The Sounds That Get Lost in the Shuffle

When I arrive, I’m not sure where to look. Then there is a young man with braided hair throwing a deflated and stained basketball into the air and catching it. It’s a simple and inconsequential gesture he does again and again, and then he wanders down the street, away from the four-way intersection at Rivington and Orchard in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which is where I was told Kevin Beasley’s performance would happen. I see art people around, so figure I am in the right place. But I’m still not sure what I should be paying attention to because the actions taken by the performers happen piecemeal. I ask the person next to me whether the performance has started. It has, she says. In a few minutes I see a man in black jeans, worn boots, a green hoodie over his shirt and a baseball cap on his head drag an unmoored bike rack across the intersection, hanging a bit of wire close to the ground as he pulls it. The sound is as I would expect: steel scrapping concrete and asphalt.

Kevin Beasley’s “The Sound of Morning” performance 2021

Then I notice that the intersection itself is wired, with large speakers set up at the corners. The sound coming through them is a mixture of the sounds made by the various performers who are all, from what I can tell, Black people: a man with hair in cornrows dismantles a black metal gate, then drags and deposits the constituent parts in a pile in the middle of Rivington Street. A male and female pair walk together closely, rhythmically dragging a plastic bottle under their feet as a third person holding something on a string hunches over them. One tall person with baggy jeans, a hoodie cropped above their midriff, and a curly afro drags a piece of wood attached to plastic, step by step watching the piece fend itself against the road. For the next hour and a half, I dutifully witness each action occur.

Kevin Beasley’s “The Sound of Morning” performance 2021

It takes me about the first 40 minutes to realize that the black strings I see held by some of the actors are mikes and that the sound melange I hear from the speaker array is mix of the noises created by the performers moving objects over the ground — clanging, banging and scraping — and some other musical, industrial sounds that don’t seem to come from this place. It takes a conversation with a friend I encounter in the audience to realize that the sound is being shaped and produced at a tented stand near the main actions.

Kevin Beasley’s “The Sound of Morning” performance 2021

The mood here makes me cringe. It’s hyper-voyeuristic, starfucker crowd curiosity. We are waiting for spectacle and when the quotidian, yet incongruous actions occur, I wonder whether there is any real payoff coming.

Then I notice a seemingly older Latina woman, pushing a shopping cart full of groceries and negotiating her way through the crowd of aesthetic flâneurs. I realize that she must be making some noise with the wheels of her cart, though now that sound is imperceptible to me with everything else that is happening. She makes noise, we make noise as a necessary byproduct of moving via friction through our world. Action being done means that sound is left in its wake. Small actions, like this woman returning home to feed her family, are lost in the larger ones of trucks, trains, and contrived artistic experiences. I realize this and think this is one of the things that performance at its best does: sensitize viewers to aspects of the available world that are forgotten or ignored.

Kevin Beasley’s “The Sound of Morning” performance 2021

But the problem with Beasley’s work is that it inconveniences that woman who is trying to make her way through that intersection. I see a few people being blocked from driving through, and two people on a motor scooter being told they need to detour around the performance. It’s an inconsiderate move to tell the peasantry that while we contemplate heady ideas, they have to find another way home or to their responsibilities. And for what? This is some clanging action that does not stir my heart or move the compass needle of my ethics. The various actions, spendthrift and casual, end at 6:30 pm with a reappearance of that half-inflated basketball, this time with the whole troupe of performers kicking it to each other in a vaguely organized circle.

Kevin Beasley, who is mostly known for his resin-infused sculpture and paintings, may be making a good-faith effort to intervene in some meaningful way in the civic space by drawing attention to, according to the press materials, “streets demarcated for closure in NYC’s Open Spaces Initiative.” But this work is insufficient to that task. It’s what happens when one is given a microphone during a karaoke session and is asked to sing a song he isn’t familiar with.

Kevin Beasley’s “The Sound of Morning” (2021) is part of the Performa festival, and takes place on from October 14 – October 16 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the intersection of Rivington Street and Orchard Street.

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Study Shows Correlation Between Number of Confederate Monuments and Lynchings

Opponents of the removal of Confederate monuments in the United States have long defended them as emblems of “Southern pride,” rather than symbols of racism and hate. However, a recent study by researchers at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville found a damning correlation between the number of documented lynchings of Black people in a county with the number of local Confederate monuments.

The research group was led by Kyshia Henderson of UVA’s Social Psychology Program, who worked with data scientist Samuel Powers and professors Sophie Trawalter, Michele Claibourn, and Jazmin Brown-Iannuzzi at the university’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Analyzing county-level data from 1832 to 1950, they concluded that that the number of lynchings in a given county was found to be a “significant predictor” of the number of Confederate memorials in each locality.

“This finding provides concrete, quantitative, historically and geographically situated evidence consistent with the position that Confederate memorializations reflect a racist history, marred by intentions to terrorize and intimidate Black Americans,” the researchers wrote in their study.

A map highlighting the correlation between lynchings and Confederate monuments in the US: darker colors indicate higher numbers of lynching victims; each dot represents a Confederate monument (courtesy of the University of Virginia)

In July, Charlottesville’s statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were finally taken down, together with a nearby monument nicknamed “Johnny Reb.” These three statues were erected not far from or long after the 1898 lynching of John Henry James, a Black ice cream vendor who was falsely accused of raping a white woman. According to the researchers, this is one of many examples that “[provide] compelling evidence that these symbols are associated with hate.” A historical marker commemorating James’s life was installed in 2019 on the grounds of Charlottesville’s Albemarle County Courthouse, where he was lynched by a white mob.

The researchers also cite a previous study stating that many confederate monuments were erected during the Jim Crow era after the war. Reviewing 30 dedication speeches for Confederate memorials, they also found that nearly half invoked “explicit racist language,” including phrases like “love of race” and “your own race and blood.”

However, the researchers clarified the findings are correlational, not necessarily indicating a cause and effect pattern between lynchings and the erection of Confederate monuments.

“We can’t pinpoint exactly the cause and effect. But the association is clearly there,” Trawalter wrote. “At a minimum, the data suggests that localities with attitudes and intentions that led to lynchings also had attitudes and intentions associated with the construction of Confederate memorials.”

The recent study follows a wave of public debate surrounding the fate of these monuments. In recent years, many have been toppled or removed by local officials; but this poses a new set of questions: Where are those monuments now? And what will it take to ensure they are never put back on a pedestal?

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 11, a group of researchers from Rutgers University-Newark released an interactive map tracing fallen statues and the date and circumstances of their dismantling. The group — led by Lyra D. Monteiro, an assistant professor in American Studies, and her former students Hayat Abdelal and Tyler Crespo Rodriguez — has also launched the social media project “How to Kill a Statue,” tracking every monument defaced, toppled, or removed last summer.

“Our emphasis is on highlighting the tendency for these statues to survive such attacks — even if they’re moved elsewhere, they’re often cleaned, dredged from rivers, have missing body parts reattached by governments or other owners of the statues, and stored for their own safety,” the group told Hyperallergic. “We believe that this reflects the power inherent in the oppressive nature of these physical objects.” 

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Solange Launches Free Library of Rare, Out-of-print Books by Black Authors

Some of the titles that can be borrowed from Saint Heron Library (all images courtesy Saint Heron)

Saint Heron, the creative studio of musician Solange Knowles, is launching a public library of collector’s-edition books by or spotlighting Black poets, visual artists, designers, and luminaries. Starting this Monday, readers will be invited to borrow one of 50 titles completely free of charge: with shipping and return postage covered, there will be no expenses for borrowers, who can enjoy the books for research, study, and personal discovery for 45 days.

The dozens of publications, many of them now out of print, constitute an invaluable archive of Black brilliance. Highlights include a signed first edition of In Our Terribleness (1970) by the avant-garde poet and playwright Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka); Between the Lines: 70 Drawings and 7 Essays (1988), a monograph of artist Benny Andrews prefaced by Alice Neel; and a signed copy of Julianna Free’s La Tete (1996), a compilation of prose poetry and photography plumbing the intersection of Blackness and femininity.

A signed copy of Julianna Free’s “La Tete” is among the library’s treasures

There are also some unexpected finds that don’t fit easily into categories, like Madam Zenobia’s Space Age Lucky Eleven Dream and Astrology Book (1975), an oneiric exploration of the 12 sun signs of the zodiac likely authored pseudonymously by Philadelphia-based journalist Justine Rector.

A rare book on dreams, nature, and astrology likely authored by journalist Justine Rector.

Guest-curated by Rosa Duffy, who founded the Atlanta-based community bookstore For Keeps Books focused on Black rare titles and classics, Saint Heron Library’s first “season” runs through October 29; a second iteration will be forthcoming, with dates to be announced. Once returned, the books will become part of the library’s permanent collection.

These oeuvres, including works by authors and creators both well-known and undervalued in literature and arts circuits, can “expand imaginations,” Knowles says in a statement.

The books will become available to rent out at saintheron.com on a first come, first serve basis on Monday, October 18, at 12pm EST.

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Internal and External Worlds Collide in Norma Tanega’s Psychologically Charged Art

Drugs, for the better or worse, are a central theme of Norma Tanega’s current exhibition at White Columns, and the late artist’s first New York show. Internal Landscapes: Paintings 1967-2005 includes 19 paintings, half of which are abstract landscapes and the other half metaphysical self-portraits inspired by various prescription drugs or the mental states induced by them and their lingering effects.

Despite Wellbutrin’s purported antidepressant effects, “Medicine Head (Wellbutrin)” (2005) suggests the opposite. A colorful, bearded face is painted as if melting. It looks tired, beaten down, and in full breakdown mode. Similarly, the face in “Zoloft” is composed as regions of bright colors — a map of emotional territories — the subject’s true identity submerged somewhere deep within.  

Installation view of Norma Tanega: Internal Landscapes: Paintings 1967–2005 at White Columns, New York (photo: Marc Tatti, courtesy White Columns)

Tanega, who died in 2019 at 80, always had to navigate a hyphenated identity. She identified as a lesbian, a painter, a poet, and a musician, composing songs and playing piano and guitar. Her mother was Panamanian and her father Filipino. Although she was already a performing musician as a teen, she was equally engaged with fine art, earning an MFA in 1962. From that point forward she alternated between her music and art career.

In 1966 she had a surprise hit song with “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog.” Then, after a European tour and a five-year relationship with singer Dusty Springfield, she returned to her native California, where she lived a low-key life, dividing her time between teaching, painting, and performing music. 

Display of ephemera in Norma Tanega: Internal Landscapes: Paintings 1967–2005 at White Columns, New York (courtesy White Columns and the Estate of Norma Tanega)

For the most part, Tanega’s energetic sherbet colors are reminiscent of artwork by other celebrities who maintained a visual art side practice, for instance, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Henry Miller. In such cases, it’s hard not to read autobiography into every single brushstroke. Tanega’s approach to mark-making comes across as stream of consciousness, as if she’s engaged in a conversation with herself, not the outside world, or art history, for that matter. A sense of eavesdropping in on her self-talk pervades this show, and is one reason the show is worth seeing.

Norma Tanega, “Butoh” (1980-1997), oil on canvas, 30 x 24 1/8 in.

The most revealing work is her oil painting “Hydrochlorothizade” (2005–6), named for a drug that treats fluid retention and bloating. It depicts a vibrant, multicolored head that seems to be cracking wide open. The top of the head is a swirl of psychedelic colors and shapes, yet the eyes are blank.

When looking at the abstract landscapes that comprise the other half of the exhibition, it seems clear that Tanega is using landscape as a metaphor for the mind. Although they contain forms that read like mountains or hills, there are no landmarks, trees, buildings, animals, or people. In the absence of such known things, paintings like “Undulation” (2004–5), “Internal Landscape” (1997), “Beyond the Dumping Ground” (2004) all imply a world of personal feeling and reflections, made perhaps more for herself than for her audience.

Norma Tanega: Internal Landscapes: Paintings 1967–2005 continues at White Columns (91 Horatio Street, Manhattan) through October 16. The exhibition was organized in collaboration with Matt Werth.

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Editions/Artists’ Books Fair Online Opens on October 18

Editions/Artists’ Books Fair (E/AB Fair) gathers an exciting and accomplished community of publishers and galleries to showcase the latest creations by hundreds of artists in a safe online environment.

Included among 51 international exhibitors are Anémona Editores, Mexico City, Mexico; Highpoint Editions, Minneapolis, Minnesota; KIDO Press, Inc., Tokyo, Japan; MoMA Library Council, New York, New York; Tchikebe, Marseille, France; and Two Cents Press, Serrazzano, Italy.

Presented by the Lower East Side Printshop in New York City, the fair is open from October 18–31 with free access to the general public on its website.

For more information, visit eabfair.org.

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The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Opens Its Doors to the Public for Open Studios

EFA Open Studios, an annual event of the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Studio Program, invites the public to explore and interact with our member artists in the intimate setting of their studios. It is an opportunity to see the most recent works by artists at the site of their origin and to gain meaningful insight into their process of creation.

The EFA Studio Program is a vibrant and diverse community of over 65 artists working in a wide range of media and artistic sensibilities. All are professional artists with an established studio practice and recognized career. Rarely can curators, collectors, dealers, artists, and art lovers see so many internationally recognized artists working under one roof in Midtown Manhattan.

Free timed-entry tickets are available here.

Or follow along on Instagram @efastudios for livestream tours and artist portraits!

Participating Artists

Samira Abbassy | Fanny Allié | Keren Anavy | Noel W. Anderson | Shimon Attie | Allen T. Ball | Laura A. Barbata | Keren Benbenisty | Masha Biglow | Wafaa Bilal | Rhona Bitner | m Burgess | Mattia Casalegno | Patty Cateura | Cecile Chong | Elizabeth Colomba | Vicky Colombet | Michael Eade | Sally Egbert | Jonathan Ehrenberg | Odette England | Cui Fei | Jason File | Del Geist | Katya Grokhovsky | Mahmoud Hamadani | Pablo Helguera | Amy Hill | Janet Loren Hill | Adam Hurwitz | Akira Ikezoe | Edgar Jerins | Richard Jochum | Melissa Joseph | Kosuke Kawahara | Tamiko Kawata  | Justin Kim | Yongjae Kim | Greg Kwiatek | Sarah Leahy | Hayoon Lee | Patricia Leighton | JC Lenochan | Dana Levy | Anina Major | Michael Mandiburg | Katinka Mann | Jeanette May | Cheryl Molnar | Amy Myers | Nazanin Noroozi | Morgan O’Hara | Whitney Oldenburg | Thomas Pihl | Simonette Quamina | Armita Raafat | Maria D. Rapicavoli | Javier Romero | Heather Bause Rubinstein | Alex Schweder | Susan Silas | Karina Skvirsky | Howard Smith | Suzanne Song | Xin Song | Steed Taylor | Dannielle Tegeder | A young Yu | Liselot van der Heijden | Carlos Vega | Marjorie Welish

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The Guggenheim and The World Around Present an Online Program Focused on Land

On Friday, October 22, from 1–4pm (EDT), The World Around and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum present The World Around in Focus: Land.

This online public program focuses on individuals whose work highlights the agency of infrastructures and landscapes that are transforming lives and territories across the Americas today. Through commissioned films and live conversations, stories will be shared about environmental activists focused on indigenous food sovereignty and water equity; filmmakers and artists interrogating literal and figurative mining that supports the Internet and digital technology; and designers engaged in dialogue at the intersection of policy, legislation, community, ancestry, and spatial justice.

Participants include Holly Jean Buck, author and environmental and social scientist; Carolina Caycedo and David de Rozas, artists; Simon Denny, artist; Elizabeth Hoover, author and academic; Renee Kemp-Rotan, urban designer and initiator of Africatown International Design Idea Competition; and Joseph Kunkel, Executive Director of Sustainable Native Communities Design Lab at MASS Design Group.

This online program is free and will be broadcast on the museum’s YouTube channel.

To RSVP, visit guggenheim.org.

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An Immense New Book Surveys the Work of More Than 300 African Artists

Zanele Muholi, Bhekezakhe, Parktown (2016), gelatin silver print, 50 × 35.9 centimeters. Photo © Zanele Muholi. Stevenson, Amsterdam, Cape Town and Johannesburg, and Yancey Richardson, New York

One of the most expansive volumes of its kind, African Artists: From 1882 to Now compiles a broad sampling of works from more than 300 modern and contemporary artists born or living on the continent. Within its 350-plus pages, the massive text spans a range of mediums and aesthetics, from Mary Sibande’s sprawling postcolonial installations and Wangechi Mutu’s fantastical watercolor collages to the cotton-embroidered photographs by Joana Choumali. The forthcoming volume follows the publisher’s 2019 book Great Women Artists, which gathers works from 400 artists from 54 countries across 500 years, and it’s available for pre-order from Phaidon and Bookshop.

 

Papa Ibra Tall, “La semeuse d’étoiles (‘The Star Sower’)” (undated), tapestry, 201 × 298 centimeters. Photo © the artist

Kwesi Botchway, “Green Fluffy Coat” (2020), acrylic on canvas, 78.7 × 78.7 centimeters. Photo © the artist, courtesy of Gallery 1957, Accra

Mary Sibande, “A Reversed Retrogress: Scene 1” (2013), lifesize fiberglass mannequins and cotton textile, 180 × 120 × 120 centimeters. Photo © the artist, courtesy of the artist

Michele Mathison, “Breaking Ground” (2014), steel and enamel, 203 × 104 × 40 centimeters. Photo © the artist, courtesy Michele Mathison and WHATIFTHEWORLD

Eddy Kamuanga Ilunga, “Fragile 5” (2018), acrylic and oil on canvas, 187 × 196 centimeters. Photo © the artist, courtesy of the artist and October Gallery, London

John Akomfrah. “Vertigo Sea” (2015). Photo © the artist and Smoking Dogs Films, courtesy of Smoking Dogs Films and Lisson Gallery

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12,000 Sheets of Wrinkled Rice Paper Drape Around a Monumental Installation by Zhu Jinshi

“Boat” (2015), Xuan (rice) paper, bamboo, cotton threads, 18 x 7 meters. All images courtesy of the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries, shared with permission

More than 12,000 sheets of delicate Xuan paper form the ruffled exterior of Zhu Jinshi’s suspended “Boat” sculpture. The renowned artist, who’s currently living and working in his hometown of Beijing, is widely regarded for pioneering Chinese abstract art, and this monumental installation from 2015 is a reflection of his conceptual, meditative practice.

Spanning 18 meters long and seven meters wide, “Boat” is comprised of wrinkled paper layers draped around bamboo frames. Countless thin cotton threads hold the individual components in place and intersect the curved, tunnel-like form with straight lines that extend vertically to the ceiling. Bisected with a central space for viewers to pass through, the metaphorical work considers the passage of time and space and is an extension of Zhu’s 2007 installation “Wave of Materials” (shown below), which features a single, halved form anchored to the gallery floor with stones.

The artist is exhibiting at West Bund Art and Design 2021 next month and is opening a solo in Shanghai at the end of the year. Until then, explore an archive of his works at Pearl Lam Galleries and on Artsy.

 

“Boat” (2015), Xuan (rice) paper, bamboo, cotton threads, 18 x 7 meters

Detail of “Boat” (2015), Xuan (rice) paper, bamboo, cotton threads, 18 x 7 meters

Detail of “Boat” (2015), Xuan (rice) paper, bamboo, cotton threads, 18 x 7 meters

“Wave of Materials” (2007), Xuan paper, cotton thread, bamboo, and stones

“Wave of Materials” (2007), Xuan paper, cotton thread, bamboo, and stones

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Drawings and Paintings by Pat Perry Reinterpret American Stories with Tender Absurdity

“Recital XII” (2021), acrylic on panel, framed, 26 x 48 inches. All images courtesy of Hashimoto Contemporary, shared with permission

In Pat Perry’s Sensemaking, there’s no rubric for telling a story. In quiet scenes framed through roadside vantage points and performances of costumed figures and contemporary symbols, the Detroit-based artist (previously) considers the deeply American tendency to configure the world with single, flat narratives. Perry takes an opposing approach, though, and instead layers his pieces with contradiction, complexity, and unusual details that reflect the current moment.

Rendered in subtle color palettes, his drawings and paintings pull from the visual lexicon of Midwestern life (i.e. children playing on pipe abandoned in a field or a lone figure sitting at a card table on the sidewalk), although they contain imaginative twists and nuanced social commentary: swimming pools sit below an underpass, banners display Craigslist ads, and fleeting social media trends are printed on large posters. “These paintings and drawings offer a joyful glimpse into an invented world; one that’s closely related to the one right in front of us; one that we so often struggle to see clearly and make sense of,” a statement about the series says.

 

Sensemakers” (2021), acrylic on panel, framed, 48 x 57 inches

In a lengthy essay published by Juxtapoz back in August, Perry elaborates on the impetus for his latest works, which center around a broad theme of flawed logic. He revists his attempts to understand the world through the lens of his religious childhood in Michigan and later, the anarchic ideologies that guided his early adult years, and the two conflicting narratives profoundly impact the artist’s approach today. “Chapter Three of my life so far has had something to do with recognizing that truly lessening suffering maybe has less to do with understanding the world, or playing an oversized role in it. It may not be about constantly ‘using my voice,’” he writes.

Sensemaking, which features dozens of new paintings, charcoal drawings, and works in acrylic and pen, is on view from October 6 through November 16 at Hashimoto Contemporary in New York, and you can follow Perry’s work on Instagram.

 

“Recital XIII” (2021), acrylic on panel, framed, 48 x 54 inches

“River Friends” (2021), acrylic on panel, framed, 49 x 64 inches

“Black Square” (2021), acrylic on panel, framed, 42 x 48 inches

“Video Wishing Well” (2021), acrylic on panel, framed, 20 x 20 inches

“NPC Melek Taus” (2021), acrylic on panel, framed, 29 x 54 inches

“Indexers 1” (2021), acrylic, pencil, and pen, framed, 22 x 30 inches

“Glossary” (2021), acrylic, pencil, and pen, framed, 22 x 30 inches

“Indexers 2” (2021), acrylic, pencil, and pen, framed, 22 x 30 inches

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The Fuzzy Line Between Inspiration and Appropriation

When teenager Jéan-Marc Togodgue gave an anatomical drawing of a knee to his doctor as a thank you, he couldn’t have known the drawing would end up on the walls of the Whitney Museum of American Art, in a Jasper Johns painting. Similarly, when Dawn Dorland shared her feelings about her kidney donation on Facebook, she didn’t think her words would end up, as described in Robert Kolker’s New York Times internet-breaking essay “Who is the Bad Art Friend?” “… trapped inside someone else’s work of art.” A story about a kidney and the drawing of a knee bring up age-old arguments about plagiarism and appropriation — think Paul Gaugin, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol. These headlines highlight the role power dynamics play when drawing that fuzzy line between inspiration and appropriation.

Sonya Larson, the author of “The Kindest” which drew inspiration for Dorland’s donated kidney, and Jasper Johns, the painter of “Slice” (2020) which made use of Togodgue’s drawing, made works of art available for public consumption. Both now face judgement for incorporating the efforts of another person (which were not for public consumption) into their works. In a public arena, Larson and Johns have been praised for their creative accomplishments — put on pedestals above where Togodgue and Dorland stand. Some might say the public praise puts the lauded artists in positions of power. But the power dynamics in each case differ.

Johns is a wealthy White man. Togodgue, who is a Black immigrant minor, has not accused Johns of holding his drawing captive. In fact, he is proud of his inclusion in Johns’s work, recognizing the artist’s power, even saying, “This guy is as big as it gets.” That being said, while he has not slung accusations at Johns, Togodgue’s American guardians and their lawyer colleagues, were not as benevolent. The Johns party, and the Togodogue party have settled on a licensing agreement.

In the case of the kidney story, Larson — standing atop the creative pedestal — is a woman of color. And Dorland, a White woman who had not been published at the time her kidney donation had worked its way into a short story, has slung accusations — engaging lawyers to lay claim to, or to pull the curtain on a work of art that had amassed $452. Larson has sought her own legal support. Both women keep one-upping (or one-downing) each other on the power- chain. There has been no settlement.

Consider how politics of race, gender, age, class plays out in each case. Consider: Where Togodogue felt pride, Dorland felt scorned. But also consider the conditions that led Larson and Johns to use somebody else’s work, without securing consent.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “appropriation” as the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission. The word “plagiarism” is derived from the Latin word for “kidnapping,” plagiarius. At the core of both terms is the act of taking, thus also the significance of consent. I learned this important lesson, as an art student, when a classmate presented my work as his own. He explained each color, texture, and shape in his screen print with the dexterity of a poet while the teacher grinned her approval, and my mouth hung open. During the break, I pulled the teacher aside and explained that the print she was enamored with was actually pulled from my screen which I’d left in the studio’s racks. “And …?”, she asked. “And he stole from me!” I shot back. “That’s quite an accusation. His only offense, as I see it, is that he didn’t ask your permission to use the image. In fact, you should be honored that you inspired him.”

Appropriation can be nuanced. In music, for example, beats and rhythms are sampled and influences get piled on top of each other as genres evolve. But people in power have always had a way of working nuance to their advantage. If consent is also nuanced, are we ready to admit that creativity and power go hand in hand?

This is not an argument for how to choose your side in the kidney and knee debates. But it is a prompt to consider yet another way in which entitlement, and power, get folded into creativity, shaping what we read, what hangs in galleries, what gets brought to courts of judgement. And it is a call for each of us to recognize our own position on a chain of power and make decisions responsibly. Because in this age of consent, the hope is, we know better.

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Contemporary Artists Pay Tribute to Bosch’s Powerful Imagination

Hieronymus Bosch’s fantastical, large-scale triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights” has enthralled and mystified viewers for centuries. Painted between 1490 and 1500, the work’s weird and wondrous depictions of paradise and hell continue to capture our attention, reminding us of our own hectic, excessive, and sometimes catastrophic world. Bosch’s masterpiece has been on display at Madrid’s Museo del Prado since 1939, where it has inspired generations of artists, including Surrealists like Dalí and Miró. Today, a new exhibition pays tribute to the lasting influence of this iconic painting and to Bosch’s powerful imagination.

The Garden of Earthly Delights, Through the Artworks of the Colección SOLO at Madrid’s Matadero Centro de Creación Contemporánea brings together 20 works by 15 international artists who reexamine and reinterpret Bosch’s renowned triptych from a contemporary viewpoint. In contrast to Bosch’s original artwork — which was created with oil paint on oak panels — this exhibition focuses on artworks that utilize new technologies like artificial intelligence, sound, digital animation, and social media. Set within the exhibition’s labyrinthine installation design, these glowing, dynamic artworks reproduce something of Bosch’s chaotic energy, but on an immersive, multi-sensory scale. 

Filip Custic, “HOMO-?.” (2019)

Though Bosch’s own intentions for his triptych are unknown, his work is often interpreted as a sort of warning to viewers about life’s many temptations. The contemporary works in the exhibition are less interested in rigid notions of good and evil than in Bosch’s busy, bizarre inventiveness. Still, Dutch collective SMACK’s digital animation “SPECULUM” (2016–2020) deals with some of our modern evils: tech addiction, isolation, cyber bullying, and surveillance. Another work, “Angela’s Flood” (2000) by Cassie McQuarter, looks like a 1990s-era video game filled with blooming flowers, swaying flamingos, and pink monsters. It offers a lighthearted, feminist remedy to the usual violence and machismo of gaming. And Filip Custic’s 2019 video projection “HOMO-?” recalls Bosh’s tangle of naked bodies, but this time in a commentary on sexual fluidity. Other works draw on modern matter like comics, manga, animation, graffiti, electronic music, and 3D imaging. 

Ultimately, the multifaceted contemporary responses bring us back to the richness of Bosch’s original triptych. “The painting contains many paintings within it,” Colección SOLO founder and curator David Cantolla told Hyperallergic in a recent email. “It hides hundreds of stories and presents us with a ‘mirror’ of who we are, and has managed to retain its capacity to portray society.” This latest exhibition affirms that “The Garden of Earthly Delights” will continue to fascinate us today and long into the future.

Cassie McQuarter, “Angela’s Flood” (2020)Mu Pan, “Mu Pan’s Garden of Earthly Delights” (2019)Enrique del Castillo, “Umbráfono II” (2021)Cool 3D World, “El Rey de la Vida” (2018)

The Garden of Earthly Delights, Through the Artworks of the Colección SOLO continues at the Matadero Centro de Creación Contemporánea (Plaza de Legazpi 8, Madrid) through February 20, 2022.

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Now at Your Local US Post Office, Day of the Dead Stamps

The United States Postal Service has released four new stamps commemorating Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead,) a holiday celebrated in the first two days of November.

The new stamps were officially unveiled on September 30 at a dedication ceremony at the El Paso Museum of Art in Texas. The architect behind the miniature artworks is Minneapolis-based Chicano artist Luis Fitch.

Fitch’s vibrantly colored designs feature a family of four calaveras, or “sugar skulls,” surrounded by lit candles, marigolds, and other elements inspired by a traditional Day of the Dead altar, or ofrenda.

Day of the Dead is a Mesoamerican holiday in which families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion that includes food, drinks, and festivities. It is celebrated widely in Mexico and other cities with large Mexican populations.

A sheet of USPS stamps featuring artist Luis Fitch’s Day of the Dead-themed designs (courtesy the artist)

With these stamps, the USPS recognizes the cultural importance of the country’s growing Latinx communities.

“In recent decades, Day of the Dead has caught on in the United States as a festive celebration for all ages,” said Michael J. Elston, secretary of the USPS Board of Governors, at the September dedication ceremony. “These new stamps from the US Postal Service provide a wonderful way to commemorate this colorful and life-affirming holiday.”

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Destroyed Banksy Work Sells For $25M, Shredding Estimates

What’s shocking, unbelievable, and yet also completely predictable? The fact that someone paid $25 million for a half-shredded Banksy painting. “Love is in the Bin” (2006-2018) notoriously self-destructed during its first appearance on the block three years ago. Today, it sold for more than triple its high estimate at Sotheby’s Evening Sale in London, setting a record for the artist.

“I can’t tell you how nervous I am to drop the gavel on this one,” the house’s longtime auctioneer Oliver Barker said 10 minutes into bidding, his gushy tone belying exactly how not nervous, and accustomed to selling ridiculous things for millions of dollars, he really was.

Banks’s painting “Love is in the Bin,” originally titled “Girl with Balloon.” (courtesy Sotheby’s)

Originally titled “Girl with a Balloon” (2006), Banksy rechristened the work after the 2018 Sotheby’s sale, when a remote-operated shredder inside the frame began slicing the painting as soon as the hammer came down. The motor malfunctioned halfway through, leaving strips of limp canvas hanging out like a print job gone horribly wrong.

The anonymous British street artist, known for his disdain of the art market, claimed he had played a prank on the auction house, though some speculated Sotheby’s was in on the joke all along.

During today’s sale, the fringed painting suffered no further damage, but the slam of the gavel elicited gasps and applause from the crowd nonetheless. Confirming suspicions that the piece’s unconventional backstory would only increase its value, “Love is in the Bin” fetched £18,582,000 (~$25,424,356), a significant multiple of the £953,829 (~$1,251,423) it had originally sold for. According to the Wall Street Journal, at least nine aspiring buyers competed for the lot, eventually outdone by a phone bidder with Sotheby’s director of private sales in Asia, Nick Wood.

It’s fair to say the final price shredded the market’s expectations, if anyone still cares what those are, though we were hoping the work would magically transform into an NFT.

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Required Reading

Saeed Jones’s response to the transphobic Dave Chapelle comedy special on Netflix is measured and insightful:

A few beats later, Chappelle declares “We Blacks, we look at the gay community and we go “Goddamn it! Look how well that movement is going.” Never mind that, in addition to being both Black and gay, I also happen to live in the state of Ohio, as does Chappelle himself, where our governor just signed a provision that will allow doctors and other medical professionals to deny healthcare to LGBTQ patients. As the activist Raquel Willis said on Twitter, “It’s convenient for Black cishet male comedians to talk about LGBTQ+ folks as if our group is only or even predominantly white. With that frame, they don’t have to contend with how Black cishet folks often enact (physical and psychological) violence on Black LGBTQ+ folks.”

By the time Chappelle declares that “gender is a fact” and that he’s “Team TERF” in solidarity with J.K. Rowling, I turned my television off because I wasn’t having fun anymore. And part of freedom as I experience it is that I don’t owe Dave Chappelle any of my time.

Soraya Nadia McDonald writes about the story behind the two Ku Klux Klan hoods on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. She includes some important facts about this racist “uniform” and how it was popularized:

A full-color catalog of Klan regalia from 1921 (which is not on display in the museum) reveals that Klan robes and hoods came in an array of colors that designated various ranks. But it’s the white uniform that has become a metonym for racial terror, thanks almost entirely to the popularity of The Clansman, the 1905 book by Thomas Dixon, which became a play and was later adapted by D.W. Griffith into the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation.

Dixon’s book contained a detailed description of the Klan uniform far different from the Klan garb of the Reconstruction era, which was a more hodgepodge affair that included women’s dresses, flour sacks, or other clothes turned inside out and often incorporated animal horns, skins, and polka dots. Reconstruction-era Klan garb was closer to Mardi Gras or Junkanoo costumes than the later-period robes.

Jenny Zhang’s “Identity Fraud” in Gawker is a must-read. She writes:

You can witness Identity Fraud happening most often in spaces that operate primarily in the attention economy, which is also what this rhetorical strategy is predicated on: optics over substance, awareness equated to action, the loudest people in the room drowning out others who can’t match their volume. Let’s take, for instance, the media industry, which like many other fields, is undeniably, frustratingly white. When this very website relaunched with a letter that listed all its editors and writers, I saw onlookers — some of them my own peers in non-white spaces — condemn the venture as yet another vanity media project with zero people of color. When those claims failed basic fact checking, the critics changed their complaints to say that there were no Black people employed by the site. When those allegations were shown to be untrue, our critics amended their grievances once again, this time to declare that clearly the non-white people involved had no real power, and besides which, it was actually pretty rude of the white employees who corrected them to embarrass them by doing so?

What are we asking for when we say there aren’t enough people of color in a place of cultural power and influence? Where I would have once staked my ambition on becoming one of the few diversity hires () atop a masthead, or joining the few accomplished names winning prestigious awards, I now see that so much of how I and others talk about diversity, inclusion, and progress in this context is rooted in barely couched professional self-interest rather than a real commitment to upending the insular elitism that defines so much of how this industry works. There are newsroom leaders, like disgraced Ozy CEO Carlos Watson — and plenty more, I promise you that — who make diversity essential to their image to mask ineptitude, dishonesty, or mistreatment of employees. It’s hard not to feel that much of the endeavor, while perhaps worthwhile in some regards, ultimately rings hollow.

There are countless other examples of how identity is used as a shield and a tool. Some of them date back decades; it was 30 years ago that Clarence Thomas, accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill, called the hearings against him “a high-tech lynching for uppity Blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.” There are still more these days: Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, regularly panned for how she has handled protesters and the fatal shooting of a 13-year-old by a police officer, dismissed “99 percent” of the criticism as motivated by her race and gender. Bill Cosby, upon being freed from prison after his sexual assault conviction was overturned this year, called the decision “justice for Black America.” Residents of San Francisco’s Japantown argued that they were being marginalized in their attempt to block the conversion of an area luxury hotel into housing for homeless people, citing the sacrifices of their “ancestors [who] rebuilt Japantown after returning from their unjust incarceration during WWII.” The pride that Alejandro Mayorkas — who this year became the first immigrant and first Latino to lead the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — has said he feels in his identity cannot erase how his role in policing the country’s borders perpetuates violence against fellow immigrants.

Gallerist and Duchamp scholar Francis M. Naumann writes a really critical review for the Brooklyn Rail (finally a negative review in that publication! Though of course it is reserved for those seen as outside the art world). It’s of Brent Sanderson’s Battle Lines: Essays on Western Culture, Jewish Influence, and Anti-Semitism, a book that sounds absolutely ridiculous for its lack of research and its awful anti-Semitism. Honestly, fuck Sanderson:

Sanderson’s main objective is to cast Dada as a destructive force that not only attempted to destroy all art that came before it, but also, because of Lenin’s residency in Zurich at the time, to implicate Dadaists as Communists whose influence was felt in Russia, and later in western Europe and America. But in reality, Lenin had no effect whatsoever on Dada or abstract art. In fact, he and the other Bolsheviks were against abstract art, since its emphasis on individualism was diametrically opposed to Communist ideals. As Marcel Janco told me when I interviewed him in 1982, “Lenin was opposed to anything that could not serve the Communist cause.”

Sanderson discusses the expansion of Dada to Paris, Berlin and New York, citing a list of participants he believes were Jewish in a way that is reminiscent of the naming of Communists during the McCarthy era. After telling us that the American artists Morton Schamberg and Man Ray were Jews, for example, and saying nothing else about them, he writes that “the work of the New York Dadaists was focused around the gallery of the Jewish photographer Alfred Stieglitz and his publication 291, and the Jewish art collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg.” The fact is that Walter and Louise Arensberg were not Jewish; they were both White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (Walter was brought up Episcopalian, but never practiced a religion). Sanderson likely guessed they were Jewish from their surname, which might lead him to conclude that the present author is also Jewish. But he would be wrong again. You do not have to be Jewish to deplore the demonizing of Jews. 

Mehrdad Sadigh’s gallery near the Empire State Building in Manhattan had been selling fake antiquities. Sadigh has plead guilty to seven felony counts that include charges of forgery and grand larceny. This detail is interesting (and makes me wonder how many other galleries do this):

In describing his scheme in court, Mr. Sadigh said that to hide his deceptions he had hired a company to flag, remove, and bury Google search results and online reviews that suggested that some of what he had sold might be inauthentic.

Mr. Sadigh also admitted to getting others to post glowing, but false, reviews of his gallery, inventing dozens of appreciative customers.

Is the US theater community ready for a gender reckoning?

If a racial reckoning is underway, the gender reckoning is still struggling. Back when I started trying to be a professional playwright, in the early ’90s, I spent a lot of time working odd jobs for about $11 an hour and being told there was nothing wrong with my work but that it was just going to be “hard” for a female playwright. This advice came from friends and mentors as well as artistic directors and literary managers, who bemoaned the situation but had no solutions. “Women don’t write good plays, do they?” a rather famous director said to me, over drinks. “They write good novels.”

Another told me to write under a male pseudonym, like George Eliot. Yet another director looked me in the face and said, “But where are the female playwrights, Theresa?” I mean, I was sitting there. Right in front of him.

The justifications for holding women back, for not hiring them or promoting them, as articulated by those in power, were many, all of them lame. Ultimately I was told that women can identify with male characters but men don’t identify with women! I would later hear the same idiotic refrain come out of the mouths of many Hollywood producers. But after I clawed my way through that minefield, I got to work on television shows where I was absolutely used for every script they could get out of me, even while I was shut out of meetings, dinners and editing sessions.

McSweeney’s has created a pseudo-intellectual comment generator for men. It’s pretty funny:

“For use on social media, Zoom, and reply-all emails.”https://t.co/6hI5DKURwW

— Timothy McSweeney (@mcsweeneys) October 9, 2021

Ibram X. Kendi, who has become a media darling in the last year because of his anti-racism writings, pens a piece for the Atlantic about how Martin Luther King Jr.’s words are being manipulated and twisted:

King’s modern-day assassins disregard everything he said about education. “Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance,” King wrote in 1967. “It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn.”

They disregard King’s worry about the effects of not teaching Black history, including white people internalizing notions of superiority and Black people internalizing notions of inferiority. “The history books, which have almost completely ignored the contribution of the Negro in American history, have only served to intensify the Negroes’ sense of worthlessness and to augment the anachronistic doctrine of white supremacy,” King wrote in 1967.

But all of this disregarding of King’s words has not been the worst of it. The distortions are what’s truly lethal to his legacy, such as the claim that King’s dream was for his four little children to live in a nation where despite numerous racial disparities, no one judges racism or mentions skin color and everyone judges only character, because a hierarchy of character is apparently causing the inequities. King’s nightmare of racism is being presented as King’s dream.

A great segment by John Oliver about misinformation around Covid, focusing specifically on non-English media and immigrant communities in the US. Please watch it:

Another important perspective (and thread) on the Bad Art Friend story:

Thread: As an AsAm creator, I want to talk about how framing the Bad Art Friend story as a white woman vs. AsAm woman fails to account for the ways power & privilege intersect here, & that the people using this framing are harming the AsAm community & don’t care that they are. 1/

— Joshua Luna (@Joshua_Luna) October 7, 2021

All three?

○ buying books because you love reading
○ buying books to support artists
◉ buying books as a little treat to fill the void inside you and then stacking them in comforting piles

— C.G. Drews (@PaperFury) October 13, 2021

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, 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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The Profound Soul of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller

At once enthralling and unsettling, this three-part exhibition by Canadians Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, memorably titled After the summer of smoke and fire, is spot on for our anxious (to say the least) times. 

