By: Shoshana Edelman
August 21, 2016
The usually booming New York City art scene is rather slow in August, leaving one to wonder where all of the commotion over contemporary art goes: on vacation to the Hamptons of course! There is a great deal of special exhibitions and openings happening all over the Hamptons this month. Should you find yourself escaping to the Hamptons during these final days of summer, be sure to check out one or all of these events.
- Montauk/ Watermill
On August 7th, “Unfinished Business” opened at the Parrish Art Museum. This exhibit, which will run until October 16th, features the paintings by Ross Bleckner, Eric Fischl, and David Salle, three artists who formed an artistic enclave in Los Angeles in the 1970s and ’80s. The exhibit features 23 canvases and 17 paperworks by these artists and celebrates their innovation and profound influence on the Los Angeles art scene.
Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Hwy, Water Mill, NY 11976
At the Watermill Center, you can catch the light installation “Constellations in Red, Yellow, and Blue” until August 28th. The light sculptures on display by Mexican artist G.T Pellizzi, are inspired by “the mythological, calendrical, and astronomical symbols found on many textiles in The Watermill Collection.”As the title of the exhibit states, the sculptures are lit in the primary colors- red, yellow, and blue. Pelliziz’s work has previously been on display at MoMa PS1, Centre Pompidou, The Whitney, and various other contemporary art spaces.
Watermill Center, 39 Water Mill Towd Rd, Water Mill, NY 11976
2. Bridgehampton is quite busy with art happenings this month. You can catch The Curiosities of Harry Squires” at the Bridgehampton Museum through October. This exhibit features the collection owned and curated by Bridgehampton figure Harry Squires, which includes various oddities such as shipwreck memorabilia and Native American artifacts.
In addition to the permanent collection at the Dan Flavin Institute, the exhibit “Icons” is on view through April. The title “Icons” is a reference to the traditional religious association with the term, however, the works on display are decidedly non-representational, consisting of painted boxes adorned with light features that are dedicated to Flavin’s loved ones.
The Dan Flavin Art Institute is located on Corwith Avenue off Main Street in Bridgehampton, New York 11932
- East Hampton
If you are craving even more minimalism, head to Guild Hall Museum for “Aspects of Minimalism,” which is on view through October. The exhibition features more work by Dan Flavin, as well as Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter and other minimalist artists. Also on view at Guild Hall are Carol Ross’s Metal Sculptures in the Furman sculpture garden.
Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton, NY 11937
The next time you escape to your sanctuary in the Hamptons (or get yourself invited to someone else’s vacation home), pencil in some time in between outdoor brunch and tanning by the pool to check out some fantastic art.
A week ago, I found it nearly impossibly to look away from C-SPAN’s coverage of the Republican National Convention. The rowdy fanfare of the RNC appears more like a circus than a political conference. No matter how one aligns themselves politically, most people can agree that the upcoming election has been prime material for art and entertainment. Throughout history, politics have seeped their way into the art world. Often artists sneak subtle political statements into their work, or will directly address contentious political issues in very explicit ways. In the world of contemporary art, Swedish artist Johan Wahlstrom is continuing this tradition of politically themed artwork with his harrowing and provocative acrylic and ink paintings. Although Wahlstrom started out as a musician, he always painted as a hobby and after touring with a rock band for many years, he moved from Stockholm to a small village in France to pursue painting full time.
