By: Madeleine Mermall

Making my way up 22nd Street in Long Island City towards UOVO Fine Art Storage, the midday sun soaked the pavement in shimmering heat which wrapped around my ankles in heavy tendrils. The vast, 280,000 square foot minimalist building loomed closer, its front dosed in cobalt blue with Queensboro Bridge stretching beyond, disappearing into the city—I imagined the stifling streets of Manhattan, choked by humidity. Half of a song later, I was standing before UOVO’s glass entrance. After two attempts at tugging open the door, I realized the small doorbell to my right. Pausing for a moment, and hearing nothing, I gave another wholehearted tug, and almost tripped backwards as the door happily obliged, swinging open effortlessly and breathing a sigh of cool air.

The reception area is reminiscent of the lobby of a chic, boutique hotel one may find in Chelsea or SoHo, sleek and minimalist while remaining warm and hospitable. However, the space also retained a certain sense of a gallery setting: absolutely pristine, from the perfectly buffed concrete floors to the polite, hushed greeting from the two, well-dressed receptionists. The walls play host to artworks from UOVO’s founder, art collector Steve Guttman’s personal collection. A few guests relax on the mid-century modern furniture, sipping cold brew out of blue, UOVO marked glasses and chatting quietly. I suddenly found myself wondering if I had somehow stumbled into the wrong place.

Reception room. Courtesy of UOVO.

Reception room. Courtesy of UOVO.

It’s safe to say that already my experience of UOVO is not what one expects, nor what one normally finds, when they visit a storage facility. From my observations alone, storage facilities, even ones used by gallerists or collectors to safeguard artworks, are usually dark and dingy. They consist of a gruff guard behind thick glass who shoves a clipboard under your nose, and grumpily takes you up a grated industrial elevator to a cold and damp floor where they leave you to wander until you find your unit. This, of course, doesn’t take into consideration the fact that you must then attempt to remember the exact location of the piece you need, which usually ends in having to pull out half of the unit’s contents to access the art, and then—Tetris style—putting everything back. One can extrapolate that Guttman had an experience similar to  the one I have described above, for UOVO’s facility boasts something of quite the opposite nature.

My musings were interrupted by the introduction of my tour-guide, UOVO’s Marketing and Communications Associate, Hannah Schmidt. After a short exchange and the light touch of a keycard, I was brought into a wide, curving hallway that bent out of site. Upon inquiring about the card access system, Hannah informed me that the keycard is the kernel of UOVO’s custom-designed, UL rated security system. It is programmed with specific electronic pathways for individual holders, and tracks a person’s movements throughout the facility. During my time at UOVO, she would use her card to access all of the public spaces in the building, including the elevators.

Courtesy of UOVO.

Pieter Vermeersch Installation. Courtesy of UOVO.

As we walked down the hall deeper into the building, the gradient of the wall slowly deepened into a royal blue, beckoning the viewer forward. After commenting, Hannah informs me that it is a site-specific installation by Belgian artist Pieter Vermeersch. Drawing my attention away from the artwork, she points to a large, closed overhead door on the opposite wall. With enthusiasm, she tells me that recently, the space, one of six large viewing rooms on site, was used by a client to host a month-long public exhibition of their collection. Continuing on, we encountered two extremely fashionable women hurriedly pushing a rack of beautiful garments, their hands encased in short, wrist-length silk gloves, skirts flitting around their ankles. Before I could further investigate their outfits, they disappeared into another of the viewing rooms, the large, bright space enveloped in billowing fabrics and haute couture. The scene dissipated, swallowed by the curving wall.

Viewing room. Courtesy of UOVO.

Viewing room. Courtesy of UOVO.

Before exploring the upper floors of the facility, Hannah led me to the loading docks, nine in total. Passing through an airlock door, we entered the loading docks. The hangar-like space reminded me of something out of a sci-fi movie, and despite the sterility of the docks, fully enclosed for climate control, it was bright and airy. When entering the facility, artworks pass through two covered loading docks and an airlock chamber to provide the proper protection against environmental factors. While surveying the space, she described UOVO’s electronic barcoding system. Artwork is scanned into the facility using an iPhone integrated digital barcode system. As the art is moved, it is scanned into its new location, providing for convenient retrieval of a work.

Courtesy of UOVO.

Courtesy of UOVO.

Exiting the loading docks, I was informed that I was stepping into a separate building, passing over the 8-inch seismic gap that ensures the structure can move relatively free from the ground should an earthquake occur, preventing damage. She also noted that the building is a post-Hurricane Sandy structure, comprised of concrete and steel, and resting 16 feet above sea level, whereas FEMA only recommends structures to be 7 feet above sea level to be out of the flood zone. It seems that the $200 million worth of artwork destroyed by Sandy has not been forgotten by art dealers and collectors alike.

In the elevator on our way upstairs, Hannah informed me that the airflow throughout the building was designed by William Lull, who has worked with both MoMA and The Met in the past. Stepping out of the elevator, white storage units, or rather, private rooms, sprawl out across the expansive space. Like the loading docks, the area doesn’t feel stifling but rather very spacious. Some clients have their doors open, exposing rooms that blend together the luxury of a private office with the functionality of storage—a man, deep in concentration, bends over a desk placed in the center of the space surrounded by racks of paintings. Noticing my curiosity, Hannah comments that clients frequently use their storage rooms as workspaces. A few units down, a UOVO employee gives a tour to a potential client. As I pass the pair, I overhear the employee describe UOVO’s ability to customize a private room to each client’s specific needs with the help of the in-house spatial planners.

Courtesy of UOVO.

Courtesy of UOVO.

However, as Hannah tells me, not all clients need frequent, active access to their art, nor do they require substantial storage space—this is where UOVO’s concierge storage comes into play. Artwork is stored in a large, co-mingled space only accessible to UOVO’s art technicians while still affording the client all of UOVO’s core services, such as collection management, packing and crating, and transportation. Also, a shared work space and a private room for collection-related services is available to those with works in concierge storage.

Courtesy of UOVO.

Courtesy of UOVO.

