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Photographing the Mexican American Experience

Miguel Angel Torres and his wife Evelia Segura with “El Tapatio Tacos y Tortas” in Santa Fe New Mexico

Miguel Angel Torres and his wife Evelia Segura own El Tapatio Tacos y Tortas in Santa Fe, New Mexico (all images courtesy of Imanol Miranda)

Last year, the German photographer Stefan Falke photographed the Mexican American photographer Imanol Miranda for his series La Frontera, which catalogues artists living along the US-Mexico border. In the image, 27-year-old Miranda stands before an enormous prickly pear cactus in his parents’ front yard in McAllen, Texas. He holds one of his own photographs, of a family praying in a small Catholic chapel — a glimpse of life in the Rio Grande Valley, where he lives.

As the picture reveals, Miranda is the one most often behind the camera. For the past few years, he’s been documenting the Mexican American community in the southern United States. Seen together, his photographs are a mosaic of blue collar workers, artists, musicians, war veterans, folk healers and even custom car collectors. But one of Miranda’s most recognizable subjects is the family-run restaurant or food stand, which the photographer sees as a microcosm of the Mexican American experience. He’s now raising funds on Kickstarter to show his photographs of these businesses at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center in Austin.

Carlos Santillana with Yum Yum Snack Bar in Alton Texas

Carlos Santillana owns Yum Yum Snack Bar in Alton, Texas

For Miranda, taquerias and panaderias represent the aspirations of many poor Mexican immigrants — what they do after crossing the border in pursuit of a better life. He told Hyperallergic that he hopes these images fill an absence in the media’s immigration coverage, which often reduces the story to the politicized issues of border security and citizenship status. “I want the conversation to also be about how Mexicans contribute to one of the country’s most cherished ideals: the American dream,” Miranda said.

Bianca Sandova is one of the restaurant owners who Miranda photographed; she and her husband started E&B Elotes in McAllen. As a result of the family’s hard work, what started as a simple roadside stand serving up roasted corn from a borrowed grill evolved into a registered business with two busy locations. Another is Carlos Santillana, who opened the snack bar Yum Yum after working in a bakery for a few years. “[Carlos] told me that the American dream, for him, means working hard and being consistent at it.”

Blanca Sandoval with E & B Elotes in McAllen Texas

Blanca Sandoval owns E&B Elotes in McAllen, Texas

Miranda’s own family owned a small grocery store that served tortas (sandwiches) in Acapulco, where he grew up. As an 11-year-old, he would deliver the sandwiches to customers, and he remembers getting excited when his parents made 100 pesos (roughly $7) in a day. But after years of struggling financially, they sold all they owned and moved to the US when Miranda was 13. “We all entered with visas and switched to various types for several years, always paying attention to maintaining a proper immigration status,” he said. “It took me a total of 13 years to achieve that milestone. After that happened [earlier this year], I felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.”

The photographer said that financial instability is the biggest obstacle faced by the immigrants he photographs, though it’s also what drives them to the US in the first place. As he wrote on his Kickstarter page, “My parents made the decision based on the notion that we would find a better life.”

A New Guide to New York’s Subterranean Art

Underground Art Museum

Leo Villareal,” Hive (Bleecker Street)” (2012), Bleecker Street 6 station, LED tubes, custom software, electrical hardware, aluminum, and stainless steel (photograph by James Ewing, all images courtesy the Monacelli Press)

There are over 250 art projects lodged in the transit infrastructure of New York City. Some are garish or grand mosaics that cover whole subway tunnels, others you might walk by for years without recognition. A new book compiles them in a guide to city’s subterranean galleries.

Underground Art Museum

Sol LewWitt, “Whirls and twirls (MTA)” (2009), 59th Street-Columbus Circle (courtesy Dattner Architects)

Commissioned by MTA Arts & Design (formerly MTA Arts for Transit), New York’s Underground Art Museum: MTA Arts & Design by Sandra Bloodworth, director of MTA Arts & Design, and William Ayres, an independent curator, was published late last month by the Monacelli Press. It’s an update of the more joyously named 2006 Along the Way, also by Bloodworth and Ayres. Since that first book, nearly 100 installations have joined the “museum.” This includes huge pieces like Leo Villareal’s “Hive (Bleecker Street)” (2012), a honeycomb of LED light patterns at the new Bleecker transfer, and smaller works like Duke Riley’s “Be Good or Be Gone” (2011), glass windows at Beach 98 Street in the Rockaways.

“At any given time, more than fifty new artworks are in progress, a fact that makes MTA Arts & Design one of the largest sources of public art commissions in the world,” the authors write. They also hint at bigger things to come with the Second Avenue line which will provide “MTA Arts & Design an unprecedented opportunity to partner with other MTA professionals from the outset to create a totally new environment.”

Underground Art Museum

Duke Riley’s “Be Good or Be Gone” (2011) faceted glass at Beach 98 Street (photograph of the book by the author for Hyperallergic)

Underground Art Museum

Shinique Smith, “Mother Hale’s Garden” (2013), Mother Clara Hale Bus Depot, glass and ceramic mosaic with laminated glass (photograph by Eric Wolfe)

Underground Art Museum

Ben Snead’s “Departures and Arrivals” (2009) mosaic and ceramic tile work at Jay Street-Metro Tech (photograph of the book by the author for Hyperallergic)

The book concentrates just on the MTA Arts & Design work, which dates to 1985, rather than older subway decorative design, although the authors do give tribute to work like the 1904 elements by Heins & La Farge, whose ceramic mosaics you can still view in Times Square from 1904, and whose terra-cotta beaver plaques still adorn Astor Place. Yet it’s an interesting compilation of how art is installed in such a difficult place as mass transit, where it must pop out of the chaos but also not obstruct its flow. And it is purely a compendium, there’s not much commentary on public reaction or interaction.

However, it’s a great resource for transit and art nerds. There were several projects I pass all the time I hadn’t recognized as art, such as “Framing Union Square” (1998) by Mary Miss where red aluminum subtly outlines particular details of the station, and James Garvey’s bronze “Lariat Tapers” (2011) that wrap pillars at Wall Street. The background on the meaning of the art is also engaging, such as Ben Snead’s “Departures and Arrivals” (2009) at Jay Street-Metro Tech featuring five types of fauna, including those that migrated to Brooklyn for mysterious reasons, like the monk parrot that nests in places like the spires of the archway at Green-Wood Cemetery. It would be a bit handier if New York’s Underground Art Museum was more pocket rather than coffee table size to be a true underground guide, but sparks appreciation in the extensive art enlivening the daily commute, especially for those of us whose home stations (25th Street on the R) still remain sadly bare. Yet with the rapid installation of new art in recent years that may not be true for long.

Underground Art Museum

James Carpenter Design Associates, Grimshaw Architects, and ARUP, “Sky Reflector Net” (2014), Fulton Center (photograph by Patrick J. Cashin)

Underground Art Museum

Barbara Grygutis, “Bronx River View” (2010), Whitlock Avenue 6 station, stainless steel (photograph by Peter Peirce)

Underground Art Museum

Jean Shin, “Celadon Remnants” (2008), Broadway Station, MTA Long Island Rail Road, ceramic and glass mosaic (photograph by Seong Kwon)

New York’s Underground Art Museum: MTA Arts & Design by Sandra Bloodworth and William Ayres was released October 28 by the Monacelli Press. 

That Overwhelming Feeling


“Naturally Hypernatural” Conference at SVA Explores the Meaning of Nature in the 21st Century


Naturally Hypernatural: Visions of Nature is an interdisciplinary conference investigating the fluctuating “essences” of “nature” and the “natural” in the 21st century. Each of these terms carries with it an enormity of philosophical questions ranging from the alteration of life itself, to dialogues concerning the notion of the Anthropocene, a term used to describe man’s intervention in the natural world. The conference will focus on contemporary issues in the visual arts as they intersect with the biological and geological sciences, confirming that nature remains an intrinsically mysterious, ever more mutable entity.

At the present time, cellular parts are being remixed in laboratories to create synthetic organisms while geological transformations are forecasting wild swings in weather conditions. Human reproduction regularly occurs in Petri dishes while cucumbers are grown in space. The artificial and the natural now combine to form novel entities, never before seen on earth, while animal species dwindle down to extinction every day. Animals and plants are exhibited as contemporary art, while the real is conflated with the imaginary. Visual art has become a social practice platform with projects that intersect with urban farming, DIY biology and extremes in performance art. In addition, there will be an exhibition of work by students, alumni and faculty, generated through SVA’s Bio Art Laboratory, the first of its kind in the USA.

For tickets and more information visit

Naturally Hypernatural: Visions of Nature will take place at the School of Visual Arts (335 West 16th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) between Friday, November 14 & Sunday, November 16.

Shattered “Adam” Is Born Anew at the Metropolitan Museum

Tullio Lombardo's "Adam" (c.1490–95) after the conservation, which took 12 years. (all images courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Tullio Lombardo’s “Adam” (c.1490–95) after the conservation, which took 12 years. (all images courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

One of the greatest Renaissance sculptures outside of Europe has been restored after a devastating 2002 fall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tullio Lombardo’s “Adam” (c.1490–95) is, according to the Met, “the first monumental classical nude carved following antiquity,” and for centuries it stood by the Venetian tomb of Doge Andrea Vendramin, who died in 1478. When the Doge’s monument was transferred to a new location during the second decade of the 19th century, the statue of “Adam” was removed, as it was a prudish time in Venetian history.

A look at some of "Adam"'s scars during the conservation process. Here many of the broken fragments are reassembled.

A look at some of “Adam”‘s scars during the conservation process. Here many of the broken fragments are reassembled. (click to enlarge)

For decades the statute, which was acquired by New York’s Metropolitan Museum in 1936, stood quietly in the museum’s Vélez Blanco Patio. Then on October 6, 2002, at 5:59 pm, the ill-suited wooden pedestal buckled and the Biblically inspired Adam fell from grace. At the time, Metropolitan Director Philippe de Montebello described the statue’s collapse as a ”tragic fluke accident” and ”about the worst thing that could happen” to a museum. The life-sized sculpture broke into 28 large pieces and hundreds of smaller fragments scattered across the gallery.

Conservators worked hard on the sculptural masterpiece, and the process pushed the limits of art conservation, according to an account published by the museum. For those eager to learn more about the process, this report can be seen in the 2014 edition of the annual Metropolitan Museum Journal (volume 49).

Today, the sculpture was unveiled in a new permanent gallery for Venetian and northern Italian sculpture at the museum, and we can only hope the six-foot-three, 770-pound sculpture is on more steady footing.

Conservators prepare to reattach Adam's head.

Conservators prepare to reattach Adam’s head.

Adam in conservation

An armless Adam in conservation

The result demonstrates the skill of the conservators in retaining the smooth unblemished surfaces that Lombardo masterpiece is known for.

The result demonstrates the skill of the conservators in retaining the smooth unblemished surfaces that Lombardo masterpiece is known for.

Tullio Lomardo's "Adam" in all his glory post-restoration.

Tullio Lomardo’s “Adam” (c.1490–95) in all his glory post-restoration.

A video of the whole process was created by the Metropolitan Museum:

Conflict Kitchen’s Palestinian Programming Under Siege

A line of people waiting to order Palestinian takeout from the Conflict Kitchen (all photos courtesy Conflict Kitchen)

A line of people waiting to order Palestinian takeout from the Conflict Kitchen (all photos courtesy Conflict Kitchen)

Conflict Kitchen, the social practice eatery in Pittsburgh, has come under fire from the Israel advocacy organization B’nai B’rith International over its current programming on Palestine. The restaurant’s menu and programming focus on the food and culture of countries where the US is engaged in a conflict, an effort to foster understanding between populations whose governments are at odds — but not everyone is eating up their culinary diplomacy. After a deluge of right-wing media coverage, the organization temporarily closed the restaurant on Friday after receiving a letter containing death threats.

In response to the letter from B’nai B’rith, the Heinz Endowments, which is chaired by Teresa Heinz Kerry (the wife of US Secretary of State John Kerry) and provided a $50,000 grant to Conflict Kitchen last year to help it relocate and develop new programming, appeared to disavow its support for the organization. “I want to be especially clear that its current program on Palestine was not funded by the endowments and we would not fund such a program, precisely because it appears to be terribly at odds with the mission of promoting understanding,” Heinz Endowments president Grant Oliphant wrote in a letter quoted in a B’nai B’rith release from October 31. But a follow-up statement from Oliphant, posted on the Heinz Endowments website, tempered the message: “Just to be clear, the Endowments has a long and proud history of supporting arts organizations whose work can be challenging or controversial, and I stand firmly with our staff in carrying that tradition forward.”

A tasting with members of the local Palestinian community

A tasting with members of the local Palestinian community

“The real story on our Palestinian version is that it is the most popular iteration to date, with 300–400 people a day coming to the restaurant,” Conflict Kitchen co-founders Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski wrote in a blog post responding to the recent press. “Our public is approaching us with trust, support, and open minds.”

Media coverage of the affair has been sensationalist in tone, with headlines like “Anti-Israel restaurant receives funding from John Kerry’s wife’s foundation” (Fox News), “Report: John Kerry’s Wife Funds Radical Anti-US, Anti-Israel Eatery” (Breitbart), “Kitchen Nightmares” (Washington Free Beacon), and “Kerry’s Wife Funds Anti-Israel Pop Up Restaurant” (Breaking Israel News).

Attacks on Conflict Kitchen have revolved around two issues. Its Palestine-themed programming launched with a September 30 talk that featured West Bank-raised, Pittsburgh-based doctor Nael Aldweib and Ken Boas, a University of Pittsburgh professor who is also the chair of the board of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA. That event drew criticism from Pittsburgh’s Jewish Chronicle for not including an Israeli perspective.

An order being handed over during the Iranian edition of Conflict Kitchen

An order being handed over during the Iranian edition of Conflict Kitchen

“Promoting understanding is at the core of Conflict Kitchen’s mission,” Rubin and Weleski wrote. “We have demonstrated this in the past by presenting the food, culture, and viewpoints of Iranians, Afghans, Cubans, North Koreans, and Venezuelans.  We believe that presenting the viewpoints of Palestinians promotes understanding of Palestinians.”

Subsequent attacks on the organization have centered on the text printed on their food wrappers, which include excerpts from interviews conducted in Palestine. One passage, quoted very selectively in the Washington Free Beacon, reads:

How can you compare Israeli F-16s, which are some of the best military planes in the world, to a few hundred homemade rockets? You’re punishing the Gazans who have been under your siege for eight years already. You’re attacking, arresting and killing guilty and innocent people alike. You have 1.8 million people in an area half the size of New York City, but without proper housing, water or infrastructure, and no way to make a living. They are banned from dealing with anyone outside Gaza. You’ re pushing them to the absolute extreme. So what do you expect? Palestinians are not going to just let you in and drop their arms. No, they’re going to kill and they are going to die.

“Conflict Kitchen’s goal is to increase the curiosity and understanding about the people who live in countries our government is in conflict with by directly exposing our customers to these cultures and viewpoints,” Rubin and Weleski wrote. “Another goal is to raise the public profile of the minority Afghan, Iranian, Cuban, Venezuelan, and Palestinian communities who live and work in our region, thereby creating a more accurate depiction of Pittsburgh’s cultural diversity. These new accusations will not alter Conflict Kitchen’s goals with our current Palestinian version.  Rather, they strengthen why our mission to increase curiosity and understanding is more important than ever before.”

The Conflict Kitchen stand and an adjacent tent set up nearby to host events

The Conflict Kitchen stand and an adjacent tent set up to host events

Conflict Kitchen was launched by Rubin, a Carnegie Mellon University art professor, and Weleski, a multidisciplinary artist, in 2010. Past programs have been devoted to Afghanistan, North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela. In spite of the current media hysteria, the restaurant’s customers remain enthusiastic.

“Absolutely love the concept and the food here,” Yelp reviewer Elizabeth H. of Belle Mead, New Jersey, wrote on October 19. “Recently went to try their Palestinian food — the fattoush was excellent. Always have plenty of vegetarian options. People who work here are knowledgeable and love to talk when it’s less crowded. Favorite place to eat in Oakland.”

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Deadline For Application to VCU Painting and Printmaking MFA Program: January 15, 2015


VCUarts Painting + Printmaking MFA programs provide superb opportunities for artists to work, reflect, experiment, and study. Graduate students are both supported and challenged by an informed and engaging community of artists and scholars. The programs in Painting + Printmaking provide exemplary faculty, ample financial aid, intensive studio time, immersive theory and history courses, collaborative exhibition opportunities, one-on-one dialogue with practicing artists, an ever-changing roster of esteemed visitors, and professional opportunities in the field.

Access to a wealth of working artists is a hallmark of the program. Recent visitors include: Bryon Kim, Amy Bessone, Kristin Lucas, Anoka Faruqee, Mary Weatherford, Kristin Calabrese, Alejandro Cesarco, Chris Johanson, and Daniel Joseph Martinez. Each semester an art world luminary teaches the Graduate Seminar. These artistic leaders are terrific professional connections for students and to the greater art world. Recent seminar leaders include B. Wurtz, Matthew Day Jackson, Spencer Finch, and Joanne Greenbaum. Closely connected faculty, visiting artists, students and alumni forge a community enlivened by the most current critical and creative exchange.

The total number of graduate students in the Painting + Printmaking MFA programs is 15. Each has a private studio of approximately 200 sq. ft. and access to world-class digital and analogue printmaking facilities informed by traditional and contemporary applications of the medium.

Questions about VCUarts Painting + Printmaking MFA programs can be directed toward Graduate Director, Holly J. Morrison ( Find more at

Finding Community in the Picture Windows of Paris

19 Mai, 2013, bis rue de douai, Paris 9e,

“Rue de Douai, 9th arrondissement, Paris”

How do you make friends in a big city? Despite brushing shoulders with hundreds of strangers every day, it’s easy to feel like a ship at sea. Anonymity can be comfortable, though, which is why — for many of us at least — the desire to connect rarely propels us beyond a voyeuristic curiosity about the neighbors. The lit, open window quickly becomes a lozenge for loneliness.

This suspended state of communion is something we can all identify with. It simmers through the paintings of Edward Hopper, films like Rear Window and Amelie, and the writings of people like Charles Baudelaire and Paula Fox. More recently, photographer Gail Albert Halaban has mined it to great effect in her series VIS-à-VIS, Paris, which features cinematic scenes of domestic life frozen within the city’s bright window frames.

Collected in Gail Albert Halaban: Paris Views, a stunning monograph recently published by the Aperture Foundation, the photographs build on Halaban’s earlier, New York-centric series Out My Window. She told Hyperallergic, “When I first moved to NYC, I had a young baby and spent many sleepless nights looking out my window and was never lonely, as there are so many windows through which I could make friends.” Halaban used photography as a way to actually meet the people she kept seeing. “I was looking for connection,” she explained.

Before shooting, she spent time installing extra lighting in the homes, which helped her to get to know the residents who served as models in the staged photographs. They also got to know their neighbors, since Halaban shot the images from a window across the way. And at the end of every photo session, they’d all uncork a bottle of wine to celebrate. “Meeting people is a huge part of it,” she said. “Many friendships have blossomed from this.”

While Halaban’s photographs don’t capture that personal connection per se, they do envelop the viewer within a larger sense of community from which real companionship can grow. As Cathy Rémy wrote in Le Monde, the newspaper that first commissioned the images, “Little by little, the universal takes over the individual, to better remind us that our place is here among others.”

"... And on the other street"

“Passage du Désir, 10th arrondissement, Paris”

17 mai 2013, rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, Paris 10-e

“Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 10th arrondissement, Paris”

October 31, 2012, rue Du Guesclin-Paris-15

“Rue du Guesclin, 15th arrondissement, Paris”

Le 1 novembre 2012, rue de Belleville, Paris-20e

“Rue de Belleville, 20th arrondissement, Paris”

Gail Albert Halaban: Paris Views is available at Aperture, Amazon, and other online booksellers.

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The Detroit Free Press

Contemporary Fresco That’s Off the Wall


Sean Glover, “Disembodies #1” (2011), Fresco on styrofoam, 6” x 13” x 5” (all images courtesy the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

It isn’t often one comes across fresco paintings in art galleries, the last time I remember seeing a sizable number was the “Rooms” section of the Francesco Clemente retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 1999. This was around the same time the artist Joyce Kozloff had begun her ongoing series of fresco paintings of maps inspired by ancient cartographers. So it is something of an opportunity to view the varied selection of contemporary fresco painting currently on view at Hudson Guild Gallery in Chelsea. All of the artists in the exhibition, titled Off the Wall: Fresco Painting, are working in the buon fresco method, a process that is chemically complex and involves a high degree of craftsmanship and sure-handed skill.

Buon fresco requires the practitioner to work wet on wet, applying water based pigments on top of a damp layer of lime-based plaster. An artist will work within a period of limited duration as the paint and plaster base set and dry and become inextricably bound together in the process. The crystalline glow of the colors that are unique to fresco comes out of this sensual process where the plaster acts as both binder and support for the paint.

oneill untitled

Walter O’Neill, “Untitled” (2002), Fresco on wire mesh on wood, 24” x 24”, (courtesy Walter O’Neill).

Walter O’Neill and Christopher Carroll use a straightforward traditional method of building a support that holds the plaster but whereas O’Neill’s painting appears classical grounded, Carroll has absurdist leanings. O’Neill’s “Untitled” (2002) abstraction has an array of gestural strokes and sweeps that suggests and underlying figurative subject and radiates an air of reverence harkening back to Renaissance murals. The work has assured brushwork and scratches that are all carefully ordered with the shades and atmosphere of a deep forest landscape. The surface is layered from broad and loose strokes to lightly transparent washes or opaque calligraphs, smokey greys on top of brighter mustards, greens, blues, venetian red, and flesh tones.


Christopher Carroll, “Field Test” (2014), Fresco, TFT monitor, integrated electronics, 25” x 29” x 3”.

Carroll’s work titled “Field Test” (2014) demonstrates the unlikely paring of fresco with integrated video and computer components. Its central motif is a Penrose Triangle, an impossible geometric structure that never quite connects, and the eye ricochets between the deep blue of the triangle to the irradiated computer screen that hovers in the upper left corner. Pondering the collisions between what is natural, ancient, or mediated, the work emits a sense of longing frustrated by disconnection.

Also working with odd juxtapositions is Daniel Bozhkov, an artist known for conceptual projects that weave together varying degrees of apprenticeship, politics, and craft. Here he works collaboratively with Zlatka Bozhkov on “Hypothesis for Two Needles and a Night Vacuum,” a work that involves squared off raw plaster and brushy paint with touches of embroidery. The support is approached from two different ends by completely different artisanal practices. With this piece and Bozhkov’s nearby Block 36 there are traces of appliances, ducts or vents that may suggest either cozy domesticity or depersonalized industry.


Michael Biddle, “Sanctum” (2014), Pottery shards and fresco, 8”w x 7”d x 5”h.

Michael Biddle and Barbara Sullivan apply plaster to wood and foam supports that are then carved and modeled into anthropomorphic blobs with a zaniness resembling Elizabeth Murray’s cartoonish paintings. Both artists appear to riff on culture at large, be it ancient or modern. Biddle’s small sculptural mound “Sanctum” (2014) is made of pottery shards of the sort that you would find on an archeological dig and could be cross-referenced with his nearby wall piece “Tumble,” a sort of Hairy Who-inspired hieroglyph. Fresco’s rich history as a means of spiritual storytelling is given a latter-day update in Sullivan’s reliefs of an Eames Chair and Noguchi Table. The furniture springs to life against the white wall of the gallery like idols embodying the modern worship of brands and labels.


Carrie Moyer, “Untitled” (2013), Fresco on burlap mounted on wood, 9” x 9”.

The artists in Off the Wall marry subject matter and technique to the intrinsic qualities of the fresco medium. In this way, gestural abstractions tend to work well considering the time constraint involved. Carrie Moyer, Maria Walker, and Elizabeth Mooney all affix burlap to an underlying board, capitalizing on the simple beauty of the fresco pigments and all three artists create abstractions that appear to be nature inflected.

Mooney and Moyer’s works are all untitled and populated with punchy colors and shapes. Mooney’s have a light touch and washy bleed with overlapping daubs and swirls reminiscent of foliage and sky. The marks have a harmonious organization, some heavily applied and frontal while others evoke dappled light. Moyer lets her painting spill off the plaster sheath to the underlying wood support and around the sides and in doing so there are changes in texture and light. The paint is rigorously applied and her shapes are graphic with patterns within patterns and exclamatory marks that feel like snapshots of a larger, scrambled scenario.


Maria Walker, “Maine Star (Yellow, Purple, Red, Green)” (2013), Fresco on burlap mounted on wood, 12 x 12 inches (courtesy Walter O’Neill)

Walker’s contemplative paintings titled Maine Stars have a diamond orientation with the plaster scored and pressed in places and the grain and presence of the underlying wood accentuated. They have an intimate restraint that considers every physical part of the meditative whole and are comprised of subdued, nocturnal colors. As you walk through the exhibition, there are cracks and crumbles underfoot where bits of plaster have chipped and Nadia Ayari’s “Bach” may be the most delicate piece of all. Using thickly painted short, stippled strokes she pins fresco on burlap directly to the wall creating a work that is laden with symbols and allegorically rich.

Sean Glover and Gabriel Pionkowski’s works have a fresh, pop sensibility that thrusts combinations of fresco painting and found objects into the gallery space, casually tucked here and there about the room. Pionkowski inlays plaster into the upper portions of three old-fashioned washboards and colors these sections in primary red, blue, and yellow. By turning them this way and that, he creates a Mondrian-esque assemblage. The washboards come equipped with a built-in geometric simplicity while rippled aluminum and glass sections add rhythm and texture.


Gabriel Pionkowski, “Untitled” (2012), Washboards with inlaid fresco, largest 18” x 24”.

Glover’s “In Bloom” (2014) featured a helium balloon wrapped in a geodesic dome of wooden dowels, the balloon held in place by a white ribbon tethered to a collection of fresco shards. At the start of the exhibition the balloon had floated in the air, but a few weeks later had lost its buoyancy and drooped to the ground, the dome catching and holding it in place. The dowels created a makeshift podium settling nicely on the hardwood floor. The fresco shards are the result of affixing plaster to styrofoam with (what looks like) a grey cement, and they have a beautifully raw and exposed materiality; glowing paint, foil, crumbled plaster, tinted and torn styrofoam. “In Bloom” was conceived around the rough and tumble pull of gravity, and its disparate pieces resemble scattered sheet rock and insulation or like a Richard Tuttle wall assemblage that had fallen to the floor and shattered.


Sean Glover, “In Bloom” (2014), Fresco on styrofoam with helium balloon, dimensions variable.

Glover’s other series, titled Disembodies, is more self contained. He layers styrofoam sheets on top of one another then carves the outer shape into a faceted rock-like formation, digging a hole through the center where he applies the fresco in brilliant color. The outer sheets are layered in beautifully modulated colors like stratified minerals that have been cracked open to reveal a rich, opulent inner core.

Walter O’Neill curated Off the Wall and both he and Bozhkov have had long-term stints as fresco instructors at Skowhegan School of Art. Looking over the careers of the artists in the show it is apparent that fresco painting is just one aspect of their multi-faceted practices, that in addition to acrylic and oil painting include sculpture, video, writing, performance, and graphic design. Most artists don many hats nowadays working across mediums and vocations and it is quite possible that the artists included here have studied under O’Neill or Bozhkov or collaborated with one another in some capacity. Whatever the case, the ancient medium of fresco with its rich history and transformative properties is alive and well in the hands of these artists.

Off the Wall: Fresco Painting continues at Hudson Guild Gallery (441 West 26 Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through November 29.

Brooklyn Art Center Uses Airbnb to Fund Its Programming

Left to right: collage by Ruben B, photograph by Udom Surangsophon, photograph by Alan Kleinberg, map of California by Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin, drawing by Giuseppe Stampone (all photos by Simon Courchel)

Left to right: collage by Ruben B, photograph by Udom Surangsophon, photograph by Alan Kleinberg, map of California by Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin, drawing by Giuseppe Stampone (all photos by Simon Courchel)

We’ve all heard — perhaps even grown tired of hearing — of art organizations raising money on Kickstarter, but what about fundraising on Airbnb? Yes, the website simultaneously destabilizing entire cities’ housing markets and galvanizing the international hotel industry is helping at least one Brooklyn art center, the Invisible Dog in Boerum Hill, to fund its programming.

“I started three years ago, not on Airbnb at first, but directly through Invisible Dog. I started to use Airbnb when the studio became very popular and it was easier to manage check-ins and checkouts, payment, and correspondence,” Lucien Zayan, the director of the Invisible Dog, told Hyperallergic via email. “The reason I started is to offer housing to artists. I was facing a very serious problem with artists invited for a residency at Invisible Dog. I was giving them a work studio, but almost each time it was about finding them a place to live during their residency that was problematic, sometimes a nightmare. Several residence projects were cancelled because we never found the right place at the right moment: too far from Invisible Dog, expensive, dirty, inaccurate description, or even last-minute cancellation. Nothing really surprising in NYC, I guess.”

