In: art galleries

Glenn Ligon has always had a preoccupation with the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality. Ligon’s two exhibitions What We Said The Last Time and We Need To Wake Up Cause That’s What Time It Is, in which the artist illustrates his engrossment with these subjects, are occurring simultaneously at Luhring Augustine‘s Chelsea and Bushwick locations.

What We Said The Last Time features a series of seventeen enlarged prints from the paint-splattered pages of the artist’s well-worn copy James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “Stranger in the Village” from Notes of a Native Son (published 1955). Written during a stay in a small settlement in Switzerland, “Stranger in the Village” examines race as a social construct. “From all available evidence no black man had ever set foot in this tiny Swiss village before I came,” Baldwin writes as he documents his experiences as a gay black man visiting the small Swiss town as a way to better understand the African American identity. Also on view is Entanglements, a curatorial project by Ligon that examines how artists use the studio as a base from which to engage momentous cultural shifts and political events in both direct and oblique ways.  

Glenn Ligon, Untitled, 2016, 71 x 49 inches (180.3 x 124.5 cm)

Beginning in 1996, Ligon has used Baldwin’s essay as the basis for his “Stranger” series, which includes prints, drawings, and paintings made from oil slick and occasionally coal dust that nearly obscures the text. While working on this series, Ligon kept copies of Baldwin’s essay on his studio table for reference, and over the years they accumulated a large amount of black paint, oil stains, and fingerprints. This show marks the first time Ligon has used the entirety of Baldwin’s essay in his career. Like so much of Ligon’s work, the resulting prints illustrate the role of intertextuality in contemporary art, and how one medium can simultaneously inform and contradict another. The use of Baldwin’s seminal essay attests to the power of language and ink on paper, but Ligon’s pseudo-redaction of the text tells us something different. One page has the page number and top right corner completely ripped off and thick drops of paint cover sections of the text, but we can still see his quick annotations, contrasting Baldwin’s ruminations with the artist’s own spontaneity.

Glenn Ligon, Untitled, 2016, 71 x 49 inches (180.3 x 124.5 cm)

We Need To Wake Up Cause That’s What Time It Is in Bushwick opened January 16 and predominantly features Ligon’s Live (2014), a silent video installation based on the 1982 film Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip. This is not the first time Mr. Ligon has engaged with Pryor’s work. The artist’s text-based paintings often incorporate references to Pryor’s stand-up, most notably in a series of gold-colored paintings beginning in 1993 based on Pryor’s groundbreaking material from the 1970s. The installation is set up in a circle of six large screens and a smaller screen in a corner. On the smaller screen, we see the unedited version of Pryor’s original performance, while the other screens zoom in on specific parts of Pryor’s body as they appear in the original footage: his head, his shadow, his right hand, his left hand, his mouth, and his groin. The projected images are visible from both sides of the screen, so the viewer can encircle the installation and almost always be confronted by Pryor’s captivating stage presence. Each screen is illuminated only when their designated body parts appear in the original film, so the screens sporadically flicker on and off as your eyes jump around the room to catch his image.

Installation view, We Need To Wake Up Cause That’s What Time It Is, Luhring Augustine Bushwick

Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording in 1982, and is still widely considered one of the best comedy albums of all time. Throughout his illustrious career and chaotic personal life, Pryor was anything but shy about his views on sexuality, social injustice, and drug use. On the night on June 9, 1980, for instance, Pryor notoriously lit himself on fire with nothing but a bottle of rum and a match after freebasing cocaine, an incident that undoubtedly accounts for his flame red suit and yellow boutonniere (he also begins his act by asking the members of the audience “Anybody got a light?”)

Installation view, We Need To Wake Up Cause That’s What Time It Is, Luhring Augustine Bushwick

By fragmenting the footage, Pryor’s body parts seems to move independently from the others. His rapid gestures seem second nature to him, but his expression shifts seamlessly between deadpan and animated throughout the film. The lack of audio is particularly jarring when we see Pryor erupt into fits of emotional gestures and cursing. These moments are often followed by brief periods of complete silence and darkness as the camera temporarily leaves the comedian’s body.

Installation view, We Need To Wake Up Cause That’s What Time It Is, Luhring Augustine Bushwick

Ligon, Pryor, and Baldwin all share an obsession with the idea of black masculinity, but by drawing on this idea rather than readily subverting it, all three were able to contrast the narrative of blackness with its reality. By cutting up Pryor’s image and muting his voice, and by blacking out Baldwin’s text, Ligon illuminates their vulnerability. This installation subtly critiques the social constructs of race and masculinity, but also emphasizes the limits of language in expressing ourselves to one another. The artist forces us to contemplate the ways in which we represent ourselves, both voluntarily and unconsciously. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, he also conveys the fact that to be marginalized either as a group or individually means to be silenced, or to essentially be rendered without language. If we do not have language, how do we communicate? Some say that actions speak louder than words, but it seems that Mr. Ligon does not believe the two should be separated.

What We Said The Last Time at Luhring Augustine in Chelsea is on view until April 2, 2016We Need To Wake Up Cause That’s What Time It Is at Luhring Augustine Bushwick is on view until April 17, 2016.   

Last week was Art Week in Madrid. Although the main event this year was the celebration of the 35 anniversary of ARCO, Spain’s biggest and most famous contemporary art fair, there were so many interesting alternatives (ArtMadrid, JustMad, Room Art Fair, Drawing Room, We Are Fair! and Casa Leibniz) that it was tough to choose among them.

I usually find regular commercial fairs quite overwhelming, with their endless corridors and lack of space between stands. So, this year I decided to visit those that promised a different experience: Room Art Fair and Casa Leibniz.

