Installment 3: Kymia Nawabi

kimya-sculptureKymia Nawabi stood out at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Swing Space show. Her whimsical, yet somewhat disturbed drawings, paintings, and sculpture have the illustrative quality reminiscent of Tim Burton, giving characters multiple limbs or mix-matched bodies, and overlapping pattern over pattern –a complex world that begs to be dissected. A first generation Iranian-American, which she explains has contributed to her social anxiety disorder, her work addresses the personal struggles of her identity. Her mythology is given the name “The Nincompoop and The Superior Super Senses Stalkers,” as each of her senses is exaggerated and distorted in an episode of anxiety –whether it be in infancy, childhood, adolescence, or adulthood.

kimya-moleskinMoleskin sketchbooks, which read like storybooks, hang from the ceiling in one corner, while large scale drawings hang in the hallways and the walls of her studio space. Disfigured small-scale sculptures sit patiently on the table, some housed in their own small cupboards, while larger scale sculptures sit free form outside. Each work seems to represent a different episode, or a different manifestation of her feelings as a new character (or doppelganger, as she says). Incredibly detailed and fantastical, she is right in assuming that “the works are initially understood as playful, cute and humorous, but this is merely a polite disguise, just as one uses a smile to hide a despicable body and mind that has gone berserk. Thus, through the lens of my own experience, I direct the viewers’ visions to the complex, deep-level, make-up of who we are, and make us dwell on the abject nature of being human.”

Swing Space is a space grant program that connects artists and arts organizations with vacant commercial space downtown. Studio, rehearsal, office, installation, and exhibition space awards are typically for one to six months and may be accompanied by a project stipend of $300-$3,000, when funds are available. Housed in an expansive upper-level office floor in a skyscraper in the Financial District, the 10th floor of 77 Water Street is the summer home of the Swing Space visual artist studios. Twenty former bankers’ offices lining the nearly 20,000 square foot floor offers selected artists space to complete proposed projects in the visual arts. With sweeping views of the East River, New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty and the office buildings of the Insurance District, 77 Water Street serves the Swing Space program’s goal to place artists in uncommon and unique environments in Lower Manhattan.

Installment 2: The Female Gaze

cheim & readUnfortunately, we missed this one on the gallery hop last Thursday night in Chelsea, due to unexpectedly closed doors at Cheim & Read, but it is on the agenda for the next trip to the west side. The impressive roster includes names from Jenny Holzer to Kara Walker to Bernice Abbott, and of course, Louise Bourgeoise.  From photography to painting and sculpture, the gallery aims to present a twist on the traditional understanding of the gaze in the canon.  The curator has selected female artists looking at female subjects.  The French feminist movement started to challenge what Laura Mulvey identifies as the “male gaze” in her essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema: “the male, based on his desire for the female form, determines the way in which the female is perceived, thereby reducing her role to one of passivity and pleasure.”  The female identity and voice is traditionally only created and communicated by the male’s representation.

“The show seeks to present a collection of works which reclaim the traditional domination of the “male gaze” and reorient the significance of the female figure to allow for more varied interpretations… This exhibition attempts to debunk the notion of the male gaze by providing a group of works in which the artist and subject do not relate as “voyeur” and “object,” but as woman and woman. It would be interesting to ask the question how we would feel about the works in the exhibition if we were told they were made by a man.”

See the gallery walkthrough here, courtesy of the Douglas Kelly Show.

Unfortunately, we don’t see the aesthetic cohesion across the 41 (count them, 41) works, although the thought was nice in collecting these works in one place, maybe (when do “feminist artists” become just artists?) But are these works representative of each artist’s body of work?  Or are these carefully chosen to make the curator’s point for this single show?  We’ll have to see it in person (at 547 West 25th Street) to decide if the room by room arrangements make a strong enough statement… QUICK -it’s only up until September 19.

(installation photograph courtesy of Cheim & Read)

A Reputation for Amorous Predispositions

Nothing gets us going like a blockbuster museum exhibition. The Picasso and Braque show a few years back had us carrying around a stack of books for three months to hide the perpetual boner we’d get thinking about those lovely gray-brown forays into cubism. And don’t even get us started about Leonardo’s Ginevra de’ Benci at the National Gallery.

