Artist Alexa Meade is a painter who does not use a canvas.
Her artistic practice hovers somewhere between painting, installation, and performance art. She paints directly onto the bodies of her live models, using loose brushstrokes to collapse the appearance of depth and make her subjects appear two-dimensional. She then photographs her models, and the still images visually resemble paintings on canvas.
Trompe l’oeil is an artistic technique that artists have been using for centuries to trick the eye into believing that a two-dimensional image looks as real as a three-dimensional one by creating extremely detailed, hyper-realistic depictions of objects. Meade takes the concept of trompe l’oeil and turns it on its head. Once painted, that which is three-dimensional looks as if it was created on a two-dimensional surface. She paints her subjects and their surroundings with heavy, large brushstrokes, which creates an optical illusion that collapses any sense of depth.
Meade is entirely self-taught; as she ruminates on in her TEDx talk “Your body is my canvas,” after earning her degree in political science from Vassar College she made a career path U-turn and ended up teaching herself how to paint in her parent’s basement. At first, she used her own body as her canvas, creating a series of self-portrait photographs of herself covered in angular paint strokes.
These initial works of art were only documented and circulated as photographs. In the past year, the Los Angeles-based artist has broken out of that format and created more interactive works that have appeared at Art Paris Art Fair, Boom Basel in Miami, and the United Nations in New York City. These “Living Paintings” are created on temporary sets in public spaces, where viewers can see Meade painting the model, and then see the finished product. She has had live models pose in gallery settings and has even done a live painting session in the streets of Tokyo as a promotional event for Mini Cooper in 2013.
Meade’s performance art-style displays ride the same wave of Instagram-able art that Pipilotti Rist’s Pixel Forest & Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. This is probably because you can photograph her work from any angle and the illusion still holds up. Her immersive, painted environments simulate the act of walking into a painting. And in some cases, it is her models walk out of their paintings. Her latest collaboration with hip hop dancer Jon Boogz in “The Color of Reality” has the two central dancers move out of their painted space onto the street.
Alexa Meade wants her audiences “to find the strange in the familiar… to look beyond what’s already been brought to light, and to see that there can always be more than meets the eye.”
Four years ago, award-winning artist Aida Muluneh spearheaded efforts to create East Africa’s first international photography festival, Addis Foto Fest. Of course, she couldn’t have done it without her team at Desta for Africa Creative Consulting (DFA), a Private Limited Company founded by Aida Muluneh herself. Desta works to spread education through art, and so a festival like Addis Foto Fest was an almost obvious step for their efforts.
Aida Muluneh was born in Ethiopia but has spent most of her life in other countries. However, she had always fantasized about returning to her home land, and in 2007 she got the opportunity to do so while working on a documentary. She saw the allurement of Ethiopia and decided to leave her life in Canada to stay in Addis Ababa, where she worked as an advocate for the culture and beauty of her native country. It was this idea that became the fundamental philosophy and goal behind Desta, which is an acronym for “Developing and Educating Society Through Art.”
Addis Foto Fest was established only a few years after Desta was created, and was the result of Muluneh’s attendance to the Rencontres Africaines de la Photographie in Bamanko, where she was to receive the European Union Prize. There she became aware of a strong global misrepresentation and belittling of Africa, both in photography and in the film. Muluneh stated that “This world is not perfect and neither are we, but why is it always our imperfections that are in the lead as opposed to the balanced story of who we are?”. Addis Foto Fest was thus created to rethink what defines Africa, and to show images that truly represent all aspects of the different African cultures.
This festival is all about communicating with artists and educating not only those who are in involved with the festival but the whole world in this progression towards re-branding the African continent. In a recent article in Vogue Italia —a sponsor of the festival—, Muluneh described Addis Foto Fest as “an educational tool; it is a form of cultural exchange that fosters mutual understanding and simultaneously furthers the bigger conversation—that the creative sector is part and parcel to development”.
Addis Foto Fest has been a huge success since its beginnings and is now recognized as one of the leading photography festivals in the whole of Africa. The show is set up every two years —in 2016 it was held between the 15th and the 20th of December. There were amazing events taking place every day, including portfolio reviews by international professionals, lectures, and dance performances. A total of 126 artists from more than 40 countries around the world exhibited their work, shaping an outstanding display where many different contemporary approaches to photography were represented.
October 5, 2016
Autumn. The season of cooler weather, multicolored leaves, long strolls in the Heath and marrons glacés, the time when we all start reminiscing about our summer fun and get ready for winter. However, the fall season is not only warmer clothes and hot chocolate, but also the time for major art happenings around the world.
