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.

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!

Art Takes on the Prison System

This Land is Our Land aka Justice, Tasha Dougé, 2016, Synthetic hair, chicken wire, cotton, thread, 3’ x 5’, NFS. Photo courtesy of Bronx Art Space.

State Property, an exhibit spread across 3 locations in the Bronx, will force you to rethink everything you thought you knew about life behind bars.  While its focus is on prison labor, the show also confronts the issues of mass incarceration and solitary confinement. Many of the artists have work in all three venues, and I encourage you to visit them all.

I started at the Bronx Art Space, whose small but thought-provoking exhibit will make you ask, every time you see a “Made in the U.S.A” label, where exactly the item was made. 

At the entrance you’ll find Tasha Dougé’s This Land is Our Land, aka Justice (photo at the top of this post), a rendering of the American flag in synthetic hair, chicken wire, cotton and thread.  In the accompanying text, Dougé speaks of the contributions made to the American economy over the centuries by people of African descent (especially through the labor of enslaved Africans).  She further points out how today, many people of color are in private prisons and deportation centers, where they  provide cheap labor for US firms.  Even though the incarcerated are learning a trade, they can’t use their skills when they leave jail, because companies don’t want to hire people with felony convictions.  It’s no surprise that we have high rates of recidivism.

installation by Incarcerated Nation

Along one wall is an installation by Incarcerated Nation, featuring a chart listing several American corporations, including Mc Donald’s, Victoria’s Secrets and Starbucks, whose products have been made using  prison labor (sometimes through a subcontractor).  The exhibit informs us that many ex-prisoners are unable to get jobs at the companies whose wares they made when they were in jail, because of their felony convictions.  Also in this installation, you’ll find the outline of a solitary cell on the floor, and a virtual reality headset that lets you experience solitary confinement.

Pushed to Prison, Natalie Collette Wood, 2017, acrylic, spray paint and enamel on canvas

Natalie Collette Wood’s piece, Pushed to Prison, is a visceral commentary on how our schools fail to give kids the tools they need to succeed in life – one of the biggest problems affecting prison populations is the rate of illiteracy.  Besides the visual punch, the fact that the artist is an art teacher in public schools adds to its potency. 

There’s more to see in this exhibit, including Emma Lee’s outta sight, outta mind composition note book, which invites viewers to write their responses to various prompts such as “When is a debt paid to society?”  “Should prisoners have rights?” and “Justice for all.”

Bronx Art Space  is also having screenings and discussions – you can find more information here.  Their exhibit continues until October 21st.  Bronx Art Space is located at 305 East 140th Street in the Bronx.

Swing Space is a raw storefront space on the corner of Grand Concourse and 162nd Street.  The focus of this exhibit is solitary confinement and how it affects both prisoners and their families. 

Jumpsuit (Swing Space)

The most vivid invocation of this theme is the orange prison jumpsuit.  There are three,  one inscribed with the name of Kalief Browder, who spent three years in Riker’s Island – mostly in solitary confinement – without being convicted of a crime.  Accused of  stealing a back pack when he was 16, Browder was sent to jail when his family couldn’t make his $3,000 bail.  After his release, Browder experienced mental health issues, and in 2015, he committed suicide at age 22.

Melt, Five Mualimm-ak, 2009, charcoal

You’ll find three charcoal portraits by Five Mualimm-ak, who served 12 years in prison on a weapons charge, 5 of them in solitary confinement.  He has subsequently become an activist against solitary and mass incarceration.  When you look at the portraits, be sure to read the stories next to them. This one is a portrait of Melt, an immigrant from Fujian Province, China.  Because he had a tattoo, the authorities deemed him a gang member (even though the tattoo said  Love & Peace in Chinese characters), and he was confined to solitary.   

Paradox of Violence #5, Jennie West, oil on canvas

At first glance, you might think Jenny West’s oil painting is one of flowers, but it actually is a rendering of bullet holes.  For West, there’s an intense force that comes from violence, and she tries to capture that transformative energy in her art.

The show also includes two videos.  In the back, off the main area is Duran Jackson’s video Haze a looping a 41-second clip of surveillance footage found on YouTube, showing a corrections officer and an inmate fighting inside a prison. There’s also a video by Solitary Watch, of photos created in response to requests by prisoners in solitary confinement; the images range from seascapes, to animals, to religious images to current views of their old neighborhoods.

