Month: January 2017

The Originals: Michaelina Wautier and Artemisia Gentileschi

Before Vigee Le Brun and Mary Cassatt, before Frida Kahlo and Helen Frankenthaler, before Georgia O’Keefe and Julie Mehretu, before Elizabeth Murray, Marlene DumasAlice Neel, or Njideka Akunyili Crosby, were female painters of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. This post inaugurates a series of short biographies that will examine their lives and work.

Michaelina Wautier (1617–1689)

Wautier was from the Southern Netherlands and active in Brussels. She painted portraits, historical scenes, still-lifes, and everyday tableaus (30 have been credited to her), a departure from the oeuvre of her female peers, who primarily made studies of flower compositions. Wautier sold four of these to Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, who also commissioned several works. Her well-known self-portrait was misattributed to Italian Artemisia Gentileschi (described below) in the 1905 book Women Painters of the World. Another recognizable piece of Wautier’s is The Triumph of Bacchus (1650), which can be found at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Her first ever solo exhibition will take place at Rubens House in Antwerp. According to ArtNet News, the survey is slated for 2018 and will include an overview of the many genres in which she practiced. Her 1654 painting of a Jesuit missionary was recently sold at auction for around $400,000.

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1653)

Much more famous than Wautier. Hyperallergic did a good write-up. Here’s Artsy‘s characterization:

A legendary figure and one of the first female artists to pursue a career on the same terms as men, Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi’s work is often overshadowed by the conflicting narratives that surround her, especially her rape by a colleague of her father at the age of 17 and the notorious trial that followed. Like her father, Orazio, with whom she trained, Gentileschi painted in the style of Caravaggio, illuminating her subjects with powerful stage lighting to heighten effects of emotional drama. Her figures were mostly heroic women drawn from history, mythology, and religious subject matter, including Cleopatra, Lucretia, and Mary Magdalene, often depicted nude and eroticized. Gentileschi’s most famous work, Judith Slaying Holofernes (c.1614–20), is notable for its brutality combined with a masterful rendering of flesh tones and fabrics.

Also noteworthy: Gentileschi was the first of her sex to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence. And despite the fact that the mark of her rapist long obscured Gentileschi’s achievements, she is today considered an important figure in the canon of women artists. Patronized by the Medicis, tribute is also paid to her in Judy Chicago’s feminist pantheon, The Dinner Party (1974-79), which is permanently installed at the Brooklyn Museum.


Left: Michaelina Wautier’s Self-portrait with easel (1640-1649). Right: Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self-portrait as the Allegory of Painting (1638-1639). Both via WikiMedia Commons, edited in Trigraphy.

Curator of the Week: Hans Ulrich Obrist

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Hans Ulrich Obrist outside Serpentine Galleries, by Kate Berry for Artsy, via Artsy.

I see a curator as a catalyst, generator and motivator— a sparring partner, accompanying the artist while they build a show, and a bridge builder, creating a bridge to the public.

Who

Hans Ulrich Obrist is a Swiss-born curator and cultural titan who currently helms Serpentine Galleries, although there is far more to him than his lengthy title there (“Co-Director, Exhibitions and Programs, and Director of International Programs”). The 48 year-old Obrist started early, pursuing the company of artists like Peter Fischli, David Weiss, Gerhard Richter, Alighiero Boetti, and Louise Bourgeois by traveling across Europe while still in high school. Many became life-long friends. As a university student living in St. Gallen, Obrist mounted his first exhibition in 1991. Held at his apartment in tribute to a similar endeavor by his idol, Harald Szeemann, the presentation was entitled The Kitchen Show after the location of the pieces within the space and comprised works by Fischli-Weiss and Christian Boltanski, among others. Since then, Obrist has brought his experimental approach and passion for the arts to the global arena as an author and historian, as well as in various institutional capacities. He is based in London.