Autumn, and especially October, is the time to follow new fashion trends at fashion weeks in the major cities, and to enjoy weeks of art. The Old World’s art capital – London – started long ago to prepare for the first week of October, aka the busiest and most stressful time in the art world.
The annual arrival of Frieze – the art fair opening in Regent’s Park October 6-8th – and it’s daughter Frieze Masters trigger parallel art happenings, such as the most important contemporary art evening auctions, art festivals, art shows and a myriad of talks and events throughout the capital, in order to benefit from the arrival of the art world’s mighty and try to get a piece of that juicy cake.
Find below a list of TOP artsy things to do this October in London and, believe me, you will want to be one to visit them:
Arguably the most well-known art fair today, though not the most visited one (according to the annual report by ArtVista) Frieze opens for the 13th time this October at Regent’s Park.
Note-by: if you feel unsure about spending 60 pounds on combined ticket to both Frieze&Frieze Masters, make sure to stroll in Regent’s Park – Frieze Sculpture Park is free for all and this year features canonical artists such as Jean Dubuffet, Ed Herring, and Lynn Chadwick just to name a few. The Sculpture Park will be on view for you to visit until January 8th, 2017.
The fair of contemporary African Art, 1:54 will return for the forth time to Somerset House this October. Representing over 50 African countries, 1:54 breaks the traditional approaches to art fairs and delivers a must-see program. The largest edition yet, the fair takes over the whole Somerset House this October and showcases 40 galleries.
Note-by: stop by the open-air installation by Zak Ove at the Somerset House’s courtyard, as well as by the unmissable exhibition of the exceptional Malick Sidibé (Malian photographer) – the exhibition will be on view for you to see up until January 15th, 2017.
Presumably you heard of the name Pollock. Or you heard that one of his paintings titled No 5 (1948) is one of the most expensive paintings in history and was sold for $165.4 million at an auction. Or maybe you didn’t. But the fact is that this exhibition is the first major retrospective of the Abstract Expressionist art movement in the UK in 70 years. Think abstraction, color fields and visual travel. You ought to see it.
Note-by: The most interesting part is the inclusion of not only famous names like Pollock and Rothko in the exhibition, but also of other artists who contributed to the movement.
This must-see exhibition presents just how talented Picasso was. The show will display portraits created during every stage of the artist’s career and will showcase famous masterpieces, as well never seen before works from private collections.
Note-by: the granddaughter of the artist, Diana Widmaier-Picasso, will be in conversation with the director of the National Portrait Gallery, Dr Nicholas Cullinan, on the 6th of October at 7pm, giving her views on Picasso’s portraiture.
Another must-visit show in London focuses on Caravaggio. It is important to note, though, that the primary accent will be given to the influence that the artist had on his contemporaries by showcasing the works of lesser-known artists of the time. So-called Caravaggism will be explored throughout the exhibition and bring together works by Caravaggio and his European followers.
Note-by: The National Gallery created a series of events and talks to introduce visitors to the Caravagesque style and to Caravaggio himself throughout the month of October. If you are a fan of Baroque art, or just a curious soul, make sure to check some of them out.
September 25, 2016
Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, arguably her magnum opus, is currently on view at The Museum of Modern Art. The slideshow of nearly 700 images is set to a wide-ranging soundtrack of pop, classical opera, and rock & roll music. The images are of the artist, her circle of friends, lovers, and acquaintances that Goldin affectionately refers to as her ‘tribe’ from the 1970s and 1980s.
Her images are so immediate that you feel as if you are there, in the dive bars and bedrooms of her gritty, real world. By creating The Ballad, Goldin documents the events of her own life and the lives of her friends through images that tell deeply personal stories. Her photographs capture unnerving episodes of addiction, drug abuse, domestic violence, and illness, while simultaneously embodying moments of joy, comedy, youth, ecstasy, and beauty. Goldin wrote that “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is the diary I let people read. The diary is my form of control over my life. It allows me to obsessively record every detail. It enables me to remember.”
There are three rooms dedicated to the display of her photographs. The first includes an installation of materials from Goldin’s archive, early promotional objects for the first iterations of the work, and a mock-up of the book The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. The slideshow has been shown on many occasions since Goldin first created it in 1980. Originally, she changed the slides by hand for an audience comprised of mainly her subjects.
