In Say Hello to English, his second exhibition at the Tyburn Gallery London, multimedia artist Moffat Takadiwa presents a compelling new series of three-dimensional wall hangings, or object sculptures, that aesthetically engage with problematics surrounding postcolonial constructions of Zimbabwean national and cultural identity.
Born in Haroi in 1983, and practicing in the capital city of Harare since graduating (B.A. Hons) from Harare’s Polytechnic University in 2008, Takadiwa has consistently devoted his work to critical explorations of how material, environmental, and social factors impact the reality of contemporary Zimbabwean daily life. In a previous exhibition entitled Across Borders (on display at the What If The World gallery in Cape Town last year), Takadiwa examined the nature of Zimbabwean-Chinese economic and trade relations, and their deleterious effects on the natural Zimbabwean environment. For that show, Takadiwa created a collection of intricate, highly textural wall sculptures using post-consumer waste materials, such as bottle caps and disused computer and laptop parts.
In Say Hello to English, his current exhibition at the Tyburn Gallery, Takadiwa shifts his (and our) gaze to a critical reassessment of post- and neo-colonial aspects of the English language, a legacy of Zimbabwe’s colonial past as the former British Crown colony of Rhodesia. For Takadiwa, the English language is problematic because of its tendency to create class divisions (i.e., English-speaking elites) in Zimbabwean society, and its power to both shape and undermine contemporary constructions of Zimbabwean cultural identity. For Takadiwa, language and culture are inextricably intertwined –especially in the context of post-independence Zimbabwe–, and this standpoint is reflected throughout his oeuvre.
For the sculptural objects on view in Say Hello to English, Takadiwa makes use of a radically different medium to portray his ideas, namely: lettered, Roman-alphabet keys taken from post-consumer laptop and computer keyboards. These computer keys appear to have been woven together like traditional Zimbabwean textiles, but are here recast into a more contemporary, high-tech idiom. In an amusing and daring act of subversion, Takadiwa deconstructs and subverts the English language itself in these objects, by arranging the keys seemingly randomly (in effect scrambling them) so they are not legible in any way. Moreover, the artist has turned most of the lettered keys upside down, so that all viewers can see are their bottom ends, with the lettered crown rendered invisible. This aesthetic strategy powerfully conveys the struggles contemporary Zimbabweans experience with the English language, and how important it is, at least to some extent, to say “goodbye” to English in order to preserve the Bantu languages, as well as other aspects of pre-colonial Zimbabwean culture.
Although all of the works included in the exhibition Say Hello to English deal with problematics surrounding intertextuality, language and culture, one work in particular provides a paradigmatic example of Takadiwa’s philosophy, namely “The Falling of Rhode/sia.” According to the press release issued by the Tyburn Gallery, this work takes its inspiration from the “Rhodes Must Fall” social movement that was formed to contest Western-oriented education in Africa. “The Falling of Rhode/sia” also makes direct reference to the arch-imperialist Cecil B. Rhodes, whose statue at Cape Town University was recently removed from the campus as a result of student protests. In “The Falling of Rhodes/ia,” Takadiwa essentially reimagines Rhodes as a new, post-colonial creature, whose persona is both fierce (signified by the long red tongue and bared claws) and friendly (suggested by the creature’s loose and amorphous shape). For this viewer, Takadiwa’s “fallen,” reincarnated Rhodes is a likeable, positive figure who successfully reconciles Zimbabwe’s colonial past and post-colonial present.
Say Hello to English is on view at the Tyburn Gallery, London until May 6, 2017.
Located at PIER 90 on Manhattan’s Westside, the 10th anniversary of VOLTA NY, the signature solo-focus artist show of the Armory Arts Week, featured a plethora of beautiful and thought-provoking works by artists from 39 nations that collectors and art enthusiasts alike were able to enjoy. Yet, of the 96 Galleries and artist-run spaces presenting this year, perhaps the most poignant, politically-oriented works were found in the show’s thematic Curated Section.
