We Saw It And Loved It: Our Top Art Exhibitions of 2017

Sadly, our Wish List of ‘Must See Exhibitions’ was too extensive to cover. What we saw and loved made our list of Top Art Exhibitions of 2017. Thankfully, most of these shows run through 2018. If you haven’t seen them, here’s your convincer.

 

Third Space, Shifting Conversations about Contemporary Art at Birmingham Museum of Art

January 28, 2017 – January 6, 2019

Ebony G. Patterson Among the weeds, plants and peacock feathers, 2014 (Mixed Media) Photo: Ginger Rudolph for HAHAMAG

Third Space is “an imagined place that ties cultures together by their common experiences and considers the voices of people who are often unheard.”  The exhibition opens up that dialogue with over 100 contemporary art pieces – most culled from the museums’ own collection.

Your journey is tied to reference points that guide you in finding personal meaning within the art. The sections are: representation/agency/gaze, tradition/memory/history, landscape/nature/spirit, and migration/diaspora/exile.

Third Space will run for 2 years, during that time the works of art will change every 6 months, shifting your travels.

Photographs, sculptures, and paintings are just a few of the mediums represented here along with a rich multitude of artistic representation from Alabama, Brazil, Cuba and South Africa – to name a few. We’re talking heavy hitters like Kerry James Marshall, Ebony G. Patterson, Mark Bradford, José Bedia, Thornton Dial, and William Christenberry.

Here are our TOP 10 works of art from the first 6 months of the exhibition.

 

James Turrell at Mass Moca

On view, at least through 2018

Perfectly Clear (Ganzfeld), 1991 Gift of Jennifer Turrell © James Turrell, Photo by Florian Holzherr

MASS MoCA is currently exhibiting Into the Light, a James Turrell retrospective bringing together light installations from every stage of the 74-year-old artist’ five-decade career.

I often say there are only two types of Turrell people: The Believers and the Unimpressed. Even then, I remain unmoved in my theorizing they just haven’t met their Turrell moment yet.

Turrell has often acknowledged this disconnect in contemporary art between the audience and the artist; “Generally, audiences are looking towards what they like, and I can tell you, that’s the last thing on an artist’s mind… I don’t know if I believe in art. I certainly believe in light.” Mass MoCA has laid this exhibition out to dazzle even the unbelievers with Turrell’s intimate relationship between perception, light and time.

There are nine Turrell rooms to experience in the expanded exhibition space of MASS MoCA’s newly opened, Building 6. Perfectly Clear (Ganzfeld), a two-story installation, is hands-down, the centerpiece of the retrospective.

Upon entering the room, you are given paper booties to wear.  Attendants escort you up a flight of stairs to a massive opening with curved walls. You step into a white void gradually filled with light and changing colors. It quickly becomes difficult to discern where the walls begin and the ceiling ends, creating a feeling of walking toward what seems a mesmerizing endless expanse.

 

ITEMS: Is Fashion Modern? at MoMA running through January 28th, 2018

Amanda Lopez; Photo: Ginger Rudolph for HAHAMAG

Let’s start off with the first shocker, this is MoMA’s first exhibition on fashion and design in 73 years– BOY did they deliver the goods (pun intended).

Items: Is Fashion Modern? explores the present, past—and sometimes the future—of 111 items of clothing and accessories that have had a strong impact on the world.

What the curators got right is knowing that while inclusivity is important, so is getting the story right.  The show featured items with histories gave an intensive broad view of the times (Zoot Suit Riots?!), and it dug into the microcosms within urban communities. Chameleons like Door Knocker earrings, Dapper Dan Jackets, Hooded Sweatshirt, the Red Bandana, and the Plain White Tee stood in the spotlight– sans a homogenized version of their backgrounds they could truly travel in the truths of where they originated and what varied meanings they have assumed over the years.

Claps all around for Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, and Michelle Millar Fisher, Curatorial Assistant.  I have never seen museum guards engaging with an exhibition this hard, nor people spending so much time reading the show materials.

 

Show Highlight We Never Thought We’d See

Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait at MoMA running through January 28th, 2018

photo: Ginger Rudolph for HAHAMAG

The French artist and celebrated sculptor Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) had her first real retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) at the age of 71. Bourgeois worked well into her 90s, leaving behind a body of work spanning over 70 years.

A celebration of her life’s work is now showing at MoMA in the new exhibit, Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait.