Today, Wahlstrom is based in Spain and continues to paint pieces that explore the dark underbelly of modern society and politics. Wahlstrom paints in a neo-expressionist style and cites a diverse range of artists that include Paul Klee, Jean Michel Basquiat, and Jackson Pollack as his influences. His dark inky colors and thick brushwork create portraits of modern life that are simultaneously hazy and abstract and frighteningly realistic. As a former rock musician, Wahlstrom is not afraid to provoke and rile up his audience. His paintings are dark, confrontational, and frighteningly resonant. Upon viewing his painting “Heil Trump,” I was reminded of a similar politically themed work by the German Dadaist John Heartfield, entitled “Adolf the Super Man: Swallows Gold and Spits Tin,” which is an explicit critique of Adolf Hitler. Wahlstrom’s “Vote for Me,” another portrait of Donald Trump, features the presidential candidate’s head surrounded by terrifying abstract figures, representing his loyal followers. “Punch them Hard,” an acrylic work by Wahlstrom is equally disturbing and shows Trump giving a thumbs up while chaos ensues in the background. This is a visual representation of Trump’s verbal encouragement of his followers to attack protesters. This series of Trump portraits evokes the mob mentality and frenzy of Trump’s rallies. Wahlstrom attacks other issues such as immigration in his “Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities” series, which poignantly captures the plight of immigrants and refugees.
As a former rock musician, Johan Wahlstrom is not afraid to provoke and rile up his audience. His paintings are dark, confrontational, and frighteningly resonant. His piece “Too Much Trump” in particular is an apt depiction of Trump’s pervasive presence in the media, his angry scowl taunting the viewer. Wahlstrom’s favorite piece from his body of work is “You Can’t Trust” from 2011, which he refuses to sell and hangs in his living room. Wahlstrom was so satisfied with the piece, that he took a 2 month hiatus from painting. This particular painting is his favorite because he associates it with the catharsis and satisfaction he experienced while working on it. The experience was “magical” for Wahlstrom, he felt like he was inside of his own work and not slaving away in a studio.
Despite Wahlstrom’s sinister aesthetic and disturbing subject matter, he paints with a profound passion and love for his craft. His favorite part of the creative process is conceiving the title or theme behind his work, which eventually determines what will end up on the canvas. For Wahlstrom technique is not the most crucial aspect of great art, but rather “the feeling and messages” behind the work in question.
Wahlstrom’s artist’s’ statement reads:
“I paint to keep myself insane.
I paint anxiety to be calm.
I paint war to have peace.
I paint sadness to be happy.
I paint the dark to be in the light.
I paint death to be alive.
I paint a story so that I don’t have to tell a story.”
In the future, Wahlstrom hopes “to be able to do stronger paintings with political statements, social criticism, to be part of making the world a better place for future generations.”
Every May, I look forward to the colorful parade of celebrities in over the top outfits from the Met Gala. I must admit I am quite fond of a well executed “naked dress.” I am equally enthusiastic about the Met’s costume exhibits, except for Alexander McQueen’s in 2011, which I could not get into. I was absolutely dazzled by this year’s show “Manus X Machina: Fashion in an age of Technology,” which is a stunning celebration of both haute couture and modern ready-to-wear fashion. The exhibit, set up in the Robert Lehman Wing and on view until August 14th, focuses on the growing distinction between the hand (manus) and the machine (machina) in the fashion world. Traditional techniques of embroidery, artificial flowering, and pleating are juxtaposed with technologically advanced ones such as 3D printing and laser cutting. Visitors can expect to be both captivated and overwhelmed by the abundance of luxurious garments, as well as fascinated by the intricacies of the craft of haute couture.
The entrance of the exhibit features a majestic Chanel wedding gown designed by Karl Lagerfeld—Brian Eno’s “An Ending (Ascent)” plays, the notes quietly looming throughout the domed atrium. My companion and I spent about ten minutes or so staring at the beautiful twenty foot train train of the gown and meticulously attempted to get the perfect angle for our Instagram posts. After admiring the wedding gown, we moved on to conquer the other halls in the exhibit of seemingly endless concoctions of tulle, silk, and sequins. The rest of the exhibit is organized according to various métiers, or crafts, which include tailoring, lace, feather-work, and flowering. Each installation is accompanied by a copiously detailed description of the construction process of the garments. Out of the 170 pieces on display, I could not possibly pinpoint a singular “best” item. Manus X Machina features opulent gowns by Dior, whimsical structural dresses by Issey Miyake, a wall of Chanel Suits, and other designs by Alexander McQueen, Margiela, and many other important innovators in fashion.
