In: New York City
May 20, 2016
Philip Guston’s oeuvre cannot be designated to only one artistic movement. He had begun his career as a realist expressionist; however, after a move to New York in the forties, quickly delved into abstraction and gained fame as a part of the New York School. Guston’s views on Abstract Expressionism began to diverge from those of his peers. As Ab-Ex continued to sever the ties between abstraction and realism on a “march to flatness,” Guston was becoming disenchanted with painting what he believed could only be realized through painting itself—what only a painting could express. Grappling with concepts of abstraction and the very notions of painting itself, Guston turned back on his separation with realism to rediscover imagination within painting. While it may seem that the artist’s transition to his figurative, Neo-Expressionist works was abrupt, the pieces made during the preceding decade foreshadow his return to figure and object. During Guston’s metamorphosis, his works searched for form and solidity within an imagined space. Some of the pivotal works from this period are currently on display at Hauser & Wirth in an exhibition entitled “Philip Guston: Painter 1957—1967,” which directly explores the slow evolution that led to the artist’s return to figuration and his re-discovery of painting as an illusionistic, infinitely imaginative space.
The exhibition is a coming together of 36 paintings and 53 drawings, most on loan from private collections and major institutions, organized by Paul Schimmel—ex-MOCA Director as well as Partner and Vice President of Hauser & Wirth. Schimmel led a walk-through of the exhibition, discussing this transitory period of 1957-67 as the physical representation of Guston’s concern with the loss of object in abstraction and a display of the artist’s ability to, as Schimmel states, “push back on his own history.”
In the first gallery, colorful shapes floating on white landscapes greet viewers. The works from 1957 are energetic and colorful. In some, the colors clustered in the center of the work seem to wish to break out of their tight, constricted form. Guston’s Fable II from 1957 is an example of this abstracted, elegantly exuberant conglomeration of colors surrounded by soft, warm beige brushstrokes. By 1958, Guston’s paintings become murkier, his colors darkening—the reds deepen, the white tones become gray, such as in Last Piece and Untitled. However, splotches of color are still commanding forces within the picture. Vessel from 1960 consists of a dark rectangular form hovering close to the viewer, dominating the pictorial space—swatches of yellow, green and red peek over the black ridge. Blue and gray brushstrokes partially erase an underpainting, which consists of warmer orange tones.
By 1961, Guston’s longing for images takes over his paintings. Figures and objects arise in dark masses against gray backgrounds that stop short of the edge of the canvas. The masses loom toward the viewer, ambiguous and ghostly. The phantoms haunt many of Guston’s works from this period, shadows of the figuration the artist will soon return to. The bare space surrounding his pictures highlight the edge of the canvas, heightening the awareness of the relationship between the paint and the end of the physical work through a spatial exploration of landscape and background.
Guston’s Painter III from 1963 exemplifies the new changes in the artist’s work. The brushstrokes layer in loose knits, almost grid-like. In Painter III, a form emerges from a large swatch of grays and blues. Underneath, background layers of muted orange and purple peer out from behind the gray paint. A black figure compositionally portrayed in portrait style appears to raise a hand, the suggestion of a paintbrush in its grip implies an artist’s self-portrait. Although ambiguous and still embedded within abstraction, the paintings introduce ideas of landscapes and suggestions of portraiture, even the titles of his pieces start to relate more to physical nouns rather than concepts. Within these works, the viewer can observe Guston testing the waters for a move back to object and figure.
In 1965, Guston experimented with his last throes of color in works like Looking and Inhabiter—hints of dusty, salmon pink layers appear luminous underneath a smoky screen of paint. At the end of this pivotal decade, the everyday objects and enigmatic figures are their most mysterious. Shapes materialize from the space; these cryptic subjects loom forward in their settings, comprised of grays and blacks, the brushstrokes smooth and gentle, forming soft, slack cross-hatched patterns. There is a large sense of erasure in the works, traces of painting barely remain behind a smog-like haze of monochromatic color. The paintings are elusive, abstract enough to remain ambiguous but familiar enough where the implication of reality cannot be ignored.
The end of Hauser & Wirth’s exhibition features a wall of Guston’s drawings from 1967. Although the drawings mark a temporary end of painting for the artist, they actually symbolize the birth of Guston’s Neo-Expressionist style. The pure line drawings are skeletons of the cartoon-like realism soon to come. They also speak to Guston’s rejection of the art world’s expectations regarding his artwork.
