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March 29, 2016
“Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change” on view at The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia explores the dynamic relationship between Cubism and classicism in the works of Pablo Picasso, particularly those produced in the years surrounding World War I. The Barnes has assembled a truly impressive show, which provides wonderful examples of the different media and modes in which Picasso was working throughout this period.
This landmark exhibition at The Barnes marks one of the foundation’s first forays into the world of temporary exhibitions. The collection, assembled by Dr. Alfred Barnes, comprises arguably the best collection of Impressionist and early Modern works in the United States. The collection is also notorious for its legal complexity. The collection came with a series of regulations that require the collection to stay exactly as Dr. Barnes arranged it, and that the works cannot be moved or lent. These restrictions made the 2012 move from the original location, Dr. Barnes’s home in Marion, Pennsylvania, to the new building in center-city Philadelphia, highly controversial. With more than 40 works by Picasso in the permanent collection, the exhibition provides an interesting insight into Picasso’s enormous body of work.
While perhaps best known by the general public for his 1930’s quasi-Surrealist portraits, Picasso’s oeuvre in fact spans more than 70 years and is characterized by many different periods and styles that often overlap or are in dialogue with one another. This ability to work in different media simultaneously truly distinguishes Picasso from his contemporaries. The exhibition focuses in on a 12 year window in Picasso’s career, between 1912-1924.
The show moves chronologically, opening with some incredible examples of Picasso’s Synthetic Cubist works from before the war.
While these Cubist works were celebrated within artistic circles before World War I, once the war begun, sentiments changed. The exhibition presents this shift with a detailed yet concise video, which includes photographs, cartoons, and newspaper clippings from the period to illustrate the anti-German sentiments that swept Paris and how this impacted Cubism. In short, it explains that during World War I, Cubism came to be seen as unpatriotic and German. In this movement of extreme nationalistic fervor, it was classicizing art that was seen as patriotic, upholding tradition of classical French painting.
This show provides multiple examples of how Cubist artists reacted to anti-Cubist sentiments. Some of the Cubist artists, like Jean Metzinger, choose to create a special genre of “nationalist Cubism,” as exemplified by his Soldier at Game of Chess (c. 1915) which uses a Cubist technique to depict nationalistic and patriotic subject matter. Others, like Picasso, went in a different direction, choosing to explore other more naturalistic modes. The year 1914 marks a shift towards naturalism in Picasso’s works, moving away from the highly abstract forms of early Cubism.
One of the most exciting aspects of this exhibition is the inclusion of Picasso’s whimsically abstract costumes for Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes performance Parade in 1917. The exhibition introduces these works to a larger public using the idea of avant-garde ballet itself as an example of this juxtaposition of abstraction and classicism that arises in Picasso’s work during and after the war. The fanciful and abstract constructions Picasso designed, according to the wall description, to “disrupt the classical body with Cubist forms.” While the scenery is more classical, the costumes are Cubist paintings come to life. The exhibition includes photographs of all the costumes as well as monumental reconstructions of three of the costumes: the American businessman, the Horse, and the French businessman, which tower over the viewer on a faux stage, a photograph of the original backdrop painted by Picasso behind them.
The dynamic that this exhibition illustrates is best seen in the comparison made towards the end of the show between Picasso’s Pierrot and his Harlequin with a Violin both from 1918. Pierrot is an example of the classicizing mode Picasso adopted at the end of World War I. The figure is sculptural and naturalistic, yet somewhat simplified. There is an attempt to suggest depth and volume using bright color, which is interesting in comparison to the utter flatness of his Harlequin with a Violin right next to it. The untrained eye would guess that these works were done by different artists, let alone the same artist in the same year. But that’s the genius of Picasso.
The exhibition concludes with some of Picasso’s beautiful neo-classical works from the period following World War I. These enormous, sculptural women dressed in fresh white togas represent a return to interest in classicism following the destruction of the Great War, for example his Seated Woman of 1920.
By including the Parade costumes, works by other Cubist painters, as well as a series of photographs taken by Jean Cocteau of Picasso and other members of the Parisian avant-garde in Montparnasse in 1917, the exhibition contextualizes Picasso’s work from this period and provides a glimpse into many interesting and unknown aspects of Picasso’s life and career.
Entertaining and enlightening, “Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change” on through May 21st is a visual delight and well worth the trip.
March 28, 2016
Glenn Ligon has always had a preoccupation with the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality. Ligon’s two exhibitions What We Said The Last Time and We Need To Wake Up Cause That’s What Time It Is, in which the artist illustrates his engrossment with these subjects, are occurring simultaneously at Luhring Augustine‘s Chelsea and Bushwick locations.