The exhibit at Swing Space, 900 Grand Concourse (at 162nd Street), is up until November 20th.

The Andrew Freedman Home  hosts the largest of the three shows, and it has more of a fine art focus.   

Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx)/Freddy Gray urn, Roberto Lugo, ceramic, China paint, lustre

Robert Lugo calls himself a ghetto potter. He was a self-taught artist until his mid-twenties, when he received his BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute; in 2014, he finished the MFA program at Pennsylvania State University. 

He’s created this fabulous ceramic urn, juxtaposing an image of Freddie Gray (who died at the age of 25 in police custody in Baltimore in 2015), with that of Fred Sanford (the TV character played by the late comedian Redd Foxx).

The Completely from Scratch Steer to Sirloin Cookbook, Nava Atlas, 2012, archival inkjet printed on rag paper

Nava Atlas looks at the industrial prison complex through the prism of food.  She has mashed up a 1931 USDA guide to slaughtering steer with a 1969 Better Homes and Gardens meat cookbook, noting that prisoners are making up more of the labor in slaughter houses, and wondering if they are forced to do this kind of work, or if they can refuse. She’s not the only one who wants to know.

Cell Game, Pamela Talese, 2014 mixed media

For Pamela Talese, “a board game seems an appropriate expression for the US System of Corrections”, and so she’s created Cell Game.  In the accompanying statement, she notes that the US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and that state and local governments are incurring huge debts to build prisons or to have them run by private entities, with no concurrent benefits to society.   Around the board are squares with facts about prison life and the prison industry.  Like typical board games, Cell Game has cards that tell you how you can move; Cell Game‘s are orange and have instructions like “CCA takes over your prison: reduces food intake by 20%: BACK 2 SPACES” or “The NACCP takes up your case & gives you hope:  AHEAD 4 SPACES.”

Reflections of our (inner) Societies, Alice Mizrachi, 2017, assemblage

I would have liked to know more about this assemblage by Alice Mizrachi, as it is quite different from her usual murals…

There’s much more to see:  The exhibit continues at the Andrew Freedman Home,  which is at 1125 Grand Concourse (165th Street) the Bronx,  until November 20th. 

If you can, see all three exhibits – if not, be sure to see at least one. 

Brazilian Luciana Brito Opens a Gallery in NYC

Last month I attended the opening of Luciana Brito-NY Project  in Tribeca.  Hailing from São Paulo, Brazil, where she’s had her eponymous gallery since 1997, Brito will be collaborating with Espasso Annex, a gallery for vintage Brazilian furniture, where she’ll mount three exhibits over the next twelve months.  It’s great to have a leading Brazilian gallerist bringing her country’s artists to the Big Apple.  Welcome Luciana!

The current show is dedicated to the works of artists associated with the Brazilian Ruptura movement.  Founded in the 1950‘s by Geraldo de Barros, Waldemar Cordeiro, Luiz Sacilotto, Lothar Charoux, Kazmer Féjer, Leopoldo Haar and Anatol Wladyslaw, they sought to move art away from figurative representation to art based on “space-time, movement and material.”  These artists were part of a larger movement of concrete art, that, like constructivism, was born from post WW1 art upheavals.  I was not familiar with Grupo Ruptura, so it was great to learn about them.   I was struck by the clean lines, bursts of pure color, and industrial materials in much of the work. Below are some of the highlights:

Idéia Visivel, Waldemar Cordeiro, 1951, enamel on Kelmite

Waldemar Cordeiro (1924-73) was born in Rome to an Italian mother and a Brazilian father.  After studying art in Italy, he emigrated to São Paulo, initially working as a journalist, art critic and newspaper caricaturist. In 1952 he co-founded Grupo Ruptura, the São Paulo branch of the Brazilian concrete art movement.  In the picture above, painted a year earlier, he’s already articulating many of the ideas he would later publish in the group’s Manifesto.  In the 1960’s he became one of the first Brazilian visual artists to use computers in his work.

Arranjo de Trés Formas Semelhantes Dentro de Um Circulo, Geraldo de Barros, 1963, enamel on Kelmite

A central figure in the Brazilian Concrete art movement, noted especially for his photography (scratched negatives, multiple exposures, montages) and painting, Geraldo de Barros (1923-98), was also a furniture designer (in 1954 he established a furniture factory, Unilabor.)             I especially liked the rhythmic feel of the above painting, and the use of enamel gives the colors some punch.