Escape Room (2021), in the gallery’s semi-darkened back room, is a stunning new installation that includes enticing, yet foreboding, architectural models and dioramas meticulously handmade by the artists from sundry materials. Based on a text Cardiff sent me, some of the materials are: Hydrocal, sand, tree branches, acrylic paint, diorama supplies, miscellaneous objects, 3-D plastic objects, electronics, audio speakers, playback systems, and laser sensors. 

In the center space is the only work that predates the COVID-19 pandemic, the remarkable, piano-like “The Instrument of Troubled Dreams” (2018). The piece is inspired by 1960s Mellotrons, and audience members are invited to play it. Ravens, thunder, helicopters, a quartet, a choir, violins, sweeping wind, gunfire, barking dogs, a carnival, and Cardiff’s mesmerizing voice telling brief, enigmatic, and mostly dire stories, are just a few of the sounds that course through the space from multiple speakers when the instrument is played.

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller
“The Instrument of Troubled Dreams” (2018), interactive audio installation with ambisonic sound, dimensions variable, duration variable. Installation view Luhring Augustine Chelsea, New York (photo by Farzad Owrang; © Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller; Courtesy the artists and Luhring Augustine, New York)

Two exquisite landscape paintings by Cardiff are at the entrance, each set in a handsome walnut frame. Who knew that Cardiff, so identified with sound, has such painterly chops? I certainly didn’t, and I’ve been following her work, and her collaborations with Bures Miller, for many years.

The paintings, of a fire reflected on water and a pickup truck driving down a lonely road toward a dark building, come with a twist. Press a red button on each to hear different soundtracks — sometimes Cardiff’s voice, sometimes music or ambient sounds — that obliquely respond to the paintings, offering hints and suggestions to their possible meanings or interpretations. I found it engrossing. 

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller
“The Instrument of Troubled Dreams” (2018), interactive audio installation with ambisonic sound, dimensions variable, duration variable. Installation view Luhring Augustine Chelsea, New York (photo by David B. Smith; © Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller; Courtesy the artists and Luhring Augustine, New York)

While hardly about the pandemic, or any of the other crises so afflicting us, including environmental mayhem, economic troubles, rampant violence, and historical trauma, all are invoked in this exhibition, which is also often tender and profoundly soulful.  

Artistic collaborators for many years, married couple Cardiff and Bures Miller have long enjoyed much travel in their lives, as they exhibited throughout the world. Then came COVID-19: travel suspended, exhibitions waylaid, life upended, and months of isolation in their rural British Columbia studio. 

That studio, as it turns out, was hardly a refuge, as crises encroached. Over the summer, British Columbia was walloped by unprecedented heat. Hundreds died; forest fires raged; COVID-19 and global warming converged. One fire, Cardiff told me, came very close to their property.  She, Bures Miller, and their daughter had to be prepared to flee at a moment’s notice. A summer of smoke and fire indeed.

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, “Cabin Fire” (2021), oil paint on board, walnut frame, mixed media and electronics, 12 1⁄2 x 10 1⁄2 x 2 inches
(photo by David B. Smith; © Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller; Courtesy the artists and Luhring Augustine, New York)Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, “Feed Plant” (2021), oil paint on board, walnut frame, mixed media and electronics 12 1⁄2 x 10 1⁄2 x 2 inches (photo by David B. Smith; © Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller; Courtesy the artists and Luhring Augustine, New York)

What the artists crafted during their back-to-basics studio time is the labyrinthine, fantastically detailed Escape Room. They escaped, so to speak, into this enormously complex work, which required months of devotion. And now viewers can temporarily escape, too. The installation resembles a studio, very likely the artists’ own, with art materials, tools, books, and empty coffee cups on tables and desks, and with copious photographs and notes on the walls. The raw stuff of art-making is here, not just finished products, and it is jam-packed with clues to the possible meaning of, and influences for, the sculptures, including photos of eclectic buildings and a page from Jorge Luis Borges’s book Labyrinths (1962).

Entering it is like voyaging into a marvelous, yet mysterious and precarious, elsewhere filled with strange, looming sculptures, some with moving parts; complex, at times harrowing, sounds; and ever-shifting lights. This installation seems weirdly alive, in a Frankensteinian way.

A crusty, hive-like structure sports apertures, ladders, and blinking lights in its tower. A hulking factory is partially overgrown with trees and seems to be falling apart. Both are forceful, engaging sculptures; both seem fragile and entropic. 

A cathedral-like edifice with exposed, curving beams also seems to be partially in ruins. This includes one of the installation’s rare instances of a human form. A tiny female figure (she looks a bit like Cardiff), standing inside next to a loudspeaker, seems engulfed by her surroundings and utterly lonely.

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Escape Room (2021), interactive multimedia installation with proximity sensors, lights, sounds, and handmade models, dimensions variable, duration variable. Installation view Luhring Augustine Chelsea, New York (photo by David B. Smith; © Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller; Courtesy the artists and Luhring Augustine, New York)

As viewers move about, they activate, via proximity sensors, soundtracks that play from small speakers. Cardiff’s voice, projected through the speakers, tells us of voices inside the hive that sound like bees, prisoners, and a possible assault to free the prisoners. “It’s your quest,” she says, “to infiltrate the tower and free the prisoners.” Game theory is an influence. Cardiff tipped me off about this: Escape Room as an analog version of elaborate, role-playing digital environments.

One can peer through the windows of two office/apartment buildings into interiors with expertly rendered dollhouse furniture and decor; sometimes the furniture is askew, suggesting a fight or another upheaval. Miniature paintings and sculptures abound, including a somewhat awry version of Cardiff and Bures Miller’s renowned 2001 sound installation “The Forty Part Motet.” Signs of human life are everywhere, but there are no people. Especially in the current moment, marked by so many hospitalizations and deaths, this glaring absence is unnerving. 

On the soundtrack playing near one of the tall buildings, Cardiff speaks of a man who enters a room, a person at a desk who watches him, evidence of a fight, and a body “found on the street.” These gorgeous sculptures have a sinister streak. 

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Escape Room (2021), interactive multimedia installation with proximity sensors, lights, sounds, and handmade models, dimensions variable, duration variable. Installation view Luhring Augustine Chelsea, New York (photo by David B. Smith; © Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller; Courtesy the artists and Luhring Augustine, New York)

If one stands very still, in exactly the right place, a whole soundtrack is audible. Much more likely, viewers will hear excerpts, sometimes just a few words, which mix with sounds coming from elsewhere: spoken voices, often haunting music, droning noises, and many others. It is impossible to pin down what these spoken stories are, exactly. They might be fiction or fact, personal musings or snatches of memories, parts of dreams or bits of old movies dimly recalled. Cardiff’s is a voice for the ages, matter of fact yet packed with concealed emotion, conversational yet authoritative. She doesn’t just speak at one, or to one. Instead, she takes up residence in one’s psyche and soul. 

However escapist, the real world keeps intruding. At one point, Cardiff suddenly declares, “I don’t know how much longer this is going to go on for, this isolation ….” This is achingly poignant. We have all experienced such isolation and alienation for so long now. At another point, she speaks frankly of doubt, wondering what all this rigorous devotion to art-making amounts to, and what, if anything, art really means.  Again, it is achingly poignant. Many of us have been questioning our lives and devotions during the pandemic. In the meantime, what Cardiff and Bures Miller have devised is a tour-de-force installation that exudes both wonder and menace.

The exhibition begins with the two small oil paintings. Viewers can choose whether to press the red button at the bottom of each painting. I advise doing so repeatedly. (Hand sanitizer is nearby.) 

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Escape Room (2021), interactive multimedia installation with proximity sensors, lights, sounds, and handmade models, dimensions variable, duration variable. Installation view Luhring Augustine Chelsea, New York (photo by David B. Smith; © Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller; Courtesy the artists and Luhring Augustine, New York)

“Cabin Fire” (2021) depicts a roaring conflagration in the nocturnal woods, the fire reflected on water in the foreground. As Edmund Burke emphasized so long ago, the sublime is closely linked with terror. The local scene — just down the road from the artists’ home — reflects both: imagine vast areas of gorgeous British Columbia recently engulfed by flames.

Each press of the red button shifts the soundtrack, for instance, Cardiff in a bath (in contrast to the painting’s raging fire and light-streaked water) or discussing “little snippets of lost dreams,” including one with a fire “creeping towards me.” Sound and images, stories and scenes combine. 

According to the checklist, “The Instrument of Troubled Dreams” is an “interactive audio installation with ambisonic sound.” The work was commissioned by Oude Kerk, an art institution housed in a medieval Amsterdam church, where it debuted in 2018. It was, no doubt, wonderful in that very particular historical setting. It is also wonderful, and transportive, here.

This is a time-traveling, world-spanning instrument. Each of its 72 keys, programmed for sound effects, is labeled and color coded in three categories: talking vocal tracks by Cardiff, music, and various sounds. One key plays “Psalm 138” (1604) by Dutch composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. Others play a traditional Tibetan prayer performed by nuns in Kathmandu, Nepal; bombers; seagulls; wind gusts; and “String Quartet #1” by Korean composer Da Jeong Choi. (The fascinating list is on the artists’ website.)

The “voices” keys elicit Cardiff telling her truncated stores about a rower navigating through a flooded church or a boat crowded with people hit by a storm. Another mentions a person behind a wall panel hiding from police. With the latter, I was reminded of Anne Frank and her family, in Amsterdam, hiding behind a wall for two years, before being discovered by the Gestapo. This work is often emotionally shattering, its “spherical surround sound” (the artists’ term) filling the room.

One doesn’t have to be adept to play this novel instrument. I played it passably well, and I am an abysmal keyboardist. However, on one of my visits I was favored to witness three improvisational performances by audience experts: a man, a woman, and an elderly couple playing together. 

Each performance was entirely different, and each was riveting, in turn (and sometimes at once) mournful and exultant, ominous and beatific. Each suggested the soundtrack for an invisible movie. This extraordinary instrument seems especially relevant and cathartic right now. In fact, so does the whole exhibition.

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller: After the summer of smoke and fire continues at Luhring Augustine (531 West 24th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through October 23.

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What Does It Take to “Kill” A Monument?

From May 30 to June 30, 2020, at the height of Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, over 100 monuments that glorified racism came down in the US — from colonial and genocidal figureheads toppled by crowds and drowned in rivers to enslavers and Confederate soldiers ordered removed by acquiescing governments. But where are those monuments now? And what will it take to ensure they are never put back on a pedestal?

These are the questions posed by Lyra D. Monteiro, an assistant professor in American Studies at Rutgers University-Newark, and her former students Hayat Abdelal and Tyler Crespo Rodriguez. Inspired by conversations about the fate of fallen statues that arose during a graduate seminar Monteiro taught at Rutgers this spring, titled “Public Histories of Slavery,” they began tracking the disgraced sculptures.

“We became concerned with the relative absence of awareness of what happened to statues after their removal was celebrated,” Abdelal, Monteiro, and Rodriguez told Hyperallergic. Many of the toppled symbols, they discovered, are now sitting safely in storage, the possibility of their resurrection always looming.

“Our emphasis is on highlighting the tendency for these statues to survive such attacks — even if they’re moved elsewhere, they’re often cleaned, dredged from rivers, have missing body parts reattached by governments or other owners of the statues, and stored for their own safety,” the group said. “We believe that this reflects the power inherent in the oppressive nature of these physical objects.”

This summer, they launched their project “How to Kill a Statue,” a series of daily Twitter and Instagram publications for every monument “attacked” exactly one year ago last summer, including those decapitated, spray-painted, toppled in protest, or formally removed. They turned to a range of sources from platforms doing similar cataloguing work, like @move_silent_sam and @heresysquad, to news articles, Change.org petitions, and even lists compiled by disgruntled conservative Tweeters.

On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 7, the team released an interactive map with photos of the fallen statues and the date and circumstances of their dismantling.

First statue to fall in the #GeorgeFloydUprisings: Edward Carmack in Nashville, TN, on May 30.

One month & 100ish toppled statues later, on June 30: Confederate monument in Frederick, MD.

What can we learn from that moment? It’s all mapped out here: https://t.co/3q0BESWuMW pic.twitter.com/vdvRSot2NF

— Washington’s Next! a project of #TheMuseumOnSite (@WashingtonsNext) October 12, 2021

“How to Kill a Statue” exists primarily on the social media accounts of Washington’s Next!, an offshoot of the Museum On Site (TMOS), a multidisciplinary initiative co-founded in 2008 by Monteiro and writer Andrew Losowsky. Riled by Trump’s tweets in defense of Confederate monuments after the fatal “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, Monteiro started using the platform to examine public responses to racist statues; its name is a sassy riposte to the former president’s rhetorical: “Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson — whoʼs next, Washington, Jefferson?”

The debate of what to do with these notorious memorials, sculptures, and symbols — particularly Confederate statues, nearly 100 of which were removed last year alone — is not new, but has intensified in recent months in parallel with a heightened awareness of racial violence and inequality. Even in states where governments have made laudable efforts to remove statues from public view, however, their ultimate fate is uncertain. In a March 2021 op-ed for the Washington Post, Erin L. Thompson, a professor of art crime at John Jay College and Hyperallergic contributor, wrote that “not a single one of America’s hundreds of public Confederate monuments has ever come permanently, irreversibly down.” (Thompson’s research, Monteiro said, was a critical source for the project.)

For example, Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia overcame an obstacle course of legal challenges to finally remove an equestrian bronze of General Robert E. Lee towering over Richmond’s Monument Avenue this summer, the largest Confederate statue in the South. The Democratic leader even found the funds for a community effort to reimagine the boulevard and commission new public art. But Lee and his horse will remain in storage at a state facility, Northam’s office said, “until a permanent, appropriate location is chosen for its display.”

The empty pedestal of a removed Confederate memorial to Stonewall Jackson on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. (Via Flickr)

Abdelal, Monteiro, and Rodriguez uncovered lesser-known yet fascinating stories that show how monuments acquire new lives. Also in Richmond, a local Italian American group petitioned the city to hand over a Columbus statue that demonstrators had dumped in a lake — so it can be re-erected on someone’s private land. In Mobile, Alabama, Mayor Sandy Stimpson ordered removed a likeness of Navy Admiral Raphael Semmes, considered a Confederate war hero. Stimpson announced it would be displayed inside the History Museum of Mobile.

“Many people who are eager to see statues taken down still tend to suggest that they be put in a museum — as if it is unthinkable that destroying them could be an option,” the group told Hyperallergic.  

“What does it take, then, to kill a statue, so that it does not get re-erected in the future?” they ask.

That much is still to be determined, but the group aims to shine a light on the status of monuments that have all but disappeared in the public imagination. In fact, they argue, these massive memorials in bronze and stone are often very much alive.

“It’s been an observation of mine for a while that the communities who struggle for decades to remove statues rarely control what happens to the statue after it is taken down, which really sours the success,” Monteiro told Hyperallergic. “We hoped to highlight that aspect where we could, so that folks endeavoring to remove statues legally or otherwise would know to factor it in. That anything short of destruction of the body — killing the statue, if you will — meant the statues were probably going to rise again, sooner or later. “

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The Inexorable Pull of Lisa Yuskavage’s Paintings

I’m not aware of anyone alive who paints as easily, or seems to paint as easily, as Lisa Yuskavage. This, of course, is half her power, which makes the second half — her attitude … I mean her message … I mean the stories she tells — so affecting. In the painting “Scissor Sisters” (2020), which you walk smack into in the first room at Zwirner, three topless women, two brandishing the sort of knives with which you gut a deer, the third pointing a handgun at the viewer’s face, glower down from the canvas. Paint made flesh; paint made flipped bangs; paint made clouds of the coming storm. As in past work, Yuskavage wields, like these knives, the language of centuries of art, here of Rubens, Raphael, Canova and others — though all of her “graces” brazenly face front — to say something of the cultural moment, her own and ours. Who the fuck are you looking at; we’re not Charlie’s Angels.

Lisa Yuskavage, “Scissor Sisters” (2020)

In a painfully expressive portrait of a young woman titled “The Fuck You Painting,” (2020) a face that you want to stare into, full of life and pathos and very convincing anger, the subject and the artist let the viewer know where they can go with their gaze, curiosity, and sympathy, with not one but two middle fingers. No one else engages and challenges a viewer so directly in that specific way, like a passenger on the bench across the subway car with his eyes fixed on yours. There’s a pull and push with subject and viewer, but it’s all pull with the paintings themselves; we don’t want to look away.

Some of the smaller paintings in this first room are more intimate and in one instance, “Scarlet,” (2020) almost tender. Others are either studies for the larger paintings in the second room, or smaller versions of the same, and others still filled with more references to past paintings, the visual lexicon Yuskavage has gathered and catalogued during her career, some mixed with specific art historical quotations. The headscarf on a woman in one painting comes straight out of Bruegel, while the scissor sister pointing the gun has the puffy, blow-up doll visage of one of Yuskavage’s own “Bad Babies” of the 1990s. There are three paintings with bonfires, one in particular sparkles with phosphorescence as though aflame with faerie dust. Each of these is a jewel — limbs and breasts, hammers and nails rendered to perfection — with sharp, cutting edges. Intentionally déclassé echoes of Penthouse and B movies abound in the paintings, suggestions of the world outside the upper echelons of the art establishment and its patrons presumably prefer to eschew, but in whose halls and homes these paintings will soon live. If Yuskavage herself is giving us the finger it’s with a smile as broad as Nelson Rockefeller’s.

Lisa Yuskavage, “The Fuck You Painting,” (2020)

In the second room hang four enormous canvasses on the four facing walls, all loaded up with shapes, vignettes, and a great deal of symbolism, and each bound together by a single color wash — magenta, emerald, pink, and yellow — like light cast by a theater gel. In “Yellow Studio” (2021) a female figure sits on a draped stool examining her foot (or picking her toes) in a pose similar to the classic Spinario in a room littered with the tools of making art including a box camera on a tripod with the lens staring blankly, again, at the viewer. “Pink Studio (Rendezvous)” (2021) is a trip into her own memory with several of her paintings from her past shows here in the same space. In the very back of this painting, under the arch of a doorway doubled by the arc of a narrative spotlight, a nude female figure takes a snap of the viewer with her smart phone. There is a not-so-subtle reference to Matisse’s 1911 “Red Studio” here, but the four paintings hung together as they are, made standing in the room, for a moment, like sitting in the Rothko Chapel. This is Yuskavage’s great gift, turning upside down our settled ways of thinking and seeing and, with ease, transforming the vulgar and ridiculous into the sublime.

Lisa Yuskavage: New Paintings continues at David Zwirner Gallery (533 West 19th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through October 23.

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Fantastical Digital Paintings Position Wildlife in Unnaturally Colorful Environments

All images courtesy of Grove Square Galleries, shared with permission

Photographic artist Jim Naughten casts a fantastical, candy-colored lens over luxuriant ecosystems and surreal animal portraits in Eremozoic, a solo exhibition on view at Grove Square Galleries through November 18. Comprised of digitally altered compositions, the series centers on rhinos, manatees, and myriad wild animals in strange, unearthly settings: a tall brown bear stands on its hind legs in a field of bright pink grass, a gorilla rests in similarly vibrant foliage, and orangutans swing through leafy branches in shades of blue.

While the animals usually are isolated in true color, the backdrops evoke infrared photography, and Naughten’s unnatural alterations tinge the otherwise realistic imagery with magical elements. The artist says the manipulations convey humanity’s ever-growing disconnect with the environment, which he explains in a statement:

I’m interested in how, in the evolutionary blink of an eye, humans have come to dominate and overwhelm the planet and how far our relationship with the natural world has fundamentally and dangerously shifted from that of our ancestors. I hope the work will create awareness and discourse about this disconnection, our fictionalized ideas about nature and possibilities for positive change.

Although the pieces venture into a strange realm of kaleidoscopic details, they have biological reality at their core, and the exhibition title, Eremozoic, refers to the current era of the earth’s evolution. Biologist and writer E. O. Wilson introduced the term to characterize this “period of mass extinction due to human activity. The Eremozoic Age is alternatively referred to as The Age of Loneliness, and this sense of dislocation and disorientation is captured in Naughten’s depiction of nature as an unfamiliar, unnatural realm.”

In addition to the collection shown here, Naughten shares a variety of otherworldly renderings on his site and Instagram. (via Creative Boom)

 

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BMA Exhibition Examines Matisse’s Friendship With a Baltimore Collector

A Modern Influence: Henri Matisse, Etta Cone, and Baltimore is the first comprehensive exhibition to explore the singular 43-year friendship between Baltimore collector Etta Cone (1870–1949) and French modern master Henri Matisse (1869–1954). Their relationship laid the foundation for the BMA’s Matisse collection of more than 1,200 paintings and works on paper — the largest public collection of the artist’s work in the world.

Etta Cone first visited Matisse’s Paris studio in January 1906. She immediately felt a kinship with Matisse, purchased two drawings during the visit, and returned several weeks later to purchase another drawing and watercolor. Cone’s older sister, Claribel (1864–1929) also came to know Matisse; together, the two sisters collected approximately 700 works, including paintings such as “Blue Nude” (1907), “The Yellow Dress” (1929–31), and “Large Reclining Nude” (1935).

Following Claribel’s death, Matisse traveled to Baltimore in 1930, and, for the first time, saw the impressive holdings that the Cone sisters had already acquired. It is likely that during this visit Etta also mentioned her interest in supporting the BMA. From this point, Matisse began to create and offer Etta works with her collection and the museum in mind.

The exhibition precedes the December 2021 opening of the Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies at the BMA, which will allow for greater public and scholarly engagement with the museum’s Matisse collection.

For information on tickets and tours, visit artbma.org.

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Krzysztof Wodiczko: Portrait Is Now on View at the Harvard Art Museums

Channeling contemporary debates around what constitutes democracy as its backdrop, Krzysztof Wodiczko: Portrait is a new projection-installation that activates the Harvard Art Museums’ iconic late 18th-century portrait of George Washington with voices, faces, and opinions from across the political spectrum today.

Along with the “Portrait” commission, two recently acquired drawings by Wodiczko are also on display. The works are studies from the artist’s Homeless Vehicles series, created in the late 1980s in consultation with individuals experiencing homelessness as a critique of former US President Ronald Reagan’s economic policies. Krzysztof Wodiczko: Portrait is on view through April 17, 2022.

The installation is curated by Mary Schneider Enriquez, Houghton Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Harvard Art Museums.

In its own galleries, the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) will present a career-spanning look at Wodiczko’s work. Interrogative Design: Selected Works of Krzysztof Wodiczko will be on view from October 21, 2021, through February 20, 2022. Before visiting, please visit the GSD website for up-to-date information on public access to the school’s galleries.

The museums are open Tuesday to Sunday with free admission on Sundays. Reservations and proof of vaccination are required for all visits.

For more information, visit harvardartmuseums.org.

Share your experience on social media with hashtags #KrzysztofWodiczko #HarvardArtMuseums!

Krzysztof Wodiczko: Portrait is made possible by the Graham Gund Exhibition Fund, held jointly by the Harvard Art Museums and the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

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UCLA MFA in Media Arts Is Accepting Applications for Fall 2022

The MFA Program in Media Arts at UCLA offers a rigorous environment for the sustained exploration of contemporary arts practice in the context of media and technology. Through technical and critical seminars, group critiques, and individual tutorials with faculty, each student is challenged to question conventional ideas about art, technology, and new media while developing a critical awareness about their own work.

Located within UCLA’s prestigious School of the Arts and Architecture, students in the Department of Design | Media Arts work closely with the department’s world-renowned faculty, which includes Steve Anderson, Jenna Caravello, Johanna Drucker, Erkki Huhtamo, Willem Henri Lucas, Peter Lunenfeld, Lauren Lee McCarthy, Chandler McWilliams, Rebeca Méndez, Christian Moeller, Casey Reas, Ramesh Srinivasan, Jennifer Steinkamp, Eddo Stern, and Victoria Vesna. Students can also have the opportunity to take full advantage of the resources UCLA provides as a leading research university.

Each year, the department hosts a lecture series featuring a diverse selection of international artists, thinkers, and performers. The 2020–21 lecture series included American Artist, Carmen Argote, Caroline Busta, A.M. Darke, Nikita Gale, Kit Galloway, Marie-José Jongerius, Daniel Maarleveld and Mitch Paone, Mark Ruwedel, and MSHR.

Students are offered robust financial aid packages, paid teaching and research assistantships, and access to numerous grants and fellowships. Our student-to-faculty ratio is less than 2:1, providing individualized mentorship and support. Other resources include 24-hour access to a state-of-the-art fabrication shop and electronics lab, the UCLA Game Lab, the Art|Sci Center, the CounterForce Lab, and the UCLA Arts Conditional Studio.

The application deadline is January 4, 2022. We are especially seeking candidates with diverse backgrounds and/or fields of study that may challenge the conception of “media artist.”

To learn more, register for a virtual info session or visit mfa.dma.ucla.edu.

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An Exhibition of 50 Piñatas Explores the Cultural Significance of the Festive Object

Installation view of Roberto Benavidez’s sculptures (front) and Isaias Rodriguez, “resilience” (2021) (back). Photo by Madison Metro, Craft in America. All images courtesy of Craft in America, shared with permission

A ubiquitous decoration at birthdays and family celebrations, piñatas are conventionally associated with fun, festivity, and of course, their potential to split open and release candy and other treats. Now on view at Craft in America, a group exhibition re-envisions the party staple by connecting it with contemporary practices that extend the playful artform’s capacity for social and political commentary.

Piñatas: The High Art of Celebration features approximately 50 works from Mexico- and U.S.-based artists and collectives, who explore the evolution of traditional construction techniques and the object’s broad cultural significance that reaches beyond its Mexican heritage. The fantastical creatures of Roberto Benavidez’s illuminated manuscript series, for example, encapsulate questions about race and sin, while Justin Favela (previously) translates the confrontation between American pop culture and Latinx experiences into fringed, abstract landscapes. Other works include a massive COVID-19 vaccine bottle by Lisbeth Palacios, Diana Benavidez’s motorized cars that speak to issues at the San Diego/Tijuana border, and a swarm of tiny suspended monarchs by Isaias Rodriguez.

If you’re in Los Angeles, stop by Craft in America before December 4 to see the exhibition in person or take a virtual tour on the nonprofit’s site.  (via Hyperallergic)

 

Roberto Benavidez, “Illuminated Hybrid No. 3” (2019). Photo by the artist

Detail of Isaias Rodriguez, “resilience” (2021). Photo by Matthew Hermosillo

Justin Favela, “Baño de los Pescaditos (after José María Velasco)” (2019). Photo courtesy of the artist

Left: Lorena Robletto (Amazing Piñatas), “Alebrije Installation” (2021). Photo by Madison Metro, Craft in America. Right: Lorena Robletto (Amazing Piñatas), “Seven Point Star Installation” (2021). Photo by Madison Metro, Craft in America

Roberto Benavidez, “Illuminated Hybrid No. 5” (2018). Photo by Madison Metro, Craft in America

Left: Giovanni Valderas, “No Hay Pedo (Canary)”  (2016). Photo by Giovanni Valderas. Right: Lisbeth Palacios (All Party Art), “COVID Vaccine” (2021). Photo by Madison Metro, Craft in America

Diana Benavidez, installation view of “Border Crosser” and “La Pinche Migra” (from Vehículos Transfronterizos series) (2021). Photo by Madison Metro, Craft in America

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Your Guide to Explore the Unfamiliar at Gowanus Open Studios

(From left to right) Valerie A. Gladstone, “Revolution”; Sandra Giunta, “Coral Reminder 50”; and Colin P Strohm, “Years and Years of Matter Out of Place #100” (via Gowanus Open Studios Website)

Visit Gowanus this weekend to see the cutting edge of artist practices out of Brooklyn, like Valerie A. Gladstone’s doll, “Revolution,” which is a doll of a revolutionary black woman soldier with a gun. Over 400 studios and spaces will welcome visitors for the 25th edition of Arts Gowanus Open Studios. Only once a year can we get such unfettered access to the neighborhood’s capacious old factories and warehouses, now converted into working spaces for artists and creative collectives.

Open studio events can be overwhelming. There is a long list of artists whose names you may not recognize. Meandering down industrial streets and unfamiliar territory off the beaten path can be exhilarating, but also frustrating. Getting turned around or lost at some point is almost inevitable — but maybe it’s part of the fun. 

A big bottle of water, snacks in the bag, and good walking shoes dramatically improve the experience.

It’s long been my custom to focus on a theme instead of attempting to see everything. Here are three thematized itineraries to give you a head start.

Seize this moment to see new work and meet new people you don’t yet know.

Several artists are coaxing the staid genre of portraiture into portraying the psychological and racial paradoxes of our times. For example: How do we grapple with or avoid and feel fine despite the immigrant crisis at the southern border? Mateo Guitierrez provocatively probes this question in “And I Feel Fine / Y Me Siento Bien #2 (Parkland, Florida / San Antonio, Secortez, Guatemala)” (2021).

From there, delve into the practices of Carol M Adams, Syma, Katelyn Alain, Stephanie Amend, David Andersson, David Atkin, Austin Sapien, Jonathan Blum, Ali Dachis, Jas Pinturas, Anna Friemoth, Kae Gabrielle, Valerie A Gladstone, Matteo Gutierrez, Caroline Otis Heffron, Jessica Rose Jardinel, Jason Leinwand, Audrey Lyall, Ronnie Mae Painter, Katrina Majkut, Kate Muehlemann Cataldo, Mayumi Nakao, Ibou Ndoye, Jessie Novik, Keun Young Park, Laziza Rakhimova, Brie Spiel, Tamara Staples, Giustina Surbone, Mariel Tepper, Mayana Nell Torres, Tamangoh Vancayseele, and Susan Yung.

As climate change and severe weather worsen, many artists are reconceptualizing the landscape in a quest for new visual metaphors. For example, Sandra Giunta depicts the disappearing coral reefs in sculptures like “Coral Reminder 50.”

Her peers in this effort include Ariane Ahlman, Jongwon Bae, Kim Maxine Baglieri, Omer Ben-Zvi, Lauren Alyssa Bierly, Owen Bissex, Peter Bornstein, Lloyd G. Campbell, Heejung Cho, Yehudit Feinstein-Mentesh, Caleb Freese, Sandra Giunta, Stanley Greenberg, Lauren Monaco, Peter Patchen, Alison Putnam, Joyce Riley, Aubrey Saget, Steve Shohl, Bonnie Steinsnyder, Chris Weller, and Cindy Zaglin.

Abstraction isn’t dead. There continues to be so much space for innovation. With all the pain and chaos in our world today, it can be healing to just stop overthinking and relax into the sumptuousness of color, form, and pattern. For example, there is chromatic voltage and movement in Colin P Strohm’s “Years and Years of Matter Out of Place” (#100).

Also expanding the genre are Jo-Ann M. Acey, Natale Adgnot, Scott Albrecht, Alitha Alford, Michael Amendolara, Paige Beeber, Robert Bloom, Andrew Boos, Ellen Chuse, Jim Conti, Timothy Corbett, Abby Goldstein, Sandye Renz, Hannah Robinett, Cynthia Ruse, Toni Ann Serratelli, Helen Shu, Mike Sorgatz, Colin P Strohm, Shira Toren, Robert Walden, Rachel Wren, Heidi Yockey, and Madeline Zappala.

Gowanus Open Studios is organized by Arts Gowanus. The studios will be open from noon until 6pm on Saturday, October 16 and Sunday, October 17.

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SVA’s MA Curatorial Practice Announces Fall 2021 Special Events

The School of Visual Arts’ MA Curatorial Practice program is pleased to announce three upcoming special events on Zoom, to which all are invited.

The Year of Uncertainty 
October 20, 2–3pm (ET)

This year, the Queens Museum is undertaking an extraordinary project that embraces the “intolerable uncertainty” of our times, which has been amplified by the pandemic. In essence, the museum is rethinking what it can and should be and what all cultural institutions should question to create new possibilities for culture, kinship, and mutual support with its communities. Join Queens Museum President and Executive Director Sally Tallant, Public Programs Manager Catherine Grau, Director of Education Kimaada Le Gendre, and artist-in-residence Julian Louis Phillips for this conversation. To get the Zoom link for the event, register here.

Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Future 
November 17, 12–1pm (ET)

Working with artists, activists, Native nations, scientists, and museum professionals, the traveling pop-up Natural History Museum inquires into what we see, how we see, and what and who remain excluded. Join members of Not An Alternative, the multidisciplinary collective that founded the museum, to speculate on climate justice, land rights movements, and the legacy of colonialism by asking how to think anew about our cultural and environmental heritage, and what this means for the future of museums and us all. To get the Zoom link for the event, register here.

Book Launch: Terry Smith’s “Curating the Complex And the Open Strike”
December 2, 7–8pm (ET)

Renowned art historian and critic Terry Smith will discuss his essay, “Curating the Complex & The Open Strike,” for a new book series from Sternberg Press, edited by MA Curatorial Practice chair Steven Henry Madoff. Smith maps the sprawling global structure of what he calls the “visual arts exhibitionary complex” and then delves into a powerful form of activism rising up in the complex. To get the Zoom link for the event, register here.

Visit macp.sva.edu to learn more about the MA Curatorial Practice, and join us for a special info session on November 20 by registering here.

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The Ever-Changing Dialogue Between Paint and Body

I first learned about Janice Nowinski on Facebook, where she posted images of her work. As I was a latecomer to FB, I had no idea how long she had been doing this, but it was soon clear to me that she was part of a community that included artists I had reviewed. It also seemed to me that FB was Nowinski’s go-to outlet, as she did not show her work in New York and only occasionally outside the city. The reasons were apparent: there is something non-commercial about her work, starting with its scale, which can be as small as 7 by 5 inches. Her palette is crepuscular and wintery, not bright. Her subjects — often nudes — are neither hip nor charming. She does not paint portraits of individuals but of anonymous figures and archetypes. From her posts I learned that her touchstones include Chardin, Manet, Cézanne, Soutine, and David Park. 

Janice Nowinski: Recent Paintings, at Thomas Erben Gallery (September 9–October 23, 2021), is her debut with this gallery and her first exhibition in New York in nearly a decade. From what I can tell — based on seeing a few images of her earlier work online — Nowinski (who has been out of art school for more than 30 years) has come into her own during the past decade. In this time she moved away from still-life paintings to concentrate solely on the figure, which enabled her work to become more expressive and open. The other change that seems to have taken place is in the scale. I believe that Nowinski began to work smaller, which might strike the viewer as counterintuitive, but to my mind it helped narrow her focus. One thing that facilitated these changes was painting from “personal snapshots,” rather than from observation, as she told Xico Greenwald in 2012. 

Janice Nowinski, “Two Women on a Couch” (2021), oil on board, 12 x 9 inches

Of the exhibition’s 22 paintings, the largest is 16 by 12 inches, and many are 7 by 5 inches. In each work the artist focuses on one or more figures in generic settings. It seems to me that Nowinski is trying to meld together two seemingly incommensurable traditions — the classical, going back to Massacio’s fresco “Expulsion from the Garden of Eden” (1425); and the expressionist, beginning with Manet’s “Olympia” (1863) and encompassing the work of David Park, Willem de Kooning, and Leon Kossoff — without being ironic. She wants volume, skin, and light to become palpable presences, while having the paint remain recognizable as paint. The questions she has posed for herself start with these: Can you draw in paint without becoming mannered? Can you resist settling into the reassurances offered to you by a style? 

Of all the painters trying to establish a space for themselves, while honoring de Kooning’s observation, “flesh is the reason oil paint was invented,” Nowinski has attained a singular position. By working on a painting that she can always see in its entirety, she equates her field of concentration with that of the painting’s surface. On this scale, each move is magnified. And yet, the viewer is likely to associate this scale, approaching the miniature, with control and perfection, neither of which seems on Nowinski’s mind. While other writers have pointed out that she can work on a painting for years, the surfaces are not dense or built up. She is like a poet who keeps private all the drafts it took to arrive at something that seems to have spilled out of her. She is not interested in proving that she worked hard on a painting. 

Janice Nowinski, “Nude in Front of Mirror” (2021), oil on canvas, 14 x 11 inches

Although the paintings are intimate in scale, the form of the figures is always strong enough to be read from a considerable distance, partly because of the contrast between the color of the figure and that of the surroundings, which range from tonal contrasts to light and dark. The subjects in this show include the personal and the art historical, from “Grandma Jean #1″ (oil on panel, 7 by 5 inches, 2021) to “Bathers after Cézanne” (oil on canvas, 11 by 14 inches, 2015). 

The crepuscular light can convey a state of isolation, gloom, and vulnerability, even when the figure’s face is not visible. In “Nude in Front of Mirror” (oil on canvas, 14 by 11 inches, 2021), a featureless woman of indeterminate age is bending down slightly in front of a large mirror, and pulling on something grayish-white and hard to define. 

The frame of the square mirror is defined by a semi-solid orange-umber brushstroke on the left, with the other edges marked by less solid brushstrokes making up the contour. Two vertical lines, each extending from one of the mirror’s sides and intersecting at the painting’s top edge, introduce the possibility that the mirror is also a window. The tension between the transparency of a window and solid plane of mirrored glass can be read formally and narratively. 

Janice Nowinski, “Bathers after Cézanne” (2015), oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches

Is the figure standing before a mirror or a window? Why is she featureless, while her breasts have been partially outlined? It is hard to live in that moment of painting when it is easy to overthink everything and feel the need to put in more information and tell the viewer more. Is it possible to let go of a work at that moment, when you are unsure of what you are getting at, when finished and unfinished overlap? 

The size of the figure in the painting’s rectangle, which is nighttime blue and gray, accentuates the emotions the work conveys. The sense that the room is large, rather than intimate, adds to the feelings it stirs up. An inexplicable light blue triangular shape, which extends diagonally down from the painting’s upper right edge, elevates it into something fresh. What is this shape? By introducing an element that is not instantly readable, but is immediately believable, Nowinski slows down our looking, invites us to consider the scale relationships within the painting. 

Janice Nowinski, “Nude on Gray Cloth” (2020), oil on board, 14 x 11 inches

If this triangle is a curtain, isn’t the window rather small and high on the wall? If the wind is blowing that hard, why was the window left open? Is the disarray of the paint a reflection of the woman’s interior state? It seems to me that one of Nowinski’s preoccupations is to evoke the subject’s interior weather without turning this joining of inner and outer into an anecdote or sinking into the maudlin. Is it possible to suggest everyday melancholia without becoming overtly dramatic, as in Edvard Munch? 

To point out that there is something awkward about the way Nowinski paints is to miss seeing what she does with paint, which changes. Through this medium, she seeks to connect the inner and outer states of her subjects. She also takes a generic subject, such as a woman leaning against a railing in front of a landscape, and makes it unsentimental and fresh. 

Nowinski’s work can be disarming. Is she a figurative painter who knows a lot about abstraction? Are some of her nudes on the verge of uncontrollable sobbing or am I reading into the expression, pose, and merging of body and paint? 

Janice Nowinski, “Nude on a Piano” (2021), oil on panel, 5 x 7 inches

“Nude on a Piano” (oil on a panel, 5 by 7 inches, 2021) is unsettling because, even as we can see the upward thrust of the woman’s breasts and the thickness of her pubic hair, she remains remote. We can see her eyes, nose, and mouth, but we cannot read them. Lying, with her hands clasped behind her head, on the front of a piano, her left leg crossing over her right, at an angle that evokes a masculine pose, Nowinski’s nude can be understood as a response to the male gaze — one that is both direct and nuanced, which is true of the strongest paintings in the exhibition. They take time to see, but the pleasures they offer and the questions they raise are substantial.

Janice Nowinski: Recent Paintings continues at Thomas Erben Gallery (526 West 26th Street, 4th floor, Chelsea, Manhattan) through October 23.  

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The Velvet Underground Brings the New York of the ’60s Back to Life

“How in the world were they making that sound?” To answer Jonathan Richman’s affectionate question about his favorite band, Todd Haynes’s new documentary The Velvet Underground lingers lovingly on the mid-’60s. Back then, John Cale was in league with composers like La Monte Young (who makes an appearance) and Tony Conrad. Meanwhiel Lou Reed, a self-confessed aspiring rock star, hung around gay bars for company and took his girlfriend to trap houses so he would have something to write about. Despite the originality of such stories in this early stretch of the film, the band is envisioned not merely as a collision between Cale and Reed’s disparate lives and influences, but as both a part of and a creation of New York’s avant-garde arts scene.

From The Velvet Underground

The scale of this time is rendered ingeniously through an almost nonstop use of split screens. If every photo and clip used in this film were to appear one by one, its runtime would likely triple. The Velvet Underground includes not just new interviews shot by Ed Lachman, but also countless photographs, dozens of films and screen tests by Andy Warhol, and a few dozen more by filmmakers such as Jonas Mekas, Marie Menken, Jack Smith, Harry Smith, Storm de Hirsch, and Maya Deren. These works are presented mostly in fragments within the split images, allowing them to serve as texture and impression of the band, the members, Warhol’s Factory, the venues, and a famed New York era, bringing it to life with remarkable authenticity and vividness.

It’s almost a shame, then, that when the film gets to the Velvet Underground’s studio albums, it treads more familiar narratives, including a somewhat shameful overlooking of the band’s Doug Yule era. What is lost in the storytelling is counterbalanced by the killer soundtrack of Velvets songs, which run almost without pause in the second half. Still, it’s hard not to wonder why Haynes, who parodied conventional biographical documentary in his very first music film (Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story) and all but rejected narrativized biopics in his third (I’m Not There), plays it so straight with his favorite band.

