By: Marissa Nadeau

Ndidi Emefiele

“I feel like everyone wants me to give them some drama about this show,” Touria El Glaoui, Founding Director of 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, said with a laugh, “but it’s actually been one of the easiest set-ups…with New York, there’s this window of opportunity and visibility for the artists and a unique engagement with institutions that you don’t really see in any other city.”

1:54 was founded and organized by Moroccan curator Touria El Glaoui to improve the representation of contemporary African art worldwide.  Now, 1:54 is the foremost art fair dedicated to contemporary African art in the primary art market, showing in London during the October Frieze Week since 2013, and 1:54 NY during the May Frieze New York since 2015.  Entering its third year in New York, 1:54 NY is showcasing over 60 emerging and established contemporary artists, bringing 19 international galleries together from 10 countries.

1:54 view

1:54 aerial view. Courtesy Marissa Nadeau

1:54 is a ratio that runs parallel to the entirety of the fair’s mission, representing the entirety of Africa: 1 continent, 54 countries.  As the title suggests,  1:54 tries to preserve rather than blend together the differences between each country’s histories and cultures. Taking a look at this year’s 1:54 NY, the fair exemplifies its goal in representing individual countries, illustrating local development with global engagement, while connecting to common themes such as female representation, a hugely controversial topic in America as well as worldwide.

The role of gender identity and the fragile state of humanity come up in many of the pieces, always based from the African perspective, which within these topics play a fascinating role.  For instance, Lawrence Lemaoana, an artist from South Africa represented by Johannesburg-based Afronova Gallery, creates graphic works that critically engages with the media in present-day South Africa.  He views the relationship between media and the people of South Africa as extremely problematic and expresses this view through his trademark cynicism emblazoned on kanga fabric, a traditional fabric with its own complex history.  In one of Lemaoana’s kanga canvases at 1:54 NY, the phrase “MY FATHER WAS A GARDEN BOY” reflects upon the time of Apartheid when the easiest job for a man to get was a gardener, and those who worked as gardeners were called “garden boys” by their white employers.  Lemaoana brings up a part of South African history on a piece of fabric that lines modern day streets at markets.  Kanga fabric is also considered to be a female cloth, so along with telling the story of his father in the past, Lemaoana is toying with gender identity and who the use of this fabric is truly for.

Lawrence Lemaoana

Lawrence Lemaoana, My Father Was a Garden Boy. Courtesy Marissa Nadeau

Nigerian-American artist Wura-Natasha Ogunji’s diasporic view and love for the fusion of opposites creates an upfront look into micro- and macro-relationships.  She was born in the United States but currently lives in Nigeria (and is represented by London-based gallery 50 Golborne), allowing her to mold the experience of a life spent between two countries.  Her delicate lines build private and public scenes on trace architect paper, the translucency of the background and fragility of the paper’s surface translating to a bigger idea of the delicacy of humanity.  Just like in Lemaoana’s work, Ogunji is playing with bigger topics that are experienced worldwide but adds personal elements such as her life as a Nigerian-American woman.

Wura-Natasha Ogunji, The Atlantic. Courtesy Marissa Nadeau

Someone to keep an eye on? Nigerian artist Ndidi Emefiele (featured image). Represented by London-based gallery Rosenfeld Porcini, her work is confrontation and humorous, mixing the contemporary (cut-outs taken from magazines or printed from Instagram) with the traditional (Nigerian dress colors or patterns found in modern settings).  The pieces showcased at 1:54 NY hold a message of female empowerment, while the glasses found on most of the girls act as a layer of protection from the world, particularly the “male gaze”.  In her 2017 piece Taxi, the exposure of the subject’s skin in comparison to the Matisse-like figures dancing in the background paintings is just one of the contemporary vs. traditional comparisons that can be immediately interpreted.  Emefiele confronts popular topics such as gender as a social construct and the portrayal of female bodies within the media while incorporating traditional patterns, foods, and stances from her Nigerian roots.

1:54 NY does an incredible job of not only representing separate African countries but respecting those differences while creating worldwide topics that can be picked up by anyone who comes to visit the fair.  