The timeliness of the artworks presented was undeniable, with their subject matter feeling ripped from today’s newspaper headlines. Beginning with a video wall at the entrance of Volta, the Curated Section, titled Your Body Is a Battleground, was aptly found at the heart of the show. Its deviser, New York-based writer and independent curator Wendy Vogel, drew inspiration from Barbara Kruger’s photomontage Untitled (Your Body Is a Battleground), produced for the 1989 Women’s March on Washington. “After the enormous turnout for the recent international Women’s Marches, Kruger’s work reads as a vital precedent for art that protests the erosion of civil rights,” said Vogel. “Though these artists’ works are a generation removed from Kruger’s, they continue her legacy of examining media and representation.”
Taking an intersectional feminist approach, Vogel selected eight artists from across North America and the Caribbean whose works explore, through various corporal representations, the treatment and controversy around Queer Bodies, Black Bodies, Latinx Bodies, and Women’s Bodies. “I was thinking about all the types of bodies that are in danger under the current political circumstances that we are living through”, stated the curator.
This is unsurprising as Vogel conceived the show last November shortly after the U.S. Presidential election. However, in a refreshing twist, not a single image of President Trump was presented —an intentional choice—, because “all of this work has staying power, and it’s political without feeling so tied to one particular moment in time.”
With that said, much of the artwork showcased was created specifically for Volta. With most of her work out of the country, Melissa Vandenberg’s burn drawings, presented by Maus Contemporary | beta pictoris gallery, were made just eight weeks before the exhibition. Integrating text into the images created with matches, an outline of America with the phrase “Wish You Were Here” has an intentionally camp sensibility, while the use of matches add greater symbolic meaning, linking the work to Wiccan cleansing rituals and cremation. Vandenberg said:“A lot of the work has to do with mortality and loss, whether it is our innocence as a nation or personal, intimate loss.”
In contrast to these typographic images, Nona Faustine’s striking photography was perhaps the most literally corporeal of the Section. Presented by Baxter St Camera Club of New York, many of the photographs depicted the artist partially or fully nude at historical sites where slaves lived, died, or were buried. In the photograph “Lobbying the Gods for A Miracle,” part of a Triptych from 2016, she embodies an escaping slave from the Lefferts House. Smoking gun in hand, children’s shoes around her waist, she presses her back against a tree in the woods anticipating her captors. The woods where she hides are the same that Americans fought in during the Revolutionary War, reflecting the complex relationship of being black in America. “My work is autobiographical; it’s more about how I feel in relationship to the history as a native New Yorker and as an African American,” said Faustine.
With the Trans Rights Movement and the Dakota Access Pipeline in the background, Kent Monkman’s work takes on an additional level of intensity; Monkman is of Cree and Irish ancestry and identifies as both queer and two-spirit. His paintings, presented by Peters Projects, re-appropriate the narratives around indigenous people by utilizing the Western European tradition of historical paintings to poke subversive fun at romanticized depictions of Native Americans and colonialism. Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman’s drag alter ego, also made an appearance at Volta in the collage series “Fate is a Cruel Mistress” (2017), in which she transforms into Biblical temptresses. In the portrait Judith you see Miss Chief in a headdress looking out determinedly before she beheads an inebriated Holofernes, depicted as a white colonial man —a clear victory.
The idea of temptresses and fantasy women was also taken on by Joiri Minaya, presented by Casa Quien. Her work #dominicanwomengooglesearch (2016) features pixelated depictions of dismembered female limbs floating in space, a commentary on the exoticized representations of Dominican women. The piece alone is intriguing, but its message is strengthened by Siboney, a performance in two parts, displayed on the video wall. In her latter work, Minaya documents the painstaking process of copying a found tropical pattern into a mural (around a month of work). She then lies seductively before the floral wall and pours water over her form before rubbing herself against the mural, effacing and transforming the piece simultaneously. Intercut with words like “Islander,” the performance challenges the viewer’s vision of an idealized land and people.
Through thoughtful analysis and exploration of the human form, Your Body Is a Battleground offered an introduction into several hot-topic issues without sacrificing aesthetics or relying exclusively on shock value. Yet, even though subject matter varies, when combined the artworks revealed a unified front against oppressors.
