“Unorthodox” at the Jewish Museum

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“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.

Clayton Bailey, Jugheads, 1991-1994.

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”.

Nadira Husain, Vent D'Husain 2015

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.

William T. Volmann, The Artist, His Model, & Dolores 2015.

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.

 

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