Why

Obrist topped ArtReview‘s 2016 Power 100 list, a ranking he first received in 2009; according to the publication’s deputy editor, Oliver Basciano, his influence has only continued to expand since then, especially through social media (Obrist has 158k Instagram followers, myself included). But beneath this veneer of stardom, Obrist seems to have a genuine intellectual drive and an animated creative spirit. His zest for art gives him a reputation for a hectic schedule; he is also famous for his lack of need to sleep (I discovered, much to my delight, that in attempting to stay awake he used to employ the Balzac method I’ve adopted of copious coffee drinking). The French artist Philippe Parreno is cited in a New Yorker profile as saying of Obrist: “For me, there is no difference between talking to him and talking to other artists. I am engaged at the same level.” His persistent earnestness renders him magnetic; there is a constant buzz around whatever he’s working on, and although Marina Abramovic affectionately described a younger Obrist as “astonishingly innocent,” there is a seriousness and realness to what he does. I see this particularly with Obrist’s Interview project, though since then he’s done a million different things to further cement his universal respect. Inspired by dialogues between Pierre Cabanne and Marcel Duchamp, and David Sylvester and Francis Bacon, Obrist has recorded 2,000 hours of interviews with over 70 artists, architects, writers, film-makers, scientists, philosophers, musicians, and performers in what he calls “an endless conversation.” His subjects are figures such as John Baldessari, Zaha Hadid,  Yoko Ono, Rem Koolhaas, Elaine Sturtevant, Richard Hamilton, and Eric Hobsbawm. He began publishing these exchanges in Artforum in 1996, and in 2003 eleven were released as Interviews Volume 1 (the second volume emerged in Summer 2010). 28 of the longer interviews in Obrist’s archive were printed separately as individual books, while others have been broadcasted digitally on Periscope and disseminated through other forms of media. Early on in the process of developing each discussion, Obrist’s enterprise caught the eye of Princeton critic Hal Foster, who wrote an essay on the Interview project in 2003, commenting on its “formlessness” and the way in which Obrist permitted participants to stray from a topic. Like the late John Berger who preached man’s access to the visual world in his televised BBC lectures and book on “Ways of Seeing,” Obrist is the kind of icon who is sufficiently versed in the human experience, however cliched that sounds, that he was and is able to shape what is relevant and reinvent how we interact with art. [Editor’s Note: check out Berger and Obrist in conversation here]. He’s allowed to be considered “radical”—even in replicating the ventures of his precedents— just as all innovation begins with ideas spurred by what came before but that temporarily wear the stigma of “otherness.” Obrist’s ends might be the same as Cabanne’s and Sylvester’s, but his means are different, and ultimately that’s what matters. The interview style he pioneered would be applied to his tome “A Brief History of Curating,” composed of his talks with the 20th century’s leading curators in which they sketch out aspects of their own medium (evaluated by Foster for London Review of Books). It also set a precedent for today’s Artist Project and Art21 videos, in addition to the 99 percent invisible podcast. If it sounds as if I’m giving a single person too much credit, I’ll say this: you must be sufficiently down with your people to bring the esoteric concepts and aims of distant figures to the masses, and for all his detachment from the average, Obrist does just that.

Known for

Named an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 2009, Obrist achieved international acclaim with the 1995 Take Me (I’m Yours) show that he put on for Serpentine while still part-timing at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. The format of Take Me (I’m Yours) where visitors were asked to leave with an object from the exhibit became the model for the Jewish Museum‘s version (bearing the same title) that is on through February 2017 and was referenced in this MolaPola post (Obrist helped organize the second incarnation alongside the JM’s Jens Hoffmann). At the time the original was held, many considered the design of Take Me (I’m Yours) refreshing, breathing new life into the British art scene and challenging the notion that art is simply meant for remote, passive consumption. It was also held in 2015 at the Monnaie de Paris. His next brainchild was 1997’s “do-it,” an ongoing program that seeks to make exhibits more flexible and open-ended. “Do-it” consists of instructions set out by artists for anyone to follow and took place in 25 cities across North America; the arrangement is presently being renewed and expanded for its 20th anniversary (you can find outposts here). More recently, Obrist was co-curator of EXPO 1: New York at MoMA PS1. As stated by Artist Pension Trust (APT), Obrist has cultivated over 150 exhibitions internationally since his initial Kitchen Show.

