Tag Archives: feminist art

Arts & crafts at the whitney museum

Making Knowing:  Craft in Art 1950-2019; through January 2021 (floor 6)

Rachel Harrison: Life Hack; closed January 12, 2020 (floor 5)

Thanks largely to a postwar infiltration of feminist and diaspora art (often of a piece) in the West and artists working elsewhere receiving wide exposure in the context of an emerging global scene (if still dominated by the West), distinctions between art and craft in contemporary production have been ostensibly erased.  At the same time, long-held gender, cultural and other associations with each term persist. And “craft” most often evokes hand-hewn textile and textural materials … for the better in the “art world,” as per this show, in terms of diversity and possibility when juxtaposed with hands-off new media equally ascendant through the same period.  Most of the work included seems to acknowledge to at least some degree this semiotic and material lineage, whether as precursor and/or foil, while conveying strongly personal, pliable and luxuriant relation to preferred mediums and techniques.

Both well known, expected suspects and some with less exposure in this context are represented, overwhelmingly (not completely) by examples in the museum’s collection, which highlights its ample interest in this direction.  Off the elevator, the perfect intro is a fragmented mural (1976) by Ree Morton, comprised of painted pinkish, putty-like, imitation ribbons, flowers, puffy clouds, and make-shift ladders to … heaven, enhanced by literal floating signifiers—incarnate words like “pleasures” and “atmospheres.” The hopeful feminist romanticism (small “r”) conveyed is refreshing and seems, as well, to incorporate a subtle jab at heroic (male) abstract painting in the gluey strips and skeins of her process. To jump to a personal fave (and then I’ll circle back), which shares some of the same underlying sensibilities and offers reason alone to see this show: Liza Lou‘s near full–scale, pop-up kitchen (c.1990-1995), replete with brand-name, opened food boxes, dishes in the sink, and pie in the oven, sheathed entirely in tiny glittering beads.

Liza Lou, Kitchen (1990-1995); detail through the “window” (Whitney Museum exhibition, Making Knowing: Craft in Art 1950-2019

Just about everything is engaging visually, with much provocation to jump around via kinship, contrast, comparison. Among first-generationers featured (although works here by them span three decades collectively): aesthetically oppositional sewn soft sculptures by Yayoi Kusama and Claes Oldenburg; a Richard Artschwager cube-table; an Eva Hesse macramé-like ropey hanging; a heavy, draped felt blob by Robert Morris; a cagey, wire-woven abstraction by Ruth Asawa; a lace-like, shimmery canvas by Howardena Pindell; one of Harmony Hammonds‘s padded rag-swathed scaffold sculpture; an Faith Ringgold painted tangka banner; an open-frame Alan Shields wall work of bead strands; a Miriam Shapiro frilly collaged canvas; small-scale weavings-on-paper by Sheila Hicks, who, forthwith, will be known by many for her monumental yarn column-waterfall recently exhibited at MoMA (“Surrounds: 11 Installations”; 10/21/19-14-20).  Hicks is also included in MoMA’s current show, “Taking a Thread for a Walk,” with an early serial bundled-yarn piece, which highlights more so earlier 20th-century fiber art and therefore offers (among other things) some historical context for the Whitney show. Selections there by Bauhaus frauen Anni Albers and Gunta Stolz may be further appreciated after seeing Elaine Reichek‘s satirically pedagogic embroidery samplers at the Whitney, one of which bears a quote by a Bauhaus “master” relegating the activity of weaving to women assigned to realized his envisioned textile abstractions.

Along with Lou’s tour de force, highlights from the next generation and beyond include: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt‘s fragile, flowery flotsam and jetsam dream box, a distant relative of many “containers” by Joseph Cornell; Pepon Osorio‘s barrio-baroque assemblage-portrait of a shoe-shiner; a super-fly Nick Cave sound suit; a Mike Kelley big-baby blanket incorporating mangy stuffed animals; a very large textile-inspired figurative painting  by Njideka Akunyili Crosby; a conceptual piece primarily of found blankets alluding to the Native American foundations of US cities by Marie Watt; a ceramic and straw, regal and demure giantess by Simone Leigh. Of an abundance of more strictly ceramic works, Viola Frey presides with a characteristic painterly-glazed colossus in business attire, along with a self-portrait by parodic peer Robert Arneson; an earthy, rolled and modeled reclining figure by Mary Frank; and a sensual abstracted vessel series by Katy Schimert (whose work I first saw in a Whitney Biennial).

