World War 1 Through Artists’ Eyes

Poster by Howard Chandler Christy, 1917

The NY Historical Society  is also commemorating the 100th anniversary of the US’s entry into the First World War, with World War 1 Beyond the Trenches, a terrific exhibit of more than 55 paintings and posters from that era.  The show opens with works by Man Ray, George Bellows and Childe Hasssam. 

detail, Gassed, John Singer Sargent, 1919, oil on canvas

However, it is John Singer Sargent’s oil of blindfolded men who had been gassed that dominates the room, not only by virtue of its size at 7-1/2 ft x  20ft, but also because of his technical mastery and use of classical composition to capture the horror of the combat.  Sargent created this for a Hall of Remembrance in London, based on a scene he had witnessed at Arras in France, in 1918.  The show has more oils and some watercolors by Sargent, who toured the Western Front.

The Flag, Georgia O’Keefe, 1918, watercolor on paper

You’ll also find two intense, abstract works by Georgia O’Keefe, whose younger brother Alex fought in the war (he was gassed, and died ten years later).

The End of the War: Starting Home, Horace Pippin, 1930-33, oil on canvas

The use of very thickly applied paint makes the soldiers really stand out in Horace Pippin’s  depiction of German troops surrendering to African-American soldiers.  The collage effect is made more powerful by the frame, adorned with helmets, bayonets and other symbols of war.  It took Pippin, who was seriously wounded fighting with the Harlem Hellfighters, three years to make this painting.

Letter to Mr. Chasin, from Salvator Cilis, Camp Upton, October 1917

A display case in the center of the room features letters from soldiers like Salvator Cillis, describing and illustrating his experience in training at Camp Upton on Long Island (the “melting pot” camp), where he met many soldiers who had been born outside the United States, of “every race, color, religion and opinion”. 

Armistice, Times Square, Theodore Earl Butler, 1918 oil on canvas

In 1918, the Armistice was signed, and this oil by Theodore Earl Butler captures the energy of that day as New York City celebrated in Times Square.

The Subway, Walter Pach, 1919 oil on canvas

One of my favorites in the show is this 1919 oil by Walter Pach of the subway in post-war NYC, which captures how the City’s different ethnic and social groups came together on our public transportation system – if it weren’t for the period clothing, this could have been painted today.

The show also has a number of posters in a corridor off the main room.  The Committee on Public Information created over 20 million copies of some 2,500 posters, many of which were designed by the leading fine artists and graphic artists (Gerrit Albertus Becker, James Montgomery Flagg, Howard Chandler Christy) to be visually compelling enticements to support the war, exhorting men to enlist in the armed services, women to become part of the war effort, and everyone to buy Liberty Bonds.  Private organizations such as the YMCA and the Red Cross recruited women to be drivers, mechanics, and nurses, and to fill other positions left vacant by men who had gone to the front.

Colored Man is No Slacker, E.G. Renesch, publisher, 1918

Even though African-Americans were segregated in the armed forces, many nonetheless signed up to serve.  This poster was probably privately published, as the official recruiting materials rarely depicted black men or women.  (Slacker meant “draft dodger”)

detail, somewhere listening: Company B, 365th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Division A.E.F., 2014 graphite on paper, Debra Priestly

In the main lobby opposite the building entryway is a moving series of 212 charcoal sketches, arranged in 3 rows, that Debra Priestly made from photographs of the members of the 92nd Division, an African-American unit that fought in France, including Priestly’s great uncle.

There is much much more to see in this excellent exhibit, which is up until  September 3rd.  The NY Historical Society is located at 170 Central Park West and 77th Street.

A New Look at Tiffany Glass

detail, Poppy Shade, probably Clara Driscoll, 1900-06

I’ve never been a big fan of Tiffany glass, but I’m glad I saw the fabulous collection of 100  Tiffany lamps on the fourth floor The NY Historical Society.  It gave me an appreciation for the design, craft and technological innovation of Louis Comfort Tiffany, who developed his own opalescent sheet glass, which he manufactured in Corona, Queens.  While most of the artisans and designers of Tiffany Studios were anonymous, this exhibit highlights the role of women designers, especially Clara Wolcott Driscoll, who not only managed the Women’s Glass Cutting Department (the “Tiffany Girls”) but designed many of the lampshades and mosaic bases.  She was also paid the same as her male counterparts!  One of the explanatory panels in the exhibit recounts how Tiffany started hiring women (many with art school training) as an experiment when the male glass cutters went on strike in 1892.  It worked out well, so he continued employing women, believing that they were better at selecting colors, cutting the glass and wrapping it in copper foil.  However, the mores of the day dictated that women stop working once they married, so there was constant turnover.  Clara Driscoll left after 21 years when she married in 1909.  I was impressed by the wide variety of designs – most taken from nature, some inspired by Japan and China.  As you go through you’ll see that much care was also taken with the bases, which were designed separately.  Here’s a small selection of what you’ll find:

Lotus Pagoda Shade and Mushroom Base

There’s no designer attributed to this Lotus Pagoda Shade (and Mushroom Base), but you can clearly see the marrying of a “nature” and an “Eastern” theme.

Daffodil Shade, designer unknown, 1910-13 with Library Standard Base

Daffodils were one of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s favorite flowers.

detail of Cobweb Shade, mosaic floral base, Clara Driscoll, 1899-1902

The Cobweb Shade, designed by Clara Driscoll, has a mosaic base of narcissus flowers.   

