted into a punk music venue. From 1981 until 1986, the Olympic Auditorium hosted some of the biggest hardcore shows in the world, including bands like the Dead Kennedys and Bad Religion.  

DeBro, whose fascination with the infamous venue began a decade ago, started shooting 18th and Grand, his first feature film, in 2014, after a decades-long career in the music industry. “It was clear that if I waited any longer, given the age of many of the main protagonists, I wouldn’t be able to tell the story,” DeBro told Hyperallergic. In total, 10 of the people that DeBro interviewed for the documentary passed away before being able to see the completed film on the big screen.

After raising more than $60,000 through a Kickstarter Campaign in 2015 and years of production, DeBro was eyeing a sold-out premiere at the Arclight Cinemadrome last March, but then the pandemic struck. “Considering the suffering that so many have experienced, I don’t want to complain too much,” DeBro said. “Several members of our post-production team got sick, and my mother ended up in the hospital for a month. Thankfully everyone survived. We hunkered down, tweaked and improved the film, and waited for our moment.”

On Thursday, February 25, 18th and Grand will finally have its moment. The documentary is closing out this year’s Slamdance Film Festival with a world premiere at the Vineland Drive-in Theater in the City of Industry. 

Promoter Aileen Eaton records a boxing promo at the Olympic Auditorium (1967) (photo by Jack Sheedy and George Long, courtesy Adam White)

18th and Grand centers on renowned fight promoter, Aileen Eaton. In the midst of World War II, without any prior boxing experience, Eaton took over operations at the Olympic Auditorium, when the business was unprofitable and there were hardly any women working in boxing. Despite the odds, Eaton managed to thrive in the masculine-centered world.

Eaton had a knack for marketing and a personality that reportedly intimidated promoters like Don King. In the 1960s and ’70s she became one of the most powerful fight promoters in the country and turned Los Angeles into the boxing capital, after a slump during the early 1960s. Along the way, she had a hand in turning fighters and entertainers into stars. According to the film, Eaton was the first person to make the Muhammad Ali “I Am The Greatest” pins and she convinced the boxer to pass them out. Ali fought several times at the venue during the early ’60s and referred to Eaton as “the smartest woman in the world.”

Through interviews with the matchmakers, publicists, fighters, and roller derby stars that made the Olympic, 18th and Grand chronicles the history of the world-renowned venue, from its unveiling for the 1932 Olympics and early history in segregated Los Angeles, to its slump through the early 1960s and resurgence again in the 1970s and ’80s. Backed by an exciting soundtrack from Afro/Latin funk band Jungle Fire and licensed tracks from a list of LA bands close to Angelenos hearts — including War, the Weirdos, and the Dead Kennedys — 18th and Grand will hold your attention, even if you don’t love boxing or wrestling, so long as you love Los Angeles.

As DeBro puts it, “It is the story of a city through a historic building, and the conflicts that were playing out in the city. And it is about memory — not nostalgia — but memory, and loss, and an attempt to understand what all that means.”

18th and Grand, directed by Stephen DeBro, premieres at the ArcLight Drive-In (Vineland Drive-In, 443 Vineland Avenue, City of Industry) as part of the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival on Thursday, February 25.

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From Rum Punch to Curries, This Artists’ Cookbook Is Deliciously Inclusive

Art and epicurean practices have long been intertwined — whether in paintings and installations, relational aesthetics projects, or the grand tradition of “days of the long table cloth,” as Frida Kahlo described the meals she and Diego Rivera would organize for friends. When a community of creative practitioners comes together, more often than not, there is food involved — from the Museum of Modern Art Artists’ Cookbook, published in 1978, to the Artists Cookbook by Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum presented online during the COVID-19 lockdown last year, to Hyperallergic’s own What the Art World is Cooking series, featuring recipes by artists and art workers, cookbooks by and about artists have been as much about art practices, placemaking, and food politics as they have been full of straightforward recipes. The latest contribution to this popular genre is The 1Shanthiroad Cookbook, published by the Bengaluru-based independent publishing house, Reliable Copy. 

An alternate cover of The 1Shanthiroad Cookbook (Reliable Copy, 2020)

Two decades ago, when founding director Suresh Jayaram started 1Shanthiroad Studio/Gallery — today, Bengaluru’s oldest running artist residency space — he knew he wanted to have an open kitchen. The idea of having a large space that could readily feed anyone that walked in, in need of food or company, used to be a common concept among most families in southern India that could afford it. Such practices were core to Jayaram’s upbringing, in both his grandmother’s and mother’s kitchens, making it inevitable that his own kitchen would later become a hub for creative people. “Food has always been a big draw at 1Shanthiroad,” he explained to Hyperallergic. Much loved is the Rum Punch, a staple at exhibition openings, ideally made with the cult favorite Old Monk rum, tea decoction, and other unlikely ingredients. The recipe heads the beverages section of the cookbook.

A little over seventy of the hundreds of creative people who have passed through Jayaram’s kitchen contributed recipes to the cookbook. Entries range from traditional old favorites like ragi mudde (finger millet balls) and baimbale (bamboo shoots) curry, to those requiring more specialized ingredients and elaborate processes, as well as some that are quicker affairs. 

Jayaram notes that many  of the recipes he added himself were from his mother’s archives. “All the contributors [to the cookbook] have eaten, cooked, or brought food to 1Shanthiroad,” he said. “Likewise, all the recipes in the book have at one point or the other been made in his kitchen.”

While it certainly wasn’t planned this way, it ended up being appropriate that the cookbook was released at the close of 2020, a year when friends and family could no longer gather around a meal — a year when, as Jayaram notes, the garden, the kitchen, and food all became important metaphors for hope. As socializing remains not entirely safe, the cookbook serves as a reminder of many a meal enjoyed in the company of friends and conversation.

A recipe for Nelikkai Thokku (Indian Gooseberry Thokku) from The 1Shanthiroad Cookbook (photo by Anu Davis and Ahmad Shaqulain, Offset Projects)

Yet The 1Shanthiroad Cookbook does more than stoke nostalgia, hinting in some places at the violent politics that touch the growing, trading, cooking, and eating of food. The Bengaluru-based photo artist Pushpamala N notes a recipe for Gauri Lankesh’s Urgent Saaru, a soup-thin curry that used to be made in a jiffy by the slain journalist and activist. A vocal critic of Hindu fundamentalism and rising right-wing politics in India, Lankesh was shot dead in front of her home in 2017. Likewise, recipes for roast beef and beef tongue need to be read in a context of how the meat — an inexpensive source of essential protein for millions of people in the country — has been banned in nearly all the states in India amid a sharp rise in religious hegemony and the Hindutva agenda of right-wing politics. The latest ban has been in Karnataka. Apart from robbing a traditional food culture from a vast population, the ban severely affects farmers who are already reeling under debts and crop failures from weird weather patterns. (Ironically, India is among the largest exporters of beef in the world.) 

Deliciously inclusive, The 1Shanthiroad Cookbook is indicative of the diversity of Indian cuisine. Its emphasis on plurality and homeliness — rare are the recipes that would be served in large restaurants — peppered with monochromatic illustrations of objects at 1Shanthiroad by Akshay Sethi, make this cookbook a valuable addition to any library, of cookbooks or otherwise.

The 1Shanthiroad Cookbook (Reliable Copy, 2020), edited by Suresh Jayaram, is now available at Printed Matter and other booksellers. 

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Join Residency Unlimited for Panels on Feminist Activism and Leadership in Visual Arts

In the midst of a cultural reckoning spurred by infringements on women’s rights in Poland and the United States, new political and civil movements are on the rise. While the past few years have been largely viewed as a feminist renaissance, art institutions continued to stumble into familiar traps of institutional patriarchy and systematic discrimination, tumbling backward from progress into the Middle Ages. As a response to recent events in both countries, Residency Unlimited (RU) and the Polish Cultural Institute New York have collaborated to present two panel discussions in March 2021 for Women’s History Month. Titled New Renaissance in Feminist Art, this mini-series will examine the concept of the body as a tool for political oppression as well as a point of resistance.

The first panel will be held on International Women’s Day, Monday, March 8, 2021, at 2pm (EST). Women leaders of art institutions in Poland and the US will come together to reflect on their ongoing activism and involvement with feminist narratives, and the impact this has had on institutional programming. Speakers include Agnieszka Rayzacher, the founder and director of Warsaw-based gallery lokal_30 and an organizer of SemFem seminars on contemporary issues in art and feminism, and Joan Snitzer, Professor of Art History and co-Chair Director of Visual Arts at Barnard College, Columbia University, who as a painter has been involved with the Brooklyn nonprofit A.I.R. Gallery since its early beginnings. Jenée-Daria Strand, Curatorial Assistant for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at Brooklyn Museum, will moderate the discussion.

The second panel will take place on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, at 5pm (EST). Anna Orbaczewska, a Polish painter and multimedia artist represented by lokal_30, and Tel Aviv and New York-based action painter Rotem Reshef, RU’s current artist-in-residence, will discuss how they engage with feminist activism as women and artists, and how it impacts their participation, position, and presentation of their respective work in Poland, Israel, the US, and across borders. The panel will be moderated by Sheetal Prajapati, artist, Interim Managing Director of Common Field, founder of Lohar Projects, Faculty member at School of Visual Arts’ MFA Fine Arts program, and Board Chair (2021–2023) of Art + Feminism.

Register for these two panels and learn more at instytutpolski.pl/newyork.

This program is initiated and funded by the Polish Cultural Institute New York, presented and co-organized in partnership with Residency Unlimited, in collaboration with lokal_30, the Brooklyn Museum, Barnard College at Columbia University, Lohar Projects, and A.I.R. Gallery. 

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Palm Springs Takes a Stance Against Desert X Biennial’s Partnership With Saudi Arabia

LOS ANGELES — Desert X, the art biennial located in the Coachella Valley that began in 2017, has announced the artists for its 2021 edition. Curated by Cesar García-Alvarez and Neville Wakefield, this third edition in the United States will feature 13 artists from eight countries, including Zahrah Alghamdi, Ghada Amer, Felipe Baeza, Judy Chicago, Oscar Murillo, and Vivian Suter. Originally scheduled to open on February 6, the exhibition was delayed due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, and will now run from March 12 to May 16. The pandemic may not be the only challenge the festival faces, however, as evidenced by a recent kerfuffle at the Palm Springs City Council. 

Ever since Desert X did an offshoot in Saudi Arabia in early 2020, the biennial has faced scrutiny, with Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight calling it “morally corrupt.” Critics point to Saudi Arabia’s history of repression, human rights abuses, and the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Turkey. In light of this, a recent proposal to have Palm Springs fund the installation of one of this year’s Desert X works was ultimately scuttled, over concerns that the city’s sponsorship would be read as implicit approval of the partnership with Saudi Arabia.

At a Palm Springs Public Arts Commission meeting last December, Commission Chair Ann Sheffer proposed funding up to $30,000 for the installation of a project by New York-based artist Christopher Myers to be a part of Desert X. Featuring several equestrian statues, ​”The Art of Taming Horses” ​tells the fictional story of two cowboys, one African American and one Mexican, highlighting the struggles of those who traveled South to escape slavery, and those who headed North in search of opportunity. According to Myers, the work’s fabrication relies on artists and craftspeople from around the world, including metal workers in Kenya, industrial fabric printers in Denmark, and AR designers in India. In exchange for covering the installation costs, the work would stay installed on the Tahquitz Canyon Way median in Palm Springs for five years after the closing of Desert X.

Because the amount was over $25,000, the Public Art Commission needed City Council approval, and at a January 28 meeting, council members and Mayor Christy Holstege voiced their support of Desert X but brought up serious criticisms of its recent partnership with Saudi Arabia.

“I love Desert X. It’s a huge draw, and really fun for residents,” Mayor Holstege commented at the meeting. “I think it’s really unfortunate that they went to Saudi Arabia, with their track record of human rights abuses … I would like to see Desert X continue in the city of Palm Springs, and that they can reform their ways and stop partnering with human rights abusers.” Mayor Holstege did not return Hyperallergic’s requests for comment.

Councilmember Geoff Kors was more pointed in his criticism. “I raised the issue that Desert X was funded by Saudi Arabia and announced their partnership six months after worldwide condemnation of their public beheadings of political opponents, gay men, and religious minorities in violation of International Human Rights Laws and their treatment of women and minorities,” he wrote in an email to Hyperallergic. “They also have not shared how much money Saudi Arabia paid them.”

Christopher Meyers, “The Art of Taming Horses” (sketch)

The council voted 5-0 to approve the funding with the caveat that the artwork be associated solely with Palm Springs as a “parallel project” to the biennial and not a Desert X project. “The approval needs to be specific,” said Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton at the meeting. “We will not provide any funding to Desert X.”

Technically, the city of Palm Springs has never funded Desert X. Instead, financial support comes from PS Resorts, an organization that manages Palm Springs resort fees to sponsor events like Desert X. In 2017, PS Resorts gave Desert X $50,000, and $62,500 in 2019. This year, they only agreed to provide $10,000, a change that Kors attributes to issues surrounding their partnership with Saudi Arabia.

“It needs to be clear we’re not a sponsor of this. We haven’t sponsored [Desert X] in prior years,” said Kors at the meeting, “This would be a bad year to start after Saudi Arabia. This is why we fund PS Resorts.”