The prize of the show sit’s in the museum’s Marron Atrium: Spider, one of the series that Bourgeois created over the last two decades of her career, and the only one of Bourgeois’ works that bring together the spider and cell structure.

Nearly 15 feet tall, the steel spider sculpture crouches over a Cell, the door of its caged barrier left slightly ajar. Inside, the upholstery of a chair seems to unfold like a flower, while another tapestry, less vivid and more worn, covers sections of the cell, signifying repair and self-restoration through art.

 

 

Best Show Revival

Video Game @ The Museum of the Moving Image

May 13–January 28, 2018
Changing Exhibitions Gallery

Space Invaders_Video Game Exhibition_Photo: Ginger Rudolph for HAHAMAG

The Museum of the Moving Image brought back last year’s popular Arcade Classics exhibition featuring video arcade games released between 1971 and 1993, drawn from the Museum’s collection.

Though the era of the video arcade game is long gone, arcade games were the grounds for innovation and experimentation that informed the genres, conventions, and play mechanics of the video games that we know today.  This arcade allows visitors to play 23 of the era’s most beloved games (old school tokens & token machines included), in their original form alongside well-researched descriptions of the games origin, creator and notes it’s space in popular culture.

The earliest game on view in Arcade Classics is Computer Space (1971), the first coin-operated video arcade game, created by Nolan Bushnell. The 23 games on view in the exhibition range in genre from early sports games (Atari Football, NBA Jam, Track & Field); fighting games (Karate Champ, Mortal Kombat); driving games (Pole Position, Out Run); puzzle and platformers (Donkey Kong, Frogger, Q*Bert); and a diverse array of “shooters,” many set in space (Asteroids,Galaxian, Defender, Space Invaders, Zaxxon), but also earthbound variations like Centipede.

 

 

 

 

Best Local Show

Reclaimed at The Art Dept 

Philadelphia, PA

Show ended on October 28th, 2017

Suture Self by Emily Carris, Photo: Ginger Rudolph for HAHAMAG

It took a year and a half for the artist, Emily Carris to research and make the objects for her solo show ‘Reclaimed’.

The show hit a nerve, intensifying the narratives of slavery with artifacts and mixed media pieces layered, stitched, dyed and laced with materials we still use in our everyday lives– commodities that lay claim to past and modern-day slavery.

Her show reaffirms that this conversation is still relevant.  We need to lay claim to/understand the history so we know where to find the light to pave our way into an enlightened future.

Standout UK Art Shows of 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Ofili: Weaving Magic

The National Gallery – April 26th, 2017 – August 28th, 2017

We were so thrilled to make it to the National Gallery to see Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili’s collaboration with internationally renowned Dovecot Tapestry Studio.  Here in the Sunley Room, the stage was set, Ofili painted the walls with a large mural featuring voluptuous Asiatic dancers of various genders. The lighting was dim, except for along one wall, where a lush, aquatic colored tapestry hung like an offering at the altar.

Commissioned by the Clothworkers’ Company, Ofili collaborated with the internationally renowned Dovecot Tapestry Studio to see his watercolor design translated into a handwoven tapestry.  It took over two and a half years of dedication by five master weavers to create this extraordinary masterpiece. Ofili had admittedly challenged the weavers to interpret his watercolor, trying to make it difficult to recreate his soft fluid transitioning of translucent colors that bled into one another like a seeping dream.

At almost 8 feet high and 24 feet wide, the breathtaking tapestry eclipsed Ofili’s watercolor, gorgeously reflecting Ofili’s love affair with the myths, magic, sensuality, and colors of his home base of Trinidad.

 

Grayson Perry: The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!

Serpentine Gallery – June 8th, 2017-September 19th, 2017

Of course, they took some liberties with this title, but it was in truth one of the most talked about exhibitions of the summer – even if it was its own hype machine.  I was still on the fence; would I spend time in London seeing the solo show of the artist I remembered as seeming quite obtuse and gimmicky as he accepted his Turner Prize in a dress?

Then I read a review by Laura Cumming from The Guardian, that sealed the deal for me. “I’m off to buy a very serious piece of political art,” boasts the bubble on one of Grayson Perry’s new pots. Who’s speaking? Some idiot collector of course: the kind of plutocrat who needs an adviser to help him choose, who becomes a gallery trustee for the cachet, who buys art as a talking point for parties. The kind of fatcat who buys just such a pot.”

