MOTHER/EARTH: Alexandra Goldman Interviews Activist Performance Artist Maria Evelia Marmolejo

Above: Maria Evelia Marmolejo, Anónimo 1, 1981. Image courtesy of Maria Evelia Marmolejo. Photo by Fabio Arango.

This article was originally published in Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art.

By Alexandra Goldman

During weekdays Maria Evelia Marmolejo is a therapist at a child psychotherapy clinic living in Jackson Heights. She’s also a mom, and a skilled salsa dancer. When I met up with her for our interview at a cafe in her neighborhood in December 2018, I felt like she was my fun aunt. We hadn’t seen each other in over a year, but immediately reconnected. I thought, what most people at this cafe probably don’t know, is that she is one of the most badass performance artists from the ’70s and ’80s! She was giving birth in a gallery before it was cool.

Installation view: Subverting the Feminine: Latin American (Re)marks on the Female Body curated by Isabella Villanueva at Y Gallery, 2016. Photo by Alexandra Goldman.

I first met Maria Evelia when I was a Director at Y Gallery and we hosted a historical group exhibition featuring her work, curated by Isabella Villanueva and titled, Subverting the Feminine: Latin American (Re)marks on the Female Body. The show included era-marking performances, video, drawings and photography such as “Integrations in Water” by Yeni y Nan (Jennifer Hackshaw and María Luisa González), “Madre por un día” by Polvo de Gallina Negra (one of the most famous projects by the duo comprising Maris Bustamante and Monica Mayer), “Hymenoplasty” by Regina José Galindo, which won the Golden Lion award at the 2005 Venice Biennial, video and drawings by Peruvian artist Elena Tejada-Herrera, and the video “Incision” by Teresa Margolles. The caliber of historical works in that exhibition was so high; it was like a museum, yet were in a small fifth-floor lower east side gallery space. The show was in November of 2016 and I still frequently think about it to this day.

Marmolejo’s works in Subverting the Feminine were “11 de Marzo” and “Anónimo 4,” both from 1982. These two works respectively spoke to abolishing the idea of menstruation as a taboo, and the tragedy of high infant mortality in several Latin American countries.

“11 de Marzo” debuted at Galería San Diego in Bogota. For this ritual Marmolejo lined the gallery floor with an L-shaped formation of white paper. The space was lit with a blacklight, and the sound of toilet flushing played on loop in the background. She then covered her body with feminine hygiene pads, and performed a dance along the L shaped paper, using her menstrual blood to mark the floor and walls. Marmolejo states, “In this performance I emphasize the pivotal role of womanhood in the origin of life and of her civil rights in the world.” 

Maria Evelia Marmolejo, 11 de Marzo, 1982. Image courtesy of Maria Evelia Marmolejo. Photo by Camilo Gómez.

Maria Evelia Marmolejo, 11 de Marzo, 1982. Image courtesy of Maria Evelia Marmolejo. Photo by Nelson Villegas.

In “Anónimo 4,” Marmolejo drew attention to the fact that when babies enter into the world, the possibility of survival and peace is not always a certainty. For this, she dug a 1.5 meter triangular pit in the ground, about equal to her height, and three smaller triangular pits around it filled with sewer water. She wrapped her entire body with plastic wrap, and entered the hole, which she filled with the placentas of all the babies born that day in hospitals near the site of the performance: Cali, Colombia and Guayaquil, Ecuador. She covered herself with the placentas, and stayed submerged in the hole, in her words, “embarking on a psychological and sociological self-exploration of the fear of being born in a society in which there is no guarantee of survival.” The experience invoked her own extreme bodily reactions such as vomiting and crying.

Maria Evelia Marmolejo, Anónimo 4, 1982. Image courtesy of Maria Evelia Marmolejo. Photo by Nelson Villegas.

Maria Evelia Marmolejo, Anónimo 4, 1982. Image courtesy of Maria Evelia Marmolejo. Photo by Nelson Villegas.

Other works by Marmolejo speak to government violence, disappeared persons, and healing Mother Earth from human-inflicted pollution and damage – especially by symbolically giving back to Earth with the body in the style of nonviolent sacrifice.

In her performance Anónimo 3, Marmolejo went to the banks of the River Cauca in Colombia, which was being severely polluted. At this site she performed a 15-minute ritual in which she formed a 10-meter spiral using limestone dust, centered around a toilet bowl. She used a vaginal wash over the bowl, adhered surgical tape to her body, and walked around spiral allowing her organic fluids and body hair ripped out with the tape to fall into the earth. Through this process she created a compost as an act of healing and forgiveness offered to the planet.

Maria Evelia Marmolejo, Anónimo 3, 1982. image courtesy of Maria Evelia Marmolejo. Photo by Nelson Villegas.

Maria Evelia Marmolejo, Anónimo 3, 1982. Image courtesy of Maria Evelia Marmolejo. Photo by Nelson Villegas.

Marmolejo is a recipient of the CIFO Achievement Award, and multiple examples of her work were included in the esteemed 2017-2018 traveling exhibition, Radical Women: Latin American Art 1960-1985, which was presented at the Hammer Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Pinacoteca de São Paolo. Below I am pleased to present an exclusive video interview with the artist:

EPILOGUE:

Now is a compelling time to revisit Marmolejo’s work, which often focuses on the fusion of the human body with the health of the planet Earth. The body and Earth are one. The power of the body, especially the feminine body, as a regenerative force, and as a power to protect Mother Earth, another feminine life giving force – our planet – that gives us the chance to exist.

In this time of Coronavirus wreaking havoc on the collective human body worldwide, there are murmurs of the virus as the planet’s retaliation against us for destroying it. Maybe not scientifically, but symbolically or spiritually.

Art and Style: A Photo Essay

By Rose Hartman

For over four decades, I have visited New York’s annual art fairs — from ADAA to The Armory Show — along with many other fairs that showcase galleries’ best and most innovative artists. Artworks look even more exciting when contrasted with the stylish women of all ages (from gallerists, to collectors, to fashionistas who fill the piers, the Armory, lofts, and exhibition spaces) wearing distinctive attire that blends into colors and patterns displayed on the walls.

Artwork: Vanessa German at Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, ADAA 2020

The Armory Show 2020

Artwork: Luisa Rabbia at Peter Blum Gallery, The Armory Show 2020

Artwork: Jiro Takamatsu at Whitestone Gallery, The Armory Show 2020

Artwork: Timothy Curtis at Benda Gallery, The Armory Show 2020

Artwork: Viktor Popovic at C24 Gallery, The Armory Show 2020

Artwork: Amy Schissel at Patrick Michail Gallery, The Armory Show 2020

ADAA 2020

ADAA 2020

Artwork: Nina Chanel Abney at Pace Prints, ADAA 2020

Artwork: Vanessa German at Pavel Zoubok Fine Art, ADAA 2020

Rose Hartman. Photo by Marsin Digital.

For the past four decades, Rose Hartman has photographed the rich, the famous and the stylish in some of the most legendary settings of New York nightlife, from Studio 54 to the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute Gala, fashion shows, and models backstage. Her arresting pictures have been published in countless international publications, including Vogue, Stern, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, Panorama, the NY Times, New York, & Art & Auction. Hartman’s photos have been exhibited in international galleries from Beijing to Moscow. Her iconic photos are currently on view at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in SoHo and at The Brooklyn Museum in a group exhibition titled, “Studio 54: Night Magic,” open from March 13—July 5, 2020.

Good Naked: When One Door Closes, A Gallery Door Opens

Above: Jaqueline Cedar in her studio. Image courtesy of Good Naked. Photo by Phoebe Berglund.

By Alexandra Goldman

After finishing her MFA at Columbia in 2009, LA-born and raised artist Jaqueline Cedar moved into a spacious apartment with her boyfriend in Ditmas Park. Like many artists at the time, she had studio space in Industry City in Sunset Park, but was priced out in 2012 as large design companies and startups moved in. “There was a mass exodus of artists from the neighborhood around that time,” she explained, “I thought about moving my studio to Long Island City or elsewhere in Queens, but none of the rent prices felt within range. Getting a studio seemed more expensive than renting an apartment.”

Painting by Jaqueline Cedar. Image courtesy of Good Naked.

Cedar’s large empathic paintings focus on psychological interactions between otherworldly cartoon characters that are both familiar in a Popeye and Olive Oil sort of way, and simultaneously absurd and unknown. Her landed-on-mars color palette, combined with some apparent Bruce Nauman influence, use of nontraditional materials (she paints on neon foam and sports mesh), and fondness for placing three or four moons in any given sky, add up to a sophisticated brand of mindfuckery that reverberates throughout the oeuvre.

Paintings by Jaqueline Cedar. Images courtesy of Good Naked.

To continue to produce her work despite the financial difficulties of finding adequate studio space, Cedar’s boyfriend suggested that she move her studio into their home. She tried it and discovered that she loved how it allowed her to work whenever she wanted, even during all hours of the night. Then, in 2015, the relationship with her boyfriend ended. Cedar needed to get a roommate to pay the rent, and transitioned into a roommate lifestyle for the next four years.

In August 2019, when her then-roommate abruptly announced she was moving out, Cedar was nervous but saw a window for a different solution to her rent deficit. Instead of finding a replacement tenant, she took a risk and made the decision to transform the majority of her apartment into a commercial art gallery with a developed, rotating program of exhibiting artists. She had past experience organizing exhibitions at Crush Curatorial, and wanted to continue to explore this path. “I started all of the planning right away in August, as I knew I would need to turn a profit almost immediately in order to make this plan work,” she said. “If it didn’t work out, I thought, I could always get another roommate later.”

Installation view, “Go For Broke” at Good Naked Gallery. Image courtesy of Good Naked. Photo by Etienne Frossard.

For Cedar, the financial pressure was a motivating factor. “Some people crumble under that type of pressure, but for me, it was energizing.” To get things going, she began conceptualizing names for the gallery and exhibition titles, and started emailing and planning studio visits with artists she envisioned working with. An initial round of positive feedback from many of her top-choice artists encouraged her to hit the ground running. She decided on her quirky gallery name, “Good Naked,” based on a Seinfeld episode that jokes about walking around your apartment naked: a classic perk of not having a roommate.

Installation view, “Go For Broke” at Good Naked Gallery. Image courtesy of Good Naked. Photo by Etienne Frossard.

What began as something she saw as an experiment for one or two months turned into a longer-term success. Cedar has already had four shows, each with an opening party, closing, and an event in between. Her events are special and build community. At the first event, she created a drawing club where guests collaborated on exquisite corpse drawings. Subsequent events featured a comedy show of female artist-comedians doing stand-up, and a supper club where an artist prepared lasagna for the group. Cedar confessed, “at first, I was inviting each guest to the gallery individually and introducing attendees to one another. Now, many people show up to my events who I don’t even know, and I’m the one being introduced!”

Jaqueline Cedar and Zebadiah Keneally in Cedar’s studio. Photo by Artifactoid.

Zebadiah Keneally, installation view, “Go For Broke” at Good Naked Gallery. Image courtesy of Good Naked. Photo by Etienne Frossard.

One artist who recently showed at Good Naked is poignant comedic illustrator and performance artist Zebadiah Keneally. Keneally installed a floor to ceiling immersive, painted environment featuring multiple illustrations in the apartment’s central corridor. His videos are also hilarious, many featuring his alter-ego, Hamburger Vampire.

Phoebe Berglund, Freezer Still Life (Cabbage, Shrimp, Rye Bread), 2020
Digital C-Print, 8” x 12” Edition of 20. Image courtesy of Good Naked.

Phoebe Berglund, Freezer Still Life (Fish in Scallop Shell, Grapes, Sliced Lemon) 2020. Digital C-Print, 8” x 12” Edition of 20. Image courtesy of Good Naked.

Another recent Good Naked exhibiting artist is Phoebe Berglund. She took over the freezer in the Good Naked kitchen for two weeks to create a beautiful photography series called “Freezer Still Lives,” a memento mori to the ocean (in her words). Visitors could view the 17th century Dutch-reminiscent scene in person any time Phoebe was at the gallery, but since there were dead fish involved, Cedar explained, “it was stinking up the apartment.”

Good Naked’s upcoming exhibition “Talk Soup” opens next Friday, March 13 from 6-9pm, featuring works by Bill Adams, Jonathan DeDecker, Carl Durkow, Hyun Jung Jun, Griffin Mactavish, Rachel Jackson, and James English Leary.

Molars in the Sky

By Alexandra Goldman

“I paint with my left hand,” Brooklyn-based Canadian artist Krista Louise Smith explained, after telling me about chronic pain that she experiences in her dominant right hand due to a rare nerve condition. Rather than feeling discouraged that her pain makes it difficult for her to paint righty, Smith has instead embraced the soft, childlike freedom that for her, could only have emerged with her less controlled, left hand painting. “With my right hand, I tended to be neurotic, second-guessing every brushstroke. With my left, I don’t impose those same judgments on myself, and let the paintings unfold more organically.”

Krista Louise Smith, Blue Dream, 2019. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 68 inches.

Softness is arguably an important quality when depicting clouds, Smith’s chosen subject matter for her newest body of work. Her older work tended toward more realistic paintings and sculptures that represented the human figure. The new paintings feature mostly perky, individual clouds in layered, glowing cotton candy atmospheres, that exist somewhere between a cartoon realm and an idea of a cloud in the mind’s eye rather than a photorealistic cloud or background of a Turner painting. “I paint with colors that I like and naturally gravitate toward, like baby blues and pinks,” Smith said, reaffirming the self-judgment-free nature of her current artistic process. The exhibition title, Sonnets of the Subconscious, in which the paintings are now on view at Carvalho Park in East Williamsburg, reinforces the idea that the works don’t necessarily depict the literal physical world.

Krista Louise Smith, Lavender Night, 2020. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 56 x 54 inches.

In Smith’s painting Lavender Night, a glowing tiny moon and subtle surrounding stars peek through a layer of whitewashed ultraviolet altostrati. She creates a sublime creamy world like that in Matthew Wong’s 2019 painting Morning Mist on view earlier this winter at Karma Gallery.


Krista Louise Smith, Float, 2019. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 68 inches.

In a recent studio visit with Smith, she shared that the only components of each painting she pre-plans are the general composition, and her color palette, which she assembles in advance by collaging paint swatches and pinning them to the wall. “The color palette I choose sets my parameters for each painting and it’s how I create cohesion in the piece as opposed to working with line.”

Krista Louise Smith, Dayglow, 2020. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 68 inches.

Dayglow is a good example of one of Smith’s paintings in which she uses oil crayon and pink/blue color layering to create texture and depth. While her brushstrokes are visible, the work doesn’t rely on the bravado of the gesture for its strength. Instead her hand creates a believable atmosphere, like a thick pastel humidity that you can breathe in.

Krista Louise Smith, Bad Dreams (detail), 2018 – 2020. 680 ceramic sculptures, dimensions variable.

In the center of the gallery, enveloped by Smith’s transcendent womb of cloud paintings, rests a floating plinth that supports Bad Dreams, a choreographed grid of 600 ceramic sculptures of abstracted teeth. The sculptures look like little living organisms that are about to jump up and begin dancing a tooth ballet the moment no one is watching. “I was going to the dentist a lot, and had teeth on my mind,” Smith explained. There is a refreshing purity, simplicity and directness that Smith translates into her artistic decisions.

Krista Louise Smith, Bad Dreams (detail), 2018 – 2020. 680 ceramic sculptures, dimensions variable.

Smith’s teeth and clouds also strangely resemble each other. The tops of some of the ceramic teeth look like little clouds, and some of Smith’s clouds looked like molars in the sky. Each ceramic tooth sculpture is unconventionally painted with acrylic paint made for porous surfaces rather than traditional glaze, which gives them a silky smooth pottery quality. As in the artist’s own mouth, there are a few gold teeth that punctuate her sculpted dental display.

Sonnets of the Subconscious is on view at Carvalho Park until March 15.

All images in this article courtesy of Carvalho Park.

Are We All Just Clowns in a Graveyard?

Thoughts about Brian Whiteley’s Mid-Career Retrospective, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” Now on View at Hashimoto Contemporary

By Alexandra Goldman

Performance Artist Brian Whiteley’s bizarre multidisciplinary works come across as very genuine and lack self-consciousness. Whether it’s his performance, video, painting, sculpture or installation, Whiteley’s work is usually either highly politically charged, related to mortality, about clowns, or a combination of all three elements. When I walked into his mid-career retrospective at Hashimoto Contemporary earlier this month, I saw his highly publicized Trump-engraved tombstone, a very well done oil portrait of Vladimir Putin sitting in front of the White House in the style of a traditional U.S. presidential portrait, and a pair of giant, spinning conehead clowns/Lucha Libre fighters that looked like Nick Cave sculptures made out of craft materials from a party supply store. I’ve never been a fan of clown art, but it’s growing on me.

Installation view, I Know What You Did Last Summer

As one may be able to quickly recognize, Whiteley isn’t a fan of the 45th president, but his parents are. He told me that he’s had to seriously struggle with an irreconcilable divide in his nuclear family because of these differences of opinion. His isn’t the only family broken up by this highly polarizing situation.

As much as you don’t like someone, is it “wrong” to make a tombstone for them? After speaking with Whiteley about the project, I realized that his intention wasn’t a death wish, but rather a call for the President to recognize his own mortality. Whiteley told me that he had a personal moment canoeing upstate in which “a wave of intense thinking about his own mortality rushed over him,” after which the thought remained a bit obsessively on his mind. When he saw Trump campaigning for President in 2016, he perceived his attitude as one of immortality and a lack of awareness of how his actions affect others. That is why he had a real tombstone created engraved with the words “TRUMP, Made America Hate Again,” and anonymously abandoned it in Central Park leading to major controversy and his placement on the U.S. Secret Service watchlist. Whiteley is now permanently legally banned from attending any political rallies in the U.S.

I found that seeing a photo of the tombstone is much different than experiencing in person. When I saw a photo of it I thought, “ok, that’s cheeky, we all hate Trump, I get it.” But, when I was at the exhibition and felt the tombstone with my hand (you can touch it), I felt its weight (500 lbs to be exact) and gravity. It’s so stable and solid. It became clear that to have it made was a serious commitment. The tactile memory sucked me directly into a time tunnel and sent me straight back to the last time I touched my own grandparents’ tombstones in in Queens. It was the moment when I realized that what Brian had on display wasn’t a prop or a replica or joke of any kind, it’s the real thing and it’s creepy. 

This also isn’t Whiteley’s only project related to mortality. He also dressed up as a clown, and paraded around a graveyard. When you get onto the homepage of his website, the cursor symbol is a hand holding a cigarette, in 2020, a well-known death wish of sorts. Not only that, but I immediately found the idea of a “Mid-Career Retrospective” to be morbid. For example the last couple retrospectives I saw at MoMA PS1… Vito Acconci…Carolee Schneemann…they both died within the year after their retrospectives ended. Calling his show a “Mid-Career Retrospective” immediately registered to me that Whiteley actively has his own lifespan on his mind.

View of Whiteley’s portrait of Vladimir Putin hanging in a Washington DC Trump Hotel suite

Whiteley is a highly committed artist in general. That’s why I’m intrigued by his work. For example, not only is his relatively large presidential oil painting of Putin technically impressive (it is evident that he is a trained, talented figurative painter), but he then went the extra mile and utilized that painting – which is already intrinsically a work of conceptual art – for a high-risk performative action. While the painting is good, it doesn’t necessarily stand on its own, but the thing about Whiteley as an artist is I think he knew that, and he pushed himself to the limit. After completing the painting he stealthily hung it in the Pennsylvania Avenue suite of a Trump Hotel in Washington DC, where it remained on the wall for a full month without anyone noticing that it wasn’t a part of the intended hotel room decor. 

With such a focus on politics and mortality in Brian’s work, I thought, where do clowns fit in? If his works aren’t physically depicting clowns, they are in a way all clown-like pranks. He’s the class clown and the world is his schoolhouse. We’re also now unfortunately used to the phrase, “The Clown in the Whitehouse,” or even regarding life in general, common phrases like “Man plans, God laughs” give some sort of hint that we’re all court jesters or buffoons here in one way or another. I did ask Whiteley on the phone, trying to hold back my own laughter, why clowns? And in a very clownlike fashion, he began the story as, “Well, when I was going through puberty, my parents sent me to summer camp…” But in all seriousness, he continued, “my parents were really hoping that at camp, I would choose activities like different team sports, but in reality I chose to sign up for art classes and clown class. I liked the way that being a clown allowed me to become a different character and play a role.” 

Installation view, I Know What You Did Last Summer

Brian’s lifelong interest in clown work has manifested in even more of his diverse projects, including one in which he did extensive long-term research on believers in Bigfoot and Bigfoot sightings. He used his findings to accurately dress up and roleplay as Bigfoot roaming around Central Park, uncannily in character, contributing to more “sightings” and examining the Bigfoot myth. In his Mid-Career Retrospective, several of Whiteley’s small paintings and mixed media wall pieces based on clown imagery were also on display, along with his video “Clown’s Night Out II,” based on the artist’s imagined scenario of what a clown might do after a long day working kids’ birthday parties. His answer? The clown goes to a gogo bar with a male dancer (played by Whiteley). The awkwardly transfixing film was a big hit at the 2019 Spring Break art fair. 

Speaking of art fairs, Whiteley also is the Founding Director of the Satellite Art Show, which I visited during Art Basel Miami week this year. Taking an anti-market stance in all that he does in the art world, Whiteley’s model of the Satellite Art Show is different from traditional commercial art fairs. Since its founding in 2015, Whiteley annually finds different affordable, nontraditional abandoned spaces like pharmacies or old shopping centers located in the vicinity of the main fair of a given city, and rents out booths to artists at very affordable rates that they can easily recuperate. For example, while a gallery may easily spend upwards of $30,000 on fair participation (with several thousand on just the booth rental alone), some of Whiteley’s booths have rented for only $700. Whiteley said that participants have been happy with their results and return on investment, including gallery representation and institutional acquisitions. 

Installation view, Satellite Art Show 2019

Whiteley intends for Satellite to provide an antidote to what he views as the market-tested, overly distilled art that is on view at main fairs due to galleries’ pressure to sell to make back the money invested (which he doesn’t blame them for). Whiteley is creating an alternative space to feature a plurality of emerging artistic voices that otherwise may not have the chance to be seen or heard during fair weeks, due to these financial realities that many people in the art world don’t want to admit are such a huge factor in what is seen and heard when it comes to contemporary art today, at least in the U.S. I have experienced that there is more room for this type of experimentation in Latin America where, for example, rent of space may be less astronomically priced. I was personally really interested in Satellite because it reminded me of certain great Latin American art spaces like Proyecto AMIL in Lima that traditionally has a big opening during the PARC and Art Lima fair week. The next activation of Satellite is set to take place in Austin, TX, March 13-16 in tandem with SXSW 2020. 

Installation view, Satellite Art Show 2019

Throughout all of Whiteley’s work both as an artist and Director of Satellite, his anti-market stance has not been immune to consistent pushback from institutions, fairs, and galleries. When he created the Trump tombstone in 2016 while Trump was on the campaign trail, the Queens Museum was interested in acquiring the piece for their sculpture garden. When Trump was actually elected that fall, the museum dropped the acquisition because, Whiteley believes, when it became real that Trump was President, the piece became too potentially controversial to certain major museum financial donors of theirs who may support him. Another example is when in 2018, the Art Basel Miami main fair sent Whiteley a cease and desist letter in response to his use hashtag “#NotBasel” to describe the Satellite Art Show on social media. Their argument was that people might confuse it to think that Satellite is or is connected directly with the Basel fair somehow. However, Whiteley explained that the cease and desist was sent suspiciously in tandem with the main fair’s interest in adding more installation-based and experiential art to their own program, and Satellite was on the rise a growing threat. Because of that cease and desist letter, Satellite can no longer take place during Miami Art Week in South Beach, which is why Whiteley relocated the fair to Wynwood. 

Installation view, Satellite Art Show 2019

Finally, Whiteley even admitted that Hashimoto Contemporary told him that his mid-career retrospective could be a financial risk for them, since his pieces aren’t particularly what most galleries would deem sellable. However, I’m glad they hosted it, because Whiteley is an interesting artist, it’s a different kind of show for the Lower East Side, and if you haven’t seen it, I hope you catch the final day tomorrow, Saturday, February 1. 

All images and videos featured in this article are courtesy of Brian Whiteley.

The image that condenses an event of history

(Above: Claudia Fontes, Reconstruction of the portrait of Pablo Míguez, Water reflections from the Río de la Plata on mirror-polished stainless steel figure, 170 x 50 x 70 cm, 2000/2010, Floating on Río de la Plata, coordinates: 34° 32, 3660 S / 58° 26, 2575 W)

By Syd Krochmalny

Translated from Spanish by Alexandra Goldman

New generations of artists are required to have an excessive confidence in order to achieve an image of the present that gives meaning to history. Just as living beings demand rights, so does the past. The artist, like the flowers that turn their corolla to the sun, turns into a flash of light that illuminates the sky of history. But more than the sun is a lightning bolt that flashes in the final moment before the truth vanishes. With the necessary tools and in the kairos, an image is produced that, in the instant of being revealed, looks toward the void. To capture the image of history is not to recognize it as it is, or has been, but rather to take ownership of it. To grasp the present is like going through the moment of danger of sudden death. The artist combs history against the grain.

There is a way of making art in which its procedure can be defined as the image that condenses an event of history. It is the image which is capable of capturing the state of exception as that of a catastrophe; that of a heartrending event. But this condensation is not a representation, nor an illustration, but an interpretation. It is not an understanding of an external derivative, but the ability to produce a visual event. It is in the articulation of historical forces, language and visibility when a significant work of art is produced. In turn, this image is not linearly related to the meaning of a historical fact, but rather, establishes a poetic in the relationship between the image, its materiality and its process.

Some examples of this type of work are the Reconstruction of the portrait of Pablo Míguez by Claudia Fontes that condenses the horror of forced disappearances, especially with the case of a 14-year-old adolescent named Pablo who was abducted on the morning of May 12, 1977 by an operative group of the Argentine army that went to look for his mother and her partner, militants of the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP). Once they were all gathered in the clandestine detention center known as “El Vesubio,” in the Buenos Aires county of “La Matanza,” Pablo was transferred to the ESMA. Afterwards, his course was ignored. Nobody heard anything more about him. Pablo Míguez never appeared. To this day the Armed Forces must be accountable for an explanation.

Tomás Espina, June 26, 2002 or Los Fusilados (Homage to Goya), Gunpowder on canvas, 2002.

Another example is June 26, 2002, or Los Fusilados (Homage to Goya), by Tomás Espina that recovers, in an instant, one of the worst moments of the history of Argentine democracy: the savage police repression of a demonstration by piqueteros groups that concluded with 150 detainees, four seriously wounded with lead bullets, another 90 injured with rubber bullets, and with the assassination of Darío Santillán and Maximiliano Kosteki at the Avellaneda railway station during the interim presidency of Eduardo Duhalde.

These works are the figurative condensation of an entire set of relationships between the aesthetics of materials, procedures and contextual elements that, like a kaleidoscope, produce new constellations of meaning. Images are not facts that exist by themselves, they are produced by artists who throw them into the sea as a message in the bottle that must be translated because each image is like a hieroglyph that must be interpreted. The image, as a constellation of meaning, can condense a “monad” that allows for the emergence of an object. The object needs to open itself in a monadological insistence that reveals the meaning of the story. The monad reveals the non-identity of the object, and the story expresses itself through its negative revelation. Images can disappear like dreams, or can be objectified to condense the singularity of a revealing historical event. This way, a memorable fact is constituted that articulates history with its anguish.

Syd Krochmalny is an artist and writer. He published “Journals of Hate” by n direcciones, “Weak” by Pánico el Pánico, and edited and introduced “Dreams” by Gino Germani in Idilio Magazine with photomontages by Grete Stern, Caja Negra, 2017. His recent exhibitions include Lo prometido es deuda at Centro Cultural de la Memoria Haroldo Conti, Museo de la Memoria y de los Derechos Humanos, Buenos Aires, Argentina, October 2019-February 2020; Proyecto Casamario at Subte, Montevideo Uruguay April-July 2019;  Hate in America curated by Alexandra Goldman, SENA Space, NYC; Arte Bebo, Gallery 50, New Jersey, August 2018; Assemblage #10 Engager le corps, Paris, February-March 2018;  Useless Landscapes, Gallery 50, New Jersey; Guiñadas Gráciles: Looking Out for the Queer in Latin American Video Art, organized by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard (October 23, 2017 to April 10, 2018) and curated by Joaquin Terrones, Preceptor in Expository Writing at the Harvard College Writing Program and Lecturer in Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies at MIT; VIA VIVA, Los Angeles, Curated by Alina Perkins, etc.

Alexandra Goldman Talks To Judy Rifka About Ionic Ironic: Mythos from the ‘80s at CORE:Club and the Inexistence of “Feminist Art”

Above Image: Judy Rifka, IN SITU, Parthenon Frieze (History of Sculpture), 1987, Acrylic with ink on linen, 30 x 24 in

Original article published in Whitehot Magazine 

By ALEXANDRA GOLDMAN, Feb. 2019

I recently attended a panel at the CORE:Club with Judy Rifka, where I’d curated the fall exhibition. I’d never met Rifka before nor seen her speak but now that I have, I will never forget her captivating candid presence.

 If you don’t yet know Rifka’s work, she is an historically relevant painter, video artist, sculptor and print maker who rose in the New York Colab and Fluxus scenes in the 1970s and ‘80s with resume highlights including two Whitney Biennials, Documenta 7, and the 1980 Times Square Art Show.  In reading up on her in prior interviews I found it personally interesting that some of her abstract painting compositions were actually inspired by translational dance movements as she herself was studying dance. In the Fluxus period there were several artists combining ideas of dance and sculpture like Simone Forti but I hadn’t known of as many artists conceptually translating dance movement to painting.

When Rifka spoke, I felt like I was being taken on an unapologetic beeline journey into her psyche that gave me a loving slap when I arrived and left me wanting to come back for more. Around Judy, I knew I was in the presence of greatness.

Judy Rifka, IN SITU (L to R) UNTITLED, Acrylic with ink on linen 30 x 24 in & Parthenon Frieze (History of Sculpture), 1987, Acrylic with ink on linen, 30 x 24 in

The panel celebrated the release of the book, 50 Contemporary Women Artists, a volume comprising a refined selection of current and impactful artists in which Rifka is included. I admire the research conducted by John Gosslee and Heather Zises to compile the book. The foreword is by Elizabeth Sackler of the Brooklyn Museum’s Sackler Cernter for Feminist Art. Additional names in the book include sculptor and carver Barbara Segal and mixed media artist Stephanie Hirsch (selected artists on the CORE:Club panel), as well as Judy Chicago, and Teresita Fernandez, the first Latina woman to be appointed to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (an appointment decided by President Obama in 2011).

A solo exhibition of Rifka’s 1980s History of Sculpture acrylic abstract paintings was on view in an adjoining gallery space to the panel. The show is called Ionic Ironic: Mythos from the ‘80s presented by CORE:Club and LatchKey Gallery with support from Gregory de la Haba and will remain on view until March 29, 2019.

To kick off the evening, one of the first things Rifka said on the panel, when asked about the status of feminist art was, “I don’t know if there is such a thing as feminist art, but I believe that surviving being a woman and continuing to make art is feminist.”

In the following interview, Alexandra Goldman (Artifactoid) sits down with Rifka to continue to dig deeper into her ideas about gender dynamics in the art world in 2019.

Judy Rifka, IN SITU (L to R) Samothrace Frieze I, 1988, Acrylic on linen 36 x 132 in Labords Head I, 1988, Acrylic on linen, 30 1/4 x 24 in & Samothrace Frieze III, 1988, Acrylic on linen 36 x 132 in

Alexandra Goldman: What do you see as the main problem today of gender inequality in the art world?

Judy Rifka: The main problem is that everyone is left out, not just women. But that is, of course based on a general qualification on museums and galleries, and auction values. If you want to change the definition of what “is” is, to perhaps, networking posts in toto, it would democratize.

AG: What is something about gender dynamics in the art world that you see clearly only through your own experience?

JR: My own experience is that leaving female artists out , or treating them shabbily ruins the aggregate of visible art, and its historical and theoretical study.

AG: At the Core Club panel, you began to speak about an idea you had for a redistribution of funds: that when a work by a male artist sells for, as you humorously put it, “godzillions” of dollars, that a few of those godzillions should be allocated to a fund that supports development for women artists. Can you expand on this idea and how you see it playing out?

JR: If you have any interest or knowledge of John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (1971), “He is widely considered the most important political philosopher of the 20th century),” according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Judy Rifka, IN SITU(L to R) Acroterion in Grey, Acrylic on linen 72 x 47 in & Acroterion in Taupe, Acrylic on linen 72 x 47 in

You can understand a guiding principal that has at times been applied to even up the inequities in inclusion of people of color into numerous spheres.  It helped kickstart the elimination of a longtime series of inequalities in the playing field, which had seriously hindered their furthering of themselves to inclusion in our economy. That is affirmative action: a no-nonsense, this starts here, corrective.

I can see no reason, now that statistics bear us out, why women’s inclusion into a lopsided world of art pricing cannot then be facilitated, by redistributing a portion of those huge profits to women’s art institutions, and projects. It is not appropriate to simply shrug off these inequalities.

AG:  Have you thought of any additional, unique ideas for leveling the playing field?

JR: Oh, I have.

AG: It’s known you’re interested in social media for sharing your artwork and studio practice. Are there some specific ways in which you’ve thought of utilizing social media to accomplish goals of furthering gender equity in the art world, apart from how they’re already helping democratize through the possibility of self-representation and heightened visibility?

JR: You have said it.  How bout considering the aggregate of Social Media, or even Internet in general, as the art form itself.

Judy Rifka, Acroterion in Grey, Acrylic on linen, 72 x 47 in & detail of Acroterion in Grey

AG:  Is there something you think that young artists (they don’t necessarily have to be women) today should know, that you wish you had known when you were starting out, that may be able to somehow benefit the future of the art world?

JR: What is the art world? Needs definition, a new one.

AG: How do you think the art world should be defined?

JR: Probably should say “art worlds“ at this point, any networking of art and its ideas, works, and practices.

AG: Will you add me as your Facebook friend? 

JR: I’m at 5000 limit, but I will add you ASAP somehow. WM