Steve Cannon, Whose Townhouse Was an East Village Salon, Dies at 84

Steve Cannon at his townhouse in the East Village in 2014 as he was preparing to move out. He had overseen a salon there, opening his doors and welcoming artists, musicians, poets and others to join a conversation that meandered for decades. Credit: Adam Golfer | NYTimes.com

Steve Cannon at his townhouse in the East Village in 2014 as he was preparing to move out. He had overseen a salon there, opening his doors and welcoming artists, musicians, poets and others to join a conversation that meandered for decades.
Credit: Adam Golfer | NYTimes.com

By Colin Moynihan

For years, Steve Cannon, a writer and publisher, maintained an open-door policy at his three-story Federal-style townhouse in the East Village of Manhattan, creating a salon that welcomed a revolving cast of visitors to join a continuing conversation.

Painters, poets, musicians and composers showed up. So did a grab bag of others who wandered in, some by pure chance. And presiding over it all was Mr. Cannon, who had lost his eyesight to glaucoma in 1989.

Mr. Cannon died on July 7 at 84. A half sister, Evelyn Omega Cannon, said the cause was believed to be septic shock following hip surgery at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Manhattan.

Mr. Cannon bought the townhouse, on East Third Street between Avenues C and D, in 1970. In the early 1990s he started a literary magazine there, A Gathering of the Tribes, along with an art gallery. Writers like Paul Beatty and Miguel Algarin contributed to the magazine.

The publication and gallery reflected the grit and creativity of the neighborhood in the 1990s, when the East Village, not yet gentrified, was still a bastion of the avant-garde.

Something always seemed to be happening at Mr. Cannon’s place. Annual festivals honoring the great jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker were planned there. Ishmael Reed, one of Mr. Cannon’s longtime friends, read his work at the gallery. Members of the experimental Sun Ra Arkestra performed in the backyard.

The artist David Hammons, another friend, once painted a wall inside the gallery as part of an installation. Among the regular visitors was the cornetist and composer Butch Morris, an East Village neighbor who had created a form of large-ensemble music built on collective improvisation.

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" The last New York bohemian " - El País, the main newspaper in Spain.

Steve Cannon, in the living room of his last home in New York, in December.  ACAUTHEN9

Steve Cannon, in the living room of his last home in New York, in December. ACAUTHEN9

By Mireia Sentis

With the death of the popular publisher, gallery owner and writer Steve Cannon, a way of life that seduced the less conventional artists of the Big Apple disappears

If the word "oxymoron" were a person, who would it be? How easy is the response to this children's game for those who knew the epicenter of the most productive clutter in downtown New York: "Steve Cannon!". This blind of panoramic vision directed To Gathering of the Tribes, organization founded in 1991, that included an art gallery, a publishing house for novice authors, a magazine and a seat - his own apartment - that fulfilled the function of the performance hall (concerts, performances , poetic recitals, book presentations), university classroom and refuge for anyone who wanted to converse, at any time of the day or night, with strangers who were converted from that moment and for always part of the Tribes family.

Professor Cannon, a true Hamelin, orchestrated all these activities from a dilapidated sofa that did not leave or sleep (the bedroom was a temporary shelter for artists who came looking for a place in the sun in the Big Apple), something he did when he felt like it , whatever happened at that moment in his room. On that island where there were no rules of any kind, they were going to smoke who could not do it in another covered place, to drink those who did it at the wrong time, or to face constructive as well as destructive criticism who needed to show or comment on an incipient creation in any discipline. Also, those who wanted to find out where the intellectual or artistic currents of the city would flow next. In that intergenerational, interethnic and international space to which books arrived, magazines and invitations at a dizzying pace, access to extensive information. In 2014, Cannon moved to a smaller place, in the same neighborhood, the East Village, where he continued with the magazine - already in digital format -, the publishing house and its activitygriot or transmitter of stories and knowledge for all.