So you can imagine our excitement when we learned that the good folks at the Rijksmuseum in Merry Old Amsterdam had lent the Met The Milkmaid (1658ish), Vermeer’s best known work with the possible exception of The Girl With the Pearl Earring (and that’s only because of ScarJo).
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There are a total of 30 known Vermeers, and six of those are currently on view in a little warren of rooms tucked just off the Greek and Roman Galleries. The show is excellent and the Milkmaid is fucking ridiculously good, and appears to have been recently cleaned (look at this image search for the painting—half the returns are yellowed with muck and varnish that’s since been removed). The blue and gold of the maid’s dress are lush and vital. It’s a simple mimetic scene—a young woman pours milk near a window. But then you step right up to the thing and you see that the loaf of bread on the table is rendered as minuscule dots, which makes it glow and radiate. It’s an ethereal trick, but the painting is grounded by the nicks and divots on the wall behind the maid. The whitewash is almost translucent, the blueblack of masonry or underpainting just barely shows through. And the . . . the fucking quality of light and shadow is fantastic, so vivid that you can tell it’s overcast outside, even though you can only see a fraction of a windowpane at an angle.

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The show’s well curated, too—also on view are period Delft tiles, nearly identical to the ones seen in the painting, and a tightly edited group of works by Vermeer’s contemporaries. Among our favorites were a pair of canvasses by Van Vilets and De Witte. Each painter shows an the interior of Amsterdam’s Oude Kerk (old church). By 1600, wall text informs, the Netherlands had gone almost totally Protestant, and they converted their Gothic (Catholic) churches into more Romanesque (Protestant) buildings by stripping the “‘popish’ appointments and whitewashing their columns and walls.”  Anyway, the paintings show the Oude Kerk as a weird, wonderful palimpsest—the vaulted arches and stone tracery show the church’s gothic pedigree. It’s in the building’s bones, and no whitewash can cover it.

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In de Witte’s view, a dog, visually emphasized by a square of daylight, lifts its leg to piss on one of the church’s columns.

Show’s up through November. Get over there.

Vermeer’s Masterpiece The Milkmaid

Highlight: The textures in Young Woman with a Water Pitcher (1662ish). You can see the “needlework” on the tablecloth and the creases in the woman’s headdress. Remarkable.

Memorable quote:For at least two centuries before Vermeer’s time, milkmaids and kitchen maids had (or were assigned) a reputation for amorous predispositions.”

Next week: African art, for real this time. We were distracted by Vermeer.

Frida Kahlo Archive Drama

48901846The LATimesChristopher Knight reports on the archive of the “magnetic, self-mythologizing” Frida, little-known and drama enducing.

Barbara Levine displays the few pieces of ephemera by one of the biggest names in Mexico’s Modern art history here.

The findings include: “16 small oil paintings, 23 watercolors and pastels, 59 notebook pages (diary entries, recipes, etc.), 73 anatomical studies (some dated prior to Kahlo’s disfiguring 1925 trolley accident), 128 pencil and crayon drawings, 129 illustrated prose-poems, and 230 letters to Carlos Pellicer, the Modernist poet and Frida’s close confidant, many adorned with sketches — skulls, insects, lizards, birds… a small box holding 11 taxidermy hummingbirds. There are pistols, such as an ornate 1870 Remington; a tricolor Mexican flag, its central white panel altered to celebrate Leon Trotsky (“Troski”) and the Communist Party, to which Kahlo and Rivera belonged; hotel bills; photographs; receipts for sales of Rivera paintings; an embroidered huipil, a traditional Mayan blouse; an intimate diary, with one entry expressing Frida’s intense (and unrequited) erotic attraction to lesbian ranchera singer Chavela Vargas; a French medical text on amputation, painted over with blood-red pigments; and more.”

