China’s recent history is one full of social and political chaos. Chairman Mao Zedong resided as the country’s communist leader for nearly thirty years, responsible for the founding the People’s Republic of China, sending China into a deep economic crisis, and infamously inciting the riotous Cultural Revolution. Chairman Mao had set out to purge the country of what he called “impure elements.” The youth of China backed Mao as they flooded across the country murdering teachers, closing schools, denouncing family members, burning books, and destroying China’s history. Artist were cast out of society and only those who attended nationalized art schools and produced works in a factory-like manner with politically expedient content, were permitted. Today, we see how Chinese artists critique the Cultural Revolution and the Communist Party, shedding light on China’s societal issues, through their creative individuality.
Hung Liu was born shortly after the Chinese Civil War in 1948. She was a prolific student and studied at the best private schools China had to offer. As the Cultural Revolution began, Liu was sent to be “re-educated” in a rural village. Before leaving Beijing, she borrowed a camera from a friend. She used this camera to take photos of villagers, their families, and their day to day struggles. At this point in time, the Cultural Revolution was in full bloom and Chinese culture was being threatened to extinction. Hung Liu’s photographs of those villagers served as a preservation of those individuals and to their culture.
After the Revolution, Liu went on to study fine arts and earned a her graduate degree in Muralist Painting. For three years she painted political propaganda in the Soviet Realist style, all the while secretly painting landscapes with miniature tools and paints she herself had made. Hung Liu desperately wanted artistic freedom and was granted just that when she was given permission to attend the University of California San Diego in 1983.
Liu often paints from photographs of Chinese social outcasts: prostitutes, laborers, and prisoners. The realistic nature and size of her characters reflect her practice in Soviet Realism and Muralism. However, she manipulates the image by running paint down the canvas, which gives the effect of a photograph faded by time. The characters in each piece look as though they are disintegrating right before our eyes; a possible commentary on the lives lost and forgotten during the Cultural Revolution.
Hung Liu recently retired from her position as a professor at Mills College, but she continues to paint and has worldwide exhibitions.
Ma Desheng was a self taught artist, mainly because he was deemed unfit to be trained in fine arts at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Desheng worked as an industrial draftsman and woodblock print artist, using traditional Chinese ink.
Desheng produced a series of images of rock-like figures and portrayals of China’s working class. These images were stark contradictions to the suppressive propaganda that Mao and the Chinese Communist Party were feeding the people.
His early productions were un-romanticized images that displayed the realities of what was happening to China. The dark rigid lines evoke a sense of inner turmoil, similar to that of the artwork of the German artists, Käthe Kollwitz or Edvard Munch.
In 1970, Ma Desheng was influential in the founding of Star Group ( or Xing Xing). This group consisted of self taught, Western-influenced artists who fought for individualism and liberation against the Cultural Revolution. Ma Desheng and the Star Group bravely defied the government when they put on an exhibition of their own work across the street from the National Art Museum in Beijing. It was, of course, shut down by authorities and Ma was arrested for his involvement in organizing such an exhibit.The Star Group went on to lead a rally against the authorities and were successful in opening a second show; some say it was this rally that helped Chinese society become more culturally open.
Not long after Star Group’s second show, Ma Desheng moved to Europe, as did many of the other members. He continues to live and work in Paris, but there is no doubt that his passionate commitment to freedom of expression helped pave the way for future Chinese artists.
One of China’s most well known and successful artists, Zhang Xiaogang, was also a witness to China’s Cultural Revolution. His parents were government officials but were sent away to be “re-educated” at the height of the Revolution—an event that greatly affects his work.
He studied at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts after the Cultural Revolution ended, but his professors were persistent in teaching the style of Soviet Realism. Zhang resisted this style and any philosophy that had to do with collectiveness in society. He founded a group focused on the importance of individualism in philosophy and art called the Southwest Art Group. Though somewhat successful with nearly eighty artists in the group, the Tiananmen Square incident happened not long after and the era of liberal reform ceased completely.
It wasn’t until 1992 when Zhang returned from Germany after 3 months that he knew exactly what he wanted to paint. He stated that he “could see a way to paint the contradictions between the individual and the collective.” His portrayals of those contradictions are what make his paintings so eerily captivating. Most of his work is themed after family photographs but there is always some sort of strange mark or difference in color that makes them unique to one another. The child, who is typically centered, is the most defined. This can be taken as Zhang’s commentary on the youth of the Cultural Revolution and their willingness to disown their families and personal histories.
Zhang Xiaogang’s artwork has shown world wide and he is easily one of the most prominent Chinese contemporary artist of today.
Beijing-based artist, Yue Minjun, also captures that theme of contradiction that Zhang Xiaogang displays. Yue Minjun was born in 1962 and studied oil painting at the Hebei Normal University in 1985. His work is done in a style that has been coined as “Cynical Realism,” and they are iconically uncomfortable. Most of the paintings are self-portraits of the artist with pink skin, laughing maniacally in surreal backgrounds while bent over in an attempt to cover an exposed body, vulnerable in only underwear.
