Art Review

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.

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

Whitney Biennial 2019 Poster Credit: www.whitney.org

Whitney Biennial 2019 Poster
Credit: www.whitney.org

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.

“V.S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life,” By Poonam Srivastava

“V.S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life,” at the Guggenheim Museum, until February 11, 2015

REVIEW OF THE SHOW BY Poonam Srivastava

“I work as an individual. I do not have a scientific point of view. It is mostly my total experience of life [and] nature that comes through me, that is manifested on canvas. For me, every painting I do is a miracle … It is my sincere belief in life, truth, God, whatever it is, that prompts me to paint.”1 Quoted in Polyphonic Modernisms and Gaitonde’s Interiorized Worldview by Sandhini Poddar. In: VS Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life, exhibition catalogue, published by Solomon R Guggenheim Museum and Prestel Verlag, New York, 2014, pages 27-28.

I was fortunate to witness the Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde, VSG, show, “V.S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life,” at the Guggenheim Museum, October 24, 2014–February 11, 2015. The 45 paintings and drawings  in oil on canvas and ink on paper, span the years 1952 to 1998. The show of VSG’s works, left me centered and moved. His is the rare talent that opens hearts, minds, and souls simultaneously. The show touched me both as a person with great interest in art, but also as person with great interest and affinity for Zen Buhddism. I was moved as a South Asian woman, and also on a deeply personal non-nationalistic/historic level. VSG’s work reflected his life, 1924 to 2001 and brought to focus the recently discarded twentieth century with all its twists and contradictions; being modern and global while embodying ancient truths; the East - West / North - South dichotomy that was brought to light by the works of such scholars as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Edward Said. I am grateful that the Guggenheim for bringing his works to the attention of a greater public, and to my attention. Quite frankly the exhibit  left me wanting more. I not only wanted to see more of V. S. Gaitonde's work, I wanted to know the man.

I agree with the New York Times in their January 1, 2015 article about VSG's work: " It is by a 20th-century Indian modernist who looked westward, eastward, homeward and inward to create an intensely personalized version of transculturalism, one that has given him mythic stature in his own country and pushed him to the top of the auction charts." Charts and

 auction prices aside, the work I saw is the work of a true artist, one who transcends not only his geography but his historic moment to express the personal that is also the universal truth of life. His large canvases are monochromatic. There is a simplicity to them yet also a complexity. At first glance they are monochromatic studies of color. This draws you in and then you realize the world of detail that you have dropped into. The paintings are landscapes and portraits. For me they were uniquely Indian as well. The red one for example was an immediate connect to the myths of Kali and Durga and the female principle of the divine. There  was another large oil on canvas that had me literally tasting curry and smelling cardamon. Yet as a western viewer I saw clearly Rothko, Klee and others, even as I realized VSG was simply Gaitonde.

In the earlier work, before 1970 or so, one sees more clearly the classical Western approach to modernism. Even a cursory google search of VSG's life and art reveals him as a hard working, spot light shunning, man who painted in a one room apartment in Delhi that also functioned as his studio. He never married and never had children.  He worked in the community of artists and can be seen with his fellow painter chums, yet still worked outside of them. He reminds me of Henri Michaux that way -- with the Surrealists but not of them. VSG was a singular, rather solitary painter, well known as a member of the Bombay school of painting, not reflecting them but from within that bathwater marking his own strokes of genius. This then is what he offers.

Within the forty five pieces I recalled Moghul minatures, hindu temple art, flashed back to my visit to the cave murals of Ajanta, north of the city of Aurangabad, recalled Jain painting, and also the artists Klee, Rothko and many more. His oils include calligraphy from the written Indus Valley and Harrapan languages as well as compositions influenced by the Hill Korwa Tribe now extant as well .

Here is an artist who cast a wide net and then spoke in his own breath creating technique and producing works that put the words such as derivative, global, Western, Eastern, even modern to a special light. During a 1962 show at MOMA he said: my painting  “was done on wet white with a roller and painting knife.” VSG used a roller and a knife, pasting on rolled up paper that was painted several times, to give layers that showed the arguably Indian notion of simultaneous creation and destruction translated to fields of light, color and form. As he told MoMA, “I aim at directness and simplicity.”

Do not miss a chance to see this show at the Guggenheim. It ends the eleventh of February. Hurry. You may see me there again. I hope we will be seeing more of Vasudeo Santu Gaitonde’s works here.

Reflective Surfaces by Jeff Grunthaner

Reflective Surfaces

by Jeff Grunthaner

The paradox of Chris Ofili New Museum Show, “Night and Day,” is the way he makes you believe “great art” without quotes exists, while simultaneously quoting from the great tradition of art as it exists in the Western tradition. Ofili is a painter who will routinely astonish you with a painterly bravura, while yet relying on traditional almost conventional pictorial strategies to compose his work. The overwhelming question is can an artist as skilled as Ofili, a black Londoner, who from a very early stage in career found success via Saatchi and the artists he collected, actually relate to the cannon is a way that matters? It’s not like the New Museum show, which echoes a show recently exhibited at the Tate, will make or break his career, but how does it contextualize itself in \New York? Is there an audience here perhaps more or less responsive than those found in other institutions elsewhere?

Chris Ofili’s career is rooted in a kind of hybridity that makes his extreme inclination for the conventional—a centered figure, generally a portrait—into something completely else. The intrigue lies not so much in the materials listed with the descriptions placed alongside his works, as much as the way he uses the materials. One has NEVER seen glitter or elephant dung used in this way. Not in a painting. And to be honest, if you have it owes everything to Ofili’s pioneering artistry. Few painters are as sensitive to the sculptural qualities of their media (oil, acrylic, what-have-you). This is what makes his paintings so wildly present, so absorbing in a technical way that TRANSCENDS THEIR SCALE. The genius of Ofili lies in his artistry, the solitude of a painter laboring on canvas. In this respect, he is quite possibly without peer.

