By: Emma Holter
Artist Alexa Meade is a painter who does not use a canvas.
Her artistic practice hovers somewhere between painting, installation, and performance art. She paints directly onto the bodies of her live models, using loose brushstrokes to collapse the appearance of depth and make her subjects appear two-dimensional. She then photographs her models, and the still images visually resemble paintings on canvas.
Trompe l’oeil is an artistic technique that artists have been using for centuries to trick the eye into believing that a two-dimensional image looks as real as a three-dimensional one by creating extremely detailed, hyper-realistic depictions of objects. Meade takes the concept of trompe l’oeil and turns it on its head. Once painted, that which is three-dimensional looks as if it was created on a two-dimensional surface. She paints her subjects and their surroundings with heavy, large brushstrokes, which creates an optical illusion that collapses any sense of depth.
Meade is entirely self-taught; as she ruminates on in her TEDx talk “Your body is my canvas,” after earning her degree in political science from Vassar College she made a career path U-turn and ended up teaching herself how to paint in her parent’s basement. At first, she used her own body as her canvas, creating a series of self-portrait photographs of herself covered in angular paint strokes.
These initial works of art were only documented and circulated as photographs. In the past year, the Los Angeles-based artist has broken out of that format and created more interactive works that have appeared at Art Paris Art Fair, Boom Basel in Miami, and the United Nations in New York City. These “Living Paintings” are created on temporary sets in public spaces, where viewers can see Meade painting the model, and then see the finished product. She has had live models pose in gallery settings and has even done a live painting session in the streets of Tokyo as a promotional event for Mini Cooper in 2013.
Meade’s performance art-style displays ride the same wave of Instagram-able art that Pipilotti Rist’s Pixel Forest & Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. This is probably because you can photograph her work from any angle and the illusion still holds up. Her immersive, painted environments simulate the act of walking into a painting. And in some cases, it is her models walk out of their paintings. Her latest collaboration with hip hop dancer Jon Boogz in “The Color of Reality” has the two central dancers move out of their painted space onto the street.
Alexa Meade wants her audiences “to find the strange in the familiar… to look beyond what’s already been brought to light, and to see that there can always be more than meets the eye.”
April 11, 2017
Beginning in the 1940s, a group of painters who we now collectively refer to as The New York School (or Abstract Expressionism artists) broke away from conventional technique and subject matter to better express subjective emotional reality in their art practice. As the name suggest, these paintings were abstract and simultaneously expressed the maker’s inner state of mind and the universal truths of the human condition. Historically speaking, these artists were working in the wake of the Great Depression, experiencing the crisis and aftermath of World War II, and painting in the era of bebop jazz and the Beat poets.
Artists in New York during the mid-20th century were also exposed to the work of many Europeans who sought refuge in the United States during World War II, such as Salvador Dalí, and Max Ernst. The techniques used by these Surrealist artists, like automatic drawing and free improvisation, were an important component of the techniques adopted by Abstract Expressionists. The most widely known artists from this period, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, embody the two elements that Abstract Expressionist painters chose to explore: gesture and fields of color.
Jackson Pollock used a radical technique consisting in dripping and splashing paint onto a canvas with sticks and the ends of brushes. His paintings are created through dynamic gestures, and the resulting images are highly expressive and dramatic. These pieces are considered the first entirely non-objective works in the history of art. The enormous scale of the images, the lack of subject matter, and the technique he used was shocking and innovative for its time.
This type of action painting is based predominantly on spontaneity, which gives the work a level of immediacy. Many other artists besides Pollock used action and gesture to convey vigorous energy. Instead of letting paint drip onto the canvas, artist Lee Krasner (who also happened to be Pollock’s wife) used traditional brushes but applied paint in a frenzied tangle of lines that seem to explode on the two-dimensional surface. While other gestural painters filled their canvases, Joan Mitchell often chose to leave passages of her works blank, letting her flurries of color have room to breath. Willem de Kooning, who along with Pollock came to embody the popular image of the macho -the hard-drinking archetype of Abstract Expressionism- never truly abandoned real subject matter; his famous Woman series is highly abstracted and violently gestural, but still rooted in reality.
