Artist Alexa Meade is a painter who does not use a canvas.
Her artistic practice hovers somewhere between painting, installation, and performance art. She paints directly onto the bodies of her live models, using loose brushstrokes to collapse the appearance of depth and make her subjects appear two-dimensional. She then photographs her models, and the still images visually resemble paintings on canvas.
Trompe l’oeil is an artistic technique that artists have been using for centuries to trick the eye into believing that a two-dimensional image looks as real as a three-dimensional one by creating extremely detailed, hyper-realistic depictions of objects. Meade takes the concept of trompe l’oeil and turns it on its head. Once painted, that which is three-dimensional looks as if it was created on a two-dimensional surface. She paints her subjects and their surroundings with heavy, large brushstrokes, which creates an optical illusion that collapses any sense of depth.
Meade is entirely self-taught; as she ruminates on in her TEDx talk “Your body is my canvas,” after earning her degree in political science from Vassar College she made a career path U-turn and ended up teaching herself how to paint in her parent’s basement. At first, she used her own body as her canvas, creating a series of self-portrait photographs of herself covered in angular paint strokes.
These initial works of art were only documented and circulated as photographs. In the past year, the Los Angeles-based artist has broken out of that format and created more interactive works that have appeared at Art Paris Art Fair, Boom Basel in Miami, and the United Nations in New York City. These “Living Paintings” are created on temporary sets in public spaces, where viewers can see Meade painting the model, and then see the finished product. She has had live models pose in gallery settings and has even done a live painting session in the streets of Tokyo as a promotional event for Mini Cooper in 2013.
Meade’s performance art-style displays ride the same wave of Instagram-able art that Pipilotti Rist’s Pixel Forest & Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. This is probably because you can photograph her work from any angle and the illusion still holds up. Her immersive, painted environments simulate the act of walking into a painting. And in some cases, it is her models walk out of their paintings. Her latest collaboration with hip hop dancer Jon Boogz in “The Color of Reality” has the two central dancers move out of their painted space onto the street.
Alexa Meade wants her audiences “to find the strange in the familiar… to look beyond what’s already been brought to light, and to see that there can always be more than meets the eye.”
March 26, 2017
On March 3, 2017, Turner Prize-winning photographer (and since 2013, Royal Academician) Wolfgang Tillmans live-premiered his sound, light and musical composition, “Fragile: Wolfgang Tillmans, Tim Knapp, and Jay Pluck,” in the South Tank gallery at London’s Tate Modern. Though this performance was billed online by the Tate as an “open-form music installation” that is “part rehearsal, part performance,” this reviewer experienced the event as more of a hybrid, twenty-first-century happening/sound installation composed of: light, sound, slide projection, video, spectator participation, spoken word, poetry, and original music –all of which were interlaced with political and social commentary relating to current global issues. “Fragile” —a reference to Tillmans’ alter ego— was as an immersive, full-body, and multi-sensory aesthetic and political experience that complemented, and extended, Tillmans’ parallel exhibition of photographs, video, musical, and other works, now also on view (until June 11, 2017) in the Boiler House at the Tate Modern.
“Fragile” comprises a diverse variety of audio-visual media, including originally-composed, pre-recorded dance club music (perhaps a nod to the Berghain club in Berlin), audio field recordings (e.g., the voice of a Sainsbury’s self-checkout counter, and sounds of a Berlin subway train), a lightshow, dance videos, and photography projected onto the walls of the large, cylindrical space of the South Tank. Just prior to the artists’ appearance on stage, a rainbow-coloured light sculpture appeared in the near-dark space, the individual lights of which began to rotate and bathe the audience, and interior walls of the usually grey, concrete walls of the South Tank, in jewel-tones of light. The rainbow light sculpture seemed to symbolise both the identity of the artist, and that of the LGBTQ community, and Tillmans effectively used it to define the exhibition space as a queer, safe place for collective reflection, political consciousness-raising, and action.
