Uprooted in DUMBO

Made it to the opening of Uproot  at Smack Mellon in Dumbo, Brooklyn.  Featuring work by some 50 artists, the show makes no bones about its political bent – all of the works are in response to the 2016 US Presidential election.  While there is a sense of rage and outrage in some of them, most of the works seem to confront issues, especially the environment and immigration rather than point fingers. As the exhibit press release notes: “In these troubling, uncertain times, it remains important to turn to artists and creative thinkers for guidance”.  I couldn’t agree more! 

Many of the works are large scale, especially the fibre art ones, but there are also paintings, prints, videos.  Here are a few works that caught my eye:

January 2017, Rebecca Graves, 2017, Needlepoint

This needlepoint by Rebecca Graves was featured on the exhibit brochure, and describes the tone of much of the work.  However, I would say that her admonition is relevant, no matter who is in power.

Still Structure II, Linda Cunningham, 2012, Pastel, ink, collage

Linda Cunningham’s piece addresses environmental concerns in a straightforward fashion.  Photo transfers of left-over skeletons of former iron and steel factories in the Ruhr Valley, Germany (but they really could be anywhere) are overlaid with pastel and ink renderings of endangered ancient olive trees (over 400 years old) in Apulia, southern Italy, demonstrating the enormous contradictions between what people do to the earth, and how nature nourishes the planet.

Veritas Inverso, Cecile Chong, 2017, Encaustic and Western Arborvitae

Cecile Chong took the title of the show literally, and, after much effort, found a young tree with a root ball, which she then inverted and coated with encaustic paint (wax and resin) in the colors of the U.S. flag, to demonstrate how people are feeling today.

Green Unplugged (Expanded), Borinquen Gallo, 2017, Debris netting, plastic bags, caution tape and URL cables

I like how Borinquen Gallo transforms recycled garbage bags and “caution” tape into an intriguing tapestry, Green Unplugged, exploring themes of environmental degradation, excessive consumption and climate change denial.   

AD ASTRA, DaaPo Reo, 2017, Cotton, polyester, vintage African textiles, leather suitcase

AD ASTRA is one of a series of 12 flags being created by DaaPo Reo, that speak to the issues facing Africa in the 21st century.  The artist moved to Brooklyn from Nigeria several years ago.   Next to this flag is a wall text which alludes to the journey some African men make from the Continent, to South America, then to the US.  AD ASTRA means “to the stars” in Latin…

Maquila, Ana de la Cueva, Embroidery on linen with hoop

U.S.-Mexico border issues are the subtext for Ana de la Cueva’s Maquila; be sure to watch the video (also part of the piece) which shows the work being stitched by a commercial sewing machine whose movements are  timed to lively background music.

Arrested Symphony, Esperanza Cortés, 2017, Jewelry chains on clay sculpture, encaustic on wood panel

Having just seen Esperanza Cortés work at Longwood Art Gallery (my review here) I was delighted to see her Arrested Symphony, using jewelry in an intriguing way.

America’s Social Contract, Diana Schmertz, 2017, Watercolor on laser cut paper

America’s Social Contract by Diana Schmertz is a bit over 2’ high and 14’ long.  Each of the 7 panels is painted with a watercolor image of two or more hands of diverse races reaching and pulling each other up. When you get closer, you’ll notice that the paper on which the image has been painted, has been cut out with the text of the U.S. Constitution!

This is a very small sampling of the works in this show.  Uproot runs until December 31st, but don’t wait until the end of the year to see it.  The gallery is also hosting a number of talks and performances so get over to Smack Mellon, 92 Plymouth Street, in DUMBO, Brooklyn. 

Woman as King

I finally made it over to King Woman , the fabulous exhibit at Pen + Brush, featuring work by 25 international established and emerging female artists.  Organized by guest curator Mashonda Tifrere (founder of ArtLeadHER), King Woman features realistic, hyperrealistic and abstract works across a variety of media: painting, video, photography and fibre art.  Here are some of my highlights:

Artemis, Ingrid Baars, 2017, C-print face mounted on dibond, framed

Ingrid Baars’ photo Artemis derives its title from the goddess of Greek mythology; its composition is inspired by Renaissance portraits, which were often in profile. Her image captures Artemis’ duality – the huntress who is also the protector of young girls, virginity and childbirth.  Measuring almost 4’ x 5 ‘, it is captivating.

Indestructible, Stephanie Hirsch, 2016, Hand-sewn beads on shaped canvas

I can’t begin to calculate how many hours it must have taken Stephanie Hirsch to embroider Indestructible, made from beads hand-sewn on canvas.  She uses flowers to invoke our own individual metaphorical garden.  However, Hirsch isn’t giving us some vapid, floral, feel-good image – look again, and you’ll see the serpent slithering in between the petals and leaves, reminding us of life’s lurking perils.

Double Bind, Lacey McKinney, Oil, graphite and metal leaf on polyester film

Lacy McKinney’s Double Bind caught my eye because of the striking way the faces combine, overlap, and come apart – there’s a very strong sense of movement and struggle in this painting.

toni parks, SALT series, Lola Flash, 2011, photograph

Lola Flash uses a 4 x 5 large format camera to create the portraits in her SALT series of iconic older women who are photographed in their homes.  Her goal is make older women more visible, and to challenge the way we see them.  The portrait above is of the photographer Toni Parks, who is also the daughter of photographer Gordon Parks.

detail, I Am a Dreamer, Azi Amiri, Acrylic, ink, transfered image, watercolor on paper

Azi Amiri aims to reexamine the form and function of the headscarves (hijab) in I Am a Dreamer.   She created this work (49 pieces) by asking friends in Iran to send her their headshots wearing hijab and a note containing a fact about them.  By focusing solely on the hijab as a decorative accessory, and combining those images with text that is alternatively assertive, wistful and funny, Amiri forces us to confront our own views of women who wear headscarves. 

Subway Windows, Swoon, Silkscreen and acrylic gouache on found object

As a subway rider, I was especially drawn to this work by SWOON (the artist Caledonia Curry) who’s known for her urban-based work examining the relationship between people and the built environment. I also like how she repurposed an old window.

Hold Back My Power Elizabeth Waggett, 2017, 24 Karat gold, ink charcoal and graphite on cotton

I was struck by Elizabeth Waggett’s depiction of a lobster – not simply because of it’s size.  At approximately 10’ x 5’, hanging from the gallery’s ceiling, it is a powerful image indeed.  By rendering it in black with just a band of gold on its claws, the artist is forcing you to confront the value and status of this sea creature, which is often the most expensive item on a menu.

Tango Tease, Lynnie Z, 2017, acrylic on wood panel

I was immediately seduced by the bold, lush colors and composition of Lynnie Z’s Tango Tease, whose images combine to create a tropical femme fatal. 

