February 2016

Image courtesy of Roberto Chamorro for The Armory Show

On March 3rd, the annual Armory Show in New York will open to the public on Piers 92 & 94, bringing together works from 204 galleries from 36 countries, marking the fair’s largest international representation to date. The Armory Arts Week in New York is akin to New York Fashion Week. However, rather than getting a sneak peak at next season’s hottest trends, collectors and art world enthusiasts attend art fairs to get a sometimes overwhelming look into the future of art, with dealers and gallerists bringing out their latest and greatest works, ready to sell. The first week of March seems overwhelmingly chaotic for art lovers and professionals alike as 12 different art fairs descend upon New York, all occurring nearly simultaneously. Though some are more curatorial focused than others, art fairs have the same basic layout—galleries install works in small booths set up in large exhibition spaces, comparable to an old-world marketplace with purveyors pushing their goods on passerby’s. At least, with the high density of visitors and constant visual bombardment, that is how it feels.

Image courtesy of Roberto Chamorro for The Armory Show

Image courtesy of Roberto Chamorro for The Armory Show

Although the art fairs all boast a certain unique quality or aspect, at their essence, the shows are a convenient and efficient way to sell as much art as possible to as many people as possible. However, fairs present a front of being simply a means to promote art and culture. Though this point is hotly debated, art fairs are not deceiving their audience by claiming to be a means for the public to experience a vast, diverse amount of art with little effort. The greatest barrier in terms of accessibility is the sometimes hefty price for an entrance ticket. Beyond the ticket price, art fairs do stand as a way for the general public to get a glimpse of artworks they might never otherwise encounter. Also, on the business side of things, the fairs have become extremely important for gallerists and art world professionals to garner relationships and reach a market that previously would have been unavailable, or just simply outside of the reach of their network. “Fairs are a necessary evil,” says London-based art dealer Ben Brown. “I prefer the quieter contemplation of the gallery, but I sell more at fairs, and I make more contacts.”

Roberto Chamorro

Roberto Chamorro

There are 200 large contemporary art fairs a year within major art-hubs around the world. As the art world becomes ever more globalized, collectors and art lovers have begun to congregate at art fairs rather than spend time visiting singular galleries and dealers. Collectors and viewers alike can browse an international selection of work, and while the viewing conditions may not be ideal, the exposure is hard to beat.

Like a thunderhead looming over many cities, the upcoming fairs have thrown the art world into a frenzy of preparation, waiting for the floodgates to open and the storm to begin.

Courtesy of the Artist

Based in New York City, photographer Ebru Varol brings into focus not just life on the streets but the life of the street.  Ebru’s work is acutely aware of how memory fades, and the camera captures just a moment.  Her photographs dance between light and dark, to see and experience that moment in its entirety.  I got the chance to ask Ebru some questions regarding her work, passion, and what drives her Light.

  1. Can you recall the moment where you discovered your passion for photography, or when you realized you wanted to pursue a career in the arts?

Well, it was after a series of relocations, from one continent to another, moving slowly from East towards the West. I moved here, to New York, from London in 2001, right after September 11th, in a time of grief. While being alone and feeling uncertain in the streets of New York, the only certain thing was my camera. My camera became my best friend, my comrade in arms. I guess if I have to pin down the moment when I discovered my passion for photography, it would be then. Photography came to me as an outlet for expressing my emotional state at that time and it stayed with me ever since. The decision to pursue a career came a few years ago when I realized that my passion, my photography could also possibly be my work and if that was the case, I had to treat it as such.

Exhibit Defiant, Courtesy of the Artist

Exhibit Defiant, Courtesy of the Artist

  1. Do you have a preference of shooting in color or black and white?

Certain things I see in color and others in black and white. When shooting in black and white, I am looking for light and dark contrasts, which carry so many symbolisms and parallelisms with real life. Black and white exposures with their retro feeling move me from the present to the past and from the west to the east.  My color images have a different quality, more meditative. Instead of the contrast’s depth, the surfaces activate sensations and emotions with a more long lasting effect.

  1. What’s your favorite subject to shoot?

In my eyes everything carries a life of its own, even the lifeless. As a street photographer, I think of myself as a type of 19th century Parisian flâneur, an explorer and observer of the silent. I wander through cities or nature’s paths looking for forms and light. There are several themes that keep coming up in my photographs: windows and staircases, reflections and different textures, mannequins and figurines, locks and keys and other things with an old soul.

Exhibition - Let It In..., Courtesy of the Artist

Exhibition – Let It In…, Courtesy of the Artist

  1. What drives your art?

I am looking at reality through a viewfinder. I see how the light touches forms, how new shapes are created, how reflections change the interpretation of what I see. Then I have this desire to capture these instances, to make images out of them, to have them tell their story, perhaps my story or your story…

  1. Do your roots in Istanbul impact you as a photographer?

Istanbul is an old city, engraved with history. When you walk on the cobblestones, you wonder who has walked the same paths over the centuries. This connection is present in my images, even though sometimes I need to break away from the past, be in the present and feel the magnetism of the contemporary. Finding my Istanbul, locating that emotional state is an intriguing challenge.  My photographs of windows are a good example of what I am trying to say. A window can be anywhere East or West. It’s a window in someone’s soul, memories, fantasies. In certain pictures and certain moments, the camera becomes a window as well, opening and closing, technically and metaphorically.

Exhibition - Love Is Love..., Courtesy of the Artist

Exhibition – Love Is Love…, Courtesy of the Artist

  1. Could you explain a term that’s part of your photographical philosophy, “The Light”?

Photography literally means the transcription of light. In the image Reverie, named after the title of my upcoming show, a seated mannequin is contemplating, perhaps daydreaming, frozen in time and in the composition looking outside the window at an old building across the street.  The moment the photo was taken the light came through in a certain angle lighting up the window and blending the inside with the outside, becoming one.  This is how the story of that image begun, with a spark of light. Its very mythological!

