Albert Camus said that to create is to live twice and, in the case of James Baldwin, this is especially evident in 2019. Why, do you ask, has Baldwin’s fiction recently been adapted into an Academy Award nominated film by Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk) while his life has inspired the art exhibition God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin curated by Hilton Als at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York City (along with accompanying film screenings). The 2016 documentary I Am Not Your Negro (based on Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, Remember This House) was a runaway success and it seems that our appetites are barely whetted for more.
The af Klint exhibition at the Guggenheim is a sublime encounter, simultaneously entirely familiar yet alien and unexpected. Born in 1862, af Klint was a painter preoccupied with mysticism. One of the first women to receive a higher education at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, she painted commercially for money but pursued mysticism throughout her life. As a teenager, she “participated in spiritistic séances but gave them up due to their lack of seriousness” and in her 30’s she and four other female artists founded a spiritual group that met once a week. The group made contact with spiritual beings which culminated in af Klint channeling the messages she received in a collection of 193 paintings, the majority of which are shown in this exhibition.
A common refrain in current activism is “Listen to Black Women”. When the latest traumatic news cycle starts, a chorus of commentators and thinkers invariably chime in, trying to either explain or deny or commodify the moment we find ourselves in. A pervasive response? Listen to black women. This moment is a deep and long overdue reckoning that will take years to unfold - it has of course been building for hundreds of years and is so nuanced so as to require a continual deep engagement etc. But for guidance - what do we listen to? And how?
There are many possible ways to make a documentary about art and money. One tack might be to focus on the question of art’s value. Where does this value lie? Is art more valuable than a house? Than liberty? A human life? These are interesting questions, but unfortunately, Nathaniel Kahn’s new documentary, The Price of Everything, barely touches on them. Another approach might be to cast a broader net, and discuss blue chip art as one of many models artists have of making money off their work: regional artists selling to a local market, performance artists living off commission, workaday artists making souvenirs for tourists. These lives are interesting too, but Kahn’s documentary makes no mention of them. One could even make a comparative study of the few activities that receive market attention versus the many that have been practiced and continue to be practiced with no relation to markets at all: hobbies, cave paintings, ritual objects, outsider and underground art, decorative doodles in the margins of notebooks. This would be a fascinating typology, but unfortunately, Kahn’s documentary does not attempt it.
When I first entered this exhibit, I knew only bits and pieces of Whitten’s work - namely, his use of a “developer”, a handmade canvas-sized squeegee contraption that allowed him to make a painting in a manner of seconds. His developer paintings were on display, as were his homages, and sculpture from throughout his career.
What is the difference between erotic art and pornography; and why is it that the change of medium changes perspective?
These are questions Los Angeles based photographer Rowan Metzner is presenting in her latest photography book collection, Erotic Masters:A Photographic Exploration of the Provocative Works of Rodin, Schiele and Picasso, a collection of photographic representations of erotic works by modern masters Rodin, Schiele and Picasso. Each scene is photographed as if the original artists had done so themselves, inviting the viewer to contemplate the ultimate question: is photographed erotic art viewed as pornography?
“Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions, 1965-2016,” which was first shown at the Museum of Modern Art from March-July 2018, is an expansive and exhaustive retrospective of the artist and philosopher’s prolific body of work. Piper, who now lives in Berlin, was the first tenured African American woman professor in philosophy, and an intense attention to detail and masterful analysis is reflected in her work. The exhibition is mounted chronologically, and as such, you see Piper interrogate a variety of subjects over the course of her life: psychedelia and minimalism, time and space, meditations on philosophy, race, gender and abject embodiment, of social perceptions, of the death of both systems and people. Equally impressive is Piper’s command of media. Her works range from drawings and paintings, to sculpture, to photographs and essays, to performance. What unites her vast and masterful body of work is her attention to detail and a rigorous approach to the concepts she interrogates - and best of all, she has a sense of humor.
In the Gospel According to André, the documentary (directed by Kim Novak) takes account of the life of one of the fashion industry's most recognizable figures. André Leon Talley - born and raised in North Carolina, experienced his career birth in 1970s New York - as a one of a kind fashion editor flourishing amidst many of the most heralded artists, creators, movers and shakers of the age.
A pregnant woman, naked, leans back in a chair. Her arm is lifted behind her head, her face buried in her elbow, as she concentrates on her breathing. Her husband crouches beside her, his fingers cradling her ballooned lower belly, dipping just above her exposed vagina. She heaves, he heaves, a seemingly simultaneous labour, as the next chapter of their life crowns its head from the space between her legs.
It was as horrifying as it was life-changing, the lack of any facial feature or details erased from her quasi-cartoonish figures engaging in a chaotic interplay of violent revenge and total domination, confronting the viewer with the stubbornness of slavery’s legacy that had been transmuted into 150 years of racist governmental policy and cultural stereotypes.