In the other side of the spectrum, Mark Rothko’s work explores the emotionalism that can be conveyed through large-scale blocks of color. He was deeply interested in the type of meditative or contemplative response that the juxtaposition of color can elicit from the viewer. Rothko’s paintings usually consist in a couple of flat, large swaths of luminous color. Again, the vast scale of the works is crucial for their effectiveness.
The washes or layers of color are supposed to be seen at close proximity so that the viewer would be enveloped in the image. Being surrounded by those fields of color can be a sublime, quasi-religious experience that can only be achieved by pure abstraction.
As Mark Rothko once said, “We assert man’s absolute emotions. We don’t need props or legends. We create images whose realities are self evident. Free ourselves from memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth. Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man or life, we make it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings.”
Other color field artists achieved a similar effect using different methods. Instead of working with conventional brushes, Helen Frankenthaler chose to create fields of color by pouring thinned paint directly onto the canvas, letting it pool in organic shapes.
Barnett Newman interrupted his large swaths of color with ‘zips’, or vertical bands that bisect his canvases, and Clyfford Still used thick impasto paint to juxtapose bright, jagged flashes of color. All of them created images that allow the eye to wander, offering the viewer the opportunity to stop and experience the myriad of feelings that these colors can arouse.
This group of artists shaped a watershed moment in American art. The breakthroughs made by Abstract Expressionist painters effectively shifted the focus of the art world from war-torn Europe to New York City.
March 5, 2017
It’s the first week of March in New York City, which for art lovers only means on thing: Armory Week! In its third edition, the Art on Paper 2017 fair exhibits paper-based art that frequently pushed the boundaries of what a work on paper could be. The medium-driven focus of the fair sets itself apart from the other larger-scale Armory Week fairs. The 84 galleries hosted at Art on Paper are from all over the United States, with several international additions from Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Kyoto, London, Shanghai, and Copenhagen.
Upon entering the space, visitors are greeted by two site-specific installation pieces. Tahiti Pehrson’s “The Fates” is composed of three colossal, 17-foot towers of hand cut paper, and Timothy Paul Myers, in collaboration with Andrew Barnes, crafted a domestic installation made entirely of felt. These are the first of many works of art that incorporate and utilize paper, but are not necessarily what you would think of when you hear the term ‘art on paper.’
There was a wide scope of artists included familiar modernists like Picasso & Matisse in the Master Fine Arts Gallery, to the all-star lineup of Sol LeWitt, Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and Alex Katz at Richard Levy Gallery, and a few unheard of standouts. My favorites included Martin Kline’s rhythmic dry brush oil series “Palm Beach” (cover image) at Heather Gaudio Fine Art, whose bright blue compositions imitate patterns that occur in nature. Also in Heather Gaudio Fine Art were a few equally mesmerizing works by Jaq Belcher, whose sculptural, hand-cut leaves in “Lions Gate” cling to a single piece of paper. More of a traditionalist, Ekaterina Smirnova “Blue Path” at Villa del Arte Galleries appears to be an updated, watercolor version of French Impressionism. And Donald Martiny, whose works appear at Spender Gallery, resemble thick, impasto paint strokes but are actually made of pigmented polymer, and are so three-dimensional that he blurs the line between sculpture and painting.
George Billis Gallery’s display of Steven Kinder’s geometric abstractions and the hodgepodge of artists grouped together in Tamarind Institute were the more underwhelming booths. The most bizarre were the black and white photographs by Morton Bartlett that showed kitschy images of dolls posed in occasionally provocative positions. His display in Marion Harris’s booth was visually eye-catching… When you stepped close enough to realize the subject matter.