What We Said The Last Time features a series of seventeen enlarged prints from the paint-splattered pages of the artist’s well-worn copy James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “Stranger in the Village” from Notes of a Native Son (published 1955). Written during a stay in a small settlement in Switzerland, “Stranger in the Village” examines race as a social construct. “From all available evidence no black man had ever set foot in this tiny Swiss village before I came,” Baldwin writes as he documents his experiences as a gay black man visiting the small Swiss town as a way to better understand the African American identity. Also on view is Entanglements, a curatorial project by Ligon that examines how artists use the studio as a base from which to engage momentous cultural shifts and political events in both direct and oblique ways.
Beginning in 1996, Ligon has used Baldwin’s essay as the basis for his “Stranger” series, which includes prints, drawings, and paintings made from oil slick and occasionally coal dust that nearly obscures the text. While working on this series, Ligon kept copies of Baldwin’s essay on his studio table for reference, and over the years they accumulated a large amount of black paint, oil stains, and fingerprints. This show marks the first time Ligon has used the entirety of Baldwin’s essay in his career. Like so much of Ligon’s work, the resulting prints illustrate the role of intertextuality in contemporary art, and how one medium can simultaneously inform and contradict another. The use of Baldwin’s seminal essay attests to the power of language and ink on paper, but Ligon’s pseudo-redaction of the text tells us something different. One page has the page number and top right corner completely ripped off and thick drops of paint cover sections of the text, but we can still see his quick annotations, contrasting Baldwin’s ruminations with the artist’s own spontaneity.
We Need To Wake Up Cause That’s What Time It Is in Bushwick opened January 16 and predominantly features Ligon’s Live (2014), a silent video installation based on the 1982 film Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip. This is not the first time Mr. Ligon has engaged with Pryor’s work. The artist’s text-based paintings often incorporate references to Pryor’s stand-up, most notably in a series of gold-colored paintings beginning in 1993 based on Pryor’s groundbreaking material from the 1970s. The installation is set up in a circle of six large screens and a smaller screen in a corner. On the smaller screen, we see the unedited version of Pryor’s original performance, while the other screens zoom in on specific parts of Pryor’s body as they appear in the original footage: his head, his shadow, his right hand, his left hand, his mouth, and his groin. The projected images are visible from both sides of the screen, so the viewer can encircle the installation and almost always be confronted by Pryor’s captivating stage presence. Each screen is illuminated only when their designated body parts appear in the original film, so the screens sporadically flicker on and off as your eyes jump around the room to catch his image.
Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording in 1982, and is still widely considered one of the best comedy albums of all time. Throughout his illustrious career and chaotic personal life, Pryor was anything but shy about his views on sexuality, social injustice, and drug use. On the night on June 9, 1980, for instance, Pryor notoriously lit himself on fire with nothing but a bottle of rum and a match after freebasing cocaine, an incident that undoubtedly accounts for his flame red suit and yellow boutonniere (he also begins his act by asking the members of the audience “Anybody got a light?”)
By fragmenting the footage, Pryor’s body parts seems to move independently from the others. His rapid gestures seem second nature to him, but his expression shifts seamlessly between deadpan and animated throughout the film. The lack of audio is particularly jarring when we see Pryor erupt into fits of emotional gestures and cursing. These moments are often followed by brief periods of complete silence and darkness as the camera temporarily leaves the comedian’s body.
Ligon, Pryor, and Baldwin all share an obsession with the idea of black masculinity, but by drawing on this idea rather than readily subverting it, all three were able to contrast the narrative of blackness with its reality. By cutting up Pryor’s image and muting his voice, and by blacking out Baldwin’s text, Ligon illuminates their vulnerability. This installation subtly critiques the social constructs of race and masculinity, but also emphasizes the limits of language in expressing ourselves to one another. The artist forces us to contemplate the ways in which we represent ourselves, both voluntarily and unconsciously. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, he also conveys the fact that to be marginalized either as a group or individually means to be silenced, or to essentially be rendered without language. If we do not have language, how do we communicate? Some say that actions speak louder than words, but it seems that Mr. Ligon does not believe the two should be separated.
What We Said The Last Time at Luhring Augustine in Chelsea is on view until April 2, 2016; We Need To Wake Up Cause That’s What Time It Is at Luhring Augustine Bushwick is on view until April 17, 2016.
March 17, 2016
nd In the words of Spanish Golden Age dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca, “Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.” In the words of Oscar-winning actor/environmental activist/heartthrob Leonardo Dicaprio, “green is my favorite color. It’s the color of nature and the color of money and the color of moss!” In honor of St. Patrick’s day, let’s talk about green! The color has been associated with everything from nobility (think Mona Lisa’s dress) to the pastoral, and commonly symbolizes rebirth, renewal, and balance. With spring just around the corner, it seems to be an appropriate topic.
Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, Ruth Asawa, and Frank Stella are famous by abandoning conventions such as figuration and pedestals, and by incorporating sleek, simplified forms, and emphasizing the most fundamental aspects of art: line, form, and of course color. James Turrell’s light-based sculpture Stuck (Green) could be one of the highlights of the notion. Back in 1966 working in Santa Monica, CA, Turrell began experimenting with light and its ability to artificially define a space. Unlike some other light-based artists, Turrell creates spaces that seem immersive, allowing the viewer to not just see, but also experience color.
Whenever I see a Turrell, I cannot help but be reminded of color field painters like Mark Rothko and his “multiforms” or Barnett Newman. Even though Minimalists like Turrell were reacting against the theatricality of the Abstract Expressionists in favor of a reductive aesthetic, I believe Turrell’s work is in many ways a continuation of the color field painters’ attempt to create the illusion of vibrating colors in space. He accomplishes this feat in Struck (Green) as you do feel as though the dim color situated in the corner of a pitch black room slowly begins to radiate outward and envelop you. Whether you find this experience soothing or jarring, the light demands attention and lets you interact with color in a way that you would not be able to in the natural world. Would you expect anything less from a Minimalist?
March 16, 2016
One of the largest art fairs in the world, Art Dubai, celebrates its 10th edition this year in the heart of the new cultural and creative hub of the art world – Dubai Emirates. The fair is known for mostly showcasing artists from the Middle East, North Africa and South Africa. Spanned along 76 galleries from 35 countries, Art Dubai 2016 is the largest and most diverse fair line-up among its predecessors. Apart from art, Art Dubai has the largest non-for-profit education program in the world, focusing on bringing more than 1000 local school children to appreciate art and learn about it.
Driven by the 2020 plan for Dubai to become the global artistic destination, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the patron of the fair, established 3 artist residencies in the Emirates, mostly focusing on emerging contemporary artists from the region. The fair is the cultural infrastructure, the soul and the cultural dialogue between artists and viewers. Art Dubai has global aspirations to successfully start building the bridge between professional and amateur young artists to create an international art platform as well as support emerging art spaces of the region. Over the past 9 years the fair had a tremendous impact on the economic situation of the city, bringing over $35 million (calculated without the final sales revenue). Apart from the contemporary art section of the fair, it is the 3rd year of the Art Dubai Modern, showcasing the shift towards the modern art of the North African and Middle-Eastern artists.
The interesting fact of Art Dubai 2016 – 45% of artists represented are women. By doing so, the fair seeks to emphasize the role of the women artists in the arts of the region. Moreover, it is largely assumed that it’s the largest percentage of women artists represented in any art fair worldwide. Would it be the beginning of the art fair feminist movement? Art Dubai definitely strikes this question the first.
Here is a list of top 3 artists to see while roaming around the Art Dubai this weekend:
- Marina Abramovic
Represented by Galerie Krinzinger Vienna, Marina Abramovic was born in Yugoslavia and now lives and works in NYC. One of the major works of the 21st century, the Artist Portrait with the Rose (2013) by Marina Abramovic – the queen of the performance art movement – is one of a series investigating the spiritual and shamanistic practices if the Amazon region. The portrait is not just an observation though, it showcases the artist’s own experience while traveling in Brazil to “places of power”. Even though not having much to do with Arabic art, this art piece is an absolute must-see for any art professional or amateur art lover.
- George Pusenkoff
Represented by Galerie Brigitte Schenk, George Pusenkoff was born in Russia before permanently moving to Germany in the 90s. Throughout the 30-year career as an artist, George has been thinking about shadows and their movement. At the fair, he presents his earlier pieces depicting Mona Lisa made out if pixels (the art piece that you can actually touch) and a new digital art installation, where every visitor becomes a literal part of an artwork by casting geometric shadows.
- Benjamin Tavakov
Represented by the Khak Gallery, Benjamin Tavakov is a contemporary Iranian artist. His 3D sculptural installations have a unique view of the world, quite sinister and yet melancholically beautiful. The artist tackles such notions of one’s being in the world and the continuous ascendance in the world despite all hardships by observing the everyday life of the region.
Art Dubai 2016 takes place at Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, March 16-19, 2016
Harlem-based artist Jordan Casteel is one of the three current artists in-residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Her patiently detailed, large-scale figurative paintings instantly demand one’s attention with their dynamic and vibrant swaths of color. Born in Denver, Colorado she received her MFA from Yale School of Art in New Haven, Connecticut in 2014. Just a few months after graduating, Casteel launched herself into the New York City art scene with her first solo exhibition, Visible Man, at Sargent’s Daughters. Just a year later, in 2015, her second solo show, Brothers, opened in the same space.