And yet the genius of specialization can only go so far. Ultimately, what one looks for in a work, whether one is a disinterested connoisseur or a curious newbie to painting, is whether the art lives and breathes beyond the confines in which you take it in. Market aside, it’s unlikely that anyone will leave the Chris Ofili show feeling transformed—despite the artist’s dedicated commitment to incorporating aspects of the tradition in novel, personally expressive, even visionary ways. For the New Yorker, whether she be poor and struggling or comfortable and bourgeois, the theme of a black figure on canvas is not a startling innovation, to say the least. We meet this everyday when we transfer trains, which is not to say that every artist can rival Ofili in skill (few can, in my opinion). Nevertheless, THE MESSAGE BEHIND THE WORK, if message there be, lies in some dimly lit ether-realm of the facelessness of black folk trying to adapt to a society that rebukes them for reasons purely based on race.

Otherwise stated, Ofili falls flat in relation to the political import of his work, Of course, he’s know as a “political painter,” incorporating black faces into a space otherwise reserved for whites, and doing this in a way that vies, perhaps even outshines, their venerable classical models (at least to the mediated gaze of contemporary eyes). But what exactly is the space he inserts his figures into? It’s one thing to liberate the black figure into a space already carved out for it by the cannon; it’s another completely to give such figures their own freedom. To be sure, Ofili’s figures are not thematically restricted to representations of black folk—religious and pop-culture iconography plays a heavy role. Yet everywhere he seems to casually place the image of blackness into his pieces, juxtaposing it easily into the classical maneuvers of sculptural and cubist precedents.

This makes Ofili’s work feel all to comfortable and all-too-distant is light of current events in New York and the world around. There’s a sheltered, studio-quality to the paintings that makes them as aesthetically delightful as they are innocuous. What we’re impressed by is their skill, the way they resolve themselves into compositional gestalts. We don’t really see the world through them (perhaps due to Ofili’s penchant for the visionary), nor do we even witness a world that’s a plenum of plurality. Rather, “Night and Day” gives us an extended survey of how one artist’s practice relates and reflects—not so much redacts—the tradition of “great painting” in Western Art. Not only are Ofili’s paintings wholly rooted in the Western Cannon, but despite their “exotic” materials—elephant dung, most notably, but also glitter and other reflective materials—viewers are left with nothing or less than conventions. Brilliantly wrought, but utterly traditional.

It is exactly the denial of the reflective that makes Ofili the artist that he is. His work revels in surface, in the incorporation of exceptional and even symbolic media (elephant dung, glitter) into a wholly foreign tradition. True to his inspiration in hip-hop and other areas of pop culture, he initially tended to literalize these materials—as when he performed a David Hammonsesque performance work, pandering elephant shit to a public either indifferent or excited (he sold a few pieces, and even developed a piece out of it: “Shithead” (1993). But in the end Ofili submerges his materials into something unrecognizable. To be sure, there is tactility to Ofili’s use of elephant dung that feeds into the sculptural quality of his work. But this is not a political gesture so much as an aesthetic one. What I mean to challenge is Ofili’s importance as a “political painter.”

The contrast boils down to the expressivity of faces in Ofili’s work versus their expressivity qua paintings. In a work like “The Adoration of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars (Third Version)” (1998), Ofili paints a drugged-out looking figure against a visionary-psychedelic backdrop. The figure could be a boxer, or James Brown. Either way, it’s only an inspiration. Hands of praise or struggle emerge towards the figure. There’s no trace of reality in the portrait. The real-life model whom Captain Shit is based on simply isn’t there. The painting doesn’t speak to this world, but the world of pop-culture imagery. This is less a political move than a gesture. Remapping the iconography of everyday life can only take protest so far. What’s needed is to unmake images, to locate their historical origins, not merely create a pictorial confluence of different traditions melding together. Ofili, for his nonpareil artistry, doesn’t deliver this.

 

A review of The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon by Nancy Mercado

A review of
The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon
by Nancy Mercado

Penguin Books, 2014

Willie Perdomo’s latest collection of poems, The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon, published by Penguin includes four sections that interplay voices and characters, the language of music, street jargon, Spanish and English and Spanglish.

As a Nuyorican poet who emerged on the scene in the 1990’s, Perdomo is comfortable in meshing a variety of elements that may have no business being together but come out clean and intelligible in the end. His book is a fusion of street culture, life in the halls of learning, dual languages, dual homes or no home that resulted in a multifaceted life.

In the first section of his book: How I Came to My Name, the book’s main character, Shorty Bon Bon describes himself to the reader in the first person. In adjacent poems another character (perhaps a spirit) describes Shorty to Perdomo in past tense. The language used includes musical terms in both English and Spanish much of which is slang. In juxtaposing the communication between the characters, between the reader and the poet, in Perdomo’s particular use of language and in his creation of instantaneous mixtures of images, the complex and fast world of Shorty Bon Bon is made vivid.

A musician by trade, Shorty is also a slick street hustler. His hustle has found a home in his musicianship. Shorty learned his craft by listening to the masters not by attending school. He is so sure of his greatness, he is arrogant:

So cool

     That I chased God like he was on the run.

 […]

So cool

     That when Puente heard my speed, I made him bite his

     Tongue. I’m saying—I made the Mambo King bleed.        (12)

Rather than being distasteful however, Shorty’s arrogance is amusing. Besides, his greatness is validated by the spirit who addresses Perdomo.

In the second section; To Be with You, gone is the “spirit” character who communicates with Perdomo and introduced is Rose; a singer who is Shorty’s girl. Here, Rose’s tumultuous relationship to Shorty takes precedence. Their separate accounts of their struggling liaison and of one another, sustains the play of communication established in the first section. Rose addresses Shorty through a series of letters while Shorty addresses Perdomo directly. The language Perdomo uses is again a sofrito of English, Spanish, Spanglish, street talk and proper terminology e.g., the use of the word pubis.

The greatness of Rose as a singer is a metaphor for her amazing intellect, beauty and female power. Rose is a formidable challenge to Shorty. So much so that regardless of Shorty’s coolness she leaves him in the end.

The third section of the book; Fracture, Flow, sees Perdomo melding into Shorty. The communication here is between the poet and reader; the voice in the poem is the poet’s and that voice is Shorty Bon Bon’s. Set in Puerto Rico, in this group of poems, Shorty recounts life on the island vs life on the mainland, the treatment of Puerto Rico by the United States and the island’s political state. Through the use of metaphor, Perdomo refers to such historical events as Columbus’ treatment by the natives when he lands on the island, the dignity of Puerto Rican nationalists, the Ponce massacre, how the island and mainland are treated with the same brutality by those in power, the selling of the illusion of freedom.

