Theatre Review – Quietly

img_1227It’s very strange when life seemingly imitates art, which happened to me this past Saturday; when the bomb exploded on 23rd Street, I was in the Irish Rep on 22nd Street watching Quietly, a play with a character who threw a bomb when he was a teenager.  If you haven’t seen this play by Owen McCafferty, be sure to see it before it closes this Sunday.   Set in a bar in Belfast, there are only three characters – Robert, the Polish bartender, and  two bar patrons, Jimmy and Ian, who were on opposite sides – and hence enemies – during The Troubles.  Now Jimmy and Ian are meeting to revisit that time – what they did, what they didn’t do, who they lost, how it changed their lives.   

The tension unfolds softly, steadily, then  erupts as old events are relived, and Jimmy and Ian are forced to come to terms with their actions and consequences, and say “sorry” for inflicting wounds that will never heal.  The play illustrates how our unwillingness to see someone else’s point of view, or to even try to understand it, leads to a cycle of violence – societal and personal – that can only be broken when individuals are willing to face up to what they have done, and their victims are willing to try to reconcile.  Quietly also clearly demonstrates how easily youth are recruited and coerced into doing monstrous deeds by adults intent on political gain.  The economical writing and acting make for a superb production (this subject material could easily be over-written and over-acted);  you feel like you’re in the bar with the characters. I heartily recommend seeing it.

Quietly  runs through September 25th, and is part of the 1st Irish Festival.

A Novel Evening Indeed

Tony Macaulay (top) and Daniel Mallen

Tony Macaulay (top) and Daniel Mallen

One of the things I love about festivals in New York, is the chance to hear new voices alongside more established ones.   That’s what happened earlier this month, at a reading by two Irish authors, at the National Arts Club, sponsored by 1st Irish  and the WB Yeats Society of NY.   First up was Tony Macaulay  who hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he grew up at the top of Shankill Road during “The Troubles.”  Tony spoke with understanding and humor about growing up in such a dangerous, divided place, and how those years provided the fodder for two of his three memoirs:  Paperboy, about his experiences as a 12-year old delivering The Belfast Telegraph in his neighborhood; and Breadboy which recounts  his experiences  from age 14 to 16, delivering bread for the Ormo Minishop in Belfast.  His third book, All Growed Up, follows him as a university student in Coleraine.   In addition to writing, Tony lived on the “peace line” in Belfast for many years, working with youth on a community development project, and he’s also worked conflict resolution in post-conflict countries such as Montenegro and Bosnia.  Yet, he is hopeful for humanity, and hasn’t lost his keen wit and sense of humor.

Then Daniel Mallen, a firefighter in Cork, a published songwriter, and a first-time novelist, read from his book, The Judging of Abigail Perdue.  The story revolves around Abigail Perdue, who has just died, and now finds herself in a place called Stasis, where she will be judged by five other new arrivals, who will examine her life and vote on her fate – and she will have a vote on theirs. However, there are only three outcomes: eternal peace in Heofon; rebirth on Earth; or destruction in Gehenna…

Being a firefighter made Daniel realize how quickly life can be taken, and how little we know about each other.  It also started him thinking about what happens in the afterlife, and led to this book.  He recounted some of the coincidences which arose while writing this novel. I’ll tell you one.  A character in the book is a firefighter named Michael Roberts, who has a sister named Karen. Daniel took this name from a t-shirt one of his colleagues gave him that is inscribed with the names of the firefighters from Engine 214, Ladder 111 who died on 9/11.  It wasn’t until after the book was published, that Daniel was contacted by the real Michael Roberts’ mother, only to discover she was the  woman who brought the t-shirt to his firehouse some ten years earlier, and that her late son’s sister is named Karen. 

It was delightful to listen to both authors, who, having dealt with people under very trying circumstances, evince a strong empathy for their fellow human beings, and maintain a positive outlook.  I’m looking forward to reading their books! 