  1. Where has your favorite place been to exhibit your work?

London, because it was the first city I ever showed my work, and New York because I am having my first solo show here.  I feel lucky ‘cause both cities have a highly sophisticated audience.

  1. Are there any particular artists, photographers or ideas that have fundamentally influenced your approach to photography?

I am very drawn to the works of M. C. Escher, especially in his interest of infinite spaces, geometries and reflections. Edward Hopper’s stillness, his urban scenes and his perspectives of windows with the intense feeling of loneliness fascinate me. Also the works of JMW Turner and his use of light and moving skies are important.  In a recent show of his work at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich UK, he was taking over all my sensations. But André Kertész is perhaps the strongest influence: the way he captured urban life, highlighting the poetic and the quiet. How his images “give meaning to everything” about him and how “to make photographs as by reflection in a mirror, unmanipulated and direct as in life.” All these artists and their artworks inform my work and inspire me, perhaps a little piece of them are found in my photographs.

Exhibition - Seeing Glass..., Courtesy of the Artist

Exhibition – Seeing Glass…, Courtesy of the Artist

  1. Are you interested in other forms of art?

When I was a child I believed I would grow up and become an architect.  Life turned out differently, but still in my photos one can see my affection to architecture and the urban environment.

  1. In terms of being an artist today, do you think it’s important to receive a degree, whether that be a BA or MFA, to be “actually qualified” in order to be successful?

I think a BA and/or MFA degree is very important, but in my case being a self-taught artist, an autodidact, grants me a strange freedom. I don’t have strains, rules or prefixed ideas about how my art should be. But I do not underestimate the academic qualifications. They give you a confidence, a network and a deeper understanding of the art world.

  1. You received a BA in Business Management, correct?  Has that been of use to you for the business side of your work?

Every piece of information and knowledge is useful. My BA in business helps me think of my work in a practical manner, like in the technical aspect where market research is important for the production of the work. Creatively I cannot find any connection between my business training and my photography, other than the opposition of the two: in my artwork there are no constraints, while business is all about rules.

  1. What’s your advice for someone who would also like to pursue a career in this field?

Take your camera and don’t hesitate. This is your world, this is your work.

Ebru has an upcoming Solo Exhibition entitled Reveries in the Gregg Gallery of the National Arts Club, from February 29-March 12, 2016.  The title of this show refers to her creative process during her wanderings through urban streets and nature’s paths.

To see more of Ebru’s work, check out her website.

It’s basically impossible to narrow London’s top modern and contemporary galleries down to 10. With the wealth and vibrancy of the arts scene in the British capital, there are too many to mention. Indeed, London has long been a global powerhouse in the modern and contemporary art world, so much so that this list simply sums up the starting points, merely scratching the surface of the city’s endless offerings.

We’ve created two lists examining galleries in London. This first one will guide you through London’s classic and long-established names such as the Tate and Serpentine, whilst the second will focus on London’s more recent additions to the modern and contemporary scene like Blain|Southern and Victoria Miro.

1. Tate Modern

In a nutshell: The Tate is one of the most famous art institutions in the world and, undoubtedly, a force to be reckoned with. Its neat “family” of four British galleries show its dedication to demonstrating the scope of the arts – old and new – and has thus become a household name across the globe. The Tate Modern is arguably its most impressive offering. Housed in the former Bankside Power Station, the building was repurposed into a gallery by architects Herzog & de Meuron who decided to reinvent the structure rather than demolish it. Now, with its chimney intact, the Tate’s commanding physical presence on the bank is symbolic of its prevalence in global culture. Its brilliant permanent collection includes world-class works such as David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash (1967) and Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917). The Tate Modern is known for exhibitions that spectacularly transform its interior such as Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth (2007) which took the form of a long crack in the floor of the gallery’s Turbine Hall. Don’t miss the Thames-view café and the superb bookshop.

Where: Bankside, SE1. Open 10am-6pm everyday with late closing at 10pm on Friday and Saturday.

2. Whitechapel Gallery

Whitechapel Gallery facade, with the Tree of Life by Rachel Whiteread.

Whitechapel Gallery facade, with the Tree of Life by Rachel Whiteread.

In a nutshell: Cited by the Independent as “the place to promote a new belief in the good of art”, Whitechapel Gallery was actually one of the first publicly funded galleries in London, and its history is one of education and outreach. What’s more, it organises exhibitions according to local interest. This loyalty to locale make it uniquely personal when considering its international renown. With a penchant for catching up-and-coming artists and catapulting them to recognition, the Whitechapel has premiered the likes of Frida Kahlo and Mark Rothko. It even brands its history as one “of firsts”, having also been the only British gallery to exhibit Picasso’s Guernica during the Spanish Civil War and the first one in the country to produce a major survey of Jackson Pollock’s work. So, you might see the next big thing, perhaps the polar opposite…or something completely unexpected. Such is the Whitechapel, and it is not to be missed.

Where: Tower Hamlets, E1. Open 11am-9pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

3. Saatchi 

The Saatchi Gallery at the former Chelsea Barracks in London, UK

The Saatchi Gallery at the former Chelsea Barracks in London, UK

In a nutshell: As the urban legend goes, major British art patron Charles Saatchi apparently accidentally destroyed one of Marc Quinn’s legendary Self sculptures – consisting of the artist’s head cast and frozen in his own blood – when the freezer in his house was unplugged during construction works. Saatchi’s reputation precedes him, his name being one so powerful that an attempt to rename the gallery the Museum of Contemporary Art for London in 2010 completely flopped, ‘Saatchi’ enduring as before. Anyway, you must be doing something right if you’ve got a  in your freezer and Saatchi’s art empire is no weak feat; he opened a gallery in order to showcase his personal collection. The gallery boasts its temporary exhibits nearly always being by artists that no-one has heard of, providing a “springboard” to launch careers.  In a similar vein, the Saatchi is currently showing the rare effort of an all-female exhibit – Champagne Life.