The final segment of the book; The Birth of Shorty Bon Bon  45, realizes the death and rebirth of Shorty Bon Bon. Just like the poet himself, Shorty has died and is reborn anew. His transformation played out on a metaphoric 45 vinyl sides A and B.

Telling the story of one character throughout a book of poems is a risky proposition; a tool usually reserved for novelists and short story writers. But the persistence of a character among the sewn shards of language and colliding metaphors throughout Perdomo’s book, unifies the work and gives pause to the reader to ponder; is Shorty Bon Bon really Willie Perdomo?

The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon is a must read for anyone seeking a poetically visceral experience of what it is to be an amalgamation of things which, in the end is truly American.

________________________________________________

Nancy Mercado is a writer, editor and activist whose work appears in dozens of anthologies and literary journals. Most recently, she presented her work at Casa de las Americas in Cuba. Mercado is an Assistant Editor for eco-poetry.org and an Associate Professor at Boricua College in New York City. She authored the collection of poetry titled: It Concerns the Madness. For more information go to: http://www.pw.org/content/nancy_mercado 

Lost in the Gallery-Industrial Complex via NYT

By HOLLAND COTTER
January 17, 2014

A new year. A new New York mayor. Old problems with art in New York. I have a collection of complaints and a few (very few) ideas for change.

Money — the grotesque amounts spent, the inequitable distribution — has dominated talk about art in the 21st century so far. It’s a basic fact of art history. Emperors, popes and robber barons set the model for the billionaire buyers of today. Of course, it is today that matters to the thousands of artists who live and work in this punitively expensive city, where the art industry is often confused with the art world.

The distinction between the two, though porous, is real. The art industry is the nexus of high-price galleries, auction houses and collectors who control an art market renowned for its funny-money practices. In numbers of personnel, the industry is a mere subset of the circle of artists, teachers, students, writers, curators and middle-range dealers spread out over five boroughs. But in terms of power, the proportions are reversed, to the degree that the art world basically functions as a labor source, supplying the industry with product, services and exotic color but, with the age of apprenticeships long gone, only uncertainly sharing in its wealth.

Do I exaggerate? A bit. The argument can be made that labor is benefiting from its ties to management, in a high-tide-floats-all-boats way. Visit art schools or galleries, and you get the impression that a substantial portion of the art world is content to serve as support staff to a global ruling class.

The scene at Christie’s during the sale of Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Lucian Freud.”

CHRISTIE'S IMAGES, VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

The reality is that, directly or indirectly, in large ways and small, the current market system is shaping every aspect of art in the city: not just how artists live, but also what kind of art is made, and how art is presented in the media and in museums.

I got tired of money talk a while back. Rather than just sputter with indignation, I figured it would be more useful to turn in another direction, toward art that the industry wasn’t looking at, which is a whole lot of art. But reminders keep pulling you back to the bottom line. With every visit to the gallery-packed Lower East Side, I see fewer of the working-class Latinos who once called the neighborhood home. In what feels like overnight, I’ve watched Dumbo in Brooklyn go from an artist’s refuge to an economically gated community.

Recently, my attention was drawn to a controversy surrounding a large and much praised group exhibition installed at a complex of converted warehouses called Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The show, “Come Together: Surviving Sandy,” was conceived as a benefit for artists who had suffered losses in the 2012 hurricane and was promoted as evidence of art-world solidarity. Yet a widely read blog, Art F City, reported that the owners of the complex, which had for some years provided low-rent studios for artists, were now raising rents dramatically, forcing many artists to vacate. (Landlords say 25 percent of Industry City tenants are artists). The new residents seem to be an upscale clientele drawn by the artsy atmosphere.

Whatever the full facts, money is the winner, and with that comes caution and conservatism. This is almost absurdly obvious on the high-end of the market. Sales of retrograde “masterworks” can be relied on to jack up the auction charts at regular intervals; the most recent record was set last fall by a $142.4 million Francis Bacon painting of Lucian Freud, a monument to two overpraised painters for the price of one. Meanwhile, big, hugely pricey tchotchkes — new whatevers by Jeff Koons, say — roll out of fabrication shops and into personal museums being assembled by members of the international power elite.

Part of the exhibition “Come Together: Surviving Sandy” at Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

MARILYNN K. YEE / THE NEW YORK TIMES

Outside auctions, the marketing mechanics buzz on. Roughly since the end of the multicultural, postmodern 1990s, we’ve watched new art being re-Modernized and domesticated, with painting the medium of choice, abstraction the mode of preference. Together they offer significant advantages. Paintings can be assembly-line produced but still carry the aura of being hand-touched. They can be tailored to small spaces, such as fair booths. Abstraction, especially if color is involved, can establish instant eye contact from afar. If, in addition, the work’s graphic impact translates well online, where stock can be moved eBay style, so much the better.

Other traditional forms — drawing, photography, some sculpture — similarly work well in this marketing context. But an enormous range of art does not, beginning with film, performance and installation, and extending into rich realms of creative activity that defy classification as art at all. To note this dynamic is not to dismiss painting or object making, but to point to the restrictive range of art that the market supports, that dealers are encouraged to sell, and that artists are encouraged to make.

The narrowing of the market has been successful in attracting a wave of neophyte buyers who have made art shopping chic. It has also produced an epidemic of copycat collecting. To judge by the amounts of money piled up on a tiny handful of reputations, few of these collectors have the guts, or the eye or the interest, to venture far from blue-chip boilerplate. They let galleries, art advisers and the media do the choosing, and the media doesn’t particularly include art critics. What, after all, does thumbs up, thumbs down matter when winners are preselected before the critical votes are in? In this economy, it can appear that the critic’s job is to broadcast names and contribute to fame.

Conservative art can encourage conservative criticism. We’re seeing a revival — some would say a disinterment — of a describe-the-strokes style of writing popular in the formalist 1950s and again in the 1970s: basically, glorified advertising copy. Evaluative approaches that developed in the 1980s and 1990s, based on the assumption that art inevitably comments on the social and political realities that produce it, tend to be met with disparagement now, in part because they’re often couched in academic jargon, which has become yet another form of sales-speak.