The full performance of “Fragile” (lasting 100 minutes) featured alternately-played, live and pre-recorded multi-media segments, ranging in length from approximately thirty seconds to ten minutes. Many of the live pieces were performed by Tillmans himself, who —in a departure from his still photography in which he rarely depicts his own image— began to tentatively, and intermittently, occupy center stage. Tillmans’ pieces mixed poetry and song to express his concerns about human rights and other global political, social, and environmental crises.
During the performance, Tillmans was accompanied by deep bass, techno, and house-inspired music played by his bandmates, Tim Knapp and Jay Pluck, as he sang texts, such as:
“Come out, speak out, for your life and for your rights!”
“Because it happened before, it can’t happen again.”
“Twenty-five years ago, I could never have thought that this could have happened.”
“His son had recently been angered by seeing two men kissing.”
For this reviewer, “Fragile” seemed to articulate several themes of crucial importance to the artist. One of these was the concept of community, which Tillmans created through his all-welcome, free-of-charge admissions policy, and his use of the round, inclusive gallery space of the Tate Modern’s South Tank. A second important theme was LGBTQ and human rights, which Tillmans rightly interprets as subject to massive attack in our contemporary society. Lastly, the performance appeared to have an aesthetic purpose as well, namely to “blur the border between still and motion pictures” —a feat Tillmans successfully accomplished in both his live performance of “Fragile,” and his parallel exhibition at Tate Modern.
Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 is on view at Tate Modern until 11 June 2017.
March 11, 2017
“I see life as a passageway,
with no fixed beginning or destination”
– Do Ho Suh
Humanity is often focused upon the destination of life rather than the journeys travelled. These journeys are the ones that result in a life worth living, instead of a life in which the centre of attention revolves around the end result. To be obsessed with the end result of an endeavour, as opposed to living in the present, is the very premise that the artist Do Ho Suh (b.1962, Seoul, Korea) challenges in his new exhibition, ‘Passage/s’.
Currently on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London, Suh’s body of work questions the boundaries of identity as well as the global connection between individuals and groups. After growing up in South Korea, the artist has moved and lived in many different countries, immersing himself in the culture of each one of them. In his work he aims to create a global connection between his identity, his previous destination, and his current journey. He establishes that his own understanding of ‘home’ is both a physical structure and a lived emotional experience. In this sense, the physical structure of a ‘home’ can only be described as the building or property in which one has lived, whereas the home as an emotional experience is documented in the adventures and memories of life. I
Beginning upstairs on the First Floor, the visitor is immediately transported into the many ‘homes’ of the artist. Each independent aspect of a home, whether it is a simple light bulb or a complicated fuse box, has been carefully replicated by Suh’s meticulous hand. Polyester, which is both a fluid and a translucent medium, is the main choice of material for Do Ho Suh. He uses to replicate everyday objects, and its translucency amplifies the importance of concentrating upon the ‘passageways’ of life: you must be able to travel through each destination in order to continue growing and developing.
This concept is heightened in ‘Passage’s: The Pram Project’, a video installation recorded from the perspective of three different cameras. Taped from the comfort of his daughters pram, the video removes the viewer from the controlled environment of the gallery, and places them into the charming streets of Islington and Seoul. Surrounded by the child’s adoring laughter and babbling, we are reminded of the innocence of humanity and the importance of ‘home’ as an emotional connection, something which provides stability and safety.
Continuing on the Lower Floor, Do Ho Suh displays large threaded drawings replicating doorways and stairwells. Each entrance has been accurately copied from the multiple buildings in which Suh has lived, exaggerating how the outside exterior of a ‘home’ does not necessarily reflect the individual immersed within it. For example, not everyone who lives in a London home is British – the immersion of cultures is the most important aspect to create a global identity.
