By the Sea, By the Sea, 2 Great Shows in N. Y. C.

By sheer coincidence, there are two fibre arts exhibits that have aquatic themes: one at the Sculpture Center in Queens, and the other at the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan.

At the Sculpture Center,  Who’s Exploiting Who in the Deep Sea showcases lovely fabric sea creatures handcrafted by German artist Cosima von Bonin, who uses the main space of the center as if it were a beach, replete with seaside amenities such as changing stations and food trucks … but ….  instead of the humans who would normally populate such a scene, we find that

Cut! Cut! Cut! by Cosima von Bonin, 2010

Cut! Cut! Cut! by Cosima von Bonin, 2010

the lifeguard station has been taken over by a teal blue hermit crab, who seems to be giving a press conference…

Hai am Tisch 1, by Cosima von Bonin, 2014

Hai am Tisch 1, by Cosima von Bonin, 2014

Further away you’ll find a white shark, seated at a classroom desk, as if the artist were playing on the phrase “a school of sharks.”  Or is the shark just like a modern-day office worker, slumped at his/her desk? Or is it about the play of soft and hard surfaces?

Scallops by Cosima von Bonin

Scallops by Cosima von Bonin

Scallops dominated the show – large, small, brown, white, swinging, stationery, always with peering eyes (they were my favorites – they had real personality)

Total Produce (Morality) by Cosima von Bonin, 2010

Total Produce (Morality) by Cosima von Bonin, 2010

In the center was a giant octopus made of different fabrics that would normally clash when put together, but in this instance, it all works.  Not only is this denizen of the sea so friendly, its also a bit nerdy, in keeping with how intelligent they are.

detail from The Decision at Grandville by Cosima von Bonin, 2011

detail from The Decision at Grandville by Cosima von Bonin, 2011

The exhibit takes its title from a song, Exploitations by Irish singer Róisín Murphy, and the musical link continues with the electronic music of Moritz von Oswald which accompanies this small display of porcelain decorated with sea creatures, which is a riff on the anthropomorphic drawings of the 19th century French illustrator J.J. Granville

All in all, it’s a fun (and very small) exhibit; it will be up until January 2nd at the Sculpture Center, Long Island City, Queens.  More photos are on my Instagram feed  

Crochet, Coral and Hyperbolic Geometry

Over at the Museum of Arts and Design, twin sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim have taken over the third floor with a coral reef which is a wonderful combination of crochet, mathematics and ecology!   The Wertheims were distressed by the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef in their native Australia, and set out to increase awareness of the destruction of coral reefs around the world.  To that end, they began crocheting a simulation of healthy and ailing reefs, using yarn and plastic trash (a major cause of the acidification of the seas, which destroys the corals).  Crochet Coral Reef:  TOXIC SEAS  displays their work from the last 10 years on this theme.

Chalk board showing the evolution of corals

Chalk board showing the evolution of corals

At the beginning, there’s a “black board” which explains the evolution of life, the evolution of coral reefs and the development of plastics.  Coral reefs are among the most ancient life forms.  Even though they occupy less than 10% of the world’s ocean areas, they are home to 1/4 of all marine species.  So their destruction (and the role of plastics in that process) is of great concern to all of us. 

The Midden, personal plastic trash of Margaret and Christine Wertheim, 2007-2011

The Midden, personal plastic trash of Margaret and Christine Wertheim, 2007-2011

Suspended from the ceiling is The Midden, a fishing net holding a collection of the twins’ plastic garbage from 2007 to 2011, inspired by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the northern Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, where millions of tons of plastic trash accumulate in a giant ocean gyre.

As you go through the exhibit, be sure to read the wall labels to see the wide variety of plastics, such as  water bottles, cassette tapes, garbage bags, and other materials such as chicken wire which were used so ingeniously in these sculptures.

Coral Forest - Nin'imma, 2007-14, plastic shopping bags, Saran Wra[, found plastic trash, yarn, felt, cable ties, Sonotube, chicken wire

Coral Forest – Nin’imma, 2007-14, plastic shopping bags, Saran Wra[, found plastic trash, yarn, felt, cable ties, Sonotube, chicken wire

In the next section, the Coral Forest, you’ll find fantastical figures with mythological names like Nin’imma and Medusa, all made with yarn and plastic.  You’ll also notice the lighting is very dramatic, evoking the feel of the ocean deep. 

Detail from "Bleached Reef"

Detail from “Bleached Reef”

The third section of the exhibit showcases more of the international nature of this project.  In two large cases you’ll see Bleached Reef representing the first stage of reef deterioration, and Toxic Reef representing the subsequent stage.  The various elements in these reefs were crocheted by women (mostly) around the world, and then assembled by the Wertheims.  Since 2006, their  Satellite Reef Project, which works with communities around the globe to create local reefs, has had over 8,000 participants.  The wall labels credit all the contributors, so you get a good sense of how much work goes into a project like this.