1:54 NY

May 5th – May 7th 12-8pm

Pioneer Works (159 Pioneer Street), Brooklyn

The exhibition Matisse/Diebenkorn, co-organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and The Baltimore Museum of Art, is an excellent examination of two brilliant artists and shows the extent of how a single artist’s admiration of another can live through works produced years after their deaths. Although there are more paintings and drawings of Richard Diebenkorn’s showcased than of Henri Matisse’s (60 to 40), Matisse enters each piece of work due to the way Diebenkorn held the great French master in a very high regard.

In 1943, at the age of 21, Diebenkorn encountered works by then 75-year-old Matisse for the first time while visiting the Palo Alto home of Sarah Stein, an important early supporter of the French artist. A decade later Alfred H. Barr, the founder of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, organized a Matisse retrospective in LA, the show that led Diebenkorn to fully absorb Matisse’s approach to painting. While abstract expressionism ruled the art scene when Diebenkorn moved back to the Bay Area in 1953, Matisse’s paintings inspired him to add certain elements to his own work, such as unusual color combinations and compositions organized through distinctive passages.

Left: Richard Diebenkorn, 'Berkeley #47', 1955. The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation. Right: Henri Matisse, 'Yellow Pottery from Provence', 1905. The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore Museum of Art. © 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Left: Richard Diebenkorn, ‘Berkeley #47’, 1955. The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.
Right: Henri Matisse, ‘Yellow Pottery from Provence’, 1905. The Cone Collection, formed by Dr. Claribel Cone and Miss Etta Cone of Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore Museum of Art. © 2013 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

1955 began the 12-year interval in Diebenkorn’s career that later would be known as his Bay Area Figurative Period. Diebenkorn shifted his focus to subjects of daily life, catching many by surprise; the sudden nature of his switch to representation coincided with Matisse’s death in 1954.

Left: Richard Diebenkorn, 'Still Life with Orange Peel', 1955. Oil on canvas, 74.3 × 62.2 cm. © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.

Left: Richard Diebenkorn, ‘Still Life with Orange Peel’, 1955. Oil on canvas, 74.3 × 62.2 cm. © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.
Right: Henri Matisse, ‘The Pewter Jug’, circa 1917.

Matisse never fully fades from Diebenkorn’s overall work. A commonality between the two artists was the female figure as a central subject painted in ‘quiet moments’.  Attention to the female form was further exemplified through ink, charcoal, and watercolor drawings –both of them enjoyed working directly with a model as a means to experiment for future paintings. A small room off of the exhibition’s main path contains an exquisite collection of these drawings, leveling Matisse and Diebenkorn as equals in this medium.

Left: Richard Diebenkorn, 'Coffee', 1959. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, fractional and promised gift of Barbara and Gerson Bakar. © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation. Right: Richard Diebenkorn, 'Man and Woman in a Large Room', 1956. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.

Left: Richard Diebenkorn, ‘Coffee’, 1959. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, fractional and promised gift of Barbara and Gerson Bakar. © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.
Right: Richard Diebenkorn, ‘Man and Woman in a Large Room’, 1957. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.

Matisse’s influence slowly began to infiltrate Diebenkorn’s works once more as his Figurative Period came to its close –Diebenkorn turned to elements in his workspace, highlighting his own work and furnishings, with reminiscences of some of Matisse’s studio scenes from the 1910s.

Left: Richard Diebenkorn, 'Interior with Doorway', 1962. © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation. Right: Henri Matisse, 'Interior with a Violin', 1918. National Gallery of Denmark.

Left: Richard Diebenkorn, ‘Interior with Doorway’, 1962. © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.
Right: Henri Matisse, ‘Interior with a Violin’, 1918. National Gallery of Denmark.

Diebenkorn used Matisse’s compositional characteristics as a guideline for his own vision: the foreground does not overshadow the background or vice versa –they are treated as equally important to the overall scene; the perspective creates the illusion of being within an interior space with a view of the outdoors; and geometric structures are emphasized (a throwback to organizing the composition based on distinctive features in the Berkeley series).

Left: Richard Diebenkorn, 'Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad', 1965. © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation. Right: Richard Diebenkorn, 'Nude on a Blue Ground', 1966. © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.