The exhibition arguably concludes with the most impressive component of Do Ho Suh’s work. His series ‘Hubs’ occupies the entirety of the Upper Gallery, where nine reproductions of the apartments in which Suh has called ‘home’ are on display. The transient polyester spaces are connected by threaded doorways and moving doors, enticing the viewer to walk through and experience each room. Although interactive, ‘Hubs’ removes the practical function of a home: door hinges and handles remain motionless while electrical outputs and pipes are frozen without power. By referring back to Suh’s original premise of the home as a physical entity, as well as an emotional experience, we are placed in this complex structure as both ‘private’ and ‘public’ viewers. In one way the elongated home visualises the ‘private’ life of an individual, while the ‘public’ global identity seeps into the design through the fragile material.
I encourage you not just to see the exhibition first-hand, but to interact and engage with the artwork. The unfortunate irony of this brilliant collection of work is the influence of present day technology, and our infatuation and dependence upon our mobile phones. The majority of people visiting exhibitions today try to capture every moment and work of art into a single photograph. This degrades the original intentions of Do Ho Suh and his exploration of life as a journey, as a photograph destroys the steps travelled in order to take it. Life is about the experiences seized by your eyes, not the artificial screen of a phone or lens of a camera; rather than living through your phone, live through reality.
Do Ho Suh‘s ‘Passage/s’ is on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London until 18th March, 2017.
December 2, 2016
A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s is currently on view at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University’s fine art museum. The exhibit was drawn from the Charlotte Moorman Archive housed at Northwestern University’s Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections. With more than 300 items on view, ranging from film clips, performance props, musical scores, photographs, audio recordings, and vintage posters, this marks the first major exhibition devoted to a groundbreaking, yet under-recognized figure in the post-war avant-garde.
Along with works by Moorman, the exhibition includes pieces by some of her frequent collaborators, including Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, John Cage, Takehisa Kosugi, Jim McWilliams, Joseph Beuys, and Giuseppe Chiari, many of whom created works for Moorman to perform. While she is often remembered as Paik’s muse, Moorman -or the “topless cellist,” as she was known- was dedicated to both performing and promoting the innovative work she and her colleagues would create. Moorman later remarked: “With all of my formal training at Juilliard, I feel I know the rules. That’s something that is very important if you are going to break them.”
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1933, Moorman began her career as a classically trained musician. After earning an MA in music from the University of Texas at Austin, she moved to New York to study at the Juilliard School of Music while building a career as a freelance classical musician. After attending a concert by fellow Juilliard student Kenji Kobayashi in spring 1961, in which Kobayashi played Cage’s 26’1.1499″ for a String Player –a “non-musical” score with sounds of the performer’s choosing-, Moorman began to shift focus. Kobayashi introduced Moorman to the downtown avant-garde arts scene, where composer La Monte Young, artist Yoko Ono, choreographer Simone Forti, and others were experimenting with new interdisciplinary art forms.
Moorman went on to organize fifteen avant-garde festivals from 1963 to 1980 (which are also documented in the show), where she was able to cultivate a strong community of hundreds of artists, filmmakers, dancers, poets, musicians, and festival goers who wanted freedom from the constraints of concert halls, galleries, and museums. Over the years, these festivals migrated from traditional performance venues to public spaces, setting a precedent for future large scale multimedia festivals of this kind.
A typical performance could include playing a cello made from a practice bomb (i.e. non-explosive), frying an egg or mushrooms, drinking Coke, letting air out of a balloon, breaking glass, or reading passages ranging from a newspaper article on the Watergate scandal to instructions on a box of tampons. Combining classical training with pop culture, Moorman once pointed out: “I don’t feel that I’m destroying any tradition. I feel that I’m creating something new.”
As an artist, Charlotte Moorman subverted traditional notions of beauty and society’s obsession with the female form by referencing the very sources from which these notions began. It is nearly impossible to look at images of Moorman performing and not be reminded of classical paintings of inexplicably nude women lying in repose in scenic landscapes.