Steve Cannon, who died on July 7 after stumbling on his stationary bike - "I was run over," he joked from the hospital - was born in New Orleans in 1935 . After living a couple of years in London among the group of writers known as Angry Young Men ( comprised of John Osborne, Harold Pinter, Kingsley Amis, Alan Sillitoe ..., he settled in New York in 1962. In 1969 he published a novel that would reach the category of worship: Groove, Bang and Jive Around (Enjoy, fuck and have fun out there), built in the style that his friend Ishmael Reed would announce as neohoodoo and published by Girodias, son of the editor of Henry Miller. The vicissitudes of a girl who runs away from home and lives the most extreme adventures are narrated with an accelerated rhythm, full of Southern lingo and poetic cadences. What should have been his second novel disappeared in a fire, and since then he opted for theater and poetry. At the present time he was working on a memoir that dictated to a tape recorder and he thought it was entitled Never Too Old To Blush (Never too old to blush).

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OUR LITTLE NEW BORN BABY

OUR LITTLE NEW BORN BABY

(The Joke)

cannon fam 2.jpg

by Naomi Brown


I have a little brother,

He’s a new born baby boy

Such a happy, healthy baby

To the Cannons, he’s a joy!


As a child, he wasn’t lonely....

Seven sisters, five brothers, too...

They all made up the Cannon Clan,

Thirteen kids were in this crew.


They grew and scattered all around,

Our baby’s in New York City.

He established quite a following,

That’s why I write this ditty.


Steve is always on the go...

He rarely is at home,

Everyone wants a part of him,

He’s almost never all alone.


We wonder where he is sometimes,

Maybe Phoebe or Tracie might know.

Engaged in a lively discussion,

Can’t tell where he might go.


Checking on my email,

I was quite dismayed to see

That Steve fell down and broke his hip,

This is a definite concern to me.


Steve’s now in rehab, doing fine

Although his hip was broke.

He laughed during our conversation,

Taking it as his latest joke!


Do you know my baby brother?

Steve Cannon is his name.

But Steve’s not a tiny baby;

He’s now a full grown man.


He thinks that he’s a New Yorker

But New Orleans has a bigger claim.

His ancestry and genealogy

Both contributed to his fame.


Steve’s a writer and a poet,

A novelist and teacher, too,

Founder and publisher of a magazine,

And still he is not through.


He still puts pen to paper

But his pen’s in another’s hand.

Steve has been blind for decades.

This has never stopped this man.


He needs no tea or sympathy

His life is really full.

Steve Cannon is to be admired,

You can bet that there’s no bull.


“Blind Professor of the East Side”.

That’s how he is fondly known.

When I think of his accomplishments,

My mind is completely blown!


You think, “ That,s just Steve’s sister.

Who’s so generous with praise”.

But folks at “A Gathering of the Tribes”,

All agree in a thousand ways!



The Body in Language: An Anthology, Edited by Edwin Torres

Review by Hannah Wood

With The Body in Language, Edwin Torres has compiled works that attempt to explicate the connections between the physical, the spoken and the spiritual, as well as the nature of creation itself. He delineates the works—spanning from poetry and prose, to essays, scripts, and visual amalgamations of all of these elements—into four categories of forces. Each of the chapters is meant to be a complete body, comprised of these combined elements. These are “Fire/Sulfur,” “Water/Salt,” “Earth/Mercury,” and “Air.” The “natural elements” are compared to “concepts of the body” like “soul/intellect/emotion/spirit” (Introduction). According to Torres, by combining these elements, “the origin of the creative spark can be given a shape, a nucleus for conversation” (Introduction). These categories are meant to help language find a body, and to locate connections between the similarities and differences of form, language, visuals and the physical. 

The beginning chapter, called “Section I,” first features a poem by Patricia Smith called “It Creeps Back In.” The piece is labeled as “Air/Foundation.” It is a poem about a person who seems unmoored, who states: “I'm gulping gin and sitting water” (9). The narrator sleeps through the day, but “Depression/should never be ignored, the hers warn…” so the narrator looks around “finally opening my eyes” and observing the surroundings (9). It is fitting that discussing opening one’s eyes to what’s around should kick off the anthology, as the diverse array of pieces attempt to capture the various methods that humans use to express their world.