Making our way up to the 8th floor, Hannah quickly checks to see if any meeting rooms are available: “you have to see the view,” she tells me. Luckily, the conference room was open. Like other common areas throughout UOVO, artworks and furniture from Guttman’s collection decorated the room. A large wooden screen with mirrors by Phillip Powell complements the dark wood table and Vilhelm Lauritzen chairs. However, the room’s best feature is the large window that provides a spectacular view of Manhattan, with Midtown East seeming to be only a stone’s throw away. The prospect was a reminder of how close Long Island City is to the city, easily accessible by car, as well as the multitude of trains that converge in the area.

Pulling myself away from the view and surveying the conference room, I concluded that the convenience provided by UOVO’s facility would be difficult to ignore. A client can host viewings and showcase work, hold meetings, and store their artwork all in the same location, without needing to schlep works back and forth between a storage unit and a viewing space. Also, no more inexperienced interns lugging poorly packaged pieces down 10th Avenue, everything is handled by the UOVO technicians.

Courtesy of UOVO.

Courtesy of UOVO.

On our way back to the reception area, Hannah took a circuitous route, pausing to show me what could be described as the epicenter of UOVO’s cultural community, the client café. As UOVO’s clientele is comprised of individuals from all different sectors of the art world, the café is a place for clients to converge over coffee or lunch. Moreover, the communal area contributes to UOVO’s all-in-one, community and culturally-oriented space.

UOVO’s Long Island City facility is akin to a members-only collective—they are extremely protective of their clients’ privacy—paired with the hospitality of a 5-star hotel. With elements of today’s shared workspaces, UOVO is defined by its versatility and its promotion of innovation; beyond simply storage, the facility provides collectors, dealers, and advisors with the opportunity to interact with their art in new and creative ways, hassle-free. As my tour ended, I realized that at the heart of UOVO is a desire, a need, to care for and preserve our shared cultural legacy.

On my way out, I stop to enjoy a cold brew in the reception area—they even know how to do coffee right.

Philip Guston’s oeuvre cannot be designated to only one artistic movement. He had begun his career as a realist expressionist; however, after a move to New York in the forties, quickly delved into abstraction and gained fame as a part of the New York School. Guston’s views on Abstract Expressionism began to diverge from those of his peers. As Ab-Ex continued to sever the ties between abstraction and realism on a “march to flatness,” Guston was becoming disenchanted with painting what he believed could only be realized through painting itself—what only a painting could express. Grappling with concepts of abstraction and the very notions of painting itself, Guston turned back on his separation with realism to rediscover imagination within painting. While it may seem that the artist’s transition to his figurative, Neo-Expressionist works was abrupt, the pieces made during the preceding decade foreshadow his return to figure and object. During Guston’s metamorphosis, his works searched for form and solidity within an imagined space. Some of the pivotal works from this period are currently on display at Hauser & Wirth in an exhibition entitled “Philip Guston: Painter 1957—1967,” which directly explores the slow evolution that led to the artist’s return to figuration and his re-discovery of painting as an illusionistic, infinitely imaginative space.

Fable II 1957 Oil on illustration board 62.7 x 91.1 cm / 24 5/8 x 35 7/8 in, Private Collection © The Estate of Philip Guston Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Fable II, 1957, Oil on illustration board © The Estate of Philip Guston. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth.

The exhibition is a coming together of 36 paintings and 53 drawings, most on loan from private collections and major institutions, organized by Paul Schimmel—ex-MOCA Director as well as Partner and Vice President of Hauser & Wirth. Schimmel led a walk-through of the exhibition, discussing this transitory period of 1957-67 as the physical representation of Guston’s concern with the loss of object in abstraction and a display of the artist’s ability to, as Schimmel states, “push back on his own history.”

Untitled, 1958 Oil on canvas 162.9 x 191.1 cm / 64 1/8 x 75 1/4 in © The Estate of Philip Guston Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Untitled, 1958, Oil on canvas. © The Estate of Philip Guston. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

In the first gallery, colorful shapes floating on white landscapes greet viewers. The works from 1957 are energetic and colorful. In some, the colors clustered in the center of the work seem to wish to break out of their tight, constricted form. Guston’s Fable II from 1957 is an example of this abstracted, elegantly exuberant conglomeration of colors surrounded by soft, warm beige brushstrokes. By 1958, Guston’s paintings become murkier, his colors darkening—the reds deepen, the white tones become gray, such as in Last Piece and Untitled. However, splotches of color are still commanding forces within the picture. Vessel from 1960 consists of a dark rectangular form hovering close to the viewer, dominating the pictorial space—swatches of yellow, green and red peek over the black ridge. Blue and gray brushstrokes partially erase an underpainting, which consists of warmer orange tones.

By 1961, Guston’s longing for images takes over his paintings. Figures and objects arise in dark masses against gray backgrounds that stop short of the edge of the canvas. The masses loom toward the viewer, ambiguous and ghostly. The phantoms haunt many of Guston’s works from this period, shadows of the figuration the artist will soon return to. The bare space surrounding his pictures highlight the edge of the canvas, heightening the awareness of the relationship between the paint and the end of the physical work through a spatial exploration of landscape and background.

Painter III, 1963 Oil on canvas 167.64 x 200.6 cm / 66 x 79 in © The Estate of Philip Guston Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Painter III, 1963, Oil on canvas © The Estate of Philip Guston. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Guston’s Painter III from 1963 exemplifies the new changes in the artist’s work. The brushstrokes layer in loose knits, almost grid-like. In Painter III, a form emerges from a large swatch of grays and blues. Underneath, background layers of muted orange and purple peer out from behind the gray paint. A black figure compositionally portrayed in portrait style appears to raise a hand, the suggestion of a paintbrush in its grip implies an artist’s self-portrait. Although ambiguous and still embedded within abstraction, the paintings introduce ideas of landscapes and suggestions of portraiture, even the titles of his pieces start to relate more to physical nouns rather than concepts. Within these works, the viewer can observe Guston testing the waters for a move back to object and figure.