Concreto 101, Judith Lauand, 1958, china ink on paper

Judith Lauand (born 1922) was the only female artist invited to join Grupo Ruptura.  A painter and printmaker, who trained as a fine artist,  she’s known for her modernist geometric free-floating abstractions.

Untitled, Luiz Sacilotto, 1955/1980, oil on fiberboard

Luiz Sacilotto’s (1924-2003) work spans painting, printmaking, sculpture, design and architecture.  He studied drawing at the Brazilian Association of Fine Arts, painted landscapes, still lifes and portraits, then moved on to Expressionism, which he left for geometric abstraction.  His work, with its squares, parallel lines, diagonals,  and symmetry was a major precursor of op-art in Brazil.

Untitled, Anatol Wladyslaw, 1960, gouache on paper

Anatol Wladyslaw (1913-2004) started his professional life as an electrical engineer, but in 1944, he began studying painting and drawing.  His early works were geometric in style, then he moved to informal abstraction and figuration.   I like the energy of this gouache.

This is a small sampling of the works you’ll find in this show, which will be on until November 6th. Don’t wait until then to see it.

Luciana Brito-NY Project is located at 186 Franklin Street.

Celebrating 20 Years of African Art in NYC

Axis Gallery is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.  Founded by South Africans Lisa Brittan and Gary van Wyk, PhD., the gallery specializes in art from Africa, and by artists of African descent, whose works often have a social or political bent.  To celebrate the gallery’s milestone, they are mounting two thematic exhibitions, the first of which, Liquid State, is currently on view.

As its title implies, Liquid State, which features the work of six artists, is about change, transformation and slipping away…  Here are a few works that caught my eye:

Rally Welcoming SWAPO Leader, Sam Nujoma, after thirty years exile, Gideon Mendel, 2017, from the Damage series, Windhoek, Namibia, September 24, 1989. Giclée print from water and mold damaged negative on Epson enhanced matte paper

Photographer Gideon Mendel began his career documenting the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.  He created this image from a negative of photos he had taken in the 1980s.  That negative was subsequently stored in a box of transparencies and negatives in a friend’s garage, where they got wet and moldy.  He became fascinated by the effects of water on negatives and prints, seeing them as an invitation “to reflect on the idealism behind revolution and the outcomes that the march of history produces”.  The above print (which takes up one wall) of a welcome rally for SWAPO leader Sam Nujoma, is one of many works Mendel has created using images of past political struggles that have been damaged by water or fire.  

In that vein you’ll find another work from his Dzhangal series, as well as the “Water Chapters” from his Drowning World series, a looped video exploring responses by individuals, families and communities to floods in various locations, including the Philippines, Nigeria, India and the US.  Mendel’s work may make you reflect on the duality of water – at once a life and creative force, but one also capable of violent destruction.

flowernuit, Al Miller, 2017, oil paint on aluminum and resin

Al (Algernon) Miller is a Harlem-based artist and  Afrofuturist whose eclectic influences include jazz, Egyptian mythology, African beading and quilting,  landscape design, and technology.  This work, flowernuit is one of several at the gallery from his  Angle angle series, made with oil paint on aluminum and resin, that have a delicate but powerful feeling.

Katangais money copper, varying patination, variable dimensions

Sammy Baloji has created an installation based around his birthplace of Katanga, a resource-rich region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where mining has been the major industry and export earner for the country since the early 20th century.  On one wall, you’ll find a grainy large scale print of a black and white photo of the Singers of the Copper Cross, a boys choir in Elizabethville.  They are wearing large Katanga crosses – which resemble the St. Andrew’s cross – that were used as currency in pre-colonial times.  In a vitrine on the opposite side you’ll find 80 of these pieces (photo above).  There’s also a video, Tales of the Copper Cross Garden: Episode 1 that was commissioned for Dokumenta 14, featuring historic photos of the Choir and documenting how copper wire is made from ingots; in the background the soundtrack of a choral mass plays throughout.  This installation calls into question the relationship between currency, Christianity, colonialism and commerce.

There’s much more to see, so make your way over to Axis Gallery before this exhibit closes on October 21st.

The second anniversary exhibit will run from October 27th to November 18th.