The next piece is a more specific short personal essay by Susan Osberg called “Dancing the Talk” (Fire/Creation). The essay is about Osberg’s lifelong connection to dance. In fact, she begins the essay by mentioning that her mother danced on the day that she was born, and once she herself was born, Osberg could not stop dancing. She was a member of the Junior Ballet in Norway, and then became a choreographer in New York City. “It is a mistake to think we dance to music,” she writes, referring to the fact that she hears words like music and gestures as sound (11). She suggests that painting, writing and drawing indicate a unity of body, mind, and spirit, bringing us back around to the themes of the anthology.

Will Alexander’s reflection piece “Out of the Ethers” (Earth/Emotion) explains this unity by providing actual drawings to go along with his musings. These abstract drawings of flowers and a hummingbird contribute to Alexander’s argument about beginnings, the birth of life on earth, and the construction of paradigms via a structure-less, but “in-convivial ballet” that began it all (12). He analyzes his origins, both chemical and natural, stating that he comes from the “‘zero-field,’” a hidden place full of the mysteries of the earth. In fact, everything seems to emerge inexplicably, including multiple suns. This seems to be a comment about the way that life developed, slowly, chaotically, inexplicably, but with a unique brilliance.

Urayoan Noel also discusses the emergence of the body in his “Uneasy Bodies” (Water/Thinking). However, he uses his essay to explicate the uneasiness of being in a body that has already been created and born. He mentions his book, In Visible Movement: Nuyorican Poetry from the Sixties to Slam about Nuyorican poets and the Puerto Rican diaspora, saying that he thinks that when looking at his study now, there needs to be more exploration of bodies within the work. He writes about how our bodies can fail us—whether his own body or those of his parents. This not only happens in terms of health, but also as a result of body politics. Noel admires the flaneur, or urban explorer and wanderer, but suggests that in modern day New York City, “city bodies are often uneasy” (16). He mentions Eric Garner and Occupy Wall Street as examples of how for non-one percenters and for minorities, urban space is often contested and fraught, even unsafe. Body politics is also an inadequate term. In fact, “multi-ethnic transnational histories are part of what gets elided when we simply riff on body politics in their immediacy” (17). Bodies are more than one thing. They carry a diverse array of memories and experiences that combine the personal and political. They are “neither and or” (20). We are literally tied to their idiosyncrasies, but we are also constantly reinventing the way we move through a city that is constantly changing, and our lives are all about that negotiation. 

The anthology features more than poetry and reflective essays. There are academic studies included, as well. In “The Body Speaks Whale” (Air/Foundation), philosopher David Rothenberg writes about his project involving putting musical notes to whale sounds and how it allows humans to see what they cannot hear. The sonogram images that were turned into music are pictured in the book. They look like small, curving blotches (84-85). These sounds are also turned into vibrations that Rothenberg uses to help two deaf boys sing along to the whale sounds, allowing us to “…reach over the border from one species to the next” (90). The boys are thrilled to be able to feel what they could never hear, and in internalizing it they are able to make sounds themselves.

The poet, Bob Holman, also does in depth analysis of sound, structure and image—in this case of his own poem. “What You Can’t Understand is Poetry is Connected to the Body Again” (Air/Foundation), is about a woman, Jean, who encounters a dead body. This reviewer originally thought the body was that of her dead lover, as in the second stanza, “She was remembering her lover’s face (230). However, this lover turns out to be the corpse of poetry. First, Holman parses out how he says the title in performance, with an emphasis on the “is” in “What you can’t understand is poetry…” He determines that this emphasis occurs because the existence of poetry, and of language itself, is a great mystery. The benefit is that these elements are “a mix of sound and meaning. Body and song, all together, what makes a poem a poem” (231). In this poem, Holman uses Jean’s predicament with the dead body to explore how poetry is connected to that physical presence. Through his discussion of his own work, he manages to link how these connections between language and sound appear in poetry, while also humorously satirizing the process of poetry analysis. 