One of the many highlights of the show is a video of Moorman performing Yoko Ono’s iconic “Cut Piece” in 1982. The artist sits before a large crowd gathered at the roof of her Manhattan loft. The guest, good-spirited and a little drunk, really give the party life. But the occasion is marked by a solemn tone. It takes place only a few days before she was to have a lump in her breast biopsied, three years after having a mastectomy to remove the other breast.
As each guest approaches to cut a piece from her gown, Moorman exhibits her characteristic stoic sensibility and poise, traits that distinguish her as a master of her craft. Barbara Moore, an art historian and friend of Moorman’s, noted that the artist kept all the remaining scraps of clothing from her numerous performances of this work “packed into heaps of shopping bags, the ultimate dossier,” epitomizing her endless dedication to her work. “Don’t throw anything out” were Moorman’s dying words as she succumbed to her illness in 1991 at the age of 57. The result, the Charlotte Moorman Archive, allows us to trace the prolific career of one of the most provocative artists of the 20th century.
A Feast of Astonishments will be on view at the Grey Art Gallery until December 10.
Also on view: Don’t Throw Anything Out: Charlotte Moorman’s Archive, at The Fales Library, Tracey/Barry Gallery, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, Third Floor.
October 28, 2016
I catch up with Rubén –who now works as a solo artist— after a particularly busy summer to talk about one of his most recent projects, Stupid Borders, which deals with the absurd human need to possess the land.
When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist?
It was a visceral decision.
At 16, before I started studying engineering, I used to paint graffiti in the outskirts of Madrid. During my studies I continued painting murals, developing the artistic side of it, and when I was finishing my degree I projected myself into the future, and two things happened. If I thought of myself as an engineer, my guts clenched and I could see a heavy darkness. If I thought of myself as an artist, I could perceive light and I felt free of any tension. So after university I backpacked in India for four months, and when I came back I realised that uncertainty was going to be constantly in my life. That uncertainty, not knowing what I’ll do or where I’ll be tomorrow, has won me over.
How were your beginnings in Boa Mistura?
Simply wonderful, like everything we have done together until now when, due to my personal circumstances, I have decided to step aside to see my children grow up. The beginnings were full of innocence and fun. Then came years of learning and growing, and the project developed like the forging of iron, through fire and hard work, full of difficult and wonderful moments, and always with a dash of good humour.
How was working in such a multidisciplinary team?
Before a studio or a company, Boa Mistura was a group of good friends, and that has enabled its powerful growth. We worked very close together and learned a lot from each other. Except for girlfriends and underwear, we shared everything with each other. There is something very beautiful in sharing an idea, shaping it together, and feeling as if it was yours even if came from somebody else. A dissolution of individual ego takes place in favour of the group and the common good, and that is precious.
How has this collective, urban experience affected your individual work?
The collective experience made me grow both as a person and as an artist.
What I love about urban art is its capacity to reach a really wide audience, to go beyond the limits that museums, galleries and the conventional art circuits impose. It’s necessary to forget the idea of art as lifeless objects contained in museums and to start thinking about it as a process, like that vital attitude so necessary for everyone in every aspect of life.
In your statement you mention that your work revolves around the concept of “associated behavior”. What does this concept entail?
Landscape and what I call “associated behavior” –that behavior and bonds that connect you to a certain place— are at the centre of my work. In Seaside Holidays I focus on holiday landscapes in the Mediterranean coast and on the collective and mimetic behavior that leads people to massively go to those places. In Stupid Borders I study frontiers, the concept of limit and our attitudes towards an Earth that transcends us in age but that we strangely feel the need to possess.
How did you come up with your project Stupid Borders?
It emerged from an invitation by AP Gallery to create a project ad hoc for their space. This gallery has a line of work linked to the landscape and an exceptional location near the mountains of Ayllón (Segovia, Spain). It was just the right time for me to begin developing actions on the landscape and to do more conceptual work. In my notebook I drew a line across a lake. I imagined a lane rope dividing that lake in two, crossing it from side to side. Under that I wrote Stupid Borders. That’s where the project was born.
What part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?