Axis Gallery is located at 625 West 27th Street. 

Congratulations Lisa and Gary on your gallery’s first 20 years – here’s to the next 20!

Romantic Sublime New York City

When you’re next by Washington Square, stop in at Deutsches Haus at NYU to see the exhibit of photographs by German artist Paul Gisbrecht on the second floor.  Entitled Romantic Sublime, these urban images reference the romantic landscapes of the 19th century German painter Caspar David Friedrich; taken from the rooftops of homes and offices, the central figures face away from the viewer, as if they are hypnotized by their view of the city beyond.  But Friedrich is not the only influence at work here – Gisbrecht’s photos were inspired in part by an incident in his childhood (he grew up in Kyrgyzstan), when he climbed on a platform and was so hypnotized by the landscape that he fainted and broke his arm.

This series was shot in New York City between the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2013. Gisbrecht said it was quite an adventure to find and secure the use of the rooftops, especially since he needed to take the photos at an in-between time of day, when the light is muted, imparting a sense of calm.

Mother and Children in Bushwick, 2012, Paul Gisbrecht. Photo courtesy of Paul Gisbrecht.

For this photo, taken in Bushwick, Brooklyn, a resident of the building was supposed to come with him, but cancelled at the last minute.  Undeterred, Gisbrecht started talking about his project with some kids playing there – they then got their mother, who agreed to do the shoot. I love the clouds in this image.

Paul Gisbrecht received his MFA in Fine Arts from Pratt Institute. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working in photography, video, sculpture and installation.

The Romantic Sublime, curated by Yinzi Yi, will be on display at Deutsches Haus at NYU through October 28.

Bamboo in the Big Apple

Japanese bamboo work is having something of a moment, with a major exhibition on this art form at the Metropolitan Museum of  Art.  Over at the Erik Thomsen Gallery you’ll find Masterpieces of Bamboo Art  a fabulous exhibit  of 30 Japanese baskets, all signed by their makers, and made in the last 100 years. Bamboo basket making originated in Japan in medieval times and baskets were first used to display flowers on Buddhist altars, then later in tea drinking ceremonies.  The baskets in this exhibit are primarily from three eras: the Heisei (1989 – present); the Showa (1926-1989); and the Taisho (1912-1926).  Executed in various shapes such as hexagonal, conical and round, the pieces all display the extraordinary craftsmanship and artistry of the basket makers,  especially in their range of weaves (or plaits) which include lozenge technique, circle plaiting, and twill plaiting (herringbone effect).

Handled Flower Basket in the form of a gourd, Maeda Chikubōsai, Showa era (1926-89)

The main body of this basket by Maeda Chikubōsai is executed in a variant of mat plaiting, using double horizontals and creating an intricate undulating surface. There’s elaborate knotting on the branches which form the handle, and around the rim.

Auspicious Clouds flower basket in Chinese style with small handles, Suzuki Kyokushōsai, Taisho era (1912-26)

Auspicious Clouds, by Suzuki Kyokushōsai exhibits a number of elaborate plaiting techniques, including hexagonal and circular (base) as well as wrapping and knotting. 

Tall Handled Flower Basket, Wada Waichisai II, Taisho era (1912-26)

Wada Waichisai II was the second in a lineage founded by Waichisai I (1851–1901), one of the pioneers of bamboo art in the Kansai region.

Connection, Tenabe Chikuusai IV, Heisei era (1989-present)

Tanabe Chikuunsai IV was born in 1973 to one of Japan’s most prestigious families of bamboo craftsmen.  He is the chosen son, representing the fourth generation of bamboo artists in his family. It’s easy to see why – his technique is fabulous. He also created a site-specific sculpture for the Met show.

For this exhibit, the gallery has also commissioned a detailed catalogue  with lovely photos of the works.

The exhibit continues through November 10th.  Erik Thomsen Gallery  is at 23 East 67th Street.

Austrian Wild West

Untitled (Franz West), Rudolf Stingel, 2010, ink, oil and enamel on paper

The Austrian Cultural Forum is hosting a new exhibit, Wild West, featuring the work of Austrian artist Franz West (1947-2012).   Rejecting formalism and fine art traditions, West used ordinary materials, such as plaster,  papier-mâché and aluminum to create his sculptures.  Influenced by performance-based art, he wasn’t interested in the final work so much as the idea of creating a dialogue between the viewers and objects in a given space. 