Looking, 1964; photo by the author.

Looking, 1964; photo by Madeleine Mermall

In 1965, Guston experimented with his last throes of color in works like Looking and Inhabiter—hints of dusty, salmon pink layers appear luminous underneath a smoky screen of paint. At the end of this pivotal decade, the everyday objects and enigmatic figures are their most mysterious. Shapes materialize from the space; these cryptic subjects loom forward in their settings, comprised of grays and blacks, the brushstrokes smooth and gentle, forming soft, slack cross-hatched patterns. There is a large sense of erasure in the works, traces of painting barely remain behind a smog-like haze of monochromatic color. The paintings are elusive, abstract enough to remain ambiguous but familiar enough where the implication of reality cannot be ignored.

The end of Hauser & Wirth’s exhibition features a wall of Guston’s drawings from 1967. Although the drawings mark a temporary end of painting for the artist, they actually symbolize the birth of Guston’s Neo-Expressionist style. The pure line drawings are skeletons of the cartoon-like realism soon to come. They also speak to Guston’s rejection of the art world’s expectations regarding his artwork.

Paul Schimmel with works on paper. Photo by the author.

Paul Schimmel with works on paper. Photo by Madeleine Mermall

The paintings exhibited at Hauser & Wirth display the artist’s search for spatiality and object, signaling his return to figuration. Each work proves to be a stepping stone that forms a cohesive understanding of the artist’s subtle, smooth transition to figure and form and away from the constraints of his previous works. Schimmel, during his tour, discussed Guston’s idea of freedom, stating that the artist believed that “only when you are at the blank white canvas, you are free.” Beyond the works in this decade attempting to reconcile gesture and color field painting, landscape and portraiture with abstraction, the paintings directly deal with the freedom of the artist—the ability to reject or embrace the past, or to create whatever one pleases. The artworks at Hauser & Wirth are inherent to Guston’s realization of freedom, and in Guston’s words himself, “that’s the only possession an artist has—freedom to do whatever you can imagine.”

“Philip Guston: Painter 1957—1967” is on view at Hauser & Wirth Gallery, New York, through July 29, 2016.

On March 2nd, VIP guests and press filled Piers 92 and 94 to preview the 22nd edition of the Armory Show, with Benjamin Genocchio—the Armory’s new executive director—bringing together just over 200 galleries from 36 countries. It is the show’s largest international turn out yet, with galleries from Mexico City to Reykjavík. As the Armory Show has grown, it has introduced a special invitational section that focuses on encapsulating artistic practices from a certain region. For its 7th edition, the show presents “Focus: African Perspectives,” curated by Yvette Mutumba and Julia Grosse, the founders of Contemporary And, an online platform that focuses on global art from African perspectives.

While some of the galleries outside of the focus exhibition seemed to take the theme to heart, after investigating, it became apparent that most are simply just becoming more internationally aware and looking beyond their domestic landscapes. Many galleries’ rosters feature a wide range of very diverse artists, not just in terms of nationality but also diversity of medium and theme. With such an international range of artists and works, it seems our interest in the global has been reflected within the art market. However, unsurprisingly and understandably, most galleries have stuck to the usual show of their newest works by their most marketable artists, international or not. Dealers brought out classic blue chip artists, such as Dan Flavin and Ai Weiwei, and, as is expected, displaying works that preview what is to come for the next season and playing off the popular trends within the art world.

Courtesy of Lisson Gallery and the Artist: Ai Weiwei, "Shelter," 2014. Photograph by Madeleine Mermall

Courtesy of Lisson Gallery and the Artist: Ai Weiwei, “Shelter,” 2014. Photography by Madeleine Mermall

Despite the sometimes too obvious business side of the fair, it was a big year politically with lots of hot button issues, such as racial inequality, which are reflected in many of the contemporary works on display, indicating dealers’ have an understanding that social consciousness and political engagement within art is attractive to the Armory’s attendees. Overall, while the Armory Show is still a typical art fair at heart, it did allow visitors to view some serious artistic gems before they disappear behind private doors. Here are some highlights we think are worth checking out:

Courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery and the Artist: Kehinde Wiley, "Bound," 2015. Photograph by Madeleine Mermall

Courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery and the Artist: Kehinde Wiley, “Bound,” 2015. Photography by Madeleine Mermall

Sean Kelly’s booth dominated the entrance of the show with a large, magnificent Kehinde Wiley bronze sculpture entitled Bound, 2016, its price listed at $375,000. Bound features three women bound together by their hair and was featured in Wiley’s Brooklyn Museum show in the spring of 2015. On either side of the sculpture are two new works by Jose Dávila that are in direct conversation with pop superstar Roy Lichtenstein’s two paintings, Drowning Girl, 1963 and Oh, Jeff…I Love You, Too…But…, 1964. While I was visiting the booth, associates were busy pulling smaller works by Dávila in the same style and similar subject matter. The booth boasted another work by Kehinde Wiley, an enormous, brand new portrait entitled Equestrian Portrait of Phillip III, which was already sold before the start of the fair.

Sean Kelly at The Armory Show 2016 Pier 94, Booth 501. Jose Dávila, "Untitled )Oh, Jeff...I Love You, Too…But...) II," 2016 and "Untitled (Drowning Girl)," 2016; Kehinde Wiley, "Bound," 2016. Photography: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano

Sean Kelly at The Armory Show 2016
Pier 94, Booth 501. Jose Dávila, “Untitled )Oh, Jeff…I Love You, Too…But…) II,” 2016 and “Untitled (Drowning Girl),” 2016; Kehinde Wiley, “Bound,” 2016. Photography: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano

I spoke with Lauren Kelly, director of Sean Kelly, about how they chose what to bring to this year’s show. “We specifically tailor what we exhibit based on the market; for this Armory show we wanted to show all brand new works. People expect to see new works at the Armory, so it was more about what exciting new works our artists have versus what balance we want of international or domestic artists. However, we’re in a political year, and we’re thinking about that…we’re showing works that are socially relevant.” When I asked about the Dávila works flying out of the back room, Kelly commented, “we always do really well at the Armory, its a great sales fair for us.” The average price of the artworks? Kelly responded with a cool “Fifty to sixty thousand.”

