The Border #1: An Exhibition of Immigrant Art Curated by Jamie Martinez

By Jonathan Goodman

Jamie Martinez, an artist originally from Colombia and founder of Arte Fuse, the increasingly recognized art blog, has rented a small space on the first floor of the 56 Bogart gallery building in Bushwick. “The Border #1” is his first show there; it is composed of five artists, including Martinez himself. This show, and his project generally, comprises a comment on and support of the immigrant artists in New York; as everyone needs to recognize, and current politics is determined to evade, we are all from somewhere else–either recently or a few generations ago. This is obviously true in recent art, especially in New York; if we think of abstract expressionism’s importance, two of the artists making up its famous triumvirate, de Kooning and Gorky, were born outside America (the third, Pollock, of course was not).

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Installation view, The Border #1. © Jamie Martinez.

The infusion of work from artists new to our shores is nothing new, especially now, and Martinez is determined to offer space to and document the very good art being made by people recently established here. In this highly interesting show, five artists from elsewhere else offer works that do not necessarily look like they come from a geographical distance–an artist’s origins are no longer easily Identifiable at all, in a formal sense, in contemporary art. But the point needs to be made repeatedly that the current influx of artists globally to New York, who are attracted by the city’s history of international modernism and social freedoms (not by its high rents!), are contributing to the scene some of the best work being made today. This show demonstrates this high achievement extremely well.

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Installation view, The Border #1. © Jamie Martinez.

Martinez put himself into this small artists’ group deliberately, being that it is the first exhibition in the space he himself set up. His art consists of pages taken from The Book of the Dead, their individual hieroglyphs framed and emphasized by thin copper wire; a printed poem, “America” by Maya Angelou, treated the same way; and two abstract sculptures, made of triangles of metal and thin, pink neon-lit lines. If we think about it, the hieroglyphs describe, seemingly visually but indicating something readable, a voyage somewhere else, while Angelou’s poem presents the harsh but actual reality of many people’s experience here. Finally, Martinez explained in conversation that the triangles of metal in the two wall sculptures demonstrate the social process of tringulation, suggesting the meeting of people.

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Jamie Martinez, (L-R) Copper Mesh 1, modular sculpture with copper, plexiglass, paper, jump rings and rubber cement, approx 20 inches with fiber optic lights and battery. Flow, Steel and fiber optics and battery, approx 36 inches. © Jamie Martinez courtesy Jamie Martinez.

 

The space is small, and so Martinez’s works are too; but he communicates the inevitability of an American world that is based on immigration–to say otherwise is lying! The artists in the show mostly make work that doesn’t directly address immigration, or New York, with the exception of the Peruvian-born woman artist C.J. Chueca, whose wall of whole and broken ceramic tiles, titled the Wall #1 (New York) (2016), clearly references our subway system. The piece is added to by a small black ceramic work on the floor, which partially represents a black plastic bag tied at the top. Called Shoes in a Trash Bag (2016), it combines with the tile wall to capture the physical decay and detritus that is so much a part of the New York experience, strange as that may be in so wealthy an urban place. Other artists’ efforts here are not so transparently illustrating New York life.

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C.J. Chueca, Wall #1 (New York), Ceramic tiles over wood, 2016. © C.J. Chueca courtesy Jamie Martinez. 

 

Peter Kaspar’s large, flat wooden piece (2018) must be activated by a small rock-shaped magnet that is placed on top of a rectangular box containing necessary machinery; when this is done, tiny lights, separated a bit from each other on the expanse of the wooden plane, come on. The effect is exquisite–a bit like stars flashing in a night sky (the pieces is best viewed in semi-darkness). On the other side of the panel, there is an intricate nest of wires used to activate the lights in front. There is no ostensible orientation toward the immigrant theme in this remarkable, low-tech but highly achieved work of art. But Kaspar comes from Slovakia, and that is far away. He participates in the intersection of technology and the sublime that is part of recent art history, and this work shows he is very good at it.

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Peter Kaspar, wood, aluminum, rocks and fiber optics with machine, 2018. © Peter Kaspar courtesy Jamie Martinez.

