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.
October 29, 2016
The “Kollektsia!” exhibition at the Pompidou Center in Paris was born out of a donation of more than 250 artworks from the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, collectors, artists and their families. While not being too exhaustive, this ensemble of works by major Russian artists adequately offers a panorama of some forty years of contemporary art in the USSR and then in Russia, covering the most important movements. It includes works by confrontational artists created outside official structures, from the Moscow conceptual school to Sots Art, from non-conformism to perestroika (a political reform within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during the 1980s, widely associated with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his glasnost [openess] policy reform).
The first section of the show is dedicated to non-conformist art since the late 1950s when artists revived the aesthetic practices of the avant-garde and sought innovations of their own formal approach. My favourite pieces are the “Milk Box” sculpture (1970) by Igor Shelkovski, a hanging object called “Space-Movement-Infinity” — the first kinetic work in postwar Russian art and some intriguing photographic works by Francisco Infante-Arana. The non-conformist artworks are not following a homogeneous movement with shared objectives. However, as a whole they represent the budding diversified creativity confronting the strictly controlled official structures in art in the USSR.
My favourite section of the exhibition is of the more playful Sots Art, invented by Komar and Melamid to subvert, in a Pop-art way, the codes of the mass propaganda that saturated Soviet life. In contrast to the Pop artists — confronted by a superabundance of consumer goods — Sots artists, such as Alexander Kosolapov, Boris Orlov and Leonid Sokov, sought to demythologize official cliché and the ideological environment of the Soviet society through absurdity and paradox. For instance, the eye- and phone-camera-catching “Malevich-Marlboro Triptych” (1985) by Alexander Kosolapov demonstrates how the artist drew on broad iconographic sources from both Soviet and Western clichés while using an advertising image. On the other hand, Leonid Sokov’s hanging sculpture “Glasses for Every Soviet Person” (1976) delivers ironic humour through simple graphics and raw wooden texture.
Alongside Sots Art, the 1970s brought about Moscow Romantic Conceptualism which accord greater importance to text and language, with artists working at the intersection of poetry, performance and visual art, such as Dmitri Prigov and Andrei Monstyrsky. The latter advocated a conceptual art that reflected the ascendancy of literature in Russian culture. A section of the exhibition pays homage to Dmitri Prigov who was known for writing verse on cans. The conceptualists also embraced the power of text through performance, such as “I Breathe and I Hear” (1983) by Andrei Monstyrsky, who is a part of the Collective Actions group; the group taht has carried out a lot of planned performances.
The onset of perestroika brought an exploding sense of freedom and accelerating artistic processes from the mid-1980s onwards. Following the sudden liberalization, artists were then able to take part in exhibitions and find a place on the international art arena. This period in Russian history not only witnesses the diversifying artistic approaches, but also paved the way for legitimizing of formerly marginalized art. In 1988, a first auction organised by Sotheby’s in Moscow gave a tangible value to unofficial art, and the boundary between official and unofficial abruptly disappeared. In this sense, the impressive “Last Supper” (1989) by Andrei Filippov, with hammers and sickles on a red table, is one of those works marking the end of “unofficial art” while it preceded the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Perhaps some of Yuri Leridrman’s works in 2009 displayed at the exhibition could reflect this lively flourishing of creative energies in post-Soviet era; the artist juxtaposed painted plants onto collage of newspapers, thereby transforming textual material into images.
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”.
August 21, 2016
The usually booming New York City art scene is rather slow in August, leaving one to wonder where all of the commotion over contemporary art goes: on vacation to the Hamptons of course! There is a great deal of special exhibitions and openings happening all over the Hamptons this month. Should you find yourself escaping to the Hamptons during these final days of summer, be sure to check out one or all of these events.
- Montauk/ Watermill
On August 7th, “Unfinished Business” opened at the Parrish Art Museum. This exhibit, which will run until October 16th, features the paintings by Ross Bleckner, Eric Fischl, and David Salle, three artists who formed an artistic enclave in Los Angeles in the 1970s and ’80s. The exhibit features 23 canvases and 17 paperworks by these artists and celebrates their innovation and profound influence on the Los Angeles art scene.
Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Hwy, Water Mill, NY 11976
At the Watermill Center, you can catch the light installation “Constellations in Red, Yellow, and Blue” until August 28th. The light sculptures on display by Mexican artist G.T Pellizzi, are inspired by “the mythological, calendrical, and astronomical symbols found on many textiles in The Watermill Collection.”As the title of the exhibit states, the sculptures are lit in the primary colors- red, yellow, and blue. Pelliziz’s work has previously been on display at MoMa PS1, Centre Pompidou, The Whitney, and various other contemporary art spaces.
Watermill Center, 39 Water Mill Towd Rd, Water Mill, NY 11976
2. Bridgehampton is quite busy with art happenings this month. You can catch The Curiosities of Harry Squires” at the Bridgehampton Museum through October. This exhibit features the collection owned and curated by Bridgehampton figure Harry Squires, which includes various oddities such as shipwreck memorabilia and Native American artifacts.
In addition to the permanent collection at the Dan Flavin Institute, the exhibit “Icons” is on view through April. The title “Icons” is a reference to the traditional religious association with the term, however, the works on display are decidedly non-representational, consisting of painted boxes adorned with light features that are dedicated to Flavin’s loved ones.
The Dan Flavin Art Institute is located on Corwith Avenue off Main Street in Bridgehampton, New York 11932
- East Hampton
If you are craving even more minimalism, head to Guild Hall Museum for “Aspects of Minimalism,” which is on view through October. The exhibition features more work by Dan Flavin, as well as Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter and other minimalist artists. Also on view at Guild Hall are Carol Ross’s Metal Sculptures in the Furman sculpture garden.
Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton, NY 11937
The next time you escape to your sanctuary in the Hamptons (or get yourself invited to someone else’s vacation home), pencil in some time in between outdoor brunch and tanning by the pool to check out some fantastic art.
August 10, 2016
Here is our list of top 5 exhibitions to see in London this August and how to spend culturally your time indoors if it rains (and we’re talking London here):
Ragnar Kjartansson at The Barbican
This is the first UK survey of the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson, internationally known for his multi-channel film installation “The Visitors” (2012), also present in the exhibition. The artist channels a “bad boy” image, while drinking beer, playing guitar and signing in Icelandic in the first piece in the Barbican show. Such notions as comedy, irony, and tragedy are all merged together in Kjartansson’s work. Both controversial and deeply amusing, Ragnar’s works sympathize every visitor.
On view at The Barbican through September 4. £12
Jake Wood-Evans at Unit London
Unit London, the young but well-established contemporary art gallery in Soho, presents its largest project to date, the first solo show of the UK-based artist Jake Wood-Evans titled Subjection& Discipline. Inspired by Old Masters’ paintings, the artist showcases a unique approach to canvas with figurative but rather unconventional technique. Get ready to be awed and mesmerized by Jake Wood-Evans’s unique style.
On view at Unit London August 19- September 11. FREE
Unseen at The Ben Uri Gallery
Unseen London, Paris, New York, 1930s-60s: Photographs by Wolfgang Suschitzky, Dorothy Bohm and Neil Libbert is a group exhibition bringing together such masters of photography as Wolfgang Suschitzky, Dorothy Bohm and Neil Libbert. The exhibition tends to present artistic responses to three great cities throughout three disturbing decades. The photographers try to present not only the greatness of the cities in a political and social arena, but also capture the beauty of them. If you’re into black-and-white photography this exhibition is not to be missed.
On view at The Ben Uri Gallery through August 27. FREE
Terence Donovan: Speed of Light at The Photographers’ Gallery
This is the first major retrospective of a well-known English photographer, Terence Donovan (1936-1996). Donovan was a pioneer in the new fashion, and later advertising and portrait photography in the post-war period. He was famous for capturing actors and well-known people in the scene. A mix of vintage prints is on view, together with previously unpublished works, artist’s cameras, sketches and diaries.
