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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.