Joe Overstreet, Purposeful Painter Who Made Space for Artists of Color, Is Dead at 85

Overstreet. Courtesy Eric Firestone Gallery |

Overstreet. Courtesy Eric Firestone Gallery |

“My paintings don’t let the onlooker glance over them, but rather take them deeply into them and let them out—many times by differ­ent routes,” artist Joe Overstreet once said, describing viewing experiences that can be variously harrowing and exhilarating. “These trips are taken sometimes subtly and sometimes suddenly.”

Over the course of a six-decade career that cut across artistic movements and unflinchingly addressed issues of racism and inequality, Overstreet established himself not only as one of the signal painters of postwar American art, but also as a vital organizer. As an African-American man working in a cultural sphere that has long marginalized non-white artists, he helped create exhibiting opportunities for numerous artists of diverse backgrounds at Kenkeleba House, the arts space he cofounded in Manhattan’s East Village in 1974.

Overstreet’s death on Tuesday night in New York at the age of 85, which was confirmed by Eric Firestone Gallery, his representative in New York, marks the end of a trailblazing life, and it comes amid renewed interest—both scholarly and commercial—in the artist’s relentlessly innovative work, resulting from museum exhibitions focused on the work of African-American artists and other artists of color.

Because Overstreet worked in a wide variety of modes, his art resists any simple summation. But he is best known for his incisive political works of the 1960s and his “Flight Patterns,” the gloriously colorful abstract pieces—inspired by Tantric drawings and Navajo sand painting—that he began making in 1970 on shaped canvases that he attached to walls, floors, and ceilings by running ropes through holes at their edges so that they appear to be floating or flying.

“I was making nomadic art, and I could roll it up and travel,” Overstreet said of those stretcher-free works. “We had survived with our art by rolling it up and moving it all over. I felt like a nomad myself, with all the insensitivity in America.”

Joe Wesley Overstreet was born in 1933 in the small town of Conehatta, Mississippi, about 60 miles east of Jackson, and wanted to be a painter from an early age. Speaking with an interviewer a few years ago, Overstreet noted that he was then 78—and quickly added, “I’ve been trying to be a painter for probably 70 of those 78 years.” He credited his rural upbringing with shaping the direction of his work. “Because I had experienced beauty and freedom in nature, I could recognize it in art,” he told Barry Schwabsky in a 1996 profile in the New York Times, and in some of his work, he drew on Choctaw iconography that he first saw growing up.

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Harmolodic Ingenuity: David Hammons Marks an Immersive Return to Los Angeles at Hauser & Wirth

By George Melrod

David Hammons does things on his own terms. Even for an artist, he’s made a trademark of elusiveness. He doesn’t show up at his openings. Not that he has a surfeit of them: by now, any exhibition by Hammons is a significant event. But a show in Los Angeles is a once-in-45-years happening. Hammons, who was born in Springfield, Illinois, and spent much of his career in New York (and who is a longtime friend of this publication), lived in Los Angeles for a crucial decade at the outset of his artistic career, starting in 1963 when he was 20. So you know the place has got to hold a special resonance for him. In his new exhibition in Los Angeles, at Hauser & Wirth Gallery (running May 18 – August 10), Hammons returns triumphantly to his old stomping grounds with a cornucopia of works both recent and historic. As one might guess, he makes his West Coast re-entry with his well-known penchant for subversive conceptualism, racial identity, sociological critique, and material mischief firmly intact.

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019  Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019

Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

For someone who has always had a kind of disdain for the art world – “The art audience is the worst audience in the world,” he once stated, in an interview with Kellie Jones. “It’s overly educated, it’s conservative, it’s put to criticism, not to understand and it never has any fun! Why should I spend my time playing to that audience? That’s like going into a lion’s den…” – and who wields his identity politics like a razor, the fact is, Hammons manages to bring an awful lot of joy to his art-making. Despite his affinity for Duchamp and Arte Povera, his works draw not from the thin recycled ether of art history but, emphatically, from the real world around him, from its textures and materiality, its issues and its emblems. His ready-made materials have famously included the detritus of African-American life, from bottles of Thunderbird to snippets of hair culled from African-American barber shops. He draws meaning from the lone quixotic gesture and loaded allegorical icon. To trot out another telltale Hammons quote, “outrageously magical things happen when you mess around with a symbol.” Which is to say, although he may act like a cool cat, he’s always been playing with fire. But he’s clearly playing, too.