Courtesy of Victoria Miro and The Artist: Njideka Akunyili Crosby, "To Be Determined," 2016. Photography by Madeleine Mermall

Courtesy of Victoria Miro and The Artist: Njideka Akunyili Crosby, “To Be Determined,” 2016. Photography by Madeleine Mermall

Victoria Miro’s booth did not disappoint; a large Kara Walker greets passersby and works by Sarah Sze, Wangechi Mutu, Chris Ofili and others fill up the space. A large diptych by Njideka Akunyili Crosby stood out from the rest. It is so new that one of the gallery’s representatives told me it has yet to be named, so it is simply being called To Be Determined, for now. A Nigerian artist based in Los Angeles, Crosby’s work represents a cultural hybrid between being Nigerian and American and the dichotomy that exists between the two. The work depicts a woman sitting at what we presume to be a kitchen table, her stiff yellow dress crinkled at the waist. She sits sideways, her elbow leaning across the top of the chair, her other arm settled on the table. Her eyes are cast downward, lost in a moment to herself. Across from her, a TV plays the image of a military leader. Adjacent to the television, on the wall, we see the bottom half of a framed wedding photo of a bi-racial couple. The background of the diptych is a collage of traditional Nigerian textiles and images from Nigerian news. I was entranced.

Paris’s Galerie Alberta Pane’s featured piece was definitely the most photographed of the fair. Romina de Novellis performed The Cage, or, La Gabbia, during the VIP and press preview that consisted of the artist locked nude in a cage with 500 white roses, which she methodically tied to the bars around her, slowly encapsulating herself within a floral box. She was constantly surrounded by spectators. Her serene, graceful and trance-like gestures and expression made me feel slightly uncomfortable. After a period of time, I was hyper-aware of my participation in the spectatorship and felt like I was entrapped in the viewpoint of the voyeur while she was entrapped in her vulnerability, slowly hiding herself from the audience’s gaze.

Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery and The Artist: Elias Sime, "Tigthrope, Trios," 2013. Photograph by Madeleine Mermall

Courtesy of James Cohan Gallery and The Artist: Elias Sime, “Tigthrope, Trios,” 2013. Photograph by Madeleine Mermall

James Cohan Gallery’s feature piece is by Elias Sime, entitled Tigthrope, Trios, from 2013. I spoke to David Norr, senior director, about Elias Sime’s work. “Elias is an Ethiopian artist who works in Addis Ababa. He creates compositions out of recomposed electronic parts that are often sourced from the market place, it’s called the Mercato. Often in Africa electronic parts are dumped and they are stripped and they are separated and resold at the market place. Sometimes they are separated by color, sometimes they are separated by actual material. They’re sold in 55 gallon drums. He uses these materials to create almost topographic landscape pieces. He’s using what’s available. It’s not as if oil paint from Brooklyn is available to him, so he’s working with the language that he’s familiar with, and wants to work within that language. He’s interested in making something of Addis, so it’s both directions in terms of formalism and also speaking to his environment, his surroundings.” When asked about the general price range, Norr said that the works they brought the show cost anywhere from $3500 to $235,000, “we brought works for a diverse range of buyers, we were thinking about the real art market.”

Although London dealer Ben Brown came armed with his usual suspects that include Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana and Alexander Calder, he balanced the classic big names of modernism and post-modernism with some works by relevant contemporary artists like Awol Erizku. Also, Claude Lalanne’s Pomme d’Hiver was quite the crowd pleaser.

Jack Shainman Gallery brought a diverse range of works that are representative of their roster that wow’d critics and collectors alike. Works by Hank Willis Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, Titus Kaphar, Toyin Ojih Odutola and Barkley Hendricks are all must-sees. 

Hank Willis Thomas, Promise, 2016. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery and The Artist: Hank Willis Thomas, "Promise," 2016

Hank Willis Thomas, Promise, 2016. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery and The Artist: Hank Willis Thomas, “Promise,” 2016

I had the opportunity to speak with Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, director of Jack Shainman, about their works on display. “We brought a representation of our roster; we represent artists from across the world, including Africa, Europe and around the Americas. We have a really diverse range of artists.” When discussing Promise by Hank Willis Thomas, she stated that “his new works are focused on taking really well-know or historically important photographs and finding an isolated moment within the frame and turning it into 3D sculpture. A sub-sect of this larger series is working around sports imagery. He’s really interested in ideas revolving around identity, representations, activity and thinking about sports as a life metaphor.”

Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery and The Artist: Titus Kaphar, Alternate Endings II, 2015

Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery and The Artist: Titus Kaphar, Alternate Endings II, 2015

Moving towards the Titus Kaphar, Bellorado-Samuels told me that “he’s really interested in visiting the art historical canon, specifically European and American history painting, but taking figures that generally would’ve been pushed into the margins and making them the central figure and reinterpreting history that way.”

Toyin Ojih Odutola, Fortress, 2016. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery and The Artist: Toyin Ojih Odutola, Fortress, 2016

Toyin Ojih Odutola, Fortress, 2016. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery and The Artist: Toyin Ojih Odutola, Fortress, 2016

Towards the back-end of the booth, I was drawn to a piece by Toyin Ojih Odutola, inquiring about the work, she told me the artist was born in Nigeria but has lived around the U.S. for quite some time. “She works in various mediums, including this graphite and ballpoint pen and pastel, really interested in thinking about portraiture but really in a material way and rethinking line and form and what the material means to the subject. Thinking about the skin as a terrain and remapping the body.” When asked about the experience so far, Bellorado-Samuels was enthusiastic. “It’s been a great fair, it’s super busy and it’s a great opportunity for people who know these artists or to introduce people to artists they haven’t seen before, and now get to see them here, so it’s been good!” When I asked about prices, she told me that they range between $17,000 to $1.3 million. The publicist quickly stepped closer, so I ended my questioning there.