The Silent Barn art space in Brooklyn’s thriving Bushwick neighborhood.

SASHA MASLOV FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

There’s no question that we need — art needs — an influx of new commentators who don’t mistake attitude for ideas, who move easily between cultures and geographies. Regular gigs in mainstream print journalism have all but dried up, but the Internet offers ambitious options in a growing number of blogazines including Art F City (edited by Paddy Johnson) and Hyperallergic (edited by Hrag Vartanian), which combine criticism, reporting, political activism and gossip on an almost-24-hour news cycle.

And although both are based in New York, they include national coverage and in a feisty mix of voices, a welcome alternative to the one-personality blog of yore. That mix would probably be even more varied, and transcultural, if a few forward-thinking, art-minded investors would infuse some serious capital into such enterprises so they could pay writers a living wage and make online freelance writing a viable way of life.

I don’t know what it would take to get a global mix of voices into some of New York’s big, rich art museums. If archaeologists of the future unearthed the Museum of Modern Art as it exists today, they would have to assume that Modernism was a purely European and North American invention. They would be wrong. Modernism was, and is, an international phenomenon, happening in different ways, on different timetables, for different reasons in Africa, Asia, Australia and South America.

Why aren’t museums telling that story? Because it doesn’t sell. Why doesn’t it sell? Because it’s unfamiliar. Why is it unfamiliar? Because museums, with their eyes glued to box office, aren’t telling the story.

Truong Tan’s “What Do We Want,” part of “No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia” at the Guggenheim Museum.

RICHARD PERRY / THE NEW YORK TIMES

Yes, MoMA and the Guggenheim have recently organized a few “non-Western” shows. MoMA’s 2012 “Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde,” packed to the ceiling with art we’ve rarely if ever seen, was a revelation. But they need to take actions far more fundamental and committed. International Modernism should be fully integrated into the permanent collection, regularly, consistently.

Their job as public institutions is to change our habits of thinking and seeing. One way to do this is by bringing disparate cultures together in the same room, on the same wall, side by side. This sends two vital, accurate messages: that all these cultures are different but equally valuable; and all these cultures are also alike in essential ways, as becomes clear with exposure.

With its recently announced plans for an expansion, MoMA has an ideal chance to expand its horizons organically. The new spaces, which should certainly be devoted to the permanent collection, won’t be ready for several years, but the museum has no excuse for waiting for its long-overdue integration process to begin.

And on the subject of integration, why, in one of the most ethnically diverse cities, does the art world continue to be a bastion of whiteness? Why are African-American curators and administrators, and especially directors, all but absent from our big museums? Why are there still so few black — and Latino, and Asian-American — critics and editors?

“The Shadows Took Shape,” an exhibition of Afrofuturist works at the Studio Museum in Harlem.

SUZANNE DECHILLO / THE NEW YORK TIMES

Not long ago, these questions — of policy but also political and ethical questions — seemed to be out there on institutional tables, demanding discussion. Technically, they may be there still, but museums seem to be most interested in talking about real estate, assiduously courting oligarchs for collections, and anxiously scouting for the next “Rain Room.” Political questions, about which cultures get represented in museums and who gets to make the decisions, and how, are buried.

Political art brings me back to where I started, with artists, and one final, baffled complaint, this one about art schools, which seem, in their present form, designed to accommodate the general art economy and its competitive, caste-system values. Programs are increasingly specialized, jamming students into ever narrower and flakier disciplinary tracks. Tuitions are prodigious, leaving artists indentured to creditors for years.

How experimental can artists be under such circumstances? How confidently can they take risks in an environment that acknowledges only dollar-value success? How can they contemplate sustaining — to me this is crucial to New York’s future as an art center — long and evolving creative careers? The temptation for many artists, after a postgraduate spurt of confidence, is to look around, see what’s selling, and consider riffing on that. We’re seeing a depressing number of such riffs these days.

Again, do I exaggerate? And, again, sure, to some degree. By no means is all the news bad. Start-up galleries are opening; middle-tier galleries are holding their own, or doing better than that. Artist-intensive neighborhoods like Bushwick and Ridgewood are still affordable, companionable and fun.

But when the rents get too high, or the economy fails, or art buying falls out of fashion, and the art industry decides to liquidate its overvalued assets and leave? Artists, the first and last stakeholders, will have themselves to fall back on. They’ll learn to organize and agitate for what they need, to let City Hall know, in no uncertain terms, that they’re there. They’ll learn to share, not just on special occasions, but all the time. They’ll learn that art and politics are inseparable, and both can be anything and everything. They’ll learn to bring art back from the brink of inconsequence.

As someone long on questions and short on answers, let me ask: Why not start now?

The Past reviewed by Donna Honarpisheh

A Review of Asghar Farhadi’s Latest Oscar Nominated Film: The Past (Gozashte/Le Passé)

Released: 19 June, 2013 in Iran.

Unlike his other films, set in Iran, Asghar Farhadi’s latest award winning film (Cannes, The Prize of Ecumenical Jury), Le Passé (The Past) is set in Paris and almost entirely spoken in French. In talking about whether The Past is representative of Iranian cinema, Farhadi explains that the geography of his film does not change who he is as an Iranian filmmaker. This sentiment proves true as The Past maintains many of the stylistic and thematic elements developed in his previous films. Those familiar with Farhadi’s works know that the Past, even though it is not entirely in Persian, is a part of a continued story we have followed with the films: Chaharshanbe Soori, About Ely, A Separation, and now The Past. The filmmaker continues examining the powerful themes of family, divorce, and migration.

When The Past opens, we see a couple communicating through thick glass at the airport. They can’t see each other but they understand the gist of what the other is saying through mouthed words and gestures. However, as in most Farhadi films, the immovable piece of glass serves as an object that prevents them from fully understanding one another. This beginning sequence sets the tone for a series of misunderstandings, hidden feelings, and a “dark secret” that will unravel as the plot unfolds.

Farhadi creates a narrative about the past entirely set in the present. Without obvious flashbacks or even a glimpse into the incident that causes the drama we watch unravel, we enter the lives of four individuals in turmoil. It begins when, after four years of separation and living in Iran, Ahmad (Ali Mostafa) returns from Tehran to Paris to finalize divorce papers with his wife Marie (Berenice Bejo) so that she can ostensibly move on and marry Samir (Tahar Rahim), a father with a comatose wife. What appears to be a new beginning actually exposes various elements from the past that weigh heavily on each character.