 

Levan Mendiashvili’s suite of three small, plaster-and-wood building fronts and cloth-backed photo of what looks like a discarded building’s facade, both taken from his ongoing series “Urban Archeology,” feels like an abstracted treatment of homes and city fronts taken over by decay; it is impossible to specify the specific place of either the reliefs or the photographic image. Still, the point is made–we are living in a time when urban life is constantly being rearranged by the rebuilding of neighborhoods. It doesn’t matter where–this is happening all over the world. This Georgia-born artist creates work that documents the change without specifying where it comes from, so that it becomes a general feature of immigrant/urban experience.

The last artist to be mentioned, Aphrodite Desiree Navab, is of a mixed background: Iran and Greece. Her suite of eight small ink-on-paper works, titled “Love Labyrinth,” refers to the Minotaur myth, in which Ariadne gives Theseus the string to make his way out of the labyrinth after slaying the Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull figure ruling the maze. According to Navab, after Ariadne betrays her father King Minos by giving Theseus the thread to escape, Theseus betrays her love for him. The artist makes it clear in notes that the drawings, beautiful improvisations on a maze-like form, are meant to illustrate the problem of such a story occurring regularly in real life. It is the theme of betrayal, referred to indirectly, which concerns the artist. As for the drawings, they are marvelous squared or circular treatments of a labyrinthian form. This is ancient mythology, treated in a contemporary fashion; we remember that the artist’s background is Iranian and Greek, sites of archaic stories.

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Aphrodite Désirée Navab, “The Love Labyrinth”, 2018, Ink on paper, 8” x 10.” © Aphrodite Désirée Navab courtesy Jamie Martinez.

 

Despite their very old origins, the drawings feel quite new; they were executed this year. They are not relevant to the notion of immigration in a particular manner, but we know that an immigrant made them, and the myth originated in the Mediterranean’s venerable culture. Navab, like the rest of the artists in this very fine introductory show, is committed to making something new. But her inspiration here, like the visual materials made available by Martinez’s use of The Book of the Dead, is very, very old. The themes must be contrasted with art experience in New York City, where our vision is supposed to be utterly new. Novelty may not be possible visually anymore–we may have come to the end of the road, imagistically speaking (this can be argued about). But the real-life event of immigration provides a continuing newness to the art world in this city. One of the excellent things about “The Border #1” is its penchant for originality, as expressed by people who are recently established here. It doesn’t matter if the origins of the work are archaic or recent, but it is very important that we take notice of art made by people whose lives might, wrongfully, be considered too marginal, or too recently evident, to take part in our political and cultural life.

Take a tour of the show here courtesy of Jamie Martinez and © VTV:

 

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Jonathan Goodman is an art writer based in New York. For more than thirty years he has written about contemporary art for such publications as Art in America, Sculpture, and fronterad (an Internet publication based in Madrid). His special interests have been the new art of Mainland China and sculpture. He currently teaches contemporary art writing and thesis essay writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

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John Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time at Lesley Heller Gallery

Above: John Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time (installation view, Lesley Heller Gallery, New York, 2018). © John Torreano courtesy Lesley Heller Gallery.

By Jonathan Goodman

Now in his late seventies, painter and sculptor John Torreano has been well known as an artist for half a century. He is recognized particularly for his inclusion of acrylic gemstones in his art. His studios are set up in New York and Abu Dhabi, where he has been teaching in the last few years. In this show at Lesley Heller Gallery, Torreano is exhibiting both paintings and wall reliefs; he remains an unrepentant abstractionist, someone whose art connects with the well-established history of the New York School. His synthetic gemstones, though, add a bit of decorative play to his nonobjective language; because of their artificial character, the gems provide Torreano’s efforts with a partially ersatz character that undercuts the high romance of the abstraction. This is likely a good thing, late in the second decade of the twenty-first century, as we seem to have tired of the idea of noble motives alone. But, whatever the intentions behind the paintings and wall reliefs, we see that Torreano is not only a craftsperson of note, he is also an esthetician of considerable ambition. His works stand out both as examples of skill and as efforts meant to communicate a paramount belief in beauty. Perhaps his experience in the Middle East is leading him further in the direction of beauty; the long horizontal wooden panel painting, titled Sea Sky Gold (2018), feels like it owes its exquisite colors–dark blue and gold–to a geography we do not find here in New York.

JohnTorreano_SeaSkyGold_2018_300dpi (1)John Torreano, “Sea Sky Gold,” 2018. Acrylic paint and gold leaf on plywood 45 x 180 inches. © John Torreano courtesy Lesley Heller Gallery.