I began to understand that Perry is making his fame off of social/cultural clichés– that I can get into.

Perry’s ceramic pots were the highlight, delightfully hilarious in their glamorous far off stately demeanor, a façade, which on closer inspection a belies a stratum of comments that ridicule the system of hierarchy and elitism that rules the art world.  I couldn’t remember the last time I got to laugh at art laughing at itself. Unless we go to ‘I Love Dick’ season 1, episode 1 where you’re meant to overhear some pretentious intern at some pretentious art party state that “There’s Marfa realness. There’s Marfa “realness,” and then there’s “Marfa Realness.”

The show becomes meta, as Grayson Perry becomes part of the establishment that he mocks, the collectible artist with a collectors list that gets alerted way ahead of the shows actual opening to purchase art based solely on the weight of his name.

The show had breakaway moments with pieces that take a stab at commentating on contemporary cultural and gentrification. Red Carpet, 2017 is influenced by Afghan war rugs. “This is a map of British society as evocative and inaccurate as a geographical one made by a medieval scholar. The distortions partly reflect the density of population rather than the lie of the land. Its covered in words and buzz phrases that I felt typified the national discourse in 2016.”

 

Arthur Jafa – A Series of Utterly Improbable Yet Extraordinary Renditions

Serpentine Gallery – June 8th, 2017-September 10th, 2017

You know Cinematographer Arthur Jafa’s work– He recently directed JAY-Z’s “4:44” music video,  and was the director of photography for Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair” and “Cranes in the Sky.”

His work with ex-wife Julie Dash is a film phenom– Daughters of the Dust (1991) a multigenerational tale of black women from the Gullah sea islands struggling to hold on to their culture. The visuals from Dash’s indie masterpiece became an inspiration for Beyonce’s visual album 2016 Lemonade.

Let’s not forget his seven-minute video Love Is The Message, The Message Is Death, containing found footage exploring African-American identity through contemporary imagery, all set to Kanye West‘s “Ultralight Beam.”

Jafa’s first UK solo exhibition at London’s Serpentine Sackler Gallery, A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions, was a site-specific installation for the gallery including a mix of photography, film and social media elements.

The work reflected Jafa’s interest in exploring and re-contextualizing particular historical narratives and news stories that have been subject to bias against the Black community.  “How do we imagine things that are lost? What kind of legacy can we imagine despite that loss and despite the absence of things that never were?… Black people in America have always had to make art out of absence – whether that be the absence of accurate portrayal, or even of basic materials. We can dance, we can move, in a certain kind of fashion. Our artwork will always be bound up in our struggle. And the absences that exist in our lives because of it.”

 

A Turrell Trick of the Eye

 

Dissolve (Curved Wide Glass), 2017 Collection of Hudson C. Lee © James Turrell, Photo by Florian Holzherr

 

There really are only two types of Turrell people: The Believers and the Unimpressed. Even then, I remain unmoved in my theorizing they just haven’t met their Turrell moment yet.

My first experience with Turrell was at one of his Skyspaces.  No art adorns the walls; it was a simple white room lined with wooden benches. People causally strolled in with pillows and yoga mats, stretching out across the benches, positioning themselves comfortably on the floor.  And then the show started.

In a Turrell Skyspace, an aperture in the ceiling is slowly revealed, carving out a small piece of sky as the surrounding ceiling is cast with a symphony of light–colors soft and pale – intense yet warm, continually evolving. As they change so it seems does the color of the sky. We refer to them as Turrell colors–everything bathed in his light looks celestial, and surreal.

At some point, you lose your grip on what expanse is the sky or the boundary above your head. perception can lose its bearing and wander outside the realm of true north for however long Turrell intends his trip to last.  Turrell once said in an interview, “I can make the sky any color you choose.”

Raethro II, Magenta (Corner Shallow Space), 1970 Collection of Myffanwy Anderson
© James Turrell, Photo by Florian Holzherr

 

Off of Route 2, in the sleepy town of North Adams, Massachusetts, MASS MoCA is currently exhibiting Into the Light, a James Turrell retrospective bringing together light installations from every stage of the 74-year-old artist’ five-decade career.

Using his background in psychology and mathematics, and years of knowledge, exploring and manipulating the ways people’s eyes and brains process light and space, he reigns as a Master Welder of Illusion.