From The Velvet Underground

Only when the film concludes with the obligatory “Where are they now?” postscript does the reason become clear. There’s Warhol, dead at 57 of cardiac arrhythmia in 1987; Nico, dead in a cycling accident at age 50 just a year later; Sterling Morrison, dead at 53 of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1995. Lou Reed succumbed to liver disease in 2013 at 71, older than his peers but by no means old. Haynes and Lachman, his longtime cinematographer, had time to interview Mekas, but he too left us in 2019, aged 96. Though Cale and Maureen Tucker are still here, it may not be too long before most of the people who can talk firsthand about the Velvet Underground shuffle off this mortal coil. The Velvets were bigger than life; for Haynes, it’s enough to ask us to remember them as they were.

The Velvet Underground opens in theaters and on Apple TV+ October 15.

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Sexism and Colonialism Intertwine in the Story of a Toxic Relationship

Soon after Frances, the young heroine of Daisy Lafarge’s debut novel, arrives at Noa Noa, an organic farm in southern France, she is put to work by the charismatic owner, Paul, pulling up the liana creepers that are suffocating the vegetables: “‘Les étrangleurs,’ says Paul with a grimace as he yanks up a vine, festooned with white, trumpet-shaped flowers. ‘They colonise everything.’”

In Paul (Granta Books), Lafarge has produced a nuanced and readable novel about attraction, power, and toxic relationships among the interwoven spheres of colonialism and gender relations. Frances is a young British woman who has taken time off from her academic work in Paris — and a complex sexual relationship with her supervisor — in order to volunteer on organic farms in exchange for food and board. When she reaches the farm, she finds herself attracted to Paul, an older man who seems keen to exchange her admiration for his protection. He tells her about his past and particularly about his travels in Tahiti, where he believes he found a culture of “richness” and “vitality” that has been lost in the West. It quickly becomes clear that Paul’s “expertise” is limited to anecdotal information about male Tahitian traditions; he looks “blank” when Frances asks about Tahitian women. 

In her acknowledgements page, Lafarge explains that her novel draws on “names, place names and anecdotes” from Noa Noa: The Tahitian Journal by Paul Gaugin, first published in 1901. This autobiographical journal was Gaugin’s attempt to rewrite his own narrative, hiding the fact that he went to Tahiti after abusing his wife and failing to support himself or his family through his painting. With his life and career in crisis in 1891, Gaugin sold his benefactors a dream of the island as a sexually liberated, primitive place where the Indigenous population lived without the artificial sociocultural limitations of the Western world. In truth, however, Tahiti was an established French colony and therefore far from the untouched, uncivilized paradise Gaugin pretended it was. 

When he was eventually forced to return to France due to lack of funds, he discovered the paintings he had sent in advance hadn’t received the critical acclaim he expected; his Tahitian adventure seemed dead in the water. In a last-ditch attempt to stir up some interest in his “exotic” travels, he wrote and published his Noa Noa journals (1901), in which he presented an embellished and often fictitious account of his artistic and erotic experiences in Tahiti. In recent years, scholars and art historians have paid attention to Gaugin’s exploitative relationships with local Tahitians. During his time there, he married three adolescent girls, the youngest only 13 years old. He impregnated two of his “wives” and gave all three of them syphilis. 

Lafarge’s novel sets up the middle-aged, enigmatic photographer Paul as a parallel to Gaugin, teasing out the ways in which sexist and colonialist behaviors are so often intertwined. Sounding like a man every young woman has once met at a party, Paul declares: “I am a photographer, I am a traveller — but I think, at the heart of it, I would say I am a discoverer.” From an external perspective, Paul is a pretty repulsive character; there is something transparently off about him. Lafarge’s skill as a novelist is to maintain a realistic and deeply relatable sense of why Frances remains under his spell. Even though she is made uneasy by his attitude or his work, the confidence and authority of his masculinity and his age repeatedly disarm her, and she begins to doubt herself instead of him. 

One of Paul’s photographs shows “a girl, of around five or six, naked from the waist up.” Frances silently wonders who, if anyone, gave permission for Paul to take the photograph. When Paul claims such work is important because it “opens people’s eyes,” she settles her fears in equal silence: “Of course, I think. Of course Paul has thought about all these things and found, somehow, a way to resolve them. […] I feel the knots of doubt begin to uncoil from my body, and an urge for Paul to take me by the hand and show me the way through.”

Throughout the novel, Frances expresses a desire to be a child again and to cede responsibility to others. She is both attracted to and repelled by the older men who appear to offer her this opportunity by taking charge of her life. Frances seems to be most alive when she interacts with little girls, often feeling more affinity with them than with the girls’ parents (all of whom are friends of Paul and therefore ostensibly her peers). At one point she dances with two small girls: “There’s something safe about it, as if by dancing with them I become one of them — a child of whom no one expects anything. It is so tiring having a woman’s body. I’d like to slip right out of it and shrink back down to a child’s size.” Ironically, however, she attempts to escape her woman’s body by seeking the protection of an older man who fetishizes her physique for its childlike appearance. Frances is stuck inside her own flesh, which is made a prison by a society and individuals who objectify women and girls and claim ownership over their bodies.   

In Paul, Lafarge delicately unpacks the power plays and mind games of a toxic relationship, with an emphasis on society’s — and art’s — silencing of women. At one point, Frances finds herself literally unable to speak, a trait Paul finds endearing when they are alone together and embarrassing when he tries to introduce her to his friends. His paradoxical double standards echo the societal rules that both baffle and oppress Frances. 

She is finally shaken out of her silent acquiescence by a shocking Gaugin-esque revelation about Paul’s behavior in Tahiti; suddenly, the man who has loomed so large in her life looks “so small: a clump of cells.” His sexist, colonialist mindset now makes him pathetic, and Frances is able to free herself at last. In Paul, Lafarge has written a beautifully balanced novel that shines an uncomfortable spotlight on all-too-common gendered behaviors and the sociocultural contexts in which such behaviors are both permitted and encouraged.  

Paul by Daisy Lafarge (2021) is published by Granta Books and is available online and in bookstores.

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13 Staircases Blanketed with Prismatic Murals Evocative of Andean Textiles Run Through Lima’s Hills

All images by Jeremy Flores, © Xomotak, shared with permission

Artist Xomatok (previously) translates the vibrant, geometric motifs of handwoven Andean blankets, or ilicllas, into large-scale works that mark the pathways through the hilly Alisos de Amauta neighborhood in Lima, Peru. Painted during the course of two months as part of Pinta Lima Bicentenario, the 13 interventions were a collaborative undertaking by the artist and local residents, who transformed the public staircases that wind through the district into multi-level canvases. The resulting patterns are kaleidoscopic and highlight a spectrum of bright colors and symmetries often associated with the traditional textiles. In a note to Colossal, Xomatok says community members will add to the project as a way to continue celebrating their cultural history, and you can take an aerial tour of the finished pieces on the artist’s Instagram.

 

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Dive Into the Studio Museum Archive With Catalogues and Posters From 1969 to Beyond

The Studio Museum in Harlem is offering art lovers a chance to collect archival exhibition catalogues and posters from its 53-year history for as low as $10 apiece.

For a sale titled Into the Archive: Catalogues from 1969-2019, the museum has republished 75 catalogues and 14 posters of historic exhibitions featuring prominent Black artists like Benny Andrews, Barkley L. Hendricks, Sam Gilliam, Faith Ringgold, Mark Bradford, Jack Whitten, Lorna Simpson, Glenn Ligon, and many others. The collectibles are available for purchase on the museum’s online store, with some already sold out.

A poster from Faith Ringgold’s 1984 exhibition Twenty Years of Painting, Sculpture and Performance (1963-1983)

It truly is a remarkable collection of archival materials at tempting prices. For example, you can get catalogues of exhibitions like Harlem Artists ’69 (1969); California Black Artists (1977); Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: Any Number of Preoccupations (2011); and Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art (2014). You can also buy posters of Faith Ringgold’s 1984 exhibition Twenty Years of Painting, Sculpture and Performance (1963-1983), Sam Gilliam’s Red and Black to “D” Paintings (1982), and Kerry James Marshall’s One True Thing: Meditations on Black Aesthetics (2004).

Opened in 1968 in a rented loft on West 125th Street, the museum is currently preparing to relocate to a larger space designed by architect David Adjaye with Cooper Robertson. Since its inception, the museum has maintained vigorous exhibition and publishing programs highlighting the work of emerging and established Black artists who were historically overlooked. The museum is also famous for its 11-month artist-in-residence program, which has graduated luminaries like Simone Leigh, Xaviera Simmons, Titus Kaphar, Meleko Mokgosi, and dozens of others.

Poster of Sam Gilliam’s 1982 exhibition Red and Black to “D”: PaintingsExhibition catalogue of To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (1999)Exhibition catalogue of Chris Ofili: Afro Muses 1995–2005 (2005)Exhibition catalogue of Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art (2014)Poster from Harlem Heyday: The Photography of James VanDerZee (1982)

“Exhibition catalogues published by The Studio Museum in Harlem were, for many years, the principal works of scholarship about dozens of Black contemporary artists, if not the sole source of art historical information about them,” the museum told Hyperallergic in a statement. “Now, more than 50 years after its founding, the Studio Museum is republishing these catalogues in an effort to make this primary material available to today’s audiences.”

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The Politics of Desire and Oppression in Anita Steckel’s Art

LOS ANGELES — In 1973 Anita Steckel wrote, “If the erect penis is not ‘wholesome’ enough to go into museums — it should not be considered ‘wholesome’ enough to go into women. And if the erect penis is ‘wholesome’ enough to go into women, then it is more than ‘wholesome’ enough to go into the greatest art museums.”

The statement appeared in the press release for Fight Censorship, a group the artist formed that year to oppose institutional censorship of sexually themed art by women; members included Judith Bernstein, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Semmel, and Hannah Wilke.

Nearly 50 years later, art museums, great or small, have few more erect penises than they did in 1973. Meanwhile, images of nude women continue to proliferate. If more artists take the female nude than the erect penis as a subject, it’s in part because the puritanical taboo on exposing and objectifying the male member still haunts art institutions. Yet, the stripped and objectified female body is so intertwined with the history of image making that problematizing it is practically problematizing art itself. 

Installation view of Anita Steckel at Hannah Hoffman Gallery, Los Angeles. Left: “Pierced” (c. 1969-1974), silver gelatin print, gouache, graphite, 49 x 37 inches; right: “Valentine to Brando” (c. 1969-1974), silver gelatin print, 49 x 37 inches

Anita Steckel at Hannah Hoffman, organized with Steckel’s estate, features plenty of penises, and plenty of artworks that ought to be in museums. The exhibition, which spans the late 1960s to the early ’80s, includes selections from four series that integrate collage, drawing and painting, and silkscreened or photocopied images.

With her Giant Women on New York photomontage series (1969–74), Steckel inserts her own image in New York City’s skyline. In “My Town,” a sultry Steckel lies nude across the city, its towers passing through her transparent body. “Pierced” is more blunt in its depiction of the phallic skyscraper’s abuse of the female body: the artist hangs limp above the Chrysler Building, impaled at the waist by its sharp crown.

In the catalogue for the 2018 exhibition Legal Gender: The Irreverent Art of Anita Steckel at California State University, Chico, curator Rachel Middleman notes that the women in the earliest Giant Women works did not have Steckel’s face. Her decision to feature herself imagines her montages as the adventures of “Anita of New York” (as she called herself in her Anita of New York Meets Tom of Finland series) and refuses to further disempower women by presenting a generic image.

Installation view of Anita Steckel at Hannah Hoffman Gallery, Los Angeles; works from Untitled (Erotica Drawing Series) (c. 1977), graphite, Xerox print, paper

At the same time, her approach to gender dynamics, and the dialectic of liberation and oppression in Giant Women and other works, is fraught with ambiguity. In another large photomontage, “Subway” (c. 1969–74), she wedges a cartoonish drawing of a woman, superimposed with a photo of her own face, between two men seated in a subway car. Dressed in a black negligee that exposes her breasts and crotch, she reaches a hand into one man’s pants; in the other man’s lap, she has drawn an erect penis that appears to be clutched in his fist. 

Richard Meyer, in his contribution to the Legal Gender catalogue, writes that the work was based on Steckel’s memories of men exposing themselves on the subway when she was a young woman riding from her parents’ home in Brooklyn to school in Manhattan. Here, her exposure lays claim to the men’s implicit assertion of power as it reactivates the trauma of witnessing their acts, which she refers to in a line of a limerick she wrote: “Those sexual shocks every day / Turned me into a difficult lay.” 

Anita Steckel, “Subway” (c. 1969-1974), silver gelatin print, 37 x 49 inches

“Subway” also comments on female sexuality and points to the conflicting roles that men play in her work as both oppressors and objects of sexual desire. Her imagery slips back and forth between the two, resulting in a dynamic tension but complicating any clear-cut distinctions between carnality and abuse.

Two series of small works that combine photocopies and drawing make clear the messy reality of this conflict. In the Erotica Drawing Series (c. 1977), graphite drawings, mainly of male and female faces, overlay Xeroxed photos of heterosexual couples having sex. The antiseptic photos, which could have come from an illustrated manual on sex positions, belie the warm intimacy of the drawings.

Among the show’s most audacious works are a series of untitled photocopies (n.d.) of Steckel’s face and hands pressed against the copier, embellished with drawings of erections, most of them aimed at her mouth. Decorative borders around the images simultaneously evoke the craft traditions that historically frame women in art and the framing and display of passive and dutiful women in museums. 

Installation view of Anita Steckel at Hannah Hoffman Gallery, Los Angeles; works from untitled series (n.d.), graphite, Xerox print, wallpaper

That the artist’s face is never as clearly defined as the penis seems less a counterpoint to the absence of the penis in museums than an indictment of the insignificance of individual women in a patriarchal art world. The prints go beyond commenting on systemic sexism to conflate it with the physical violence of sexual assault. In some of the images Steckel seems to accept or desire the disembodied members, while in others she looks trapped as the erections force themselves on her.

The show’s centerpieces are two works from her New York Skylines series. Giant oil-painted men and women lounge atop a screen print of New York City in the 64-by-99-inch “N.Y. Canvas Series #2” (c. 1971). Its combination of decadence and horror looks back to German Weimar-era art, for instance Otto Dix’s triptych “Metropolis” (1927–28). In place of Dix’s cosmopolitan couples and mutilated war veterans in Berlin, Steckel’s nude revelers take over the sky above Manhattan like hulking gods. On the far left, a colossal man sits on an office building as a small woman presses against his massive erection. 

Touches of red and blue on the largely gray canvas suggest an Independence Day bacchanalia masking America’s sexual hypocrisy and misogyny. A Sphinx-like female figure on the right, with waves of red, white, and blue hair, sprays milk from a massive breasts while blood pours from dozens of teats on her underside, pooling in the East River. At the center is a lone, gigantic cock and balls. Like Dix’s painting, the celebratory atmosphere is weighted with violence, but pleasure and pain are inseparable because both are rooted in the same exploitative power structures. 

Anita Steckel, “N.Y. Canvas Series #2” (c. 1971), screenprint and oil on canvas, 64 x 99 inches

Though Anita Steckel provides just a sampling of her work, it’s a tightly curated sampling that gets to the artist’s central concerns. With both her art and activism, Steckel compelled audiences, and institutions, to acknowledge not only uncomfortable realities about systemic sexism — which persist decades later — but also to confront the sticky internal conflict of feeling diminished by the bodies we desire.

Anita Steckel continues at Hannah Hoffman (2504 West 7th Street, 2nd floor, Los Angeles, California) through October 23.

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Petition Asks Hispanic Society to Disavow Racist Comments Made by Madrid Leader

More than 100 people have signed a petition calling for the Hispanic Society of America (HSA) to disavow controversial comments made by Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the conservative president of the Community of Madrid, during a visit to its Manhattan headquarters two weeks ago.

While closed to the public for renovations, the HSA museum opened its doors to Díaz Ayuso for an interview with the Wall Street Journal while she was in New York as part of a US trip in September. After the interview, during a tour of the Sorolla Vision of Spain Gallery with around a dozen HSA representatives, Díaz Ayuso criticized anti-colonial movements that center the Native experience of the Spanish conquest as “revisionist, dangerous, and pernicious,” saying there is a “dangerous current of communism through indigenismo that constitutes an attack against Spain.”

Responding to Hyperallergic’s initial request for comment, HSA Director and CEO Guillaume Kientz said the institution “is not affiliated with Isabel Díaz Ayuso” and that her views “in no way represent or endorse the views shared by the museum and its mission.”

In a petition to HSA’s board of directors yesterday, María J. Feliciano, an art historian based in New York, and Simone Pinet, a professor of Spanish at Cornell University, say they are “aghast” that the organization hosted the far-right politician.

“We are even more disappointed at the way in which the HSA has failed to clearly, unequivocally, and unapologetically disavow her offensive manipulation of history and racist rhetoric,” Feliciano and Pinet write.

“It is not enough that the Hispanic Society has privately claimed to have been uninformed of the remarks, or that the Society supports other projects or other people who are of value to the Hispanic community,” they add later in the petition. “It is that as an institution you have yet to issue a statement to distance yourselves and effectively reject these remarks made in your building and, seemingly, at your invitation.”

Con el director de opinión de Wall Street Journal y sus redactores, muy interesados en la política fiscal de la Comunidad de Madrid y nuestra política de atracción de inversión norteamericana.

Foto en la sala de Sorolla de la Hispanic Society. pic.twitter.com/cFxSZwo3bH

— Isabel Díaz Ayuso (@IdiazAyuso) September 27, 2021

The authors cite Díaz Ayuso and her administration’s track record of denying Indigenous experiences and perspectives “in the name of Spanish culture.” Regional Minister of Culture Marta Rivera de la Cruz recently censored the words “racism” and “restitution” from the wall texts for an exhibition of works by Peruvian artist Sandra Gamarra at Madrid’s Sala Alcalá 31. The show, a critical examination of Spain’s role in Latin America and the enduring impacts of colonialism, was also excluded from Hispanidad 2021, a festival organized by the Community of Madrid.

“The [HSA] has made immense efforts to serve its community through outreach and programming,” Feliciano said in an interview with Hyperallergic. “Along comes Ms. Díaz Ayuso with a discourse that subsumes the national experience of its neighbors into a simple narrative of submission and derivation of a complex colonial project. Miss Díaz Ayuso’s discourse of ‘Hispanidad’ similarly has painful associations to its deployment by the fascist government of Francisco Franco as a spearhead of its cultural agenda.”

Elected in May of this year, Díaz Ayuso doubled support for the right-wing Popular Party, founded by politicians from the Franco regime. She has drawn ire from left-wing voters for her lenient approach to the pandemic and discriminatory rhetoric. In a speech at the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, DC, last month, the conservative leader said Spain brought “civilization” to the Americas and called for a defense of “Hispanicity.”

“Díaz Ayuso’s insensitivity to the plight of Native Americans in her equation of ‘indegeneity’ and ‘Communism’ needs no explanation but begs serious and categorical rejection,” Feliciano told Hyperallergic.

“Many [of] the objects in the Hispanic’s collection attest to indigenous originality, resistance, and resilience in the face of the enormous cultural changes that brought us here, today,” she continued. “Institutional silence beyond a perfunctory salute to Indigenous People’s Day on social media stand incongruous to its mission.”

Feliciano and Pinet argue that HSA’s presence in Washington Heights, where 70% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, as well as its critical role as a research institution, necessitates a formal refutal of Díaz Ayuso’s declarations. Feliciano adds that the society shares its Audubon campus with Boricua College, an educational institution founded to serve the Puerto Rican community in the 1970s that has become invaluable to the neighborhood’s Spanish-speaking immigrant community.

“I think that one of the implicit roles of the HSA is to channel the diversity of New York’s Hispanic history, in disseminating accurate and thoughtful information about the histories of those communities and cultures its collections represent — contemporary, indigenous, Caribbean, colonial, American, medieval, Spanish, early modern,” Pinet told Hyperallergic.

She was disappointed by HSA’s meek response to Díaz Ayuso’s remarks, what she views as a failure to speak up for the communities, cultures, and collections the institution represents.

“This silence made me think that the HSA is siding with Ms. Díaz Ayuso’s chilling version of history, with an idea of Hispanism I find unrecognizable,” Pinet added. “What does this say about NYC and how it recognizes and puts its Hispanic communities forward? What does it say about how Hispanic communities can feel represented in NYC’s artistic institutions and archives?”

Feliciano and Pinet both said HSA played an immense role in their academic lives, its collections and staff providing a wellspring of scholarly resources and inspiration.

“I want to see a place that I love and admire as much as I do the Hispanic Society flourish and thrive in our city,” Feliciano said. “The Hispanic is not a relic of a time past — that seemingly distant nineteenth-century of robber barons and European antiquities shopping tours. It is a living and breathing part of the cultural map of a city that holds treasures — artistic, documentary, bibliographic, musicological — of immense importance to the story of Iberian and Latin American societies.”

The Hispanic Society has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s most recent request for comment.

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Jill Freedman’s Close-Up View of New York City Police

The city has lost millions in tax revenue, millions have lost jobs, wealthy urbanites have fled to the suburbs. This could easily describe New York during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic or in the late 1970s and early ’80s, the period of Jill Freedman’s Street Cops series. This time-capsule photography exhibition is the first since the artist’s death in 2019 and shows a seemingly bygone New York. But spend long enough with the photos and the through lines emerge: relationships between Black folks and the police, the mental health and social work burdens placed on untrained beat cops, gender inequality in the workplace.

On view at Daniel Cooney Fine Art, Jill Freedman’s project reemerges as New York again faces conflict and instability. The 50 photographs, which span 1978 to 1981, show moments on the job with the Midtown South precinct, the blocks that surround Time Square and Bryant Park, and the ninth precinct, the East Village. These dynamic stills get right to the point: a standoff between police and a suspect, a robbery bust, or an arrest, as in “Making a collar.” Freedman embedded herself into these precincts to get these shots. The interviews collected in the published copy of Street Cops, which is placed at the end of the exhibition add a voice to the tumult of each scene.

In the claustrophobic “A cop has to be all things to all people” cops’ faces are cut off by the edges of the photo, a suspect’s face, a hat. In the background, windows are boarded and “For Lease” signs are posted. The scene is bleak. Because Freedman stands so close to the cluster of policemen, suspects, and civilians who appear to jut in and out of view the image is noisy and textured. The tension is palpable, and the scene feels dark even at midday. The restrained man, wearing a bucket hat, looks with concern beyond the frame. At the moment, something outside of sight seems to worry him more than being held by a group of cops.

Jill Freedman, “A cop has to be all things to all people” (1978-1981), vintage gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 inches

Freedman captured moments by getting close to her subjects, drilling to a group’s emotional core. For her first major publication, Old News: Resurrection City, she documented the Poor People’s Campaign after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, both photographing and protesting economic and social injustice. Later, she followed circus performers for months before following the New York Fire Department in Harlem and the South Bronx as those neighborhoods burned. For Street Cops, Freedman followed beat cops for two years, not only documenting the violence and heartache, but capturing the officers’ love for their neighborhoods, as in “Being a cop, he said, his having the respect and friendship,” or the way they laughed on the job, such as “Riding up Third we picked up a job at a restaurant.” Getting this close to her subjects—the officers let their guard down around her even as the camera flashes in their eyes—builds trust and empathy at a time when NYPD approval ratings were at historic lows.

“Cops and firemen” show first responders, a crowd of firemen and police officers, surrounding a cruiser. An officer winces and struggles to hold himself up in the seat. It’s concerning because images rarely show the times when cops need saving or support and who intervenes. Breaking from traditional documentary photography or street photography, which creates and relies on distance, Freedman becomes intimate with her subjects. The distressed officer’s visage is clear in the middle of the night. Freedman uses lighting and angles to create tension and movement in each still. These aren’t static shots; the cops talk, emotes, or moves in some way: the two officers in “Man with a gun in there, they said,” are about to bust into an apartment to apprehend someone. Each image, both on their own and in tandem with the interviews collected, tells a story.     

Street Cops recounts the uncertainty and despair of this time period well. The images are grouped by cases: child and family disputes, robberies, violence de-escalation, muggings and sexual assaults, neighborhood relations. It’s clear from the photos and interviews that cops are the first at any scene, even when a social worker or mental health professional would be more appropriate. The number of images involving children is staggering. In “The Cops picked up a little kid who looked lost” this is clearly the worst part of the job for the officers. The little boy sitting in the back of the squad car looks shell shocked rather than relieved to be found and about to be returned to his family.

Jill Freedman, “The cops picked up a little kid who looked lost” (1978-1981), vintage gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inches

These photos present violence and its costs to the soul, which cops know all too much about. “I hate to see kids play with guns, he said” shows a cop discouraging two boys from playing with guns. One child leans against the patrol car with his bike while the other holds a miniature pistol the size of his palm. Even if they’re imagining themselves as cops, it’s inappropriate and dangerous. In the car, a cop purses his mouth, ready to intervene and scold these two boys for playing around his vehicle. Again, facial expressions are the focal point of Freedman’s lens. She creates dissonance for the viewer. Laughing children with bright eyes play with toy weapons in front of the officer who knows the reality of a society obsessed with guns.

Six Black men are lined up against a wall in the Midtown South Precinct in “When I first came on the job I was idealistic.” The context for this arrest is unclear even in the text that Freedman pairs with the photo. All of the men have their backs to the camera and all except one, who looks at the officers, have their heads bowed. The officer’s profile shows as well as a sliver of the man being addressed. Freedman captures the cop’s face but doesn’t get near enough to these Black men to clearly see their expressions. We don’t get the perspectives of the men against the wall, just those of the officers. Freedman’s signature technique also becomes a blinder in this moment.

Jill Freedman, “When I first came on the job I was idealistic” (1978-1981), vintage gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 inches

It’s worth noting that Freedman, a leftist activist, created what is essentially a pro-law enforcement series. In the prologue to her book, which is printed on the wall, she writes about her decision to photograph police: “I also wanted to show the tenderness and compassion of the good guys, the ones who care and try to help.” She interviews cops but no one they’ve arrested. While the book includes a few photos documenting the presence of Black men and women on the force, and she digs into sexism in the workplace, she says little about the overrepresentation of Black and Brown bodies encountering law enforcement and prints quotes in which officers used the n-word to describe Black Americans. Ironically, the thing that makes the work so compelling is the thing that makes the work so troubling, Freedman’s proximity to the officers. Street Cops show ways New York’s relationship to policing has changed but also remained the same.

Jill Freedman Street Cops continues through October 30 at Daniel Cooley Fine Art

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Washington University’s MFA in Illustration & Visual Culture Forges New Terrain

Application Deadline
The deadline to apply for the Sam Fox School MFA in Illustration in Visual Culture (MFA-IVC) is February 7, 2022.

Virtual Open House
Learn about the program, meet faculty, and take a 360° tour of our spaces at the fall Virtual Open House, taking place on November 8, 2021 at 9am (CST). The event is free; registration is required.

Hot off the press! Get your free copy of The Graphic Vindicator, the official publication of Washington University’s MFA-IVC program.

About the MFA-IVC Program
Led by John Hendrix, students in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts’ MFA in Illustration & Visual Culture program at Washington University in St. Louis unearth the wild, the wondrous, and the unknown. This two-year residential program combines studio practice in illustration with material culture studies. Graduates will be prepared to work as author-artists of graphic novels, comics, and picture books, as well as professors, critical writers, and curators.

The MFA-IVC program is built on the expertise of the school’s illustration and design faculty and the vast resources of Washington University, a tier-one research institution. The school’s resources include the Kranzberg Art & Architecture Library, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, and the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library, a preeminent site for studying the history and culture of American illustration.

Facilities
MFA-IVC studios are located in Weil Hall, a brand-new facility with a digital fabrication lab and numerous spaces for collaboration and cross-disciplinary exchange. You’ll also have access to our integrated printmaking suite, home to Island Press and the Kranzberg Book Studio.

Faculty
Our faculty specialize in children’s books, editorial illustration, cultural theory, graphic novels, zines, typography, and social practice. Faculty members include John Hendrix (chair), D.B. Dowd, Gerald Early, Edward Kinsella III, Heidi Kolk, Shreyas R Krishnan, Skye Lacerte, Joy Novak, Dan Younger, and Dan Zettwoch. Recent and upcoming guest speakers include Richie Pope, Molly Mendoza, Ping Zhu, Silas Munro, Eleanor Davis, Jillian Tamaki, and Lauren R. Weinstein.

Visit samfoxschool.wustl.com to learn more and submit your application by February 7, 2022.

Contact Taylor Yocom, graduate recruitment specialist at tayloryocom@wustl.edu.

Follow us on Instagram at @samfox_mfa_ivc!

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Live in Rome and Pursue Your MA in Art History at John Cabot University

John Cabot University’s MA in Art History guides students towards the professional mastery of the materials and methods of art history, with an emphasis on first-hand research in the museums, monuments, and archaeological sites of Rome. Focusing on the evolution of Roman and Mediterranean visual cultures and helping students acquire the necessary technical skills for primary research, the program also intends to stimulate critical perspectives on the global impact of Roman art.

Designed to be completed in 15 months of full-time study, the MA unfolds in three phases. First, a Foundation Year with courses and seminars on themes from antiquity to the present. Students then sit for the Master’s Exam in the summer and begin work on their thesis under the guidance of specialized professors. During the Thesis Semester, degree candidates organize a conference to present their research and gain professional experience through a teaching or research assistantship at JCU or an internship at a museum, gallery, research institute, foundation, archive, or library.

An experienced, dedicated faculty and Rome’s incomparable art-historical resources are program mainstays. Classes take place at JCU’s campuses in the centrally-located Trastevere district and in the city’s innumerable palaces, churches, museums, archaeological parks, artist studios, national academies, historic libraries, archives, and private collections. Many courses also include trips farther afield, such as to Santorini, Crete, and Athens to examine Minoan wall painting; to Todi and Perugia to work with medieval manuscripts; or to Milan and Venice to view modern and contemporary art.

Classes are small and professors deeply engaged in fostering the development of students as thinkers and researchers. Recent graduates are now in PhD programs in the US, UK, and Italy, while others have gone on to jobs or advanced study in public history, museum administration, digital humanities, and cultural tourism.

The preferred application deadline is February 1. Tuition grants and scholarships are available to qualified applicants.

For more information, visit johncabot.edu/arthistoryma.

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Cloaked in Red and Blue Light, St. Peter’s Basilica Morphs into a Cyberpunk Dreamscape

All images © Aishy, shared with permission

In the aptly named Red Lights: Vatican series, Angers, France-based photographer Aishy transforms St. Peter’s Basilica into a strange, illuminated space that more closely resembles a sci-fi universe than stately church. The altered perspective, which Aishy achieved with Adobe Lightroom, casts red and blue hues on the iconic Renaissance architecture to unveil an alternative environment that hovers between past and future: inscriptions mimic a digital display, ornate flourishes appear backlit, and an artificial glow in vibrant, saturated tones blankets the lavish structured typically associated with marble, gilded details, and other ornamental features. To view the entire Red Lights: Vatican series, find the photographer on Behance and Instagram. (via Jeroen Apers)

 

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Delicate Paintings by Lee Me Kyeoung Document the Idiosyncrasies of South Korean Corner Stores

All images © Lee Me Kyeoung, shared with permission

Artist Lee Me Kyeoung (previously) continues her decades-long project of painting the dwindling number of Korean corner stores, rendering quaint shops in Yangsan, Gyeongju, Gunwi, Sangju, and Cheorwon as part of her ongoing A Small Store series. The delicate artworks capture the idiosyncrasies and tiny details of each locale, like a plastic washbasket left out front or signage hanging from the eaves, and the vast collection includes shops in both remote and bustling neighborhoods across South Korea. Encapsulating the unique qualities of the quickly shuttering stores, Me Keyoung’s paintings preserve their cultural legacies in detailed acrylic.

Some of the artist’s shops are on view through November 13 at Gallery Imazoo in Gangnam, South Korea, and you see photos of the original locations and more of her process on Instagram.

 

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Immerse Yourself in the Promise and Perils of Neuroscience, AI, and the Human-Machine Collaboration at MAXlive 2021

Amid an explosion of new intelligences, technology opens the doors to exhilarating experiences and functions, reorienting our perceptions of consciousness and the wiring that activates it. But smart machines can also pose an existential threat to our species and life as we know it. Will the good or evil uses of these technologies win? The Neuroverse explores both sides, as new artistic forms emerge within innovative reflections on existence — and its curious state on a planet where climate change renders life ever more fragile while technology expands it into new dimensions.

Produced in collaboration with New York Live Arts, in locations including Live Arts, New Inc’s ONX Studio for Extended Reality, and the Invisible Dog Art Center, The Neuroverse features performances, installations, and lectures employing the very technologies they consider. Stephanie Dinkins’ Secret Garden uses extended reality technology to immerse audiences in Black women’s stories from across generations. Wandering Mind, from Gershon Dublon & Xin Liu (slow immediate), takes attendees on an auditory tour of the world via thousands of online field recordings. Annie Lewandowski and Kyle McDonald’s Siren: Listening to Another Species on Earth offers an audiovisual immersion into whale songs. Philipp Schmitt’s lecture-performance How AI Lost Its Body provides a chronicle of the creation of AI and how the human imagination conjures its many dimensions. Ethan Lipton’s We Are Your Robots is an exploration of what humans want from their machines.

On November 7, the final day of the festival, MAX presents MAXforum, featuring a reading from Andy Bragen’s Johnsville Road, developed in collaboration with Daniel Fish, and discussions with artists and technologists including Stephanie Dinkins, NiNi Dongnier, Annie Dorsen, Gershon Dublon, Suzanne Kite, Kyle McDonald, Anne Murphy Paul, and more.

To learn more and reserve tickets, visit mediaartexploration.org.

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228 Arts Institutions Laid Off 28% of Workers After Receiving PPP Loans, Research Says

The primary purpose of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), approved by the US Congress at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020, was to help affected businesses retain their workforce through extended shutdowns and mounting revenue losses. But a new report says that some of the most prominent cultural institutions were quick to lay off workers at the first opportunity after receiving over $1 billion combined in taxpayer-funded forgivable loans and grants.

Released last week by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the report analyzed federal data, audited financial statements, and media reports relating to thousands of museums, zoos, and botanical gardens. It found that out of $1.6 billion given to about 7,500 cultural institutions that qualified for PPP loans, nearly half of the money ($771 million) went to just 228 recipients. These same 288 institutions collectively laid off more than 14,400 employees, or at least 28% of their workforce.

Museums were reported to be among the hardest hit during the pandemic. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) estimated in a survey that shuttered museums in the United States lost at least $33 million a day during the lockdown, accumulating combined losses in the billions. In an analysis from October of 2020, the AAM also reported that 53% of museums had laid off or furloughed staff. Most affected by the cutbacks were low-paid staff working in frontline services, education, maintenance, and security. Among those workers, many are people of color.

However, AFSCME’s report found that not all museums faired that poorly during the pandemic. In fact, an analysis of 69 cultural institutions with available financial data revealed that 67% of them ended fiscal year (FY) 2020 with operating surpluses.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), which received $3.3 million in PPP loans, laid off 97 workers during the pandemic despite ending FY 2020 with a $2.3 million surplus. Nearby, the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County ended FY 2020 with a $23.9 million operating surplus after receiving a $4.8 million PPP loan. And yet, it furloughed its 127 part-time employees from March 2020 until the end of December 2020.

The Museum of Science, Boston, was initially too large to qualify for the PPP program, which was designated for institutions with 500 or fewer employees. After laying off 309 workers during the pandemic — almost half of its workforce — it qualified for the next round of loans and received $4.7 million in 2021.

“Through their massive endowments and dependence on wealthy donors, these large institutions already had the financial resources to withstand the pandemic-related shutdowns that many of their smaller counterparts lacked,” the report states.

Unions were a major factor in defending worker rights during the pandemic, the report adds. (Its researchers note that “many institutions are only partially organized, and CWU lacks bargaining unit data for many of them. Thus, we in fact understate the role of unions in preventing layoffs.”)

Unionized workers experienced 28% fewer staff reductions on average than nonunionized workers and enjoyed recall rights during layoffs, health and safety committees to address COVID-19 concerns, and the ability to negotiate hazard pay.

But organizing has its limits: While plagued by union-busting allegations, the Philadelphia Museum of Art received a $5.1 million PPP loan despite laying off 127 workers during the pandemic. The union continues to voice concerns, testifying that workers are overworked with the reduced staff size.

“Not only did the billions in public money not prevent museums from perpetrating mass layoffs throughout the pandemic, but museum management also did not prioritize their workers and, in fact, disproportionately targeted their lowest-paid workers,” the report concludes.

In a recommendation section, it calls on elected officials to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would establish a nationwide right to organize for public sector workers. The report also calls on museums to publicly disclose how they use taxpayer money and prioritize the interests of their workers over “exorbitant director salaries, expansion projects or buying art during an economic crisis.”

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Seattle Museums Are Artwashing Their Way Back to “Normal”

Seattle’s long-standing housing crisis became brutally worse these past two years, forcing thousands more to live in their cars and in public spaces. The number of tents in the city center has increased by more than 50%, a number that will keep growing as eviction moratoriums end and Amazon continues its inexorable expansion. As an artist living in this humanitarian disaster — while loved ones fell sick, democracy came apart, and the George Floyd / Breonna Taylor uprisings in my neighborhood were bombed by the police — I have had to rethink almost everything I thought I knew about art and community. With Seattle’s museums reopening, I hoped to see shifts in their priorities as well. Instead, some of them seem determined to revert to their worst selves.

In August, the Henry Art Gallery launched in their words, “an expansive group exhibition … set and performed in outdoor plazas and parks throughout downtown Seattle” to “explore the (re)activation of the physical body in our again-accessible public space.” With these words “our again-accessible public space,” the Henry (and partners On the Boards and Velocity Dance Center) erase the bodies they believe do not belong in “our” public spaces: the predominantly Black, Brown and Indigenous bodies that have been “accessing” these spaces all along by living there. The exhibition’s title Bodies of Discovery echoes justifications for colonial land seizure, and the sole funder is a business association that has made art part of an aggressive gentrification program couched in the language of cleanliness, beautification, and public hygiene.

I visited Occidental Square to see a sculpture that is part of Bodies of Discovery. Plopped down among other park “activations” including ping-pong tables and cafe chairs, it stood about 10 feet from where someone was sleeping on a huge pile of cardboard. The sculpture, a sheet metal flower coated with heat-sensitive paint and backed with plastic solar tubes, is not terrible. At least, it seemed aware of its absurdity in that context. I know that artists are caught in a double bind. Institutions are arbitrators of value and dispense scare resources. I have come to believe, however, that an artwork’s self-awareness, or good intentions for healing, will wither in the depleted soil of an inhumane institutional frame.

Meanwhile, at the Seattle Art Museum, an anonymous group of frontline workers have been leaking documents and organizing online protests to highlight the museum’s bad-faith dealings with the houseless people who sleep at and near their downtown location. In June, museum administrators quietly made plans to hire private security and install hostile architecture in response to what they characterized as an “increase in physical violence and threats to our staff.” Upon learning of these plans, a group of visitor service officers (museum security guards) organizing under the name Decolonize SAM, launched a petition that suggested mutual aid-inspired alternatives in place of policing the museum’s perimeter. Their ideas included installing sharps containers, keeping basic supplies on hand like water, socks, protein bars, and transportation cards, and hiring a liaison who has experienced homelessness. These suggestions were disregarded. The resulting turmoil inside the museum, as revealed by the activists, has demonstrated levels of administrative ineptness that would be comical if they weren’t harmful.

Sticker by @seattleartmuseumworkers, now known as @decolonizesam (June 2021) (photo by Jennifer Nemhauser)

The private security force began their patrols at the end of August. One week later, their contract was terminated because of a series of aggressive interactions with unhoused people, culminating in a private security guard paying one unhoused person to steal the belongings of another. This hardening of SAM’s attitude towards its unhoused neighbors is bizarre considering the good relations frontline staff have cultivated in years past by making restrooms, lobbies, and galleries accessible as a refuge. It seems somehow symptomatic of museums in this moment that, at the same time SAM is resorting to these carceral methods, it is ramping up its diversity, equity and inclusion work by hiring a director of DEI and electing a Black woman to be chair of the board of trustees.

As long as museums make representational rather than structural changes, they cannot shake off their white supremacist origins. They will gravitate towards the politics of their funders, whose wealth and power almost guarantee an interest in maintaining the inequities of the status quo. They will respond to their paradoxical missions of taking care of people and taking care of property by deciding to stop seeing some groups of people as people. SAM’s new board chair said recently, “For me, every citizen of Seattle owns the art museum.” Lovely words, but they ring hollow when the museum’s actions show their commitment to community ends where being poor, without a house, or mentally ill begins. What is there to do? I can think of three things: Boycott specific institutions whose actions blatantly contradict their stated values (as Decolonize SAM is calling for); turn towards the places that are inventing new models for community (such as Wa Na Wari, STAHC or yəhaw̓ Indigenous Creatives Collective, to name just a few in Seattle). And — this one feels the hardest to me, as an artist who profoundly loves museums — stop believing in them altogether.

