Notes on “Camp” and the Costume Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

By Katherine R. Sloan

Costume Exhibit with the words "Camp" and Jeremy Scott's flamingo headdress. | Metropolitan Museum of Art

Costume Exhibit with the words "Camp" and Jeremy Scott's flamingo headdress. | Metropolitan Museum of Art

When I became aware that the Met’s 2019 costume exhibit would be on the “Camp” aesthetic inspired by Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay I was very excited but not as curious as most because I felt like I’ve been in love with campy things my entire life (even before I knew what the word meant). Joan Crawford’s exaggerated red lips and eyebrows have always spoken volumes to me and, most of all, her earnest gaze in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) as she kept her old Hollywood glamour intact all the while shooting a decidedly B picture. According to Sontag, this would be an example of “naïve camp”—a “seriousness that fails.” One of the funniest examples of this from Sontag’s 1964 essay Notes on “Camp” is, in conversation, a friend admitting that “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing.”

Having opened in May, the Metropolitan Costume Exhibit will be on view through the first week of September and is very apropos of June—Gay pride month and the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots. Camp is, of course, very close to the heart of the LGBTQ community as it is a celebration of beauty and is enjoyment in its purest form. It’s important to remember that Camp should be joyous. Sontag explains that “Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation—not judgment. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy. It only seems like malice, cynicism. (Or, if it is cynicism, it’s not a ruthless but a sweet cynicism.) Camp taste doesn’t propose that it is in bad taste to be serious; it doesn’t sneer at someone who succeeds in being seriously dramatic. What it does is to find the success in certain passionate failures.” One of the greatest examples of this and of “things being what they’re not” is a pale pink Christian Lacroix dress that resembles a tiered wedding cake complete with pleats and frills galore: is it a dress to wear or something decadent to eat? The garment is so exaggerated that the fact it transcends earnest beauty makes it all the more satisfying.

Viktor & Rolf's "Less is More" gown. | Metropolitan Museum of Art

Viktor & Rolf's "Less is More" gown. | Metropolitan Museum of Art

According to Sontag, “Not only is there a Camp vision, a Camp way of looking at things. Camp is as well a quality discoverable in objects and the behavior of persons. There are ‘campy’ movies, clothes, furniture, popular songs, novels, people, buildings. . . . This distinction is important. True, the Camp eye has the power to transform experience. But not everything can be seen as Camp. It’s not all in the eye of the beholder.” Some “Random examples of items which are part of the canon of Camp include Zuleika Dobson, Tiffany lamps, Scopitone films, The Brown Derby restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in LA, The Enquirer headlines and stories, Aubrey Beardsley drawings, Swan Lake, Bellini’s operas, Visconti’s direction of Salome and ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, certain turn-of-the-century picture postcards, Schoedsack’s King Kong, the Cuban pop singer La Lupe, Lynd Ward’s novel in woodcuts, God’s Man, the old Flash Gordon comics, women’s clothes of the twenties (feather boas, fringed and beaded dresses, etc.), the novels of Ronald Firbank and Ivy Compton-Burnett and stag movies seen without lust.” I find that it’s helpful to know what, in 1964, was seen as campy by Sontag; it helps put everything else into context.

Andrew Bolton, curator of the costume exhibit, has a wonderful lecture on the Metropolitan Museum’s website so, if you cannot see the exhibit in person, I highly recommend listening to what he has to say. He stresses that the Camp ideal that the Met wanted to celebrate is all about “irony, humor, parody, theatricalization, excess, extravagance and exaggeration.” Firstly, the exhibit introduces the viewer to the origins of Camp and is called the Camp Beau Ideal: here you can revel in portraiture of King Louis XIV and his famous bisexual brother, Phillippe I, Duke of Orléans (fondly known as “Monsieur”). Phillippe I is dressed for his brother’s coronation in 1654: with long black curls, an ornate cape, white tights complete with a bow at the ankle and a background of red velvet fabric as he holds a bejeweled crown, this is a definite precursor to “Camp,” dandyism, over-the-top regality and just too much.

“Camping” was thought to be first used as a verb by Molière in a 17 th century comedic play called Scapin the Schemer and, according to Sontag, “to camp” is “A mode of seduction—one which employs flamboyant mannerisms susceptible of a double interpretation; gestures full of duplicity, with a witty meaning for cognoscenti and another, more personal, for outsiders.” The exhibit also cites French diplomat Chevalier d’Éon as an inspiration for the early 18 th century camp aesthetic as he dressed in women’s clothing in order to infiltrate courts in Europe as a lady in waiting. According to Sontag’s essay, Camp’s “Soundest starting point seems to be the late 17 th and early 18 th century, because of that period’s extraordinary feeling for artifice, for surface, for symmetry; its taste for the picturesque and the thrilling, its elegant conventions for representing instant feeling and the total presence of character—the epigram and the rhymed couplet (in words), the flourish (in gesture and in music).” Camp is all about gestures and flourishes, in music and otherwise.

Some of the most interesting aspects of the exhibit are the articles of clothing inspired by Oscar Wilde’s wardrobe—including a cloak emblazoned with golden peacocks and a velvet suit—as he was clearly one of the first great thinkers to truly embody the spirit of Camp with his epigrams, one of its “conscious ideologists” and “wits.” Of course, Camp has always been hugely important and widespread in the queer community. A witty and pithy remark of Wilde’s that would be considered campy, for example, is: “I can resist everything except temptation.” Wilde sort of became a living example of camp as an aesthete and a dandy.

The exhibit boasts a Jean-Paul Gaultier gown based on an 18 th century silhouette combined with a modern day men’s suit and tie. This conflation of masculine and feminine is a characteristic of the Camp aesthetic. There is a Gender without Genitals section of the exhibit that features young designers such as Palomo Spain and his non-binary clothing along with Thom Browne’s tuxedo-wedding dress. According to Sontag’s essay: “Many things in the world have not been named; and many things, even if they have been named, have never been described. One of these is the sensibility—unmistakably modern, a variant of sophistication but hardly identical with it—that goes by the cult name of ‘Camp.’” There’s an exquisite Vivienne Westwood gown from her 1995 “Vive la Cocette” collection that’s full-on 18 th century Marie Antoinette inspired complete with pastels, frills, lace and bows almost everywhere imaginable. Westwood’s exaggerated silhouettes with wide shoulders, padded hips and bottoms are, as the designer once said, made to reflect a fashion illustration. Westwood clearly has an interest in applying historical trends to modern ways of dressing. The dress on view looks like a Fragonard painting—complete with a young woman soaring through the air on a swing made of garlands.

Some of the pieces in the exhibit are undoubtedly modern and almost futuristic, such as Jean Paul Gaultier’s green gown that Linda Evangelista infamously wore on a catwalk while holding a hairdryer as it pumped air into the garment to amplify her bosom and buttocks. This over-the-top fun and exaggeration of the female form is a wonderful example of the Camp sensibility of enjoyment. There is also a PVC neon green jacket designed by Walter van Beirendonck for Wild and Lethal Trash (1996) that inflates with air to build muscles.

Susan Sontag from Warhol's 1964 screen test. | Metropolitan Museum of Art

Susan Sontag from Warhol's 1964 screen test. | Metropolitan Museum of Art

For those still unsure of what Camp is, Sontag lays it out for us: “To start very generally: Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization.” Artifice is such an important part of the world of camp and is on full display at the Met: colorfully lit boxes present furry Céline pink pumps along with Philip Treacy fascinators. One of Treacy’s most notable hats simply called “Marilyn” (2003) is of Monroe’s face the way Andy Warhol saw her—in paint—with a single black crystal for a beauty mark. According to Sontag “One may compare Camp with much of Pop Art, which actually embodies an attitude that is related, but still very different. Pop Art is more flat and more dry, more serious, more detached, ultimately nihilistic.” Even though Camp is something entirely different, Andy Warhol’s 1964 screen tests of Susan Sontag can be seen on display at the exhibit—complete with Sontag in black cat eye sunglasses.