The relationship between perception, light and time is intimately explored in his installations. For some, the absence of physical art such as paintings or sculpture in his work, begs the question of whether it can really be considered as an art form. Turrell has often acknowledged this disconnect in contemporary art between the audience and the artist; “Generally, audiences are looking towards what they like, and I can tell you, that’s the last thing on an artist’s mind… I don’t know if I believe in art. I certainly believe in light.”


James Turrell: Into the Light (Installation view), 2017
© James Turrell, Photo by Florian Holzherr

There are nine Turrell rooms to experience in the expanded exhibition space of MASS MoCA’s newly opened, Building 6. Perfectly Clear (Ganzfeld), a two-story installation, is hands-down, the centerpiece of the retrospective.

Early in his career, Turrell conducted experiments based on the Ganzfeld effect, (from German, for “complete field”) where the viewer experiences a loss of depth perception caused by exposure to an unstructured, uniform field lacking aural or visual stimulation, as in a whiteout. To date, Perfectly Clear is his largest Ganzfeld room by volume.

Upon entering the room, you are given paper booties to wear.  Attendants escort you up a flight of stairs to a massive opening with curved walls. You step into a white void gradually filled with light and changing colors. It quickly becomes difficult to discern where the walls begin and the ceiling ends, creating a feeling of walking toward what seems a mesmerizing endless expanse.


Perfectly Clear (Ganzfeld), 1991 Gift of Jennifer Turrell
© James Turrell, Photo by Florian Holzherr

 

A Turrell trick of the eye remains far more scientific than the surreal calming meditations his spaces might suggest. The sensory deprivation experiment Hind Sight (Dark Space)1984, guides the viewer through a dark corridor with the help of handrails into an even darker chamber. Devoid of any visual stimuli it’s all at once disorienting. Once seated, (yes, those handrails lead to seats), the viewer spends 10 to 15 minutes waiting for their pupils to fully dilate, at which point they begin to notice the faint presence of a dim light. The space is not about what one is supposed to see but the experience of what Turrell describes as “seeing yourself see”.

Afrum, 1967, a projection on loan from the Guggenheim, is one of Turrell’s earliest works on view. The piece uses light as a sculptural medium. Light is projected from a corner of the room near the ceiling, casting a shape on the opposite side of the room, as a white cube seems to float in the corner of the room.

Afrum (Projection), 1967

Collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

© James Turrell, Photo by Florian Holzherr

 

Into the Light, will remain on long-term view at MASS MoCA. Making reservations for timed entry into Perfectly Clear, and Hindsight through the museum’s website is highly recommended.

SPOTLIGHT: Visual Artist Clifford Owens

SPOTLIGHT: Visual Artist Clifford Owens_hahamag

We’re continuing our Black History Month Series with a profile on the always controversial, Visual Artist, Clifford Owens.

Preferring the term Visual Artist over Performance Artist; Owen’s work is never dull, usually centering on the body and often including spontaneous interactions with the audience.  His performances push the envelope with heavy issues of race, gender relationships, and auto-eroticism – often leaving you to deal with/question his purposeful lack of emotional and physical control.

Like when I found myself confronted with his video work that dealt with different forms of objection and how we deal or don’t deal with it for that matter. That’s all well and good – I was down to explore that until I was confronted with Owens gutting, fingering and doing all sorts of things to fruit that one couldn’t imagine unless one saw.  He takes you to the precipice… it gets uncomfortable. He’s transforming a meaning, and part of the journey is trying to hold out and watch it unfold.

Owens claims no interest in the art world, “because the art world is not interesting,” but there’s no denying his work has spurned newfound interest in performance art.  I could keep rambling on, but truly you need to see it for yourself.

Enjoy these links to more information on Owens

  • Here’s a link to a great ArtInfo article – 27 Questions with Clifford Owens.
  • This quick documentary on Clifford Owens, 2004 by Kristen Spillane will give take you through several of his performance pieces.
  • Take on his audio pieces here.
  • Want to see the anthology of work that made me squirm? Well ok…ready, set, go!

Spotlight: Thelma Golden

As a black woman curator in an overwhelmingly white male art world, Golden has long fostered art that burns with racial and gender issues.” Joyce Corrigan, Artnet

Born in 1965 in Queens, New York, Golden is one of today’s most notable museum curator’s.

Golden’s childhood love of museums put her on the fast track to becoming a driving force in the art world. Her first hands-on training came as a senior in high school when she trained as a curatorial apprentice at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She went on to earn a BA in Art History and African-American Studies from Smith College in 1987. Golden’s first curatorial position was at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1987. Then, in 1991, Thelma took a position at the Whitney Museum of American Art where she remained until 1999.