The paintings exhibited at Hauser & Wirth display the artist’s search for spatiality and object, signaling his return to figuration. Each work proves to be a stepping stone that forms a cohesive understanding of the artist’s subtle, smooth transition to figure and form and away from the constraints of his previous works. Schimmel, during his tour, discussed Guston’s idea of freedom, stating that the artist believed that “only when you are at the blank white canvas, you are free.” Beyond the works in this decade attempting to reconcile gesture and color field painting, landscape and portraiture with abstraction, the paintings directly deal with the freedom of the artist—the ability to reject or embrace the past, or to create whatever one pleases. The artworks at Hauser & Wirth are inherent to Guston’s realization of freedom, and in Guston’s words himself, “that’s the only possession an artist has—freedom to do whatever you can imagine.”
“Philip Guston: Painter 1957—1967” is on view at Hauser & Wirth Gallery, New York, through July 29, 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.
March 17, 2016
nd In the words of Spanish Golden Age dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca, “Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.” In the words of Oscar-winning actor/environmental activist/heartthrob Leonardo Dicaprio, “green is my favorite color. It’s the color of nature and the color of money and the color of moss!” In honor of St. Patrick’s day, let’s talk about green! The color has been associated with everything from nobility (think Mona Lisa’s dress) to the pastoral, and commonly symbolizes rebirth, renewal, and balance. With spring just around the corner, it seems to be an appropriate topic.
Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, Ruth Asawa, and Frank Stella are famous by abandoning conventions such as figuration and pedestals, and by incorporating sleek, simplified forms, and emphasizing the most fundamental aspects of art: line, form, and of course color. James Turrell’s light-based sculpture Stuck (Green) could be one of the highlights of the notion. Back in 1966 working in Santa Monica, CA, Turrell began experimenting with light and its ability to artificially define a space. Unlike some other light-based artists, Turrell creates spaces that seem immersive, allowing the viewer to not just see, but also experience color.
Whenever I see a Turrell, I cannot help but be reminded of color field painters like Mark Rothko and his “multiforms” or Barnett Newman. Even though Minimalists like Turrell were reacting against the theatricality of the Abstract Expressionists in favor of a reductive aesthetic, I believe Turrell’s work is in many ways a continuation of the color field painters’ attempt to create the illusion of vibrating colors in space. He accomplishes this feat in Struck (Green) as you do feel as though the dim color situated in the corner of a pitch black room slowly begins to radiate outward and envelop you. Whether you find this experience soothing or jarring, the light demands attention and lets you interact with color in a way that you would not be able to in the natural world. Would you expect anything less from a Minimalist?
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.
March 5, 2016
Since its inception in 2009, SPRING/BREAK Art Show has been gaining a steady stream of followers eager to get a look at emerging artists in the New York art scene before their big break – as well as collectors who want to purchase artwork without breaking the bank. Located for the second year at the Skylight at Moynihan Station, the somewhat dilapidated space above the massive post office provides ample potential for unique installations with its wood-paneled former mailing rooms and seemingly randomly placed sinks and bathroom stalls. Considering the pomp-and-circumstance often associated with Armory Arts Week, the art-school qualities of the curator-driven fair can, at times, feel campy or kitsch. However, for those looking to actually understand what they are seeing, the DIY-attitude of the venue lends itself perfectly to discussion, typically with the artists or curators themselves
Azikiwe Mohammed, “A New Davonhaime Thrift Store,” curated by Dustin Yellin
Step into Jimmy’s Thrift, a cozy wood-paneled shop of discarded ephemera in the fictional city of New Davonhaime, which gets its name from the amalgamation of the five most densely populated black cities in the United States (New Orleans, LA, Detroit, MI, Jackson, MS, Birmingham, AL, and Savannah, GA). Playing on the idea of people moving to find a better way of life, artist Azikiwe Mohammed has created a haven for black people, free from the issues surrounding the cities of its real-life inspirations. When I questioned Mohammed about his own inspiration for the project, he answered, “The last few years have been hard for brown folk, so what if there was a place that wasn’t?”
Much like a real shop, Jimmy’s contents change daily as the artist receives or creates more items. The tone varies from playful to serious, with a highlight of the space being the record player of real people discussing the first time they realized they were black. Looking at the eclectic mix of items around the room, it is hard to believe that one person made all of its contents, but each object is integral to the installation. Mohammed commented, “One of the things that was really important to me was to be able to make something that, while I’m controlling all the stories, not everything looks like it’s made by the same person… if I can make stuff that is different enough, then the question isn’t who made it, it’s where did all this come from.
Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos, “MHOAUNTDH,” curated by Amanda Uribe and Ché Morales
Taking the expression “talking with your hands” to a new level, Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos combined the words “mouth” and “hand” to create MHOAUNTDH, an installation emphasizing technology’s impact on -and fusion with- communication. Playing off of Bruce Nauman’s “Fifteen Pairs of Hands,” the artist cast fifteen pairs of hands as if they were texting – a series she titled “15 Pairs of Mouths.” As noted by curator Ché Morales, “We don’t always talk on the phone anymore, we text, so the thumb has replaced our lips.” Other works include “In Conversation,” a series of booth-like structures that play with concepts of language barriers by the audible repetition of Google Translated definitions, seemingly questioning whether or not technology bridges or widens the gap between true understanding.
Alfred Steiner, “LV DIY,” special project by 101/EXHIBIT, curated by Kevin Van Gorp and Shen-Shen Wu
One floor down from Jimmy’s Thrift is a very different kind of store where cardboard boxes from McDonald’s line the walls, surrounding the used clothing scrawled with the universally recognizable LV monogram. This is copyright-lawyer-turned-artist Alfred Steiner’s LV DIY store that parodies the contents, prices, and physical boutique design for Louis Vuitton. According to curator Shen-Shen Wu, the items for sale are more worthy of their price tag than their real world counterparts. “It’s actually more unique than whatever Louis Vuitton is selling, so you can buy a mass-produced item that is branded in a luxury way or you can support an artist who is producing a conceptual art piece.”
What initially appears to be a blatant commentary on mass-production and consumerism is given another level with the book filled with lawsuits involving Louis Vuitton, who, although eager to collaborate with contemporary artists, are notoriously abusive about wielding their intellectual property rights to silence criticism and parody. Luckily, Steiner can provide legal counsel for his own exhibit.
SPRING/BREAK Art Show, March 2-7 2016, 421 Eighth Avenue, Skylight at Moynihan Station (Main Post Office Entrance)
March 4, 2016
On March 2nd, VIP guests and press filled Piers 92 and 94 to preview the 22nd edition of the Armory Show, with Benjamin Genocchio—the Armory’s new executive director—bringing together just over 200 galleries from 36 countries. It is the show’s largest international turn out yet, with galleries from Mexico City to Reykjavík. As the Armory Show has grown, it has introduced a special invitational section that focuses on encapsulating artistic practices from a certain region. For its 7th edition, the show presents “Focus: African Perspectives,” curated by Yvette Mutumba and Julia Grosse, the founders of Contemporary And, an online platform that focuses on global art from African perspectives.
While some of the galleries outside of the focus exhibition seemed to take the theme to heart, after investigating, it became apparent that most are simply just becoming more internationally aware and looking beyond their domestic landscapes. Many galleries’ rosters feature a wide range of very diverse artists, not just in terms of nationality but also diversity of medium and theme. With such an international range of artists and works, it seems our interest in the global has been reflected within the art market. However, unsurprisingly and understandably, most galleries have stuck to the usual show of their newest works by their most marketable artists, international or not. Dealers brought out classic blue chip artists, such as Dan Flavin and Ai Weiwei, and, as is expected, displaying works that preview what is to come for the next season and playing off the popular trends within the art world.
Despite the sometimes too obvious business side of the fair, it was a big year politically with lots of hot button issues, such as racial inequality, which are reflected in many of the contemporary works on display, indicating dealers’ have an understanding that social consciousness and political engagement within art is attractive to the Armory’s attendees. Overall, while the Armory Show is still a typical art fair at heart, it did allow visitors to view some serious artistic gems before they disappear behind private doors. Here are some highlights we think are worth checking out:
Sean Kelly’s booth dominated the entrance of the show with a large, magnificent Kehinde Wiley bronze sculpture entitled Bound, 2016, its price listed at $375,000. Bound features three women bound together by their hair and was featured in Wiley’s Brooklyn Museum show in the spring of 2015. On either side of the sculpture are two new works by Jose Dávila that are in direct conversation with pop superstar Roy Lichtenstein’s two paintings, Drowning Girl, 1963 and Oh, Jeff…I Love You, Too…But…, 1964. While I was visiting the booth, associates were busy pulling smaller works by Dávila in the same style and similar subject matter. The booth boasted another work by Kehinde Wiley, an enormous, brand new portrait entitled Equestrian Portrait of Phillip III, which was already sold before the start of the fair.