Two versions of Judy Garland singing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” can be heard playing over the soundtrack of the Camp exhibit—one was recorded when Garland was 16 on the set of The Wizard of Oz and the other just months before she died. Another wonderful example of naïve camp is the Salvatore Ferragamo rainbow platforms that were designed in earnest in 1938. They are so completely over-the-top and colorful that they are simply overkill. What was considered to be unintentional camp in the 1930s is now incredibly fashionable and falls into the category of “deliberate camp” (this is evident with Gucci’s 2017 platform rainbow sneakers).

Salvatore Ferragamo's rainbow platforms alongside Gucci's rainbow sneaker. | Metropolitan Museum of Art

Salvatore Ferragamo's rainbow platforms alongside Gucci's rainbow sneaker. | Metropolitan Museum of Art

There is also a floor-length rainbow cape designed by Christopher Bailey for Burberry (2018-19) that is a wonderful example of something that Liberace may have worn today if he weren’t closeted. “Camp is a sensibility that, among other things, converts the serious into the frivolous” and this can be seen with Jeremy Scott’s “paper doll” dress (2017): there are literally white tabs sticking out of the garment that makes it look like a cut-out ready for a little girl to play dress up with her illustrations of grown women. Another wonderful example of the Camp aesthetic is a woman wearing a baby doll dress: Anna Sui’s pale custard, baby blue and ballerina pink baby doll dresses from 1994 illustrate this point perfectly. With fur stoles and showgirl headpieces, these little dresses were inspired by nostalgia and the designer’s childhood.

“Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of ‘character.’ . . . Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as ‘a camp,’ they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.” A sort of sophisticated example of this can be witnessed in the form of what Sontag literally meant when she said that “Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.” Jane Wrightsman—a famous benefactor to the Met—wore a Balenciaga evening dress covered in pale peachy pink marabou feathers complete with a silk bow (1965-66). In praise of feathers, there are literally millions on display at the museum right now: it’s like a haute couture showgirl’s paradise complete with every color feather imaginable: ones that sort of lay like palms in the desert and tiny ones that stick out like antennae and float gaily with the slightest movement.

Sontag muses that Camp is really, above all, an appreciation of beauty, art and culture. In a way, Camp is life affirming. “The experiences of Camp are based on the great discovery that the sensibility of high culture has no monopoly upon refinement. Camp asserts that good taste is not simply good taste; that there exists, indeed, a good taste of bad taste. (Genet talks about this in Our Lady of the Flowers.) The discovery of the good taste of bad taste can be very liberating. The man who insists on high and serious pleasures is depriving himself of pleasure; he continually restricts what he can enjoy; in the constant exercise of his good taste he will eventually price himself out of the market, so to speak. Here Camp taste supervenes upon good taste as a daring and witty hedonism. It makes the man of good taste cheerful, where before he ran the risk of being chronically frustrated. It is good for the digestion.” Some examples of what may make someone cheerful upon entering the exhibit include a pink Armani Privé dress covered in marabou feathers (2018), a 2019 haute couture tiered gown designed by Viktor & Rolf that is nine feet in diameter and emblazoned with the phrase “Less is More” in green cursive lettering and even more tiered gowns made entirely out of tulle by Giambattista Valli (2017-2018). These are some of the largest objects on display.

Of course, there’s lots of Jeremy Scott for Moschino at the museum as well, including a dress made of canary yellow feathers (something Lola at the Copacabana would simply go gaga over) as well as an explosion of feather and paper butterflies atop a mound of deep purple feathers (2018). A hat in the shape of a cauliflower complete with tiny white synthetic pearls and folds of green and yellow silk, satin and chiffon can be seen and enjoyed as a sort of fashionable piece of produce (Deirdre Hawken, 2013). There’s a suit covered in Gucci logos, a dollar bill dress by Jeremy Scott, Bjork’s infamous swan dress that she wore to the 2001 Academy Awards (designed Marjan Pejoski), a Marc Jacobs opera coat decorated with the visage of Maria Callas, a dress that’s styled to look like bouquet of flowers (Jeremy Scott for Moschino) and a Saint Laurent coat that resembles an over-sized fuzzy red heart. There’s a coat made of tinsel, purses in the shapes of an iron and garbage can (Moschino), a flamingo headdress (Schiaparelli Couture, fall 2018), a speedo embellished with Warhol’s banana, a Moschino cloak with golden arches to resemble the McDonald’s logo and purple sparkly cloven hoof shoes. All of these incredibly campy objects and garments are testaments to folly, fun and the enjoyment of, not just fashion and popular culture, but, life as we know it.

Faces, Frames, and Americanism: A Review of the Whitney Biennial 2019

Whitney Biennial 2019 Poster Credit:

Whitney Biennial 2019 Poster

Written by Talia Green, including an interview with co-curator Rujeko Hockley

If you’re at all acquainted with the contemporary American art scene, you’ve likely heard of the Whitney Biennial. Presented by the Whitney Museum of American Art every two years, and established by the museum’s founder in 1932, the Biennial is one of the most renowned exhibitions which celebrate modern American art. Each Biennial presents a catalogue of the most up-and-coming developments in the art scene, demonstrating a comprehensive collection of what trends within American art look like today.

Myself an art fanatic, living a short car ride from the George Washington Bridge and having never visited the Whitney, I was near-nauseatingly thrilled to attend this year’s exhibit.

Photo Credit: The Whitney Biennial | Whitney Museum of American Art

Photo Credit: The Whitney Biennial | Whitney Museum of American Art

“The Biennial every iteration is a snapshot of the current moment,” curator Rujeko Hockley explained to me in an interview, “whatever that means to the curators and the artists involved.” Over the last two years, Ms. Hockley and her co-curator, Jane Panetta, had frequented over three-hundred studios in over twenty-five different locations across the United States, searching for the most cutting-edge pieces in American art. And it was an arduous research process. “We spent fourteen weeks in total—not consecutively, thank God—on the road… and came up with the full seventy-five who are in the exhibition.”

Historically, the Biennial not only spotlights the most emergent installations in American art, but also investigates Americanism—an exploration rooted within the museum’s foundation. Behind the collection lay the ever-current analyses: Who is an American, and what is American art? How is our current socio-political and cultural environment represented in trends, from gallery to gallery, and how is that ingrained in an overarching American identity?

That investigation seemed apparent to me in the program’s broad range of artists: the various ages, genders, and cultural identities represented. Ms. Hockley reflected on how their expansive catalogue nudges the boundaries of what it means to be an American: “We have artists who were born in the United States, but live abroad… some members are American, but actually, their primary location is not in the United States, and their primary focus has not historically been in the United States.”

Photo Credit:  MISSION TEENS: French School in Morocco     Meriem Bennani  Born 1988 in Rabat, Morocco Lives in Brooklyn, NY   The Whitney Biennial | Whitney Museum of American Art

Photo Credit:
MISSION TEENS: French School in Morocco

Meriem Bennani
Born 1988 in Rabat, Morocco
Lives in Brooklyn, NY
The Whitney Biennial | Whitney Museum of American Art

The outside installation on which our interview was conducted offered me a prime example. Ms. Hockley and I spoke under a shaded area of the fifth-floor terrace, facing a video sculpture-garden which expanded across the balcony. The artist, Meriem Bennani, is a Moroccan native who currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. Her work, entitled MISSION TEENS: French School in Morocco explores the remnants of French colonialism in the Moroccan school system, interviewing teenagers in Morocco—most of whom hailing from wealthy families—who had attended French schools. Ms. Hockley explained how the piece evaluates social positioning in Moroccan culture, reflecting on “what kind of values, what kind of education is actually being proposed in those spaces.”

A reminder of the importance of re-evaluating Americanism, and all its implications, breathes intentionality throughout this exhibit’s catalogue. In this Biennial, the exploration of Americanism importantly extends to Puerto Riccan and indigenous artists. Ms. Hockley mentioned how, in her collecting, her internal dialogue included questions of American citizenship—yes, Puerto Ricans are Americans—without worthy representation in American art. Similarly, her inquisitions extended to indigenenous identities.

It’s this versatility within Americanism that spoke to me most profoundly. That this is America: a vibrant versatility, where one individual shares shades of her identity, and identities, with her neighbor—each individual undeniably distinctive. We reflect each other in our expansive array of cultures, citizens, genders, and narratives. Even the variety in the exhibit’s artistic mediums—the photography, the videos, the sculptures, the performances—represents the scale of individualism innate to the American narrative, currently and historically.