Sea Sky Gold is the major work of this excellent show. Its dimensions are more than considerable: 45 by 180 inches. The work consists of four panels of deep blue, with numerous oval gouges, clumped in groups and covered with gold. Its appearance begins with a surface of decorative flair, but then moves beyond that to a place of elegance and artistry (not that decoration always excludes such qualities!). Torreano appears to have learned something about the inherent attractiveness of well-appointed color–an insight evident throughout the exhibition. The danger exists that this painting, a genuine tour de force, would end up overwhelming the show, but this doesn’t happen; instead, it serves as an anchor for a body of works that cumulatively appeal to the audience. For example, DM’s & Hot Stars (2015), a large painting in a small space at the front of the gallery, works its effects seamlessly within an allover compositional field. The squared painting, consisting of four large panels, exists in a matrix of organically shaped contours–mostly tan and blue, with a bit of black. Although the work’s title skews it toward science, it very much exists within the established language of abstract expressionism. It can be easily argued that we have been revisiting this movement too often and too long, but, as still happens regularly in New York, Torreano’s painting establishes itself without bowing excessively to the past.

JohnTorreano_DarkMattersWithoutTime_2018_InstallView04_300dpiJohn Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time (installation view, Lesley Heller Gallery, New York, 2018). © John Torreano courtesy Lesley Heller Gallery.

The column wall sculptures–thin sticks of color studded with mock jewels–look at first like objects of deliberate desire (they range in dates from 2014 to 2017). And so they are, up to a point! These four works, arranged on a side wall, descend slightly in size from left to right. The acrylic gemstones stud all of them, adding to the surfaces’ sculptural intricacy and presenting an alluring, albeit entirely synthetic, exterior. They do enact a singular attractiveness, but that doesn’t really matter–what counts is the artist’s willingness to undercut the abstraction with an imagery that clearly is counterfeit. This is likely an attempt to remain resistant to the pull of something overly attractive. Even as the show refers to high culture, there is a healthy disregard for its imagistic excesses, driven as they are by ego here. But, at the same time, for the more seasoned among us, the use of such fakery causes some anxiety–at what point does the falsehood take over and make barren the eminent history that precedes it? This is a question for philosophers and art historians more than it is a query for the general public, composed as it is of artists and, usually, connected viewers who want the simple chance to enjoy what they see. Torreano’s art does this wonderfully well, providing admirers with the chance to lose themselves within a language both established and new. And his slight disregard for the fulsomeness of New York’s painterly past is a welcome reminder of its historical limitations.

View John Torreano: Dark Matters Without Time at Lesley Heller Gallery through Sunday, April 8, 2018.

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Jonathan Goodman is an art writer based in New York. For more than thirty years he has written about contemporary art for such publications as Art in America, Sculpture, and fronterad (an Internet publication based in Madrid). His special interests have been the new art of Mainland China and sculpture. He currently teaches contemporary art writing and thesis essay writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

Louise Bourgeois’ Legacy: Four Living Women Rocking Surrealism

Above: Installation View, “Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait” At MoMA. Image © Artifactoid. 

I love artwork by Louise Bourgeois. Her recent show at the MoMA was beautiful and you can see her sculptures in the permanent collection  at Dia: Beacon. Up to and following her death in 2010, her dark, sensuous surrealism (consciously or not) continues to influence a new generation of artists. While not always as heavy nor activist as Bourgeois in their subject matter, these artists each reference certain elements of her style in original ways. Here are four that are remarkable.

1. Rita Ponce de Leon (80m2 Livia Benavides)

Rita Ponce de Leon, image from the drawings on paper series, “Nuestros, Nosotros,” 2015. 25 x 25 cm each. Image © Rita Ponce de Leon courtesy 80m2 Livia Benavides.

Rita Ponce de Leon‘s  (b. Lima, 1982) work comprises surreal drawings and sculptures that gain power from their delicate intimacy. She works with pen on ink, clay, and Papier-mâché among other media. Last year I saw her beautiful installation at Proyecto AMIL in Lima that showcased many of her techniques, including heated sculptures to hold in your hands and drawings directly on the wall that scaled from floor to ceiling in the ample exhibition salon. Ponce de Leon is represented by Galeria 80m2 Livia Benavides based in Lima, Peru.