In the second room there is a selection of prints from the MoMA’s collection that constitute some of Goldin’s most evocative images from the film. They show the artist and her subjects grappling with the realities of physical and emotional abuse, while simultaneously indulging in moments of lust and tenderness. Some standouts include “David and Butch Crying at Tin Pan Alley, New York City,” “Rise and Monty Kissing, New York City,” and “Nan and Bryan in Bed, New York City.” Each of these images feels fiercely candid and intimate, as if the viewer was intruding on an intensely personal moment.
The third room is the slideshow itself, which runs for about 45 minutes with a short intermission. The images are grouped loosely around visual themes, like people in front of a mirror getting ready to go out, uninhibited sex, New York bar culture, drag queens and performers, the weddings of young friends, parenthood and young children, drug addiction and, ultimately, death. The film is scored to an array of musical genres including an aria performed by Maria Callas, the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You,” Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” and James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World.”
In the age of social media and advertising, where you can be bombarded by images that are photoshopped, filtered, and staged, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency presents the raw, unedited truth of what Nan Goldin and her subjects experienced in the New York of the 1980s.
The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is on view at the Museum of Modern Art on the 2nd floor Contemporary Art Galleries through February 12th, 2017.
September 22, 2016
A few weeks ago I wrote about Mona Hatoum’s tribute exhibition at Tate Modern, London. This particular piece is sensitively related to how an immigrant and refugee managed to break into a cultural scene that could seem enclosed and restricted only to Western artists.
When we think about globalization, we must understand that it affects us in many ways. One of them is cultural expansion. People travel longer distances with less effort nowadays, and decide to immigrate more often, carrying a large baggage full of customs, language influences, and cultural habits with them. Technology also spreads very quickly, connecting more and more people each day.
As ethnic and national populations move around the globe, they establish emotional ties with their places of origin. Artists in particular express their emotional longing, admiration, and sometimes worship of their mother lands in pieces of art that become part of their new country’s cultural heritage.
Contemporary Middle Eastern art, for instance, seems to provide answers to all the questions that the rest of the world has about this region’s traditions and cultural background. It is a silent voice that leaves a perpetual echo, one that sings the chorus of a struggle and of tortured beauty. There can be no discrimination in the space of art. A painting, a photograph, a sculpture or an installation remain anonymous for the viewer during the first few minutes of interaction. The name of the artist comes as a revelation. The level of admiration increases, the act of understanding intensifies, and finally an interest has been planted for a long time in the brain and heart of the art lover.
In today’s context, Abu Dhabi is expected to finalize works on its own branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums, which will shift the interest of the world from this distant city’s extravagant architecture and lifestyle, to its status as one of the world’s capitals for contemporary art.
Abu Dhabi is not the first capital to host both Middle Eastern and global art in an environment that unfortunately is not usually linked to the idea of globalization. For instance, Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, experienced a renaissance of sorts in the mid-20th century. Following World War II, the city became a tourist destination and a financial center. It was even nicknamed “the Paris of the Middle East” thanks to its French influences and vibrant cultural and intellectual life.
Architect Galal Mahmoud said about Beirut that its history is encompassed in the history of the world, as it includes layers of Roman, Ottoman, Persian and Phoenician influences. Today, Beirut is a place where you can constantly navigate between different minorities and their cultural backgrounds; it is a place where you learn to be more tolerant and open, where you must respect people from a variety of beliefs and backgrounds. It pretty much sounds like Paris today, or London, or New York.
Now, could Abu Dhabi offer the same vibe? Will the opening of these two monster houses of art attract only the nouveaux riches, or also well-educated and art-thirsty tourists? With a long history of influences (first Iranian in the 1900s, followed by Asian and European in the 1950s and 1960s), just like most of the big capitals of the world, Abu Dhabi is a place that can host most, if not all, the Middle Eastern art outbreaks.
The architectural design of the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim Museum was offered to architect Frank Gehry, who describes the idea behind the structure as: “… Low tech language. The character is messy… like a medieval city that came together over time… You go through this messiness and you find the centre.” The museum will be located on Saadiyat Island, just offshore of the city of Abu Dhabi. The island’s Cultural District will house the largest cluster of world-class cultural assets in Abu Dhabi. The Guggenheim building is part of a massive project to “create an exhibition space intended to turn this once-sleepy desert city along the Persian Gulf into an international arts capital and tourist destination.” (The New York Times)
“Someday, my paintings will be hanging in the Louvre”, van Gogh once said. A museum does not need further introduction. Abu Dhabi is preparing to open the doors to their very own Louvre -possibly in 2017-, a project that consists on building an island inside an island. The architect, Jean Nouvel, wants the museum to belong completely to the culture, history, geography and climate of Abu Dhabi. He has envisioned a place that people would want visit and revisit. As in most Arab cities, there will be a strong contrast between the temperature outside and inside of the venue. People will feel good thanks to this, and will want to share the experience with other people there. A medina of art, built with traditional architectural techniques, held together by an impressive modern dome that encompasses the beauty and poetry of light.