Her most heralded contributions have been her 1993 Whitney Biennial collaboration. The Biennial took a controversial look at America and tough social issues such as race, gender, sexuality, AIDS, and gay rights. Just a few years later there was Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art, where 29 minority artists displayed works that illustrated the current conceptions of black masculinity. The artists were black men, such as Gary Simmons, and Lyle Ashton Harris; black women, such as Adrian Piper, Lorna Simpson, and Renee Cox; and a few Asian, Hispanic, and white artists to provide a multitude of perspectives. The exhibition also incorporated film, video, and media and was accompanied by an extensive catalog.

Currently, Golden is the director and chief curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem. And on the boards of Creative Time in New York and the Institute of International Visual Arts in London.

Thelma Golden, you rock!

Learn more about Thelma Golden at these great resources:
The Black List Project
TED (Ideas worth sharing) Thelma speaks on How Art gives shape to cultural change.

photo by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

SPOTLIGHT: Conceptual Artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE

Yinka Shonibare, MBE — the MBE stands for Most Excellent Order of the British Empire —is a British-Nigerian artist living in London. His work explores cultural identity, colonialism, and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalization. Shonibare is best known for his whimsical life-sized mannequins dressed in vivid Dutch-wax (African prints and patterns) fabrics.  The costumes are usually Victorian, the Victorian era being the period of British history when Africa was colonized.  The Dutch-wax period costumes are an Indonesian-designed fabric called, batik that has become popularly assimilated into the West African culture. As his work continues to take on the authenticity of historical moments, the fabrics that were initially to be used to connote African identity, not being originally from Africa are a constant ironic coincidence – working to his advantage as a conceptual artist.

The sculptures add a lightness to addressing weighty themes including race, enlightenment, capitalism, authenticity and least of all identity.  You’ll notice that the mannequins are headless, it’s so the figures aren’t racially identifiable. The fiberglass bodies are mixed race, “kind of coffee colored,” Mr. Shonibare said that he conceived of the headlessness as a joke related to the revenge killings of aristocrats in the French Revolution. “The idea of bringing back the guillotine was very funny to me,” he said.*

Throughout the past decade, Shonibare has shown his unique pieces extensively from the United States to Hong Kong, with notable exhibitions including a mid-career retrospective at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

–>Take a look below at some of the pieces from Shonibare, MBE’s exhibitions as we offer quotes by the artist himself about his inspiration:

 

SPOTLIGHT: Conceptual Artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE Sculpture, Cakeman II

Called Cake Man (II), it features a lifesize mannequin dressed in African print, with a huge pile of cakes balanced precariously on his back. “It’s my tribute to bankers,” said Shonibare. “There’s been a lot of talk about bonuses to bankers and the top 1% literally taking all the cake. So this piece, I guess, is about greed. It has more cakes than anyone could ever eat or manage.”

 

Yinka Shonibare MBE, The Swing (After Fragonard), 2001 (Tate, London) © Yinka Shonibare. The Swing (After Fragonard) is a three-dimensional recreation of the Rococo painting after which it was titled, which itself offers testimony to the opulence and frivolity of pre-Revolutionary France. Painted in 1767, Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Swing depicts a coquettish young girl swinging in a lush and fertile forest and, of course, playfully kicking up her shoe. “Living in England, with my colonial relationship to this country, one cannot escape all these Victorian things, because they are everywhere: in architecture, culture, attitude…” – Yinka Shonibare

 

“Gallantry and Criminal Conversation (Parasol),” 2002 Two life-size fiberglass mannequins, two metal and wood cases, Dutch wax printed cotton, leather, wood, and steel, 64 1/5 x 44 1/10 x 75 4/5 inches Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody, New York Photo by Werner Maschmann © Yinka Shonibare MBE

 
“Being able to indulge in your fantasies really belongs to the privileged and the wealthy. I was fascinated with the fashion that comes with that luxury and excess, and I wanted to produce a piece that would be slightly surreal and also a bit of satire as well—poking fun at the whole thing, but also loving it at the same time. It’s not sexually explicit. Really it’s about people having a sense of humor.” -Yinka Shonibare MBE