2. Geng Xue (Klein Sun Gallery)

Geng Xue, “Oceans Roar,” 2016. Porcelain and sound installation. 39 3/8 x 13 3/4 x 7 7/8 in. Image © Geng Xue, courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Geng Xue‘s (b. China, 1983) visceral ceramics captivate the imagination and bring us closer to our humanness. Attuned to sensory experience, Geng Xue often incorporates elements such as sound into the works, as in the above pictured piece, “Oceans Roar.” Geng Xue also creates animations that bring the pieces to life.

3. C.J. Chueca (Y Gallery)

Ceramic,  9 1/4 × 3 1/2 × 2 in, 23.5 × 8.9 × 5.1 cm, Unique. Image © C.J. Chueca and Artsy.

C.J. Chueca (b. Lima, 1977) grew up moving nomadically between Perú and México, where she frequently came into contact with homeless people, nursing home residents, and psychiatric patients. According to a 2016 exhibition essay on her work authored by critic Eleanor Heartney, these experiences “stoked a deep sympathy for the dispossessed” in Chueca. Chueca’s porcelain wall reliefs are portraits of homeless men and women from her memory, modeled after assemblages of found objects.

4. Jasmine Little (Johannes Vogt Gallery)

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Installation view, “Hoodoos,” at Johannes Vogt Gallery. Image © Johannes Vogt Gallery.

Jasmine Little (b. Virginia, 1984) is a technically gifted surrealist painter and sculptor whose works draw from emotion, memory and nostalgia rather than physicality. While most often related to Chagall or Matisse, there is something about the visual style and sensitivity of the pieces that recalls Bourgeois for me. Little is currently having a solo show, Hoodoos, at Johannes Vogt Gallery on the Lower East Side through April 28th, 2018.

A Heavy Rhetoric: Leon Golub at the Met Breuer

Above: Leon Golub. “Bite Your Tongue,” 2001. Acrylic on linen, 87 x 153 in 221 x 388 cm. © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

By Jonathan Goodman

Leon Golub’s show at the Met Breuer shows him to be an allegorical artist working by way of polemics,  although he cannot be faulted for cynical, self-aggrandizing intentions. Formally, his work is problematic. It is often muddy and unclear. This lack of clarity holds sway over the subject matter as well–it is not clear what unhappy situation Golub is referring to, although, generally speaking, we know the paintings are about torture and murder in Latin America, as well as racial contestations in South Africa. But we know these things from outside information; they are not available in the paintings themselves; this historical vagueness exists in contrast to the great political painting, whose outrage can always be dated to a specific event. Witness Goya’s The Third of May 1808, which documents Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s army during the Peninsular War. A similar particularity is not found in Golub’s art.

I am not trying to undermine Golub’s intentions, which are entirely honorable. Instead, I am criticizing the American penchant for casual political internationalism at a time when so much here in the States is so very wrong. The well-known and well-regarded poet Carolyn Forché traveled to El Salvador to document the political suffering there in the 1980s. Many see this as a noble attempt at social empathy, but I wish to counter that opinion by suggesting there is something unreal about the writer’s decision to concentrate on political events outside her culture. It is clear that Forché’s motives are of the highest kind, and it is also true that artists and intellectuals have often shown international solidarity with causes not directly affecting them–witness the extraordinary example of the British-born, American-based classicist Bernard Knox, who fought in both the Spanish Civil War and the Second War. But, even if we recognize the intensity of moral purpose in Forche’s poetry and Golub’s paintings, the implications of their supposedly empathic response to suffering so far away from them cannot survive in full trust.

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Leon Golub. “Mr. Amok,” 1994. Ink and gouache on paper, 8 × 6 in. (20.3 × 15.2 cm). © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Why is this so? First, it is clear that other cultures are much better than American culture in addressing political suffering. Think of Pablo Neruda, from Chile, or Cesar Vallejo, from Peru. These artists managed to produce writing whose political effect is authentic. But, in America, while poetry readings given in opposition to the Vietnam War were certainly earnest, I cannot remember a single poem whose art rose to the level of work by the Spanish-speaking writers I mentioned. As for Golub–it goes without saying that his sympathies were genuine. But it is also true that his paintings of mercenaries don’t ring as being entirely believable. The paintings cannot be fully trusted–as good as they are!–because our manner of life here is both comfortable and socially autonomous, making it impossible to free ourselves from the trappings of privilege. Gigantomachy  II (1966), a huge painting facing the elevators of the Met Breuer, continues our penchant for an imagined connectedness with trouble, on a mythic level. The word “gigantomachy” refers to the battle between the giants and Olympian gods in Greek mythology, and Golub portrays the conflict in epic style. Two groups of figures, all of them naked, fill the dark-brown background. Painted as if their skin had been flayed from their body, the combatants grip and lunge and push each other in some obscure conflict, a close-to-mad attempt to establish dominance.