I got the wonderful opportunity to visit her studio in Harlem and see her enchantingly monumental works in person while discussing her motivations behind making art that is at once personal and intimate as well as approachable, speaking to a broad audience.
- The Studio Museum in Harlem describes your work as “black masculinity in a domestic space.” Can you explain what drove you to pursue this theme?
I remember having this very specific reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin’s trial: I need to start becoming more proactive in making work that directly relates to a conversation I care about and that directly relates to my family members such as my twin, my father, my older brother—the people in my life closest to me. I felt I needed to make a body of work that dealt with the humanity of men in my life, black men specifically, and that would show the vulnerable, sensitive side of them that I would encounter when at home or in intimate personal spaces.
- Your first solo show in New York City at Sargent’s Daughters, Visible Man, speaks to this theme. Did it achieve what you wanted it to?
I was super excited to be given this opportunity and equally as excited to see how well-received it was. I felt like people were having the conversations I wanted them to have around those bodies, in that they were talking about humanity as it related to these black men at a time when Michael Brown had just been killed a few days before that show opened. I had been showing these bodies outside of a greater media dialogue and trying to recontextualize them into a more sensitive conversation. People were able to think about it more critically, so yes, I’d say that show went really well.
- Why did you choose to paint the men as nude?
The nudes happened initially in an effort to counteract what clothing can do in detracting from understanding the essence of somebody. There can be insignias or stereotypes that people want to project based off of what someone is wearing, which I feel blocks people from understanding who these people are. I was watching a lifetime of men being misunderstood and seen as villains and hyper-sexualized.
- And then it seems that not too long after Visible Man you were back at Sargent’s Daughters having your second show Brothers. Can you say what you were looking at differently with this show?
I was really focused on expanding the conversation on black men to becoming one about their relationships with each other. I was thinking about multiple figures—fathers, sons, brothers, and cousins. What does it look like when the space is shared intergenerationally?
- Were both of these bodies of work very personal to you?
Definitely. Most of these guys are my friends, family and people I know from Denver. I decided to explore some of the men who had been directly influencing this practice for me in my personal life, and representing them felt important in this time and space. My inspiration almost always directly relates to what I’m around and who I’m around and engaging with.
For me it’s about capturing an essence of people, their souls. One of the first things I paint in every work is the eyes because I do feel that is a very significant and telling part of the person.
- What does your work process look like?
I am very regimented in the way that I work. I am a 10-6 workday sort of person and oftentimes include weekends in my schedule. The way I make paintings is first I photograph my subjects. After, I come into the studio and create my own palate using color aids, then I begin sketching on the canvas, and slowly fill the rest in. A way for me to keep a sense of immediacy in these paintings, without having a live model, is to allow myself to instantly react to what I see and just let my hand go. There’s a wonkiness to these paintings, in that, I’m not hyper obsessed with fixing minute details or having everything completely anatomically correct. This is also the space where I allow myself to let go. There are moments where painting becomes meditative for me and then other moments when there is more of a freedom and looseness. All of the different elements of the painting manifest where I am mentally and emotionally in certain times and spaces as I make the piece. My commitment is just to see the paintings everyday that I can, to be actively in their presence within this space. They become a direct community for me, especially when they start to pop up and have conversations with each other.
- I love your rich color palate; it’s what instantly drew me to your paintings. Is there a specific reason why you work with such vibrant colors, especially in the depiction of your subject’s bodies?
I’m interested in having a conversation about color and how it relates to black skin. I am thinking about blackness as being multifaceted and how it is often times attributed to different tones and hues. I am interested in what we project onto bodies as it relates to color before we even truly see the person. Color is a fun way for me to have that conversation, and besides I just love color. My mother told me that when I was little girl, I was obsessed with rainbows.
- What is this new project you’re working on?
There is an essence of Harlem that I’m trying to capture. It’s a huge shift for me. Prior to this body of work, all my work has been inside the domestic space and this work is moving to exteriors. It’s going back to individuals and so it’s very important for me to try and make connections. Community is such an integral part of my work, so I’m trying to work on a new set of relations, here, in my community in Harlem. I am shaking people’s hands, I am introducing myself, and taking a moment to get to know who these people are.
- Has it been hard finding people to paint and then approaching them?