Bookmark Shade Nodes, designer unknown, 1906-10

This Bookmark Shade 1906-10, is the only lamp known in this pattern, which pays homage to the15th and 16th century printers, whose marks are on the rondels.  This colophon of the anchor and dolphin belonged to the Italian Renaissance printer Aldous Manutius.

detail, Peacock lampshade, probably Clara Driscoll

Clara Driscoll probably designed this shade depicting peacock feathers; I especially liked the blue-green “eyes”  and the gold and orange borders. (There’s also a Peacock base)

Iron calipers, pincers, shears, jacks and paddles used in making leaded glass

Up on the mezzanine level you’ll find not only more lamps and lampshades, but also glass blowing tools like these, used by Maurice Kelly in the early 1900’s.

Bamboo Shade, designer unknown, 1900-06

This Bamboo Shade (1900-06, designer unknown) is the only lampshade that used curved glass.

This is a very small selection of the 100 lamps on display.  Be sure to get up to see this, yes, illuminating exhibit at the NY Historical Society, 170 Central Park West and 77th Street.

Artists Residency Open Call

The New York Art Residency and Studios (NARS) Foundation   is now accepting applications for the International Residency Program from international and US based artists. The NARS residency supports emerging and mid-career artists and curators working across all disciplines through three and six-month residencies, creating a space for artistic dialogue and international cultural exchange for an extended period of time. 

NARS offers 24/7 access to furnished, private or semi-private studio spaces (280-325 sq ft) in our diverse artist community in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. As a studio based residency, the focus is on the artistic process and the experimentation that results from working alongside other artists, within New York’s cultural and sociopolitical context.  Deadline is September 30, 2017.

Philip Johnson’s Glass House

If you’re interested in architecture and landscaping, I recommend a trip to New Canaan to see Philip Johnson’s Glass House.  I took a fabulous tour about two weeks ago with my alumni association and learned a lot!  I was familiar with his architectural works such as the Sony Plaza on Madison Avenue, the Koch Theatre at Lincoln Center, and his contributions to the Seagrams Building (which he worked on with Mies van der Rohe), but knew nothing about his life in New Canaan.

Surprisingly, Johnson did not begin his architectural career as an architect, but rather as  the first Director of the Department of Architecture at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), a post he held from 1930 to 1936. Throughout his life he maintained a relationship with the museum, to which he donated over 2,000 works of art, including ones by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg.

In late 1945, Johnson purchased the initial five-acre parcel in New Canaan, which was his weekend retreat.  He cleared the trees, and over the next 50 years continued acquiring land, modifying the grounds, and erecting over a dozen follies, pavilions, and other structures.   Currently the estate is 49 acres.  Johnson felt that architects should also be landscape architects, and you can see how he shaped the property to keep the eye moving but also to surreptitiously reveal what he termed “events on the landscape.”

The Gate and entryway to the Glass House

For Johnson, appearance and ritual were extremely important – the buildings and grounds, invoking elements of ancient Greece and Rome, are designed to orient how you approach a building.  You enter the property through a gate of two colossal columns and proceed procession-like down a path bordered by a pine grove and rolling hills. 

1995 Da Monsta, Frank Stella inspired building

On the left you encounter the last building built on the property – Da Monsta, constructed in 1995, was inspired by Frank Stella’s design for a museum in Dresden, Germany.  

Interior of Da Monsta, built 1995

Made of modified gunnite, Da Monsta uses warped, torqued forms in both it’s exterior and interior, giving you a kind of funhouse feel when you’re standing inside it. (It’s used as a gallery).

The Study

A short distance away, surrounded by tall grass and wetlands you’ll see the Studio, a workspace/library built in 1980, where Johnson kept some 1,400 books on architecture! 

View of Brick House and Glass House

Continuing on the walkway, on the right-hand side you’ll come to the Brick House, which  not only stands opposite the Glass House, but is also oppositional to it, in that brick and glass are reversed, with the portal windows mirroring the round shape of the Glass House’s brick bathroom.  These buildings are two volumes on an exterior courtyard; indeed, the Brick House is considered the other half of the Glass House. Unfortunately the Brick House is closed due to a renovation project. 

The Glass House, photo courtesy of Brett Whysel http://www.brettwhysel.com/

The Glass House wasn’t Johnson’s idea;  Mies van der Rohe had discussed the idea with him in the 1940’s, and included the design for his glass house, The Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, in the 1947 exhibit of his work at MOMA. However, that house wasn’t built until 1951; Johnson’s Glass House was completed in 1949, whereupon he moved into it, and lived there until his death in 2005.  The Glass House is exactly that – 55 feet by 33 feet, of exterior glass walls (and doors) with one interior room, namely the cylindrical bathroom, made of brick, with a fireplace carved in its “back’’! (My thanks to photographer Brett Whysel who kindly let me use this photo – check out his website!)

Living room in the Glass House

Furniture is laid out so as to imply rooms; the living room contains Mies van der Rohe’s 1929 Barcelona chairs and an area rug; the bedroom is separated from the rest of the house by a row of closets on one side.