Other artists included in Your Body Is a Battleground were Zachary Fabri (ROCKELMANN & in collaboration with Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art), Deborah Roberts (Art Palace), Sable Elyse Smith (The Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts), Carmen Winant (Fortnight Institute), Chelsea Knight and Autumn Knight.
Volta NY 2017 took place at Pier 90 (W 50th Street at Twelfth Avenue, Manhattan) from march 1st through March 5th, 2017.
At a first glance, Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s current exhibition at Blain|Southern (London) evokes a surprising feeling of nostalgia. The large twisted bronze sculptures remind me of summer evenings spent with my family on holiday in Croatia. My favourite pastime was to wander through markets filled with hand-made goods crafted by the locals. I always found watching the artists sitting at their stalls and contorting thin strands of wire into a menagerie of animals and human figures rather extraordinary and strangely soothing. However, the feeling of nostalgia fades as fast as it emerges, as does the dense blue Adriatic Sea and its warm glow reflecting the summer sun. It is the end of February, it’s freezing cold outside, and I am surrounded by the sterile whiteness of Blain|Southern. The title Sticks with Dicks and Slits could hardly get more literal: the exhibition consists of pairs of gigantic stick figures endowed with humorous genitalia, engaging in actions such as lactating and urinating. This new series of work might seem raw and crude –because, quite frankly, it is—, but it can also be seen as toys with a more playful and whimsical side, its naivety lending a certain charm and innocence to these clumsy figures.
The duo met while studying together at Nottingham Trent University and became friends due to their shared love of music. They have been creating together, as a couple, since then, and have challenged the notion of self-portrait and portraiture throughout their series of well-known light and shadow sculptures. Just as their previous works, these double portraits explore the nature of relationships and identity, but they seem to open up a new chapter which allows us to see a different side of the artists.
In comparison to their self-portraits built from trash and waste, these stick figures are surprisingly light-hearted. Earlier works, such as Wild Mood Swings (2009-2010), Masters of the Universe (2000), and Dirty White Trash (1998) scrutinize certain aspects of human relations, from anger and rejection to pleasure and desire. Dicks and Slits focuses on the cheerful, comical side of Noble and Webster. A lovely Pair (Standing) portrays stick-Noble chasing stick-Webster with an erection, while another figure seems to be urinating on the viewer. While sex and bodily fluids are returning elements in the duo’s work, in this case they are paired with the charm of immaturity. The large stick-figures are celebrating our inner child, and act as a reminder of the joy of not taking ourselves too seriously. Childishness is still often considered an undesirable personality trait, and to portray vulnerability and flaws is rare in a world where the artist is still so often seen as an impeccable genius. Noble and Webster, once again, go against the notion of immaculateness to explore natural human attributes so often condemned.
It is refreshing to see the duo stepping away from their usual light/shadow technique to experiment with new materials and methods. The bronze sculptures seem weightless and spontaneous, and it’s interesting to learn that they use the old and difficult method of lost wax casting to create them. Sprezzatura, to conceal the difficulty of production, was considered as an art form in the Renaissance and it was essential to possess it in order to be acknowledged as a great artist. Noble and Webster have been considered the power couple of the art world, but they divorced in 2013, they said, for the sake of their work. As I see it, these sculptures could be the results of an emotionally exhausting period. It might not be wrong to assume that there’s a parallel between the choice of using the troublesome wax casting technique and the hardships experienced in personal life, which are both being concealed by the overall carefree appearance of the figures. This exhibition marks a new period in their relationship, just as in their professional life. Stick with Dicks and Slits portrays two people co-existing in a harmonious and joyful manner, which is a kind of revelation after the intensity and violence that characterizes most of their earlier works.