I also recommend that you pick up the catalogue, which at $10, is an absolute steal!

King Woman is on through December 9th, but don’t wait until then to see this wonderful show.  Pen + Brush is at 29 East 22nd Street, and is open from 12:00 – 6:00pm, Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Creating a Bilingual Revolution in Our Schools

I recently sat down with Fabrice Jaumont to discuss The Bilingual Revolution, his book about the creation of dual-language education programs in the New York City public schools. In 2006 Fabrice helped establish the first of many French-English dual-language programs, at PS 58 in Brooklyn, and later, with the assistance of parents, he helped some 20 New York City public schools set up their dual-language programs in French, Japanese, Italian, Russian and German. You can find a full list of dual-language programs (which also include Chinese, Arabic, Polish, Spanish, Haitian-Creole and Hebrew) in NYC public schools on the NYC Department of Education website.  In his book, Fabrice recounts how parents, school administrators and others came together to create these programs. He also discusses programs that did not succeed, and in conclusion, offers a step-by-step roadmap that parents can follow to create dual-language programs in their schools. Having spent my career in international business, I’ve long admired Fabrice’s enthusiasm and dedication, and am thrilled that he published this book. I found The Bilingual Revolution to be practical and candid: it is honest both about what does work – and what doesn’t, which makes this book valuable indeed. Here’s our interview (edited).

Liz Daly with Fabrice Jaumont and his book at the Invisible Dog, Sept 8, 2017

Editor’s Note: We use dual-language and bilingual interchangeably, but we’re talking about programs that are taught in two languages.

Liz Daly (LD): Let’s talk about you for a minute – you’re a dad, but you got into bilingual education before you had children.

Fabrice Jaumont (FJ): I was teaching French at Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland) as a teaching assistant. Then I became the linguistic liaison for the French Consulate in Boston where I worked for about a year and a half. I visited many bilingual programs, and immersion programs in particular, in public schools outside Boston. Then I got a job at the private bilingual school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I became a director there, managing a rigorous bilingual international program. The families understood how the program could provide life-long skills to their children. Like them, I was convinced of the incredible benefits of bilingualism.

LD: And you began working with the NYC public schools in…

FJ: Around 2005. I got here [NYC] in 2001 but I started meeting parents around 2004, 2005. That’s when I created this program for French heritage language children coming from Africa and the Caribbean. I worked with Jane Ross, who’s an educator and philanthropist. She had this idea that we should offer these high school students an advanced language course so that they could keep their French language fluency. Then they would become better learners of English and therefore integrate faster, finish school, get credit for college and make an asset of their French. That’s how I got into public schools in the Bronx and in Brooklyn.

At around the same time I met a few French mothers from Brooklyn, who were looking for bilingual programs in public schools like the ones in private schools. We got started, organizing panels, having discussions, meeting the DOE (Department of Education) and understanding the legal framework of our project.

New York City has this mandate for English language learners that says if you had 12 students entering kindergarten who are considered English language learners, then the school has to provide dual-language programs. It was working for Spanish, and maybe a few other languages… We decided to present our case to a school principal. If you could demonstrate that there were enough families in the school zone who were interested, with kids speaking a specific language at home and other kids wanting to speak that language, then the principal would sometimes say “yes.” That’s how we started with PS 58 in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Then there was PS 125 in Harlem, there was MS 22, a middle school in the Bronx, and all of a sudden the media started talking about this. Then people were moving near the schools or opening their own, and that’s what got the ball rolling.

LD: When I was growing up, I went to school with kids who didn’t speak any English, and they just got thrown into the classroom and would have to sink or swim. There was also a stigma around not speaking English, but today a lot of that has changed.

FJ: The principal at PS 58, Giselle McGee, spoke French when she was a kid: her mother is French and her dad is American. Giselle spoke French up to the age of 5, and when she went to school, there were no dual-language programs. After the first day of school, she came home and told her mother, “I don’t want to speak French, all my friends speak English.”   And she completely lost her French. So can you imagine how she felt when those enterprising mothers knocked on her door and asked if she would consider opening a French after school program. Within half an hour the conversation had switched to “Would you open a French dual-language program by September?” – which she did.

LD: Within the French community, there’s also been tremendous growth – I don’t know what the numbers are – but I live near Carroll Gardens, where the French population has exploded over the last 15 years. It’s a middle class community – and that’s an important component – but it’s a community that’s come here with the idea of not staying forever, and that still maintains very strong ties back home.

FJ: They were not immigrants in the classical sense. Each community has its own model.

There is a class component. [Take] the African francophone community in the Bronx. There are actually more French speakers in the Bronx than anywhere else, but no one sees them: they might be here illegally, or they speak three or four languages but their official one is not French, or they work three jobs and don’t have time to get involved. Different socio-economic factors can make it hard to create programs, [but] these are the situations where those programs would have the most impact. You need to have community engagement and parent involvement but also an open door, a principal and school staff who understand where these families come from, and who pay attention to the small requests these families may make.

LD: Are you seeing any change in the attitudes of school administrators and teachers towards bilingualism? Are they more aware of how it can benefit the kids?

FJ: In the younger principals, yes. Unless you have those rare monolingual school leaders who really understand bilingual education or those who come from that bilingual background – they know, they went through the whole thing. This is changing across the US: states like Utah, Delaware, North Carolina, Georgia are investing massively in bilingual education. They see the benefits not just for the community, but for the economy. They want their state to be economically viable 20 years from now and their workforce to be competitive.

In New York City the DOE has this mandate that forces the City to serve English language learners, and that’s where the Federal money comes in. In fact we have other families: we have English language learners, we have heritage language families like my kids, where families want to sustain the home language and they need the schools to do that, and the third group is the English-speaking families who want to acquire a second language or a third one. These are the three groups that I usually meet, who start to form the coalition.

LD: I think that for parents who come from countries where things are done from the top down, you need to teach them that they can do things here, and that they should do these things. If they’ve never had the experience of going to a school and saying, “This is what we want”, then it will be very hard for them to do that.

FJ: In the French community, these mothers were not used to being accepted in the school [in France], but they quickly understood that here it was possible. And with the help of American mothers they started approaching the schools and asking for things. With Giselle, there’s a funny story. [The school is in] Carroll Gardens, an old Italian neighborhood. A few years after the French program opened, some of the Italian parents approached Giselle and asked her why she hadn’t created an Italian dual-language program. And she said it was because no one had asked her. So you have to ask.