While the curators of the exhibit could have very easily infused Manus X Machina with too much esoteric detail about the technology of these garments, the exhibit is at once viscerally and intellectually stimulating. It neither presents fashion as frivolous nor does it skimp on the wow factor. This exhibit is certainly one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by the Costume Institute and I think it will be difficult to top in terms of scale and grandeur. Manus X Machina is a perfect summer outing for fashion nerds and science nerds alike. Be sure to peruse the gift shop at the end which in addition to adorable children’s books about Coco Chanel, offers some stylish items including the coveted Issey Miyake Bao Bao bag. I will definitely return to Manus X Machina to brainstorm for my future gown closet and perhaps leave with a Miyake bag or two. A girl can dream, right?
“Manus x Machina: Fashion in an age of Technology,” is on view from May 5 through August 14, 2016.
On an abnormally cold April morning, I had the pleasure of meeting with the New York City based artist, Phoebe Berglund, at Hunter College where she is currently the Artist in Residence in the ceramics department. In addition to ceramics, she also has an extensive dance background and incorporates choreography into her work. Berglund, who radiates with an interesting combination of wisdom and youthful optimism, recently finished her solo exhibition Dance Floor: An Archive of Steps at Hunter. I sat down with Berglund to pick her brain about the exhibit and her fascinating artistic trajectory.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background and your education?
I’m from the Oregon Coast, I started taking ballet and modern when I was 5, I joined a dance company when I was 9. We had class and would rehearse like 6 days a week for 3-4 productions a year, mostly reconstructions of classic dance works and dance interpretations of literary classics with original choreography. My dance teacher came from New York and she had studied with Martha Graham, so our productions were very polished. I grew up really poor, my mom raised me and my five siblings alone; she still works at a fish market today and my brothers are commercial fisherman. When we didn’t have money my mom would pay my dance teacher in fish.
How long have you wanted to be an artist?
In high school I got a big scholarship to study at a gymnasium near Frankfurt, my German host parents were artists and it was the first time I saw people living off their art. My host mom was a contemporary ceramicist and my host dad made book ends and they ran an art gallery, they taught me a lot about life.
I saw on your CV that you studied at the Universitat der Kunst, what was it like studying in Berlin? How does the art scene there compare to the one in New York?
When I went to the UDK a few years ago it was like going home, I feel very comfortable in Germany. Berlin is a cool place, I liked it that we could smoke cigarettes in class during art crits. I met a lot of interesting artists and just did a lot of hanging out. I bought an inflatable boat and took friends on boat rides in the canals, we would row around the swans and paint watercolors. It was very relaxing, I didn’t meet any artists that worked more than like one day per week. That’s a big difference from New York.
Your exhibition is quite elaborate. What did the process entail and what was your vision and concept?
First I developed the choreography, which involves 3 jobs- walking, working and waiting-then and some elements of a game structure on a grid. I performed this with two dancers while cutting tiles to build the floor on the opening night of the show. The following week the tiles dried then I fired them in the kiln. I put the bisqued fragments of the dance floor back into the exhibition space and treated it as a dance archive and I invited archaeologists, librarians and choreographers in to interview. I asked each person to physically handle the dance documents and to rearrange the composition of the library according to the logic of the discipline they came from. Every day the exhibition was in a new order.
When the show closed I photographed every single piece of the dance floor individually in the style of how the Met photographs artifacts. The next step is glazing them and making wall pieces that are coordinates with stage positions from the perspective of the dancer- upstage, downstage, center stage, etc.
A very important part of the work is that it will be sold by weight. Each piece will be sold based on a calculation that considers the 500 pounds of clay used to build the dance floor, the weight of 3 dancers, the square feet of the space, the time it took to build, divided by the total number of fragments of the dance floor.