I would recommend a visit to this year’s Biennial—closing in September—to anyone able to get their hands on a ticket. As Ms. Hockley herself pointed out, it’s crucial to constantly re-evaluate Americanism, and the multifaceted meanings, identities, and implications embedded in that narrative. That’s exactly what this exhibit will allow you to do.

Camille Billops, Who Filmed Her Mother-Daughter Struggle, Dies at 85

Camille Billops in 1994. She was an internationally recognized artist, but she gained the most attention for a movie she made about giving her daughter up for adoption. Credit: Steve Walters | The New York Times

Camille Billops in 1994. She was an internationally recognized artist, but she gained the most attention for a movie she made about giving her daughter up for adoption.
Credit: Steve Walters | The New York Times

By Katharine Q. Seelye

Camille Billops knew from a young age that she did not want to be a mother. And when she had a baby, she gave her up for adoption, when the girl was 4.

Ms. Billops would go on to become an internationally recognized sculptor, painter and filmmaker. She held salons and created extensive archives of black cultural life in New York over several decades.

But Ms. Billops, who died on June 1 at 85, gained the most attention for a movie she made about giving up her daughter. She was resolutely unapologetic about the decision, even as society judged her harshly and wanted her to repent.

The movie, “Finding Christa” (1992), which she directed with her husband, James V. Hatch, documented Ms. Billops’s rejection of her daughter and their reunion 20 years later. Christa Victoria, a vibrant and artistic young woman who was raised by a loving adoptive family in Oakland, Calif., was welcomed back into the Billops fold.

Ms. Billops saw the lives of black women as endurance contests, struggles to survive abusive or alcoholic men, and children as part of the yoke that kept women from being free.

“I didn’t admire motherhood,” Ms. Billops said.

Ms. Billops was more interested in becoming an artist. She went to the University of Southern California to study art and occupational therapy. But she soon found herself pregnant. The father was a handsome Air Force lieutenant who said he would marry her — 500 wedding invitations were sent out — but who skipped town instead.

Read the full article here.

All best, and condolences to Camille Billops’s family.

Joe Overstreet, Painter and Activist, Is Dead at 85

Joe Overstreet with his painting “North Star” (1968). Joe Overstreet/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via Eric Firestone Gallery, New York. - The New York Times

Joe Overstreet with his painting “North Star” (1968).
Joe Overstreet/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via Eric Firestone Gallery, New York. - The New York Times

By Holland Cotter

Like many of his fellow African-American artists, he infused his work with burning political issues of the 1960s and ’70s.

Joe Overstreet, an artist and activist who in the 1960s took abstract painting into the sculptural dimension and later created a home in New York for artists who had been ignored by the mainstream, died on June 4 in Manhattan. He was 85.

His Manhattan gallery, Eric Firestone, said the cause was heart failure.

Mr. Overstreet belonged to a generation of contemporary African-American visual artists who came of age in the civil rights era and addressed the burning political issues of the day in a wide variety of forms and styles, from overt protest work to the subtlest geometric abstraction.

He was particularly notable for removing canvases from the wall and suspending them in space, giving painting a sculptural dimension. He saw such pieces as, among other things, experiments in how to situate art and viewers in physical space.

Mr. Overstreet’s work in the 1960s and ’70s coincided with debates about the direction African-American art should take. One side insisted that it should be direct in its political content; the other argued that cultural progress demanded that artists be free to choose their modes of expression.

Mr. Overstreet, who was deeply involved in the Black Arts Movement, negotiated the divide inventively. Even his most abstract-looking work had implicit political dimensions. His cultural references were often to non-Western sources, ancient and modern: Islamic design, African patterning, South Asian mandalas.

Read the full article here.

Meet Selear Duke & Acting Resume

Bio: I'm a model, actress, artist. I've had the chance to model on various fashion shows including Westchester Fashion Week, NY Fashionista, Society Fashion Week, various photoshoots. 

I've been honored to act in the award winning Street Theatre at The Theatre For The New City, Cyberbaby: the musical, Son of the Sun: musical, Dream Within a Dream and act in the Les Festival.

The 58th Venice Biennale "May You Live in Interesting Times" - Part Two

Photo Credit: (Biennale Arte 2019 | 58th Exhibition)

Photo Credit: (Biennale Arte 2019 | 58th Exhibition)

The 58th Venice Biennale
"May You Live in Interesting Times"
Running: May 11 - November 24, 2019
Part Two

By Lee Klein

...Gold Lion (leone d'Oro) winning artist Arthur Jafa's giant medallions fashioned of tires wearing chains and clusters of rocks seemed both made for and in parody of those effecting style to make huge impact. In fact many of the pieces in the Giardini section of the curated international exhibition appear to have been selected to strike with deep impact; from Yin Xiuzhen's "Nowhere to Land",  made from an upside down set of gigantic tires into sort of an axle like turned over skyjack-in-the-box from an airport runway in a sci-fi movie, to Lie Wei's sculptural cubist-tubulist blown up medley "Micrworld" .   So as has been indicated in other reviews works run the gamut of exploring ideas about world issues and social trends but at times it was a bit too much to take in so many large scale works at once.

During his press conference talk Biennale curator Rugoff highlighted specific works and this viewer was sort of checking them off at the exhibition. The most apparent minefield of cognition for this writer was when coming into the room in the Giardini where some of the choice painters the director of the Hayward (who sent me away wayward) decided to embrace were grouped. Henry Taylor who has earned renown for his painting of Emmett Till in the 2017 Whitney Biennial here shows a canvas "Another Wrong" of a white Wall Street type fictitiously getting arrested by two white cops for financial crimes as well as a painting of the iconic David Hammons on a voyage to Africa next to his famous snowball work, the adobe Mosque in Djenné, Mali and a hyena, titled, "Hammons Meets a Hyena on Holiday". Adjacent in this volley are works by Julie Mehretu which differ somewhat from her earlier work with less color-coded shapes but which are busier on the avenue of pencil work. Meanwhile here is George Condo (in one of the exhibition's few 1980's flashbacks -along with Rosemarie Trockel). Here Picasso who outlived Picasso is exhibiting among other works a large canvas called "Facebook', which is of course of countenances on top of one and other and Condo's great eventuality down the Yellow Brick Road of his ouevre.   "Facebook", plays well with others, including, a work in the arsenale also dealing with the role of community in social networking. Therein, Eva Rothchild's instillation in the Irish pavilion sort of illustrates how sculpture or instillation or a sculptural instillation might gather people together in certain areas like a social media platform; so a social platform platform might actually literally be a social platform,

Having always thought that along with the curated and official pavilions the whole city of Venice and its environs and everything being shown in all the collateral exhibitions is still part of the Biennale. This Biennale goer believes it is the total experience which is the experience. Thus it is cool to point other highlights, one of which for I this time was Jake Szymanski and Alexandra Kohl in the "Venice Design 2019" exhibition at the Palazzo Michiel del Brusà. Here this design duo offers a hanging creation of two long stick lucite like rectangles for a large part of their length clothed in black attached but movable up against a cast iron ball, also black. This construction grew and grew on me (-thinking chopsticks have always been navigated when placed together as instructed by human digits but here they are attached and still moving so as if one had long ago thought about the limbs but not the joint-), Seduced and stupefied by the simplicity this Bellini sipper actually started daydreaming of a David Rockwell type of theme park Las Vegas restaurant where a Hollywood worthy version might one day hang. 

Some of the national pavilions caught my attention. At Iceland where we wound up at the party for the opening where Shoplifter / Hrafnhildur Arnardottir in her immersive work "Chromosapiens", festooned the space with giant psychedelically colored fabric hair in covering an entire long entry chamber in an upside up upside down run to render a totally imagineered textural world, Three huge dandy artists who were everywhere (including on a vaporetto where there was a fight and a belligerent passenger had to be removed by the carabinieri who appeared dockside [violence in in Italy always reminds me of the public battle and death scene in the Merchant-Ivory film version of E.M Forrester's "A Room with a View"] were going on and on about it. The artiest one was saying he lived in Iceland as well as China (but also said the lead singer of the death metal band on stage was otherwise the Icelandic Minister of Health and he turned out to be incorrect)... The party went all night and as far as I was concerned is the party of the century so far..