On view at The Photographers’ Gallery through September 25. FREE before 12pm; £3
Under The Same Sun: Art From Latin America Today at SLG Galleries & Fire Station
The exhibition, curated by Pablo León de la Barra, Guggenheim UBS MAP Curator, highlights the new acquisitions by the Guggenheim Museum of 15 contemporary Latin American artists. The show features 40 works with mediums including painting, installation, video, sculpture and photography. The exhibition strives to showcase the artists’ responses to contemporary realities influenced by colonial and modern histories, economic and social instabilities and regional economic developments.
On view at The South London Gallery through September 4. FREE
August 3, 2016
“I am full of a sense of promise, like I often have, the feeling of always being at the beginning.” — Diane Arbus, July 1957
With more than 100 never-before-seen photographs, the Met Breuer’s Diane Arbus: In the Beginning explores the early work of a photographer considered by many to be one of the most influential and provocative artists of the 20th century. The exhibit focuses on the first seven years of the artist’s prolific career, from 1956 to 1962, the period in which she developed the idiosyncratic style for which she is now known. The majority of the photographs included in the exhibition are part of the museum’s vast Diane Arbus Archive, acquired in 2007 by gift and promised gift from the artist’s daughters, Doon Arbus and Amy Arbus. The works are intentionally presented neither in sequential nor thematic order, allowing the viewer to wander through the maze-like exhibit any way they choose. That is to say, with no beginning and no end.
Born to an affluent New York family in 1923, Diane Arbus was fascinated by photography even before she received her first professional camera in 1941 at the age of 18, a present from her husband, actor and photographer Allan Arbus. She photographed intermittently for the next 15 years while working with him as a stylist in their fashion photography company, which gained such notable clients as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Glamour. In 1956, however, she quit the commercial photography business, and began taking classes at the New School under photographer Lisette Model, the artist’s mentor and lifelong friend. That same year, Arbus numbered a roll of 35mm film #1, as if to claim to herself that this moment would be her definitive beginning.
In addition to Arbus’s photographs, also on view are works by her two biggest influencers, Lisette Model and portraitist August Sander, as well as some of Arbus’s contemporaries. The exhibit also presents photographs from the artist’s only portfolio, A box of ten photographs. Among these images are some of Arbus’s most iconic works, such as Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967; Jewish Giant, taken at Home with His Parents in the Bronx, New York, 1970; and A Young Man in Curlers at Home on West 20th Street, N.Y.C. 1966. Like so many artists, Arbus only achieved real fame after her death in 1971 at the age of 48 when she took her own life. She did exhibit in major venues during her lifetime, but even then, her work was often polarizing. Young Man in Curlers was notably spat on during a group exhibition at MoMA in 1967. A print of this work sold at auction in 2004 for $198,400.
In her work Arbus explores the fine line between fact and fiction, the candid and the posed, revealing something fundamental to human nature. We behave differently when we are being observed—we tend to perform for one another. In fact, many of Arbus’s subjects were performers, from “female impersonators” to circus acts and cartoon characters who straddle that oh-so familiar line between real and imaginary.
While reading the gallery copy of the exhibition catalogue, I happened to sit down next to Patricia Bosworth, journalist and author of a 1984 biography on Arbus. Mrs. Bosworth was having a lively conversation with her husband about the show. They lamented over a lack of “honesty” in the show, as well as the absence of her biography and Arthur Lubow’s recent biography in the museum’s pop-up bookstore, which only sells books published by Phaidon. As for the lack of “honesty,” I believe Mrs. Bosworth was referring to the fact that the museum glossed over some of the most interesting and controversial aspects of the artist’s life, from her open marriage and active libido to her lifelong struggle with clinical depression, details which both Lubow and Bosworth include in their biographies. It is no coincidence that Arbus quit commercial photography during the rise of counterculture in the 1950s and 60s–she documented this culture as much as she was a part of it.
Arbus once said “Something is ironic in the world and it has to do with the fact that what you intend never comes out like you intend it.” A photograph only represents a split second in time, but in these small moments Arbus was able to capture the humanity in her subjects in a way that many others cannot. You stand in front of them and they return your gaze, asking you to consider the reality of their lives. Whatever conclusions you may draw about these subjects or the intentions of the photographer, it does not take away from one simple truth. At least you know they exist.
Diane Arbus: In the Beginning is on view at the Met Breuer through November 27, 2016.