Left: Richard Diebenkorn, ‘Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad’, 1965. © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.
Right: Richard Diebenkorn, ‘Nude on a Blue Ground’, 1966. © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.

Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series (1967-88) was the result of a combination of two major events that he experienced in the 1960s: his trip to Russia (back then the Soviet Union) in 1964, and the 1966 LA exhibition Henri Matisse: Retrospective. Diebenkorn took cues from the works he encountered in Russia –such as the large scale compositions and the use of Matisse-esque decorative patterns and flourishes– while exemplifying the ability to adapt what he observed for his own means.

The Ocean Park series is Diebenkorn’s most sustained body of work, in which he returned to abstraction with the same suddenness of his technical switch in 1955. As in his Bay Area Figurative Period, where he wrestled with trying to incorporate his love and knowledge of abstraction, this series bears vestiges of his figurative work. In this area of the exhibition, Matisse’s 1947 ‘Two Girls, Red and Green Background’ offers a bolder palette with broad areas of color and shape, a recurring theme in Diebenkorn’s incorporation of Matisse’s style that resonates with the compositional strategies in his late abstractions of Ocean Park.

Left: Richard Diebenkorn, 'Ocean Park, No. 6', 1968. Oil on canvas, 91 3/4 x 71 3/4 in. (233.2 x 182.3 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Arthur J. Levin in memory of his beloved wife Edith © 1968, Richard Diebenkorn 1999.17. Right: Henri Matisse, 'Two Girls, Red and Green Background', 1947.

Left: Richard Diebenkorn, ‘Ocean Park, No. 6’, 1968. Oil on canvas, 91 3/4 x 71 3/4 in. (233.2 x 182.3 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Arthur J. Levin in memory of his beloved wife Edith © 1968, Richard Diebenkorn 1999.17.
Right: Henri Matisse, ‘Two Girls, Red and Green Background’, 1947.

Although Diebenkorn made it clear Matisse’s techniques were merely incorporated and adjusted to fit his own work, he left his legacy in the form of a love letter to Matisse. What started with Matisse’s transference onto Diebenkorn’s work has continued to live on through artists of our time. Along with paintings and drawings, books on Matisse from Diebenkorn’s personal library are showcased throughout the rooms, clearly well-read in the never-ending study of Matisse’s work undertook by the American painter. The impact Matisse had on just a single young artist creates a link to his work that lives on today, 63 years after his death.

Matisse/Diebenkorn is open until May 29, 2017 on the 4th floor at SFMOMA. Tickets are available here. If you’re in the Bay Area be sure to plan a trip and see how Diebenkorn translated his home onto the canvas!

Courtesy of the Artist

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

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

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

Exhibit Defiant, Courtesy of the Artist

Exhibit Defiant, Courtesy of the Artist

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

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

  1. What’s your favorite subject to shoot?

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

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

Exhibition – Let It In…, Courtesy of the Artist

  1. What drives your art?

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

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

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

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

Exhibition – Love Is Love…, Courtesy of the Artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhibition – Seeing Glass…, Courtesy of the Artist

  1. Are you interested in other forms of art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traveling- it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”– Ibn Battuta

It’s true – I’ve had the fortune of traveling all over the world from a very young age, and most of the time I cannot write down my experiences for weeks or months after my return.  Throughout my travels, I meet certain people that make my time even more precious, and here I have the pleasure of introducing to you all a true storyteller.

Last year, I studied away in Florence, Italy for a semester.  I did not know anyone who was going to be there, all I had was a list of five names who would be my suite-mates.  I sent off friend requests via Facebook to get to know (by stalking their profiles) the gals I’d be spending the next 3 ½ months with.  My roommate, Madison McCormick, was late to the game in responding because she was in Morocco.  Riding camels and exploring the world.  Over the course of the semester, my first impression of Madison remained the same, if not grew over time: I was in awe of this smart and embracing lady, who said yes to every adventurous opportunity no matter how busy she was.

Now, back in New York City for our senior year, Madison has created a sticker initiative to bring to light the European Refugee Crises.  What she is doing and what she has accomplished is quite impressive, and now you’ll get to see what she’s been up to and how you can get involved from my conversation with Madison while she was conducting research in Greece.