Where: King’s Road, SW3. Open 10am-6pm everyday.

4. Gagosian Galleries

Gagosian

In a nutshell: Larry Gagosian’s art empire spans continents and, unsurprisingly, holds a firm base in London with no less than three galleries in the capital. While the galleries roots are in New York and Los Angeles, London was the first international location that was opened by Gagosian. Although that gallery on Haddon Street is now closed, three more have risen from the ashes including one on Britannia Street which started in 2004 with an exceptional opening exhibit of paintings and sculpture from Cy Twombly. Gagosian’s empire is publicly active and always expanding; in Sothebys’ recent Contemporary Sale, the gallery purchased Yves Klein’s Untitled, Anthropometry (1960) for a cool £1,025,000.  Expect a constantly evolving program of contemporary art in sensitively curated interiors from all three galleries which are all located within reasonable distance of each other. And, of course, all three galleries are commercial, so all the art is for sale…

Where: Britannia Street, WC1 // Davies Street, W1 // Grosvenor Hill, W1. All three galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

5. The Hayward

Hayward

The Hayward Gallery facade, London, the Uk

In a nutshell: Located on London’s vibrant South Bank (as part of the SouthBank Centre) amongst many other major arts centres, the Hayward’s Brutalist concrete exterior looks like it popped straight out of one of Orwell’s dystopian narratives. The Hayward doesn’t house a permanent collection, however, it hosts three or four major exhibitions each year; one of its many iconic shows having been Martin Creed’s What’s The Point of It? (20140 and Carsten Höller’s Decision (2015). Whilst its output is largely contemporary, the Hayward brands itself as embracing visual arts from all periods and has, in the past, shown work from Leonardo DaVinci and Edvard Munch. The gallery is well-known for doing ‘survey’ shows of contemporary art, including How to Improve the World: 60 Years of British Art from the Art’s Council Collection. The SouthBank centre location sees it sharing a setting with some of London’s other cultural epicentres, such as the Queen Elizabeth Concert Hall, and these make the area the arts hub that it is. As if that weren’t enough, it is adjacent to the Thames and on top of the famous (and luckily still-standing) Undercroft Skatepark so you shouldn’t be stuck for things to do once you finish in the gallery.

Where: Southbank Centre, SE1. The gallery re-opens in 2017. 

6. Serpentine Galleries

Serpentine_Gallery

Serpentine Gallery facade, London, the UK

In a nutshell: With two galleries that are within walking distance of each other in the coveted Kensington Gardens of Hyde Park, the Serpentine Galleries are an extremely popular tourist destination. Named after the Serpentine Lake which separates the galleries, you have to cross a bridge to get from one to another if the romance weren’t already enough. They both showcase diverse contemporary art programs, and each space is housed in Grade II listed 19th and 20th century buildings: the original Serpentine in a former tea pavilion (it doesn’t get any more English) and the Serpentine Sackler in an ex-gunpowder store. Every summer the Serpentine commissions a leading architect to design and erect a temporary summer pavilion to be built on its lawn. Each building stays up for three months and, in previous years, has been designed by Pritzker Prize-winning names such as Jean Nouvel – famous for designing numerous iconic galleries worldwide – and Zaha Hadid to name a few.  

Where: Serpentine, Kensington Gardens, W2 // Serpentine Sackler, West Carriage Drive, W2.  Both galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

7. ICA

ICA

Institute of Contemporary Art facade, London, the UK

In a nutshell: The Institute of Contemporary Arts is a cultural centre that houses galleries, cinemas, a theatre, a bookshop and a bar. And, located just off Trafalgar Square, it is as geographically central to London as it is to the city’s arts scene. It is a membership institute that promotes and encourages an understanding of radical contemporary art, initiated in 1947 by Londoners in an attempt to endorse an approach that went beyond the traditionalism of the Royal Academy. In the ’70’s the ICA was known for its anarchism, this period is marked by an attack on the director of exhibitions at the time – Norman Rosenthal. In a demonstration of their alternative spirit the ICA decided to keep Rosenthal’s bloodstain and it remains at the institute today, framed and preserved under glass and affectionately signposted ‘This is Norman’s Blood’. Historically, The Independent Group began meeting at the ICA in 1953 which ultimately lead to the launch of British Pop Art. The ICA’s association with events such as this, combined with its history of anarchy (and nonchalance) have made it one of the more exciting, forward-thinking institutions in London today.

Where: Pall Mall, SW1. Open 11am-11pm Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

“Unorthodox”, which opened at the Jewish Museum in November and will run until March 27th, features a diverse collection of works by fifty-five contemporary artists who, according to the exhibit’s catalogue, “operate outside established norms” of the art world and “carry their nonconformist approaches into the art they make and vice-versa”. The exhibit is a response to the apparent paradox of elitism within the world of avant-garde art. “Unorthodox” features various paintings, videos installations, sculptures, and other works that challenge the “establishment” either in their form or content. I was really impressed both by how engaging and inviting the exhibit was, and by the inclusion of so many talented female artists, most of whom I had not heard of before.

Upon entering the exhibit, I was greeted with  a black and white video by the German Jewish cabaret dancer and artist Valeska Gert called Das Baby. In this video, the middle-aged Gert coos and gurgles like an infant and makes exaggerated facial expressions at the camera. This video certainly set the tone for the rest of the exhibit: expressive, bizarre, and a little bit whimsical.

“Unorthodox” features a little bit of everything: painting, sculpture, collage, video, even weavings. There is certainly something for everyone to enjoy and one art form is not presented as superior to another. I was delighted by the hilarious ceramic “Jugheads” by Clayton Bailey which, like Das Baby, were simultaneously thought-provoking and humorous.

Clayton Bailey, Jugheads, 1991-1994.