Namsa Leuba at Echo Gallery, Lagos as part of Armory Focus

Namsa Leuba at Echo Gallery, Lagos as part of Armory Focus

Echo Gallery Lagos, a gallery invited to the Armory Show as a part of Armory Focus, featured photography by Namsa Leuba. I had a chance to speak with the artist herself about her work.

“For the past few years I’ve been working on the concept of African identity through Western eyes. A part of my work is very based in fine art and also fashion, finding inspiration through fashion. I work only with local people, and with a Nigerian fashion designer. For almost all my pictures I do my castings in the street. I wanted to get another perception of what will be the next generation in Lagos. In my other photographs I work with traditional clothes and thinking about cultural symbolism in West Africa, South Africa. I try to cover not only multiple generations but also traditional and contemporary, past present, modernity, tradition, I explore both sides. I try to explore Africa. I work with different tools from ritual ceremonies and where I’m from, in Guinea, this was very serious, the postures and tools used in my photos are considered sacred. I wanted to use human beings, because in ceremonies these tools, these statuettes used during rituals, they are only animated by your mind. I wanted to make visible the invisible, make them alive and seen in a different context. It was interesting, in South Africa they don’t use the statuette, so to bring a different culture there and do something different, it was very welcomed. When I exhibited these photographs with these sacred tools in my country, though, it was sacrilege. People were offended that I put these tools in my photographs and made the statuette alive, it became violent. The police had to get involved. People eventually settled down, but it was welcomed in South Africa because its a totally different culture, they didn’t see it as offensive.”

The Armory Show, March 3-6 2016, 12th Avenue at 55th Street, Piers 92 and 94

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.

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.

Chris_burden_1

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.

Chris_burden

©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.

On October 10, 2013, Phillips Auction House presented PADDLES ON!: the world’s first major commercial auction of works by artists using digital technologies as their medium. The auction, in partnership with the virtual art auction house and marketplace Paddle8, marked a change in attitude toward the already vibrant and diverse digital art movement, endorsing the cultural significance of digital art for collectors.

The digital art movement is seemingly all-encompassing as digital technologies are vastly diverse and easily manipulated. In turn, complexities of definition arise quickly, the most considerable of which regards digital production versus visual display in terms of the qualities necessary for an artwork to be classified as digital art. Some critics argue that a work of digital art can not be defined as such unless the final product itself is digital: ”on screen.” Despite disputes between scholars, however, digital art has become an umbrella term for different contemporary, digitalized art movements, such as internet art, net art, or new media art. The differences between them are contingent upon the audience, for the defining lines have been blurred into obscurity. At its essence though, digital art is an artistic work in which digital technology is the foundation or fabric of the artwork. Beyond the technological medium, the thread that ties the diverging sectors together is the contemporary artists’ reactions to the new modes of expression and cultural phenomena that they and their audiences have intimately experienced in their everyday lives.

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With the rapid rise of the tech community, it is no surprise that the two worlds—both within the realm of creation and both culturally impactful—should begin to meld. Artists have always been some of the first to integrate new materials and technologies into their art, if not making such materials the central focus. As technology becomes increasingly influential, our lives have begun to shift towards a digital existence; intangible data empowered with new and physically disencumbered tools. Digital artists create works that are representative of this transformation. The range of art created by such artists is vast, spanning from mundane uses of a low-culture technology such as Google Image Search or Microsoft Paint to highly complex, interactive digital pieces that push the boundaries of technological innovation. Within this range, several artists have chosen to harness their experiences of our digitalized pop culture and day-to-day social interactions as a foundation for creation. They utilize digital technologies to reminisce on our fast-paced culture of technological obsolescence, their artworks infused with nostalgia for the constantly changing, digital pop-culture. This is Digi-Pop—the area of the larger digital art movement native to the computer and Internet that focuses on technology’s influence on communication, consumerism, entertainment, embodying the societal embrace of our digital metamorphosis.


In the 1990s, telecommunication exploded. During the end of the previous decade, personal computer development advanced to produce more powerful machines that were more capable and less expensive. As they became more common in the workplace and at home, it was not long before the Internet, previously used by the military and academic institutions, would infiltrate daily lives. The previous modes of communication like the telephone and TV have now been redefined by the Internet. Forms of personal interaction accelerated from face-to-face or phone conversations to Instant Messaging (IM) and social media networking. The birth of search engines allowed for libraries worth of knowledge to be almost instantly accessible, our constant “connectedness” a way to never be alone. Suddenly, a new, endless world existed to explore and excavate.

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For those who witnessed the dawn of the internet, who tied up the phone lines forwarding chain emails, who spent long car rides with their Gameboys on hand and learned HTML for their Xanga site before even entering teen-hood, there is a sense of closeness. Our experiences of the birth and blink-of-an-eye growth of digital technology has created a personal and profound relationship beyond convenience. Like a friend or family member, technology has been with us as we grew and changed, growing and changing as well, helping to shape our identities. Seemingly overnight, how people present themselves to the world is no longer just physical. An entire generation’s development from childhood to adulthood was paralleled by the digital-technology and internet evolution. There is a certain unique attachment to, and nostalgia for, the technologies that defined our surroundings, relationships and experiences during these critical growing years.

Our interactions with technology and the internet has changed our lives in the real world; the cultural context in which we are entangled has defined our perceptions. Digi-Pop stems from this melding of online, digital persona and reality, relying on the audience’s familiarity with the digital realm for its artistic significance to be recognized. As our culture becomes digitized, a new visual lexicon has emerged that is greatly exploited by Digi-Pop artists. Internet veterans who have the most expansive knowledge of this symbolic vocabulary have changed the way we communicate. Emojis and GIFs are part of everyday correspondence, a reversion to a symbolic language like Hieroglyphs, but updated. Paddy Johnson, founder and editor of Art F City, compared the use of GIFs and Emojis as a mode of communication to Haim Steinbach‘s curated shelves displaying pop culture relics, “but whereas Steinbach’s selections are carefully arranged and often inscrutable, these…use a similar generic format for a very different purpose: high-speed conversation.”