Invisible Dog studio installation view

Invisible Dog studio installation view

Zayan has three studio apartments listed on Airbnb, each renting for $175 per night. There’s “Stylish Arty Brooklyn Appartment,” “BEAUTIFUL STUDIO IN BOERUM HILL #8,” and “Beautiful studio in Boerum Hill #6.” Each one is outfitted with vintage furniture, decorated in a sparse yet warm manner, pet friendly, and, unsurprisingly, features a great deal of art.

“Sixty percent of the art presented is from Invisible Dog artists, 40 percent from other origins, but just to clarify: The art presented in the studio is not lent by the artists but purchased by the Invisible Dog and is part of our permanent art collection,” Zayan explained. “We are currently doing an inventory but I can say we have something like 200 pieces now. It’s not about decoration as you can find that in many places, we really try to get the attention of the visitors. My dream would be to create a place like the Benesse Hotel in Naoshima, Japan. It’s magic, you can walk in the middle of the night between Judd, Richter, Giacommeti, Nauman, Twombly, and there is a major piece of art in each room … I’m smiling just thinking that our visitors will say in 20 years, ‘OMG, I slept next to a Ryan Frank or Ian Trask piece of art.’”

Painting by Oliver Jeffers and ceramic bowl by Joan Lurie

Painting by Oliver Jeffers and ceramic bowl by Joan Lurie

And, by all accounts, travelers are equally appreciative.

“Lucien was a great host,” wrote one Airbnb reviewer. “He gave us a tour in The Invisible Dog Art Center and introduced us to a number of artist that are working there. He also invited us to a party of one of the artists.”

Now, the studios serve a double purpose of boosting the Invisible Dog’s revenue and providing flexible and free housing for visiting artists.

“As it has become an important service we offer to our network, it has also become an important source of revenue for Invisible Dog,” Zayan said. “Fifty percent of the time they are occupied by artists in residence at Invisible Dog, free of charged, 50 percent of the time by other visitors (who are charged). And we have the freedom to host artists anytime we want!”


Painting by Alix Pereira da Cuhna, collage by Ashkan Honarvar


Left to right and top to bottom: “Pyromaniac” by Ian Trask, photograph by Simon Courchel, ladder by Ryan Frank, drawing by Lars Van Dooren, sculpture by Christopher Astley, and grenade calendar by Steven and William Ladd


Photo by Simon Courchel, sculpture by Mac Premo


Sculpture by Chong Gon Byun

The Women Tagging and Painting the Streets of Bogotá

Detail from a wall featuring work by Fear and Zas (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Detail of a wall featuring work by Fear and Zas (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Here, where graffiti is classified as a violation rather than a crime, street artists do not have to hide. Bright murals, often uncompromisingly political, cover public walls, as well as those of home and business owners who, understanding the value (cultural and financial), allow their own properties to be used as a canvas.

In late 2011, the police shooting of teenage artist Diego Felipe Becerra provoked such an outcry that the city’s authorities issued a decree relaxing laws against graffiti and giving artists permission to work on certain public walls — as well as private ones, with building owners’ permission. Now, street artists are able to work more freely. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy, though, and working as a woman brings its own set of challenges. The small core group of working women streets artists in Bogotá includes Lik Mi, Zas, Bastardilla, Ledania, Hera, Fear, Zurik, Yurikauno, and Lili Cuca. Opinions on the significance of their status as women in a male-dominated field vary among them. Here are some thoughts from three.

Lik Mi

Wheatpaste by Lik Mi

Wheatpaste by Lik Mi

Working in wheatpaste on the street and in jewelry in the studio, Lik Mi plasters her designs on walls throughout Bogotá, as well as offering her work for sale at independent design and art stores. Many of Lik Mi’s wheatpastes feature copulating couples and full nudity — her confrontational take on what she sees as the commodification of women’s bodies.

“I’m really interested in the body,” she told Hyperallergic over the phone. “I’m looking to find the connection between the body, the mind, and the soul. I am really interested in taboos around the body and sexuality and how sexuality has become a thing that is sold as a product.” While overt sexuality is accepted quite easily in mainstream advertising images, Lik Mi’s illustrations seem to challenge the public. “Some people get stressed when they see my naked drawings in the street” she said. “Some people like it, some people don’t. “ 

Lik Mi was born in Bogotá and trained as a graphic designer. She worked in the industry for two years, but “it was really boring work, and I was really uncomfortable with my life, working for the system, selling cars and so on.” She decided to quit her job and move to the Amazonian jungle to live with an indigenous Ticuna community for seven months. “I kind of threw everything away — all the bank accounts, everything. I decided to quit the life of the city. There, I reconnected with myself. When I came back, I decided I was not going to work for anyone anymore.”

“For sure, it’s more difficult” for women street artists in Bogotá, she says. “It’s a machisto society. It’s tough to get out of the traditional women’s roles that are still part of the society here in Colombia. It’s really a group of men doing that type of art, so getting inside is a little bit difficult and also developing your work because, as women, you have to take care of a lot of other things.”

She doesn’t feels that male street artists are intentionally unwelcoming, though. “It’s more subconscious; it’s not deliberate, it’s that the society is machisto. How I see it is, it’s just different, how they work. “


"El Beso de los Invisibles" mural, to which Zas contributed (click to enlarge)

“El Beso de los Invisibles” mural, to which Zas contributed (click to enlarge)

Zas, a graffiti writer who started tagging her name on the Bogotá streets as a youth in 2004, is the only woman in the prolific Vertigo Grafitti crew, a fact she doesn’t dwell on much.

“I have always felt comfortable in the company of men,” she said via email. “So working with the team at Vertigo — and with my graffiti crews, MDC (MD Crew, of which Yurikauno is also a member) and APC (Animal Poder Cultura Crew) — is very natural for me. I cover their backs and they cover mine; we treat each other as equals.”

“It doesn’t interest me that my gender is taken into account when evaluating my work,” she says. “Personally, I prefer that my style is asexual.” However, she does recognize certain challenges to working in the in the streets as a woman.

“Because of the prevailing situation of violence and insecurity in our country, it is more difficult for women to feel safe on the streets of Bogotá. Also culturally,” she says, echoing Lik Mi’s comments, “the place of women in our society is in the home, so to begin making graffiti can be more difficult for a woman than for a man, especially if you are underage (which is exactly when most people begin to make graffiti).”

Once a woman finds her place in the scene, however, Zas believes they can take advantage a little. “Once you start to do it and you’re in the middle of it, it’s much easier to stand out if you’re a woman; the balance of inequality in a macho society turns completely on its head.”

Together with Vertigo, Jade, and MDC, Zas worked on the iconic “El Beso de los Invisibles,” a 115-foot-high mural on the side of a building in downtown Bogotá. The mural is based on a famous photograph by Hector Favio Zamora, published in El Tiempo newspaper, which depicts a homeless couple, Hernan and Diana, kissing on a pile of trash in the impoverished neighborhood of El Bronx.

“It was a thrilling experience for the challenge of painting something so big in the city center. The mural’s theme and composition were considered for a grant from the District Institute of Arts, and to achieve this we felt we had a responsibility to do something of very high quality,” Zas says. “I think we achieved this, but what I found most interesting was to have made a mural that is not distinguished by the personal style of each artist. We all worked together to create a single image: real teamwork. That says a lot about the dynamics of working with MDC.” 


Mural by Bastardilla

Mural by Bastardilla

For Bastardilla, gender is an important part of her work, which she uses to draw attention to injustices experienced by women in Colombia.

With a name that translates to italics, Bastardilla, is one of Bogotá’s best-known street artists. Yet she was first introduced to me within in the context of her relationship with another (male) artist. Bastardilla prefers to remain anonymous “in a world where everyone is promoting their own image,” as she put it in a rare interview with a French production company. Her work, most often found in poorer neighborhoods, is characterized by its use of bold colors; it draws on such topics as feminism, violence against women, poverty, indigenous society, and nature. Violence in Colombia, she says in the video, “is a disease that continues to spread.” Her depictions of women affected by sexual violence are unsettling; in one, a large blue and pink wall piece facing a playground, pain shows in the eyes of the central figure, who swallows daggers while clinging to another, almost inhuman figure with blank eyes. Bastardilla even dabs glitter onto her painted tears so that they glow at night.

“I cannot stay indifferent to what happens in the world, still today, toward women” she says in the video. “And for me, these women are a true source of inspiration. It is a very personal way to tell a little about my life.”

Both women I spoke to mentioned the insecurity of being a woman in the city, but it is Bastardilla who confronts the issue most directly, by creating large, difficult-to-ignore representations of women who have suffered violence on those very same streets.

Help Desk: Crowd Funding

Help Desk is an arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.

I have a lot of friends who are running crowd-funding campaigns. One is staging a performance in another state, another has a residency in Europe in 2015, the third is going on a “research trip” in preparation for a solo show, the fourth wants to self-publish a catalog of her work. Part of me wants to contribute because these people are my friends, but personally I would never think to ask other people to fund my art practice. Isn’t that why we all have day jobs? So on the one hand, I want to be supportive. On the other, it feels like chutzpah to ask me to pay for their projects, and I don’t like feeling pressured by my friends. Should I give to all or some of these campaigns, or should I pretend I never saw the emails? Should I run one myself the next time I need to travel or buy a new laptop? 

John Baldessari. Money (with Space Between) , 1991; Lithograph / Screenprint on Arches.  © Baldessari

John Baldessari. Money (With Space Between), 1991; lithograph and screen print on Arches.

Should, should, should. It’s my least-favorite word, and it doesn’t really apply to your situation. The answer to this dilemma (I’m not counting your facetious final question) depends on your altruism and the size of your wallet. It sounds like you’re already leaning toward no, and that’s a perfectly acceptable reply. Of course, if you’re concerned that these ambitious pals of yours will snub you in the future, you could always give the minimum—it’s usually under ten dollars—and for the price of a drink you’ll have kept the peace.

Some crowd-funded projects carry more weight than others. Personally, I tend to give money to organizations (an art space, a ’zine shop’s forced relocation, a free program to make e-books) rather than individuals, because there’s more potential to do good. If I’m going to be part of a capital-raising crew, I want the benefits to extend to more than just one person. That said, I have supported some projects by my friends because they were truly in danger of not being able to take advantage of some great opportunities—but these have been in the minority.

I reached out to some other artists that I know—ones who actively participate in their communities in a variety of ways—and asked them to weigh in on flock financing. Not only did they generally echo my sentiments, they also offer tips for deciding which projects to fund, and (inadvertently) provide some dos and don’ts on how to run an honorable crowd-funding campaign:

“As an artist, I have a lot of mixed feelings about crowd-funding options. I’m glad they exist, particularly given the woeful state of arts funding in the U.S., and I think they can help fill the gap; at the same time, I’m wary of the extent to which they’re now being used for everything under the sun. I myself used Kickstarter on one occasion to produce a DVD compilation of past work—the campaign essentially functioned as a way to pre-sell the compilation in order to be able to produce it. In these sorts of instances, I don’t really see any problem with crowdfunding, especially since I wouldn’t have been able to pay for the production out of my own pocket. So I think it’s a viable way for people to fund larger projects that their regular income isn’t going to cover.

“I’ve also donated to Kickstarter campaigns at various points as well. Most of these were projects by friends or close acquaintances. I’d like to say I have some thoughtful set of metrics I use to decide what campaigns I contribute to, but the truth is a lot of it depends on a highly fluid and inconsistent set of variables—it really depends on my mood and degree of decision fatigue at that particular moment. Generally, if it’s someone I know and respect, and if the project seems like one I know they couldn’t fund on their own, I’m willing to throw down a few bucks. Sometimes the rewards are actually something I’d enjoy having—a print, a book, an album, etc.—though this is usually not the deciding factor.

“I do understand how one can feel overwhelmed by constant requests to contribute. I guess a good set of questions when one is evaluating whether to contribute or not might be: Do I like and support the work of the person running the campaign? Am I genuinely interested in their project? Would I like to see it realized? Is the project of a scope or scale that the person running the campaign would be unlikely to be able to produce it solely out of their own pocket? Are any of the rewards something I might actually like to have? Can I afford making a contribution? If the answer to most questions is yes, then I would be likely to contribute, if even only a small amount.”

*     *     *

“Over the past two years, I’ve funded four artist projects. As a general rule I will not give to any art-related crowd-funding campaigns if the person could feasibly pay for the project on their own. This typically covers any ‘normal’ part of a studio practice such as making a book, doing a residency, taking a road trip to make photographs, doing extensive framing for artwork, traveling an existing solo exhibition to multiple venues, or generating basic research for an upcoming project. These are all things for which I’ve been asked to contribute funds recently.

“With this said, I will happily consider funding a project that seems more ambitious than one person can possibly pay for on their own. This would include producing a feature-length film, going to Antarctica for three months to gather data in the dark for a multi-year project, producing a year-long education program for under-served urban youth, or building a massive public sculpture in the middle of the desert … all of which I have funded or considered funding over the past few years.

“The only exception to this rule comes when an artist is offering a really great gift for funding his or her project. There have been a few instances when I funded a project reluctantly just to get some amazing thing that was offered. With that said, if I don’t receive the gift (and somewhat on schedule), I will not fund future projects by that person, regardless of the goal or project. I have a ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy. It may sound harsh, but I’ve funded four projects over the past two years, and only one person has issued their promised gift to me.”

*     *     *

“I have only contributed to a handful of projects over the years. Kickstarter showed promise as an arts-funding model in the beginning but quickly devolved into a haven for half-baked ideas and vanity projects for those with social capital. That being said, the few campaigns I’ve contributed money toward have one of the following qualities:

—An arts organization or alternative venue with a track record of presenting thoughtful programming and supporting artists.
—An individual artist who wants to finance the production of a book, album, or DVD, and uses Kickstarter as a preordering system for fans. If I’m into your work, I’m happy to pay for a piece of it up front.
—An individual artist who presents a clear idea that in some way justifies the need for a large amount of money—digitizing archival material for a film, for example. This third example is very rare and my guidelines for supporting one of these projects are as stringent as any granting organization. I want to see that the artist understands the scope of her project and has made a good-faith effort to seek other funding sources.

“Here are some qualities I despise in a campaign:

—Artists begging their poor friends for money. Perhaps they also have rich patrons, or more than likely family members, who are also contributing to the campaign, but too often their emails come off like a high-school student bumming change in the lunch line.
—Asking me to support your research trip, residency costs, or other travel. Learn to write a proper grant, it’s not hard to find travel money if you put in the legwork.
—Underdeveloped proposals that would never make it past the first stage of a grants process.
—Attempting to make me feel obligated to your vanity project by using words like ‘community’ and ‘social.’”

*     *     *

“I love crowdfunding. I think this type of exchange has provided creatives of all types with the opportunity to get their ideas off the ground, and has provided me with the satisfaction of contributing to projects that I find interesting and useful. However, I view crowdfunding more as a transaction than a favor to a friend. It’s an agreement.

“When I spend money on a product or a service, I get something in return. Even when I donate money to a nonprofit, I am paying for a service—that money is being used to make a difference for a cause that I care about, but that I cannot accomplish myself. When I am asked to contribute to someone’s crowdfunded project, I analyze the request like I would any other purchase. I typically refuse to fund projects that are, in my opinion, typical studio expenses or just someone’s basic cost of living.

“In my mind, there is no such a thing as a starving artist; I expect artists to be resourceful for the way that they fund their work, just like I am expected to be resourceful. But that doesn’t mean just sticking my hand out to my friends and family whenever I need something. I don’t fund projects because someone is my friend or because I get some kind of satisfaction from ‘donating’ money to an artist’s work—don’t come to me with a bleeding-heart story about why you can’t fund something yourself. Come to me with a real idea and give me something useful and interesting in return for supporting it.

“The projects that I find to be the most rewarding to fund are based on delivering some kind of product. I have supported friends who used Kickstarter to get their new accessory idea off the ground and, in return, I have received great products and other schwag. They sent regular updates of them building prototypes, selecting materials, and in the factory. I have funded a film project and have received a photograph from a small edition in return. I am often disappointed by projects that I have funded that don’t send thoughtful updates or don’t deliver the thing I purchased. When this happens, I will not fund that person’s projects again—just like I would do with any other bad customer-service experience.”

*     *     *

In the end, it’s pretty easy to get out of contributing to a campaign that you can’t or don’t want to support. Yes, you can just ignore the emails, but if that seems awkward, why not meet the subject head-on: “I saw your Kickstarter/Indiegogo/GoFundMe campaign, and I am saving for my own residency/have no extra money right now/have a policy of only supporting institutions—but I hope it works well for you!” Said with genuine goodwill, this may be all that’s necessary to preserve both your friendships and your bank balance. Good luck!

Weekend Words: Lame

Leonardo da Vinci, "Cavern with ducks" (1482-85). Pen and ink on paper, 220 x 158 mm. Royal Library, Windsor. (Image via Web Gallery of Art)

Leonardo da Vinci, “Cavern with ducks” (1482-85), pen and ink on paper, 220 x 158 mm. Royal Library, Windsor. (image via Web Gallery of Art)

It’s the second weekend of November, and President Obama is officially a lame duck.

“A joke, even if it be a lame one, is nowhere so keenly relished or quickly applauded as in a murder trial.”

—Mark Twain

“Rush Limbaugh is a lame professional swine, and he makes a good living at it. He is like a hired geek in some traveling backwoods carnival — the freaks who bite the heads off chickens — but Limbaugh is a modernized geek who thinks he can bite the heads off of people.”

—Hunter S. Thompson

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

—Albert Einstein, Science, Philosophy and Religion

“You don’t see sick animals in the wild. You don’t see lame animals in the wild, and its all because of the predator: the lion, the tiger, the leopard, all the cats.”

—Tippi Hedren

“I think that’s just part of how it is with making art. Sometimes you’re just flooded with ideas, and then other times you’re questioning all the ideas you ever had before, and everything is just… lame.”

—Dana Schutz

“Yes, I received your letter yesterday
(About the time the doorknob broke)
When you asked how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name.”

—Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row”

“See the blind and the lame at play,
There on the summer lawn—
She with her graceless eyes of clay,
Quick as a frightened fawn,
Running and tripping into his way
Whose legs are gone.”

—Wallace Stevens, “Outside the Hospital”

“He is the richest man who enriches his country most; in whom the people feel richest and proudest; who gives himself with his money; who opens the doors of opportunity widest to those about him; who is ears to the deaf; eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. Such a man makes every acre of land in his community worth more, and makes richer every man who lives near him.”

—Orison Swett Marden

“My grandfather was lame. Once they asked him to tell a story about his teacher. And he related how the holy Baal Shem used to hop and dance while he prayed. My grandfather rose as he spoke, and he was so swept away by the story that he himself began to hop and dance to show how the Master had done. From that hour he was cured of his lameness.”

—Martin Buber, The Tales: The Early Masters

Dozier Bell: Descending, Lifting, Rising, Swells


Dozier Bell, “Moon, 16:00″ (2013), acrylic on panel, 16 x 20 inches (via

In a statement about her life and work written a few years back, Dozier Bell started off by highlighting her roots in Maine, which stretch back seven generations, and the role they play in the way she perceives the world. “Physical isolation, the cultural tendency to reticence, and the prominence of the natural world in day-to-day experience,” Bell noted, “fostered habits of thought in which the visual and the unspoken carried a great deal of weight.”

Despite her native credentials and lifelong association with Maine (she was born in Marsden Hartley’s hometown of Lewiston in 1957 and currently lives in Waldoboro), Bell has never been inspired to represent its famed landscape — no Monhegan headlands, no Prout’s Neck rocky coast, no Mount Katahdin eminence, no working waterfronts. Yes, much of her work has been in a landscape mode, and maybe recent paintings of the surface of the sea owe something to the nearby Atlantic, but the subjects have arisen primarily from those “habits of thought” more than from her surroundings.

Bell’s is a kind of darkly romantic vision, often northern in nature. Employing acrylic, photomontage and other means and mediums, over the years she has created a body of work that embraces enigma even as it represents the truth of her perceptions, whether she is considering her origins or the elegiac vagaries of World War II (she went on a Fulbright to Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany, in 1995-1996).

Bell is tuned into a kind of parallel universe, one that has ties to Eastern Europe, but one that also reflects thoughts of a future where birds wheel across the sky and the clouds briefly break to reveal dark countryside. Her oceans are what we imagine will eventually envelop us: swelling with depths of darkness.

The exhibition of new work at Danese/Corey (through November 15) extends Bell’s explorations of a stark world, sometimes populated by birds. It is not exactly post-apocalyptic as some of her early work seemed to be, although she notes in a statement for the show that the impact of climate change may be influencing her vision (a painting like “Floodwaters,” 2012, certainly points to this).

Bell’s penchant for old world landscapes comes through in “Descending” (2012) and “Citadel” (2014). In the former we see the silhouette of a city immersed in a smoggy glowing half-darkness — a place where perhaps at certain times of the year it might seem like evening all day. The latter, with its tower-like structure cutting into the sky, had me humming a line from Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”: “Two riders were approaching/And the wind begin to howl.”


Dozier Bell, “Riverbank” (2014), acrylic on linen, 20 x 28 inches (via

Bell’s paintings are all about light and they are romantic in that regard, at times almost Luminist: see “Ridge (2012), with its streak of gold between earth and heavens. The true ancestors in the room are Blakelock and Ryder. She shares those painters’ ability to bring light out of darkness, be it dim moonlight in a pool in a forest or a patch of snow in pine woods, and to record gradations of dark.

As with some of the charcoal drawings of Emily Nelligan, one must adjust one’s eyes to make out the contours of a land mass or fir trees or riverbank — peer and squint and carefully roam to find one’s bearings. Art historian Meyer Schapiro called Nelligan’s charcoal studies of Great Cranberry Island “beautiful poems in blacks of a rare delicacy of tone and surface.” That appraisal came to mind when viewing the twelve charcoal-on-Mylar landscapes in Bell’s show. Mostly made in the last three years, all of them are very small, from 2½ by 4½ inches to 3 by 6 inches (in the catalogue they are reproduced in their actual size). They are warm and dark and often echo the compositions of larger acrylic pieces in the show.

Bell’s paintings bring to mind a host of associations. Her castles make one think of Rilke’s “Duino Elegies.” Her desolate but beautiful landscapes bring to mind Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The haunted quality of certain pieces recalls the poetry of Louise Gluck.

Mostly though, these paintings transport us to richly realized worlds. In “Flock, Haze” (2014), for example, we are placed at the edge of a cliff where sharp-winged birds scissor across a mist-laden sky. The landscape below offers dim outlines of distant hills and fragments of water. Two handsome seascapes, “Swells” (2012) and “Low Clouds, Flock” (2013) set us upon voluminous waters. And sometimes she does away with orientation altogether, offering a study of dissipating clouds, a rectangle of atmospheric sky where a migration of birds is taking place.

Bell is essentially an elegist, but as with any composer of elegies, she leans to poetry and the splendor of the afterworld. These are lost places she has found.

Dozier Bell: New Paintings and Drawings continues at Danese/Corey (511 West 22nd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through November 15.

Why I Am a Member of the Lee Harwood Fan Club

Lee Hrwood Photo

Mark Ford’s blurb on the back of Lee Harwood’s most recent book of poetry, The Orchid Boat (London, Enitharmon, 2014), inspired me to look up the original review from which it was quoted.

Written a decade ago in The Guardian (September 17, 2004), this is how Ford’s astute assessment of Harwood’s Collected Poems (Exeter: Shearsman, 2004) began:

Lee Harwood, who is 65 this year, is still not known much outside the world of small press publications. His twenty or so volumes of poems and prose poems have been issued by tiny, often fugitive presses, such as Pig Press, Galloping Dog Press, Slow Dancer Press, Transgravity Press, and Other Branch Readings. But, like Jeremy Prynne, whose work drew fire earlier this year from the heavyweight academic professors John Carey and John Sutherland, Harwood has cult status among followers of the alternative British poetry scene.

Although a decade has passed since Ford’s smart, sympathetic review, Harwood, a resident of Brighton since 1967, who has managed to fly under the radar in his own country for nearly his entire career, continues to remain all but invisible here. There are many reasons for this, none of which are particularly interesting.

The Orchid BoatAnd yet, it wasn’t always so. Like others of my generation (I was born in 1950), who began reading poetry as teenagers in the wake of Donald Allen’s groundbreaking anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960 (1960), I discovered some of what was going in the alternative English and American poetry scene through Fulcrum Press, which published Basil Bunting’s Collected Poems (1968), as well as Robert Duncan’s Derivations: Selected Poems, 1950-56 (1968). The press also published Harwood’s The White Room (1968). Lewis Warsh and Ann Waldman had earlier published The Man with Blue Eyes (New York: Angel Hair Books, 1966), but I didn’t own it until after I bought The White Room. This was my introduction to Harwood, and I have followed his work as best as I could ever since. His work hasn’t always been easy to find, but it is now, which is why I want to go on record about this marvelous poet.

There are sixteen poems in The Orchid Boat, none longer than two pages. After finishing this book and thirsty for more, I decided to go back to Harwood’s Collected Poems. Covering forty years (1964-2004), the Collected Poems is 522 pages long. I highly recommend it or, if one finds that too daunting, read his Selected Poems (Shearsman 2007), which is 140 pages long and includes poems written between 2004 and 2007. One may also find it useful, as I certainly have, to look up Lee Harwood: Not the Full Story (Shearsman, 2008), which contains six interviews by Kelvin Corcoran. My final recommendation is Chanson Dada: Tristan Tzara, Selected Poems (Black Widow, 2009), which contains all of Harwood’s translations of the poet done over a period of twenty-five years.

One reason to read Collected Poems from beginning to end is because, as Ford stresses in his review, “Harwood’s poetry is not only not ‘difficult’ – it is open, moving and exquisitely delicate in its attention to landscape, mood, and the pressures of time and history.”

Ford makes another point in his review, which I think bears repeating:

He makes use of avant-garde poetic techniques not to dramatize a radical skepticism about language or meaning, but in order to recover for poetry the kinds of “directness” or expressive energy postmodernism taught us to distrust.

This directness is what I think Harwood has to offer to readers and young writers who feel like they have reached an impasse.

In the “Foreword” to his Collected Poems, Harwood cites among his early influences Ezra Pound, John Ashbery, who he met in Paris in 1965, Tristan Tzara and Jorge Luis Borges. From these writers Harwood learned about collage and what could be done, as he says to Corcoran: “with fragments and suggestions.” Later, he tells Corcoran that another influence is “Reverdy’s idea of The Daily Miracle–of how amazing all the things around you are when you look at them and step back rather than take them for granted.”

This is one of the keys to Harwood’s poetry–his sharp-eyed, sympathetic attention to the unpredictable drift of the ordinary things, feelings and daydreams that fill our everyday lives because they are not to be taken “for granted.” He is not driven to make a grand statement or be oracular.

This is the last stanza of “letterpoem” (ca. 1965):

lunch-times I sit in the park
watching the sun and damp grass.
there’s no big fiery blast to end this poem,
no sudden revelation – “more’s the pity”
– and even this sounds too neat

While still in his mid-twenties, Harwood quietly and confidently refuses to join the high modernist tradition that includes T.S. Eliot. At the same time, he is not part of another club; he is a man sitting alone in a park. I still find Harwood’s confident acceptance of his unavoidable solitariness inspiring.

Another key to the poetry can be gleaned from this exchange between Corcoran and Harwood.

K.C.: “They are very physical poems, Lee. They are involved with the body, aren’t they?

L.H.: Yes, there is the sexual side.

Later, in the same interview, Harwood states:

I just feel a strong sense of self can be a hindrance. That it detracts from the relationship between the writer and the reader and it imposes the author’s personality, and that moves into the business of authority, which I detest. I don’t think any writing should be an authority, rather than a questioning, otherwise it panders to the writer’s vanity.

This is the conundrum that animates Harwood’s best writing, from poems to prose. There is a strong sense of the sensual, sexual body – male in his earlier work and later female – while at the same time a reluctance to impose any authority upon the relationship.

As Ford states in his review:

His poetry never attempts to coerce us into a particular attitude to life, and indeed even avoids interpreting the experience it embodies. Instead, it creates a space in which perceptions, quotations, overheard snippets of conversation (“Being a working girl isn’t all stars”), clippings from newspapers, outbursts of lyricism or unhappiness, inscriptions copied from gravestones can succeed each other without seeming either merely random or too programmatically shaped.

Later, Ford advances that Harwood’s attention to the details of everyday life is comparable to the writing of James Schuyler, but Harwood’s writing is plainer, less likely to contain an outrageous analogy. While there is some truth to Ford’s observation, Harwood’s mixture of the descriptive and objective is all his own. What comes across is the poet’s sympathy and tenderness, a sense of “the daily miracle.”

The other thing that struck me while reading the Collected Poems was his unabashed interest in narratives and storytelling, none of which resolved into anecdotes or what he called the “author’s personality.” The poems remain open and inviting – they evoke the private thoughts we often suppress, ignore, are ashamed of, or embarrassed by. Harwood isn’t afraid of either courting sentiment or of arriving at the kind of emotional directness we associate with the work of Constantine Cavafy.

To his credit, Harwood took what he learned from Ashbery, particularly the collage poems found in the highly influential The Tennis Court Oath (1962), and opened it onto his own territory, at once playful, tender and unexpected, as in the jump-cuts we enjoy in movies, from the high to the low.