Did anything in particular inspire you to do this project?
I have been thinking about dance documentation and dance archives for a long time. During undergrad at Antioch, my federal work study job was in the library and I was very into dance research. I exhausted the interlibrary loan system, I ordered everything that had to do with dance history and any critical theory related to dance. I think it’s interesting that documentation is always incomplete even with technology today, there is always something missing. Retracing dance steps is puzzling, it excites me.
Can you elaborate a bit on the themes of labor and leisure in your exhibition? Do you think these themes are especially relevant to the dance world?
Also while at Antioch, I took a lot of economics classes. My most involved research paper was about the political economy of dance in late capitalism, which was a turning point for me in my understanding of dance as an academic discipline. My current research has to do with the relationship between dance and Neo-liberalism, which places a high stress on corporate ‘performance’ and eradicates the boundary between work and non-work time, now we are essentially always working, always performing. For me, I think that dance is an interesting form to use to investigate how time is structured today, how work is currently being organized. With my projects now I am asking some of the same questions from my undergrad research paper about the exchange value, cultural value and transformative value of dance which is absolutely relevant to the dance world and the art world today.
Why did you choose to use EDM music as your soundtrack?
I think of the body as a technological tool and in this work the body is the instrument that notates the dance. It is important to me that the body operate between music made with contemporary machines and clay tablets, the oldest material used for writing. Also there is the rich history of EDM that is really radical and democratic, it has been bringing people together in alternative spaces for a long time now. The majority of the soundtrack came from Larry Levan’s DJ set on the closing night of Paradise Garage, a discotheque in Hudson Square from the 70’s, 80’s, the set list traces back some of the beginnings of New York House music.
Can you talk more about your dance background and how it influences your work?
When I got to New York I went to the Martha Graham School, classes were at 8 am uptown and everybody would wear black unitards and red lipstick. I was also hanging around Movement Research during that time, downtown and mostly everybody was in sweatpants. Then I quit dance for a while because the stage didn’t make sense to me anymore and dance for the camera didn’t make sense to me either. I had other interests and I found visual art to be more stimulating so I did my MFA in Combined Media at Hunter, I finished in 2013. I think I had to leave dance in order to understand it. I am still trying to understand it, it is deceptively simple but it is really very complicated.
Are there any artists or performers that inspire you the most?
I go to see a lot of shows, recently I saw the Fischli and Weiss: How to Work Better retrospective at the Guggenheim. I went alone and listened to the audio guide, I was there all day I loved it so much. Last week I saw DD Dorvillier‘s beautiful piece Extra Shapes at the Kitchen, it was part of the exhibition “From Minimalism into Algorithm,” which was all great. I loved my friend Geo Wyeth’s performance Storm Excellent Salad at PS1 last month, it was totally wild and inventive. I try to go to see all my friends work, that’s a priority.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
I like working with my friends, the great thing about both dance and ceramics is that it’s all about community. Unless you are a solo artist you are never going to dance alone. In the ceramics studio it took three people to load the dance floor into the kiln, it is physically impossible to work alone on projects of this scale and scope.
Would you like to experiment with any other forms of art?
I’ll use any form the idea requires. Right now I’m basically running a construction company/ dance company that specializes in clay flooring that transforms into libraries of dance documents.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I have a show coming up May 1- May 31 Dance Floor: An Archive of Steps (Rite of Spring) at Orgy Park, an artist run space in Bushwick, curated by Katherine Aungier. On May Day we will build a terra-cotta dance floor outside in the garden, I am reconstructing a few of Nijinsky’s steps from his 1913 Rite of Spring but mostly it will be my choreography.