A lot of these people I’m running into on my walk from the studio to home. It’s taken practice but its not always easy for me. I think there is a certain element, as women in New York, to sort of look down and engage with men in a really particular way—there’s a shutting down that I have embodied somewhat since moving here, which I have to consciously counteract when doing this work. It’s hard but it’s also amazing to see how as soon as you cross that threshold with people just how much they can give back.
- Do you have an overarching aim for your work?
As many people that I can touch with these paintings, the better. I want these paintings to be a slow read of somebody. I want them to be carefully understood, respected, valued, and seen. How do you make somebody seen in a world where, in many aspects, they have been invisible for centuries? And as a woman, what does my lens add to that conversation? As a sister, as a daughter, as a friend—how do I begin to show everyone else what I see and have experienced as a black woman to my black brothers? The hope is that these works can cross boundary lines of many facets—the broader an audience the more I will feel that I have achieved a goal.
Casteel’s newest work will be shown at The Studio Museum in Harlem during their Artists-in-Residence exhibition, opening July 14th.
Can’t wait until July to see her work? The museum will be having open studios on April 17th from 1-4pm.
March 11, 2016
The City of Angels, home to celebrities and heat waves, is quickly becoming a major hub for the international contemporary art community. Although it is still somewhat of an underdog when compared to cities like New York City, Paris, and London, Los Angeles is holding its own in the art world.
If ever you find yourself in LA with a need to see some great works of art, this list will point you to some of the best galleries around.
First opened by Randy Sommer and Robert Gunderman in Santa Monica in 1994, ACME is now located on a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard known as “Miracle Mile,” where you can also find LACMA and other galleries amongst some of LA’s famous art deco buildings. ACME exhibitions include a wide range of mediums and prominent artists. Some past shows include; Jennifer Steinkamps inventive digital installation, “It’s a Nice Day for a White Wedding”; Tomory Dodge’s profound series of oil paintings “Outside Therein”; and Carlee Fernandez’ surreal “Installation, 2010.” ACME never fails to showcase pieces that are at the foreground of today’s art world.
The independent nonprofit gallery was founded by artists for artists in order to create a concentrated presence in the art community. They have created programs and platforms for contemporary artists to thrive in and the results are evident in the dynamic work that is produced and shown at LAXART. Last year they had more than twenty rising artists show their work. Among them were Mark Hagen, Kelly Lamb and Alexander May.
One of Culver City’s many galleries, Honor Fraser, stands out as one of the most cutting edge in its exhibitions of installations, digital media, paintings, performances and sculptures. Its exhibitions tend to be more along the lines of street-art and it typically draws in the younger crowd of Culver City. The gallery has shown contemporary work by Rosson Crow, Victoria Fu, and Alexis Smith. Most popular show of last year was definitely KAWS and his installation “Man’s Best Friend.”
Nicodim gallery, which just recently moved to downtown Los Angeles after five years in Culver City, has displayed some very prominent exhibitions. Romanian founder and art dealer, Mihai Nicodim, opened Nicodim in 2006 with the hopes to introduce more European artists to LA. He has been successful in doing just that. Artists like Adrian Gehney, Michael Ceulers and Zsolt Bodoni have shown in the Nicodim Gallery and have brought a vast range of diverse contemporary artists and artworks to LA.
Gallerist Adam Lindemann converted an abandoned warehouse in downtown L.A. into a beautifully spacious gallery. Though sister to Lindemann’s New York Gallery, Venus Over Manhattan, this new gallery is not an extension of the East Coast gallery, but rather a new space for experimentation in large scale artwork that would not be possible in the inevitably smaller Manhattan space.
Founded by painter Noah Davis and The Museum of Contemporary Art, the Underground Museum takes pieces of art found in some of the high-end museums of Los Angeles and shows them in this space, located in a mainly working class neighborhood. Davis says that this new space is not only for him to display his works, but “a place to create crackling dialogues between his work and that of other prominent artists, as well as the surrounding neighborhood.”
The Hammer museum off Wilshire Boulevard in L.A. holds Armand Hammer’s private collection. However, it also has multiple gallery spaces within the museum for temporary exhibits of current artists, like Catherine Opie. The museum partnered up with the University of California, Los Angeles to make sure they are showing the most relevant art. One more thing, it’s free!
LACMA is the largest museum of the western United States with over 120,000 pieces. The museum exhibits many pieces throughout the history of art, ranging from Ancient Art to Contemporary works. Though the museum has pieces from the past, it really strives to represent Los Angeles and its diverse population as well as what is happening in the art world TODAY. Just this past year, they have exhibited some very prolific artists. Exhibitions included James Turrell’s “Breathing Light”; Diane Thaters “The Sympathetic Imagination”; a two-part show featuring multiple Islamic photographers entitled “Islamic Art Now”, and the very popular “Rain Room,” which is a collaborative experimental installation created by Random International.