With these two architectural masterpieces, I believe that Abu Dhabi is breaking into the art world in the most elegant way possible. With the work of those Middle Eastern artists that have been moving audiences throughout the world, and with a continuous flow of ideas and cultural influences, the opening of the Guggenheim and Louvre buildings in the island of Abu Dhabi is announcing that the world is yet to be enchanted and pleasantly surprised.
Federico Fellini once said that “all art is autobiographical”, and Middle Eastern art is constantly underlining this statement. Globally, we are becoming an entity, we are coming closer and closer, and art has a lot to gain from this beautiful gathering of cultural differences. One day, people will be reading “An Autobiography of Earth’s Cultural Identity”.
September 4, 2016
Anouska Beckwith, England-born and Paris-based photographer, is the artist to follow. Interested in nature and mystical, Anouska tries to capture the intrinsic relationship between the unseen natural wonders and presents her subjects in the dreamlike settings.
The founder of the World Wide Women, the collective of female photographers from all over the world, the artist searches for ways of expressing her own views on the world by means of photography, poetry and music. Her models are frequently musicians and other people from creative industries giving her photographs yet an extra layer of artistic meaning.
This September Anouska presents her second solo show (following her debut in New York last yer with the show Transcendence) and her first solo show in London called Uni~Verse at the Palm Tree Gallery. I met Anouska last year when we discussed her creative process and her inspirations to follow up her own practice and perhaps have a solo show in London. Now, when the show is finally happening, we talked again, discussing the background behind Uni~Verse and the new future ambitions.
Why did you choose the word Uni~Verse as the title for your show?
I chose the title ‘Uni-Verse’ for the show as I loved the meaning, ‘One song’ coming from the Greek origin.
I believe that despite humans, animals and nature being different from one another we are all a collection of parts that make up the whole to form ‘one song’. I felt that ‘Uni-Verse’ encompassed what I wished to express through my work, a melody in nature’s symphony.
What’s the theme/focus behind it?
‘ Women have always been the guardians of wisdom and humanity which makes them natural, but usually secret, rulers. The time has come for them to rule openly, but together with and not against men.’ – Charlotte Wolf
The theme for the exhibition looks at nature as the backdrop for the exploration of feminine archetypes and endurance throughout time. As I believe that our planet is having a rebirth of the feminine. We have been living in a patriarchal society for the past 3000 years and although we have had some incredible advancement we are now in need of a big change, which is beginning to happen. I feel that we need to encourage guardianship of the Earth and for us to realign with the natural cycles rather than go against them.
What was the inspiration behind your new projects?
I have drawn from different sources for my work, which have either been from songs that I have been listening to or books that I have been reading such as ‘Women that run with wolves’ which inspired me to create
‘The Handless Maiden’ or from the use of tarot cards which led me to create ‘ The Empress’ featuring Flo Morrissey or looking at the chaos around me after the Paris attacks all of this past year and seeing the pain and destruction in the world led me to create ‘War In Heaven’.
Your new works position models in the natural setting. Women look unprotected to the natural forces. What notions are you trying to raise in your work?
I love nature and all that it provides us with but I also respect it as it can be destructive and catastrophic in some cases. I feel that we are lucky to be here, it is a gift not a given. I think a lot of people have forgotten this and try to manipulate something much greater than we have been led to believe. Through my work I try to explore the harmony between the two. Yet the insignificance of our presence, how temporary it is in the scheme of things, overwhelms me at times and I am reminded that it is a miracle.
Who are your models?
I usually choose models for my own work that inspire me. I like working with people I know mainly as I find there is a relaxed energy when taking photographs. I photographed Macha Polivka, an amazing healer and actress who I met outside of Paris last summer at an ashram. She is very natural and beautiful. I found working with her an absolute joy as she was completely in her body. Xamira Azul I met through my good friend and fellow artist Amanda Charchian last year during a summer solstice ritual and we have become friends ever since.
Flo Morrissey is one of my best friends whom I met through World Wide Women when she performed at our Ritual Exhibition. Last year she moved to Paris, which has been a dream world for us to share. Over the past couple of years we’ve had ongoing projects together. She is also extremely adventurous! Last year we were in Ibiza and I had a whole vision of her inside this remote cave. At first she looked at me as if to say ‘really?’ but once I told her of my idea she climbed up and took position. She looked like a water goddess.