Mark Justiniani's work in the Philippines pavilion also in the arsenale was quizzically pleasurable.  With an architectural layout shaped to be evocative of the Philippine archipelago.  The viewing vantage for the work is reached by climbing up onto the islands.  Once atop the islands they offer an illusionistic infinity as one might find in a Turkish cistern through ages old trompe l'oeil... The Argentina pavilion is exhibiting the work of sculptor Mariana Telleria. They have her giant creature like hybrids of materials with anatomies which include fabric and automobile parts hanging out and it was indeed fun to navigate around them at the opening while hunting down flutes of prosecco on the fly.

The pavilion of Japan makes light of the natural unnatural phenomenons which have washed ashore after the great tidal waves and have been aptly christened "Tsunami Boulders".  For this work called "Cosmo-eggs" an entire ensemble team made up of artist Motoyuki Shitamichi (visual artist), Taro Yasuno (composer) , Toshiaki Tshikura (anthropologist), and Fuminori Nousaku (architect), along with curator Hiroyuki Hattori have collaborated to imagine a successful co-existance between the planet and our species all the while taking a extraterrestrial yarn as a thread to explain the appearance of these ominous rocks.

Then on the flip side there was the torture of the Israeli pavilion. Artist Aya Ben Ron here turned this duplex pavilion into what she what she termed a "field hospital". Here one takes a number as if waiting for an emergency room visit. Then when one's number is called one is invited up to a chamber like a storage pod behind a warehouse to scream where "no one will hear you" after listening to a series of instructions. Later you move to a station where you learn about her coming out about being of victim of family abuse (of which variety you never find out). One then watches a seemingly endless video trying to program you for victim status . Oy!..seemingly a big waste of time which makes fun of medical attention and you only learn of being a victim but never what preceded to get you there. Soon you join a long list of those who went before you in becoming a victim of this pavilion.

While there some magic was missed by this writer but it is all part of the atmosphere. Looking along on instagram it did not go unnoticed that the Socialite Peter Brant Jr. and the vogue editor at large Hamish Bowles were out and about for what turned out to be for them and other fabulists like Tilda Swidon and Sienna Miller to attend  a semi-recreation of the  Bal Oriental (often referred to as the the ball of the century [20th] where Dali designed for Dior and vice versa).  It was held at the very same Palazzo Labia in Ca' Rezzonico, but, this time as the Grand Tiepolo Costume Ball for the Venice Heritage Foundation chaired by architect Peter Marino... So who knew Marino would leave his bike leathers for the garb of Giacomo di Casanova.. I was out in Posagno trying find the Gipsoteca Canova and then hit Ristorante Da Bepi in.Mestre for the supreme seafood antipasto starring Bon Jovi's father's sister Anchovy.  Then later after returning to the hotel it started storming and as my vaporetto card had run out I returned a pumpkin.   But to top it all off Banksy was there going to work in the stall of a Venetian touristic painter but laying down a sectioned but giant seascape of an oversize cruise ship... And then don't you know just a couple of weeks later a out of control one crashed into the the cruise terminal.

Diving as the chosen sacrifice in mesh metal neptunic the aqueous beast comes thrashing into the cage rattling the armored sushi inside driving along the highway on an interstate such as I-95 and Trans-American trucking company's monster comes along out of its passing lane and into yours' on the passenger side obliterating the side-view mirror like a skeet target shot upon having mostly missed the automobile the tail end swiping appearing as if a steel bridge span then moving off into the distance with the arch in its form with the gradient in the road.

In Venice a huge luxury boat pleasure mall afloat directionless after its crew having lost control having come in off the Giudecca Canal form the sea wedging itself in lopsided between the shore or the filled in shore who can be sure as tourists as if cast for a mega- tweet scamper and evacuate.. and nowthis was it just a minute ago Banksy was here in La Serenissima making light of it all.

Ishmael Reed Tries to Undo the Damage ‘Hamilton’ Has Wrought

Lin-Manuel Miranda performs  Hamilton  in Puerto Rico, 2019.  (Photo by GDA via AP)  |

Lin-Manuel Miranda performs Hamilton in Puerto Rico, 2019. (Photo by GDA via AP) |

By Nawal Arjini

His new play, The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda, is an extremely earnest attempt to show Miranda the many errors of his blockbuster musical.

Ishmael Reed has spent much of his career rewriting American history. His best-known novel, 1972’s Mumbo Jumbo, is an ironic reimagining of 1920s Harlem as the focal point in a centuries-old battle between two shadow forces: a group representing European institutional order, and Jes Grew, a virus/movement/pleasure-seeking principle originating among black artists. A subplot about the much-speculated black ancestry of Warren G. Harding ends with his assassination once he’s suspected of being infected with Jes Grew. More real-life figures, as well as barely disguised stand-ins for Madam C.J. Walker, Malcolm X, and Carl Van Vechten, turn up in the course of the quest for a long-forgotten text from ancient Egypt.

It’s all part of what Reed once called “artistic guerilla warfare against the Historical Establishment.” In Mumbo Jumbo, Reed wants his reader to question how—or even if—we remember the US occupation of Haiti, the many facets of the Harlem Renaissance, and precolonial African culture and philosophy. The establishment, as he puts it, is too invested in the supremacy of white culture, white institutions, and white heroes to notice the contrary currents of black art, thought, and social life running underneath. “They can’t tell whether our fictions are the real thing or whether they’re merely fictional,” Reed observes; hence he rewires the past, transforming a stand-in for Van Vechten, the exploitative white patron of Harlem artists, into a 1,000-year-old veteran of the Crusades in disguise. “This is what we want,” Reed says: “To sabotage history.”

The (justified) paranoia animating Mumbo Jumbo is the forebear of the ghosts plaguing the creator of the musical Hamilton in Reed’s latest play, The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda, directed by Rome Neal at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe through June 16. In the two-act play, an Ambien-addled Miranda is visited by the historical figures from which Hamiltondraws, as well as the ones that it excludes: Ben, the enslaved man owned by Alexander Hamilton’s sister-in-law, and Ben’s unnamed mother; “Native American Man” and “Native American Woman”; an anonymous white indentured servant; a runaway from the plantation of Hamilton’s in-laws; and even Harriet Tubman.

A relentlessly cheery juggernaut, Hamiltonpromised to liven up the familiar textbook history, injecting song, dance, mild sexual intrigue, and—above all—color into the life of its subject. The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda, by contrast, takes the play, its creator, the biography it’s sourced from, and the founding father himself to task; by the end of Reed’s play, we’re supposed to believe the ghosts have convinced Miranda of the error of his project.

Read the full article here.

Review: ‘The Haunting’ Has a Big Problem With ‘Hamilton’

Jesse Bueno, left, and Monisha Shiva in Ishmael Reed’s “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. | Credit: Tanja Maria (The New York Times)

Jesse Bueno, left, and Monisha Shiva in Ishmael Reed’s “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. | Credit: Tanja Maria (The New York Times)

By Elisabeth Vincentelli

Lin-Manuel Miranda is a character, and his hit musical is a punching bag, in Ishmael Reed’s didactic play about historical correctness.

In the four years since his musical “Hamilton” first opened at the Public Theater, Lin-Manuel Miranda has become one of America’s most successful and ubiquitous entertainers. There he is, serenading President Obama at the White House, triumphantly taking his show to a recovering Puerto Rico, portraying a chimney sweep in “Mary Poppins Returns.” And, in a true sign that he has made it to the top of the celebrity mountain, Mr. Miranda has proactively counterpunched potential critiques by playing comedic versions of himself, most notably in “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

One way we have not seen him, however, is as a lazy, gullible dumdum — which is how he is portrayed in Ishmael Reed’s show “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda,” currently at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

That’s actually a pretty sympathetic take, considering how little Mr. Reed thinks of “Hamilton,” which he accuses of, among other things, turning a blind eye to the Schuyler family’s ownership of slaves and soft-pedaling Alexander Hamilton’s elitist politics and his attitude toward slavery. Mr. Reed’s views are shared by a range of historians, but he is deploying them by using an art form, theater, that only sets up unflattering comparisons to Mr. Miranda’s work — at least judged purely in terms of form rather than content.