I spoke with Lauren Kelly, director of Sean Kelly, about how they chose what to bring to this year’s show. “We specifically tailor what we exhibit based on the market; for this Armory show we wanted to show all brand new works. People expect to see new works at the Armory, so it was more about what exciting new works our artists have versus what balance we want of international or domestic artists. However, we’re in a political year, and we’re thinking about that…we’re showing works that are socially relevant.” When I asked about the Dávila works flying out of the back room, Kelly commented, “we always do really well at the Armory, its a great sales fair for us.” The average price of the artworks? Kelly responded with a cool “Fifty to sixty thousand.”
Victoria Miro’s booth did not disappoint; a large Kara Walker greets passersby and works by Sarah Sze, Wangechi Mutu, Chris Ofili and others fill up the space. A large diptych by Njideka Akunyili Crosby stood out from the rest. It is so new that one of the gallery’s representatives told me it has yet to be named, so it is simply being called To Be Determined, for now. A Nigerian artist based in Los Angeles, Crosby’s work represents a cultural hybrid between being Nigerian and American and the dichotomy that exists between the two. The work depicts a woman sitting at what we presume to be a kitchen table, her stiff yellow dress crinkled at the waist. She sits sideways, her elbow leaning across the top of the chair, her other arm settled on the table. Her eyes are cast downward, lost in a moment to herself. Across from her, a TV plays the image of a military leader. Adjacent to the television, on the wall, we see the bottom half of a framed wedding photo of a bi-racial couple. The background of the diptych is a collage of traditional Nigerian textiles and images from Nigerian news. I was entranced.
Paris’s Galerie Alberta Pane’s featured piece was definitely the most photographed of the fair. Romina de Novellis performed The Cage, or, La Gabbia, during the VIP and press preview that consisted of the artist locked nude in a cage with 500 white roses, which she methodically tied to the bars around her, slowly encapsulating herself within a floral box. She was constantly surrounded by spectators. Her serene, graceful and trance-like gestures and expression made me feel slightly uncomfortable. After a period of time, I was hyper-aware of my participation in the spectatorship and felt like I was entrapped in the viewpoint of the voyeur while she was entrapped in her vulnerability, slowly hiding herself from the audience’s gaze.
James Cohan Gallery’s feature piece is by Elias Sime, entitled Tigthrope, Trios, from 2013. I spoke to David Norr, senior director, about Elias Sime’s work. “Elias is an Ethiopian artist who works in Addis Ababa. He creates compositions out of recomposed electronic parts that are often sourced from the market place, it’s called the Mercato. Often in Africa electronic parts are dumped and they are stripped and they are separated and resold at the market place. Sometimes they are separated by color, sometimes they are separated by actual material. They’re sold in 55 gallon drums. He uses these materials to create almost topographic landscape pieces. He’s using what’s available. It’s not as if oil paint from Brooklyn is available to him, so he’s working with the language that he’s familiar with, and wants to work within that language. He’s interested in making something of Addis, so it’s both directions in terms of formalism and also speaking to his environment, his surroundings.” When asked about the general price range, Norr said that the works they brought the show cost anywhere from $3500 to $235,000, “we brought works for a diverse range of buyers, we were thinking about the real art market.”
Although London dealer Ben Brown came armed with his usual suspects that include Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana and Alexander Calder, he balanced the classic big names of modernism and post-modernism with some works by relevant contemporary artists like Awol Erizku. Also, Claude Lalanne’s Pomme d’Hiver was quite the crowd pleaser.
Jack Shainman Gallery brought a diverse range of works that are representative of their roster that wow’d critics and collectors alike. Works by Hank Willis Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, Titus Kaphar, Toyin Ojih Odutola and Barkley Hendricks are all must-sees.
I had the opportunity to speak with Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, director of Jack Shainman, about their works on display. “We brought a representation of our roster; we represent artists from across the world, including Africa, Europe and around the Americas. We have a really diverse range of artists.” When discussing Promise by Hank Willis Thomas, she stated that “his new works are focused on taking really well-know or historically important photographs and finding an isolated moment within the frame and turning it into 3D sculpture. A sub-sect of this larger series is working around sports imagery. He’s really interested in ideas revolving around identity, representations, activity and thinking about sports as a life metaphor.”