The show also features a bounty of beautiful watercolor and acrylic paintings that really brightened up the room. I was particularly drawn to the imaginative and surreal watercolors by Nick Payne as well as an equally dreamlike acrylic by Austé which featured gorgeous and sensual forms and dramatic colors. Vent D’Husain by French-Indian artist Nadira Husain was probably my favorite of the paintings in the collection. In this piece, Husain uses the traditional Indian kalamkari hand painting technique with vegetable dyes and which results in brilliant hues of teal, yellow, and red.

I was also intrigued by a series of acrylics by author and journalist William T. Vollmann called “The Artist, His Model, & Dolores”. Vollmann, who is better known for his literary efforts, is interested in cross-dressing and through his alter-ego Dolores attempts to explore “what being a woman would be like”.

Nadira Husain, Vent D'Husain 2015

In addition to the painting, sculpture, and other works, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit’s video installations. The two that resonated with me the most were Tommy Hartung’s “Lesser Key of Solomon” which addressed themes of race and religion and Moroccan artist Meriem Bennani’s “Pamela” which I watched twice. “Pamela” is a dark and erotic stop-motion cartoon that depicts the tragic saga of two anthropomorphized beasts and is captivating in an almost frightening way.

William T. Volmann, The Artist, His Model, & Dolores 2015.

Even though “Unorthodox” is meant to address serious issues in the art world, the exhibit itself is fun, inviting, and accessible for all ages to enjoy and in no way cynical or alienating. The exhibit does a masterful job of giving women and minority artists a voice and celebrating the rich diversity in the art world and different forms of art as well. “Unorthodox” was a breath of fresh air and definitely worth a visit. In addition to free tours of the exhibit, The Jewish Museum is also hosting “Unorthodox Programming” in collaboration with the 92nd street Y to  accompany the exhibit. These programs include “On Museums”, which will take place on February 28th,  “In Response:Unorthodox” on March 6th, and “On Philosophy” on March 22nd. To learn more about the exhibit and these special programs consult the Jewish Museum’s website.

Global/Local 1960–2015: Six Artists from Iran is currently on view at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University’s fine arts museum. As the title suggests, this stunning exhibition brings together six modern and contemporary artists working with their local Persian traditions in Iran as well as internationally, broadening the discourse to current political and social situations. Spanning three generations, the Grey has assembled a critical, thought provoking, and visually breathtaking show that depicts the diverse artistic production stemming from a country whose art is not as accessible to audiences outside of its borders.

pouyan_uzbekemirweb

A complex yet culturally rich narrative unfolds as we move through the galleries. The show begins with the pioneering modernists of the 1960s and 1970s, Parviz Tanavoli (b. 1937) and Faramarz Pilaram (1937-1983). It then moves to Chohreh Feyzdjou (1955-1996) working right after the turbulent Iran-Iraq War years (1980-88), and ends with the youngest artists Shiva Ahmadi (b. 1975), Shahpour Pouyan (b.1980), and Barbad Golshiri (b. 1982) working within the 2000s up until today.

Grey_Art_Gallery_3

This show is exceptionally rich and compelling as it brings together a broad and genuine portrayal of Iranian culture based in ancient traditions and forms while simultaneously questioning bleaker themes of power, authority, identity, violence, and military aggression that have all been pertinent throughout the country’s history and as well as today. These themes and motifs are handled in such subtle and incredibly clever ways that the resulting affects are illuminating. Through diverse mediums such as painting, ceramics, metalwork, mixed media, photography, assemblage, watercolor, and video these artists manipulate their heritage and history to make intriguing new claims and connections.

Grey_Art_Gallery_2

Much of the exhibition is heavy on artistic and curatorial installation that actively engages visitors as they maneuver through the space. The conjoined galleries of Feyzdjou and Golshiri show the dedication and precision in which the exhibit was planned out. Golshiri, who is interested in tombstones and cultures surrounding death, helped arrange the works within his own gallery in order to have it resemble a cemetery plot. Photographs of cemeteries are hung low with a few resting on the floor and leaning against the walls. A stone cenotaph is snuggly fit in a corner while three large rectangular marble slabs are arranged in the middle of the floor. As we walk through these works we arrive at an intimate gallery displaying Feyzdjou’s large-scale installations. 403 scrolls are hung in a grid pattern while rolls, wooden crates, and a large canvas strewn scaffolding resembling an Iranian bazaar display inhabit the rest of the space. These dark, grim objects have been made from reused materials and appropriated works from Feyzdjou’s early art school days. They speak to her quest for identity and represent cycles of destruction and reconstruction.

Grey_Art_Gallery_4

My favorite artists within this exhibition are Ahmadi and Pouyan, whose works are ground in fine details and toying with the audience’s initial perceptions. Nothing is quite what it seems with these two. Both employ past traditions through their use of miniatures, most notably from the Shahnama (Book of Kings), an illuminated manuscript detailing various Persian epics. Ahmadi takes these narratives and recasts them into contemporary contexts. Her works are colorful, alluring, playful, and rendered in watercolor, giving them an ethereal softness. Her subject, however, is corruption. Faceless rulers sit upon bleeding thrones while monkeys and other circus animals present candy-shaped offerings, which are in fact bombs and grenades. Pipes, industrial and traditional Iranian architectural forms surround these mythic scenes creating an apocalyptic play land. Ahmadi loves “sugarcoating” images where they appear beautiful from afar but reveal darker narratives when we step closer. These works are as mesmerizing as they are grotesque. Rendered with masterful subtlety yet poignant critique, she is commenting on the military aggression that has been present within Iran since the 1979 revolution as a battle over the country’s natural resources and the civilian traumas faced at the hands of their own governments.

Grey_Art_Gallery_6

Pouyan similarly subverts the meaning of the Shahnama epics by taking specific illustrated pages and stripping the scenes of any figurative elements. What we are left with is an eerily empty landscape void of the elite figures that would have been a part of the scene. These small-scale works are fascinating and leave us to ponder on the contexts of power and patronage, and how authority can dictate “what is left unseen” within society.