In the play, Lin-Manuel (Jesse Bueno), his senses possibly altered by Ambien, is visited by the kind of people left out of “Hamilton”: slaves, Native Americans, Harriet Tubman (Roz Fox). As if in a cross between “A Christmas Carol” and a trial at The Hague’s International Criminal Court, each of the witnesses lectures Miranda on the reality behind the audience-friendly Broadway razzmatazz. Mr. Bueno spends a large part of the show looking befuddled as his character is being schooled.

Read the full article here.

Alyssa Milano: Why the time is now for a #SexStrike

Photo: Alyssa Milano |

Photo: Alyssa Milano |

Calling for a sex strike as a way to protest restrictions on abortion has sparked a powerful response. Sure, it's been a mixed reaction, but it got the country talking about the GOP's undeniable war on women. And let's face it, with so much going on every day in the news, sometimes we need an extreme response to get national attention.

So now that we have your attention: Our reproductive rights are blatantly and systematically being stripped away before our very eyes. Abortion care is a normal and at times necessary medical procedure, but anti-choice activists have strategically chipped away at abortion rights and access for decades, with the hopes of overturning Roe v. Wade.

The attempts to treat women as second-class citizens have become increasingly brazen, and just last week Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the "heartbeat bill," which bans most abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The bill also allows a fetus to be counted in the census, and can be claimed as a dependent minor on income taxes.

Georgia is the fourth state to pass a six-week ban this year, and is one of 16 states working to pass such legislation. None of these bans have yet to take effect, and while they will be challenged in court, they are part of an alarming trend.

Read the full article here.

I Suppose by Serena Castillo

Suppose I stayed with this guy?

Maybe I would have a nice house and a fancy car

I wouldn’t have to work

I wouldn’t have to stress about unnecessary habits

and school

Suppose we didn’t break up?

I would be graduating by now

We would have been living together

It would have been six year in November

I don’t regret him

I don’t regret leaving

Suppose I never met him?

Would he have been my Prince Charming; would I have still been his princess?

There wouldn’t be heartbreak

Suppose I wasn’t stressed?

There wouldn’t be any more pain

Suppose I never got the chance to smell the Caribbean blends?

The chicken foot soup

The curry goat

The rice and peas

Suppose I never got the chance to hate someone the way I hated you?

If I hadn’t banged my hands on the dash board

Broke a few necklaces

Kicked my feet against the car window

Suppose I never got the chance to meet you?

Your short dreads at the time

Your smile

That jumpy pep in your step

Suppose I never got the chance to love you?

Gave you hugs in bed at night

Shared my headache

Showed you the true me

For you to give me a great beginning to a wonderful ending.

Suppose I had grey hair?

My eyes low


Sleepless nights

Missing you

Suppose I had only four fingers?

If the bursts of smoke flies from my mouth aren’t stressful enough

Suppose I didn’t have three children?

The sun filled joyous summers

Red, blue, purple, pinks all surrounding on my kitchen table

The fast breeze of the trees, flying past the windows

Suppose I never met you?

Where would life have taken me?

Your soft touch when you hug me

Your soft kiss

Your sweet lips.

The Art You Should See At The 58th Venice Biennial

May You Live In Interesting Times,’ is the theme and title for the 2019 Art Exhibit of the Venice Biennial. Undoubtably the hot topics of our era are expressed through diversified creative mediums, from sustainability and climate change, to growing disparity of wealth and gender inequality, from virtual reality and social media, to politics and resurgence of nationalist agendas. As the President of La Biennale di Venezia, Paolo Baratta said, “This title evokes the idea of challenging or even ‘menacing’ times, but it could also be an invitation to always see and consider the course of human events in their complexity.

The beauty of this 58th edition is that the artwork on display, besides being aesthetically spectacular, challenges viewers to  look beyond conformism and avoid oversimplifying attitudes. In times of great change, where certain political stances threat of bringing back civilization to a less democratic and multicultural world, it is vital to turn our eyes on art, that denounces the failures of humanity and tries to persuade it to embrace a brotherhood of man.

As curator Ralph Rugoff explained: “The proverb ‘May You Live In Interesting Times’ was first mentioned in a March 1936 article in The Yorkshire Post, reporting on a speech made to the Birmingham Unionist Association by the British MP Sir Austen Chamberlain, who addressed the serious threat to Europe’s collective security posed by the move earlier that month of German troops into the Rhineland. To underscore the drama of the situation, he invoked an ancient Chinese curse. But it turns out that there never was such a curse in China and was presumably fabricated by a British diplomat. This kind of uncertain artifact suggests potential lines of exploration that seem worth pursuing at present, especially at a moment when the digital dissemination of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ is corroding public discourse and the trust on which it depends. For an exhibition that in part at least, considers how art functions in an era of lies, it struck me as an apt title. At the same time, it is my hope that art can give us tools to reimagine the possibilities of these ‘interesting times’ in which we live today, and so transform this phrase from a curse into a challenge that we an enthusiastically embrace.

The exhibition opened to the public on May 11 and will run until November 24, set in the habitual venues of Arsenale and Giardini. Ralph Rugoff underlined the desire to enhance a split format betwixt these two exhibiting spaces, to epitomize the title of this edition. He said: “‘May You Live In Interesting Times’ is intended to evoke the parallel information landscapes that define our increasingly polarized public discourse. This phenomenon is exemplified by the term ‘alternative facts,’ first used by Counsellor to the US President Kellyanne Conway in defense of the Trump’s administration’s bogus claims about the size of the audience for President Trump’s inauguration. More and more public communication is divided into smaller and smaller bandwidths, with special interest groups largely talking only to themselves and reinforcing heir boxed-in perspectives. In this ‘post-truth’ era does art’s capacity to question established ideas and attitudes appear in a different light?

Ralph Rugoff has termed the Arsenale section of his Venice Biennale exhibition “Proposition A,” while in the Giardini’s Central Pavilion is “Proposition B,” and it includes the same artists, who in most cases are showing different kinds of work. This is the first time the Biennale has an exhibition that allows artists to express themselves at a double level. I personally favored some of Proposition A’s creations, but truly enjoyed finding those same artists expressing themselves in a different manner with Proposition B.

Here is the artwork that fully embraces problematic histories and social situations, that you should not miss.


Shilpa Gupta from India
Shila Gupta’s sound installation ‘For, in your tongue, I cannot fit,’ addresses the violence of censorship through a symphony of recorded voices which speak or sing the verses of 100 imprisoned for their work or political positions, from the 7th century to the present day. The title is inspired by the work of the 14th century Azerbaijani poet imavddin Nasimi. In the dimly lit room, a grid of 100 microphones suspended from the ceiling are reverse-wired to function as speakers. The recitations in multiple languages (including Arabic, Azeri, English, Hindi and Russian) create a soundscape that might, in turn, include and exclude the listener, depending on which languages they understand. Each microphone has its corresponding verse printed on paper, waiting to be read by one and then echoed by a chorus of disembodied verses.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu from China
Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s installations often involve the staging of visceral, intimidating spectacles. ‘Dear,’ presents a white silicon chair behind a Plexiglas barrier, loosely based on the imperial Roman chair featured as a component of the statue in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. In Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s installation, the chair is kept company by a rubber hose that violently whips around the surrounding space in response blast-off highly pressurized air. In between these periodic eruptions of violence, the chair sits inert again, almost invitingly serene, until the assault recommences.

Photo Credit: Sun Yuan and Peng Yu from China

Photo Credit: Sun Yuan and Peng Yu from China

Otobong Nkanga from Nigeria
Otobong Nkanga has described landscape as body, which nourishes and provides, but which is plundered, scarred and poisoned. In ‘Veins Aligned,’ the vein in question is almost 26 meters long, formed of fleshy toned glass and marble, that recalls both a long hand-drawn line and a river, with the clouds coursing through the marble suggesting chemical pollution. Beyond the colonial and post-colonial exploitation of natural resources, Nkanga also finds in mining a metaphor for exploration into the great, cyclical sweep of time.