[There’s also] the Italian school principal… At a meeting at the Italian Consulate, I was explaining how the French did it, how the Japanese did it, the Russians … and this man said to me, “No offense, but if the French did it, then the Italians will.” He had been a school principal in Bensonhurst, the Italian part of Brooklyn, and he never thought such a program could be created. And the next year, he found a primary school principal who was willing to do it and [then you had] the first Italian dual-language program. That’s what people need to understand – yes, you can ask.

LD: In your book you talk about programs in primary school, even in middle school, but then they seem to stop…

FJ: It’s starting to change – Utah is thinking Kindergarten to College; but here and in a lot of other places you see [many programs] in elementary school, then in middle school it starts to go down, and in high school, nothing, with the exception of one or two. I visited the High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies in Chinatown, they’re now #9 or #10 in the US in terms of academic outcomes, and they’re really a model for high schools. And the school you visited in Brooklyn, the Boerum Hill School for International Studies, I think in a few years from now it will be a model – there are now hundreds of applicants trying to get in. In high school, we’re seeing the beginning of a change, with children in the 9th and 10th grades wanting to take this all the way to the International Baccalaureate (IB) and dual-language IB. Which I think is unique in the public schools in the US, as this is an advanced IB in two languages. You have that in private schools. So now NY1 has featured the school, showing how it has created socio-economic and racial balance in the three years since it was started. And I like to see that it’s now named best middle school in Brooklyn by Inside School. It’s funny how you can transform a school, a community and a way to look at a dual-language program.

LD: So what do you need to keep the revolution going?

FJ:   I want to see this approach everywhere – it can change a city, it could change a country… That’s why I wrote the book. I thought, now it’s on paper, it’s a recipe, maybe not an ideal one, but one that’s been tested and proven, and here’s a vision of mine. So try it. I hope I get that across and give parents the desire to do it. That’s what I think is needed. They’ll do it for their children – their motivation is strong. With that they can transform their school, they can be very active in that process, so that is the best thing I hope for. In Washington D.C., they’re applying this book to the letter. When I was there a few weeks ago, they took me to all eight wards. We sat in playgrounds, in people’s homes, in restaurants, chatting, the way revolutions are done, on the ground. In Boston, where I was last week, Massachusetts has just announced that it is removing its ban on bilingual education in the public schools.   So I met with the person in charge of world languages for the Boston public schools and she said, “This book is coming at the right time, this is something we’re thinking about now, we need these programs”.

LD: So when you were working in Boston they had a ban on dual-language programs?

FJ: There were three states: Arizona, California and Massachusetts that had bans since the end of the 1990’s on bilingual programs in the public schools. This was bilingual education that served immigrants. This didn’t affect the private school where I taught – the parents wanted their kids to be bilingual. This didn’t affect the immersion programs either, because they were doing foreign language immersion and that was not considered bilingual. Now they want to change the law, the same way California did. Apparently Los Angeles is now creating dual-language programs in French and other languages. And in the last few years, they’ve been creating these programs in Texas. I went there three years ago to give a talk, and they’ve created the first full school French immersion program in Houston.  In Austin there’s a group of parents trying to do this , in Dallas… I see it happening everywhere… Burlington, Vermont, I’m going there next month… they also thought that they needed to change one of their schools into a dual language school, so that’s how I got involved.

I don’t know if I have enough juice to write another book, but I want to write one on different cities, featuring these initiatives, because I think it’s so fascinating.

LD: I’m noticing an uptick in the number of Europeans coming to New York – I’m hearing more conversations in German and Eastern European languages than I did 5 or 10 years ago.

FJ: I live in Greenpoint, and right across from my apartment is PS 34, which for years and years and years welcomed Polish families, but no one asked for a Polish dual-language program – they had Saturday language programs. About 2 or 3 years ago, a group of mothers in the park heard about the French program at PS 110 and the Japanese program at PS 147, and they started to think, Why don’t we do the same. So they got together, spoke to the principal and the superintendent (who was of Polish heritage). Now, for the first time, Greenpoint has a Polish dual-language program, the same way Bensonhurst has an Italian dual-language program. The Germans are getting there, but it’s harder for them. The German expats have a tendency to put their kids in private (German) schools when they seek to sustain the home language- it takes a leap of faith for them to put their kids in public schools.

LD: Well even for the French, it took a leap of faith to put their kids in the public schools. I think some of what you’re seeing is what we discussed before, a change in the mentality of the new immigrants, who want to keep that connection to home. I think it’s also because now people are seeing successful dual-language programs, and the light bulb goes on. That’s sometimes what you need – that one example. And let’s face it, the NYC public school system is a bureaucracy, and a very big one, so I think for many people it’s daunting to even think about tackling that.

FJ: I’m glad to see that it’s happening and I’m glad to see more and more communities wanting to do this. I’ll meet with a group of Korean parents in Brooklyn next month – they want to preserve their language and culture. When I was approached about a Japanese program, it was by a mixed group of Asian mothers: 2 Japanese, 1 Korean, 1 Chinese, and 1 Taiwanese. For some it was about maintaining their language; for others, it was about learning another language that was Asian. And they took this idea to a school whose students were predominantly Latino. But they were able to convince Principal Sandie Noyola, and now there are kids of Hispanic background in the Japanese dual-language program as well as kids of other Asian backgrounds – slowly the Japanese are looking at this school as an option, even those who are thinking of going back to Japan. The Japanese First Lady visited the school, and gave them a grant for around $30,000. The Japan Society is involved, The Japan Foundation is involved – it’s interesting to see it come together.

LD: You’re trying to translate your book into other languages – tell me about that.

FJ: I wanted to translate it at least into the 9 language groups in the book: I did the French, and I have found translators for Arabic, Chinese Italian, German, Japanese, Polish, Russian and Spanish. I’m reaching out to foundations, governments and cultural institutions, trying to find funders. I’m creating a website, in different languages, to go with the book, as a tool for communities to set up their own programs. And eventually I’d like to get the book translated into other languages.

LD: Fabrice, I do think you arrived in New York at the perfect time, and people were ready for the bilingual revolution. Aux barricades!

You can find more information about Fabrice Jaumont’s book, The Bilingual Revolution here

 

 

Brooklyn History Still Speaking to Us

Exhibition Title Image, Brooklyn Historical Society

When you’re next at The Brooklyn Historical Society, be sure to visit their exhibit Until Everyone Has It Made: Jackie Robinson’s Legacy  on the life of baseball great Jackie Robinson.  While he’s best known for desegregating this sport, throughout his life Robinson was thrust into the turmoil around racial integration.  Born in Cairo, Georgia in 1919, the following year his family moved to a white neighborhood in Pasadena, California where Robinson learned to stand up for himself.  While attending the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), this multi-talented athlete played on their basketball, football, track & field, as well as their baseball team, winning letters in all four of these sports.  In 1945, he played one season for the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro Leagues. 