Moving towards the Titus Kaphar, Bellorado-Samuels told me that “he’s really interested in visiting the art historical canon, specifically European and American history painting, but taking figures that generally would’ve been pushed into the margins and making them the central figure and reinterpreting history that way.”
Towards the back-end of the booth, I was drawn to a piece by Toyin Ojih Odutola, inquiring about the work, she told me the artist was born in Nigeria but has lived around the U.S. for quite some time. “She works in various mediums, including this graphite and ballpoint pen and pastel, really interested in thinking about portraiture but really in a material way and rethinking line and form and what the material means to the subject. Thinking about the skin as a terrain and remapping the body.” When asked about the experience so far, Bellorado-Samuels was enthusiastic. “It’s been a great fair, it’s super busy and it’s a great opportunity for people who know these artists or to introduce people to artists they haven’t seen before, and now get to see them here, so it’s been good!” When I asked about prices, she told me that they range between $17,000 to $1.3 million. The publicist quickly stepped closer, so I ended my questioning there.
“For the past few years I’ve been working on the concept of African identity through Western eyes. A part of my work is very based in fine art and also fashion, finding inspiration through fashion. I work only with local people, and with a Nigerian fashion designer. For almost all my pictures I do my castings in the street. I wanted to get another perception of what will be the next generation in Lagos. In my other photographs I work with traditional clothes and thinking about cultural symbolism in West Africa, South Africa. I try to cover not only multiple generations but also traditional and contemporary, past present, modernity, tradition, I explore both sides. I try to explore Africa. I work with different tools from ritual ceremonies and where I’m from, in Guinea, this was very serious, the postures and tools used in my photos are considered sacred. I wanted to use human beings, because in ceremonies these tools, these statuettes used during rituals, they are only animated by your mind. I wanted to make visible the invisible, make them alive and seen in a different context. It was interesting, in South Africa they don’t use the statuette, so to bring a different culture there and do something different, it was very welcomed. When I exhibited these photographs with these sacred tools in my country, though, it was sacrilege. People were offended that I put these tools in my photographs and made the statuette alive, it became violent. The police had to get involved. People eventually settled down, but it was welcomed in South Africa because its a totally different culture, they didn’t see it as offensive.”
The Armory Show, March 3-6 2016, 12th Avenue at 55th Street, Piers 92 and 94
February 29, 2016
On March 3rd, the annual Armory Show in New York will open to the public on Piers 92 & 94, bringing together works from 204 galleries from 36 countries, marking the fair’s largest international representation to date. The Armory Arts Week in New York is akin to New York Fashion Week. However, rather than getting a sneak peak at next season’s hottest trends, collectors and art world enthusiasts attend art fairs to get a sometimes overwhelming look into the future of art, with dealers and gallerists bringing out their latest and greatest works, ready to sell. The first week of March seems overwhelmingly chaotic for art lovers and professionals alike as 12 different art fairs descend upon New York, all occurring nearly simultaneously. Though some are more curatorial focused than others, art fairs have the same basic layout—galleries install works in small booths set up in large exhibition spaces, comparable to an old-world marketplace with purveyors pushing their goods on passerby’s. At least, with the high density of visitors and constant visual bombardment, that is how it feels.
Although the art fairs all boast a certain unique quality or aspect, at their essence, the shows are a convenient and efficient way to sell as much art as possible to as many people as possible. However, fairs present a front of being simply a means to promote art and culture. Though this point is hotly debated, art fairs are not deceiving their audience by claiming to be a means for the public to experience a vast, diverse amount of art with little effort. The greatest barrier in terms of accessibility is the sometimes hefty price for an entrance ticket. Beyond the ticket price, art fairs do stand as a way for the general public to get a glimpse of artworks they might never otherwise encounter. Also, on the business side of things, the fairs have become extremely important for gallerists and art world professionals to garner relationships and reach a market that previously would have been unavailable, or just simply outside of the reach of their network. “Fairs are a necessary evil,” says London-based art dealer Ben Brown. “I prefer the quieter contemplation of the gallery, but I sell more at fairs, and I make more contacts.”
There are 200 large contemporary art fairs a year within major art-hubs around the world. As the art world becomes ever more globalized, collectors and art lovers have begun to congregate at art fairs rather than spend time visiting singular galleries and dealers. Collectors and viewers alike can browse an international selection of work, and while the viewing conditions may not be ideal, the exposure is hard to beat.