This is what I think readers can enjoy about Harwood’s poetry and young poets can learn from it. There is no correct way to go- you have to make it up as you go along until you finally reach something that is your own. Screw what the academics tell you about doing what they define as the correct thing. Without being either nostalgic or reactionary, Harwood rejected authority in his mid-twenties. His poise is something we can all learn from, as well as his awareness of the isolation it would bring. He recognized that separation was fundamental, an ingrained aspect of human solitariness, which he chose not to ignore.

At the end his poem” Saint David’s Daon the Leyn” (ca. 1988-1993), Harwood writes:

A glint in the sharp spring air
as a young girl wearing her best clothes
walks along an empty country lane
clasping a bunch of bright daffodils.

This, I would say is the exact opposite of David Hockney’s recent paintings of a road turning in the middle distance of the English countryside, their generic viewpoint an imposition of artistic authority as well as a knowing demonstration of the various clichés we associate with painterly brilliance.

Harwood’s poem conveys with extreme pictorial economy a perception that is tenderly sympathetic to the young girl’s vulnerability, solitude, innocence and belief. We don’t know what will happen to this young girl – it is a snapshot of her in time.

Is Harwood’s lack of radical skepticism about language really a cardinal sin? Is straightforwardness a quality that we can no longer have? Is human solitariness an obsolete artifact, joined as we all are by the Internet?

Start with Harwood’s newest book, The Orchid Boat. Here is the second stanza of “Departures,” the book’s opening poem, which was collaged from the poem, ‘The Sorrows of Departure’’ by Chinese woman poet, Li Ch’ing- Chao (c. 1084-1151):

She wrote:

‘Gently I open
my silk dress and float alone
on the orchid boat. Who can
take a letter beyond the clouds?

Is this what can longer be written in a poem because it is neither ironic nor hip? Is Harwood’s compassion something to be dismissed or laughed at? Has poetry really come to that?

Lee Harwood’s The Orchid Boat (2014) is published by Enitharmon Press.

Mean Time to Upgrade at InterAccess

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Shauna Jean Doherty reviews Mean Time to Upgrade at InterAccess in Toronto.

Hannah Epstein. Cock Fight, 2010; mixed media. Courtesy of the Artist and InterAccess. Photo: Robin Hamill Photography 2014.

Hannah Epstein. Cock Fight, 2010; VHS game. Courtesy of the Artist and InterAccess. Photo: Robin Hamill Photography 2014.

The exhibition Mean Time to Upgrade at Toronto’s premiere new-media art gallery, InterAccess, responds to the evolving climate of museum collections and exhibition approaches in the wake of new-media art. In a collection of highly technical artworks spanning a period of 30 years, each is uniquely at risk of becoming obsolete due to its reliance on antiquated components. Save for one of the works in the show, each was selected from a call for works in “existential crisis”—that is, works that are on the verge of losing their function by virtue of their technical composition. By delaying upgrade momentarily, this exhibition gives room to consider the impact of changing the technologies that are fundamental to these artworks. 

Three 1950s beauty-salon chairs complete with hovering helmets populate a substantial space in the gallery. Modified with analog switches and small color monitors where blow-dryers were once housed, Nancy Paterson’s Hair Salon TV (1986) produces a stream of video images with portraits of technological icons juxtaposed with footage of women in various domains (domestic space, workplace environments, and engagement in scientific discovery). The analog technology used effectively collapses images of the domestic, aesthetic, and technical realms to firmly place women in each arena, while also making visible their intersections.

Hannah Epstein’s VHS roulette game, Cock Fight (2010), invites viewers, two at a time, to choose and insert a VHS tape into the player. Users then randomly press the play and pause buttons as points flash on screen (+5, -10). The player is awarded the points that appear onscreen when the video is paused. Cock Fight harkens back to a brief cultural moment in which VHS games were popular. The piece subverts the technical function of the play/pause buttons, and opens up new ways of using and thinking through technologies.

Dragan Espenchied’s 1000years (2012) stands as the most contemporary work in the exhibition, and yet it faces a crisis of expiration like the others. The work is a computer-based performance piece, using a Mac OS X Lion iCalendar program that flips forward and backward 1,000 years. As the animated pages turn rapidly, they indicate the passage of time—a central theme in this exhibition. Mean Time to Upgrade acknowledges the crisis of preservation that currently plagues the field of new-media art but offers little in the way of resolution. The notion of time is so essential in this exhibition because of the rapid rate at which technologies advance and, subsequently, obsolesce. Electronic and digital art demand the development of new institutional modes of thinking in terms of both curating and preservation in order to ensure that technical art, which is so prolific in contemporary art production, is reflected in arts institutions and collections worldwide.

Mean Time to Upgrade is on view at InterAccess in Toronto through November 22, 2014.

Shauna Jean Doherty is a freelance art critic and curator based in Toronto. Her academic research investigates glitch aesthetics and new-media art-preservation practices.

Renzo Martens, Episode III (2009)

Renzo Martens_Still from Episode 3_01_Fotor

Shot with minimal and remote means, Episode III is an uncinematic film in which the most stunning aspect of the production is the artist’s radical cynicism.

Martens oscillates between western messiah and unsentimental doom-monger as he gives advice, hope and (it seems) no assistance to villagers and plantation workers in Congo.

And yet his apparent cruelty has a critical function; he doesn’t flinch from demonstrating to his subjects, and to us, the pitiless reality of the global system in which they’re caught.

In one scene, he trains up a group of village photographers to shoot malnourished kids. But inevitably, they have no access to the market and fail to land the $50 per shot he promised.

This Dutch artist never flinches: not from showing children eating mice; nor from showing a flyblown corpse; nor from showing the anal sores of a young malnourished girl.

News commissioners would find this in very bad taste. But we know that the real bad taste is shown by the plantation owners buying arty black and white shots of their poor employees.

Martens uses neon – in invisible and knowing quote marks – to create a vast hoarding for his sub Saharan adventure: ‘Enjoy poverty,’ it reads, the word ‘please’ winking on and off.

After firing this up with a generator, we at least enjoy the least unhappy scene in the 90 minute film, as a host of children cheer and a party breaks out among local villagers.

The author of this film is unsparing of his subjects, sticking to the line they will always be poor so they may as well enjoy it; but he is equally hard on himself.

Towards the end of the film he meditates on the vanity which has brought him all the way to the war torn jungle to make a film which, as he must know, will further his career.

Nevertheless, he proves his case that poverty is a resource. “Experiencing your poverty makes me a better person,” he tells a group of prematurely aging paupers. They actually applaud him.

So there exists spiritual capital as well as economic capital. But this is something we have run short of in the West. Big Issue sellers, dare one say, just don’t have the requisite soulfulness.

Episode III can be seen in Chapter, Cardiff, as part of Artes Mundi 6.

PICKS: “Anyone Could Be a Sculptor One Day”

review written by L. İpek Ulusoy Akgül

PICKS: Marion Baruch

10.29.14-11.30.14 Mars, Milan, review written by Simone Menegoi

NEWS: Moscow Biennial Names Curator of 2016 Edition

De Redactie

Maria Lassnig in New York, 1968–1980

Maria Lassnig, “You or Me” (2005), oil on canvas, 79 ½ x 61 inches (courtesy Maria Lassnig Foundation).

In this century, the Museum of Modern Art has presented a series of exhibitions of women artists from other countries: Lygia Clark, Isa Genzken, Alina Szapocznikow, Sanja Ivekovic, Marina Abramovic, Marlene Dumas, Pipilotti Rist, Lucy McKenzie. It has been a privilege to live in New York and become more acquainted with them. But very often, the accompanying texts place them in an artistic context comprised solely of their husbands, boyfriends and guy colleagues — as if their acclaim had separated them from their female peers. I’d leave the exhibition wondering whether the artist ever had a woman friend! (Cornelia Butler’s essay in the Clark catalogue is an exception – she situates the artist within an international feminist framework.) After I visited Maria Lassnig’s provocative retrospective at PS1 MoMA last spring, I began to do some informal sleuthing.

Lassnig, who died in May at age 94, was well known in her native Austria, representing her country at the Venice Biennale together with Valie Export in 1980; participating in documenta 7 (1982) and documenta 10 (1997); and finally receiving the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement with Marisa Merz at Venice in 2013. She has been recognized in the United States only recently, although she lived in New York from 1968 to 1980, years in which her art changed radically. She is widely quoted as saying that she came here to be in the “country of strong women.” But there was nothing in the catalogue, wall labels or related material to tell us who those women were, or whether she ever met up with them! Many of the artists in my community knew her and Martha Edelheit generously connected me to others. I’ve included their stories to bring Maria’s middle years to life.

Lassnig arrived in New York at age 49. She studied animation at the School of Visual Arts 1970-72 and joined a working collective, Women Artist Filmmakers, although she was at least 10 years older than the other women and already had a significant history in the European art world. (W/A/F existed from 1974-1981.] According to Jerry Gorovy, Louise Bourgeois’ studio manager, Lassnig and Bourgeois admired one another’s work. Bourgeois was carving her notorious marble penises in the 70s. Maria knew Joan Semmel and liked the paintings she made of her own nude body, which Semmel was showing at the Lerner Heller Gallery during those years. When Semmel visit Lassnig in Vienna in 1991, Maria asked whether she was still creating those paintings and expressed disappointment when Semmel told her that she had moved on to other subjects. Lassnig would have seen Alice Neel’s portraits, which were exhibited at the Graham Gallery in 1968 and 1970, and at her 1974 Whitney Museum retrospective. Ida Applebroog’s videos and multi-panel wall pieces, which relate to Maria’s animations, were shown at PS1 in 1977 (a 3-person exhibition) and the Whitney (a solo show) in 1978. Edelheit was painting groups of large, languorous male and female nudes: “genitals, pubic hair, warts and all”. Although not listed in the catalog’s selected biography found in the catalogue for the PS1 MoMA exhibition, which originated at the Neue Galerie, Graz, Maria Lassnig exhibited her paintings in New York at the Blue Mountain Gallery in 1974 and Gloria Cortella Gallery in 1976. Blue Mountain was a gathering place for figurative artists, and painter Diana Kurz remembers meeting her at their openings.

The Austrian literature on Maria Lassnig appropriately talks about her formative years in Vienna, beginning in 1951; her early visits to Paris; her residency there from 1961 to 1968; and her exposure to European mid-century philosophy and art movements: Surrealism, Art Informel, Tachisme. Well known (male) artists who participated in those groups and whom she knew, are often cited. When critics discuss her New York period, during which Lassnig articulated and developed her singular “body awareness” aesthetic, they often reference male performance and body artists.

When the 2014 PS1 show was reviewed in the United States, younger women artists like Dana Schutz and Amy Sillman, who acknowledge Lassnig’s influence, are mentioned. But until recently, there has not been a discussion in print about the intense dialogue that Maria Lassnig shared with her female contemporaries in New York during the 1970s.* Most of the women in Women Artist Filmmakers were making erotic films (Edelheit, Schneider, Goldsmith, Walsh). Carolee Schneemann’s legendary Meat Joy was created in 1964, before she participated in W/A/F. Rosalind Schneider’s three-screen Parallax was first shown at the New York Cultural Center in 1973. This generative environment was one in which Maria Lassnig thrived — where she could explore and experiment. Her friends describe the artist as a modest, ladylike, even self-effacing woman, who would rather talk about the work of others than her own. But her art was fiercely feminist, so there were contradictions and struggles within her, which fight it out in the paintings and animated films.

Comments and Images From Maria Lassnig’s Feminist Collective

Martha Edelheit:

Maria was in our film group, Women Artist Filmmakers. When I met her, she was living on East 6th St and Avenue B in the early 70s; she was delighted that the streets were so lively and full of people all day and night…not realizing that they were junkies, never noticing the discarded needles and condoms and shit and piss and vomit and passed out bodies on her stoop and in the hallways. She had very little money so she walked everywhere and her animated films were made by using 4 bricks that she found on the street, covered with a sheet of broken milk glass, also from the street, a 16mm Bolex from the nearest pawn shop, and some cheap flood lamps. When the street people/addicts broke into her tenement apartment and stole her Bolex, she finally moved to a rental loft on Spring and West Broadway.

During her time in New York, the Austrian government declared her Artist Laureate and there was a hilarious ceremony at her loft, which was almost bare: 1 cup, 1 saucer, a plate, a bowl, a bed, a few chairs and a table. We stood in the middle of the loft in a circle and these very uncomfortable Austrian gentlemen in their business suits crowned her with a laurel wreath and opened a bottle of champagne, with plastic glasses. The art school in Vienna, the University of Applied Arts, offered her a professorship. She didn’t want to go back, she liked living in New York. She said that if they paid her what they paid Joseph Beuys, she’d return! They did…and she felt she had to go back.

Before New York, she and Arnulf Rainer were lovers. When I visited her in Vienna in the 1980s, she, her good friend Hilde Absalon, a fabulous weaver and I went to a museum where Maria discovered that there was a wall of her work next to [Rainer’s]. She was delighted…he had always put her down.

Martha Edelheit:

The photograph of W/A/F seated and standing around the table was taken by my late husband Hank, who took a lot of photos of us.

Henry Edelheit M.D., group portrait of Women Artist Filmmakers at Maria Lassnig’s studio, March 6, 1976 (courtesy Martha Edelheit).  From left to right: Martha Edelheit, Doris Chase, Carolee Schneemann, Maria Lassnig, Rosalind Schneider, Silvianna Goldsmith, Nancy Kendall, Susan Brockman.

Rosalind Schneider:

Been thinking about my dialogue with Maria and our mutual response to each other’s work. We talked about the events that were the source for our work and how they played out in its realization. Maria was responsible for getting our work to venues in Europe that included the Museum of Modern Art, Innsbruck; Museum of Modern Art, Vienna; Museum of Modern Art, Basel; and the Arsenal, Berlin.

Bob Parent (known for his photographs of jazz musicians), group portrait of Women Artist Filmmakers at Maria Lassnig’s studio, March 6, 1976 (courtesy Silvianna Goldsmith).

Martha Edelheit:

The amount of work she did promoting all of the films, translating and personally reading texts during the European screenings, indicates her involvement with W/A/F. It made her feel strong about her own films. She clearly supported our work and felt good about being included in the group. Filmmaking, unlike painting, is not a solitary process. Feedback during the work is a part of the making. She showed them to us and was pleased with, interested in, our responses.

Silvianna Goldsmith:

Two of our members are missing from these photos, Alida Walsh and Olga Spiegel. Maria also was at the Millennium Film Workshop every night, looking at films, screening her films and attending classes there with Bob Parent, who taught the ‘workshop-classes’ I attended — and it was at Millenium where I met and became best friends with her.

Maria Lassnig, Portrait of Herself with Silvianna Goldsmith, oil on canvas, 1970s (photo N. Lackner/UMJ, courtesy Maria Lassnig Foundation).

Goldsmith shared with me a 1970s Lassnig painting featuring her portrait beside Maria’s. Lassnig painted double self-portraits throughout her life, but a portrait with another woman is rare. Comparing the two figures, one is sporting a patterned party dress, the other wears the skin of her own body over her nakedness from the waist up; one looks at us through alert eyes, the other is blind or asleep, eyes barely visible; one smiles, the other breathes through parted lips; one wears exotic earrings, the other has boxed off her ears; one extends a hand affectionately, the other holds both of hers in her lap. Lassnig fades into a remote, internalized zone, while her friend exists in the vibrant material world. Perhaps their friendship provided a link to that world, New York in the 1970s.

This painting of Silvianna and Maria recalls “The Two Fridas” (1939) by Frida Kahlo, which was intensely discussed among feminists in the 1970s. Kahlo’s most ambitious self-portrait, the artist appears in formal European attire on the left, in traditional Mexican clothes on the right, representing her mixed parentage. The two figures are connected by a vein of blood from one heart to the other, and holding hands. Mexican Frida’s heart is intact; she holds a small image of her husband Diego Rivera in her hand. European Frida’s heart is open, exposed; she severs the connecting stream of blood, soiling the whiteness of her dress to dramatize the rupture in their marriage.

Maria Lassnig put her face and/or body through every conceivable configuration and distortion. She talked about “body awareness” as being inside herself, frequently thwarting the viewer from experiencing her totality in her many paintings of isolated heads, isolated torsos, isolated organs. She had fun representing herself in outrageous roles: as an astronaut, an extraterrestrial, a robot, a monster, a baby. And there is a searing social/political consciousness coursing through her loosely painted, acidly colored art — the tanks and missiles zooming across her 1980s canvases; the animals she depicted with soulful empathy; and above all, the confrontational self.

Entering the show at PS1, “You or Me” (2005) was what we saw first. It carried a shock, holding not just the wall, but the whole room. She was 86 when she painted it, an image of herself seated, nude with legs spread, hairless body and head, mouth ajar and eyes dilated, no ears, silence. She points a gun to her head, and another gun straight at us. Her body is outlined in arresting teal brushstrokes, the color of her eyes. At first, the painting appears to be straightforward, but then invites multiple interpretations. Reviewers have speculated that she is reproaching her male colleagues and us, the art audience, for not recognizing her sooner. I projected a more intimate reading: that in rage and grief, she is addressing a lover.

Hannah Wilke, “So Help Me Hannah” (1978), performalist self-portrait with Donald Goddard, black and white photograph, 14 x 11 inches (courtesy Donald and Helen Goddard and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York).

In her 1971 animated film, Selfportrait, Maria Lassnig says, “I could have been as beautiful as Greta Garbo, or a lion like Bette Davis.” And for a moment, her face morphs into theirs. In Mysterious Lady  (1928), Garbo shoots the villain. There is a famous image in The Letter (1940) of Bette Davis pointing a smoking gun. In Mildred Pierce (1945), Joan Crawford’s gun is doubly reflected in the mirror behind her. Later, Gena Rowlands riffed on the tradition in Gloria  (1980). Hannah Wilke played with toy guns in So Help Me Hannah (1978); Mary Beth Edelson created a body of work based on Gloria in 1991. All of these women were witty and self-aware, like Maria, who placed herself into that long tradition.

Maria Lassnig had ongoing intellectual and aesthetic exchanges with men and did not wish to be viewed from a reductive, essentialist perspective. But when describing her life, those heady days in lower Manhattan must be seen as a crucial part of her development. Learning about her professional relationships and networks will deepen our understanding of her work. When a woman artist is canonized, if she is treated as one of the boys, she is de-gendered and our collective history is diminished. We do not denigrate this artist’s extraordinary achievement by describing a milieu which nurtured it! This is a rich subject, which can be explored in more depth.

*Lassnig mentions Women Artist Filmmakers in the October 2014 issue of Artforum in a 2012 interview by Hans Ulrich Obrist. In the October 2014 online version of Artforum, Carolee Schneemann reminisces about Maria in the group, “Maria Lassnig (1919-2014).”

Disclosure: I worked with images of female shooters in a public artwork, The Movies: Fantasies and Spectacles, 1993, Los Angeles Metro’s Seventh and Flower Station, commissioned through Los Angeles County Transportation Commission’s Art for Rail Transit Program.

Explosive Drawing: Susan King’s Mash-ups, Strange Landscapes, and Other Worlds

Susan Te Kahurangi King, “Untitled” (c. 1965), graphite and colored pencil on paper 11.5 x 16 inches (all photos courtesy of Andrew Edlin Gallery, unless otherwise stated).

Very few creations are as hard to pin down as those produced by the most original self-taught artists, who primarily make their art for themselves rather than for the market or the public. These are art-makers who neither filter their ideas through academic-critical discourse nor customize what they make — often from the most basic materials, including found objects and trash — to accommodate such theories or other agendas.

One such artist is Susan Te Kahurangi King, a 63-year-old native of New Zealand, who resides on Auckland’s north shore with her elderly mother. A prodigious, prolific maker of drawings on paper since she was a little girl — over the years she has used pencils, colored pencils, pastels or inks — King and her work still have not received significant appreciation in New Zealand, but in recent years the artist’s achievements have begun to attract attention beyond her homeland.

Rachel & Susan King in NYC

Rachel King (left) and her sister, the artist Susan Te Kahurangi King (in 3D glasses), during their recent visit to New York to attend the opening of Susan’s gallery show (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Selections from her vast output of drawings — to date she has produced several thousand — were presented in introductory, not-for-sale mini-exhibitions at the 2013 Outsider Art Fair Paris and earlier this year at the Outsider Art Fair New York. Now, Susan Te Kahurangi King: Drawings from Many Worlds, a show of more than 40 of her technically sophisticated, thematically diverse (and compellingly confounding) drawings is on view through December 20th at Andrew Edlin Gallery in Chelsea.

Curated by the American artist Chris Byrne, who is also a co-founder of the Dallas Art Fair, this attention-demanding but highly satisfying exhibition comes at a time when the specialized market for works by self-taught artists is hungrier than ever for some big, resonant discoveries of noteworthy new talents. It also comes at a time when, on the contemporary-art side, many aficionados are more open then ever to the quirky aesthetics and singular visions that have long distinguished the oeuvres of the most interesting autodidacts.

In recent months, Byrne, whose own hard-to-classify work, The Magician (Marquand Books), a mixed-media creation that is part book and part sculpture, with “performative” aspects that prompt reader-users to interact physically with its many pop-up or otherwise way-off-the-page moving parts, has made two trips to New Zealand to examine Susan King’s archive of drawings and, with the help of some of the artist’s family members, get a sense of the scope and quality of her production.

Susan Te Kahurangi King, “Untitled” (c. 1978), graphite on paper 18 x 22.5 inches

In an interview last week, he said, “It’s daunting, because there is so much work that is consistently good. Susan’s facility as a draftsman was evident even when she was very young. As is the case with many great artists, over time her themes and techniques have evolved. What’s fascinating is that, even now, after so many years of making drawings, which she loves to do, she continues to experiment, to try new things.” When I met King in New York last week — this was her first trip ever to the United States, which she made with some of her sisters for the opening of her gallery show — she was busy decorating plastic plates with miniscule beads made from strips of brightly colored, plastic modeling paste.

To examine King’s drawings up close is to recognize the remarkable affinities they share with certain kinds of modern art, including perspective-busting Cubist painting. Their rollicking, push-me-pull-you perspectives bring to mind the dizzying vantage points associated with the pictorial space of some ancient Japanese paintings. Unwittingly, to be sure, many of King’s pictures also beat postmodern appropriationist art-making at its own game of removing source material from its original contexts and allowing it — or forcing it — to suggest new meanings. In King’s case, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and other cartoon characters, whose familiar forms the artist distorts on her way to crafting her complex compositions, play roles in this image-subverting process. Into the mix King throws various figures or random patterns she creates herself. The resulting compositions are both intriguing and dazzling.

Susan Te Kahurangi King, “Untitled” (c. 1965), graphite and colored pencil on paper, 11 x 9 inches

King’s deft line work may seem comic-book straightforward and simple, except when it’s not, which turns out to be most of the time. For example, her skillful foreshortening is in evidence in an untitled drawing from around 1965, with its view of Donald Duck’s dangling legs and feathery, fluffy bottom, seen from below, like that of a chubby, floating cherub in a Renaissance ceiling fresco.

The artist’s knack for whipping up gleeful-kooky image mash-ups is evident in the first plain-pencil, masterfully shaded drawing on display (circa 1967), which is also one of the smallest in the show. It depicts an unfathomable tangle of rubbery, contorted cartoon-character bodies hovering in a white-space vacuum like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon on steroids — a big, bungling, otherworldly mutant, all flailing limbs and choked, smothered faces.

Susan Te Kahurangi King, “Untitled” (c. 1967), graphite, 6 x 7.5 inches

These are not anyone’s familiar comic-book images. If John Chamberlain’s sculptures of crushed, squashed-together auto bodies could talk, this, they would say, is a two-dimensional portrayal of what it feels like to be one of those oddly attractive, crumpled-metal concoctions.

King, whose middle name means “treasured one” in New Zealand’s indigenous Maori language, was the second child of twelve in her family; she was brought up in a farming town on New Zealand’s North Island. Her parents had met at the country’s first Maori-language school, and her father was a lifelong, keen student and champion of Maori culture.

Susan Te Kahurangi King, “Untitled” (c. 1965), graphite on paper, 12 3/4 x 5 1/4 inches

Around the age of four, inexplicably, Susan stopped speaking. Her sister Rachel, who now lives and works in Australia, recalls that Susan “was taken to specialists in an attempt to work out what was wrong with her.” Little Susan “had several trying experiences in hospital psychiatric wards, where all kinds of [treatments] were tried, such as withholding food or, even more distressing, drawing materials, in order to force her to speak.” Eventually, the King family moved to Auckland so that Susan could attend a special-needs school. She did so until she was in her late twenties. Rachel remembers that, in later years, “the school had a workshop program aimed at making the older students ‘productive,’ in which Susan was assigned such repetitive tasks as putting nails in bags and making woolen mats, instead of being allowed to draw.”

Although Susan was never formally diagnosed with any disability per se, in recent years, as some of her sisters became familiar with the nature and indicators of autism, they came to recognize certain autistic characteristics in Susan’s behavior. Today, Rachel King notes, in the home the artist shares with their mother, “Susan’s desk is set up with drawers of paper and trays of pens and pencils, which she sharpens with a blade to a deadly point.”

A time came when King stopped making drawings. That period lasted 20 years, until 2008. Nowadays, though, she draws every day. She does not like to be interrupted when she is creating her pictures but does enjoy going out and, as Rachel observes, “can be found waiting at the front door if anyone even mentions an excursion”.

Susan Te Kahurangi King, “Untitled” (c. 1965), colored pencil, 8 x 7 inches

Of her sister’s art, Rachel says that it is “hard to know exactly” what it might mean to her. Susan’s “obsession and skill with drawing [intensified] as her speech dwindled,” Rachel notes. She adds, “Her technical skill kept up with her boundless imagination. Some of the drawings may be statements, some ideas, and some questions. Real people and things are all jumbled up with fictional characters. Her language is visual, but in some of her drawings you can see interpretations of verbal concepts, as in one that features both candles and pencils, burning and sharpened at both ends.”

Susan Te Kahurangi King, “Untitled” (c. 1965), graphite and ebony on paper, 17 x 27 inches

Alas, because Susan King does not speak, it is not possible to discuss with the artist herself the subjects of her drawings or what she might intend to express with or through the extraordinary images she creates. Still, in her presence a visitor gets the strong impression that she is very much aware of the power of her art to attract attention, which she appears to appreciate. That an innovative contemporary art-maker’s body of work should encourage viewers to simply consider and savor the power and fecundity of the creative energy from which it flows, rather than recast itself as something more fashionable by means of an obligatory artist’s statement — stilted, jargon-filled or bloated with hype — is another notable aspect of King’s memorable debut show. Ultimately, who needs a label to inadequately categorize — or inevitably limit — an art that seems to express, about its own making, such boundless joy?

Susan Te Kahurangi King: Drawings from Many Worlds continues at Andrew Edlin Gallery (134 Tenth Avanue between 18th and 19th Streets, in Chelsea) through December 20.

Gods and Monsters: Cubism at the Met

Pablo Picasso, “The Scallop Shell: ‘Notre Avenir est dans l’Air’” (1912), enamel and oil on canvas; oval, 15 x 21 3/4 inches. Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection. © 2014 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Societym (ARS), New York.

“To a new world of gods and monsters” is the promethean pledge from one mad scientist to another in James Whale’s classic Bride of Frankenstein (1935), but it’s easy to imagine the same toast echoing from a Montmartre studio in 1909 as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque raise a glass to the fractured new reality they’d uncovered.

Mary Shelley published her novel, Frankenstein, in 1818, just around the time that Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes embarked on his Black Paintings in the Quinta del Sordo: the burial of the Enlightenment concurrent with the birth of modern painting. Ninety years later, as the twin engines of industrialization and capitalism were gearing up for the cataclysms of World War I, Picasso and Braque were creating unforeseen visions of the world coming apart at the seams.

To reach Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection, the exhibition presented by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to celebrate Lauder’s promised gift of eighty-one paintings, drawings and sculptures by Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris and Fernand Léger, you have to go through either the Greek and Roman collection or the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Both are fitting. Cubism’s origins in African art are canonical, but the foundational aspect of classicism in the development of Western culture — charting a path from the primacy of humanism in the Renaissance to the Academy’s misuse of tradition in the 19th century — also comes into play.

Georges Braque, “Fruit Dish and Glass” (1912), charcoal and cut-and-pasted printed wallpaper with gouache on white laid paper; subsequently mounted on paperboard; 24 3/4 × 18 inches. Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

In one stroke, Cubism quashes the classical ideal as it stakes a foundational claim for the next hundred years of modern art. Picasso and Braque assume control of a universe that places not humanity but the artist/creator at its core: an antipodal realm of endlessly shifting perspectives and scattered signifiers, begetting deconstructed figures — robotic and monstrous — with bodies formed from angular shafts and ruptured planes.

Painting’s pretense of a window on reality is thoroughly exploded; what we see is the sole province of art, a jurisdiction where, paradoxically, actual pieces of reality, in the form of papier collé, are planted in a way that re-confounds our comprehension of the image. Snippets of faux bois — imitation wood grain wallpaper — alongside the masterful simulations of wood grain that Braque made by running a metal comb through the paint (an artisanal skill he acquired as a young man) conjoin mechanical illusion with handmade illusion, entities that are equally true and false.