View of the Lake Pavilion and the Monument to Lincoln Kirstein

Even though the Glass House is set on a promontory, you can’t see it from the main road. It fits seamlessly into the landscape, offering wonderful views of of the pond and woods beyond, which Johnson remade as an old European wood.  Johnson and his partner David Whitney held weekend dinners/salons here, giving many young architects their start.  From the Glass House you can see the Lakeside Pavilion (very small, not built to scale) and further back the staircase to nowhere, more formally known as Monument to Lincoln Kirstein whom he befriended when they were undergraduates at Harvard.

One Through Zero, Robert Indiana, cortenz steel

On the grounds you’ll find a permanent circular cement sculpture by Donald Judd; this one by Robert Indiana, One Through Zero is on display until November 30th.

Buried Earth Building

The Buried Earth Building (or “the art bunker”) is a red sandstone bermed structure – think tomb of Agamemnon – where he and Whitney kept large-scale works by artists they collected. Whitney, who was a gallery owner, art collector and adviser, had an original eye, and personally knew many of the artists whose work he and Johnson owned, including Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. 

Untitled (Boni Lux), 1993 and La Banana e Buona, 1988, Julian Schnabel

Inside  the very large interior are three rotating “poster-racks” which display two paintings per spindle, allowing you to view six at a time (a total of 42 paintings could be stored this way).  The day I went, Julian Schnabel’s work was on display (and will be until August 14th)   

Light/shadows in the Sculpture Building

We also visited the Sculpture Gallery.  Built in 1970, the glass roof (supported by tubular steel rafters containing cold cathode lighting) creates complex patterns when the sun is at the right angle.  The interior of the 5-level building has a series of bays containing modernist works by George Segal, John Chamberlain, Frank Stella and others.

Johnson died in January, 2005;  Whitney passed away some six months later.  The Glass House is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

I highly recommend a visit.  The Glass House is open for tours on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday between May 1 and November 30;  the tour guides are very knowledgeable.  You might also want to make time to explore New Canaan, which has about 80 Modernist Houses.  If you want to get a bite to eat, I can recommend Solé, 15 Em Street in New Canaan, about a 5-minute walk from the Glass House Visitor’s Center.

Hercules, Kings and Cockroaches

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I heard about the King of the Cockroaches exhibit at Hercules Art Studio – I am a New Yorker and have my own ideas about these insects.  According to the organizers, this show takes its “title from an ancient Arabic preservation myth:  the king is invoked as an appeal to insects and worms not to nibble on and destroy important books and scrolls.”  Through painting, sculpture, drawing and video, Bill Santen, Becky Brown, Jess Willa Wheaton and Daniel Lichtman address how we deal with the glut of material that surrounds us. 

Safe Keeping, Becky Brown, 2017 mixed media installation

Safe Keeping by Becky Brown is a wry commentary on how we continue to hold on to things that we no longer use and may even be obsolete – where’s the line between preservation and hoarding?

Black and White, Becky Brown, 2017, pencil and collage on paper

Becky also has several paintings and drawings in the show, including Black and White, a pencil and collage that caught my eye.

screen shot from Low Tide, Bill Santen, 2016, HD video, sound

Bill Santeen’s three videos are mostly shot in the area by City Island  in the Bronx, focusing on subjects as diverse as an immigrant fisherman, boat scrappers, and the preservation of waterfront objects.

Sun and Moon Study, Jess Willa Wheaton, 2017 oil on linen

Jess Willa Wheaton’s work ranges from small oil paintings such as Sun and Moon Study

Post Grocery 4, Jess Willa Wheaton, found printed vinyl and adhesive

to large (approx. 3ft x 4ft) collages like Post Grocery 4, assembled from unrelated found images, that combine to create something completely new and intriguing.

There are other works by these artists as well as an installation by Daniel Lichtman.

Hercules Art Studios  is a 5,700-square-foot space containing seven low-cost artists studios, a common area, an industrial kitchen, bathrooms with showers, and a gallery, and space for public programming.  Their artist-run Exhibition Program is currently accepting proposals from independent curators and artists for curated exhibitions and public programming for September 2017 – May 2018. The studios are at 25 Park Place, 3rd Floor, in Lower Manhattan.

King of the Cockroaches is on view until August 16th.  The Studios are open only on Saturdays and Sundays from 12:00pm to 6:00pm, or by appointment.

Measuring Time at Deutsches Haus

Measuring Time, a charming exhibit at Deutsches Haus at NYU began as part of the Chelsea Music Festival in June.  The show of 20 works by six artists ranges across woodcuts, photographs, drawings and mixed media, exploring themes of waiting, rhythm, and decay.   

Red Wall Owego, Regula Ruegg, pigment ink on fine art paper

Regula Rūeg’s work focuses on crumbling walls, forgotten signs, and lost wall advertisements, which allow us to see how the built environment changes over time.

Platform to Nowhere/Anticipating the Inevitable, Bill Beirne, photo documentation of performance work

Bill Beirne’s work centers on public space and communication.  He’s known for his video installations and public performances, one of which is documented in the above photograph.

There’s more to see by these artists and the other four in the show, which is up until August 26th.  Deutsches Haus at NYU is at 42 Washington Mews, and is open Mon-Fri 10:00am to 8:30pm, Saturdays 10:00am to 4:00pm.  They also offer German language lessons (I’ve studied there) as well as public talks, readings and film screenings.