Amid the abundance of things to see, and the frenzy of visitors and art professionals, there were a few booths that stand out in my memory. Gallery Poulsen was one with the overtly political works of art, including one entitled “What the Fucking Fuck Just Happened” by William Powhida, as well as Artemesia’s installation created from torn pages of used books, and the technicolor portraits at Sasha Wolf Projects.
Art on Paper is open at Pier 36 (299 South Street) on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on March 2-5
February 8, 2017
“Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time,” on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, delves into the friendship between Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera. It explores how the lives of these two 20th-century artists briefly intersected, and the ways they drew inspiration from the ancient visual culture of their respective countries.
The exhibition, which is arranged in a very linear manner, compares Picasso’s and Rivera’s artistic trajectories. This allows the visitor to see how both artists progressed through their early academic training, experimented with different stylistic modes, and shared an interest in antiquity. The works reveal that there was a dialogue between these two artists that spanned cultural and geographic boundaries.
The display presents a give-and-take between the two artists: Picasso’s Cubism heavily influencing Rivera’s work when they were both in Paris in 1914, and Rivera’s colorful, hefty figures subtly impacting Picasso’s classical style. The paintings included in the exhibition allow for a great deal of one-to-one comparisons between the two artists. But at times, the artworks are dwarfed by the scale of the galleries, giving the viewer a sense that they may have been better viewed in a smaller gallery space.
The largest and most striking room is at the center of the exhibition. Rivera and Picasso’s images are juxtaposed with ancient sculptures that reveal how their styles absorbed the influence of ancient forms. This was the first time I had ever seen ancient Mesoamerican sculpture displayed in tandem with ancient Classical sculpture. During the interwar years, Rivera reexamined the tradition of Aztec sculpture in his native Mexico which informed the mature style that he is most recognized for. The exhibition includes loans from the Anthropological Museum in Mexico City that are paired with Rivera’s gorgeous Flower Day (1925).
Picasso was in still in Paris between World War I & II, and his more traditional classicizing figures demonstrate his renewed interest in Greco-Roman antiquity and Iberian art. In the exhibition, classical sculpture -mostly loans from the Getty Museum- is juxtaposed with Picasso’s ‘return to order’ paintings such as Etudes (1920) and Three Women at the Spring (1921).
The final rooms explore how Picasso and Rivera’s artistic practices diverged after World War I. Mexico’s Ministry of Education commissioned Rivera to create murals that would unify the nation through revolutionary imagery. Through his study of Pre-Columbian sculpture (and his collection of over 6,000 ceramic and stone figurines) and Aztec creation myths, he imbued his images of a new, modern Mexico with aesthetics of the past. On the other hand, during the 1930s Picasso was revisiting Greek and Roman mythology -especially Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the myth of the Minotaur- and reworking classical tropes of depicting these narratives.
Beyond comparing the two artists’ work, the exhibition aims to stress how Picasso and Rivera were inspired by ancient sources throughout their careers, and how their friendship or artistic rivalry fueled those investigations.
“Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time” is on view at LACMA through May 7th, 2017, and will travel to the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in June 2017.
November 14, 2016
Abstract Expressionism was a movement dominated by male artists, talked about by male critics, with a discourse that emphasized ‘male’ attributes like scale, power, and dramatic gesture. This stereotype has been mythologized over the past half-century, but we cannot discount the many female Abstract Expressionist who were also part of this movement. These women were not taken as seriously as their male counterparts, even though they were creating, selling, and being written about at the same time as the men in the movement. This lack of recognition was due to the sexist nature of the art world in the 1940s and 1950s. Most of these women were written off as female painters rather than artists in their own right. Most of their work wasn’t even acknowledged until after their deaths. Only since feminist art history, recent scholarship, and a groundbreaking show at the Denver Art Museum in Colorado this year, have these women resurfaced in our art historical consciousness. Their work is as expressive, powerful, and emotional as their male contemporaries. The following four women are just a few of the many talented artists created Abstract Expressionist artwork during this time period.