  1. Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Madison McCormick and I am an NYU Senior pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Global Liberal Studies and a Master’s degree in International Relations. I am originally from California, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I am passionate about all things travel-related, from meeting new people to learning about and living in new cultures. I also have a deep passion for french fries …

Recently I have been very invested in a personal project of mine, a sticker activism research project that has taken me to Turkey and Greece this January to study street art in times of crisis.

Drawing

  1. How did you become interested in street art?

Having lived in small suburban towns for most of my life, the move to NYU Paris my freshman year was really a shock, in a good way, and opened my eyes much more to the world around me. You could say that my small town ‘bubble’ had been popped. So from the beginning of my NYU experiences, I traveled and explored new cities in Europe and the United States and came across beautiful and intriguing works of art on the streets. I have also always been one to notice the little details; from a small stencil painting in an alleyway to a dumpster dive treasure on the side of the road, you can bet I have spotted it. My fascination in street art took a more specialized turn two summers ago when my friend and I began to collect and search for interesting stickers in lower Manhattan on street signs, telephone poles, mail boxes, etc. From then on I began to collect stickers during my travels and keep them in my sketchbook/journal. I would also begin to notice the same stickers in different cities, so it was a way of having some familiarity and comfort on the streets of an unknown place.

Sticker

  1. What brought you to the attention of refugee crises?

I spent my junior year at NYU Florence and became much more aware of the European Refugee Crisis as it was in the news each week of the boats arriving and/or sinking on the southern coast, really heart breaking news. NYU Florence also offered educational dialogues on this topic and I attended them to learn more.

  1. Now, you’ve traveled an impressive amount within the past four years… Is there a certain city that stands out in your mind for its street art?

Yes, I have been very fortunate to have studied abroad for two years and travel while doing so. I have pretty much loved everywhere I have been and each place is unique in its own way for street art, but I would have to say that Athens and Copenhagen stand out the most to me at the moment. Athens because it is so saturated with all kinds of graffiti, tagging, murals, poetry, propaganda, etc. and carries a lot of political and social commentary and this has all emerged in the last 5 years or so since the financial crisis. In Copenhagen, there is a self-proclaimed ‘free neighborhood’, Christiania, that is pretty much as close as it gets to a hippie commune. I love the street art there because it is so free and colorful and emotionally expressive, much less political.

Athens

  1. Why use the medium of stickers to bring awareness to such a political and social statement?

I think that stickers are a seemingly harmless form of street art and can be used in various ways to spread whatever message they carry, if they have one at all, and spark dialogue. For example, a sticker can be stuck on a pole next to another sticker belonging to a leftist political party and if it is in support of the same message, they both are now in dialogue with each other. Now if that sticker was instead placed on top of the other sticker, then this would be considered ‘crossing’ and would be more of conflict. Stickers can also have a place off the street, like on one’s laptop case. Say you are sitting in a cafe typing away on your computer and the person next to you asks where you got said sticker. You would then be able to refer them where to find and learn more about the sticker, like the Instagram page for my sticker for example, and you are also engaging in a possible discussion about the sticker’s subject matter. Lastly, stickers can be easily commodified, which has been a negative outcome – street art becoming a market- in most cases. However, if the stickers are sold to raise money for a specific fund, like mine are, then this furthers the politicization of the sticker and draws more attention to something that is the size of your palm and can easily be overlooked. Stickers are small in scale, but they are not bound by physical space and can be spread quickly!

Turkey

  1. What was the inspiration behind your first series, “Crumbling Borders”?

As part of my thesis, I felt it was necessary to participate in the street art I am researching and so I chose to do something that touched upon the Refugee Crisis because it has been something that has resonated with me for a while since studying in Florence. I realized that this issue is massively important, nonetheless relevant right now, and felt very distant and out of touch from New York. So, I felt that it was important to use street art to literally make this issue visible on the streets in the form of stickers.

  1. Do you think that in combination with the use of social media your project has been given more attention from when you started?