How do you choose location and subject of your work?
Usually I have an image in mind of what backdrop I would like for the photograph and then I either research a place to shoot or I stumble across something even more magical than I could have pictured. Usually choosing the subject and location come hand in hand.
Why did you decide to have your second solo show specifically in London?
I choose to have my second solo show in London as it’s where I grew up and felt that it was important for me to return to my roots. My family is from England and even though I live in Paris there will always be a part of me there.
You mostly photograph female models, why?
I mainly photograph women because I find them fascinating. The form and curve of a woman is much more interesting to me than men. There is a mystery to them that when photographed can capture a very vulnerable moment that I think only is expressed by a woman photographing another woman. A trust is formed between the two people.
How do you balance the intrinsic nature of your work with the commercial aspect of photography?
I think when you create work it should come from a place of integrity and truth. How one conducts themself is equally important. I feel that nature and beauty are two things that everyone should be exposed to as so many people live their lives in fear without hope of a brighter future. I think that offering work to inspire people as an alternative for the future is what we are in desperate need of. I am not saying that my work does this but I try to convey a message of hope and awareness of our mother earth and all her many gifts.
I use social media and I think the more people who can see ones work is always a positive if the message is truthful. Even if it affects just one person that is enough for me as one person can have a ripple effect.
What’s next for you?
I am creating a short film with a dancer in the Fall and I will be continuing shooting the ‘War In Heaven’ series as I wish to turn it into a book, as well as working on my installation room ‘ I Am The Other You’.
I will also be doing editorial work.
Uni~Verse on view at the Palm Tree Gallery September 16th – October 8th
291 Portobello Rd, London
August 25, 2016
It’s no secret that the Latin American art scene has exploded over the past couple of years. Auction houses, galleries, and even museums have tagged along this trend and have finally begun giving these artists the recognition they deserve. However, for those not deeply invested in the ebb and flow of the art world, the current 2016 summer Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro are a perfect time to familiarize oneself with some of the top contemporary artists of Brazil, a country rich in cultural and visual history. Here are a few of my favorites.
Beatriz Milhazes (b. 1960) finds her inspiration in nature and its many, ever-changing forms. Her work is characterized by a vibrant palette, floral motifs, and organic patterns that resemble mandalas. Her recurring arabesques also hold a foundation in Brazilian culture—carnival decorations, Baroque colonial architecture, and popular music. The process of creation is rather laborious and structured —she paints her motifs first on a sheet of clear plastic, which she then applies to canvas to dry. The result is a rhythmic flattened surface, with shadows of color and forms where the color was not completely transferred. Her work has been used worldwide in outdoor spaces, for interior decoration, in stained glass, and for dance productions.
Rodrigo Mogiz (b. 1978) creates dream-like compositions where figures outlined in colorful strings float in an empty, white space. He appropriates images from magazines to explore themes of sexuality, gender, and expression, and to highlight the base superficiality of social media outlets and how audiences merely absorb aesthetics. These fantastical works fall somewhere between painting and embroidery (also using application beads, lace, and pins), poetically fusing the two mediums while simultaneously manifesting each of their unique characteristics. Mogiz has been exhibiting since 2000 and is based in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Vik Muniz (b. 1961), an international sensation, is best known for producing imagery within the nexus of mixed media. Using a diverse range of everyday materials (from trash to diamonds to sugar to dirt) paired with elements from popular culture, Muniz excels in a layered appropriation of canonical artworks. His practice involves arranging his materials into a dense collage and then photographing it. He has recreated works by Leonardo, Dürer, Courbet, Rodin, Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Malevich, Hiroshige, Warhol, Weegee —to name a few. What appears as a familiar image from afar, turns into a wondrous exploration of a myriad of minute details up-close.
Ernesto Neto (b. 1964) is a highly influential figure in the contemporary Brazilian art scene. His work falls within the categories of sculpture and installation, but is not limited to their parameters. Sensuous environments made of organically abstract forms are his trademark. His materials include soft, stretchy fabrics in different colors that he fills with items like coffee beans, spices, or Styrofoam. Interested in sensuality, corporality, and reflection, Neto strives to present conditions where the human body becomes aware of itself in relation to the space around it. Visitors enter his playful worlds and physically react to the immersive habitats. They may feel, smell, look, and share their experiences with those around them.