The Art of Running a Theatre Company

Jonathan Hopkins (right) talking to Patrick Harvey, Smith Street Company member

At the end of June, I caught a performance of Richard III by Smith Street Stage, held outdoors in Carroll Park in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.  The production was fabulous – the actors, especially Michael Hanson who played Richard, were great – despite the occasional horn or siren or screaming kids.  I later spoke with Jonathan Hopkins, who not only directed that particular production, but is also the Executive Director of Smith Street Stage.  Below are excerpts from our conversation.

Liz: Tell me a bit about your background.  I see you came to New York to study acting at NYU. How did you discover theatre? Shakespeare?

Jonathan:  I like Shakespeare because in my senior year of high school we read Hamlet, and it had a really big impact on me.  It’s one of those experiences that people have with the arts and with literature, where you feel that something speaks to you or makes you think about something in a different way.  And for me that was reading Hamlet in Ms. Hobeika’s senior English class, in Blacksburg, Virginia.

I came to New York as a freshman at NYU.  I had done theatre and speech debate in high school, so I was already into performing, and I wanted to pursue it professionally.

In the NYU training program, you’re placed in one of several conservatories;  I was placed into the Stella Adler Conservatory of Acting ….  a studio that puts a lot of focus on the classics, particularly Shakespeare, so that cultivated the curiosity I had coming into school.

 Liz:  In addition to acting – on stage and film – you’ve also directed, you run the Smith Street Stage, and you teach at the Stella Adler school.  How is it moving among these different roles?  Is there one you might like to do more of?

Jonathan: I think all of them have skills and insights that help with all of the others, but you have to pick and choose what skills and insights are most appropriate, especially going from acting to directing. Acting is a subjective experience; it’s about something that directly connects you to your character or performance of that character – an experience inside something.  Directing is the opposite. Having the vocabulary is helpful, having the experience is helpful.  You do, I think, have to adjust your viewpoint a bit as you go from one to another.

Liz:  You’ve acted both on stage and in film; is there one you prefer?

Jonathan:  I like both of them.  I’ve done so much more stage, so I have more experience and more of a sense of whether something will work or won’t work.  I don’t have nearly as much experience in film so I just have to try my best and hope that it’s ok. 

Liz:  And what about teaching – you teach at Stella Adler.

Jonathan:  The last six or so years I’ve been teaching at Stella Adler, and I really love the opportunity to work with young actors. These are not Shakespeare classes, they’re voice classes – training actors to use their instruments in a healthy, effective and compelling way.     I love trying to help actors understand how to approach the material, how to rehearse the material, how to use their breath and their voices and the sounds of the language to help make acting material easier. In Richard, a lot of the actors were students I had had. That’s fun too, you can see the students develop and then work their way up to a professional stage.

Liz:  While we’re on the subject of Richard, what led to the founding of Smith Street Stage in 2010?  

Jonathan:  It wasn’t me at all, I never would have done it.  It was my girlfriend at the time – she’s now my wife – Beth Ann Hopkins.  We had worked for a Shakespeare theatre in New Jersey,  and developed a small cast Romeo & Juliet that we did there in a workshop format. We wanted to do it there for a full production, [but] we couldn’t and that was very disappointing.  At the time Beth Ann was living in Carroll Gardens and had the idea that we could do the show in that park.  That was the beginning of it.  She wanted to start a theatre company and I didn’t.  So we did a 5-actor Romeo & Juliet [in the park].  It was our first production, and the response was very positive. Beth Ann said, “We’re starting the company.”  I don’t think I would have had the courage to do something that difficult, so it was Beth Ann who started the company. 

Liz:  It seems like you’ve grown the company very well – you’ve got around 20 actors.

Jonathan:  Yes, 20 actors plus musicians, designers, production help, someone working on marketing/publicity and someone working on our graphic design.  The number of actors we have is contingent on the needs of the show.  But we are able to increase our audience, increase our production support, staff support, and we try every year in someway to increase the quality of the production we present in the park. 

Liz: What are the challenges of running a theatre company in New York?  I think first of all you’ve got the challenge of growing the company, and then there’s the second challenge, separate from that, of doing a production in a public space like the park where you have many limited facilities ….

Jonathan:  The second part of your question is easier.  The challenges of the space – noise. Ambulances, helicopters, kids.  But I’m of the mind that in many ways those challenges are a benefit, in that it makes our audiences more appreciative of our efforts to present something in that space.  The idea is that the show we’re making should serve an audience, provoke thought in an audience, entertain an audience, and make an audience think about human conflict and things like that. I think that there’s an element of those challenges that makes our audiences more appreciative of our efforts to produce something in a space that’s public and easy to access, and free. 

The hard thing about running Smith Street Stage – it’s hard to give a concise answer because the challenge is everything.   When you manage something, you’re more or less responsible for everything, and that’s not a challenge that is particular to theatre, or to our theatre company, but I would say that’s one of the hard things.  Because in New York there is a lot of arts programming available, trying to carve out your company’s voice in that space can be a challenge, [as can] trying to maximize the resources you have to present something of top quality. 

Liz:  Besides the park, what other venues are you using? How is it finding rehearsal space?

Jonathan:  Finding rehearsal space can be tricky – we have some luck because when rehearsing the park shows, we can use the park and the park house, which ultimately becomes our dressing room.  Because I work at the Stella Adler Studio, that body is very generous to us; when their space is available we can use some.  This summer we were lucky, one block down Carroll Street there’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and on multiple occasions when we lost rehearsal space, that parish came through and allowed us to rehearse there.  So we’ve been very lucky but it certainly can be a tricky thing, especially for a small to medium sized company like ours.