Pod World - Beaded Baroque, 2007-12

Pod World – Beaded Baroque, 2007-12

Lining the walls of this section are miniature Pod Worlds, which use the textures, colors and forms of the crocheted yarns to mimic the diversity of living corals. 

And now for a word about the math behind the exhibit.  Hyperbolic geometry is widely found in nature, as it allows the expansion and crenelation of surfaces, not only in corals, but also in vegetables like lettuce and kale.  The art of crocheting a hyperbolic plane was discovered by Cornell professor Daina Taimina, who was looking for a way to create a durable model of this mathematical concept, which was widely thought to be impossible. 

Detail, Coral Forest - Eryali, 2007-14, yarn, felt, Sonotube and chickenwire

Detail, Coral Forest – Eryali, 2007-14, yarn, felt, Sonotube and chickenwire

In 2003, Margaret and Christine Wertheim established the Institute For Figuring (IFF) to contribute to the public understanding of scientific and mathematical themes, especially relating to environmental threats to marine life.

All in all this is a wonderful exhibit combining math, science and art, while making us even more aware of how fragile our marine ecosystem is.  It will be at the Museum of Arts and Design  until January 22nd.  Go see it NOW – it might even make you want to learn how to crochet!

More photos are on my Instagram feed  

Visiting Artist Program at Brooklyn Navy Yard – Apply Now

Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92 offers an annual program to artists seeking to work on-site in any medium including, but not limited to, photography, painting, music, dance, sculpture and writing. Now entering its fifth year, the Visiting Artist Program was established in response to tremendous public interest from artists who are inspired by or seeking to connect to the Yard. Artists may apply for independent access to this high-security 300-acre facility and former military site nestled on the world-famous Brooklyn waterfront. Deadline for applications is January 11, 2017.  More information here 

TEFAF at the Armory

TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair) Maastricht swept into the Park Avenue Armory for five days at the end of October.  Boasting 94 dealers from 13 countries, this fair of very high-end arts and antiques filled the Drill Hall, as well as 15 Period Rooms on the second floor.  What a show:  antiques, paintings from the 14th to the 20th centuries, small sculptures, medieval religious art, furniture, jewelry, rare books and maps… and almost every piece had a label which delineated its provenance. (The Fair’s catalogue contained the vetting criteria).  The dealers were very friendly, and I enjoyed the fair. It will return in the spring with a contemporary show.  Here are some of my favorites:

The Flight From Egypt by Rembrandt, etching using a plate by Hercules Segers

The Flight From Egypt by Rembrandt, etching using a plate by Hercules Segers

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam showed a short film about Hercules Segers, a 17th century Dutch painter and printmaker.  Segers specialized in paintings and etchings of landscapes, expertly detailed, but imbued with imaginary elements, giving them a fantastical feel.  Not much is known about him today, but his work was admired by Rembrandt, who owned eight of his paintings.  Around 1653, Rembrandt acquired one of Seger’s etching plates Tobias and the Angel, which Rembrandt reworked into The Flight Into Egypt (you can see a trace of the Angel’s wing in the print).  The Rijksmuseum is now hosting an exhibit of Seger’s paintings and prints, which will come to The Met next February – I can’t wait!

Exhibit at Gregg Baker Asian Art at TEFAF

Exhibit at Gregg Baker Asian Art at TEFAF

Gregg Baker Asian Art  from London had a lovely booth, featuring the work of seven Japanese artists.  The gold ground screen, with its Autumn Leaves abstract calligraphy by Ryoji Koie (2011) provided an eye-catching backdrop. 

Bronze abstract sculpture by Tanaka Isamu

Bronze abstract sculpture by Tanaka Isamu

The 20th century artist Tanaka Isamu had three lovely pieces.  I especially liked his copper abstract sculpture with its central design in gilt on a green and brown patinated ground.

[HORAE] LIVRE DE PRIÈRES TISSÉ In Latin and French, illustrated book on silk ; Lyon, R. P. J. Hervier, designer; J.A. Henry, fabricator, for A. Roux, 1886-1887

[HORAE] LIVRE DE PRIÈRES TISSÉ In Latin and French, illustrated book on silk ; Lyon, R. P. J. Hervier, designer; J.A. Henry, fabricator, for A. Roux, 1886-1887

Les Enluminures exhibited fabulous illuminated manuscripts, but what really caught my eye was this Book of Prayers entirely machine woven of gray and black silk, using the Jacquard system of punched-cards in Lyon in the late nineteenth century. It is evidently the only woven book ever produced, and the technique anticipates computer programming.