In the heart of Downtown, kiddie-corner from Frank Gehry’s “Disney Music Hall” is the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art. The architecture of the building itself is a sight to see, but once you get inside there is an abundance of unique works by revolutionary, Modern and Post Modern artists. The MOCA holds a permanent collection of about 7,000 pieces of art that were created post-1945, including works from Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, Franz Kline, Claes Oldenburg Jackson Pollock and many others. Contemporary artists in the permanent collection include Greg Colson, David Hockney and Kim Dingle.
Los Angeles’ biggest & newest museum dedicated to contemporary art opened September, 2015. The Broad, named after its founder, Eli Broad has pieces from Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Robert Rauschenberg, John Baldisseri and many other famous artists for the inaugural exhibition. It’s located in central downtown LA almost exactly across the street from the MOCA.
On February 18th, I attended the opening of “Whose Feminism is it Anyway” at Andrew Kreps Gallery in Chelsea. The exhibit, which runs until March 26th, features the work of Andrea Bowers, an LA based artist, feminist, and social activist. One of Bowers’ most notable projects was a solo exhibition in 2014 at Pomona College Museum of Art called “#sweetjane,” which addressed the Steubenville, Ohio rape case.
“Whose Feminism is it Anyway” features transgendered women activists “committed to direct action and civil disobedience.” Inspired by various posters and ads with progressive and feminist themes, Bowers has created an exhibition that makes trans-feminist women visible in the contemporary art world. In the entrance of the exhibit there is a sculpture called Goddess (Power of the Common Public) that is composed of a pair of wings adorned with multicolored ribbons cascading onto the floor. The ribbons are embroidered with feminist-themed slogans like “my body, my choice” and “free our sisters, free ourselves”.
The main pieces on display are a series of three large scale photographs called Trans Liberation. These photos, which are meant to echo traditional feminist posters, feature three trans-feminist activists of color, Cece McDonald, Johanna Saavedra, and Jennicet Gutierrez, standing in powerful poses and dressed in outfits that are at once sexy and tasteful. These portraits give these elegant and strong trans women a platform of visibility.
In the center of the gallery, there are several piles of political graphics from past and present that promote a variety of Leftist and Feminist causes. This part of the exhibit was very popular and everyone seemed to enjoy rifling through these beautiful and provocative images.
At the end of the exhibit, a short film has been projected onto multicolored ribbons. In this film, Bowers has a roundtable discussion about the role of transgender activism within feminism with Patrice Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, and Cece McDonald and Jennicet Gutierrez, two of the subjects of the Trans Liberation photos. This film shed light on the plight of the trans-feminist and black communities and, like the rest of Bowers’ work in the exhibit, challenged my own feminist values. Bowers’ show is short and sweet but thought-provoking, provocative, and overall, masterfully done.
Anselm Kiefer once said, “art is difficult, it’s not entertainment.” Indeed, when I first encountered Kiefer’s art at his retrospective in Royal Academy of Arts in London in late 2014, I found his art almost unbearably heavy and dark. His first retrospective in France is happening right now, and gave me a better understanding of his art.
Now held at Centre Pompidou in Paris, the retrospective showcases 150 works by this 70-year-old German artist who emerged in the art scene of post-war Germany in 1969, spanning almost half of a century. Organized chronologically and thematically into 13 sections, the retrospective exhibits around 60 selected paintings alongside drawings, installations, artist’s books and 40 “display cases” of micro-fragmented environments or ruins consisting of broken machinery, rusty metal, old photographs and filmstrips.
Firstly, the large-scale installation in the Forum of Centre Pompidou, Steigend, steigend, sinke niede [In climbing, climbing towards the heights, fall into the abyss] with materials resembling hundreds of filmstrips, symbolizes the exhibition as a film running backwards, which simultaneously echoes the perpetual theme of memory in the art of Anselm Kiefer.
“Memory”, “history” and “myth” are some of the keywords to understanding Kiefer’s art as he is one of the first artists in post-war Germany to look into Nazi history by means of his art. In 1969, the artist made a series of photographic self-portraits in which he performed the Hitler salute, dressing in his father’s old Nazi army uniform. In the painting Notung, the sword bears Kiefer’s fascination with the Germanic heroes who are part of the national identity. It is also stained with blood, simultaneously becoming a witness to the nation’s history of the past century. Representing Germany at the Venice Biennial in 1980, Anselfm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz opened a Pandora’s box by making references to German history – the history that the whole nation wanted to forget. With the series Wege der Weltsweisheit [Ways of Worldly Wisdom], Kiefer insisted on the need to face the Nazi history by painting a web connecting the portraits of German intellectuals with some Nazi figures with a forest at the background representing Germany. In Kiefer’s philosophy, “only by going into the past can you go into the future.”