These cartoon like images are politically pointed at the Cultural Revolution and China today. Minjun states that “…laughter is a representation of a state of helplessness, lack of strength and participation, with the absence of our rights that society has imposed on us.” This laughter evokes a strange feeling to the viewer. You feel as if you were looking at someone that had just gone through a mental breakdown and had experienced an intense amount of pain, dehumanized, but has an odd instinct to laugh. It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that, this is how Minjun see’s the China today; as society that has been through so much within recent years but does not know how to deal appropriately with the pain.
The now world renowned artist, Xu Bing, was in high school when the Cultural Revolution broke out. Determined to stay in Beijing and continue his studies, he agreed to use his talents in calligraphy to create political propaganda. After he graduated, he was sent to the countryside to work in the fields and was not able to return until the death of Chairman Mao in 1976. Xu was accepted into Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts the following year to study printmaking.
The relationship between words and interpretation seems to be the core theme in Xu Bing’s work. In his grandiose installation, “Book from the Sky,” large scrolls hang from the ceiling and traditionally bound books and newspapers line the floor and walls, all stamped with woodblocks carved with made-up, nonsensical Chinese characters. The fact that nothing is literally being said in this piece results in many different interpretations. Is the installation a focus on Chinese tradition versus modern art? Is it a questioning of how different cultures perceive one another? Is it a commentary on the manipulation of words to achieve power, like in Mao’s case? Or is it a meaningless study of form and repetition? There are grounds for each of these questions within the piece and its intriguing quality is one of the reasons “Book from Sky” is such an international hit within the art world.
Cai Guo-Qiang is probably best known around the world for his firework show at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but Cai’s artistry goes far beyond his pyrotechnic displays. He studied stage design at the Shanghai Theatre Academy from 1981 through 1985, which is evident in the spatial rendering seen in his large installations, paintings and performance pieces.
One of his most famous pieces was an installation he was commissioned to do for the 48th Venice Biennale, entitled, “Venice’s Rent Collection Courtyard.” The installation consisted of 114 clay sculptures of peasants and laborers interspersed within the gallery’s setting.The piece created quite the stir amongst the art world as it closely resembled the famous Social Realist sculpture “Rent Collection Courtyard”: a highly political series of sculptures created during the Cultural Revolution. The stir wasn’t only because of Cai’s replica of the Chinese classic, but because he choose a material that would cause the sculptures to disintegrate as the show went on; a possible statement on Mao’s promises to the Chinese people and the ephemerality of their political and social structures.
Many of Cai Guo-Qiang works seem to embody a theme of unforeseen fate. In many of his paintings, he will scatter gunpowder on an already painted canvas, and ignite it. The result displays a combination of the controlled color of the actual paint, and the sporadic, random markings of the burnt gunpowder. This theme is also evident in his installation “Head On” where sculptures of wolves take off running and soaring through the air. The momentum of the piece is brutally interrupted as the wolves run, “head on,” into a wall a plexi glass and fall gracelessly to the floor.
It is often said that an artist’s role in society is to be instrument of the time; to reflect society back to itself, to be a catalyst of change, and to articulate culture. It is fair to say that these artists, and many other Chinese artists, are doing just that.
No matter what time of year it is, chances are there is a biennial happening somewhere around the world. During certain years, the art world flocks to major cities like Venice or São Paulo—or remote places like Kassel, Germany or Dakar—to view some of the world’s greatest contemporary art. Since the 1990s these large-scale international contemporary art exhibitions have become the main way of exhibiting and publicizing international contemporary art.
Today, major biennials exist on every continent, everywhere from Sydney to Shanghai, with more than 150 established biennials in total. They have become such a craze that a non-profit called the Biennial Foundation was formed just to monitor their behavior. Confusingly though, not all of these exhibitions happen every two years, some are triennials (Yokohama Triennale) or quadrennials (Copenhagen Arts Festival—formerly the U-turn Quadriennale), but because all of these exhibitions follow the same general structure, they are all grouped under the biennial umbrella. Essentially, what distinguishes biennials from art fairs, like Frieze in London or Art Basel in Miami, is the fact that biennials are much larger, taking place in multiple venues across the given city, and, most importantly, the works displayed are not for sale. Biennials function as temporary exhibitions for contemporary art, not as galleries.
The concept of the biennial has roots in the 19th and early 20th century phenomena of the World’s Fair and Universal Exhibition. The word biennial comes from the Italian word biennale, meaning every other year, and refers to the original biennial—the Venice Biennale. The first Venice Biennale, in 1895, celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of Italy’s King Umberto and Queen Margherita. It was held at the Palazzo dell’ Esposizione, a public space called the Giardini on the Riva degli Schiavoni in Venice. The exhibition was hugely popular, and became a bi-annual (biennial) event. By the early 20th century many different countries had built pavilions in the Giardini to house their country’s art during the exhibition. During the first half of the 20th century, the pavilions featured an assortment of works by the country’s best artists. In the post-war years, the style of the exhibition began to shift towards more curated and thematic displays.
The current global biennial structure was developed in the 1990s. Most biennials follow the general structure of the Venice Biennale, which has both a series of national pavilions that exhibit work from their country’s artists, all with individually curated themes, and a larger overarching exhibition curated by the biennial directors that is often linked to a different theme. As the art world became increasingly globalized in the late 1990s, the biennial phenomenon has also taken on a diplomatic element. These exhibitions bring together works of art from all over the world under one general curatorial theme, which is often connected to international social or political issues. For example, the 2016 Venice Biennale theme is “Reporting from the Front.”