Another exquisite series from Pouyan is his “Projectiles.” These monumental hanging works invade the gallery space as missile-like structures. Inspired by medieval Persian armor he explores how technology has served power throughout history. These first appear as menacing weapons but upon closer inspection reveal Pouyan’s fine calligraphic ornament. They are sharp and suggest violence but are also aesthetically striking and in fact very beautiful.

Grey_Art_Gallery

I have come back and seen this show multiple times and with each new visit I have discovered something new. You are set into a sort of trance as you move through the galleries, mesmerized by the ornately fine detailed works and the variety of mediums. The exhibition as a whole is a feast for the eyes as well as a deeply psychological portrayal of Iran’s past. The artists’ consistent referencing to history and Persian heritage allows us to begin to better understand the country’s complex present.

Beautiful and enlightening from all angles, I highly recommend making a visit to NYU’s Grey Art Gallery. Global/Local 1960–2015: Six Artists from Iran is on view until April 2, 2016.

Absolutely breathtaking, powerful, beautiful, visually striking, and so utterly important in today’s milieus of self-representation and socio-cultural movements.

This week I had the greatest pleasure of attending a lecture featuring world-renowned photographer Zanele Muholi at New York University’s Gallatin Galleries. I had stumbled upon about this talk on a poster pinned up inside an academic building while waiting for class to begin. I had studied Muholi in class before and had been instantly captured by her striking images and powerful portrayal of the stories of South African women, specifically black lesbian women. The presentation had been stunning and the talk was beyond illuminating; the event was concurrent with Gallatin’s current show Zanele Muholi: Zinathi.

Bester V, Mayotte, 2015 - 9257-LR

Muholi self identifies as a black lesbian and a visual activist.

She was born in 1972 in Umlazi township in Durban, South Africa; she currently lives in Johannesburg. Before her photographic career took off she worked as a human/lesbian rights activist, as a reporter for the LGBTI website Behind the Mask, and co-founded the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) as well as Inkanyiso, an organization dedicated to queer visual arts, activism, media, and advocacy.

The lecture began with the presentation of a short film (2013) from the Human Rights Watch with whom Muholi collaborated with. The revealing film explores her work, speaks to the pressing issues surrounding homosexuality in South Africa, and marked the start of the global campaign—16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.

Lebo Leptie Phume Daveyton Johannesburg 2013-LR

Working almost exclusively in black and white film, Muholi creates powerful images that confront the viewer and simultaneously tell a story, always seeking to educate. Gallatin’s current exhibition, entitled Zinathi, brings together new works from two series Faces and Phases and Somnyama Ngonyama. Zinathi is a Zulu expression that means “All races, nations, communities and cultures” have LGBTI individuals.

The works from Faces and Phases focus on portraits of black lesbians and trans men surrounding Muholi within her community in South Africa. This continuous series began in 2006 as a visual project and has turned into an unprecedented archive of photographs documenting the community and the country. Stretching until today, Muholi has revisited a number of these women, re-capturing them at different stages in their lives. Her intent is “to fill a gap in South Africa’s visual history that, even 10 years after the fall of apartheid, wholly excluded our very existence,” (Zanele Muholi, Faces and Phases 2006-14, 2014).

Lesedi Modise Mafikeng North West 2010-LR

These women stand proud and defiant in front of the camera. Most are portraits and the rest are shot from the waist up. Muholi made a point throughout her lecture to mention that she made sure that all of these women “looked good,” as in clean, put together, with fresh haircuts—because she is tired of seeing the same images of Africans perpetuated throughout the media. These are ones of poverty, sickness, uncleanliness, and extreme desperation, ones that provoke pity. However, these archetypes are not her or her community’s reality. She wishes to uplift these women and present them as members of society worthy to be celebrated, respected, and documented within history. Each woman stands in front of a different background and has a unique way of interacting with the camera, of interacting with Muholi. She has developed relationships with almost all of these women; they trust her and have shared their stories with her. Many of these narratives revolve around the unrelenting hardship of living as a lesbian woman in South Africa as well as other countries where African leaders have criminalized homosexuality and publicly projected hate speech while doing very little to prevent violent hate crimes.

{ In 2006, with the Civil Union Act, South Africa became the first country in Africa to legalize same sex marriage and the 5th country in the world. The legislation includes same sex marriage under common-law definition and legally gives gay couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. }

Her second series displayed, Somnyama Ngonyama, translates to “Hail, the Dark Lioness” and confronts the politics of race and pigment in the photographic archive, while commenting on specific events in South Africa’s political history. Here, Muholi turns the camera on herself and shows a series of self-portraits where she takes on different characters and archetypes while referencing traditions of portraiture and fashion photography.

“The black face and its details become the focal point, forcing the viewer to question their desire to gaze at images of my black figure. By exaggerating the darkness of my skin tone, I’m reclaiming my blackness from the privileged gaze.”

 I cannot play down the importance of Zanele Muholi as an artist, as a photographer, as an activist, and as a deeply impassioned [gay female] human being.

Zanele Muholi: Zinathi is on view at NYU’s Gallatin Galleries until February 26th.

On a recent marvelously sunny and warm “winter’s” day in Los Angeles, I faired the ferocious freeways, intent upon seeing the Hammer Museum’s latest exhibition—“Catherine Opie: Portraits” featuring twelve works by the acclaimed American photographer.

Within the few first seconds of stepping into the gallery that is temporarily housing Opie’s portraits, the chaos of speeding cars and the rapidity of everyday life almost paused completely. Entering the gallery, I was struck by the phenomenon that occurs when your eyes attempt to adjust to a bright light: all you really see is blackness and white dots, pulsating. The room was stark white and Opies’ nearly life sized portraits lined the room, each with a black background. As I focused on the first photograph, time slowed.

John was the simple title to a profound portrait. The subject appears to be a floating head in a sea of blackness, as Opie’s lighting caresses his head and subtlety moves down his neckline and right shoulder. His gaze emits that time-ceasing effect. The world pauses. His eyes are not fixed on anything, but they emanate the expression of a trance-like contemplation. John’s seemingly moonstruck hair softly breaks the barrier of contrast as its feathery white fibers float over the stark black background like satellites in space. The portrait seems to exist in the moment right before someone yells “John” to snap him out of his trance.