And despite the numerous ironies, that stance clearly works for him. Remarkably, he’s not attached to any one gallery. In 2016, he had a five-decade retrospective at Mnuchin Gallery, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. During the show’s run, a stone “head” bedecked with neatly cropped black hair was pulled for auction at Christie’s, where it sold for over $1 million. That number still pales next to the record high of his glass crystal basketball hoop adorned with chandeliers, which sold for $8 million in 2013, putting him among the top ten priciest living American artists. That’s quite a journey for a dogged iconoclast who has embraced not just distressed found materials but the iconography of civil rights and Black identity, and earlier in his career sold snowballs and doll’s shoes on the sidewalk to engage with random passers-by.

Despite his claim “I never, ever liked art, ever,” the Los Angeles art scene of the ‘60s must have been invigorating for Hammons. From 1966-68, he studied at the Chouinard Art Institute (later to become CalArts), where he first experimented doing body prints, using greased margarine; from 1968-72 he took classes at Otis, and studied with Charles White (whose own knock-out retrospective exhibition is currently on view at LACMA). While in LA, he forged relationships with artists such as sculptors Senga Nengudi and Betye Saar, with whom he shares various totemic and appropriative impulses (who will be subject of her own solo MOMA show this fall), and Noah Purifoy (subject of a wonderful 2015 retrospective at LACMA titled “Junk Dada”), an influential artist and organizer, and co-founder of the Watts Towers Art Center.

In 1971, Hammons showed his body prints at the Brockman Gallery in Leimert Park, and was featured in a three-person show at LACMA organized by the museum’s Black Arts Council, alongside Charles White and Timothy Washington. By then, Hammons was already employing forceful symbolic imagery, in one work showing Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale bound and gagged, and framed by an American flag; in another, titled Spade, creating a visual pun of a racist epithet. Some of these early works can be seen in an exhibition now on view at The Broad Museum, not far from Hauser & Wirth in Downtown Los Angeles, “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.” Yet even after he moved to New York, he continued to visit Los Angeles, staging art events, sharing a studio with Nengudi. His last official show here was in 1974.

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019  Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019

Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

Sprawling over several large galleries and the building’s central courtyard, encompassing both new works and a smattering of greatest hits, Hammons’ new exhibition at Hauser & Wirth is considerably more massive than the delicate installation of hair and wire that he set out, like a row of cattails, along the edge of Venice Beach in 1977. The build-up to the show was at once secretive and highly anticipatory. Even the press release is enticingly evasive, just a one-page flow-chart of scribbled lines, like an abstracted musical score, with the text “This exhibition is dedicated to Ornette Coleman, Harmolodic Thinker,” an allusion to Coleman’s innovative philosophy of free jazz. Although Hammons has long admired (and emulated) the detached attitude and experimental rigor of jazz musicians, his dedication to Coleman is notable, as if to explain that it’s not the notes themselves, it’s the idea behind them. As part of the homage, the show features two outfits worn by Coleman, which stand amid the artworks in clear plastic tubes, exuding the lustrous presence of vintage royal robes. One is gold, the other, a lush teal, black and magenta grid, like a shimmering sartorial riff on Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie.

At the press opening for the sprawling exhibition, Hauser & Wirth partner and Vice President Marc Payot explained gleefully: “It’s very much his universe. The show is free-floating between recent pieces and historic. David... worked years to put this together,” he added. “It’s all him.” In an email exchange afterward, Payot described the process of working with the artist on the exhibition. “Hammons really is like a master jazz musician,” he observes. “He makes work that is incredibly precise, but also improvisational and always multi-layered. And that approach extends into how he addresses the space where his work appears. So it made total sense that he would be in command of the work on site, and place it as he saw fit, in real time. For us it was natural to have the artist work on site and determine which things would be presented, and how. Like Ornette Coleman, to whom David has dedicated his show, he’s a ‘harmolodic thinker.’”