Liz:  How often do you do shows in a year?

Jonathan: We do 3 to 4.  We do one main stage production, that’s in Carroll Park, and then the last couple of years we have also done readings and workshops throughout the year.  We just did A Winters Tale, directed by Erik Pearson, in April.  In August we’re doing an adaptation of An Enemy of the People, which is being directed by our Artistic Director Beth Ann Hopkins. The last couple of years we shifted our model, so to speak, to still be centered around the Summer Shakespeare in Carroll Gardens but also to produce different writers and to include workshops and readings that take place in different venues, that are done with different directors, and can be performed in different styles.  It’s all an effort to diversify what we produce. 

Liz: You’ve sort of touched on it, but what makes running a theatre company in Brooklyn easy?

Jonathan:  The people – that was one of the easier answers. This feeling that you’re building an artistic home for people, the ability to control the way you work and what you value in the work, and being able to nurture a community of talented and smart and conscientious artists is, I think, consistently the most rewarding thing, along with the response from the audience, the feeling from the audience that you’re doing something that has value for them.  They look forward to the shows and they come out every summer.  I was talking to one audience member who said, “I come every year. Last year you did Tempest, right, and before that you did Henry IV,” and we went down the list – he had seen every show except our first.  That’s really rewarding, the idea that you are fostering an appreciation and a respect and a relationship with that literature and the audience members who come to see it.   

I guess the question was “What’s the easiest part” and I’m sort of changing it to the most rewarding … but being able to work with those artists and create a home for those artists and learn from them and from how they work is very rewarding.

To answer the actual question, I would say the easiest part is working on the shows, rehearsing the shows, that part doesn’t feel like work … fundraising can feel like work, and getting our park permits in on time can feel like work, but when you’re actually in a room with the actors, acting a scene or directing a scene, or talking about a scene, that doesn’t feel like work. 

Liz:  Do you know what you’ll be presenting next year?  How long is your lead time?

Jonathan:   Before we do An Enemy of the People (August 31st & September 1st) we’ll be having preliminary discussions about the Summer Shakespeare shows and the other shows and making our decisions for that in the fall.  Then we have an end-of-year fundraiser in November/December, which is usually when we announce what we’ll be doing in the next year.  So we’re now in preliminary discussions, brainstorming about what will come next for us.  The year after next will be our tenth year in Carroll Park so we’re already talking about that and trying to make it something special.

Liz: What can people expect when they go see Enemy of the People?

Jonathan:  This will be an indoor production. From what I’ve heard, this will be a more experimental adaptation of the story.  Enemy of the People is a great play, it’s a terribly relevant play.  Beth Ann is taking the story that is at the heart of the play and finding a way to express that through movement, through dance, through music, as well as through scenes and monologues that she and her assistant director, Matthew Sciarappa are adapting.  One of the reasons we’ve done this workshop series is to give us an opportunity to work in styles of theatre that may be more experimental, or bold, or more strange, or take more risks.  So I think that that could be one expectation for people who come, that they will see the story of An Enemy of the People but they will be seeing it through a really new and unique lens. If they saw Richard, they could now expect to see something quite different in its style.

Smith Street Stage will be performing An Enemy of the People on August 31st and September 1st at The Actors Fund, 160 Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn.

You can find more information on Smith Street Stage on their website.       

Smith Street Stage cast of Richard III taking a curtain call in Carroll Park

           

Fashion Art at Fountain House

Un-Zip, Boo Lynn Walsh, mixed media on wood block

I’ve come across the work of Fountain House artists at the Outsider Art Fair, and finally made it over to their gallery in Hell’s Kitchen for a talk about their latest exhibit, The Art of Fashion , which is closing August 9th.   If you don’t know Fountain House Gallery, they work with artists who live with mental illnesses.  I like their exhibits because it’s art I would be attracted to without knowing the artists’ backstories.

The first speaker was the curator, Kathy Battista, who chose the theme of fashion because fashion affects everyone, it can be looked at from several vantage points, and she wanted to do a fun show. Fashion is also her background – she teaches a class on Art & Fashion at Sotheby’s Institute.  Kathy invited 7 mainstream contemporary artists to exhibit alongside the 37 Fountain House Gallery artists, creating a dialogue between their works.  Once she selected the works to be shown, she then divided them into loose themes, such as celebrities, animals, the paradox of feminism, abstraction, street style, etc. 

detail, If I Wore It, I Wore It With Jeans, Alyson Vega, recycled clothing and other fabric

Next up was artist Alyson Vega, who spoke about her piece, If I Wore It, I Wore it With Jeans.   She’s been making textile art from a young age, using recycled clothes or clothes from thrift stores. When Alyson was young, she had a pair of Peter Max for Wrangler hot pants that she couldn’t bear to part with, so she eventually turned them into a bag. For this work, Alyson started researching clothes from the 1970’s, ’80’s and early 90’s.  The different fabrics – denim, lace, polyesters, flower print cottons – and some patches from those eras are incorporated in this piece.  There are 6 panels in all, but the fabrics are not necessarily in chronological order – rather Alyson assembled pieces that she thought went together well, and then sewed them together.   Measuring 3ft x 10ft, this is her largest work to date.