Marie, at the center of the drama, has been involved with three men in her lifetime. Her family dynamic is a constant reminder of these failed experiences. Marie’s eldest daughter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet) beautifully expresses deep rebellion towards her mother’s life choices, while coldheartedly rejecting Samir. Ahmad comes to realize that this hostility isn’t simply a rejection of a new family member. It originates in an event before Samir’s wife had fallen into her coma, in the midst of her mother’s affair. Lucie alludes to the cause of Samir’s wife’s suicide attempt, but until the very end we remain unsure of what happened and in what order. Like Farhadi’s last masterpiece, we keep returning to the same seemingly tiny event, but unlike ‘A Separation,’ the event is off-screen and its consequences ripple in the opposite direction, eventually leading up to the final scene. Ahmad, ignorant of the “drama,” finds himself entrapped into the position of moderator. He looks straight into the camera and asks Marie: “Why did you bring me here, now, in the middle of all this drama?” Thus begins a heavy film with not a moment of serenity for its viewers as it ruthlessly untangles each character, forcing them to reveal their true selves.

the past

As soon as Ahmad arrives, we see that he too has lingering threads from his departure four years ago. The more involved Ahmad gets with his past family, the more we see that not only the camera, but the characters are drawn to him. The scene in which he cooks ghormeh sabzi (a traditional Persian dish) for his former stepdaughters, Lucie and Lea (Jeanne Jestin) feels almost too comfortable. It recalls another scene from the past. Again, as Ahmad digs into his suitcase in the garage, we are reminded of a past life with a photograph of the former couple, still curious about what tore them apart. The more Ahmad is invited into the day-to-day life of Marie and her new family, the more we feel Samir falling out of the picture. At one point Marie asks Samir: “Why are you here?” He responds: “What do you mean? Does someone have a problem with me being here?” This direct confrontation further establishes the characters’ disconnect with Samir. But this trajectory would be far too simple. Farhadi shows empathy for his characters, regardless of their actions. Even Samir’s character, that seems somewhat neglected by the camera opens up later in the film. Scene after scene we become more wrapped in what seems to be a complex whirlwind of relationships, lies, and truths rooted in the past.

In the final scene of the film, Farhadi makes a sudden turn and brings us to the hospital room where Samir’s wife lies in a coma. She is an underdeveloped piece in the mosaic of lies, arguments, and failed marriages that Farhadi has intricately put together. It is through Farhadi’s attempt to bring us closer to the couple whose issues remain unattended for most of the film (Samir and his wife), that we fully comprehend his ability to make every moment of life critical. These final moments, among others, shine with subtext. Humanity shows itself as each character grapples with his or her own personal plight, and nostalgia overflows their minds and memories. The film is a series of authentic moments with authentic people that allows us to sense the discrepancy between action and identity. Farhadi trusts his audience. Rather than explaining the lattice of emotions between characters, he allows us to sense them. There are whole worlds of feelings that linger between his characters’ lies, confessions, and even in silences.

 

The Past opens in select US theaters on December 20th, 2013.

Reviewed by: Donna Honarpisheh

Donna had the opportunity to view The Past in Tehran’s Cinema Mellat.

 

Divine Comedy reviewed in the Villager

BY LAEL HINES  |  “I got stabbed. It was no big deal, small deal, small deal, small deal. It was stupid. “I was working at this bookstore on St. Mark’s Place near Second Ave. on the south side of the street,” Ron Kolm recalled. “I was up behind the register and we used to get robbed all the time. The counter actually had an opening on both sides, so we could run away.

“Anyway, I was there alone one night and this guy came in, went into the manager’s office and tried leaving with the manager’s bike. You know, I said, ‘Yo dude, you can’t do that. Put it back.’ He was drunk out of his mind; it was like this cloud of alcohol surrounding him.

“And he came up to me at the counter and pulled out a knife and whacked it in my hand,” Kolm said. “The knife is stuck there and he couldn’t pull it out. It was actually kind of funny. I said — because this is the asshole I am — ‘You’re really small and you’re really drunk and I could probably kill you if I wanted to, but it would be pointless. Your life is a pointless life, so I’m just going to ask you to get the fuck out.’ ”

“It’s been a good trip,” said Kolm, as he reflected on his life, living in New York and working in bookstores since the late ’60s.

PEOPs portrait project by Fly - www.peops.org Ron Kolm - 04/03/2k10 - Lower East Side NYC Local Unbearable Writer - www.unbearables.com

PEOPs portrait project by Fly - www.peops.org Ron Kolm – 04/03/2k10 – Lower East Side NYC Local Unbearable Writer – www.unbearables.com

Kolm’s experiences stimulate and inform his writing — poetry and prose that paint stories and images that are both relatable and barely believable.

With his characteristic self-deprecating tone, Kolm explained, “You have to understand what an asshole I am. A part of me is this guy going through life and another part of me is this guy watching it or commenting, the writer the observer, if you will.

“It was a gift that I saw the thing happened or that I saw the size and shape of it,” he said. “I don’t just try to write poems about anything. I try to look for things that have a shape and cut it out of that shape, the same way a sculptor sees something in a block of marble. You’re trying to free something that you see in there. That’s a cliché — but, most of my poems are based on real events. ”

With New York as the usual backdrop, the turbulence in Kolm’s life has sparked literature that similarly stimulates rebellious and revolutionary emotions among readers.

“I’ve had a little bit of luck with my tiny, silly-ass career,” said Kolm with concise irony. His “silly-ass career” has effectively produced his most recent book of poetry, “The Divine Comedy” (Fly by Night Press). With poems with titles like “Butt Sex” and “Hand Jobs,” Kolm as an artist is clearly unbound by societal perceptions or restrictions.

His revolutionary spirit has been resonant since the late ’60s.

“I did become antiwar ” he exclaimed, “but I didn’t go to Vietnam. I worked in Appalachia as a community organizer, which actually did shape my life. I worked with really poor people and I never quite made it back to the mainstream in America. Thank God, in a way. I try to use some of that stuff in my writing. A lot of shit happened.”