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Good Madam Is a South African Horror Film Haunted by Whiteness

Jenna Cato Bass’s Mlungu Wam is haunted by whiteness. The film takes place in a stately manor in present-day South Africa, where the air still hangs heavy with the oppression of apartheid. Despite the primarily Black cast, there’s always a sense that they can’t do as they please, and that whatever freedom they do have is contingent upon obedience to a rigid set of rules. Our heroine Tsidi (Chumisa Cosa) lays them out to her daughter Winnie (Kamvalethu Jonas Raziya) at the beginning: 

1. When you get in the house, you can’t run.
2. You can’t just touch the fridge. You’ve got to ask Grandma first.
3. You can’t go to the pool unaccompanied. You have to go with someone.
4. And the most important thing: Don’t ever go into Madam’s room.

“Madam” is Diane, the woman of the house, where Tsidi’s mother Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe) has worked for many years as a live-in servant. We don’t see Diane, who is sick and confined to her room, but we are frequently shown a photograph of her: a blonde white woman, smiling, her eyes piercing our souls. The film’s title is translated into English as “Good Madam,” in reference to Diane and her supposed kindness to Mavis and her family. But despite Mavis’s insistence that her madam is good, Tsidi has doubts that only grow. There’s something strange and oppressive about the house, but neither Mavis nor Winnie will acknowledge it.

From Good Madam

The film is scored by sounds of service: running water, scrubbing, and most notably the faint sound of a bell. Whenever Mavis hears the bell, she immediately forgets herself, her daughter, and her granddaughter in service of Diane. Just as we never see the madam, we neer see her ring the bell, but that doesn’t diminish its power. Over time Tsidi comes to dread the sound, because it means Mavis will abandon her once again. Though they are all mourning Mavis’s recently deceased mother (who mostly raised Tsidi), Mavis rarely takes time to talk about her — or the rest of her family, for that matter. Every conversation is about Diane and her needs. We never hear Diane speak, but she communicates through Mavis, who is seemingly brainwashed by her service. Though an old woman, she is always on her feet, her hands in motion. Her scrubbing is compulsive, her work never-ending.

Domestic workers are among the most mistreated laborers in the world, with little thought given to their health and interior lives. The inherent inequality of this work is further underlined by the racial demographics of who employs whom. Bass acknowledged this in the video introduction to the film at the Toronto International Film Festival, in which she discussed her intent while in the servant quarters of her childhood house. She explained that the film is her effort to reckon with her own role in the subjugation of Black people in her home country. This is the fourth feature from Bass, a white director who often works with Black collaborators. Two of her previous films, High Fantasy and Flatland, similarly explore race relations in South Africa through genre conventions (body-swap fantasy in the former, the Western in the latter). All focus on the ways apartheid continues to affect the lives of Black people, who are often at the mercy of a white populace either unaware or unbothered by their privilege. Good Madam is a reckoning both for Bass and for all the clueless white children who never thought about the Black women who served them at the expense of their own lives.

From Good Madam

Good Madam will be playing as part of the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, running October 14-21 at Nitehawk Cinema (136 Metropolitan Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn). Earwig, which we recently reviewed, will also be playing at the festival.

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Maria Guzmán Capron’s Deliciously Tactile Fabric Figures, or “Hot Aliens”

Maria Guzmán Capron’s fantastical, colorful textiles are a lot of fun to look at. The artist’s solo exhibition Olas Malcriadas at Texas State Galleries is filled with deliciously tactile, collaged fabric figures that smirk, crouch, and embrace across the gallery’s walls and floor. The title of the show — loosely translated from Spanish as “Naughty Waves” in English — is apt: Guzmán Capron might know the rules, but she chooses, happily, to break them. Her picaresque personas are fascinating and funny, but they also offer us work that feels distinctly fresh and new.

The artist began working with fabric as an undergraduate. She didn’t have any formal training in sewing, but, “It was so exciting to not know how to use a material and to invent my own way,” Guzmán Capron told Hyperallergic by email. Nowadays, her sewn and loose threads mingle with acrylic, latex, and spray paint over a dynamic patchwork of found fabrics. Up close, dynamic abstractions and color combinations emerge, and in some passages — like in the flowery arm of Guzmán Capron’s wacky, “Mona Lisa”-like “Ventana” (2021) — the artist replicates a fabric motif in paint, adding another curious layer for viewers to decipher. But despite the busy, clashing visuals, the artist manages to keep a delicate balance of harmony and rhythm across her works.

Maria Guzmán Capron, Olas Malcreadas, instsallation view

“When I choose fabric,” Guzmán Capron wrote by email, “I follow my intuition and also sift through layers of meaning, signs, and cult signals alongside color, pattern, and texture.” In fabric — especially those she finds in the sale bin — the artist reads clues about what’s deemed tacky or tasteful, acceptable or odd. Guzmán Capron was born in Italy to Peruvian and Colombian parents, and moved to the United States at age 17. “People recognized me as foreign without even speaking to me,” she said, saying that her clothes marked her difference. Today, the vivid palette and patterns in her artworks mirror the ways that she and her family dress. “The exuberance is familiar and comforting to me,” she noted, “but I know it can feel brash to others.”

The artist, who playfully refers to her figures as “hot aliens” and “beyond-human characters,” insists that her creations are brown bodies “performing an otherworldly femininity” that reflects herself and her immigrant, Latinx community. Beyond their bright hues and mischievous protagonists, Guzmán Capron’s works “embody emotions, desires, and my relationship to the world,” the artist explained. While she says she’s tried in the past to blend in, she now hopes that her work will create space for difference. “My family would say I am ‘ni chicha ni limonada’ (neither the sweet purple corn drink nor lemonade),” Guzmán Capron told Hyperallergic. “I am a new thing and I want to signal with my textiles to other in-between people that they belong.”

Maria Guzmán Capron, “Sombra” (2021), fabric, thread, batting, latex paint, spray paint, and acrylic paintMaria Guzmán Capron, “Ventana (detail)” (2021), fabric, thread, batting, latex paint, spray paint, and acrylic paintMaria Guzmán Capron, “Sana Sana” (2021), fabric, thread, batting, latex paint, spray paint, and acrylic paintMaria Guzmán Capron, “Torbellina (detail)” (2021), fabric, thread, batting, latex paint, spray paint, and acrylic paintMaria Guzmán Capron, “Mar” (2021), fabric, thread, batting, latex paint, spray paint, and acrylic paintMaria Guzmán Capron, “She Wants More” (2021), fabric, thread, batting, latex paint, spray paint, and acrylic paint

Maria Guzmán Capron: Olas Malcriadas continues at Texas State Galleries (233 West Sessom Drive, San Marcos, Texas) through November 12.

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The Fascinating Contradictions of Paul Thek

“Feathered Cross” (1969) is a fitting greeting for visitors to Paul Thek: Interior/Landscape, on view at the Watermill Center through November 13. The feathers add a note of irreverence, softening the object’s power. Even covered in feathers, though, this giant cross still commands a room, towering over the artworks in front of it. The sculpture encapsulates of the work and life of an artist who rebelled against his early virtuosity as a draftsman by rendering doodles and scrawls in later works, and who chafed against the aspects of religion that rejected his gayness, while remaining a devout Catholic. He was a polymath whose work includes paintings, sketches, collages, installations, and sculptures.

The tensions and contradictions that make Thek’s work hard to pin down, and to market, are also what makes it fascinating. There’s so much variety on view in the Watermill’s galleries that it could almost be a group show. Yet, its considered curation results in a comprehensive tour of his practice, highlighting themes like nature, death, rebirth, and faith. There are enough key pieces from each period of his career, and in each medium, to make it feel cohesive. 

Installation view of Paul Thek: Interior/Landscape at the Watermill Center, Water Mill, NY

Thek’s precise drafting skills are on display in the untitled drawings he created in Italy in 1976, in which graphite adds subtle texture to the mountains and seascapes of his beloved Ponza, where he lived in the 1970s. Despite their technical proficiency, though, they become repetitive after a while; Thek’s skill would have come through just as much with fewer examples. 

The Technological Reliquaries series, his most iconic works, and my favorite pieces on view, are a highlight of the show. They’re sculptures composed of casts of flesh taken from his own body and abstracted, as well as wax made to look like raw meat, and various items from nature, like leaves, all encased in plexiglass vaults. “Untitled” (1964) features lacquered wax masquerading as meat, emblazoned with the number 75. It resembles a fossilized slice of Sicilian pizza, yet inspires reverence simply because it’s behind glass, like a museum display of religious relics, or perhaps ancient porcelain or other vessels. 

It’s also a nod to the minimalist sculptures popular at the time, but the visceral and emotional qualities diverge from minimalism’s aloof aesthetic as they dare viewers to consider the corporeal on the same elevated level as the spiritual.

Installation view of Paul Thek: Interior/Landscape at the Watermill Center, Water Mill, NY

In contrast, the so-called “bad paintings” that Thek made toward the end of his career unfortunately live up to their name. They’re composed of child-like scrawls, zig-zags and doodles straight out of a bored teen’s notebook — for example, “Susan Lecturing on Neitzsche” (1987) (the philosopher’s name is intentionally misspelled, which pokes fun at Sontag’s teaching through handwriting in the style of bathroom wall graffiti. Nearby, in “Untitled (Five Vertical Red Lines)” (1981), red lines suggest careless cuts into the “skin” of the pink background. Including these works contributes to a broad overview of Thek’s career, but I would have liked his other installations to receive more real estate. 

If you can’t make it out to Long Island, or if you’d like a bigger dose of Thek, Paul Thek: Relativity Clock, on view at Alexander and Bonin through October 16, serves as both context for and a companion to the Watermill show. In addition, there’s a portrait by Peter Hujar, “Paul Thek with Hand Sculptures” (1967/2010), and pages from Thek’s journals.

Paul Thek, Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair) (from the series ‘Technological Reliquaries’) 1966
wax, bronze, formica and plexiglass
16 1/2 x 21 1/2 x 9 1/2 in/ 42 x 55 x 24 cm
photo: Joerg Lohse
© Estate of George Paul Thek; courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York

“Untitled (Meat Piece with Chair)” (1966), from the Technological Reliquaries series, is a powerful centerpiece. Inside a glass case is an object that looks like the gaping maw of a fish with its head cut off, its satiny scales shining. The creature’s body seems to be crying out in pain, even without a head to fully express it. A tiny chair keeps watch over the fish-like creature and the gallery, from the top of a small shelf. Equally visceral are the wax-cast fake meats in “Untitled (meat cable)” (1969), which loom over the front gallery. Strung across metal cables, the wax meat resembles little hearts or brains, body parts on display. 

The show features some excellent paintings, too, including “Untitled (Diver)” (1969), in which the subject’s muscles are highlighted in pink to show his shoulders and arms rippling with exertion, against an azure sky that blends into the sea. 

I found the the picture light paintings more puzzling. In works such as “Pink Cross and Green Buds” (1975-80) childlike drawings are placed in ornate gold frames mounted with lights, as if on display in a collector’s home; chairs are placed in front of them for visitors to sit in and apparently contemplate the paintings. In the contrast between the simple pictures and the scholarly setting, Thek seems to be challenging us to question his set-up, to ask whether these simplistic works warrant contemplation. Even if I didn’t like the paintings themselves, I admired the challenge. 

Installation view of Paul Thek: Interior/Landscape at the Watermill Center, Water Mill, NY

Thek, who died in 1988 of AIDS, was close to Peter Hujar and Susan Sontag (she even dedicated her 1966 book Against Interpretation to him), but, despite critical acclaim, he was never quite as famous during his lifetime, or as comfortable in the art world, as some of his closest friends. The exhibitions are a tribute to his talent and vision; hopefully they’ll encourage a larger art audience to give him the recognition he deserves. 

Paul Thek: Interior/Landscape continues at the Watermill Center (39 Watermill Towd Road, Water Mill, New York) through November 13. The exhibition was organized by Noah Khoshbin and Owen Laub.

Paul Thek: Relativity Clock continues at Alexander and Bonin (47 Walker Street, Tribeca, Manhattan) through October 16.

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The Little-Seen World of Demolition Derbies

In Derby (TBW Books, 2021), the late Ken Graves and his wife and photographic partner Eva Lipman reveal the little-seen world of competitive demolition derbies. Graves and Lipman’s black and white photos depict the events’ hardscrabble drivers and mangled cars, but avoid the dangerous crashes that derbies are known for. Instead, in lyrical compositions and rich tones, the series exposes the surprisingly tender and at times erotically charged moments that happen before and after impact, when human and machine bodies come into close contact.

The photos in Derby were taken in and around Pennsylvania in the mid-t0-late 1990s while Graves taught at Penn State and Lipman worked as a mobile therapist and social worker in the rural areas nearby. “I witnessed first hand the brokenness of their domestic lives, their isolation, hardships, and even emasculation,” Lipman said in a recent email to Hyperallergic. But the duo’s photos are not a simplified portrait of misery or suffering. On weekends, the carnivalesque chaos of the derbies “created a space in which everyone was equal,” Lipman reflected. “The boundaries between us and the drivers were erased. The drivers welcomed the attention, and felt safe opening themselves to the camera. They enjoyed being visible, performing their heroic feats, and were willing to expose their tensions and desires.” 

Ken Graves and Eva Lipman, Derby

Derby’s tightly cropped, sharply focused pictures capture participants up close as they socialize around, rest in, and steadfastly fix up the cars that they send into battle. Women are largely absent from these pictures, though they did attend the events: one photo catches a little girl in a polka dotted dress with a bright flash, her paper cup falling to the ground as she stands beside a mud-splattered, dented derby car. In another, a man and woman embrace, both clinging to the same tire on a fence post. But most of these photos — as with Graves and Lipman’s previous projects on boxing, wrestling, the rodeo, and the military — are arenas for exploring the male body within a homosocial ritual. 

Ken Graves and Eva Lipman, Derby

The shirtless, sweating men splayed across and against car hoods and dashboards in Derby convey a sense of bonded brotherhood and physical intimacy. “The familiarity of the place made for a space in which they experienced themselves as ‘real,’” Lipman explained. “This extended to an environment in which men felt free to bond, show affection, touch.” In one photo, a helmeted driver closes his eyes as if in prayer, while someone else’s hand rests encouragingly on his open window. In another, two topless youths crowd together, skin on skin, as they repair a rear car seat. The pictures show the battered cars to be a poignant nexus between the people who drive and watch them.

Despite their unusual subject matter, Graves and Lipman didn’t consider this an ethnographic or documentary project. “Ken and I never photographed thinking about documenting,” Lipman said on a recent phone call with Hyperallergic. “We were not interested in making pictures that would be literal. We would go into a subject looking for images that had a bigger, more transcendent meaning.” Together, Graves and Lipman’s elegant images suggest that the derby is tied up in emotions that might seem unexpected for such a harsh and violent sport: among the dust and banged-up cars, their pictures emanate a sense of commitment, pride, and even love.

Ken Graves and Eva Lipman, DerbyKen Graves and Eva Lipman, Derby Ken Graves and Eva Lipman, DerbyKen Graves and Eva Lipman, DerbyKen Graves and Eva Lipman, Derby

Derby by Ken Graves and Eva Lipman is available online through TBW Books.

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A Turkish Idol Will Not Be Repatriated, New York Judge Rules

In 2017, Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism published an open letter in response to the sale of the Guennol Stargazer. (image via the Turkish Consulate General in New York’s Facebook page, posted on May 1, 2017)

The Guennol Stargazer will not be repatriated to Turkey, a New York federal judge ruled, bringing Turkey’s efforts to lay claim to the Anatolian marble statuette — which it alleged had been illegally removed from the country — to a close. While the idol is clearly of Turkish origin, US District Judge Alison Nathan said that Turkey provided inadequate evidence to support its foundational claim that the idol was excavated from Turkey after 1906, the year that a decree was put in place declaring all antiquities found on Turkish land to be national property.

In addition to not meeting its burden of proof, Nathan said, Turkey “inexcusably slept on its rights” to the precious figurine by waiting until 2017, when it was a star lot at Christie’s New York “Classic Week,” to seek its return, as the statuette had previously been on view at the Metropolitan Museum for decades.

The elegant nine-inch-tall female figure has an etched pelvis and an upturned head, giving it the Stargazer moniker. In pre-sale promotional materials, Christie’s said that the Kiliya-type idol was one of about 15 complete or nearly complete surviving examples, as most of the remaining idols of this type are fragmented. Court records date the statuette’s creation to sometime between 4800 and 4100 BCE in Kulaksizlar, located in present-day Manisa Province, Turkey. Since idols like this one were often used in networks of exchange — a fact underscored by the defendants, the implication being that the object may have traveled beyond Turkey’s borders well before 1906 — it likely didn’t stay at its site of origin in Kulaksizlar for long.

The object’s documented provenance begins in 1961, when Alastair and Edith Martin, the prominent New York art collectors who built the Guennol Collection, purchased the idol from art dealer J.J. Klejman; it remains unclear how Klejman, who sold the Lydian Hoard (looted art later restituted to Turkey) to the Met from 1966 to 1968 and died in 1995, originally obtained the statuette. The figurine was then transferred to a corporation owned by Alastair’s son, Robin Martin, and subsequently sold to Merrin Gallery. Billionaire hedge fund founder and collector Michael Steinhardt purchased it from Merrin in 1993, and two decades later consigned it to Christie’s. There, in April 2017, it fetched $14.4 million including premium — before the buyer pulled out due to concerns about Turkey’s announcement of a lawsuit.

Both Steinhardt and the Martins loaned the Stargazer to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it was on public display from 1968 to 1993 and 1999 to 2007. While on view at the “major public institution,” Nathan noted, the idol generated attention and literature references, including “in Turkish publications by academics with connections to the Ministry of Culture.” However, Turkey did not inquire into the idol’s provenance at any point in that lengthy period.

Nathan also rejected arguments that Steinhardt — who has previously purchased items that proved to be looted from Greece and Italy — acquired the statuette in bad faith, as Steinhardt had put his trust in the reputation of the Met and the Guennol Collection, and asked standard questions about provenance prior to purchasing the artifact.

“[Steinhardt] purchased the Idol in 1993 without any claims or expressions of interest by Turkey that could put him on notice as to the potential contested nature of the Idol’s ownership,” said Nathan. “Had Turkey inquired as to the provenance of the Idol, or argued that it held a potential claim as to the Idol, Steinhardt may not have purchased the Idol in the first place.”

As a result of the ruling, all right, title, and interest to the idol remains vested in Steinhardt.

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A Keith Haring Mural Is Unexpectedly Unveiled in Manhattan

“Fiorucci Walls,” painted by Keith Haring and Angel Ortiz (LA II), is now on view at the NY City Center. (photo by Valentina Di Liscia for Hyperallergic)

It’s not uncommon for murals by New York artist and activist Keith Haring to surface in unlikely circumstances, sometimes after spending years covered up or unknown to the wider public. Part of the magic of Haring’s work, whose unique blend of Pop and graffiti elements and squiggly, animated forms often transmits important sociopolitical messages, is its ability to be rediscovered and made newly meaningful, again and again.

Such is the case for “Fiorucci Walls,” a massive panel painted by Haring and artist LA II (Angel Ortiz) in 1983, now unexpectedly on view at the New York City Center in Midtown Manhattan — the first time it’s ever been seen in NYC. On loan from the MACo Museum of Chang Mai for the theater’s 2021-2022 season, the mural has been installed in the Shuman Lounge near the entrance, where audiences can admire it before a show or during intermission.

The panel was originally created as a site-specific performance at the Fiorucci Store in Milan in 1983. (image courtesy New York City Center)

A detail of the panel, which was restored in 1991 (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Haring began collaborating with LA II, short for “Little Angel Two,” in the early 1980s. There was something about the Lower East Side graffiti artist’s tag style that stood out to Haring; it was “as close as the Western World has gotten to a stylized form of writing similar to Eastern calligraphy,” he wrote in a journal entry. Approached by the late Italian designer Elio Fiorucci to take over his 5,000-square-foot Milan outpost, which functioned as both a store and an exhibition space for avant-garde artists, Haring enlisted the then 16-year-old LA II to help strip its walls and transform them into art.

“We began combining our styles to create an overall surface of intermingling lines,” Haring continued. “Our first visit to Milano in 1983 was to spray-paint the entire Firoucci store. We painted it in 13 hours.” 

The installation, whose central motif features twin figures reminiscent of the designer’s double-cherub logo, came down in 1984. Fiorucci kept the panels in storage for decades; the piece on view at City Center was restored in 1991.

NY City Center at West 55th Street in Manhattan (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Haring is perhaps best remembered for his interventions in NYC subway stations and outdoor murals addressing social issues, from the AIDS crisis to drugs and inequality — such as “Crack is Wack,” painted on both sides of a handball court wall in Harlem River Park in 1986.

But he also completed many site-specific works in public interiors, such as the Fiorucci panel and his famous 1986 “Pop Shop” boutique in downtown Manhattan. As art historian Amy Raffel writes in her monograph on the artist released this year, Haring “believed installation was a universal way to experience art that could be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere, regardless of education or status, because of its ability to affect an individual bodily.” This summer, the government of Barcelona stepped in to help salvage a Haring original that was tucked behind a DJ booth in the former Ars Studio club, made impromptu using red paint leftover from a larger mural commissioned by the city in 1989.

Framed portraits of Haring by Jeannette Montgomery Barron are installed outside the lounge. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Outside Shuman Lounge, a series of black-and-white portraits of Haring by Jeannette Montgomery Barron complement the mural’s presentation. Barron photographed the artist in his Lower Broadway studio in spring 1985. She captures Haring immersed in his own artwork, surrounded by his distinctive designs and wearing a t-shirt printed with the message “Free South Africa,” based on a painting supporting the anti-apartheid movement. His expressive personality is also on display.

“Every inch of the walls was covered with his drawings, done with magic marker, so it couldn’t have been easier to decide on the setting,” Barron said. “He immediately went through the motions, like a model, without prompting. All I had to do was catch the right moment.”

A photograph by Jeannette Montgomery Barron, from the series “Keith Haring” (1985) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Unveiled just in time for the theater’s Fall for Dance Festival and the anticipated return to in-person performances after over a year of pandemic-related challenges, “Fiorucci Walls” and Barron’s photographs will be up through 2022. All ticket holders attending a show at City Center can experience the mural, but the venue will also open its doors to the general public for viewings from noon to 6pm on October 29-30 and November 5-6.

“New York City Center has served the city of New York for nearly 80 years by providing access to the performing arts for all,” NY City Center President and CEO Arlene Shuler told Hyperallergic. “As we make this momentous return to in-person performances this season, we are so fortunate to be exhibiting the work of an icon of the New York art scene who also sought to make his art accessible to everyone.”

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Fiber-Based Wall Hangings Blend Weaving, Macramé, and Crochet into Striking Bouquets

All images © Alyssa Ki, shared with permission

Opting for yarn and rovings of raw wool dyed in natural pigments, Korean-American artist Alyssa Ki crafts fiber-based wall hangings reminiscent of bouquets and overgrown patches of wildflowers. The perpetually blooming pieces blend multiple textile techniques and are teeming with macramé, needle-felted, and crocheted botanicals that sprout from a thick, woven foundation. Hanging from a knotty branch or bound by a ribbon, the floral works are ripe with color and texture.

Currently based in New York, Ki has a background in photojournalism and first started working with fiber in 2018. She’s since crafted innumerable flowers, leaves, and fibrous vines for a variety of commissions, and you can dive into her process on Instagram. (via The Jealous Curator)

 

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Colorful Strips of Metal Coil into Minimal Animal Sculptures by Artist Lee Sangsoo

All images © Lee Sangsoo, shared with permission

Considering his practice a form of “drawing in the air,” artist Lee Sangsoo forges colorful, spiraled flamingos, dogs, parrots, and other creatures with long strips of metal. He sculpts the minimal works with resin or stainless steel depending on their size—he uses the latter for any piece that spans more than one meter—and coats each angled side with subtle gradients or a complementary palette. Although three-dimensional and sometimes so large that they tower over the landscape, the creatures are inspired by Picasso’s small, abstract animal drawings, which the artist explains:

Lines, planes, and colors are important elements that work in my work. The lines drawn in the two-dimensional sketchbook determine the large flow and form of the work, and it becomes three-dimensional in the three-dimensional space. The square lines are shown in various shapes and colors according to the flow and twist, and you can feel the dynamism in the still work. Also, depending on the flow, the thickness of the lines may be rhythmically thickened or thinned.

Some of Lee’s works are on view as part of KIAF Seoul, and you can find more of the twisted menagerie on his Instagram. (via Lustik)

 

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The School of Art + Design at the University of Illinois Offers Fully Funded Grad Programs

At the School of Art + Design at the University of Illinois, a thriving community of artists, designers, educators, and historians is committed to excellence and innovation when it comes to the practice, study, and teaching of visual arts. Students at the school, which is situated in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, have access to all the interdisciplinary resources of a research one university.

The University of Illinois’s Studio and Design programs offer MFA degrees with concentrations in Studio Art (Painting, Sculpture, New Media, Printmaking, and Photography), Design for Responsible Innovation, and Industrial Design. Students in the Art Education program can earn EdM, MA, and PhD degrees, while the Art History program offers an MA and a PhD as well as a Minor.

View work by the MFA Class of 2021 and meet some of our current students.

Graduate Funding

Significant financial support packages are available to most graduate students in the form of fellowships and graduate appointments, which include a full tuition waiver and stipend.

In addition to accessible financial support, students also enjoy the institutions, resources, and events the university has to offer. Of particular interest to many graduates are the School of Art and Design Visitor Series, the Krannert Art Museum, the Siebel Center for Design, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, the Center for Advanced Study, and the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities.

We invite prospective students to visit campus, meet with faculty and current students, attend an event or two, and experience our community. Due to the current pandemic, we’re currently offering virtual events, which include tours, open houses, and live-chat opportunities.

For information on application details, including deadlines and funding, explore the website for the Graduate College.

To learn more, visit art.illinois.edu.

Left: Sydney Vize (MFA Studio Art), “manicure self portrait” (2020), resin, acrylic nails, nail polish, PVC, plastic, vellum | Right: Angela Baldus (MA 2019), “The Confessional” featuring Ask Questions by Erin Hayden at Monaco, St. Louis in 2018 (photo by Jeff Robinson)Listeners attend the participatory lecture “Works Like A River” (2017) by Allison Rowe (PhD 2021) (photo by Larissa Issler)Jennifer Bergmark (PhD 2014), “Chromotopia” (2018) with Amanda Browder at Stratton Fine Arts Academy (photo by Jennifer Bergmark)

Please direct questions regarding the graduate admissions process to Ellen de Waard, our Coordinator in Graduate Academic Affairs, at edewaard@illinois.edu or (217) 333-0642.

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Miami’s Fountainhead to Begin Thematic Residencies in 2022

Miami’s Fountainhead Residency, a 13-year-old arts organization dedicated to elevating the voices, visibility, and value of artists, is experimenting with its power to shape the future. Beginning in 2022, Fountainhead will host thematic residencies each month, addressing subjects like climate change and sustainability, immigration, technology, social justice, and more. These thematic residencies are intended to create a common discursive thread between artists while making it easy for anyone to connect with the ideas they’re fomenting in their work.

Fountainhead, whose alumni network includes established names like Derrick Adams, Sable Elyse Smith, and Gabriel Chaile as well as emerging artists recently reviewed in Hyperallergic such as Tschabalala Self, believes that this shift can bring about important new work and fruitful conversations.

“Moving towards this more focused approach allows us to elevate artists’ voices and the valuable role they play in shifting perspectives and shaping the future,” says Kathryn Mikesell, the co-founder and executive director of Fountainhead. “We’re excited to engage both new and familiar audiences around ideas and opportunities for change.”

Since its founding in 2008, Fountainhead has focused on providing time, space, and valuable connections for its artists-in-residence, creating ties with a local cultural community that’s only seen accelerated growth over the last 10 years. Beyond their alumni network’s international success, many former residents frequently return to Miami to exhibit in the city’s major museums and galleries.

Invited to apply via nomination by alumni, applications for 2022 were reviewed by ARTNOIR founder Danny Baez, artists Nanette Carter and Mark Thomas Gibson (who recently won the 2021 Pew Fellowship), Perez Art Museum Miami chief curator Rene Morales, Prospect 5 co-curator Diana Nawi, and critic Monica Uszerowicz. Selected artists will be announced in November 2021.

To learn more about the program, visit fountainheadarts.org.

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Tufts of Printed Fabric Form Colorful Mixed-Media Portraits by Marcellina Oseghale Akpojotor

“Eyes on the Gold IV” (2018), 5 x 4 feet. All images courtesy of Rele Gallery, shared with permission

Using scraps of vibrant Ankara fabric, Lagos-based artist Marcellina Oseghale Akpojotor fashions intimate portraits that consider the fragmented and varied inner lives of her subjects. The intricately composed depictions rely on a cacophony of patterns arranged in loose ripples and tufts, creating a patchwork of color and texture. Although the textiles are Dutch in origin—they’re colloquially known as “African print fabrics”—they have a strong cultural significance, and by piecing together the assorted motifs, Akpojotor establishes a shared visual memory.

Set against uncluttered, domestic backdrops rendered in acrylic, the fiber-based figures are often disrupted with small spots of paint as a way to “speak to the influence our environment has in shaping us as individuals,” Akpojotor shares. “They represent the connections we have with our background and immediate society and how these often ignored elements form a part of our being.” Navigating the links between subjects and their surroundings is an ongoing concern for the artist, whose work delves into the effects of the current moment, in addition to the ways personal histories and the actions of previous generations have lasting impacts.

Akpojotor is represented by Rele Gallery, where her work will be on view later this month, and she’s currently working on pieces that explore how education affects women’s empowerment, which you can follow on Instagram. (via Women’s Art)

 

 

“Set to Flourish I” (2021), fabric and acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

“Bright bright light II” (2020), mixed media, 2 x 2 feet

“Papa’s Girl (Kesiena’s Diary)” (2021), fabric, paper, and acrylic on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

Detail of “Bright bright light II” (2020), mixed media, 2 x 2 feet

“Eyes on the Gold VI” (2018), 5 x 4 feet

“Ovoke (Kesiena’s diary)” (2019-2020), fabric and acrylic on canvas, 5 x 4 feet

“Dear Brother II” (2020), mixed media, 2 x 2 feet

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Arts Organizations and Activists Speak Out About Land Stewardship on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Today, October 11, marks Indigenous Peoples’ Day, an occasion that honors the history, cultures, and ongoing struggles of the native people of this land. It falls on the second Monday of the month, parallel to Columbus Day, which celebrates the infamous colonizer of the Americas. The date is often at the center of protests and events acknowledging the history of Native genocide. In recent years, the practice of land acknowledgments has increased at US institutions, while protesters have voiced their opposition to the occupation of the Americas by toppling or defacing statues memorializing colonizing figures, like Christopher Columbus.

In the wee hours of this morning, anonymous protesters painted the Andrew Jackson memorial in Washington, DC with a message reading “Expect Us” in red. The text is surrounded by bloodied handprints, a symbol that represents solidarity with missing and murdered Indigenous women in the United States. (Native American women are up to 10 times more likely to be murdered or sexually assaulted in some regions of the country, according to the US Department of Justice.)

The Andrew Jackson statue at the @WhiteHouse was redecorated! Today is #IndigenousPeoplesDay but don’t get it twisted, colonization is not over. Native ppls are still fighting settler violence via fossil fuel extraction across Turtle Island! #PeopleVsFossilFuels pic.twitter.com/ntOIliXATW

— Indigenous Environmental Network (@IENearth) October 11, 2021

Without claiming responsibility for the action, the Indigenous Environmental Network, a coalition of grassroots Indigenous environmental activists, released a statement today saying that the action also meant to protest “extractive colonialism” and the arrest of hundreds of water protectors and land defenders who fought against the construction of the “Line 3” oil pipeline from Canada to Superior, Wisconsin.

“Our people are older than the idea of the United States of America,” the statement reads. “We are the original stewards of this land and will continue to fight for the natural and spiritual knowledge of our Mother who sustains our life-ways.”

The group continued: “We are the grandchildren of the strong spirits who have survived your residential schools, your pipelines and mines, your reservations and relocation and your forced assimilation and genocide. We carry the prayers and intentions of our ancestors and are unafraid. Another world is possible, may all colonizers fall.”

The Theodore Roosevelt statue outside of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, defaced with red paint (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

In a similar action last week, unidentified protesters splattered red paint on the long-disputed statue of Theodore Roosevelt at the steps of New York’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Protests against the statue, which features the former president flanked by anonymous Black and Indigenous gun carriers in a subservient position, date back to 1971. It remains standing despite the museum’s decision to remove it over a year ago.

The statue has also been at the center of a number of artist-led protests, most notably the series of Anti-Columbus Day Tours held between 2016 and 2019. Decolonize This Place, the activist group leading the tours, released a zine for Indigenous Peoples’ Day reflecting on previous protests, which publicized the connections between art institutions and legacies of colonization. With its last tour in 2019, the group marched with over 700 protesters from AMNH through Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum.

Meanwhile, the New Museum in New York acknowledged today that it sits on unceded Lenape land. Calling it a “living” land acknowledgment, the museum said that it will “continue to revise and strengthen” the statement in collaboration with community members. The statement was written with the guidance of the Lenape Center, which previously advised the Brooklyn Museum, Metropolitan Museum, and the Brooklyn Public Library in making similar land acknowledgments.

In a phone interview with Hyperallergic today, Lenape Center’s executive director, Joe Baker, explained that the idea behind a “living land acknowledgment” is to allow institutions to later answer the question: “What actions follow words?”

“It’s up to the organization to create their own living land acknowledgment but we encourage them to come up with actionable steps that they will take toward a more equitable future and addressing this genocide,” Baker said.

Hadrien Coumans, co-founder and co-director of the Lenape Center, told Hyperallergic that the organization is currently working with the Brooklyn Public Library on co-curating an exhibition of Lenape artists that will open in January of 2022.

“It’s really been a shame that other institutions haven’t taken up this responsibility,” he said, adding that Brooklyn Public Library was the first institution to make a land acknowledgment and follow it with action.

Land acknowledgments are a recent phenomenon in the US, which lags behind countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It was only in May this year that the Met, the country’s largest museum, released a land acknowledgment and engraved it on a plaque at its 5th Avenue location.

But as long as these statements avoid addressing the issue of returning the land to its original owners, they will remain hollow and useless, according to Joseph Pierce, an associate professor in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature at Stony Brook University and a Cherokee Nation citizen.

“These statements are often empty gestures linked to multicultural inclusion that obscures the reality of genocide, colonialism, and the ongoingness of our displacement from our lands,” he told Hyperallergic in a phone conversation.

“Recognizing that museums and universities were built on stolen land does not change that fact,” Pierce continued. “If that recognition does not include a pathway to returning the land, it only serves to continue the displacement of Indigenous peoples.”

“A statement that stops at a land acknowledgment is determinantal to the return of Indigenous people to their land,” Pierce explained. “Cultural institutions are trying to ride the decolonial wave but they’re missing one thing: decolonial practice is not about what you say and what you know — it’s about how you do things.”

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An Artist’s Embroideries Reflects the Complexity and Interconnectedness of Queer New York

In a recent conversation with a straight person who doesn’t live in New York City, I was trying to explain how tiny it can feel. The social networks we belong to here are much more bounded than most people imagine when they think of a place with a population approaching 9 million. It doesn’t take long at all to encounter the same people over and over. For straight people it’s possible to use romance as a pretext to hop the boundaries of the familiar and enjoy the illusion of self-reinvention by choosing partners outside their immediate circles. But for queer folks, the even smaller networks in which we operate make it harder to fly the coop without actually leaving the city.

In my experience of queer communities in New York, someone always knows the person you’re dating, or you know or have shared intimacies with the person who is dating the person you just broke up with, and on and on. It’s a stereotype that is particularly ascribed to queer women, as well as trans and non-binary networks, but it comes from a reality in which sex, intimacy, friendship, art-making, and activism are deeply linked and constantly overlapping; a reality that creates a laden ground in which to build and rebuild the self.

And so it was no surprise that in LJ Roberts’s solo show at Pioneer Works, Carry You With Me: Ten Years of Portraits, curated by Gabriel Florenz, I saw many familiar faces in the lovingly stitched portraits on display. For someone who writes about art, that familiarity is also accompanied by a rushing tide of conflicts of interest. There are people pictured in Roberts’s embroideries who have sat in my living room, who I’ve gone on dates with, who I’ve attended protests with, who have dated people I’ve dated, and who I know primarily because we’ve been in the same spaces over and over.

LJ Roberts, “Sarah Zapata in her Red Hook, Brooklyn Studio” (2019-2020), embroidery on cotton, 7.5 x 6.75 inches.LJ Roberts, “Sarah Zapata in her Red Hook, Brooklyn Studio” (verso) (2019-2020), embroidery on cotton, 7.5 x 6.75 inches

Roberts’s work taps into a long history of portraiture by queer artists, yet the project steps outside of the more typically dualistic relationship between the artist and their sitters. In Carry You With Me, the artist’s first solo exhibition, we get the chance to spend time with their embroidered depictions of compatriots, loves, and fellow travelers, but something more is happening when you take in the show as a whole. While the sentiment and care that Roberts holds for their individual subjects is exquisitely evident in both the work and the writing they share in the book that accompanies the exhibition, what struck me most about the show as a whole is the way in which it depicts some of the complexity of queer New York.

The title of the show says it beautifully: Carry You With Me. Roberts chose that name because the many hours required to complete each of these portraits, and the portability of their format meant they quite literally carried each work with them for months, across boroughs and borders. On the cloth surrounding the embroideries, outside the ghosted embroidery hoops, oil and dirt from Roberts’s hands remains as subtle stains revealing contact. We all carry our experiences of each other with us across our lives, in significant and seemingly insignificant ways. Roberts’s writing about those depicted, including two people who have passed since the artist began their portraits — the scholar José Esteban Muñoz and the artist Frederick Weston — provides a small glimpse of the ways Roberts’s subjects influenced their life. And a couple of the essays included in the book contain similar reflections, but from the subjects and the worlds they occupy in tandem with Roberts.

Animated details from LJ Roberts: Carry You with Me: Ten Years of Portraits, published by Pioneer Works. Detail depicts LJ Roberts, “José Esteban Muñoz & Jeanne Vaccaro at the New York City Dyke March” (2014), embroidery on cotton, 8.13 x 6.5 inches

Many traditions of craft and handiwork are directly linked to ideas of devotion, both religious and sentimental. The works in this show, as well as Roberts’s larger-scale pieces, which also address queer community, come across as just that: devotional. These portraits, displayed so that we can see both the front and back of each piece, are beautiful testimonies to interconnected existence, shared impact, and love, in all its contradictions. As one of Roberts’ subjects, Theodore (ted) Kerr, says in his essay, “The longer I look at my portrait, the less I see of me, the more I see of us.”

LJ Roberts: Carry You With Me: Ten Years of Portraits continues at Pioneer Works (159 Pioneer Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn) through November 28. The exhibition is curated by Gabriel Florenz.

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Faced With a Complex Sense of Home, Jagdeep Raina Turns to Art

HOUSTON — People and places are the central concerns of Ontario-based artist Jagdeep Raina. The artist’s lyrical drawings, delicate textiles, and meditative films are filled with farmers, families, and lovers who gather at storefronts and gates and on boats. These are the protagonists and thresholds of the modern Kashmiri and Punjabi diasporas to which Raina, who was born in Canada in 1991, also belongs. 

Bonds at the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston is Raina’s first solo museum presentation in the United States. The exhibition, curated by Tyler Blackwell, features 27 multimedia works made over the last six years. Inspired by archival research and oral histories, Raina’s work condenses the experiences of his ancestors with those of his own life, and relives the failures and conflicts of the last century with the vividness of the present day. Together, his works offer a complex exploration of home and history that defies the distances of space and time.

For Raina, the past is vividly alive. The subjects of his pictures come from photographic sources that are historical and informal, found and artist-generated. His works reproduce their sources in a careful but expressive hand, and refer to the dates and technologies of their time by appearing in color or black and white. Raina’s pictures of groups posing for photos and assorted building facades recall snippets from a family photo album or loose newspaper clippings, but the works’ titles and details give crucial clues about their importance. 

Jagdeep Raina, “To my sweet Stephenson road, as you continue to pierce the streets of Guelph, you taught all of us to be loved and find community, unconditionally” (2015), mixed media on paper, 26 x 40 inches (image courtesy the artist and Cooper Cole, Toronto)

For example, a close look at the brick storefront in one drawing reveals an orange Sikh flag and a sign with “Satnam Waheguru” and “Guelph Sikh Society” written on it. And the piece’s title, “To my sweet Stephenson road, as you continue to pierce the streets of Guelph, you taught all of us to be loved and find community, unconditionally” (2015), gives a sense of the artist’s lasting connection to the community center in his hometown. In a recent email to Hyperallergic, Raina described “the archive as a living object,” and this drawing demonstrates that elements of his own life can form part of a larger story of transnational migration, too.