01. Leon Golub. Gigantomachy II, 1966

Leon Golub. “Gigantomachy II,” 1966. Acrylic on linen, 9 ft. 11 1/2 in. x 24 ft. 10 1/2 in. (303.5 x 758.2 cm). © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

It is clear that Golub has painted an arresting, if murky, tale of violence by men toward other men–a theme he returns to again and again. Man’s inhumanity to man is regularly lamented, but we won’t break free of the wish to overpower our opponents. Gigantomachy II owes its power to our recognition of the conflict, but its mythic origins lie at the center of the painting.  In the later works, based on actual history and places, Golub loses mythic power but gains in realism. Almost always, Golub’s audience must read the wall plaques to gain a sense of the situation being referred to. In the painting Two Black Women and a White Man (1986), two black women sit on a bench against a yellow wall. They are old and poor; both wear hats, and the woman on the left holds a cane. On the right, a vigorous white male, in his forties, looks away from the women; his gaze goes beyond the confines of the painting. He is wearing a red, short-sleeved shirt and khaki pants; as a male figure at the top of his game, he is young and powerful and seemingly indifferent to anyone’s complaint, the black women next to him included.

Leon Golub. “Two Black Women and a White Man,” 1986. Acrylic on linen, 120 x 163 inches. © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

The man’s overt lack of feeling is both a report and a judgment. He doesn’t give exact details, so we assume it is a work reporting on conditions where segregation, or at least profound prejudice, exists–perhaps South Africa. One might argue that not knowing the painting’s circumstances helps the artist convey the general banality of evil, but the fact remains that our inability to pinpoint the situation is disturbing enough to result in a false first step in interpreting the composition. The elements of the painting seem to be at cross purposes with each other; none of the three figures interacts with the other two. There is an implicit loss of faith from the start. Whatever the particulars of this composition may be, it is clear that the main atmosphere in which the three figures are engulfed is just shy of overt hostility.

It may be that the best art contains a realism based on experience and a more imaginative view of that experience. But what if the violence is indescribable in its extent and quality? Maybe Golub is leaning toward the allegorical because a truthful report would be so troubling as to do away with its esthetic potential. The aggression in Golub’s paintings is usually indirect–although also truthful enough in its report for his viewers to be able to imagine the aggression clearly. It is true enough that art cannot match real life, but it can embellish–and deepen–our understanding of things.

11. Leon Golub. Head. 1988.jpgLeon Golub. “Head,” 1988. Acrylic on canvas, 21 1/2 × 19 1/2 in. (54.6 × 49.5 cm). © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Golub was also interested in depicting inequalities of power in gender relations. The painting discussed implies but does not directly address gender inequalities. In Horsing Around IV (1983)–the “Horsing Around” series is based on photos of mercenaries from Africa and Central America (Golub often worked from photos)–shows a white man, with a hideous face, grinning, holding a bottle of liquor, and pulling at the white blouse of a black prostitute with short, straightened hair. The woman’s dark-brown dress ends above her thighs, and she is laughing as well, although her seeming happiness is clearly being paid for.

The prostitute sits on a bar stool, her breast revealed. Golub is making an open connection between political and sexual violence. As takes place in most of Golub’s paintings, the violence is implied rather than actual. In general, this show reveals Golub’s disgust with the behavioral excesses of power, both public and private. He is telling us that the mercenaries are more than dead souls; they are active perpetrators of malevolence. But the problem of generalization in his art remains. Violence is never generic but always specific–a particular person is doing something to a particular person. If the details are left out, the visual narrative becomes allegorical and symbolic.  Despite Golub’s claim on our sympathy, true empathy is not achieved. These works portray images meant to introduce sympathy in a nearly stereotyped manner; Golub reports more than empathizes.

But reportage, a journalistic rather than an imaginative endeavor, usually results in intellectual insight rather than empathic identification. This is the problem facing all of us who have had the good luck to evade the kinds of tragedies Golub paints. It may be that good fortune, in the form of material comfort, gets in the way of our ability to sympathize with the poor and the disenfranchised. In the last painting discussed, Contemplating Pre-Columbian (no date), we see a full skeleton drawn in red chalk. The figure is in a sitting position, bent over, and with its arms bent at the elbows but also rising upward. Beneath the skeleton is a pre-Columbian skull, with a full set of teeth. The image is distraught, though there is no way of telling so. Perhaps Golub is acknowledging his own frailties: advancing age and death.