So what exactly does the show contain? Quite a lot. Among the classic works are one of his signature stone heads, that is an oblong stone affixed with short black hair, along with photos documenting the African American barber giving it a haircut. There are several African masks, one with its protruding sculpted hair sanded down, displayed with the resulting sawdust (and a comb), another splashed with orange paint and titled, in a typical dark pun, Orange is the New Black. On the subject of puns and hair, there is a plush chaise lounge, bedecked with snippets of black hair, titled Hair Relaxer. One room offers a half dozen of Hammons’ repurposed fur coats, assembled as if in conference; the onetime status symbols (and animal pelts) are smeared with crude expressionist splotches of pink, lavender or yellow paint, or visibly charred; transformed from agents of one type of cultural value system to another. A looming, orange-painted mask hovers behind one of them, like a backpack or a pair of wings, or a menacing shadow.

On one wall is a set of photos documenting various historical works, among them a trio of battered fur coats splayed out on tree branches, a group of “toilet trees” in which he affixed Duchampian urinals to tree trunks, and a New York City subway gate that’s been adorned with condoms (titled, musically, Four Beats to the Bar). In one image, a pile of art books is stacked like a jack beneath a vandalized urban car that is missing its wheel. Just how useful is art history, he seems to ask. A similar concept animates one of the largest current installations in the show, a room of vividly arcane scales each set with a stack of art history books, on figures like Goya, Munch and Serra, as if to quantify the aesthetic knowledge and value contained within.

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019  Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019

Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

Particularly noteworthy, and amusing, is a shelf holding a bowl of water, ostensibly snowball residue from his famous 1983 action in which he sold snowballs to random pedestrians in New York’s Cooper Square; posted beside it, a letter from a collector to a gallerist politely declining the purchase of one of the snowballs. Nearby is an ice-cream freezer with copies of a book about the work. Set out among his own creations are works gathered by Hammons: paintings by de Kooning, Agnes Martin, Miles Davis (!), Ed Clark and Jack Whitten, the iconoclastic Black artist and painter who died in 2018. Set before the Whitten work is a dresser laid on its back, its mirror gazing skyward. There’s a game of exquisite corpse, with doodles from numerous artists. And don’t forget the giant chicken sculpture by Paa Joe, the celebrated Ghanaian coffin artist, a reliquary for chicken bones, roosting in the gallery’s outdoor garden, among actual chickens.

Filling the gallery’s courtyard is a colorful installation of tents, some of them stamped with the words, “This could be U and U.” Referencing the many homeless encampments which are now ubiquitous all across Los Angeles, it’s a stark reminder of the human misery we strive to ignore: talk about bringing the spirit of the street into the gallery. The tents spill down the gallery’s brick breezeway, past a coat rack of black-tie outfits, beneath a neon work by British artist Martin Creed that blithely proclaims: “Everything is going to be alright.” Spoiler alert: it’s not.

The show is best defined perhaps by his numerous ‘wrapped works’ – canvases which are often effusively colored, which have been obscured or wrapped so that one can only discern glimmers of the visions held within. They’re spread throughout the show in extraordinarily diverse variety. Upon encountering them, a viewer’s initial reaction is often frustration or puzzlement; but as the realization sets in that the ragged, banal or seemingly provisional coverings are in fact part of the work, one can appreciate them for what they are. Instead of frustrating the evocation of beauty, the tattered sheath merges with the hidden work and becomes the beauty. Some of these works are actually quite spectacular: in one a swath of vibrant lavender is revealed by a splintered hole, in another a pocked white tarp reveals glints of exquisite jewel colors. In one large piece, a field of dark Yves Klein blue is interrupted by a scuffed rubber walking mat. Some play a teasing game with silken swathes or diaphanous veils; in others, the tarps themselves conjure the bold graphics of abstracted flags. Devilishly, Hammons set one piece, inside a fractured shipping crate, along a courtyard wall, all but daring viewers to walk past it. More than just a conceptual one-liner, the works remain among the most challenging, and moving, of his oeuvre, in part because of the universality of their allegory, with their obstructed potential for exuberance and joy contained within. More than his other works, they both suggest but also potentially transcend issues of race. But, as usual with Hammons, he makes you work for it.

“My conclusion is that he is a genius, a true master of our time,” states Payot. “He is undeniably part of the trajectory of American art... He is a pivotal figure whose practice spans the 20th and 21st centuries as well as many of art’s movements, ‘isms,’ and cultural imperatives, and many important peers and younger artists cite him as a key influence. The market has come to reflect all of this, and we are glad to see that institutions and leading private collectors are embracing and reinforcing Hammons’ rightful place in the larger story of art.”