June 13, 2016
Before this massive retrospective, I had only seen a few of Cindy Sherman’s portraits here and there. That’s what made The Broad’s first special exhibition, Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, so overwhelming to me. I was taken aback by the vast expansion of her creativity.
The Broad’s exhibit holds over 120 works by Sherman and is curated by Philipp Kaiser. Kaiser flawlessly presents Edye and Eli Broad’s collection, the largest Sherman collection in the world, as well with works on loan from Metro Pictures, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Menil Collection, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, all with Sherman herself as the subject.
The retrospective covers over forty years of Sherman’s work, and is curated in a loosely chronological order including works from the centerfolds, the fairy tales, the history portraits, the sex pictures, the clown pictures, society portraits, and a full length feature film entitled Office Killer. The exhibition begins with her Untitled Film Stills in 1975 and concludes with works completed this year. Kaiser’s curation perfectly captures Sherman’s artistic evolution. The exhibition itself feels like its own museum due to the drastic variations in her style. If a viewer walks in only having heard the name “Cindy Sherman,” they leave enthralled by Sherman’s chameleon-like talent to move through the barriers of genre that define so many other artists.
Upon arrival, the viewer is immediately greeted by two floor-to-ceiling murals of Sherman, imagined by the artist herself for the exhibition. One instantly gets the impression that this exhibit will be intense, humbling and exciting. Reminiscent of film stills, these murals perfectly tie in both Los Angeles and the influence of film, pop culture, and the stereotypes involved in both pop culture and film that have had a profound effect on Sherman’s work and, in turn, her identity as an artist.
The first gallery holds Sherman’s black and white film stills and is an impeccable introduction to those unfamiliar with her work. In one, she is seen standing in the corner of a room with her hand on her hip in an apron and long dress. In Untitled Film Still #47, we see Sherman in another classic 50’s inspired look: she is pantless and wearing a white collared shirt with a straw hat and big sunglasses. She seems to be caught in the midst of gardening and surprised by the intrusion of a viewer, as the viewer has been placed in the perspective of the photographer. Quickly, one can recognize the sacrifice of Sherman’s own identity as an individual and, in this case, her submersion into an identity characterized by the clichés and stereotypes of women in the 50’s and 60’s.
The exhibition then moves into her fashion pictures. When arranged together, the transition of Sherman in terms of persona from one portrait to the next is drastic and awe-inspiring. I was astonished by her incredible attention to detail, the expansive emotional coverage, and her clearly inherent ability to see a style for what it is, bring herself into it, and create something so unique out of a form already so familiar. All completed in the 80’s, the constant changes in the lighting, mood, and character being portrayed show how quickly Sherman can commit herself to an identity we imagine to be entirely different from her own. In Untitled #119 she is a powerful force of a woman, her arms stretched wide as she seems to be caught mid belt of an opera song. The image radiates light and the power of femininity. In Untitled #122 she stands hunched over, drowned in black fabric, fist clenched, and one eye looking directly at the camera. In every image of her fashion series, she is unrecognizable. Her fashion pictures are potentially the greatest in showcasing her incredible diversity as a subject and an artist, especially for the untrained or unfamiliar viewer.
The gallery that holds the Centerfolds and the Pink Robe photos is a perfect combination of Sherman’s most iconic photos, as well as what many consider a glimpse at “the real Cindy Sherman.” The four centerfolds are arranged in a single line directly opposite the room of her four pink robe photographs. The Centerfolds show Sherman as the star of each photograph in a style that reminded me of Hitchcock’s films. The women are the primary focus of each photograph, all of them with very little background, all on the floor, fully-clothed, unaware of the camera, and fixated on something just outside of the image. Though each of the Centerfolds is structurally similar, each one differs in the emotional state of the subject: detachment, fear, daze, and apprehension. When thinking of the name “Centerfolds,” one imagines the sexual objectification of women in magazines such as Playboy, but the women in Sherman’s Centerfolds makes one consider the vulnerability that inevitably accompanies the sexual portrayal of women. The Centerfolds, a comment on the powerless women of an age of sexual objectification in pop culture, are the perfect juxtaposition to the Pink Robe Photos, which immediately shatter the notion that all sexualized women are weak. The Pink Robe Photos show a powerful and in-control woman in a highly-sexualized state, more so than the Centerfolds. Also arranged in a single line, Sherman again as the subject makes direct eye contact in each photograph, exuding dominance. This woman is a far cry from those pictured in the Centerfolds. She has power in her eyes, and though she is seen covering her naked body with a pink robe, her varied body language gives way to a sense of commandment.