Yes absolutely. I had always intended to use Instagram for this project because I am researching how street art and artists have cultivated a new ‘imagined community’ (s/o to theorist Benedict Anderson!) where localized street art made for a specific community can become global with the touch of a button through Instagram. So, with the @TagAndSeek instagram, which is ultimately named after the fact that I ‘tag’ stickers and those who come across them ‘seek’ to find out more about the sticker through the Instagram page, I have drawn the attention of a much larger, global audience that grows every week.

Sweden

  1. Where can someone go to learn more about refugee crises, what your initiative is all about?

I am in the process of creating a website, but until then, the best place to go is the Instagram page: @TagAndSeek. I have been posting my process tagging the sticker around the world as well as providing education information on the Refugee Crises and outlets for people to learn more if they’d like.

  1. Are you selling your stickers?

Yes! I was hesitant at first to sell them because of the whole ‘commodifying street art’ thing..but then I figured if people were willing to spend a little money on these stickers, I could make it go a long way and raise the money for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and International Rescue Committee – two organizations that are on the grounds helping with the crises. I am selling the stickers for $1 each and all proceeds go towards these two organizations. Additionally, if anyone wants to tag their city and spread the message of #crumblingborders, then I am more than willing to send some stickers their way. My friends have been taking the stickers with them in their travels and I will be reposting them all on the Instagram page. I am really excited because this project is becoming very much global!

Make sure to follow Madison’s journey through her Instagram account, @TagAndSeek.

And we need YOU to keep this going to make a wave within the street art community and get Madison’s message out there!  If you’re interested in tagging your streets, message her through TagAndSeek’s Instagram to purchase stickers and donate to the cause.

A lot of times we Manhattanites forget that right across the river, there is a land called Brooklyn, and it is filled with a hipper population than in our beloved borough.  People associate “New York City” with the Empire State Building and Central Park when those main attractions are just in one borough out of the five that make up NYC.  Sure, Central Park is a quintessential New York destination to check off the bucket list, but most of the time it’s the overlooked spots that are doing some pretty awesome projects.  Brooklyn Bridge Park and the DUMBO area do get an influx of tourists, but everyone holed up in their favorite borough should come out to see these (free!!!) visiting structures scattered parkwide.

The Public Art Fund of the Brooklyn Bridge Park has been decorating the paths and lawns with contemporary, experimental sculptures and projects.  This past summer, Danish artist Jeppe Hein installed Please Touch the Art, involving playful sculptures specifically intended for public interaction.  The two main components, which will be on view through April 17, 2016, were his Mirror Labyrinth  and Modified Social Benches that captured people’s attention.  These structures are simplistic, yet changed the landscape of the park as well as the view of Manhattan.  BBP continues this visual experience with the Brooklyn developer Two Trees Management Co.’s commission of OY/YO by Deborah Kass.

PleaseTouchtheArt


PleaseTouchtheArt1

Located on the newly renovated Main Street Lawn, Deborah Kass’ monumental letters scream OY to Manhattan, and from the Manhattan side, YO shouts right back to Brooklyn.  Blunt exclamations are a part of New York daily life, so now the landscape of the city will mimic its residents and tourists.  Overlooking the iconic bridges of Brooklyn’s waterfront and visible from either side of the river, this is an apt location for Kass’ audacious appropriation of this urban slang.

OY/YO is the first of its size from Kass, but these phrases were originally two entities of their own.  An important thing to know about Deborah Kass is that she explores the confluences of pop culture, art history, and the self.  She also mimics and reworks signature styles of iconic male artists of the 20th century; Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock ring any bells?  

yo

OY was first created as a painting in 2011, giving tribute to Edward Ruscha’s 1962 painting, OOF.  The 2011 painting transformed into prints and sculptures (Kass works with mixed media), and YO was added as a separate painting at a friend’s suggestion.  This was all leading up to this concept’s larger-than-life presence in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

oof

Why these expressions?  In interviews, Kass has provided some insights, but says that the sculpture acts as “an open-ended question that people need to answer for themselves”.  Kass has stated that the sculpture is relevant to any diverse setting in America but remarked on how fine a home Brooklyn makes for this piece.