SPOTLIGHT: Conceptual Artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE

“How to Blow Up Two Heads at Once (Ladies),” a 2006 work by Yinka Shonibare with mannequins, guns, Dutch wax-printed cotton textile, shoes, boots, and plinth. Credit Steve White/Museum Purchase, Wellesley College Friends of Art

SPOTLIGHT: Conceptual Artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE

SPOTLIGHT: Conceptual Artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE

“He reminds us that every action has ramifications. A girl sprouting butterfly wings, and a male figure outfitted in a spacesuit with his worldly possessions strapped to his back. They are poised for takeoff to  escape the mess we have made on Earth and begin anew elsewhere—hopefully having learned from history, so as not to repeat our mistakes.” – —Karen Kedmey via Artsy Editorial, “Yinka Shonibare’s Haunting New Sculptures and Installations Present a Link Between Climate Change and Our Dark History”

Yinka Shonibare MBE’s The Last Supper Exploded is based on a sculpture of the same name first on view at the artist’s solo show Pop! at Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, 2013. The exhibition’s central themes explored corruption, excess and debauchery in contemporary society, with particular reference to the most recent on-going economic crisis. In The Last Supper Exploded, Shonibare investigates the worship of luxury goods and the reckless behavior of in particular the financial industry by paying art historical homage to one of humanity’s best-known artworks: Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

 

Yinka Shonibare [Website] [Twitter]

*quote taken from, Headless Bodies From a Bottomless Imagination – The New York Times

 

SEE IT NOW:

  • Until June 2017 a commission by artist Yinka Shonibare, produced by Up Projects for the Royal Opera House. Titled ‘Globe Head Ballerina,’ on display on the exterior of the building overlooking Russell Street.  The work was inspired by a famous photograph of ballerina Margot Fonteyn. Shonibare’s sculpture depicts a life-size ballerina, modeled on Melissa Hamilton, a soloist with the Royal Ballet. Encased in a giant ‘snow globe’, the figure, whose head is a replica Victorian globe, rotates slowly.

    Spotlight: Yinka Shonibare MBE

    photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke, courtesy UP Projects ROH
    ‘Globe Head Ballerina’ by Yinka Shonibare

The More You Know:

Spotlight: Whitfield Lovell


Whitfield Lovell is a contemporary artist known primarily for his drawings and masterful installations based on vintage photographs of unidentified African Americans from the first half of the 20th century (usually between the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Movement). 

Lovell creates these drawings in pencil, oil stick, or charcoal on paper, wood, or directly on walls. In his most recent work, these drawings are paired with found objects that Lovell collects at flea markets and antique shops –  with these found objects he evokes personal memories, ancestral connections, and the collective American past.

Lovell’s work illuminates the humanity and richness of anonymous people, engraining their legacies in our cultural memory.*
“The importance of home, family, ancestry feeds my work entirely,” Lovell has said. “African Americans generally were not aware of who their ancestors were, since slaves were sold from plantation to plantation and families were split up.”

The More You Know:

Lovell’s major installations include: Visitation: The Richmond Project, which traveled to the University of Wyoming in Laramie, the Columbus Museum in Georgia, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia; SANCTUARY: The Great Dismal Swamp at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia in Virginia Beach, VA; and Grace: A Project by Whitfield Lovell at the Bronx Museum of the Arts in New York City.

Works by Whitfield Lovell are featured in major museum collections including The Whitney Museum of American Art, NY; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY: The Corcoran Gallery, Washington, DC; The Smithsonian American Art Museum, DC; The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, DC; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA; The Yale University Art Gallery; The Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, TN; The Brooklyn Museum, NY; The Studio Museum in Harlem, NY; Seattle Art Museum, WA, and many others.

*information culled from Whitfield Lovell’s bio.

 

SPOTLIGHT: CONCEPTUAL ARTIST GLENN LIGON

 

Glenn Ligon is an American conceptual artist whose work explores race, language, and identity by engaging the subjects within wordplay. Sourcing literary gems from influential writers including, Zora Neal Hurston, Gertrude Stein, and James Baldwin, he uses language and textual experiments with legibility and eligibility to speak on challenging subject matters. His medium of choice—oil crayon used with letter stencils—transforms the texts he quotes, making them abstract, difficult to read, and layered in meaning, much like the subject matter that he appropriates.  For the viewer, the words slowly dissipate into powerful messages as the text begins to blur and morph into a broader meaning.