Pop Up Art in Park Slope

Attendants/artists Annie Pettinga and Kati Rehneck at Not For Sale

Attendants/artists Annie Pettinga and Kati Rehneck at Not For Sale

On my way to the library, I stopped at the Soldiers and Sailors Arch at the entrance to Prospect Park, to check out what seemed to be a newsstand – but it was painted pink, and had a sign saying Not for Sale.  Turns out, this is part of the Park Slope Art Festival, and in fact, the structure (constructed and painted by artists Annie Pettinga and Kati Rehneck in photo at left), is modeled after a newsstand, but instead of the usual candy and reading materials, it holds art made only by artists – over 90 from 10 countries – who identify as female.  The brainchild of Girl on Girl Collective,  an art collective based in Brooklyn, the newsstand features works which can’t be bought – however, it is possible to acquire some by fulfilling certain conditions, the idea being to create interaction between the artists and the public.

For example, I got one of Hadley Leary’s mini matchboxes, which are mostly covered with photos of women in water, simply by speaking with one of the attendants/artists, and expressing interest in it. If, however, you wanted to get the “Lucky Alive” candy cigarettes, then you would have to be a smoker, so the artist could talk to you about the dangers of smoking.  In a nod to the newsstand theme, there was a giant cookie onto which the news had been “printed.”   There were some lovely hand-painted postcards, and several art zines.  Not for Sale will be open through September 25th, which is also the last day of the Park Slope Art Festival.  Stop by and chat with the artists – you don’t have to buy anything, and you might leave with something of value.

Opportunities for Artists and Writers

The Center for Book Arts  is accepting applications for their Letterpress Printing & Fine Press Publishing Seminar For Emerging Writers. The seminar, taught by Master Printer Barbara Henry, runs twice a year for five consecutive days in early May and early November. The seminar is tuition-free for participants and includes the cost of materials. Selected participants must attend the entire five-day workshop.  Applications are due October 7th.  More information here.  

The Center will also be accepting applications for its year-long residencies: up to five New York-based emerging artists are offered space, time and support to explore the production and exhibition of artists’ books and related work.  Applications are due October 15th. More information here.  

Textiles: More Than Fabric for Clothes

Heads of Manatas and Indigo Trinidad in installation by Laura Anderson Barbata

Heads of Manatas and Indigo Trinidad in installation by Laura Anderson Barbata

I started my celebration of Textile Month by taking in Material Cultures, a lovely compact exhibition at BRIC House, which explores how 8 different artists employ textiles in their art.  Most of the featured works tend toward sculptural or 3-D, with only one artist using fabric to create clothing.  Hailing from Mexico, Peru, Canada and the US, many of these artists are re-interpreting traditional materials and/or techniques, allowing them to be seen in a new light, or referencing the collision of tradition and modern life.  Here are some of my favorites.

Laura Anderson Barbata created a group of ten imaginative, fanciful figures garbed in costumes mostly made of hand-woven indigo dyed cotton, thus exploring the possibilities of this widely used fabric, whose designs are often freighted with the political and social implications of the communities in which they are made.   

Luna Park by Adrian Esparza

Luna Park by Adrian Esparza

Adrian Esparza has deconstructed a serape, transforming this traditional garment into a large-scale, modernist “drawing” that is Op-Art in its feel, by pinning different colored threads to the wall, creating lines and shapes that intersect and overlap, resulting in new colors and geometric abstractions.  Despite it’s size, I found his work to have a very open, delicate feel. 

Papel tejido, Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia, hand woven acrylic on paper in Material Cultures at BRIC

Papel tejido, Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia, hand woven acrylic on paper in Material Cultures at BRIC

Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia  created several joyous brightly colored tapestries made from long strips of painted paper  which he’s woven into complex abstract patterns.   