Desert X, however, did not approve of these terms, and so the proposal was rejected. “Of course, they’re within their rights to not want to affiliate as a sponsor, but them wanting to completely erase Desert X from a project we produced is not within their scope,” Desert X co-curator César García-Alvarez told the Desert Sun.

Palm Springs has granted permits and permission for Myers’s work to be installed, but it will now be de-installed at the end of Desert X in May, instead of gracing the median in front of City Hall for five years.

Sheffer saw the Arts Commission’s proposal as a way to support the installation of the work without lending civic approval to Desert X, as the funds would be allocated for installation and would not go directly to the organization.

“I was taken off guard when they rejected any cooperation with Desert X, since I thought we had found a way, without being a sponsor, we could make possible what we think is one of their best installations this year,” she told Hyperallergic. “I respect the city council’s right to have a political judgement about being a sponsor of Desert X, but it should not preclude efforts by the Arts Commission to bring quality art to the city.”

For Myers, the decision seems like a missed opportunity, one that could benefit the city and surrounding communities long after this year’s Desert X packs up.

“I’m wary of limiting the places I would show my work in respect to my disagreements with the politics of a particular state,” he told Hyperallergic via email. “After all, as an African American artist, I show in this country, which has consistently shown little to no respect for my life or for the lives of my sisters and siblings. To be honest, the art world, and the world at large is full of lots of folks I disagree with politically, but I choose to think more about the communities that I care for in these places. To make a piece, especially in a public space like the one proposed to me by the team at Desert X, allows all sorts of folks to understand themselves as part of its audience, especially when I am the artist, I can direct my invitation to folks like me, who may have not been invited to the party before.”

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Countless Paper Seeds Comprise the Fluctuating Landscapes in Ilhwa Kim’s Sculptural Works

“Space Sample 36” (2020), 164 x 132 x 15 centimeters. All images © Ilhwa Kim, shared with permission

In Ilhwa Kim’s sculptural landscapes, innumerable paper seeds form precise rows, indented pockets of densely packed folds, and multi-color valleys that wind through the feet-wide works. The South Korean artist arranges individual units of the rolled material in a staggered manner, meaning that the color, shadow, and texture of the final pieces shift with each viewing. “I am probably a sculptor of senses. I have been very curious how my senses are being organized when I perceive a thing or a location. The order, priority, and the way of being assembled together surprise me. How the senses reunited keeps evolving from initial contact to temporary goodbye,” she says, noting that change and perception play a central role in her practice.

Each composition begins with blank, white paper that Kim dyes and rolls into tight tubes that can be sliced only with heavy machinery. She forgoes gluing any of the seeds prior until the entire piece is complete. “This working process gives big freedom to make meaningful changes even when very close to the final stage,” the artist shares. “That is how a child plays, as well.” The comprehensive process transforms the original material into durable units that resemble the organic lifeform and ultimately grow into larger sculptures.

Based in Seoul, Kim has a solo show slated for September 2021 at HOFA Gallery in London, and you can see a larger collection of her works, including shots of pieces-in-progress, on Instagram. (via Cross Connect Magazine)


Detail of “Space Station Sample” (2016), 192 x 334 x 12 centimeters

“Space Station Sample” (2016), 192 x 334 x 12 centimeters

Detail of “Space Sample 36” (2020), 164 x 132 x 15 centimeters

“Seed Universe 108” (2019), 184 x 152 x 15 centimeters. Image via HOFA

“White Portrait” (2019), 184 x 152 x 15 centimeters

“Space Sample 30” (2019), 119 x 186 x 15 centimeters

“Seed School 3” (2019), 114 x 234 x 13 centimeters

Left: “Seed School 7” (2020), 114  x 234 x 13 centimeters. Right: “Seed universe 83” (2018), 184 x 132 x 15 centimeters

Detail of “Space Station 5” (2019), 192 x 224 x 15 centimeters

“Space Sample 45” (2020), 184 x 152 15 centimeters

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Exploring the Abandoned Spaces of the Internet

In the first episode of Preserving Worlds, a docuseries about dying or defunct online communities, we are given a tour of a section of the expansive but now depopulated Worlds Chat. Our guide brings us through museums and labyrinths rippling with xenomorph-like textures. In roofless spaces, we get hints of a dark abyss sprinkled with stars. Despite the limitations of the site’s mid ’90s aesthetics, the possibilities seem endless. Worlds Chat and many other such spaces are relics exemplifying the boundless imagination of an earlier era of the internet. Documenting these worlds does more than highlight history that could otherwise be lost; it preserves a time when users were creators and not products. 

As internet culture has grown more accessible, it also has shrunk. Logging onto the World Wide Web used to mean delving down various rabbit holes. Your experience was drastically different than your neighbor’s, and the internet seemed far more contiguous, with countless roads leading to countless destinations. Now we all log on to the same five websites. The tech takeover corresponds with shrinking possibilities. This evolution has also seen the rise of a seeming aesthetic paradox. Minimalist design reigns now that the corporations have taken over the net. Long seen as anti-consumerist, Minimalism has now become a coded signal for luxury and control. The less control we have over our virtual spaces, the less time we spend considering our relationships with them. 

Writing about our connection with social media in The Twittering Machine, Richard Seymour explains what it means to live in a “control society” — a concept from Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. “In a society of control,” he writes, “no one tells you what to do, whom to worship, or what is good and bad. You are simply presented with a range of tolerable options. Your reality is written to exclude behaviors that the system finds intolerable.” There is only one way to “play” Twitter, and the only real gain is that “No one is learning anything, except to remain connected to the machine.” 

Episode 4 of Preserving Worlds takes a look at Doom, the groundbreaking 1993 first-person shooter video game which was programmed with support for player-created modifications and maps, known as WADs. Doom may seem out of place with the other worlds featured on the show. Its brutality and apocalyptic landscapes feel hellish, and its structure as a shooter game means that our virtual tour guide can’t remain passive as they lead us through the different WADs; the world is actively hostile toward the user. Yet looking at the WAD community grants a nuanced understanding of virtual spaces, one omitted from new social machines. Filmmakers like Gus van Sant in Elephant and Gerry have drawn on Doom‘s mechanics to examine our changing relationships to spaces and each other. The virtual world is informing physical spaces, rather than vice-versa. Video artists like Cyriak Harris have also taken to the platform, building maps often described as “chaotic evil.” Much like in his animation, he uses the platform to exaggerate and amplify the dreamlike structure of these game worlds.

The final episode, which is about Second Life, is the most challenging, as it explores the limits of virtual spaces as Utopian. Released in 2003, Second Life is an expansive online multiplayer game where you can be or do anything. As our guide explains, “The only thing you can use Second Life for is social space.” Yet unlike the other worlds in the series, Second Life has created its own economy as well. Developer Linden Lab has “introduced artificial scarcity and precarity to its virtual economy for no particular reason but to collect rent on it.” Despite this, Second Life has thrived as a space for adventure and experimentation with gender, sex, and social norms. Rather than the public squares of Twitter and Facebook, whose design and market remain hidden and controlled, everything is out in the open in Second Life. In that sense of simulated tangibility, it is negotiable rather than absolute; there is no one way to play the game. 

Can you be nostalgic for something that continues to exist? The digital landscapes of Preserving Worlds remain active, albeit sparsely populated compared to their glory days. Users’ attachment to these worlds is nearly always rooted in their respective senses of community and promise. Preserving these worlds does not only mean holding onto historically and artistically significant chapters in the internet’s development. It’s about holding on to the idea that the players can control the game, and not the other way around.

Preserving Worlds is available to stream via Means TV and on YouTube.

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Ragna Bley’s Cerebral, Swirling Abstractions

In nautical terminology, to “sound” is to measure the deep sea. Sounding, which dates back to the 19th century, was the first method of reaching beyond what the sun allowed us to see, in order to study the ocean floor. Today, echo sounding allows researchers to visualize vast bodies of water with corresponding colors — warm shades of red, orange, and yellow for shallows, and dark greens, blues, and purples to connote the depths.

Ragna Bley, “Čir-čir, Audra” (2020). Acrylic on sailcloth, 59 x 37 1/2 inches (photo by Daniel Terna)

Ragna Bley, a Swedish painter based in Norway, works entirely on her studio floor, pouring gallons of thinned paint onto primed sailcloth. Much like the late Helen Frankenthaler, who treated the seas of Cape Cod as her muses, Bley uses vibrant hues of the natural world to measure emotional depths. Her latest exhibition at Downs & Ross, appropriately titled Soundings, finds Bley affixing these studies to the Lower East Side gallery’s walls.

In “Čir-čir, Audra” (2020), a wave rises from a dark green base to a royal-blue crest, a throughline of orange paint defining its arc. The artist’s subtle gestures intersect with sprawling stains, imitating the sea’s fluid motion. Between the gallery’s two rooms, the blood-red “Circadian” (2020) is displayed on a partition, meaning viewers must encounter it in close proximity. Like stages of growth, three figures expand across the long frame, feeling almost life-size, with each stage becoming thinner and brighter. 

Stylistically, these paintings are all very consistent, but each work plays different tricks on the eye. Thin pastels foreground a glorious curved rainbow in “Pile” (2020), which appears to sparkle due to the folds of paint left by Bley’s scraper. “Whole Current” (2020), a deep cavern in purple and red exerts a sense of dominance, menacing like molten rock. Its darkness seems to have a logic, though, with very thin linework bringing out dimensions in the layers.

In the exhibition’s press release, Norwegian art critic Maria Horvei emphasizes Bley’s “considerations on the deepest foundations of all living things, as well as on phenomena on the very outskirts of human reach.” Science and science fiction both inform her practice. Equally intuitive and cerebral, Bley’s paintings redirect a time-honored form of abstraction away from an auteur mentality and into a more communal, cosmic unknowing. 

Ragna Bley, “Whole Current” (2020), acrylic on sailcloth, 59 x 37 1/2 inches (photo by Daniel Terna)

Ragna Bley: Soundings continues through March 6 at Downs & Ross (96 Bowery, 2nd Fl, Chinatown, Manhattan).

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Clothesline Farm Animals Graze the Countryside in Playful Illusions by Helga Stentzel

“Pegasus.” All images © Helga Stentzel, shared with permission

Instead of tossing an old pair of pants or T-shirt, Helga Stentzel puts her tired garments out to pasture. So far, the London-based artist has added Pegasus and Smoothie, a pair of clothesline equine and bovine, to her herd of playful interventions hung in bucolic landscapes. Stenzel’s practice, which she terms “household surrealism,” is derived from her childhood in Siberia, where she spent hours surveying her grandmother’s carpet, birch logs, and random objects for recognizable forms, including “a stack of buckets resembling the tower of Pisa,” she tells Colossal.

Prints of the laundry creatures are available in Stentzel’s shop, and you can follow additions to the drove—the artist currently is creating a few more farm animals while braving the -32 degree weather in Russia—on Instagram, where you’ll also find a variety of quirky food-based characters. (via Laughing Squid)



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Cuban Musicians and Artists Collaborate on Viral, Political Music Video

Last week, a new music video featuring a group of black Cuban singers accrued over one million hits in three days. The anthem’s lyrics are in defense of Cuban artists and offer a sharp-edged critique of the Cuban government. Grammy award winner Descemer Bueno; rapper Yotuel (of the rap group the Orishas); and Randy Malcom and Alexander Delgado of the reggaeton duo Gente de Zona, teamed up with island-based dissident rappers Maykel Osorbo and El Funky to produce “Patria y Vida (“Fatherland and Life”), a symbolic call to arms to Cubans everywhere to let go of their fear of speaking truth to power. The astounding success of the video, which is currently spreading like wildfire in Cuba via flash drives (famously known as el paquete semanal, or “the weekly package”) and playing on computer displays in stores in Miami, is yet another sign of widespread discontent on the island and unity among Cubans inside and outside the country. It is also testimony to the power of popular music to evoke the experience of Cuba’s vast Black underclass. The Cuban government’s response has been predictably hysterical. For decades, the Cuban government has used music to drive home its policies and world view, but its capacity to do so is waning as the power of independently produced rap and reggaeton to inspire Cubans to express themselves.

The collaboration brought together exiled artists based in the US and Spain; Maykel Osorbo, El Funky, and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, members of the artist-activist coalition the San Isidro Movement, make a cameo in one scene, holding a Cuban flag behind Osorbo and El Funky. Cuban photographer Anyel Troya filmed Osorbo, Funky, and Otero Alcantara in secret and sent the material to Miami-based filmmaker Asiel Babastro, who combined it with the footage of the other singers and documentary clips drawn from recent Cuban protests by artists.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara holding the Cuban flag behind Osorbo and El Funky

The San Isidrio Movement is a multi-disciplinary group that includes rapper Maykel Osorbo, who has been jailed a more than one occasion. Patria y Vida is not the first time that the group has used song to convey its political message. MSI member Amaury Pacheco worked with the arts collective Omni Zona Franca for 17 years before the founding of MSI and produced many works with musician David Omni. During the protests against Decree 349, David Omni rallied together several Cuban rap musicians to produce the song “No al 349.” Another MSI member Michel Matos founded Cuba’s first electronic music festival — called Festival Rotilla — but it was shut down by the Cuban government in 2011.