Photo Credit: Otobong Nkanga from Nigeria

Photo Credit: Otobong Nkanga from Nigeria

Cameron Jamie from USA
The folk tradition of the Perchten — an Alpine winter character associated with the Krampus — is the inspiration for the installation ‘Smiling Disease.’ These grotesquely grinning carved wooden masks reference the collections of tribal artifacts that were popular among surrealist artists in the early 20th century, thought to reflect contemporary ideas about the subconscious and the universal significance of dreams. This installation is similarly both frightening, humorous, and macabre.

Michael Armitage from Kenya
Michael Armitage’s series of paintings are the outcome of when he joined a group of photojournalists documenting the political rallies that led up to the Kenya general election. During these events, the artist witnessed staged campaigns of political agitation that incorporated carnivalesque elements and a circus-like atmosphere. In his artwork, he conjures the strange chaos and urgency of these events. Drawing from original footage and documentary images, magnifying issues of inequality and political uncertainty.

Liu Wei from China
Liu Wei’s recent large scale installation ‘Microworld’ evokes the formality and splendor of modernist stage sets, filled with geometric shapes. The artist has fashioned an assortment of outsized curved forms and spheres out of highly-polished aluminum plates — intended to invoke magnified and glossy versions of molecules, elements, protons and other microscopic particles. Liu Wei’s fictionalized portrait of the microscopic sphere, dwarfs the spectator, whose sense of awe-inspired distance is emphasized by the fact that we cannot enter the space, only view it through a giant window, as if looking at an exhibition in an oversized museum vitrine.

Alexandra Bircken from Germany
Alexandra Bircken’s practice is built around the human form. Her installation ‘Eskalation’ presents a dystopian view of what the end of humanity might look like. Forty figures, made from calico dipped in black latex, are suspended from ladders that extend to the ceiling. The work revolves around a sheer verticality, as the figures ascend to the top, arriving at obstacles and falling. This invokes an upward struggle between polarities: heaven and hell, success and failure, hope and despair.

Tarek Atoui from Lebanon
Bridging music and contemporary art, Tarek Atoui’s practice expands notions of listening through participatory and collaborative sound performances. He conceives and coordinates complex environments to cultivate sound, and through installations, performances and collaborations, breaks down expectations both for performer and audience. Combining visual, tactile and aural modes of perceiving sound, ‘The Ground’ is the result of Atoui’s travels in China’s Pearl River Delta, when he recorded his observations of contemporary and traditional agricultural, architectural and musical practices from the region. He later asked craftsmen and instrument-makers to respond to his notes and drawings. The resulting instruments were set up by Atoui to play separately and autonomously at exhibitions, where various artists and musicians are invited to respond to the forms and sounds of the works.

Photo Credit: Tarek Atoui from Lebanon

Photo Credit: Tarek Atoui from Lebanon

Lorenzo Quinn from Italy Hands
Building Bridges’ is contemporary Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn’s most ambitious project to date. Six pairs of monumental hands bridge the basin of the Arsenale as both symbol of our commonality and an expression of human aspiration. The project depicts six of humanity’s universal values — ‘Friendship,’ ‘Faith,’ ‘Help,’ ‘Love,’ ‘Hope,’ and ‘Wisdom’ — each symbolized by human hands coming together to overcome differences and build a better world. Famous as city of connection through its canals and crossings, as historic base of international trade, and ongoing hub of artistic exchange — Venice, a World Heritage Site with visitors from all over the globe, is an ideal place to spread a message of unity connecting societies, nations, communities and individuals through building bridges, not walls.

Photo Credit: Lorenzo Quinn from Italy Hands

Photo Credit: Lorenzo Quinn from Italy Hands

Vasily Klyukin from Russia
At Arsenale Nord, you will find ‘In Dante Veritas’ an exhibition by Russian sculptor Vasily Klyukin who makes a parallelism between the Italian poet’s Inferno and the distortions of our time, through diversified mediums that are harrowing and aesthetically beguiling at the same time.

CHILE Pavilion — with a special attention to The Hegemony Museum
The project by Voluspa Jarpa for the Chilean pavilion, is a conservation space that presents different case-studies of Eurocentric and colonial worldview from the 17th to the 20th Century. Her Museum presents this hegemony in six case studies of the European male, white, heterosexual, patriarchal, monarchial, culturally and economically “superior” and present in the very concepts with which the colonies were coined and conceived. European ways of doing, looking and analyzing are submitted to the public for study, in order to understand how the hegemonic psyche developed a whole series of complex mechanisms of oppression that emerged in concepts like race and miscegenation, subaltern male subjects, cannibalism, imperialism, gender conceptions, civilization and barbarism, and the conflictive relations between monarchy and republic.

GHANA Pavilion
The elliptically-shaped interlocking design of the pavilion by Sir David Adjaye, creates trajectories both across time and place, through the mesmerizing exhibit ‘Ghana Freedom’ curated by Accra-based Nana Oforiatta Ayim. The inspiration came from the wordsGhana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, proclaimed in 1957: “At long last, the battle has ended! And thus Ghana, your beloved country if free forever!” Nkrumah described this freedom as a reshaping of the country’s destiny, as an awakening, and as the birth of a ‘new African in the world.’ He linked Ghana’s independence with the rest of Africa’s, stating that is was meaningless without the liberation of the whole continent. As the first sub-saharan country to gain its independence from colonial rule, Ghana became a touchstone for many others from the continent and its diasporas. And yet, the country’s boundaries like so many others had been drawn by colonial hands, and its new freedom was predicated on the denigration of the cultural and spiritual foundations of the groups that now made up Ghana. The ensuing years saw a struggle to reshape, as Nkrumah had foreseen, not just political, but also cultural, social, and economic realities. For the first foray to the Biennale di Venezia, this country brought together artists whose individual works speak to each other in pluralities of medium and narrative and scope, as well as across generations through archives of everyday objects in large-scale installations by El Anatsui and Ibrahim Mahama; through representation and portraiture, both in the studio work of Ghana’s first known female photographer Felicia Abban and imagined by painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye; and through the relativities of loss and restitution in a 3-channel film by JohnAkomfrah and in a film sculpture by Seals Awusi Sosu.

Photo Credit: GHANA Pavilion

Photo Credit: GHANA Pavilion

INDIA Pavilion
In the ambient shades of sandstone and brick of building material and of the land, viewers encounter clusters of padukas (wooden slippers), cane armor and headgear, earthen pots and shards, painted posters/frieze, words dematerializing in a curtain of mist and wooden cabinets with objects and photographs, all transacting artistic responses to the exhibition’s theme ‘Our Time for a Future Caring,’ conceptualized under the broader thematic of 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi. Emphasizing the austerity of materials and the diversity of forms envisioned in simplicity and silence, the exhibition takes the viewer through eight artistic projects, conceptually mediating and translating the Pavilion as a sarai, a place of rest, inviting one to pause and ponder with each instance, separate yet linked, intersecting at various levels. The India Pavilion — curated by Roobina Karode — symbolically is a fragment of the pavilion put together at Haripura in Gujarat, envisioned by Gandhi and realized by Nandalal Bose. His Haripura Posters (1937), easily perceived as the first public art project in India aimed at cultural and artistic awareness through a direct engagement. MF Husain’s seminal painting depicting Zamin/Zameen celebrated the village republic, upholding its indigenous crafts. Taking further cue from Atul Dodiya and Ashim Purkayastha, a conceptual artist, the Pavilion creates intimate affinities as well as conflict, between fragment and the whole, individual and the multitude. The works of Shakuntala Kulkarni, Rummana Hussain, GR Iranna and Jitisch Kallat push on to interrogate one’s way of being and capacity to act in the world. The curatorial intention is implicated in the belief that Gandhi’s presence is far from being fixed in time and space and has its relevance in the everyday paradoxical charge of contemporary India. His propositions of passive resistance, peaceful protests, minimal consumption and ecological concerns continue to resonate.