The paintings by Braque that greet you in the first room are mesmerizing: three landscapes, one each from 1907, 1908 and 1909, moving from the Cézanne-esque, splendidly colored (though dominantly earth-toned) “The Terrace at the Hôtel Mistral,” to the dark and tumultuous “Trees at L’Estaque,” to the ethereal cascades of green, gray, white and beige in “The Castle of La Roche-Guyon.”

Within these three years he takes his leave of Cézanne and dissolves a traditional genre into something both tangible and unapproachable, a fog of impressions that offer no foothold — in reality or in the history of Western painting — for understanding what is being observed. In the Cubism of Braque and Picasso, a painting becomes an alienated object, something we must approach on its own terms.

Cubism’s historical divide falls between Analytic and Synthetic, the former faceted and monochromatic, the latter planar and more varied in color. But this exhibition’s concentrated focus reveals the many nuances of Analytic Cubism, which varies between block-like solidity and freeform spatial experiments. The greatest range, not surprisingly, is found in the work of Picasso, who claims the lion’s share of wall space, with thirty-four pieces on display compared with half that number for Braque and fifteen each for Léger and Gris.

Pablo Picasso, “Woman with a Book” (1909), oil on canvas; 36 1/4 x 28 3/4 inches. Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection. © 2014 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

We encounter the first group of Picassos directly after the three Braques at the start of the exhibition. The difference is like night and day. Where the human figure rarely enters Braque’s work (there is one such example in this show, “Head of a Woman” from 1912, in charcoal, gouache and pasted wallpaper), the Picasso selection begins with a Rose Period painting on paper of three nudes from 1906, followed in quick succession by an Iberian standing female nude (1906-7) and an African-derived study for “Les demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907). Two of the most radical works are “Head of a Man” (late 1908) in ink and charcoal, in which the man’s eyes are two shields of opaque black, and “Nude Woman with Guitar” (spring 1908) in charcoal on canvas, which looks ahead to the Surrealist paintings Picasso would do once Cubism and the Neo-Classicism that followed it were both done for.

The paintings and drawings from this two-year period are exceptionally dense, with bodies and heads resembling chunks of concrete or scraps of dun-colored sheet metal. Things then loosen up considerably and the fragmented facets emblematic of Cubism’s high-water mark begin to appear.

These extraordinarily inventive works span just a few years for Picasso, 1910 to 1913, and a somewhat wider period for Braque, 1909 to 1914. Either way, it’s startling to witness, especially compared with its outsized influence, how fast a flameout Cubism was.

Georges Braque, “Violin: ‘Mozart Kubelick’” (1912), oil on canvas; 18 x 24 inches. Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

If the shards of reality Picasso and Braque were painting anticipated the crackup of Western civilization in World War I, they were having a blast doing it. Their freewheeling sensibility saw no distinction between high and low, formalism and caricature, object and representation, or image and text, especially in the roomful of delightfully spare papiers collés under the heading “Word and Image,” which revel in newspapers, advertisements and other artifacts of café culture. There are also self-conscious puns on the word “cube,” such as the (misspelled) “Violin: ‘Mozart Kubelick’” (spring 1912), a still life by Braque alluding to the Czech violinist Jan Kubelík (who was also the father of Rafael, the renowned conductor, pianist, composer and political activist).

The irreverent, adventurous spirit shared by Picasso and Braque comes to an unexpected halt in the rooms holding the works of Gris and Léger. Here, Cubism becomes an application, a methodology for putting a picture together rather than a scrambled playbook with daily updates and deletions. Not that these paintings aren’t handsome, because they are, but here we have two sets of painters, Gris and Léger, who know where they’re going, and Braque and Picasso, who do not.

In 2007, Berenice Rose curated a show at the Pace Gallery called Picasso, Braque and Early Film in Cubism, which put forth the novel premise that much of the inspiration for Analytic Cubism came from the artists’ passion for silent film. As I wrote in a review of that show, the curator’s contention “was that [Cubism] adopted the projected image as both content and form. In this shifted context, the Cubist subject, be it a portrait or still life, no longer feels like an obsessive examination of form in space, but the trajectory of an image flashing past the eye too quickly to be recorded in conventional terms,” suggesting that “the real subject of art in the modern era is the anxious blur of time.”

12.Composition (The Typographer)_Léger

Fernand Léger, “Composition (The Typographer)” (1918-19), oil on canvas; 98 1/4 x 72 1⁄4 inches. Promised Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

While the Lauder gift to the Met doesn’t offer an abundance of the kind of spatially ambiguous, briskly brushed, spliced-up imagery (as seen in Braque’s “Violin: ‘Mozart Kubelick’”) that made up the bulk of the Pace show, the concept is nonetheless fascinating, especially in light of Cubism’s incorporation of newspaper clippings as an absorption of the new phenomenon of mass media, which of course included the movies.

From the wall text of the Met’s “Word and Image” room:

The need for illusionistic representation was gone; meaning could be imparted through signs for things or even through fragments of actual objects.

While this description refers to the newspaper and wallpaper papiers collés, couldn’t “meaning […] imparted through signs for things or even through fragments of actual objects” also be applied to the fleeting signifiers of the moving image? In another way of looking at it, film-inspired Cubism can be termed Impressionism with a vengeance (or, taking cues again from Cézanne, Post-Post-Impressionism) in which an impression — a flicker of light, the glimpse of a shape — is all that registers, and everything else is indistinct.

And so a case can be made that Picasso and Braque, in their Cubist explorations, were attempting to do the impossible: carve up the corpse of painting and infuse it with a combustible mix of reality and illusion that comfortably settles on neither, to conjure a sensation of light and motion that’s here for a fraction of a second and then gone.

Perhaps that’s one reason why the works by Picasso and Braque crackle like lit fuses, while those of Gris and Léger settle into decorative and compositional tropes. And why Cubism burned itself out after five or six years. It’s the difference between making a picture and catching lightning in a bottle.

Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection continues at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through February 16, 2015.

Reading Basquiat: Exploring Ambivalence in American Art

Today from our partners at Art Practical, we bring you an assessment of Jordana Moore Saggese’s new monograph, Reading Basquiat: Exploring Ambivalence in American Art. Of Basquiat’s work, reviewer Anton Stuebner notes: “[the] canvases require viewers to […] recognize that the boundaries of pictorial representation, like language, can be redefined and reformed.” This article was originally published on October 7, 2014.

Jean-Michel Basquiat. Charles the First, 1982; acrylic and oil paintstick on canvas; three panels, 78 x 65 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, New York © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Jean-Michel Basquiat. Charles the First, 1982; acrylic and oil paintstick on canvas; three panels, 78 x 65 in. Courtesy of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, New York © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The mythology around Jean-Michel Basquiat continues to proliferate in the twenty-six years since his death. The standard-issue biography of his life reads like a cautionary tale on the perils of success: the early years in the graffiti movement; the street art produced with classmate Al Diaz under the tag SAMO; the sudden media attention on the East Village art scene; the transition into formal painting and the overnight success of shows with Annina Nosei and Mary Boone; the highly publicized friendship with Andy Warhol; the meteoric rise of auction and gallery sales; the heroin addiction; the self-destruction at a preternaturally young age. It’s a story that owes much to clichés of the artist as tragic hero, reduced in equal parts through simplification and fabrication. It is also a story that sells art, and at record prices.

Basquiat’s work is invariably tied to the market booms of the 1980s, and like his contemporaries Keith Haring and Julian Schnabel, he redefined the perception of the artist as celebrity, making frequent appearances in print periodicals like The New York Times Magazine and Vanity Fair. This celebrity status is still growing. His art appears on high-fashion street wear and luxury knits. Documentary and narrative films have been made about his life. And market prices for his paintings continue to soar. His canvasDustheads (1982) sold for $48.8 million during Christie’s record-breaking contemporary art auction in 2013. In January 2014, former Interview magazine editor Paige Powell organized a show at Suzanne Geiss Company that featured black-and-white nude photographs of Basquiat, snapshots taken while Powell was dating the artist. Shortly thereafter, a second sale at Christie’s was postponed after an injunction from Basquiat’s family over the authenticity of the pieces at auction.

Read the full article here.

An Ecology of Affect and Desire: AA Bronson’s ‘House of Shame’


AA Bronson, ‘From Artemesia For My Great Grandfather’ (2014) performance (all images courtesy the Gwangju Biennale)

GWANGJU, South Korea — I visited AA Bronson’s House of Shame with a feeling of intense excitement and curiosity. I am intrigued by the nature of the project, which seems to be an extraordinary field of forces that correspond to the place and time of its presentation but also to wider notions of collectivity and history. It is difficult to approach all its different layers, and what I propose to do here is to explore it from the angle of personal history, the production of collectivities and the representation of desires, all of which I see as key concepts in its inception and actualization.

AA Bronson’s House of Shame is a combination of works, artists, and projects which are conceptually connected and drawn together in a unique spatial configuration. In my first visit (out of many), I was struck by the ability of the works on display to dismantle the here and now of a singular experience. The House of Shame seems to collapse notions of temporality and space. The multiplicity of layers and events that are being presented offer a texture, which allows the project to exist in a state of continuous mutation. House of Shame represents the crystallization of many things, moments and concerns. However, this is a very dynamic environment where concepts, histories, and events interact. From the number of artists/collaborators whose work constitutes the basis of its manifestation, to the phenomena, lived events, and experiential processes that are in the core of its conception, AA Bronson’s House has managed to produce a machinic environment which signifies the potentials for artistic creation to resist the totality of society and includes in the form of a collectivity tools of action for the freeing-up of desire. I am particularly intrigued by this collaborative framework, the notions of collectivity that bind it together, and the subversive countercultural and alternative histories that run through it.

AA Bronson, 'From Artemesia For My Great Grandfather' (2014)

AA Bronson, ‘From Artemesia For My Great Grandfather’ (2014)

House of Shame is presented inside a Korean pagoda-type of structure, with an internal spiral layout. The three-storey building, known locally as the Spiral House, lies in the centre of the Biennale park in Gwangju, on top of a low hill just moments away from the Gwangju Biennale Halls. The building itself offers a unique aesthetic, combining traditional architecture and a barren interior, which is in stark contrast with the modernist structures of the Biennale Halls. It is the perfect container — a contradiction between style and content. The spiral layout of the space also serves as a unifying backdrop and exposes a narrative of assemblage and expansiveness.

AA Bronson is joined by Philip Aarons, Ryan Brewer Elijah Burgher, TM Davy, K8 Hardy, Richard John Jones, Yeonjune Jung, Bradford Kessler, Travis Meinolf, and Reima Hirvonen. All artists, in collaboration with Bronson, have contributed to creating an expositional outcome of multiple forms and practices. From the mystical and the occult, to the sexual and the erotic, to the collecting and representing of alternative subjectivities, struggles and survival tactics, House of Shame is full of symbols, full of potentials, full of irony and humor, which underline moments of history, trauma and hope. Rather than a singular unity, the project presents a fascinating diversity in mediums and outputs. Rather than a dominant figure AA Bronson becomes both the instigator and the commonality that brings all the practices together.

TM Davy, "AA in the Magic Forest" (2013), Oil on canvas

TM Davy, “AA in the Magic Forest” (2013), Oil on canvas

The setup of AA Bronson’s House of Shame began prior to the official opening of this year’s Biennale in the form of a live performance. The space was activated with Artemisia For My Great Grandfather (2014), a ritual executed the day before the Biennale’s opening. For the purposes of the performance, the interior floors of the Spiral House were covered in mugwort, an aromatic herb with a strong scent, which holds a significant position in Korean cleansing rituals. Mugwort, or Artemisia Principalis as it is known in botany, is widely used in Korea for its medicinal properties as a purifier and blood cleanser. AA Bronson uses the herb to purposefully connect to a local element. Evoking the figure of his grandfather, the artist extends the meaning and importance of the live event to issues that lie in a more personal domain of history.

The artist’s grandfather was an early Christian missionary to the Blackfoot Indians in North America. As a missionary he functioned within an apparatus, which essentially invested in the eclipsing of shamanic mystical traditions among the aboriginal peoples. The fundamental desire of missionaries was to dominate those social and religious practices that tended to function in the ontology of a spiritual mysticism, whose components were based on the unconscious, the occult and the distribution of unseen energies found in nature and the animal world. From a missionary’s perspective, such practices were adverse to the rational ideology and dogma of Christianity. Their rituals were emphatically open to to mutations of the self, the multiplicity of personal identity, flows of desire and connectivity through participation. They were very different from Christianity’s reductive humanism and its organization of power.


Installation view, 'AA Bronson's House of Shame'

AA Bronson and Ryan Bewer, ‘Red, Black, Gold’ (2011)

The missionaries’ ideas moved forward by engineering the limitation of shamanistic forms — which were looser structures, distinct and not always bound together and which tended to arise through collective engagement and participation. Being aware of this personal dimension of history, it seems to me that the process of purification and cleansing and the use of mugwort offers to AA Bronson the possibility to negotiate the repressive formulas of his ancestors – to return and undo personal history and to bridge the flow of repression and the flow of liberation. Artemisia For My Great Grandfather took place between a few invited participants and this loose formation of individuals became a platform which allowed the artist to penetrate the dominating forces of missionaries’ practices, only to modify and transform them. With the use of mugwort, which notates a sensitivity to the local attitudes of Korean shamanistic practices, the artist evokes the powers of ritual, in an attempt to destabilise and subvert the structure of repression that is part of his personal history. The combination of forces and participation as a form of artistic practice reinforce the antinomic attitudes that disturb and unsettle the personal and familiar system. By opening up the personal to ritualistic flows and shamanistic forms, AA Bronson generates a space of complexity where the expression of local attitudes, the experience of art and the manifestation of collectivities explores the potentials of history rethought in the present.

Precisely in the sense of the present and its potentials, the exhibition space seems to be functioning in a mode of endless fluctuation. It represents a non-hierarchical organisation of sorts where collectivity is being redirected into a purpose. Its internal structure revolves around the works conceived in dialogue with one another. There is a number of fascinating moments contained in the House of Shame. T.M. Davy’s portrait “AA in the Magic Forest” (2012), located in the entrance of the site and a series of three lightboxes, Red, Black, Gold, made by AA Bronson in collaboration with Ryan Brewer in 2011, present Bronson and Brewer as shamans living amongst the ashes of a queer population that were cremated in Fire Island, New York in the 1980s. The portraits are documents of a ritual which was performed publicly but without an invited audience, in Fire Island’s Magic Forest, a labyrinthine environment of trees and sex paths that connects the two gay communities of the island.

AA Bronson and Ryan Bewer, 'Red, Black, Gold' (2014)

AA Bronson and Ryan Bewer, ‘Red, Black, Gold’ (2014)

The forest has been a queer destination for more than sixty years. At the peak of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, many went there to spend their final days. Brewer and Bronson tap into this history of alternative collectivities and the history of deviance and derangement. The artists threw themselves into a space of seclusion and desire, which protected kindred spirits in their permanent refusal to succumb to the escalating symptoms of disease. The transformation of alienation into desire and the creation of a social domain in seclusion represents the attempts to avoid repressive institutionalisation and to form alternatives to acute determinisms even in the face of death. The works question the normal, the healthy but also the mad, the unexpected. It seems obvious that deviance has acquired authority here and the subversive qualities of a counter-community erupt with euphoria, questioning reality, the potentials for the body to exist and also death, destruction and rebirth. Brewer and Bronson are like hierophants in a fluid reality, where the intensity of desire and cosmic energy ceaselessly permeate the accepted notion of irreversibility of destiny.

On the space above, eight large paintings by Elijah Burgher are suspended back to back across the room. Each of the paintings were realised as part of a ritual during which a sigil was created by the artist. Sigils are peculiar symbols, a type of pictorial signature of a spiritual entity. They are believed to have powerful qualities, charged with the will of their creator. In many ways sigils are the manifestation of an intention, representing the conjunction of thought processes and the metaphysic. Burgher evokes an awakened mental and spiritual equilibrium, a machine for empowerment defined by a nexus of abstracted elements that are demonstrated on the paintings. They occupy as they fragment space, orchestrating the movements of the viewer. They resemble hieroglyphs, heterogeneous formations whose identity escapes subjective coordinates and the world of familiar meaning. They are positioned on the edge between an action and its representation, opening up to a state of communication with the unfamiliar, the unknown.

The sigils can be seen as the product of a constant process for accessing knowledge, an entrance into a space which is simultaneously psychical and magical. Encountering what can easily be described as thoughtforms is a more punctual way to describe this experience. It is more about passing through portals, exiting and entering, rather than standing in front of an object to contemplate its meaning. Exploring the personal and the mystical, the production of wisdom and the condition of allowing oneself to find refuge in unconscious processes, Burgher seems to recognise the artist as an agent in the production of a futurity. Inasmuch as one can speak of immersive qualities, Burgher certainly produces a ground that opens up to a set of connections between the viewer, the creative processes of production and the works themselves.


Installation view, Elijah Burgher in ‘AA Bronson’s House of Shame’

The collaboration between AA Bronson and Bradford Kessler titled the “Return of the Prodigal Son” (2012) takes the form of a lightbox displayed on the same floor. In this work, Bronson and Kessler become the father and son of the familiar biblical parable. The work does not only signify the biblical reference but an art historical one. The “Return of the Prodigal Son” (1661–69) is one of the Rembrandt’s best-known works and an iconic painting highly regarded not only as a product of artistic mastery but for its phenomenal evocation of spirituality and its attention to the parable’s message of forgiveness and mercy.

Bronson and Kessler go beyond this simplified meaning in what seems to be an act of complexifying the reality of the return. Rather than reducing the process of the encounter to means of regression or a returning to a previous state of sorts, the two artists can be seen emerging out of a pool of paint, in an embrace. Both figures, as father and son in a becoming, are contaminated by the powerful forces of the desire to be together and therefore to be reborn in a outburst. Bronson’s and Kessler’s “Return of the Prodigal Son” is an attempt to bring out notions of transversality in the entire House of Shame, which means an expression of the capacity of collective entities to function together to modify and radically transform normative systems and mechanisms. The alternative meaning of the work in relation to its referential points, is to split open the structural logic of symbols and images, liberating the signifying chain, allowing it to function in a context where the collective capacity of desire to produce altered forms occupies central position.

AA Bronson & Ryan Brewer, "The Return of the Prodigal Son" (2012) Lightbox

AA Bronson & Ryan Brewer, “The Return of the Prodigal Son” (2012) Lightbox

The last floor brings together Yeonjune Jung with AA Bronson and Philip Aarons. Bronson and Jung created a wallpaper which in the first place seems rather traditional in style. However, upon closer inspection, the seemingly familiar patterns reveal processes of violence, trauma and tragedy, with queer subjects in the epicenter. Jung orchestrates a discussion on the struggle, social repression and violence facing the expression of queer subjectivities. This type of violence, the result of excessive processes for normalization, is still largely active in many parts of the world. It defines the axiomatic of a culture based on hatred and menace, when normativity seems to be threatened by queer flows. The unpredictable responses to this can unsettle and deeply disturb. The work comments on positions that nonchalantly accept this type of personal and social order. An order that prescribes the sinking of alternative desires in the domain of the familiar. It also asks for the viewers themselves to take a position in the ongoing struggle against forms of repression, in favor of the continuous necessity for tearing down the grounds of repressive ideologies.

Philip Aarons’s and AA Bronson’s collection of Queer Zines, spanning almost 40 years of queer visual culture, offers an arresting juxtaposition to Jung’s wallpaper. Highly provocative and sexually explicit output of both contemporary and historical publications charts queer underground mechanisms for the production and dissemination of image and text. It constructs a panorama of queer identity from the 1970s until today. In this sense, the collection is a large-scale experiment that traces the network and avenues of distribution of imagery of queer practices. Loaded with desire, bold irony and confidence, the experience is that of a project of liberation, a radical organisation of counter-cultural literature that challenges mainstream dogmatisms. It is resembling a time capsule, without though referring solely to historical understandings. It is more about small moments of subversion that make up great transformations and those crucial attempts to create minor collectivities that can eventually erupt, bringing a big rip to what is considered accepted and normative. A fantastic, joyous machine that turns from testimony to promise, connecting the imaginary with the possible.

AA Bronson & Philip Aarons Queer Zines, 1975-2014 Collection of zines

AA Bronson & Philip Aarons, Queer Zines (1975–2014), with wallpaper installation by AA Bronson & Yeonjune Jung, “What A Beautiful World!” (2014)

Bringing into play a number of complex issues in the House of Shame, AA Bronson sets forth an affective machine of creativity, which operates in-between systems, rituals and potentials. The intensity of the environment and the spiral, helicoid structure signifying expansions, is fitting with the Biennale’s title Burning Down the House – a call for rethinking practices but also for rebirth and renewal. Full of symbols and forms AA Bronson’s House of Shame presents a rigorous redefinition to the conditions of subversive creative practices, which can be taken up as methods to reveal flights of imagination and mystery in social and artistic encounters and therefore potential. It is a dynamic environment which ruptures through regularity, functioning as a promise and hope at the moment of the encounter.

AA Bronson’s House of Shame, of which Hyperallergic is media sponsor, continues through November 9 at the Gwangju Biennale (111 Biennale-ro, yongbong-dong, Buk-gu, Gwangju, 500-845, South Korea).

A Collection of Cinema’s Best Prop Art

Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) visits an art gallery in 'Beverly Hills Cop' (all images via

Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) visits an art gallery in ‘Beverly Hills Cop.’ (all images via

What would a museum of movies’ best artworks contain? The paintings slashed and splashed by The Joker (Jack Nicholson) in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989)? Bill Johnson’s (Jeff Daniels) Monet-meets-Thiebaud painting of Betty Parker (Joan Allen) reclining on his diner counter in Pleasantville (1998)? The mannequins devouring human heads in the installation that goes over Axel Foley’s (Eddie Murphy) head in Beverly Hills Cop (1984)? All of these and many, many more appear on the Tumblr blog Art in Film, which gathers memorable instances of art in cinema and television.

Painting from 'Pleasantville'

Painting from ‘Pleasantville’

Unlike the blog Art in the Movies, which offers analysis of films’ portrayals of artists and the art world, Art in Film is strictly image-based. The site has been around for two years, and includes classics like the Miguel Calderón paintings from The Royal Tenenbaums and Ferris Bueller’s visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as more obscure fodder like the hideous approximation of a Mannerist rendering of “The Last Supper” from Bad Boys 2.

Abramović-ian performance art in a 'Sex in the City' episode

Abramović-ian performance art in a ‘Sex in the City’ episode

My personal favorite is among the site’s many indispensable entries from the world of television: A performance art scene from Sex in the City that looks like it was not only inspired by Marina Abramović, but actually filmed on location inside her durational piece “The House with the Ocean View” at Sean Kelly Gallery in 2002. It’s certainly a more impressive cultural touchstone than the sort favored by Tony Soprano.

A painting of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) from 'The Sopranos'

A painting of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) from ‘The Sopranos’

h/t The Creators Project

PICKS: Shanzhai Biennial

10.14.14-11.15.14 Project Native Informant, London, review written by Jennifer Piejko

PICKS: Shanzai Biennial

10.14.14-11.15.14 Project Native Informant, London, review written by Jennifer Piejko

Publicity Splash: Ai Weiwei Splatters Designer Clothes for Fashion Magazine

Ai Weiwei–splattered garment from KTZ women’s (all images courtesy V magazine)

Don’t ever trust your possessions with Ai Weiwei. When fashion magazine V sent over a selection of garments by 14 emerging designers carried by Dover Street Market, Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo’s concept store, to the dissident artist with the instructions to shoot them in any manner he wished, he treated them the way he treated 10 Neolithic vases in his 2006/2008 Colored Vases series. Ai splashed paint all over them, and — depending on how you look at it — either destroyed the hard work of these burgeoning designers, or created new pieces of art.

“Pouring a color on an outfit creates creates a new condition for the design,” said Ai in an interview with V. “It creates a midpoint between two conflicting ideas. Gravity and the shape of the clothes combine to create a unique moment. Using these cultural products as ready-mades celebrates and reinterprets the intention of creativity. I think this act shows my respect toward their creativity.” Sure.


Ai Weiwei–splattered garments by Jacquemus

This wasn’t the first time that a fashion magazine has given an artist the creative reigns behind a fashion editorial, but the artists usually leave the clothes alone. Vogue handed over clothing and accessories by Givenchy, Balenciaga, and Alexander Wang covered in lively prints to Rachel Perry Welty for their December 2011 issue. She had the prints digitally printed onto backdrops that she camouflaged herself in while wearing the garments. Harper’s Bazaar let Jeff Koons take control of the camera for its September 2011 issue. He merely photographed models in designer clothing standing next to his sculptures. For one of its January 2013 art issue covers, W commissioned Mickalene Thomas to add her touch to it. She put Jessica Chastain in 1970s hair and makeup and had her do an odalisque pose in one of her splashy environments, but she left the Versace gown alone.

Ai decided to forgo the use of models, instead enlisting people in his circle to pose in the garments by designers 1205, Craig Green, Ganryu, Gosha Rubchinskiy, Hood by Air, Jacquemus, KTZ, Lee Roach, Melitta Baumeister, Noir Kei Ninomiya, Pheobe English, Proper Gang, Shaun Samson, and Sibling. He proceeded to pour paint on each of them. “For the last ten years, these 14 colors have existed in our studio color chart for the production of Colored Vases,” said Ai in the V interview. “It’s a complete coincidence that we had these 14 colors for exactly 14 outfits.” One ornate white oversized blouse by KTZ got doused in a shade of chalky lime green, while a structured white jacket and skirt by Jacquemus had red poured all over it.


Ai Weiwei–splattered garments by KTZ women’s and Phoebe English

The results left some of the designers perplexed. “I don’t know if it’s sad or positive that he decided to do the project this way,” Los Angeles–based designer Shaun Samson, who had his plaid jacket and shorts covered in mauve paint, told the Washington Post, “But the outcome is beautiful.”

Whatever the intent is, Ai certainly knows how to make a publicity splash. The garments will go on display at Dover Street Market New York this Sunday and the issue of V debuts November 13.

Activists Picket Guggenheim Gala over Labor Abuses

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A guest arrives at the Guggenheim’s International Gala as activists bang pots and pans in protest of labor conditions at the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi on the evening of November 6. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

Amid a phalanx of black-clad attendants, security, and ushers, the Guggenheim Museum welcomed guests to its annual International Gala. But not all who landed at the November 6 event were invited: gatecrashing the black-tie fete were protestors with Gulf Ultra Luxury Front (G.U.L.F.), the activist group that the day before had dropped a 39-foot banner inside the museum denouncing ongoing workers’ rights violations connected to the museum’s Abu Dhabi outpost. Patrons and gala-goers emerging onto a rain-slicked Fifth Avenue had to contend with shouted slogans — “Exploitation is your name!” — and a clanging cacophony of pots and pans (and one booming brass instrument) as they made their way past velvet ropes into the lobby, which bore an illuminated backdrop of Christian Dior and Guggenheim logos.

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“It’s a free society,” a bemused silver-haired Guggenheim guard told inquiring guests at the curb. “They do their thing, we do our thing.” Not all were satisfied by this party line, with many attendees accepting informational leaflets prepared by the activists, who numbered between 10 and 20 throughout the evening. One couple emerging from a black SUV told Hyperallergic that this was the first they’d heard of the issue as it affected the Guggenheim. “I’m very receptive to them [the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi] not abusing labor,” the man, wearing round black spectacles, said. “If that’s indeed what they’re doing,” his female partner added as they made their way inside.

A few moments later, a familiar face made his way down the block — the artist Lawrence Weiner, wearing a red leather jacket. He paused before the assembled protest with a serious expression, ignoring entreaties from ushers to continue, “this way please,” into the museum. Asked what he thought of the situation at the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the artist replied, simply: “It’s disgusting.” “I was supposed to be on the façade [of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi], but I’m not — it’s not happening,” Weiner added, noting that he had initially worked on such a project with Thomas Krens, the Guggenheim’s previous director and initiator of the Abu Dhabi project.


The protest, which alternated between a parade-like procession up and down the sidewalk in front of the museum and a barricaded pen at the north end of the block, lasted a little over an hour, beginning as guests started arriving just after 6:30 and concluding at around 8pm. An intermission of sorts featured speakers from activists in solidarity with the labor issues in Abu Dhabi, including the Marxist activist-intellectual Biju Mathew of the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance, who stressed that the Abu Dhabi recruitment fees were especially deleterious to the South Asian communities where construction staffing firms operate. Kristin Bogos, from the Coalition for Fair Labor at New York University (NYU), spoke about NYU student and faculty involvement with calls to reform labor practices at the school’s outpost on Saadiyat Island, the cultural development that also contains the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

Mona Kareem of Bedoon Rights, a Kuwaiti migrant rights organization, told Hyperallergic that Gulf activists such as herself were keen to hold the Guggenheim accountable. “Such institutions are complicit … they refuse to admit their role in enabling abuse.”

Judge Approves Historic Detroit Bankruptcy Plan, Protecting Its Museum

The Detroit Institute of Arts (photo by Michael Barera, via Wikipedia)

The Detroit Institute of Arts (photo by Michael Barera, via Wikipedia)

Judge Steven Rhodes approved Detroit’s bankruptcy plan today, allowing the city to move out of insolvency in the coming weeks and slowly towards financial independence. Rhodes called the plan “fair and feasible,” the Detroit Free Press reports, “providing the legal authority for the city to slash more than $7 billion in unsecured liabilities and reinvest $1.4 billion over 10 years in public services and blight removal.”