Laughing Kookaburras and Preserved Fetuses

Thank god the Museum of Animal Perspectives exists to post videos of what it looks like to walk through the woods from the top of a wolf’s head. But actually, this one is pretty good: Laughing Kookaburras

Kookaburras on YouTubeIt was left out of the weirdest museums of the world, but I guess they did alright with the Burt Reynolds and Friends Museum of Florida: “The Museum: You may know him only as the star of Smokey and the Bandit, but residents of Jupiter, Florida, also know him as a generous contributor, establishing a number of theater-centric programs since purchasing a ranch here some 30 years ago. Volunteers run this not-for-profit museum, dedicated to preserving the legacy of “the Bandit.”
The Exhibits: Sure, there are keys to the 10 plus cities he’s received, notes from A-listers like Jack Lemmon and Elizabeth Taylor, and an impressive collection of sports memorabilia, but the pièce de résistance is the sleek black Firebird Trans Am the beer-smuggling Reynolds, a.k.a. Bo “Bandit” Darville, drove in the classic 1977 film, Smokey and the Bandit.”

Fetus models at Palazzo PoggiThe Poggi Palace in Bologna, Italy, stands out to me as one of the weirdest museum experiences in my life. I tragically lost my own photos of the place in a hard drive crash, but the memory of a recreated 18th century gynecologist office, with all of its tools, surrounded by models of the fetus through development, is vivid enough to sustain that loss.

The Palazzo Poggi was given to the Universita di Bologna in 1805 and became a sort of experimental laboratory of human development.  Research and experiments using technology reinvented the organization of the University’s curriculum.  These activities have been absorbed into the palace’s 15th century architecture, and as their website says, not just metaphorically, the building’s cultural activities in the 19th and 20th centuries created an irreversible ambiance.  It’s true, the eerie quality of the building contributes to the absurdity of its collection.

dancing skeletonsUnfortunately, I missed this exhibit of dancing fetuses, perhaps it is a new addition since Spring 2007.

Installment 1: Katie Paterson

Alaska Portage Glacier

3 litres glacial meltwater, 3 litres silicon, 3 turntables [2007]

Ice Recording by Katie Paterson

“Sound recordings from three glaciers in Iceland, pressed into three records, cast, and frozen with the meltwater from each of these glaciers, and played on three turntables until they completely melt. The records were played once and now exist as three dvds. The turntables begin playing together, and for the first ten minutes as the needles trace their way around, the sounds from each glacier merge in and out with the sounds the ice itself creates. The needle catches on the last loop, and the records play for nearly two hours, until completely melted.”

Prodigal Suns

Prodigal Suns I met Russell and Carl at their store, RePOP on Washington Avenue in Clinton Hill, and then stumbled upon (or, kind of internet stalked them until finding more) this seemingly outdated, but wonderful website of theirs.  Carl, a medical illustrator, and Russell, a painter and self-described closet goth-fanatic, came together as individual artists in Brooklyn and started creating under the name “Prodigal Suns” after they “compiled enough inspiration, confidence and conception.”  Evoking their respective strict Christian upbringings and finding a common bond in the biblical parable, they set out to change the perception of the prodigal son through their collaborative art, as their website explains.

Artist Cheryl Donegan’s recent comment exposes her opinion on the Bible as static: “Modernism should not be seen as Biblical; it should be seen as Talmudic,” the written record of an oral tradition.  As the previously noted Jerry Saltz article notes, Talmudic tradition is inherently collaborative, involving “thousands of people making comments in the margins, debating issues and ideas, shaping tradition, changing it, and keeping it alive.”

Prodigal Suns started their collaborative work with Genesis, a series of 10 pieces, which established a language later refined in The Kansas Group, a series that focused on the deconstruction and reconstruction of Family.

Too much self-reference?… “At first inspired by Louise Bourgeois, Carl and Russell oddly attached themselves to the Book of Acts, borrowing from the character Stephen to rebuild the birthing canal, the loss of innocence, death, reincarnation and the revelation that comes from the stoning of innocents.  In depth it became an opus for the discrimination of homosexuals in the 21st Century.”  …I promise, it wasn’t planned.

The two haven’t stopped collaborating, even though the dates on this website may give that impression (copyright 2005).  Their store is a living “wonderland of vintage finds,” a product that the two of them have nurtured into its own personality.