I can’t tell whether this exhibition has left a deeper impression on me than the market artists sculpting their wire pieces or not. It is fun, yet I find it a bit superficial. The figures seem to get lost in the sterile whitewash of Blain|Southern gallery. The antiseptic environment doesn’t do justice to the works’ potential, as the figures seem awkwardly out of place. On the one hand, the repetition of the same motifs, although it serves as a link between this new body of works and Noble and Webster’s oeuvre, it also makes things predictable. On the other hand, this exhibition might be just the start of a progress through which we will be able to see the pair’s work developing into something very different.
Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s Sticks with Dicks and Slits is on view at Blain|Southern, London until 25 March 2017.
March 11, 2017
“I see life as a passageway,
with no fixed beginning or destination”
– Do Ho Suh
Humanity is often focused upon the destination of life rather than the journeys travelled. These journeys are the ones that result in a life worth living, instead of a life in which the centre of attention revolves around the end result. To be obsessed with the end result of an endeavour, as opposed to living in the present, is the very premise that the artist Do Ho Suh (b.1962, Seoul, Korea) challenges in his new exhibition, ‘Passage/s’.
Currently on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London, Suh’s body of work questions the boundaries of identity as well as the global connection between individuals and groups. After growing up in South Korea, the artist has moved and lived in many different countries, immersing himself in the culture of each one of them. In his work he aims to create a global connection between his identity, his previous destination, and his current journey. He establishes that his own understanding of ‘home’ is both a physical structure and a lived emotional experience. In this sense, the physical structure of a ‘home’ can only be described as the building or property in which one has lived, whereas the home as an emotional experience is documented in the adventures and memories of life. I
Beginning upstairs on the First Floor, the visitor is immediately transported into the many ‘homes’ of the artist. Each independent aspect of a home, whether it is a simple light bulb or a complicated fuse box, has been carefully replicated by Suh’s meticulous hand. Polyester, which is both a fluid and a translucent medium, is the main choice of material for Do Ho Suh. He uses to replicate everyday objects, and its translucency amplifies the importance of concentrating upon the ‘passageways’ of life: you must be able to travel through each destination in order to continue growing and developing.
This concept is heightened in ‘Passage’s: The Pram Project’, a video installation recorded from the perspective of three different cameras. Taped from the comfort of his daughters pram, the video removes the viewer from the controlled environment of the gallery, and places them into the charming streets of Islington and Seoul. Surrounded by the child’s adoring laughter and babbling, we are reminded of the innocence of humanity and the importance of ‘home’ as an emotional connection, something which provides stability and safety.
Continuing on the Lower Floor, Do Ho Suh displays large threaded drawings replicating doorways and stairwells. Each entrance has been accurately copied from the multiple buildings in which Suh has lived, exaggerating how the outside exterior of a ‘home’ does not necessarily reflect the individual immersed within it. For example, not everyone who lives in a London home is British – the immersion of cultures is the most important aspect to create a global identity.
The exhibition arguably concludes with the most impressive component of Do Ho Suh’s work. His series ‘Hubs’ occupies the entirety of the Upper Gallery, where nine reproductions of the apartments in which Suh has called ‘home’ are on display. The transient polyester spaces are connected by threaded doorways and moving doors, enticing the viewer to walk through and experience each room. Although interactive, ‘Hubs’ removes the practical function of a home: door hinges and handles remain motionless while electrical outputs and pipes are frozen without power. By referring back to Suh’s original premise of the home as a physical entity, as well as an emotional experience, we are placed in this complex structure as both ‘private’ and ‘public’ viewers. In one way the elongated home visualises the ‘private’ life of an individual, while the ‘public’ global identity seeps into the design through the fragile material.
I encourage you not just to see the exhibition first-hand, but to interact and engage with the artwork. The unfortunate irony of this brilliant collection of work is the influence of present day technology, and our infatuation and dependence upon our mobile phones. The majority of people visiting exhibitions today try to capture every moment and work of art into a single photograph. This degrades the original intentions of Do Ho Suh and his exploration of life as a journey, as a photograph destroys the steps travelled in order to take it. Life is about the experiences seized by your eyes, not the artificial screen of a phone or lens of a camera; rather than living through your phone, live through reality.
Do Ho Suh‘s ‘Passage/s’ is on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London until 18th March, 2017.