Oulad Bou Sbea by Marela Zacarias in Material Cultures at BRIC

Oulad Bou Sbea by Marela Zacarias in Material Cultures at BRIC

Marela Zacarias large-scale monochromatic sculpture cascades down one of the gallery walls like a softly-draped piece of white satin, which belies the complexity of its structure.  The artist has fashioned the underlying form from wire screening which she attaches to wooden supports, to which she applies layers of plaster she then sands, polishes and paints.  You’ll also find two smaller works which she has painted with geometric patterns, giving the impression that they’re silk scarves that just happen to be on the wall.

detail of crocheted mandala by Xenobia Bailey

detail of crocheted mandala by Xenobia Bailey

Up the stairs in a small bright room you’ll find the joyful, vibrant hand-crocheted  work of Xenobia Bailey, which references various philosophies and traditions, but is rooted in the African-American popular culture of the American South.  The bright pink walls are decorated with her colorful, concentric mandalas, imbuing the space with energy and the visual rhythms of jazz. In the center of the room you’ll find the Funktional House, a tent of lively, varied patterns crocheted from brightly-colored yarns (unfortunately you can’t go in) that transmutes the energy of funk. 

There are more artists who’s work is on display;  you can find more pictures on my Instagram feed .

On September 28th, at 7:00pm, BRIC will host a panel discussion with several of the artists in the show. FREE with RSVP.

The exhibit continues on until October 23rd, at BRIC House 247 Fulton Street, Brooklyn.

Governor’s Island – Overflowing with Art

One of many views from The Hills on Governor's Island

One of many views from The Hills on Governor’s Island

Scholastically speaking, summer may have come to a close, but on the cultural side, it’s still going strong.  Especially on Governor’s Island, which is one of my favorite spaces – you can hang out and take in the spectacular views (be sure to visit The Hills), or, stroll or bike around, and, on the weekends, catch a performance or check out the art.

This year, the art show, which continues every Saturday and Sunday for the next 3 weekends, is spectacular, taking over the buildings along Colonels Row, as well as spaces in Fort Jay and Castle William (both 1812-era forts). The show, organized by 4Heads, contains the work of 100 artists. There’s a lot of variety – paintings, sculpture, video, fibre art – and a lot to like.  Oftentimes the artists are on-site, and they’re very approachable. 

Phenotype, by Mark Lorah, sculpture from recycled boxes

Phenotype, by Mark Lorah, sculpture from recycled boxes

In the eight casements on the upper floor of Castle William  are site-specific pieces, ranging from Charlotte Becket’s  La Mancha Negra, a  motorized soft plastic piece that inflates, stretching and contracting like a sleeping person, to Chaney Trotter’s   Wan(ing, wax)ing light sculpture nestled in its own environment of tree branches, netting and moss.  Environmental concerns are addressed throughout the show, in works like Phenotype,  a joyous spiraling sculpture  by Mark Lorah made from recycled white cardboard boxes, and the wire sculptures of animals by Elizabeth Keithline.

In Fort Jay, you’ll descend to the magazine (a series of decommissioned stone munitions chambers), where there are several videos and installations which make very good use of the rounded spaces.  I especially liked User Experience by Coalfather Industries, an installation and short film in which beings from the future have excavated 20th century earth, and try to explain things like megastores, parking garages, and cemeteries, using archeological terms (the best is when they speculate that landfills may have been used as ceremonial mounds).   In another space are Pablo Garcia Lopez’s  all-white baroque, theatrical sculptures made of silk, fashioned like figures on a wedding cake.

There’s lots going on in the houses on Colonels Row. I’ll just list some of my favorites. (The numbers and letters denote the house’s address) 

Dress by Patrice Yourdon, silver screws

Dress by Patrice Yourdon, silver screws

404 A – Patrice Yourdon has crafted some very delicate dresses from mesh and metal screws, which I know sounds very contradictory; some of them she’s painted, others are their natural colors.  Ethan Minsker has created a memorial to victims of mass shootings with Ghost Gun, in which handguns made from white paper dangle from the ceiling, moving randomly with the breezes and as people pass through. Visitors are encouraged to take selfies with them and post the images on Instagram, with the goal of starting a wide conversation about gun violence in the US.

404 A also has gift shop, where you can find works for sale by the artists in the exhibition.

404 BSam Horowitz, an environmental artist has a lovely piece he fashioned from circular pieces of wood and metal tubes with openings of different widths, that recalls stained glass in the way it lets in light.  Jia Wang has created an amazing installation, which looks like a machine you’d find in an old-fashioned arcade. Inside a glass case are two levels of female swimmers arranged in circles – when it is turned on, the figures not only move in a circle, but also seem to dive from one level to another. And this was just her thesis project.