Beatification (Bushwick, Brooklyn) Elizabeth Bick, archival inkjet print

Elizabeth Bick was a dancer in her teens before turning to photography, which also has several of the same elements, such as light, performance, and movement.  Seven years ago, when she moved to Bushwick, Elizabeth felt like an outsider, so she used her camera as a way of introducing herself, taking portraits of the neighborhood women.  First she finds the background, one that won’t detract from her subjects, but where the light – she only uses natural light – is of a certain type.  She noted that the women are often surprised that she wants to take their picture, as they feel invisible, especially the older ones.   Elizabeth sees them as matriarchs of the neighborhood, and tries to portray them as archetypes, noting that the women have a specific way of expressing their femininity – their hair is done, their makeup is done, they’re well dressed, even when going to the store.  You’ll notice that often her subjects are looking to the side – Elizabeth asks them not to look at the camera, so as to give them an iconic feeling.  She’s taken several hundred photographs, and plans to continue this project until she moves out of the neighborhood. 

Higher Species?, Susan Spangenberg, acrylic, fabric, jewelry on canvas

Susan Spangenberg is a self-taught artist who spoke about how having a studio at Fountain House has made a difference to her life. Susan paints because she has to – she has something she needs to express – and now she has a place where her work can be seen. (She told the audience that when she was growing up, she thought calling herself an artist was pretentious.)  Over the years, her work has changed;  now she is trying to do less self-referential work and instead create pieces that address pop culture or that start a social-political dialogue.  Her canvases in the show are a commentary not only on the celebrity-driven world we live in, but also on the way society views animals, especially dogs, as accessories to be discarded when they’re no longer useful. 

Other works in this show which caught my eye:

Kilt, Bryan Michael Green, enamel on canvas

 

Fashionista, Gail Shamchenko, mixed media on paper

No Law 3, Angela Rogers, scanned drawing

The show is on only through August 9th. 

So hurry over to Fountain House Gallery, 702 Ninth Avenue (at 48th Street).

A Fresh Look at Hungarian Art

Hommage à Albers, Tibor Gayor, 1975, acrylic on wooden board

 

With the Eyes of Others: Hungarian Artists of the Sixties and 70’s, the current exhibit at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery, is a museum quality exploration of the Hungarian neo-avant-garde, reminding us that even under repressive regimes, art can flourish.

Postwar Hungary suffered under the dictatorship of the Soviet Union, whose ideology was hostile to modern art.  Even though the Hungarian regime was a more “friendly barracks,” artists still needed to make sure that any “political” gestures – which included embracing Western art practices rather than Soviet Realism – were not overtly visible to either the censors or the viewing public. 

In this atmosphere, Hungarian artists combined their unique visual language with Western forms such as Conceptualism and Pop Art, to create a  radical new approach to Conceptualism, resulting in art that was, by its existence, an implicit rebuke to the norms of the Hungarian state.  The authorities established three categories of work:  supported, tolerated or rejected, so many of the political pieces use a highly coded language or employ humor to cover or deflect from their  critiques of officialdom. Sometimes the political message was so coded that only those inside could understand it; the wall texts and the gallery’s exhibition checklist are helpful in understanding the context of the works.

In Hungary artists were establishing their own unofficial art scene, in private apartments where they held clandestine semi-illegal exhibitions and performances, leading to a flourishing – albeit underground – cultural milieu. These “flat” exhibits for a few hundred friends of friends allowed artists to transmit current styles and trends.  Even though they were not able to freely travel, artists in Hungary found other ways of engaging with their peers in other countries, especially through the international mail-art movement, sending small scale works via the postal service to avoid censorship. 

Radial Enamel I-IV, Karoly Halasz, 1969, enamel on four iron plates

There are almost 100 works on display, with the vast majority from the 1970‘s, but on the ground floor you’ll find works from the 1960’s in that era’s abstract geometric style, including Károly Halász’, Radial Enamel I-IV.

Wall-Hanging with tombstone Forms (Tapestry), Ilona Keseru Ilona, 1969, stitching on chemically dyed linen

The motifs in Ilona Keserü Ilona’s 1969 Wall-Hanging with Tombstone Forms, reference the iconography of rural Hungarian cemeteries, such as the one she visited in 1967 in Balatonudvari, which contains over 60 heart shaped tombstones.

5 out of 4, I-III, Dora Maurer, 1979, acrylic on wood

The exhibit contains several works by Dóra Maurer, whose oeuvre spans print, photography, films and drawings.  Many of her pieces from the ’70’s such as 5 out of 4, are quite rigorous, combining rule-based compositional logic  and geometric abstraction.  Maurer, who had an exhibit at MOMA in 2015, is married to Tibor Gáyor, whose work is at the top of this article.

SUN-OX-FACE, Imre Bak, 1976, acrylic on two canvases

Pride of place is given to Imre Bak’s abstract geometrics, with their strong colors, and strict, sharp, forms and lines.  Along with lona Keserü, László Lakner, and István Nádler, whose works are also here, Bak was  a member of the Iparterv, one of the leading Hungarian neo-avant-garde groups of the second half of the Twentieth century.  His delightful SUN-OX-FACE from 1976 greets visitors at the entrance to the exhibit.

Landscape Transformation, Imre Bak, 1974, acrylic on canvas

Nearby is his 1974 Landscape Transformation, emblematic of his hard-edged paintings.  In the gallery’s office space, you’ll find a number of his smaller works on paper.

