art exhibit

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.

Milan celebrates the genius of Leonardo da Vinci

Rendering of multimedial projection    Project by Culturanuova s.r.l. - Massimo Chimenti

Rendering of multimedial projection

Project by Culturanuova s.r.l. - Massimo Chimenti

Article by Chiara Isabella Spagnoli Gabardi

Milan is the city where Leonardo da Vinci stayed the longest, arriving in 1482 to work at the court of Duke Ludovico Sforza. The polymath’s presence permanently marked the history and artistic production of the city and the entire region of Lombardy. This is the reason why Milano celebrates 500 years from Leonardo’s death, with a series of events that will take place until January 2020, and will have the Sforza Castle as main hub.

The reopening of the Sala delle Asse, core of "Milan and Leonardo 500,” took place on  May 15th, presenting a rich and dynamic program of exhibitions and related initiatives. The restoration that began in 2013 has now come to completion, revealing a mulberry pergola, designed as a giant trompe l'oeil to turn the large room at the base of the Falconiera Tower into a representative hall for the Duke. It further portrays the mighty roots, known as the ‘Monochrome,’ named after its chiaroscuro painting technique. It is a remarkable graphic and pictorial depiction of the magnificent pergola made up of sixteen mulberry trees, characterized by detailed knotty trunks, landscapes, branches and leaves that keep resurfacing, thus changing the room’s perception.

Nature for Leonardo represented the subject of direct observation, investigations and the privileged topic of theoretical writings, paintings and drawings. This is why the natural environment is the prevailing theme in the Sala Delle Asse. Here, Leonardo painted a giant arboreal pavilion; with the mulberry tree — Morus in Latin — alluding to the nickname of Duke Ludovico Maria Sforza, who was given the epithet of Moro (Moor) by Francesco Guicciardini (one of the major political writers of the Italian Renaissance), because of his dark complexion.

The exhibition in Sala delle Asse, tributes the genius of Leonardo, catapulting it in the digital era, emphasizing how forward-thinking he was in terms of technology. Visitors begin their experience through the spectacular multimedia installation, "Sotto l'ombra del Moro. La Sala delle Asse,” (Under the Moro’s Shadow). Curated and conceived by Massimo Chimenti’s Culturanuova with the scientific collaboration of Francesca Tasso and Michela Palazzo, guests are immersed into a better understanding of the entire room and how it came into being. Projections and videos fill the vault and side walls, reconstructing Leonardo’s history with the ruler of Milan, allowing visitors to learn about the city’s history and the painter’s imitation of nature.

Rendering of multimedial projection    Project by Culturanuova s.r.l. - Massimo Chimenti

Rendering of multimedial projection

Project by Culturanuova s.r.l. - Massimo Chimenti

In these regards, Leonardo’s drawings are incredibly enlightening. For instance, the rooms of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan also host two other projects dedicated to Leonardo. In the Sala dei Ducali, the exhibition "Intorno alla Sala delle Asse. Leonardo tra Natura, Arte e Scienza" (Leonardo betwixt Art & Science), curated by Claudio Salsi, is a selection of original drawings by Leonardo da Vinci and other Renaissance masters showing iconographic and stylistic relations to the naturalistic and landscape decoration details found under multiple layers of limes in the Sala delle Asse. This scientifically and culturally significant exhibition was conceived by the Castle’s Direction in collaboration with some leading international museums, thanks to the loans from Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin, and the Gallerie degli Uffizi in Florence.

The indoor exhibit concludes with a multimedia tour, installed in the Sala delle Armi, designed by Culturanuova, with the scientific collaboration of Edoardo Rossetti and Ilaria De Palma: "Leonardo a Milano” (Leonardo in Milan). This show guides visitors through a virtual a tour of Milan, as Leonardo experienced it from 1482 to 1512. The itinerary features a geo-referenced visual map of what is still left of these places, both in the city and within local museums, churches and buildings: urban spaces, aristocratic mansions and churches, such as the Church of San Francesco Grande, Borgo delle Grazie, Castello Sforzesco, the ancient Porta Vercellina, Corso Nirone, and the thoroughfare of current Corso Magenta-contrada dei Meravigli- Cordusio.

The celebration of Leonardo da Vinci continues also outdoors in the courtyard of the Castello Sforzesco, with a real mulberry tree pergola in the Cortile delle Armi. This live reproduction of what Leonardo portrayed inside the Sala delle Asse, is a real architecture made of plants, designed and created together with Orticola di Lombardia. The aim is for it to grow through the seasons, as a permanent reminder of the polymath’s work, so that the millions of visitors who walk across the Castle courts every year can enjoy a different, and botanical point of view.

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.