The fate of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) has been bound up with the bankruptcy from the beginning; fears were first raised in May 2013 over the possibility that the city would try to force the sale of artworks from the museum’s collection in order to raise cash. In response, US Chief District Judge Gerald Rosen brokered a deal dubbed the “grand bargain,” which Rhodes approved today; it involves a number of nonprofit foundations, the state of Michigan, and the DIA itself committing a combined $816 over the next 20 years to a fund that will be used to pay off some of Detroit’s underfunded pensions. In exchange, the museum will be spun off from the city into an independent institution (to protect it should situations like the current one arise again).

Pensioners and creditors were initially resistant to the grand bargain, arguing that an appraisal conducted by Christie’s on behalf of the city did not reflect the true value of the museum’s collection, but the pensioners voted in July to accept the plan. Regarding the financial creditors, among them bond insurers Syncora and Financial Guaranty Insurance Co., the Free Press explains:

But they dropped their objections after reaching settlements in the middle of a 24-day trial featuring 41 witnesses and 2,327 exhibits on the viability of the city’s plan of adjustment. Both wound up with cash and city-owned property as part of their settlements.

“On the one hand, the received wisdom has been that the judge was going to rule in favor of the plan, and so we are thrilled and delighted that that particular projection turned out to be true,” DIA director Graham Beale told Hyperallergic in a brief conversation about the ruling. “We took pleasure and pride that the DIA presented a very strong case, because this has been consuming us for well over 18 months now, and in the end you learn nothing is certain. Here we were in a situation where there was simply no precedent anywhere. [And] because the collection belonged to the city, we, the private organization that runs the museum, were not central to the legal proceedings. This was the city that was in court, not the DIA.”

Beale explained that all the details are in order to enact the grand bargain — including the museum’s independence from the city — and “at the first moment” after a potential legal stay, “we will file the papers, our contributions to the grand bargain will be put into place, and the deal will be done. In a matter of moments.”

“Now, when people give money or art to the museum they know it’s going to the museum there’s no chance of it getting tangled up in city business,” he added. But Beale also pointed out that, although the bankruptcy battle is won, the museum still faces a long road to financial health. “We had a tax passed in 2012 so that we wouldn’t need to rely on [those donations] anymore, and this whole thing has taken two years out of a 10-year campaign. We’re going against the clock right now — we just lost two years in which we were hoping to have raised a target of $200 million. It’s back on that treadmill.”

Hopefully Rhodes’s ruling will help bolster the DIA in those efforts. A reporter for the Free Press, Nathan Bomey, has been tweeting some of the judge’s comments on the grand bargain and the importance of the museum to its ailing home city:

Judge Rhodes on the grand bargain: “It is a vast understatement to say that the pension settlement is reasonable. It borders on miraculous.”

— Nathan Bomey (@NathanBomey) November 7, 2014

“This settlement resolves all of the disputes” regarding legal rights to Detroit Institute of Arts property, Judge Rhodes says.

— Nathan Bomey (@NathanBomey) November 7, 2014

ALERT: Judge Rhodes concludes that the DIA and the attorney general “almost certainly would prevail” in a fight to prevent the sale of art.

— Nathan Bomey (@NathanBomey) November 7, 2014

Judge Rhodes: “To sell the DIA art would be to forfeit Detroit’s future. The city made the right decision.”

— Nathan Bomey (@NathanBomey) November 7, 2014

Get Your Fix of a Sinister Post-Human Future

Installation view of Saya Woolfalk's Chimatek Beta Launch exhibition at Smack Mellon (all photos courtesy Smack Mellon unless otherwise noted)

Installation view of Saya Woolfalk’s ‘ChimaTEK Beta Launch’ exhibition at Smack Mellon (all photos courtesy Smack Mellon unless otherwise noted)

Artist Saya Woolfalk has created a little utopian hive of serenity in the large front gallery of the Smack Mellon in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Her installation resembles the laboratories of science fiction, where hybrid humans are suspended as if they are hanging out to dry after being churned out of a machine.

ChimaTEK Beta Launch is part of the artist’s evolving vision of a post-human future, where a new species of genetically manipulated woman formed from a spectrum of identities and lifeforms, including plants, has come to life. Woolfalk visually invites the viewer into the space, and lulls them with the drone of techno-utopian music that offers escape into a world of meditative calm. Stunningly beautiful videos fill the walls with humanoid figures that move slowly, very conscious of each gesture, suggesting that the future is almost here, while rainbow-hued and almost recognizable glyphs float above. The mandala of radiating forms evoke the spiritual elegance of Yuan dynasty temple paintings, but they are thoroughly contemporary with their acid purples, electric greens, hot reds, cool yellows, and digital glow.

Another view of ChimaTEK Beta Launch

Another view of ‘ChimaTEK Beta Launch’

Even amid the soothing energy in the room, there’s an ominous edge to Woolfalk’s immersive world. A central figure seems engaged in a form of devotion while facing an altar dominated by a Kali-like form on a video screen flanked by centurions. There’s no semblance of ugliness anywhere to be seen, it has been engineered away.

This is the world of byzantine ritual and faith, where icons are living and breathing things but trapped in amber and therefore removed from our corporeal reality. You could be forgiven for ignoring this darkness from the shadows since the luminosity of the tableau is so intense and oddly numbing. I left the gallery wanting to return, without fully knowing why. Woolfalk’s world is seductive, perhaps even addictive.

A look at Saya Woolfalk’s excellent ChimaTEK Beta Launch exhibition

A video posted by Hyperallergic (@hyperallergic) on Nov 11, 2014 at 1:21pm PDT

Saya Woolfalk’s ChimaTEK Beta Launch continues at Smack Mellon (92 Plymouth Street, Dumbo, Brooklyn) through November 9.

NEWS: Franklin Furnace Integrates with Pratt Institute

The New York Times

PICKS: Luana Perilli

09.23.14-11.22.14 The Gallery Apart, Rome, review written by Pier Paolo Pancotto

Domestic Workers Air Their Dirty Laundry Onstage

Sister Sylvester's 'The Maids' The Maids' at Abrons Arts Center, with  Terence Mintern (background on table) and Sofia Ortega (background under table); Rita Oliveira and Laudiceia Calixto (foreground) (all photos by Jill Steinberg)

Sister Sylvester’s ‘The Maids’ The Maids’ at Abrons Arts Center, with Terence Mintern (background on table) and Sofia Ortega (background under table); Rita Oliveira and Laudiceia Calixto (foreground) (all photos by Jill Steinberg)

Laudicieia Calixto and Rita Oliveira enter the space of the Abrons Arts Center’s Experimental Theater and find themselves in a somewhat familiar scene: a slightly cluttered apartment, littered with fancy gowns, full-length mirror, desk, phone, assorted wigs. It’s a scene that depicts fairly standard metropolitan confines of a certain socioeconomic class, and the two women, professional domestic workers in New York City for the past two decades, put their hair back and begin straightening up. This is what they do on a regular basis, after all: clean the insides of strangers’ apartments. It’s unlikely, however, that they’ve ever “performed” these actions with an audience present — until now.

This is the theater company Sister Sylvester’s take on French playwright Jean Genet’s 1947 one-act The Maids. The new version, titled The Maids’ The Maids and directed by Kathryn Hamilton, re-envisions Genet’s work as an episodic, semi-biographical account of domestic workers who imagine what life is like on the other side. The original tale was decidedly more violent than this production, touching on the real-life story of Christine and Léa Papin, sisters and maids who murdered their employer and her daughter in Le Mans, France, in 1933. The vindictive crime rendered the sisters infamous, especially among French intellectuals at the time, including Sartre, Lacan, and Genet.

Rita Oliveira, Sofia Ortega, and Terence Mintern (background); Laudiceia Calixto (foreground) in 'The Maids' The Maids'

Rita Oliveira, Sofia Ortega, and Terence Mintern (background); Laudiceia Calixto (foreground) in ‘The Maids’ The Maids’ (click to enlarge)

There are a few dialogic intersections with the original script, but the current production is most compelling in its strange divergences. An interview scene, in the telling vein of devised theater, has each performer explain her personal involvement with the production. We learn that most of the performers had previously worked with Hamilton or were brought on for their language skills (the show uses spoken and subtitled English, Portuguese, and Spanish). One of the performers, Sofia Ortega, notes that she was hired to fill in when Oliveira had to miss rehearsal because of a conflict with her actual maid job — an interesting note that speaks to the lines between labor, obligation, and artifice that the production seeks to uncover.

We also find out that Calixto met Hamilton when the director was staying at a friend’s apartment and was ushered into the neighbor’s place by the unwitting maid to sit on the much nicer couch. In a weird art-meets-life scenario, Hamilton later gave Calixto a copy of Genet’s play (a text Calixto did not even read all the way through, saying she found it “boring”) and enlisted her and Oliveira for the production. These women have since taken ownership of the material in a way that is admirable and endearing; there were very few moments in which they seemed to be “acting” and many more that felt like they were casually telling a familiar story to friends.

Ultimately, this is Calixto and Oliveira’s story, not the Pepin sisters. At one point, Calixto, in a candid interview sequence with performer Terence Mintern, admits to the delicate balance learned over years of cleaning homes: the disparity between being part of the family and being totally shut out. Hamilton, in turn, took a chance in exposing not only a real-life account of domestic work, in all its unglamorous difficulty, but also how Genet’s story can root itself in honest ground in a contemporary context. Calixto and Oliveira are gritty offsets to Genet’s seemingly polished and pristine maids. Scenes in which other actors depict the women’s previous lives, as a bank teller and a casino worker in their native Brazil, hilariously reveal how labor, work, and a zeal to make an honest living have for them, as for many of us, defined their lives.

Rita Oliveira, Sofia Ortega, and Terence Mintern in 'The Maids' The Maids'

Rita Oliveira, Sofia Ortega, and Terence Mintern in ‘The Maids’ The Maids’

It’s worth mentioning the wonderful cross-dressing efforts by Terence Mintern, a captivating storyteller expected to go from bougie mistress to Brazilian bank teller at a moment’s notice. His acting was illustrative of the compelling effects of zooming in and out of narrative and history that propelled the work. Overlapping and layered scenes allowed the performers to constantly comment on the action while still playing it out. When Mintern assumes his role as bank teller, Calixto advises her “former self” on the task. “He’s doing very good. This is what I used to do,” she tells us.

Though Sister Sylvester’s production doesn’t make a practice of explicitly referring to Genet’s text, themes of industry and class mobility come to the fore. In a humorous aside, Oliveira mentions her confusion over the seeming glamour of appearing in this production: “I thought I would be at Lincoln Center!” The most recent production of The Maids was this past August at the Lincoln Center Festival, but it’s unclear whether this is an honest statement by Calixto or sly hyperbole built in to the script (or both). The Maids’ The Maids accumulates these moments of aspiration and class-consciousness, only to pry at the edges of their innate absurdity.

I was too caught up in the chaos of scene changes, storytelling, and subtitles to remember the horrific events of the original narrative. However, a dramatic seed blossoms late in the production when the otherwise goofy Isabel Sanchez delivers a sedating monologue on the real-life implications of the Papin sisters’ brutal act. Sanchez explains that their crime was later revealed in court as an act of mental instability, not sick malevolence. This information caused the general public to lose interest in what had been a highly publicized case. Sanchez points out that their cloudy mental state lessened the legitimacy of their crime in the public’s opinion, making them immediately less interesting.

Rita Oliveira, Sofia Ortega (partially visible behind mirror), and Isabel Sanchez (floor) in 'The Maids' The Maids'

Rita Oliveira, Sofia Ortega (partially visible behind mirror), and Isabel Sanchez (floor) in ‘The Maids’ The Maids’

“How did the most famous maids in France get to be forgotten?” she asks desperately, naked and shaking, confronting us with her gaze and exhausted from retracing this tale. The Papin sisters may not have been seeking fame, but Genet, and now Sister Sylvester, allow them to live on. And rightly so. Sometimes a work of theater, however absurd or unfortunate, is the only way for stories to remain intact.

Sister Sylvester: The Maids’ The Maids continues through November 8 at Abrons Arts Center (466 Grand St, Lower East Side, Manhattan). Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online.

PICKS: Chris Ofili

10.29.14-02.01.15 New Museum, New York, review written by Ian Bourland

NEWS: Guggenheim Museum Creates New Curatorial Position

The New York Times

Finally, an App for Transcribing Medieval Manuscripts


(screenshot by the author of Medieval Handwriting App/iOS)

A new app allows medievalists, aspiring medievalists, or medievally-minded scriveners to try their hand at transcribing 26 manuscripts on their smartphones. “I’ve been looking for an awesome medieval app like this for ages!,” says one Google Android reviewer, and we can’t help but agree.

Called simply “Medieval Handwriting App,” the iOS version worked as smoothly as one might expect, its utilitarian ethos a respite from the over-designed pablum churned out by Silicon Valley. The app features primer pages mapping letters to their various handwritten versions and manuscripts ranging from Bede’s In Epistolas Canonicas to Manuel des Péchés. The scanned texts are divided into two categories: “Religious manuscripts” and “Other documents”; some of the manuscripts, like the Book of Hours (use of Utrecht) are illuminated.

Conceived by Andrew Booth, David Lindley, and Oliver Pickering with manuscripts from the Leeds University Library, the app is, like its subject matter, pleasingly monastic. The transcriptions do not go into “the cloud,” nor are the results “crowdsourced” or tweetable, and, beyond the game of life itself, there is no competition between would-be transcribers — but users can, for their solitary betterment, access prior saved attempts on their phones. Once a transcription is finished, Boethius is soon divided from Bartleby as errors are revealed with the push of a “Check” button. Spoiler alert: Transcribing medieval texts is not for dilettantes.

h/t Jo Livingstone

NEWS: Met Museum Names New Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts

The New York Times

500 WORDS: R. H. Quaytman

R. H. Quaytman talks about her latest work in New York and Inhotim, Brazil

Mixing Classical and Gay Male Teen Desire


Stuart Sandford, “Sebastian” (2012–14), cast polished bronze from a digital source, 50 x 25 x 13 cm (courtesy the artist)

LONDON — In the Natural History, Pliny the Elder discusses the origins of sculpture by telling the story of Butades of Corinth, the first Greek modeler of clay. According to the story, Butades’s daughter, deeply in love with a young man about to leave, drew upon the wall the outline of his shadow. The father then used the outline to model a statue of the youth, creating a substitute of the loved one and inventing sculpture.

Classical Latin literature may not be the first topic to come to your mind when visiting Teen Dreams, Stuart Sandford’s homoerotic show at the Invisible Line Gallery. Sandford’s work has been exhibited widely and his images published in gay cult magazine BUTT (which in the pages featured photographs by a then young and unknown Wolfgang Tillmans), but this is his first solo show in the UK.

London has been experiencing a new batch of explicitly homosexual content. Last year’s show Keep Your Timber Limber at the Institute of Contemporary Art featured daring works on paper addressing the topic. Among those were some drawings by Tom of Finland, one of the most influential creators of gay erotic images. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Sandford is currently artist-in-residence at the Tom of Finland Foundation in Echo Park, LA.

Teen Dreams, produced in conjunction with Fringe! Film and Arts Festival, features a collection of recent works the artist developed during his residency there. Sandford often uses found images, from YouTube videos to selfies of young men available on the internet. In particular, he seems to have a soft spot for 1980s teen fan magazines. The C-type print series Noah (2014) and Teen Dreams (2009–14) — the former based on portraits of American actor Noah Hathaway — show decontextualized images of ’80s teen idols put in sequence to acknowledge hidden homoerotic inclinations.


Stuart Sandford, ‘Noah’ (2014), suite of twenty-four framed 6 x 4 in C-type prints (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The strategy of appropriation has been used extensively by gay artists for diverse reasons, often as a means of connecting with the established art system. These artists may seek social acceptance, they may want to conceal homoerotic contents — or they may use appropriation as a way of mining and subverting the heteronormative art world from within.

Initially it seems that Sandford keeps his work within the context of homosexual desire, mirroring the dynamics of a certain gay scene. But as “David (diptych)” (2014), a Polaroid diptych depicting the butt and genitals of a young man, makes clear, there’s more going on. The longer you look at the images, the more you realize that many of the features now often associated with homosexual desire — vanity, eternal youth, sculpted bodies — are also at the roots of the Western artistic tradition.


Stuart Sandford, “Teen Dreams (Chad)” and “Teen Dreams (Jay)” (2009–14) C-type print, 40 x 30 in (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

After all, when he tells his story, Pliny feels the need to emphasize that Butades’s daughter was deeply in love with her young man and trying to eternalize him in art. The Greek myth of Pygmalion — the sculptor who fell in love with one of his works — further illustrates the connection between art and desire. So, the celebration of male youth that’s featured in Sandford’s works gradually moves from the vague category of “gay art” to a wider context.

Looking at “Sebastian” (2012–TBA), I couldn’t stop thinking about the classical representation of masculine beauty. To realize this small sculpture, Sandford contacted Sebastian Sauvé, one of the world’s leading male models, to pose for him. The artist used advanced high-resolution 3D-scanning technology to map Sauvé’s body, immortalized while taking a selfie. The individual 3D scans were then combined into a digital model for 3D printing. The result, cast in bronze, mashes up the classical canon of beauty with the cult of selfies and representations of homosexual desire.


Stuart Sandford, “Sebastian” (2012–14), cast polished bronze from a digital source, 50 x 25 x 13 cm (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The artist told me he’s currently working on another sculpture using the same technique. The commission came from a New York gallerist who sent his young, handsome lover to Sandford’s studio in LA to get a 3D scan of his body, which will be translated into an intimate sculpture.

If Butades were alive today, he would probably do something similar.

Stuart Stanford: Teen Dreams continues at the Invisible Line Gallery (87 Dalston Lane, London) through November 16.

Laida Lertxundi

Today from our friends at BOMB Magazine, we bring you an excerpt from Katie Bradshaw‘s interview with filmmaker Laida Lertxundi. The artist describes her process: “I rearrange and take apart these formal conventions and then you have to enter a new space, and maybe there’s something freeing in that. […] I think it’s productive, when there’s something happening in the form that’s uncomfortable.” This interview was originally published on October 20, 2014.

Laida Lertxundi. Still from Cry When it Happens / Llora Cuando Te Pase, 2010; directed by Laida Lertxundi.

Laida Lertxundi. Still from Cry When it Happens / Llora Cuando Te Pase, 2010; 16mm film, color, sound; 14 min.

Laida Lertxundi makes films using landscape and sounds. The first of Laida’s films I saw was Footnotes to a House of Love (2007), a thirteen-minute 16mm film in which a few people spend time in and around a dilapidated house in a southern California desert listening to Shangri-Las cassettes along with other, less immediately recognizable sounds. Footnotes struck me visually and sonically, though at the time I don’t think I was able to fully grasp the complexity in method or the way in which she, as Genevieve Yue has phrased it, “treats feeling as material.” As I moved through her filmography, Laida’s films felt threaded together. They could locate minutes that I felt I had already seen, previously collected but unnoticed until now, almost memories-in-progress—the sun at a particular time of day, the quiet feeling of being at home with another person, simply co-existing.

I am interested in her choice of careful frames, her relation to the body and its representation, and how uniquely and interestingly she succeeds in emphasizing the aural environment so that it directly influences and cannot be pulled apart from the image. There is a mysterious quality to her films that is both natural and unpretentious. I watch her films over and over again, the same way I’ve rewound a mix-tape over and over again to a specific track that pulls me out of myself.

Katie Bradshaw: You’ve talked about bringing your soundtracks to the foreground. I think the sounds in your films take precedence over the images. It’s as though they move the image and carry the film.

Laida Lertxundi: Yes, sound is not an accompaniment. I never disassociate the process of editing sound from that of images. There is this Michel Chion phrase I love about the predominance of sound: “a ‘heard space’ in which the ‘seen’ bathes.”

KB: Do you ever start making a film with a song in mind? Or do the songs usually come after?

LL: The song becomes this piece that responds in rhythm, emotion, or content to the environment it’s in, to the landscapes, people, props, and rooms but also to its location in the film. I try out different versions first.

KB: And how do you “cast” your films? Did you know you wanted Josette Chiang to be the woman on the bed in A Lax Riddle Unit?

LL: I’m interested in the comfort and intimacy you can feel with someone, while so much of them is unknown to you. I asked Josette if she’d be around to help with the Lax shoot and if she’d be in the movie, and she said, “Be in the movie? No way!” That’s the common denominator, if someone doesn’t want to be in the film or has resistance. If they don’t want to be on camera and if we can make it work, it’s like working through something and it’s an interesting challenge. If they’re going to act, you can see it in their face, and that’s going to ruin everything.

Read the full article here.

This interview, Laida Lertxundi by Katie Bradshaw, was commissioned by and first published by BOMB Magazine, October 20, 2014. © Bomb Magazine, New Art Publications, and its Contributors. All rights reserved. The BOMB Digital Archive can be viewed at

The Graphics of the Great War in France

“Le kaiser et la mort.” La baïonnette, 4 novembre 1915

“Le kaiser et la mort,” illustration from “La baïonnette,” November 4, 1915 (all images courtesy University of Chicago Library/University of Chicago Press)

More than any conflict before it, World War I was a visual battle. Propaganda proliferated across the fronts, and magazines, newspapers, photography, early films, and even fashion and children’s books were involved in a rally of imagery on a large scale. En Guerre: French Illustrators and World War Ia new book and coinciding exhibition from the University of Chicago Library’s Special Collections Research Center, explores the specific impact of this artistic history on France.

Cover of "En Guerre"

Cover of “En Guerre”

Curated by historians Neil Harris and Teri J. Edelstein, who also contributed text to the accompanying catalogue, the exhibition commemorates the 1914 start of the “Great War” with over 130 pieces mostly sourced from the library. While the century mark has brought with it many exhibitions on World War I, much of those centered on art concentrate on propaganda posters, and Harris and Edelstein wanted to explore the depth of illustration in every area of wartime life. As Harris writes in the book:

The scale of the conflict and the enveloping mobilization meant that no aspect of life would remain untouch. […] And this in turn meant production of an unending flood of messages aimed at every sector of the population, messages of justification, inspiration, and vilification; messages that were visual and textual; and messages that were formulated to excite sentiments of solidarity and sympathy for the cause and hatred or contempt for the enemy.

Charlotte Schaller. En guerre! Paris: Berger-Levrault, [1914]. On loan from a private collection.

Charlotte Schaller, “En guerre!,” Paris: Berger-Levrault (1914) (on loan from a private collection)

Louis Lefèvre. “Sur le pont.” Rondes glorieuses. [S.l.: s.n., n.d.]. 1ière série. On loan from a private collection.

Louis Lefèvre. “Sur le pont.” Rondes glorieuses (on loan from a private collection)

France in particular had its groundswell in art deco graphics, children’s books, and comics rooted in World War I. The rich, elegant illustration of the 1920s and 30s was in part inspired by the intense production of harrowing art on the battlefields, including a transformation in the style of those working before the war, like Charles Martin. An established illustrator, after joining the infantry he gave his graceful style to scenes like the body of a soldier barely visible beneath a field of wheat pocked with poppies. Several illustrated journals that would carry on after the close of the war started at this time, some directly military-related, such as La baïonnette in 1915.

The most intriguing focus of the exhibition and book is in how children were targeted and used as a subject, whether it was as victims or future victors. In school, children were even encouraged to draw their perceptions of war. Louis Lefèvre contrasted playful melodies and children’s songs against imagery of battlefields — such as a piece of “Sur le pont d’Avignon” where two soldiers cross a plank over a trench while bombs explode overhead. André Hellé made an Alphabet de la Grande Guerre 1914-1916 for kids, with such letters as “F” for “Factionnaire” — “sentry.”

André Hellé.  "Batterie/Charge.” Alphabet de la Grande Guerre 1914–1916. Paris: Berger-Levrault, [1916]. On loan from a private collection.

André Hellé, “Batterie/Charge,” “Alphabet de la Grande Guerre 1914–1916,” Paris: Berger-Levrault (1916) (On loan from a private collection)

France lost around 1.4 million men in World War I, a brutal statistic that resonated through every community. In such a war, it was necessary to spark and never let extinguish the flame of patriotism and resilience, and as the first major engagement of the 20th century, the visual culture that would define the following decades was fanned by this fire.

Inside "En Guerre" (photograph of the book by the author for Hyperallergic)

Inside “En Guerre” (photograph of the book by the author for Hyperallergic)

Inside "En Guerre," showing the endpaper (photograph of the book by the author for Hyperallergic)

A comic by Lucien Laforge in “En Guerre,” showing the endpaper (photograph of the book by the author for Hyperallergic)

Inside "En Guerre" (photograph of the book by the author for Hyperallergic)

Art by Robert Bonfills inside “En Guerre” (photograph of the book by the author for Hyperallergic)

André Lhote. Sainte Geneviève. Paris: Librairie Lutetia, [n.d.]

André Lhote, “Sainte Geneviève,” Paris: Librairie Lutetia

Marcel Astruc. “Tipperary! Tippi.” Mon cheval mes amis et mon amie. Illus. by Charles Martin. Paris: La Renaissance du Livre, 1921

Marcel Astruc. “Tipperary! Tippi” Illustrated by Charles Martin. Paris: La Renaissance du Livre (1921)

“Les fossoyeurs de la mer.” La baïonnette, 22 juin 1916

“Les fossoyeurs de la mer.” La baïonnette, June 22, 1916

Robert Bonfils. “Sur mer.” La manière française. Paris: Librairie Lutetia, [1916]. On loan from a private collection.

Robert Bonfils, “Sur mer,” Paris: Librairie Lutetia (1916) (on loan from a private collection)

Odette Champion, “Modes de printemps: Berlin-Vienne-Constantinople.” Fantasio. Paris: Félix Juven, [1915]. Gift of Neil Harris and Teri J. Edelstein, The University of Chicago Library.

Odette Champion, “Modes de printemps: Berlin-Vienne-Constantinople.” Fantasio. Paris: Félix Juven (1915) (Gift of Neil Harris and Teri J. Edelstein, The University of Chicago Library)

En Guerre: French Illustrators and World War I by Neil Harris and Teri J. Edelstein is available from the University of Chicago Library, distributed by University of Chicago Press. The coinciding exhibition at the University of Chicago Library’s Special Collections Research Center Exhibition Gallery (100 East 57th Street, Chicago) continues through January 2. 

An Alternative to the Art Fair Marathon

A view of Independent Projects, with a felt banner by Mike Kelley on the right and David Zwirner's booth of Raymond Pettibon in the center back

A view of Independent Projects, with a felt banner by Mike Kelley on the right and David Zwirner’s booth of Raymond Pettibon in the center back (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

I didn’t expect to say this, but Independent Projects is a lovely fair. Started by the creators of the Independent, Armory Week’s alterna-fair, and taking place in the same location, the former Dia Art Foundation building on West 22nd Street in Chelsea, Independent Projects simultaneously builds on and slims down its sister fair’s model. As with the Independent, the space remains quite open — galleries are given actual walls and differently sized, mostly angular areas to suit their needs, rather than the usual boxy art fair booths. And there are fewer galleries at Independent Projects (39 to the Independent’s 56), which means everyone gets a little extra space.

A large part of the reason the show feels so relaxed and open, though, is that each gallery has brought only one artist, and in some cases only one artwork. Though this model wouldn’t work for every fair, it does, as you’d expect, do wonders for the viewer experience; it allows you to spend quality time with the work.

And there is quite a bit of work worthy of that time at Independent Projects. Some of my favorite showings included glistening porno rocks by Aura Rosenberg at Martos Gallery, sculpted cat planters by June Hamper (the mother of Billy Childish) at White Columns, trippy and cheeky paintings and drawings by John Tweddle at Kayne Griffin Corcoran, obsessive woven paintings by Mark Barrow and Sarah Parke at Elizabeth Dee, beguiling work in a range of media by Gianfranco Baruchello at Massimo De Carlo, roughly tactile and sculptural paintings by Rosy Keyser at Maccarone, and Duane Hanson’s mind-bending “Flea Market Lady” (1990) at Karma. To name a few.

In a further attempt to subvert the traditional art fair model, Independent Projects will remain for a week, changing from a marketplace to an exhibition after this weekend. Guides will be on hand to lead visitors through the show and explain the work, while the dealers go home, leaving just the art behind.

Work by Stefan Brüggermann, with Parra & Romero, along the back wall, and by Thornton Dial, with Andrew Edlin Gallery, on the right

Work by Stefan Brüggermann, brought by Parra & Romero, along the back wall, and by Thornton Dial, with Andrew Edlin Gallery, on the right

Thornton Dial, "Lost" (2004), on view with Andrew Edlin

Thornton Dial, “Lost” (2004), on view at Andrew Edlin

Aura Rosenberg, "Dialectical Porn Rock Circle" (1990–93), with Martos Gallery

Aura Rosenberg, “Dialectical Porn Rock Circle” (1990–93), at Martos Gallery

Women and dog visit the booth of Max Wigram Gallery, showing 1989 paintings by John Giorno

Women and dog visit the booth of Max Wigram Gallery, showing John Giorno’s first paintings, from 1989.