Final print files

Final print files

I continued around the room, each photograph exuding as much of a time-encapsulating effect and intrigue as the next. There was one portrait in particular to which I was drawn back. That image was the portrait entitled Jonathan. In this portrait, a man sits with his back turned to the viewer, cross-legged, with the novel “War and Peace” on his lap. This portrait stood out because, unlike the others, the focus and the brilliance of Opie’s light hit on an inanimate object: the book.

Although my eyes were initially drawn to the novel, I found myself intrigued by the slightly illuminated profile of the sitter’s expression. The light hitting the pages of “War and Peace” reflects off the paper and onto his face. He is similar to a character in a movie opening up a chest full of treasures, but he does not seem triumphant or amazed. He appears to be uncritically satisfied.

Jonathan

The premise of this series of photographs erases preconceived notions of what portraiture should be. Unlike portraits of the past where lineage, wealth, and importance were depicted alongside the subject in order to illustrate their story, Catherine Opie depicts her subjects in a way that forces the viewer to look at the individual in a certain moment in time, free from any artificial and external distraction.

“Catherine Opie: Portraits” will be on display at the Hammer Museum from January 30th until May 22nd.

Last week an exhibition of new work by acclaimed conceptual artist Michael Joo opened at Blain|Southern’s brightly-lit space in London’s Mayfair. The show consists of a dozen or so objects, mostly canvases, that delight and disturb in equal measure. In the gallery’s first room, a series of works depict what looks like cooking experiments gone horribly wrong, with the contours of blackened, shimmering commercial metal baking trays staring back at you, framing your golden reflection with a dark halo of char.

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Adjacent to the trays, a slab of roughly textured marble mounted on a steel frame depicts the coloured strata of compressed earth, a build up of land over millennia. Treated with Joo’s preferred chemical compound—silver-nitrate—one side of the billboard-like slab shimmers, reflecting the light and space of the gallery; a sculpture meets painting meets otherworldly window. In the second room, the intrigue of textures, chemically layered materials and shimmering surfaces grows, with floor-to-ceiling paintings mimicking deep, reflective pools of solidified liquid. Upon vast spans of alluring surface quality you detect paint drips, brush strokes, sculptural grooves, bubbles of silver and, your own silhouette hazily reflected back at you.

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These mysteriously reflective yet intricately textured surfaces do not let themselves be taken in easily. Needing more than a casual glance or fleeting thought, the works display the enigmatic conceptual complexity, a layering of both material and meaning meaning that Joo is well known for. Addressing common themes of identity, nature, science, politics and experience, his art is not governed by an adherence to one particular medium or form, but ranges whimsically from video and performance to readymade natural objects, to installation work. Consistent in his oeuvre however, is a deep engagement with the idea of process, with transforming materials and dissolving boundaries – whether physical or conceptual, social or natural (“With the best of art, some of the boundaries between I and we and you dissolve”). Originally trained as a scientist, his chemically treated surfaces and material experiments seem more suited to the realm of science than art. Yet without being required to conform to scientific guidelines, Joo is free to give whatever form he wishes to his most experimental ideas.

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At Blain | Southern, the multifariously layered paintings articulate Joo’s consistent interest in the transformative processes of energy. Both its modes of transference, its effects and its more mystical, philosophical dimensions pop up throughout his oeuvre, but have here found their most pertinent expressions. The tray paintings for example, directly address energy as the source of human activity; they attempt to capture it, represent and embody it.

As found ‘readymades’, the ordinary trays were each stamped with a numerical value representing the number of calories individuals would expend performing various human actions, such as lie, stand or drive for a single second. The resulting image was then transferred to canvas to create Warhol-esque silkscreens, upon which Joo enacted a number of subsequent painterly processes. In a play upon subjective experience versus quantifiable ‘objective’ data collection, each absurdly specific number represents an individual second of energy transformed. Joo’s artistic process has digested, melted these values inside the second-hand baking trays, each of which has its own history associated with the transformation of ingredients and energy expenditure.

Beyond our scientific, factual understanding of its processes, energy can take on magical proportions in our collective imaginations; a mystical power with flows that govern the potential for alchemy, for divine miracles and spiritual transformations. Two darkly shimmering canvases on either side of a floating wall embody this. Although also revealing precise caloric values indicating amounts of energy transferred, they reference more the sublime than the mundane. Based on Joo’s average measurements of artistic representations, the artist worked out a basal metabolic rate for The Buddha. Using the calculated weight and height — keeping in mind the tradition of Buddhist ascetic monks starving themselves — Joo then gauged the number of calories used per millisecond as a human body either consumes itself (the canvas entitled ‘Give’) or is offered up as sustenance (the canvas entitled ’Take’). The result is a mixture of visceral morbidity with spiritual exaltation, death represented as both the metaphysical journey of the spirit up to God and the plain physical decomposition of the body.

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Interestingly, the title of the current show is Radio Halo, after the geological phenomenon that describes spherical areas of discolouration on natural rocks, caused by radioactive isotopes. This is more than a casual reference to nature. You only have to google the term to discover that radio halo’s have come to be of particular interest to supporters of creationism, who call them ’the fingerprints of creation’, supposedly evidence of the myth of a ‘young’, almost instantaneously created earth.

What to make of this reference remains unclear, which is presumably how Joo intended it. Clearly, there is more to his art than meets the eye, although what meets your eyes at Blain | Southern is more than enough to make you want to keep looking. As testimonies to the complex processes carried out upon their surfaces, the visceral works show Joo blurring the lines between nature and culture, science and religion, experience and myth. His enigmatic references lead to extraordinarily open-ended questions; what is the relationship between ‘objective’ measurable data, our subjective human experiences and the ultimately intangible mystery of our final purpose and destination? Joo’s evocative materiality is both the result and the embodiment of these conceptual meditations; his art the physical expression of things we struggle to even give form to in our minds.