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019  Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

Installation view, “David Hammons,” Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2019

Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth; Photograph by George Melrod

And what exactly is that place? Setting aside issues of race and materiality, in which he is clearly a trailblazer, one could say he shares the poetic performative impulse of, say, Vito Acconci, the distrust of authority of Hans Haacke, the appropriative passion for real-world artifacts of Haim Steinbach. One can almost view him as a kind of anti-Koons: while Koons employs a shiny veneer to reflect back his own kitschy values at the viewer, Hammons elevates a loaded racial icon, or a withholding dingy surface, then challenges the viewer to appreciate and look past it. Adding to the challenge of defining Hammons is his own reluctance to dance with the prevailing authoritative institutions. His involvement with these mega-galleries has been mainly on his own terms. He hasn’t had a major museum retrospective; indeed, the story goes that he actively derailed a prestigious museum’s intended retrospective of his work.

Discussing Hammons’ elusiveness, Elena Filipovic, in her book “David Hammons: Bliz-aard Ball Sale,” writes: “Rather than anecdotes of one artist’s cagey behaviour, all of these accounts describe gestures that occupy the very core of Hammons’ practice. Arguably, these gestures are his practice. That practice is based not on the habitual art-world hope (and hype) for ultimate visibility and omnipresence, but the opposite: willful obfuscation at the risk of obscurity.”

Like Miles Davis, one of his icons, or the famously reclusive Garbo, Hammons’ withdrawal has only burnished his mystique. And yet, I must respectfully disagree with Hammons as to the art world audience. Perhaps it has evolved in the decades since he made his remark, or perhaps it’s because his own work has by now informed it, but I’d say the art world audience has caught up with him. They’re in on the game: his affluent collectors aside, many art-goers are not moneyed members of the 1% but woke cultural consumers eager for a challenge. Even without the aid of wall texts or an artist’s statement, the crowds I saw ambling through his current show seemed highly engaged: open both to the artist’s mischievous spirit and to the solemnity of his themes. You don’t need to have known Ornette Coleman to grasp his creative ambition in “Skies of America.” You don’t need to have met Miles Davis to bliss out on “Kind of Blue.” In sculpting his career, Hammons has been savvy enough, and lucky enough, to stake out his own inspired plane. Good for him. But his music, as pointed, confounding or quixotic as it is, still clearly resonates with his many admirers left behind to complete the tune.

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

By Katherine R. Sloan

Ensemble, Bertrand Guyon (French, born 1965) and headpiece by Stephen Jones (British, born 1957) for House of Schiaparelli (French, founded 1927), fall/winter 2018–19 haute couture; Courtesy of Schiaparelli.  Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photo © Johnny Dufort, 2019

Ensemble, Bertrand Guyon (French, born 1965) and headpiece by Stephen Jones (British, born 1957) for House of Schiaparelli (French, founded 1927), fall/winter 2018–19 haute couture; Courtesy of Schiaparelli.

Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photo © Johnny Dufort, 2019

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.

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.

Gregory de la Haba Brings His Totem Poems & Wailing Reef Project To Monte-Carlo

The role of the artist is not merely to record history for future generations, but to enlighten society on the issues of our time. There is an artist from the Big Apple, whose origins go all the way back to Emerald Isle, who lyrically conveys sustainable tidings in his most recent exhibit.

Gregory de la Haba is a classically trained painter, writer, author, publisher, cum laude graduate of Harvard University, and Curator-at-large at Geuer & Geuer Gallery in Dusseldorf, Germany. Furthermore, the New York artist with his wife, Teresa, owns and operates the oldest bar in New York City, McSorley's Old Ale House, which encapsulates the authentic spirit of Ireland in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Marina Roeloffs Von Hademstorf, Gregory de la Haba, and Kira Roeloffs Von Hademstorf in front of The Three Muses of Monte Carlo (back wall)

Marina Roeloffs Von Hademstorf, Gregory de la Haba, and Kira Roeloffs Von Hademstorf in front of The Three Muses of Monte Carlo (back wall)

Throughout his artistic examination of current issues, Gregory de la Haba, has explored the ancient and sacred structure of the totem as theme while taking his love for the sea and the surf culture that surrounds it, as cue to create a new body of work that is primordial yet modern, familiar yet dashingly fresh.