OSGEMEOS (b. 1974), Portuguese for “the twins,” is the name of the street art duo created by brothers Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo. Working together since they were children, the two share a magically impenetrable bond that has helped them shape a unique visual language that has transcended from the streets and into galleries, auction houses, and even museums. Their work is easily recognizable by its whimsical yellow figures with tubular torsos, gangly limbs, small spaced-out almond eyes, and thin-lipped mouths. These playful characters are inspired by graffiti, hip-hop, and break-dancing culture, and often incorporate social or political referents relevant to each particular geographic location. The brothers have projects all over the world—so keep your eyes peeled, you never know when you’ll round the corner and find yourself face to face with OSGEMEOS.
Alice Quaresma (b. 1985) is a native of Rio de Janeiro and currently lives in New York City. Her practice involves photography and mixed media and explores issues of identity, displacement, and memory. Referring to her works as “photo-objects,” Quaresma superimposes drawings and geometric shapes over flat photo paper to push the boundaries of the photographic medium by incorporating elements of texture and volume. Her faded, dreamlike compositions evoke the subtleties and inexplicable phenomena of the emotional and psychological connection we feel to the places we experience.
“I find inspiration every time I feel physically disconnected from the place where I am.”
—Alice Quaresma, March 2016 interview with Artspace.
Adriana Varejão (b. 1964) primarily focuses her practice on ceramics tiles, either appropriating their history and function to reveal a darker, underlying meaning, or using their formal qualities to produce new visual effects. Throughout her career she has explored themes such as colonialism, racism, subjugation, and cultural formation through violence. Her work has often oscillated between the grotesque and the delicately beautiful. Varejão was chosen to decorate the Olympic Aquatics Center in the 2016 Rio games. Her 2004-08 work, Celacanto Provoca Maremoto (“the Coelacanth Causes a Seaquake”), made of blue-and-white tiles, was restructured, blown-up, and printed on canvas to adorn the exterior of the stadium. The work’s obvious aquatic aesthetics seem to be a perfect fit for the center’s function. However, references to Portugal’s colonization of Brazil through azulejo-inspired tiles and Baroque imagery subtly keep the country’s dark history afloat.
August 16, 2016
“Danny Lyon: Message to the Future,” the photographer’s most comprehensive retrospective is currently on view at The Whitney Museum of American Art. The show boasts an impressive 175 photographs and films as well as rarely exhibited archives and personal documents. It is divided thematically exhibiting Lyon’s most well known bodies of work, and roughly chronologically traces the start of his career in 1962 all the way to Lyon’s work in the present day. The exhibition is divided into seven sections: Civil Rights, The Bikeriders, The Destruction of Lower Manhattan, Prisons, New Mexico and the West, Films and Montages, and Ongoing Activism. From the titles alone Lyon’s broad range of interest in social issues and concern for the marginalized and disenfranchised is made apparent. His work represents a nonconventional and intimate approach where Lyon immerses himself in his subject’s world, gaining an insider perspective that moves beyond mere observation and into a wholehearted and genuine interest.
“You put a camera in my hand, I want to get close to people. Not just physically close, emotionally close, all of it.” –Danny Lyon, The Whitney Museum of American Art
Lyon began his career in 1962 when he began working with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as their first official photographer, documenting the civil rights movement in the South. He captured sit-ins, demonstrations, marches, funerals, and the general turbulent and violent atmosphere of the period. His photographs were used in brochures, posters, and fundraising campaigns, many of which portrayed the brutal force of the police academy, questioning their position and responsibilities to civilians. One 1962 SNCC poster of a [white] officer, arms crossed, reads “Is He Protecting You?” It is highly unsettling to see just how many of these images seem so familiar and resonate in American culture today.
Turning the corner we are met with cool, hard faced bikers in leather jackets with matching “Chicago Outlaws” insignia. This selection is based off of Lyon’s time spent riding with the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club in the late 1960s. Romanticized shots of the Outlaws on the road, such as Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville (1966) and Route 12, Wisconsin (1963) indulge us in the liberating freedom such groups enjoyed, while in several close up portraits we have a rarely seen, tamer version of the bikers—surrounded by their families, girlfriends, and wives. The rebellious nature of the bikers, matched with their unapologetic pursuit of freedom attracted the photographer to the group. After spending more time with them and gaining their confidence, Lyon began recording the group speaking candidly and conducted informal yet highly personal interviews. The photographic documentation and edited transcripts would become his famous book, “The Bikers,” published in 1967.