Jagdeep Raina, “Chemical Cotton Flowers” (2021), embroidered tapestry, phulkari border in cotton (image courtesy the artist)

Text has become increasingly important for Raina. His latest textile works contain poems and narratives that more explicitly refer to political and historical events like the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan. “The text appears when there are stories I want to tell as an artist which can’t be contained in a physical object,” Raina said by email. His textile piece “Chemical Cotton Flowers” (2021), of two women standing in a field of cotton, refers to India’s Green Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s, in which the introduction of new technologies, high-yield seeds, and pesticides irrevocably altered farming practices and local economies in Punjab. A prayer-like sewn verse at the base of the piece reads, “please strip them of these / chemical cotton flowers / let them cling to peace,” referring to the dangers women still face in agricultural labor.

Embroidered cloth pieces like this one are inspired by the Punjabi Phulkari and the Kashmiri shawl, traditional textile arts that today are threatened by increasing climate change, machine-made substitutes, and the exploitation of female weavers. Raina’s textiles are intimately scaled, and their uneven edges, poetic texts, and flowing threads give them a personal, dreamy quality. The artist himself dreams of living in Kashmir one day to learn from local experts. “I wanted to go to Chakothi as well which is now in Pakistan and heavily patrolled by the military, for that is where my roots lie,” he explained. 

That return speaks directly to Raina’s complex sense of home. “I’ve always felt that home is a fraught place which is constantly going through ruptures,” the artist reflected by email. Despite the challenges, Raina’s thoughtful works are his way of “coming to terms with how to create home for myself.”

Jagdeep Raina, “Lotus Flowers” (2021), embroidered tapestry (image courtesy the artist and Cooper Cole, Toronto)Jagdeep Raina, “To listen and mourn” (2017), mixed media on paper, 22 x 30 inches (image courtesy the artist and Cooper Cole, Toronto)Jagdeep Raina, “Prabhdeep, Femme your life” (2018), mixed media on paper, 26 x 40 inches (image courtesy the artist and Cooper Cole, Toronto)

Jagdeep Raina: Bonds continues at the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston (4173 Elgin Street, Houston) through October 24. The exhibition is curated by Tyler Blackwell.

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Joan Mitchell, a Brilliant Painter and Contrarian at Heart

SAN FRANCISCO — “Painting is like a sort of sickness, I think.” So says a gravel-voiced Joan Mitchell in a film included in the major retrospective of her work currently at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). That might be the case, but after walking through 10 SFMOMA galleries and viewing more than 80 artworks, many of them massive, it seems like Mitchell as much pursued painting as if it held some cure, or at least salve. “Like cures like,” as the homeopathic principle goes. If painting was her sickness, it was also her salvation.

Co-curated by Sarah Roberts at SFMOMA and Katy Siegel at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Joan Mitchell seeks to tell the story of Mitchell’s art as completely as possible, without the biographical preoccupations familiar to most exhibitions centering women artists of the past. With a team of seven researchers, Roberts and Siegel took nearly three years to consider more than 500 paintings across the United States and Europe. The result is a show that goes beyond greatest hits to include rarely seen transitional works, sketchbooks, films, photographs, letters, and even some personal effects, like brushes, pastels, and tubes of paint. That said, Mitchell’s work is mostly left to speak for itself.

Joan Mitchell in her studio at 77 rue Daguerre, Paris (1956) (photo by Loomis Dean/yhe LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock)

And yet it’s hard to separate Mitchell’s art from her biography. She spent most of her life preoccupied with art, and unlike most abstract painters associated with the New York School, made work directly inspired by people and places she encountered. She started young. Around age 11, her father had told her she had to choose between painting and poetry. She chose painting, but had already published in Poetry magazine, where her mother had been an associate editor. Mitchell also took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago from an early age, where she favored the French galleries. The influence of van Gogh and Monet are evident in her colors, titles (several reference sunflowers), and maybe even in her choice to spend the last 25 years her life in the French village of Vétheuil, where Monet had also lived.

In her celebrated book, Ninth Street Women, Mary Gabriel quotes Mitchell saying of her time in New York that all she heard from dealers then was, “Oh Joan, if only you weren’t American and a woman, I would give you a show.” Likely true, but Mitchell was also a woman familiar with achievement. In addition to publishing poetry while still in grade school, she competed at the US Figure Skating Championships as a teenager, when she was called the “Figure Skating Queen of the Midwest.” By 1951, in her mid-20s, she had work in the pivotal Ninth Street Show that helped establish Abstract Expressionism and the New York School as the white-hot center of the art world. But by then, Mitchell had already spent time living and working in Paris, and in 1959 would decamp there to live in France mostly full-time for the rest of her life.

The paintings she made in France — rarely seen in the United States — and especially those of the ’70s and ’80s, reveal how much Mitchell added to the language of Abstract Expressionism, making it her own by retooling it, ignoring the “rules” (as declared by critics like Clement Greenberg), and going her own way. Her way was monumental (reminiscent of French Academic history painting), brilliantly engaged with color and with the world, especially landscape — a retardataire attachment that countered the dictates of most American abstraction.

Joan Mitchell at the San Francisco Museum of Art (photo by Adam Jacobs, image courtesy SFMOMA)

Mitchell was a contrarian at heart (“Clement Greenberg said there should never be a central image, so I decided to make one”), and it’s hard not to love her for it. Friends and writers have often relayed examples of Mitchell’s prickliness, even rage (though given the world she navigated that seems fair enough), as well as her struggles with alcohol and depression. But, to quote Peter Schjeldahl, who has shared his own accounts, “The mission of Mitchell’s animus was to get her out of situations that threatened her freedom.” She did what she had to do, and it gained her a lot. I’m tempted to say it gained her everything.

In speaking with the press, Roberts and Siegel used surprising superlatives, calling Mitchell “the best” of the Abstract Expressionists, first or second generation, and “the equal of de Kooning.” It is, as they admitted, “not a very subtle point,” but even so, after seeing the exhibition, point taken.

So many of the paintings at SFMOMA do seem to me truly great, a hugely suspect word, but I don’t know how else to convey how stunning, beautiful, moving, and vivifying this work is. I might be persuaded that scale is the secret to these paintings’ power — “Ode to Joy (A Poem By Frank O’Hara)” (1970-71) is over nine feet by 16 feet, for example — but the sketchbooks on display are knockouts, too. So, it’s not just about scale, but also color, gesture, balance, and, well, everything. Mitchell’s use of violets, pinks, yellows, golds, and certain greens all feel unfamiliar in the palette of the 20th century, hearkening back to 19th-century canvases rife with observed life, nature and landscape, of painting en plein air.

Joan Mitchell, “Ode to Joy (A Poem by Frank O’Hara)” (1970–71) (University at Buffalo Art Galleries, gift of Rebecca Anderson, © Estate of Joan Mitchell, photo by Biff Henrich, ING_INK, Buffalo, New York)

Mitchell’s paintings don’t come across faithfully in reproduction. Her colors, especially the shades of lilac and white, do not come through well. And then, yes, there is scale again. You enter many of the works physically, moving across the canvas with your eyes and with your whole self. I often found myself backing up to take in these enormous paintings, but they can’t be fully apprehended from one position.

Just one example is “Salut Tom” (1979), a memoriam to her friend, the critic Thomas B. Hess who had recently died unexpectedly. It’s a quadriptych over nine feet by 26 feet with citrus yellow suspended above shades of green, white, pale blue, and patches of black. Moving and massive, in my notes I wrote, “a Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in paint.” There is something classical about Mitchell’s work, something verging on the timeless. Aristotle said that, “Beauty depends on magnitude and order.” Mitchell’s work has both in spades, and pairing her large canvases as diptychs, triptychs, and even quadriptychs seems meaningful. They are altarpieces in her religion of painting.

Joan Mitchell continues at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (151 3rd Street, San Francisco) through January 17, 2022. The exhibition is curated by Sarah Roberts at SFMOMA and Katy Siegel at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

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New Anthony Fauci Documentary Shows Why His Hero Image Is Flawed

Over the course of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the United States, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci became a focal point of the #Resistance set. His apparent compassion, measuredness, and insistence on adhering to basic science stood in stark contrast to the general response by the government under the Trump administration marked by callousness, incompetence, and a deference to business interests and the demands of crybabies who didn’t want to wear masks instead of caring for public safety. The new documentary Fauci, produced quickly because of his unlikely meme status and following him over the course of his pandemic response, is the latest addition to the general wave of media adulation. But does Fauci truly deserve the heroic aura bestowed upon him? While he certainly looks good in comparison to Trump, that’s a low bar, and we’ve seen the danger in latching onto public figures just because they stand in opposition to the widely hated (now-former) president.

Sam Adler-Bell has already done a great deal of work making the case against deifying Fauci. Examining both his response to COVID-19 as director of NIAID and his actions with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) during the height of the AIDS crisis, Adler-Bell identifies in Fauci a troubling pattern of exercising too much caution in order to curry political favor rather than rock the boat of the establishment, no matter how badly things may need to be rocked — like, say, during a pandemic. This is readily apparent from how he told people that “there’s no reason to be walking around with a mask” in March 2020 — a stance he of course reversed later. A tremendous amount of public hatred for Fauci is in obvious bad faith, generated by Trump’s petty sniping, the right-wing media machine, and Facebook groups for people whose children no longer speak to them. But some of the distrust of him is understandable, stemming from these kinds of disastrous inconsistencies in messaging. In general, the conception of him as an oppositional figure to Trump is strange, since at the end of the day he’s part of the government and thus shares some portion of the blame (certainly not the greater share of it, but still) for the numerous flaws in the US COVID response.

From Fauci

It’s tough to tell which image of Fauci emerged first from the mainstream media’s all-or-nothing polarization between the conservative outrage machine and the centrist/liberal networks. Did liberals adulate him, causing reactionaries to hate him out of spite? Or did liberals mass to his defense because of the chants of “Fire Fauci!” at Trump rallies? Things happen so quickly now that both phenomena almost seem to have manifested simultaneously, as if social media has trained us to instinctively sort out who belongs to which faction as soon as they become important. In such an environment, nuance is left behind.

Fauci is a great case study for this topic. Due to his status in the NIH during AIDS, there’s an extensive archive of news pieces featuring him, and he appears as a character in the 2012 historical documentary How to Survive a Plague, which covers AIDS activism in the ’80s and ’90s. (I would highly recommend that film, by the way. It makes terrific use of archival materials and thrums with righteous energy.) Contrast how Fauci portrays him with that earlier film, made before anyone got the memo that he’s supposed to be hero. Fauci was a frequent target of ACT UP protestors, who perceived him as holding up AIDS research and new drugs and treatments. Larry Kramer, never one to mince words, went so far as to call him a murderer at one point. The two actually later became friends, but that was only after Fauci was pushed by these protests to speed up clinical trials and allow other progress to happen.

From How to Survive a Plague (2012), dir. David France (screenshot by Hyperallergic)

In this story, Fauci, while not malicious, obviously has an antagonistic role, and all credit should go to the activists for swaying him to take more action. Incredibly, Fauci instead frames these events as if he is the protagonist, as if giving in to external demands is somehow a heroic act. Notably, Fauci is an incidental character in How to Survive a Plague, appearing mainly in two sequences (I had to rewatch the film to confirm that he was in it). To people suffering from AIDS, he was but one face among many in a government that would have preferred to let them die. Of course this biography would put him front and center (and he was undeniably important in AIDS research), but the difference in optics between these two films is stark.

While Fauci indeed deserves credit for not being swayed by homophobia and being the one high-ranking official willing to meet with ACT UP, Fauci is nonetheless in an odd place, having to posit his fundamentally reactive and defensive role in the political fight over AIDS as somehow proactive. If you want to understand why this can’t always work, look no further than the fact that in drawing parallels between past and present (sometimes with split screens), the film makes the unintended but risible suggestion that ACT UP protestors are comparable to contemporary anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers. The same problem applies to how the film follows him during COVID. While he seems to generally be a competent doctor and by all appearances is sincere in his desire to do best by the public, directors John Hoffman and Janet Tobias leave little room to discuss his failures. One science journalist is allowed to say that he was wrong to tell people not to wear masks early in the pandemic, and then this issue is never raised again. Caught in the false binary between warring media images of its subject, the documentary picks a side instead of honestly examining him. Fauci is not quite a hagiography, but it comes close.

Fauci is now available to stream on Disney+.

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Mourning a Tree That Has Lain Down

The story behind the piece “Fallen” (2021) by Jean Shin is that a hemlock tree, now horizontal, cut from its roots, and suspended above the ground by two boulders, was going to die anyway. The groundskeeping team at the Olana State Historic Site couldn’t heal it. Because of the tree’s size it was feared that in the upcoming winter storms it might fall and damage the nearby main house. Shin determined to commemorate this one death that stands in for many.

The ongoing pandemic has felled hundreds of thousands of people, their lungs ravaged by a virus they couldn’t see, borne on the air we must breathe. Many of these people (including my grandfather) were buried hurriedly, without the presence of family to wave them on with loving rituals from this shore to the next. They did not have the benefit of being properly mourned, held, and released. So Shin gave this ritual gentleness to a tree.

She coordinated with the state’s parks department to salvage the trunk and bark after they had cut it down. Working with William Coleman, the director of collections and exhibitions, Shin reenacted the stripping of the bark and then, using leather (which they term “dead stock”) sourced from fashion houses and the upholstery industry, she clothed it in that animal skin riveted together to form a funeral shroud. Her plan is to convene a later gathering during which they will cremate the tree so it returns to the wind and land from which it came. Thus, that body will be completely at rest.

The poet Sylvia Plath wondered what it might be like to be a tree in the poem “I am Vertical”:

But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one’s longevity and the other’s daring.

Jean Shin’s “Fallen” bids goodbye to that longevity, mourns it, so that we might let it go, so that we might face our own sudden fragility. And in letting go we look to a March yet to come when we might gleam into leaf again.

“Fallen” by Jean Shin is located on the east lawn at the Olana State Historic Site (Hudson, NY) through October 31.

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During the Pandemic, a Paper Artist Learned to Make Endangered Species Pop

Amid India’s second COVID-19 wave, a paper-cut artist from Chennai sought solace in the medium of paper pop-ups. The result was My Friends Are Missing, a stunning handmade paper-cut pop-up book by artist and design researcher Keerthana Ramesh that features 30 critically endangered species from around the world.

Ramesh’s relationship with paper has unfolded over the years. As a child, she loved making cards and paper crafts for friends and family. By 15, she was making intricate cut-paper patterns. But in college, she found herself studying graphic design and moving to digital art. “It always made me feel uneasy. I’ve always felt most comfortable with analog, handmade and handcrafted tools.” She pursued UI/UX, illustration, and graphic design for the next few years, but her love of the handmade never went away. 

It was during her Masters in Social Justice and Design at Maryland Institute College of Art that she found her way back to paper. She took an elective course on paper-cut art and fell right back in love. “I finally felt I’d found something I’d been itching for since I was a teenager. People always consider paper art to be a hobby. But for me, paper is part of my artistic expression.”

Keerthana Ramesh, My Friends Are Missing (2021)

For one of her assignments, Ramesh documented the timeline and history of pop-ups through pop-ups. “It was an unnecessary amount of work and my first time with the medium but I was floored. Pop-ups are essentially flat pieces of paper … but when you open it out, it turns into a 3D sculpture with movement and animation. I wanted to become an animator when I was a child. But in college, I realized I can’t spend 20 hours making 30,000 drawings for a 2-second clip. It’s too much hard work. With pop-ups, it was nice to incorporate motion into something that can be folded into a book and put away!” 

During the second lockdown in India, Ramesh felt the need to start a personal project to keep herself sane. “I decided to finally learn how to make pop-ups. It’s hard to learn it from books because they don’t really show you how the page is supposed to move. Some successful pop-up artists had started making videos explaining their process. So I watched a lot of those videos, diligently and religiously studying them like I was going to take an exam on them.” 

Two artists she kept returning to were Matthew Reinhart and Duncan Birmingham. Reinhart is a celebrated pop-up designer and paper engineer, who has made books for Game of Thrones, as well as the Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises, among others. Birmingham has written books on pop-ups and makes YouTube videos breaking down their mechanisms. 

Keerthana Ramesh, My Friends Are Missing (2021)

The learning process ignited a fire in Ramesh. Around the same time, an art nonprofit art called One Million One Month (1M1M) had started its annual art challenge, in which artists were invited to visualize 30 critically endangered species of flora and fauna to raise awareness about the endangered species. 

Being a nature lover, Ramesh plunged into the 30-day challenge between April and May 2021. “It seemed like the perfect time frame to explore pop-ups every single day and learn at a rapid pace. It was a really difficult commitment because pop-ups are quite hard and there’s a lot of trial and error and prototyping involved,” she says. She initially took up to seven hours a day to make one pop-up but was down to four by the end.

The first step involved researching each species, about half of which are not well documented. “I’d go to YouTube and see how they move and behave to inform the movement I wanted to incorporate. I had a turtle that swims, a woodpecker that pecks, a rat that burrows inside land. For the other 50 percent, nobody knows much about them in terms of behaviors and characteristics. So for those, I tried to focus on just learning a different mechanism that I hadn’t tried before and making a structural or illustrative piece.”

Keerthana Ramesh, My Friends Are Missing (2021)

Ramesh then made sketches to see which movement would work best. The prototyping took the longest, as she figured out how each movement would work. Next came the daunting part of actually taking apart the prototype. “I had to trace over and cut out each of those pieces for the final version to make sure I got the size and proportion right. If I was even a centimeter off, either the pop-up wouldn’t work or the pieces could fall out.” The final step was reassembling it all over again. “Sometimes, it worked in the prototype but when it came to the final piece, the paper would have different friction, weight, and thickness and it wouldn’t work,” she shares. 

Within a month, an incredible array of flora and fauna found a place in the book: bats flying, wild horses running, a parrot peeking out of paper trees, mushrooms growing, a crocodile opening and closing its jaw, magnolia blooming, fish swimming in and out of coral, a hopping frog sticking out its tongue. Slowly and steadily, she learned the art of pop-ups and by the end of the month, she had compiled all 30 creations into one cohesive book. 

Keerthana Ramesh, My Friends Are Missing (2021)

Ramesh says, “I think my biggest takeaway is that 95- to 97-percent precision is enough. I’ve always tried to make everything 100-percent precise and that is incredibly hard to do. Especially with a medium like pop-ups because paper moves however it wants. Another takeaway is that suggestions and abstractions are enough. Like my crab looks more like a box than a crab. But because of the snapping arm movement, everyone understands it’s a crab.”

While Ramesh hunts for a full-fledged pop-up publisher to make a smaller version of the book, she’s been delighted to see the response to My Friends Are Missing. “Every time I show someone the book, regardless of their age or level of art enthusiasm, they get excited to see the pop-ups come alive. There’s a spark of joy I see on people’s faces, which is worth all the effort. It’s also an educational opportunity because while these are cute and beautiful, the context that these are endangered species makes one sit up and take notice.”

How does it feel to finish such a mammoth quarantine project? “I still can’t believe I did it in 30 days. My room was a river of confetti during the project and the entire undertaking was a big learning curve. It’s given me the push to experiment more with the medium! I can’t wait to see what comes next.”

Keerthana Ramesh, My Friends Are Missing (2021) Keerthana Ramesh, My Friends Are Missing (2021) Keerthana Ramesh, My Friends Are Missing (2021) Keerthana Ramesh, My Friends Are Missing (2021) Keerthana Ramesh, My Friends Are Missing (2021) Keerthana Ramesh, My Friends Are Missing (2021)

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This Website Helps You Write to Your Representatives About Native Mascots in Your State

From fashion design to athletics, the appropriation of Native American cultural symbols is pervasive throughout the US. According to #PeopleNotMascots, a digital resource bringing attention to the detrimental misappropriation of Indigenous-inspired symbols in the US educational system, one in 26 secondary schools nationwide brandish a Native American mascot; in North Dakota, the number climbs to one in 15.

Recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Diné Tiktoker and crochet artist Lily (@sheshortnbrown) spread the word about the resource for identifying and protesting these mascots in your area. The website allows site visitors to search mascots appropriating Indigenous symbols in their state, also offering a template letter addressed to state legislators “to demand that they eliminate Native mascots within your state.”

@sheshortnbrown

resource in bio and i’ll name it in the comment section ! ##indigenous ##indigenousday ##indigenouspeoplesday

♬ original sound – lily

For decades, Indigenous activists have lambasted the common trend of schools, sports teams, and other organizations appropriating Native American symbols as mascots. The usage of Native mascots is a pervasive issue. Debates around the appropriation of these images have been most visible in the realm of athletics, with several sports teams in recent years conceding to decades of protests and agreeing to change their names, including the Cleveland Indians.

Currently, just Washington, Maine, and Colorado have banned the use of Native mascots. The letter encourages lawmakers to follow in the footsteps of these states, stating: “Historically, Natives have not been treated as human beings. This has been seen through the atrocities such as residential schools, the Long Walk, the Trail of Tears, and mass genocide through colonization, and now Native mascots.”

According to the letter, “Native children that are overly exposed to racist stereotypes are more likely to have lower self-esteem, distance themselves from their culture, have a lower belief in personal achievement, and worsen mood.”

“Native people are not caricatures,” the letter beseeches. “Native people are not a monolith, they are diverse in customs and values. […] By bringing forth a bill alongside the aforementioned states, tax-payer’s funds will no longer be used to propagate harmful and dehumanizing depictions of Indigenous people — a vital step in reckoning with our nation’s past.”

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Minneapolis College of Art and Design Launches Online Master’s Degree in Creative Leadership

Are you motivated to bring transformational change to your organization and community? Are you looking to take your career to the next level?

Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) has launched a new online Master’s of Creative Leadership program, which will welcome its first cohort in summer 2022. With a focus on leading-edge organizational practices, the program cultivates empathetic, adaptive leaders who have the courage to ask bold questions, take educated risks, embrace diverse ideas, and collaborate with others around a shared purpose.

“This powerful graduate program will foster a creative journey of imagining, action, and reflection, preparing creative leaders to embrace ambiguity and imagine wholly new possibilities that are too often thwarted by conventional leadership paradigms,” said Diane Ragsdale, Director of the MA in Creative Leadership and Scholar and Faculty in Creative Leadership. “Different from a traditional MBA or Executive Leadership Program, it will educate students to challenge current structures of financial and social inequality and traditional hierarchical modes of leadership. Students will learn new forms and methods of leadership that embrace the whole person and a diversity of experience.”

Whether your background is in non-profits, cultural organizations, corporations, start-ups, government sectors, or other fields, you will learn how to lead more effectively within a dynamic, complex world. The online format, which incorporates residential weeks at the beginning and end of the program, provides maximum flexibility and accessibility while emphasizing the importance of building a strong network of peers in each cohort.

The Master’s in Creative Leadership complements MCAD’s existing graduate programs, which include Master of Fine Arts in Visual Arts, Master of Arts in Graphic and Web Design, and Master of Arts in Sustainable Design.

For more information on the Master’s in Creative Leadership program and its application requirements, visit mcad.edu.

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Between Wounds and Folds: Suspended Cow Carcasses and Tree Stumps Reveal Layers of Discarded Fabric by Tamara Kostianovsky

Photo © Etienne Frossard. All images courtesy the artist, shared with permission.

Working with the tattered remnants of consumer culture, artist Tamara Kostianovsky (previously) asks us to question the origins, process, and disastrous results of our seemingly unquenchable desire to buy and waste. Four distinct bodies of the artist’s work spanning fifteen years have been gathered at Smack Mellon in DUMBO, Brooklyn to form Between Wounds and Folds. The textile ecosystem of cow carcasses harboring new life, vibrantly hued cross-sections of trees, and colorful birds of prey, are constructed from repurposed fabrics and discarded textiles. In this final state, the soft pieces function as an echo of their concealed beginnings. Smack Mellon shares in a statement:

Through alternating softness and aggression, her installations identify the nuances of violence that exist between a personal encounter and its normalization on a social and ecological level. Kostianovsky’s work asks for a re-imagination of human rights and environmental redemption models in order to consider the resultant violence as part of a larger, inseparable system.

Between Wounds and Folds is on view until October 31, and you can explore more of the Brooklyn-based artist’s work on Instagram.

 

Photo © J.C. Cancedda

Photo © Roni Mocan

Photo © Etienne Frossard

Photo © J.C. Cancedda

Photo © Etienne Frossard

Photo © J.C. Cancedda

Photo © J.C. Cancedda

Photo © J.C. Cancedda

The artist in her studio © J.C. Cancedda

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The California Studio at UC Davis Is Accepting Applications for Artists in Residence

The Department of Art and Art History at the University of California, Davis invites applications for Teaching Artists-in-Residence in the California Studio. We are looking for artists in all disciplines, traditional and non-traditional, who are passionate about their research and eager to incorporate the vast resources of the university into the classroom. Visiting artists will teach an upper-division art studio class and a graduate seminar, deliver a public lecture, and further their creative work and/or research while on campus.

Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem’s visionary gift provides funding for a generous salary and benefits, as well as travel and academic creative enrichment funds. Visiting artists will be given a studio space and the opportunity to further develop their art practice in the community of students, other visiting artists, and faculty members.

The Department of Art and Art History’s mission is to cultivate curiosity and sustain the courage to embrace the unknown through art. We are committed to creating an equitable, hospitable and inclusive educational environment, and candidates with diverse viewpoints, backgrounds, and experiences are encouraged to apply.

Applicants must have a minimum of three years of teaching experience at the university level beyond TA or AI appointments. Candidates are required to have an MFA or equivalent professional experience, a well-developed portfolio in their area of specialization, and an exhibition record that is national and/or international in scope. They should be conversant in contemporary art issues and studio practices, and enthusiastic about teaching in a diverse, multicultural setting.

The dates for this appointment are fall 2022 or spring 2023. Fall quarter begins September 19, 2022, and concludes December 9, 2022. Spring quarter begins March 30, 2023, and concludes June 15, 2023. Applicants must specify the quarter to which they are applying. Applications are due November 5 at midnight (PT).

To learn more and apply, visit recruit.ucdavis.edu.

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Artsper Is the Online Art Collector’s Best-Kept Secret

Artwork by Luciano Cian, “Kuhle #4” (2021). All images by Artsper

The online art market boomed during the pandemic, and there’s no sign of it slowing down anytime soon. As people adjust to spending more of the workday at home, the need for art and access to an art collection becomes more apparent. That’s where online art buying comes in.

While there are many places to find art online, it’s hard to know what’s authentic and where to invest your money. That’s why so many collectors use Artsper.

Artsper is an online platform that connects art galleries to a global audience. Rather than buying mass-produced artworks from a warehouse, Artsper allows collectors to buy original pieces directly from galleries, thereby supporting their artists. With an intensive approval process and trusted gallery partnerships, the platform verifies that collectors are not only getting the real thing but are doing so at a great price.

The diverse range of art available online is another reason people have turned to buying digitally. Artsper offers over 170,000 artworks from more than 1,800 of the world’s leading galleries, so there’s something for everyone’s taste. Whether you prefer sculpture, photography, paintings, or prints, you can find any medium without limits when collecting online.

While it may at first seem difficult to narrow down your choices with this many options, those who are new to collecting will be reassured to hear that Artsper offers free art advisory, lifestyle and interior design interviews, articles on art market trends, and themed collections to help build inspiration. For example, if you’re a fan of minimalist interior design, you can discover Scandinavian styles, stunning landscapes, and so much more from blue-chip artists, all at your fingertips. Explore Artsper’s expertly curated selection of artworks to find the next great piece for your home.

Art collecting online has changed the game for art lovers. Gone are the days of exhibition exclusivity; on Artsper, collectors come with budgets ranging from $100 to $100,000. With works from masters like Pablo Picasso and Sophie Calle as well as the newest emerging artists, it’s no wonder collectors rely on the online marketplace to diversify their space.

Ready to see why Artsper is the online art collector’s best-kept secret? Start learning about the art market and collect your next piece at Artsper.com.

 

Artwork by Elitsa Baramo, “Ecstatic” (2020)

Artwork by Daniel Convenant, “Sans titre N°16” (2020)

Artwork by Sylvie Groud, “Arche Idéale” (2015)

Artwork by Felenzi, “Aubrac 2” (2015)

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The Art, Politics, and Craft of Piñatas

LOS ANGELES — If you grew up in and around a Mexican or Mexican-American community, you know that breaking piñatas is a ubiquitous tradition at most celebrations. The scene goes a little something like this: a tio stands on the roof of the house pulling the rope attached to the piñata as dizzy children, with covered eyes, try to hit it with a wooden stick in hopes of being the one to bust it open and collect the most candy. These paper mache structures could be anything from a Disney character to beloved (or hated) figures like Selena and Selena’s murderer Yolanda Saldivar. They’re usually purchased at mercados and, in LA’s case, the piñata district in downtown. As a child, it’s cathartic being allowed to destroy something, and of course, the sweet treats at the end don’t hurt. But beyond a fun activity at parties, piñatas are both a craft and an art form that reflect pop culture and politics. The shape-shifting nature of these items is currently on display at the Craft in America Center in Piñatas: The High Art of Celebration.

Amorette Crespo, “Selena” (2021)

Traditional piñata makers and artists recontextualize the art form and present a wide array of figures from COVID-19 vaccine piñatas to cheeky interpretations of abstract art like Roberto Benavidez’s Piñathko series, an ode to Rothko. Benavidez’s talent is most poignantly displayed through his series of fantastical animals reminiscent of Mexican alebrijes which have a colorful luminescent quality by way of an intricately cut and applied mix of metallic and tissue paper. 

While piñatas have long been used as a form of practical social commentary (think the proliferation of Donald Trump piñatas during his presidency), Giovanni Valderas takes it a step further through site-specific placements of piñatas in the shape of sad-faced houses — a comment on gentrification and the displacement of Latinx communities. Diana Benavidez engages the US–Mexico border through the series Vehiculos Transfronterizos; motorized piñata cars carry messages like “Border Crosser” and “La Pinche Migra.”

Diana Benavidez, “Border Crosser and La Pinche Migra,” from Vehículos Transfronterizos series (2019)

I was reminded of cherished childhood memories when walking through the exhibit, and in my head I couldn’t help but hear the tune we used to sing in unison as each person got their turn hitting the piñata: “dale dale, dale, dale, no pierdas el tino, porque si lo pierdes, pierdes el camino. Ya le diste una, Ya le diste dos, Ya le diste tres, Y tu tiempo se acabó.”

Left to right: Francisco Palomares, “Agarrate Papa” (2020), Amorette Crespo, “Zoom Laptop” (2021), Giovanni Valderas, “Casita Triste (sad little house)” (2017), Mari Carson, “Uterus Piñata” (2021), Amorette Crespo, “Selena” (2021)Ana Serrano, “Piñatitas” (2012)Isaias Rodriguez, “resilience” (2021)Roberto Benavidez, “Illuminated Piñata No. 5” (2017)Roberto Benavidez, “Javelina Girl (Illuminated Piñata No.14)” (2019)Amazing Piñatas, “Alebrije” (2021)Roberto Benavidez, Piñathko, left to right: No. 25, 20, 30, 26, 19, 16, 25, 18, 17, 2, 24, 22 (all 2015)Roberto Benavidez, “Illuminated Hybrid No. 3” (2019)Lisbeth Palacios, “COVID Vaccine” (2021)

Piñatas: The High Art of Celebration continues at Craft in America Center (8415 West 3rd Street, Beverly Grove, Los Angeles) through December 4. The exhibition is curated by Emily Zaiden.

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Jim Jarmusch’s Forays Into Collage

All images from SOME COLLAGES by Jim Jarmusch (courtesy the artist and Anthology Editions)

Movie-making is a highly collaborative form, with individual contributors on every level adding up to a final product that is often associated with a few key figures. While directors are often associated with the aesthetics of their films — and naturally play a huge part in their determination — their oeuvre encompasses a vast multiplicity of visions. That’s why it’s interesting when director Jim Jarmusch, the maestro of casual dystopia, makes something all on his own; it’s the rare opportunity to identify the singular perspective of a filmmaker.

SOME COLLAGES by Jim JarmuschSOME COLLAGES by Jim JarmuschSOME COLLAGES by Jim JarmuschSOME COLLAGES by Jim JarmuschSOME COLLAGES by Jim Jarmusch

SOME COLLAGES (Anthology Editions, 2021) is, as the title suggests, a series of collage works — diminutive pieces with subjects excised from newsprint and presented on brown cardstock backgrounds. There is a corresponding solo show of the original work at James Fuentes Gallery, New York, on until October 31, but the book aptly captures each discrete little tableaux. In fact, it offers the opportunity to pull them close and examine them in more depth.

What can we divine from SOME COLLAGES about Jarmusch in the singular, comparing these aesthetics to those of his long film career, which includes Stranger than Paradise (1984), Down By Law (1986), Dead Man (1999), Broken Flowers (2005) and Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)? An eye firmly fixed on the minutia of the everyday, for one, and the power to twist a symbol with the smallest intervention. Jarmusch’s go-to alteration is removing the original face or head and its replacement with another visage, often identifiable from pop culture or art history, sometimes animal. So too, there are moments where the head-space is filled by a little gasp of newsprint — specifically chosen or from the page beneath, it is unclear — but throughout the works presented, the juxtapositions are inescapably Jarmuschian. The word “Auschwitz” is framed in the empty face of a Pope surrounded by adoring nuns; a cheetah-headed woman leans reflectively against a railing; Warhols, Warhols everywhere.

SOME COLLAGES by Jim JarmuschSOME COLLAGES by Jim JarmuschSOME COLLAGES by Jim Jarmusch

Would SOME COLLAGES, Jarmusch’s first collection of collage works, be quite so much fun if it weren’t swirling in the wake of his existing legacy? It’s hard to say. But for fans of the films, it holds the same kind of sly humor, quiet dread, and concise observations on the banality and startling contrast of everyday life that have drawn a cult following to his film work. Ultimately, there are some unexpected surprises when you get Jim Jarmusch on his own — not to mention far, far less smoking than you’d imagine. 

SOME COLLAGES by Jim Jarmusch

SOME COLLAGES (Anthology Editions, 2021) is available from Anthology Editions. SOME COLLAGES is on display at James Fuentes Gallery, New York through October 31, 2021.

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Sale of African American Art, Benefitting Philly Archives, Broke Auction House Records

An auction of African American Art at Swann Galleries on Thursday, October 7 totaled $5.1 million, making it the highest grossing sale in the company’s history. Twenty-four lots, including a record-breaking work by Afro-Cuban artist Belkis Ayón, were offered to benefit the Brandywine Workshop and Archives in Philadelphia. Founded in 1972 as a collective of artists and art teachers in the predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhood of Spring Garden, the iconic printmaking institution was among the first to support Ayón’s work in the US and helped shape the careers of several artists in the sale.

Belkis Ayón, “Temores Infundados” (1997), collagraph on paper

Ayón’s 1997 collagraph print “Temores Infundados” — “Unfounded Fears” — sold for $75,000 including premium, the highest price achieved by the artist. Artist records were also set elsewhere in the auction, for Camille Billops and Elizabeth Catlett. Most of the lots benefiting Brandywine surpassed their pre-auction estimates, together raising nearly $200,000 to build the nonprofit’s first endowment.

Prints by artists who completed residencies or produced work at Brandywine were among the standouts. Samella Lewis’s color lithograph “Together We Stand,” printed by the workshop in 1997, features a line of poetry by Maya Angelou; the unique artist’s proof is also signed and inscribed “Joy!” by Angelou herself. Some works were consigned directly from the personal collection of the organization’s co-founders, Allan and Anne Edmunds, such as Emma Amos’s dazzling silk aquatint “How Time Flies” (2004) and Benny Andrews’s screenprint “Untitled (Brown vs. Board of Education)” (2004).

Richard Mayhew, “Serenade” (2008), color lithograph

Brandywine hopes to raise $5 million over the next five years, with a fundraising goal of $1 million by next fall, the workshop’s 50th anniversary. For the Swann sale, $200,000 was the target.

Elizabeth Catlett, “Blues” (1983), color offset lithograph

“The funds raised at yesterday’s auction at Swann Galleries in New York City was a very successful first step in our efforts to build an endowment at Brandywine that will help fund key staff positions and endow the visiting artists in residence program,” Allan Edmunds told Hyperallergic.

“We are delighted that artists, artist estates, and art collectors are participating by donating works or a percentage of their sales to auctions we are planning along with other strategies to involve our networks of supporters and institutions in this effort,” he added.

The top lot in the overall sale, Hale Woodruff’s “Carnival” (1958) — sold for $665,000 — was the artist’s largest abstract canvas to come under the hammer and had not been seen publicly in over 70 years. Elizabeth Catlett’s carved limestone sculpture “Head” (1943) fetched $485,000, nearly doubling its high estimate. The 13-by-9-inch bust is one of the few known stone pieces made artist, who emigrated to Mexico and rose to prominence for her poignant works centering the Black female experience. A different work by Catlett in the sale, a lithograph titled “Blues” printed and published by Brandywine in 1983, was sold to support the organization’s legacy endowment campaign.

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Two Art Installations at Elmhurst Hospital Memorialize the COVID-19 Pandemic

In March of 2020, when New York was leading the country in COVID-19 infections, Elmhurst Hospital in Queens was dismally dubbed the epicenter of the epicenter” of the pandemic in the US. Overrun with ill patients, the hospital’s staff was stretched beyond capacity and exposed to disease as they lacked an adequate supply of protective gear. Most gruesomely, refrigerated trailers had to be used as a makeshift morgue because the hospital couldn’t contain the mounting numbers of dead patients. These are not distant memories for Elmurhut’s staff, who continue to grapple with the ongoing pandemic.

Two outdoor exhibitions were recently installed at the hospital to honor the work and sacrifice of its staff and raise funds for the institution. One is a portrait series organized by Pictures for Elmhurst, which previously launched a fundraiser benefitting the hospital, and the other is a light installation by Women in Lighting+Design, which also pays tribute to COVID-19 and cancer patients.

The installation Art Is Healing by Pictures for Elmhurst at Frank D. O’Connor Playground on Broadway at 78th Street in Queens, New York (photo by Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)

Pictures for Elmhurst is a fundraiser formed by a group of New York-based photographers. It was first launched in April of last year at the height of the pandemic in the city, and raised $1.38 million for the hospital with a 10-day print sale. The proceeds went towards purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators, which were scarce at the time. On September 22, 2021, the group debuted the second iteration of the project, Art is Healing. The outdoor display features 31 portraits of Elmhurst staff taken by the photographer Camila Falquez alongside 33 photographs from the original fundraiser. The portraits are displayed over fencing at a playground facing the hospital on Broadway at 78th Street, and also at Elmhurst’s 41st Avenue location in Queens. They are visible to anyone coming in or out of the hospital or passing by.

The installation features 31 portraits of Elmhurst staff by photographer Camila Falquez (photo by Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)

“COVID continues to take a toll on front-line staff and the community, yet we come in every day willing to make a difference and save as many lives as we can,” said Mamie McIndoe of Elmhurst’s Care Experience department in a statement. “Camila captured the essence of not only who we are, but what we do. May art continue to prevail and aid in our collective healing.”

Members of Women in Lighting+Design assembling the installation Light for Life on September 29, 2021 (photo by Hakim Bishara/Hyperallergic)Light for Life debuted on October 4 on Elmhurst hospital’s front facade (courtesy Women in Lighting+Design)

Meanwhile, located on the front facade of the hospital is the installation Light for Life, featuring color-changing light bulbs illuminating photos of over 600 Elmhurst staff and COVID-19 and breast cancer patients who were treated at the hospital. Many of the photos were taken by photographer Joe Faddie, who documented Elmhurst staff and community members during the pandemic in a project called Hidden Smile.

The 90-foot-long series of panels, installed by Women in Lighting+Design, was organized in collaboration with Paddle for the Cure, an organization that supports breast cancer patients, and the city’s Public Design Commission. It will be on display throughout October, which marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

To support the hospital’s staff and breast cancer patients, the organizers are offering the light bulbs for sale for $5 each. Other suggested sponsorship levels range from $100 to $5,000. The light bulbs also programmed to spell out the names of the photographed individuals starting at 6pm every day. They also display life-affirming messages like “resilience”, “hope”, and “thank you.”

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A History of Motherhood Through Design

Motherhood — that most basic rite of passage upon which the survival of the species depends — should be considered necessitous enough to qualify as the mother of invention. And it very likely does, producing countless brainchildren, but there’s no mainstream design history to prove it.

The Victoria & Albert Museum has an early 20th-century breast pump, but it’s not on display. None of the handful of historic maternity-wear pieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute (including a late-1800s silk burgundy gown with ample belly room) are on view, either. Objects like contraceptives, menstrual products, at-home abortion kits, and baby monitors (including the chic ones designed by sculptor Isamu Noguchi) are central to the system that delivers us all here. But they’re rarely, if ever, studied in design history curricula, let alone exhibited by museums that might retain them.