10. Leon Golub. Contemplating Pre-Columbian.jpgLeon Golub. “Contemplating Pre-Columbian,” ca. 2000. Oil stick and acrylic on tracing paper, 10 × 8 in. (25.4 × 20.3 cm). © The Nancy Spero and Leon Golub Foundation for the Arts/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Golub feels like a major artist, but a narrow one. He is uncommonly brave to direct so much attention to worldwide injustice, as well as paying attention to the long historical ascendancy of the male gender. But even so, criticism of his political vagueness seems justified in light of our need to know who did what to whom. His paintings are sometime too generalized. Golun evoked a feeling we don’t come across much in American art–a commitment to the portrayal of injustice on an international level. If Golub’s global politics prevents him from a precise demonstration of evil, it also provides him with the space to amplify the point that, these days, morality is heavily damaged everywhere. We now find acceptable, everywhere, what was once condemned. Golub even looks at the politics of gender relations, moving from the public to the private sphere. His outrage may be slightly too generic to be absolutely convincing, but his emphasis on the consequences of violence–physical, emotional, and mental–makes him an artist of high merit.

View Leon Golub: Raw Nerve on view at the Met Breuer through May 27, 2018.

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Jonathan Goodman is an art writer based in New York. For more than thirty years he has written about contemporary art for such publications as Art in America, Sculpture, and fronterad (an Internet publication based in Madrid). His special interests have been the new art of Mainland China and sculpture. He currently teaches contemporary art writing and thesis essay writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

Tabaimo Transforms Ancient Artifacts into Surreal Animated Worlds at James Cohan

Above: Installation view, “Tabaimo: Clue to Utsushi,” James Cohan, New York, 2018. Photo: Phoebe d’Heurle.

James Cohan Gallery on the Lower East Side is known for transforming its space for interesting installations that create an environment. You may remember Omer Fast: August, a recent controversial exhibit where the street-facing portion of the gallery was transformed to simulate a rundown Chinatown storefront, revealing video art in the back. James Cohan’s current museum-quality installation, Clue to Utsushi, comprises surreal animations by Japanese artist Tabaimo. Each animation is projected onto a wall (or custom structure) in its own shape and size relating to an ancient artifact from the Seattle Art Museum. The gallery space is transformed into an unfamiliar, austere world that invites viewers to lurk around its dark corners and discover that there is more to unfold in each animation than first meets the eye.

2018_01_15_JamesCohan_004v1E.jpgInstallation view, “Tabaimo: Clue to Utsushi,” James Cohan, New York, 2018. Photo: Phoebe d’Heurle.

Each of Tabaimo’s video projections allures with symbols of beauty, like a woman’s silhouette, a butterfly, a bird, or a set of armoires, yet leaves hints to the viewer that cohabiting with this beauty might be something sinister, and that watching and following the beautiful thing can lead you to a darker unknown place. Tabaimo creates an “Alice in Wonderland”-like universe where we are unfamiliar with where our curiosities will take us as we are drawn into the bizarre visual settings she imagined.

Utsushi1.pngStill from “Shinju Trail” by Tabaimo at James Cohan, New York, 2018. Image © Tabaimo. Photo: Artifactoid.

Clue to Utsushi is directly connected with Tabaimo’s 2016 exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), Utsusushi Utsushi. At SAM, Tabaimo discovered that ancient artifacts around the Seattle Art Museum were calling to her with different energies, leading her to create works of video art that brought the antiques to life and opened them up to reveal new narratives. Four of the resulting videos are now on display in Clue to Utsushi, plus Shinju Trail, pictured above, which was created specifically for this show.

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 12.03.23 PM.pngRound-corner wood-hinged Cabinets (GUI), 16th Century, Chinese, that inspired the work “Two” by Tabaimo. Image © Seattle Art Museum.

Clip from “Two” by Tabaimo at James Cohan Gallery. Video © Tabaimo. Footage: Artifactoid.