In the U.S., attitudes towards racial segregation had been changing, and Branch Rickey, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers understood that integrating baseball could be good, and signed Jackie Robinson to the team.  

Opening day at Ebbets Field, April 15, 1947, was historic – 26,600 fans, of which 14,000 were African Americans, turned out to see Robinson create history – until then, baseball had been segregated.  However, even though he could now play with white team mates, when they traveled in the South, Robinson couldn’t share facilities, hotels, or restaurants with them.

Wheaties ad featuring Jackie Robinson

But Robinson’s talent couldn’t be denied: in 1947 he won the Rookie of the Year Award, in 1949 he became the first black player to receive the National League Most Valuable Player Award, and he later earned other accolades, including six All Star awards. Like other sports stars, his image was used to sell various products, including Wheaties.

Display with magazine covers featuring Jackie Robinson

Testament to Robinson’s star power can also be found in the display which features several of magazine covers he graced, including such major publications as Time and Life.

Throughout his career, Jackie Robinson faced threats and insults, especially as he became more involved in the civil rights movement, touring the country with the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and supporting black businesses. But he never stopped.

His retirement from sports in 1957 led Jackie Robinson to business, where his achievements including becoming the first black Vice President of a major American company, Chock full O’Nuts, as well as helping to establish Freedom National Bank. 

Jackie Robinson passed away in 1972.  Despite all he achieved, there’s clearly more work to be done to fully honor his legacy.  A good place to start is with this exhibit, Until Everyone Has It Made: Jackie Robinson’s Legacy, which  will be up until June, 2018.

Circular Yacht in Prospect Park, Harper’s Weekly, July 27, 1878, Terrence J. Allen Prospect Park Collection, Brooklyn Public Library

While you’re at the BHS, stop by  The Means of a Ready Escape: Brooklyn’s Prospect Park  which celebrates the park’s 150th Anniversary.

Created by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, who also designed Manhattan’s Central Park, Prospect Park is often described as the park they wanted to build. 

Indian Villages, Paths, Ponds and Places in Kings County, 1946, C. W. Nenning and James A. Kelly, Brooklyn Historical Society

The exhibit begins by pointing out that Brooklyn was the home of various Native American tribes, especially the Lenape Indians, for over 9,000 years before the Europeans arrived in the 1600’s.  Be sure to take a look at this great map created in 1946 by then Brooklyn Borough Historian James A. Kelly.

First the Dutch, then the British began establishing farms and towns in the area.  The local inhabitants were caught up in the historic events of the Revolutionary War when, in 1776, the land that is now Prospect Park was the site of a major battle between the Continental Army and the British (including the Hessians who fought for them).

It wasn’t until 1861 that the first plan for what is now Prospect Park was created – however, the Civil War deterred it’s implementation.  After the war ended, in 1865 Olmstead and Vaux were invited to submit their design, which they created with the intent of giving park-goers the illusion that they were no longer in a city. 

Lawn Tennis in Prospect Park, Harper’s Weekly, July 11, 1885, Bob Lenine Collection

The exhibit highlights the ways in which use of this 585 acre tract has changed over the years.  The park now includes active uses such as an ice skating rink, a bandshell, baseball fields, as well as a zoo.

It also makes clear that you can’t separate the park from it’s urban surroundings, detailing how the park suffered during the NYC fiscal crisis in the 1970‘s and subsequent reductions in government funding. However, in 1980, Tupper Thomas was appointed the first administrator of the park, which led to its turnaround.  She also helmed the Prospect Park Alliance, created in 1987, which raises funds and other support for the park’s upkeep.  (This exhibit is presented in partnership with the Alliance)

The Means of a Ready Escape: Brooklyn’s Prospect Park will be at the Brooklyn Historical Society  through July 13, 2018. 

Every month, the BHS has a FREE Friday evening program.  They also offer – at a very low cost – some wonderful lectures, author talks and films on the history of Brooklyn, as well as current issues that affect us all, no matter where we live. I’ve been to several – in addition to learning something new, I’ve always enjoyed them.   Be sure to bookmark their Calendar  

The BHS is located at 128 Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights.  (Go for a stroll along the Promenade or at Brooklyn Bridge Park when you’re done!)

CANSTRUCTION: Art to Feed the Hungry

I was amazed at the ingenuity of this year’s entries for CANSTRUCTION , a competition that challenged 26 teams of architects, engineers, and contractors to build sculptures made entirely out of unopened cans of food.  These large-scale sculptures can be found throughout both levels of Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan. (When you’re on the upper level, take a look at the works on the lower level – you’ll see them in a new way!)   Some of the Canstructions are best viewed through a camera, as their creators used the cans as oversized pixels.   The best part of this exhibit is that the cans that comprise these structures will be donated to City Harvest for distribution to those in need. This display is up only until next Wednesday, November 15th, so be sure to visit Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan before then.  Bring a can to support this wonderful event.  Below are my top five picks:

May Kindness Bloom, AKF Engineers; main ingredients: salmon, spinach, corn, peas & carrots, green beans, mixed vegetables, sliced peaches, fruit cocktail, diced mango, pear

A Rising Tide, Leslie E. Robertson Associates; main ingredient: sardines

Game of Buildings, Metropolis Group, Inc.; main ingredients: sweet peas and organic split pea soup

Popeye the Sailor CAN, Gensler; main ingredients: tuna, salmon, spinach, vegetables, beans

On Track to End Hunger, Turner Construction Company; main ingredients- sardines, tuna, beets, black eyed peas, black beans, corn, green beans, pears

Boleros and Art in the Bronx

There’s a new exhibit at Longwood Gallery @ Hostos, organized on the theme of boleros, music that originated in Cuba in the late 19th century, then spread to Puerto Rico, other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America  (not to be confused with bolero music that originated in Spain in the 18th century).  These songs of love and life, while often sad, are also about the power of love.  They’re also especially good for coping with a break-up.  Prominent bolero artists include José Antonio Mendez (Cuba),  José Feliciano (Puerto Rico & the Bronx),  Agustin Lara (Mexico), Luis Miguel (Mexico), Tito Rodriguez (Puerto Rico) and Celia Cruz (Cuba).  Curator Juanita Lanzo decided to organize a show around the theme of boleros when a group of students visited the gallery and told her they didn’t know this music.  While some of the artists’ work in this show relates specifically to bolero, others used the more general theme of music. At a recent artists talk, I learned more about these works directly from their creators.