March 5, 2017
It’s the first week of March in New York City, which for art lovers only means on thing: Armory Week! In its third edition, the Art on Paper 2017 fair exhibits paper-based art that frequently pushed the boundaries of what a work on paper could be. The medium-driven focus of the fair sets itself apart from the other larger-scale Armory Week fairs. The 84 galleries hosted at Art on Paper are from all over the United States, with several international additions from Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Kyoto, London, Shanghai, and Copenhagen.
Upon entering the space, visitors are greeted by two site-specific installation pieces. Tahiti Pehrson’s “The Fates” is composed of three colossal, 17-foot towers of hand cut paper, and Timothy Paul Myers, in collaboration with Andrew Barnes, crafted a domestic installation made entirely of felt. These are the first of many works of art that incorporate and utilize paper, but are not necessarily what you would think of when you hear the term ‘art on paper.’
There was a wide scope of artists included familiar modernists like Picasso & Matisse in the Master Fine Arts Gallery, to the all-star lineup of Sol LeWitt, Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari and Alex Katz at Richard Levy Gallery, and a few unheard of standouts. My favorites included Martin Kline’s rhythmic dry brush oil series “Palm Beach” (cover image) at Heather Gaudio Fine Art, whose bright blue compositions imitate patterns that occur in nature. Also in Heather Gaudio Fine Art were a few equally mesmerizing works by Jaq Belcher, whose sculptural, hand-cut leaves in “Lions Gate” cling to a single piece of paper. More of a traditionalist, Ekaterina Smirnova “Blue Path” at Villa del Arte Galleries appears to be an updated, watercolor version of French Impressionism. And Donald Martiny, whose works appear at Spender Gallery, resemble thick, impasto paint strokes but are actually made of pigmented polymer, and are so three-dimensional that he blurs the line between sculpture and painting.
George Billis Gallery’s display of Steven Kinder’s geometric abstractions and the hodgepodge of artists grouped together in Tamarind Institute were the more underwhelming booths. The most bizarre were the black and white photographs by Morton Bartlett that showed kitschy images of dolls posed in occasionally provocative positions. His display in Marion Harris’s booth was visually eye-catching… When you stepped close enough to realize the subject matter.
Amid the abundance of things to see, and the frenzy of visitors and art professionals, there were a few booths that stand out in my memory. Gallery Poulsen was one with the overtly political works of art, including one entitled “What the Fucking Fuck Just Happened” by William Powhida, as well as Artemesia’s installation created from torn pages of used books, and the technicolor portraits at Sasha Wolf Projects.
Art on Paper is open at Pier 36 (299 South Street) on the Lower East Side of Manhattan on March 2-5
February 16, 2017
“Cámara de las Maravillas”, the first solo show in Europe by American artist and father of Pop Surrealism Mark Ryden (1963, Medford, Oregon), has brought thousands of people to the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC) in Málaga, Spain, since it opened last December. It is no wonder that it has attracted so much attention, as it puts together 55 works covering 20 years of creation by the artist, including iconic pieces such Incarnation (2009) –the inspiration behind Lady Gaga’s 2010 meat dress-, most of which are kept in private collections.
The 2012 painting The Parlor – Allegory of Magic, Quintessence, and Divine Mystery opens the show, anticipating many of the elements that the visitor is going to encounter throughout the exhibition: a strange assortment of semi-human characters, a theatrical space populated by a myriad of symbols, odd creatures that are often both ridiculous and disturbing, a whole lot of irony and an exquisite technique that dissolves the brushstrokes into a continuous and delicate surface. His meticulous and detailed work brings to mind that of old Venetian masters like Vittore Carpaccio and Giovanni Bellini. While grounded in contemporary pop culture, Ryden’s works are reminiscent of many previous artistic periods and styles, from French Neoclassicism to the Pre-Raphaelites and, of course, also Surrealism.