His later work with text-based neon signs crossed that bridge – finding a connection between the illuminated signs and his text-heavy paintings that move his message on our collective experiences forward.  Repetition is often a highlight in his work self-expression;  to promote a  progression of clarity in his thoughts and meditations.

Ligon’s paintings and sculptures continue to examine cultural and social identity through found sources—literature, Afrocentric coloring books, photographs—to reveal how the history of slavery, the civil rights movement, and sexual politics inform our understanding of American society.

 

 

Glenn Ligon_ Untitled

Glenn Ligon – Untitled (I’m Turning Into a Specter before Your Very Eyes and I’m Going to Haunt You)

Stand there long enough to realize that you are re-reading a single phrase; Ligon’s repetition of this phrase begins to dissipate into a powerful message as the words begin to blur and disappears into a bigger meaning.

 

 

The More You Know:

  • VIDEO – Watch Glenn Ligon as he explains some of his more widely-known pieces.
  • VIDEO – Watch Curator Thelma Golden and Glenn Ligon in Conversation.
  • The Whitney Museum holds the most extensive collection of Ligon’s work.  Visit their website for a listen & learn of important pieces in their collection.

Spotlight: Photographer Carrie Mae Weems

Carrie Mae Weems, 2013 MacArthur Fellow_ Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

American photographer and video artist, Carrie Mae Weems works with text, fabric, audio, digital images, and installation video but is best known for her work in the field of photography. Weems’s gift for storytelling enables her to investigate the intricacies of family relationships and gender roles, as well as the histories of racism, sexism, class and political systems.

In her Kitchen Table Series, she staged these snips of everyday domesticity and stretched them into long unspooling questions about our identity within relationships. Within every stunning black & white image of a sparse kitchen, Weems fills up space with astute introspection into connected themes and human experiences.

“The camera gave me an incredible freedom. It gave me the ability to parade through the world and look at people and things very, very closely,” Weems reveals. This ability to embody the spirit of her stories makes her work transcendent, moving across time and place as only the soul can.

Carrie Mae Weem The Kitchen Table Series Carrie Mae Weem The Kitchen Table Series Carrie Mae Weem The Kitchen Table Series

“The Kitchen Table Series is not simply a voice for African-American women, but would be a voice for more generally all women… these ideas about the spaces of domesticity has historically belonged to women. It is sort of the site of the battle around the family, the battle around monogamy, the battle around polygamy, the battle between the sexes – it’s going to be played out in that space.  It begs the question, ‘how do we begin to alter the domestic space’?  How does the social contract get changed?

In helping us seek a shared connection with traditional narratives, –this relationship between power and aesthetics magnifies Weems own truths; her spirit captured there in the lens.

Carrie Mae Weem The Kitchen Table Series

Carrie Mae Weems [official website] [Facebook]

The More You Know:

  • Carrie Mae Weems, The Kitchen Table Series.
  • Guggenheim Museum’s website hosts videos featuring live performances, an all-star cast joined Carrie Mae Weems to celebrate the spirit and ideas found in Weems’s photography and video works.

SPOTLIGHT: Norman Rockwell and Ruby Bridges

Norman Rockwell and Ruby Bridges

In 1963, Norman Rockwell confronted the issue of prejudice head-on with one of his most powerful paintings, The Problem We All Live With.  At the time editorial policies governed the placement of minorities in his illustrations (restricting them to service industry positions only). The painting was a clear indicator that Rockwell was supporting equality and tolerance.

I’ve heard it said that Norman Rockwell was safe because he strayed away from depicting any direct social commentary in his work — his painting of a six-year-old Ruby Bridges being escorted to school amidst the chaos of protestors that didn’t agree with the United States Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education says otherwise. That unpopular ruling that declared the state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional, that could not be more frankly expressed than in this emotional tribute to courage.

*“The Problem We All Live With,” Norman Rockwell, 1963 Oil on canvas, 36” x 58” Illustration for “Look,” January 14, 1964 Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL. From the permanent collection of Norman Rockwell Museum*

Learn More:

Learn more about that landmark United States Supreme Court case at PBS/The Supreme Court — Expanding Civil Rights.

Spotlight: Nick Cave

Artist Nick Cave

World-renowned artist, Nick Cave once danced with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre before pursuing visual art studies. Now as a notable educator, and artist he continues to expand his repertoire of monikers: performance artist, sculptor, dancer, fiber artist, fabric sculptor….