Güiro, Glendalys Medina, 2017, marker, and ink on paper

Glendalys Medina, a Bronxite from Puerto Rico, spoke about her work Güiro. She was inspired by the ribbed percussion instrument of the same name made from a gourd, originally by Taíno Indians ( a stick or tynes are rubbed against the notches to create a ratchet sound). Glendalys grew up with music, as her father plays the congas.   When she was young, she would listen to the music of Louis Miguel, especially on Saturdays, which was cleaning day.  When  you look closely at her Güiro, you’ll find symbols such as owls and coquís (frogs native to Puerto Rico).  I like her use of oil-based marker, which captures and diffuses the light, giving her piece a flat, but lightly polished sheen.

Ode to Nina Simone, Maria Dominguez, 2017, painted paper, collage

A New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, Maria Dominguez has two pieces from her Hothouse series, born of her passion for jazz, which is reflected not only in her choice of subjects (here, Nina Simone and Wes Montgomery), but also in the intensity of her colors, and the sense of movement that infuses them.  Maria informed us that when she created this series, she first painted the paper until she got the texture she wanted, then she ripped it.  Earlier in her career, Maria was a muralist, and discovered that pulling the paper always revealed a story. 

Dancers, Mott Haven, 1979, David Gonzalez, archival pigment print, courtesy of David Gonzalez

David Gonzalez is a columnist and photojournalist for The New York Times. David, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, grew up in the Bronx with music – his father, a guitarist, would play on the weekends with his uncles.  Music is what kept David sane in his youth – today it helps him work.

David took the above photo in 1979 at a block party on 140th Street (the salsa band was behind him).  He pointed out that in 1979 no one cared about the Bronx, and contrasted that attitude with the way people in the photo are dressed – the dancers take pride in their appearance and are relying on their culture, especially music and dance to sustain them.  David sees music as a survival skill, especially for people who are marginalized – their culture binds them together and enables them to negotiate the world.   

David also had some great advice for artists – emerging, established or otherwise.  He recounted how he had completely forgotten about this photo until 2009, when he was scanning his old work.  This image is a perfect illustration of the intersection of skill and luck; David took only two shots. I don’t know what the other one looks like, but this one says it all.  As David advised, “look back through your archives every now and then – you might be surprised how good some of your earlier work is.”    

Untitled, Rafael Melendez, watercolor on Xerox copies

For Rafael Melendez the boleros theme of the show connected him to music, and made him think about MTV, which was his introduction to America (he is of Mexican heritage) as well as his connection to contemporary art and to living in NYC.  Against one wall is a video loop of the drawings he made while bartending, and also a series of drawings that are like musical notes and the thoughts they have that makes them write music.

La Gloria Eres Tu, Norma Marquez Orozco, 2017, paper, marker and acetate

Norma Márquez Orozco grew up in Mexico with  boleros, which her mother and sisters listened to.  When she was young, Norma would sing these songs, which made her feel like she was in love.  Later she discovered – as we all do – that the lyrics, which you didn’t understand when you were young, you experience differently when you’re older.  Her piece is based around one of her favorite boleros, La Gloria Eres Tu by Jose Antonio Mendez.  Norma wrote the lyrics on translucent paper which she cut into strips.  Now, when she revisits the song  and moves the box, the lyrics take a new shape and feeling.   

Maria Bonita, Blanka Amezkua, 2015, embroidery on printed fabric, and crochet

There was always music in Blanka Amezkua’s life (she was born in Mexico and raised in California), particularly on special occasions (or after a heart break).  For her, boleros connect the generations.  Blanka trained as a painter for 15 years, but now embroiders. She mentioned that sometimes people have had strong reactions to her two pieces in this show, and explained that  the images she embroidered came from Mexican adult comic books, and that her mother crocheted the frames on her work.  This piece is entitled Maria Bonita, for Maria Felix, the wife of bolero composer Agustin Lara.

Birdman, Phyllis Sanfiorenzo, 2011, oil on illustration panel, and gold leaf

For Phyllis Sanfiorenzo, who was born and raised in El Barrio in Manhattan, bolero is romance and love that was innocent, pure and true.  Her paintings are a combination of her own speculative fiction, and her take on the Renaissance, with its romantic images of solitude and study.  This piece, Birdman, was was inspired by  Albrecht Dürer’s picture of St. Jerome in his study.  Phyllis noted how the hermit in his solitude often has a connection to an animal (St. Jerome and the lion).  The hermit in her picture has pigeons, inspired by someone Phyllis knew in Harlem who kept them.

Night Seats, Patricia Cazorla, 2017, watercolor on wood panel

Patricia Cazorla grew up in a household of women in Venezuela. Her introduction to boleros was hearing her mother singing Besamé Mucho.  The above picture is one of three she painted of a trip she took to Las Vegas.  For Patricia, both Las Vegas and bolero music are full of risks:  Las Vegas is where people go to get married or divorced (often spontaneously), and boleros, being songs of love and life, are full of emotional risks.

The Couple, Esperanza Cortés, 2008, Chairs, knitting needles, pearls, glass beads, crystals, rings, and mother of pearl

Esperanza Cortés comes from a family of singers:  her father sang in the Metropolitan Opera chorus, and her sister is a professional salsa singer.  Born in Columbia, but raised in the U.S., Esperanza didn’t start speaking Spanish until she was 11 years old, when her aunt and grandmother came to live with her family.  They listened to boleros and cried, and Esperanza wanted to know why.  For her, bolero lyrics express a belief in poetry and beauty.  Her piece The Couple is about love – what you give and get,  the variety of landscapes you live through when you’re in love.  Esperanza detailed the symbolism of the elements of the piece: the chairs, which she upholstered herself, signify how one person is always more dominant in a relationship; the pearl necklaces represents semen; the crystals, tears; the blue brocade, our dreams of love; the 500 rings, our promises to each other, and the knitting needles, the pain we inflict on each other.   

Be sure to get up to Longwood Art Gallery @ Hostos   (450 Grand Concourse at 149th Street in the Bronx to see more work by these artists before Boleros closes on December 6th.

Wonderful Discoveries at the Gowanus Open Studios

I like going to open studios, because then I get to see a lot of work across a variety of mediums and styles, by both emerging and mid-career artists; plus, it’s usually easy to talk to them about their art.  On October 20th, I visited several of the studios of the 350+ artists who were showing at the Gowanus Open Studios  in Brooklyn (even if I were a centipede, I don’t think I’d be able to visit them all).  Here are my highlights.