In the 1950s, Jews constituted about a quarter of the city’s population, with a majority of families residing in Brooklyn.  Needless to say, the Yiddish phrase “oy (oy vey, oy gevalt, etc.)”, expressing exasperation or incredulity, would be well-known within this community.  This sculpture can be viewed as the older residents expressing their irritation or aggravation toward the neighboring borough.  ~oy~

“Yo” has become a popular slang interjection thanks to Philadelphia’s Italian-American population in the 1940s, but dates back to the 15th century when it was used in Middle English!  Apparently, though, “yo” had a different meaning, deriving from the Old English word for “yes”.  If our ancestors could just see us now…

Deborah Kass’ sculpture is made of simple aluminum and paint but makes a grand mark on the Brooklyn scenery with its bold yellow letters.  This work is completely reminiscent of Robert Indiana’s iconic “LOVE” sculpture.  For the use of such small words, there are multiple impactful interpretations, whatever your take on Kass’ riveting sculpture may be.

loveprint


lovesculpture

My suggestion to get the most out of your viewing pleasure is to take the 6 to the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall stop so you can walk along the water to see the sites from the Manhattan side, then walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and make your way to the Main Street Lawn, so you can see the full effect of Kass’ work.  Especially with the weather being as wonderfully warm as it has been, a trip to see this in December is completely plausible!  But there’s no need to rush: OY/YO will be on display through August 2016.

Want more of Deborah Kass?  Her current exhibition, No Kidding, at the Paul Kasmin Gallery is on view until January 23, 2016, where she incorporates neon lights into her paintings to spell out puns and phrases bearing pop cultural references.

*If you’re saying to yourself, this sounds awfully familiar, and you’ve seen Season 2, Episode 22 of Gilmore Girls, then you’re correct in assuming I’ve taken inspiration for the title of this article from the nonsensical, magical words of Lorelai Gilmore.

 

I can only imagine the amount of talent and prestige it takes to land yourself a personal exhibition at the Met.  Not only did Alex Katz accomplish this feat, but the gallery is fashioned from works that Katz donated to the museum.  Like it’s not a big deal or anything to be sought out after by the Met…
For those who are not familiar with Alex Katz, here’s a brief description of him: he’s an American figurative artist born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens.  He is well known for his sculptures, prints, and paintings.  Predominately in his paintings, Katz’s style is often associated with New Realism, East Coast Figurative Painting, and Pop Art.  Katz’s painting can be divided into two categories: portraiture, his subjects being family, artists, writers; and landscape, his immediate surroundings and Maine (he attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine and continues to spend a few months every year up there).
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For someone with such a rich history, the Alex Katz exhibition is startlingly small.  The show is comprised of 7 pieces of work, including 5 paintings and 2 cutouts.  To only have a handful of artwork in comparison to the magnitude of Katz’s lengthy career seems odd, but it mimics the style which he is best know for – a bold simplicity.
When you enter the gallery, the first thing you see is another door frame leading into a room further back that is home to Wolfgang Tillman’s Book for Architects, and Katz’s show almost acts as an atrium to it.  Not the greatest first impression, but Tillman is just as brilliant and they wouldn’t be placed side-by-side if they weren’t of equal greatness.
His works are spread along the outskirts of the room, and my favorite part was the window on the south wall: it added natural light and created shadows along a painting already with cutting edges and on the floor beside the single standalone cutout.
My favorite that completely capture Katz’s style are: Purple Wind (1995), Phillip Pearlstein (1978), and Ada (1957).
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Purple Wind is an example of Alex Katz’s landscape paintings; shown here is a barren tree set in relief against an apartment building and here you can see an exemplary image of the flatness of color while at the same time using vivid color contrasts that Katz utilizes within his paintings.
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Phillip Pearlstein is a prime example of the cutout technique that Katz pioneered in the 1950s.  He was trying to veer away from the standard square/rectangular canvas mimicking a window and did so by creating contour while occupying space, which the cutout is in fact doing in this space, being the only object other than a bench parallel to it using floor space.
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Ada is the first portrait that Katz did of his wife, Ada.  In fact, she is the subject of over 250 paintings that Katz created throughout the course of his career and is featured in several portraits in this exhibition.  Although the subject of the painting is quite different from a landscape, you can still see the minimal brushstrokes used to imply different figures that Katz uses for all of his paintings’ subjects.
I think that the limited works provided in this show makes you appreciate the works that are here.  It’s placed in a more intimate space, and you can sit and engage with the paintings due to their confrontational enormity.  Alex Katz at the Met will be open until June 26, 2016, but I highly suggest going the minute you can because despite its size, the exhibition is truly a masterpiece.
Alex Katz is at the youthful age of 88 and still banging out incredible exhibitions.  In conjunction with the Met, he is showing at Guggenheim Bilbao as well.  Talk about an inspiration to turning your computer off and getting started on that project you’ve had in mind for the past year.
October 20, 2015