The delightful Neue Galerie on the Upper East Side is my favorite escape from the hustle and bustle of life in Manhattan, but you may already know that from my review of Berlin Metropolis. There is nothing like great art, old world nostalgia, and sublime Viennese desserts to take your mind off the stresses of everyday life. The exhibition, “Munch and Expressionism,” does not disappoint. Munch, who is best known for his iconic piece, “The Scream,” painted works that dealt with heavy existential themes and were both horrifying and erotic. The show displays the fascinating symbiotic relationship between the Norwegian father of Expressionism, Edvard Munch, and German and Austrian Expressionists; the German artists being Max Beckmann, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gabriele Münter, and Emile Nolde, and the Austrian artists Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele. This exhibition, organized with The Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway, features “The Scream,” in addition to several other captivating paintings and woodcuts from this fascinating period of modern European art.
The exhibit is organized into four different galleries that chronologically document the evolution of Munch’s provocative aesthetic. The first gallery, “Experimental Printmaking,” features some of Munch’s early works from the late 19th century and demonstrates Munch’s “radical approach” to his craft. In addition to Munch’s innovative woodcuts, this gallery includes some great paintings such as the three versions of one of my personal favorites, Munch’s peculiar “Madonna” from 1895. This painting features a beautiful nude female subject; the lithograph version is adorned with a border of tiny sperm-like creatures and a little fetus in the corner. While the painting is conventionally erotic, it also conveys Munch’s association of sex with death and other grave consequences.
The second and third galleries, “Munch and the Expressionists in Dialogue” and “Influence and Affinity,” delve a bit deeper into the dynamic between Munch and the Expressionists. These sections explore how Munch paved the way for these artists to break with the conventions of realism and experiment with color and brushwork. I was especially drawn to the playful use of color in Munch’s “Model by the Wicker Chair” from 1919 and “Bathing Man” from 1918. Although these paintings are done in vibrant shades of blue, green, and violet, they maintain Munch’s signature ethos of anxiety and grief.
I was also intrigued by the equally colorful “Street, Dresden” by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. The painting exudes brilliant color, yet simultaneously reads as dark and devastating. No exhibit at the Neue Galerie would be complete without a few pieces by Egon Schiele, one of the (literal) poster children for the museum and one of my favorite expressionist painters. I really appreciated the addition of Schiele’s “Self-Portrait with Raised Bare Shoulder,” which, with its liberal brushwork and penetrating eyes, is full of intense emotional pathos. Prior to visiting this exhibit, I wouldn’t necessarily associate Munch with Schiele because I consider their aesthetics so distinct from one another. However, after looking at Schiele’s paintings in the context of Munch, I began to see the similar themes of anguish that pervade the works of both artists.
The fourth and final gallery in the exhibit is an appropriately claustrophobic and dimly-lit room dedicated to the main event, Munch’s “The Scream” from 1893, and the two original lithographs. Additionally, the room features Erich Heckel’s woodcut “Man on a Plain,” as well as a few Schiele portraits. Above the final version of “The Scream” is a quote by Munch himself:
“I was walking along the road with two friends,
“The sun was setting – the sky turned blood-red.
And I felt a wave of sadness – I paused
tired to death –Above the blue-black Fjord
and city blood and flaming tongues hovered.
My friends walked on – I stayed
behind – quaking with angst – I
felt the great scream in nature” – Edvard Munch
Although I had seen this iconic image countless times reproduced in textbooks and on the internet, I felt like I was looking at “The Scream” for the very first time. There was something powerfully cathartic about standing in that tiny dark blue room and confronting the painting live. After gaining a better understanding of the cultural and historical context that Munch was operating in, the painting resonated with me on a much deeper level. Visitors can expect to leave “Munch and Expressionism” emotionally moved and curious to learn more about this innovative period of art history. Don’t forget to treat yourself to a slice of Sachertorte, mit schlag on your way out.
“Munch and Expressionism” runs until June 13th and is definitely not to be missed. Bring a friend or two for a solid afternoon of superb paintings and delectable pastries.