Born and raised in Manhattan, Helen Frankenthaler studied at Bennington College in Vermont where she grew familiar with Old Master painting and techniques of Cubism. Afterward, she returned to New York to study with Hans Hofmann, and began painting with an entirely new technique. She would dilute her oil paints so that they would soak into the canvas rather than collecting on the surface; she called this her “soak-stain” method. She would then pour her thinned paint onto a canvas stretched out on the ground. Though she is often categorized as a color field Abstract Expressionist, her work bridges the gap between color field and gesture painting.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Lee Krasner studied at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design. She also studied with Hans Hofmann who once declared that one of her paintings was “so good you would not believe it was done by a woman.” Her work is quite rhythmical, with strong gestural brushstrokes, and thick texture. Her work is strongly influenced by the Parisian Avant-Garde and Surrealism, but ultimately she creates very abstract images grounded in reality. Her achievements were almost entirely eclipsed by her husband Jackson Pollock, until after both of their deaths. In a 1972 interview, Krasner said, “I think even today it’s difficult for people to see me, or to speak to me, or observe my work, and not connect it with Pollock.”
Alma Thomas began her professional painting career a lot later than one might imagine. Born in the Georgia, Thomas studied fine art at Howard University and was an art teacher for 35 years in Washington D.C. before she dedicated herself solely to painting. Thomas’s style expanded on Abstract Expressionism by creating patterns of color, shape, and line. Not only did she have to seek recognition during a movement that was dominated by white men, but she had to overcome the stigma of being of an older generation, being a person of color, and being female. Her images are simultaneously loosely painted and meticulously formulated swatches of color that sprawl over the canvas. The most recent retrospective of her work is closing at the Studio Museum in Harlem on October 30th.
Elaine De Kooning
Similar to Lee Krasner, Elaine De Kooning was outshone by her painter husband Willem De Kooning for most of her professional life. As a fine arts student at the Leonardo Da Vinci Art School in New York, she took drawing classes from De Kooning, who would quickly bring her into his social circle of Abstract Expressionist painters. Elaine De Kooning’s own work was heavily influenced by Cubism and abstract art. Her images are composed through rapid brushstrokes, wild color, and dynamic intensity of emotion. She also worked as an art critic and editorial associate for ArtNews for a period of time. She was also influenced by the American southwest, during her time as a professor at the University of New Mexico. Her most high profile work as commissioned in 1962, she was asked to paint a portrait of President John F. Kennedy for a presidential library.
September 25, 2016
Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, arguably her magnum opus, is currently on view at The Museum of Modern Art. The slideshow of nearly 700 images is set to a wide-ranging soundtrack of pop, classical opera, and rock & roll music. The images are of the artist, her circle of friends, lovers, and acquaintances that Goldin affectionately refers to as her ‘tribe’ from the 1970s and 1980s.
Her images are so immediate that you feel as if you are there, in the dive bars and bedrooms of her gritty, real world. By creating The Ballad, Goldin documents the events of her own life and the lives of her friends through images that tell deeply personal stories. Her photographs capture unnerving episodes of addiction, drug abuse, domestic violence, and illness, while simultaneously embodying moments of joy, comedy, youth, ecstasy, and beauty. Goldin wrote that “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is the diary I let people read. The diary is my form of control over my life. It allows me to obsessively record every detail. It enables me to remember.”
There are three rooms dedicated to the display of her photographs. The first includes an installation of materials from Goldin’s archive, early promotional objects for the first iterations of the work, and a mock-up of the book The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. The slideshow has been shown on many occasions since Goldin first created it in 1980. Originally, she changed the slides by hand for an audience comprised of mainly her subjects.
In the second room there is a selection of prints from the MoMA’s collection that constitute some of Goldin’s most evocative images from the film. They show the artist and her subjects grappling with the realities of physical and emotional abuse, while simultaneously indulging in moments of lust and tenderness. Some standouts include “David and Butch Crying at Tin Pan Alley, New York City,” “Rise and Monty Kissing, New York City,” and “Nan and Bryan in Bed, New York City.” Each of these images feels fiercely candid and intimate, as if the viewer was intruding on an intensely personal moment.
