Month: September 2016

Comings and Goings at the Jewish Museum

When I reference other write-ups of art shows, I tend to cull from the “knowns”– the NY Times, the WSJ, all the major New York-based magazines, etc. And then there are the industry favorites that I sometimes cite, e.g. Artforum, Hyperallergic, and Art in America. Everyone has something to say about the quality of their articles and whether or not their writers are just making stuff up all the time in an indulgent, psychobabble-filled frenzy. Reviews are often rife with the kind of abstruse jargon very few, much less its employers, actually understand. What are the boundaries between allusions and illusions? Does anybody really know what they’re saying? And if not, then who is the art world’s naked emperor? Or is it not a question of who singular, but plural: in failing to challenge fallacies of the highest creative and intellectual order, is the public conscience accommodating them, therein helping to further a facade of complexity with nothingness hiding underneath?

But I digress. My point is that I love how the New Yorker’s editors, for instance, distill shows down into their simplest forms, articulating opinions about exhibitions with concision and authority. Many writers struggle to do as such. Others would prefer crafting longer editorials to demonstrate their skillful prose (though at times with weighty, bloated results). I’ve come to appreciate the succinct paragraph as an art unto itself. So as Fifth Avenue’s Jewish Museum transitions from its summer success– Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist– to this fall’s Take Me (I’m Yours), I’ve decided to defer to the masters. Below you’ll find excerpts from the New Yorker on Burle Marx and E-Fluxx on Take Me (I’m Yours), which I hope will inspire your own consideration of how critics express themselves and give a taste of the two exhibits.

Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Modernist

As Brazil endures a dreadful conjunction of political, economic, and medical crises, the buoyantly optimistic designs of the country’s great landscape architect can seem like an elegy for a place that Stefan Zweig once wrote was condemned to remain “the country of the future.” Burle Marx, who died in 1994, was trained as a painter, and this broad exhibition, capped by a ninety-foot-long tapestry, highlights his omnivorous, cross-media approach: an abstract gouache from 1938, with fluid curves of solid yellow and maroon, supplied the form for a flowing rooftop garden in Rio de Janeiro, then still the capital. (The show underplays Burle Marx’s substantial contributions to the current capital, Brasília, though there is a brilliant planning drawing for the new ministry of the army, all jazzy greenery and syncopated lakes.) In line with the Brazilian artistic theory of antropofagia, or “cannibalism,” Burle Marx fused European modernism with indigenous culture—see his Portuguese azujelo tiles painted with free-form native fish. He also worked outside of Brazil, and those who know only his glorious promenade along Copacabana Beach, with its black-and-white tiled waves, should not neglect his similarly swank landscaping of Miami’s Biscayne Bay. The show takes a wrong turn when it includes lightweight tributes by contemporary artists, such as Nick Mauss’s faïence plaques and Juan Araujo’s appropriations. Burle Marx’s greatest contemporary relevance is that he put his imagination to the public good—an example that should shame the corrupt politicians who have now brought Brazil to its knees.

Unfortunately, the Burle Marx show closed on September 18th. It will be on tour at the Deutsche Bank Kunsthalle and the Museu de Arte do Rio over the next year. Podcast about the exhibition available here.

Take Me (I’m Yours)

Opening September 16th, the Jewish Museum presents Take Me (I’m Yours), a highly unconventional exhibition that encourages visitors to touch, interact with, and even take home works of art by a group of 42 international and intergenerational artists, many of whom are creating new and site-specific works for the exhibition. The exhibition aims to construct a democratic space for all visitors to participate in the creation and ownership of an artwork, thus commenting on the politics of value, consumerism, and hierarchical structures of the art market. Take Me (I’m Yours) encourages shared experiences and direct engagement with works of art, suggesting alternative ways that artists can live in, contribute to, and gain from society at large.

First mounted by curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and artist Christian Boltanksi in 1995 at the Serpentine Gallery, London, Take Me (I’m Yours) featured works by 12 artists that explored concepts of value and participation in the arts. More than 20 years later, Take Me (I’m Yours) at the Jewish Museum features an expanded roster of artists and projects specific to both New York City and an institution of art and Jewish culture, including several from the original exhibition. In addition, the Jewish Museum’s installation marks the first time that Take Me (I’m Yours) is on view in a collecting institution, examining the role of museum collections by giving works away rather than holding them.

The exhibition runs through February 5th. Catch it on a Sunday and you might see me there.

Learn more about the show in this short video:

Artist of the Month: Sally Mann

Artist of the Month (September)

Sally Mann
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Copyright unknown (appropriated from Artsy, 2016).

I know what you’re thinking. Another MolaPola feature on a black-and-white photographer whose heyday was two decades ago. The thing is, I’m enamored with Sally Mann’s work. I couldn’t put off covering it, especially now, when the youthful, brooding, exciting, and sinister qualities of her pieces are actualized in my own life as summer fades to fall. There is so much to love about how Mann captures perfectly the prolonged complexity of female adolescence. Her monochromatic vignettes of the pre-teen years– shadowy, mysterious, glowing, and ethereal (I could go on)– resonate with me even as I near adulthood. The work above has this carefree joy unique to ages eleven, twelve, and thirteen as the lighthearted, love-the-world insouciance evident in the photograph slowly devolves into the hard-edged cynicism and anxieties of high school and onwards. Even when I was younger, I was never truly happy-go-lucky, nonchalant, or easygoing. I was always an introvert, deeply troubled by what I saw around me, forever shy and reserved. I’m still that way. And Mann also embraces this character (see Ponder Heart and Katie and Painting); her work attests that there are more of us serious types out there than one tends to think. But I idolize the girl in Untitled. Never being “chill” myself, I have great respect for her ideals; her freedom and mellow sensibilities remind me of a favorite 1969 Pippi Longstocking film. It is hard today to echo her relaxed comportment; other burdens tug at me, requiring my attention. I strive to embody her airy grace. Welcome, September.

Here is Mann’s bio, courtesy of Artsy, for your enjoyment–

While photographs of poignant Southern landscapes and historic architecture earned Sally Mann initial accolades, it was her portraits of girls captured in the ephemeral moment between childhood innocence and womanly sophistication that solidified her reputation as provocateur. At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women (1988) emerged out of intimate, black-and-white photographs of her own young children, often nude, going about their daily lives—eating, sleeping, and playing. Besides eliciting controversy over her sexually charged images of children, Mann is noted for using large-format cameras—sometimes with damaged lenses that admit light leaks and imperfections—to reveal the uncanny beauty in her subjects, be they decomposing corpses, Civil War battlefields, or her own family. More recently, she has revisited the 19th-century process of wet collodion on glass plates, which captures fine details, but requires exposing and developing the film within 15 minutes. Limited control over the process leads to what Mann describes as “happy accidents” in her work.

Here are some lovely articles about Mann. Plus, read about these 20 young female artists pushing figurative painting forward.