Saltz takes on MoMA

Louise BourgoisIn older news… The Guerrilla Girls may have their own count in protest of sexism in museums, but art critic Jerry Saltz confronts MoMA on their gender-imbalanced collection and curation on the 4th and 5th floors, via his Facebook page.  After his followers contributed to the conversation with over 500 comments and wall posts, Jerry had the opportunity to meet with Ann Temkin, the Museum’s Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture.  Edward Winkleman’s blog covers the original article by Saltz, which raises some important points in how to measure and evaluate the disparity at hand.  Do we consider just numbers? Or prominence of pieces, like Louise Bourgeois’s at the entrance of the 4th floor (which, on the 5th floor has long been occupied by Cezanne)?  And what about the artists themselves– even if Temkin intends to re-install the collection, does she actually solve any problem if the artists who are highlighted are as obvious as Joseph Beuys, Bruce Nauman, and Eva Hesse? Ahem.. that’s still just a one-to-three ratio of women to men… essentially no different from the 19 of 383 works currently installed on the 4th and 5th floors of the permanent collection– women representing just 4%.

I’m a bit bored by the conversation that was sparked after this about the value of art and how art made by women sells in auctions compared to how art by men does.  Saltz concludes that if we can’t rely on an institution and space like MoMA for refreshing art, it’s up to the little guys, the smaller galleries throughout New York to bring unknown artists into the scope of “good art.” As Saltz used Facebook as a venue for this discussion, we’ll use this blog to display the treasures of art created by women mined from the internet and local galleries.  Stay tuned.

Nudity? In an ART MUSEUM?

kathleen-neill-nudeThis is old news, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the hubub caused last week when a (live! nude! girl!) model posed for photographer Zach Hyman in the Met’s Arms and Armor gallery. Model Kathleen Neill was stopped by museum guards some 30 seconds after disrobing, and was arrested shortly thereafter.

On one hand, the photographer seems like publicity hound, and by posting this we’re playing right along with his plans. The lawyer’s statement: “There are nude sculptures and paintings all over the museum. It’s the height of stupidity accusing a live model of showing the same thing in a house of art” is spot on, except that Hyman has also posed his nude models in subways, so the “but there’s naked ladies EVERYwhere in a museum!” defense loses some credibility.

But look: fuck em if they can’t take a joke.

It’s a truism, but we’ll say it anyway. The history of art includes a long line of radicals challenging conservative tastes, often using sex and bodies. See: Lolita, Last Tango in Paris, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Manet’s Olympia, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, and Sargent’s Madame X, which was considered so prurient in its day that the artist painted over an earlier version in which the model’s dress strap dangled from her shoulder. Oh, and Madame X hangs in–you guessed it–the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The fact that Neill is facing charges of public lewdness is disappointing. Will she have to register as a sex offender because of this? Come on, Met. You can do better than this.

A photo of Madam X as she originally appeared (1881)
A photo of Madam X as she originally appeared (1881)

In related news, the Gorilla/Guerrilla Girls’ take on female nudity at the Met:

“In 1995, a “weenie count” done by the Guerrilla Girls at the Metropolitan Museum showed that 85 percent of the pieces that depicted nudes depicted naked women while only five percent of the displayed artworks were created by women. This statistic prompted one of the Guerrilla Girls’ critiques, a poster asking, “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”

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Madame X as she appears today, with strap on shoulder (1883-4)

So the question is, do women have to be naked images to get into the Met?

Europeans Can’t Get Enough of That Sweet, Sweet Classicism

Seriously? Edison's inventing movies and you're making this? Writing on wall, let me introduce you to neoclassical artists.
Seriously? While Orville and Wilbur are inventing the airplane, you’re making fluted vases with nautical décor? Hey, writing on wall, let me introduce you to neoclassical artists. (German, 1911)

The Met’s Sculpture and Decorative Arts 1850-1900 gallery shows European art at an exciting crossroads. Conservative Neoclassicism in the 18th and 19th centuries demonstrated that Western visual arts were due for a change. The idea behind neoclassicism was that Greek, Roman, and Italian Renaissance art were empirically superior to anything that came before or since, and so contemporary artists should copy their themes and forms. (To our eye, the Baroque and Rococo styles that preceded neoclassicism look a lot like ancient Greco-Roman art anyway, so a reactionary movement like neoclassicism seems redundant, but what do we know?)

About half of the work in this little room in the Iris and Gerald B. Cantor Galleries gave us the sense that sculptors and designers in 19th century Europe were just itching to get out from the crushing burden of classicism. How many urns depicting Homeric  myth does it take before everyone gets bored of business as usual and just wants to try something new?