The beginning, when there’s just an idea. There’s a special magic when a project is just a sketch in a notebook. At that point I feel a great intellectual pleasure because I imagine all its possibilities and the thousands of shapes that it could adopt. That moment really captivates me. Then there’s a phase of refining it, when you filter and polish, and then comes production to make it real. This last phase is interesting because there are still surprises and problems to overcome, and it counts on one’s previous experience, which is very enriching. Once the piece (or project) is finished, it loses interest to me, as if that idea was already dead. Although it’s precisely then when the idea is passed onto –or revives in— another person.
In Stupid Borders, the documentation that you produce while you work is also exhibited and becomes essential in order to understand your project. Do you think that the educational element is often left aside in contemporary art?
I don’t know. I can’t speak for others. The only thing I can say is that for me that educational element is essential. My work is very conceptually and philosophically charged, and it’s important that the public can get to know that part. My aim is to make us reflect on our behavior and on our way of inhabiting the Earth.
How do you choose the spaces where you create your Minimal Republics?
My Minimal Republics are set in places where normally no one would live or establish a micro-state. The first three are located in the middle of a rye field, in a fallow land, and the last one floating in a reservoir. Absurd places for absurd nations.
I believe you want Stupid Borders to become a life-long project. Was this decision motivated by the problematic situation of borders nowadays?
Indeed. We perceive borders as real entities. We fight for them. We stop those who want to use their freedom of movement. We believe that a piece of land can be ours… we even believe that the Earth belongs to us, when we’ve been here for barely an instant.
The day we come to realise that we belong to the Earth, and not the other way around, we will start behaving differently. It is essential to understand this. I think that’s where Stupid Borders plays an important role as a means for critical reflection. That’s why I have decided to continue creating Minimal Republics until the time comes when either borders or I cease to exist.
Which other plans do you have in mind for the future?
I have a notebook full of ideas, some of which will never see the light. There’s a project entitled Overcrowded where I talk about overpopulation as the main problem we face as a species. Another one, Descanso Visual (Visual Rest), where silence is considered an alternative to our hyper stimulated and noisy society. And also Topographies, which explores how moulds or models –words, preconceptions, physical laws, and other representations of reality— confuse us and lead us away from reality itself.
But my true plans for the future include becoming more of a hippy, seeing my children grow up next to my wife, getting away from the city to live closer to the earth, building a house with my own hands, growing my own tomatoes, writing a book, traveling, learning to surf, becoming more humble each day and enjoying each moment, because the future and the past are not easy to live in.
Stupid Borders opens October 28 at Palacio Quintanar in Segovia (Spain).
October 14, 2016
This not-at-all-comprehensive list includes some of the most exciting representatives of the contemporary Spanish art scene. Despite belonging to a generation of highly qualified Spaniards that do not have many chances of succeeding in their home country, these young creators have already caught the eye of critics, curators and the public. Scroll down to discover their work.
The work of Mercedes Pimiento (Sevilla, 1990) revolves around architectural structures and materials, particularly those that go to waste. She puts the emphasis on the ruins of the capitalist “monuments” of the 21st century by creating her own anti-monuments, small in scale and often made of fragile materials such as soap. In a country full of unnecessary and abandoned megalithic buildings -the result of decades of property speculation- Pimiento’s work make us think about the precariousness of our current sociopolitical system.
Miguel Laino (Huelva, 1980) studied fashion at Central St Martins in London and worked with renowned designers such as Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood. However, after seeing a Georg Baselitz retrospective in 2008, he decided to commit himself to being a painter. He usually reinterprets images from online and print media that he finds compelling, in a process that involves the subconscious more than the conceptual. His piece “Didier” was chosen by Chantal Joffe as the winner of the recent Painted Faces Showdown in Saatchi Art and exhibited at The Griffin Gallery, London.