The exhibition closes with new photographs produced this year. A room is filled with what appear to be the aging starlets of an age long gone. One is instantly drawn to Untitled #512, which is different from the rest in terms of her body language and color-scheme. Sherman is shown in a short brown wig and long feathery coat, photoshopped onto a background of rough terrain. This woman is lonely and displaced, but her facial expression would say otherwise; she appears soft and intense, the contrasting aspects of the photograph blending in harmony. She stands angled in a way where she seems thin and more petite, her left knee brought to her right, similar to the pose of a pin-up model. These works reminded me of the Untitled Film Stills, although they are structurally dissimilar, they seem to be a comment on the power dynamic women held in the 20’s as the Untitled Film Stills were on the 50’s and 60’s. The exhibition ends as it begins; Sherman acts as the subject of the work as she both embraces the characteristics of the times and disputes them by infusing her works with power and femininity.
Cindy Sherman created her own style by having the ability to idealize reality. Her flawless execution and comprehensive understanding of the characteristics that define so many periods of art make her one of the most successful artists of modern time. The retrospective is brave, overwhelming, at times terrifying, and incomprehensible. In the beginning, I found myself enamored by how she is able to become so many different subjects, but by the end I was left shellshocked by the unbelievable fact that all of these works came from one, clearly uninhibited mind.
Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life is on view at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles from June 11, 2016- October 2, 2016.
The delightful Neue Galerie on the Upper East Side is my favorite escape from the hustle and bustle of life in Manhattan, but you may already know that from my review of Berlin Metropolis. There is nothing like great art, old world nostalgia, and sublime Viennese desserts to take your mind off the stresses of everyday life. The exhibition, “Munch and Expressionism,” does not disappoint. Munch, who is best known for his iconic piece, “The Scream,” painted works that dealt with heavy existential themes and were both horrifying and erotic. The show displays the fascinating symbiotic relationship between the Norwegian father of Expressionism, Edvard Munch, and German and Austrian Expressionists; the German artists being Max Beckmann, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gabriele Münter, and Emile Nolde, and the Austrian artists Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele. This exhibition, organized with The Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway, features “The Scream,” in addition to several other captivating paintings and woodcuts from this fascinating period of modern European art.
The exhibit is organized into four different galleries that chronologically document the evolution of Munch’s provocative aesthetic. The first gallery, “Experimental Printmaking,” features some of Munch’s early works from the late 19th century and demonstrates Munch’s “radical approach” to his craft. In addition to Munch’s innovative woodcuts, this gallery includes some great paintings such as the three versions of one of my personal favorites, Munch’s peculiar “Madonna” from 1895. This painting features a beautiful nude female subject; the lithograph version is adorned with a border of tiny sperm-like creatures and a little fetus in the corner. While the painting is conventionally erotic, it also conveys Munch’s association of sex with death and other grave consequences.
The second and third galleries, “Munch and the Expressionists in Dialogue” and “Influence and Affinity,” delve a bit deeper into the dynamic between Munch and the Expressionists. These sections explore how Munch paved the way for these artists to break with the conventions of realism and experiment with color and brushwork. I was especially drawn to the playful use of color in Munch’s “Model by the Wicker Chair” from 1919 and “Bathing Man” from 1918. Although these paintings are done in vibrant shades of blue, green, and violet, they maintain Munch’s signature ethos of anxiety and grief.