The title “Patria y Vida” reworks the phrase “Patria o Muerte” (“Fatherland or Death”) that Fidel Castro used throughout his life to punctuate his speeches. It is repeated ad infinitum in Cuba, on billboards, and in newspapers and state media. It once evoked a spirit of self-sacrifice in defense of the revolution. Over time, however, as the promises of the revolution remained unfulfilled, living conditions declined, and state repression intensified, the term took on morbid connotations. And that is precisely what “Patria y Vida” throws into relief. The singers cry out that they want life, not death, not more deception from the government. They contrast the truth of poor Cubans’ lives with the fabricated visions of paradise sold to tourists. They proclaim that Cubans are sick of being stuck playing dominoes instead of being able to make better lives for themselves, and that artists represent “the dignity of entire people that has been trampled upon.” And they repeatedly exclaim, “Se acabó, ya se venció tu tiempo, se rompió el silencio” (“It’s over, your time is up, and the silence has been broken”).

A video clip from a protest in support of the San Isidro movement, featured in “Patria y Vida.”

The song’s title is emblazoned in white on Yotuel’s chest, a gesture now being repeated in hundreds of selfies by Cubans on social media. Cubans are also tattooing the phrase on their bodies, publishing essays about the song in a range of magazines, and posting scores of comments about the song and the state’s reaction to it on Facebook.

The authors of “Patria y Vida” express the sentiments of many Cuban artists and intellectuals with regard to their government. In a recent commentary about the music video, Cuban writer Ernesto Pérez Chang describes the relationship between the ruling Communist Party and the citizenry as utterly broken:

They have zero credibility, the loyalty they claim to enjoy is as artificial as the consensus they boast about in front of the TV cameras. They have been forced to create hundreds of thousands of fake profiles on social networks to pretend that someone supports them. Every minute they add millions and millions of dollars to the foreign debt in order to finance a repressive apparatus and an army of parasitic “cyber-combatants” who are less and less feared every day and who, when the time comes, will, out of self-respect have to step aside from the history that corresponds to them.

While the singers’ performances are not elaborately choreographed, their facial expressions and hand gestures overflow with emotion, as if they were spilling their guts for the first time. Indeed, Gente de Zona admitted after the video’s release that they had been silent about their discrepancies with the Cuban government for years out of fear that their family members on the island would suffer repercussions.

The video has put the Cuban government on the defensive, and the reactions of state officials have been vitriolic. President of the federal cultural organization Casa de las Americas Abel Prieto called the song “musical propaganda” tied to purported demands for regime change on the part of the US. The government-backed Cuban Artists and Writers Union issued a statement calling the song “ridiculous” and dismissing the singers as mercenaries. The official state media outlet Cubadebate aired a video in which Yotuel is referred to as a male prostitute because he is a Black Cuban married to a Spaniard, the singer Beatriz Luengo. The video also includes homophobic comments about Yotuel, suggesting that he must have been excited standing bare-chested in a group of men. It is doubtful that these criticisms prevent anyone in Cuba from watching the video; on the contrary, journalist Yoani Sánchez notes that the government’s recent defamation campaigns against artists are having the opposite effect, increasing interest in them and thus bringing them new audiences.

One might find it hard to believe that the Cuban government, which is contending with a tourism-dependent economy that is in shambles due to the pandemic, would devote so much time and effort to respond to a music video. However, the new anthem is the latest salvo from the San Isidro Movement in what is now a three-year battle between artists and the state over the right to free expression and the right of creators to present their work outside government channels and to organize cultural events without state involvement. Were it not for the pandemic, the Cuban government might have convened large-scale rallies against the artists. These days, it can only use social media and targeted police repression.

The roughness of the state’s policing tactics is somewhat predictable, but its hyperbolic media tactics are surprisingly crude. Armed only with cell phones and ingenuity, Cuban artists are gaining the upper hand.

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A Miniature Painting Sale From Artists of the American West

For the 24th year in a row, the Autry Museum of the American West is hosting Masters of the American West, an art sale of paintings and sculptures by contemporary Western artists. The event launches this Saturday, February 27 with a special sale of charming miniature paintings, the smallest of which measures just six by six inches.

The miniature paintings, which have been a popular tradition of the sale since 2005, are at a slightly more affordable price, ranging between $800 and $8,000. For those aiming to go bigger, the Major Works Art Sale launches Saturday, March 13, with works selling for anywhere between $5,000 and $100,000.

Amy Scott, a curator at the Autry and the executive vice president for Research and Interpretation, says the works featured in Masters depict “classic frontier stories” and “contemporary Native visions,” all in service of celebrating “the history and contemporary beauty of the West.” Expect paintings of trout streams and sun-drenched deserts, portraits of majestic horses and Native American Chiefs, and lovely sculptures of crawfish and prickly pear trees.

When: Saturday, February 27–Sunday, April 11
Where: online

More info at the Autry Museum of the American West

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A Striking Curved Wall Swells Upward Across Three Stories of a Taipei Home by Yuan Architects

All images via Yuan Architects

Nestled in the mountainous region of Taipei’s Xindian district is a new home by Yuan Architects that mirrors the stately landscape outdoors. In “Lan Villa,” the international design firm constructed a central, curved wall that sweeps upward as it follows the two staircases from ground floor to ceiling. It mimics the roving scenery that can be viewed through the large, glass windows covering the back facade.

Cloaked in wooden slats, the striking enclosure spans all three stories of the 2,390-square-foot home, which features a kitchen, dining area, and large deck on the first level, main entrance and mezzanine on the second, and bedrooms on the uppermost floor. The bowed wall “represents the flow of life through an architectural structure,” the firm says in a statement about the project. “As a collector of seasonal changes outdoors as well as an interface of the living space, the wall reflects every variation of light and color on the rolling hills and casts different colors of light into the living space accordingly.”

Take a virtual tour of the home below, and see more photographs of the elegant, swelling feature on Yuan Architects’ site. You also can follow the firm’s work on Instagram. (via designboom)


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The Future Will Be Streamed to You

On February 22, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that on March 5, after being closed for nearly a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, movie theaters in New York City would be allowed to open again. The reopening of a key market could be a welcome salve the US film industry, which has seen drastically reduced profits because of the pandemic. But this is hardly a return to normal. Setting aside that theaters must operate at only a quarter capacity, with no more than 50 people per screening, the media landscape has already been drastically upended, and in some ways there may be no going back.

In December 2020, it was announced that all 17 blockbusters on Warner Bros.’ 2021 feature slate — which includes titles such as Dune, The Matrix 4, and Godzilla vs. Kongwill be released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO MAX, the dedicated streaming service for WarnerMedia (the parent company of Warner Bros., and a subsidiary of AT&T). The films will each be available on the platform for a month after its respective premieres, after which they will be pulled for a time before later getting both video on demand and physical media releases. This is, of course, a drastic departure from the normal framework for releasing major films, typically a 75- or 90-day window of exclusivity for theaters before any other release can happen. But then, everything since March 2020 has been a drastic departure from the norm. The Warner announcement was the natural endpoint of 2020’s acceleration of streaming’s ascendancy within cinema.

In the fall of 2011, Universal attempted to test the waters of releasing films simultaneously in theaters and on video on demand (VOD) platforms with its ensemble comedy Tower Heist. Essentially every theater chain balked at the prospective loss of revenue and threatened a boycott, leading the studio to back off from the plan. Early in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was only starting to build in the US and it was unclear how long the lockdown would last, Universal went ahead and released their animated tentpole Trolls World Tour directly on VOD, sparking outrage from theaters, especially AMC. The two parties later came to an understanding over the matter, but the cracks were in the dam.

From Trolls World Tour (2020), directed by Walt Dohrn (image courtesy Universal)

Trolls World Tour had the biggest digital premiere ever, grossing over $100 million on its first weekend. Meanwhile, after multiple delays, Warner Bros. and Legendary stubbornly went ahead with a theatrical-only release for Tenet, but its $400 million worldwide gross wasn’t nearly enough. (That a movie can earn $400 million and still be considered a flop is an entirely different headache of Hollywood logistics and accounting that’s beyond the scope of this article.) More damagingly, Tenet releasing solely in limited, barely attended theaters ensured that it had almost no cultural footprint; most people have only gotten to see it this month as it hit VOD, and so reactions are scattered and unfocused. With theaters still closed in major markets in the US due to the ongoing pandemic, studios have had to choose from only bad options. Succumbing to simultaneous theatrical and VOD premieres is the least-bad decision as WarnerMedia sees it, the only possible way to make an “event film” look like any kind of event again.

There are many more complicated factors behind this decision as well, of course. Peter Labuza offered a good summation with a broader look at the current media landscape. Put simply, even beyond concerns about COVID and the loss of revenue from having major titles just sitting on a shelf, it seems AT&T and Warner execs saw this as a good opportunity to prop up HBO MAX, which has been flagging since its launch in 2019. And one would do well to keep in mind that plans are sure to shift in some way. Since Dune director Denis Villeneuve criticized the all-streaming decision, rumors persist his film might be shifted back to a traditional theatrical run. Setting aside any possibility that maybe, just maybe the COVID vaccine will actually be distributed widely enough to make moviegoing safe again this year (I’ve learned to never be too optimistic about how the US handles this crisis), there will likely be further fights with both theater chains and production companies over this move. The dismay on the part of theaters is understandable, given that the pandemic lockdown left both AMC and Regal hanging by threads. (At least until AMC was possibly bailed out by Reddit users, of all things.) With more tentative reopenings and the vaccine rollout gaining pace, who knows what the moviegoing model for this year will ultimately look like. But for many film lovers, its the long-term landscape of the medium that’s most worrying.

Cinephiles have been bemoaning the decline of the theatrical experience for years, and some worry this may be the stake through its heart, that Warner’s move signals the final collapse of theaters in favor of streaming — the death of film in favor of “content.” Measured voices have pointed out that there are plenty of reasons to believe Warner representatives when they say this is only a temporary stopgap dealing with extraordinary circumstances, and that by 2022, assuming things are somewhat back to normal (he said, knocking on wood), we can look forward to seeing blockbusters in theaters regularly again. As filmmaker Steven Soderbergh pointed out in a recent interview, for all the business incentives that have been driving entertainment companies to prioritize streaming in recent years, there’s not yet anything in place that can supplant a sweet, sweet billion-dollar take from a single production.

From Tenet (2020), dir. Christopher Nolan (image courtesy Warner Bros.)

But of course, movies are far more than just studio tentpoles. The greater worry is that this will not kill off theaters per se, but will further lock out both non-mainstream films and theaters. Small theaters have already felt the pinch under COVID, and who knows how much longer they can weather it. Creative solutions like sharing profits from virtual cinemas can only go so far. And smaller theaters offer a valuable service not just in showing independent, international, and/or art films: Through repertory screenings, they expose people to pieces of cinema history they might not otherwise seek out. But these venues were in trouble even before the pandemic, with Netflix swooping in to purchase venerable theaters in both LA and NYC. The Supreme Court’s repeal of its 1948 Paramount decision in 2019 looks to have opened the door for even greater vertical integration within media. We see the effects of this kind of corporate consolidation and control not just in business, but also in what art we are able to consume, and how. Disney is notoriously tight fisted about allowing repertory venues to play any of its films, and since it acquired 20th Century Fox, it has apparently been doing the same for that studio’s catalogue. Corporations desire greater control, and digital distribution offers them a model wherein consumers can never actually purchase goods from them, but only be lent them for a while.

There are also the more subjective, intangible elements of “the theatrical experience” at stake here. Seeing a movie in a theater is qualitatively different than watching one on your TV, laptop, phone, etc. The presence of a crowd, the all-encompassing sound and visuals, the drastically reduced temptation to look at a different screen, and other factors make for a different appreciation of a movie. I’m not one to get overly precious about this the way many other cinephiles do. (I think about one friend, wholly dismissive of the sacredness of the theatrical experience, who cites the time a stranger sitting next to her shot up with heroin in the theater during John Wick.) And we should be wary of fetishizing the theater too much. Alamo Drafthouse is a chain that prides itself on preserving “the experience,” but that hasn’t stopped them from facing numerous allegations of employee abuse and neglect. Still, I understand people’s anxieties over losing this, over theaters increasingly favoring only blockbusters as time goes on, while the movies they want to see become only available online, if at all.

From Dune

And corporations only want to increase their stranglehold on “content.” Increasingly, we run into the fact that due to the relative youth of film as a medium, the vast majority of its works are under copyright and its ridiculous strictures (all thanks to Disney wanting to ensure no one else can get their hands on Mickey Mouse). Pair this with the rest of the facts on display, and these studios’ shared desire is clear. These increasingly monolithic companies chase a future in which they have full control over vast libraries of art and media that people can only access precisely as said monoliths wish.

Whether you consider yourself a cinephile or just an average theatergoer, there’s not really much you can personally do to influence where things go from here. Sure, put your money toward whatever you want to succeed, and always try to support the filmmakers you like, but we are but droplets compared to the greater tide. I think I’d get in some kind of trouble if I openly endorsed piracy as an alternative to corporate strangulation and the inaccessibility of vast reserves of film (an alternative that basically anyone could easily learn how to do, were they so inclined, just saying), so I won’t say more on that subject. As a literal handful of entities come to own art and every conceivable way you can access it, these issues will only intensify. In the meantime, do whatever you most feel safe doing to see the movies you like.