Fun Fact

Obrist is a polyglot (he speaks five languages: German, French, Italian, Spanish, and English) and a big fan of Russian “impresario” and originator of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev. As someone who spent a lot of time as a young dancer studying exotic costumes from Diaghilev’s productions, I have an appreciation for Obrist’s recognition and idolization of his genius. Obrist characterizes Diaghilev as a “junction-maker,”  and aspires to be one himself. In 2006, he helped start the Brutally Early Cluba group open to the public that sporadically gathers in New York, London, Berlin, and Paris for informal conversations at 6:30 a.m.

Latest Efforts

In 2013, Obrist and Simon Castets, Director and Curator at the Swiss Institute, began 89plus, a “long-term, international, multi-platform research project” that examines a generation of artists born after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The organization has had residencies at and partnerships with the Park Avenue Armory in New York and the Google Cultural Institute in Paris, among others; collaborated on different festivals; and held screenings and shows. Furthermore, in 2005, Obrist conceived of “marathons,” public events that happen over 24 hours. The Interview Marathon transpired in 2006 at Serpentine Galleries (Obrist was joined by Koolhaas), followed by the Experiment Marathon in 2007, the Manifesto Marathon in 2008, the Poetry Marathon in 2009, and the Extinction Marathon: Visions of the Future in 2014. Contributors range from artists like Gilbert & George, Tracey Emin, and Olafur Eliasson (one of my favorites) to writers such as Nick Laird and James FentonKim Gordon and physicist Neil Turok have also been involved. 89plus has done its own marathons, too. (more…)

Artist of the Month: Cecily Brown

Artist of the Month (January)

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Untitled (The Beautiful and the Damned) (2013), photo by Rob McKeever, copyright Gagosian Gallery 2016, via Artsy.

Cecily Brown is a contemporary painter who makes large, exuberant canvasses. A native of London, she is currently based in New York City. Her work is gestural, immediate, and bold; in the above piece (9 x 14 ft), there are moments where it feels as if she’s slashing the page. They are also very musical: like a symphony conductor, Brown seems to command her colors into motion as lively tableaus unfold. Recalling those of her stylistic ancestors—Claude Monet, Willem de Kooning, and Joan Mitchell—Brown’s chaotic forms blend into a single whole, at least from a distance. Up close, however, the viewer can appreciate the beauty of the disjointed, intricate fragments composing each ensemble. I enjoy how exciting and fresh her paintings appear. She’s playing with shapes and images and ideas in her works that are familiar and quotidian to us: human anatomy, body language, nature, sex. Combining abstraction and figuration, Brown embeds these motifs within her pieces, hiding them inside amorphous masses.

Brown recently had a solo show at the Drawing Center in downtown Manhattan that was on through December 2016. According to the museum, Cecily Brown: Rehearsal was New York’s first institutional survey of her work and the first exhibition in general to concentrate specifically on her drawings (“The Ecstasy of Drawing” headlines a review by Hyperallergic). In 2015, she received praise from an early skeptic, NY Times critic Roberta Smith, for The English Garden, a gallery presentation at Maccarone. It featured smaller paintings than Brown usually offers, though her traditionally lighthearted approach to titles prevailed: “The Home of the Brave,” “First I go in, then I go out,” and “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside” were among the selection. If, like me, you didn’t make it to either of these shows, nor past ones at Gagosian, I would suggest watching Brown’s Artist Project for the Met, in which she talks about Medieval sculptures and what contemporary artists can glean from them.