Ford Motor Company’s “Tot-Guard” (1973) (courtesy the Collections of the Henry Ford Museum)

“Museum collections, fashion and design exhibitions, the mainstream of design scholarship, and many public forums have yet to fully embrace maternity as a topic worthy of serious inquiry,” reads the introduction to Designing Motherhood: Things that Make and Break Our Births (2021). The book aims to fill that void, and accompanies a current exhibition of the same name at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum.

Designing Motherhood has been a project in the works for years, predated by an Instagram account led by design historians Michelle Millar Fisher and Amber Winick that aggregates objects related to maternity. The newly released book includes over 100 objects spanning medical devices to depictions of laboring women in films, and includes contributors from a range of fields and experiences.

Margaret Millar with Silver Cross pram (1982) (courtesy Michelle Millar Fisher)

Leafing through this reproductive smorgasbord is an exercise in saying, “Hey, I had one of those,” or “I’d never do that” (I’m thinking specifically of the saccharine spectacle that is the gender-reveal cake). Anyone who has ever menstruated or ever will menstruate (regardless of whether or not they choose to have a child) can likely find something relatable in its diverse pages.

The book reaches all the way back to a speculum found in the ancient Roman ruins of Pompeii, then returns to the present day with some far-ranging and fascinating objects. It covers the late 19th-century practice of taking posed postmortem daguerreotypes of stillborn babies, who were dressed and placed in sleeping positions, for example. The Finnish Äitiyspakkaus, a cardboard box full of baby items, originally created by modernist designers during the interwar period, is also included as a unique artifact that has become embedded in Finnish culture. (As a special design feature, the box itself functions as a bassinet and has been cited as a reason why Finland has a low rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.)

Woman wearing Sari, Bengaluru (then called Bangalore) India (2006) (photo by and courtesy Philippe McLean)

Designing Motherhood discusses the sari, an iconic Indian dress that is adaptable and takes expanding and contracting bodies into account. And the book covers the design history of home pregnancy tests, a revolutionary invention by New York-based graphic designer Margaret Crane, which radically transferred power from the doctor’s office to the home user and was an important step in granting women more agency in choosing how (and if) to proceed. A prototype of Crane’s patented Predictor, an instantly sought after test released in the late 1960s, was acquired in 2015 by Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (where it is, predictably, not currently on view).

Fisher and Winick said that some of the objects for their exhibition were easier to find than others. Etsy and eBay were frequently the source of treasures, such as a classic Maclaren stroller and an authentic vintage Tassette menstrual cup. Historic personal hygiene products are tricky, given that they’re unlikely to be kept for posterity. “We’d long given up hope that we’d get our hands on one of these so you can imagine the enthusiasm expressed via text and the speed at which we bought this beautiful object,” the Designing Motherhood curatorial team shared with Hyperallergic. “We’re thrilled to put it on display with a few more recent menstrual cup designs.”

Predictor Home Pregnancy Test Kit (1971), designed by Meg Crane (courtesy Brendan McCabe)

Though many think of the menstrual cup as a modern device, it was first conceived in 1867 by American inventor S. L. Hockert, and the first commercially available one was designed in 1935 by former Broadway actress Leona Watson.

Gathering the objects for the Designing Motherhood book and exhibition was clearly a laborious effort, and the end result feels something like an heirloom trunk containing a jumble of things that either look vaguely familiar or curiously foreign. “Motherhood was a field hiding in plain sight,” writes design critic Alexandra Lange in the book’s foreword, “obscured by its own ubiquity and sidelined by everyday sexism.” The curators hope this project will be a corrective design history-in-progress, one that opens the trunk and inspires further study.  

Designing Motherhood: Things that Make and Break Our Births continues at the Mütter Museum (19 South 22nd Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) through May 2022. The exhibition is curated by Michelle Millar Fisher, Amber Winick, Juliana Rowen Barton, Zoë Greggs, and Gabriella Nelson.

The publication, Designing Motherhood: That that Make and Break Our Births by Michelle Millar Fisher and Amber Winick (2021), is published by MIT Press and is available online and in bookstores.

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Looking at Kehinde Wiley and Thomas Gainsborough Side by Side

Kehinde Wiley’s “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman” (2021) (© Kehinde Wiley, collection of the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, and commissioned through Roberts Projects, Los Angeles)

LOS ANGELES — Over the past weekend, I attended a very fancy press preview (complete with chocolate croissants!) at the very fancy Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. The institution, known for its somewhat staid and largely Eurocentric art collection, was unveiling its newest commission to be added to its permanent collection: a portrait by Kehinde Wiley inspired by Thomas Gainsborough’s “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman”(familiarly known as “The Blue Boy”), the new acquisition celebrating the centennial of the Huntington’s purchase of the original painting.

Like many museums of late, the Huntington is working to become more inclusive, engaging in a long-term initiative to invite contemporary artists such as Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Alex Israel, and Monica Majoli to activate its storied collection, in an effort to address the lack of diversity in its canon. It is perhaps no surprise that Wiley’s oeuvre is a favorite among curators seeking to inject new relevance into their collection of European masters, as Wiley’s work (the most famous of which is his portrait of former president Barack Obama) has always functioned in a rather unidirectional philosophy of respectability politics in its objective to insert the Black body into the canon of classical figurative painting. And perhaps like many of you, I was feeling a bit skeptical sitting in a sea of mostly older, mostly white, art-world insiders ooing and aahing over the new addition to the Huntington’s portrait gallery.

Thomas Gainsborough, “The Blue Boy” (ca. 1770), installation view in the Thornton Portrait Gallery at the Huntington (photo by Joshua White, the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens)

Upon taking a closer look, however, I changed my mind. Hung directly across from Gainsborough’s portrait, Wiley’s painting of an anonymous Senegalese man electrifies the room with its palette of shocking purples and oranges, set off against its ornate black matte frame. The figure’s pose is the same as the original, a casual contrapposto with one hand resting on his hip and the other hanging loose to the side, fingers holding onto the edges of his hat. His stance slightly wider, his gaze more confrontational than the Blue Boy’s more demure expression. Like the reference image, Wiley’s version is rendered with extreme technical precision and virtuosity. The only differences are apparently slight: the present-day clothing of the figure, the almost-psychedelic effect of the painting’s saturated hues, its decorative pattern creeping over the foreground. And, of course, the blackness of the figure. Which is to say, the difference is earth-shattering.

Installation view in the Thornton Portrait Gallery at the Huntington. Left to right: Joshua Reynolds, “Diana (Sackville), Viscountess Crosbie” (1777), Kehinde Wiley, “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman” (2021), Thomas Gainsborough, “Elizabeth (Jenks) Beaufoy, later Elizabeth Pycroft” (ca. 1780) (photo by Joshua White, the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens)

By inserting a Black subject into the conventions of traditional portraiture, Wiley asks the viewer to consider who has the right to be the subject of a worthy portrait, or more broadly, a work of art. Whereas Gainsborough intended his portrait to be a tour de force demonstrating his painterly skill — clearly visible in his brushwork depicting the soft blush of the boy’s flushed cheeks, the stiffness of the silk fabric, and the extravagant piles of ruffles and lace — Wiley’s portraits are not about painting. They are about representation. And despite that it is not always enough, representation still matters. As a medium, painting — and one could argue even art— is inherently about representation, and sometimes that’s all we can ask it to do.

Kehinde Wiley’s “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman” will continue at the Thornton Portrait Gallery at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens (1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, Calif.) through January 3, 2022.

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Jerry Saltz Oncoming

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An Exhibition That Helps Us Rethink Our Relationship to Facebook

Presented as a zeitgeisty tech exposition, Software for Less is a solo exhibition by United States artist Ben Grosser which deals with the clash between the predatory culture of large, online companies that are getting more and more profit and political power, and the effects that their exploitative practices have on users of their platforms and devices.

Grosser has been exploring the role of Web-based corporate logic in everyday life and politics for over 10 years now, focusing on how Facebook has radically changed the way we use and think about the Internet. His approach, mocking and bitter at the same time, seems to come directly from a particular moment in the recent history of digital culture. In 2011, Facebook transformed itself from a hugely successful online platform to a gargantuan media juggernaut that has dominated social media this past decade, for better or for worse.

Grosser was part of a small group of artists who, following the tradition of the 1990s net.art, were interested in digital culture as an emanation of codes and languages. “How do social media design and algorithms affect the way we see reality?” is one of the recurring questions in the works of Grosser, who has moved between playing the role of Cassandra, the Trojan priestess of Apollo in Greek mythology whose true and bleak prophecies were not believed, to that of someone who has witnessed the changes he had expected and even inspired.

Exhibition view of Software for Less, at Arebyte Gallery, London

Software for Less is an opportunity to learn more about a perspective on digital technology that combines technical expertise with a certain passion for metalanguage. For example, Grosser’s “Safebook” (2018) is a Web browser plugin that purifies Facebook pages by filtering out texts and images to leave only the interface elements: gray buttons, blue circles, white squares. These design elements lose their primary function and, once released, become geometric shapes with which we interact in a playful and inconsequential way. In a certain sense, it is a utopia of interaction: Without relying on archaic forms of communication such as texts, images, and reactions, we can move freely between galaxies of round balloons, in a space where it seems impossible to meet friction.

Ben Grosser, “Safebook” (2018) (screenshot of website courtesy the artist)

As well as “Safebook”, there are many other works by Grosser in which his interest in cropping and eliminating the content in order to highlight aspects otherwise hidden becomes evident. “Order of Magnitude” (2019) is a supercut of Mark Zuckerberg saying the words “more,” “grow,” and every utterance of a metric such as “two million” or “one billion,” resulting in a hypnotic, albeit alienating experience. The speed with which the words are spoken is reminiscent of the precision of a machine scanning a document for keywords to highlight.

Among Grosser’s most recent works is “Minus” (2021), a finite social network where users get only 100 posts for life. The platform shows how few opportunities they have left instead of how many likes and reshares they have accumulated. The limit imposed on the user presents problems of scarcity in a context — the online world — which has made overabundance a fundamental part of its functioning. By using Minus, our usual interaction with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other traditional platforms must be redefined: What is really worth sharing? What thoughts or events in our life can aspire to be part of the 100 posts we have available on Minus? Scarcity leads to a reassessment of how we experience our life, no longer perpetually prone to being streamed because it is easy to press two buttons and go live, but made of moments that do not perpetually and implicitly ask to be shared with our public.

Exhibition view of Software for Less, at Arebyte Gallery, London

Ultimately, the exhibition doesn’t want to provide answers to the stream of menacing news regarding the increasingly pervasive role of Facebook in the way we express ourselves and communicate with others. Instead, the main aim of the show is to offer a creative, clever perspective on the reasons behind the alienated and addicted relationship we sustain with social media platforms. Ben Grosser has a formidable ability to explore the junctures between the demands of social media’s marketing teams and our social aspirations. His is a consolatory, optimistic point of view that demands that the public take an active role to have a better, less monetized future.

Software for Less continues at Arebyte Gallery (Java House, 7 Botanic Square, London City Island, E14 0LG) through October 23.

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Artificial Neon Lights Illuminate the Idyllic Environments Painted by Artist Gig Chen

“A Good Foundation” (2021), acrylic on wood, 20 x 20 inches. All images © Gigi Chen, shared with permission

In her vibrant, neon-lit paintings, artist Gigi Chen intertwines ornate jewelry, graffiti, and glowing signs emblematic of urban life with foliage, feathers, and wide expanses of sky. Her acrylic pieces center on birds and other small animals in their natural environments with surreal, manufactured additions: a heron cradles a bright pink house on its back, two rabbits peer over a bush at an illuminated parking sign, and an owl carries an old payphone across a glacial landscape.

A lifelong New Yorker, Chen tells Colossal that once her family immigrated to the U.S. from Guangdong, China, when she was eight months old, they didn’t often venture beyond the city’s confines. “The fear of not being able to communicate clearly with strangers was very prevalent growing up, and it really restrained us from doing too much traveling during my early childhood even though my parents could drive,” she says, noting that it wasn’t until an artist residency in Vermont when she was 18 that she found herself interacting with nature. “I realized how small the Big City really is. I was terrified of the pitch blackness, the dense forest, and the dirt and the bugs. But I was totally in love and overwhelmed by how sublime and random nature is.”

These early experiences continue to impact Chen’s work as she confronts lush, forest ecosystems and cloudy sunsets through the lens of city life. “The dichotomy of the neon onto natural subjects like leaves and birds and trees makes for beautiful metaphors about how people relate to the flora and fauna,” she says. “Adding artificial light sources to a natural environment helped me to reimagine and expand the kinds of stories I could tell and broaden how I could convey personal messages.”

 

“Home Away From Home Away From Home” (2021), acrylic on wood, 20 x 24 inches

Many of the animal protagonists embody the artist’s experiences particularly those in her new series Light My Way Home, which is on view through October 24 at Antler Gallery in Portland. The metaphorical works are ruminations on home, family, and the security those two provide, and the pieces often portray the artist and her sisters as red-winged blackbirds with her late mother as the blue heron. “Home Away From Home Away From Home,” which depicts the three smaller birds encircling the other as she flies away, “represents what happened after the death of my mother,” Chen says. “Here, we are seeking the sense of safety and stability that my mother once represented to us and endlessly chasing the Ideal of Home.”

In addition to Light My Way Home, Chen also has paintings available through Stone Sparrow Gallery and Deep Space Gallery, and you can follow her works on Instagram. (via Supersonic Art)

 

“Curiously Illuminated” (2021), acrylic on wood, 16 x 20 inches

“Finding A Spot” (2020), acrylic on wood, 11 x 14 inches

“Three Voices & A Song” (2021), acrylic on wood, 20 x 24 inches

“The Open Pigeon” (2020), acrylic on wood, 5 x 7 inches

“Call Me” (2021), acrylic on wood, 20 x 24 inches

“Lighting The Way” (2021), acrylic on wood, 16 x 20 inches

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Unearthly Anatomical Works Sculpted in Crystal and Glass by Debra Baxter Explore Grief and Loss

“Catch your Breath” (2021), alabaster, bronze, and druzy snow chalcedony, 10 x 10 x 5 inches. All images courtesy of form & concept, shared with permission

Artist and jewelry designer Debra Baxter (previously) explores the endurance of grief, mortality, and human bonds in Love Tears. Comprised of anatomical and figurative sculptures, the multifaceted series blend alabaster, quartz, and wood with delicate glass or metal to create forms that contrast the fragility of the body and natural world with the rugged topographies of crystals and rock.

Simultaneously corporeal and unearthly, the spliced works evoke the Victorian tradition of mourning jewelry, which used various motifs and deep colors as memorials. In “Catch Your Breath,” for example, branch-like veins in bronze sprawl throughout crystalline lungs, while “Love Hard” bisects a smooth, glass heart with spiky quartz. “There’s inevitable pain in every form of love,” Baxter says about the series. “I’m fascinated by the ways in which we decorate this grief and mourning, and I wanted to see how far I could push myself with balancing the immediate, often ornate, demonstration of loss, and my use of permanent materials. This is about loss and legacy.”

Love Tears will be on view at Santa Fe’s form & concept gallery from October 29, 2021, to January 15, 2022, and you can find more of Baxter’s bodily works on Instagram.

 

“Crystal Brass Knuckles (forever)” (2021), sterling silver and quartz, 5 x 4.5 x 2 inches

Left: “Soften the Blow” (2021), walnut and glass, 9.25 x 10 x 7.5 inches. Right: “Tear Jerker” (2021), alabaster and glass, 9 x 6 x 6 inches

“Love Hard” (2020), glass and quartz, 8 x 3 x 3.5 inches

Left: Detail of “Ear to the Ground” (2020), alabaster and glass, 10 x 4 x 3 inches. Right: “See No Evil” (2020), alabaster and green onyx, 12 x 7 x 4 inches

“Holding It Together” (2021), bronze and amethyst, 9 x 16 x 5 inches

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Gowanus Open Studios Is Back With Over 400 Artists, Businesses, and Venues

After taking a year off due to COVID-19, Gowanus Open Studios (GOS) returns stronger than ever for its 25th year. Hosted by Arts Gowanus on the weekend of October 16–17, Gowanus Open Studios is Brooklyn’s biggest celebration of local art and artists. More than 400 artists, businesses, and venues in greater Gowanus will open their doors, giving the public a rare glimpse inside the former factories, warehouses, and studio buildings of this vibrant neighborhood. Artists will be on hand to discuss their work, share their processes, and showcase their latest projects. Partner businesses in the neighborhood will be offering discounts.

In order to keep the creative community strong, vibrant, and connected, Arts Gowanus has included more than 50 artists who had no place to exhibit (many of them lost their spaces in 2020). This year’s open studios will have several locations for these artists; a number of them will be showing at 540 President St.

GOS 2021 features venues and studios from Atlantic Avenue to 23rd Street and from Hicks Street to 7th Avenue. Visitors are welcome to explore these spaces in any order. However, those unsure of where to begin may want to start with some of the biggest studio buildings, each of which boasts dozens of participating artists. From any of these, visitors will be in a good position to stop by smaller studios.

Suggested tours have also been curated by renowned curators, artists, and community leaders, found here at GOS 2021 Self-Guided Tours. An online directory and map offer background on artists as well as a walking guide to the neighborhood. Printed maps will be available at various locations, and signs and balloons will identify each open studio building.

The weekend will culminate in a closing party held at the Gowanus Dredgers Boathouse with music, food, drinks, performances, and a few special surprises. Don’t miss your chance to see the wide range of art being created in this unique and creative neighborhood.

For more information on Gowanus Open Studios 2021, visit artsgowanus.org.

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Marred with Dark Hole Punches, Monochromatic Drawings and Paintings Evoke Depression-Era Negatives

All images courtesy of Hashimoto Contemporary, shared with permission

Nearly a century since it began, the Great Depression is still largely associated with the iconic imagery that’s come to define the era. Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” and Walker Evans’s portrait of the distinctly tight-lipped Allie Mae Burroughs are two foundational shots that establish the period’s visual record, and they accompany the approximately 175,000 photographs also commissioned by the U.S. Farm Security Administration during those years.

While vast in number, this collection is understood today as being limited in scope, particularly in relation to its failure to reflect racial diversity, because the head of the FSA from 1935 to 1941, Roy Stryker, effaced images he felt didn’t align with the agency’s goals. When he wanted to reject a photo and prevent its dissemination, he would mark it with a hole punch, an erasure that Tulsa-based artist Joel Daniel Phillips evokes in his striking series Killing the Negative Pt. 2.

The ongoing project reimagines intimate portraits and wider shots from that period as meticulous graphite and charcoal drawings and oil paintings in shades of red. Monochromatic and ranging from small portraits to life-sized renderings, Phillips’s works complicate the narratives expunged from the historical record by focusing on a wider and more diverse swath of the population. “When the black voids of Roy Stryker’s hole punch are placed front and center, the reality of just how much power that a single, White man had to shape the narrative re-frames and re-defines the entire discussion,” the artist said in an interview about the first part of the project.

Included in Killing the Negative Pt. 2, which runs from October 9 to 20 at Hashimoto Contemporary’s new Los Angeles gallery, are glimpses into both rural and urban life with large-scale paintings of an older farmer, young girl outfitted in a frilly dress, and a panoramic shot of a migrant family and their makeshift living quarters. One smaller work (shown below) recreates a selfie that FSA photographer John Vachon snapped “in a hotel room mirror while on assignment. He took several of these, and apparently, Roy Styker (the head of the FSA) particularly hated this one, since he punched it twice,” the artist writes.

To see more of Killing the Negative, head to Phillips’s site and peek into his process on Instagram.

 

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A Group Exhibition in Iceland Trades Local Character for International Appeal

REYKJAVIK — I first visited Iceland in 1999. I immediately fell in love with this unique island nation, with its remarkable landscape. I have since visited many times and have twice backpacked the renowned Laugavegur trail, which starts at Landmannalaugar, with its hot springs and colorful rhyolite mountains, and continues to otherworldly Þórsmörk in the south. 

I was also riveted by the country’s contemporary art, which wasn’t quite like anything I had encountered. The art scene was much smaller at that time, yet vibrant, with a DIY vibe. With precious little infrastructure to support them, artists were making adventurous, distinctive, intelligent work that was not beholden to art from big foreign countries. 

While diverse, this work had shared characteristics: more understated than flamboyant; more minimalist than maximal, more quiet than loud. Most of the artists were extremely sensitive and precise with materials. While often austere, the artworks were spirited and lively. Sometimes they were funny — ironic, with an absurdist streak. 

I noted how much of Iceland was in these works, as a subject, a trove of images, materials, and references, and as an energizing force. In my opinion — granted, I am an outsider — the best Icelandic art (including literature and music) has always come from artists engaged with their very particular, and very special, homeland. 

Arnar Ásgeirsson, “Ibuprofen Girl and Panodil Man” (2021), Ibuprofen, panodil, resin, glass of water, plexiglass, stencil, wall paint. In Iðavöllur at the Reykjavík Art Museum, 2021 (courtesy Reykjavík Art Museum)

The group exhibition Iðavöllur: Icelandic Art in the 21st Century — actually, it’s more like 14 solo shows — at the Reykjavik Art Museum suggests things are changing. With some exceptions, Iceland seems not much of a generative force. Many of the works, mostly sculptures and installations, are big and chock-full of issues and socially engaged ideas, like so much art elsewhere.  

The exhibition’s lofty premise is to showcase 14 artists, all but one Icelandic, in their 30s and 40s who are redefining Icelandic art. All have experienced Iceland’s substantial changes (including several crises, such as the 2008-10 economic meltdown, climate change, and COVID-19) and its increasing globalization, with 15 percent of the population now foreign born and with millions of tourists. (The pandemic has changed this, but mass tourism will no doubt return.) 

The art scene, in which these artists are prime participants, is also substantially larger than it once was and more professional: This exhibition highlights the rise of the professional artist.

Arnar Ásgeirsson’s exceptionally small sculptures installed on two walls are eccentric and engaging. Most feature one or two people in domestic settings, in front of a glass of water that stands taller than them, and with a colorful squiggle on the wall.  

Works by Arnar Ásgerisson and Elín Hansdóttir. In Iðavöllur at the Reykjavík Art Museum, 2021 (courtesy Reykjavík Art Museum)

Surprisingly, Ásgeirsson sculpted these figures from drugs, for instance “Ibuprofen Girl and Panodil Man” (2021), which shows a seated woman and standing man, both contemplative. Iceland, the artist told me, is a great gobbler of pills, especially remote East Iceland. These mini sculptures, however, are overwhelmed by the artist’s nearby installation Scenario (2021). A huge photograph (perhaps stock) of the sky, with two streetlights in the foreground, covers most of a wall. On the floor are six aluminum objects, four with bent poles and two with straight ones, resembling traffic signs; each sports an eyeball that gazes at viewers. Size and spectacle predominate in this attention-grabbing, Instagrammable work. 

Across this space are Elín Hansdóttir’s architectural interventions (“Fractal,” 2021). Using assorted materials, she inserted six convincing new gray concrete pillars among the actual structural ones. These extra, oddball pillars make the space feel askew, unbalanced, suddenly strange. Inkjet prints on the walls purportedly show the pillars in situ. One does, but others are of models, in various sizes and states, that the artist built. Actual, altered, and simulated architecture combine in a work that both fits with and disrupts its surroundings.

Anna Rún Tryggvadóttir, “Compasses” (2021), steel, motors, trees from forest brushing. In Iðavöllur at the Reykjavík Art Museum, 2021 (courtesy Reykjavík Art Museum)

Many artworks here are packed with ideas; research-based art has clearly come to Iceland. Often these visual works require verbal explanations. I wonder about this. For her room-filling installation Phosphorous (2021), illuminated by black fluorescent tubes, Anna Júlía Friðbjörnsdóttir used chalk made of bone ash to draw trees and the solar arrays of satellites and space vehicles on the walls. Phosphorous in the bone ash makes the images glow, while NASA recordings of Venus’s electromagnetic spectrum fill the room. The explanatory text lists folklore, science, anthropology, philosophy, Phosphorus from Greek mythology, and numerous other reference points. The work is extraordinarily complex.  

Dodda Maggý’s three-channel video and audio work is also complex, referring to Pythagoras, mathematics, and Venus, among many other subjects. Colorful bits — physical materials altered on the computer — form complex, ever-shifting patterns in response to tonal music. The work is entrancing, also dizzying, and exudes expertise, but somehow it doesn’t quite move me emotionally, as much as I would have wished.

With “Herbarium (cosmology)” (2021), Bjarki Bragason has joined a long list of international artists, including Herman de Vries, working with plants, and of artists working with archives. He covered the walls in a big room with sheets of paper, each featuring an exposed plant, from an archive a German family gave him; this archive of major German plants was compiled by the family’s 19th-century pharmacologist ancestor. On the floor are two videos of a huge compost heap where old soil from gardens is discarded; one shows new plant life emerging. History and the present, classification and wildness, are juxtaposed.

Bjarki Bragason, “Herbarium (atlas)” (2021), plants, paper, wood, video. In Iðavöllur at the Reykjavík Art Museum, 2021 (courtesy Reykjavík Art Museum)

Based on other smaller and more subtle works by Bragason — including one referring to this plant archive, exhibited in 2019 — he is clearly a compelling artist. For me, this huge work is problematic. The sheer volume of dead plants makes it impossible to take everything in; instead, the labelled plants become a blur. Also — and maybe this comes from my ardor for the Icelandic outdoors — Reykjavik is surrounded by powerful nature, including looming Mount Esja across the harbor. Here, one is surrounded by 19th-century German plants. 

With her sizable installation Compasses (2021), Anna Rún Tryggvadóttir has also joined a long list of artists incorporating trees, sometimes dead ones, into artworks, including Robert Smithson’s “Dead Tree” (1969), Mark Dion’s “The Life of a Dead Tree” (2019), and some of Katharina Grosse’s painting installations. 

In Tryggvadóttir’s nature-technology hybrid, six dead horizontal trees (they were not cut down for this work, but instead during normal forest maintenance), which fill much of the space, slowly rotate counterclockwise, confronting viewers and restricting their movements. This work has a slow-motion grandeur and it’s great to pay attention to trees themselves as sculptures, and their shadows. I heartily endorse how this work questions the uneasy (at best) relationship between nature and humans. Still, while likely novel in Iceland, it is linked with many works (albeit most not motorized) from outside of the country.

Hildigunnur Birgisdóttir, “Unfortunate Produce” (2021), mixed media. In Iðavöllur at the Reykjavík Art Museum, 2021 (courtesy Reykjavík Art Museum)

Hildigunnur Birgisdóttir’s elemental installation Unfortunate Produce (2021)is a total standout; it’s smart and poetic. The room initially seems almost empty, with a few enigmatic objects on pillars and white walls. Then the magic takes over. The artist collected water that maintenance workers used to wipe away graffiti and applied it to the walls (“1:1,” 2021). With dirt, bits of paint, twigs, and other residue, the walls look semi-scruffy, but also — oddly — cosmic. A blue discarded gym mat has been transformed into a structure resembling a huge bread clip; it is also a compelling abstract work (“1:40,” 2021). With “1:48 (confetto)” (2021), a single, absurdly large piece of confetti, made of many small pieces of confetti, protrudes from a pillar; it is striking and strange. Birgisdóttir enlarges quotidian things, some very small (the titles disclose how much the thing has been enlarged), and transforms them into objects of mystery, wonder, and humor. She also has a keen sense of space. This installation feels inviting. It welcomes one to its inquiries.

Casual line drawings, altered and distorted on the computer, are the sources for Arna Óttarsdóttir’s handwoven tapestries, which are also standouts. With hands, faces, doodles, sometimes bits of language, and multiple colors, each is a thoroughly updated take on Iceland’s centuries-old engagement with textiles. These works are thoughtful and delightful. “Fuzzy Notions” (2021), with circular purple tufts, a quizzical face, and a lumpy, white form makes me swoon.

Arna Óttarsdóttir, “Fuzzy Notions” (2021), cotton, polyester. In Iðavöllur at the Reykjavík Art Museum, 2021 (courtesy Reykjavík Art Museum)

Eva Ísleifs’s sculpture, on wheels, is based on a child’s drawing of a turf house that the artist accidentally found. It turns a symbol of old Iceland — turf houses were prominent in the 18th and 19th centuries but have largely disappeared — into a mobile theater prop (“Memory is a Circular Notion,” 2021). Rebecca Erin Moran’s (the sole non-Icelander) extremely dark installation, based on so-called dark rooms in clubs where people can have sex and feel free, seems teleported from somewhere, maybe Berlin (“DARKroom,” 2021). For me, this claustrophobic space, with a special scent, techno music, and the artist’s recorded instructions, feels more like a dungeon than a liberated non-binary zone. 

The four videos in Páll Haukur Björnsson’s mythology-minded installation show the work’s site transformed, for instance with a fire on the floor, or leaves swirling about. They are thoughtful and quietly magical. Several small sculptures, however, including a cat’s tooth dangling from a chain, are, for me, mystifying; I wonder if they are necessary.

Örn Alexander Ámundason, “The Museum is Broken” (2021), transparent film and adhesive tape. In Iðavöllur at the Reykjavík Art Museum, 2021 (courtesy Reykjavík Art Museum)

It is refreshing to encounter Guðmundur Thoroddsen’s oil paintings (the exhibition’s only paintings), with their soft colors, earth tones, and often horizontal brushwork; they suggest Icelandic landscapes, or rather a mix of landscapes and abstraction. Keep looking and a weird figure emerges, a dog smoking a cigarette, or smoking something. Also refreshing are Styrmir Örn Guðmundsson’s fantastical, brilliantly colored ink on paper drawings, including the surging and swirling “Eruption” (2021). 

The catalogue focuses on how Örn Alexander Ámundason is involved with institutional and art system critique, but for me the strength of “The Museum is Broken” (2021) is its humor and verve. Ámundason has altered the museum’s windows and glass partitions with transparent film and adhesive tape so that they appear to be cracking. These interventions look good; some are dazzling — the museum really does look broken. Reykjavik has recently experienced many earthquakes so it is entirely possible that the museum’s windows could crack. I’m not sure if seismic power was on Ámundason’s mind. I hope that it was. 

This exhibition leaves me with a question, concerning artists in a very small country (beloved by me) and their relation to the very big art world. It seems to me that there may be some pressure to go big, get more complex, more professional, and to fit in with much of the mainstream art world. 

Stymir Örn Guðmundsson, “Eruption” (2021), ink on paper. In Iðavöllur at the Reykjavík Art Museum, 2021 (courtesy Reykjavík Art Museum)

Why not make, instead, idiosyncratic art from Iceland with potentially international significance, born of an engagement with a very particular country, culture, history, and natural environment, rather than trying to make international art?

Iðavöllur: Icelandic Art in the 21st Century continues at the Reykjavik Art Museum (Tryggvagata 17 101 Reykjavík, Iceland) through October 17. The exhibition is curated by Aldís Snorradóttir, Markús Þór Andrésson, and Ólöf Kristín Sigurðardóttir.

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Required Reading

If you haven’t read the Bad Art Friend story in the New York Times by Robert Kolker, then I suggest you do that right now because no one was talking about anything else in literary circles in New York and elsewhere. Here’s a taste:

This had become Sonya Larson’s summer of hell. What had started with her reaching heights she’d never dreamed of — an entire major American city as her audience, reading a story she wrote, one with an important message about racial dynamics — was ending with her under siege, her entire career in jeopardy, and all for what she considered no reason at all: turning life into art, the way she thought that any writer does.

Larson had tried working the problem. When, in June, an executive from the book festival first came to her about Dorland, Larson offered to “happily” make changes to “The Kindest.” “I remember that letter, and jotted down phrases that I thought were compelling, though in the end I constructed the fictional letter to suit the character of Rose,” she wrote to the festival. “I admit, however, that I’m not sure what they are — I don’t have a copy of that letter.” There was a moment, toward the end of July, when it felt as if she would weather the storm. The festival seemed fine with the changes she made to the story. The Globe did publish something, but with little impact. 

Related: If you want a Bad Art Friend dress or tee, here you go.

Writing in the New York Review of Books, Carolina Miranda tackles the triennial at El Museo del Barrio. It really goes deep into the framing of Latinx art:

But obscuring Blackness and Indigeneity is at the very root of Latinidad, which privileges an identity that, though mixed, is always firmly rooted in the European. Vasconcelos said as much in “La raza cósmica.” He may have rhapsodized about mestizaje, but he by no means viewed the existing races as equal. He celebrated the Christian evangelization of Indigenous people, which he claimed brought them out of “cannibalism into relative civilization” in just “a few centuries.” (And, as Mexico’s secretary of education, he disapproved of teaching Indigenous schoolchildren in their native languages.) He described Asians as “reproducing like mice.” In the utopia he envisioned, Black people would be completely absorbed into the new fifth race — i.e., disappeared through miscegenation. Vasconcelos is clear that his cosmic race is less a true hybrid than a mixture in which a lot of Spanish includes a few dashes of other races.

In truth, in Latin America, identity is not one, but many: Black, white, Indigenous, Asian, mestizo, and various permutations thereof—with ethnicity, language, sexuality, gender, and national identities also critical to determining how individuals see themselves. As in the US, systemic racism has kept those who aren’t fair-skinned or those who don’t acculturate on the margins. The UN Refugee Agency’s human rights reports on Latin America are primers in the disenfranchisement of Black people and the dispossession of Indigenous people from their lands. But you don’t need to read bureaucratic reports to figure that out. Simply tune your television to a Spanish-language channel — you’ll see who is held up as the ideal. Latinidad as a concept may be predicated on mestizaje, but in practice it is bound by whiteness.

If you’ve never seen it, the US Army’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” comic from 2001 is available online and boy is it weird.Choire Sicha writes about an architecture professor at Princeton University who was forced to leave because of unusual circumstances:

An architecture professor said he has been dismissed from Princeton University after a long investigation, and so has published a multimedia polemic mostly about himself but also, he writes, about the downfall of American academia. It is an extremely pure example of low-stakes-yet-high-drama academic-workplace nightmares.

A good warning thread to remind us that political violence is often about an active minority committed to revolution:

1. A lot of my academic research has involved travelling to places where political violence has led to the breakdown of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism. And a dynamic I’m not sure is fully appreciated in the US is how small numbers of people can create tipping points.

— Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) October 4, 2021

Facebook was being grilled this week in the US Congress, and this comes after a major WSJ series on the company in the previous week. The one piece you need to read this week is Kara Swisher’s opinion about all of it, and she has included a short (but important) interview with Alex Stamos, the director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and a former head of security at Facebook. Here is the snippet of the interview:

The structure of disinformation in the United States has evolved, and during the 2020 election and the Covid crisis multiple studies have shown that the driver of disinformation in the United States is not bots, Russian trolls or small-time accounts, but the verified American influencers who can decide to make a piece of disinformation part of the national conversation with a single reshare.

You can’t avoid the fact that the owner of The Wall Street Journal, News Corporation, is not only one of the most important purveyors of disinformation in the United States but likely one of the most destructive drivers of political polarization in the Anglophone world over the last four decades. This isn’t the fault of the good journalists behind this latest crop of stories about Facebook, and it doesn’t relieve Facebook or other tech companies of their responsibilities, but when I see the Journal paying to promote these stories on Twitter or their DC lobbyist crowing about the revelations, it is hard to ignore the hypocrisy.

Related: Nathaniel Persily’s opinion on Facebook is also worth a read.

A TikTok video breaks down director Tim Burton’s anti-Blackness:

Jay Caspian Kang writes about the “myth of Asian American identity” for the New York Times:

Every few months I come across assimilated Asian men venting on social media about the time one of their white neighbors in buildings just like mine in Brooklyn mistook them for delivery men, inevitably followed by a firm statement of their credentials: “I guess he didn’t know, I am a journalist/doctor/lawyer/hedge-fund manager!” It’s embarrassing for both sides when this happens, but the implication has always felt so bizarre to me; the real offense is being mistaken for being poor. What sets modern, assimilated Asian Americans apart, when it comes to these sorts of differentiations made by so many immigrant groups, is that our bonds with our brothers and sisters are mostly superficial markers of identity, whether rituals around boba tea, recipes or support for ethnic-studies programs and the like. Indignation tends to be flimsy — we are mad when white chefs cook food our parents cooked, or we clamor about what roles Scarlett Johansson stole from Asian actors. But the critiques generally stay within those sorts of consumerist concerns that do not really speak to the core of an identity because we know, at least subconsciously, that the identity politics of the modern, assimilated Asian American are focused on getting a seat at the wealthy, white liberal table. Or, if we want to be generous, we fight about food and representation and executive-suite access because we want our children to live without really having to think about any of this — to have the spoils of full whiteness.

Guess who helped establish the far-right One American News Network (OANN)? Reuters found AT&T has a big role. John Shiffman reports:

After this story was published, AT&T issued a statement saying it has “never had a financial interest in OAN’s success and does not ‘fund’ OAN.”

Although the contracts are confidential, in court filings Herring cited monthly fees included in one five-year deal with AT&T. According to an AT&T filing citing Herring’s numbers, those fees would total about $57 million. Greer said that figure is inaccurate, but declined to say how much AT&T has paid to air OAN, citing a non-disclosure agreement.

Herring and his adult sons own and operate OAN, a subsidiary of their closely held San Diego-based Herring Networks. Their AT&T deal includes Herring’s other network, a little-watched lifestyle channel, AWE. The Herrings declined interview requests.

Herring, who just turned 80, is a self-made businessman who amassed a fortune in the circuit board industry, then turned to television and boxing promotion. OAN’s influence rose in late 2015, when it began covering Trump rallies live, at a time when some of the media still saw the New York celebrity businessman as a longshot presidential contender. The network continues to shower Trump with attention and often provides a friendly platform for his Republican allies.

As president, Trump frequently urged supporters to watch OAN. In his final two years in office, Trump touted the network, known as @OANN online, to his 88 million Twitter followers at least 120 times.

Oh, Fresno:

Posted in every booth at a Thai restaurant in Fargo. pic.twitter.com/GheUkzq54u

— Jason Wittenberg (@WittenbergJason) October 1, 2021

Wow, amazing:

The most amazing two-minutes you’ll spend all day… pic.twitter.com/DbsQIz9ynz

— Rex Chapman (@RexChapman) October 7, 2021

What a world (btw 2.23 eth is roughly $8,000):

Bad art friend inspired rabbit hole led me to discover that the dress is an NFT and it only sold for 2.23 eth https://t.co/TIfd64o1KR

— sara ludy (@sara_ludy) October 6, 2021

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, 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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Cloaked in Power and the Tutored Gaze, The Medici Portraits at the Met

To talk about all the ways the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition The Medici: Portraits and Politics 1512–1570 frustrates me, I need to go a bit meta. I need to talk about the tutoring of the visitor’s gaze in the way that Tony Bennett, a British museum scholar who has written influential texts on how modern museums function, described in his book The Birth of the Museum. For Bennett, the middle-class museum visitor regards their way of looking at museum objects as subordinate to the curator’s expert gaze. We do so (I count myself here) in order to learn how to extract the correct meanings from displayed objects. It is only through a (typically tacit) process of acquiescing to having our gaze trained by the curator by way of wall texts, captions, audio guides, and the like that we find the “real” meanings embedded in the work. What’s ironic is that I’ve long found this argument to be faulty, and in my own book even used it as an example of conceptions of the visit that insufficiently explain how current visitor and art institutions behave. But then I saw this Medici show.

Raphael, “Lorenzo de’Medici, Duke of Urbino” (1518)

Before I even step onto the Met’s grand staircase in its mini-palazzo, the online exhibition text tells me: “Some of the greatest portraits of Western art were painted in Florence during the tumultuous years from 1512 to 1570, when the city was transformed from a republic with elected officials into a duchy ruled by the Medici family.” So, I know that though I’ll be looking at portraiture, a genre of painting I’m very familiar with, I’ll also be far out of my depth in terms of understanding the signs and symbols rooted in a 16th-century city-state with its own geographic, historical, political, aesthetic, and cultural particularities. More, a breathless, bosom-heaving plug from Forbes magazine featured on the exhibition’s landing page declares: “The Medici offers a stimulating balance of spectacular art and behind-the-scenes machination that played equal parts in defining one of the most famous periods in history.” However, the “behind-the-scenes machination” is all either implied in the show or given through didactic text. This is to say that while the drama is the demolition of republican rule to convert a famously mercantile city into the capital of a dynastic state, with a teenager becoming its political head after the assassination of his elder relative, the Duke of Florence, almost none of this larger-than-life drama actually appears in the portraits.

An installation view of the exhibition The Medici: Portraits and Politics 1512–1570 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Instead, what I see initially with my ignorant gaze is mostly hagiographic, overly stylized views of the characters involved in this history. For example, the duke in Raphael’s portrait “Lorenzo de’Medici, Duke of Urbino” (1518) peers at the viewer with that slightly unbothered look of those who have no pressing needs and few lacks. I find out from the caption that after the death of his uncle Giuliano, he was considered the last legitimate Medici heir. I also read that he was a Francophile dressed in the latest French fashion of the time. What I see is a bearded European man with a wry semi-smile, bedecked by a cascade of fur-lined, ostentatiously sewn textile finery. This clothing does provide a way into the work. In Pier Francesco Foschi’s “Portrait of a Lady” (1530–35) there are particular fashion elements that interest me: the sleeve cuffs that seem to be made of leather and fur, the white gloves with some unidentified black objects on them, the knotted belt that trails from her waist.