Recently I had a pleasure to meet an incredibly inspirational young artist – Anouska Beckwith. Born in London, Anouska spent her early years traveling and exploring her artistic side with the help of good old photography. Moving on to pursue her degree at Speos Photographic Institute, Anouska lives and works in Paris. She is also the founder of the World Wide Women Collective. We caught up on life, art and spiritual in a pre-christmassy moody city of London that left me motivationally driven to go on and explore my inner self.

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  1. When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?

My two Grandmother’s taught me how to knit and embroider and my mother always enoucuraged me in art classes, ceramics and photography from a young age… it wasn’t something that I decided necessarily on, but I enjoyed it a lot. Then it got to a point where I was about 22 and I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. So I thought to myself, what would make me really happy throughout my life, what is something I can do in my 80’s, or when I have a child? I live in the future, I find it quite hard to be in the present. I started taking photographs again, which I had done before but not on a specific subject, just on travels or of friends. I started looking at what I was inspired by, and by 23 I knew that was the field that I wanted to go back into. I think as a creative person, you should never say well, this is just what I am. Otherwise you get quite frustrated or have an artistic block. That’s the death of the artist, so for me I like to play with different mediums.

  1. So you don’t define yourself?

As just one thing, no. At the moment I’m working on two photographic series for myself, and then I’m building an installation room, which I’ve been working on with the architect, Omar Ouazzani Touhami for the past three months but I had the idea 4 years ago. Then I’m building a photographic light installation featuring my muse Flo Morrissey. The artists that I very much respect are Yayoi Kusama and Yoko Ono. Those are the people I’m very inspired by, because you look at their body of work and there’s just so much to choose from.

  1. Would you do performance, like Yoko Ono?

Absolutely. I would like to do a performance piece to do with dance at some point as I trained as ballerina and have always feel free when exploring that as a medium. I’ve learnt how to be in front of the camera and I’ve just done my first music video as a director for the musician Katy Rose which will be released in the next couple of months and I did a short film last year about Shakespeare’s Ophelia. It’s always about the right time and the right material, I never like to rush things. I studied photography at school, and then I studied at a Speos Institute a French school in Paris, so that was the initial starting point.

Musician Katy Rose

  1. Why did you decide to move to Paris?

I had always wanted to live there, inspired by the culture, beauty, and as a visual fantasy land, I mean, I love Tim Burton, that kind of Gothic, subtle, beautiful, but it’s not modern. Everyone still dresses like they’re from the ‘60’s or ‘70’s, and I love that style, so there’s a lot of things for me as a woman that I found very appealing. They have amazing food and culture, so I thought that if I could live in Paris and survive there with the French, I could live anywhere else in the world! I’m definitely a traveller so I like to go to different places. I believe in reincarnation, so I feel drawn to certain places that I haven’t been to, and usually if I’m desperate to go there, I end up just loving it.

Katy Rose

  1. Do you get inspiration and ideas from traveling?

Absolutely, but not only traveling. I love film and literature, art and photography, poetry, I’ve got my head definitely in the stars, so I’m not somebody who’s very pragmatic, I like to be away with fairies and look at life as if its a miracle.

  1. Why did you decide to stay permanently in Paris?

Well I knew I wanted to move for a period of time. I’d grown up in London partly and I didn’t really ever feel very English. I’m someone who likes to see other cultures. At the end of the day if you can see as many places as you can before you die, that’s one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself, whether or not you have a boyfriend or you’re married, or you can show your children… so I’ve definitely got the traveling bug.

  1. Do you just go trekking with a backpack?

It depends, if I’m going to America, no. If I go to India, I used to go with a backpack, live on a hut on the beach. Once I slept in a broom closet, I’m quite versatile with how I can travel. If somewhere is special and it’s worth going to see, I like it to be as natural as possible. I’m very lucky that I’ve had some amazing people that I’ve travelled with and who have showed me lovely places. India was an eye-opening experience from a very young age.

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  1. Do you think the art scene is different to each other in Paris and London?

Very much. Paris is a bit behind with the art. They don’t do so many installations, they love reportage photography, so Henri Cartier-Bresson is their mecca, they’re not so into fine art, they love fashion, whereas in London, fine art, fashion, reportage, they fit all of those aspects in the same, and you have nature and geographical but that’s very specific. But me, personally, I love New York as one of the places with the best art because there are just so many art galleries, it’s just a bigger industry. But Los Angeles is definitely becoming a hubbub of contemporary artt, photography & fine art, it’s becoming quite a cool place to be an artist. You have to know where you, as an artist, are inspired. It’s about standing as an individual and developing your own voice.

  1. Have you found it?

To a certain degree but I think with an artist you’re always looking at your work in a way that’s slightly like torture. You’re always wanting to be better, to push yourself, and you want it to be somewhat original. We’re all slight shades of grey to begin with because we’ve had so much work in the past thousands of years that it’s quite hard to come up with an original idea.  I’m not thinking that everyone’s going to like my work, that’s not the goal. It’s more to bring light and positivity and hope and beauty to people, because I think there’s a lot of darkness in the world. Sometimes I make darker work but I don’t necessarily expose it. There’s a difference with making work just for yourself or having it to show others…

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  1. Do you remember the first time you showed your work in public?

The first work that I exposed, was when I created the collective World Wide Women, in 2012 for the ‘ Wanderer’s Eye Exhibition’ in Paris. I was quite nervous about showing work, so I set up the collective with women who were just starting out and exhibit under common themes of nature, femininity, and positivity, and the esoteric which went under the banner of the positive. It was about empowering one another and not about extreme feminism. That was the beginning of WWW and since then we’ve done eight shows in the past three years. At present we are coming up with our next theme for an exhibition and expansion for 2016-17! Then I had my first solo show Transcendance curated by Andi [Potamkin] in New York in 2015, and then I did another female exhibition at the Box Studio in East London curated by Clio Peppiatt with Female Matters. That’s been my journey so far and then next year I would like to exhibit the installation room.