The third room is the slideshow itself, which runs for about 45 minutes with a short intermission. The images are grouped loosely around visual themes, like people in front of a mirror getting ready to go out, uninhibited sex, New York bar culture, drag queens and performers, the weddings of young friends, parenthood and young children, drug addiction and, ultimately, death. The film is scored to an array of musical genres including an aria performed by Maria Callas, the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You,” Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” and James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World.”
In the age of social media and advertising, where you can be bombarded by images that are photoshopped, filtered, and staged, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency presents the raw, unedited truth of what Nan Goldin and her subjects experienced in the New York of the 1980s.
The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is on view at the Museum of Modern Art on the 2nd floor Contemporary Art Galleries through February 12th, 2017.
September 19, 2016
In the decades after the death of George Balanchine (1904-1983), the most prominent and influential choreographer in America during the 20th-century, many in the ballet world did not think that any new choreographers would live up to his creative legacy. Nevertheless, in the new millennia many young choreographers have created new, ground-breaking ballets. The five listed below are a few examples of choreographers who seamlessly integrate the classical language of ballet with modernist aesthetics, while creating fresh and exciting performances for audiences to enjoy. Also, these choreographers often take inspiration from the visual art world, making ballet a much more dynamic art form.
Justin Peck, a soloist with the New York City Ballet, has become one of the most sought after choreographers in the ballet world. After being appointed resident choreographer of the New York City Ballet back in 2014, he has produced work for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, and the Miami City Ballet. He has also been featured in the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process program. His ballets are positively explosive. The dancers move faster than one might expect, and his work is very musically driven, meaning that almost every musical phrase of the score has a movement accompanying it. He is quite a collaborative choreographer who reaches outside the bubble of the dance world for inspiration. His most recent ballet, In the Countenance of Kings, is set to music composed by Sufjan Stevens, and the set for his piece Heatscape was designed by street artist Shepard Fairey, with the promotional material shot at Miami’s Wynwood Walls. He was the subject of the documentary Ballet 422, which revolves around the creation of his third ballet for the New York City Ballet, from its inception to the opening night.
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Half-Colombian and half-Belgian, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa trained at the Royal Ballet Academy in Antwerp, Belgium, and performed with a wide variety of European ballet and modern dance companies before working as a choreographer. She has been praised as “the rising star of the Dutch dance scene” by the Dutch press. Her pieces integrate the energy of modern dance in the classical vocabulary of ballet. They can be quite languid, with moments that move between stillness and quick, animated movement. Some of her most recent work has been very athletic, challenging dancers with complicated lifts and floor-work, like in her piece Before After. She has also created works for the musical theatre, for opera productions, and for fashion events. In the United States, her ballet Mammatus premiered at the Joffrey Ballet in 2015, and she is presenting a piece at the New York City Ballet this fall.
As the former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet and current resident choreographer at the American Ballet Theatre, Alexei Ratmansky‘s name has become synonymous for innovation. He has staged his own versions of classic 19th-century story ballets like Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, The Firebird, and Swan Lake, updating them to make them even more appealing to a contemporary audience. Simultaneously, he is creating entirely new ballets like his Shostakovich Trilogy for the American Ballet Theatre, and has taken inspiration from Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings for the set and costumes of his most recent piece for the New York City Ballet, Pictures at an Exhibition. Ratmansky’s new ballets are usually set to complex pieces of music, which match the intensity and dramatic movement that is so characteristic of his work.
British choreographer David Dawson trained at the Royal Ballet School and danced professionally with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet. His piece A Million Kisses to My Skin, set to Bach’s Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, is an exuberant ballet with swooping asymmetrical, expansive movements. The Nature of Daylight is a powerfully captivating work about seeking and missing true love, which he conveys through a rapturous pas de deux and a dramatic score by Max Richter. Though the two ballets have very different moods, they are equally athletic, with complicated lift sequences that transition into extensive synchronized passages.