Like a thunderhead looming over many cities, the upcoming fairs have thrown the art world into a frenzy of preparation, waiting for the floodgates to open and the storm to begin.
February 29, 2016
Based in New York City, photographer Ebru Varol brings into focus not just life on the streets but the life of the street. Ebru’s work is acutely aware of how memory fades, and the camera captures just a moment. Her photographs dance between light and dark, to see and experience that moment in its entirety. I got the chance to ask Ebru some questions regarding her work, passion, and what drives her Light.
- Can you recall the moment where you discovered your passion for photography, or when you realized you wanted to pursue a career in the arts?
Well, it was after a series of relocations, from one continent to another, moving slowly from East towards the West. I moved here, to New York, from London in 2001, right after September 11th, in a time of grief. While being alone and feeling uncertain in the streets of New York, the only certain thing was my camera. My camera became my best friend, my comrade in arms. I guess if I have to pin down the moment when I discovered my passion for photography, it would be then. Photography came to me as an outlet for expressing my emotional state at that time and it stayed with me ever since. The decision to pursue a career came a few years ago when I realized that my passion, my photography could also possibly be my work and if that was the case, I had to treat it as such.
- Do you have a preference of shooting in color or black and white?
Certain things I see in color and others in black and white. When shooting in black and white, I am looking for light and dark contrasts, which carry so many symbolisms and parallelisms with real life. Black and white exposures with their retro feeling move me from the present to the past and from the west to the east. My color images have a different quality, more meditative. Instead of the contrast’s depth, the surfaces activate sensations and emotions with a more long lasting effect.
- What’s your favorite subject to shoot?
In my eyes everything carries a life of its own, even the lifeless. As a street photographer, I think of myself as a type of 19th century Parisian flâneur, an explorer and observer of the silent. I wander through cities or nature’s paths looking for forms and light. There are several themes that keep coming up in my photographs: windows and staircases, reflections and different textures, mannequins and figurines, locks and keys and other things with an old soul.
- What drives your art?
I am looking at reality through a viewfinder. I see how the light touches forms, how new shapes are created, how reflections change the interpretation of what I see. Then I have this desire to capture these instances, to make images out of them, to have them tell their story, perhaps my story or your story…
- Do your roots in Istanbul impact you as a photographer?
Istanbul is an old city, engraved with history. When you walk on the cobblestones, you wonder who has walked the same paths over the centuries. This connection is present in my images, even though sometimes I need to break away from the past, be in the present and feel the magnetism of the contemporary. Finding my Istanbul, locating that emotional state is an intriguing challenge. My photographs of windows are a good example of what I am trying to say. A window can be anywhere East or West. It’s a window in someone’s soul, memories, fantasies. In certain pictures and certain moments, the camera becomes a window as well, opening and closing, technically and metaphorically.
- Could you explain a term that’s part of your photographical philosophy, “The Light”?
Photography literally means the transcription of light. In the image Reverie, named after the title of my upcoming show, a seated mannequin is contemplating, perhaps daydreaming, frozen in time and in the composition looking outside the window at an old building across the street. The moment the photo was taken the light came through in a certain angle lighting up the window and blending the inside with the outside, becoming one. This is how the story of that image begun, with a spark of light. Its very mythological!
- Where has your favorite place been to exhibit your work?
London, because it was the first city I ever showed my work, and New York because I am having my first solo show here. I feel lucky ‘cause both cities have a highly sophisticated audience.
- Are there any particular artists, photographers or ideas that have fundamentally influenced your approach to photography?
I am very drawn to the works of M. C. Escher, especially in his interest of infinite spaces, geometries and reflections. Edward Hopper’s stillness, his urban scenes and his perspectives of windows with the intense feeling of loneliness fascinate me. Also the works of JMW Turner and his use of light and moving skies are important. In a recent show of his work at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich UK, he was taking over all my sensations. But André Kertész is perhaps the strongest influence: the way he captured urban life, highlighting the poetic and the quiet. How his images “give meaning to everything” about him and how “to make photographs as by reflection in a mirror, unmanipulated and direct as in life.” All these artists and their artworks inform my work and inspire me, perhaps a little piece of them are found in my photographs.
- Are you interested in other forms of art?