Although the biennial model of contemporary art exhibitions has been debated, the idea of exhibitions that survey global contemporary art have been perceived as largely positive. The growth of biennial culture has been connected with fostering diplomatic relations between nations as well as promoting the growth of cultural tourism. Large-scale biennials draw in hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world, and have certainly helped to generate tourism in previously under-visited destinations. Through these visitors the art displayed at biennials circulates around the world—every visitor returns from biennials with a list of top new artists to watch.
With the increasing globalization of the art world, many biennials focused on non-Western art have emerged since the 1990s. One of the most important of these is DAK’ART, the Dakar Biennale, founded in 1992. This biennial focuses on contemporary African art or works of black artists around the world. It is the largest exposition of contemporary African art and draws in visitors and artists from all over the globe to Senegal. Also, with the growing power of the Asian art market, major biennials are now located in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Japan, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors. A major exhibition of non-western art is also hosted every two years in Havana, Cuba. While originally dedicated only to Caribbean and Latin American art, the biennial has expanded to include work of artists from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East as well.
While biennials have a long history, they have evolved dramatically in the past thirty years. They have essentially transformed from World’s Fairs into the major place for viewing, circulating, and discussing global contemporary art.
March 11, 2016
The City of Angels, home to celebrities and heat waves, is quickly becoming a major hub for the international contemporary art community. Although it is still somewhat of an underdog when compared to cities like New York City, Paris, and London, Los Angeles is holding its own in the art world.
If ever you find yourself in LA with a need to see some great works of art, this list will point you to some of the best galleries around.
First opened by Randy Sommer and Robert Gunderman in Santa Monica in 1994, ACME is now located on a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard known as “Miracle Mile,” where you can also find LACMA and other galleries amongst some of LA’s famous art deco buildings. ACME exhibitions include a wide range of mediums and prominent artists. Some past shows include; Jennifer Steinkamps inventive digital installation, “It’s a Nice Day for a White Wedding”; Tomory Dodge’s profound series of oil paintings “Outside Therein”; and Carlee Fernandez’ surreal “Installation, 2010.” ACME never fails to showcase pieces that are at the foreground of today’s art world.
The independent nonprofit gallery was founded by artists for artists in order to create a concentrated presence in the art community. They have created programs and platforms for contemporary artists to thrive in and the results are evident in the dynamic work that is produced and shown at LAXART. Last year they had more than twenty rising artists show their work. Among them were Mark Hagen, Kelly Lamb and Alexander May.
One of Culver City’s many galleries, Honor Fraser, stands out as one of the most cutting edge in its exhibitions of installations, digital media, paintings, performances and sculptures. Its exhibitions tend to be more along the lines of street-art and it typically draws in the younger crowd of Culver City. The gallery has shown contemporary work by Rosson Crow, Victoria Fu, and Alexis Smith. Most popular show of last year was definitely KAWS and his installation “Man’s Best Friend.”
Nicodim gallery, which just recently moved to downtown Los Angeles after five years in Culver City, has displayed some very prominent exhibitions. Romanian founder and art dealer, Mihai Nicodim, opened Nicodim in 2006 with the hopes to introduce more European artists to LA. He has been successful in doing just that. Artists like Adrian Gehney, Michael Ceulers and Zsolt Bodoni have shown in the Nicodim Gallery and have brought a vast range of diverse contemporary artists and artworks to LA.
Gallerist Adam Lindemann converted an abandoned warehouse in downtown L.A. into a beautifully spacious gallery. Though sister to Lindemann’s New York Gallery, Venus Over Manhattan, this new gallery is not an extension of the East Coast gallery, but rather a new space for experimentation in large scale artwork that would not be possible in the inevitably smaller Manhattan space.
Founded by painter Noah Davis and The Museum of Contemporary Art, the Underground Museum takes pieces of art found in some of the high-end museums of Los Angeles and shows them in this space, located in a mainly working class neighborhood. Davis says that this new space is not only for him to display his works, but “a place to create crackling dialogues between his work and that of other prominent artists, as well as the surrounding neighborhood.”
The Hammer museum off Wilshire Boulevard in L.A. holds Armand Hammer’s private collection. However, it also has multiple gallery spaces within the museum for temporary exhibits of current artists, like Catherine Opie. The museum partnered up with the University of California, Los Angeles to make sure they are showing the most relevant art. One more thing, it’s free!
LACMA is the largest museum of the western United States with over 120,000 pieces. The museum exhibits many pieces throughout the history of art, ranging from Ancient Art to Contemporary works. Though the museum has pieces from the past, it really strives to represent Los Angeles and its diverse population as well as what is happening in the art world TODAY. Just this past year, they have exhibited some very prolific artists. Exhibitions included James Turrell’s “Breathing Light”; Diane Thaters “The Sympathetic Imagination”; a two-part show featuring multiple Islamic photographers entitled “Islamic Art Now”, and the very popular “Rain Room,” which is a collaborative experimental installation created by Random International.