Kolm’s radical mentality effectively instigated the formation of The Unbearables. The Unbearables are a group of revolutionary writers who have rocked the New York City literature scene with their humor-filled, radical actions since 1984.

“We would picket the New Yorker, protesting their shitty poetry,” Kolm recalled. “We would do erotic readings on the Brooklyn Bridge every September 13. We would read to businesspeople as they went from Manhattan to Brooklyn. It was a fun thing to do; it was a little bit like being back in the ’60s.”

Most of Kolm’s actions align with a desire to be radical while fighting against the generic mainstream. He described this as one of the main inspirations of his writing.

“This culture is based on things wearing out, on selling things,” he explained. “I like to feel if you do a piece of art that doesn’t become instantly obsolete — it’s going to stick around for a while — you’ve actually done a small blow against the empire, and I genuinely believe that.”

For Kolm, radical literature shaped his existence.

“I was a fucking fascist when I was growing up in Pennsylvania,” he said. “It was art and literature that got me out of that. Reading ‘Catch-22’ changed me.”

By creating wonderfully rich and rebellious works like “The Divine Comedy,” Ron Kolm perhaps aims similarly to inspire readers, lifting them out of the often-superficial elements of American mainstream society.

“American culture is like dead in the water,” he declared. “It’s as close to the ’50s as I can remember. People are scared of being different and nobody really knows what to do.”

With his humanistic worldview, Kolm certainly harbors a discontent with the current generation. Expressing his annoyance with the world today, he said, “When I moved to New York in ’69-70 it was ridiculously cheap. You could get apartments for $100 a month. What’s happened is New York has gotten incredibly expensive — it’s just gone up and up and up.

“It’s almost impossible to live here now unless you move out to the ghettos,” he continued. “Bushwick, Bed-Stuy. I mean Bed-Stuy, for God sake! In the old days you wouldn’t even go close to that place because you’d be afraid you would just die.”

Fitting for a modern-day humanist, Kolm has a love of antiquity.

“Basically, my degrees are in history,” he noted. “What I enjoy are reading books on ancient Roman history.”

In fact, he described his belief, as he put it, that, “New York is Rome — ancient Rome. I think of 9/11 being New York’s 410 [the year of the sack of Rome]. I think that event influenced the city in more ways than we know it.”

Kolm’s connection to antiquity is fully represented in his “The Divine Comedy.” His poem of the same name fully parallels the work by Renaissance Humanist Dante. Kolm explained, “There are three movements. There is an attempt to move upward toward heaven the entire way through. The three movements vaguely mirror the three movements of ‘The Divine Comedy,’ I sort of fell into it.”

Near the interview’s conclusion, Kolm once again expressed his ironic, self-deprecating take on things.

“I’m so glad my mind still works,” he said, though adding, “It doesn’t really work anymore. I used to really like my mind. It wasn’t a bad mind. I managed to be very lucky.

“There’s the writer part of me that I like,” he said. “But there is another part of me which is just this old guy deteriorating. I see old guys going around in their little motorized chairs and I think, Oh fuck, that’s going to be me someday.”

Divine Comedy reviewed by Kevin Riordan

Divine Comedy  Poems by Ron Kolm

Fly By Night Press, 2013

Reviewed by Kevin Riordan

Ron Kolm, whom for the purposes of this review I will think of as Kid Danté, is an artist whose canvas is the kind on which you go down for the count. But not this palooka.

He goes 32 rounds in this match with the poetic form, not counting graphic relief between rounds by ten gifted illustrators. The result is arnica for the soul. He delivers a nice combination of thrusts, jabs, uppercuts and sucker punches in this exhibition of the sweet science of the stanza. The bodily fluids fly but he never loses heart, whether he’s taking down Death, JFK or a can-opener wielding girlfriend. His cauliflower ear for the New York street, bedroom, tap or factory is as true as his bloodshot eye for the absurdity of his place and time. While he holds poetry up by the armpits from time to time, he takes no dive and neither filches nor ducks. The Void gives him the biggest jolt of any bout, and the women often have him on the ropes, but he comes out swinging every time, not with fancy footwork but steady; implacable — despite little birdies floating over his shoulders. I can only conclude that, as below, somebody up there likes him.

 

http://www.evergreenreview.com/divine-comedy-by-ron-kolm/

BROADTHINKING

BROADTHINKING: Unnatural Acts and Other Illicit Thoughts about Nature

at Broadway Gallery

reviewed by Susan L. Yung

An art exhibit curated by Chris Twomey at Broadway Gallery in Soho is a compilation of installations of eleven individual artists metamorphing natural or waste products into creating (infusing) another form of existence or new life in the materials As artists, they are able to manipulate, control, recycle materials and mediums into other products that will motivate the viewer’s conscience to their own wasteful environments that we inhabit. For example, this gallery is one of the last bastions for art and artists in the neighborhood that in turn had gentrified the area from empty warehouses and presently is transformed into a shopper's/consumer’s haven going to the department brand stores and boutiques.

Each artist had tackled the problem in his or her own way. Miwa Koizumi’s “Pet Project” had successfully made floating jellyfishes from water bottles, dancing transparently with its shadows; Joel Simpson’s “Photonic Structural Movement” video depict 2 dancers undulating with a fabric screen while black and white photos of natural pattern and forms objects i.e. rocks, water pipes, liquids, architectural details, wood, and ice are projected on this moving screen; Peggy Ciphers’ “Channeling” had laid out many drug paraphernalia (pills, tea bags, joints, colored liquorices, cigs, tobacco, coke lines, etc) on the floor in a yen-yang wave but using a rectangle instead of a circle shape where a chair is placed as well as a music stand with classical music sheets that focus on a highly abstract textured painting hanging on the wall, suggesting the co-dependencies for the final painted product; Chris Twomey’s “Tsunami 3000” uses crumpled tin foil with images of man copulating with various animals and a video loop of a coyote man with dolphin referencing to scientists who do DNA research to redefine a better improved generation for the year 3000; Gulsen Calik’s “Dystopia” is a metallic rusty Tonka truck (unavailable) covered in grey green “fungus” growths where everyone says to be lint contrary to her nude painting “ Everyone’s Muse” that has a triangular-shape moss growth in the woman’s pubic area and “Mesopotamia”, a shelf of encased cultural growths that are metastasized in encased objects ie toy horse, illustrating “Dystrophy”; Alyssa Fanning’s “Flux: Printed and Drawn Matter” meticulous detailed linoleum prints with graphite pencil and Bristol paper of New Jersey’s Van Buskirk Island, an outdated water purification plant are torn, re-collaged, glued and curled, suggesting deconstruction and reconstruction waste; Kim Holleman’s “Model of Future Utopian Garden, Blue & Tan” creates 2 encased, miniature paradise islands elevated in a sea of liquid waste and a miniature architectural flocking covered “Green House” furnished with glass shards, computer fan and light fixture; Pale Infinity and Flash Light (see www.pale Infinity.com) are in cyberspace on the internet as Second Life via Multi-User-Simulated-Environment (MUSE) developing their own fantasy homes and environment; Liz N Val is a couple whose tongue-in-cheek art  “World on the Tip of my Finger” and “How to Rape” demonstrate their illicit/unnatural juxtapositions; Elizabeth Riley’s “Luncheon on the Grass” cloudlike overhanging of conduit pipes encasing plastic pink drop cloths with projected green light set’s the gallery’s mood of “detritus” as well as Kathleen Vance’s “Infused” of a branch sprouting wires and attached to electrical fixtures, also, suspended from the ceiling emulates a "Frankenstein-ish” effect from inanimate to animate life.