Digi-Pop is engrained with nostalgia, as technology moves so quickly that obsolescence is almost a constant. Much of the artworks feel sentimental as the artists look back at the early days of the Internet, the pixelated animations and kitsch pop-ups, as the Romantics of the late 18th century looked back to the days before the Industrial Revolution, glorifying and longing a recent past suddenly so distant. 

Digi-Pop also plays off of the inherent disjunction found within the experience of browsing the Web. There is a sense of safety and privacy while interacting with the Internet, one is physically closeness to a private screen. However, the content is “connected to the collective public commons of the Internet.” Digi-Pop is viewed in the same manner, it is a personal and private experience but of something immersive, a universal experience that is continuous with our daily interactions with the digital.

Utilizing the pop-cultural imagery and symbols from the digital age and using the internet as their foundation for presentation, here are ten artists that represent the Digi-Pop movement: Digi-Pop Part II: Who to Know


Digital technologies have given artists’ tools of creation whose capabilities seem infinite; artists write their own programs and algorithms and create digital, interactive, autonomous worlds, spaces. With such tools, digital art is growing at an exponential pace, matching the ever rapid development of technological innovation and further fueling Digi-Pop artists with a nostalgia for a not-so-distant past.

The collaboration between an online art market platform and an established auction house is only the start, it will not be long before cultural institutions begin to implement digital art into their collections, some, such as the New Museum, have already begun accommodating the rise in digital art by hosting online, digital exhibitions. With the Metropolitan announcing their mega-expansion and MoMA taking steps to reconfigure their space, one can assume they will be considering the proper infrastructure to house ever-more digitalized artworks and the multiple movements stemming from this new medium.

January 29, 2016

10 Digi-Pop Artists to Know

Krist Wood

Krist Wood creates artwork that acts like a digital map, unfolding as you click through the artist’s website, each page taking you to a different URL complete with another hyperlinked image. Wood’s work is true to its medium, it is a sort of digital performance that occurs over multiple websites, mimicking the act of browsing by forcing the viewer to actively participate. The artwork is only realized if it is “surfed,” exploiting the nature of the Internet as the art itself is an interconnected network of websites—layers—that find its meaning only through interaction. His work also highlights the omnipresent, intangible quality of the Internet as it forces the viewer to acknowledge the invisible doorways of the web, the connectedness of the digital world.

Wood is the founder of Computers Club, a blog with nineteen contributing members that is a collaborative “digital sculpture” of GIFs, large-scale images with embedded videos and links, and software-based drawings. His website can be found here.

Nicolas Sassoon

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Another member of the Computers Club, Sassoon creates digital GIF environments that range from large, pixelated abstractions to digitized representations of his studio space or virtual rooms. Some of his works are full-fledged 3D models: though crude and lacking in detail, they depict the capabilities of early-Internet programing and visuals and create virtual environments that lack a narrative context and present a digital space for contemplation. Beyond the use of a low-tech, mundane medium such as the GIF, Sassoon’s works emphasize the extent that the digital has influenced, if not enveloped, our “IRL” (in real life) identities and lives.

As Sassoon states while discussing his artwork, “there is a form of darkness in my work process as well as in the environment surrounding my work…My studio is a very dark space inside a basement located in a city that is pretty dark for eight months of the year.  A lot of my work emerges from extended periods of time immersed in that environment. This lifestyle allows me to project myself into a virtual world, but it also lacks the physical interactions of the real world.”

Tom Moody

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Tom Moody is a New York artist who entered the scene in 2001 with his blog and gained the attention of the art world in 2005 when he was featured by Art in America in the article “Art in the Blogosphere.” He uses obsolete, low-tech tools to create his digital artworks, ranging from pieces made on simple imaging software to drawings on MS Paintbrush (an earlier 90s version of MS Paint). Unlike many other digital artists, Moody’s skill-set would be considered amateur, as his coding knowledge stops beyond HTML—his under-designed blog layout a reflection of his limited technical abilities, as well as a nostalgic throwback to the early days of blogs and personal websites.

Moody’s newer artworks often are GIFs, hypnotizing optical abstractions that border on Op-Art with underlying pop-culture allusions. However, the endless loop reduces the impact of the images, creating a sort of soporific sensation within the viewer. “I am drawn to ‘cyber-kitsch’ in all its forms, whether in old programs such as MSPaintbrush, the amateur imagery that abounds on the Web, or the unintended poetry of technical glitches. My work proudly inhabits the ‘lo-fi’ or ‘abject’ end of the digital spectrum.” 

Andrej Ujhazy

Andrej Ujhazy, Untitled, Photoshop painting, 2015.

Andrej Ujhazy is a Brooklyn based artist who creates Photoshop paintings that depict scenes inspired by video games. His works mimic the large landscapes and battle fields found in video games and allude to traditional history paintings. However, his style is gestural and expressive, which is paradoxical to both the medium and its digital inspiration. Ujhazy interjects his own individual and artistic touch into the video game’s narrative. While his works are still images, their massive scale and digital medium create an environment that consumes the viewer. Only by scrolling about the page can the full piece be realized. Ujhazy posts his digital artworks on various blogging platforms, his current blog can be found here.

Cory Arcangel

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Cory Arcangel in some way epitomizes Digi-Pop in that all of his works’ main purpose is to comprehend, or at least explore, the relationship between digital technology and pop culture. Arcangel has explored many facets of the digital world; however, his central focus has been video game culture. He uses the digital as his artistic style, often appropriating the visual language and sensory components of gaming and digital pop culture phenomena, if not manipulating the very technologies themselves. For instance, in his most well-known work, Arcangel hacked an early version of Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers, leaving only the sky and pixelated clouds floating past the screen. The game, with all of its other components reduced, is GIF-like, a constant, hypnotizing loop. In another piece, Arcangel modified an obsolete version of Super Mario where the game begins with Mario standing on a single cube in a vast world of nothing, left to just stand forever. Arcangel uses his knowledge of coding and software development to hack, experiment with and exploit common tools or objects of pop-culture as a means to expose and critique our ever-advancing relationship with the digital world.