In the heart of Downtown, kiddie-corner from Frank Gehry’s “Disney Music Hall” is the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art. The architecture of the building itself is a sight to see, but once you get inside there is an abundance of unique works by revolutionary, Modern and Post Modern artists. The MOCA holds a permanent collection of about 7,000 pieces of art that were created post-1945, including works from Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, Franz Kline, Claes Oldenburg Jackson Pollock and many others. Contemporary artists in the permanent collection include Greg Colson, David Hockney and Kim Dingle.
Los Angeles’ biggest & newest museum dedicated to contemporary art opened September, 2015. The Broad, named after its founder, Eli Broad has pieces from Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Robert Rauschenberg, John Baldisseri and many other famous artists for the inaugural exhibition. It’s located in central downtown LA almost exactly across the street from the MOCA.
March 8, 2016
The second installment (see the first one here) of our top contemporary art galleries in London looks at the younger contingent of the spaces that now exist in the city; fresh, dynamic and often left-field channels which keep the arts scene buzzing with new ideas.
In a nutshell: Charles Saatchi may have attacked the White Cube’s namesake white-walled galleries in 2003, saying that they are “antiseptic” and “worryingly” old-fashioned but that did not stop the franchise making its way to the top of London’s contemporary art scene. The White Cube galleries may have even profited from Saatchi’s public diatribe, choosing to stick proudly to their white walls and continue their work, irrespective of his views. With its roots in East London, the first White Cube gallery in Mason’s Yard, associated with the neighbouring Young British Artists, and came to prominence when it gave YBA Tracey Emin one of her first shows. The gallery has, however, somewhat departed from its East-End/YBA origins, accepting the wave of gentrification that has flooded the area. A climactic moment in the franchise’s transformation was the graffitiing of “Yuppies Out” and “Class War” on the Bermondsey branch by anti-gentrification activists, this being the very space that is now one of Europe’s biggest commercial galleries. However, if you can forgive and forget, or don’t care, then the White Cube will provide you with a compelling contemporary program ranging a multitude of disciplines.
Where: Mason’s Yard SW1. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday //Bermondsey Street, SE1. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Sunday with late opening at 12pm on Sunday. Closed Monday.
In a nutshell: Established in 2010, the gallery’s founders Harry Blain and Graham Southern regularly feature in ArtReview’s top 100 most important people in the contemporary art world. And this is no empty accolade; before launching Blain|Southern, the duo were at the helm of London’s Haunch of Venison gallery which was sold to Christie’s in 2007. Their time at Haunch of Venison allowed them to build up an impressive artists network which, by the time of its initiation, gave Blain|Southern a critical edge, associating with names such as Richard Long and Keith Tyson to name a few. While the gallery is only 6 years old, it has already hosted many acclaimed exhibitions such as the much touted survey of Lucian Freud’s drawings in 2012 – Drawings. And with its setting in Hanover Square being a stones throw from New Bond Street, a.k.a. auction superhighway, the location is a veritable arts hub.
Where: Hanover Square, W1S. Open 10am-6pm Monday-Saturday except early closing at 5pm on Saturday. Closed Sunday.
In a nutshell: Victoria Miro, unofficially crowned one of the “grande dames of the Britart scene” can even boast that she had famous babysitters – Sam Taylor-Wood having done her the honour in Miro’s child-rearing years that “stunted her creativity”. Fast-forward a few years and a few galleries later, and her eponymous franchise has two locations in London as well as others worldwide, representing major contemporary artists such as Chris Ofili and Grayson Perry. In opposition (albeit unintentional) with one of its locations in the exclusive Mayfair area, the gallery’s Wharf Road space was set up in 2000 in Islington, and, like the Whitechapel and White Cube, it’s close proximity to Hoxton quickly linked it with London’s cutting-edge experimental arts scene. The 8,000 sq.ft. space is housed in a beautifully restored ex-furniture factory and has its own garden located next to Regent’s Canal at Wenlock Basin. The spacious and natural(ish) location often lends itself to exhibitions such as Maria Nepomuceno’s The Force (2011), so expect a nice departure from the concrete jungle.
Where: Mayfair, W1 // Wharf Road N1. All three galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
In a nutshell: Like Blain and Southern, Iwan and Manuela Wirth (two thirds of the gallery’s founding body) have been ranked in the top most influential people in the contemporary art world by ArtReview. The other third of the gallery’s foundation is Ursula Hauser who, together with the Wirth’s, set up their first gallery in Switzerland in 1992 and has since grown into an acclaimed global art franchise. The gallery’s London location has moved around a lot since its inauguration in 2003, from Piccadilly to Cheshire Street in the East End, to Swallow Street, Old Bond Street and finally, Savile Row. The gallery’s punch probably comes from its balanced representation of over fifty emerging artists and industry heavyweights like Louise Bourgeois and Martin Creed. It also gains its reputation from its publishing offshoot, having published over 100 titles since 1992 specialising in modern and contemporary art, such as Phyllida Barlow’s Fifty Years of Drawings (2014). The gallery’s worldwide locations include a fabulous rural setting on a Somerset farm in the West of England.