The exhibition TOTEM POEMS that opened on April 18 in the Monegasque gallery META, located on 39 Avenue Princesse Grace, features de la Haba’s new sculpture, assemblage, and photo collage. This art show continues a tradition that began at META in 2018, with the OCEAN ART WEEK, to homage the sea. The gallery also showcased the conceptual and interactive Wailing Reef Project by Gregory de la Haba. This work references the abundance of plastics found in our waterways in the form of two totems reminiscent of bleached coral reefs — when the algae that lives on the coral dies —and all the reef’s magnificent color dies with it — leaving behind lifeless, white limestone beds.

Autumnal Moon _ Horizontal Waves Totem Lune Automnale _ Ondes Horizontales Totem Size_ 8’3” x 2’ x 3” Material_ Foam, Fiberglass, Resin, Paint

Autumnal Moon _ Horizontal Waves Totem Lune Automnale _ Ondes Horizontales Totem Size_ 8’3” x 2’ x 3” Material_ Foam, Fiberglass, Resin, Paint

The Vernal Chorus Totem Installation Le Choeur Vernal Homage to the Legendary LA Artist John Van Hamersveld 3 Panels (Photos) each 8’x2’ One Totem_ 8’3”x 2’ x 3”

The Vernal Chorus Totem Installation Le Choeur Vernal Homage to the Legendary LA Artist John Van Hamersveld 3 Panels (Photos) each 8’x2’ One Totem_ 8’3”x 2’ x 3”

Gregory de la Haba brought his creative pursuit to a higher level, by allowing guests to have a proactive role in the fruition of his artwork. Visitors were invited to scrawl their 'wishes and dreams for and of the sea' on brightly colored Post-it paper and to be like algae, colorful, and to bring their color to the work, to embed their dreams, wishes and light to de la Haba’s unique and masterful Bleached Coral Totems.

The artist’s statement was born out of his metropolitan life, observing the abundant consumption of waste in a big city, as he explains: “New Yorkers throw away on average about 25 pounds of garbage a week. That translates into almost 14 million tons of garbage being generated annually by nearly nine million people. Each day, over seven thousand sanitation workers with their thousands of garbage trucks pick up this waste from homes and offices where its brought to transfer stations around the city before being dispersed––by train and barge––to landfills and recycling plants across the United States and as far away as China. Garbage is big business. It also exacts a great, damaging toll on our environment. According to Oceana, the non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and restoring our oceans, an estimated 17.6 billion pounds of plastics alone find their way into marine ecosystems every year. That's equivalent to one full, plastic-laden garbage truck dumping its contents into the ocean every minute. That’s insane. And little wonder that while taking a stroll on a small stretch of beach in Queens I can fill up a buckets' worth of plastics in ten minutes. And here began the impetus for the 'Wailing Reef Project'.

The META Gallery, couldn’t be a more fitting venue for his inspirational work, since in ancient Greek 'meta' means beyond. This name truly epitomizes the gallery’s intent to serve as a platform of openness, freedom and elevation. TOTEM POEMS is an ode to this quest, as Gregory de la Haba’s artwork is bringing awareness of the damaging effects our societal habits have on our precious oceans and marine life. The power of creativity may lead the way to constructive change, as Gregory de la Haba says: “A collective cry just might help. It sure as hell won't hurt.

Frida at the Brooklyn Museum: Appearances Can Indeed be Deceiving

Frida Kahlo.jpg

Though I love and greatly admire Frida’s work, I’ve never actually seen it in person. When I heard of this exhibit, I was really excited - I love the idea of a more personal engagement with this monument of an artist, especially because it allows a glimpse into work you can’t easily find on the internet.

This latest exploration of Frida’s legacy is currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum. Titled Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, the show is comprised of more than 300 of Frida’s personal items that were found in a somehow unexplored bathroom (??) in La Casa Azul, the artist’s former home which now operates as one of Mexico’s most popular museums. These items were discovered in 2004 and have been shown in Mexico and London. This, however, is the first time that the items are being shown in the United States. I unfortunately have no pictures of the exhibition as photography was forbidden.

Frida is one of those artists who has been elevated to the realm of myth and near sainthood-- or as we say in late capitalism, Frida has become a brand. You can find her on tote bags and keychains, she’s been immortalized as a much-protested Barbie doll (not enough unibrow), there’s a whole Hollywood biopic about her, and she even cameos in a Disney movie, “Coco.”.