406 B – Working in both color and black & white,  Michael James Murray  takes panoramic images – of ruins, landscapes, skyscrapers – and compresses them into a sphere, completely altering them, so it’s not until you get up close that you see what the underlying images are.  Check out his website – this description doesn’t do his work justice.

407 A – Mikkel Johnsen  created a series of desolate imaginary landscapes; into each one he’s placed  one very large brutalist/industrial building (that he constructed using a 3-D printer), which he then photographed in black & white.  The resulting large-scale images are strange but beautiful.

Deadly Poppies by Borinquen Gallo, plastic bags, plastic Danger tape, debris netting

Deadly Poppies by Borinquen Gallo, plastic bags, plastic Danger tape, debris netting

407 BBorinquen Gallo’s two pieces, Deadly Poppies, will catch your eye immediately.  Looking very much like evening wear, on closer inspection you’ll see that the artist has taken red plastic bags and that red plastic “Danger” tape you see at construction sites, and woven them through construction debris netting, sometimes very evenly, to create a kind of fabric; in other places she’s pulled the tape through to create poppies.  Fabulous!!   In another room, Sherman Finch   wants you to play with his art that’s full of kinetic energy.  His instrumentalist sculptures have balls which move when you spin the sculpture, much like the game wheels at Coney Island. 

Beaded canvas by Marcy Sperry, seed beads, glitter, glue

Beaded canvas by Marcy Sperry, seed beads, glitter, glue

408 A – You’ll be sure to smile at Marcy Sperrys   wonderful abstract canvases, whose colorful, intricate designs are made entirely from seed beads  and glitter which she’s glued to the surface – a long process which demands a lot of concentration.  Melinda McDaniel has taken unprocessed black & white photographic paper, cut it into strips, bundled them together, and, employing a quilling technique, wrapped them around brad nails. to create highly decorative works.  Over time, as the paper is exposed to light, these sculptures will change color.  Ed Grant has created fabulous water fictions by manipulating photos, so they no longer resemble their original subjects, but rather intensely colorful, fantastical, futuristic waves and water flows.  The Lower East Side Girls Club has created a very imaginative installation that speaks to the issue of mass incarceration.  Using wide pink plastic ribbon, they’ve created a jail cell inside their exhibition room, which gives you a real sense of how small a cell is, even though you can enter and leave it freely.  Against one wall  is You Are the Key to Prison Reform, a series of photographs of metal locks with various inscriptions, including names of people in prison.

Detail of Different Nothings by Julia Bland, linen, velvet wool, silk yarn, oil and acrylic

Detail of Different Nothings by Julia Bland, linen, velvet wool, silk yarn, oil and acrylic

Also along Colonel’s Row is another show, The Tide is High with the work of about 25 artists, organized by Empire Historic Arts and Silvermine Galleries.  Taking up two floors of one of the buildings, it includes some terrific fibre art.  Two of my favorite pieces are Different Nothings, by Julia Bland,  who’s painted abstractions on a background of linen, velvet, wool and silk yarns; and  Color in a Form by Jonathan Cowan, who’s embroidered a rainbow in colored threads on his painted canvas. 

Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian by Michael Richards

Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian by Michael Richards

Over at the Arts Center you’ll find the Lower Manhattan Cultural Councils exhibit  Michael Richards: Winged which features sculptures, drawings, and documentation of his work.  The central piece is Tar Baby vs.St. Sebastian, a gilded cast of his body in the uniform of the Tuskegee Airmen, which is being pierced by miniature airplanes. (African-American pilots in WW2, the Tuskegee Airmen were nonetheless segregated from their white counterparts).  In the center of the room is Air Fall 1 – right below the ceiling is a black cloud made of hair from which 50 small airplanes wrapped in hair are suspended over a mirrored bulls-eye target on the floor.  Against one wall is The Great Black Airmen, composed of 5 pilot helmets with both straightened and kinked hair, placed on pedestals, and arranged as if they were a doo-wop group, causing you to imagine the men who would have worn those helmets.  These works, which invoke airplanes are eerily prescient, when you consider that Richards died while working in  his LMCC studio at the World Trace Center on 9/11. There are many other works by Mr. Richards in this show, which is very relevant for today.  Make time to see it.