To wit: the Cantor Galleries contain a bronze statue of Perseus (1890), a vase (1911) with the same decorative motifs you see in the objects in the Hellenistic Galleries, and commemorative medals with sitters in profile (1880s) that are almost indistinguishable from those that had depicted Caesar or Alexander. It’s crazy. These artists were living in the age of the railroad and phonograph and telephone and automobile, but they kept emulating the art that Athenians and Romans were making before the birth of Christ.

And then something weird happened (in the flow of history, not in the Cantor Gallery). In 1854, under pressure from Commodore Matthew Perry, Japan opened its borders to the West for the first time in more than 200 years. The concisely named “International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine” in Philadelphia in 1876 was America’s first world fair, where pavilions from thirty-odd countries—including Japan—exposed 9 million westerners to the wonders of the “Orient.” European avant-gardes like Toulouse-Latrec and Van Gogh began combining the clarity of line and flatness of picture plane from Japanese woodcuts with European techniques like oil painting.

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Clarity of line and asymmetrical composition recall woodprints from Hiroshige and Hokusai. (French, c. 1870)

The resulting biracial baby was named Japonisme, and it was awesome. No surprise there: when previously isolated cultures cross paths, cultural upheaval and fertility results (The Met’s own website has a concise entry explaining how a similar phenomenon had unfolded due to the silk and spice trade nearly two thousand years before). The Cantor gallery shows objects in both the conservative neoclassical and the radical japoniste modes.

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Take that, classical antiquity. These here dishes are something new. (English, 1880-84)

Other great pieces in the gallery: a Russian cigarette case (1896-1903) designed for Fabregé, a creepy ceramic Infanta, and a terracotta Négresse, which stylistically could have come from quattrocento Florence, but whose inscription (Porquoi! Natre esclave!, or Why born a slave?) and year of commission (1867) make it a piece of political commentary. A bit late, but still, at least it’s not another bust of Ceres or Bacchus.

La Négresse
La Négresse. (French, 1867-71)

And finally: How often have you found yourself in the unenviable position of having toasted six pieces of bread, but you lack a receptacle to hold them? Regularly? Good news, because Christopher Dresser’s 1881 toast rack solves that exact problem.

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Sorry, the toast rack holds what, now? (English, 1881)

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The Iris and Gerald B. Cantor Galleries: European Sculpture and Decorative Arts 1850-1900

Highlights: Toast holder, duh.

Memorable Quote
Mom: We’re not going to the store.
Kid: (calm but incredulous) What?
Mom: We’re at the museum to learn and to enjoy each other’s company.
Kid: (visibly agitated) WHAT?

Next week: African art. All of it.

ART edited by Julia Turshen

Julia TurshenFound this little gem photocopied and folded while moving things around to fit a gem of a dumpster dive.  Wish I could remember where it came from…  This is some pre-Batali and Gweneth go to Spain Julia Turshen humor.  Seems like food has dominated her subject matter since this scribbled piece.  See her July ’09 Interview Magazine article here.

MUSEUMS

American Society of Hot Air: An exhibition of of of popcorn poppers, dry steamers, and blow-dryers.  A show that burns with nothingness.

Beagle Society: Featuring the brown-and-black spotted, howling, and mischievous “Lucy” along with her paler and chubbier collaborator “Scout.”

Cash-Only Museum of Art Decay: “Permanent Collection,” featuring the leftover scraps from many of today’s favorite artists: Richard Tuttle’s snapped wire, Donald Judd’s broken wood, and Tony Oursler’s leftover stuffing (fabric that is not cornbread).

Drool Museum: Remember that you have golashes.

Eyebrow Hall-of-Fame: *Vintage tweezers currently on display. Must not miss the retrospective of eyebrow hall-of-fame’s new favorite trick:  threading. A shoelace donation is requested.

Gourmand Institute: *Don’t miss the exhibition of burned pots, tentatively titled, “The Rice that Wouldn’t Let Go.”

Insomniacs-R-Us: Only open from 12 AM unitl 5 AM. A “hands-on” exhibition currently on display. Participate in “The Next Great American Novel.”

about these listings: written with ‘Le Pen’ –wonderful and overpriced.  Morningside Heights/ October minus a few days, 2006.