Where: Savile Row, W1. Open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
In a nutshell: “WE EXIST FOR U”/ “THE WORLD’S FINEST” shouts the Unit London’s website. This might give you an idea of the gallery’s mission: to show dynamic and forward-thinking artists who are chosen for just those reasons, irrespective of of “reputation, culture or background”. The gallery is run by two young English guys – Johnny Burt and Joe Kennedy – who see social media as a as a “commercial tool”. In fact, their show Paintguide was Instagram-curated and certainly the first of its kind. Now, after 3 years of running Unit, they have buyers all over the world, showing the efficiency of this contemporary marketing method. They represent a roster of British and international artists including the likes of Paul Rousso and Cecile Plaisance. Their all-inclusive outlook could perhaps benefit from a larger female contingent, but the work on display is frequently changing and updating, a process you can follow via their Instagram.
Read our interview with Unit London founders Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt here.
Where: Soho, W1. Open everyday 11am-7pm.
March 5, 2016
Since its inception in 2009, SPRING/BREAK Art Show has been gaining a steady stream of followers eager to get a look at emerging artists in the New York art scene before their big break – as well as collectors who want to purchase artwork without breaking the bank. Located for the second year at the Skylight at Moynihan Station, the somewhat dilapidated space above the massive post office provides ample potential for unique installations with its wood-paneled former mailing rooms and seemingly randomly placed sinks and bathroom stalls. Considering the pomp-and-circumstance often associated with Armory Arts Week, the art-school qualities of the curator-driven fair can, at times, feel campy or kitsch. However, for those looking to actually understand what they are seeing, the DIY-attitude of the venue lends itself perfectly to discussion, typically with the artists or curators themselves
Azikiwe Mohammed, “A New Davonhaime Thrift Store,” curated by Dustin Yellin
Step into Jimmy’s Thrift, a cozy wood-paneled shop of discarded ephemera in the fictional city of New Davonhaime, which gets its name from the amalgamation of the five most densely populated black cities in the United States (New Orleans, LA, Detroit, MI, Jackson, MS, Birmingham, AL, and Savannah, GA). Playing on the idea of people moving to find a better way of life, artist Azikiwe Mohammed has created a haven for black people, free from the issues surrounding the cities of its real-life inspirations. When I questioned Mohammed about his own inspiration for the project, he answered, “The last few years have been hard for brown folk, so what if there was a place that wasn’t?”
Much like a real shop, Jimmy’s contents change daily as the artist receives or creates more items. The tone varies from playful to serious, with a highlight of the space being the record player of real people discussing the first time they realized they were black. Looking at the eclectic mix of items around the room, it is hard to believe that one person made all of its contents, but each object is integral to the installation. Mohammed commented, “One of the things that was really important to me was to be able to make something that, while I’m controlling all the stories, not everything looks like it’s made by the same person… if I can make stuff that is different enough, then the question isn’t who made it, it’s where did all this come from.
Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos, “MHOAUNTDH,” curated by Amanda Uribe and Ché Morales
Taking the expression “talking with your hands” to a new level, Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos combined the words “mouth” and “hand” to create MHOAUNTDH, an installation emphasizing technology’s impact on -and fusion with- communication. Playing off of Bruce Nauman’s “Fifteen Pairs of Hands,” the artist cast fifteen pairs of hands as if they were texting – a series she titled “15 Pairs of Mouths.” As noted by curator Ché Morales, “We don’t always talk on the phone anymore, we text, so the thumb has replaced our lips.” Other works include “In Conversation,” a series of booth-like structures that play with concepts of language barriers by the audible repetition of Google Translated definitions, seemingly questioning whether or not technology bridges or widens the gap between true understanding.
Alfred Steiner, “LV DIY,” special project by 101/EXHIBIT, curated by Kevin Van Gorp and Shen-Shen Wu
One floor down from Jimmy’s Thrift is a very different kind of store where cardboard boxes from McDonald’s line the walls, surrounding the used clothing scrawled with the universally recognizable LV monogram. This is copyright-lawyer-turned-artist Alfred Steiner’s LV DIY store that parodies the contents, prices, and physical boutique design for Louis Vuitton. According to curator Shen-Shen Wu, the items for sale are more worthy of their price tag than their real world counterparts. “It’s actually more unique than whatever Louis Vuitton is selling, so you can buy a mass-produced item that is branded in a luxury way or you can support an artist who is producing a conceptual art piece.”
What initially appears to be a blatant commentary on mass-production and consumerism is given another level with the book filled with lawsuits involving Louis Vuitton, who, although eager to collaborate with contemporary artists, are notoriously abusive about wielding their intellectual property rights to silence criticism and parody. Luckily, Steiner can provide legal counsel for his own exhibit.
SPRING/BREAK Art Show, March 2-7 2016, 421 Eighth Avenue, Skylight at Moynihan Station (Main Post Office Entrance)
March 4, 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.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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
March 2, 2016
There are two important events happening in the art world in London both connected to Alexander Calder. The Tate Modern showcases “Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture” until April 3rd and equally as important is PACE LONDON’s “Calder Prize 2005-2015” show that acquaints visitors with the level of inspiration that this grand artist is still offering young artists from all over the world.
At Pace, Alexander Calder’s works such as “Still Life”1944, “Snag” 1944, “Fawn” 1944, “Untitled” 1953, “Trois pics (intermediate maquette)” 1967, “The Tree” 1960 are exhibited in conversation with 6 artists, laureates of the Calder Prize between 2005 and 2015.