Beautifully Brainwashed

If you’re in tune with even a sliver of art culture, you know who Banksy is.  Mysterious and shadowy, the world is constantly trying to figure out who this visionary artist is, especially with the opening of his bemusement park, Dismaland, in the UK.  But we’re not here to talk about Banksy.  We’re here to talk about the rumored-to-actually-be-Banksy street-artist and filmmaker, Mr. Brainwash, specifically his pop-up exhibit, Life is Beautiful, that’s been making splashes in NYC.

Thierry Guetta a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash popped on the scene in 2010 when Banksy released his Academy Award-nominated documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop (and if you haven’t seen it I suggest you treat yourself to a night in with Netflix and this film).  It tells the supposedly true story of Guetta, a French immigrant who moves to Los Angeles, and I won’t spoil the ending except to say that in real life, Guetta turns into the brilliantly successful Mr. Brainwash.

Now, I love his name, especially when you know the context of his work.  Guetta’s signature work revolves around the clever rendering and altering of pop culture icons – so think of Andy Warhol except taking one step further.  His name reflects on how these figures impact society in such a way that people will change their lifestyle or beliefs based on whatever is socially acceptable on that day.  We are brainwashed by social media and other people’s opinions, and Mr. Brainwash confronts you with this idea through his work.

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Life is Beautiful is located on West 13th Street near the entrance to the Highline in the Meatpacking District in New York City.  As you approach the gallery, all you can see are statues stacked up against one another, crowding the windows.  Prominent cultural figures are showcased in this pop-up and are given a humorous twist while creating a social commentary.  For instance, Mr. Brainwash takes Warhol’s tomato soup can and turns it into a tomato soup spray can, or creating a royal portrait of Caitlyn Jenner.  The space is packed with trashy-pop sculptures and re-adaptations, leaning items against the walls and creating mountains of old-school tech tools and toys like typewriters and grungy stuffed animals.  There’s plenty of seating, making the space feel like a weird residential or communal area, where you can reflect on the work towering over you while flipping through the pages of a Magritte book conveniently left on the coffee table in front of you.

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This exhibit shares the messages of how beautiful life and love are along with the major influence pop culture has on society.  I left the gallery with a smile across my face for the genius behind Mr. Brainwash’s work, with the reminder that everything relies on how you’d like to look at it.

It’s all about perspective.

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October 4, 2015

Dr. Woo, Who?

For someone with a name that sounds like he’s a character straight out of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Brian Woo (aka Doctor Woo) is a total badass who makes you pine for a tattoo in the worst way.

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Dr. Woo has become a sensation in the tattoo and visual art world in the past few years.  He’s based in Hollywood, California, working at the Shamrock Social Club.  Woo was born in North Hollywood to Chinese immigrant parents and discovered his proclivity toward visual arts doodling in the margins of his notebooks at school.  Now, I was a huge doodler and still am, but my doodles would certainly never be translated onto someone’s body.

Woo is trained in what is called the single-needle style which produces such fine, thin black lines that they appear gray.  He was offered an apprenticeship at the age of 24 with Mark Mahoney, who’s considered the “founding father” of black and gray art using a single needle, and a living legend who’s tattooed the likes of Lana Del Rey, Johnny Depp, Lady Gaga, and the list goes on and on.

Just look at Woo’s inimitable designs; I don’t think I’ve seen cleaner lines.  His tattoos are flawless and precise, going for the strategy of “less is more”, producing fine lines and limited color.  Instead, he builds on texture and the outcome looks like a pencil drawing taken right off one of the pages of a sketchbook.