Overall, in this show, the women outnumber the men where they culminate in making social commentaries of their urban unnatural environments in a patriarchic society keeping intact their broad thinkings that encompasses everything. Thus, I find women as nurturers, natural creators and protectors, miniaturising everything and attempting to neutralize in order to forestall destructive elements.

gulsen-calik.jpggulsen-calik-1.jpggulsen-calik-2.jpggulsen-calik-3.jpggulsen-calik-4.jpgjoel-simpson.jpgjoel-simpson-1.jpgjoel-simpson-2.jpgkathleen-vance.jpgkim-holleman-4.jpgkim-holleman-1.jpgkim-holleman-2.jpgkim-holleman-3.jpgliz-n-val.jpgliz-n-val-1.jpegmiwa-koizumi-1.jpegmiwa-koizumi-liz-n-val-chri.jpgpeggy-cyphers.jpegpeggy-cyphers-1.jpeg

Catherine Opie: American Historian" a review of Catherine Opie American Photographer

110508opieice.jpg Catherine Opie: American Historian

By Rebecca Lossin

Catherine Opie: American Photographer, a mid-career retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, is a deceitfully simple title. The historical project that so successfully binds images as disparate as black and white cityscapes and larger than life tattooed bodies, is perfectly encapsulated in a label whose meaning is at once obvious and inscrutable.

Best known for a series of formal portraits taken in the early 90’s and easily figured in terms of the controversy-ready content of the queer communities they document, the name Catherine Opie does not evoke the traditionally de-politicized landscape.  But a large part of the exhibition is taken up by this genre and its counterpart, the cityscape.  The painstakingly formal, 40” x 50” chromogenic prints of ice fishing huts on the frozen white lakes of Minnesota reminded me of the sparse winter landscapes of Andrew Wyeth and the broadness of the title, American Photographer, began to make sense to me.

“ I prefer winter and fall,” said Wyeth, “when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show.” 

Opie’s work  does not seek to explain these itinerant communities. Nor is her stance that of objective documentarian and its attendant cultural privilege. Fully aware that no one experience is inclusive, Opie’s position on the periphery of Surfers/Ice Huts underscores the limitations of a single observer. But its emphasis on the structural components of a community, re-asserts this position’s relationship to a larger structure, rescuing the individual gaze from social and historical obscurity.  

Wyeth’s sense of loneliness in the bone structure of the landscape was not revelatory; its obscurity was integral to his experience of it.  Opie posits a similar relationship to the [itinerant] communities that she photographed in Surfers/Ice Huts.  These lines of red huts dwarfed by the expanse of white frozen lakes, and grey bodies of surfers subsumed by grey waves, indicate the existence of something unknowable waiting beneath.

While Opie’s relationship to the queer community is certainly not one of excluded observer, her inclusion in it presupposes an outsider position similar to the one she assumed in Surfers/Ice Huts. And the refusal to speak for the subject of the photograph that this relationship implies is an act that is arguably more pertinent to her portraits- the depiction of a bodies that are too often spoken for even if they are rarely spoken of.

Opie has positioned herself as an historical actor- product and producer of culture and it is the photographer’s participation in an historical process that binds these anti-climactic images of surfers waiting for waves- their bodies so small in relation to the gray scale ocean making an argument for the label anti-portraiture- to her large formal portraits of de-formalized gender.  

The intersection of the subject and history is re-articulated in the formal references to historic paintings and rules of portraiture so carefully observed in pieces such as Self-Portrait/Pervert (1994). Opie has photographed herself seated in front of heavy drapery, whose pattern has been carved into her chest as a decorative flourish below the word “pervert” in large gothic letters. Her arms are punctured by tidy rows of needles; her face is covered in a black leather mask; her hands are folded neatly in front of her.  Opie refers to this as her “Henry VIII” portrait.  In yet another formulation of historical relationships, the scarred ‘pervert’ remains legible in Self-Portrait/Nursing (2004), an image of  Opie breast-feeding her daughter in a pose evocative of the Virgin Mary.  The inscription’s permanence, no longer bloody but linguistically in tact, does not speak to its lasting and painful stigma as much as the reformulation of its meaning when written on the subject of its history.   Not only does the word take on significance in terms of the virgin birth, but in terms of ten years on a living moving body- the intersection of the unifying, transcendent narrative  of History and its individual and finite performance. 

In addition to reflecting Opie’s historical project, the curators’ choice to present Opie as iconic at a particularly conservative and reactionary moment in American History, is an important political act in itself.   More than a series of events leading to the present, “history is the creation of values and meaning by a signifying practice that requires the subjection of the body. Solidly situating Opie at the center of this historical narrative recognizes the violence inherent in the formation of the word American. But it is also an optimistic gesture, an act of posterity that envisions a future American; one slightly more liberated from the cultural morass of conservatism and marginalizing gender politics, from which Catherine Opie so unexpectedly emerged

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RICHARD PRINCE at the GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM by Emil Memon

richard20prince2.jpgRichard Prince one man show at Guggenheim is a massive affair. The show consists of different cycles of artists work, his famous cowboys, biker chicks, car hoods sculptures, nurse paintings,DeKooning paintings, check paintings, black and white; color paintings, celebrity publicity assemblages etc…. Walking up the spiral of Guggeneheim in a chronological order you immerse yourself into his world, which supposed to be a pure concentration of American pop culture[...]