I was also intrigued by the equally colorful “Street, Dresden” by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. The painting exudes brilliant color, yet simultaneously reads as dark and devastating. No exhibit at the Neue Galerie would be complete without a few pieces by Egon Schiele, one of the (literal) poster children for the museum and one of my favorite expressionist painters. I really appreciated the addition of Schiele’s “Self-Portrait with Raised Bare Shoulder,” which, with its liberal brushwork and penetrating eyes, is full of intense emotional pathos. Prior to visiting this exhibit, I wouldn’t necessarily associate Munch with Schiele because I consider their aesthetics so distinct from one another. However, after looking at Schiele’s paintings in the context of Munch, I began to see the similar themes of anguish that pervade the works of both artists.
The fourth and final gallery in the exhibit is an appropriately claustrophobic and dimly-lit room dedicated to the main event, Munch’s “The Scream” from 1893, and the two original lithographs. Additionally, the room features Erich Heckel’s woodcut “Man on a Plain,” as well as a few Schiele portraits. Above the final version of “The Scream” is a quote by Munch himself:
“I was walking along the road with two friends,
“The sun was setting – the sky turned blood-red.
And I felt a wave of sadness – I paused
tired to death –Above the blue-black Fjord
and city blood and flaming tongues hovered.
My friends walked on – I stayed
behind – quaking with angst – I
felt the great scream in nature” – Edvard Munch
Although I had seen this iconic image countless times reproduced in textbooks and on the internet, I felt like I was looking at “The Scream” for the very first time. There was something powerfully cathartic about standing in that tiny dark blue room and confronting the painting live. After gaining a better understanding of the cultural and historical context that Munch was operating in, the painting resonated with me on a much deeper level. Visitors can expect to leave “Munch and Expressionism” emotionally moved and curious to learn more about this innovative period of art history. Don’t forget to treat yourself to a slice of Sachertorte, mit schlag on your way out.
“Munch and Expressionism” runs until June 13th and is definitely not to be missed. Bring a friend or two for a solid afternoon of superb paintings and delectable pastries.
Harlem-based artist Jordan Casteel is one of the three current artists in-residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Her patiently detailed, large-scale figurative paintings instantly demand one’s attention with their dynamic and vibrant swaths of color. Born in Denver, Colorado she received her MFA from Yale School of Art in New Haven, Connecticut in 2014. Just a few months after graduating, Casteel launched herself into the New York City art scene with her first solo exhibition, Visible Man, at Sargent’s Daughters. Just a year later, in 2015, her second solo show, Brothers, opened in the same space.
I got the wonderful opportunity to visit her studio in Harlem and see her enchantingly monumental works in person while discussing her motivations behind making art that is at once personal and intimate as well as approachable, speaking to a broad audience.
- The Studio Museum in Harlem describes your work as “black masculinity in a domestic space.” Can you explain what drove you to pursue this theme?
I remember having this very specific reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin’s trial: I need to start becoming more proactive in making work that directly relates to a conversation I care about and that directly relates to my family members such as my twin, my father, my older brother—the people in my life closest to me. I felt I needed to make a body of work that dealt with the humanity of men in my life, black men specifically, and that would show the vulnerable, sensitive side of them that I would encounter when at home or in intimate personal spaces.
- Your first solo show in New York City at Sargent’s Daughters, Visible Man, speaks to this theme. Did it achieve what you wanted it to?
I was super excited to be given this opportunity and equally as excited to see how well-received it was. I felt like people were having the conversations I wanted them to have around those bodies, in that they were talking about humanity as it related to these black men at a time when Michael Brown had just been killed a few days before that show opened. I had been showing these bodies outside of a greater media dialogue and trying to recontextualize them into a more sensitive conversation. People were able to think about it more critically, so yes, I’d say that show went really well.
- Why did you choose to paint the men as nude?
The nudes happened initially in an effort to counteract what clothing can do in detracting from understanding the essence of somebody. There can be insignias or stereotypes that people want to project based off of what someone is wearing, which I feel blocks people from understanding who these people are. I was watching a lifetime of men being misunderstood and seen as villains and hyper-sexualized.
- And then it seems that not too long after Visible Man you were back at Sargent’s Daughters having your second show Brothers. Can you say what you were looking at differently with this show?
I was really focused on expanding the conversation on black men to becoming one about their relationships with each other. I was thinking about multiple figures—fathers, sons, brothers, and cousins. What does it look like when the space is shared intergenerationally?