No discussion of contemporary ballet would be complete without mentioning Christopher Wheeldon. The artistic director of the New York City Ballet appointed Wheeldon as the company’s inaugural choreographer in residence in 2001. Wheeldon had trained at the Royal Ballet School in London and performed with the Royal Ballet before moving to New York to be a soloist. Once there, with former principal dancer Wendy Whelan as his muse, he created the ballets Polyphonia, Within the Golden Hour, and After the Rain. Working once again with the Royal Ballet, he produced two full-length ballets –Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Winter’s Tale- and the one-act piece Strapless, based on the story behind John Singer Sargent’s painting Madam X. He has been credited with bringing ballet into the mainstream with his Tony Award-winning choreography of the Broadway musical An American in Paris.
September 13, 2016
“But A Storm Is Blowing From Paradise: Contemporary Art from the Middle East and North Africa” at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is the third installment of the UBS Map Global Art Initiative, which aims to add contemporary art to the museum’s permanent collection from underrepresented regions of the world. The previous exhibitions featured works from Latin America and Southeast Asia. The initiative’s objective is to create a more diverse, cross-cultural dialogue about the contemporary art being created and exhibited today.
“But A Storm Is Blowing From Paradise” features seventeen artists whose works span a wide variety of media, including video, painting, photography, works on paper, bronze and copper sculpture, and installation pieces. The curator, Sara Raza (whose Instagram @punkorientalism is fabulous and worth checking out), includes artworks that grapple with immigration, geometry, architecture, and cultural memory.
The first work of art you see once you enter the exhibition is made of the most unusual and surprising material I’ve ever encountered in a museum—couscous! The artist Kader Attia recreated the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the ancient city of Ghardaïa using the Middle Eastern culinary staple. On the two walls behind the sculpture are images of the French architects Le Corbusier and his successor Fernand Pouillon. The two men visited Ghardaïa, Algeria in the 1930s and reworked elements of the local architecture into the aesthetic of European modern architecture, but never acknowledged or credited where they found their inspiration. The piece makes a thought-provoking statement about the colonial past of France and Algeria, and artistic colonization.
Another standout piece is Abbas Akhavan’s ‘Study for a Monument,’ which is a large array of bronze sculptures arranged on the floor not far from couscous sculpture. The bronzes are reproductions of plants native to ‘the cradle of civilization’: modern day Iraq. The decades of war has caused irreparable damage to the environment and ecology of the nation. And the plants Akhavan reproduces are representative of either endangered or extinct species. The title of the work plays with our idea of what a monument is—an object that glorifies or commemorates something forever.
My favorite artist within the exhibition is Nadia Kaabi-Linke. Her stainless steel sculpture ‘Flying Carpets’ hangs from the gallery’s high ceilings. The geometry of the sculpture corresponds to the dimension of blankets used by undocumented immigrant street vendors who sell their goods illegally. Kaabi-Linke encountered many of these vendors during her time in Venice, Italy, and the sculpture mirrors the arch of Venetian bridges. The title alludes to a trope in oriental myth, but is grounded in the realities of the migration crisis. The cage-like sculpture could even stand for the trap these immigrants find themselves in within the black market. These individuals face a constant threat of being arrested or deported for their illegal activity. The geometry of sculpture is breathtaking, and it throws beautifully intricate shadows along the surrounding walls.
One of the things that I appreciated the most about this exhibition is that it doesn’t try to discuss or grapple with every geopolitical, social, religious, or cultural issue that the Middle East and North Africa are dealing with. Instead, it chooses to show how a few contemporary artists can conceptually convey the complexity of the Middle East. Hopefully seeing the exhibition will inspire visitors to reevaluate their impression of the region through the lens of contemporary art.
“But A Storm Is Blowing From Paradise” is on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum until October 5th, 2016. In 2017, it will travel to the Pera Museum in Istanbul.