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Meme Artist Raised Over $1M for Planned Parenthood, Donated Ironically in Rush Limbaugh’s Memory

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh in a meme posted on the Instagram account @quentin.quarantino. (all images courtesy of Tommy Marcus)

When devotedly conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh — infamous for his racist, homophobic, and sexist rants — died last week at the age of 70, Tommy Marcus made an unlikely donation in his memory: $100 to Planned Parenthood. The gift was, of course, a tongue-in-cheek one; Limbaugh openly insulted reproductive rights advocates during his lifetime and lambasted the national nonprofit, accusing it of “sexual perversion.”

Marcus, who runs the immensely popular meme account @quentin.quarantino, posted a screenshot of his donation along with the comment, “Would be terrible if we raised $10,000 for Planned Parenthood because Rush Limbaugh hilariously is deceased?”

In four hours, his followers had raised $50,000 for Planned Parenthood. “When, for a brief moment, this fundraiser hit $666,666 – it was Rush sending a signal from down below to get this thing to $1 million,” Marcus tweeted as the donations rapidly increased. Within just three days, the fundraiser reached that milestone.

A post by @quentin.quarantino at the start of the fundraiser.

“I had this very strange, ironic fulfillment that came from channeling my anger and resentment towards this man into something so radically different and productive,” Marcus told Hyperallergic. “I wanted to push this reaction in myself further and figured that other people may feel the same way.”

“As it turns out, about 45,000 other people seem to share my sentiment,” he added of the many supporters who contributed a collective $1 million in just three days.

The progressive side of the Internet was already abuzz with memes on the day of Limbaugh’s passing. Many of them pointed out the hypocrisy and absurdity of respecting the dead indiscriminately, even when the deceased happened to be a terrible human while he was alive.

Marcus shared some of those memes as well as his own on his Instagram page, which has 638,000 followers, and they helped the fundraiser take off. What started out as an inside joke between thousands of strangers online became a veritable phenomenon that speaks to the power of memes and digital visual culture to mobilize change.

“It’s been unspeakably meaningful to me to see so much good grow from such a bitter and dangerous legacy,” Marcus said.

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Alejandro Almanza Pereda’s Sensorial Film on the Ancient Process of Brickmaking in Western Mexico

De esos polvos estos barros is a short film by Guadalajara-based artist Alejandro Almanza Pereda that examines the artisanal manufacturing of fired clay bricks in western Mexico. Through an episodic narrative, the film observes an ancient construction process still practiced today and a ubiquitous material singularly significant to built environments worldwide. 

The film captures vivid vignettes of traditional brickmaking from raw earth to finished building material in the town of Magdalena, Jalisco. The artist reflects on this practice by sharing the laborious process of brickmaking in its entirety, while drawing formal connections between the kilns and pre-Hispanic pyramids or ancient ziggurats. Interspersing footage of landscapes and closeups are paired with an atmospheric score that samples music and audio overheard on site. This generates a film that subtly reads as both documentary and lyrical abstraction, altogether exposing the transformation of a common, natural material. 

Fragmented glimpses of the human figure appear often, representing the vitality of labor while calling attention to an age-old craft that is slowly disappearing due to the increasing industrialization of building materials and environmental concerns. As such, De esos polvos estos barros touches on the complicated, deep-rooted, and changing industry of brickmaking, which is an economic source for thousands of families in Mexico.

The film premieres on the nomadic art museum Black Cube’s YouTube channel, and is followed by a pre-recorded interview with the artist led by José Esparza Chong Cuy, Executive Director and Chief Curator of Storefront for Art and Architecture, on Friday, February 26, 2021, at 7pm (MST). This program is free; RSVPs are not required.

For more information, visit blackcube.art.

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What Do Arts Organizations Need to Know About the Federal Shuttered Venue Operators Grant?

On December 27, 2020, a congressional stimulus bill that was passed and signed into law by then President Trump had several provisions to help United States residents through the COVID-19 crisis. Among these are additional stimulus payments, enhanced and extended Federal unemployment benefits, additional Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) money, simplified PPP forgiveness rules, an extension of the temporary charitable contribution deduction for taxpayers who take the standard deduction, and a doubling of the business meals deduction from 50% deductible to 100% deductible for the years 2021 and 2022 so long as the meal is purchased from a restaurant. (Takeout meals are okay.) These provisions should provide some help to all of us as we continue to weather the economic crisis.

But one item in the bill will specifically help people in the arts. Congress earmarked $15 billion in grants for arts venue operators whose income decreased due to the pandemic crisis. The money is meant to help these organizations weather the rest of the crisis, with priority given to the hardest-hit venues, and $2 Billion set aside for smaller, so called, “main street” venues. The funding is targeted primarily towards live venue operators, movie theaters, talent representatives, and live performing arts organizations. Museums (including zoos and aquariums) are eligible with some additional restrictions.

So, what do these grants look like? The Shuttered Venue Operators (SVO) Grant money, which will be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), provides grants of up to 45% of the organizations’ gross earned revenue (or $10 million, whichever is less). For entities in operation after January 1, 2019, the amount will be based on 6 months of average revenue, or $10 million, whichever is less. $2 billion of the funding is set aside exclusively for organizations with fewer than 50 full-time employees. Grants will not be given to any organization that received a Paycheck Protection loan (PPP) after December 27, 2020, and you may not apply for both an SVO Grant and a PPP loan at the same time.

What does gross earned revenue mean? Gross earned revenue means money received from sales of goods and services like merchandise, admission tickets, contracted presentation income, advertising sales, food and beverage, and long- and short-term rentals for event hosting. Donations, corporate sponsorships, individual gifts, and foundation grants do not count as this revenue.

The SVO grant funds can be used more flexibly than either PPP loan money or Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) money. Allowed uses cover payroll; payments to independent contractors; rent; utilities; scheduled mortgage payments; scheduled debt payments; insurance; administrative costs; worker protection costs; state and local taxes; operating leases in effect before February 15, 2020; ordinary and necessary business expenses including maintenance, and advertising; production transportation; and capital expenditures related to producing a theatrical or live performing arts production.

All grantees will need to keep documents proving their eligibility and proper use of funds for three years, and all employment records for four years.

Are there any restrictions? Yes. Venues are only eligible for SVO Grants if they have a defined performance space and audience space. Museums and movie theaters specifically must also have fixed seating: There is no allowance for them to have modular, temporary, or removable seating. The fixed seating requirement does not apply to other types of venues. Sales of products or services and live performances may not be of a “prurient sexual nature,” and the venue may not have received more than 10% of its 2019 revenue from the federal government.

How should organizations get ready to apply? The Small Business Administration is still working on the application platform, and applications are not yet being accepted. However, in the meantime, the SBA encourages applicants to do the following:

Register for a DUNS number so you can then register in the System for Award Management (SAM.gov). Also, gather documents that demonstrate your number of employees and monthly revenues so you can calculate the average number of qualifying employees you had over the prior 12 months. Lastly, determine the extent of gross earned revenue loss you experienced between 2019 and 2020. This and additional information such as floor plans, contract copies and other evidence will be needed to apply for an SVOG.

Perhaps the most important piece of the grant legislation is that priority is given to venues whose revenue is down 90%. This group will be allowed to apply for the grants first. After a two-week window, grant applications will open to venues whose revenue is down 70%, and after another two-week window, venues whose revenue is down at least 25% will be allowed to apply. Applicants in the first and second priority groups will be allowed to apply for a second grant if money is still available.

More information on the #saveourstages SVO Grants is available at the SBA website.

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Gleaming Water Drops Bead on the Canvas in Kim Tshcang-Yeul’s Hyperrealistic Paintings

(1986), oil on canvas, 63 1/2 x 51 3/8 inches. Image via Christie’s

Swollen, glistening, and saturated with illusion, the ubiquitous water drop absorbed Kim Tshcang-Yeul throughout his career. The Korean artist, who died earlier this year, was faithful to the seemingly mundane subject matter, choosing to depict the dewy orbs repeatedly after an initial painting in 1972 following his relocation to France. Inspired originally by a water-soaked canvas in his studio, Kim nurtured the viscous element in his hyperrealistic paintings created across nearly five decades. In an essay about the artist’s unending commitment, Dr. Cleo Roberts writes:

It is a tendency that seems to unite many of Korea’s avant-garde who took from Art Informel in the early ‘60s, including Ha Chong-Hyun and Park Seo-Bo. In this generation of artists, there is a ritualistic devotion to a chosen form, process, and, at times, colour. One could venture that, in the context of living in a volatile country ravaged by war, the security of immersion in a singular mode was an empowering choice, and may have been a necessary psychological counterpoint.

Whether depicting a singular pendant-shaped drop or canvas strewn with perfectly round bulbs, each of the oil-based works exhibits a deft approach to shadow and texture. The bloated forms appear to bead on the surface and are imbued with a sense of impermanence: if disturbed by even a small movement, they look as if they could burst or run down the surface.


“Waterdrops” (1979), oil on canvas, 102 x 76 3/4 inches. Image © The Estate of Kim Tschang-Yeul, courtesy of the estate and Almine Rech, photo by Rebecca Fanuele

Gleaming with occasional patches of gold and white, the transparent renderings foster a deeper connection to Taoist principles, in addition to questioning the tension between nature and contemporary life. “The act of painting water drops is to dissolve all things within [these], to return to a transparent state of ‘nothingness,’” Kim said in a statement, noting that his desire was to dissolve the ego. “By returning anger, anxiety, fear, and everything else to ‘emptiness,’ we experience peace and contentment.”

If you’re in London, you can see the first posthumous show Water Drops, which covers Kim’s entire career and features many of the works shown here, at Almine Rech from March 4 to April 10, 2021. Otherwise, head to Artsy to see a larger collection of the artist’s paintings.


“Waterdrop” (1974), oil on canvas, 17 3/4 x 16 1/8 inches. Image © The Estate of Kim Tschang-Yeul, courtesy of the estate and Almine Rech, photo by Rebecca Fanuele

“Waterdrops” (1986), India Ink and oil on canvas, 32 1/2 x 32 1/2 inches. Image © The Estate of Kim Tschang-Yeul, courtesy of the estate and Almine Rech, photo by Rebecca Fanuele

Left: “Waterdrop” (2017), oil on canvas, 46 1/8 x 19 3/4 inches. Image © The Estate of Kim Tschang-Yeul, courtesy of the estate and Almine Rech, photo by Rebecca Fanuele. Right: “Waterdrops” (1996), oil and acrylic on canvas, 21 5/8 x 18 1/8 x 3/4 inches. Image © The Estate of Kim Tschang-Yeul, courtesy of the estate and Almine Rech, photo by Rebecca Fanuele

Detail of “Waterdrops” (1985), oil and Indian ink on canvas, 76 3/4 x 63 3/4 inches. Image via Almine Rech

(2011), oil on canvas, 15 by 17 3/4 inches. Image via Sotheby’s

“Recurrence” (1994-2017), oil and Indian ink on canvas, 35 x 57 1/8 x 7/8 inches. Image © The Estate of Kim Tschang-Yeul, courtesy of the estate and Almine Rech, photo by Matt Kroening 

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Art Books for Days: What Not to Miss at Printed Matter’s 2021 Virtual Art Book Fair

At Printed Matter’s Virtual Art Book Fair this week, the Colombia-based publisher Calipso Press will feature its 2021 calendar, a 12-piece riso printed mosaic featuring photographs by Valeria Giraldo (image courtesy of Calipso Press)

Artists’ books, hand-stitched zines, irresistible prints in painfully limited editions — oh, my! Printed Matter’s Art Book Fair is one of the most anticipated affairs in the New York City, and more recently, Los Angeles art worlds. Like most awesome and typically densely-populated things, this year’s edition will be held entirely online due to the pandemic.

The good news: thanks in part to this virtual format, Printed Matter has rolled its LA and New York fairs into one, making it the largest event yet, and the most international. More than 400 exhibitors from over 4o countries — from rare booksellers and small presses to major museums and institutions — will unveil their virtual tables when the fair goes live at 4pm EST this Wednesday, February 24.

Kicking off on February 24, the Printed Matter Virtual Art Book Fair (PMVABF) runs through Sunday, February 28 and is completely free. Below, check out a slate of exhibitors you won’t want to miss — remember, they need our support now more than ever.

The Black School

A rendering of the Black Schoolhouse, TBS’s permanent home in New Orleans (courtesy of the Black School)

The Black School (TBS), the experimental institute that educates Black and POC students in radical Black politics through art and design, has hosted over 100 workshops since its founding in 2016 and touched the lives of hundreds. Last year, TBS co-founders Joseph Cuillier III and Shani Peters launched a fundraiser to build a schoolhouse in New Orleans’s historic Seventh Ward neighborhood, Cuillier’s hometown. Proceeds from the sale of the organization’s official magazine, created in collaboration with St. Hope Leadership Academy and Sugar Hill Children’s Museum for Art and Storytelling, will go toward helping TBS build their permanent home.