A Maverick of modernist art, Calder completely revolutionized the landscape of art by insisting on introducing performance and kinetic qualities to sculpture, embracing industrial media including wire and sheet metal. Calder managed to change the most static materials into romantic pieces.
His work included not only sculpture but also paintings, drawings, and more than a dozen theatrical productions. Calder described his involvement in the stage sets as “dancers performing a choreography due to their rhythmic movement.”
This ultimate vanguard of modern art is still continuing to touch the art world by inspiring so many young artists. Nowadays, Calder Prize and Calder Foundation, a non-profit organization, aim to collect, exhibit, preserve and interpret the art and archives of Alexander Calder. The foundation examines works attributed to Calder and catalogues the artist’s works.Together with the Scone Foundation in New York, the Calder Foundation sponsors the biennial Calder Prize, a $50,000 award to a living artist and it also facilitates the donation of the artist’s work to a major public collection. The laureates are also invited to complete a residency in Calder’s atelier in Sache, France.
Below is a brief presentation of the artists who have been laureates of the Calder Prize 2005-2015.
Darren Bader, born in 1978, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, lives and works in New York. Bader first started by wanting to be a film director and his first videos, composed of long takes of objects, inert and in motion, were a preview of what Bader the artist was going to do.
Everything can become an art object for this artist, from living beings such as live kittens exhibited for adoption under abstract names (MoMA PS1, 2012) to books, undelivered mail, boxes of paint, you name it! Bader’s book “Life as a Readymade” which is basically an open letter to anyone who considers himself an artist, includes the phrase “Art is a state of mind and experience understood by any number of people at any number of moments.”
Tara Donovan, was born in 1969, in New York and was awarded the Calder Prize in 2005. Donovan’s work uses everyday manufactured materials such as Scotch tape, Styrofoam cups, paper plates, toothpicks, and drinking straws to create large scale sculptures that often have a biomorphic quality. Her sculptures must be assembled and disassembled carefully, which sometimes involves an extremely tedious process. With regards to her artistic process, Donovan explained that she chooses the material before she decides what can be done with it. She noted in an interview that she thinks “in terms of infinity, of [the materials] expanding.” Her work has been exhibited in numerous important venues such as Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, Hammer Museum, University of California, MMOA in New York and many others. She is present at Pace London with “Cloud”, 2003 and “Untitled”, 2015.
Rachel Harrison, born in 1966, in New York, was a Calder Prize laureate of the 2011 edition and has had many solo exhibitions at institutions such as Bergen Kunsthall, Camden Arts Centre, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Migros Museum fur Gegenwartskunst in Zurich and SMAK, Ghent. She lives and works in New York and is present at the Calder Prize with “Avatar” ,2010 and “Silent Account”, 2004. Rachel produces sculptures that juxtapose a unique combination of found, purchased, and received items. Since then, her works have been fabricated using a wide range of materials, such as honey, cans of peas, papier-mâché, and trash bags. By using everyday goods and objects, Harrison frequently takes on the subject of consumer culture. She also often confronts popular culture and celebrities with her work. In the 2012 exhibition named “The Help”, her pieces featured the singer Amy Winehouse and the artist Martin Kippenberger.
Zilvinas Kempinas was born in 1969, in Plunge, Lithuania and he is the Calder laureate of 2007. He lives and works in New York and his works are kinetic and minimalistic. Kempinas employs non traditional materials to create active and dynamic exhibits, most commonly as installations. In many of his works, Kempinas utilizes his signature material, unwound magnetic tape. The use of the tape affects the viewer through various senses; visually, aurally and physically. “His art plays out on the bright side of the moon” and Londoners can see that in his work exhibited at Pace London “Illuminator”. His installation “Flux” shows as much of Calder’s influence and heritage as aimed by the exhibition. Similar to the rest of the laureates, Kempinas has had major solo exhibitions including the ones at PS1 Contemporary Art Centre, Long Island New York, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Kunstalle Wien and many others.
Haroon Mirza is an English and London born artist, who became a Calder laureate in 2015. His installations made me think about what famous architect Xavier Corbero said: “when you choose the right scale, music sounds beautiful”. Mirza is close to an architect, creating a space where LED lights, speakers, vinyls, screens, and different music sounds interact and converse to the point of involving the spectator. His installation “Light Work iii”, is also an experience in itself.
Tómas Saraceno born in 1973 in San Miguel de Tucuman, Argentina, was awarded the Calder Prize in 2009 and he lives and works in Berlin. Trained as an architect, he is not only an artist but an environmentalist and he combines engineering, physics, chemistry, aeronautics and materials science in his work. Saraceno has had solo exhibitions at the Barbican Art Gallery, London, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, University of California, Hangar Bahnhof, Berlin, etc. It is an interesting fact to note that Saraceno holds a World record for the first, longest, fully solar-powered, certified, lighter-than-air vehicle tether Flight. He is present at Calder Prize exhibition with “Cumulus Filaments”, 2016 and “Trace G64 B213”, 2015.
The exhibition is open to the public up until 5th of March, 2016 at PACE LONDON.