On February 18th, I attended the opening of “Whose Feminism is it Anyway” at Andrew Kreps Gallery in Chelsea. The exhibit, which runs until March 26th, features the work of Andrea Bowers, an LA based artist, feminist, and social activist. One of Bowers’ most notable projects was a solo exhibition in 2014 at Pomona College Museum of Art called “#sweetjane,” which addressed the Steubenville, Ohio rape case.
“Whose Feminism is it Anyway” features transgendered women activists “committed to direct action and civil disobedience.” Inspired by various posters and ads with progressive and feminist themes, Bowers has created an exhibition that makes trans-feminist women visible in the contemporary art world. In the entrance of the exhibit there is a sculpture called Goddess (Power of the Common Public) that is composed of a pair of wings adorned with multicolored ribbons cascading onto the floor. The ribbons are embroidered with feminist-themed slogans like “my body, my choice” and “free our sisters, free ourselves”.
The main pieces on display are a series of three large scale photographs called Trans Liberation. These photos, which are meant to echo traditional feminist posters, feature three trans-feminist activists of color, Cece McDonald, Johanna Saavedra, and Jennicet Gutierrez, standing in powerful poses and dressed in outfits that are at once sexy and tasteful. These portraits give these elegant and strong trans women a platform of visibility.
In the center of the gallery, there are several piles of political graphics from past and present that promote a variety of Leftist and Feminist causes. This part of the exhibit was very popular and everyone seemed to enjoy rifling through these beautiful and provocative images.
At the end of the exhibit, a short film has been projected onto multicolored ribbons. In this film, Bowers has a roundtable discussion about the role of transgender activism within feminism with Patrice Cullors, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, and Cece McDonald and Jennicet Gutierrez, two of the subjects of the Trans Liberation photos. This film shed light on the plight of the trans-feminist and black communities and, like the rest of Bowers’ work in the exhibit, challenged my own feminist values. Bowers’ show is short and sweet but thought-provoking, provocative, and overall, masterfully done.
February 23, 2016
“Unorthodox”, which opened at the Jewish Museum in November and will run until March 27th, features a diverse collection of works by fifty-five contemporary artists who, according to the exhibit’s catalogue, “operate outside established norms” of the art world and “carry their nonconformist approaches into the art they make and vice-versa”. The exhibit is a response to the apparent paradox of elitism within the world of avant-garde art. “Unorthodox” features various paintings, videos installations, sculptures, and other works that challenge the “establishment” either in their form or content. I was really impressed both by how engaging and inviting the exhibit was, and by the inclusion of so many talented female artists, most of whom I had not heard of before.
Upon entering the exhibit, I was greeted with a black and white video by the German Jewish cabaret dancer and artist Valeska Gert called Das Baby. In this video, the middle-aged Gert coos and gurgles like an infant and makes exaggerated facial expressions at the camera. This video certainly set the tone for the rest of the exhibit: expressive, bizarre, and a little bit whimsical.
“Unorthodox” features a little bit of everything: painting, sculpture, collage, video, even weavings. There is certainly something for everyone to enjoy and one art form is not presented as superior to another. I was delighted by the hilarious ceramic “Jugheads” by Clayton Bailey which, like Das Baby, were simultaneously thought-provoking and humorous.
The show also features a bounty of beautiful watercolor and acrylic paintings that really brightened up the room. I was particularly drawn to the imaginative and surreal watercolors by Nick Payne as well as an equally dreamlike acrylic by Austé which featured gorgeous and sensual forms and dramatic colors. Vent D’Husain by French-Indian artist Nadira Husain was probably my favorite of the paintings in the collection. In this piece, Husain uses the traditional Indian kalamkari hand painting technique with vegetable dyes and which results in brilliant hues of teal, yellow, and red.
I was also intrigued by a series of acrylics by author and journalist William T. Vollmann called “The Artist, His Model, & Dolores”. Vollmann, who is better known for his literary efforts, is interested in cross-dressing and through his alter-ego Dolores attempts to explore “what being a woman would be like”.