- Were both of these bodies of work very personal to you?
Definitely. Most of these guys are my friends, family and people I know from Denver. I decided to explore some of the men who had been directly influencing this practice for me in my personal life, and representing them felt important in this time and space. My inspiration almost always directly relates to what I’m around and who I’m around and engaging with.
For me it’s about capturing an essence of people, their souls. One of the first things I paint in every work is the eyes because I do feel that is a very significant and telling part of the person.
- What does your work process look like?
I am very regimented in the way that I work. I am a 10-6 workday sort of person and oftentimes include weekends in my schedule. The way I make paintings is first I photograph my subjects. After, I come into the studio and create my own palate using color aids, then I begin sketching on the canvas, and slowly fill the rest in. A way for me to keep a sense of immediacy in these paintings, without having a live model, is to allow myself to instantly react to what I see and just let my hand go. There’s a wonkiness to these paintings, in that, I’m not hyper obsessed with fixing minute details or having everything completely anatomically correct. This is also the space where I allow myself to let go. There are moments where painting becomes meditative for me and then other moments when there is more of a freedom and looseness. All of the different elements of the painting manifest where I am mentally and emotionally in certain times and spaces as I make the piece. My commitment is just to see the paintings everyday that I can, to be actively in their presence within this space. They become a direct community for me, especially when they start to pop up and have conversations with each other.
- I love your rich color palate; it’s what instantly drew me to your paintings. Is there a specific reason why you work with such vibrant colors, especially in the depiction of your subject’s bodies?
I’m interested in having a conversation about color and how it relates to black skin. I am thinking about blackness as being multifaceted and how it is often times attributed to different tones and hues. I am interested in what we project onto bodies as it relates to color before we even truly see the person. Color is a fun way for me to have that conversation, and besides I just love color. My mother told me that when I was little girl, I was obsessed with rainbows.
- What is this new project you’re working on?
There is an essence of Harlem that I’m trying to capture. It’s a huge shift for me. Prior to this body of work, all my work has been inside the domestic space and this work is moving to exteriors. It’s going back to individuals and so it’s very important for me to try and make connections. Community is such an integral part of my work, so I’m trying to work on a new set of relations, here, in my community in Harlem. I am shaking people’s hands, I am introducing myself, and taking a moment to get to know who these people are.
- Has it been hard finding people to paint and then approaching them?
A lot of these people I’m running into on my walk from the studio to home. It’s taken practice but its not always easy for me. I think there is a certain element, as women in New York, to sort of look down and engage with men in a really particular way—there’s a shutting down that I have embodied somewhat since moving here, which I have to consciously counteract when doing this work. It’s hard but it’s also amazing to see how as soon as you cross that threshold with people just how much they can give back.
- Do you have an overarching aim for your work?
As many people that I can touch with these paintings, the better. I want these paintings to be a slow read of somebody. I want them to be carefully understood, respected, valued, and seen. How do you make somebody seen in a world where, in many aspects, they have been invisible for centuries? And as a woman, what does my lens add to that conversation? As a sister, as a daughter, as a friend—how do I begin to show everyone else what I see and have experienced as a black woman to my black brothers? The hope is that these works can cross boundary lines of many facets—the broader an audience the more I will feel that I have achieved a goal.
Casteel’s newest work will be shown at The Studio Museum in Harlem during their Artists-in-Residence exhibition, opening July 14th.
Can’t wait until July to see her work? The museum will be having open studios on April 17th from 1-4pm.
February 22, 2016
Global/Local 1960–2015: Six Artists from Iran is currently on view at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University’s fine arts museum. As the title suggests, this stunning exhibition brings together six modern and contemporary artists working with their local Persian traditions in Iran as well as internationally, broadening the discourse to current political and social situations. Spanning three generations, the Grey has assembled a critical, thought provoking, and visually breathtaking show that depicts the diverse artistic production stemming from a country whose art is not as accessible to audiences outside of its borders.