Caroline Otis Heffron and her husband Adam Clayman held a joint show on the parlor floor of their house. 

from the series, “What Statues Should Remain?” Caroline Otis Heffron

Caroline Otis Heffron  (who’s a potter and painter) has created a lovely series of intimate paintings, based on photos she’s taken in museums (mostly of sculptures) and on the streets of New York City.  She then cuts these photos and recombines the images to create collages with a new narrative, which she then translates into drawing and paint. For Heffron, the gestures and the moment guide her work.  

hardwar aarti overhead, from Tirtha Yatra: A Visual Pilgrimage of India, Adam Clayman

The first thing that struck me about Adam Clayman’s photographs is that the majority of them were black and white.  He confirmed that he works primarily in that mode, as he’s drawn to it.  The photos he was showing were primarily images of Italy, India and Brooklyn, especially Coney Island. 

Over at 540 President Street, Spaceworks has created low-cost artists studios in a very large two-story building. (They also offer low-cost rehearsal space in Brooklyn and Queens).   About 30 of their artists participated in the open studios…

Bird from a B52 bomber, Peter Patchen. ABS plastic coated with acrylic and iron

In his Migration series, Peter Patchen uses a 3-D printing process to transform models of war planes into birds – for him the planes, like the B-52 above, are gorgeous but destructive.  His work tries to answer the question of what would happen if they became autonomous…

work in progress, Taylor McMahon, plastic lanyards

When I entered Taylor McMahon’s studio, I blurted out “are those the strips we used as kids to weave key chains?” (I know, you can’t take me anywhere) and she confirmed that she does, indeed, work with plastic lanyards. I like discovering artists using non-traditional materials, especially when their use of ordinary or mundane items elevates them without making them pretentious.   McMahon, whose weavings combine strong geometric and abstract patterns, told me she doesn’t use a chart, since she usually has an idea of what she wants the piece to look like as she works on it.  I can’t wait to seen the above weaving when it’s finished.

My Dirty Laundry, Victoria Morales, 2009, oil on canvas

This oil by Victoria Morales brought back many memories of my childhood, when clotheslines were everywhere, from back yards to the windows in the alleyways between apartment buildings!

Promenade V, Tegan Brozyna, Painted paper, thread, nails and wood

Tegan Brozyna  showed work from her series Traverse, where she interweaves painted paper shapes through layers of vertical threads whose tension holds the pieces in place.  There’s a certain playfulness in her work, and I like her sense of color.

Right around the block, on the ground floor of 505 Carroll Street, is the Brooklyn branch of the Textile Arts Center (there’s also one in the West Village), where they’ve just expanded, adding more artists studios.  They run a 9-month residency program, and offer classes and studio space to the general public. Check them out!

various pieces by Jose Picayo at Textile Arts Center, Brooklyn

At the Center they were featuring the work of Jose Picayo, a photographer who took a weaving class at the Center, got hooked on it, then took almost all their other classes, and is now making his own designs!

interior of Blue, The Tatter Textile Library

On the second floor you’ll find BLUE: The Tatter Textile Library which opened its doors this summer.  Not only does it have a library of over 3,000 textile-related books, it also has the  hosts workshops and lectures.  It’s a fabulous space and a great addition to the community.

untitled, Patricia Stegman, 2017, watercolor, gouache and pastel

I was happy to see my Boerum Hill neighbor Patricia Stegman, who was showing ten of the lovely nature sketches she made with watercolor, gouache and pastel this past summer while visiting family in France.  The above is the most abstract work in that series, but is in the same color palette as the others.

The Brooklyn Workshop Gallery was holding it’s last show, as it closed on October 29th.  This is a loss, as the Gallery not only hosted exhibits, but they also held workshops and other community events.  Here’s some of the work they were showing…

Inalienable, Iviva Olenik, 2017, hand embroidery

Immigration is a central theme in much of Iviva Olenick’s  work.  In this vein, she’s created a Flag series, including the above, which was hung in the Gallery’s front window.  The text reads:  Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning for affordable housing, comprehensive healthcare, credible news, resource-rich integrity-driven schools, unrestricted travel, sanctuary cities, a whole country as sanctuary from the wretched refusals  of our most basic inalienable human rights.

from the Terra Madre series, Gisella Sorrentino, 2017, Digital C print

Gisella Sorrentino showed work from her summer residency at the Gallery, which resulted in a series, Terra Madre, about becoming a mother.  These are self-portraits, built around a dream she had about becoming a mother, a year before her son was born.  They also express the duality of being pregnant, and how it made her softer towards the world.  The photos were hung in the Gallery’s backyard/garden, which was the perfect setting for them.

work by Signe Bresling Rudolfsen

This intriguing multi-paneled work by Signe Bresling Rudolfsen …

weaving by Martine Bisagni

was being reinterpreted as a weaving by Martine Bisagni, the Gallery’s founder.  I hope she opens another space in Brooklyn. 

I’m sorry I couldn’t get to more of the Gowanus Open Studios – check out their website if you missed the show – I’m definitely looking forward to next year’s edition!

Golden Venture Paper Sculptures Tell a Story for Today

Statue of Liberty, 1994, Papier-mâché, cardboard and colored markers, MOCA Collection

Fold: Golden Venture Paper Sculptures at the Museum of Chinese in America tells the story of some of the passengers on board the Golden Venture when it ran aground near Rockaway Beach Queens at 2:00am on June 6, 1993.  I remember the confusion in the initial TV, radio and newspaper reports – how many passengers (often referred to as “aliens” or “illegal aliens”), where they came from (“Asia”, “China”) what happened, why they were on the boat, how many died…   

Perhaps the best place to start your tour is in the smaller gallery across from the main exhibition space in which you’ll find the below sculpture and an eye-opening video edited by David Tan & Ya Yun Teng, that provides context for the exhibit and also ties it into today’s debates around immigration.  Made in 2017, the video features lawyers and residents of York, Pennsylvania, talking about not only their efforts to obtain justice for the Golden Venture passengers who were detained in the York County prison, but also about the actions taken over the last 20-odd years to restrict immigration to the U.S.   

Statue of Liberty atop the U.S. Capitol dome within Chinese city walls, 1994

In many ways, the story of the Golden Venture begins in 1989/90, when President George H. W. Bush, angry about the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square, issued directives and an Executive Order, which had the net effect of allowing Chinese nationals – even those here illegally – to stay in the US while their applications for permanent residency wended their way through the system. However, that opened the floodgates for smugglers (a/k/a snakeheads). 

Freestanding eagle looking straight ahead, 1994, Folded paper, papier-mâché, glue and colored marker, MOCA Collection

When the Golden Venture crashed, there were 286 migrants on board, mostly from Fujian Province, who had embarked on a 6-month ocean voyage that took them to Thailand, then to Kenya, then around  the Cape of Good Hope, and on to the U.S. Each passenger (and/or their families) had paid the equivalent of US$5,000 to smugglers, and agreed to work off the balance (US$30,000) mainly by laboring in restaurants and sweatshops. 