Calipso Press

Just a few of the publications at Calipso Press’s virtual table this year. (image courtesy of Calipso Press)

Founded in 2015 by Eva Parra and Camilo Otero, Calipso Press is a small risograph printing studio, publishing label, and artist collective based in Cali, Colombia. Its virtual table this year has a great selection of its decidedly whimsical publications. There is Quick crossword chaekkori (2016) by artist Martín La Roche, a series of 23 letterpress posters that together hold the clues to solve a crossword puzzle he discovered more than ten years ago. María Jimena Sánchez’s Esquina con vista (A corner with a view) is a meditative compilation of drawings inspired by the corners of rooms. And a 2021 calendar by Colombian artist Valeria Giraldo, composed of 12 mosaic-like photographs of the ocean that together make up the image Un mar de lágrimas (A sea of tears), inspires us to keep our heads above water during uncertain times.

Childish Books 

Books by Alick Shiu, Lukaza Branfman-Verrisimo, Margot Terc, and others at Childish Books’s virtual table at PMABF this year. (image courtesy of Childish Books)

This Maine-based publisher merges two of the most delightful genres in the literary world — children’s books and artists’ books — to bring us unique publications and zines for a “child audience, however defined.” Sure enough, the titles presented at Childish Books’s virtual table are sweet, silly, and yet surprisingly deep, perfect for the kids in your life or the kid inside you. Particularly lovely is Slow Looking: These Views Are Our Tools by artist and social justice activist Lukaza Branfman-Verrisimo, a spiral notebook-like publication filled with interactive materials like viewfinders and coloring pages that encourage a slow, aware, and deliberate observation of the world — a worthy endeavor for readers of any age. Ten percent of proceeds from sales of the book will be donated to Maine Youth Justice, an org working to end youth incarceration in Maine.


Chimurenga — named after a Shona word that loosely translates to “struggle for freedom” or “liberation war” — prints a triennial magazine, a quarterly broadsheet, and a biennial publication known as the African Cities Reader. The editorial platform and radio station from Cape Town also runs Chimurenga Library, an ongoing, curated online archive of independent Pan-African periodicals and publications. Selections from these myriad arts- and politics-infused projects, all made possible by writers, illustrators, photographers, and other creative minds from Africa and its diasporas, will be on display at the fair.

Dongola Limited Editions

Storm and You are Free: Antarah in Black on White by Fatima El Hajj, published by Dongola Limited editions, 2020 (image courtesy of Dongola Limited Editions)

“It feels like propelling all our books and publications into a new world order, combining paper and print with the flair of sci-fi,” Sarah Chalabi, founder of Dongola Publishing, told me in an email about her excitement towards participating in Printed Matter’s virtual fair this year. The Lebanese publishing house is a platform for contemporary voices from West Asia, North Africa, and South Asia. Its debut presentation for PMVABF is full of treasures — such as Fatima El Hajj’s Storm and You are Free, an impossibly beautiful, hand-stitched artist’s book painted with China ink, made as a tribute to the Black pre-Islamic poet Antarah Ibn Shaddad, whose mother was enslaved and who often tackled discrimination and servitude in his writing.


“Manual de limpieza / Clean Book,” a bilingual publication by Chilean artist Fernanda Ivanna. (image courtesy of HAMBRE)

Based in Santiago, Chile, HAMBRE describes each of its zines as “a unique recipe, cooked intimately with authors and collaborators,” and its fair page will reference a dinner party, setting each publication against the background of the blue rubber tablecloth typically found in Chilean houses. Spotlighting Latin American women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community, HAMBRE is also known for its Acción Gráfica Urgente (Urgent Graphic Action) program, a series of political resistance posters launched when violent protests broke out in Chile in October 2019. Among its offerings for PMVABF: Para servir o llevar, a book by Chilean artist Oni88 featuring hand-painted landscapes of love and Chinese food in Santiago; and Manual de limpieza / Clean Book, a bilingual publication by Chilean artist and domestic worker Fernanda Ivanna that seeks inspiration and self-awareness through quotidian household chores. The first edition, which has a print run of 50 numbered copies, includes “a tiny cleaning set,” and whatever that means, I’m excited.


QUEER MATTERS, a collaborative publication from the Queer.Archive.Work community. Risograph printed in Providence, RI. (image courtesy of Paul Soulellis)

Expanding access and resources for experimental publishing, especially by marginalized voices, is at the core of Queer.Archive.Work (QAW), a reading room, publisher, and community space in Providence, Rhode Island. On the occasion of the virtual book fair, QAW is launching Queer Matters, a collaborative, 60-page folio of writing, drawings, photographs, and text exchanges produced by its members during the fall and winter of 2020. The zine is available for free or trade to queer, trans, and/or BIPOC fair visitors (anything received in exchange will become a permanent addition to QAW’s physical library, a very cool concept); institutions, private collectors, and all others can purchase Queer Matters for $45, with all funds benefiting the nonprofit. For those looking to socialize, QAW will also be hosting one-hour “queer hang-outs” Thursday through Sunday this week; more details on their homepage.

Small Editions

Video still from Gi Eun (Ginny) Huo’s 8mm stop motion film we didn’t see it as a tidal wave (image courtesy of the artist)

The beloved Brooklyn book studio Small Editions will showcase a selection of titles from its impressive eight-year history of producing limited edition, small-run publications for artists, architects, and designers. It will also launch two brand-new projects at the fair: Darkroom Drawing, an ode to photographic printing by artist Sam Margevicius that includes risograph, laserjet, and traditional silver gelatin prints; and Gi Eun (Ginny) Huo’s all i wanted was to get into heaven, a multimedia book that tells the story of a spiritual journey while tackling the traumatic history of religious colonization, accompanied by an 8mm stop motion film that will debut at Huo’s book launch, hosted on Zoom. Both Margevicius and Huo’s book launch events are scheduled for next weekend; sign up on Small Editions’s fair page when it goes live.


If their punchy name hasn’t made you smile yet, their colorful, artist-made books and zines will surely win you over. Led by a collective of Black artists and musicians, TORTILLAGURL was founded in 2016 to document and celebrate Baltimore’s arts scene “in a city that does not prioritize its Black artists.” In 2017, they began printing small submission-based zines with local artwork, each edition driven by a different color as a theme. Their photo book Tidbits, which debuted in 2019 at the Baltimore Museum of Art, offers an insider look into Baltimore’s cultural underground.

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In Inky Blacks and Earthy Pastels, Reggie Burrows Hodges Crafts Collective Portraits

In Reggie Burrows Hodges’s worlds, everyone is in motion — jumping hurdles, dancing, farming, riding a bike. Still, the paintings inspire a sense of stillness and tranquility. Spread out along the walls at Karma, the artist’s New York debut permits space for quiet reflection. 

Reggie Burrows Hodges, “Hurdling: Sky Blue” (2020), acrylic and pastel on linen, 68 x 52 inches

Within these vibrant portraits, unnamed figures undertake leisurely and arduous tasks in idyllic settings. Faces are blurred and imperceptible, yet somehow evoke a sense of intimacy rather than alienation. Without identifying facial characteristics, we instead focus on the subjects’ actions and surroundings. The figures are rendered with soft edges and glowing colors, inviting viewers into their picturesque scenes. 

“Community Concern” (2020) offers a glimpse of a Black woman, exuberantly posed and swinging her arms, dancing. Her peach-colored pants dazzle while her face is an inky black monochrome. This anonymity departs from the notion of a portrait’s subject as an isolated individual and instead moves toward a collective sense of being, to which the title alludes. 

Reggie Burrows Hodges, “On the Verge: Green Field” (2020), acrylic and pastel on linen, 36 x 28 inches

Although Hodges was born in densely populated Compton, CA, he currently resides in Lewiston, Maine, a town more sparsely inhabited, where he is attuned to the earthy pastels of  quaint rural New England landscapes. Works such as “On the Verge: Green Field” (2020) reflect the gentle tensions that illuminate Hodges’ practice: his impressionistic style dwells somewhere between abstraction and figuration, evoking the history of Western portraiture by foregrounding the figure but depart from tradition by omitting all facial features. 

Hodges remains concerned with the human figure although not preoccupied with marked individuality — a formal gesture that echoes the critiques of rugged individualism fundamental to Black resistance historically and today. 

Reggie Burrows Hodges, “Big We’ll” (2020), acrylic and pastel on linen, 54 x 50 inches

Reggie Burrows Hodges continues through March 14 at Karma (188 East 2nd Street and 172 East 2nd Street, East Village, Manhattan,  respectively).

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Ethics Recommendations Museums Can Implement Right Now

With President Biden now in office, the art world is vocalizing ways the federal government can save museums and the arts from the crises precipitated by the pandemic. However, the pandemic did not create these crises. Rather, it revealed and compounded existing problems. Prior to the pandemic, the art world was inundated with a series of scandals that led to the resignations of several directors and trustees. Museums were forced to respond one by one, a separate set of protests for the removal of each board member or trustee. These situations demonstrate that museums only respond to public calls for change when indignation reaches its peak, and their struggle to respond to calls for change have grown increasingly frequent this past year.

The stresses caused by COVID-19 and a tumultuous year have further highlighted systemic ethical misconduct and deep-rooted problems around race, gender, and socioeconomic class. The sharp contrast between museum boards, comprised of “ultra-high net worth individuals” and the layoffs of nearly 50% of museum employees during the COVID-19 related closures alone lay bare these deep socioeconomic tensions.

Museum stimulus packages presented as “solutions” can only ever be temporary unless museums address larger systemic issues. We recommend museums and their stakeholders address – fix – these issues by implementing three basic transparency measures. Museums have the incentive to put transparent ethics into action. We have outlined three meaningful transparency measures to help museums commit to a more ethical and equitable future, as foundations for institutional accountability and responsibility. The public should demand nothing less:

  1. Institute transparent performance and payment metrics.

Executive salaries and promotion criteria should be transparent. Museums should work towards implementing transparency of compensation and benefits for their entire pool of talent, including employees, interns, freelancers, contingent, and part-time employees.

Museums cannot ignore transparency since the digitally connected world increasingly generates it on its own. In 2019, 1,900 museum employees shared their salary and other pertinent details in a publicly viewable Google document to highlight unfair wages and cultivate solidarity among coworkers to address this injustice. 

2.   Publish an annual diversity report. 

Museums should publish an annual diversity review that includes statistics, analysis, and strategy on hiring, development, and retention across protected classes with an intersectional lens on board members, staff, interns, and freelancers. Diversifying museum workplaces makes financial sense – studies have shown a correlation between increased diversity and greater financial performance. Museums should also assemble boards with a mind to driving global dialogue across audiences by increasing age, racial, gender, and vocational diversity in boards

3.   Make the process of vetting board members transparent.

Museums should publicly share criteria and strategies for selecting board members such as diversity and inclusion metrics and name the industries their board members operate in as part of due-diligence management. It is not easy to avoid conflicts of interest when art professionals combine their governing museum positions with other roles in the art world. Can a climate change denier be a board member of a science museum? What happens if board members streamline their private collections to museum acquisitions in order to profit from institutional career support? Clear criteria on how museums should vet their boards will help museums navigate an ethically driven work culture.

In conclusion: Museums must demonstrate their responsibility as public institutions and cultural bellwethers. Afterall, museums serve as lighthouses for the public art world, archiving and protecting the greatest of our material culture. We can all pressure museums to integrate the above transparency measures into operating practices and collectively set an industry standard of transparency. Large oversight groups like the AAM and AAMD can play an instrumental leadership role through collective goal setting of transparency protocols for their members.

Museums that are ethically minded will not only engage broader audiences, they will also gain board members who are more loyal to the institution, stakeholders who are more motivated to contribute, and, consequently, a budget that can weather the current climate, as well as future crises. Ultimately, museums that fail to respond to the ethical demands of our present age do so at their own peril.  

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A Giant Sculpture of Mars Celebrates Perseverance’s Landing

Last week, humanity made a major leap towards resolving the age-old question: Was there life on Mars? With bated breath, the world witnessed NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover successfully land on Thursday, February 18, after a seven-month journey through space. It was the first rover to be sent to our planetary neighbor with the stated mission of searching for traces of ancient microbial life.  

To mark the historic moment, London’s Natural History Museum has unveiled an enormous replica of Mars at its main hall. The installation, made by the British artist Luke Jerram, is suspended from the Hintze Hall’s ceiling alongside its 82-foot-long blue whale skeleton. For ambiance, the museum has also illuminated the hall in Martian-red lighting.

Furthermore, two scientists from the museum, Caroline Smith and Keyron Hickman-Lewis, are advising NASA’s Mars team on rock and soil sample collection. Their work is part of a collaboration between NASA, the UK Space Agency, and the European Space Agency.

Still image from a video capturing the landing of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars on February 18, 2021 (courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“This is the culmination of years of intensive effort from thousands of scientists and engineers at NASA and around the world,” said Smith in a press release. “We are so excited to reach this milestone in the mission, to see Perseverance land on Mars and start exploring the different rocks and geological features with the onboard cameras and scientific instruments.”

Smith, who heads the Earth Sciences Collections at the museum, will be studying the mineralogy and geochemistry of rocks found at Jezero crater, the site of a Martian lake that existed 3.9 billion years ago. The professor will also contribute to planning how the samples will be curated upon their arrival on earth.

Hickman-Lewis will be studying the environments reflected by the sedimentary rocks found at Jezero crater and their potential to preserve ancient microbial life, the museum said.

“Jezero crater provides a splendid window into the early history of Mars, when the planet may have hosted a biosphere,” Hickman-Lewis said.