Pepon Osorio, Angel the Shoe Shiner (1993) (partial/detail; in the exhibition, Making Knowing; Craft in Art 1950 – 2019)

The Rachel Harrison solo (10/25/19-1/12/20) was an apropos complement in several ways. Harrison thrives on very mixed up media, mashing found stuff with artsy-like, painted plaster-y, wood-built structural and ornamental elements.  My reaction to the furtive “one person’s trash is her own … art” kind of thing was tentative; in fact, the blur of 1990s DIY randomness and Duchampian, gender-astute gesture to which Harrison was party (with Karen Kilimnik and Sarah Lucas, among others) eventually drew me in. Solidifying an allusion to the era, a winning series of tragi-comic drawings depicting Amy Winehouse juxtaposed with scribbled Picasso and DeKooning “women.”  

But the mainstay of Harrison’s oeuvre is gathered and arranged stuff–tools, socks, wigs, racks, partitions, live plants, original sculptural forms and more, which impressed as both absurdist stacks and spreads and responsible, inventive forays into perpetual recycling as make-shift decorating.  A key section for me was an apartment-like interior installation within the show. With its flimsy walls papered with photo-blow ups of misaligned faux-wood paneling and other box store improvement projects in progress, it conveyed an ongoing attempt at securing a home-sweet-artist-home. 

An installation in the exhibition, Rachel Harrison: Life Hack (at the Whitney Museum; yes, the chairs are part of it 🙂
Rachel Harrison: Life Hack at the Whitney Museum
An installation from the exhibition, Rachel Harrison: Life Hack (at the Whitney Museum)

Woman Across Generations, Modes, Mediums in Chelsea

“Kara Walker: Sikkema Jenkins and Co. is Compelled to present…” at Sikkema Jenkins (530 W. 22nd St.) through Oct. 14.

“Aurel Schmidt: I Rot before I Ripen” at PPOW (535 W. 22nd St. 3rd Fl.) through Oct. 7.

“Barbara Chase-Riboud:  Malcolm X: Complete” at Michael Rosenfeld (100 11th Ave. @19th St.) through Nov. 4.

“Mary Corse” at Lehman Maupin (536 W. 22nd St.) through Oct. 7.

“Suzan Frecon” at David Zwirner (525 W. 19th St.) through Oct. 21.

“Maya Lin: Ebb and Flow” at Pace (537 W. 24th St.) through Oct. 7.

“Janet Fish: Poppies and Pinwheels” at DC Moore (535 W. 22, 2nd Fl.) through Sept. 30.

The one with the most pre and post-opening press so far lives up to the billing – Kara Walker (Sikkema Jenkins).  These biting, heart-wrenching, sprawling, churning, Americanist, Freudian, large-scale drawings and drawing-like paintings push everything she has done over the past two decades to newly excruciating heights.   Beyond a challenge, they dare viewers into her racially-charged, amalgamated visions of depraved eroticism and emotional and physical violence through which the powerful have subjugated and bankrupted others historically; and ensnare with fluid linear elegance and mash-up iconography in which all manner of images across time and place are re-mixed and spewed.  Staying her decades-long artistic course, a reinvigorated investment in her hard-core thematics of race and linked monochromatic artistic roots are palpable.  She also continues with her extensive, only partly parodic exhibition (as well as art) titles–read this one in full at the gallery and consider it when musing on the work.  However, a shorter phrase wielded by precedent upstart Robert Colescott in his own pre-emptive defense of devil’s advocate race-baiting in his art would be  apt: “Self-censorship is a cop-out.”  No question, Walker remains one of the most gutsy, defiantly provocative artists out there.