In his extensive body of work, Prisons, encompassing photographs, interviews, recordings, and film, Lyon chronicled life behind bars. With the help of Dr. George Beto, then director of prisons within the Texas Department of Corrections, Lyon gained access over a fourteen-month period to move freely inside prison complexes and to follow prisoners around on their daily activities. We see personal belongings like photographs and calendars, games of checkers, labor time on the fields, shakedowns, security pat-downs, and officers on guard. These images are as serious and somber as they are filled with humanity and understanding of these men and their situations. The resulting photographs, film footage, and other archival documents would become the book “Conversations with the Dead” published in 1971.
“[I wanted to] make a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality.” –Danny Lyon, The Whitney Museum of American Art
Documentation, and truthful documentation, is the end goal throughout Lyon’s photographic practice. His images are transparent, direct, and charged with meaning and message. Each one serves a to bring injustice to the surface with the hope to promote social change. With this approach he has challenged the conventional “sanitized” vision of American life as presented in media, offering up an alternative that portrays the various social histories of America.
From the 1970s and onward he shifted focus as a self-proclaimed “advocacy journalist.” His activist drive took him to various Latin American countries where he captured laborers and street children, undocumented workers crossing the US-Mexico border, and the violent revolution in Haiti. More recently, between 2005-09, he traveled to China to documented communities living in polluted regions.
Regardless of subject matter, geographic location, or time period, all of Lyon’s images are linked through a common spirit: the photographer’s compassionate character and relentless ambition to be a truth teller. The result is his inherent ability to humanize his subjects while returning the dignity and character that social prejudices and ignorance have stolen from them. These are human beings worthy of a second chance and worthy of a second glance.
A single look at these photographs and we are filled with more understanding and compassion than when we entered, a comprehension that seems as relevant today as it did decades ago. If that’s not the point of art, then I don’t know what is.
Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is on display June 17-September 25, 2016 at The Whitney Museum of American Art.
August 14, 2016
Moscow’s contemporary art scene is evolving and growing every year. Still quite young, yet admirably accomplished and diverse, it presents itself in many possible manifestations: from fairly traditional mediums such as painting, to interactive multimedia art. Moscow galleries do not only seek to discover, nurture, and promote local artists, but also to introduce the public to the works of internationally established artists from all over the world. Such important objectives are amplified by diversified art education programs hosted at the galleries. These facilitate the profound international exchange of ideas. We have highlighted the top 10 venues, from large museums to smaller galleries, that you have to check out in Russia’s capital.
In a nutshell: Two years ago, contemporary art center Garage, founded in 2008 by Dasha Zhukova, finally acquired museum status. Today, it may arguably be proclaimed the most influential contemporary art venue in the country. It has basically marked a turning point in the local perception of contemporary art. Providing the opportunity for creating new works and ideas, Garage reflects and defines contemporary art thinking in Russia and ties it to the international scene. It was the first to introduce the local public to such important names as James Turrell, Yayoi Kusama, and Louise Bourgeois, to name a few. In 2014, Garage became one of the venues hosting the longest lasting ongoing global art project, “Do it Moscow”, first conceived by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist in 1993. The museum has recently moved to its permanent location in a former soviet restaurant, «Vremena Goda» (Seasons of the year”), executing an innovative and transformative preservation project.
Where: 9/32 Krymsky Val. Open daily 11 am-10 pm.
In a nutshell: Previously known as the Moscow House of Photography, now MAMM is one of the most vibrant art venues in the Russian capital. Ever since 1996, it has been directed by its founder Olga Sviblova, who has over 500 exhibits of contemporary art and photography under her belt, along with curating the most important collections of Russian photography. MAMM is primarily famous for hosting two influential festivals: Photobiennale on even years, and Fashion and Style in Photography on the odd ones. The museum occupies a seven-story white cube where traditional works of art co-exists with innovative multimedia and video installations. One of MAMM’s objectives is to be open to fresh ideas and forms of visual expression in the fields of contemporary photography and new media art.
Where: Ostozhenka st., 16. Open 12 pm-9pm Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.
In a nutshell: MMOMA is the first contemporary art museum in modern Russia and one of the most vital participants in the country’s contemporary culture. The museum’s collection mainly narrates the history of Russian twentieth-century avant-gardes through the works of Malevich, Chagall, Goncharova, Tatlin and Kandinsky, just to name a few, with a rich addition of works by European and American artists. MMOMA’s exhibition program, however, is focused on studying and displaying the visual culture of the twenty-first century, from debut shows of contemporary artists to international festivals and retrospectives.