His work melds art, fashion, and dance together in abstract, dreamlike sculptures – most recognizably, his ritualistic costumes called “Soundsuits”: bright wearable embellished fabric sculptures that make sounds when worn. These sculpted, textured full body soundsuits layered with colorful metal, plastic, fabric, hair, and other objects designed to rattle and resonate with the movement of the wearer, usually Cave himself.

The soundsuits hide gender, race, and class, forcing you to observe without judgment. The suits are sometimes sedentary, standing quietly as a more traditional piece of sculpture set in place within an institution or displayed at an art fair. However, sometimes they are in movement – alive in motion, engaging you in a joined narrative. The combined elements of sound, performance, color, and costume create a layered complexity – visceral moments entwined with a performance built on impulse, provoking a bond with the unfamiliar.

Artist Nick Cave soundsuit trio

 

 

Artist Nick Cave in sound suit Artist Nick Cave Artist Nick Cave soundsuits

A few years ago, we were fortunate enough to catch Cave’s performance HEARD. He bought his mesmerizing soundsuits to Grand Central as part of their 100th-year celebration. The performance piece featured thirty of his colorful horse suit creations wandering and dancing in the train station at set times.

 

Nick Cave [Website]

The More You Know:

  • Check out Nick Cave’s current exhibition (his largest to-date), expounding beyond the soundsuits, an exploration of thoughts on race and identity.  Until is now running at Mass Moca
  • Teaching with Nick Cave’s Until, Until Conversations Emerge, Art21 | “Nick Cave’s most recent installation, Until, is an immersive and subtle confrontation…asking viewers to pay attention to the point at which they become participants in discussions about violence and race in America—right there in the gallery space itself.”
  • Visit the SoundsuitShop, which was created to share the art of Nick Cave with a broader audience.
  • VIDEO: Art21 exclusive, Thick Skin gives some insight into the impetus behind the Soundsuits.

 

 

SPOTLIGHT: Kehinde Wiley

 

American Artist_Kehinde Wiley

 

American Artist, Kehinde Wiley‘s work is a colorful blend of traditional and contemporary roots seen in his trademark oversized portraits where young men and women of color, posed in their street clothes are fixed into grandiose backgrounds that suit them as if they were royalty. Initially, his portraits were based on the photographs of young men in Harlem, now he has firmly situated himself as the painter known to travel to urban places in Israel, Africa, Brazil, and India to find his next subject.

These portrayals inspire people to throw out phrases like ‘crossing boundaries’, and ‘breaking down barriers’ when they refer to his art. In the last six years or so, Wiley has become a highly sought after painter – with a style I like to refer to as ‘art house rebel rousing’.  At the forefront of this modern takeover is his artistic desire to make art that continues to carry on a discourse for people of color, “I think it’s important for African-American kids to see pictures of people who look like them on museum walls”, says Kehinde.

 

spotlight-kehinde-wiley

“I think one of the things that must happen in the work is for it to become class-conscious. You’ll never be able to exist within this marketplace without recognizing that paintings are perhaps the most expensive objects in the art world. It’s not going to change anyone’s life. But what it does function as is a catalyst for a different way of thinking. The very act of walking into the Los Angeles County Museum and seeing Kerry James Marshall as a kid gave me a sense of, Damn, maybe I can do this. And, so, symbols matter. One of my interests is in having the work in as many public collections as possible. When I go to the Brooklyn Museum or the Metropolitan Museum and see my stuff, I’m aware that there are other young kids who don’t have access to anything like it.”

—quote pulled from Meghan O’Rourke’s interview with Kehinde Wiley in WSJ

Enjoy these great links to more information on Wiley:

  • Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic at The Toledo Museum of Art (On view Feb. 10-May 14, 2017) offers an overview of the artist’s prolific 14-year career. His signature portraits of everyday men and women riff on paintings by Old Masters, replacing European aristocrats in those paintings with contemporary black subjects and drawing attention to the absence of African-Americans from historical and cultural narratives
  • Not convinced that you need to see the exhibit?  Wow yourself with the necessity to see Kehinde Wiley’s work in person with this intimate portrait of Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace, now on demand at PBS Art.
  • There are several great art books that verse you in all things Wiley, but the book simply titled, Kehinde Wiley is by far my favorite.  The book gets bonus points for having curator, Thelma Golden onboard as one its contributors.
  • For a closer look at Kehinde Wiley works now in circulation and editorial imprints, try Artsy’s resource.

 

kehinde wiley