Since I wasn’t familiar with West’s work, I was delighted to attend a conversation with Andreas Reiter Raabe, the exhibit’s curator (and West collaborator), and Alison Gingeras, a curator and writer.  During their talk, a recurring theme was the collaborative nature of much of West’s art, including his decision to include other artists in his “solo shows.”  The exhibit continues in this vein – there are three pieces by West, with the rest by West’s New-York based contemporaries, as well as newly commissioned works by Austrian and New York artists.  There’s also a film about West (by Raabe), who seemed to delight in thumbing his nose at the establishment (in the film you’ll see the brightly colored phallic sculptures he used to replace the hood ornament on his Rolls Royce).  Here are some of my favorite works from the exhibit:

Untitled, Tillman Kaiser, 2016, cardboard

Tillman Kaiser was born in 1972 in Graz, Austria.  He now lives and works in Vienna.  I especially liked this work, composed of cardboard pieces with a series of…

detail from Untitled by Tillman Kaiser, 2017, cardboard

unrelated black & white images that are constantly rearranged one over/next to the other. It made me think of the houses we used to try to construct from playing cards.

Reconstructions/Symmetry Fragments, Rudolf Polanszky, 2009, mixed media (foil, mirror strips, aluminum and color on linen)

The Viennese Actionist and Post-Actionist artist Rudolf Polanszky worked alongside Franz West.  The images in his Reconstructions/Symmetry Fragments are not apparent the first time you look at the pieces (there are 2 in the show), but emerge slowly as your eyes move across the canvas.

Lemurenkopf, Franz West, 1987, papier-mâché and dispersion

According to one source I found, the title of this piece by Franz West, Lemurenkopf or “lemur heads” is derived from a common Viennese phrase, and means to wake up with a hangover after a festive night of drinking and seeing “Lemuren”, or zombies. I may need to go to Vienna and verify this personally.

Fleur Mal, Franz West & Andreas Reiter Raabe, 2012, LED lamp, papier-mâché, cardboard, acrylic and metal chain

In the lobby of the Austrian Cultural Forum you’ll find these two fun sculptures by Franz West and Andreas Reiter Raabe.  If you stand below them and clap your hands or stamp your feet, the lights will blink and change color!  

Wild West will be on until January 22nd, 2018.   The Austrian Cultural Forum is located at 11 East 52nd Street.

Rebel Clay at Cavin Morris

Earlier this month, Cavin Morris Gallery opened a new exhibit, Rebel Clay, featuring some 60 non-mainstream ceramics.  The works were rendered in a wide variety of styles – whimsical, utilitarian, spiritual – with finishes that range from unfired natural clays in browns and grays to highly glazed, brightly colored pieces.  Below are some of my favorite pieces:

Shekinah, Straiph Wilson, 2016, ceramic

The show contains several highly glazed and brightly colored ceramic fungi by the Scottish artist Straiph Wilson.

Black & Blue #15, #13, #14, Kevin Sampson, 2017, porcelain, canvas, wood

Kevin Sampson, a self-taught artist and former police officer creates works that often address issues of social justice and cultural resistance. This piece made me think of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, whose arrivals are the subject of much debate these days.

Untitled, Nek Chand, 1950-1980, concrete over metal armature w/mixed media

Nek Chand is known for his huge environment in Chandigarh, India with its thousands of expressive figures and exquisite architecture. I found this man he created from concrete absolutely irresistible, and so full of energy!

Seated Figure, Burgess Dulaney, ca. 1970-89, clay and marble

There’s something very appealing about Burgess Delaney’s Seated Figure, made from unfired clay from near his home in Mississippi.

Untitled (Head), Kazumi Kamae 2004, shigaraki stoneware

Kazumi Kamae was one of four Japanese Art Brut artists the gallery discovered when they visited the Yanomami Art Center near Shigaraki Prefecture in Japan.

Mask from Nepal, early 20th cent., cow dung, clay, organic materials

On one wall you’ll find five masks from Nepal, created in the early to mid-20th century using cow dung and clay.

This is a small sampling of the ceramics in this exhibit, which will remain up until  October 7th – but don’t wait until then to see it.  Cavin-Morris is located at 210 11th Avenue, Suite 201, in Chelsea.

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).