Aurel Schmidt (PPOW) also specializes in colossal, curvy, psyche-scape drawings–in her case, post-pubescent, priapic fantasies conveyed through stoner-Eden settings inundated with butterflies, daisies, snakes, and vulva-centered spiderwebs.   Her sensibility blends faux-naivite with a dash of harajuku and a druggie- decadent twinkle.  Hello Kitty-ish kitties may be a bit rabid; and a few exquisitely drawn rodents (one on a skate board) just above floor level tug back to urban earth the flighty fancies envisioned above.  Trigger warning: the “high times” sexual undercurrent explodes (yes) in a back room installation-homage to the erect member of her bf—including several graphic close-ups.  Good for her (the careful attention to detail seems to express).  But the critter-and-flora-packed, delicately rendered mirages are the wow factor.

The sculptural sentinels, or steles (as they have been aptly, described) of Barbara Chase-Riboud (Michael Rosenfeld) are majestic, yet at a human scale that addresses the viewer as an autonomous entity.  The past decade (mainly) of work here is a collective tour de force of her renowned signature mode developed over nearly fifty years: thick folded slabs of cast steel and aluminum combined with densely draped, ropey textile elements.  The results of this gendered yin-yang formulation suggest soulful effigies akin to ka statuary of ancient Egypt. The metal sections and knotty, braided skeins visually meld through the monochromatic (mainly) schemes—deepest blacks, rich golds, and one blood red show stopper, furthering this effect of “beings.”  The works featured ostensibly complete a series begun in 1969 dedicated to Malcolm X—not at all a secondary aspect of the hovering content, though conferred after her initial foray into this formalist vein.

Mary Corso has also continued on an abstract trajectory from early on—namely, “light and space” exploration in painting formats (with others starting out in southern California c. 1970).  Again, I don’t hesitate to use the term “majestic” in summarizing the flickering Minimalist planes she creates with micro-plastic bits blended into tarry black pigment and juxtaposed with silky, silvery acrylic in broad, flat bands.  The very mechanics of seeing activates her surfaces, further impacted by viewer movement.  Recent work by Leo Villareal and Veja Celmins came to mind while staring into Corso’s spatial “galaxies”—achieved with streamlined methods and means.

Likewise, the recent work of Suzan Frecon (David Zwirner) conveys long-term, discriminating devotion to abstract painting–hers employing a very subtle palette of earth tones and lightly, carefully biomorphicized geometry.  She is most concerned with proportional relationships in terms of intuitive perception.  However, landscapes are implicated (not to say “depicted”), as much by tonal mood as by mounds and horizontal passages.  With a conceptual turn of intention and phrase, one could say the same of Maya Lin’s new sculptural installations (Pace), which translate rivers of the world from maps to glass marble arrangements and silver-pour creations crawling up the walls and pooling along the floor (along with a few other inspired material variations).  Since her spectacular public debut decades ago (The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, design c. 1981), virtually nothing Lin has produced has not been well worth experiencing and engaging.

An anomaly in the art age of millennial Chelsea is the gorgeous,  painted still life oeuvre of Janet Fish (DC Moore)–again an artist who has stuck with her early art impulses and affections.  The selections here, spanning over thirty years, highlight Fish’s studious yet exuberant fascination and facility with reflections, contours, textures, and color in the observed real world.  All manner and types of natural and artificial  objects are reigned into loose, often spilled-over set-ups that Fish maintains as she paints, working exclusively from life.   Collectible ceramics, kitsh tchokes, arm-to-table bounty, Chinese take-out, crispy potato chips, lush floral arrangements, poppy-pocked field flowers, and multiplying are glisten in jam-packed, vigorous compositions that fold in swiftly stroked patterned fabrics.  It’s a palpable pleasure to revel in these prosaic reveries grounded in domestic life.

Gender Blender at the Rubin

At the Rubin Museum, through August 1, 2016:

“Genesis P-Orridge: Try to Altar Everything”

The Genesis Breyer P-Orridge exhibition is not for the faint of … art.  As the title indicates, Genesis (British; b. 1950) has devoted most of his life (at this point) to altering everything that is “given” and has created many make-shift altars in service of this aim.  He emerged deep into the Punk art and especially music scene in London of the mid-1970s—a very bad boy persona facilitated by acquaintance with decadent Beat writer, William Burroughs.  But, according to him, what really made all the difference was an early interest in Andy Warhol; presumably, and not least, his transformation from pimply celebrity fanboy to chic art superstar with the aid of plenty of cosmetic enhancements.