Through next weekend, you can visit Swale, a floating sculpture and edible forest (with bee hive) on a  barge docked at Yankee Pier, designed to address the question, What if fresh, healthy food could be a free public service?  This is a project you want to get on board with.

I’ve really only covered a tiny bit of the art that you’ll find in these three shows.  There are other shows on Governor’s Island that I haven’t gotten to – I suggest you plan ahead and leave yourself plenty of time. I’ve posted more photos on my Instagram feed.   

All this wonderful work is FREE!!  You can get to Governor’s Island  by ferry from the Battery in Manhattan or Pier 6 in Brooklyn (for only $2). There’s a lot going on, so be sure to get out there before September 25th!  

Modern Brazilian Landscape Design

Self-Portrait, Roberto Burle Marx, 1929 charcoal

Self-Portrait, Roberto Burle Marx, 1929 charcoal

If you watched the Summer Olympics, you may have caught a glimpse of the two-and-a-half-mile thoroughfare, Avenida Atlântica along the Copacabana shoreline in Rio.  This iconic pavement was designed in 1970 by  Roberto Burle Marx  whose career is the subject of a retrospective at the Jewish Museum.  Not widely known outside Brazil, over the course of a 60-year career he designed some 2,000 gardens worldwide, including Chile, Argentina, France, South Africa, and the United States.  He is perhaps best known here for his fluid design of Miami’s Biscayne Boulevard (completed after his death), with its swirling, vivid patterns.

Burle Marx (1909-1994) was the son of a German Jewish father and a Brazilian Catholic mother (the portraits he painted of his parents are in the exhibit).  He grew up in Rio, and studied painting in Germany for  a few years.  It was during visits to the Botanical Garden in Berlin that he learned about Brazil’s native flora, and saw it used for decorative purposes, in contrast to Brazil, where European-style gardens with imported vegetation were in vogue.

Design for the Garden of the Clemente Gomes Residence, Areias, 1979

Design for the Garden of the Clemente Gomes Residence, Areias, 1979

Back in Brazil in the early 1930‘s, he embraced modernism which was then taking hold there. Through his drawings for public works projects and private commissions, the exhibit demonstrates how Burle Marx revolutionized garden design.  Rejecting symmetry, formalism and imported European flora, his designs employed  abstraction and grand colorful sweeps of local vegetation, bringing to mind the paintings of Joan Miro, Jean Arp and Sonia Delauney.

His design sensibilities were informed by an awareness of how people walk through a garden, resulting in relaxing design patterns created with pavings and bed shapes. 

Throughout his career, Burle Marx collaborated with architects, including  Lucio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer, Jose Tabacow and Haruyoshi Ono.

Design for the Minister's Rooftop Garden, Ministry of Education and Health, Rio de Janieiro, 1938

Design for the Minister’s Rooftop Garden, Ministry of Education and Health, Rio de Janieiro, 1938

On display are his plans for several public works projects, such as the roof garden for the Ministry of Health and Education in Rio, one of his most celebrated designs, and the Ministry of the Army in Brazilia, both of which made clever use of scale and water.

The exhibit also showcases designs for private commissions, as well as plans that were never realized, which all together make you see how his asymmetrical plans with their amoeba-like forms have influenced landscape artists around the world, as has his use of native vegetation, colorful pavements, and free-form bodies of water.

An amateur botanist, Burle Marx discovered over fifty plant species, advocated passionately for the environment, and spoke out against deforestation in Brazil. 