Petra Cortright

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Cortright’s name may be one of the most recognizable on the list, as she has garnered attention across multiple online platforms such as Tumblr and YouTube. Big in the GIF game, Cortright often produces digital works that emphasize the technological process of creation, including errors on the part of the artist.She makes use of the early internet visual lexicon, her work littered with the crude animated smiley faces, pop-ups, everything reminiscent of the “congratulations, you won!” era. She collages Google images with symbols from Internet Explorer’s toolbar plug-ins. Her YouTube videos are straight out of an early 2000s preteen’s bedroom where Cortright dances alone to hyper-electro, DDR music, her dance moves coming straight from the game itself. She’ll pause to play with her cat or adjust the camera. She interacts with digital technology in a familiar way, a nostalgic embrace of the early Internet, video game revolution. 

Amalia Ulman

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Ulman has recently received a lot of attention for her digital performance piece on social media platform Instagram. Instagram and Digi-Pop go hand-in-hand, as social media has defined our pop culture, allowing its users to stay connected to quickly moving trends and influencing global tastes. Instagram is a network of curated lives, presenting an identity that, once posted, its consumption is out of your control, people can make up their own minds. Ulman’s Instagram series focused on this new-found ability to curate multiple identities in the digital world. The series follows a narrative arc of a girl in LA lost and found again. Scrolling through the works posted on Instagram over 21 weeks, one can see Ulman’s exploitation of the typical images and paired captions seen on a popular Instagram page, such as selfies, food shots, half-dressed girls and pop-culturally relevant memes. Her critical performance found its meaning as her professional and social relationships started to change as her peers began to assume truths about the artist through her social media presence, paralleling the experience

Hal Lasko

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Lasko began creating his digital paintings at the age of 85, when his family gifted him with a personal computer that came preloaded with Microsoft Paint. The software, now obsolete and considered kitsch, was easy to use with high quality precision. Slowly going blind, the digital medium allowed Lasko to work pixel by pixel, creating large landscape pixel portraits and still lives. The translation of painting into pixels through the mundane software gives Lasko’s works an “old school,” early-internet and video game feel. One would not be surprised to find the scenes in the background of a early 90s computer game.

In 2013, “The Pixel Painter,” a short documentary about Lasko’s life and interest in the digital medium was released, it can be viewed here. Lasko died June 6, 2014, at the age of 98.

Marisa Olson

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Olson is one of the founding members of the Nasty Nets’ “Internet Surfing Club”, a website where members all create web-based artworks that document and re-imagine their experiences online. Much of Olson’s artwork examines that act of searching the Internet and one’s response to this interaction as both the spectator and the performer. She often utilizes YouTube as her platform for both creation and presentation, playing off of the popular “response” videos found on the website. Olson’s interests largely lie in the cultural history of technology and the digital world’s impact on the future. Her series Assisted Living exemplifies this interest, parodying the typical domestic/home living TV show; however, Olson focused her video on DIY projects and recipes that are meant to help the viewer cope with new side effects of digital technologies and remain healthy in the technological world. The artist often attempts to point out the sometimes abusive influence technology has upon us, while in turn abusing technology itself. Her work can be nostalgic, as she sometimes works with mundane, out-dated technologies like the floppy disk or simple coding software, “Out of sight, out of mind…I feel like this is what’s happening with all of our tv’s, walkmen, air hockey tables, nintendos, etc as we follow our drives to upgrade. They just get pushed into dumpsters and disregarded. And I’ve been trying to think about my own role in this cycle, because I certainly love my iPod as much as the next gal.”

Alexandra Gorczynski

Similar to Cortright and Wood, Gorczynski creates websites as artwork that are composed of video, photography, digital painting and hyperlinked objects.

Everyone is talking about the Frank Stella Retrospective at the New Whitney museum this fall. However, the art world is split right down the middle when it comes to their opinion of the show. Some find that the Whitney dropped the ball, stating that the show’s monumentality is purely just that, an aesthetic play on the public’s taste for the spectacular in the modern day of Instagram and Snapchat. However, some find that it is exactly this focus on the aesthetic that so greatly captures why Stella was revolutionary for the art world.

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Frank Stella was born in 1936 in Malden, Massachusetts to first generation Italian-American parents and attended Princeton where he earned his degree in history. While attending Princeton, Stella furthered his interest in art and studied underneath the painter Stephen Green and art historian William Seitz, who introduced Stella to the New York art world, and in turn, the Abstract Expressionist movement that he was soon to react against.

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Stella moved to New York in 1958 and quickly became famous due to his emotionally cool and aesthetically sleek geometric black paintings that stood dark and menacing in the face of Ab-Ex. Whereas critics like Clement Greenberg believed Pollock to be the ultimate destroyer of perspective (this is a good thing) and king of formalism, others like Michael Fried praised Stella for removing the “theatre” from art and allowing the works’ own formal properties, such as two-dimensional surface and structural shape, to define it. Ever since his explosion on the scene in the late 50s, Stella’s career has ceased to slow. Moving from Geometric Abstraction and Minimalism into Lyrical Abstraction, Color Field and Abstract Illusionism; Stella’s work is always reactionary, aware of the times and its own influence over the path of artistic experimentation.

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The best word to describe the Whitney’s Stella Retrospective is monumental. Visitors are greeted by the artist’s enormous forty-foot painting entitled Das Erdbeben in Chili, 1999, paired next to his huge, gray-scale geometric work Pratfall, 1974. It is fitting, as the exhibition takes you from the early Minimalist works of the artist, though while minimal they are not small, to the “Maximalist,” hyperbolic pieces that the artist has created during the later years of his still on-going career. In its entirety, the show is filled with huge paintings and sculptures that tower over visitors and snarl with metal tongues or stare blank faced, sometimes almost haughty, from their painted structures; while the works at the beginning of the show may seem completely unrelated to those at the end, their differences highlight the true genius of the artist, a formalist with no limits.