Pier Francesco Foschi, “Portrait of a Lady” (1530–35)

I want to know what these things signify in terms of social status, profession, regional identity, idiosyncratic personality, but these details are left unexplained. The poses are mostly the same. The compositions certainly are: a view from the waist up, with the figure facing the viewer, the majority in three-quarter turn, a few almost directly facing the viewer, taking up most of the canvas, mostly men standing, sometimes a seated woman, with fine fabrics or armor and jewelry and stylistic accoutrements clearly displayed. Though the curators added to the exhibition physical elements such as the dresses that are representative of the period, and examples of weaponry of the time, I get no joy from this. It’s not until I reach the last gallery where it’s mostly Giorgio Vasari and Bronzino creating allegorical images with an almost Mannerist gloss that I more fully engage. Vasari’s “Six Tuscan Poets” (1544) has far more compositional innovation than the majority of portraits in the show. Here, the fingers of the characters point to books that seem to be of importance (though their significance isn’t explained) and their physical proximity suggest that together they constitute a coherent group or movement. And Bronzino’s “Cosimo I de’Medici as Orpheus” (1537–39) gives me the figure nude with potent musculature, looking back over his left shoulder, while a dog (Cerberus) glares at him red-eyed and fearsome. Here, some drama actually appears in the image itself.

An installation view of the exhibition The Medici: Portraits and Politics 1512–1570 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

But doing some research outside the show, I come to realize that this compositional style evolved from an earlier approach to portraiture that mostly showed the figure in profile, as the wealthy and powerful were depicted on the region’s currency. According to Laura Llewellyn, an associate curator at the National Gallery in London, “From about the 1450s, portraits of men increasingly showed the sitter turned towards the viewer.” This innovation began to move from mere observance of an idealized figure to direct engagement with the individual possessing a unique character. The exhibition catalogue is also helpful. Carlo Falciani, in his essay “Power and Identity in Sixteenth-Century Florentine Portraiture” explains that these works existed in a dialogue between imitation and portrayal: “Implicit in this dialogue between imitare and ritrarre was an evolution from naturalism to allegory that was not solely stylistic, and the central moment in Florence occurred under Cosimo I.” So the paintings here do represent an inflection point in formal technique which would affect how I think of portraits now.

Yes, there are cognates to the portraits in our current celebrity culture. I can see the same three-quarter turn, and self-assured regard in the image of “Portrait of a Woman with a Lapdog” (1532–33) by Bronzino as I’ve seen in images of Michelle Obama’s official White House portrait as painted by Amy Sherald. There is the similar carefully coiffed hair, emphatically colorful and elegant dress that takes up a good deal of space in the picture frame. And with Barack Obama’s portrait by Kehinde Wiley, there is the subtle confrontation of Obama’s direct gaze. He certainly lets us gaze on him, but he is an active participant in a dialogic seeing — though he gazes from the idealized place which is Wiley’s version of the Elysian Fields. These portraits of the former president and first lady do make determined distinctions between the themselves and the hoi polloi who worship them and itch to be like them.

But these images of the Medici fade into vapid seriality quite quickly for me. I don’t get any information about the historical processes that are taking place at the time from the images. Well, I get a little. There are signs. But the majority of people I am seeing this show with seem to take them for wonders.

Vasari, “Six Tuscan Poets” (1544)

Certainly, one can connect this show to the current crop of fictionalized television and film accounts of wealth’s intertwinement with power to talk about how ruling families and empires do what they do to the endless fascination of most of the rest of humanity. Think of Succession, The Crown, Downton Abbey — all shows that I’ve not watched but which I’m told hold the culture’s attention with their character development, plot twists, interpersonal conflict, and dramatization of the deleterious effect their power is shown to have on people both within and outside their small social circle. But I get none of this from these portraits — all this enticing information doesn’t actually appear in the majority of these images.

Bronzino, “Cosimo I de’Medici as Orpheus” (1537–39)

Yet, when I arrived at the museum on an overcast Thursday morning, a few minutes before its 10 o’clock opening time, there were people already lined up to get inside. Many of them were in the Medici gallery by the time I made my way there. For the most part, they seemed excited: I witnessed a good deal of pointing and lengthy discussion between friends and partners. I can only conclude that what fascinates is a curiosity about how the 1% live. My sense is that people come to this museum and this show ostensibly wanting to learn other histories by having their way of looking tutored and trained. Perhaps they imagine that if they learn from curators how to see, how to interpret particular signs, how to read the history of a time and place in the portrait of a Medici prince, perhaps they too may one day have a portion of that wealth and power.

The Medici: Portraits and Politics 1512–1570 continues at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through October 11. It was curated by Keith Christiansen and Carlo Falciani.

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LACMA and the Brooklyn Museum Will Share 200 Photographs by European Women Artists

Two hundred contemporary photographs by nearly 90 women artists from across Europe were co-acquired by the Brooklyn Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), part of a larger trend of joint acquisitions among museums. The gift, which is the Brooklyn Museum’s most extensive joint acquisition to date, will filter into the museums’ collections over the next 10 years in installments chosen by the donor, along with curators from both institutions. The donation features photographs by a mix of well-known and emerging artists, many of whom work across disciplines; Moroccan and French artist Yto Barrada, Czech artist Eva Koťátková, and Dutch artist Melanie Bonajo are among the multidisciplinary makers represented.

The works were gifted by Mark Fehrs Haukohl, a knighted Houston investment banker and longtime art collector perhaps best known for cofounding the Florence-based Medici Archive Project and having one of the largest private holdings of Florentine Baroque art in the United States. For the past two decades, Haukohl has been building a pan-European collection of contemporary photography by women, with the professed intention of giving the collection — the largest of its kind — to a museum, along with a supplementary curatorial travel grant and funds to cover 10 years of annual museum acquisitions in the category.

For Haukohl, there has been a dearth of art historical attention given to photographs taken by European women artists.

Marlene Haring, “Because Every Hair is Different” (2005) (promised gift of The Sir Mark Fehrs Haukohl Photography Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Brooklyn Museum, © Marlene Haring, digital image courtesy of Vargas Organisation, London)

The gift includes Austrian-born, England-based artist Marlene Haring’s photographic exploration of hair, in which she points to the grotesquerie and humor of the feminized attribute; Romanian artist Alexandra Croitoru’s investigation of power asymmetry in gendered bodies, as exemplified by the figure of the male body builder; and Finnish artist Elina Brotherus’s recoding of art historical canon, playing the part of the woman in Marcel Duchamp’s 1912 painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2.

Drew Sawyer, curator of photography at the Brooklyn Museum, told Hyperallergic that none of the artists included in the donation were previously represented in the museum’s collection. “The gift is truly transformative,” Sawyer said, “in that it adds the work of so many artists and that it provides a more international perspective on contemporary photographic practices. This adds to a recent large gift of photographic works by Chinese artists.”

Britt Salvesen, department head and curator of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and Prints & Drawings Department at LACMA, told Hyperallergic that the museum’s holdings of contemporary photography by European women stood at approximately 120 when the museum was approached by Haukohl. There was an overlap of only 11 artists, and no duplication of images.

Sarah Pickering, “Landmine” (2005), dye coupler print, 20 × 20 in. (promised gift of The Sir Mark Fehrs Haukohl Photography Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Brooklyn Museum, © Sarah Pickering, digital image courtesy of the artist)

In a recent piece for ARTnews, Claire Selvin delved into the phenomenon of the joint acquisition, referencing the shared purchase of a Sam Gilliam painting by Dia: Beacon and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston earlier this year. Another high-profile example from 2021 is the joint acquisition of Amy Sherald’s portrait of Breonna Taylor by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, and the Speed Art Museum in Louisville. Tate and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia also jointly acquired six artworks this year, adding to the 23 they had acquired together as part of a program begun in 2015.

Selvin explained that joint acquisitions are an appealing option for museums simultaneously navigating financial pressures exacerbated by the pandemic and the need to maintain and diversify their collections. When the Association of Art Museum Directors loosened mandates surrounding deaccessioning in April 2020, a number of museums — including the Brooklyn Museum — controversially sold millions of dollars of art to pay for collection care, employee salaries, or the diversification of collections. Joint acquisition is another potential route, a way for museums to share costs surrounding not only the acquisition in and of itself, but, as in the case of a gift like Haukohl’s, associated costs like storage and conservation.

Ulla Jokisalo, “Wasteland” (2015), inkjet print with pins, 23 5/8 × 16 in. (promised gift of The Sir Mark Fehrs Haukohl Photography Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Brooklyn Museum, © Ulla Jokisalo, digital image courtesy of the artist)

In a statement, LACMA CEO and director Michael Govan expressed excitement not only about the gift, but also about the opportunity to “broaden and deepen the field in close collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum.” Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Times reported that Govan forfeited the housing that he got as a job perk when the museum put it on the market to help raise funds.

“We believe the collaboration allows us to reach exponentially wider audiences,” a LACMA representative told Hyperallergic. “In addition, Brooklyn’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art creates a critical framework for the collection.”

Sawyer told Hyperallergic that there were many benefits to collective ownership. “It not only means sharing costs for storing and caring for works but more importantly allows institutions to form long term partnerships and share works with broader audiences,” he said. “It also means questioning to some extent a model of collecting that prioritizes individual ownership and rewards institutions with the greatest resources.”

A selection of the donated works will be highlighted in the exhibition In the Now: Gender and Nation in Europe, which will open at LACMA in November and travel to the Brooklyn Museum in 2023.

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A History of Digital Art Through a Feminist Lens

My new book, Dismantling the Patriarchy, Bit by Bit: Art, Feminism, and Digital Technology links the feminist art movement to digital art. What does the feminist art movement have to do with digital art? Feminism is not just about what are called “women’s issues.” It’s intersectional because women are involved in all areas of our society.

To understand the current climate for digital art and NFTs, it’s useful to look at the history of digital art through the lens of the role of women artists and feminist theory. The rise of NFTs raises issues that were originally interrogated by feminist theory which posed questions such as: Who makes art? Do we now live in a virtual world rather than a world away from the keyboard? Does the digital world present more or less equity and inclusion?

We don’t think of contemporary art as technological, but if we do, we think of men making that art, because we think of men as the inventors of technology. Even now in the ongoing discussions about NFTs, the discourse is mostly about male artists and the huge sums for which their NFTs have been sold. But if you look more closely, women artists, including artists of color, have been pioneering NFTs for years.

Many of the issues connected to digital art were raised by women digital artists as early as the late 1960s when computers first became publicly available. Until then, digital technology was in the domain of the military, the government, and major university laboratories. Despite its connection to men, male artists didn’t seem to own it yet. So, women artists began to experiment with digital technology. 

What made digital art by women artists, even those who didn’t call themselves feminist, innovative was that they were using digital technology for social justice — to impact the relationship between the individual, the community, and society.

In the United States Feminism evolved in the 1960s and 1970s among mostly White women. Despite its radical assault on patriarchal male privilege, it became critiqued as privileging whiteness and heteronormative gender definitions as universals for all humanity. Postcolonialist, queer, and critical race theorists made it become intersectional — inclusive of gender fluidity, anti-racist, suspicious of power, and resistant to oppression. It underlies “Me Too” and Black Lives Matter. 

Anne Spalter, “Gem Castle” (2021) AI generated image on the platform superrare.com. (courtesy the artist)

Women digital artists queried the bias in digital technology itself. They saw digital technology and particularly the internet as tools of the patriarchal culture, elevating White males into a dominant class that oppressed women, people of color, and non-binary individuals. Legacy Russell conceptualized “glitch feminism” to counteract the patriarchy’s control of the online world. Digital technology, including NFTs, operates on the basis of on and off, or one and zero. Russell argues that this system of opposites is just like human society: based on the binary definition of male and female. She proposes that if we consider the off position as a correction, instead of an error, the online world offers a space for creating multiple identities, so marginalized people can define themselves in ways not afforded by the world away from the keyboard.

The issues raised by cyberfeminists are pertinent today with the rise of cryptocurrency and NFTs. Are these cyber manifestations an extension of the patriarchal world, based as they are on money and ownership? Or does the way NFTs merge the online and offline worlds offer a chance to promote a non-binary and more inclusive society?

Digital feminist artists have also had influence on the movement to eliminate the cultural hierarchy in which fine art is valued over popular culture. Feminist digital artists harnessed the potential of social networking for performance art. Their use of social networking fed into the process of democratizing the art world, bypassing the traditional structure of art, leading to our acceptance of NFTs as art even when made by non-artists.

Women digital artists introduced feminist concepts into two other areas of popular visual culture: video gaming and anime. Contrary to conventional belief that these areas are male dominated, women have been significantly involved. It is estimated that there were at least 200,000 female players even in the early period of digital gaming.

Similarly, anime, a genre of Japanese animation, has been portrayed as male dominated whereas women have been instrumental in developing products that provide alternatives to masculinist manga/anime narratives. They subvert the narratives by transforming male superheroes into female heroines and featuring cross-dressing, androgynous young women, providing eroticism for queer, and transgender audiences. In countries with restrictive cultures, like Russia, series like Sailor Moon in which a schoolgirl becomes a being with super powers are popular with non-binary young men subject to government oppression.

In the United States, LGBTQ artists have critiqued the patriarchal masculinity of most video games by creating games relating to LGBTQ lives such as a remarkable game by Auntie Pixelante, the nom de plume of Anna Anthropy, about becoming trans, or Mattie Brice’s game, Mainichi in which a gay, Black protagonist goes through everyday activities, some of which involve anti-gay confrontations.

These artists have harnessed the potential of digital technology to deliver the feminist critique of the patriarchal, masculinist society in which we live. The art world needs to recognize the important contributions of women artists to digital art, but it also needs to recognize the significance of digital art itself. If you look at the art history surveys of contemporary art, the art discussed is still mostly the traditional forms of art. I relate digital art to mainstream art history through feminist theory, identity work, and social justice. But there are other aspects of digital art that emerged from and are shaping the art mainstream. Resistance to considering digital art as serious art may have to do with the conventional separation of high art from popular art. But the line between the two has broken down thanks in great part to pioneering feminist digital artists. It looks as if NFTs will continue that process. The discipline of art history will eventually have to take into account art based on digital technologies.

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As a Mockumentary About Celebrity, Nowhere Inn Just Bores

The most interesting thing about Nowhere Inn, the recent IFC collab between Annie Clark (better known as Grammy-winning singer-songwriter St. Vincent) and Carrie Brownstein (better known as Carrie Brownstein, the creative polymath behind Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia) is how boring it dares to be. At times it is so boring it is interesting. Most of the time it is spectacularly boring.

As a concept, “spectacular boredom” resonates with the film’s central message: celebrity isn’t compelling on a day-to-day basis, and it is tedious to try to make it such. Carrie Brownstein, the character, is asked to direct a documentary about her friend Annie Clark, but Annie Clark being Annie Clark just isn’t that exciting. So “CB,” the character, asks Clark to be “more like she is onstage,” at once showy and aloof, fragile and impervious. The hyper-fabricated persona of “St. Vincent” is performatively unraveled onscreen, only to be just as artfully refashioned in a mockumentary so meta it’s as if Jean-François Lyotard were resurrected from Père Lachaise Cemetery (though that might actually be more watchable).  

If this sounds harsh, perhaps it is because expectations for Clark and Brownstein — who, as actual friends in actual life, both wrote and produced the film — are understandably high. They are each undeniably brilliant at what they do: write and make music, and, for Brownstein, write a best-selling memoir and co-create one of the most hilarious television satires of the decade. Perhaps director Bill Benz — who has previously only directed television episodes — is just as responsible for this bungling cinematic exercise, if not more. When two people who are close friends in real life make a postmodern movie about the challenges of being close friends and making a movie, it might be a good idea to have someone at the helm who has actually made a movie before. 

Annie Clark in Nowhere Inn

“As you’d imagine,” wrote Anthony Lane in his New Yorker review, “the entire shebang is so naggingly self-referential, and so noisy with in-jokes, that it should, by rights, disappear up its own trombone. But there’s a saving grace: this is a funny movie.” With the exception of a few key moments in which the sheer absurdity prompted a chortle (St. Vincent’s keyboardist feigning an Australian accent; Dakota Johnson, as Clark’s girlfriend, dropping the eye-roller “she turned me gay”; Clark poking a baleful of hay with a pitchfork), I, for one, did not feel saved. The opening scene aims for humor in suggesting that Clark’s celebrity status lacks populist appeal: a limo driver (Ezra Buzzington) couriers her across the California desert, and repeatedly inquires about her degree of fame, ultimately getting his teenage son on the phone to inform her that his “son hasn’t heard of [her] either.” When beseeched to sing one of her most famous songs, Clark a capellas the first verse to “New York,” and her soft soprano f-bomb prompts the driver to abruptly roll up his privacy window, instantly disgraced. It’s supposed to be funny, but it plays into pretty common clichés, and is more than a little bit classist.    

The ontological questions at stake in Nowhere Inn initially intrigue. How famous is “famous”? Why do we expect our artists to have captivating personalities or lives? How do we exact, from our heroes, a fairly compulsory vulnerability — to share daily dalliances, conflicts, trauma?  “She’s impenetrable and aloof,” Clark overhears a journalist share with a companion before her show. This movie doesn’t really challenge that premise, because in its attempt to lampoon the concept of revealing the “real” Annie Clark, it ultimately reinforces how tedious she is (or at least how tedious she is as an actor — which, for all her musical genius, Clark clearly is not). A messier, less hermetic style might have offered some room to enjoy Brownstein’s pratfalls as director, but in Nowhere Inn, the viewer has nowhere in to appreciate and connect with the characters and concepts. 

Annie Clark in Nowhere Inn

For a star who skirts the parasocial intimacy of our current social media climate for Kraftwerkesque automation and New Wave synth, the “real” Annie Clark that fans crave is the one performing onstage in the concert footage included in the film. If Clark is the patron saint of slickness, Brownstein is perhaps the opposite: a scrappy, ebullient Gen-Xer who is endearingly gangly even when shredding her guitar onstage. Perhaps the assumption behind this film’s production was that Brownstein’s natural warmth would defrost Clark’s chilly mien, but most of the time it seems Brownstein herself realizes otherwise, layering blazers throughout the movie as though warding off gooseflesh.

“What people fail to understand is that all of it’s me and none of it’s me,” Clark confides to “CB” about two thirds in; the faux profundity of the admission, a motif in the film, is simultaneously mocked and exalted. Whether from the glassy vista of the Hollywood Standard Hotel or ruminating backstage on tour, none of Clark’s remarks feel remotely insightful to her experience as a human, artist, or celebrity. If that is the point of the movie — that we can’t ever truly know our hallowed gentry — then an examination of why we’d even want to would seem to be in order, and Nowhere Inn simply doesn’t go there.

The movie culminates with a dream sequence of Clark passing through an endless series of red stage curtains straight out of a David Lynch film (if, again, you bled it of dark humor). She approaches her doppelganger, who, when spun around, has no face, her slick bob a kind of raven top from which Clark extracts a gold ring with “St. Vincent” inscribed. While clearly gesturing toward the surreal nature of contemporary stardom, it all ultimately feels like an art-school experiment that, as my college advisor would often say of my sophomore essays, “reaches for effects it doesn’t need.”

Annie Clark and Carrie Brownstein in Nowhere Inn

The film’s most redeeming moment is when Brownstein seems to admit that the entire project is a flop. “I’m in the failure era of my life,” she shares with Clark during one of their ostensive candid outtakes, shot in grainy visuals on Academy ratio. “People don’t like the shit that I’m doing … I claim to think that the artist’s role is to thrash around, make mistakes, be out of step. But when I am out of step I feel terrible … I feel down on myself. But philosophically, I’m like, ‘No, that’s how it should be.’”

I feel bad confirming that this movie is a failure, because the thought of making Carrie Brownstein feel terrible feels terrible. But if anything, its failure throws into epic relief just how excellent she’s usually been throughout her nearly three-decade career — and might relieve the sense that one must always be good, or interesting, to remain an important artist.

In other words, watch Nowhere Inn and then quickly chase with St. Vincent’s Masseduction or Sleater-Kinney’s All Hands on the Bad One, or Brownstein’s moving memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. Or skip it altogether.

Nowhere Inn is currently in theaters.

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Under Munch’s Risqué Madonna Is a More Subdued Version, Researchers Find

It’s been a big quarter for uncovering new information about some of painting’s heavy hitters, thanks in part to new technologies that let researchers examine the underlying layers of famous paintings. This week, the National Museum of Norway announced the discovery of underdrawings hidden beneath the surface of their Edvard Munch painting, “Madonna,” which suggests that it may be one of the earliest versions of the subject painted by the artist.

Conservator Thierry Ford worked with photographer Børre Høstland using infrared reflectography in preparation for it to go on display in the National Museum’s new building. The technique allows conservators to see underlayers beneath the surface of paintings. This work revealed the painting’s subject in a different pose, one that was altered for the final composition — as well as a series of five small Madonna paintings in an undated series between 1894 and 1897. Previously, there was no way of knowing which canvas was the original Madonna, and the National Museum’s version was speculatively thought to be from 1894 or 1895. But with the discovery of the compositional play beneath the surface, it is likely that this is canvas used by the artist to arrange the pose that he later used in all the Madonna paintings.

Research on Edvard Munch’s Madonna at the National Museum

“The new findings, together with earlier research, makes it reasonable to determine that Edvard Munch finished this first version of Madonna in 1894,” says Vibeke Waallann Hansen, curator at the National Museum of Norway. “It also gives us interesting information about how the artist worked on the composition. We can see that he experimented with letting both arms hang down. Along with other early sketches for similar motifs, the underdrawings in the painting tells us that he was hesitant about how to place the arms of his Madonna.”

Though the sketch demonstrates that Munch played with the idea of conveying the Madonna with her arms at her sides, ultimately, he chose to portray her in a more sensual attitude, with arms bent behind her arching back, displaying her chest. She is afforded a halo, but it is a provocative red, rather than saintly gold. The painting was alternatively titled “Elskende kvinde” (“Woman Making Love”), and this seems more aesthetically aligned with the content of the painting than traditional renderings of the mother of Jesus. Still, it ultimately stands as a beautiful tribute to the divine feminine, wherever we may find it.

Visitors can look forward to grappling with these thematic contradictions at next year’s opening of Munch Room in the National Museum’s new building, in June of 2022. Until then, we would all do well to remember that no matter what a figure looks like on the surface, there is usually at least one more version that lies within.

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Tania Bruguera Agreed to Leave Cuba in Exchange for Release of 25 Prisoners

The Cuban government is using the 14th edition of the Havana Biennial, slated to open in mid-November, to “erase…the suffering of the Cuban people,” artist and activist Tania Bruguera said on social media today. Using the hashtag #ImmoralBiennial, Bruguera urged visitors to boycott the 2021 show, the island’s largest visual arts event.

Bruguera also disclosed this week that she agreed to leave the country in exchange for the release of 25 prisoners, including Hamlet Lavastida, the Cuban artist who had been held in a maximum-security prison in Havana for the last three months. In an interview with Radio Martí this Tuesday, Bruguera said she accepted an offer to join Harvard University as a senior lecturer in media and performance and used the opportunity to barter with the Cuban regime, which had been pressing her to leave the island.

“I said, ‘Look, you want me to leave, well now you have an opportunity,’” Bruguera explained. “But I’ll leave on the condition that you release [them], and I handed a list of several people.” She named artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Lavastida, rapper Maykel Osorbo, and Luis Robles, who was arrested in March for holding up a placard on a street corner in Havana. She also requested that members of the 27N Movement, a loose collective fighting censorship on the island, as well as youth detained during this summer’s protests, be freed.

“This may be one of the first times in the history of Cuba that an activist negotiates the release of another activist,” Bruguera told Radio Martí. “Generally, this is done between governments, but in this case we were the intermediaries.”

In the end, the regime agreed to release some of the detainees, such as Lavastida, who was forcibly exiled to Poland with his partner writer Katherine Bisquet. The younger protesters were also freed, Tania’s sister Deborah Bruguera confirmed in a message to Hyperallergic.

“[Tania] was escorted to the airport by a dozen agents to ensure she left the country,” Deborah Bruguera added.

#𝗕𝗼𝘆𝗰𝗼𝘁𝘁𝗕𝗶𝗲𝗻𝗮𝗹𝗛𝗮𝗯𝗮𝗻𝗮
They want to erase with the #ImmoralBiennial the suffering of the Cuban people, to pretend that the violence against the artists from the #MSI and the @27Ncuba didn’t happened, this is why we ask for a 𝗕𝗢𝗬𝗖𝗢𝗧𝗧 to the #HavanaBiennial

— Tania Bruguera (@BrugueraEstudio) October 7, 2021

Last month, the Cuban government decided to reopen the country to vaccinated visitors on November 15 — a move perfectly timed with the start of the Havana Biennial on the 21st, as writer and artist Coco Fusco pointed out in an op-ed for Artnet. But the intervention of artists and activists like Bruguera — whose wide recognition in the international art world offers both support and visibility — may have an impact on the outcome of the show and, more importantly, its ability to distract from the ongoing crisis in Cuba. In 2019, she penned an opinion article for Hyperallergic explaining her decisions to boycott the 13th edition of the show, citing the proposed Decree 349, a law severely curbing artistic liberties.

Amid a deepening economic crisis, food and medicine shortages, and the seemingly incessant persecution of dissidents and artists, skepticism around the art exhibition is growing. Fusco wrote that “it would be hard not to see the next biennial as something of a smokescreen.” Many of those who remain behind bars in Havana are peaceful protesters who participated in the largest anti-government demonstrations on the island in decades this summer.

Among them are Otero Alcántara, who has gone on hunger and thirst strikes to denounce artistic repression on the island, as well as Osorbo and photographer Anyelo Troya, who collaborated on the song and video “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”), an anthem for Cuban liberation.

“The Havana Biennial was previously suspended when there was a hurricane in a distant province, but now, with a pandemic, a public health crisis, and hundreds of political prisoners and artists like Luis Manuel [Otero Alcántara] and Maykel Osorbo still imprisoned, I find it immoral to move forward with an event like the Biennial,” Bruguera told El Nuevo Herald. The artist added that foreigners should not visit or participate in the event, and for the Cubans who live on the island, she leaves the decision “up to their conscience.”

“Tania speaks on something that I keep seeing in the history of Cuba: fear,” Christian Casas, a Cuban-American artist based in Columbus, Ohio, told Hyperallergic. “The regime is fearful of artists and activists because they know they have the power to fully revolt.”

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Aerial Net Sculptures Loom Over Public Squares in Janet Echelman’s ‘Earthtime’ Installations

“Earthtime 1.78” (2021), Vienna. All images © Janet Echelman, shared with permission

Suspended in public squares and parks, the knotted sculptures that comprise Janet Echelman’s Earthtime series respond to the destructive, overpowering, and uncontrollable forces that impact life on the planet. The Boston-based artist (previously) braids nylon and polyurethane fibers into striped weavings that loom over passersby and glow with embedded lights after nightfall. With a single gust of air, the amorphous masses billow and contort into new forms. “Each time a single knot moves in the wind, the location of every other knot in the sculpture’s surface is changed in an ever-unfolding dance,” a statement about the series says.

The outdoor installations are modeled after geological events that have extensive effects beyond their original locations and the power to increase the planet’s daily rotational speed. All of the titles allude to the number of seconds lost during a specific occurrence, with “Earthtime 1.78” referring to Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami and “Earthtime 1.26” speaking to a 2010 tremor in Chile.

Containing innumerable knots and weighing hundreds of pounds, the monumental nets are the product of countless hours and a team of architects, designers, and engineers who interpret scientific data to imagine the original form. Each mesh piece begins in the studio with techniques done by hand and on the loom, and the threads are custom-designed to be fifteen times stronger than steel once intertwined. This allows them to withstand and remain flexible as they’re exposed to the elements, a material component that serves as a metaphorical guide for human existence.

Echelman will exhibit an iteration of “Earthtime 1.26” in Jeddah from December 2021 to April 2022, with another slated to be on view in Amsterdam this winter. You can see more of the prolific artist’s works on her site and Instagram.

 

“Earthtime 1.26” (2021), Munich

Detail of “Earthtime 1.26” (2021), Munich

“Earthtime 1.78” (2021), Vienna

“Earthtime 1.78” (2021), Helsinki

“Earthtime 1.78” (2021), Vienna

“Earthtime 1.78” (2021), Borås, Sweden

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A New Exhibition at the Harvard Art Museums Examines the Military’s Activity on the US Landscape

How do photographs portray environmental damage that can be difficult to see, much less identify and measure? A first-of-its-kind exhibition, Devour the Land at the Harvard Art Museums uses 160 photographs to explore the profoundly damaging environmental, economic, and social impacts on land and people in the United States brought about by the military-industrial complex.

The exhibition also considers how photography inspires activism in response to these widespread impacts. “The 1970s introduced the public to the image of modern environmental protest. Photographers of that era took up and adapted the activist model pioneered by their predecessors during the civil rights movement,” says exhibition curator Makeda Best. “These photographs show us the everyday people for whom inaction is no longer an option.”

Following a trajectory that originates in the Civil War era, Devour the Land begins with the 1970s, a dynamic period for both environmental activism and photography. From there, the focus expands to our contemporary moment.

Among the 60 photographers featured are Robert Adams, Robert Del Tredici, Terry Evans, Lucas Foglia, Sharon Gilbert, Ashley Gilbertson, Richard Misrach, Barbara Norfleet, Sim Chi Yin, Sharon Stewart, Robert Toedter, Phil Underdown, and Will Wilson.

The museums, open Tuesday to Sunday, are free to everyone on Sundays. Reservations and proof of vaccination are required for all visits.

For more information, visit harvardartmuseums.org.

Devour the Land is made possible in part by the generosity of the Terra Foundation for American Art and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional support for the project is provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Publication Fund and the Rosenblatt Fund for Postwar American Art. Related programming is supported by the M. Victor Leventritt Lecture Series Endowment Fund. Modern and contemporary art programs at the Harvard Art Museums are made possible in part by generous support from the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art.

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‘Medicinal Flowers of Lebanon’ by Faith XLVII Sprout from the Damaged Streets of Beirut

Rosa Canina. All images © Faith XLVII, shared with permission

Rosehips, horned poppies, and an African carline thistle grow from the debris and ruined buildings in Beirut following a mural series by Faith XLVII. The South African artist (previously) traveled to the Lebanese city this September as part of Underline—the ongoing project is helmed by the art collective Persona in collaboration with the Hamra-based NGO Art of Change, which is focused on using public works for protest and to spark change—to paint a collection of curative flowers that appear to sprout from the rubble.

Contrasting their dainty forms to the rugged landscape, the metaphorical works in Medicinal Flowers of Lebanon lead “us along the brittle sites of Beirut, tracing past and present scars etched into the city,” the artist says. “Each flower urges us in a sense, towards healing as they grow out of the concrete.” The chosen botanics are remedies for common ailments, like using chicory to treat gallstones or slathering clematis paste on skin infections, and they rely on the strength of their natural properties to cure wounds that are both visible and not.

 

Carlina Involucrata

Faith’s visit to Beirut came amidst a period of crisis following the devastating port explosion on August 4, 2020, that left the country without a fully operative government for 13 months and accelerated its economic collapse. “The people of Lebanon have had many dire challenges over the decades, and the expectation for them to be resilient is exhausting,” the artist says, explaining further:

Even in a time with four hours of electricity a day and waiting for hours for petrol that might run out before you make it to the front of the line, where your life savings are suddenly worth nothing, even in this time, there are still some rays of hope. There are many people and organizations working to improve the conditions of others. So when we are abused abandoned by the custodians of justice and governance, it is the people themselves who pick up the debris and assist each other in healing. That is what the series Medicinal Flowers of Lebanon speaks to.

Persona and Art of Change are bringing several artists to Beirut for Underline, and you can follow those projects, along with Faith’s outdoor works, on Instagram.

 

Cichorium intybus

Clematis flammula

Glaucium flavum

Asphodelus microcarpus

Clematis flammula

The artist working on Clematis flammula

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The ICA at VCU Presents Dineo Seshee Bopape: Ile aye, moya, là, ndokh…harmonic conversions…mm

Featuring newly commissioned work, Ile aye, moya, là, ndokh…harmonic conversions…mm, South African artist Dineo Seshee Bopape’s solo exhibition at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, opened on Friday, September 24. The African words in the show’s title call to the elements: Earth, wind, fire, and water, summoned in Yoruba, Nguni/Sepedi, Ga, and Wolof, respectively.

Images, objects, and sounds made out of soil and water from Virginia, Louisiana, Senegal, Ghana, and South Africa resonate throughout the gallery, referencing the cities, ports, and waterways that played important roles in the enslavement of people. These transatlantic spaces are all sites of historic crimes, and Bopape uses them to consider the enslaved, captors, facilitators, collaborators, and enslavers, intending to call attention to the living memories carried by the earth and its waterways. For the plantations, harbors, and trading posts where human life was sold and consumed are still evident in our built environments today: In their visible construction, in the wealth created by forced labor, and in the festering social wounds that are so often masked.

Yet Bopape moves beyond the narrative of enslavement, exploring the many ways in which people escaped and found freedom through running, spirituality, community, and creativity. She means for her work to highlight the connectedness of disparate places, both historically and materially, and forge harmonic conversions with ancestral pasts, presents, and futures.

Through this exhibition, Bopape aims to pay homage to those who were taken, those who struggled, those who fled, and those who still seek sanctuary in the spaces between captivity and an illegal freedom.

The ICA is free and open to the public. To learn more, visit icavcu.org.

Dineo Seshee Bopape: Ile aye, moya, là, ndokh…harmonic conversions…mm is curated by Amber Esseiva, Curator at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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MassArt x SoWa Gallery Presents Protest and Power, an Alumni-curated Exhibition

Protest and Power, the fifth exhibition presented by MassArt x SoWa, explores the historic civil rights movement alongside the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement. Curated by Keith M. Francis, a 2018 alumnus of MassArt’s MFA: Fine Arts Low-Residency program, the show addresses the violence and racism embedded in the economic, political, and social fabric of the United States. As Francis remarks in his curator’s statement, “The concurrent pandemics of COVID-19 and violence against people of color call upon us to seize this moment, to engage issues of race and inequity with renewed energy and a vision for an equitable and enlightened future.”

Featured artists include Cedric “Vise1” Douglas, Keith M. Francis, Zaire Love, Jon Krippahne, and Carl E. Moore. The exhibition closes on Sunday, October 24 at 5pm (EST) with a special event: an in-person spoken word performance at the Boston gallery by Tennessee-based artist Zaire Love. Viewers can also join the performance that evening live on Instagram.

The MassArt x SoWa graduate gallery launched in April 2021 with a mission to exhibit high-quality work in a broad range of media from emerging and established artists. It features thesis work by the college’s MFA students as well as premier work from its graduate design and art education programs. The gallery also supports MassArt student, faculty, and alumni curatorial projects, juried graduate alumni exhibitions, and collaborative exhibitions with the college’s community partners.

MassArt is now accepting applications for 2022.

Visit massart.edu/grad for information about MassArt’s graduate programs in fine arts and design, or apply now.

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No Dogs Allowed: More than 70 Artists Present a Show of Cat Art in L.A.

Alexandra Dillon. All images courtesy of Cat Art Show, shared with permission

More than 70 artists feature cats as their muse for a feline-centric group exhibition that scratches well beyond the tropes associated with the frisky creatures. Now in its fourth iteration, the Cat Art Show features sculptures, paintings, collages, and a variety of other works by artists from 16 countries—Ravi Zupa (previously), Lola Dupré (previously), and Aniela Sobieski (previously) are among them—that capture the feisty antics, adorable wide-eyed stares, and stealthy adventures of both domestic and wild breeds. The exhibition is the project of curator and journalist Susan Michals, who also wrote the 2019 book compiling hundreds of photos by cat-enthusiast and photographer Walter Chandoha.

If you’re in Los Angeles, stop by The Golden Pagoda between October 14 and 21 to see the quirky, spirited works in person, and check out the available pieces on Instagram. As with previous shows, 10 percent of all sales will be donated to cat care, with this year’s funds going to Kitt Crusaders, Faces of Castelar, and Milo’s Sanctuary.

 

Vanessa Stockard

Endre Penovac

Anna Sokolova

Lavar Munroe

Angela Lizon

Michael Caines

Lola Dupré

Holly Frean

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Searching for Frans Hals’s “Laughing Cavalier”

LONDON — If you are culture hungry in London, and one of your life’s greatest wishes is to avoid the vulgar yawp and bustle of shoppers on Oxford Street, there is a ready answer. A couple of streets back from the Bond Street Underground station there is a lovely, sequestered spot called Manchester Square. You will find it by taking a turn off the north side of Oxford Street onto Duke Street, and then walking for a relatively short distance, having first passed by a house once lived in by Simón Bolívar. 

What better place to scheme and to plot if you are a South American liberationist than a quiet, 18th-century residence in Mayfair?  

At the back of the square you will spot a rather ugly Victorian townhouse of grandiose pretensions. This building, known back then as Hertford House, was once the home of Sir Richard and Lady Wallace, and it is now known as the Wallace Collection. Its entrance is flanked by a pair of Grecian urns. Once through the gate, you will see that the COVID-19 rules, displayed on a shrieking yellow sign board, are very particular to this place. Here is the one to which you need to pay attention: “If you need to cough or sneeze, use a tissue or the crook of your arm.” Have your arm crooked in readiness.

Frans Hals, “Willem Coymans” (1645), oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Andrew W. Mellon Collection

The house itself has been preserved in aspic, beginning with the Front State Room circa 1890: what a nonstop display of opulent clutter we have here! Admire the chandelier, the gilded, coffered doors, the portraiture, the busts on their elegant marble plinths, and, just outside the door, the grand flourish of the house’s main staircase — and, of course, the mild-mannered, ever-so-polite security guard who may be blocking your way as he gently rises and falls on the heels of his high-polished black shoes. In short, this place is almost entirely a journey back in time … 

Except for the new gallery in the basement, where the exhibition under review is to be found. Has this gallery been created from some featureless understairs world where the servants might once have passed dutifully to and fro? In all its overstretched, box-like plainness, it rather resembles a very long, dingily lit ship’s container. Today it has been tricked out to welcome an exhibition by a master of the Dutch Golden Age. Quite oddly tricked out, though, it has to be said. The walls are painted a deep maroon for the most part, but sometimes the maroon is edged with — or fuzzily interrupted by — passages of gray, as if the walls are making a stab at recreating a Rothko. Why? Why? Ask me another. 

Frans Hals: The Male Portrait brings together 13 of Hals’s greatest paintings of the movers and shakers (all male) of the Dutch port city of Haarlem, from the 1620s onward. Its central talking point is a very well known painting calledThe Laughing Cavalier” (1624), which hangs pridefully on its own on an end wall. This painting was acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford (the main founder of the Wallace Collection) in 1865, and it has lived in this house ever since. What is more, its purchase and display helped to wrest Hals from obscurity. The name of the painting is a Victorian invention, too. This man is not a cavalier. He is not on horseback at all. There are no horsy accoutrements. There is a not a whiff of horse reek about it. And though the man could in a pinch be said to be smirking, no one in their right mind could ever claim that he was laughing.

Frans Hals, “Portrait of an Unknown Man” (1660s), oil on canvas. The Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

It’s worth spending more than a little time in the company of this painting, and one of the reasons is because we know it too well, and we need to reflect upon some of the issues that arise from the curse (or the blessings) of overfamiliarity. Yes, so many of us have seen it too often, a thousand times over, in reproduction, without perhaps ever having  really seen it at all. That is the curse of overexposure. “The Laughing Cavalier” is like an old, well-worn armchair into which we sink once again, breathing a sigh of mild pleasure without giving it more than a second’s thought.

What is more, this painting is Frans Hals. It is his representative. We know him by no other. Is it a good painting? Is it a bad painting? Is it a profound piece of work or not? Is its appeal mainly decorative? Could the hat be regarded as ridiculous or not? Is it on the way to becoming that “Quangle Wangle’s Hat” of which Edward Lear wrote so compellingly, in which all the birds of the air nested to their hearts’ content? Sweep all such questions away! They are irrelevant. We are beyond all such poker-faced piffle. “The Laughing Cavalier” is here, among us, as deeply embedded in our English soil as an ancient tomb, and he has always been here. Or at the very least since 1865.

Today is rather special though. Today we can see him in all his breathing likeness. Likeness to whom though? No one knows. Least of all the 4th Marquess of Hertford. Least of all he who blithely decided to call it “The Laughing Cavalier” in 1888 or so, more than 250 years after it was painted. So let us consider this question of entitlement a little more. There is no evidence from the painting that this man is a horseman. He is not, as we have already pointed out, laughing. The look is sidelong, slightly rakish, and nowhere near to being a rip-roaring, full-bellied outburst of laughter. This man is too restrained by all his fancy costuming to indulge in laughter. He is too intent on posing, you might say, in all that fancy lacework about the neck and the wrist, arm akimbo.  