Photo Credit: INDIA Pavilion

Photo Credit: INDIA Pavilion


VENICE Pavilion
A group of seven international artists with strong creative ties to the Italian art scene were elected to represent the city itself in the Venice Pavilion: Mirko Borsche, Lorenzo Dante Ferro, Sidival Fila, Ferzan Ozpetek, Plastique Fantastique, Fabio Viale, Giorgos Koumentakis. Curated by Giovanna Zabotti in collaboration with directors Alessandro Gallo and Stelios Kois, the Pavillion this year has ever more a choral nature, through works that are fruit of individual experience, that represent a collective vision. The name of the exhibit ‘Corpo Reale’ (Real Body) has the aim to utilize Bodies in Alliance to represent how equality among individuals is not only spoken or written but is performed precisely when bodies appear together in space. The concept of the exhibition is inspired by the urban fabric of the city, exploring its history and mythology, the plethora of narratives that weave into it, they perceive it as a multitude of inter-connected spaces and ecosystems that share a non-linear continuity.

RUSSIA Pavilion
The exhibition’s title ‘Lc. 15: 11-32,’ references both the bible chapters of The Parable of the Prodigal Son within the Gospel of Luke and Rembrandt’s painting of this subject, which has become a central masterpiece at The Hermitage Museum. Since 1848 ten Atlantes have welcomed visitors to the New Hermitage, exact replicas of which can be seen in the first room. The granite figures themselves have over time become a shrine in their own right, with pilgrims from all over the world coming to worshipers at their feet. Rembrandt’’s The Return of the Prodigal Son is the main theme of the installation by the celebrated film director Alexander Sokurov. It simultaneously represents one of the halls of the Hermitage and an artist’s studio with video installations showcasing the turmoil of war that lies beyond its walls. The inner staircase send us down the world of the Flemish School brought to life by artist Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai, which is dedicated to the intricate mechanisms in the Winter Palace such as the famous Peacock Clock. His signature plywood sculptures of cut out human figures move on mechanical constructions to create a theatrical mise-en-scène, blurring the boundary between reality and imagination.

AUSTRIA Pavilion
Discordo Ergo Sum’ (I dissent, therefore I am) is the title of Austrian artist Renate Bertlmann’s site specific installation for the Austrian pavilion. In this rephrasing of the philosophical principle Cogito Ergo Sum (I think, therefore I am), the artist attempts to cancel out the supremacy of reason and to describe herself within her insurgent worldview. With a further modification of this principle, the phrase Amo Ergo Sum (I love, therefore I am), Renate Bertlmann ironically signs the pavilion’s architecture. An installation of knife-roses in the courtyard, allows us to sensuously experience the dichotomy of our existence. Between this foundational movement in the exterior space and the pavilion courtyard, the exhibition space gives way to a cartographic view of Renate Bertlmann’s artistic practice, with a selection of her aesthetic and conceptual aspects exemplifies her multilayered oeuvre since the 1970s. The presentation of wall charts, sketches, photos, filmstrips, and drawing in a box inserted to fit into the pavilion creates contemplative zone where visitors immerse themselves in her artistic self-understanding.

ISRAEL Pavilion
Field Hospital X (FHX) is a new project by artist Aya Ben Ron. It is a mobile, international institution, an organization that is committed to researching that way art can react and act in the face of social ills. Learning from the structure and practice of hospitals, health maintenance organization and healing resorts, FHX provides a space in which silenced voices can be heard and social injustices can be seen. When visitors enter Field Hospital X they take a queue number. While waiting at the Reception Area, they watch the FHX TV Program and read the FHX Booklet to receive information about the hospital’s ideology, its Care-Ares and Care-Kits. Once their number is called, they go to the reception desk, choose a Rick-Wristband and continue to the Care-Areas. Visitors first go to Safe-Units, where they can learn through sound instructions how to produce a Self-Contained Shout. They are then guided to Care-Chairs, that are designated to affect the visitors’ physiological and emotional conditions, to generate attentive listening. Each Care-Chair consists of a personal screen and headphones for personal viewing of FHX Care-Kits. The video is preceded by an introduction and followed by two Second-Opinions by FHX experts. The pavilion tackles Anti-Transgender Violence: one of the main problems experienced by people who are going through gender transition is embedded in the social insistence on the gender binary.


By Greg Moglia

I got lost in Venice once

In the labyrinth of sides and sides of streets

With shop after shop that sells

Those little carnival dolls

Black circles about the eyes

No canals to be seen

A sense of death ready to slip out

of any of the tiny shops

grab me by the neck, pull me down

Say to me Did I need this walk?

In a sweat I turn this way and that

Still lost, but then up this lane and there

The cafes, the music - safe

Freed into the everyday - Venice for the visitor

Yet travel into the back streets

Where day light turns to dark,

something digs at me…something about dying

To be lost without trying…without choice

The 58th Venice Biennale "May You Live in Interesting Times"

Running: May 11 - November 24. 2019
Part One
By Lee Klein

Photo Credit: (Biennale Arte 2019 | 58th Exhibition)

Photo Credit: (Biennale Arte 2019 | 58th Exhibition)

Oscar Wilde, never did declare, that he had nothing to declare, but, his genius which is not to say he had nothing to declare...

It is fake news; alternative facts all over again, given a different name in a different context from satire or a byline owner attempting to proprietize a zinger from another word slinger. Therein when Ralph Rugoff the curator of the 58th Venice Biennale selected for his phrase of departure "may you live in interesting times", an ancient Chinese proverb which it turns was not an ancient Sino saying at all, he went straight into alternative practices, mirroring alternative facts, with one set of work by each main exhibition Biennale artist in each of the two main pavilions respectively; the Arsenale, and the Giardini.

This all sounded superb to this future viewer of the exhibition while watching the press conference on youtube while on an exercise bike at the New York Sports Club elite gym on East 23rd street after going on a thrift shop safari run and acquiring super size blue linen Ralph Lauren polo pants to be worn in Venezia.  Once onsite it just seemed like a neat way to repackage curation and offer an avenue to see a more in depth selection of each artist's works . .i.e. less artists more pieces per practitioner then in the exhibitions which immediately preceded this one....

Having been (being) an obsessive-compulsive wikipedian it goes that a few of the artists in the survey 's English online encyclopedia pages are ones which I created.  This gave this person onus to stay and watch Alex Da Corte's 57 varieties (title and numerical count taken from Heinz by an artist obsessed with Ketchup who did time in the Ketchup city of Pittsburgh and who doesn't love someone who loves ketchup look at me I am playing ketchup all the time) series of video vignettes.   Rugoff has described this piece as monumental (think perhaps in a manner ala Christian Marclay's "Clock" which turned back time at the 2011 Biennale or "66 Scenes from America" by Jorgen Leth which is very close to Da Corte's artistic heart as for it is from whence Warhol's Burger King Super Bowl ad came and you guessed it in which he is playing ketchup). This work includes, among other episides, Elphaba the wicked witch of the West joining a silent Oscar the grouch on screen to croon blue over you and a reclining daisy self plucking ...

But a Mexican artist brought a wall; Teresa Margolies in the Giardini pavilion implanted a found object taken from a school in the city of Juarez where four young women died in drug related gun violence.  This can be read as a reminder (as is the character based on Joseph Beuys in the stellar German film "Never Look Away" talking of the Berlin Wall and how it is [was] almost art) that it is a symbol of today which we cannot avoid. In the meantime the artist Laure Provost within her work "The Deep Blue Sea Surrounding You"  announced in her movie in the super popular French pavilion "welcome immigrants" while looking down and talking to tidal fish.

David Hammons at Hauser & Wirth

It’s been done before
This could be u

By Sola Saar

What is your authentic reaction to an art piece? What is your first impression, before reading what others have told you the work is about? The press release for David Hammons’ “Harmolodic Thinker,” a squiggly line drawing evocative of a composer’s hand motions, equally places the casual viewer, the art critic, and the student on the same plane to draw their own conclusions. It forgoes the theoretical context, the gallery’s interpretations, the artist’s educational background, the list of museums that have shown the artist’s work to lend credibility and give the art critic words to regurgitate, markers into which David Hammons, one of the nation’s top 10 selling artists, could easily play. At a certain point, don’t all press releases proffer the same format, check the same boxes of art world success? If stripped down to their main function, they feed the art market, not the artist.