Detail, tapestry for the Santo André Civic Center, 1969

Detail, tapestry for the Santo André Civic Center, 1969

In addition to his landscape designs, throughout the show, you’ll find his paintings.  I especially liked his portraits, several of regular people, some of African ancestry, who are painted as the main subjects, not supporting afterthoughts.  A prolific artist, he also worked in jewelry and textile design.   One of my favorites is a 1969 tapestry for the Santo André Civic Center; about 12ft x 90ft, it takes up the rear wall of the exhibit. In addition to it’s colorful free-form shapes, it makes use of pulled and raised yarns to create texture and three dimensionality in selected spots.  In a small room you’ll find a tablecloth and a large-scale painting he made, as well as a small selection of the folk art he collected – the angels on the top shelf are especially lovely, as is the two-headed beast on the shelf below.

If you’re hungry, I’d recommend grabbing a bite at Russ & Daughters  in the Museum’s lower level;  I can personally recommend the Vegetable Barley Soup and the Honey cake with ice-cream – the Borscht and blintzes won raves from one of my friends.

Maquette for the Burton & Emily Hall Tremaine Beach House, Santa Barbara, CA 1948 (unbuilt)

Maquette for the Burton & Emily Hall Tremaine Beach House, Santa Barbara, CA 1948 (unbuilt)

The Museum is hosting several  events related to the show.  On September 8th, at 7:30 pm, Art & Music: The Genius of the Burle Marx Family, a lecture-in-concert explores the relationship between the landscape architecture and art  of Roberto Burle Marx and the musical compositions of his brother Walter.  Directed by Thiago Tiberio, President of the Burle Marx Music Society, and performed by the Fourth Estate Project musicians, the concert will include a lecture by Walter’s last surviving daughter, Leonora, punctuated by selections of her father’s chamber music.

On the afternoon of Friday, September 16, take in a talk focused on Roberto Burle Marx’s observational work from nature, and the relationship between representation and abstraction.

The exhibit continues through September 18th, at the Jewish Museum,  1109 Fifth Avenue, at 92nd Street.

Moholy-Nagy: Finding the Present in the Past

Z VII by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, 1926, oil and graphite on canvass

Z VII by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, 1926, oil and graphite on canvass

I got up to the Guggenheim to see Future Present, the retrospective of Hungarian-American artist Lazlo-Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946).  Spiraling up all six levels, this show presents his work in a chronological fashion, beginning with his years in Budapest, then Berlin, Weimar, Dessau, Amsterdam, London, and finally Chicago, where he settled in 1937, becoming the director of the Chicago Bauhaus, then founding a school of design. (He had been the Director of the Weimar and Dessau Bauhaus between 1923 and 1928)  I would recommend starting at the first floor, and working your way up, so as to better appreciate his progression through the fields of painting, photography, typography,   printmaking, industrial design and sculpture. Through his deliberate subversion of the traditional separation of “high” art from applied art, and his embrace and incorporation of technology, he exerted an influence that continues to resound in contemporary design aesthetic.

The first stop is Room of the Present (Raum der Gegenwart) a present-day fabrication of an exhibition space Moholy-Nagy conceived in 1930 (but was not realized in his lifetime), meant to showcase the vanguard mediums of the early 1930’s. In some ways it was a platform for his ideas about the power of images, and the importance of the way they were disseminated.  Be sure to see the Light Prop for an Electric Stage (1930)  a sculpture/device which incorporates glass spirals, perforated disks, and other moving parts. After his death, it was called the “Light-Space Modulator,” and has since been alternatively viewed as either a kinetic sculpture or an early example of Light Art.  Throughout the exhibit, you’ll find works entitled Space Modulator, so this is a good introduction to that concept.

19 by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, 1921, Oil on canvas

19 by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, 1921, Oil on canvas

No matter his style or his medium, Moholy-Nagy’s oeuvre seems to be suffused with an innate sense of rhythm and balance.   He was constantly experimenting with light, lines, architectural shapes, and relationships.   His works almost always contain a dominant geometric form that is either larger or darker, or that in some way distinguishes itself from the other elements, but is still in harmony with them.  Very often his shapes seem poised to move around the canvas.

I had been familiar with Moholy-Nagy’s paintings from the 1920’s and 30’s, starting with the Dada-influenced canvasses populated with numbers and letters, and moving on to Constructivist influenced paintings. For me it was interesting to see how the artist’s palette shifted from the browns and grays of his early works, to the brighter blues and reds that dominated his later ones.  I was delighted to discover his work in other media in this exhibition.