This links to another significant aspect of Kiefer’s art – the sublime and regenerative power of art. Kiefer explores the role of the artist after Nazism, with a drawn palette superimposed on a ruined landscape in Malen [To Paint]. As the bluish rain showered by the palette seems to be refreshing the burnt field, Kiefer illustrates the power of art to salvage and regenerate from the wreckage. Therefore, one could say Kiefer’s art is bipolar – it bridges joy and hope with gloomy catastrophic ruins.
In the painterly Bose Blumen, the expressive colors of flowering meadows, with references to the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire, does not only witness the transformation of Kiefer’s art from monochrome black to a variety of colors, but also denotes cycles of perpetual regeneration as the essence of Kiefer’s artistic philosophy. This is reinforced by the final, site-specific installation, For Madame de Staël: Germany, with cardboard mushrooms indicating various German intellectuals sprouting from sands that are spread over a large gallery space in front of a painting of a dark forest that signifies Germany. With this latest piece indicating transformation and rebirth growing from his nation’s tormented past, Kiefer is determined to emphasize the transcending power of art.
As Kiefer once said art may not be easy, as his art deals with the past, the present and the future in this complicated world. Take a chance to experience and understand Anselm Kiefer’s art at Centre Pompidou until 18th of April, 2016.
March 8, 2016
The second installment (see the first one here) of our top contemporary art galleries in London looks at the younger contingent of the spaces that now exist in the city; fresh, dynamic and often left-field channels which keep the arts scene buzzing with new ideas.
In a nutshell: Charles Saatchi may have attacked the White Cube’s namesake white-walled galleries in 2003, saying that they are “antiseptic” and “worryingly” old-fashioned but that did not stop the franchise making its way to the top of London’s contemporary art scene. The White Cube galleries may have even profited from Saatchi’s public diatribe, choosing to stick proudly to their white walls and continue their work, irrespective of his views. With its roots in East London, the first White Cube gallery in Mason’s Yard, associated with the neighbouring Young British Artists, and came to prominence when it gave YBA Tracey Emin one of her first shows. The gallery has, however, somewhat departed from its East-End/YBA origins, accepting the wave of gentrification that has flooded the area. A climactic moment in the franchise’s transformation was the graffitiing of “Yuppies Out” and “Class War” on the Bermondsey branch by anti-gentrification activists, this being the very space that is now one of Europe’s biggest commercial galleries. However, if you can forgive and forget, or don’t care, then the White Cube will provide you with a compelling contemporary program ranging a multitude of disciplines.
Where: Mason’s Yard SW1. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday //Bermondsey Street, SE1. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Sunday with late opening at 12pm on Sunday. Closed Monday.
In a nutshell: Established in 2010, the gallery’s founders Harry Blain and Graham Southern regularly feature in ArtReview’s top 100 most important people in the contemporary art world. And this is no empty accolade; before launching Blain|Southern, the duo were at the helm of London’s Haunch of Venison gallery which was sold to Christie’s in 2007. Their time at Haunch of Venison allowed them to build up an impressive artists network which, by the time of its initiation, gave Blain|Southern a critical edge, associating with names such as Richard Long and Keith Tyson to name a few. While the gallery is only 6 years old, it has already hosted many acclaimed exhibitions such as the much touted survey of Lucian Freud’s drawings in 2012 – Drawings. And with its setting in Hanover Square being a stones throw from New Bond Street, a.k.a. auction superhighway, the location is a veritable arts hub.
Where: Hanover Square, W1S. Open 10am-6pm Monday-Saturday except early closing at 5pm on Saturday. Closed Sunday.
In a nutshell: Victoria Miro, unofficially crowned one of the “grande dames of the Britart scene” can even boast that she had famous babysitters – Sam Taylor-Wood having done her the honour in Miro’s child-rearing years that “stunted her creativity”. Fast-forward a few years and a few galleries later, and her eponymous franchise has two locations in London as well as others worldwide, representing major contemporary artists such as Chris Ofili and Grayson Perry. In opposition (albeit unintentional) with one of its locations in the exclusive Mayfair area, the gallery’s Wharf Road space was set up in 2000 in Islington, and, like the Whitechapel and White Cube, it’s close proximity to Hoxton quickly linked it with London’s cutting-edge experimental arts scene. The 8,000 sq.ft. space is housed in a beautifully restored ex-furniture factory and has its own garden located next to Regent’s Canal at Wenlock Basin. The spacious and natural(ish) location often lends itself to exhibitions such as Maria Nepomuceno’s The Force (2011), so expect a nice departure from the concrete jungle.