Brown is often grouped with other female painters who emerged in the Nineties such as Amy Sillman and Charline von Heyl. As a “star” of the New York art scene, she has also been compared to Philip Guston and Francis Bacon. Her art is so popular, it seems, that Brown now has an alleged copycat, California’s Sherrie Franssen (although the strange similarities between their works could just be a product of a shared enthusiasm for de Kooning). Furthermore, as per an excerpt from Artsy‘s bio of Brown, she is credited alongside individuals like John Currin “as a central figure in the resurgence of painting at the turn of the millennium.” But to learn more about her particular background and process, instead of seeing Brown exclusively in tandem with other artists, check out this video, in which she fills you in herself:

 

What are your thoughts on Cecily Brown? Comment below with anything that comes to mind.

Picasso and Picabia

Above: On left is Picasso’s Marie-Therese accoudee, copyright 2016 Estate of Pablo Picasso and Artists Rights Society, via WikiArts; On right is Picabia’s Portrait of an Artist, photograph by the author. Edited in Trigraphy and AdobeSpark.

Two wonderful shows on now that you should see: Picasso’s Picassos at Gagosian Madison and Francis Picabia: Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction at the Museum of Modern Art. Picasso and Picabia knew each other personally, but artistically they shared a tone of natural playfulness, strong ability in any medium, and stylistic eclecticism. Below is a short breakdown of the current presentations.

Picasso

Picasso’s Picassos comprises a selection of paintings and a single sculpture (La femme enceinte, or The Pregnant Woman– see this version) from the collection of Maya Ruiz-Picasso, the artist’s daughter with famous muse Marie-Therese Walter. At two rooms it is quite palatable, exactly the kind of exhibit easy to pop in and out of while being still being worth attending. The works are mostly small in scale but richly hued, featuring compelling Cubist structures with tangled webs of body parts and physiognomy. They evidence his masterful weaving together of unusual colors and brushstrokes to create whole forms, and the resulting gestalt reminds viewers of why Picasso is so revered. The pieces are primarily portraits; subjects might be a young Maya, Marie-Therese, or even a Musketeer. It is an especially perfect show for someone who will appreciate Picasso’s content without needing background (as in most galleries, there is no wall text, only an explanatory sheet). The experience is a concise one, but quite enjoyable at that.

Through February 18th.

Picabia

The Francis Picabia survey boasts being the first of its kind in the U.S. to chart the entire career of the eponymous artist, who flirted with Impressionism, Pointillism, and Surrealism, became an important player in Dada, and worked both figuratively and abstractly, in addition to his graphic design endeavors. Picabia has an incredible range, having experimented with collage, mechanical diagrams, unusual painting techniques (such as building multi-layer transparencies), photorealism, film, carpets, Rousseau-like Primitivism, camp, Op-Art, and so on. Involved in the international art scene from 1903 through his death in 1953 (based everywhere from Paris to Cuba, New York, or Zurich), Picabia interacted with cultural icons such as Andre Breton, Alfred Stieglitz, Marcel Duchamp, and Gertrude Stein, and was arguably one himself. The MoMA mounting is an excellent spotlight on the multitalented artist in that it seems to cover much ground, although for a better sense of its comprehension (described by one publication as monstrous), avoid going at midday when the museum tends to be crowded and therein highly chaotic. Yet despite Picabia’s diversity of style, one thing to note is that the MoMA takes a keen interest in Dadaists, which comes as no surprise in light of its core concentration on the modern and postmodern eras. The institution staged an investigation into the movement last year with Dadaglobe Reconstructed, a tribute to Dada founder Tristan Tzara‘s failed attempt to assemble a massive catalogue of sorts with contributions from affiliates around the world. I have no idea whether this earlier coverage helped inspire the selection of Picabia for a 2016-2017 retrospective (a problematic thesis, given that he denounced Dada in 1921), but I’d recommend the latter just the same.

Through March 19th.

Curator of the Week: Chen Tamir

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Chen Tamir, image by Yuli Gorodinsky, courtesy of Electronic Beats, via Artnet.

I’m interested in art that confuses reality and fiction.