A work by Virginia Overton, with Mitchell Innes & Nash

A work by Virginia Overton, at Mitchell-Innes & Nash

Sculptures by June Hamper, shown by White Columns

Sculptures by June Hamper, at White Columns

Duane Hanson, "Flea-Market Lady" (1990), at Karma

Duane Hanson, “Flea Market Lady” (1990), at Karma

Detail of Duane Hanson's "Flea-Market Lady"

Detail of Duane Hanson’s “Flea Market Lady”

Dominique Lévy has fabricated Yves Klein's "Sculpture tactile," which he conceived in 1957 with a prototype but never made. You're supposed to stick your arm in that hole.

Dominique Lévy has fabricated Yves Klein’s “Sculpture tactile,” which he conceived in 1957 with a prototype but never made. You’re supposed to stick your arm in that hole.

Work by Nina Beier, at Croy Nielsen

Work by Nina Beier, at Croy Nielsen

A woman rests on a chair by Bunny Rogers, at Société.

A woman rests on a chair by Bunny Rogers, at Société.

Work by Prem Sahib, at Gallerie Lorcan O'Neill and Southard Reid's shared booth, in the foreground, and Emanuel Röhss at Project Narrative Informant in the background

Work by Prem Sahib, at Gallerie Lorcan O’Neill and Southard Reid’s shared booth, in the foreground, and Emanuel Röhss at Project Narrative Informant in the background

Paintings by Mary Ramsden, at Pilar Corrias

Paintings by Mary Ramsden, at Pilar Corrias

Haroon Mirza's "Access Boot" (2014), at Lisson Galery

Haroon Mirza’s “Access Boot” (2014), at Lisson Galery

Joan Jonas, "After Mirage" (1976), at Gavin Brown's Enterprise

Joan Jonas, “After Mirage” (1976), at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise

Mike Kelley, "Winner" (1987) and "Wood Nymph" (1985), at Skarstedt

Mike Kelley, “Winner” (1987) and “Wood Nymph” (1985), felt banners from his ‘Half a Man’ project, at Skarstedt

Work by John Tweddle, at Kayne Griffin Corcoran

Work by John Tweddle, at Kayne Griffin Corcoran

David Medalla, "Cloud Canyons," at Venus Over Manhattan

David Medalla, “Cloud Canyons,” a bubble machine, at Venus Over Manhattan

Work by Mark Barrow and Sarah Parke, at Elizabeth Dee

Work by Mark Barrow and Sarah Parke, at Elizabeth Dee

Detail of a work by Mark Barrow and Sarah Parke

Detail of a work by Mark Barrow and Sarah Parke

Work by Raymond Pettibon, at David Zwirner

Work by Raymond Pettibon, at David Zwirner

Cleaning Liam Gillick's mirrored room, which houses his film "Hamilton: A Film by Liam Gillick" (2014), at Marueen Paley

Cleaning Liam Gillick’s mirrored room, which houses his film “Hamilton: A Film by Liam Gillick” (2014), at Maureen Paley

Detail of Gianfranco Baruchello's "La Grande Biblioteca" (1976), at Massimo De Carlo

Detail of Gianfranco Baruchello’s “La Grande Biblioteca” (1976), at Massimo De Carlo

Work by Rosy Keyser, at Maccarone, on left in foreground, and by Allora and Calzadilla, at Gladstone Gallery, in back right

Work by Rosy Keyser, at Maccarone, on left in foreground, and by Allora and Calzadilla, at Gladstone Gallery, in back right

Independent Projects continues at Center548 (548 W 22nd St, Chelsea, Manhattan) through November 15.

St. Louis Museum Scores Slam Dunk with $50M Art Gift

Chinese, "Ewer with Design of Floral Scrolls and Spout in the Form of a Lion-Dog," (10th–11th century) (all images courtesy the Saint Louis Art Museum, Spink Asian Art Collection, bequest of Edith J. and C.C. Johnson Spink, unless indicated otherwise)

“Ewer with Design of Floral Scrolls and Spout in the Form of a Lion-Dog,” Chinese (10th–11th century) (all images courtesy the Saint Louis Art Museum, Spink Asian Art Collection, bequest of Edith J. and C.C. Johnson Spink, unless indicated otherwise)

The Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) has received a gift of 225 artworks worth upwards of $50 million from the collection of the late Edith Spink and Charles Claude Johnson Spink, who died in 2011 and 1992, respectively. Most of the trove, about 200 pieces, consists of arworks from China and Japan, while the rest are pieces by American artists including Norman Rockwell, John Singleton Copley, Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, and a portrait of George Washington by Rembrandt Peale.

Rembrandt Peale, "George Washington" (circa 1845) (courtesy the Saint Louis Art Museum, bequest of Edith J. and C.C. Johnson Spink)

Rembrandt Peale, “George Washington” (circa 1845) (courtesy the Saint Louis Art Museum, bequest of Edith J. and C.C. Johnson Spink) (click to enlarge)

“The Spink Collection represents such a high level and wide range of collecting in Chinese art that is not likely to be repeated or surpassed in St. Louis for many generations, if at all,” Philip K. Hu, SLAM’s associate curator of Asian art, wrote in the acquisition proposal that he presented to the museum’s collections committee. “The gift will enable the Museum to display, for the first time, a complete presentation of Chinese ceramic history starting from prehistoric times to the end of the imperial system.”

The Spinks, both of whom were natives of St. Louis, began collecting art in the 1970s. Several works from their collections of Asian and American art are already on view at SLAM, as they’ave been on long-term loan to the museum since 2004.

C.C.J. Spink was the last member of the Spink family to run the weekly magazine The Sporting News, which his great uncle Alfred G. Spink founded in 1886. C.C.J. took over the publication in 1962 and sold it to the Times Mirror Company in 1977. He remained involved in the magazine until 1987.

Chinese, "Dish with Design of Gardenia Sprays," early 18th century

“Dish with Design of Gardenia Sprays,” Chinese (early 18th century)

Edith “Edie” Spink trained as a lawyer, and though she never formally practiced law, her 20-year tenure as the mayor of the wealthy St. Louis suburb of Ladue was exceptionally litigious. Her administration successfully filed lawsuits to prevent an unmarried couple from living together and to stop a family from building a pyramid-shaped house. But Spink lost her most high-profile case when, in 1994, the US Supreme Court ruled that the municipality of Ladue could not force local resident Margaret Gilleo to remove an antiwar sign from her own front yard.

“Some called her a little dictator,” Edie Spink’s friend Mary Ann Rober told the Ladue-Frontenac Patch at the time of her death, “but the people of Ladue just loved her.”

Next year, dozens of the Chinese ceramics from the Spinks’ gift will go on view following the reinstallation of one of SLAM’s permanent collection galleries.

Chinese, "Rectangular Food Vessel (fang ding) with Flattened Feet in the Form of Kui-Dragons" (11th century BCE)

“Rectangular Food Vessel (fang ding) with Flattened Feet in the Form of Kui-Dragons,” Chinese (11th century BCE)

Chinese, "Standing Figure of a Horse Groom" (early 6th century)

“Standing Figure of a Horse Groom,” Chinese (early 6th century)

Chinese, "Ritual Object in the Form of a Prismatic Cylinder (cong)" (3000–2000 BCE)

“Ritual Object in the Form of a Prismatic Cylinder (cong),” Chinese (3000–2000 BCE)

Art and Friends Don’t Mix


Islamist Militants Suspected in Tripoli Statue Disappearance

The "Gazelle and the Beauty" fountain in Tripoli (photo by Корниенко Виктор/Wikimedia Commons)

The “Gazelle and the Beauty” fountain in Tripoli in 2008 (photo by Корниенко Виктор/Wikimedia Commons)

A beloved landmark by Italian artist Angiolo Vannetti, “Gazelle and the Beauty,” that stood in a fountain in the center of Tripoli, Libya for more than 80 years was removed sometime during the evening of November 3 and the early hours of November 4. Though the cause of its disappearance is unknown, many suspect Islamist militants removed the bronze statue of a nude woman petting a gazelle, BBC News reports. The statue was struck by a rocket in August. Reports indicate that the sculpture was crudely removed with the use of a mechanical digger without any warning.

The empty pedestal where the "Gazelle and the Beauty" sculpture once stood (photo via @alwahieshi/Twitter)

The empty pedestal where the “Gazelle and the Beauty” sculpture once stood (photo via @alwahieshi/Twitter)

“We were very sentimental about the statue,” Amal Shibani, a resident of Tripoli, told the Libya Herald. “They have deprived us of one of the most beautiful landmarks of our city.”

In an official statement, Tripoli’s municipal government deplored the piece’s removal:

We call on our Libyan brothers to protect Libya’s heritage and antiquities. We have contacted the authorities and they have opened an investigation into the matter and we promise the residents of Tripoli that we will get the criminals.

The statue was inaugurated in 1932, when Libya was under Italian rule. “She is not intended to be seen as an object of sexual desire, but rather an as allegorical figure,” David Rifkind, an assistant professor at Florida International University, told Bloomberg. The work’s original title was “Sorgente di Vita” (or “Source of Life”), and, in the artist’s own words, symbolized that “the country had the sweetest to offer: the gazelle and the woman.”

The "Gazelle and the Beauty" fountain in Tripoli circa 1960–70 (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The “Gazelle and the Beauty” fountain in Tripoli circa 1960–70 (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The public art piece became a target of Islamist militias in February 2012. At the time, a group of intellectuals and journalists gathered at the statue to protest threats made against it, as a Libyan television report cited by CNN shows.

The statue was often referred to as the “mermaid fountain,” a reference to Tripoli’s allegorical nickname, “The Mermaid.”

DIARY: Dancing with the Stars

Linda Yablonsky at LACMA’s Art + Film gala

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

Television Tycoon Donates Modernist Trove to LACMA


Edouard Manet, “M. Gauthier-Lathuille fils” (1879) (all images courtesy LACMA)

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) announced today that it has received a significant bequest of modern art from the aging chairman of Univision Communications, Jerry Perenchio. Amassed over several decades by the reclusive 84-year-old talent agent–turned–broadcast magnate, the gift is conditioned upon the museum’s completion of a $600 million new building project, which is slated to be finished in 2023. Earlier this week the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a plan involving a design by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor that would see 21 percent of the project’s financing come from public coffers.

Pablo Picasso, "Tete (Head of Fernande)" (1909), gouache and pencil on paper, 24 1/2 x 18 1/4 in. (62.2 x 46.4cm) (©2014 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society, NY) (click to enlarge)

Pablo Picasso, “Tete (Head of Fernande)” (1909), gouache and pencil on paper (©2014 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society, NY) (click to enlarge)

Comprising “at least” 47 works worth, according to the LA Times, a total of over $500 million, the collection includes significant 19th and 20th century paintings by Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Fernand Léger, Gustave Caillebotte, René Magritte, and others.

LACMA director Michael Govan described the donation as a “coup” for the institution, adding that such acquisitions would otherwise be financially “unthinkable.”

The donation includes a mixed media work by Degas, “Au Cafe Concert: La Chanson du Chien” (1875), and Monet’s “The Artist’s Garden at Vethéuil,” which bears a strong similarity to another painting at the Norton Simon Museum in neighboring Pasadena. Another important work in the collection, Gustave Caillebotte’s “Un Soldat” (1881), was acquired at auction in 2002, and has been compared to Manet’s “Le fifre” (1866).

Perenchio is best known for his role producing major Hollywood motion pictures, including Blade Runner (1982), the Academy Award-winning Driving Miss Daisy (1989), and Kahlo (2002). Select works from Perenchio’s promised gift will be on view at LACMA in the spring of 2015.


Claude Monet’s “The Artist’s Garden at Vethéuil” (1881)

Edgar Degas, "Au Cafe Concert: Le Chanson de Chien" (1875), essence, gouache, pastel and monotype on joined paper, 22 5/8 x 17 7/8 in. (57.7 x 45.4 cm)

Edgar Degas, “Au Cafe Concert: Le Chanson de Chien” (1875), essence, gouache, pastel and monotype on joined paper, 22 5/8 x 17 7/8 in. (57.7 x 45.4 cm)

Fernand Leger, "Femme au bouquet" (1924), oil on canvas, 45 3/4 x 32 in. (116.2 x 81.3 cm) (© Artists Rights Society, New York / ADAGP, Paris)

Fernand Leger, “Femme au bouquet” (1924), oil on canvas, 45 3/4 x 32 in. (116.2 x 81.3 cm) (© Artists Rights Society, New York / ADAGP, Paris)

Rene Magritte, "Les Liaisons dangereuses" (1936), oil on canvas | 28 3/4 x 21 1/2 in. (73 x 54.6 cm) (©C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society, New York)

Rene Magritte, “Les Liaisons dangereuses” (1936), oil on canvas | 28 3/4 x 21 1/2 in. (73 x 54.6 cm) (©C. Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society, New York)

Paul Cézanne, "La Maison et l'arbre" (1874)

Paul Cézanne, “La Maison et l’arbre” (1874)

Gustave Caillebotte, "Un Soldat" (1881), oil on canvas, 42 x 29 1/2 in. (106.7 x 74.9 cm)

Gustave Caillebotte, “Un Soldat” (1881), oil on canvas, 42 x 29 1/2 in. (106.7 x 74.9 cm)

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

In Jerusalem’s Old City, a Different Kind of Cubism

A creative interpretation of the kaaba in Mecca (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

A creative interpretation of the kaaba in Mecca (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

EAST JERUSALEM — Walking through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City it is hard not be to fascinated by the folk paintings appearing on the homes of pilgrims who returned from the Hajj in Mecca. The freestyle aerosol paintings and stencils decorate the doorways and alleys of the ancient city’s narrow streets. In other places, Hajj paintings are often a more developed art form, revealing personal traits of the pilgrim (even portraits) or religious tales, but here they are expressive, simple, and vibrant images on largely uneven walls. They are dominated by Hajj-related blessings, images of the rectilinear kaaba, the Prophet’s Mosque, and a number of abstractions that are harder to decipher. There are even local landmarks like the Dome of the Rock, but there are no images of living creatures, which is not typical of Hajj paintings elsewhere.

We often don’t associate this type of street art with religion, but historically graffiti has been the mark of pilgrims to a holy site, like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Even during last century, modern graffiti pioneer Arthur Stace scrawled the word “Eternity” throughout Melbourne beginning in the 1930s an act of Christian devotion. Today, other Christians have continued what he started and turned his act of personal faith into a communal tradition.

Like most folk art, the Hajj paintings in the streets of Jerusalem have the aura of authenticity, that elusive sense that something comes from a raw unadulterated energy born from utility rather than style. They appear to follow few aesthetic rules as they cluster and breathe in a visual stream of consciousness that crawls across walls.

The study of Palestinian Hajj paintings is still a young discipline, but as author Hafida Talhaoui explains in Religious Folk Art as an Expression of Palestinian Identity: Jerusalemite Hajj Paintings and Platesthere is a regional character to these painting, and a political dimension as well. The reds, blacks, and greens of the Palestinian flag dominate the color schemes, while the image of the Dome of the Rock “is used to make Palestinian presence visible in an environment which is hostile to this identity.” Even the presence of olive branches, which are not really found in Egyptian Hajj paintings, have a pointed meaning in an occupied land. It’s inevitable that local aspirations meld with folk art.










NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

NEWS: Philippe Van Cauteren Named Curator of Iraq's Pavilion at Venice Biennale

The Intermedia + Digital Arts (IMDA) MFA Program: Call for Applications


The Intermedia + Digital Arts (IMDA) MFA program is accepting applications from artists seeking to expand or reinvent their practices. Committed to art that poses unique conceptual and social challenges, IMDA offers an environment that provides artists a studio, state-of-the-art facilities in media-based disciplines, courses in emerging methods, contemporary art and theory, and high-end research centers.

Graduate students also take advantage of Baltimore’s vibrant art scene, pursuing issues such as food justice, eco-art, transportation, urban communities, translation, race and gender identity, gift economies, and technology, in both intellectual and formal terms.

Financial support includes Research Assistantships that includes up to full-tuition remission, health care, and a stipend. Students are additionally eligible for competitive internal research and merit-based grants to support their work.

Prominent Visiting Artists present their work regularly and give one-on-one feedback to graduate students. Past lecturers include: Janine Antoni, Stephanie Barber, Michael Bierut, Zoe Beloff, Catherine Chalmers, Paul Chan, Abigail Child, Annica Cupetelli and Cristobal Mendoza, Paul DeMarinis, Tony Dove, Joanna Drucker, David Dunlap, James Duesing, Hasan Elahi, eteam, Wendy Ewald, Darko Fritz, Dana Hoey, Nina Katchadourian, Larry Miller, Alison Knowles, @rtMark, Guerrilla Girls, Margot Lovejoy, Joseph Nechvatal, Simon Penney, Keith Piper, William Pope.L, Andrea Robbins and
 Max Becher, David Rokeby, Frances Torres, Mark Tribe, Ted Victoria, Karen Yasinsky, Matmos, Fred Wilson, Martha Wilson and Michael Rakowitz, and The Yes Men.

Apply by February 1 to receive consideration toward full tuition remission:

For more information visit or email for more information or a tour of our facilities.

Decoding Rome’s Old Master Graffiti

Rome, Palazzo Farnese, Annibale Carracci gallery (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the French Embassy in Rome)

Rome, Palazzo Farnese, Annibale Carracci gallery (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the French Embassy in Rome)

Most accounts of the history of graffiti have the art form really taking off in the 1970s, but art historian Charlotte Guichard dates its emergence to slightly earlier — the 16th century. Her book Graffitis: Inscrire son nom à Rome (XVIe–XIXe siècle) (or Graffiti: Tagging Your Name in Rome, 16th–19th Century), published last month by Editions du Seuil, chronicles her findings during time spent deciphering and dating the innumerable tags left on masterpieces by Raphael, Michelangelo, and others in the academies and palaces of Rome.

Guichard spoke to Hyperallergic about finding Nicholas Poussin’s signature scratched into a mantlepiece at the Vatican, the attitudes of conservators and art historians to these types of historic graffiti, and how they testify to a time when artists and lovers of art had a more dynamic and tactile relationship to masterpieces.

*   *   * 

Benjamin Sutton: Where did the idea to investigate the graffiti in Rome’s art-filled palaces come from?

Cover of 'Graffitis: Inscrire son nom à Rome (XVIe-XIXe siècle)' by Charlotte Guichard (courtesy Éditions du Seuil)

Cover of ‘Graffitis: Inscrire son nom à Rome (XVIe-XIXe siècle)’ by Charlotte Guichard (courtesy Éditions du Seuil)

Charlotte Guichard: Such an idea can seem curious since our outlook nowadays is very conditioned by the weight of the masterpiece. In reality, when we are in the presence of the works themselves, for example, Raphael’s frescoes at the Vatican, and that we get up close to inspect not just the images but the materials, we’re struck by the density of this graffiti — names, dates, idioms, small drawings — that mark and streak these works at about eye level. As an art historian, I am very interested in the “biographies” of artworks, their metamorphoses through history, and the conditions of their visibility. These graffiti are indices, minute traces testifying that our relationship with masterpieces, between the 15th and 19th centuries, was very different from what it is today. Our time is marked by a heritage conscience: It advocates for a contemplative relationship to masterpieces — always kept at a distance, protected behind glass or barriers. On the contrary, these graffiti that cover a vast period since the 15th century show a more familiar, tactile, and sensitive relationship to the artworks marked by intimacy and appropriation. They put us on track toward an archaeology of the relationship to art that privileges tactile gestures rather than reliance solely on sight.

Tivoli, Villa Adriana (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of MIBAC – Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Lazio, Rome)

Tivoli, Villa Adriana (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of MIBAC – Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Lazio, Rome)

BS: How did art historians in Italy respond to your research? Were they enthused, or did you need to explain and defend the subject of your studies?

CG: Art historians, Italian and otherwise, have been relatively responsive, even if it’s clear that my approach seems to them rather anecdotal: Why take interest in graffiti when the work on which they are engraved is by Raphael, Annibale Carracci, or Michelangelo? Graffiti is of no interest to either the most classical of art historians (because it is not by the hand of the great master), or the theorists of the image and visual culture (because it is too material). I often defend the idea that graffiti cannot be reduced to the gesture of a “cretin or imbecile,” as Gustave Flaubert wrote in the 19th century. It is an integral part of the work; indeed, often restoration projects fail to remove these supposedly degrading marks.

In my view, graffiti has anthropological significance because it says something about man’s relationship to aesthetic judgment, to what is considered great in art. But it’s true that my interest in these gestures has no legitimacy for art historians — in Rome more than elsewhere — who remain obsessed with the idea of beauty, which remains very intellectualizing and aestheticizing, while I insist to the contrary on a material, tactile, and anthropological approach to masterpieces.

Rome, Vatican Palace, Raphael rooms (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the Vatican Museums)

Rome, Vatican Palace, Raphael rooms (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the Vatican Museums)

BS: What is the attitude among conservationists with regards to this historic graffiti? Is there a tendency to erase them in order to restore paintings and frescoes to their original states, or is the significance of these marks generally acknowledged?

CG: The position of conservationists and restorers is tricky. To summarize it, you could say that the tendency today is toward much greater prudence: They no longer erase graffiti as before and every decision is made on a case-per-case basis. What constitutes historic graffiti? You’ll have a hard time reaching consensus on that one. It’s clear that the fall and destruction of the Berlin wall in 1989, covered in graffiti, made people aware of the historic character of some graffiti.

Some graffiti is considered historic today whereas it used to be deemed vandalism. It has become integrated into the tourist circuit in Rome, like the graffiti left by one of Charles Quint’s protestant soldiers bragging about sacking the city in 1527 and causing the pope to flee. That graffiti has been preserved, integrated into the cultural heritage, and is even sold as a postcard. This type of graffiti shows to what extent our idea of patrimony is malleable, ideologically determined, and fluid through the centuries.

Rome, Vatican Palace, Heliodorus room, mantlepiece (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the Vatican Museums)

Rome, Vatican Palace, Heliodorus room, mantlepiece (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the Vatican Museums)

BS: What was your most unexpected discovery during your research in Rome?

CG: Under Raphael’s “The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple” fresco at the Vatican, there is a period fireplace made from a very hard type of marble. The entire mantlepiece is engraved with the names of artists from the 17th century to the 19th century. This mantlepiece has been transformed through the centuries into an incredible monument of signatures. It’s like a monument to classicism created by artists across centuries: The earliest signature is by the painter Nicholas Poussin, dated 1627. Pensioners at the French Academy in Rome (founded in 1666) rediscovered his signature about a century later, when they were sent by the king of France to trace Raphael’s fresco and send the copy back to Versailles for the royal collection. The tracing process implies a direct contact with the original work. During this process, the academicians discovered Poussin’s century-old signature. Louis Michel Van Loo, a member of an important dynasty of painters, leaves his name there in 1729, and other artists will follow suit throughout the 18th century.

Rome, Palazzo Farnese, Annibale Carracci gallery, sub-basement level, graffiti by Johann Christian von Mannlich (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the French Embassy in Rome)

Rome, Palazzo Farnese, Annibale Carracci gallery, sub-basement level, graffiti by Johann Christian von Mannlich (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the French Embassy in Rome)

These signatures tell us two things. The artists, often French, lined up to record their connection with Raphael and Poussin, and to express their reverence for classicism. These are partisan signatures that express the fascination with the classical Roman model in Paris, which by then is the new Rome.

These signatures also tell us that these artists have a tactile relationship — both through the tracing process and the direct contact — with these original artworks, not simply an intellectual appreciation of the ideal of Beauty. This is very modern, and dovetails with current ideas about art as a gesture, as a singular performance.

Tivoli, Villa Adriana (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of MIBAC – Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Lazio, Rome)

Tivoli, Villa Adriana (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of MIBAC – Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Lazio, Rome)

BS: Did you find any similarities between graffiti dating from the 16th to 19th centuries and the graffiti we encounter in cities today, whether in terms of technique or the types of messages that are inscribed?

CG: There are similarities. Graffiti rarely appears in isolation. It exists in the plural; one piece of graffiti calls for more. It demands an answer. It’s a way of marking territory and community. This holds true for artists and travelers in the 16th to 19th centuries, as well as for street artists and the inhabitants of our cities today. But it is important to historicize the graffiti gesture.

Today, most notably with the “graphic revolution” of the Arab Spring, we have a tendency to see graffiti as a transgressive and disruptive gesture, both politically and aesthetically. This may be true for the 20th and 21st centuries, which belong to the era of museums and art galleries, of the opposition between the voices of the street and the institutions of power. But this is not the case with the period spanning the 16th century to the 19th century, when ancient art, even the most canonical, was being updated by living artists, when the relation between ancient and contemporary art was alive and active, and when urban territory was open to more adaptable and unregulated uses. The graffiti etched onto Raphael’s frescoes at the Vatican proclaiming the glory of new popes, for instance, would be unthinkable today!

Rome, Vatican Palace, Raphael rooms (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the Vatican Museums)

Rome, Vatican Palace, Raphael rooms (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the Vatican Museums)

Graffiti used to be an accepted mode of relating to artworks and places, which changed at the turn of the 18th century with the dawning of the consciousness of heritage. However, the techniques remain fluid and adaptable; they are made up on the spot, for non-academic purposes. Today we mark our names with cans of spray paint; in the 16th century, we marked it by flame when we descended into caves covert in ancient paintings, torch in hand. Nowadays we make stencils on walls, like Shepard Fairey; in the 18th century, we traced Raphael frescoes on the walls of the Vatican, before leaving our name.

Rome, Palazzo Farnese, Annibale Carracci gallery (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the French Embassy in Rome)

Rome, Palazzo Farnese, Annibale Carracci gallery (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the French Embassy in Rome)

Rome, Vatican Palace, Raphael rooms (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the Vatican Museums)

Rome, Vatican Palace, Raphael rooms (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the Vatican Museums)

Rome, Villa Farnesina, perspectives room (photo © Charlotte Guichard)

Rome, Villa Farnesina, perspectives room (photo © Charlotte Guichard)

Rome, Vatican Palace, Heliodorus room, view of the marble chimney located under Raphael's fresco, "Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple" (1511–12) (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the Vatican Museums)

Rome, Vatican Palace, Heliodorus room, view of the marble chimney located under Raphael’s fresco, “Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple” (1511–12) (photo © Charlotte Guichard, reproduced with the permission of the Vatican Museums)

Charlotte Guichard’s Graffitis: Inscrire son nom à Rome (XVIe-XIXe siècle) is available from Editions du Seuil.

Repainting the Readymade

Installation view, 'Melissa Gordon: Mimetic Pleasures' at Boesky Easy (all images courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery)

Installation view, ‘Melissa Gordon: Mimetic Pleasures’ at Boesky Easy (all images courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery)

Marcel Duchamp’s original iteration of “Fountain” was lost shortly after its making. The first “Fountain” survives only as a photograph taken by Alfred Steiglitz in 1917, which was followed by a series of replicas. At the core of the readymade, then, is a central loss highlighted by photographic reproduction. In fact, the myth of modernism, as it relates to the breach ushered in by Duchamp’s sculpture, depends for its life on the photograph as a remnant of its existence, a tombstone that marks it for us to find retroactively. Modernism — and with it, all of those grand, masculinist tales — thrives on its own inability to fully materialize or substantiate itself.

Melissa Gordon, "Material Evidence (Tray)" (2014), acrylic on linen , 23 1/2 x 31 1/2 in (click to enlarge)

Melissa Gordon, “Material Evidence (Tray)” (2014), acrylic on linen , 23 1/2 x 31 1/2 in (click to enlarge)

In Mimetic Pleasures at Marianne Boesky Gallery’s new outpost, Boesky East, Melissa Gordon takes up this history in a critical, but never alienating, fashion. Gordon begins by photographing the wayward brushstrokes and marks from cleaning her tools in the studio – on the floors and walls, even in her paint tray. She then repaints them with acrylic on linen, and translation becomes her medium. By starting with the errant, accidental marks that are the refuse of the painterly act, Gordon roots her project in a readymade of her own: the pigments that emerge, as if of their own will, from the flotsam and jetsam of the studio. By photographing these curiously biomorphic forms, Gordon makes another kind of readymade: a documentary image that creates a unified record of the scattered traces of the artist’s hand. This begets a doubled trace, pulling us farther away, with each iteration, from the act of creation. However, Gordon once again asserts the primacy of the “original” creative act by repainting these marks as autonomous pieces. The author, once irrevocably dead, returns from an inter-media netherworld, dragging with her the baggage of a multilayered representational mode.

As we take this journey with Gordon, it becomes increasingly difficult to categorize these objects. They have the conceptual heft of a sculpture, the chance function of a photograph, and the gestural presence of a painting. Moreover, Gordon’s work is at once elevated to high art and shown to be composed of autonomous reproductions of base materials, much like Duchamp’s seminal piece. And there is not just a discursive operation here; each painting contains its own material resistance to the transparency imposed by concept, and the medium, be it photography or painting, acts as an interlocutor of Gordon’s transformations.

Melissa Gordon, "Material Evidence (Wall)" (2014), acrylic on linen, 23 1/2 x 27 1/2 in

Melissa Gordon, “Material Evidence (Wall)” (2014), acrylic on linen, 23 1/2 x 27 1/2 in

It seems possible to think more critically about the postmodern dogmas with which we have grappled since the 1970s — the loss of authorship and the end of medium specificity. For Gordon, the author and the medium are simultaneously present and lost, begetting a melancholic oscillation between death and life, stasis and regeneration — a drama enacted on the painting’s surface. This performance is never fixed, and Gordon leaves us searching in vain for a sure visual or thematic foothold. She pairs “Material Evidence (Wall)” (2014) with “Material Evidence (Wall Zoom In)” (2014) — the latter a painting from a zoomed-in photograph of the former — and, in so doing, creates another realm of signification. The two paintings only become related upon close observation, giving each its own unique, but precarious, authorial status. Gordon’s readymades neither reify nor reject the significance of artistic intention or medium integrity, inviting us to critique the multitude of constructed metonyms that have led to the present art historical moment.