Guillermo Mora (Alcalá de Henares, 1980) is currently a resident at ISCP, New York. He often uses paint as his artistic medium, but in original and unconventional ways. Some of his most characteristic works consist on layering great amounts of acrylic and vinyl paint that he later folds and piles up to form sculptural blocks. His recent work looks at the forgotten histories of painting and specifically at ideas about acts of concealment, overlapping and disappearance. The motto “add, subtract, multiply and divide” guides his artistic process.
Almudena Lobera (Madrid, 1984) works in a variety of mediums and formats, including sculpture, performance and installation. Drawing is also essential to her work, which aims to show alternative models for the configuration of the visible, delving deeply into the notion that the image is not always visible or accessible in nature. The work pictured above, “The Proof”, was part of her exhibition A latent revelation, hosted by Galería Max Estrella (Madrid) earlier this year. She is currently based in Ghent, Belgium.
Through his collages, installations, and other ‘rarities’ –as he calls them— Julio Falagan (Valladolid, 1979) seeks to dignify the banal and the obsolete. His works lead us to think about social constructions and their fissures by putting dogmas into question. I find particularly interesting how he recycles old paintings found in street markets. He modifies them in different ways, often by cutting them into pieces to compose new works with their fragments, other times by leaving his own mark on them to add new layers of meaning.
Cristina Garrido (Madrid, 1986) investigates the value that is assigned to objects, and particularly to those objects classified as art. Through common and repetitive gestures, such as picking up, collecting, and archiving, she studies the circulation of artistic objects in the art market and examines curatorial practices. In her 2015 award-winning installation “#JWIITMTESDSA? (Just what is it that makes today´s exhibitions so different, so appealing?)”, for instance, she proposed a critical reflection on the success of contemporary art exhibitions.
Mythology, symbolism and art history are usually present in the work of Marina Vargas (Granada, 1980). She mainly uses traditional media such as painting, sculpture, and especially drawing, but she has managed to create a very distinct and personal language that has an enormous power over the viewer. In the past few years she has explored the idea of destroying and questioning the classical canon. An image that keeps appearing in her projects is that of the inverted pieta.
Watching the animations created by Blanca Gracia (Madrid, 1989) is almost an immersive experience. They lead the viewer into and exotic world populated with noble contemporary savages that provide an evasion from our current reality. These animations originate from Gracia’s incredibly imaginative drawings and paintings, where she merges wild anthropology theories, explorers from pseudo-fictitious worlds and lunatic expeditions, all with a flavour of our contemporary world.
Gonzalo Borondo (Valladolid, 1989), known simply as Borondo, is a street artist based in London whose large-size and very expressive murals cover the walls of buildings all over the world. However, some of his most characteristic work is made on glass, which he covers with white paint that is scraped and scratched from the inside of neglected windows to reveal haunting images. The human figure, and particularly the naked body, is at the centre of his artistic vision, which take its influence from the great Spanish master, Francisco de Goya.
Saelia Aparicio (Ávila, 1982) studied sculpture at the Royal College of Art in London. Her recent work establishes analogies between corporeal and social mechanisms, delving into different ideas of the organic to create artificial microcosms that tell us something about our own reality. To achieve this, she uses a multiplicity of materials and processes, always with a poetic approach in mind. In one of her most recent projects, Epidermal Speleology, she explores the concept of ‘abjection’.
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
March 28, 2016
Glenn Ligon has always had a preoccupation with the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality. Ligon’s two exhibitions What We Said The Last Time and We Need To Wake Up Cause That’s What Time It Is, in which the artist illustrates his engrossment with these subjects, are occurring simultaneously at Luhring Augustine‘s Chelsea and Bushwick locations.
What We Said The Last Time features a series of seventeen enlarged prints from the paint-splattered pages of the artist’s well-worn copy James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “Stranger in the Village” from Notes of a Native Son (published 1955). Written during a stay in a small settlement in Switzerland, “Stranger in the Village” examines race as a social construct. “From all available evidence no black man had ever set foot in this tiny Swiss village before I came,” Baldwin writes as he documents his experiences as a gay black man visiting the small Swiss town as a way to better understand the African American identity. Also on view is Entanglements, a curatorial project by Ligon that examines how artists use the studio as a base from which to engage momentous cultural shifts and political events in both direct and oblique ways.