Who

Israeli-Canadian Chen Tamir is a Curator at The Center for Contemporary Art, an experimental exhibition space in Tel Aviv, and Curatorial Associate at Artis, an organization that aims to broaden international awareness of contemporary Israeli artists. While previously working as an independent curator in New York City, she served as Executive Director of Flux Factory, developing the institution’s infrastructure and establishing an notable residency program. Chen holds an M.A. from Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies, a B.A. in Anthropology, and a B.F.A. in Visual Art from York University.

Why

Tamir is a prominent commentator on the art world’s relationship to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to hamper Israel’s global cultural acceptance on behalf of the Palestinian cause. She contributed a report on the campaign’s impact in the aftermath of the São Paulo Biennale’s repudiation of Israeli sponsorship to Hyperallergic, a Brooklyn-based arts publication whose editor enthusiastically covered the #DecolonizeThisPlace protest outside Artis’ SoHo offices, wherein participants demanded that the group demonstrate their refusal “to normalize the occupation of Palestinian lands” by backing BDS. In an article for the Guggenheim Museum website, Tamir addressed another aspect of the political landscape: “McCarthyism” in Israel, or the government’s systemic “censorship” of artists who satirize state policy through their work that is exacerbated by increasing grassroots “bullying” of and extremist backlash against creative dissidents. As she observes, “the metanarrative in Israel is one of continuous existential fear and victimization, which leads to the increased justification of insularity and nationalism, and the silencing of opposition.” There are legitimate rebuttals to this outlook (after all, on a logical level, functioning bureaucracies usually fund programs and individuals that support their ideologies), and as critic JJ Charlesworth notes, for many  “The Cultural Boycott of Israel Isn’t Solidarity, It’s Condescension.” Nonetheless, the issue of Israel’s aesthetic suppression has been brought to the fore by a recent controversy over freedom of expression at Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design after multiple student images caricaturing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became publicized (in another incident, a golden statue of Netanyahu was placed in Rabin Square and then removed). In this climate of communal tension aggravated further by charges of incitement and calls for cuts to Bezalel’s educational subsidies, Tamir’s presence on the scene is all the more relevant.

Known for

In 2015, Tamir was heralded by Artnet as one of 25 women shaking up the art world and by Artslant as one of 15 curators to watch. In addition to her writing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Tamir has spearheaded shows such as Sights and Sounds at the Jewish Museum in New York, Emotional Blackmail at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery and the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Into the Eye of the Storm at the Israeli Center for Digital Art and Double Take Triple Give at the Museums of Bat Yam (MoBY), among others. She has spoken or lectured at the Power Plant, Sotheby’s, Art Gallery of Ontario, Vanderbilt University, Bard Center for Curatorial Studies, Open Engagement, the 2009 Scope Art Fair, and so forth. Tamir has been published in various magazines and her Editor’s Letter appears on the Art21 blog. According to her website, she is also an advisor to “the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at the New School, A Blade of Grass, and EFA Project Space.”

Fun Fact

Emphasizing digital fluency, in 2015 Tamir launched Captive Portal at the CCA, a specially-commissioned virtual “fifth-wall” that is “dedicated to the presentation of new work by local and international artists.” Captive Portal features artworks visitors can look at on their mobile devices through the CCA’s wireless network. [Editor’s Note: in an unrelated initiative, CCA director Sergio Edelsztein transformed a bomb shelter next door the museum into the “Shelter for Contemporary Art.” This post originally implied that Tamir was behind this endeavor].

Latest Efforts

After organizing a conference on BDS in Tel Aviv two years ago, Tamir has proceeded to be involved in expanding the visibility of artists who, as she puts it, “don’t want to do PR for Israel.” She signed a petition in 2014 rejecting being called up as an Army reservist during “Operation Protective Edge,” has been a panelist at an Armory Show dialogue on contemporary art in the Middle East, North Africa, and Mediterranean (MENAM), and taught at Otis College. With her penchant for tech-geared exhibitions, Tamir is now planning Jon Rafman: Erysichthon and Noa Yafe: The Perfect Crime to debut at CCA this upcoming year. (more…)