 

Concept Like Commentary 1-7, Geza Perneczky, 1971, gelatin silver prints

The second floor is almost entirely given over to photographs of that era, including two of Géza Perneczky‘s 1972 black-and-white conceptual photographic series. In  Art-Ball (concepts like commentary) he took a tennis ball inscribed with the word “art” and placed it in unusual places, such as  a bird’s nest, or in a bowl of water, or seemingly looking at itself mirror (above).   A second series, Art Bubbles, shows the artist blowing bubbles with the word “art” inscribed on them.  Even though Perneczky emigrated to Germany in 1970 he was  present on the Hungarian art scene and actively involved in the international mail art movement. He publishes his works and writings privately under the pseudonym Softgeometry.

Nouveau Bandage, Laszlo Lakner, 1971, gelatin silver print

László Lakner began his career as a Surnaturalist painter, mixing Surrealism and Naturalism, but in the 1970’s he painted photorealistic objects that had particular meanings.  Because of the political nature of his art, the government classified it as either “tolerated” or “forbidden” which made it extremely difficult for him to exhibit or sell his works.  In 1974, he received a scholarship to study in Berlin, where he continues to live and work.

Lenin in Budapest, Balint Szombathy, 1972/2016, gelatin silver print

Bálint Szombathy took some serious risks with his  performance art, as can be seen in his series Lenin in Budapest, in which he walked around Budapest after the 1972 May Day parade with a photo of Lenin mounted on a placard.  This was extremely risky, because the authorities could have interpreted this gesture as Szombathy parading the head of Lenin on a stick, as I did.

Balint Szombathy, Poetry & Language VI, 1977, ink stamp on vintage gelatin silver print

In 1977, his work took on a more semiotic tone in his Poetry & Language series, in which he would stamp the words Poetry and Language onto photographs, whose images seemingly had nothing to do with either word, but nonetheless forced you to take another look and reconsider them. 

You’ll also find photographs documenting Tamás Szentjóby’s Sit Out/Be Forbidden happening, on which is inscribed – Tous ce qu est interdit est art.  Sois interdit.  (Everything that’s forbidden is art.  Be forbidden).  He wasn’t as luck as Szombathy – instead he was arrested and expelled for his samizdat activities in 1975.

The 30 artists featured in this show employ various media and styles – I’ve covered only a tiny fraction of the exhibit.  You’ll also find photo performances by Bálint Szombathy, Katalin Ladik and Tibor Hajas and other artists, who performed intimate staged events without audiences, often with a political or subversive overtone, sometimes pushing their body to extreme limits, like other performance/body artists in Europe in the 1970’s.  There are also small monitors showing videos created by Dóra Maurer, Katalin Ladik and Ferenc Ficzek.  In addition to works by Budapest-based artists, the show includes pieces by artists associated with the Pécs Workshop, which played an outside role in this period.

The exhibit also features a number of works by the witty Endre Tót – on one wall is his Very Special Gladness series which highlights his wicked sense of humor, especially his photograph of a man reading a book with Lenin’s image on the cover – the photo is entitled,    I am glad if I can read Lenin.  Be sure to look at his conceptual “rain” series in the vitrine.

At All Times 1, Istvan Nadler, 2008, casein and tempera on canvas

Don’t leave without stopping in the small gallery space on the second floor where you’ll find works by Imre Bak and István Nadler that they’ve created in the 2000’s, allowing you to see the continuity with the abstract, geometric vein they were working in in the 1970’s.

With the Eyes of Others continues through August 12th, so before then get up to this fabulous exhibit at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery 2033/2037 Fifth Avenue (126th Street). 

New York City and the Selling of World War 1

2017 is the 100th anniversary of the U.S.‘s entry into World War I. To commemorate this event, the Museum of the City of New York has organized Posters and Patriotism: Selling WW1 to New Yorkan exhibit of posters, flyers, magazine art, sheet music covers, and other mass-produced images made in war-time New York.

Help the Red Cross, Herman Roeg, ca. 1918

When war broke out in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson had declared that the U.S. should remain “neutral in fact, as well as in name.” But the tide began to turn, especially after the Lusitania was sunk, claiming the lives of 128 Americans, and the U.S. joined the war on April 6, 1917.

While the exhibit focuses on posters, it also shows how every available means – print, music, film, lectures, and performance—were used to publicize, popularize, and gain support for  the U.S.’s entry into the conflict, and how dissenting voices also employed these media.

Women’s Peace Parade on 5th Avenue, August 29, 1914, Library of Congress photo

In the early 20th century, there was a strong pacifist movement  in the U.S.  New York City mirrored the dissent and divisions in the American population, which can be seen in a display in the center of the room with black and white photos of various anti-war rallies, including the 1914 Women’s Peace Parade on 5th Avenue. 

Mother Earth, Man Ray, artist; published by Emma Goldman, September 1914

There are also displays with socialist and anarchist publications like The Masses, and Bull, as well as Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth – all three publications were banned from the U.S. mail, and their editors were tried under the Espionage Act. The exhibit clearly shows  the whiplash in the American public’s sentiments towards the war, and the favorable turn in opinion was aided by anti-sedition laws which helped enforce patriotic loyalty.   During the war years, over 1,000 people in the U.S. were convicted of anti-draft activity.