Born biologically male, Genesis is a nickname from the artist’s youth. Pronouns do not seem a sticking point with Genesis, despite his breast implants and usual full maquillage, among other adornments. He’s got bigger fish to fry, namely everything about the boundaries of visceral experience in terms of human biology, sexuality, and bonds.  In 1993, Genesis married his soul mate, nurse, performance artist and dominatrix, Jacqueline Breyer (American;   1969-2007), aka Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge.  Together they began a joint vision quest in pursuit of “pandrogeny,” eventually undergoing several identical surgical procedures until Lady Jaye’s death (terminal illness).  Genesis has since referred to his person and art production in the “we.”  By the late 1990s, after several run-ins with Scotland Yard, the duo had resurfaced in Brooklyn amidst a new wave of artistic hipsters, where Genesis now approaches the status of living subterranean legend.

Lady Jayne was born female.  Genesis (as of this writing/unofficial research) has a penis.  Um, it’s all hung out here and Genesis takes it all to the outer limits.  And, yes, for sure, a large quantity and variety of drugs were consumed through the making of this Nietzschean supra-being and this art.

The obvious spiritual overtones of such a life-art journey finds an intriguing landing at the South East Asian art-specializing Rubin.  Turns out, the Breyer P-Orridge spent substantial time in Nepal, and also syncretized, from their early association, Buddhist, Hindu and various African spiritual principles and diagrams with early Christian inculcation.  Gender-hybrid deities have pride of place, especially the Hindu Ardhanarishvara, avatar of Shiva and his consort, Parvati, who appear with the faces of the Breyer P-Orridge woven into a rug in one tableau.  The central subject in a Byzantine-golden crucifixion panel bears a similarly-derived hybrid icon and also perhaps contains a nod to Warhol’s slyly subversive Gold Marilyn.

Hung from the skylight (the installation is on the top floor of the mini-Guggenheim-type open plan) is a white neon glyph with three cross bars, which revisits the involvement of Genesis in the founding of “Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth,” an only half-kidding religion, in the 1980s.  This “psychic cross,” which he designed as its symbol, became an alternate signature (i.e., “the artist formerly known as . . .”); it proliferates throughout.  BTW, there is an accompanying idiosyncratic lexicon, part and parcel to the totalizing Breyer P-Orridge art experiment.

Throughout is lots of photographic documentation and manipulation involving “changling” faces, body parts, and full bodies in various fetish regalia;  along with laboratory-evoking assemblages incorporating organic matter from the bodies of the pair.  The earliest works included, from the Thee  Temple years, are psychedelic collages of sexually graphic personal and media photos combined with cryptic scribblings and images of recognizable and indistinguishable divinities.   They suggest the orgiastic hellfire of 19th-century “onanistic” cults and Hieronymus Bosch.  The metaphoric extension of collage to the body is disturbingly powerful in two series of blood-splattered cloths from (respectively) a hospital stay of Genesis and a blending of the couple’s blood, evoking Christian martyrdom and relics like the Shroud of Turin.  Beyond Hermann Nitsch and the Vienna Actionists in the postwar era, these stained remnants recall first-generation feminist work like Judy Chicago’s Menstruation Bathroom at Womanhouse (1971) and the child-soiled sections of Mary Kelly’s renowned, Post-Partum Document (1973-1979); not to mention ORLAN (sic), the peer French art historian and plastic surgery artist with similar ideals of utter identity disruption.   The mystical coupling recalls Christo and Jean-Claude (born on the same day in 1935), and the British art-and-life team Gilbert and George.

Victorian occultism is evoked in altar and reliquary-like wall assemblages containing memento mori–such as Genesis’s teeth, most of which he has had extracted and replaced with gold to deflect the DNA finality of identity.  Surrealism follows through in fetishistic sculptural mash-ups of bones, metal tools, women’s high heels, and taxidermy elements.

A tour de force is the participatory, site-specific piece carrying the title of the exhibition, in which small objects left by visitors are periodically curated by the artist and mounted in cabinets or clear containers dotting several walls.  It suggests an embrace of every individual thing as a source of potential, unexpected communion.  Overall, a brave exhibition for the museum, and a rewarding one for visitors willing to go with the flow towards the reciprocal acceptance of all that is other–which, essentially, is all there is.