A complex yet culturally rich narrative unfolds as we move through the galleries. The show begins with the pioneering modernists of the 1960s and 1970s, Parviz Tanavoli (b. 1937) and Faramarz Pilaram (1937-1983). It then moves to Chohreh Feyzdjou (1955-1996) working right after the turbulent Iran-Iraq War years (1980-88), and ends with the youngest artists Shiva Ahmadi (b. 1975), Shahpour Pouyan (b.1980), and Barbad Golshiri (b. 1982) working within the 2000s up until today.
This show is exceptionally rich and compelling as it brings together a broad and genuine portrayal of Iranian culture based in ancient traditions and forms while simultaneously questioning bleaker themes of power, authority, identity, violence, and military aggression that have all been pertinent throughout the country’s history and as well as today. These themes and motifs are handled in such subtle and incredibly clever ways that the resulting affects are illuminating. Through diverse mediums such as painting, ceramics, metalwork, mixed media, photography, assemblage, watercolor, and video these artists manipulate their heritage and history to make intriguing new claims and connections.
Much of the exhibition is heavy on artistic and curatorial installation that actively engages visitors as they maneuver through the space. The conjoined galleries of Feyzdjou and Golshiri show the dedication and precision in which the exhibit was planned out. Golshiri, who is interested in tombstones and cultures surrounding death, helped arrange the works within his own gallery in order to have it resemble a cemetery plot. Photographs of cemeteries are hung low with a few resting on the floor and leaning against the walls. A stone cenotaph is snuggly fit in a corner while three large rectangular marble slabs are arranged in the middle of the floor. As we walk through these works we arrive at an intimate gallery displaying Feyzdjou’s large-scale installations. 403 scrolls are hung in a grid pattern while rolls, wooden crates, and a large canvas strewn scaffolding resembling an Iranian bazaar display inhabit the rest of the space. These dark, grim objects have been made from reused materials and appropriated works from Feyzdjou’s early art school days. They speak to her quest for identity and represent cycles of destruction and reconstruction.
My favorite artists within this exhibition are Ahmadi and Pouyan, whose works are ground in fine details and toying with the audience’s initial perceptions. Nothing is quite what it seems with these two. Both employ past traditions through their use of miniatures, most notably from the Shahnama (Book of Kings), an illuminated manuscript detailing various Persian epics. Ahmadi takes these narratives and recasts them into contemporary contexts. Her works are colorful, alluring, playful, and rendered in watercolor, giving them an ethereal softness. Her subject, however, is corruption. Faceless rulers sit upon bleeding thrones while monkeys and other circus animals present candy-shaped offerings, which are in fact bombs and grenades. Pipes, industrial and traditional Iranian architectural forms surround these mythic scenes creating an apocalyptic play land. Ahmadi loves “sugarcoating” images where they appear beautiful from afar but reveal darker narratives when we step closer. These works are as mesmerizing as they are grotesque. Rendered with masterful subtlety yet poignant critique, she is commenting on the military aggression that has been present within Iran since the 1979 revolution as a battle over the country’s natural resources and the civilian traumas faced at the hands of their own governments.
Pouyan similarly subverts the meaning of the Shahnama epics by taking specific illustrated pages and stripping the scenes of any figurative elements. What we are left with is an eerily empty landscape void of the elite figures that would have been a part of the scene. These small-scale works are fascinating and leave us to ponder on the contexts of power and patronage, and how authority can dictate “what is left unseen” within society.
Another exquisite series from Pouyan is his “Projectiles.” These monumental hanging works invade the gallery space as missile-like structures. Inspired by medieval Persian armor he explores how technology has served power throughout history. These first appear as menacing weapons but upon closer inspection reveal Pouyan’s fine calligraphic ornament. They are sharp and suggest violence but are also aesthetically striking and in fact very beautiful.
I have come back and seen this show multiple times and with each new visit I have discovered something new. You are set into a sort of trance as you move through the galleries, mesmerized by the ornately fine detailed works and the variety of mediums. The exhibition as a whole is a feast for the eyes as well as a deeply psychological portrayal of Iran’s past. The artists’ consistent referencing to history and Persian heritage allows us to begin to better understand the country’s complex present.
Beautiful and enlightening from all angles, I highly recommend making a visit to NYU’s Grey Art Gallery. Global/Local 1960–2015: Six Artists from Iran is on view until April 2, 2016.