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The museum’s new space enhances the already intense overall visual impact of his works. The visitor follows Stella’s career as he shoots to art stardom with his Die Fahne Hoch! 1959, the epitome of his black painting series that is comprised solely of the shape of its own structure; at the time, a rejection of the exploding Abstract Expressionist movement and an embrace of the antithesis of gesture and human expression. This idea of allowing the art and its formal elements to define the very content of the work will remain with the artist throughout his career.

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The show is designed in a mainly chronological order, exemplifying Stella’s experimentation with color and shaped canvases that create dynamic and complex structures to form the subject of his work. As visitors move through the open galleries, they can stand before a metal sculpture that is grotesquely kitsch, baroque to a point where Gaudi himself would be proud, and look two decades back at the artist’s first shaped, colorful canvases. The space allows the viewer to make connections and understand the artist’s progression by putting fewer restrictions on the visitor’s visual input.The one noticeable trait about Stella’s oeuvre that stands out in the retrospective is the display of true dedication to formalism. Whether it is the rejection of expression and perspective on a canvas to the embrace of gesture and curvature in metal works, Stella is always seeking to highlight the formal aspects of the materials, the object, itself. The motif that marks Stella’s career as presented by the Whitney’s retrospective is the growth and diversification of aesthetic in the realm of abstraction. The exhibition stays true to Stella’s early motto of “what you see is what you see.”

Already follow the Whitney, Artforum and Hyperallergic? Looking for some new art world instagram accounts to add to your following list? Check out these five instagram accounts you may not know about:

1. Brett Gorvy (@brettgorvy)
As the Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art at Christie’s, Gorvy’s instagram is something to drool over… and will make you turn slightly green with envy. His life, and the art he interacts with on a daily basis, is extraordinary. However, Gorvy’s instagram demeanor is down-to-earth. His passion for art leads to long narratives for captions that feature tidbits of information only an insider like Gorvy could know. Beyond giving his followers a first look at some of the most incredible Post-Modern and Contemporary Art locked behind the doors of the world’s richest collectors, Gorvy often shares glimpses of his personal life, such as his fantastic summer home on Tuxedo Lake only 45 minutes from the city.

2. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Photo Studio (@metphotostudio)
Honestly, this account is way better than the Met’s regular @metmuseum instagram. Followers get to see artworks from the Met’s archive that aren’t on view in the galleries, as well as behind-the-scenes photos of the collections, special exhibitions, and how it all comes together.

3. Jerry Saltz (@jerrysaltz)
This may be the most familiar name on the list, seeing as how Saltz has seemingly dominated the art world and beyond with his in-your-face attitude and sarcastic take on just about everything. When he isn’t making fun of the Far Right, Donald Trump or the art world itself (his posts during Art Basel tagged #BaselSaltz insulted every major person attending the fair and entertained us to no end), Saltz gives his followers small insights into his life as an art critic, always accompanied by a dose of sarcasm. Note—if you are easily offended, you may want to stay away, as Saltz has a habit of posting some NSFW content (think Medieval pornographic works on paper…)

4. Andrea Rosen (@andrearosengal)
The dealer, ever-recognizable with her long bleach white curls, posts a lot from her personal life, which is interesting enough in itself. However, our favorites are her #style posts, in which Rosen snaps (stalker style) pics of unaware pedestrians dressed in crazy get-ups… and this is New York so you know they have to be really pushing the limits here. Sometimes, they aren’t really dressed in anything at all. Rosen even blessed her followers during art fair season this past spring with an #artfairstyle hashtag edition. It was a winner, that’s for sure.

5. Scott Indrisek (@uniandchloe)
Executive Editor for Louise Blouin Media, Indrisek’s name is all over Blouin’s many publications such as ArtInfo and Modern Painters. While you would think his instagram would be art and more art, Indrisek entertains followers with his on-going #mattressesofnewyork series, lots of cat photos and dry sense of humor. He also doesn’t hesitate to throw in a selfie every now and then. Oh, and some art.

While attending the Laguna Beach Arts Festival this August, I was introduced to the work of Eric Gerdau. A Rhode Island School of Design alumnus and New Yorker gone rogue, Gerdau is now a Laguna local. He was displaying two paintings at the annual Laguna Beach Arts Festival, held in an outdoor venue that is nuzzled into the bowl of a canyon with the ocean only a short distance away. The large oil paintings stretch vast across the small space allotted. From afar, they appear as simply bands of rich color, fusing with one another at the edges. However, as I approached I saw that they were paintings of the sea. The sky in both works is in the moment of transition from day to night—the water reflecting the horizon’s transformation.

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The two pieces on display, “Late Bloomer” and “Marmalade,” show a calm ocean; the ripples in the foreground catch the last gleams of light. In “Late Bloomer,” the ocean extends into the background, becoming a deep blue that strikes the intensely vibrant magenta of the horizon so that the meeting point of the two seems to vibrate. I was reminded of a Rothko.

“Marmalade” is the same composition, but an entirely different experience. The ocean in the foreground is dark, shadows accentuate the small ripples spanning the length of the piece; burnt orange light licks the peaks. As the eye moves up the painting, the ocean turns from rose to a light apricot hue, and rather than the horizon clashing against the water, they fade into one another seamlessly. The sky at the horizon is pale, for a moment yellowed and then a muted blush, which melts into periwinkle blue by the time you’ve reached the top of the painting.

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At a glance, Gerdau’s paintings may be just simple seascapes. However, odd distinctions arise that diverge from the norm of reality. The scenes portrayed are beautiful, but there is something unsettling about them. In both, it seems as if the light emanating from the sunset comes from the entire expanse of the horizon rather than one point. There is no saturation of color in the sky that indicates the location of the sun; it is equally distributed across the horizon. The sensation of viewing the works is a strange one, the subconscious seems to pick up on this unnatural uniformity in light and color before the mind can catch up. The pictures are too pristine, the chaos induced by the sun’s dipping below the surface has been cleaned up, smoothed out so I almost feel like I’m looking into a scene from The Truman Show. Upon the surface, everything seems just fine, but if you pay attention, you’ll see something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

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