Vanitas With a Celestial Globe (The Five Senses) by Sebastian Stoskopff  1637

Vanitas With a Celestial Globe (The Five Senses) by Sebastian Stoskopff 1637

Galerie Eric Coatalem   from Paris showed some especially fine paintings, drawings and sculptures from the 17th to the 20th century – this oil by the Alsatian painter Sebastien Stosskopff – especially the celestial globe – grabbed my attention.

Reliquary Figure, wood and copper, Gabon, 19th cent.

Reliquary Figure, wood and copper, Gabon, 19th cent.

Galerie Jacques Germain  from Montreal exhibited figures and masks, mostly from West Africa:

Masque

Masque

Galerie Didier Claes from Brussels had a small but wonderful display of masks from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria.  The masks themselves were exquisite, but the lighting added a dramatic note.

Jake Walker Show

Untitled painting by Jake Walker

Untitled painting by Jake Walker

Got over to Sonia Dutton’s  gallery on the LES where New Zealand artist Jake Walker is having a show, Geyserland.   The title, along with several of the works, pay homage to the geysers, terraces, and waterfalls of the Orakei Karako Valley, which was flooded by the New Zealand government in 1961 to make way for a relatively small hydroelectric dam.  Working in acrylic, Walker creates paintings of pure abstraction, with strong brush strokes and many layers, built up in  stages, giving them a very earthy feel; very often, they’ll contain a burst of bright color.

Untitled painting by Jake Walker

Untitled painting by Jake Walker

For several of the pieces, Walker created his own ceramic frame, after which he improvised the picture, deriving inspiration and the color palette from the frame, so when you closely at his “white” paintings you’ll notice red or blue undertones which pick up those in the frame.  The frames also have a very industrial and architectural feel, their protrusions  evoking pipes, or spindles, or  even Roman irrigation systems.  There’s an all black painting that I really liked – the brushstrokes are very forceful.  The show is very compact, consisting of about a dozen works.  It will be up until November 20th (Wednesdays through Sundays, 1:00 – 6:00) .  Catch it at Dutton Gallery, 124 Forsyth Street, right off Delancey.

Vietgone – New Perspectives on an Unresolved Era

vgposterI’m so glad I got to see Vietgone,   the terrific play that just opened at City Center.

VietNam is all too often seen in the US through the lens of war:  the period roughly from the early 1960’s to 1975 when US soldiers fought to keep the southern half of the country from being ruled by the North Vietnamese.  The war created deep fissures in American society, ranging from Francis Cardinal Spellman’s  “…but right or wrong, my country” to the Berrigan brothers burning of draft files.  The war was raging when I was in high school, and many of our conversations revolved around it, especially about the boys we knew, or were dating, who had been drafted or were likely to be, or who had served and died.  Today, the war occupies an unresolved place in Americans’ consciousness, and for many politicians it’s become de rigeur to say that they would have served, had it not been for …[insert phony excuse of your choice here]…   But we really haven’t heard a lot from the Vietnamese who resettled here – now Vietgone gives them a voice.

The plot revolves around a couple, Tong and Quang, who meet in a refugee camp in Arizona after the American evacuation of Saigon.  At the beginning, the “playwright” announces that the play is not based on real people, (but we know that Qui Nguyen has essentially recreated his parents’ story). 

vgleadsThe story moves back and forth not only in time, but also between Saigon, Arizona and California – the ingeniously placed screens with their graphic-novel projections  let us know where and when the action is taking place.  There are three central threads:  Tong and her mother adjusting to life in the refugee center in Arizona; Quang and his buddy Nhan as they leave the refugee center, via motorcycle, to California, where they hope to then go back to Vietnam; and, Tong and Quang’s love story.   We also see flashes of their former lives and the family members they left behind.  Music plays a key role in this play – throughout are snippets of great Motown songs (especially Marvin Gaye) that set the tone for the scenes.  The songs created for this play, mostly in rap, provide insight into the character’s inner turmoil as they try to answer questions many of us will hopefully never have to ask – do I have to leave? will I see them again? how can I cope? can I go back?… 

All of the actors are superb – Jennifer Ikeda and Raymond Lee who play Tong and Quang – and hats off to Jon Hoche, Samantha Quan and Paco Tolson, each of who play no fewer than 4 roles. 

The dialogue, while often pointed, is very witty.  At the end, it takes a more serious tone, but it works as Quan tries to explain to his son that VietNam is more than a war.   I think this sentiment is relevant not only to VietNam, but also to places in the world that we’ve come to know through conflict and flight – Syria, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo….   The play also vividly brings home how some people view American intervention as the possible salvation for their war-torn countries; for them our pacifist tendencies are rooted in naiveté, and will not produce peace. Perhaps that’s the greatest strength of this play – it makes us realize that there are many points of view, and whether or not you agree, they’re worth listening to, because they come from a different experience of the same event.

Be sure to see Vietgone.  Yes, it’s a play about war, but it’s also a celebration of resilience. 

You’ll come out thinking, but also laughing.