Melissa Gordon: Mimetic Pleasures continues at Boesky East (20 Clinton St, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through November 9.

NEWS: At Guggenheim Museum, Protests Resume over Saadiyat Island

New York Times

NEWS: LACMA Receives Largest Gift of Art in Museum's History

NEWS: LACMA Receives Largest Gift of Art in Museum's History

New York’s Beloved, Independent, Union-Busting Bookstore

Spread from Greg Farrell's 'On the Books' (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted) (click to enlarge)

Spread from Greg Farrell’s ‘On the Books’ (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted) (click to enlarge)

Chances are, if you’re a literate liberal who lives in New York, you have bought (and sold) books at the Strand. As fears mount about Amazon’s undue influence on the publishing industry and as the number of independent bookstores — particularly those selling used and rare books — in the city dwindles, the Strand seems to grow in stature, becoming a beacon, a last hope, a symbol of the precious old values of a changing city.

But the store is not all it seems. Those old values are a myth, or maybe just a memory. Many of us were shocked to learn last fall that the owners of the Strand, our beloved independent bookseller, had been using the store’s sprinkler system to disperse homeless people. And as a new book published this month reveals, the owners of the Strand have been engaged in a long struggle to bust their workers’ union.

Greg Farrell, 'On the Books' (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

Greg Farrell, ‘On the Books’ (click to enlarge)

On the Books, written and drawn by Greg Farrell and released by Microcosm Publishing, is a firsthand comics account of contract negotiations at the Strand in 2012 — or, as the book’s subtitle puts it, “A Graphic Tale of Working Woes at NYC’s Strand Bookstore.” Farrell is not a journalist, although he did considerable reporting and research for the project; he has been a unionized worker at the Strand for over seven years now. The book consists of a series of strips and pamphlets he created and distributed during those 2012 negotiations, many of them with an activist bent. As such, On the Books is not an impartial, or even an entirely cohesive, account of what transpired between Strand management and workers and the union two years ago. But it is a revealing and deeply disheartening one.

According to Farrell at the outset of the book, the Strand employs 152 workers who are part of United Automobile Workers (UAW) Local 2179, making the bookstore the Local’s largest constituency. The unionized workers’ contract comes up for renewal every three years, and in both 2008 and 2011, Strand owners Fred Bass and his daughter, Nancy Bass-Wyden, proposed terms that Farrell characterizes as “long-term disadvantages to the workers,” including decreased personal days and paid holidays, and most drastically, in 2011, “a two-tier structure under which employees hired after the effective date of this contract would receive different, less substantial benefits.” This new system, which would obviously pit workers against each other and weaken the union, became the biggest point of contention as negotiations dragged on into 2012. On April 5 of that year, the Strand’s union workers voted against the new contract, setting off the two-month struggle chronicled in the book. 

Two months may not sound like a long time, but it’s enough to contain plenty of action: protests by workers and outside supporters, a sick-out, countless meetings and negotiations and votes. And importantly, during those two months, “we workers go without definite benefits, while strife and tension pervade the workplace,” Farrell writes.

He covers all of these goings-on diligently and with an impressive lack of bitterness, narrating the ins and outs of dealing with both the store and union management, who often seem equally useless. Perhaps because Farrell has little direct contact with the former (he is not on the negotiating committee), the latter come off as especially infuriating, as in one absurd episode in which Farrell designs and prints a set of flyers to distribute, and the union responds by “express[ing] their disapproval and suppl[ying] a list of changes and demands,” including “the inclusion of two separate union logos.”

Throughout this narrative, Farrell intersperses pertinent histories — of the Strand, of the UAW, of himself — and his own musings. His emotional investment in the story, willingness to question his own position, and patient explanations of everything from the process of attempting to organize an action to “the Strand logo cottage industry” make him an excellent narrator.

A spread from Greg Farrell's 'On the Books'

Spread from Greg Farrell’s ‘On the Books’ (click to enlarge)

Where On the Books falters is in its artwork. The single-color format (blue) works fine, and Farrell is a talented draftsman with a simple style and a heavy line. But the images often fail to match the words in a logical or inspiring way; for instance, two panels explaining Farrell’s frustrations with the union are accompanied by drawings of 50 Cent and George Lucas spouting tangentially related text. Too many panels face this problem: compelling, or at least interesting, captions on top with pictures that do little to illuminate or elucidate the story (and that often need extra explanations) underneath. At times it feels like there just may not be enough of a visual story here, and at others like Farrell hasn’t quite worked out the way his comics work yet, with the right match of text and image that bolsters both.

This problem comes to the fore in the interstitials, some of the best and most confounding parts of the book. Standalone talking-head strips that are set off in a blue border, the interstitials feature interviews with Strand workers past and present on the situation at the store. They’re full of candid conversation and insights — e.g. “How can an institution that professes to champion free speech and individuality treat its employees as if they are numbers at the bottom of a calculation?” — that don’t come from Farrell himself, and so are vital to the wholeness of the book. But Farrell’s decisions in illustrating them are sort of unfathomable: why is one speaker a taco, another a person about to dive into a pool, another an apparent costumed crusader stuck in a tree? A clear connection between the visual characterizations of these people and their comments would make a world of difference.

Spread from Greg Farrell's 'On the Books' (click to enlarge)

Spread from Greg Farrell’s ‘On the Books’ (click to enlarge)

In mid June, after the threat of a strike from the union, the Strand owners put forth “a slightly improved offer.” Farrell felt “optimistic” that the workers would vote to reject the proposal, but on June 14, they accepted it. The new contract included the provision for two tiers of workers, and according to Farrell, in the year that followed, the store initiated a personnel turnover, “focus[ed] on pushing out older, more highly paid, unionized workers … and steadily replacing them with recent college graduates.” Throughout negotiations the Basses (and union leaders) had continually claimed that the need for contract changes sprung from a changing — read: declining — book business, but on December 26, 2013, the store reported the best sales day in its 86-year history. (Farrell also points out that the Basses own the Strand’s building, so they’re not subject to the merciless whims of New York City real estate.)

Nearly a year after that, Farrell is still working at the Strand. He tells me over email that he hasn’t felt any repercussions from management over the book, and in fact, the store sells it. And now, as I write, Strand workers are once again beginning to negotiate with management over the terms of their contract. Just last week, they voted “overwhelmingly,” says Farrell, to reject the first offer. Will they keep fighting this time? Will management concede to the union? “In the story of the Strand Bookstore, when the legacy of Benjamin Bass and his progeny is rightly celebrated, what will be said of the workers?” Farrell asks in the book. Only time will tell.

The first page of a zine Farrell has produced, with other Strand workers, regarding the current contract negotiations. (image courtesy Greg Farrell) (click to enlarge)

Page drawn by Farrell for a zine co-produced with other Strand workers about the current contract negotiations (image courtesy Greg Farrell)

Taxidermy Sculptors Strut Their Stuff

Detail of Julia deVille, "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum" from 'Taxidermy Art'

Detail of Julia deVille, “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum” from ‘Taxidermy Art’ (all photos by Benjamin Sutton for Hyperallergic unless indicated otherwise)

Robert Marbury‘s Taxidermy Art: A Rogue’s Guide to the Work, the Culture, and How To Do It Yourself (Artisan Books, 2014) could easily be divided into a couple of books, both larger than this volume. One would be a practical guide to doing taxidermy, the other an art book surveying the best practitioners from history and working today. Integrated, as they are in Taxidermy Art, these subjects make for a disjointed but nevertheless visually and intellectually stimulating read.

The cover of 'Taxidermy Art: A Rogue's Guide to the Work, the Culture, and How to Do It Yourself' by Robert Marbury (photo by Bart Babinski)

The cover of ‘Taxidermy Art: A Rogue’s Guide to the Work, the Culture, and How to Do It Yourself’ by Robert Marbury (photo by Bart Babinski)

The book opens with “A Taxidermy Primer,” wherein Marbury discusses the tedious legal and ethical issues related to taxidermy. He reviews laws that protect everything from migratory birds to sea creatures and endangered animals.

The section dubbed “The Cannon” touches on some of the historical figures in taxidermy from antiquity up to the present. This survey spans from Pliny the Elder, whose depictions of animals in Natural History remain influential, and Rudolf II, who had the most impressive stuffed animal collection of the 16th Century, up through conservationist John Audubon and circus impresario Phineas Barnum, and ends with modern luminaries including Alfred Hitchcock — not because of The Birds, but for his creation of the taxidermist ghoul character of Norman Bates in Psycho — and Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, whose writings about fantasy animals informed the work of a generation of taxidermy artists.

Works by Kate Clark in 'Taxidermy Art'

Works by Kate Clark in ‘Taxidermy Art’

The fiery glass eyes that really give this tome an inner life, however, are the works by 21 leading taxidermy artists to whom the book’s middle section is devoted. (Marbury himself is the last taxidermy artist profiled.) The artworks range from tongue-in-cheek and Gothic pieces — such as those by Jessica Joslin, Elizabeth McGrath, and Les Deux Garçons — to gallows playfulness — as in the sculptures of Julia deVille and Mirmy Winn — to works by artists who seem to live on the sunny side of the Island of Doctor Moreau — namely Peter Gronquist, Scott Bibus, and, most of all, Kate Clark, whose transmogrified and hooved creatures with sweet, human faces might make a deer hunter think twice about ever pulling a trigger again. The works included are sometimes a bit abstract, frequently satiric, occasionally political, but always original. Many of the featured sculptors follow strict ethical guidelines, since their particular marble once drew breath. One artist, Katie Innamorato, confines herself largely to working with roadkill.

Works by Rod McRae in 'Taxidermy Art'

Works by Rod McRae in ‘Taxidermy Art’

The final section of Taxidermy Art is the how-to portion, giving readers the basics on pursuing taxidermy themselves. If I doubted Marbury’s earnestness for even a moment, I’d think that this section — with its explicit details about preserving and preparing small animal corpses — was some kind of Halloween joke.

Les Deux Garçons, "Le Jeu" in 'Taxidermy Art'

Les Deux Garçons, “Le Jeu” in ‘Taxidermy Art’

Some of the more squeamish art appreciators might detour around this playful pet cemetery, but for the most part Taxidermy Art is an engaging collection that will draw you deeper into this increasingly popular art form. The book’s moral and ethical rigor is admirable, and visually it has enough élan to make that dusty mount above your grandfather’s fireplace look fierce again.

Works by Robert Marbury in 'Taxidermy Art' (all photos by Benjamin Sutton for Hyperallergic unless indicated otherwise)

Works by Robert Marbury in ‘Taxidermy Art’ (all photos by Benjamin Sutton for Hyperallergic unless indicated otherwise)

Works by Peter Gronquist in 'Taxidermy Art'

Works by Peter Gronquist in ‘Taxidermy Art’

Tessa Farmer, "Little Savages" in 'Taxidermy Art'

Tessa Farmer, “Little Savages” in ‘Taxidermy Art’

Scott Bibus's "Snapping Turtle Eating Human Eyeball" in 'Taxidermy Art'

Scott Bibus’s “Snapping Turtle Eating Human Eyeball” in ‘Taxidermy Art’

Robert Marbury’s Taxidermy Art: A Rogue’s Guide to the Work, the Culture, and How To Do It Yourself is available from Amazon and other booksellers.

Anton Perich: Electric Paintings 1978-2014 at Postmasters Gallery

“No, Wade Guyton did not invent a new paintbrush; Anton Perich did in 1978, when Guyton was six.” Thus combatively begins the press release for Anton Perich: Electric Paintings 1978–2014 at Postmasters Gallery. The un-cited author of the claim that “Wade Guyton invented a new paintbrush” is Jerry Saltz, writing on Guyton’s 2012 survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Of course, Saltz was aware that Guyton’s “invention” amounted to the novel appropriation of an existing technology: the commercial inkjet printer, through which the artist would pull his canvases. Perich can indeed better claim to have invented something. His “electric painting machine,” developed in the late 1970s, transfers projected images onto canvas using a motorized contraption that deposits lines of acrylic paint in rows according to the presence or absence of light. It was the painterly analog of the digital inkjet—a technology that had yet to become known, let alone available to, the masses at the time.

Anton Perich. American Altarpiece, 2004. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of Postmasters Gallery, New York

Anton Perich. American Altarpiece, 2004; acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of Postmasters Gallery, New York.

The similarities to Guyton mostly end there. Perich’s work registered a cultural–technological matrix in which the mechanics of paint/ink transfer were not nearly as important as the emergent aesthetics of video—a technology whose novelty had all but vanished by the time Guyton entered the scene. The Sony Portapak, introduced to the American market in 1967, first freed video recording from the studio. By the mid 1970s, Perich had swapped camera for camcorder as the ideal means to capture the bohemia of lower Manhattan with which he was enthralled. A 16-video lineup—one of the highlights of the Postmasters exhibition—offers an entrancing distillation of what are now comfortably referred to as New York City’s “bad old good old days.” In my intermittent viewing, I caught an impassioned discussion of the newly built World Trade Center, already monumental if only 45 percent rented (sound familiar?), a neon-bathed fashion show set to the music of Kraftwerk, and a hedonistic disco in which a lone female dancer, locking the gaze of Perich’s camcorder, is compelled to put on an exhibitionist display—one that ends abruptly when a nearby man decides to join in by dropping his trousers, effectively puncturing the recording device’s hypnotic bubble.

This ability of the video camera to arrest its subjects, entombing them in a low-resolution field of glowing, glitchy horizontal bars, seems the undeniable referent for Perich’s paintings, thirty-six years of which are sampled in the present exhibition. For such an enduring project, precious little change or development is discernible in Perich’s approach over the years. The majority of the works feature female subjects (one notable exception is Andy Warhol, with whom Perich was well acquainted) in close-up—a hallmark of video recording, where poor resolution made distance shots undesirable. Perich’s “resolution” is variable: Some relatively older works like Thorvaldson (1995) use a gradation of line thicknesses to delicately model the subject’s features, even giving an illusion of depth, while some newer ones, like Misha Carbon (2013), employ crude, thick streaks, nearly dissolving the subject’s features in video-like static. Forays into complete abstraction are present at the beginning of Perich’s career, as in The Original Glitch (1978), a broken black rectangle suggestive of Malevich in the TV age, as well as in its present chapter, as in Ancient Music (2010), the bleeding color palette of which could draw comparisons to Guyton. In one of Perich’s best works, American Altarpiece (2004), abstract horizontal streaks are doubly coded, connoting both mundane video-recording imperfections and the transcendent color fields of a Rothko.

Anton Perich. Ancient Music, 2010. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of Postmasters Gallery, New York.

Anton Perich. Ancient Music, 2010; acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of Postmasters Gallery, New York.

The apparent stasis of Perich’s painting project may explain why writing on the artist has tapered over the years, failing to recognize his arguable place in the artistic genealogy behind the heavily publicized work of Wade Guyton. Postmasters’ delivery of Electric Paintings 1978–2014 as a show with significant art-historical stakes—a bracing departure from typically poker-faced gallery posturing—is warranted, but merely establishing Perich as the patriarch of inkjet-style painting would be a paltry feat. Rather, what is interesting about Perich’s work is how he used his printer-like approach to capture the historically unprecedented video gaze in paint, much like Guyton used his appropriated apparatus to explore an emergent aesthetics of personal computing. Who “invented the new paintbrush” is very much beside the point.

Anton Perich: Electric Paintings 1978–2014 is on view at Postmasters Gallery through November 22, 2014.

SLANT: Now You See Me

Catherine Damman on “Steve Paxton: Selected Works” at Dia:Beacon

Protesters Unfurl Three-Story Banner in Guggenheim Museum


November 5 G.U.L.F. action at the Guggenheim (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

A thirty-foot banner was unfurled in the rotunda of a sparsely-attended Guggenheim Museum this evening, the latest action carried out by the Gulf Ultra Luxury Front (G.U.L.F.) activist group. Decrying labor abuse at the museum’s planned Abu Dhabi outpost, the banner announced the forthcoming “Countdown” campaign by Gulf Labor, the larger collective of artists and activists of which G.U.L.F. is an offshoot. “Countdown,” according to Gulf Labor, will consist of a series of direct actions, and follows the recently concluded “52 Weeks” campaign that saw international artists weigh in on the labor issue with weekly contributions from artists, including Hans Haacke, Thomas Hirschhorn, and Andrea Fraser.

The banner, which read “Stop Labor Abuse / Countdown to Guggenheim Abu Dhabi,” was brought into the museum hidden inside a baby stroller, and one G.U.L.F. member arrived in light disguise to avoid detection by the Guggenheim’s guards. Held aloft from the rotunda’s upper tier for several minutes, the sheet was torn down from below by two male guards. At one point a female guard approached the pair holding the banner, asking them if this was part of the current Zero: Countdown to Tomorrow exhibition, to which they replied it was. The guard then walked away.

The unannounced action precedes a protest planned for tomorrow’s International Gala at the museum; the $75,000-a-table fundraiser, sponsored by the fashion brand Christian Dior, benefits the institution’s global efforts. To that end, the banner joined another temporary, albeit official, intervention in the rotunda — Otto Piene’s “White Balloon,” designed by the artist before his death this summer and installed for three days on the occasion of the International Gala and tonight’s Young Collectors Council party. Preparations for the latter were well underway by the time the banner was displayed a little after 5p ET, and entry to the museum was free.

Tonight’s event marked the fifth protest of its kind at the museum this year over alleged labor violations on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat cultural district, which contains the Guggenheim and other outposts of Western cultural institutions. A New York Times investigation of New York University’s Saadiyat campus published in May found widespread instances of abuse, and followed similar accounts from the Guardian, Human Rights Watch, and Gulf Labor themselves. Gulf Labor’s Walid Raad told Hyperallergic that the museum now has a number of steps at its disposal for resolving the labor issue:

What the Guggenheim can do today:

Officially and publicly recommend that the UAE Ministry of Labor intervene ASAP to monitor and enforce UAE laws on Saadiyat Island.  Clearly, abuses are ongoing. The Guggenheim knows this, and for some reason, has yet to decide that addressing labor abuses in the building of their museum in the UAE must be their most urgent priority. The Guggenheim has leverage to affect positive change in labor practices. They should use it. I am certain they have willing partners in the UAE Ministry of Labor.

Officially and publicly recommend that the UAE Ministry of Labor seek and follow the advice of experts from, for example, the International Labor Organization, to help the Ministry fine-tune the implementation and enforcement of existing laws, close loopholes in the law, and develop and implement new laws to protect workers (with regards to, for example, recruitment fees paid by workers).

Where is PricewaterhouseCoopers’ third annual report? The Guggenheim can recommend the immediate release of this overdue report. [Ed. note: The first annual report was released in September 2012, the following one was released in late December 2013.]

Reached by email, the Guggenheim declined to comment on the action and declined to respond to Raad’s comments.

Photographing Where We Take Our Photographs

Philipp Schmitt, location-based light painting (all images courtesy Philipp Schmitt)

Philipp Schmitt, location-based light painting (all images courtesy Philipp Schmitt)

Last year I went to Rome. I’d previously studied in the city during college, as well as taken a brief trip there in high school, but my companion hadn’t been to Rome since he was three. So, we visited all of the important sites — the Colosseum, the Forum, Fontana di Trevi, the Pantheon — and at each stop, I took out my camera and dutifully clicked the shutter. I knew I had photos — one set at least — of all of these places, yet it felt important to me to shoot them again, to capture the magic of this particular trip. I’ve never quite figured out why.

Philipp Schmitt seems to be wondering the same thing. An interaction design student at Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd in Germany, Schmitt has started a project he calls “Location-Based Light Painting,” for which he maps geotagged photos of public spaces that are available online, thus turning our obsession with photography into something tangible.


Philipp Schmitt’s map of geotagged photographs in New York City

There are three steps to Schmitt’s process. He began by simply placing geotagged photos in online maps as markers, little mustard-yellow drops littering New York City. Next, he created a web app “to retrieve my current geo location and to query the web for pictures taken at that position,” he writes on his website. He also rigged a camera flash to go off whenever pictures are found, allowing him to walk around an area while the flash is triggered. He records those results in long-exposure photographs of his own that are dotted with spots of light.

Philipp Schmitt, location-based light painting

Philipp Schmitt, location-based light painting

In the final step, Schmitt added a person to the scenes, focusing his camera and flash on a stand-in tourist who appears and reappears brandishing a camera of his own.

Philipp Schmitt, location-based light painting

Philipp Schmitt, location-based light painting

The ghostly results are gray-scale photographs filled with embodied bright spots and fading figures. They are a contradiction in terms: their content seems to point to the futility of picture taking, but the feeling of hauntedness that pervades them seems to suggest some lingering power. In a curious way, they hark back to the first photograph ever taken of a person, a street scene shot by Daguerre with a 10-minute exposure — only two men stayed still long enough to appear. Then, in 1838, people went about their lives with no inkling of the technology that was set to revolutionize the world; now we carry it in our pockets, snap without thinking, and barely notice it at all.

Philipp Schmitt, location-based light painting

Philipp Schmitt, location-based light painting

Philipp Schmitt, location-based light painting

Philipp Schmitt, location-based light painting

Philipp Schmitt, location-based light painting

Philipp Schmitt, location-based light painting

h/t Medium

The Bigger Than Life Team Behind Paul McCarthy’s Inflammatory Inflatables

The Team: “I am the little guy all the way on the right,” says Greg Favish, “Mark [Bachman] is the taller guy all the way on the left.” The tree on the Place Vendome was, Bachman says, “a teaser” — in a sense, an advertisement — for 'Chocolate Factory',' an installation created by McCarthy for the grand re-opening of la Monnaie de Paris’ at FIAC. Photo courtesy of Bigger Than Life

The Team: “I am the little guy all the way on the right,” says Greg Favish, “Mark [Bachman] is the taller guy all the way on the left.” The tree on the Place Vendome was, Bachman says, “a teaser” — in a sense, an advertisement — for Chocolate Factory, ‘an installation created by McCarthy for the grand re-opening of la Monnaie de Paris’ at FIAC. (all photos courtesy Bigger Than Life unless otherwise noted)

In the last few weeks, Paul McCarthy has catapulted into the public imagination as the infamous artist firmly behind Paris’s ill-fated “Tree” (aka #pluggate). And while the public artwork may have attracted all types of attention for his current exhibition in Paris, Chocolate Factory, and won the support of a wide array of high-profile personalities, including the French President, we were curious to know more about the people responsible for manufacturing McCarthy’s inflatable creations.

Following our punny reporting over “Tree,” Greg Favish, VP of Sales and Business Development for the Bigger Than Life (BTL) manufacturing company, contacted Hyperallergic to chat about the company’s proud association with the artist.

Paul McCarthy, Santa with Butt Plug, 2007 Vinyl-coated nylon, 4 fans, rigging, 24.40 x 12.20 m / 80 x 40 ft Installation view, ‘Paul McCarthy – Air Pressure’, De Uithof, City of Utrecht, Netherlands, 2009 Photo: Mark Vos © Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Paul McCarthy, “Santa with Butt Plug” (2007), vinyl-coated nylon, four fans, rigging, 24.40 x 12.20 m / 80 x 40 ft, at Paul McCarthy – Air Pressure, De Uithof, City of Utrecht, Netherlands, 2009 (photo by Mark Vos © Paul McCarthy, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth) (click to enlarge)

“Paul McCarthy has been a long standing client and friend of Bigger Than Life … and it was our team that he trusted to build and install this piece of artwork for the opening of his exhibit in Paris. As you are well aware the ‘Tree’ exhibit has reached momentous exposure beyond what we expected,” Favish said.

Usually called upon in the service of advertising and marketing, BTL, boasting that “no challenge is too big,” has, for the past 20 years, been making Guinness Book of World Record-sized inflatables for a myriad of brands.

BTL is very proud of all the attention — negative and positive — that ‘Tree’ received during its brief stint in Place Vendôme. “I’ve been working with Paul for 15+ years,” said BTL President Mark Bachman during a phone interview. “He’s a fascinating man.”

I asked Favish what goes into producing giant inflatables for McCarthy as opposed to his other clients:

He’s flexible and accommodating, and willing to discuss the realities of what he wants to achieve. Corporations each have their own personalities as well, but anytime that a “team” exists as part of a project there are inevitable challenges in satisfying multiple parties wants and needs.

Bound to Fail - PM HM Sculpture on a Pedestal 2003 – 2004 Inflatable sculpture on top of The Whitney Museum of American Art Vinyl, fans and scaffolding 1524 x 1066.8 x 762 cm / 600 x 420 x 300 in / 50 x 35 x 25 ft © Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

“Bound to Fail – PM HM Sculpture on a Pedestal” (2003 – 2004), inflatable sculpture on top of The Whitney Museum of American ArtVinyl, fans and scaffolding, 1524 x 1066.8 x 762 cm / 600 x 420 x 300 in / 50 x 35 x 25 ft (image © Paul McCarthy, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth)

Alluding to that very flexibility, Bachman described the special charm which McCarthy brings to the creative endeavor — working with failure, as he puts it.

Take the Whitney Museum piece BTL worked on for McCarthy. It was a large inflatable on top of a large urban building. It had to be tethered, and the engineers planned on a certain type of strapping that proved to be a brilliant shade of yellow, which was far too visible from the ground. The piece had been called “Henry Moore Bound” but when McCarthy saw the tethers, he decided to keep them in place and re-dubbed the work “Henry Moore Bound To Fail.”

Paul McCarthy, Flowers, 2005 Vinyl-coated nylon fabric, ropes, fans, 15 x 75 m / 49.21 x 246 ft Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zürich © Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Paul McCarthy, “Flowers” (2005), vinyl-coated nylon fabric, ropes, fans, 15 x 75 m / 49.21 x 246 ft (Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zürich, © Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth)

When projects begin, McCarthy provides various guides to the BTL team to help them realize his vison. “For the Kunst Flowers (Haus der Kunst) he gave us a model, and for other works, like some of his puppets he gave us drawings to follow, and for ‘Tree’ he gave us a shopping bag filled with plugs,” Bachman explains.

“With the initial projects, Paul was quite involved with oversight from the working drawings to the final production,” says Favish. “As we’ve completed so many projects, he is quite confident in our ability to produce what he has imagined.”

Universal to all of BTL’s mega-inflatables, are technical issues like “wind loading” that bring the manufacturer into partnership with outsourced engineers. “I’ve been doing this since 1981. So I know what we need,” Bachman says. “I just can’t do the calculations, the math. That’s what the engineers are for.”

Paul McCarthy, Complex Pile, 2007 Vinyl-coated nylon fabric, 6 fans, rigging, 1575 x 3350 x 1580 cm / 620 1/8 x 1318 7/8 x 622 in Installation view, Middelheim Sculpture Museum, Antwerp, Belgium, 2007 Photo: Neil Donkers © Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Paul McCarthy, “Complex Pile” (2007), vinyl-coated nylon fabric, six fans, rigging, 1575 x 3350 x 1580 cm / 620 1/8 x 1318 7/8 x 622 inInstallation view, Middelheim Sculpture Museum, Antwerp, Belgium, 2007 (photo by Neil Donkers © Paul McCarthy Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth)

Sometimes, the engineering goes awry. In the summer of 2008, um, shit went wrong. One of McCarthy’s mega-inflatables, “Complex Shit,” which is the size of a suburban house, broke free of its moorings on the grounds of the Paul Klee Centre in Bern, Switzerland. The runaway sculpture managed to tear down a power line, smash a greenhouse window, and another window at a children’s home before it was flushed down from the sky.

Even after engineering and testing, the final installation, Favish explains, can be equally complex and frustrating, involving zoning challenges, strict engineering standards that are often designed for permanent structures, accounting for political influences and multiple agency coordination, as well as historic building preservation, not to mention other factors.

Some of BTL's inflatables can reach 85’ft tall. For test inflation they have to go outside…..normally the factory parking lot. If the weather does not cooperate sometimes they have to go to the local sports area and ask for a few hours of time to use the facility!

Some of BTL’s inflatables can reach 85-ft tall. For test inflation they have to go outside, normally the factory parking lot. If the weather does not cooperate sometimes they have to go to the local sports area and ask for a few hours of time to use the facility.

“Tree was not given final approval for installation into Place Vendôme until less than a week prior to the target date. Public safety was a huge concern, and central to that was the possibility of high winds disturbing the inflatable. We went around and around with the prefecture about ‘emergency deflation procedures’ and finally agreed to staging a Bigger Than Life employee in an apartment within 5 minutes walking distance for the duration of the showing. We arranged for a local phone number and he was on call 24/7 for the showing, as were additional staff from the Monnaie [de Paris venue].”

Lest you this BTL is only known for their work with artist Paul McCarthy, here is a sampling of some of the other giant attention-grabbers made by the company over the years.

BTL's M&M Peanuts 1st Anniversary Pinata Inflatable under construction at the NYC 69th Regiment Armory holds the Guinness World Record for largest Pinata at 46ft tall. This Photo shows the BTL team at work on the yellow guy. Photo courtesy BTL.