Beginning in 1996, Ligon has used Baldwin’s essay as the basis for his “Stranger” series, which includes prints, drawings, and paintings made from oil slick and occasionally coal dust that nearly obscures the text. While working on this series, Ligon kept copies of Baldwin’s essay on his studio table for reference, and over the years they accumulated a large amount of black paint, oil stains, and fingerprints. This show marks the first time Ligon has used the entirety of Baldwin’s essay in his career. Like so much of Ligon’s work, the resulting prints illustrate the role of intertextuality in contemporary art, and how one medium can simultaneously inform and contradict another. The use of Baldwin’s seminal essay attests to the power of language and ink on paper, but Ligon’s pseudo-redaction of the text tells us something different. One page has the page number and top right corner completely ripped off and thick drops of paint cover sections of the text, but we can still see his quick annotations, contrasting Baldwin’s ruminations with the artist’s own spontaneity.
We Need To Wake Up Cause That’s What Time It Is in Bushwick opened January 16 and predominantly features Ligon’s Live (2014), a silent video installation based on the 1982 film Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip. This is not the first time Mr. Ligon has engaged with Pryor’s work. The artist’s text-based paintings often incorporate references to Pryor’s stand-up, most notably in a series of gold-colored paintings beginning in 1993 based on Pryor’s groundbreaking material from the 1970s. The installation is set up in a circle of six large screens and a smaller screen in a corner. On the smaller screen, we see the unedited version of Pryor’s original performance, while the other screens zoom in on specific parts of Pryor’s body as they appear in the original footage: his head, his shadow, his right hand, his left hand, his mouth, and his groin. The projected images are visible from both sides of the screen, so the viewer can encircle the installation and almost always be confronted by Pryor’s captivating stage presence. Each screen is illuminated only when their designated body parts appear in the original film, so the screens sporadically flicker on and off as your eyes jump around the room to catch his image.
Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording in 1982, and is still widely considered one of the best comedy albums of all time. Throughout his illustrious career and chaotic personal life, Pryor was anything but shy about his views on sexuality, social injustice, and drug use. On the night on June 9, 1980, for instance, Pryor notoriously lit himself on fire with nothing but a bottle of rum and a match after freebasing cocaine, an incident that undoubtedly accounts for his flame red suit and yellow boutonniere (he also begins his act by asking the members of the audience “Anybody got a light?”)
By fragmenting the footage, Pryor’s body parts seems to move independently from the others. His rapid gestures seem second nature to him, but his expression shifts seamlessly between deadpan and animated throughout the film. The lack of audio is particularly jarring when we see Pryor erupt into fits of emotional gestures and cursing. These moments are often followed by brief periods of complete silence and darkness as the camera temporarily leaves the comedian’s body.
Ligon, Pryor, and Baldwin all share an obsession with the idea of black masculinity, but by drawing on this idea rather than readily subverting it, all three were able to contrast the narrative of blackness with its reality. By cutting up Pryor’s image and muting his voice, and by blacking out Baldwin’s text, Ligon illuminates their vulnerability. This installation subtly critiques the social constructs of race and masculinity, but also emphasizes the limits of language in expressing ourselves to one another. The artist forces us to contemplate the ways in which we represent ourselves, both voluntarily and unconsciously. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, he also conveys the fact that to be marginalized either as a group or individually means to be silenced, or to essentially be rendered without language. If we do not have language, how do we communicate? Some say that actions speak louder than words, but it seems that Mr. Ligon does not believe the two should be separated.
What We Said The Last Time at Luhring Augustine in Chelsea is on view until April 2, 2016; We Need To Wake Up Cause That’s What Time It Is at Luhring Augustine Bushwick is on view until April 17, 2016.
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.