Frans Hals, “Portrait of a Man, Possibly Nicolaes Pietersz Duyst van Voorhout” (c. 1636-38), oil on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Jules Bache Collection, 1949

But, but … to be a Cavalier with a capital C is slightly different from being a cavalier with a small c. The title seems to suggest that this man should perhaps be regarded as an Englishman of the king’s party — and by that I mean one of those Cavaliers who fought in the English Civil War against the Cromwellians, who were, some may recall, known as the Roundheads. That Civil War was raging within 20 years of the making of this painting, and so it would not be at all preposterous to suggest that the circa 1888 title was a direct reference to the vanquished Cavaliers — after all, they lost, their king (Charles I) had his head deftly removed close to the top of Whitehall, and a glorious Commonwealth was declared. But is this Cavalier laughing because he has the gift of being able to foresee that the monarchy would rise again, that the republican experiment in England would be snuffed out within little more than a decade, and that a second Charles, a new and more dissolute cavalier altogether, would return from France in triumph? 

Frans Hals: The Male Portrait continues at the Wallace Collection (Hertford House, Manchester Square, London, England) through January 30, 2022. The exhibition is curated by Dr. Lelia Packer.

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A Final Show Honors the Legacy of a Bay Area Art Legend

SAN FRANCISCO — “Resident Alien 2021” is the “brilliant linchpin” of Hung Liu’s solo show, Golden Gate (金門), at the de Young Museum, says curator Janna Keegan. 

For the show, Liu updated this piece, which she first exhibited in 1988 at San Francisco’s Capp Street Project. Based on her green card, it takes up the whole back wall of the museum’s atrium, with “Cookie, Fortune” replacing her name, and the year of her birth changed from 1948 to 1984 — the year she moved to the United States. 

The show, up through next March, explores migration, and is anchored by Liu’s story. Born in Changchun, China, the artist was sent to work in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) and studied mural painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. She immigrated to the United States when she was 35 years old to get her MFA at the University of California, San Diego. Along with “Resident Alien,” the show includesChinese Shrimp Junk II (1994), originally part of the exhibition Old Gold Mountain at the de Young (1994), which dealt with the histories of Chinese immigrants in California during the Gold Rush, before the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Old Gold Mountain featured 200,000 fortune cookies heaped on top of railroad tracks.

Liu succumbed to pancreatic cancer at her home in Oakland on August 7, just a few weeks after the opening of Golden Gate (金門). She was 73.

Hung Liu: Golden Gate (金門) at the de Young Museum in San Francisco (image courtesy the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)

After the Chinese government cancelled Liu’s solo show at the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing a month before it was scheduled to open in December 2019, officials at the de Young stepped in, hoping to exhibit the artist’s work. Due to complications of COVID-19 and other factors, organizing an exhibition in the museum’s regular galleries didn’t work. But Thomas Campbell, director of the Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco (which includes the de Young and the Legion of Honor), proposed installing it in the museum’s Wilsey Court, a public space. 

Keegan and Liu came up with the theme of migration: works representing China are on one side of the space, while those representing America are on the other. “Hung refers to immigration as being a bridge, and this reflects the two cultures,” she notes. 

The artist used linseed oil to blur images painted in the Social Realist style in which she was trained. Liu’s website states, in reference to her integration of watery washes and drips, that she “has invented a kind of weeping realism that surrenders to the erosion of memory and the passage of time.”

In addition to Liu’s style, Keegan appreciates the subjects her art highlights: “She looks at people who are normally elided from art. She has this empathy from growing up with the official narrative of what people said was going on and what she witnessed.” 

Hung Liu, “Right & Left” (2013), in Hung Liu: Golden Gate (金門) at the de Young Museum in San Francisco (image courtesy the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)

In the last few years, Liu had been looking at photos of people taken during the Great Depression in the Dorothea Lange Archive at the Oakland Museum of California. Golden Gate (金門) includes “Girl with Sack (2021) and “Cotton Picker” (2021), both reimagining Lange’s photographs through Liu’s weeping realism. 

For the curator, working on this show had particular poignance: she and Liu met when Keegan worked in the front office of Oakland’s Mills College, where Liu taught painting for 20 years. 

“I was in no way an important person, but she would take special time to come see me and talk to me about my research,” Keegan says. “When we were working on this show, she said to me, ‘I’m so proud of you!’ It warms your heart so much to have somebody legendary believe in you.”

Liu mentored many Bay Area artists, including Yulia Pinkusevich, who took her position when Liu retired from Mills. 

“I was intimidated because she’s a massive figure here in the Bay Area, but I was really surprised by how warm and candid she was,” remembers Pinkusevich, who immigrated from Ukraine when the former Soviet Union collapsed. “I think she liked the fact that we both have this immigrant story and came to the United States to pursue our artistic dreams.”

Hung Liu, “Girl With Sack” (2021), in Hung Liu: Golden Gate (金門) at the de Young Museum in San Francisco (image courtesy the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)

When Pinkusevich took over the office from Liu, she found it all cleaned out — except for an old, broken chair. At first, she didn’t understand why Liu had left it. 

“It turned out it was Jay de Feo’s chair who was her predecessor,” Pinkusevich says. “Hung saved it and showed her this respect, and I thought this gesture was very generous. She had a deep appreciation for people in her life and in her work.”

Liu made people feel special, Pinkusevich reflects.

Liu’s work and her consideration for others also meant a lot to artist Stephanie Syjuco, who studied at the San Francisco Art Institute in the 1990s. She says Liu was one of the first prominent Asian women artists she heard about, and one who reflected Syjuco’s reality. 

“I think she understood her ability to bring people together,” Syjuco says. “She was so powerful too, and that was the coolest thing. She was nice and wonderful and warm, but she took no shit. She defied the stereotype that’s thrust on Asian women.” 

Mark Dean Johnson, an art professor at San Francisco State University and an editor of Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970, feels that Liu’s contribution to the Bay Area art scene is inestimable. 

Hung Liu: Golden Gate (金門) at the de Young Museum in San Francisco (image courtesy the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)

“Her high spirits, international sophistication, and brilliant wit made every interaction a joy. Her courageously powerful and ambitious work, with its foundation in human rights and compassion for laborers, brought new relevance to social realism.” 

Keegan calls Liu a rare character: “It was hard to meet Hung and not feel close to her.” Most of all, Keegan is grateful for a final chance to work with Liu. “I’m so pleased we got [Golden Gate (金門)] up and completed while Hung was still here,” she says, adding, “It’s a great legacy for her.” 

Hung Liu: Golden Gate (金門) continues at the de Young Museum (50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, California) through March 13, 2022. The exhibition is organized by Janna Keegan, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art and Programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

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Robert Vas Dias’s Words Explore the Fact of Things

Poetics of Still Life: A Collage is a sustained meditation on the still life in art. Robert Vas Dias’s new book, which pairs his poetry and art-critical prose—others’ and his own—with artwork, is a subtle discourse on how objects condition our lives in creating an essentially visual field that makes collage possible.

Vas Dias was integral to America’s avant-garde poetry movement subsequent to the well-known anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960. He’s published 17 poetry collections, many collaborations with artists.

Some artworks Vas Dias has chosen, and his accompanying poems, broaden the parameters of the genre. Apples gathered by Paul Cézanne, or bottles on a tray as depicted by James Ensor, are widely recognized as still lifes — but how about Alexandra Exter’s “Constructivist Still Life”(1917, oil on canvas), which art historian Georgii Kovalenko says lacks figuration while possessing “a definite order”? The beautiful inchoate “Lemon”(1967, oil on board) by Louis le Brocquy summons Paul Klee’s “[revelation of] the reality behind visible things.” Comments like these are arrayed collage-like (hence the book’s subtitle) around the artworks Vas Dias has selected, accompanied by his own prose and verse. His curation is chronological and begins with a focus on food.

The “Stele of Princess Nefertiabet and food placed in her tomb”(circa 2565 BC) leads Vas Dias to observe that art has become “the food for millennia.” The “picture reincarnates” (his pun intentional); “matter becomes / image becomes spirit.” The stele’s colors have faded but that “doesn’t matter, / matter becomes immortal.”

Diego Velázquez, ‘Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” (1618), oil on canvas, (courtesy The National Gallery, London)

Velázquez’s “Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary”(oil on canvas, 1618) is a turning point in this art history. It’s paired with Vas Dias’s masterful poem “How We Lived.” In Velázquez’s “kitchen interior” food’s become the predicate for the painting’s drama;”fish and eggs” are “arranged / on plates on a table” — while “a resentful Martha” is “pestling something in a vessel” and in another, smaller room (in the painting’s upper right quadrant) Jesus is having a “tête à tête with Mary.” The conversation, off-center, is the revelation. Vas Dias closes his poem with this rumination:

We’re the kitchen people half our lives, our lives
depend upon the work we do making
mundane arrangements of the commonplace
to nourish the soul and body, the things
of vita silente immutable, immortal, the art of
artefacts telling others of how we lived.

Ingesting the body of Christ is really not the point.

Ben Nicholson’s alluring 1950 abstraction, “Still Life Linear(Goblets)” (oil and pencil on canvas) prompts a very different kind of poem in both style and content. Starting with its whimsical title, “Something there is,” Vas Dias raises the question of the object pure and simple:

eye’s pleasure to abstract
shapes of every day

things from the singular
shift into a construct

of objects that is itself
an object forgetting

expectation befuddlement
become perception

of an artifice becoming
art essence of pleasure
[etc.]

Judith Rothchild, “Quelques-douzaines” (2012), mezzotint on Hahnemühle, (courtesy Robert Vas Diasauthor, © Judith Rothchild)

The poem “Deconstruction Exercise” responds to “Quelques-douzaines,” a 2012 mezzotint by Judith Rothchild. The poem describes her stacked grayish egg crates, and the shadowy eggs residing within their recesses. By listing the image’s evocations, with joyful verve, he documents Rothchild’s avoidance of symbolism:

Besides five paper-pulp egg trays
stacked, some with eggs,
there’s little here except

an early 20th-century Art Nouveau
architecturally innovative facade
of a multi-story block of flats,

rows of quaintly dressed acrobats
stacked and balanced
on each other’s shoulders,

a mysterious cliff face
pocked by deep caves
hewn by ancient tribes.

an underground Byzantine cistern
like the Basilica cistern below Istanbul,
where pale fish slowly swim,

rows of women and girls wearing the
traditional white Breton coiffes that
Gauguin painted in Pont-Aven.

At this point Vas Dias shifts to wry comment: “But this, you say, is realism.” It is, rather than:

an excuse for fantasizing
the interior of wasp nests or

anything else. But nothing is more surreal,
nothing more abstract than reality,
fodder for extravagant visions

of the artist’s paper dreamscapes:
we’re always making strange arrays
of the real, insistent dreamworld.

Anthony Eyton RA, “Fruit Comes First” (2019), oil on canvas, (courtesy Browse & Darby, London, © Anthony Eyton)

The book’s final specimen is an amazing self-portrait by Anthony Eyton, “Fruit Comes First” (2019, oil on canvas), in which the human figure looks out at the viewer? from within the painting. Is this nature mort? The poem starts with factual recognition: “At the far end of the table / ensemble of fruits and vessels // is the maker, regisseur / of the mise-en-scene // of the bursting studio where / he’s the centre of the arrangement[.]” Yet the painting’s narrative is less important than the affect of the paint, how it’s applied, the palette. (Yellow-red orbs on a plate in the foreground are not — fruit comes first? — what’s first noticed). “Still Life,” the only poem that is not about a specific image, serves as the book’s frontispiece and begins,

Arrangement is all:
how everything falls
into its place, the inevitable
space that’s been made
to receive it [etc.]

“The art of our century is that of collage,” Guy Davenport once insisted; moreover, “collage is by genre and by strategy the art of still life.” Vas Dias means to enshrine “the things / of vita silente” in the resonant now. The facticity of objects is set before us. Are they self-evident or metaphysical? The senses, some ancient philosopher whispered in this poet’s ear, are the windows of the soul.

Poetics of Still Life: A Collage by Robert Vas Dias can be purchased online and from booksellers.

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Indigenous Artists Voice Support for Land Restitution in New Billboard Campaign

Three decades ago, November was designated Native American Heritage Month as a way to honor the original inhabitants of what is now the United States. As the Land Back Movement, a growing effort to reclaim Indigenous lands, continues to gain momentum, it’s also an opportunity to acknowledge all that was taken from them and redress historical wrongs.

To this end, the advocacy organization NDN Collective is raising funds for its LANDBACK.Art Campaign, a nationwide public art initiative that will uplift Native voices to raise awareness for the movement. In partnership with For Freedoms and INDÍGENA, they’ve invited 20 Indigenous artists and allies to design billboards that respond to the question: “What does land back mean to you?”

The signs will be prominently placed in locations across North America where communities are fighting for Indigenous rights and Native land protections. These include Everett, Washington, where tribes such as the Tulalip ceded acres of land to the US government in exchange for basic services and education; Jemez Pueblo (Navajo Nation) and Alamogordo (Apache Nation) in New Mexico, home to 23 pueblos and tribes; and Mandan (Standing Rock), North Dakota, where Native activists continue to protest the Dakota Access oil pipeline over environmental concerns. Los Angeles, Mexico City, and Toronto are also on the list.

The artists selected for the project are primarily Indigenous, including Nadema Agard Winyan Luta (Woman Holy Red), Jeffrey Gibson, Cannupa Hanska Luger, and Xiuhtezcatl, or working closely with Native leaders and advocates.

“As a Native American (Cherokee/Lakota Powhatan) visual artist, I am an integral voice of my community and a vanguard of culture with a responsibility to promote the well being of our people on an intellectual, spiritual, physical and emotional level,” said Agard Winyan Luta, whose billboard design superimposes images of babies in wombs on a hilly landscape with the messages “Earth is our Mother and “Water is Life.”

Nadema Agard’s billboard design.

Another participating artist, River Whittle, says that recognizing the effects of racism, slavery, and Native genocide involves returning physical land to Native people and providing reparations for Black descendants of enslaved Africans. Her billboard features a text that reads, “The land needs its people.”

“In the Native community, we talk a lot about generational trauma and also generation resilience. We inherit our ancestors’ experiences. White ancestors in America committed mass genocide, enslavement, and violence. That energy gets passed down generation to generation unless we face and heal it,” Whittle told Hyperallergic.

A billboard design by River Whittle.

A complete list of participating artists can be found on a Kickstarter page, which has so far raised $2,535 of its $40,000 goal. The organizers are accepting donations at different funding levels with varying rewards — supporters who give $25 will get a red vinyl “LANDBACK” flag, while $3,000 will help sponsor a billboard and earn the donor a unique printed photograph of the finished work.

“LANDBACK is not hyperbole,” said Demetrius Johnson, NDN Collective’s campaign organizer, in a statement. “LANDBACK is a commitment and promise to future generations … [It] creates a space for Indigenous peoples to communicate solutions that have worked, and will work, in protecting our ecosystem from capitalism, imperialism, and militarization.”

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Why the Hell We Are Obsessed with Hell

Why are we obsessed with the reimagining of hell? And what influences our notions of the landscapes, geography, and bodies within the fiery inferno? A new book takes readers to the origins of hell and back.

This year numerous reflections on the work of Dante Alighieri have marked the 700th anniversary of the author’s death, on September 14, 1321. Hell was already a hot topic within the zeitgeist. From shows like The Good Place and Lucifer to Kanye West’s new track “Heaven and Hell” and Lil Nas X’s “Montero,” popular media is just as fixated on hellscapes as Dante’s 14th-century audiences. But where did the visual and visceral design of hell that is embedded in the Western imagination even come from?

Its origins are the focus of a new work by religion scholar Meghan Henning. The book, Hell Hath No Fury: Gender, Disability, and the Invention of Damned Bodies in Early Christian Literature, dissects the genesis of the early Christian idea of hell within the period of the late Roman Empire and then traces its impact over centuries to arrive at how we visualize it today.  

It is not as if the underworld were a novel invention of Christianity. Ancient Near Eastern cultures developed ideas of heroic trips to the underworld glimpsed at in the Epic of Gilgamesh. In Book 11 of Homer’s Odyssey, the bard describes Odysseus’s descent into the underworld. And descriptions of the underworld were not just available via oral poetry. Ancient visualizations are mentioned in the form of a mid-5th-century BCE painter named Polygnotus. The artist took it upon himself to mix variant mythical traditions of the space in his commission to envision Hades on the wall of a building at the sacred Greek site of Delphi in a work called the “Nekyia.” Virgil — who later served as the guide to Dante — famously has Aeneas travel to the underworld in Book 6 of the Aeneid. Mythic journeys by Orpheus, Heracles, and others to the underworld were a favorite motif among Greek and Etruscan ceramicists and later could be found in Roman mosaics.

Carl Robert and Hermann Schenck reconstruction of the “Nekyia” at Delphi by Polygnotus (1892) (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Henning is our Virgil on this tour to discover how hell went from the Greek underworld to a space for punishment pursuant to the Christian notion of sin. As she directs us to, we must inspect early Christian writings in order to trace intellectual and religious models for the Inferno, many of which would go on to influence perceptions today. “The Apocalypse of Paul,” a Greek text written for a Christian audience between 388 to 416 CE, is noted by Dante. Later translated into Latin, Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Slavonic, it was a source of inspiration for many of the basic components later incorporated into the Divine Comedy. It is a part of a genre of literary apocalypses, like the “Book of Daniel” or the “Book of Revelation”. Apocalyptic literature was popular within earlier Jewish writing as well. In the short work, the apostle Paul is a tourist led by a young angel through the levels of heaven. The particular sinners and their punishments distributed throughout the variant levels are explained in didactic detail to the apostle — to chilling effect for the reader.  

Apocalypses like that of Paul and of another called the “Apocalypse of Peter” were often read aloud in early Christian churches within the late Roman Empire, as on Good Friday. While these texts were outside the biblical canon, they were still read and spoken about, in large part because they addressed a gaping void within the New Testament. They created a literary and didactic hellscape not provided by the likes of Matthew, Luke, or any of the other writings in the gospels. In filling in these lacunae, Henning notes, it is possible to see how these apocalypses were influenced by and sometimes justified legal punishments used in the Roman Mediterranean. Laws such as the Roman lex talionis — a law of retribution akin to an eye-for-an-eye —or punishments such as being punished by being thrown “ad bestias” (toward the beasts) in the amphitheater. Early Christians existed within a particular Roman socio-legal structure of slavery, misogyny, and retributive justice they often projected or mapped onto their notions of treatment in the afterlife.

Sandro Botticelli, “Map of Hell” (1480–1490) painted parchment, illustration for an edition of The Divine Comedy, Vatican Library, Vatican City, Italy  (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The most potent parts of Hell Hath No Fury address ancient prejudices tied to the body and to gender. Henning points to how imagined bodies within hell connect directly to perceptions of real bodies in the present world — and their marginalization. Roman law and society were often cruel to non-normative bodies. The historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus notes that from Rome’s founding by Romulus in 753 BCE, all priests were required to be “without any bodily defects,” and other Roman authors noted the Vestal virgins similarly had to be physically pristine, in particular they could not have a speech impediment, be hearing impaired, or unable to speak. Those with mental health issues, called furiosi, and many other disabled persons in antiquity had limited legal redress and were often assigned legal guardians. The origins of the conservatorship imposed on Britney Spears, for instance, goes back to the misogyny and ableism of Roman law.

In early Christian visions of hell, the binary of righteous versus unrighteous persons is demonstrated through treatment of the body. Corporal treatment also reveals cultural constructions of masculinity and the ways in which bodies were policed in the Roman Mediterranean. It is from this cultural context that early Christian communities emerged:  

The punishments themselves rely upon ancient notions of bodily difference in order to negatively mark the bodies of the unrighteous. The bodies of the damned are blind, mute, bloody, lacerated, or spewing forth worms …. In the tours of hell, I argue, the damned inhabit disabled, female, imprisoned bodies for all of eternity. Using bodily normativity as a way to depict eternal torment relies upon familiar imagery of the body to depict the afterlife.

Scholars of early Christian martyrdom texts and saintly hagiographies have long seen the body as a central site for crafting identity. In early Christian visions of hell, the body is again the location for revealing the ostensibly “true” nature of an individual — but in the process lays bare the systems of slavery, patriarchy, and ableism that provided the scaffolding for early Christian doctrine.

Diebold Martin, “Last Judgment” (late 15th century) oil paint on wood, St. George’s Church, Haguenau, Alsace, France (image by Ralph Hammann via Wikimedia Commons)

Hell Hath No Fury provides fundamental clues as to why it seems that we cannot escape reincarnations of hell in either Dante or on Netflix. “We have a propensity to make hell on earth,” Henning notes. “Imaginary spaces and otherworldly beings are precisely what gives apocalyptic literature the ability to critique and transform real social spaces and figures in the contemporary world.” Early Christian descriptors of hell have cast a long shadow from antiquity to today. Henning retraces how the shades of this oft-overlooked literature pervade our contemporary notion of the afterlife. She also underscores how it has permeated our sensibilities surrounding notions of retribution and justice.

Scholars of the early 20th century largely ignored early Christian apocalyptic literature, writing it off as banal pop culture from the ancient world. Generations from now, scholars may want to reflect on this sidelining of apocalyptic texts when contextualizing the backlash surrounding Lil Nas X’s Montero album or seeking to explain people binge watching American Horror Story in the midst of a global pandemic. The present tension between the traditional, early Christian vision of hell and the inversion of this deeply flawed model in recent popular media is a product of a polarized society. But this questioning of the historical casting of “deviant bodies” within constructions of hell is an important way to interrogate how and why we continue to marginalize non-normative bodies today. Studies of hellscapes can be a valuable tool for recognizing and critiquing the inequity, ableism, and misogyny of the past and the present.

While only 56% of Americans now believe in hell, it remains a threat still invoked by preachers and adherents to Christianity. Recently there has been an uptick in those fundamentalists who believe even small sins deserve eternal damnation and who invoke early Christian hellscapes as a way of justifying and legitimizing their homophobia or attitudes towards premarital sex. This struggle over conceptions of hell unveils what studies of early Christian apocalyptic literature have long demonstrated: Our imagined hellscapes say more about the biases of the culture that constructs them than the actuality of an eternal inferno.

Hell Hath No Fury: Gender, Disability, and the Invention of Damned Bodies in Early Christian Literature by Meghan Henning is published by Yale University Press and is available via Bookshop.

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Film Reels Dredged from the Sea Become an Eerie Meditation on Mortality

In 2016, a fisherman dredged up a case off the coast of Iceland that contained four reels of decades-old 35mm film. It looked like the beginning of an inspirational story about a precious movie rediscovery. But, anti-climactically, he’d merely found pieces of the 1968 Soviet mystery-comedy Derevenskiy Detektiv (“Village Detective”) — which was, as filmmaker and historian Bill Morrison puts it, “not lost, rare, or even, to my mind … particularly good.” But such an unusual event still deserved scrutiny. What circumstances led this particular film to this completely unexpected place? Morrison’s investigation resulted in his new film The Village Detective: A Song Cycle.

Morrison constructs his films — such as Decasia (2002) and The Great Flood (2013) — from raw, unrestored fragments of celluloid. In 2016’s Dawson City: Frozen Time, he told the story of a much more exciting rediscovery, how hundreds of lost films were dug up from under a skating rink in the Yukon. He showcases the images of these movies with every scratch, fade, and blur included. Each film print records two stories: the one a crew conjured together however long ago, and the record of everything that’s happened to the strip since its creation. The vagaries of the projection, transportation, and preservation of physical film leave it vulnerable to damage. Many archival projects focus on the first story, but Morrison is interested in both. Cinema is an illusion of life, but in letting imperfections intrude upon the experience, he turns these illusions into specters, or memories. The past is both dead and present. Finding some reels of Village Detective may not in itself be remarkable, but this specific reel has its own unique story, and Morrison finds value in that. His interrogation of the water-warped images becomes a rumination on mortality.

From The Village Detective: A Song Cycle

Village Detective starred Mikhail Zharov. To several 20th-century generations of Russians, he was a vital figure, an acclaimed and popular actor who worked with many of the titans at the forefront of Soviet cinema development, including Sergei Eisenstein. Now he is more of a cultural footnote. Morrison was told about the fisherman’s discovery by his friend Jóhann Jóhannsson. The acclaimed composer suffered an untimely death early in the production of this film. Though the collective societal and cultural memory of Jóhannsson is much fresher than that of Zharov, he too is now on the gradual but inexorable path toward being forgotten. Thinking about this helped clarify the themes of this film.

Through images of Village Detective and Zharov’s other films, as well as pieces from contemporary Soviet cinema and modern-day interviews with historians and preservationists, Morrison reconstructs the actor’s life and times, tracing the path of his career. The discovery of his work entombed at the bottom of the sea precipitates the audience’s own rediscovery of him — through the use of his films, that rediscovery becomes something like a resurrection. He’s dead, he’s gone, and yet there he is again. He may be hard to discern through the haze of distorted colors or the flurry of scratches, but you can appreciate the way he acts, just as whoever watched these reels years and years ago did. The past is supposed to just be what we remember, and yet in the act of watching a film, we are in communion with it. From what could have merely been a curiosity, Morrison constructs a haunted, haunting meditation.

The Village Detective: A Song Cycle is now available on Blu-ray and can be streamed via Kino Now.

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Metaphorical Paintings by Calida Garcia Rawles Obscure Black Subjects with Gleaming Ripples of Water

“On The Other Side of Everything” (2021), acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inches. All images © Calida Garcia Rawles, shared with permission

Artist Calida Garcia Rawles continues her explorations into the myriad possibilities of water with paintings distorted by bubbles, pockets of air, and ripples reflecting the light above. She suspends Black figures in otherwise imperceptible moments, like the pause that immediately follows a fully-clothed plunge into a pool, conveying a vulnerable and fleeting interaction between her subjects and their surroundings. With submerged profiles or mirrored features, many are unidentifiable. “You really can’t see a face. They become almost forms and a part of their environment,” she tells Colossal. “I think there’s a spiritual element to water… They’re formless, and we’re a part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Many of the poetic renderings depict figures in billowing gowns or collared shirts in white for the color’s association with virtue and purity, a symbolic choice that’s connected to the artist’s interest in broader questions of race and its implications. “A lot of times innocence is not associated with the Black body. I thought it was a place to start,” she shares.

 

“Requiem For My Navigator” (2021), acrylic on canvas, 96 x 72 inches

Each painting is based on photographs the artist takes herself—read more about her lengthy research process previously on Colossal—and captures water’s incredible power and meditative qualities. For Rawles, the fluid spaces are metaphorical and tied broadly to Water-Memory Theory, or the idea that the vital liquid is able to preserve all of its interactions. “(I’m) remembering what water does, that it holds history in a way,” she says. “Water has everything that’s been through it, and that’s fascinating to me.”

Her practice is circular, and she’s likely to return to a thought or broader theme after setting it aside. The ethereal, abstract paintings that comprise the new series On the Other Side of Everything, for example, are extensions of those in A Dream For My Lillith, six paintings featuring clothed figures who are obscured by lustrous ripples of water rendered in acrylic. “It’s not a departure,” Rawles says of her new work. “It’s just showing more range of what I can do.”

On the Other Side of Everything is on view at Lehmann Maupin in New York through October 23, and the artist is currently working on her first mural at SoFi Stadium in Los Angleles. You can follow her progress on that large-scale work and see more of her process on Instagram.

 

“Dark Matter” (2021), acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches

“The Lightness Of Darkness” (2021), acrylic on canvas, 60 x 72 inches

Left: “High Tide, Heavy Armor” (2021), acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 inches. Right: “In His Image” (2021), acrylic on canvas, 48 x 60 inches

“A Promise” (2020), acrylic on canvas, 48 x 72 inches

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The Democracy of Abstraction

Thomas Nozkowski (1944–2019) never hedged his bets. One bet was that abstract painting did not have to be elitist; it could be as open to subject matter as Andy Warhol supposedly was. The difference is that Nozkowski was not interested in the second-hand experiences we all supposedly share. He believed that each person’s experience of the everyday was fundamentally unique and set out to honor that in his work.

By 1974, when making large-scale paintings had become commonplace, and subject matter had largely been banished from abstraction in favor of paint-as-paint, he had formulated an alternative approach based on two conclusions. First, he decided to work on a 16-by-20-inch format using prepared canvas boards, which are available in any art supply store, implicitly rejecting the masterpiece tradition and the belief in the artist as a heroic figure. Second, every painting he did would come from a personal experience, which he defined in the broadest possible terms. This is how he defined it in an interview we did in The Brooklyn Rail (November 2010): 

Events, things, ideas — anything. Objects and places in the visual continuum, sure, but also from other arts and abstract systems. 

In this merging of intimate scale and personal experience, Nozkowski established links between art and life that challenged a number of presumptions regarding abstract painting and its relationship to the viewer. Are you making art for the wealthy class or for ordinary individuals when you work on a monumental scale? Can you make a painting that honors the basic enigmatic nature of being human without aligning yourself with any philosophical, religious, or aesthetic doctrine? Can you see things in abstraction without those things becoming symbolic?

Installation view of Thomas Nozkowski: The Last Paintings at Pace Gallery, New York

As I see it, these questions lead to further inquiry, including whether or not you could stay in touch with the material nature of your existence and not take refuge in the idea of transcendence. Finally, can you make a painting that is subtle, nuanced, and complex while also being visually immediate? Can you proceed with painting while rejecting gesture and accepted solutions such as the grid and hard-edged forms? Could you make a painting that did not rely on a formula? That Nozkowski attained what he set out to do is one of the great and inspiring achievements in postwar art.  

These were some of the thoughts I had when I went to see Thomas Nozkowski: The Last Paintings at Pace Gallery (September 10–October 23, 2021). I was also apprehensive, as I remembered Nozkowski talking to me about these paintings shortly before Susan Dunne, who was then working for Pace Gallery, came to see them at his studio, and I saw them for the first time on the day of his funeral. I was concerned because I knew I had seen them but not really looked at them and I wondered if I could actually ponder what was there.

The exhibition includes 19 paintings dated between 2015 and 2019. All but one measure 22 by 28 inches, a scale he began working with after more than 20 years of using the 16-by-20-inch format. Nozkowski also switched to painting on linen on panels, which gave him the resilient surface he wanted, as he often scraped down his paintings and started over.

The exhibition’s outlier is “Untitled (9-27) (Pulpit Rock)” (oil on linen, 30 by 40 inches, 2018), which I believe is the last painting in a series of 10 done on this scale. Conceived of in the late 1990s, each painting in the series was inspired by a specific place in the Shawangunk Mountains, which Nozkowski began hiking as a teenager, and to which he and his wife, the artist Joyce Robins, and their son, Casimir, moved near in 1994, when they left Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Pulpit Rock is named for a unique rock formation in Jefferson County (on the northern border of New York state) that once served as an outdoor podium from which itinerant clergy preached to the local residents, all of which Nozkowski knew, but the viewer need not know when looking at the painting.

Thomas Nozkowski, “Untitled (9-27) (Pulpit Rock)” (2018), oil on linen on panel, 30 × 40 inches

Nozkowski’s paintings openly invite you to contemplate a complex visual configuration that is brimming with color, myriad shapes and lines, and unexpected shifts in vocabulary and color, with neither painterly flourishes nor signature gestures; this is what I find powerful and compelling about them. It takes a supremely confident and ambitious artist to work this way. The only comparison that I can think of is the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, who could sight read and play a complex piece that he had never played before, and who never showed off while playing. 

I was struck by the fact that there is never a hurried moment in these paintings, which were done when Nozkowski was well aware that he had a fatal disease. At no point does he call overt attention to his personal circumstances in these last works. Knowing that he was dying did not make him change his patient and devoted approach to making a beautiful and mysterious painting that he felt was true to a specific experience. If anything, he seemed intent on slowing time down and making paintings that are full of different kinds of lines, from delicate to sturdy, and unique shapes that never become eccentric or private signs. Is it possible to celebrate the innate wild beauty of the indifferent universe while acknowledging one’s inevitable disappearance? Nozkowski’s paintings convince me that it can be done. 

Completed in 2019 — Nozkowski died on May 9 of that year — “Untitled (9-63)” and “Untitled (9-69)” convey the way he faced his impending mortality. In both paintings, there is a sense of tension between what is contained within the painting’s physical boundaries and what extends beyond. This tension speaks to so many things about living in the world that I don’t think the artist’s mortality is the sole subject. At a point when one’s focus could understandably be narrowing, Nozkowski directs the viewer’s attention to that which is beyond the individual’s sight. 

In “Untitled (9-69)” Nozkowski surrounds a large, irregular, egg-yolk-yellow circle with two distinct bands composed of various shapes, against a gray ground. Parts of both bands are cut off by the painting’s physical edges. For the inner band, Nozkowski painted different black shapes (rectangles, circles, trapezoids, triangles), against the yellow ground but forming a separate entity. As he worked his way around the inside of the circle, he would develop a particular pattern of related black shapes before changing from small, solidly colored black rectangles to a group of larger black circles to a group of yellow circles with thick black circumferences.

The incrementally painted black shapes reminded me of mosaics, each one unique. The changes from one kind of shape to another underscore the passage of time. An outer band is made of interlocking, softly colored forms. At different points, the density of the colors shift from muted to solid, though these shifts follow no distinct pattern. 

Thomas Nozkowski, “Untitled (9-63)” (2019), oil on linen on panel
22 × 28 inches

In “Untitled (9-63),” a turquoise, jigsaw-puzzle-like shape outlined in black occupies a large part of the painting’s upper left-hand corner, while a three-colored, irregular triangular shape with a black edge extends in diagonally from the painting’s right side, from below the upper right edge to the bottom edge. These two distinct flat shapes are joined together by a thin, multi-sectioned band that traverses the painting below the middle. The sections of the joining band change color from turquoise to green without recalling the spectrum or any other logical shift, while, at the same time, not appearing arbitrary. 

Between these two shapes, the black line defining their edges and separating the one on the right into three different-colored sections divides the off-white plane into interlocking sections with round and slightly curved edges. The solidly colored shapes extend beyond the painting’s physical edges, while a uniform black line defines shapes that fit together, but are not standardized. 

As in “Untitled (9-69),” Nozkowski establishes a tension between what is within the painting’s rectangle and what extends beyond its physical edges. At no point does anything he makes come across as short hand for something else; line, shape, and color are always what they are, even as their juxtapositions and shifts stir up associations by the viewer. 

Employing the basic elements of painting, from drawing in paint to planar shapes ranging from the solid to the semi-transparent, to different palettes of color, to scumbled and watery surfaces, Nozkowski never became formulaic. If, earlier in his career, he made what the poet and critic Marjorie Welish called a “vexed shape” in an abstract field, he moved beyond that to acknowledging the painting’s edges. Knowing the end was fast approaching, he opened up the focus of his paintings and extended the forms beyond what he could see, recognizing that there was a continuum between the individual and infinity — which he not only accepted, but praised. He realized that everything he saw and experienced, whether while hiking or visiting a museum, possessed a complexity that he wanted to, and did, honor. The art world has yet to grasp the depth of his greatness and grace. 

Thomas Nozkowski: The Last Paintings continues at Pace Gallery (540 West 25th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through October 23.

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Controversial Roosevelt Monument Doused in Red Paint at American Museum of Natural History

The equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt at New York’s American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) was splashed with red paint minutes after midnight this morning, October 6. The guerrilla action comes days before the annual Indigenous Peoples Day (or Columbus Day) on October 11, which has seen large protests against the controversial monument in previous years.

In the wee hours, unidentified protesters splattered blood-red paint at the plinth of the 1939 bronze and the museum’s stairs. Earlier, the museum had been packed with hundreds of prestigious guests attending the 2021 PEN America’s Literary Gala. AMNH has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

The action took place minutes after midnight when unidentified protesters splashed blood-red paint at the plinth of the 1939 bronze and the museum’s stairs

In June of 2020, amid the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, AMNH announced that it would remove the long-disputed statue after years of protests by Indigenous groups and grassroots activists. The decision, proposed by the museum and accepted by New York City, was first shared in an internal memo to staff that was revealed by the New York Times. However, the statue still stands more than a year after the decision was made.

Made by James Earle Fraser, the contested statue features the former US President on horseback, flanked by two unnamed gun carriers: an Indigenous man to his right, and a Black man to his left. Unveiled in 1940, the statue was meant to “celebrate Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) as a devoted naturalist and author of works on natural history,” AMNH says on its website. The former president’s father was one of the museum’s founders, the institution states, adding that it is “proud of its historic association with the Roosevelt family.”

The statue still stands more than a year and a half after the museum decided to remove it

According to the Gothamist, a series of bureaucratic hurdles, including two inconclusive hearings, delayed the statue’s removal. It was only in June that the NYC Public Design Commission finally voted on the work’s removal, unanimously approving a proposal to move the statue to an institution dedicated to Roosevelt’s life and memory.

In 2017, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio formed an advisory commission to review the Roosevelt statue and other racist monuments across the city. After failing to reach a consensus, the committee’s final recommendation in 2018 was to keep the statute in place with additional interpretation and historical context. Building on those recommendations, the museum mounted the exhibition Addressing the Statue in 2019. As part of the exhibition, a new informational plaque was added to the bronze. The plaque reads: “Some see the statue as a heroic group; others, as a symbol of racial hierarchy.”

In 2019, the museum added a plaque that reads: “Some see the statue as a heroic group; others, as a symbol of racial hierarchy.”

Protests against the monument date back to 1970s. In October of 2016, the group Decolonize This Place organized the first Anti-Columbus Day tour inside the museum with other activist groups. As a symbolic gesture, the protesters shrouded the statue with a parachute. In 2017, the statue’s plinth was defaced with red paint for the first time by members of the group Monument Removal Brigade (MRB). Throughout the years, the activist groups repeated calls on the museum and the city to rename Columbus Day, remove the Roosevelt monument, and “respect ancestors.”

Protests against the offending monument date back to the 1970s

“Other big cities have been proactive in removing offensive monuments and renaming Columbus Day,” Decolonize This Place, which said it had no involvement with today’s action, wrote in a comment to Hyperallergic this morning. “What is wrong with New York? It’s been 16 months since the Mayor agreed to take away the Roosevelt triptych, and he still has not moved to properly recognize Indigenous Peoples Day.”

“The delay is inexcusable, and pours insult on injury,” the group added. “Rename, Remove, and Respect the Ancestors!”

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The Wellin Museum of Art Presents Sarah Oppenheimer: Sensitive Machine

Sarah Oppenheimer: Sensitive Machine invites visitors to collaboratively realign and reconfigure the Dietrich Exhibition Gallery at the Wellin Museum of Art. Visitors touch and turn hollow black beams, setting in motion a relay of spatial cause and effect. Walls split and slide, creating new sightlines, while lighting tracks rise and fall, shifting the radiance of the gallery. Conceptually, the works explore how our actions — both individually and communally — shape the spaces we inhabit. The exhibition invites improvisation and mobilizes group dynamics, bringing awareness to the collaborative experience of inhabited architecture.

For Oppenheimer, the space of the museum is a site of experimentation, where visitors experience the curiosity and joy of transforming the artworks themselves. In Sensitive Machine, these works — or “instruments,” as the artist refers to them — contain trajectories and linkages that can be learned through a process of collaboration with others or repeated activation. By discovering these pathways, visitors come to know the artworks through movement, touch, and sight, creating a multisensory experience. In Oppenheimer’s words, “You have to enter the temporal network in order for the work to exist.” In Sensitive Machine, the audience is given agency to decipher and explore the intertwined connections through shared and collaborative touch.

For more information, visit hamilton.edu/wellin.

Sarah Oppenheimer: Sensitive Machine continues at the Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College (198 College Hill Road, Clinton, NY) through December 5, 2021. The exhibition is curated by Tracy L. Adler, Johson-Pote Director, Wellin Museum of Art.

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Join a Community of Radical Thinkers and Makers at Cranbrook Academy of Art

Cranbrook Academy of Art is a dynamic community of architects, artists, and designers working together to shape the future of visual and material culture. Ranked as one of the country’s top graduate-only programs in architecture, design, and fine art, Cranbrook is a place for students who are looking to leave their MFA program prepared to immediately enter the industry or open their own studio practice.

There are no formal classes or set schedules at Cranbrook. Only unlimited studio time and critical discussion of work with your peers and industry leaders. With no traditional classes, you’re free to focus on your work — not a curriculum. You’ll work alongside a carefully selected cohort of artists who have the same dedication to building their professional life in art, architecture, and design.

The Academy’s community comprises up to 150 graduate students working in 11 disciplines: Architecture, 2D Design, 3D Design, 4D Design, Ceramics, Fiber, Metalsmithing, Painting, Photography, Print Media, and Sculpture. Each department has its own artist-in-residence serving as attentive mentors, and students are active contributors to the intellectual and creative resources of the community.

This year, Cranbrook is offering up to 10 full-tuition fellowships as part of its newly established Gilbert Fellows program, thanks to Jennifer and Dan Gilbert’s transformational $30 million gift intended to create new pathways for inclusion, diversity, equity, and access to graduate education.

If you feel this is the right environment for you, we welcome your application to join our community. There simply is no other school — no other place — like this.

To learn more and apply, visit cranbrookart.edu.

Priority for fellowships will be given to those who apply by January 15, 2022.

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