The final piece in the anthology, Lila Zemborain’s “Materia Blanda/Soft Matter” (Fire/Creation), translated by Christopher Winks, shows another type of reflection, one more focused on the inner self. It begins with fifteen lines of successive “1’s.” This might indicate the connection between a person and the universe. On the next page, Zemborain writes, “Stretched out on a bed is a body that does not want to die. It’s a corpse, that is, it was” (342). Perhaps then, these “1’s” represent possible corpses that are trapped in uselessness. Eventually, Zemborain comes to the idea that we can center ourselves via a square, which is drawn on the opposite page looking like a shaded square with white outlines of a puzzle piece inside of it (347). This square will allow us to “Enclose oneself in a limitless space” for contemplation of “the flarings of the self” (346). Zemborain seems to be saying that only when humanity is confined in a safe space where all outside distractions can be banished, can we contemplate the meaning of time, and the body—ourselves. In fact, many of these pieces attempt to put readers into such a space where they can ask how it is possible to unify all of these core elements of life and language into one body.

At its core, The Body in Language is an exploration of the connection between the body and mind, the body and soul, and bodies with other bodies. The pieces within, though at times abstruse, all employ various philosophies, genres and formats to discover what it means to have a body and to use it to negotiate the world of sound, language, movement and imagery. Wide in its scope, the anthology explores the methods humans have at their disposal to describe the idiosyncrasies of language and the nuances of living.


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

Overstreet. Courtesy Eric Firestone Gallery | Artnews.com

Overstreet. Courtesy Eric Firestone Gallery | Artnews.com

“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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Monumental plan for trans activists

Sylvia Rivera at age 18 in New York City. (Photo by Kay Tobin/NY Public Library) | Thevillager.com

Sylvia Rivera at age 18 in New York City. (Photo by Kay Tobin/NY Public Library) | Thevillager.com

By Gabe Hernan

Transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will be getting a monument in the city, with the proposed location in the Village at the Ruth Wittenberg Triangle, Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray announced on May 30.

The monument is part of the She Built NYC project, which honors pioneering women. It would be the first permanent public artwork in the world to honor transgender women.

Ruth Wittenberg Triangle is blocks away from the Stonewall Inn, now a national monument and where Johnson and Rivera were key figures in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969.

In 1970, Johnson and Rivera cofounded STAR, standing for Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. The group provided housing and support for L.G.B.T. street youth, including transgender sex workers.

The first STAR House was in Greenwich Village, and was the first L.G.B.T. youth shelter in North America. STAR was also the first organization in America led by transgender women of color.

Rivera and Johnson were advocates for many causes and marginalized groups, including homeless people, H.I.V.-positive youth, young people of color marginalized in the broader campaign for L.G.B.T. rights, and people with disabilities. They fought for all people to have proper access to healthcare.

Rivera died from liver cancer at age 50 in 2002. She lived on New York’s streets from a young age, after running away from her grandmother at age 11 due to her criticism of Rivera being gender-defying, according to a She Built NYC bio. Rivera worked as a child prostitute before being taken in by a community of drag queens. She told The Villager that she had lived for a time on the Greenwich Village waterfront.

Rivera brought back STAR in 2001 to campaign for the city’s Transgender Rights Bill and inclusion of transgender protections in the state’s Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, or SONDA.

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Holding on When the Hand is Shoving You Back: Review of TOMASHI JACKSON Time Out of Mind

By Patricia Spears Jones


Often when confronted with complex economic and social justice issues, visual artists find themselves with this problem—how to make these concepts perceptible to viewers.  There are the crisply declarative poster art style works that blares the artist’s sentiment. There are large scale installations that attempt immerse the viewer. Then there is the thoughtful layering of the large wall works that Tomashi Jackson makes for her exhibition, Time Out of Mind, currently on view at Jack Tilton Gallery until June 29.