The Golden Venture  posed a problem for the U.S.: ten passengers died when they jumped off the ship in the Rockaways and tried to swim to shore.   There was a lot of media attention, and it gave the impression that the authorities did not have things under control.  The World Trade Center had been bombed a few months earlier. Anti-immigrant sentiment was starting to grow, and in the previous two years, a number of ships with passengers smuggled in from China had been apprehended in US waters.

Previously, foreigners in the US illegally were not imprisoned – they were required to report to US Immigration periodically, but were effectively at liberty until their cases were adjudicated.  In order to deter other smugglers, the Clinton administration took a hard line, detaining the Golden Venture passengers in various prisons across the country.  Speedy deportation hearings were held; about half the passengers were returned to China, and another 50 were sent to other countries.  A group of men were held in the York County Prison in Pennsylvania, where most of them stayed for 3 years and 8 months. The exhibit is about their experiences, as well as about the art they created.

Golden Venture bird cage, ca. 1994, Rolled paper, papier-mâché, cardboard, glue and colored marker, MOCA Collection

A grass roots group, People of the Golden Vision comprised of residents of York County and pro bono lawyers formed to help the detainees obtain better conditions and asylum; they organized letter writing campaigns, held vigils and fundraisers for over three years, keeping the plight of the detainees before the public.

In 1996, a small group of exceptionally artistically talented detainees were released and given a special visa for “aliens of extraordinary ability.”  In 1996, President Clinton paroled the remaining detainees. Today, 15 former detainees are in the US and still have no clear path to permanent legal residence, even though they work, pay taxes, and even own businesses. 

Large vessel with lid, ca. 1994, folded paper, papier-mâché, glue and colored marker, Courtesy of Jeff and Cindy Lobach

The exhibit features some 40 objects made collectively from papier-mâché (which the detainees fashioned from toilet paper, glue and water)  and from folded and rolled paper (mostly magazines and legal pads).  Over the course of their detention, the detainees made these works as gifts to the people who helped them, or to be sold at fundraisers to pay for their defense.

Many of the sculptures in the exhibit are quite elaborate, and certain images dominate:  eagles, peacocks, boats and bird cages.  Many, such as the pagodas, are also very large.

detail, Pagoda Tower with Eagles and Pineapple, 1994, Rolled, cut and folded paper, papier-mâché, cardboard, blue and colored marker, courtesy of Jeff and Cindy Lobach

While the sculptures are amazing, be sure to watch the videos in this room: one of the male detainees singing Amazing Grace in Chinese and thanking their supporters; another featuring the paper sculptures made by the detainees, who we don’t see (many didn’t want to appear on screen), but we hear them talking about their quest for freedom, the boredom of prison, learning to fold paper, and their yearning for a better life.

Lantern, 1994, Folded paper, thread, plastic beads, glue, colored marker

 

I also encourage you to visit MOCA’s core exhibit With a Single Step: Stories in the Making of America, which details the history of Chinese immigrants in America, beginning in 1784 when the Empress of China left New York City for Canton, to trade tradition Appalachian ginseng, furs, and Mexican silver for Chinese  luxury goods such as porcelains, teas and silks.

Soup Plate, custom-made in China for NYS Governor Dewitt Clinton, ca. 1805, courtesy of the NY Historical Society)

Through photos, paintings and political cartoons, you’ll learn about the Chinese Americans who contributed to the American economy and culture: the anonymous workers who built ships and constructed the railroads; the entertainers who worked on the “Chop Suey Circuit” (Anna May Wong being the most famous); and current icons such as YoYo Ma and Vera Wang.  Renowned Chinese American architect Maya Lin designed the Museum.  There are also, sadly, artifacts detailing the devastating effects of the Chinese Exclusionary Laws, and also the ways in which Chinese Americans were caricatured and discriminated against.

The Museum provides a relevant and much needed lens on the history of immigration in the U.S., reminding us how easy it is for government and citizens to demonize “the other,” and how harsh measures to restrict immigration damage not only the targeted groups, but all of us.

Fold: Golden Venture Paper Sculptures will be at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) until March 25th, 2018.  But get there much sooner. 

MOCA is located at 215 Centre Street. 

Bruno Miguel: Seduction and Reason

Bruno Miguel (1981) trained as a painter in his native Brazil – however, that might not be your first thought walking through his show at Sapar Contemporary.  Not content with the two-dimensional plane, Miguel uses everything except canvas as a platform for his colors.  Rather than painting horizontally, he unpacks the elements of a painting, then stacks them vertically – almost as if he were painting in three dimensions.  Through his mixing of traditional, luxury, quotidian, festive and personal elements, the artist creates an opportunity for new narratives.

Fé (Faith) from series Sala de Jantar (Dining Room), Bruno Miguel, 2014, Oil and colorjet paint on set of 54 porcelain and earthenware plates purchased in antique and solid round plates of enamel paint

As you enter the gallery, your eye will be caught by Fé (Faith) from the series Sala de Jantar (Dining Room) (2013), which takes up the better part of the wall.  As you approach this cross-shaped sculpture, you’ll see that it is made from antique porcelain and earthenware plates.  Look closer, and you’ll see that they’ve all been manipulated by the artist in some way –

detail, Fé (Faith) from series Sala de Jantar (Dining Room), Bruno Miguel, 2014, Oil and colorjet paint on set of 54 porcelain and earthenware plates purchased in antique and solid round plates of enamel paint

sometimes he painted over them, or he painted designs on them, or he put down several layers of paint, covered them with masking tape, and then cut into the tape or reshaped it.

detail, Cafezinho? (Coffee?) (mother), Bruno Miguel, 2014, Polyester resin and pigment on 31 plastic cups that belonged to the artist’s mother

If you look to the left, however, you’ll find two works that take you into the artists’ personal life while simultaneously reflecting on the history of immigration in Brazil.  In the front window is  Cafezinho? (Coffee?) (2014), a collection of 31 small coffee mugs, used by his mother to serve coffee to her guests, especially when she had Tupperware parties.  By filling these cups with brightly colored – indeed Carnival colored – resins, the artist seems to be linking his mother’s identity as an immigrant with his identity as a first-generation Brazilian (his mother was from Mozambique and father from Portugal). 

Todas as cores (All the colors) (father), Bruno Miguel, 2014, Polyester resin and pigment on 3 shot glasses that belonged to the artist’s father

Nearby you’ll find Todas as cores (All Colors) (2014), three  shot glasses which belonged to his father, who was an alcoholic.  By filling them with bright resins, the artist is rewriting his history, without judgement, and linking it to his artistic practice.