On a particularly rainy day in London, I made my way over the slippery cobble stone to Unit London – an artist-led gallery space in the heart of London’s Soho district. Preparing myself to meet two successful art entrepreneurs who became tremendously successful in less than 2 years since the birth of their gallery, I was nervous and excited. The second I entered the gallery, I felt like at home. Needless to say, I don’t live in Soho and don’t have paintings covering every single wall (never say never), but the ambiance, music, and art made me feel relaxed; I could have stayed for hours. Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt, the founders of Unit, are both in their twenties, laid-back and absolutely easy-going. Sitting on the couch (and when do you find a couch in a gallery?), we listened to The Killers while they shared a few inspirational ideas and discussed how they built the Unit brand though their Instagram account.
- Why art ?
Joe: We always had a big passion for art. We are both artists and we’ve known each other since 11. We took the same art class at school, so that’s where it all started. We were also frustrated with the way gallery system works. So we wanted to create something different by making art more accessible. That is the key And the way we’ve done that is in large part by using social media.
Jonny: We always wanted to do business together. We didn’t know it was going to be art. After the university I immersed myself with my own art, tried to build my portfolio, went to galleries for various reasons. At that time, a space became available in West London, and in the spirit of the moment we just went for it. It was a natural progression to start a gallery, though initially it was a pop-up. All was from the artist perspective and, yes, we wanted it to be different.
- Do you still make any art yourselves?
Joe: Managing the gallery is taking over now, so we don’t have time for most things outside of running business, and there’s no time for actually making art. Though we do use our creativity in our shows: curating the space, the marketing, the campaigns…they’re creative processes, so we do feel we’re still creating, just not in a studio.
- When you started off, did you have any connections or was it just the idea?
Joe: We had no contacts to go to, so we just did it the way we saw it and how we believed it should be done. We wanted something different, so we looked at all other galleries that are out there, focusing mostly on the UK, and saw that the majority are not serving talented emerging artists. That traditional contemporary art gallery model… You feel as if you’re not allowed to be there. Stuck in the old ways. All that old pretense that comes with what is essentially a painting on a canvas. And so we wanted to create an environment that was relaxed and friendly, welcoming for people, but at the same time showcasing incredible art. It is quite a simple idea. And it’s rewarding to see that it’s worked until this point.
- How did you start promoting your idea?
Joe: Social media was probably the main channel. We didn’t know anyone at all, so we had to go and create our own audience. Basically shout as loud as we could to anyone who wanted to listen.
Jonny: We opened social media accounts, but at that point you have no followers, you kind of begging your friends to follow and share. We made flyers and walked around a local neighborhood posting flyers late at night … that’s what we had. But it was the first show “Looking for you” that at the time was amazing, and some of those artists we still work with today. It was a good crowd at the end, and we got modest reviews in press, but it was still mostly friends and family, which is expected at the beginning. We ended up doing three shows there, and by the third show we already had our voice. And investing in the social media following was essential, because about year ago that was all we had. Now we have a network, but it is largely because of social media we are where we are today.
Joe: It was always about putting as much as possible into the brand, not the space, because the spaces we’ve had up until this point were pop-up spaces. We were very economical with our finances and were putting all the effort into building the brand, because people will follow the brand. That was the strategy.
- Why call it Unit London?
Joe: We went through a hundred names before we had this one (laughing). It was initially called “The Unit London”, because we wanted to create a collective, like this unit of artists. Then we decided to drop “The”, so it sounds less like a boy-band and more like a gallery. Our slogan is “We Exist for U”, and the U part of it is about us actually engaging with the public in conversation. A lot of the time galleries don’t like actively going out there and finding new networks, but we are eager to engage with people, so when you say “Unit London” the first thing you hear is U. We are trying to build a community around this model.
Jonny: It’s a community of artists, individuals, enthusiasts, collectors, everyone. We’re trying to draw everyone into this network and we are not catering for just a limited niche. Some galleries might invite 30 private collectors to a show, but we are trying to invite and welcome as many people as possible for ours. It all goes back to accessibility; we are not trying to cut out anyone.
Joe: It’s also about educating people who have never been to art galleries, helping them become new collectors. Social media helps to facilitate that, as you can connect with anybody across the world. In fact, some of our biggest clients are people who have never collected art before and they’ve stumbled upon the gallery, either they’ve come to the space or they found us online. They love this journey of discovery and understanding the art world. We try to create an open environment with no boundaries to entry, and new collectors – they are like the life blood of the gallery really.
- What is the difference between a traditional dealer-based gallery and an artist-led space, such as Unit London?
Joe: I think it is more in the way we market our artists and ourselves. We don’t do any of the fairs and we don’t have plans to participate in any right now. We don’t really need to at the moment. We have around 200-300 people every day coming to the gallery and a lot of the galleries don’t have this luxury. A lot of people who come in are just people from the street, who would never think about coming to an art gallery, but because it’s here in Soho and so accessible, people feel free to come in. I think we operate a slightly different model to what other galleries have. Many galleries’ sales revenue would come from art fairs. We get ours from the gallery trade and our marketing techniques.
Jonny: For us that should be the standard. People perceive us as fresh and new, but for us it’s just treating people with respect and not wanting them to feel uncomfortable walking into the gallery. Our door is wide open; music is playing. We constantly get feedback how relaxing and enjoyable people feel here. And it’s quite rare to find this in the industry, which is sad in a way. That’s what motivated us.