BTL’s M&M Peanuts 1st Anniversary Pinata Inflatable under construction at the NYC 69th Regiment Armory holds the Guinness World Record for largest Pinata at 46ft tall. This Photo shows the BTL team at work on the yellow guy.

Dracula, located at Universal Parks, Japan is 35 feet tall. The 75 foot Pepsi Monster was created for the Super Bowl and stalked New York's Times Square at 75ft High

Dracula, located at Universal Parks, Japan is 35 feet tall. The 75-foot Pepsi Monster was created for the Super Bowl was erected in New York’s Times Square.

Spiderman crept down the Loew’s Theatre, NYC  for the movie's release, spanning 60 feet of facade. A 25 foot Wall-E also attended a move release at El Capitan Theatre, Hollywood.

Spiderman crept down the Loew’s Theatre, NYC during the movie’s release, spanning 60 feet of the building’s facade. A 25-foot Wall-E also attended a move release at El Capitan Theatre, Hollywood.

Flipping the Hierarchy of Needs


Installation shot, ‘Homeland [IN]Security: Vanishing Dreams’ (photo by the author; all other photos courtesy Dorsky Gallery unless otherwise noted)

What does the work of Will Cotton, Mary Mattingly, and Stephanie Imbeau have in common? Not much, I figured, when taking the G train to Long Island City, where Dorsky Gallery is hosting Homeland [In]Security: Vanishing Dreams. Reading the names of the twenty-one artists in Margaret Mathews-Berenson’s curatorial project — Jeff Brouws, Brian Tolle, Adia Millett, etc. — I am bracing myself for bric-a-brac and overreach along with the substantial moralism and didacticism an exhibition on “global collapse” invites. Natural and human-made disasters, ranging from terrorist attacks to hurricanes, religious and political conflicts to financial breakdowns, increased homelessness and inequality to environmental destruction, all create a sense of personal anxiety and longing for safety, which is the focal point of the show.

Will Cotton’s glazed donut, that the viewer must navigate around in order to enter the gingerbread cabin or candy apple forest beyond, is the first disarming feature of this terrific exhibition. “Abandoned (Churro Cabin)” is a sugarcoated landscape, cast in warm colors, luring the viewer into strange delights, where time and gravity still loom. Not likely responding to the ‘sky is falling’ premise — the exhibition “seeks to examine artists’ responses to the many man-made and natural disasters” — because his decaying candy land motif well predates September of 2001; it nevertheless is perfect for setting the tone of ambivalence most of the artists bring into their own works here.


Will Cotton, “Abandoned (Churro Cabin)” (2002), oil on linen, 60 x 60 inches

Several yards around the corner, in the second room, are Stephanie Imbeau’s five porcelain sculptures negating the weight of their own construction. Unglazed ceramic sheets are draped over the physical absence of generically shaped homes, like napkins. The interior vacancy is suggestive, a personal cover for emptiness, or lodgings willing themselves into existence. Yet the works are animated with folds, overlaps, and sweeping gestures that wind blowing through an open window could produce. The pieces, by virtue of their small size and clustering on a single pedestal, are in danger of being overlooked.

Mary Mattingly, in her photographs and documentary footage of public projects, also creates homes where none existed, from reclaimed debris. Hers is a life of hunting and gathering, getting by in world where both industrialization and agrarianism have washed away. Mattingly’s work is most fitting for the exhibitions’s premise, directly addressing life with disaster, which might explain why her work dominates in scale and number. 


Stephanie Imbeau “Untitled (Covered/Uncovered) Series 8, 9, 17, 20, 24)” (2013–14), porcelain, varying dimensions

Brian Tolle’s New England–style homes, made of silicon rubber supported either by crutches or a found wheelchair, beg to be touched. Their playful sadness has a delightful force, recalling Claes Oldenburg’s early soft sculptures, yet these homes, in rubber, are more absurd, and therefore haunting. Directly behind these droopy houses is Ben Grasso’s domestic explosion, a 50 x 70 inch painting of a narrow, white, two story house blasting out from a single-point perspective, like shrapnel.


Brian Tolle, “Old Glory” (2008) found wheelchair, platinum silicone rubber, 36 x 25 x 36 inches

Chris Verene’s two photographs of Amber and her girls, whose lives the artist has charted, are brutal in their stark reality, with the family once in a car and then in an abandoned restaurant (where a mattress straddling booth seats becomes a makeshift bed). The most gripping works in the show, they portray many people’s greatest fears, homelessness topped with parental responsibilities. The girls, however, are not unhappy, not knowing a life otherwise, while Amber’s face reveals disappointment and strain, a mother who can’t provide in any other way. These pieces, by virtue of being portraits, connect with the viewer better than several other photographs in the show, unpopulated spaces in various states of decay, that feel more like what gets called ruin porn, even if in the broader context of the artist’s work, aren’t such, as in the cases of Adia Millett and Jeff Brouws. Nevertheless, these pieces move the show along as geographic frames. In contrast, James Casebere’s enormous print, mounted to plexiglass, is of a flooded hallway fabricate, in small scale, by the artist. The outside light bouncing off stairs and into the water below, distorting the checked floor tiles, creates a dreamy image, like tragic events remembered or foreseen. 

[IMAGE: Chris Verene, “Amber and Her Girls Are Living in Her Car,” 2006, Chromogenic print with handwritten caption in oil, 30 x 36 inches]

Chris Verene, “Amber and Her Girls Are Living in Her Car” (2006), Chromogenic print with handwritten caption in oil, 30 x 36 inches


James Casebere, “Yellow Hallway #2 (2001–2003), digital chromogenic print mounted to plexiglass, 71 x 89 inches

Safety and stability, what all the works in Homeland [In]Security put in limbo, are desires that arise after more basic needs are met for a person, such as food and water, and also followed by a need for community and belonging. Confidence and self-esteem are sought, followed by the greatest need we have, what we call self-actualization. This is Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” which accounts for the trajectory of human motivations in life. But for artists the psychological motivations are upside down, starting with self-actualization (like creative gratification and realization of new ideas), which leads to higher self-regard and confidence (like artistic ambition), which spurs on communal involvement and engagement (like forming tribe of peers), then to stability (like having regular shows and selling work for higher and higher prices). Then come better meals, better living conditions, and perhaps physical well-being.  This is a path to fulfillment for many artists in Brooklyn, in Philidelphia, in Detroit, and maybe around the world.

[IMAGE: Chen Qiulin, “Balconies #1, #4, #5, #9,” 2007, mixed media, 18 x 29 x 9 inches [Detail] ]

Detail of Chen Qiulin, “Balconies #1, #4, #5, #9″ (2007), mixed media, 18 x 29 x 9 inches (photo by the author)

Homeland [In]Security: Vanishing Dreams continues at Dorsky Gallery (1103 45th Ave, Long Island City, Queens) through November 16. 

Emoji Update Promises Racial Diversity, But No Multiracial Couples

person-emoji-multi-culti-1280Emoji will become more racially diverse in 2015. On Monday the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit in charge of setting and developing internet coding languages, released a proposed draft for the forthcoming Unicode 8.0 update, which would allow users to choose between five possible skin tones when selecting one of the 151 humanoid emoji pictograms. Currently, virtually all of these emoji characters have pale skin.

“People all over the world want to have emoji that reflect more human diversity, especially for skin tone,” Google’s Mark Davis and Apple’s Peter Edberg write in their draft. “Five symbol modifier characters that provide for a range of skin tones for human emoji are planned for Unicode Version 8.0 … These characters are based on the six tones of the Fitzpatrick scale, a recognized standard for dermatology.”

The proposed range of emoji skin tones (all images courtesy the Unicode Consortium)

The proposed range of emoji skin tones (all images courtesy the Unicode Consortium)

The Fitzpatrick scale, developed by Harvard University dermatologist Thomas B. Fitzpatrick in 1975, classifies all human skin colors according to five types, from pale white to dark brown and black. Accordingly, the five proposed emoji modifiers would allow users to give their character pictorials a variety of skin tones.

The color swatches corresponding to the proposed range of emoji skin tones

The color swatches corresponding to the proposed range of emoji skin tones

This isn’t the first time emoji have been modified to make the icons more inclusive. In 2012, same-sex couple emoji were introduced, and earlier this year Oju Africa, a division of the Mauritius-based cell phone manufacturer Mi-Phone, launched an emoticon app of its own featuring characters with darker skin tones. It was pop star Miley Cyrus, of all people, who brought widespread attention to the lack of diversity among emoji in a December 2012 tweet that marked the debut of the “#emojiethnicityupdate” hashtag.

Even with the new skin tone swatches, there’s still room to further diversify the cast of emoji characters. The proposed Unicode 8.0 update will not allow for the depiction of multiracial couples, as the symbol modifiers can only be applied to emojis one at a time.

“Real multi-person groupings include many in which various members have different skin tones,” Davis and Edberg write. “For representing such groupings, users can employ techniques already found in current emoji practice, in which a sequence of emoji is intended to be read together as a unit, with each emoji in the sequence contributing some piece of information about the unit as a whole. Users can simply enter separate emoji characters for each member of the group, each with their own skin tone.”

We predict that the release of the Unicode 8.0 update will also have an immediate and profound impact on the diversity of emoji art history.

h/t Designboom

A Museum Where the Paintings Look Back

Still from Frederick Wiseman's 'National Gallery' (all images courtesy Zipporah Films)

Still from Frederick Wiseman’s ‘National Gallery’ (all images courtesy Zipporah Films)

National Gallery, which premiered last month at the New York Film Festival, is the most recent of Frederick Wiseman’s 40-plus documentaries that feature single institutions. Wiseman’s previous subjects have included a state mental hospital for the criminally insane (Titicut Follies, 1967), a public housing project in Chicago’s South Side (Public Housing, 1997), and Paris’s most celebrated erotic dance venue (Crazy Horse, 2011). In National Gallery, Wiseman tackles a more staid institution: the Trafalgar Square museum that houses the United Kingdom’s public collection of paintings. The film focuses on this collection: works by Titian, Vermeer, van Eyck, Seurat, Monet, Rubens, Rembrandt, van Gogh, Botticelli, Leonardo, Caravaggio, and Michelangelo, among others. These paintings, which determine the core narrative of the film, aren’t shown as completely static objects; they are entities whose gazes record, judge, fool, and smile upon their viewers. National Gallery seeks to similarly animate other elements of the institution, capturing the experiences of both staff and visitors.

Throughout his career, Wiseman’s style has remained consistent — broadly, cinéma vérité, or direct cinema. These terms, however, connote a “fly-on-the-wall” approach to narrative that might also suggest an equality of focus. In contrast, Wiseman exhibits a discriminating eye; he often concentrates on a couple of characters and institutional activities while completely ignoring others. Both camera and editing follow his sensibilities. Incomprehensive information is perhaps a natural byproduct of direct cinema, considering the lack of interviews for clear explication and of voiceover to shape narrative and fill in background information. But Wiseman’s films are more than simply representative of their style; each obliquely documents the director’s personal experience of an institution.

Still from Frederick Wiseman's 'National Gallery'

Still from Frederick Wiseman’s ‘National Gallery’

In National Gallery it’s clear that Wiseman was captivated by the tour guides; a large part of the film is given over to their unique presentations on particular artworks. In an especially moving sequence, a guide discusses Rubens’s “Samson and Delilah” (1609–10). Asking viewers to empathize with Delilah, the guide explains that she has been sent to seduce Samson, ruler of a warring nation, and thereby enable his capture. She does so out of patriotic duty. But what if Delilah, during her seduction and the ensuing consummation of the relationship, has fallen for Samson? In Rubens’s painting, Delilah protectively rests her arm on Samson’s back, looking at him tenderly. But she also leans away from him, evoking a psychological distance. Soldiers lurk behind a partially opened door, ready to take the sleeping Samson away. The guide suggests to her audience that Delilah feels a mix of love and terrible guilt. The camera cuts seamlessly between details of the painting, the guide’s presentation, and the emotional expressions of the visitors.

Common sense might suggest that filming paintings produces three potential outcomes: an opportunity of appreciation for those not able to see the works in bodily proximity; a misguided attempt to capture a physical reality that ends as bad imitation; an experiment that uses art as a vehicle to ultimately make a statement about the medium of film. National Gallery, although it does offer appreciation from afar, does not, incredibly, fit into any of the above categories. Instead, Wiseman has made a film that both chronicles the daily workings of the institution — we are privy to staff meetings, conservation, and gallery installation — and also, fundamentally, focuses on the intensity of the relationship between paintings and people: visitors camp overnight in rainy London to gain entrance to the show Leonardo: The Studio Tour; children look on in amazement as guides explain the relevance of art; frequent museumgoers explain their favorite paintings to friends; adults listen, emotions visible, as guides tell stories; conservationists demonstrate their passion and craft. But the most incredible moments of National Gallery are Wiseman’s close-ups, particularly of the painted faces. He manages to use the camera to suggest, without any allusion to a cliché of magic, that the paintings are looking back, somehow chronicling or cataloguing, their effect on viewers over the centuries.

Still from Frederick Wiseman's 'National Gallery'

Still from Frederick Wiseman’s ‘National Gallery’

National Gallery opens today at Film Forum (209 W Houston St, West Village, Manhattan), followed by screenings around the country in the coming months. View the complete schedule online.

Pratt Institute MFA Open Studios, Saturday November 8

alex lombard

On Saturday, November 8 Pratt Institute Fine Arts will host MFA Open Studios and MFA Performances. These events will showcase over 100 international artists who are currently enrolled in Pratt’s Fine Arts Masters program. Areas of concentration include: Painting and Drawing, Sculpture, Printmaking, Photography, and New Forms. MFA Performances will take place that evening in Flushing Studios, 248 Flushing Avenue — a unique student-led event that provides an audience for students working in performance.

There are four buildings that house the studios of Pratt MFA students. Three are located on Pratt’s Main Brooklyn campus, 200 Willoughby Avenue, and include: Pratt Studios in the basement of Steuben, Steuben Studios on the 3rd floor, East Building, and Jones Hall (ELJ). Flushing Studios, located at 248 Flushing Avenue, is walking-distance from campus. All buildings can be found on a campus map.

MFA Fine Arts Open Studios
Saturday, November 8, 11am – 7pm

MFA Performances
Saturday, November 8, 7:30pm

All events are free and open to the public. Visitors can stop by an information desk centrally located on campus. For more details, email

Transit | Clinton-Washington G | Dekalb Q R | Nevins 2 3 4


Why Did Russia’s iMonument Disappear?

The Steve Jobs monument in Saint Petersburg (photo by romamirosha/Instagram)

The Steve Jobs monument in St. Petersburg (photo by romamirosha/Instagram)

A public statue of an Apple iPhone installed in St. Petersburg, Russia as a memorial to Steve Jobs was removed on Friday, allegedly in response to the tech company’s new chief executive, Tim Cook, coming out as gay. Reports in the Russian media cited by Western news outlets suggested that the statue might be deemed illegal according to Russia’s recently passed law outlawing art that might encourage “non-traditional sexual relationships.” But further comments attributed to the statue’s patron suggest that the rationale might be more convoluted.

The Steve Jobs monument in Saint Petersburg (photo by kirdk/Instagram)

The Steve Jobs monument in St. Petersburg (photo by kirdk/Instagram) (click to enlarge)

The interactive, six-foot-tall statue, which allowed passersby to learn more about Jobs’s life and work, was accused by the Western European Financial Union (ZEFS) of potentially being in violation of a law recently passed in Russia that bans anything that could be construed as gay “propaganda,” according to a press release quoted by Russia’s Ekho Moskvy news site and cited by BBC News. ZEFS paid for the memorial’s installation in January of last year in a courtyard on the campus of the St. Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics, and Optics (ITMO). According to an article on the Russian news site TASS, however, ITMO has stated that the public monument was removed on October 31 in order to be repaired. Video posted by the Daily Telegraph shows four men carrying the large smartphone out of the courtyard.

Statements excerpted from a ZEFS press release regarding the monument and attributed to the company’s founder and board chairman, Maxim Dolgopolov, claim that US surveillance agencies are able to use Apple technology to monitor global communications and that the giant iPhone would allow visitors to the site to send messages directly to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade and Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California.

The Jobs monument is not Eastern Europe’s only monument to a digital technology giant: Last month the town of Słubice in Poland inaugurated its “Wikipedia Monument,” a fiberglass and resin sculpture devoted to the open source encyclopedia.

Aram Bartholl

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 12.57.27 PM

Aram Bartholl

Work from Hurt me Plenty @ DAM Gallery.

PICKS: Elaine Byrne

09.26.14-11.18.14 Limerick City Gallery of Art, Limerick, review written by Gemma Tipton

New Scans of the Voynich Manuscript, a Medieval Book No One Can Read

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library, all images via Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

The Voynich Manuscript is one of the most obsessed-over historical enigmas. A medieval book dating from the late 15th or 16th century, its strange, flowing script has never been deciphered, its origins never determined. The 113 plant illustrations it contains seem to depict no flora found on Earth, and throughout its vellum pages are visuals of the cosmos, a small army of naked women cavorting through pools of water, and the arcane alphabet that has so frustrated linguists and cryptographers.

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library) (click to view larger)

As the Yale Daily News reported last week and aficionados discovered online, new high resolution scans of the manuscript were recently posted at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library site. Digital versions were previously available to the curious through the Beinecke, but the new scans are even sharper, and in sequential order you can closely examine each page. As the library explained to Hyperallergic, recent conservation work addressed folds and curls that had previously blocked some pages, and new scanning equipment made the color more accurate and didn’t require so much securing with straps on the delicate pages.

In 1912, the manuscript started to make its way into contemporary conscious when it was acquired by antique book dealer Wilfrid M. Voynich, who for the rest of his life tried and failed to derive meaning from the manuscript apparently about the natural world. Believed to have been created in Central Europe, its path over the centuries is unclear — at one point in the 17th century it was reportedly sent to Athanasius Kircher, scholar of the scientific and the strange. It arrived at Yale in 1969 impressively intact, housed now in the Beinecke as the star obscurity among an incredible trove of rare texts. There its curvy writing in brownish-black ink, flowers sometimes sprouting animal parts like something from a deranged herbal, and zodiac charts beckon code breakers.

Some still speculate it is all a hoax, but carbon dating at least confirms its age, and even this year researchers are attempting to puzzle out the meaning from this book no one can be read. A linguist at the University of Bedfordshire in the UK proposed sounds to match the symbols, declaring he had decoded 14 of them. Meanwhile, researchers at at Delaware State University argued the manuscript may have its origins in central Mexico after analyzing the nature of the bizarre plant illustrations.

You can find a full discription at Yale’s Voynich catalog record, and perhaps form your own theory of how a book that seems so fluidly written, so packed with intended meaning, can become a complete mystery.

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

Voynich Manuscript (courtesy Yale University Library)

h/t Clive Thompson

The complete scans of the Voynich Manuscript are online at Yale University Library

NEWS: Bass Museum of Art Receives Donation of $1 Million

Omer Fast, Continuity (2012)


It would be difficult to deliver a spoiler for Continuity. Omer Fast’s looping 40 minute film has no clear narrative arc and offers few clues about the mystery at its core.

All we know is that the same middle-aged German couple pick up three different servicemen from a rural rail station, and take him home for a spot of psychodrama.

It could be they are call boys. It could be a case of sliding doors. It could be Brechtian exposition. Or it could be that the entire episode is the product of a bereaved mother’s fevered mind.

What’s really compelling about the film is that, despite the uniforms, there is difference within this repetition. Youth is one of the only things these soldiers have in common.

Their reunions are pretty intense affairs. The couple have license to touch, chide and even climb into bed with these young men (the mother). In fact the whole set up is uncomfortably oedipal.

You could write it off as kinky middle class role play, were it not that the ‘returning soldiers’ bring genuine trauma and a cast of unwanted ghosts back to this bourgeois home.

The couple cannot escape the realities of war. It seems they try to drive away from the conflict. But they find a camel, and worse, in the middle of their local forest.

Fast’s film is full of hallucinations, along with the doubling effect which comes from an actors playing actors. The war for this artist appears to be an enduring source of strangeness. With no resolution.

Continuity can be seen at Artes Mundi 6 until 22 February 2015.

New Bushwick Gallery Hub Takes Shape on Willoughby Ave

Exterior of 1329 Willoughby Avenue (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Exterior of 1329 Willoughby Avenue (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

A new gallery hub is emerging in Bushwick. The low, two-story industrial building at 1329 Willoughby Avenue is already home to Microscope Gallery, and in January 2015 two more galleries will open up there. Tiger Strikes Asteroid (TSA), currently located on Stewart Avenue, is in the process of building out a space in the building, as is a new and as yet unnamed gallery that will be run by six artists. One of them is Rob de Oude, one half (with Enrico Gomez) of Parallel Art Space, which was forced to shut down when the landlord in its former building, 17-17 Troutman Street, moved to oust all the building’s galleries.

“The landlord [at 1329 Willoughby] seems to be really nice and amiable to galleries, as opposed to what we were dealing with at 17-17 Troutman,” de Oude told Hyperallergic over the telephone. “The new location is Bushwick central, so to speak, with Schema Projects around the corner, Norte Maar around the corner, and Sardine nearby.”

De Oude’s new gallery will have roughly 400 square feet, as will the new TSA space. Microscope has more than double that amount space.

Installation view of Allison Somers exhibition 'Enfolding' at Microscope Gallery (photo © 2014 Microscope Gallery)

Installation view of Allison Somers exhibition ‘Enfolding’ at Microscope Gallery (photo © 2014 Microscope Gallery)

“My partner Andrea [Monti] and I looked seriously for more than five months,” Elle Burchill, the co-founder of Microscope, told Hyperallergic via email. “We had seen over 30 spaces when we discovered the listing. We were about to sign a lease on another space that we not completely sure about. What we liked most about the space was the great location, size — 2,000 square feet — and it is quiet and feels very peaceful, unlike our previous space that had the train running by all the time.”

Burchill and Monti moved into the building in August and opened their first exhibition there, a group show titled Slide Slide Slide, on September 5. They also started spreading the word about the new building they’d found.

“The galleries here know each other and talk to each other quite a bit,” Burchill said. “We knew others were also looking and put out the word that we had a tip on a great space.”

While TSA, another gallery run by a group of artists, wasn’t facing a situation as dire as Parallel Art Space, its members had been hunting for a new location.

“When news about 17-17 Troutman broke, a lot of people started scrambling to find a space,” Alex Paik, TSA’s director, told Hyperallergic. “While we didn’t need to move, we figured it was a great time to be able to choose our neighbors rather than waiting until we couldn’t afford our lease any longer … Rob and I very quickly realized that we could work well together and we both respected each other’s programming so it seemed like a natural fit to keep looking for smaller places that we could possibly divide up.”

That’s when the tip came from Burchill and Monti. Now Paik and de Oude are carving up a 2,000 square foot space into two galleries and two studios.

Tiger Strikes Asteroid and Rob de Oude's new spaces at 1329 Willoughby, mid-construction (photo by Alex Paik)

Tiger Strikes Asteroid and Rob de Oude’s new spaces at 1329 Willoughby, mid-construction (photo by Alex Paik)

“While it is not dirt cheap, it is a good deal still and we have a long term lease which is important for the stability of our respective galleries, ” Paik said. “Rob and I have been working on the space since October. The space was raw, so we are building everything out. Our galleries will be in the front and we will have studios in the back… It will be great to have three galleries in the same location. We are hoping that it becomes a hub similar to what 17-17 Troutman was or what 56 Bogart is.”

And like those former and current destination buildings for the cognoscenti of the Bushwick art scene, 1329 Willoughby may well soon be home to more artist-run galleries.

“I’m trying to get Onderdonk and Ortega [two other former 17-17 Troutman galleries] in, but that depends on the landlord,” de Oude said. “There are more spaces becoming available.”

Exterior of 1329 Willoughby Avenue (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Exterior of 1329 Willoughby Avenue (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

In the meantime, de Oude is focusing on finishing his space, which he will run along with Carl Gunhouse, Sara Jones, Thomas Marquet, Rod Malin (who runs Baltimore’s Guest Spot gallery), and Mel Prest. The new gallery will open its first show, a solo exhibition by Clinton King that was originally slated to happen at Parallel Art Space, on January 9, 2015, the same night that TSA will debut in its new space — a group exhibition curated by Andrew Prayzner — and a solo show of work by Zach Nader will open at Microscope.

“We’re putting in extra time, extra money, and extra effort to create a community,” de Oude said.

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5Pointz Developer Wants to Trademark “5Pointz”

5Pointz mid-demolition (photo by  changsterdam/Flickr)

5Pointz mid-demolition (photo by changsterdam/Flickr)

The owner of 5Pointz, the former artists’ studio complex and graffiti center in Queens that is currently being demolished, is trying to trademark the name “5Pointz” in order to market the apartments that will be built on the lot, DNAinfo reported.

G&M Realty, which plans to build two towers containing 1,000 rental apartments on the property, filed a trademark application in March for the name “5Pointz,” though it was turned down on June 17 because a real estate developer in California called FivePoint Communities Management, Inc. has trademarked a name (“FivePoint Communities”) that was deemed too similar given that the two companies do such similar work.

The examining attorney on G&M Realty’s application ruled that “the applicant’s mark [5Pointz], when used on or in connection with the identified goods/services, so resembles the mark in U.S. Registration No. 3899912 [FivePoint Communities] as to be likely to cause confusion, to cause mistake, or to deceive.”

This in spite of the stylized conventions of the respective names, such as the missing space and expressive “z” in “5Pointz,” or the counter-intuitively singular “point” in FivePoint Communities and the company’s use of the Roman numeral for five (“V”) in its logo.

G&M Realty has six months, or until December 17, to respond to the US Patent and Trademark Office decision if it hopes to pursue a trademark for “5Pointz.”

“It’s ironic that the same corporation which single-handedly destroyed all the artwork known as 5Pointz is trying to capitalize on its name,” Marie Cecile Flageul, a spokesperson for the graffiti center’s artists, told DNAinfo.

Jerry Wolkoff, the owner of the site and head of G&M Realty, remains optimistic that the new development can and should retain given to the former art space by the artists. “The building is known as 5Pointz,” Wolkoff told DNAinfo. “The building is going to be back and the artists are going to be back.”

The new complex set to rise on the property — which is located across Jackson Avenue from MoMA PS1, between Crane and Davis streets — is set to include 12,000 square feet devoted to artists’ studios. Walls on the exterior and interior of the new complex will also be made available to graffiti artists.

To recap the highlights and eventual destruction of 5Pointz, check out Hyperallergic’s previous posts on the fight to save the once colorful cultural hub.

How Small It Actually Is

Today from our friends at Guernica, we bring you an excerpt from Alex Zafiris’ recent interview with Ben Davis. Zafiris notes: “As with all empires, the art world is driven by money. What differentiates it, at least in some cases, is its very particular set of values.” This interview was originally published on October 1, 2014.

Artwork by William Powhida, from the cover of  "9.5 Theses on Art and Class" by Ben Davis.

Artwork by William Powhida, from the cover of 9.5 Theses on Art and Class by Ben Davis.

In 2010, Ben Davis, a young art critic and regular contributor to Art Papers, ArtReviewAdbusters, The Brooklyn Rail, Slate, and the Village Voice, produced a pamphlet, “9.5 Theses on Art and Class,” that pointed out that the discussion of artist economics had stagnated. In it, he boldly outlines the paradoxes and struggles inherent in the art world through the lens of class. Last year, he published his first book, 9.5 Theses on Art and Class, named for and containing the original pamphlet, alongside a collection of essays on politics, inequality, commerce, and hipster aesthetics in art. He posits that artists are middle-class creative laborers, only mildly distinct from their non-artist peers in that their autonomy stems from a singular, individual talent.

Guernica: The ongoing, central tension of the art empire is that between creativity and money. The parameters of this conflict vary wildly, depending on whom you speak to. Can you define it from your personal point of view?

Ben Davis: I guess I’d challenge the premise of the question. I don’t think that the ongoing tension of the “art empire”—if by this we mean the top tier of the international “art world,” museums, galleries, and auction houses—is actually between money and creativity, in the sense that there is a hard choice between what sells and artists getting to express themselves in some authentic creative way.

That certainly happens, and the very rich control the art market, which means a minority taste—often a pretty stupid and crass taste—has a disproportionate amount of influence over what succeeds. But throughout history, the very rich have also patronized, funded, and wanted to associate themselves with creative things. If things were as simple as the equation “success = corruption” then you wouldn’t need criticism.


Guernica: Artistic practice is most often defined as a privileged activity, whereas “creative expression” is something that transcends social, political, and economic barriers. What kind of traction does exceptional individual power—charisma, talent, skill, unusual perspective—really have? Who/what is the authority?

Ben Davis: I mean, this only becomes an issue because some people actually make their living off of their creativity, and what’s more, some people who make their living off their creativity, contemporary artists, seem to get a particularly good deal. Otherwise, it would be enough to say that, well, we all are creative in our own ways, what’s wrong with that?

But that having been said, there’s a whole interesting debate right now about whether creative labor actually is a “privileged” activity. There’s very much this sense that the “privilege” of art is being used to seduce people into doing work for free, to get away with not paying people who are creating something of value, and who have to survive.

Read the full article here.