Though her legacy has been explored and exploited in various ways and to various degrees, outside of the pervasiveness of Frida the brand, she remains a compelling artist because of her depth - a queer disabled communist feminist Mexican painter whose work grappled with the complexities of identity.

The thesis of this exhibition is that Frida’s multicultural assemblage of clothing was a revolutionary approach to identity construction. Though the exhibition attempts to contextualize exactly what about Frida’s approach was so revolutionary, it drops a lot of points in this argument without substantively connecting them and leans on Frida’s reputation rather than the strength of curation. In doing so, it inadvertently contributes to indigenous erasure, and completely glosses over the complexities of racial identity in Latin America. I actually found this exhibit quite offensive, especially because Frida is the introduction for many gringos to Latin American racial identity.

I’ll limit my analysis of the problems with this show to two major points. To begin, the exhibit didn’t substantively question and frame how Frida’s identity construction was informed by her elite status.

Guillermo Kahlo, Frida’s German expat father. He changed his name from Wilhelm. Similarly, Frida changed the spelling of her name to make it less German.

Guillermo Kahlo, Frida’s German expat father. He changed his name from Wilhelm. Similarly, Frida changed the spelling of her name to make it less German.

There’s mention of Frida’s German expat father, but no substantive analysis of how Frida’s attempts to formulate herself as Mexican are deeply influenced by the caste systems imposed by the Spanish in the wake of native colonization and genocide. In a nutshell, being mixed, or Mestiza, as Frida was, comes with a fair amount of material and cultural advantages. To be clear, there are class stratifications even in mestizx identity, and Frida was part of the elite. One of these material advantages, which the exhibit completely glosses over, is that Frida had indigenous maids. She acquired a fair amount of the clothing this exhibit celebrates from her maids, yet the exhibit primarily highlights the indigenous clothing and textiles that (elite) friends gifted her from their travels.

Frida’s maids would have been subject to stigma for wearing the same clothes that Frida wore to make a statement of national pride, a statement so authentic and bold it has made her a beloved figure of Mexican identity.

Rosa, a working-class mestiza woman in Puerto Vallarta who made a quesadilla so delicious I ate it three days in a row. Check out her apron - Frida is a beloved figure.

Rosa, a working-class mestiza woman in Puerto Vallarta who made a quesadilla so delicious I ate it three days in a row. Check out her apron - Frida is a beloved figure.

Though the exhibit has films of indigenous women, there is NO analysis or reference to the caste dynamics in Mexico, and this, in turn, makes the function of those films tokenizing. They show and celebrate indigenous women as symbols with no substantive engagement with the social context they existed in. To make this legible to an American racial context, this is almost (but not quite) like celebrating a slave-owning woman for her revolutionary uses of cotton that slaves picked, and then playing cute videos of the slave women to provide context.

My other huge problem with the show was about access to the work. In order to access the exhibit, you must reserve a ticket for a particular time, and you are only allowed to view the show for a limited amount of time. The exhibit then opens into a gift shop. I can’t help but think of how deeply ironic this is and how Frida, the communist, would take this display of her legacy.

My overall take? The curators at the Brooklyn Museum are attempting to make Frida legible to the white gaze, as opposed to challenging the white gaze to reconsider and grapple with the complexities of racial identity in Latin America, which is an incredible opportunity to deepen the racial dialogue in this country.

There are few Americans who make the connection that the brown skin of many (but not all) Latinx people indicates some kind of colonized indigenous ancestry. This is an overall problem with engagements with race in the United States - there is still deep fear with talking about Black/white racial dynamics, so much so that the indigenous genocide that enabled the growth of this country is rarely spoken about. As a result, there is no overarching analysis of how indigenous erasure in the States is connected to indigenous erasure in Latin America.

We are currently in the midst of a border crisis, where racially mixed people of indigenous and African ancestry (there were Black slaves in Latin America too!) are being displaced due to the US’s exploitation of Latin America’s resources. Migrants are literally being rounded into concentration camps in a continuation of the genocide this country is founded on.

Claudia Patricia Gonzales, an indigenous Central American who was shot point blank in the head as she entered the United States in 2018. She was unarmed.

Claudia Patricia Gonzales, an indigenous Central American who was shot point blank in the head as she entered the United States in 2018. She was unarmed.