"Spanish Painting From El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History"

Bajo el título El Greco to Picasso. Time, Truth and History (Del Greco a Picasso. Tiempo, Verdad e Historia), se presenta en el Museo Guggenheim de Nueva York, la primera revisión histórica del arte español en Estados Unidos. Cerca de ciento cuarenta pinturas de artistas desde Velázquez, El Greco, Murillo, Zurbarán, Goya, Mirò, Juan Gris a Dalí y Picasso, por citar algunos nombres, todos de primer orden, distribuidas tan magistralmente, a pesar de la dificultad de la disposición de la rotonda ideada por Frank Lloyd Wright, que parece que siempre estuvieron allí, y en las salas adyacentes.

In Sync With The Future

As the exhibition continues up the ramps, it gradually moves backwards in time. Tucked away in a back room on the first ramp are other works of laser art created between 1997 and 2000, entitled Three Elements. Projected through spinning prisms in large mirror-backed geometric structures, the lasers ricochet off the side panels. The darkness of the room accentuates the concentrated color in the beams.

Alice Zinnes "Tunnel of Hell"

Alice Zinnes "Tunnel of Hell" oil on canvas, 36 x 40 inches

        Alice Zinnes: Orpheus Rising

      Tribes Gallery

      East Village, New York

 

 

The Exhilaration of the Dark

The Poetic Descent of Alice Zinnes

 

 

 

in that instant she was whisked away,

clawing at the shawls that hid her from the world

to show him the ravaged face of all farewells

and the blank pennies of her defeated eyes.

-- Stanley Kunitz, "In The Dark House"

 

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"Tunnel of Hell"

      oil on canvas

      36 x 40 inches

 

The dramas of our inner worlds spill to an essential descent. There is an arc to the movement of imaginative life, a curving crescendo and a dive, a plunging to the fiery insights of the self-interrogating, probing soul, and then a return - a gesture of the dreaming dance that drops past the easy optimisms of the surface life. The soul that seeks to know itself must step down to its death, and then arise. There is a tragedy in the hard realizations of the inward existence, and it is written in our myths.

 

 

It has been the devotion of myth to remind us of the dramas in our inner world, and in the arts, it has been the devotion of poetry to remind us of the myths. But not of poetry alone. Through the ages, painting and sculpture have repeatedly revealed their undying ties to the poetic dedication, returning to the depths of myths and the penetration downward that poetry protects and renews - to the turbulent drive to the mangling center, the place that destroys that it may re-create.

 

Narrative paintings have often illustrated the myths directly, but it would seem the terrible transformation of insight is natural to abstraction, to the mode of painting that unmakes everything. And so, clearly, it seems to Alice Zinnes.

 

Zinnes has frequently taken poetry as the inspiration for her work. She has done so again in her exhibition at Tribes Gallery, a riveting display of 15 oil paintings and charcoal sketches, many of which are based on poems that Zinnes has set in a book in the gallery's main room.

 

There is a difference this time, and it is the theme: the myth of Orpheus. In Greek mythology, Orpheus was the first human poet. He fell in love with Eurydice and, when she suddenly died, descended to the underworld to retrieve her. He sang of his love so sweetly to Hades that he won her back, on condition that, as he led her up to the surface, he not turn round to look upon her. Yet, his impatience and doubt were so great that he did look back, only to see Eurydice falling back to Hell.

 

It is the story of the descent to the harrowing depths, of seeking the center of the heart in the center of death, and it is the heart of this exhibition. Clearly, Zinnes understands the tragic, creative fall into darkness. Every work enacts the chaos of the soul, the eternal battle of darkness with light that is the source of creativity - the source of life itself. On each canvas, atmospheres of seething hues infiltrate each other, as if suffusing intuitions of things enlightening and deadly were grappling, battling for possession of the spirit. And in Tunnel of Hell, which is matched to a poem by Stanley Kunitz, we witness the sight of the crucible, the touchstone of the vision. It is a spectacular work, as exhilarating as it is threatening - like inspiration, and life, itself.

 

Alphabet Slop: Re-Straining the East Village Art Scene, 1981-1986

The locus of the New Museum's recent "East Village USA" exhibition -- the period and place generally regarded as the "'80s East Village Art" phenomenon -- actually encompassed as many as 20 or 30 "East Villages," various scenes and circles rotating through Venn diagrams of intersections, casual alliance, community action and internecine rivalry. Competing styles and artists' goals were as numerous and as varied as the epistemologies presumed to underlie them.

Downtown: Legend, Myth and Institutionalized Caprice

The Downtown Collection, an amalgam of archives in NYU's Fales Library provided the initial impetus for The Downtown Show, curated by Carlo McCormick, currently on view at both the Fales and NYU's Grey Art Gallery, and its companion publication, "The Downtown Book". Less an art show in the traditional sense than a barrage of ephemera, periodicals, manuscripts and artifacts, richly supplemented -- for the most part -- by exemplary paintings and sculptural objects, and rarely seen early works by well-known artists and writers, as well as a glut of musical and performance/video documentation.

Basquiat at the Brooklyn Museum

Because society is less concerned with understanding the meaning of artistic production than with promoting and profiting from name brand artists' commodities, it creates personal mythologies which insure the chosen's entry to the pantheon, all the more compelling if the artist has the good taste to die young. Keats, Kahlo, Pollock, Parker, Plath, Hendrix, Cobain, and thousands of other less recognizable names; usually some form of self-destruction is involved. ("Die young, and stay pretty", sang Blondie's Debbie Harry, who managed to avoid that fate.) In the 80s art world, the two meteors were Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Hagiography blinds hindsight, and the meaning and method of the work of both these artists are ripe for re-investigation. Though both were associated early on with the East Village, both saw the world (and the streets) as a greater canvas, to be re-coded and interpreted through a personal yet largely accessible visual hermeneutics