Both of them took place inside splendid nineteenth-century buildings located opposite each other in the lively district of Chueca. I was able to visit them in the same day, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the works exhibited and the radically different concepts behind them.

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Room Art Fair put the emphasis on the active role given to the spectator. Each gallery or curatorial project occupied one of the 36 rooms of the Petit Palace Santa Bárbara Hotel, where visitors could find the works of emerging artists from all over Europe, as well as those of the three winners of the New Curators Project.

One of these was Texturas Sonoras (Sound Textures), curated by María Castellanos, which consisted on a site specific interactive installation by artist Alberto Valverde. Inside a dark room, a luminescent structure projected onto the ceiling and bed developed in response to the sounds produced by the visitors’ presence. I was mesmerised by the changing patterns that were created by a spectrum of frequencies that our brain ignores, and it was great to talk to both artist and curator about the different environments in which they had recorded ambient sounds resulting in incredibly colourful and intricate images.

Photography also had an important presence in many of the rooms. I was particularly drawn to a series titled I called her Lisa-Marie by young French photographer Clémentine Schneidermann, represented by Galerie Huit Arles. Schneidermann explores the legend of Elvis through images of his fans and doubles taken during an annual festival held in his honour in a small town in South Wales, which she combines with photographs of the King’s home in Memphis, Tennessee, blurring the lines between document and fiction in the viewer’s mind.

‘Robbie, Abergavanny, Wales’, 2015. 70 x 70cm. C-Type print. © Clémentine Schneidermann, Courtesy Galerie Huit.

Another project involving photography that I found particularly interesting was the one presented by Març Rabal and Kiko Navarro at Galería Artara. Both artists work around the theme of boxing through the lens of gender: Rabal uses collage to create subtle but powerful images in which she merges the bodies and attributes of ballet dancers and male boxers, while Navarro’s black and white photographs situate the viewer inside the world of female boxing, where the contrast between the masculine and the feminine is brought to the surface.

Març Rabal and Kiko Navarro, Galería Artara.

Perhaps one of the rooms in which the works exhibited were better integrated in the space was the one occupied by Mad is Mad, a local gallery located minutes away from the fair.

Assaf Iglesias, Frédérique Bangerter and Berta López, Mad is Mad.

Assaf Iglesias and Frédérique Bangerter’s fine drawings and Berta López’s carefully arranged objects and embroidered messages occupy every corner of the room as if they were meant to be there. The dark grey tiles in the bathroom seem particularly fitting for the subtle colours and enigmatic forms in Iglesias’ works.

Assaf Iglesias, Mad is Mad.

Although the constant flood of people entering and exiting the rooms was a bit stressful and made the experience feel a bit like speed dating, I was very impressed by the way artists transformed the space and made it their own.

Walking along the corridors and peeking through open doors accentuated the embarrassing yet exciting feeling of invading people’s privacy over and over. To me, the most interesting aspect about Room Art Fair was the intimate atmosphere created inside the small hotel rooms, which facilitated the interaction between the artists and the general public.

Visiting Casa Leibniz was a completely different experience. In its second edition, this small art fair coordinated by Sara G. Arjona brought together 13 galleries and 23 Spanish artists whose works were displayed in the high-ceilinged rooms of the Santa Bárbara palace.

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The main purpose was to “create an inhabitable space to enjoy, understand and talk about new art”. It felt more like an exhibition than a commercial art fair, which made it easier to connect to the space and the works selected. These were accompanied by a group of 8 panels with texts by contemporary Spanish writers and philosophers, including Félix de Azúa and Chantal Maillard, which were purposely difficult to skim through. Visitors could decide whether or not to stop for a few minutes to read them, but they were meant to be as important as the artworks.

From the moment I entered the building, its nineteenth-century architecture and cracking wooden floors made me slow down and forget about the noisy street outside. The experience resembled that of slowly turning the pages of a carefully illustrated book. The rooms were almost empty, giving visitors the chance to move around the artworks and observe them from different perspectives, while the open windows served as blank pages where one could pause and breathe before moving to the next object.

Julio Falagán, ‘Way of Escape’.

Some of the projects seemed to fit this unique environment particularly well. This was the case with Julio Falagán’s Way Of Escape, an installation composed of several pieces of old landscape paintings. Falagán uses the old to construct a hopeful view of the present, which is nevertheless fragmented and held together by visible threads. He is interested in the sky as the last remaining free space, owned by no one in a world full of borders and restrictions.

Rubén Martín de Lucas, ‘Minimal Republics’.

Falagán’s work was not the only one to deal with territorial frontiers. Rubén Martín de Lucas’s Minimal Republics, for instance, dealt with the artificial and ephemeral nature of our borders. The artist intervened in three different landscapes and drew three temporary spaces that he inhabited for 24 hours. These experiences were shown through a video installation whose strange power of attraction kept me glued to the screen for a good ten minutes.

Ignacio Canales Aracil, ‘Ver a través’.

Ignacio Canales Aracil’s Ver a través made visitors literally see the space around them through the fragility of time and nature. It is easy to get trapped in the delicate web of pressed flowers that he uses to create his sculptures, which he has exhibited in several countries including the UK and Australia.

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Gloria Martín, ‘Lo flamenco’.

In the same room I was drawn to Gloria Martín’s figurative paintings. They were part of her project Réplica, through which the artist establishes links between her hometown, Seville, and Brussels, where she has been working recently. Her images transport us to a different realm where artistic objects from different provenience and cultures can coexist, which was precisely the aim of Casa Leibniz: to create a different time.

The longer I stayed inside the Santa Bárbara palace, the more it felt like a refuge from the outside world. Those lucky enough not to be in a hurry could enjoy the incredible experience of letting go of time to give each work and piece of literature the attention it deserved.

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