49 from the series Essas Pessoas na Sala de Jantar (These People in the Dining Room), Bruno Miguel, 2012-2014, Spray paint, cold porcelain, polyurethane foam, wire, acrylic resin and paper-mâché on porcelain bought at an antique auction

In the rear of the gallery, on the floor, you’ll find Essas Pessoas na Sala de Jantar (Those People In the Dining Room) (2012–2015), a riot of whimsical sculptures of tropical trees and fantastical islands/creatures that might bring to mind  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince; when you look closer, you’ll notice that these islands/creatures seem to be simultaneously swallowing and spouting antique porcelain cups and saucers.   For the artist, porcelain reminds him of dinner conversations, and he uses it as a way of inviting dialogue with the viewer.  With these works, Miguel plays these traditional, serious tea sets (which he purchased at auction) against the bright, playful Carnival materials that engulf them, inviting the viewer to consider how history is absorbed and presented.

New Neoconcrete, #8 from the series Totems, Bruno Miguel, 2015, Oil paint and spray on sign with wood

On the lower level you’ll find work in a completely different style: four neo-concrete totems, that were made from actual New York City parking signs (who hasn’t wanted to paint over them?)  This one, New Neoconcrete #8 is dedicated to the Brazilian Neo-Concrete artist Hélio Oiticica.

This is only a small selection of the work you’ll find in Bruno Miguel: Seduction and Reason, which is on only until November 5th.  So get over to  Sapar Contemporary Gallery, 9 North Moore Street in Tribeca soon!

The Visual Arts and World War 1

World War 1 and the Visual Arts, the excellent show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, commemorates the centenary of the U.S.‘s entry into that conflict.  Consisting of pen & ink drawings, photographs, posters and  lithographs, primarily by European artists – French, British and Russian, the exhibit also contains work by German artists, which I haven’t seen in the other shows on this subject. The 136 objects, drawn mainly from the Met’s collection, highlight how artists were conflicted by the war: some eagerly used their talents to create pro-war propaganda, while others sought to convey the horrors of the conflict through their art.  Several served as war correspondents, medics and even soldiers; some who started out in favor of war came to reverse their positions.

5-1/2% War Loan, Russian, Color Lithograph, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In the hall leading up to the exhibit there are 10 posters from France, Belgium and Russia, whose bright colors and bold graphics exhort viewers to support the war – in this case, urging them to buy Russian war bonds.

Banking at 4,000 Feet, Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, 1917, Lithograph, Purchase, Reba and Dave Williams Gift, 1998

Christopher Richard Wynne (CRW) Nevinson (1889-1946) was appointed an official war artist  by the British government in 1917, after having volunteered briefly in France and then with the Royal Army Medical Corps.  This lithograph is based on an airplane trip he took over the English countryside.  Notice how the artist inserted his own hand, gripping the side of the plane – I’m sure it was a “white knuckle” experience! Nevinson’s work is prominently featured in this show, with ten pieces.

Recruits, John Copley, 1915 Lithograph, Johanna and Leslie Garfield

John Copley (1875-1950) was a prolific British printmaker. This image of recruits lining up to enroll – and standing very straight – illustrates how the war affected all strata of British society.  The wall label informs us that “By fall 1914, so many lives had been lost that the criteria for enlisting was changed:  the minimum height for male volunteers shifted from 5’8” in August 1914 to 5’5” in October and 5’3” by November.” 

In the Somme, Village in Ruins, Pierre Bonnard, 1916, colored chalks and watercolor, private collection

When I saw the above work, I was surprised to discover it was created by  the French artist Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947), as his name always brings to mind interiors.  It turns out that there is only one known war painting by him:  A Village in Ruins near Ham.  This chalk and watercolor was made in preparation for that 1917 work.

The Exodus, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, 1915, Lithograph, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Sadly, The Exodus -1915 by Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923) has an all too familiar feel. Even though it depicts people fleeing Belgium after a German invasion, this image echoes (or should I say, presages) ones on the front pages of today’s newspapers.  Much of Steinlen’s art during the war focused the plight of refugees.

Doomed City, Natalia Goncharova, 1914, Lithograph, Bequest of William S. Lieberman, 2005, © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962) was a Russian avant-garde artist and writer.  She also designed sets for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris, where she was living with her future husband Mikhail Larionov, when war broke out.  They returned to Russia for Larionov to do his military service, then went back to Paris in 1917.

Mothers, Käthe Kollowitz, 1919, Lithograph, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1928

I have long admired German artist Käthe Kolowitz (1867-1945) whose work centers on the lives of the working class and women.  The above lithograph is from her series Krieg (War). She appears as the central figure in this work, embracing her two sons; the younger one Peter was killed in combat when he was 18. 

from The War, Otto Dix, 1923-24, Etching, aquatint and drypoint, The Richard Harris Collection

Initially welcoming the start of World War 1, Otto Dix (1891-1969) served as a machine-gun operator in France and Belgium, where he was seriously wounded.  His war experiences turned him into a pacifist, known for his imagery of a corrupt, brutal and decaying post-war German society.  Der Krieg (The War) is a series of 51 prints, based on Dix’ memories of battles, as well as contemporaneous photographs, and is modeled on Goya’s Los Desastres de la Guerra (The disasters of war).

In the section The Intersection of Of Arts and Arms, you’ll find a set of helmets that were designed by Met curator Bashford Dean.  Thirty-three Met staff members served in the armed forces in World War 1 – in the Great Hall is a commemorative plaque for the two who lost their lives.

The Human U.S Shield, Arthur S. Mole and John D. Thomas, 1918, Gelatin silver print, Ford Motor Company Collection, Gift of Ford Motor Company and John C. Waddell, 1987

You’ll also find a work by American photographers Arthur S. Mole (1889-1983) and John D. Thomas (died 1947), who were commissioned by the US military to create photographs to lift war-time moral.  Using thousands of soldiers, they made a series of “living photographs” of icons of American history, including  the Statue of Liberty, Woodrow Wilson, and the Liberty Bell.  The U.S. Human Shield, above, was staged at Camp Custer in Michigan, using 30,000 men, and shot from an 80 ft. high viewing tower. 

Study for “The Coming of the Americans,” John Singer Sargent, 1921-22, Watercolor, gouache and graphite on off-white laid paper, Gift of Mrs. Francis Ormond, 1950

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) is best known as a society painter of the Gilded Age (especially for Madame X), but he also documented the horrors of the first world war (the monumental Gassed of 1918 is probably his best-known work of that era).  This study is for a painting, The Coming of the Americans, commissioned by Harvard University to commemorate alumni who died in the war. There are four other works by him in this show.

This is just a small sampling of the works you’ll find in this thought-provoking exhibit.

World War 1 and the Visual Arts   is on through January 7th at the Met, 1000 Fifth Avenue (83rd Street). Put it on your “to see” list!