The earliest work in the exhibition is the painting Saint Barbie (1994), while the most recent, the sculpture Wood Meat Dress (2016), was created especially for the Málaga show. From the young girl worshiping a goddess-like Barbie doll to the eerie, sad-eyed sculpted lady, we are able to observe the evolution of the physiognomy of Ryden’s peculiar female characters through the years.
All the different series that the artist has exhibited in the past –The Meat Show (1998), Bunnies & Bees (2001), Blood (2003), The Tree Show (2007), The Snow Yak Show (2009), The Gay 90’s (2010), The Gay 90’s West (2014), and Dodecahedron (2015)— are represented here, plus the original artwork for the cover of Michael Jacksons’ album Dangerous and three beautiful porcelain figures made in the last five years. However, the works are neither grouped in series nor displayed in chronological order, and this makes the artist’s ultimate concerns and interests, such as Science and the destruction of Nature, even more evident throughout the exhibition.
The big exhibition space of the CAC has been articulated in a way that allows the visitor to see many of the pieces at the same time, encouraging many dialogues and correspondences not also between the works, but also between their magnificent frames. These have never been a secondary element for the artist, who designs many of them himself so they perfectly match and complete each of the paintings.
Adjectives like kitsch, naïve, creepy or sentimental are often used to define Ryden’s aesthetic, but these labels don’t do any justice to the complexity of his work. The best way to approach this cabinet of curiosities is with the eyes of a child, leaving preconceived ideas at home and letting your imagination run free.
“Cámara de las Maravillas” is a real treat, well worth a trip to Málaga. Those who already love the work of Mark Ryden will be delighted to see together such a careful selection of old as well as new pieces, while those unfamiliar with the artist have here a wonderful opportunity to dive into his enigmatic universe, which is very much alive and still evolving.
Mark Ryden’s “Cámara de las Maravillas”, curated by Fernando Francés, is on view at CAC Málaga until March 5, 2017.
February 8, 2017
“Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time,” on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, delves into the friendship between Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera. It explores how the lives of these two 20th-century artists briefly intersected, and the ways they drew inspiration from the ancient visual culture of their respective countries.
The exhibition, which is arranged in a very linear manner, compares Picasso’s and Rivera’s artistic trajectories. This allows the visitor to see how both artists progressed through their early academic training, experimented with different stylistic modes, and shared an interest in antiquity. The works reveal that there was a dialogue between these two artists that spanned cultural and geographic boundaries.
The display presents a give-and-take between the two artists: Picasso’s Cubism heavily influencing Rivera’s work when they were both in Paris in 1914, and Rivera’s colorful, hefty figures subtly impacting Picasso’s classical style. The paintings included in the exhibition allow for a great deal of one-to-one comparisons between the two artists. But at times, the artworks are dwarfed by the scale of the galleries, giving the viewer a sense that they may have been better viewed in a smaller gallery space.
The largest and most striking room is at the center of the exhibition. Rivera and Picasso’s images are juxtaposed with ancient sculptures that reveal how their styles absorbed the influence of ancient forms. This was the first time I had ever seen ancient Mesoamerican sculpture displayed in tandem with ancient Classical sculpture. During the interwar years, Rivera reexamined the tradition of Aztec sculpture in his native Mexico which informed the mature style that he is most recognized for. The exhibition includes loans from the Anthropological Museum in Mexico City that are paired with Rivera’s gorgeous Flower Day (1925).
Picasso was in still in Paris between World War I & II, and his more traditional classicizing figures demonstrate his renewed interest in Greco-Roman antiquity and Iberian art. In the exhibition, classical sculpture -mostly loans from the Getty Museum- is juxtaposed with Picasso’s ‘return to order’ paintings such as Etudes (1920) and Three Women at the Spring (1921).
The final rooms explore how Picasso and Rivera’s artistic practices diverged after World War I. Mexico’s Ministry of Education commissioned Rivera to create murals that would unify the nation through revolutionary imagery. Through his study of Pre-Columbian sculpture (and his collection of over 6,000 ceramic and stone figurines) and Aztec creation myths, he imbued his images of a new, modern Mexico with aesthetics of the past. On the other hand, during the 1930s Picasso was revisiting Greek and Roman mythology -especially Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the myth of the Minotaur- and reworking classical tropes of depicting these narratives.
Beyond comparing the two artists’ work, the exhibition aims to stress how Picasso and Rivera were inspired by ancient sources throughout their careers, and how their friendship or artistic rivalry fueled those investigations.
“Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time” is on view at LACMA through May 7th, 2017, and will travel to the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in June 2017.
February 3, 2017
Okay, there’s a lot of red… some nice white strokes, a hint of yellow, and… now they’ve all blended into orange and pink dripping endlessly down the canvas. And then there’s the black lines and swirls. Are they supposed to be scratches? What’s written in that corner? It’s all so big, I can’t quite make out the top…
I’m not sure I know what I’m looking at but, I can feel it. And that’s what makes the works of American artist Cy Twombly (1928-2011) so significant. His energy can be as subtle as the breath of a mark on a cream-colored canvas, or as animated as the manic blood red loops of Bacchus (2005). No matter the intensity of his energy, one element remains coherent —the unpredictability of where his emotions will take him.
The Centre Pompidou presents an in-depth retrospective of the artist’s long career, beginning in the 1950s and right up until his death in 2011. The show revolves around three major cycles —Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963), Fifty Days at Iliam (1978), and Coronation of Sesostris (2000). The exhibition, organized chronologically, includes some 140 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and photographs featuring well-known works such as Blooming (2001-08), as well as others never previously exhibited in France.
The journey begins with a step into the bare landscape of cream washes, imperfect whites, and clumsy scribbles. The first gallery encompasses Twombly’s early works from the 1950s. During this period he was still in his hometown of Lexington, Virginia and he also began his travels to Europe and North Africa accompanied by his friend Robert Rauschenberg. Often characterized as graffiti (a label which Twombly rejected), his erratic, aggressive lines fill the entire surface, almost as if someone was trying to claw their way out from behind the canvas.
Moving further into this strange new world we discover Twombly’s life-long muse —the Mediterranean. The artist was fascinated by it since his first visits to Rome in the ’50s, and this fascination intensified during the periods that he lived in Italy. The iconography, metaphors, and myths of ancient civilizations left a strong mark on his works. From Egyptians to Greeks, Romans, and Persians, Twombly acts as an archaeologist, layering references from the classical past while drawing connections to contemporary figures and painting practices such as abstraction and minimalism.
The subject matter of Twombly’s oeuvre suggests a vast literary knowledge and a deep understanding of the human psyche. He reinvigorates the ancient myths and histories of Achilles, Eros, Venus, Apollo, Mars, and Commodus with an instinctual understanding of not only their narratives but also their spirits, their dramas and traumas. We can feel the rage of Commodus, the cruel Roman tyrant, as he unleashes terror and chaos in Nine Discourses on Commodus (1963). With each successive canvas the battle between white (innocence and victims) and red (power and oppression) grows more aggressive. Textured paint is thrown back and forth until at last a fresh reddish-orange glistens with victory.
Perhaps the most intriguing and complex element of Twombly’s artistic approach is his use of language. He creates visual poetry by merging the principles of abstract expressionism and the lyricism of words. Coming off as difficult and rather unclear, his script is largely incomprehensible. A mishmash of singular words or illegible phrases float throughout his compositions neglecting any true syntax or logic. The words are activated and energized by the dynamic forms, expressive lines, and bold colors that accompany them. The ten-part series Coronation of Sesostris (2000) perfectly demonstrates how Twombly blends language and image so that each complements and fulfills the other. Referencing Egyptian sun god Ra, Egyptian king Sesostris I, ancient Greek poets Sappho and Alcman, and contemporary poet Patricia Waters, the series shows the artist’s unrelenting dedication to narrative and ancient civilizations.
Twombly is a modern poet. His work can most easily be understood as an emotional and intellectual reaction to an understanding of the past, expressed through the language of color, form, and writing. It possesses an archaic energy that surpasses traditional and one-dimensional representations of history and instead strives to express a universal essence. His work is as sensual and sensitive as it is intellectual and independent. Cy Twombly, a true maverick, interpreting humanity across time and space.