David Hammons has not had a solo show in Los Angeles for 45 years, has eschewed large commercial galleries and who has long criticized the white, profit-driven art world, dedicated “Harmolodic Thinker” to the late Ornette Coleman, a jazz musician known for his spontaneity. Hauser and Wirth, a gallery with locations all over the world, would seem a surprising place for Hammons to make these kinds of statements, however the gallery’s location in the downtown arts district lends context. Hammons created a site-specific work: an encampment of tents with stenciled messages such as “this could be u” directly addressing the LA homeless crisis most visible near the rapidly gentrifying downtown arts district. Like his previous site-specific work, “Six Sites in Alexandria” in Egypt, Hammons continues to invites the viewer to deconstruct the boundaries between designated art spaces and the real world. Noticeably absent from the two gallery spaces were traditional artwork labels. Categories such as the year the piece was created, artistic medium, or a short blurb about the work, are forgone, forcing the viewer to more directly and viscerally form their own response to the work sans context.

David Hammons
Mixed media
Dimensions variable
© David Hammons
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Genevieve Hanson

Instead open-ended phrases were handwritten on the wall in the place of titles such as “It’s been done before,” “this reminds me of…” parodying trite phrases people throw out when evaluating art and also giving new meaning to them when placed next to David Hammons’ work.

Hammons’ tarp series dominated the bulk of the two gallery spaces and underscored the exhibition’s theme of art world criticism. Initially he painted abstract expression paintings in the likes of William de Kooning, whose work is of high value in the art market, and cloaked tarpaulin, brown paper, patchwork fabrics, and clear plastic wrap over the paintings. The covering materials are reminiscent of freight shipping materials, yet draped over the paintings like Grecian robes, allowing only slips of the paintings to show through. Often placed on the floor, they are intentionally presented as though the exhibition hanging is in process, questioning the authority of curation and “finished” presentation in these spaces.

By including artworks by artists as versatile as Miles Davis, William de Kooning, and Agnes Martin, the exhibition challenges notions of authorship and authority in art. An expansive exquisite corpse created in collaboration with poet Ted Joans, includes contributions from artists, writers, musicians, and intellectuals from around the world, including William Burroughs, Ishmael Reed, and Paul Bowles. The exquisite corpse, a game invented by the surrealists in which each person adds to a drawing to create a collaborative work, underlies a desire for communal rather than ego-driven art.

David Hammons
Mixed media
© David Hammons
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Genevieve Hanson

“Harmolodic Thinker” is also a dialogue with Ornette Coleman, the free jazz musician and composer who passed away in 2015. Coleman’s jazz philosophies were somewhat unorthodox but influential, especially to David Hammons. The essay on Ornette Coleman from Hauser and Wirth states:

“‘Follow the idea, not the sound.’ This statement by Ornette Coleman is an inspiration for David Hammons who reflects, ‘I was impressed with that. Follow how my ideas are put together, as opposed to whether the rainbow appears or the rain comes. I use this logic a lot. It moves in the realm of poetry as opposed to the actuality that people are used to or expect.’”[1]

With this sentiment, Hammons’ work is best taken in without the expectation of a finite conclusion of what the work is meant to convey, as with jazz or poetry, his is an art form intended to open up new modes of thinking rather than express an ideology. Throughout his decades-long career, Hammons has made art out of the ephemeral— selling snowballs on the street, or urinating on Richard Serra’s work. While neither of these concepts could be replicated at Hauser and Wirth, a single bowl of water in the place of a melted snowball with a note from an art collector who declined purchasing one of Hammons’ snowballs on the basis of it being too expensive to maintain, implies a larger problem in the art world— that it is preoccupied with the idea that art is ultimately a commodifiable object.

David Hammons
Orange is the new black
Mixed media
139.7 x 40.6 x 30.5 cm / 55 x 16 x 12 in
© David Hammons
Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Photo: Genevieve Hanson

Speaking about his installation in Alexandria, Egypt, Hammons wrote in Artforum, “I was more interested in shifting the idea of how artists think about producing art. Artists are often more interested in the act itself. I choose artworks that are ephemeral because, well, life is that. It’s such a temporary journey.”[1]

With this idea I wonder why with visual art and prose, the intent is always a finished unchanging product, whereas with poetry or music, the creation process is inherently ephemeral, open to change, and performative. As opposed to performance, a gallery space has historically been a one-way interaction between a viewer and object, but “Harmolodic Thinker” encourages the visitor to transcend beyond these distinctions by doing the work for themselves, forming a meaning not based on what art experts would want you to think, but by inciting a response you might not know existed and giving you permission to access those feelings as you would in daily experience.

For Miss Shirley LeFlore

For Miss Shirley LeFlore
(March 6, 1940-May 12, 2019)

By Kevin Powell

I want to say
thank you
Miss Shirley LeFlore
for being a supernatural word 
warrior who 
allowed your poet laureate tongue
to be baked and bronzed by
the smoke-y laughter of
sister-girl hair salons
and the ham-hocked hallelujahs
of ancient Black churches with
Black Jesus in their ancestral bones
just means you
done seen some things 
that you knew
as a little Black girl
resurrected there in the gumbo pot
of African soul they
baptized Saint Louis
that you were born
to witness 
the weary blues
of a people
who made high ways
from no ways
just means
you is fearless
Miss Shirley
you is mad cool
Miss Shirley
you is forever
Miss Shirley
like the sugary taste
of a ripened watermelon
busted open
the way 
your poetry
busted open
your womanhood and your Blackness
and your purple majesty
as the queen 
you were ordained to be
the way 
your momma and your grandmommas
were queens
the way
your daughters
are queens
the way
Black girl magic
is Miss Shirley LeFlore
swinging and bebopping
from World War 2
through the soul struts of Vietnam
and Civil Rights
to the boom baps of hip-hop
and orange monsters in the 
White House with crooked eyes
yes, the way
Ella Fitzgerald
Gwendolyn Brooks
Billie Holiday
Nina Simone
The wash lady
The numbers runner
and the school teacher were magical
‘cuz magicians dare, Miss Shirley
like you dared
you made a march to Washington
you made a commitment to poor people
and the arts and the telling of
like it is
because you dared to believe
that art was for the people
all people
your people
your beautiful lightredbeigebrownchocolatedarkblack
“I am the Black woman”
you said, Miss Shirley
and the people’s church said a-women a-men ashe
go on with your bad self, Miss Shirley LeFlore
teach us how poetry is 
Buddy Bolden cutting a rug
with the blues of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey
while Miles Davis and John Coltrane
blow segregated nightmares into the wind
move us, Miss Shirley
from Saint Louis to New York and back again
embrace the young poets of my generation and the young
poets of today’s generation like they are your equals
make me feel like you are one of my mommas
you Audre Lorde Sonia Sanchez Nikki Giovanni
Mari Evans Amina Baraka Camille Yarbrough Maryemma Graham
sister-girls who survived 
sick and tired of being sick and tired
to become, like that God they call her,
sacred healing women 
keepers of our culture
protectors of our sanity
believers in the spiritual voodoo 
we call freedom songs
Miss Shirley LeFlore is not
good enough for you any longer
you are now dancing with the ancestors
cool jerking and twisting your woman-child
around the sweaty nostrils of the sun
and you are now Saint Shirley
Shirley, yes, same name of my birth momma
you are
you are
you are
you are
Unapologetically free
a caregiver and a caretaker to the very end
I cried Saint Shirley when I was told
you left us
on Mother’s Day
but then I smiled
because Black women
like you
are the mothers
of this nation
are the mothers
of this universe
if there were no you
there would be no us
none of us
so take your bow
and your grand exit, Saint Shirley
I see you with your pressed and creased angel wings 
hovering over
Saint Louis
hovering over
hovering over
our sobbing hearts
reminding us
to kiss laughter daily
reminding us
that when we channel
rivers of women
we must drink slowly
from their eyes
we must swallow the juice from their tears
so that we can be
as you 
Saint Shirley
always were—

© Kevin Powell 2019

Kevin Powell is a poet, essayist, blogger, filmmaker, journalist, activist, public speaker, and author of 13 books, including his autobiography, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood