Tag Archives: Nick Cave

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)

“Radical Love” at the Ford Foundation”

320 East 43rd Street, through August 17, 2019

If you’ve never been to the landmark 1960s building of the Ford Foundation for Social Justice, which has had an extensive public plaza-like space open to the public from the beginning, the new gallery and its programming (established 2018 in a building overhaul; this is the second exhibition) is even more reason to get going. Exhibitions focuses loosely issues and circumstances related to the Foundation’s mission, whether and both who the artists are. Here the thematic title reins in global artists dealing more and less with injustice, personal obstacles, wrapped up with self-love, communal celebration, and most often post-colonial, Diaspora, and transnational identities and social issues.

An innovative feature of the building is its tiered indoor tropical garden (above), the site of a sound piece (part of the show) by Umani Uzuri, which incorporates the spiritual, “Wade on the Water” to invoke a “hush arbor,” or hiding place for escaped slaves in the antebellum South.  On the second floor in the gallery proper a large entrance wall accommodates a kind of memorial to the protestors arrested in the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry, in which their individual photos have been developed on transparent silk and superimposed onto painted portraits for a ghostly stereoscopic effect.  A trio of figurative textile sculptures from the late 1970s by the still prolific Faith Ringgold (b. 1930) are as political as they are personal in their feminist form and subjects.  Most other works share some sort of visual dazzle through a riot of color, patterning, and textures.

A tin-foil-glittery, kitsch-Baroque, paper-mache rat-infested, gay-urban altarpiece by Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt, who started with this sort of thing c. 40 years ago, is impressive for its obsessive dedication to scrappy, inventive craft.  His semiotic linking of superficial sparkle with queerness as well as spirituality is seen elsewhere here; while others use glittery effects to other associative ends.  Ebony Patterson’s hanging, sequin-dotted patchwork tapestry, in which images of body parts peak through in sections, includes gold-painted conch shells and coins strewn below to reinforce the Caribbean context of her dreamy-nightmare aesthetic. Rashaad Newsome’s kaleidoscope-like photo-collages of glam-bling adornments on impossible bodies deals partly in drag ball fantasy, picked up in Athi-Patra Ruga’s staged portrait photos.  Weedy growths sprouting from high on several walls are tangled with bits of shiny detritus in an installation by Lina Puerta.   Raul de Nieves’s opulently costumed mannequins representing two aspects of his mother recall Egungun masks (which completely cover dancers in the Nigerian masquerade traditions) and Nick Cave’s “soundsuits.”  A gold-ornamented painted female portrait by Lina Iris Viktor includes a backdrop map melding Africa with sites of its Diaspora. An especially moving assemblage sculpture by Vanessa German depicts a “white-face” Madonna / nkisi (power figure in traditional groups of the Congos) cradling a black baby doll, with silver-beaded strands of tears. Probably the most arresting and eye-opening work for most viewers will be Sue Austin’s video of her underwater experience in a wheelchair specially equipped for the event. More than a half-dozen other works included are similarly engaging; and a bonus on my visit were publicly accessible works beyond the exhibit by Kehinde Wiley and Hank Willis Thomas (look down the hallways to and from the elevators).

Raul de Nieves, “Fina Beauty” and “Fina Nurture” (both 2019); at the Ford Foundation)
Foreground: Vanessa German, “Notes on the absence of Sacredness: How Little Black Girls Die” (2018); background: Lina Iris Viktor, “Eleventh” (2018); at the Ford Foundation.

Meeting of Traditional African Masks with Contemporary art syncretism

Disguise: Masks and Global African Art.

At the Brooklyn Museum, through September 18, 2016.

Disguise, organized by the Seattle Art Museum, reverberates well in Brooklyn, which boasts ever-expanding networks of transplanted African, as well as American-born and other artists of African descent, including several here.  And that’s a delimitation–that is, all artists included are of African descent, some born and working in Africa, others not, on both counts, or some combination.  So then “global African art” (of the exhibition title) is a provocative umbrella in more ways than one, especially in some cases.  In addition, BM boasts a major collection of and commitment to traditional African art, culled from to contextualize the featured contemporary work.

In general, Western art audiences are a long way from MoMA’s infamous Primitivism (1984) when it comes to African art and aesthetics.  A rising tide of African Diaspora arts in the West that, increasingly, has “looked both ways” within the scope of a growing global contemporary scene, offers firm foundation for the fluid curatorial approach here.*  In New York, a small-scale recent precedent was The Met’s 2011 exhibition, Reconfiguring an African Icon: Odes to the Mask by Modern and Contemporary Artists from Three ContinentsWillie Cole, featured there, appears with a single work in Disguise, which was narrowed to focus on ten contemporary artists, supplemented with additions from another dozen (approximately) to suggest an expansive field of possibilities.

There is, throughout, a fundamental blurring of masking and disguise, as well as stated sub-themes that stem from the concept of “becoming.”  Yet, ambiguity between the gathered notions seems apropos, when so much of past African masking traditions have been lost and their continuing evolution is infinitely complex.

Virtually all of the contemporary works are complex and engaging; and the traditional works are interspersed effectively.  For example, a Yoruba pieced-textile egungun masquerade costume (Nigeria) and a Gola carved helmet mask and raffia ensemble (Liberia) are in proximity of a  signature Nick Cave “soundsuit” and a costume-sculpture used in performance by Alejandro Guzman. Cave’s decades-long oeuvre, which includes performance-geared costume-works as well as mannequin-sculptures implying motion and sound such as the one here that sprouted a faux-botanical armature, has evoked the legacy of African masquerade from the start, although not directly; whereas Guzman’s towering, multi-horn-headed construction of natural, industrial, and found African-crafted elements does.  Just running through a few, to give an idea of the visual energy:

Walter Oltmann‘s hobbit-sized, shiny steel “warriors” have a  polished (I want to say “decorative”) manufacture from a distance; however, their real razor and barbed wire edges quickly turn them subversive.  Two documentary photographers, Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou and Jean-Claude Moschetti, contribute gorgeous prints of ritual-ready, traditional egungun maskers, known for costumes (i.e., “masks”) with complete body coverage.  Zino Saro-Wiwa provides unusually intimate photographic glimpses, particularly as a woman photographer, of a relatively recently established, kind of rogue masking society (an offshoot within the Ogboni) and an engrossing triptych video that challenges the overwhelmingly male gendering of traditional masquerade in a moving performance of a private mourning cycle.  Wura-Natasha Ogunji directs female masqueraders in post-industrial hazmat-like apparel through the streets of Lagos, documented in cellphone videos.  Saya Woolfalk fills a darkened gallery with psychedelic video-loop-and-light-based installations that evoke futuristic female fantasies of serene beauty inspired by Mende helmet masks, exceptional for their use by female societies.  Compatriot futurist, Jacolby Satterwhite is represented with characteristic DIY sci-fi videos and a foray into digital painting.  Interspecies origin myths and masking are conjoined in Nandipha Mntambo‘s striking photographic self-portrait with bovine ears and horns, also translated into a bronze bust, recalling the animal-headed humanoids of her teacher, Jane Alexander, as well as the prosthetic-enhanced creatures of Matthew Barney.  A series of digital ink drawings by Brendan Fernandes also imagines cross-breeds—of animals and masks.  Loved his obvious but effective African mask-shaped, blinking neon signs, partly inspired by a stint in NYC’s Chinatown; Jakob Dwight‘s  mask-morphing, digital abstractions on monitors are a higher-tech version.  Repros of African masks and figure paintings by Western “masters” are collaged by William Villalongo to conjure post-colonial takes on Dada and Surrealist precedents.  Paul Anthony Smith amps up the latter in his photographic portrait of a Kuba-masked sitter embellished with “pricked” passages on the surface that appear simultaneously twinkling and furry.  Edson Chagas, who received wide exposure in New York in Ocean of Images, the New Photography  at the Museum of Modern Art (2015) is represented with a series of photo-portraits of a white-collar (literally) “manager” (loosely translated from the Greek series title, Oikonomos) with various mass-produced shopping and travel bags over his head.

The exhibition’s blend of vibrancy, erudition, and hodgepodge is compelling and will surely be of as much interest in retrospect (through the slim  catalogue emphasizing artists’ statements), as it is in capturing a moment in the evolution of art related to African cultural origins through time and around the world.

***

*I’m thinking, of the exhibition/catalogue, Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora, ed. Laurie Ann Farrell; 2003.

Past is Prologue: Nick Cave at Jack Shainman

At both the 20th St. and 24th St. Shainman Gallery locations, through Oct. 11.

Starting at the end: anything put out there by Cave (b. 1959) is worth not missing.   More to the point, the appropriated cliché of my title above (dating at least to Shakespeare) has found particular resonance in contemporary, mixed media work by African American artists. (The association has been facilitated via the hindsight “Prologue” of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, c. 1952, which has had notable influence on postwar African American art broadly–see the discourse surrounding Thelma Golden’s game-changing Black Male exhibition at the Whitney, 1994.)  Cave has recently re-directed into this vein, pioneered by Betye Saar (b. 1926), and including David Hammons, Fred Wilson, Willie Cole, and Radcliffe Bailey (prominently and at the tip of my tongue, among many others).  A now canonical example of the mode, which entails collecting and recycling material resonant with history—objects, images, fragments—into (new) art is Saar’s assemblage, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972).

(UC Berkeley Art Museum; image: wikipedia).

At 20th St., Cave’s sculptural arrangement, Star Power (2014) specifically recalls Saar’s icon, with its vintage Black Power fist sculpture atop a stack of worn steps, before a backdrop of a red-black-green-quilt-patterned emblem in the shape of the (symbolic) North Star.

Nick Cave, "Star Power" (2014; at Jack Shainman)
Nick Cave, “Star Power” (2014; at Jack Shainman, 20th St., 9/13/14)

It also recalls David Hammons’s textile multiple, African American Flag (c. 1990), as well as his punning constructions and concepts, such as the “higher goals” of his so-named, breakthrough  telephone-pole basketball hoops of the mid-1980s .  Star Power belongs to a mini-group of relatively stoic, if not quite quiet, wall-bound pieces at 20th St. that can suggest cultural memento mori.

David Hammons, "African American Flag" 1990, collection Museum of Modern Art; image from MoMA website ("collections"); it was subsequently issued in a small edition.
David Hammons, “African American Flag” 1990, collection Museum of Modern Art; image from MoMA website (“collections”); it was subsequently issued in a small edition.

Other works exude Cave’s more exuberant, flamboyant aesthetic characteristic of the signature masquerade-like “soundsuits” that have dominated his oeuvre.  Those alien-mannequin sculptures, which share a gene or two with the headless humans of Yinka Shonibare, took a slight turn in 2011 (in simultaneous shows at Shainman and Mary Boone), where their layered cultural and gender evocations began extending literally, in sprouting ornaments and near-tableaux set-ups.  This formal direction is established in several of the new works centered around mass produced black-child-servant figurines—both upholding and obscured by elaborate bird’s-nest “auras” of Eurocentric tchotchkes—miniature faux flora and fauna, twiggy  filigree, assorted, glittering baubles.

Nick Cave (2014; at Shainman).
Nick Cave (2014; at Shainman, 20th St, 9/13/14).

In one variation, a “boy” is transformed into an ithyphallic votive on an electric-candle-lit, make-shift altar that recalls (with divergent sensibility) Willie Cole’s lawn jockey-orisa figures, c. 2000, and Kara Walker’s recent similar figures cast in molasses at her Domino Sugar factory extravaganza in June).

At 24th St., exhibited under the title, “Rescue,” a group of metaphorically enthroned ceramic canines hold court, embellished with similar, even more dense and glitzy entanglements. Among many other things, this collective tour-de-force suggests ancient Egyptian zoomorphic divinity.

The title at 20th Street, “Made by Whites for Whites,” comes into focus cumulatively; I read the Star Power piece as the one weighty foil.  Of the compelling cacophony of colors, textures, mediums, methods, and messages on view across the dual installations, one final highlight here that outs sublimated stereotypes with a humorously blingy art-sartorial statement:

Nick Cave (raincoats, neck and wrist bling, etc.; at Shainman, 20th St., 9/13/14)
Nick Cave (raincoats, neck and wrist bling, respectively, at Shainman, 20th St., 9/13/14)