When I was a child I believed I would grow up and become an architect. Life turned out differently, but still in my photos one can see my affection to architecture and the urban environment.
- In terms of being an artist today, do you think it’s important to receive a degree, whether that be a BA or MFA, to be “actually qualified” in order to be successful?
I think a BA and/or MFA degree is very important, but in my case being a self-taught artist, an autodidact, grants me a strange freedom. I don’t have strains, rules or prefixed ideas about how my art should be. But I do not underestimate the academic qualifications. They give you a confidence, a network and a deeper understanding of the art world.
- You received a BA in Business Management, correct? Has that been of use to you for the business side of your work?
Every piece of information and knowledge is useful. My BA in business helps me think of my work in a practical manner, like in the technical aspect where market research is important for the production of the work. Creatively I cannot find any connection between my business training and my photography, other than the opposition of the two: in my artwork there are no constraints, while business is all about rules.
- What’s your advice for someone who would also like to pursue a career in this field?
Take your camera and don’t hesitate. This is your world, this is your work.
Ebru has an upcoming Solo Exhibition entitled Reveries in the Gregg Gallery of the National Arts Club, from February 29-March 12, 2016. The title of this show refers to her creative process during her wanderings through urban streets and nature’s paths.
To see more of Ebru’s work, check out her website.
February 23, 2016
“Unorthodox”, which opened at the Jewish Museum in November and will run until March 27th, features a diverse collection of works by fifty-five contemporary artists who, according to the exhibit’s catalogue, “operate outside established norms” of the art world and “carry their nonconformist approaches into the art they make and vice-versa”. The exhibit is a response to the apparent paradox of elitism within the world of avant-garde art. “Unorthodox” features various paintings, videos installations, sculptures, and other works that challenge the “establishment” either in their form or content. I was really impressed both by how engaging and inviting the exhibit was, and by the inclusion of so many talented female artists, most of whom I had not heard of before.
Upon entering the exhibit, I was greeted with a black and white video by the German Jewish cabaret dancer and artist Valeska Gert called Das Baby. In this video, the middle-aged Gert coos and gurgles like an infant and makes exaggerated facial expressions at the camera. This video certainly set the tone for the rest of the exhibit: expressive, bizarre, and a little bit whimsical.
“Unorthodox” features a little bit of everything: painting, sculpture, collage, video, even weavings. There is certainly something for everyone to enjoy and one art form is not presented as superior to another. I was delighted by the hilarious ceramic “Jugheads” by Clayton Bailey which, like Das Baby, were simultaneously thought-provoking and humorous.
The show also features a bounty of beautiful watercolor and acrylic paintings that really brightened up the room. I was particularly drawn to the imaginative and surreal watercolors by Nick Payne as well as an equally dreamlike acrylic by Austé which featured gorgeous and sensual forms and dramatic colors. Vent D’Husain by French-Indian artist Nadira Husain was probably my favorite of the paintings in the collection. In this piece, Husain uses the traditional Indian kalamkari hand painting technique with vegetable dyes and which results in brilliant hues of teal, yellow, and red.
I was also intrigued by a series of acrylics by author and journalist William T. Vollmann called “The Artist, His Model, & Dolores”. Vollmann, who is better known for his literary efforts, is interested in cross-dressing and through his alter-ego Dolores attempts to explore “what being a woman would be like”.
In addition to the painting, sculpture, and other works, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit’s video installations. The two that resonated with me the most were Tommy Hartung’s “Lesser Key of Solomon” which addressed themes of race and religion and Moroccan artist Meriem Bennani’s “Pamela” which I watched twice. “Pamela” is a dark and erotic stop-motion cartoon that depicts the tragic saga of two anthropomorphized beasts and is captivating in an almost frightening way.
Even though “Unorthodox” is meant to address serious issues in the art world, the exhibit itself is fun, inviting, and accessible for all ages to enjoy and in no way cynical or alienating. The exhibit does a masterful job of giving women and minority artists a voice and celebrating the rich diversity in the art world and different forms of art as well. “Unorthodox” was a breath of fresh air and definitely worth a visit. In addition to free tours of the exhibit, The Jewish Museum is also hosting “Unorthodox Programming” in collaboration with the 92nd street Y to accompany the exhibit. These programs include “On Museums”, which will take place on February 28th, “In Response:Unorthodox” on March 6th, and “On Philosophy” on March 22nd. To learn more about the exhibit and these special programs consult the Jewish Museum’s website.
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.