“Traces of this biosphere, which was likely microbial, may be challenging to identify and so we will rely upon the rover’s instruments to help us make decisions as to where and what we should sample,” the scientist added. “Once returned to Earth, this unique set of samples will give us a deep understanding of the geology of Mars.”

Meanwhile, Perseverance has sent back high-resolution images of its landing at the Jezero crater. According to NASA, the majority of robot’s cameras capture images in color, unlike past rovers. Since the first black and white image of the landing, the agency has been steadily updating its website with breathtaking images in full-color.

Installation view of Luke Jerram’s Mars replica at London’s Natural History Museum’s Hintze Hall (courtesy the museum)

The six-wheeled robot also carried a helicopter called “Ingenuity,” the first of its kind on another planet. A fragment of a Martian meteorite from the Natural History Museum’s collection, which landed on Earth between 600,000 and 700,000 years ago and was discovered in Oman in 1999, was also sent with the rover. The meteorite, named “Sayh al Uhamiyr 008” (or SaU 008), will be used for calibration purposes as the rover examines Martian soil. Furthermore, the rover will be the first to collect sound recording from Mars.

Follow-up missions will collect the samples that will be extracted by Perseverance over the next decade and deliver them to earth sometime in the 2030s. If the samples provide proof of past life forms on Mars, it “would be one of the most significant scientific discoveries in history,” Smith said.

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Build Starry Night Entirely Out of LEGOgh Blocks

I’m not here to argue that LEGO can be art — I will simply let the evidence speak for itself on that topic. I’m just here to let you know, one mature LEGO fan to another, that the latest from LEGO Ideas takes the world’s most popular building block system to new artistic heights. Vincent van Gogh: The Starry Night has earned the requisite 10,000 fan endorsements on LEGO Ideas and was approved for production. The set assembles a brick-olage of the ever-diversifying arsenal of LEGO blocks into a surprisingly fluid replica of the famous Impressionist painting. Even more meta, the 1,552-piece set includes a van Gogh Minifigure that stands before the set, capturing the painting on a little LEGOgh easel and canvas — revealing the set to be a landscape, and our miniature artist to be indulging in some plein-air painting.

Vincent van Gogh: The Starry Night earned 10,000 fan endorsements on LEGO Ideas and was approved for production.

The set was submitted by Truman (aka legotruman), a Hong Kong-based LEGO enthusiast whose other project submissions include Kraken vs Vikings, various Studio Ghibli fare, and other pop culture properties, like Nightmare Before Christmas and Animal Crossing. The Starry Night is Truman’s first project to make it all the way through approval, but a second, an extraordinarily detailed rendition of the bathhouse from Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away is currently under review. If it helps, I would crawl on broken glass to get just the proposed No-Face buildable figurine … but that probably speaks to my deep personal issues more than anything else.

A Vincent van Gogh Lego Minifigure

In the meantime, we can all be starry-eyed for Starry Night. Not only does the set pay homage to high art, but it also turns the backing board, which usually serves as the ground level of a scene, into a proscenium of sorts. This allows for a fascinating turn of perspective befitting the send-up of an artist whose groundbreaking vision has continued long past his death in 1890, just one year after completing his most famous masterpiece of the swirling French sky. Congrats to Truman for extending van Gogh’s legacy into a new medium, as well as gaining admission to the LEGO canon!

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Hilarity Ensues as Everything Goes Catastrophically Wrong in an Ad for Etisalat

Strap on a helmet and fasten your kneepads before watching this ad for international telecommunications giant, Etisalat. Nalle Sjoblad’s “Moonwalk” uses brutal Home Alone-esque sequences of poor planning, office rage, and failure to appreciate even basic spatial relationships in order to remind us that the most uncomfortable, humiliating scenarios only last for a moment. Based in Helsinki, Sjoblad approaches a variety of commercial and personal projects with his distinct style of humor, many of which you can watch on Vimeo.


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Citing Epstein Ties, Dartmouth Community Calls for School to Rename Leon Black Arts Center

Dartmouth College alumni and students are calling for the school to rename its Black Family Visual Arts Center (BVAC) following revelations of Leon Black’s financial ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Black and his wife Debra contributed $48 million toward the campus building, which houses the studio art, film, and media studies departments, in 2012.

Black has also served as chairman of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City since 2018. Earlier this month, Hyperallergic reported on hundreds of artists’ calls for MoMA to remove him from its board of trustees. In January, Black announced he would step down as CEO of his private equity firm Apollo Global Management after a report found that he paid Epstein $158 million in financial advising fees between 2012 and 2017.

Conducted by the Wall Street law firm Dechert LLP, the report found no evidence that Black had participated in criminal activity, though some have questioned whether the three-month investigation revealed the true extent and nature of Epstein and Black’s relationship.

With an estimated net worth of $8 billion, however, Black’s influence extends beyond the arts, with massive donations to MIT, Harvard, and Dartmouth, from which he earned his undergraduate degree.  

In a statement shared with Hyperallergic, Dartmouth alumni Stan Colla, Ruth Cserr, Roberta Millstein, and Diana Whitney urge the university to “show institutional courage.” 

“We call upon the College to remove the Black family name, with or without Leon Black’s cooperation, from the visual arts center and to initiate a community-wide conversation about an appropriate renaming that demonstrates the College’s commitment to address its egregious history with gender and race issues,” the group writes.

Colla, Cserr, Millstein, and Whitney are founding members of the Dartmouth Community Against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence (DCGHSV), a coalition of current and former students, faculty, and staff advocating for better policies to address and prevent sexual abuse on campus. 

For some members of DCGHSV, the need to reckon with Black’s relationship to Dartmouth is not simply a question of effacing a tarnished name — it is inextricably tied to the history of sexual assault at the university.

“The building represents an ever-present insult to all Dartmouth survivors: including the nine students who as plaintiffs sued Dartmouth for enabling their professors’ abuses, the 65 victims who received a settlement from the class action, and hundreds of other students who have endured sexual violence on campus,” the statement says.

In 2019, Dartmouth reached a $14.4 million settlement with nine women who accused three professors in Dartmouth’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences of sexual misconduct and rape. Although the behavior went as far back as 2002, the college turned a blind eye, the lawsuit claimed. An open letter in solidarity with the plaintiffs, signed by hundreds of Dartmouth students and alumni, said at the time that the incidents were “part of an institutional culture that minimizes and disregards sexual violence and gender harassment.”

Whitney, a ‘95 Dartmouth graduate, said she was raped on campus her first year. “I was 18, it wasn’t anything that I reported, that I was encouraged to report. I was also pretty violently sexually harassed by some drunk frat boys who tried to get into my dorm room. Those kinds of things were normal behavior at Dartmouth in the 90s,” she told Hyperallergic.

Dartmouth, she notes, was also the last Ivy League school to admit women, in 1972. 

“There’s a sort of deep-seated, misogynistic culture that lives on,” Whitney said. She adds that the school has taken some steps to improve its campus culture — in 2015, President Hanlon announced the creation of a four-year sexual violence prevention program for undergraduate students. But work remains to be done, and that includes reckoning with Black’s namesake, according to some members of the school’s community.

“When I see [Black’s] name on the building, what it means to me is that women and minorities and marginalized groups do not really matter at Dartmouth,” Whitney said. 

In 2019, 71 cases of gender-based violence were reported at Dartmouth, including 33 reports of rape, according to data provided by the college to the Clery Center. Considering that only about 20% of incidents are typically reported, the alumni’s statement says, the numbers are likely higher.

Nicole Sellew, a current undergraduate student, told the campus newspaper the Dartmouth that the school’s refusal to deal with BVAC is part of a pattern. 

“Things don’t get changed until there is a news story, until there is a big hoopla,” Sellew said. “The larger problem is that the school has no problem looking the other way getting this huge donation, until it’s a problem.”

Black also endowed the Leon Black Professor of Shakespearean Studies and the Eli M. Black Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies at the college. According to the Dartmouth, Black has made contributions both personally and through the Black Family Foundation. Epstein served as the foundation’s director for 10 years before stepping down in 2007. (A spokesperson for Black told the Dartmouth that Black “played no operational role.”)

A year later, in 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to a felony charge for soliciting sex from minors, including girls as young as 14. He served only two thirds of his 18-month prison sentence.

Dechert’s investigation said Black believed Epstein had “served his time” for the case and deserved a second chance.

In light of the recent revelations, Black said he would pledge $200 million toward gender equality initiatives and organizations supporting survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. In their statement, the group of alumni suggest Black could “[give] a tenth of that to his alma mater to work directly toward changing the culture of male primacy that feeds into the Clery statistics.”

“What if Black himself were to ask Dartmouth to change the name of the building?” the alumni ask. “What if, for example, a representative committee of students, alumnae, faculty, and staff were to suggest a new, more appropriate name? Then the Black Family could take credit for wanting to help change the harmful culture at Dartmouth, to create a campus safe for all students from the degradation of gender-based violence.”

“There is a real failure here to acknowledge what’s going on, and it’s part of a larger pattern,” said Cserr in an interview with Hyperallergic. “This defensiveness is the basic power structures saying, ‘We can’t question power.’” 

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence told the Dartmouth that the school has no plans to change the center’s name. Lawrence has declined to comment further for this story.

“Dartmouth is saying, ‘Well, we looked at this and none of this money is tainted by Epstein, so it doesn’t matter,’” Cserr said. “Shouldn’t we be better than that?”

Apollo Global Management has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment from Leon Black. 

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From High Scores to Classic Donkey Kong, these Docs Take On Video Games

Since it’s a relatively new medium, there haven’t yet been that many good, thoughtful movies made about video games. But here are some exceptions that you can stream right now.

Indie Game: The Movie (2012)

Released at the beginning of the 2010s boom in independent game publishing, this documentary profiles a trio of designers as they struggle to put together their latest titles — with minimal teams or simply on their own. Directed by James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot, it’s a great primer on how game design incorporates both aesthetic and technical concerns. It also has one of the best original scores of any documentary to come out in recent years.

On Amazon Prime and other platforms.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

On one level, this documentary by Seth Gordon is about the various people who have fought to claim the world-record high score for the 1981 Donkey Kong arcade game. On another level, it is about the broader world of esports and those who are obsessed with these records. But on a far more important level, it is about the incredible ego and dastardly deeds of Billy Mitchell, an astonishingly ridiculous human being. He may or may not be the “world’s greatest arcade gamer,” but he is unquestionably one of the best documentary villains ever.

On various platforms.

Summoning Salt (2016-Present)

This YouTube channel releases short films about the histories of various video game world records. From Punch Out!! to Mario Kart to Pokemon and more, the tricks that people find to beat games as fast as possible are endlessly fascinating. Each episode in this series creates a compelling story around a competition over a specific record, building tension until you’re getting unbelievably hyped just watching someone play a video game. It’s marvelous.

On YouTube.

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The Getty Revisits Ancient Palmyra, but the Modern City Is Mostly Invisible

If news outlets thrust the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra (known as Tadmur in Arabic) into the public eye in 2015, when it was captured by ISIS, then museums have helped keep it there ever since. Most recently, the Getty Research Institute launched the online exhibition Return to Palmyra. Promotional material says the exhibition “re-presents” the Getty’s first online exhibition, The Legacy of Ancient Palmyra, from 2017. As with that earlier exhibition, Return to Palmyra centers on two rich sets of material illustrating Palmyra that the Getty owns: 18th-century etchings made after drawings by Louis-François Cassas (acquired in 1984); and 19th-century photographs by Louis Vignes (acquired in that fateful year of 2015). All of these, of course, are put in context of the recent devastation of the site during the Syrian Civil War.

Lepagelet and Pierre Gabriel Berthault after Louis-François Cassas, “Temple of Bel” (1799), etching, from Voyage pittoresque de la Syrie, de la Phoénicie, de la Palestine, et de la Basse Egypte, vol. 1, pl. 35 (the Getty Research Institute)

One drawback of the original format of the exhibition was that it almost completely ignored life in post-classical Palmyra, which did not stop in the third century but has gone on more or less continuously at the site for the 1,700 years since. This absence was striking, since the Getty’s collections provide a wealth of detail about the Ottoman-period village at Palmyra, including the only known plan of the village’s mosque, in the cella of the Temple of Bel. The Getty’s prior focus on Roman-era Palmyra was so extreme that at least one reviewer concluded that the city was long deserted by the 19th century, merely hosting Bedouin squatters.

Charles Nicolas Varin after Louis-François Cassas, “Plan of the Temple of Bel” (1799), etching, from Voyage pittoresque de la Syrie, de la Phoénicie, de la Palestine, et de la Basse Egypte, vol. 1, pl. 28 (the Getty Research Institute)

So, how does the re-presentation compare? At first, it appears mostly the same. The “exhibition” portion of the site is a verbatim copy of the earlier exhibition, with the added feature of an Arabic translation of the original text. The rich recent history of Palmyra and its people is still ignored.

Now, however, there is an added essay by curator Joan Aruz, entitled “Palmyra: Caravan City and Cultural Crossroads.” The focus is on the classical city, but Aruz also looks briefly at the rest of its history. Unusually, Aruz mentions that there was a village centered on the Temple of Bel compound into the 1930s and that the French (who controlled Syria under a League of Nations mandate) forcibly relocated the inhabitants at that time to a new town adjacent to the ancient ruins, in the name of excavation and preservation.

(screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

That recent history of the site is also pointedly referred to in a featured interview, conducted with Waleed Khaled al-As’ad, son of the archaeologist Khaled al-As’ad (murdered by ISIS in 2015 — because of his ties to the government and the Ba’ath party, not, as was rumored, because he refused to reveal the location of treasures for ISIS to destroy or loot). Al-As’ad’s family is from Palmyra — he can trace them back six generations in the town — and he himself grew up there. “To be the child of such a place, and to have lived alongside these great monuments,” al-As’ad reflects, “… is always a point of happiness and pride.” The interview also touches on the fate of the contemporary town: four years after Syrian and Russian forces pushed ISIS out, the city still lies in rubble; al-As’ad suggests only 1,000 to 1,500 inhabitants are left, of the tens of thousands who lived there before the war.

The exhibition, and the images it contains, are visually impressive. But this visual impressiveness of Palmyra’s ancient past has also served propaganda purposes for all sides in the Syrian Civil War: ISIS, the Syrian government and Russia (as restorers of cultural heritage), and the US and UK (fighting for “civilization” against “barbarism”). The modern city, not as photogenic, is usually ignored. In re-presenting the exhibition, the Getty has taken some small steps to address Palmyra’s rich history over the last 1,700 years, not just its Roman-era past. But it still has a long way to go.

The Getty Research Institute’s online exhibition Return to Palmyra launched on February 3 and continues indefinitely.

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A Rare Yellow Penguin Has Been Photographed for the First Time on a South Georgia Island

All images © Yves Adams/Kennedy News, shared with permission

On a trip to a small island in South Georgia in December 2019, Yves Adams spotted an unusually bright creature bobbing through a sea of 120,000 king penguins. Whereas most of the flightless birds sported the typical tuxedo-like suit, one paraded around with yellow feathers and cream-colored feet.

Adams, who frequently documents landscapes and wildlife around the world, is believed to be the first photographer to capture images of the rare penguin, which he spotted while unloading food and safety equipment. “We all went crazy when we realised. We dropped all the safety equipment and grabbed our cameras,” the Belgian photographer says. “We were so lucky the bird landed right where we were. Our view wasn’t blocked by a sea of massive animals. Normally it’s almost impossible to move on this beach because of them all.”

The atypical coloring is due to leucism, a condition that results in the loss of melanin, which turns the black feathers and feet into a lighter hue. In 2013, researchers learned that penguins’ yellow pigment is not derived from food but rather is chemically distinct from the other compounds that color their plumes. The bright feathers are used to attract mates.

See Adams’ shots from his Atlantic expedition, in addition to more that span a wide array of locations like Greenland, the Galapagos Islands, and the Philippine Sea, on his site and Instagram. (via PetaPixel)


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A Massive Seven-Volume Collection Chronicles the Pioneering Legacy of Abstract Artist Hilma af Klint

All images © Bokförlaget Stolpe, shared with permission

Following a wildly successful retrospective at the Guggenheim in 2018, Hilma af Klint (1862–1944) has firmly secured her place as a groundbreaking figure in abstract art. In recent years, her colorful, spiritually-minded body of work has reshaped art historical timelines, supplanting male artists like Vasily KandinskyPiet MondrianPaul Klee, and Josef Albers, who have long been regarded as the pioneers of the 20th-century movement.

Throughout her lifetime, the prolific Swedish artist created more than 1,600 works, an impressive output now collected in Hilma AF Klint: The Complete Catalogue Raisonné: Volumes I-VII. Published by Bokförlaget Stolpe, the seven-volume series is organized both chronologically and by theme, beginning with the spiritual sketches af Klint made in conjunction with The Five, a group of women who attended séances in hopes of obtaining messages from the dead. These clairvoyant experiences impacted much of her work, which the books explore in her most famous series, The Paintings for the Temple, in addition to her geometric studies, watercolor pieces, and more occasional portraits and landscapes.

“What makes her art interesting is that the works are highly interconnected. A catalogue raisonné is necessary in order to see the different cycles, motifs, and symbols that recur in a fascinating way,” said Daniel Birnbaum, who co-edited the volumes with Kurt Almqvist. Each book is around 200 pages with hundreds of illustraitons.

The first three volumes are available now on Bookshop, where you also can pre-order the entire collection, and the remaining four are slated for release later this year. You also might enjoy Beyond the Visible, a 2020 documentary exploring af Klint’s iconic legacy. (via Artnet)


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SCAD deFINE ART’s Virtual Events Complement Exhibitions in Atlanta and Savannah

The Savannah College of Art and Design presents the 12th edition of SCAD deFINE ART, the university’s annual program of talks, tours, and exhibitions featuring work by contemporary art’s most vital voices. This year’s dynamic online programming, presented February 23–25, includes a keynote lecture by renowned New York-based conceptual artist and 2021 SCAD deFINE ART honoree Sanford Biggers, a Q&A with prominent Brooklyn-based artist Marcel Dzama, and a conversation on Dzama’s work with famed comedian Amy Sedaris, among other inspiring talks, gallery tours, and studio visits.

The virtual program complements new exhibitions on view at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah and SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film in Atlanta, featuring work by Biggers, Dzama, and other globally recognized artists including Christto & Andrew, Kate Cooper, Helen Frankenthaler, Emily Furr, Carlos Garaicoa, the Haas Brothers, Paulina Olowska, Brandon Sadler, Rose B. Simpson, and Albert Watson. These artists’ evocative works present new ideas or different ways of being in the world and encourage greater reflection on the narratives we inherit, the identities we create, and the roles we are expected to play. While many of the artists challenge the status quo, their unique perspectives on art and culture ultimately offer the viewer a sense of hope for the future.

“SCAD deFINE ART 2021 marks another first in the event’s 12-year history — our inaugural virtual edition,” said SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace. “In a season of reimagination, SCAD’s renowned fine arts program showcases the shifting explorations and revelations of self. From Sanford Biggers’ ‘future ethnographies’ to Kate Cooper’s representations of the feminine ‘ideal,’ SCAD deFINE ART constructs — and deconstructs — identity through works by internationally celebrated contemporary artists. This year, your home and SCAD museums become one. Take a look!”

For more information on the virtual programming and new exhibitions visit scad.edu/defineart.

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Patrick Angus’s Honest Images of Gay Life

Patrick Angus once lamented that, even well after Stonewall, gay men had few honest images of themselves. As a young art student finding his bearings in Santa Barbara, Angus was galvanized when he encountered David Hockney’s seductive — if ultimately unattainable — depictions of Los Angeles as an affluent gay idyll. From the late 1970s up to his premature death in New York in 1992, from AIDS-related complications, Angus strove to make images that were true to his lived experience as a gay man: at once privileged by virtue of being white, male, and cisgender, but also tied to a gay subculture that was widely censured during the AIDS crisis. His mature work portrayed men in those strongholds where queer desire could be openly expressed, in public-private spaces such such as porn theaters, strip clubs, and gay bathhouses, like the one where he worked nights while living at a welfare hotel.

A group of Angus’s works on paper and three of his paintings are currently on view at Bortolami Gallery. In the drawings, pretty, young men lounge, recline, read, sleep, and pose in spare domestic interiors. Nude or clothed, they inhabit the page with ease, demonstrating comfort in their space and with Angus, with whom they often shared a social circle. The intimate portraits, many of which appear to have been torn from sketchbooks, have a provisional, exploratory quality. Angus borrows from and intrinsically queers the Western canon: his sitters might be expressionistically rendered in Fauvist hues, or flat and lucid and Pop-inflected, or more modeled and stylistically aligned with Realism. Though his range is broad, he also draws the same subject and scene multiple times with only the most minute variations, as if he’s attempting to calibrate something impossibly delicate.

Patrick Angus, “Hanky Panky”, 1990. Courtesy of Bortolami Gallery, New York.

The paintings in the exhibition are tighter than the drawings, in concept and execution, with lustrous, fully worked surfaces. Detailed paintings of the gay porn theaters of New York’s early ’90s vividly portray little-documented, and now-lost queer spaces. Titled after pop songs, they depict the Gaiety Theater — which remarkably survived Mayor Giuliani’s crackdown on nightlife, closing in 2005 — and The Prince. In one painting, the crowd observes a scene of two nude men by an aquamarine pool, a clear homage to David Hockney. In the other, they watch an onscreen blowjob. Within and across the paintings, divisions between art, sex, and life dissipate.

In the third painting in the show, “Self-Portrait as Picasso” (1980), Angus gazes coolly into a mirror over a mantelpiece, a setup comparable to the one at Pablo Picasso’s studio. Here, Angus is not only riffing on the canon; he’s also staking a claim to it by painting himself in Picasso’s place. After years of obscurity and dire poverty, Angus did receive some recognition in his final year of life, when he was the subject of several solo shows and even sold six works to Hockney. But, working as he did to chronicle the beauty and dignity of cruising sites excoriated amid the AIDS pandemic, Angus would always be on the outside.

Installation view of Patrick Angus, Bortolami Gallery, New York, 2021 (photo by Kristian Laudrup)

Patrick Angus continues through February 27 at Bortolami Gallery (39 Walker Street, Tribeca, Manhattan).

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“Looking for Hope and Clinging to Hope”: Short Films for Our Times

SAN FRANCISCO —In 2019, Abby Chen, the curator of contemporary art at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, decided she wanted to give a platform to artists making short films that express the urgency of issues like climate change, racism, and inequality — with resilience and joy.

“I think the world is changing,” she said over the phone. “And if the museum would like to play a role to reflect that change, we need to embrace these artists who have never been exhibited and have their particular commentary.”

Chen, who has been with the museum about a year and a half, was thinking about a short film program when she heard from Padma Maitland, an architecture professor at California Polytechnical Institute. Maitland, who was a curator of Asian art at Stanford’s Cantor Center for the Arts, as well as at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, wanted to do a project on hope.

Chen liked this idea. “We’re all looking for hope and clinging to hope,” she said. “I think that art and artists have some kind of avenue to express that.”

Chen and Maitland worked with Viv Liu, research assistant for contemporary art at the Asian Art Museum, all of them contacting curators and artists they knew around the world, looking for the most interesting videos. They particularly looked at regions that don’t get a lot of attention in museums in the United States, such as Azerbejian, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey. They took the films they got — all under 20 minutes — and put together After Hope: Videos of Resistance, a loop of about six-and-a-half hours that will screen 24 hours a day in the museum’s Lee Gallery.

The videos include Connie Zheng’s “The Lonely Age” (Part I), about people in a dystopian future searching for magic seeds with curative properties. Tina Takemoto’s “Looking for Jiro,” inspired by Jiro Onuma — a gay man who worked in the Topaz prison camp dining hall while incarcerated during World War II — imagines how he survived the loneliness of the camps. And Orkhan Huseynov’s “Dear Beloved” dramatizes the narratives of scam emails with dying widows, gold rings, funds in a secret European vault, and requests for ATM visa card numbers.

Part of the idea of After Hope is to build global solidarity among people in the arts. Artists and curators involved have met online, taking part in programs like “Chinatown Futures,” about community organizing and the role of artists, and “Building Sanctuary, Being Refuge,” a conversation with two Buddhist authors about hope, fear, race and identity. Upcoming on February 27 is “Leaving the Ground: A Lauson Roundtable,” a conversation between artists, translators, and organizers focused on leftist solidarity with Hong Kong and its political future.

“How does art engage with the community and the world?” said Maitland, who has curated all the events. “Looking at an issue and seeing how art can be part of that highlights the gray zones and challenges.”

“It’s this lens of different artists’ experiences,” he said of the short videos. “And it gives us an immediate window into someone’s experience.”

Along with the videos, the exhibit has ephemeral material. Chen says they asked artists and curators to send things like posters and underground magazine and poetry. She says they wanted the videos to run continuously with no schedule to make this a different kind of museum experience.

“When people walk into a museum, there’s so much to see,” she said. “These are short videos, and if you stay in the gallery for 15 or 20 minutes, you’re guaranteed to view more than one work. Then you could walk around and come back and something different will be playing.”

Dealing with a crisis like the global pandemic at a time when so many people are dealing with despair and grief requires something more out of museums, Chen says.

“I cannot just say ‘Let’s just bring contemporary art in the museum for presentation,’” she said. “In addition, we have to think how to transfer that sense of care from objects to human beings and to the issues human beings are dealing with.”

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Angela Dufresne Tells a Different Story

A lot of narrative painters have gained attention over the past decade, but I cannot think of one who is as expansive, surprising, funny, unsettling, tender, wacky, challenging, theatrical, and radically imaginative as Angela Dufresne. A longtime veteran of the New York art scene, she has exhibited regularly since the beginning of this century. However, this is the first time I have seen a substantial group of her large paintings in an exhibition with her small ones. 

In Angela Dufresne: Long and Short Shots, her debut at Yossi Milo Gallery (January 14 – March 13, 2021), the artist exhibits two dozen works that run the gamut in size from 12 by 9 inches to 9 by 12 feet. This range enables the artist to stretch out and show her dexterity with paint. It is in the large paintings that Dufresne is able to attain a convincing cinematic space — creating a sense of continuous perception that collapses near and far — rather than conventional pictorial space in which clarity diminishes the further away objects get.