- So do you think that’s where the art gallery world is going, shifting from big dealer names to easy-going artist-led spaces?
Joe: That could do. I also think collectors are changing. 50 years ago it was more the elite classes that could buy art but now it’s more the upper working class, entrepreneurs, people who run their own businesses. People who work for their money. They don’t necessarily come from an elite cultural background but they have a lot of money, and they want a more relaxed atmosphere to enjoy amazing art. In that sense, consumers are changing; so that’s where we’ve been able to fit in, cater to that new collector. We are trying to lose that elitist approach, and we have a broad range of prices, so we do cater to different audiences. On our Instagram account, for example, anyone can get involved in the conversation about a piece. Some of our big collectors might comment on Instagram and then we’ll get a young artist from the UK replying to their comment… It’s an open and very public forum, which is a new prospect for this industry – being ultra-responsive, agile and being able to manage the community. For us it’s natural.
- How did you build your artist community?
Jonny: I was doing a blog when I was pursuing my art and writing about other artists that inspired my work. But I also managed to build relationships with those artists. One of them was Ryan Hewett and as a result we managed to get two pieces from him for our first show. We had 6 or 7 good London-based artists to start with and since then it evolved organically. As the brand grows, so do the artists. Now we get a lot of submissions and some of them are really good, but mainly we are on Instagram. Going through timelines and looking at emerging artists.
Joe: We’ve quite a varied roster. Artists come from all different ages, countries, backgrounds, but they’ve a similar aesthetic, which we refer to as Neo-Contemporary or Progressive Contemporary. But it’s also works that are similar to ours and we are so passionate about each artist we represent.
- Do you have a particular medium you tend to showcase in your gallery?
Joe: Not necessarily a medium. We are naturally drawn to dark pieces, as it is more reflective of our own work, like abstract portraiture by Jake Wood-Evans, Henrik Uldalen and Ryan Hewett. We have paintings, sculpture, digital art … what we haven’t done is installations. To be honest, we are not enthused by conceptual art. The artists we represent built their craft over time, there’s a technical ability and skill in the work and that’s what we value.
Jonny: For us it has to be an undeniable talent and skill. We want to be inspired by work we represent and that transmits to people.
- Due to globalization progressing more and more severely and people being online for longer hours, do you think it’s still important to have an actual physical gallery space?
Joe: Absolutely. Art is experiential. We are heavy on social media, but we always use that to market our physical space. Since we started we always had a space for people to visit. A gallery that just lives online doesn’t do the work justice. In a way, it would be a sad world if in 20 years people are sitting in front of screens, clicking on artworks and not going to shows. It’s not the same social experience. For collectors half of the importance of buying a piece is the context of how and where they bought it.
Jonny: Ultimately, social media helped us to attract large crowds of people. Even though we are trying to provide welcoming environment in our gallery, people might feel less intimidated looking through images online. We had people we’ve been talking to online for over a year and then they could do this big step and come to the gallery. One has to come in to fully experience art.
Joe: It’s the same with music. You can listen to it in your headphones, but you still want to go and see concerts. Same with football: If you’re a real fan, there’s never going to be a substitute for going to the game and having that experience. The social element is crucial.
- You represent a number of international artists. Are you thinking about going global and bringing your idea to an international crowd?
Joe: It’s on our radar. Also, a lot of our clients are international, and it makes sense for us to go overseas.
Jonny: Ideally we want our artists in museums. That’s the main goal: to build the brand, but most importantly promote the artists and help them build their careers.
- Who is your favorite artist?
Joe: Lots of favourites…probably Ryan Hewett.
Jonny: Same. He is the first one we started working with and he is a massive talent. He’s constantly evolving his work, that’s what is unique about him. We have a big solo with him at the end of the year as well and it will be the biggest show we’ve ever done.
- Tell us about the first ever Instagram-curated exhibition “Paintguide” that you had last year.
Joe: One of our artists, Henrik Uldalen, has built his own career through Instagram, but he also started another account called Paintguide, where he would share images of other artists that inspired his own work. It took off two years ago and started growing very fast. He invites other artists to takeover his account for a week and share images of other artists that inspire their work. It’s a huge global phenomenon. He wanted to do an exhibition and we thought it would be an amazing collaboration to host at Unit London. It was an incredible show: we had 60 artists and curating that was crazy. During the opening night we had a line around the block and it was testament of the power of Instagram. It was a massive success and the reach was phenomenal.
- Do you have any advice to young entrepreneurs?
Joe: Work very hard. Have a good idea, believe in it and work hard. That’s what we’ve done really. For the past two years, it’s been 24/7 for us. We made our own sacrifices to make it work. So as long as you believe in your vision, you can get there.
Jonny: There isn’t really a secret. We’ve had highs and lows. It sounds cliché, but it is true. There is no substitute for hard work. And when you do get rewards, then you know anything can happen.
Next exhibition at Unit London opens this week:
3rd March | Spring Group exhibition | Featuring a selection of works from the gallery’s most exciting global emerging artists.
February 29, 2016
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.
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.”
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.
February 29, 2016
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.