  1. What is this installation room like?

The project’s called “I am the other you”, and it’s about human beings relationship to nature, especially trees and how important it is to preserve the rainforest and for us as humans to live in harmony with the planet. I came up with the idea four years ago after a shamanic ceremony and had the vision to do 8 rooms, called the “Infinity Series”. My good friend designer/artist Koji Tatsuno was extremely encouraging of the original idea and really pushed me to create them so I am very grateful for his belief in me.

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  1. Where do you see yourself in the future?

I’d like to be a working artist throughout my life. I like producing work and getting it seen, promoting it through social media or having it in an exhibition or in a magazine, because part of it is to share with others, and have feedback. It’s an interaction. Everything’s so personal and subjective. I want people to tell me what they like and don’t like. That’s what’s so interesting about art – it’s so individual.

  1. In the contemporary art world, though, artists could be forced to create something trendy in order to sell it. Have you ever experienced this pressure?

No, that’s why I live in Paris. In London, there is that feeling of having to confrom. I think a lot of art is the emperor’s new clothes, it’s something on the wall, invisible art as an example. If you’ve got to imagine what’s on a wall… Well I can imagine what’s on a wall any time. For free. For me, nature is one of the most important aspects. I love going somewhere and finding a completely beautiful and raw backdrop and having a very simplistic form, generally it’s women because I like photographing my friends or people I’m inspired by. I’m photographing more men at the moment. I just shot the actor and musician Reeve Carney for a two projects in Dublin. After a while of having just women, it’s a bit of a challenge to take a photograph of a man or do something slightly different. So I’m always exploring other options. I like beauty, but I don’t necessarily like what commercial beauty is. I’m interested in not just the outside, but the inside as well. I’m very much a romantic person, I’m a fantasist to a certain degree. I love Dali, Klimt, Millais, John Currin and Frida Kahlo those artists take you to another place, and that’s for me what art is about.

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  1. Do you think art is necessary in society?

100%. Personally I feel that schools try to educate people to conform to being the same as everyone else. I don’t think that’s what life’s about at all. I think life’s about being happy and finding that happiness, and if you have to work three different jobs to make your art, I think personally that’s what I’d rather do. In some countries around the world, obviously that’s not an option to even think like that, so I’m very privileged to have grown up in England where you are given the freedom to have those kinds of thoughts. I feel that art is something that you don’t have to be taught to know what the picture is about. I don’t need to be told, this is why you should like it, you either like it or you don’t. I do different Shamanic ceremonies, and I met this incredible Brazilian doctor and he was saying at the beginning of the ceremony that he used to try to define who he was, like “I’m a doctor, I’m a husband,” and he said the moment you start defining who you are, that part of you dies. And I thought to myself I can totally understand what he’s saying.

  1. So it’s also a power of thought?

Absolutely. I believe in manifestation, and I believe there’s a lot more to the power of mind than we’ve been given access to. Everyone likes to put everyone in a box and categorize what that person is. I think it’s a challenge not to be put into a box. I think only a small group of people can know who you really are, and those are your close friends.

Do Not Be Lonely

  1. Do you remember the best advice you were ever given?

Andi was definitely very helpful. She told me to embrace my weirdness, to not be afraid of that. That’s valuable advice. I’ve not been ever one to conform, but we all like to think of ourselves as not weird, but I think to embarce the light and darker aspects of ourselves and love them rather than repress them could all do us the world of good.

  1. Do you have advice to young people?

You need to not give up, to keep trying, to believe in yourself.. You never know when a door shuts it will lead you to an open window. Just believing in yourself is a very important thing. Follow your dreams. Life is so short, I try to live everyday as if it’s my last, and not wishing to be doing something else. If you’re wishing to be doing something else, then you should probably be doing that. I feel very lucky that I’m at the point in my life that I can explore what I want to. Even if you’re not in that position, having hope is very important.

Chris Burden. Courtesy of the Chris Burden Estate and Gagosian Gallery. Photography by Rob McKeever.

Chris Burden’s ever-popular Urban Light (2008) might just be the most Instagrammed (yes, it’s a verb) installation in the Los Angeles area. The 202 restored street lamps that once lit the streets of Southern California in the 1920s and 30s have been reappropriated, now standing in a vast sea of light, greeting visitors as they approach LACMA, the largest art museum on the West Coast.

However, if you’re like me, the closest you’ll get to interacting with this beautiful, large-scale assemblage is by double clicking as you scroll through your Instagram feed. So, you can imagine my delight when Gagosian on Madison Avenue presented Buddha’s Fingersa small, though no less entrancing, version of LACMA’s Urban Light.

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Buddha’s Fingers is one of Burden’s last works before his death this past May at age 69. It features thirty-two similar antique, cast-iron street lamps as found outside of LACMA; however, the lights are grouped in tight, honeycomb cluster that disallows visitors to weave in and out, unlike Urban Light. Although the installation may only be viewed from outside of the circle, the bright, cold light of the LED bulbs forms a singular, radiating spectacle that envelops the ceiling and trickles down the hexagonal shaft, creating a play of light and shadow that one can only truly appreciate from the exterior. There is a disjunction between the classic, Art Deco-meets-Manchester style of the antique street lamps and the somewhat harsh blue glow of the energy efficient LED lighting. The combination of the old and new forms an arc through time, creating a whimsical realm in which antiquity and contemporary can be experienced all at once, fulfilling our longing for a not-so-distant past, without losing the conveniences (though, sometimes aesthetically disheartening) of the now.

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©Chris Burden. Courtesy of the Chris Burden Estate and Gagosian Gallery. Photo by Jeff McLane.

Buddha’s Fingers is on view until March 12th, having been extended from its February 20th closing date due to popular demand. New Yorkers: check this out now before it’s too late.

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