In addition to the painting, sculpture, and other works, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit’s video installations. The two that resonated with me the most were Tommy Hartung’s “Lesser Key of Solomon” which addressed themes of race and religion and Moroccan artist Meriem Bennani’s “Pamela” which I watched twice. “Pamela” is a dark and erotic stop-motion cartoon that depicts the tragic saga of two anthropomorphized beasts and is captivating in an almost frightening way.
Even though “Unorthodox” is meant to address serious issues in the art world, the exhibit itself is fun, inviting, and accessible for all ages to enjoy and in no way cynical or alienating. The exhibit does a masterful job of giving women and minority artists a voice and celebrating the rich diversity in the art world and different forms of art as well. “Unorthodox” was a breath of fresh air and definitely worth a visit. In addition to free tours of the exhibit, The Jewish Museum is also hosting “Unorthodox Programming” in collaboration with the 92nd street Y to accompany the exhibit. These programs include “On Museums”, which will take place on February 28th, “In Response:Unorthodox” on March 6th, and “On Philosophy” on March 22nd. To learn more about the exhibit and these special programs consult the Jewish Museum’s website.
February 21, 2016
Based in London, art historian, freelance writer, and educator Ben Street is known for his lectures at museums in the UK such as the National Gallery and the Tate in London, as well as his guided art history tours in cities such as Paris, Venice, Florence, and Vienna among others. In addition to running “Ben Street Art History Tours”, Ben also serves at the course director for Christie’s London and gives lectures for Art Pursuits Abroad Unlimited in the Netherlands and in London. Ben received his MA in art history and English literature from the University of Edinburgh in 2001 and hasn’t stopped contributing to the art world ever since.
I reached out to Ben to pick his brain about his work and his vibrant passion for art.
1.Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. How long have you been interested in art and art history? How did you get started giving lectures and tours?
Like all small children, I was immediately interested in art from a very young age. Much later on, as a teenager, I discovered this thing called ‘art history’, and have spent the rest of my time trying to work out what it is (and still haven’t). I was instantly drawn to classic modernism – Picasso, Miro, Bacon – and it took years for me to appreciate anything earlier than that. I’ve been giving lectures about art to various audiences, more or less for the last 12 years or so. I’m freelance now, but it’s taken a long time to get here. Mostly saying yes to everything, to begin with at least. Except unpaid internships: do not do unpaid internships.
2.Your work covers a variety of different time periods. Everything from Caravaggio to Jeff Koons! Do you have any favorite artists or stylistic movements?
My favourite artists or periods tend to change every week or so, depending on writing and teaching projects. But I always return to American art of the early 50s, just after abstract expressionism and just before pop art, when anything could happen, and did.
3. What have been your most popular tours?
Probably Venice Biennale trips, which combine contemporary art with Renaissance painting in various churches across the city. The contrast is illuminating and the links even more so.
4.You are quite active on Twitter and Instagram. What role do you think social media plays in the art world? What are the advantages and disadvantages for museums and art historians in the age of social media?
It depends on what the ‘art world’ is – if you mean the market, I couldn’t comment. If you mean artists, it’s probably quite useful. For me, it’s a way of throwing ideas around, sometimes in the form of photographs, which can start conversations with others that you might otherwise have had inside your own head. Art historians and museums tend to use social media pretty effectively – it’s a good way of letting some air into the library. Having said that, the relentless utopianism around social media can lead to some institutions – museums especially – to act like the one kid at school who’s desperate to be everyone’s friend.
5.Who is your target audience (if you have one)?
Anyone, if not everyone.
6.What are some challenges that you face in terms of engaging modern audiences?
There’s nothing particular about modern audiences that makes them any less capable of engaging with works of art. They don’t need to use their phones to be comfortable in a museum. I don’t need to crowbar contemporary allusions in to help people make sense of things. They just need to be alive, and I need to be doing my job well.