Slide by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, 1923, photomontage

Slide by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, 1923, photomontage

Throughout the 1920’s, Moholy-Nagy was intently focused on photography, viewing this as a medium being able to create “the New Vision,” which could foster a new understanding of art in a fast-changing culture.  His photos are fantastic, creating new optical sensations; they’re always off-center, often with a strong diagonal line, giving them an architectural feel.  Most are taken from either below or above; those taken facing the subject are usually focusing in on a particular section or detail.  Depicting a wide range of subjects, they are all arresting studies in texture, shadow, and light.  The same is true of his photo-montages, comprised of images cut and pasted from magazines, which the artist augmented with pencil and ink drawings, playing with perspective and imbuing them with humor and a cinematic touch.

Poster for the London Underground by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy

Poster for the London Underground by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy

In the 20’s and 30’s, Moholy-Nagy created photograms, or cameraless photos, by placing objects on a sheet of photographic paper, and exposing it to light.  While these luminous images are mostly abstract,  sometimes you can almost decipher the object. 

Moholy-Nagy also worked in commercial design, employing then-new techniques such as using only lower-case letters for main titles, which seems so commonplace today.  In the same section you’ll also find his posters for the London Underground, which make that subway seem to be the safest and most modern of transportation systems (who would have thought that escalator mechanics and pneumatic doors could be engaging!).  Nearby you’ll see his stage designs for productions of The Merchant of Berlin, Madam Butterfly, and the Tales of Hoffman.  Photos of these sets are projected on the wall, clearly showing Moholy-Nagy’s open design, which in 1929, would have been avant-garde, but which we take for granted today.

Space Modulator by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, 1939-45, oil and incised lines on Plexiglas

Space Modulator by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, 1939-45, oil and incised lines on Plexiglas

The last level showcases Moholy-Nagy’s novel use of industrial plexiglas, which he molded into sculptures, or used as a drawing medium, onto which he would either incise or paint lines and abstract shapes. (He heated the plexiglas in his home oven, so he could shape it).  These pieces are mounted on clips or rails, so they can be away from the wall, casting shadows.  You’ll also find several of his larger scale paintings from the mid-1940’s, mostly employing bright red, gold, yellow, blue and black geometric shapes.  I especially liked the three large drawings whose backgrounds are finely rendered curving lines, with a geometric sculpture seemingly floating in the negative space.

Even though there’s a lot to see in this show, you don’t feel overwhelmed, as there’s plenty of space between individual works, and the various sections. 

Moholy-Nagy was active during a period of intense technological and societal change, much like our own time.  Through his response – incorporating the new and breaking down the artificial boundaries imposed by a prior age, he offers us a highly relevant paradigm in today’s cultural and technological shifts.

Be sure to see this show before it closes on September 7th.

Bruce Conner : Embracing Contradiction

Installation view of BRUCE CONNER: IT’S ALL TRUE. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, July 3-October 2, 2016. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Martin Seck

Installation view of BRUCE CONNER: IT’S ALL TRUE. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, July 3-October 2, 2016. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Martin Seck

I’m not sure how you describe work that is indescribable, except by declaring it as such, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. And I’m also going to strongly recommend that you see the Bruce Conner (1933-2008) show IT’S ALL TRUE  at MOMA.  From the get-go it’s clear you’re going to see a body of work that defies categorization –   at the entrance, you’re greeted with a sign that says:  BRUCE CONNER – I am an artist, an anti-artist, a romantic, a realist, a postmodernist, a beatnik, subtle, confrontational, accessible, obscure, spiritual, profane.  IT’S ALL TRUE

That seems to be a pretty good summation of his oeuvre, which comprises drawing, painting, collage, assemblage, photography and film; the show of some 250 works is divided along these categories.  Most of it is abstract, non-linear and non-narrative, and many pieces are “untitled” which makes it difficult to describe particular ones.  The show begins with his Early Paintings, abstract oils, with thickly layered paint into which he’s layered, carved or scratched flowers or geometric shapes. I especially liked Dark Brown (1959) — out of a swirling expanse of shades of brown emerges a white, whale-like shape with a group pearls embedded where an eye might be – calling to mind stories of mysterious, elusive sea creatures. (He took the title from a book by Michael McClure, to whom he gave the painting).