Where: Mayfair, W1 // Wharf Road N1. All three galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
In a nutshell: Like Blain and Southern, Iwan and Manuela Wirth (two thirds of the gallery’s founding body) have been ranked in the top most influential people in the contemporary art world by ArtReview. The other third of the gallery’s foundation is Ursula Hauser who, together with the Wirth’s, set up their first gallery in Switzerland in 1992 and has since grown into an acclaimed global art franchise. The gallery’s London location has moved around a lot since its inauguration in 2003, from Piccadilly to Cheshire Street in the East End, to Swallow Street, Old Bond Street and finally, Savile Row. The gallery’s punch probably comes from its balanced representation of over fifty emerging artists and industry heavyweights like Louise Bourgeois and Martin Creed. It also gains its reputation from its publishing offshoot, having published over 100 titles since 1992 specialising in modern and contemporary art, such as Phyllida Barlow’s Fifty Years of Drawings (2014). The gallery’s worldwide locations include a fabulous rural setting on a Somerset farm in the West of England.
Where: Savile Row, W1. Open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
In a nutshell: “WE EXIST FOR U”/ “THE WORLD’S FINEST” shouts the Unit London’s website. This might give you an idea of the gallery’s mission: to show dynamic and forward-thinking artists who are chosen for just those reasons, irrespective of of “reputation, culture or background”. The gallery is run by two young English guys – Johnny Burt and Joe Kennedy – who see social media as a as a “commercial tool”. In fact, their show Paintguide was Instagram-curated and certainly the first of its kind. Now, after 3 years of running Unit, they have buyers all over the world, showing the efficiency of this contemporary marketing method. They represent a roster of British and international artists including the likes of Paul Rousso and Cecile Plaisance. Their all-inclusive outlook could perhaps benefit from a larger female contingent, but the work on display is frequently changing and updating, a process you can follow via their Instagram.
Read our interview with Unit London founders Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt here.
Where: Soho, W1. Open everyday 11am-7pm.
March 7, 2016
When Damien Hirst announced his new gallery space in London the question was, who would get the inaugural exhibition? The answer: John Hoyland. Newport Street Gallery is in Vauxhall and it acts as a ‘the realisation of Hirst’s long-term ambition to share his art collection with the public‘. Hirst has made his admiration for Hoyland quite public throughout his career and has been seen affectionately referencing his work, talking about how he is ‘an artist who was never afraid to push the boundaries‘ and how ‘his paintings always feel like a massive celebration of life to me‘.
Hoyland has often been characterised as one of the leading painters of his generation and his work impacted the world of contemporary art by showing how simple bold colours can have such a powerful visual effect. Up until ‘Power Stations‘, his last solo show was back in 2006 at Tate St. Ives, so I believe Hirst’s selection of artist’s works is particularly powerful as it brings the artist back to the greater art scene.
Hoyland studied at Royal Academy Schools in London before bursting onto the art scene at the forefront of the Abstract Expressionist movement in the midst of the 1960s. Hoyland’s work was mostly influenced by such artists as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, nonetheless, the artist carries his distinct personal style; he totally relies on colour and shape without any distractions.
Hoyland once famously said ‘paintings are there to be experienced … [they] are not to be reasoned with, they are not be understood, they are to be recognised‘ and I think it is very important to adopt this mindset when viewing his pieces. Large scale paintings look striking within vast spaces, therefore, the relationship between the artist’s work and the space they inhabit is perfectly structured. The bold colours light up within the gallery due to high ceilings, allowing the visitor to appreciate the depth of each piece and explore each painting down to the tiniest details. It can be challenging to look at Hoyland, and many people have questioned his integrity as an artist while they struggle to view blocks of colour as being ‘real art’, but thought is the key and you must embody the open and expansive outlook that Hoyland himself seemed to possess.
Hirst’s selection of the pieces for this exhibition is important because it exposes new works from the artist and gives substantial insight into one of the most important periods of Hoyland’s life and work, from 1964 to 1982. Throughout the gallery, rooms are designed to take the visitor on a journey through colour. The highlight of the exhibition featured a collection of paintings showcasing Hoyland’s use of a colour palette made up of soft, pastel tones such as pink, lilac and white. As Hoyland usually prefers a bolder more striking palette that centers on reds, oranges and greens, this softer use of colour showed a drastically different side to his work.
Showcasing an array of some of Hoyland’s most compelling pieces, The Newport Street Gallery is an absolute must-see. “Power Stations” on view until April 3rd, 2016.