7. What is distinctive about London’s art scene compared to other cities you have visited or given tours in?
I’m not sure. When you’re inside most contemporary art galleries, you could be anywhere in the world. There’s just a lot more of it, I suppose. It might be getting less distinctive, gradually.
8. What direction do you think Art Education is going in?
Downwards. But we can change that.
9. Do you have any exciting tours planned for the coming year?
I’m taking some groups to Holland in a few months, to look at Golden Age painting, which is booked out – more coming soon, which I’ll announce on my website. Vienna, New York, and Rome are all possibilities.
10. If time and money were no object, where would you go on your ultimate art history tour?
The Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, in 1303.
11. Which three artists (living or dead) would you have dinner with and what would you serve them?
Dorothea Tanning, Giambattista Tiepolo and Robert Irwin. Fish tacos and English ale.
For more information about Ben and his work check out:
and his personal website:
Whenever the New York grind gets me down , I head straight to the Neue Galerie for German and Austrian Art on 87th and 5th for a heaping dose of old European romance and, of course, great art. Admittedly, I am often lured by the smell of apple strudel and hot chocolate mit schlag at the adjacent Café Sabarsky, but I am never disappointed by the museum’s permanent collection and their masterfully curated temporary exhibits. The Neue is currently featuring an exhibit called “Berlin Metropolis: 1918-1933” which opened on October 1st and will run until January 4th. This collection features paintings, photographs, films and other works by the great artists of Germany’s Weimar Republic. This period in between the first and second world wars was a brief, but prolific and innovative time for art and German culture in general.
The exhibition is chronologically divided into five themes that correspond to different aspects of Weimar Berlin: The Birth of the New Republic; A New Utopia; The “Neue Frau” or New Woman; The Crisis of Modernity; and Into the Abyss. This layout successfully illustrates the progression in Weimar society from the vibrant and hedonistic early days to the horrors of the Third Reich.
Upon walking into the “Birth of the New Republic” section, I was greeted by a pig headed mannequin dressed in a military costume suspended from the ceiling: “Prussian Archangel” by John Heartfield and Rudolf Schlichter. This whimsical yet austere figure sets the tone of the room, which features the great works of the Berlin Dada movement by Heartfield, George Grosz, Otto Dix, Hannah Hoch (the only woman in the group), and many other Dadaists.
I was especially drawn to a wild and grotesque series of 11 lithographs by Max Beckmann from 1922 called “A Trip to Berlin”. With titles like “Striptease”, each lithograph is extremely provocative and energetic and transports the viewer to the hustle and bustle of Weimar Berlin.
I definitely learned a lot about Berlin Dada from the first room, but my favorite section of the exhibit by far was the pink tinted room dedicated to the “Neue Fraue,” or New Woman. Not only does this room pay homage to the sophisticated and liberated Berliner woman of the 1920’s, it also showcases the innovative genius of Hannah Hoch.
In addition to Hoch’s clever collages such as “The Bride” (1924) and “Journalists”(1925) below, the room also features gorgeous costumes sketches from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) production stills from The Prince von Pappenheim (1927), and other posters and images celebrating the glamour and talent of the “Neue Fraue”.
The exhibit ends on a rather grave note in the “Into the Abyss” room. It features the same Berlin Dadaists as the beginning of the exhibit- Grosz, Heartfield, and Schlichter, but deals with very different subject matter. John Heartfield’s sinister “Adolf and the Superman” (1932) is a far cry from the playful Dada collages from the beginning of the Weimar period.
“Berlin Metropolis” is definitely worth a visit, if not several. I will definitely be back to the Neue to learn more about this culturally explosive time period that unfortunately ended in such horrible tragedy. Should “Into the Abyss” kill your vibe, don’t forget to drown your sorrows in some pistachio and chocolate “Mozarttorte” and hot chocolate at Café Sabarsky. While you can’t take pictures of the art, you are certainly allowed to post your Viennese delights on Instagram (which for the record, taste even better than they look).