Bruce Conner. UNTITLED. 1966. Felt-tip pen on paper. 38 × 25 1/2 in. (96.5 × 64.8 cm). Courtesy Conner Family Trust. © 2016 Conner Family Trust, San Francisco / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bruce Conner. UNTITLED. 1966. Felt-tip pen on paper. 38 × 25 1/2 in. (96.5 × 64.8 cm). Courtesy Conner Family Trust. © 2016 Conner Family Trust, San Francisco / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

From there the show moves quickly to Conner’s collage and assemblages, made mostly when he was living in Mexico in 1961 and 62.  Of varying sizes, these 3-D works make ingenious use of wood, paper, mirror fragments, buttons, trinkets, fabric, wallpaper, and various objects, many of which are wrapped in light tan nylon fabric. While clever, I wasn’t overwhelmed by them, and I found his black wax sculptures rather creepy.

For me, it’s Conner’s works on paper that really captivate.  Black and white – pencil, ink, felt-tipped pen – they’re clearly the work of an obsessive spirit – it must have taken a lot of time and enormous concentration to create each one of these pictures.  His Star & Ink series starts with drawings where the page is covered with black ink from which tiny white specs emerge, then gradually, over the course of the series, the white specs come to predominate. In his Mandala series, he uses felt-tipped pens to draw short lines  of varying widths, and again plays with the black & white spaces and the varying depths of the blacks and the grays from which various geometric shapes – especially circles – emerge clearly, while others are hinted at.  There’s a group called Drawings, which are dense but delicate cross hatchings, composed around geometric shapes.  In this section you’ll find some works done with purple, red, and green felt-tipped pens.  In the Late Work on Paper, Conner employs an ink-blot technique (which he kept a secret) that involved intricate and precise paper folding techniques, which he used to create patterned backgrounds for geometric shapes that resided in the negative space.  Most of these images are small and delicate, reminding me variously of insects, masks, and calligraphy.  In the Illustrations section, you’ll find a different kind of inkblot – large, flat, high contrast black-ink images that made me think of shadow puppets.

Bruce Conner. 23 KENWOOD AVENUE. 1963. Ink on paper, 26 x 20″ (66 x 50.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase and partial gift of Achim Moeller in memory of Paul Cummings. © 2016 Bruce Conner / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bruce Conner. 23 KENWOOD AVENUE. 1963. Ink on paper, 26 x 20″ (66 x 50.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase and partial gift of Achim Moeller in memory of Paul Cummings. © 2016 Bruce Conner / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

One wall is given to photos Conner took at the Mabuhay Gardens punk club in San Francisco.  These black & white images, mostly single portraits of club goers and performers, capture the spirit, energy, and loud, in-your-face feel of the era.

The Late Engraving Collages are wonderful works where Conner cut up and re-combined fragments of late 19th and early 20th century engravings – landscapes, interiors, portraits – to which he often added his own touches.  There’s a lot of dark humor in this section, as well as social commentary.

There’s much more to see here – be sure to leave yourself plenty of time, especially if you want to see his films.  But be sure to see this exhibit!  Before it closes on October 2nd.

Take the HDC #Preservation Pays Challenge and Have Fun!

The Historic Districts Council  has just issued a fun challenge:  between now and September 6th, participants must snap a photo of themselves in front of all six buildings named in the HDC infographic, as well as the Woolworth Tower Residences in Lower Manhattan and post them either on Instagram or Twitter.   Five lucky winners will be treated to a private tour of the Woolworth Tower Residences in Lower Manhattan led by Historic Districts Council Adviser and official Woolworth Tower Historian Lisa Renz.   The #PreservationPays challenge  is free and open to all.  HDC also runs great public programs and walking tours, so check out their website