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What I love most about Woo’s tattoos is the simplicity of them all.  I think that a lot of times, tattoos aren’t considered amongst the traditional sense of art, when the making of them have 100x more of a consequence then putting paint on canvas or taking a photograph.  Tattoo artists are given the task of making a permanent piece of art on someone’s body that’ll be with them for eternity.  If that doesn’t make you sweat a little thinking if that was your responsibility, then you have nerves of steel.  Woo turns people’s ideas into pieces of art that they proudly display for the world to see.

His Instagram feed is filled with his art, and his family is featured rather often.  Woo has 2 beautiful sons; the cutest, droopiest puppy you ever did see; and his gorgeous wife Jayme.  And together, they make the hippest family I’ve ever laid my eyes on.  Like, I’m 17 older than his eldest son, Lyon, and the kid’s already cooler than I’ll ever be.  Just his name screams cool.  Lyon.

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Are you hooked now?  Have you decided that your next tattoo has to be done by Dr. Woo, or for all you first-timers out there, that your first has to be a Dr. Woo???  Well get in line.  Dr. Woo has a year long wait list so if you want one, book your appointment and your ticket out to California now and you’ll have plenty of time to come up with the perfect piece for you.

Follow Dr. Woo on Instagram to see a constant feed of his tattoos and his adorable family, plus check out his website for more inspiration.  All hail Dr. Woo, maybe I’ll see some of you in the Shamrock Social Club’s waiting room…in a year or so.

When looking at Chris Burkard’s Instagram feed, two things will cross your mind:

1. Amazing, and

2. I want this to be my life.

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Chris Burkard is a self-taught photographer who went from sleeping in his car just to be closer to his internships to stacking up 1 million Instagram followers and a steady studio spot out in Grover Beach, California.  He’s made a name for himself in the surf and outdoor industries, working with top brands such as Apple, The North Face, Patagonia, and many many more.

I actually don’t remember how I came upon Burkard’s account – I’m an amateur photographer myself so I’m always looking through the various hashtags connected to outdoor photography for inspiration; even though I don’t remember, I’m sure glad I did follow him because I’m given a dose of daily awestruck.

His Instagram feed mainly covers his landscape and adventure shots, but it’s nothing to snuff at.  It seems that every picture he takes is perfect: from the lighting to the framing, every moment is captured at exactly the right time.  While I can sense that this is dedication at its finest, I can’t help but wonder at how he could possibly take these photos.

CB4The colors and images are insanely crisp, and his stills look totally unreal.  Whenever I see a new photo, I can’t help but be jealous – Burkard’s whole life is surrounded by this immense beauty and his job is to capture that.  One look at his website shows his passion for his work, specifically within this quote, taken from his thoughts on being a photographer and having photography as a career, “Remember the camera is just a tool. What is more important is how you look at the world. Curiosity and a desire to explore, as well as passion is huge necessity when it comes to photography.

CB2In regards to this dedication, Burkard held a TED Talk this past March regarding one of his main (and craziest) past-times: surfing in ice-cold waters.  I can’t even fathom jumping into freezing water just to get the right shot, but that’s an entire level above that Burkard is on.  You can see what it’s like to be on the other side of the camera in the making of these incredible photos, and seeing the conditions that he sometimes works in makes you shiver like you’re out in -10 degree weather right along side him.

Chris Burkard started as a 19-year-old who found he had a talent with a camera and turned into a recognized photographer among many communities.  I can’t get enough of his images and look forward to seeing the next each day.  The most memorable posts have been from the past few months on his trip to Iceland, which has been a huge throwback for me; I got to take a trip there during the summer of 2013, but just missed the Northern Lights by a week.  Sure enough, Burkard posts this rad and almost haunting image of these spectacular green lights and I turned green with jealousy myself.

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Make sure to follow Burkard on his Instagram, check out his website to see more of his work, and keep an eye on his Facebook – if you’re interested in photography and live near his studio (or in my case, willing to move to work with him…) he updates his site on internships, though they’re booked out far in advance.  He also has workshops and prints available for sale, and recently gave out thousands of free prints (10,000 to be exact) for getting 1 million followers on Instagram.  Talented and giving, what more could you ask for?

Adventure is out there and Chris Burkard is running right along side of it.  Find your muse or your next travel destination through his work, and I promise you won’t be sorry.

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