Where: the museum is housed within 4 different venues: Petrovka street 25; Ermolaevka Lane, 17; Tverskoy boulevard, 9; Gogolevsky boulevard, 10. All of the above are open 12 pm-8 pm, Monday-Sunday, and 1pm-9pm on Thursday. The museum is closed every third Monday of the month.
In a nutshell:
Mars was established in 1988 in Soviet Moscow as the oldest and first non-governmental center for contemporary art. It was known for actively promoting Russian art of the late twentieth century, and for its participation in Tokyo ArtExpo in 1992. Today the venue, which resembles a labyrinth rather than a traditional white cube, focuses on interactive digital art projects. It invites its viewers to experience an interactive multimedia space with all their senses. Here you will encounter works by local media artists such as TUNDRA, ::vtol::, kbln, Pixelord, noobusdeer, and many others.
Where: Pushkarev street, 10. Open 12pm-10pm daily. Closed Monday.
In a nutshell: Laboratoria is the first and, so far, the only interdisciplinary space in Russia where artists and scientists investigate intersections within their practices under the guidance of gallerist and curator Daria Parkhomenkno. Here, artists interested in present-day scientific disputes aim to discover new ideas about their surroundings and to translate them into art. These almost magical experiments are an unavoidable interaction between art and science in today’s world.
Where: 3 Obukha per. Open Thursday-Sunday 2pm-8pm.
In a nutshell: Glaz is one of the biggest local galleries specializing in photography. Along with the majority of the leading Moscow galleries, Glaz is located at the Winzavod art center. The location makes it easy for visitors to cruise around in their art pilgrimage. The gallery’s collection consists of contemporary conceptual works as well as soviet classics, and counts over 4000 pieces. Along with the works of established artists, Glaz displays young and promising names, helping them to find their audience and collectors.
Where: Winzavod Center for Contemporary Art, 4th Syromyatnicheskiy Lane, 1, Bld. 6. Open Tuesday-Sunday 12pm-8pm.
In a nutshell: The founder of the gallery, Irina Iragui, started her career in Paris as an independent art project manager on various sites, later opening her own venue in the Marais quarter. The Moscow branch of the gallery opened in 2008 and is now known for promoting French artists, mostly born in the ’70s, within the Russian audience, as well as for helping the local artistic community to integrate itself into the international contemporary art world.
Where: Moscow, Malaya Polyanka st., 7/5. Open Tuesday-Saturday 2pm-7pm.
In a nutshell: Triangle is the youngest gallery on our list, yet it is already acutely representative of the local art dynamics. Before opening a space in Moscow in February 2015, gallerist Nadezhda Stepanova worked in the gallery business in Turin for over seven years, and she still lives between Moscow and Italy. The gallery is managed with the help of Elvira Tarnogradksaya, an art consultant, and Alisa Bogdanayte, a curator at Vladivostok contemporary art center ZARYA. Their diverse program includes displays of both Russian and foreign contemporary artists, such as artistic community VGLAZ (do not confuse with the above GLAZ gallery) and video artists such as Sasha Pirogova and Dmitry Bulyigin.
Where: Winzavod Center for Contemporary Art, 4th Syromyatnicheskiy Lane, 1, Bld. 6. Open Tuesday-Sunday 1pm-7:30 pm, or by appointment.
In a nutshell: One of the biggest local galleries. Its sleek space designed by architects Anton Nadtochia and Vera Butko is located in the city’s museum district. It is one of the leading contemporary galleries representing art today, from painting and photography to sculpture and new media installations. Ruarts has built a reputation for supporting both beginning and already established Russian artists. It has also brought to Russia’s capital names such as Ervin Olaf, Nabuko Watabiki, and Herve Ic, among others. Most of the shows at Ruarts are curatorial collaborations between local and foreign curators.
Where: 1 Zachatievskiy st., 10. Open 12pm-8 pm Tuesday-Saturday.
In a nutshell:
Earlier this year, the gallery has opened its new space in the city center, after moving from its first location in the art district near metro Baumanskaya. During the last few years, gallerist Wildrik Batjes (France), together with curators Jabagh Kaghado and Zak Kaghado (USA), has discovered and supported a number of talented Moscow-based artists with an alternative artistic vision. The majority of them have made their way into fine arts from a graffiti movement. Therefore, the gallery owns a large collection of post-graffiti art, photography, paintings and installations. In addition to promoting young Russian artists, MSK Eastside also curates shows of internationally renowned artists, and works closely with auction houses like Phillips NYC, Christie’s Paris and ArtCurial Paris.
Where: Leontyevskiy per., 5. Open Tuesday-Saturday 11am-7pm.