Property development is the toxic layer that goes through all of New York City history, from the trading of land possessed by the Lenape to Dutch settlers to the endless construction of ever higher buildings where wealth is measured in square footage for people who may never enter their lucrative residence.  How these “deals” are made, who makes them, who wins and who loses is the essential tale told in Jackson’s art work.

The African American property owners in what was called “Seneca Village” had few rights and fewer privilege, but they were homeowners.  They like Black people before and after, made a way where there was no way. But they were in the way of an even larger concept—a park meant to provide respite to all its citizens for what was an increasingly unhealthy city.  The land owners property was taken by eminent domain—some compensation was provided, but most claimed not enough and the hold outs were evicted in 1857. Jackson presents several works the explore that historic rupture and how it connects with current practices. In John Brown’s Body (Mr. Dorce in Red) and Heiresses (The Central Park Plan), she marshals skillful layering in her mixed media pieces—collage, digital printmaking, photography, muslin, vinyl, wood to narrate the ways in which government policies have been used to undermine Black achievement.

Press and Curl (Black and Brown People's Mortgage Free Homes), 2019 Silkscreen on mylar on canvas, on view at the Tilton Gallery

Press and Curl (Black and Brown People's Mortgage Free Homes), 2019
Silkscreen on mylar on canvas, on view at the Tilton Gallery

But it is her works focused on contemporary governmental land grabbing that truly stands out.  Mary Lyons, Yudy Ventura, & the Co-op Women (Blues People) and Mary Lyons, Yudy Ventura & the Co-op Women (Red Line/Red Scare)   powerfully conveys the steadfast resistance by people of color, esp. women of color to polices that are supposed to provide more “affordable housing”, but both take property from current owners and displace them with little or no compensation—a signature policy of the DeBlasio administration.  Jackson knows these women—you can feel it in this work and others. Their figures are prominent, the colors bright then muted as if the conversation go from shouts to whispers. These acrylics, oil and image transfer on paper and muslin with digital prints on vinyl serve as metaphors for a homeplace where paper, fabric and hard plastics abide.  Also, she encrusts these works with pearl pins and huge buttons—an expression of feminine elegance and eloquence. That one of the buttons says: “De Blasio Defends City Taking African American Properties” underscores the “same old, same old” city policies towards people of color.

Tomashi Jackson  Avocado Seed Soup (Davis, et. al. v County School Board of Prince Edward County)(Brown, et. al. v Board of Education of Topeka)(Sweatt v Painter), 2016  Mixed media on gauze, canvas, rawhide and wood

Tomashi Jackson
Avocado Seed Soup (Davis, et. al. v County School Board of Prince Edward County)(Brown, et. al. v Board of Education of Topeka)(Sweatt v Painter), 2016
Mixed media on gauze, canvas, rawhide and wood

Tomashi Jackson’s work is complicated, yet readable.  Her approach allows her to use layers of shapes, colors, techniques to narrate this tale —not even home ownership can protect any of us from racism.  Jackson is in full command of all her techniques and she really uses her materials-wood, vinyl, paper with panache. Her emotional connection to this topic combines well with her research.  As her gallerist noted this body of work:

is based on historical documents from archives on the creation of Central Park in the mid-1800s and draws upon the work by contemporary journalists Kelly Mena and Stephen Witt in the King’s County Politics New York newspaper and in Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar’s The Park and the People: A History of Central Park.

Ms. Jackson’s work on this theme is also in The Whitney Biennial 2019 and her show at The Jack Tilton Gallery ends June 29.






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: 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.

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

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

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

By Katharine Q. Seelye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article here.

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

Joe Overstreet, Painter and Activist, Is Dead at 85

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

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

By Holland Cotter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article here.

Meet Selear Duke & Acting Resume

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Lee Klein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Nawal Arjini

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full article here.