Beyond this enormous conceptual oversight, which I find utterly depressing, I find this exhibit especially disappointing because the Brooklyn Museum has been making concerted strides in its engagement with the local community, which is seen most tangibly through its First Fridays, when the museum is open in the evening for an all ages party.

I interacted with this exhibit twice. The first time, I got a ticket and walked through during my allotted time slot. The second, I went to the Brooklyn museum’s First Friday with a couple of friends. I love First Friday because it’s an opportunity to interact with art in a non pretentious way, and because it attracts a much more relaxed and all ages crowd. We were slightly tipsy and running up and down the stairs, giggling and taking selfies and moving from room to room, concocting elaborate conspiracy theories about the why the Egypt ward was next to the Jaden Smith exhibit. We tried to go into the Frida exhibit, but all the doors were locked (you can at least watch Eisenstein’s Que Viva Mexico, which complements the show).

When writing this review, I spoke to a few people who saw this show at La Casa Azul and had nothing but praise. Not having seen the show in Mexico, I can’t help but think that Frida being curated by people who have more understanding of the cultural context from which she emerged would create a better show.

As this exhibit stands, I can’t really see it doing much other than validating the wanderlust and appropriative impulses of culturally confused and conflicted spectators. And for all her faults, I still think that Frida is an important figure with a lot to offer. Frida is so well-known and regarded that the curators could have used this show to challenge casual art viewers. This is a tremendously wasted opportunity. The title of the exhibit is honest, at least.

Painting the Beyond by Susan Tallman

Moderna Museet, Stockholm - A notebook page showing a watercolor version of one of Hilma af Klint’s  Paintings for the Temple , circa 1914–1915; from Christine Burgin’s  Hilma af Klint: Notes and Methods

Moderna Museet, Stockholm - A notebook page showing a watercolor version of one of Hilma af Klint’s Paintings for the Temple, circa 1914–1915; from Christine Burgin’s Hilma af Klint: Notes and Methods

Born in 1862 to a prominent Swedish family (her great-grandfather had been ennobled for services as a naval officer), Hilma af Klint was a skilled painter of portraits and landscapes who in the first decades of the twentieth century began making hundreds of strange pictures articulating the fluid relations between spirit and matter. Many have no basis in the visible world, and their early dates—in some cases years before such benchmark abstract paintings 

Af Klint was one of many artists (including Kandinsky and Malevich) drawn to the esoteric philosophies that flourished in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—Spiritualism, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, and the like. But af Klint’s engagement went deeper than most, and she was tenacious in her pursuit of personal spiritual contact. Her greatest work, the series of 193 Paintings for the Temple, was made by channeling spirit-masters who she claimed moved her hand and planted images in her mind. She spent the rest of her life mulling over what they gave her.

When af Klint died in 1944, she left more than 1,200 paintings, 134 notebooks and sketchbooks, and more than 26,000 manuscript pages to her nephew, a vice-admiral in the Swedish navy. She also gave instructions that her work not be shown for twenty years after her death. She was lucky in her relations: the family not only adhered to the moratorium, they established a foundation to ensure that the paintings and documentation stayed together.

Read the full article here.

An Artist Rises, and Brings a Generation With Him - Patricia Leigh Brown


Mr. Kaphar, 42, has a profound connection to the forgotten, from the slaves owned by the founding fathers to the ubiquity of African-Americans in the criminal justice system, including his own father. The recipient of a recent MacArthur “genius” award, the artist is challenging racism in a body of strong work that has entered the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the Yale University Art Gallery, and was recently featured at the National Portrait Gallery. Mr. Kaphar is known for appropriating images from American and European art in order to subvert them, cutting them into his canvases to pull back the velvet curtain of history. He wields materials like tar, wire, gold leaf and nails to unearth the past’s inconvenient truths, and to shine a restorative light on those residing in the shadows.

Read the full article here.

David Hammons Will Stage Show at Hauser & Wirth in Los Angeles

Photo: David Hammons Courtesy Timothy Greenfield Sanders

Photo: David Hammons
Courtesy Timothy Greenfield Sanders

Influential and elusive contemporary artist David Hammons is having his first Los Angeles solo show in 45 years at Hauser & Wirth‘s giant gallery space which will run from May 18 through August 10, 2019.

Read the full article here.