Dufresne’s masterful translation of cinematic space into a painting’s flat surface is immediately apparent in “Sex Monster Sea Monster” (oil on canvas, 80 by 108 inches, 2020), which was the first painting I saw when I walked into the gallery. On the adjacent wall is “Gena Rowlands” (oil on canvas, 80 by 120 inches, 2020), a close-up view of the movie actress. Together, they signaled that I was about to go on a wild ride.

Angela Dufresne, “Sex Monster Sea Monster” (2020), oil on canvas, 80 x 108 inches (© Angela Dufresne, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York)

As the exhibition’s title suggests, the paintings alternate between close-up views of a face — usually the blond Rowlands — and distant views of a clearly defined space brimming with all kinds of figures, from a row of naked boys gleefully peeing from a balcony to a variety of sea life cavorting among humans who seem perfectly at home underwater. 

Dufresne applies the paint differently for her “long and short shots,” ostensibly crowd scenes and headshots. In the first “Gena Rowlands” that I saw, she used a loaded brush and confident, unhesitating movements to emphasize the reverse S flip of the actress’s hair, as well as her red lips and inward-looking eyes. 

Dufresne does not repeat the same expression, hairdo, or position of the head in any of the exhibition’s six “Gena Rowlands” paintings (three large and three small). This suggests that each of us is a changeable being who contains, to quote Walt Whitman, “multitudes.” 

In “Sex Monster Sea Monster,” Dufresne lays down a washy field of meandering brushstrokes in rust brown, turquoise, and blue. The watery strokes echo the subject matter, the shifting currents of an underwater domain populated by an outlined Amtrak train filled with passengers, partly visible in the painting’s upper right quadrant. 

Installation View, Angela Dufresne: Long and Short Shots at Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, 2021

Filling the rest of the painting, which comes close to an all-over composition, are Dufresne’s linear overlays of sea creatures and humans engaged in various activities, from raking a skull to scuba diving; on the right, a woman in her underwear looks up at a grinning shark. Meanwhile, the rust brown and turquoise evoke the watery domain, and the detritus we might dredge up from a harbor.

The interaction between the ground and the figures is slippery and shifting. The brown and turquoise brushstrokes can briefly parallel a figure’s contours before changing direction. Nothing seems fixed; everything is in motion. 

In this science-fiction domain, where all manner of life cohabits in a visual hubbub, Dufresne achieves an open-ended narrative in which her delight in invention supersedes any story we might come up with.  

No matter where we begin looking, our eye is likely to settle on a complete detail, such as the tiny figures scattered along the painting’s bottom edge or the faces and bodies seen in the spaces between bigger figures or made by the contours of the large sea creatures and humans. The outlines of some figures are thick and bold, while others are painted with a thin stroke. Faint lines evoke faces and limbs peering through the washy ground. It is astonishing how many different sized, clearly defined animal and human figures Dufresne can get into a composition and still make the scene feel airy and open. 

Angela Dufresne, “Golden Showers of Love” (2019), oil on canvas, 108 x 144 inches (© Angela Dufresne, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York)

In “Golden Showers of Love” (oil on canvas, 108 by 144 inches, 2019) — the most outrageous work in the exhibition, which I would like to see installed in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art — the washy ground consists of pale yellows, light greens, and faint cerulean blues. As in “Sex Monster Sea Monster,” the colors echo the subject, which is a row of naked young boys standing on a second-floor, iron-gated balcony happily pissing into bowls being carried by various adults on the street below. 

Does the piss become a precious elixir? It certainly seems so, though Dufresne — to her credit — never tries to explain what we are seeing. The scene is celebratory and guiltless. 

A cat-like creature painted in thin lines is integrated into the building’s architecture above the boys, and presides over the composition. While the boys and the adults below occupy the middle third of the painting, there are plenty of other vignettes and details to dwell on, such as a monkey riding a dog, jockey-style, in the painting’s lower right-hand corner. In a car stopped before the crowd collecting the pee in similar bowls, the driver reads a book. 

Another detail viewers might notice as they scan the painting is the word “Dhalgren,” which is written on a balloon-like form. Dhalgren is the title of a 1975 science fiction novel by Samuel R. Delany about Bellona, an American city cut off from the rest of the country for unknown reasons. This isolation allows Delaney to create an alternative world, something that Dufresne also does in her work.

Angela Dufresne, “Opera for the Forlorn” (2019), oil on canvas, 84 x 132 inches (© Angela Dufresne, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York)

In Dufresne’s alternative worlds, guilt, shame, and self-hatred are no longer operating principles. The prelapsarian society she creates is incorruptible and joyous, but not sugarcoated. 

The upper left corner of the atmospheric yellow and blue “Opera for the Forlorn” (oil on canvas, 84 by 132 inches, 2019) contains a movie screen cropped by the painting’s top and left edges. According to the onscreen title, the audience is about to watch Miklós Jancsó’s The Red and the White (1967), an anti-heroic film about the Russian Civil War that used cinemascope and the long shot in a novel way, which called into question what was happening.

While we, as viewers, see the screen with the two mounted soldiers in the foreground, everyone within this multi-tiered painting is looking toward us, or elsewhere. The scene seems to be a stage setting in the round. In the center, two people support a gender fluid figure standing on a table situated on what could be a balcony or part of the stage. Gender fluidity in Defresne’s work replaces the binaries of male and female.

Installation View, Angela Dufresne: Long and Short Shots at Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, 2021

The painting’s multiple focal points shift with ease as our attention wanders over the surface, seeing various entry points into the composition. Directly below the movie screen is a banner that reads, “Next Week/The 2020’s/Dolly Parton/Dying Day.” Is this an announcement for a forthcoming stage production, musical performance, or a competition of some kind? 

What other artist can achieve this kind of shifting and ambiguous space in painting, where everything can be conceived in multiple ways? The fluidity of Dufresne’s spaces and identities are directly in touch with seismic shifts taking place in society in the ways that identity is perceived and expressed. An ambitious artist who has pushed her work into fresh territory over the many years have written about it, it is clear to me — and, I think, to anyone who looks at it — that in her crowd scenes Dufresne has defined a festive, episodic, multilayered space all her own. 

Angela Dufresne: Long and Short Shots continues at Yossi Milo Gallery (245 10th Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan) through March 13.

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Required Reading

“This is table 60,” he said. “Stephen Miller.”

We stood there taking in the article’s lurid contents, uttering “Oh, my God” every few seconds. As an unreformed Bernie Bro, I had been pretty confident people hated Donald Trump for essentially the same reason the Trumpers hated immigrants, bureaucrats, globalists, etc.: The ruling class had identified in him an easy stand-in for the legitimate fears and grievances of a populace it was not yet finished humiliating in the pursuit of profit. As a waitress, it was hard to hate anyone who ordered 3 ounces of caviar at brunch, and yet as I read about a teenage Miller delivering a speech to his class decrying the laziness of the school janitors and defriending a childhood buddy on account of his “Latino heritage,” I wondered if I had been too busy crumbing tablecloths and marking silverware to notice something radiantly new and unprecedentedly horrible about this new strain of right-wing ideology. I felt lucky when he tipped 18.5 percent, though my average was usually around 23; I honestly felt charmed he’d tipped at all, considering my pitiful performance on the caviar-knowledge segment of the meal. Had Miller left me five bucks on a $500 check, it wouldn’t have ranked in the top 10 worst things he had done that day.

For generations, the Group of Seven was ubiquitous. But dissent over its prominence was also present. And, to its credit, A Like Vision allows its contributors to air some of their discontent. An essay by jewellery and textile designer Tarralik Duffy is notable in its honesty: “My first reflection on seeing Varley’s Iceberg was, Am I allowed to think this is ugly?” Others articulate their unease with the way the group’s works have upheld colonial values. Wilkinson, for example, criticizes MacDonald’s painting of British Columbia’s Lake O’Hara for making the land appear unpopulated even though it was the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa people. As she writes: “This painting thus offers us a fantasy.”

That fantasy is something that also bothers Bonnie Devine, founding chair of OCAD University’s Indigenous Visual Culture Program. In her own essay, she examines how these settlers’ perspectives of the North were inadequate in capturing the land because they lacked a fundamental understanding of it. “So go ahead, Painter,” she writes. “Try to uncoil the bulky length of Pic Island. She will twist away and gather herself elsewhere like a drift of heavy snow just out of your reach.”

  • As the Pentagon develops more algorithm-driven weapons, questions arise about how they will be able to make ethical decisions. Writing for the Washington Post, Zachary Fryer-Biggs writes:

“Some of [the cadets] maybe program too much ethics in there, and maybe they’re not killing anyone or maybe they put just enough in,” Maj. Scott Parsons, an ethics professor at West Point who helps teach the lessons, told me when I visited in 2019. “Our job is, we fight wars and kill other people. Are we doing it the right way? Are we discriminating and killing the people we should be and … not killing the people we shouldn’t be? And that’s what we want the cadets to have a long, hard think about.”

The scale of the exercises at West Point, in which roughly 100 students have participated so far, is small, but the dilemmas they present are emblematic of how the U.S. military is trying to come to grips with the likely loss of at least some control over the battlefield to smart machines. The future may well be shaped by computer algorithms dictating how weapons move and target enemies. And the cadets’ uncertainty about how much authority to give the robots and how to interact with them in conflict mirrors the broader military’s ambivalence about whether and where to draw a line on letting war machines kill on their own. Such autonomous machines were once so far beyond the technical grasp of scientists that debating their ethics was merely an intellectual exercise. But as the technology has caught up to the idea, that debate has become very real.

Lee may have done groundbreaking work, but his personal version of heroism was, at heart, old-fashioned: He envisioned himself as an icon who, by his own doing, redeemed some small part of the world. He believed not just in his own myth but in that of America: a place filled with well-intentioned, bootstrapping individuals who shape their own destinies. And the superhero genre, even Stan Lee’s version of it, propagates this national narrative, with its focus on strong men, its simplistic visions of good versus evil, and its glorification of justifiable violence.

An ancient myth about Stonehenge, first recorded 900 years ago, tells of the wizard Merlin leading men to Ireland to capture a magical stone circle called the Giants’ Dance and rebuilding it in England as a memorial to the dead.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account had been dismissed, partly because he was wrong on other historical facts, although the bluestones of the monument came from a region of Wales that was considered Irish territory in his day.

Now a vast stone circle created by our Neolithic ancestors has been discovered in Wales with features suggesting that the 12th-century legend may not be complete fantasy.

John Adams and Prince Hall would have passed each other on the streets of Boston. They almost certainly were aware of each other. Hall was no minor figure, though his early days and family life are shrouded in some mystery. Probably he was born in Boston in 1735 (not in England or Barbados, as some have suggested). It is possible that he lived for a period as a freeman before he was formally emancipated. He may have been one of the thousands of African Americans who fought in the Continental Army; his son, Primus, certainly was. As a freeman, Hall became for a time a leatherworker, passed through a period of poverty, and then ultimately ran a shop, from which he sold, among other things, his own writings advocating for African American causes. Probably he was not married to every one of the five women in Boston who were married to someone named Prince Hall in the years between 1763 and 1804, but he may have been. Whether he was married to Primus’s mother, a woman named Delia, is also unclear. Between 1780 and 1801, the city’s tax collectors found their way to some 1,184 different Black taxpayers. Prince Hall and his son appear in those tax records for 15 of those 21 years, giving them the longest period of recorded residence in the city of any Black person we know about in that era. The DePaul University historian Chernoh M. Sesay Jr.’s excellent dissertation, completed in 2006, provides the most thorough and rigorously analyzed academic review of Hall’s biography that is currently available. (The dissertation, which I have drawn on here, has not yet been published in full, but I hope it will be.)

  • An incredible review by probably the best book reviewer out there, Parul Sehgal, about Vanessa Springora’s Consent, an important memoir about French writer Gabriel Matzneff, who is a pedophile and rapist. She writes the following about the French establishment that protected him:

When Springora, distraught by G.M.’s deceptions, ran to one of his friends, the philosopher Emil Cioran, she was chastised. “It is an immense honor to have been chosen by him,” he scolded her. “Your role is to accompany him on the path of creation, and to bow to his impulses.” Teachers leered at her: “You’re the girl who was dating G.M., aren’t you? I’ve read all his books. I’m a big fan.”

“It’s not easy to escape the zeitgeist,” Springora writes, situating so much of this indifference to the spirit of the 1970s, where repression of youthful sexuality was seen as a form of oppression. “It’s forbidden to forbid” was the mantra. G.M. had a powerful hand in creating this atmosphere that would protect him. In 1977, he drafted an open letter arguing for the decriminalization of sexual relations between minors and adults, which was signed by Roland Barthes, Gilles Deleuze, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre among others. Later he conscripted Springora herself into his cause, using her letters in his work as proof for the wholesomeness of their love.

“At the time, there was a lot of discussion about whether the movie’s slurs were insensitive and gratuitous or simply ‘harmless jokes’,” wrote Vang. “I found it unnerving, the laughter that the slurs elicited in theaters with predominantly white audiences. And it was always white people who would say, ‘Can’t you take a joke?’”

As Vang reflects on this today he shudders at the thought of what all of this meant. He added, “More than a decade later, the anti-Asian racism that was once disguised as good-natured humor has been revealed for what it is, thanks to Covid-19.”

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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Artists Quarantine With Their Art Collections