Sheet Music for “Wake Up America” artist unknown; George Graff, Jr. & Jack Glogau, composers. Uncle Sam is kneeling in between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

You’ll also find illustrated sheet music published for people with pianos at home – they were still fairly common in American households – showing how music reflected the shifting  American opinions towards the war, from neutrality to patriotic involvement,  and capturing the conflicted feelings of parents whose children went overseas, in songs such as I Didn’t Raise My Son to be a Soldier Boy.  As U.S. troops headed overseas, Tin Pan Alley composers  led the charge  with gusto – George M. Cohan’s Over There is from this era .  Other songs, such as To Hell with Germany by Noble Sissle were widely disseminated, and many of Irving Berlin’s songs echoed that sentiment. 

Once the U.S. entered the conflict, dissenting voices were shut out, as censorship was enforced during the war.  Because New York City was the center of advertising and media, the U.S. Department of War housed its Division of Pictorial Publicity (DPP) here to sell the wary  American public on supporting the US War effort.  Many artists eagerly jumped on board: the DPP was headed by none other than Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the “Gibson Girls;” he and James Montgomery Flagg (creator of Uncle Sam) helped found ‘the Vigilantes,” a group of artists and writers using their talents to promote patriotism, and exhorting Americans to serve in combat, buy bonds to finance the war, and conserve food, clothing and energy so these resources could be sent overseas.  

The posters in this exhibit clearly reflect their creators training, revealing their backgrounds as either fine artists or the graphic artists found in the commercial (advertising) art world.

Poster, August Wiliam Hutaf, 1917

Recruitment posters aimed their message at men: by enlisting in the armed forces, they would demonstrate their patriotism and their “manly” outrage at German war crimes; other posters appealed to potential enlistees’ sense of adventure, while others played on their guilt.   Their efforts were wildly successful – the Army swelled from 200,000 recruits to 4,000,000!

Poster by Charles Dana Gibson, 1917

The war was sold as defending France and Belgium – apparently Americans didn’t harbor favorable feelings towards the British, even though the Revolutionary War had ended 140 years earlier, but they remembered the assistance Lafayette and his compatriots gave the fledgling republic.  Anti-German sentiment ran high, with posters, pamphlets and children’s books exhorting Americans to take up the fight against “The Hun”. 

Americans were asked to make sacrifices, even being encouraged to grow their own food, so more could be sent overseas, and in 1918, Daylight Savings Time was introduced as a fuel conservation measure. The Museum’s blog post on the Civilian war effort in the two world wars gives you a very good idea of how ordinary men and women contributed to the effort. 

Poster, Edward Penfield, artist, 1918

Because men were fighting in Europe, women went to work in large numbers outside the house: not only in factories and firms in the US, but also  as ambulance drivers and nurses on the front, fueling their demands for equal rights.  However, it wasn’t until 1920 that American women were granted the right to vote.

Poster, produced by Sackett & Wilhelms Lithography and Printing Company, 1918

The war effort was financed by the sale of Liberty Bonds – by the end of the war, Americans had loaned over $17 billion to their government.  Buying bonds was seen as a sign of loyalty, and refusal was met with suspicion. 

Still from “The Bond” 1918 Charlie Chaplin

Immigrants were exhorted to simultaneously demonstrate their pride in their origins and in their new country by enlisting in the war effort.  Nowhere was this effort more successful than in Hollywood – many in the industry were immigrants who showed their patriotism by creating films that fueled the public’s hatred of Germany and pumped up their patriotic fervor.   At the end of the exhibit there’s a screen showing selections from The Bond, a 1918 film featuring Charlie Chaplin. 

James Reese Europe performing with his band in France, ca. 1918, Library of Congress photo

Jazz also became popular, personified in the bandleader James Reese Europe, who led the marching band of the Harlem Hell Fighters, the 369th Infantry Regiment, an African-American unit (Noble Sissle was also a member) bringing jazz to troops in France and England.  The Harlem Hell Fighters  emerged from the war with one of the most stellar combat records of any Army unit.  However, when they returned home, they found that the same old racism prevailed. 1919 brought the Red Summer, when cities all across the U.S., particularly in the Jim Crow South, erupted, with whites attacking and killing blacks over employment and housing.

And when the war was over …  

Advertisement for Scot Tissue Towels from Time, October 19, 1931

Many of the wartime poster artists went on to become successful commercial and journalistic illustrators.  New York City became America’s financial and cultural hub in the Roaring 20’s.  The US began to return to its isolationist stance; however, the government continued to look for spies, especially among the foreign-born in New York.  The exhibit has a map depicting NYC’s immigrant neighborhoods, prepared by US Army Officer John B. Trevor for the Lusk Committee’s investigation of “subversives.”  The Cold War was beginning.

Nonetheless, the idea of globalization started to take hold, as people from all over the world met each other serving on the front.  As the song goes, “How ‘ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm (after they’ve seen Paree).”   The League of Nations was founded after the war, and even though it folded after several years, its successor,  the United Nations continues to this day. 

Many of the issues the country had grappled with at the turn of the century – freedom of speech, immigration, espionage, race relations – continue to dominate public discourse today, making this exhibit exceptionally relevant.

On August 24th the Museum is hosting an  event associated with this exhibit, Hot Jazz Moonlight Social  with the Gotham Kings and jazz historian Ricky Riccardi at 6:00.

The exhibit continues until October 9th.  But don’t wait until then to see it.

The Museum of the City of New York  is located at 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street