“Cy Twombly” is on view at the Centre Pompidou until April 24, 2017.
December 2, 2016
A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s is currently on view at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University’s fine art museum. The exhibit was drawn from the Charlotte Moorman Archive housed at Northwestern University’s Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections. With more than 300 items on view, ranging from film clips, performance props, musical scores, photographs, audio recordings, and vintage posters, this marks the first major exhibition devoted to a groundbreaking, yet under-recognized figure in the post-war avant-garde.
Along with works by Moorman, the exhibition includes pieces by some of her frequent collaborators, including Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, John Cage, Takehisa Kosugi, Jim McWilliams, Joseph Beuys, and Giuseppe Chiari, many of whom created works for Moorman to perform. While she is often remembered as Paik’s muse, Moorman -or the “topless cellist,” as she was known- was dedicated to both performing and promoting the innovative work she and her colleagues would create. Moorman later remarked: “With all of my formal training at Juilliard, I feel I know the rules. That’s something that is very important if you are going to break them.”
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1933, Moorman began her career as a classically trained musician. After earning an MA in music from the University of Texas at Austin, she moved to New York to study at the Juilliard School of Music while building a career as a freelance classical musician. After attending a concert by fellow Juilliard student Kenji Kobayashi in spring 1961, in which Kobayashi played Cage’s 26’1.1499″ for a String Player –a “non-musical” score with sounds of the performer’s choosing-, Moorman began to shift focus. Kobayashi introduced Moorman to the downtown avant-garde arts scene, where composer La Monte Young, artist Yoko Ono, choreographer Simone Forti, and others were experimenting with new interdisciplinary art forms.
Moorman went on to organize fifteen avant-garde festivals from 1963 to 1980 (which are also documented in the show), where she was able to cultivate a strong community of hundreds of artists, filmmakers, dancers, poets, musicians, and festival goers who wanted freedom from the constraints of concert halls, galleries, and museums. Over the years, these festivals migrated from traditional performance venues to public spaces, setting a precedent for future large scale multimedia festivals of this kind.
A typical performance could include playing a cello made from a practice bomb (i.e. non-explosive), frying an egg or mushrooms, drinking Coke, letting air out of a balloon, breaking glass, or reading passages ranging from a newspaper article on the Watergate scandal to instructions on a box of tampons. Combining classical training with pop culture, Moorman once pointed out: “I don’t feel that I’m destroying any tradition. I feel that I’m creating something new.”
As an artist, Charlotte Moorman subverted traditional notions of beauty and society’s obsession with the female form by referencing the very sources from which these notions began. It is nearly impossible to look at images of Moorman performing and not be reminded of classical paintings of inexplicably nude women lying in repose in scenic landscapes.
One of the many highlights of the show is a video of Moorman performing Yoko Ono’s iconic “Cut Piece” in 1982. The artist sits before a large crowd gathered at the roof of her Manhattan loft. The guest, good-spirited and a little drunk, really give the party life. But the occasion is marked by a solemn tone. It takes place only a few days before she was to have a lump in her breast biopsied, three years after having a mastectomy to remove the other breast.
As each guest approaches to cut a piece from her gown, Moorman exhibits her characteristic stoic sensibility and poise, traits that distinguish her as a master of her craft. Barbara Moore, an art historian and friend of Moorman’s, noted that the artist kept all the remaining scraps of clothing from her numerous performances of this work “packed into heaps of shopping bags, the ultimate dossier,” epitomizing her endless dedication to her work. “Don’t throw anything out” were Moorman’s dying words as she succumbed to her illness in 1991 at the age of 57. The result, the Charlotte Moorman Archive, allows us to trace the prolific career of one of the most provocative artists of the 20th century.
A Feast of Astonishments will be on view at the Grey Art Gallery until December 10.
Also on view: Don’t Throw Anything Out: Charlotte Moorman’s Archive, at The Fales Library, Tracey/Barry Gallery, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, Third Floor.
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.