Carrying the ancient to the present, Tabaimo, an artist known for critiquing Japanese culture, speaks to the concept of Utsushi, or, emulating artwork by masters of the past. Instead of physically copying the art of the masters, Utsushi refers to keeping the same “energy” of the master’s artwork while simultaneously bringing it into a new contemporary form. Though we don’t necessarily have this exact word in English, I believe that a lot of the best contemporary artwork from around the world demonstrates Utsushi by being original while maintaining a strong dialogue with the past and ultimately connecting it with the present and future.

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 5.19.27 PM.pngImage of an artifact that inspired the below animation, “Crow” by Tabaimo. © Seattle Art Museum.

Clip from “Crow” by Tabaimo at James Cohan Gallery. Video © Tabaimo. Footage: Artifactoid.

James Cohan Gallery is located at 191 Grand Street in Manhattan. Today is the final day to view this exhibition.

 

The Beauty of Others: An Interview with Photographer Teresa Bracamonte

View the interview in Spanish on Revista Jennifer

When I traveled to Lima for the PARC art fair, I met interesting artists and explored key sites of Peru’s contemporary art world. I visited galleries like RevolverLucia de la Puente and Y Gallery Lima, as well as institutions like Proyecto AMIL.

A project I discovered that interested me in particular was Lima Intrarrosa, a documentary photography series created by artist Teresa Bracamonte.

Before becoming a photographer Bracamonte was a painter, but her main career was as a high fashion model who also participant in numerous beauty pageants. During breakfast at her oceanside Barranco apartment, she told me that, one day a few years prior, she was watching TV and by chance saw a report of a transgender beauty pageant being broadcast. Upon seeing it, she had a strong, unexpected reaction of connectedness to the trans women: she saw herself reflected in them.

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Drawn in by this experience, she embarked on a two-year-long documentary project during which she lived within the trans community in Lima. Instead of viewing the women through the lens as if they were from one world and she another, she became a member of their community and a part of the intimate family of the trans beauty pageant participants. Through this devoted technique she established her relationship with the subjects of her imagery.

Bracamonte’s work interested me because her choice to radically change her lifestyle from modeling for the sake of this first-time documentation of a different yet parallel world to hers is something I viewed as unusual and remarkable. Her work also interested me because as a novice to the medium, she dedicated herself fully to exposing a sensitive otherness with a high degree of respect in both her process and the result, instead of hastily approaching the theme in a voyeuristic manner.

In the following interview, Bracamonte sits down with Artifactoid to discuss her inspiration for the project, insights she learned in the process, and future projects she has in store.

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Artifactoid: How did the project Lima Intrarrosa begin?

Teresa Bracamonte (TB): What initiated the project Lima Intrarrosa in 2012 was my discovery of the existence of the beauty pageants that were organized by the transgender community. This strongly called my attention because at that time I was dedicated to high fashion modeling, and had been called to participate in the Miss Perú pageant and other feminine beauty events.

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I discovered these (transgender) competitions on a television report, where a journalist was interviewing the winner of that night’s contest, who later went on to show the conditions in which she was living and they were extremely humble.

Artifactoid: How did you see your own experiences within those of the people you documented?

TB: Lima Intrarrosa covers diverse aspects of the transgender community in Lima. I think that one aspect I most identified with were the beauty pageants. When I photographed all that was happening during the show, and backstage, there was the same euphoria that I experienced in backstages of fashion shows, just before heading out to walk on the runway. At that time my main source of income was coming from high fashion runway shows.

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I believe that an artist always sees herself reflected, in one way or another, in that which she chooses to create a portrait of. Many times it is something unconscious; that the artist feels attracted toward a certain reality without being certain of why.

In my case, at the start, it was the beauty pageants and everything that they implied (the production of beautification, performance, etc). Later it became something deeper; I felt identified with the search for self-affirmation and the fight for being who you deeply want to be.

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I am a fan of Pedro Almódovar, and in is film “Todo sobre mi madre” (“All About my Mother”), there is a line spoken by the character Agrado, played by Antonia San Juan, that goes, “The more one resembles what she has dreamt of herself, the more authentic she is.”

There is also an element of rebellion: during a time in my life, I questioned a lot about the culturally established binary roles. I wasn’t fully understanding them; they made me feel uncomfortable. It bothered me – the idea of having to comply with certain expectations or attitudes just because I was a woman. I felt that men had certain “permissions” that women didn’t have, and that I wanted to have those permissions, too. This made me question my own feminine role.

Artifactoid: What were the most important things you learned living within Lima’s trans community?

TB: The most important thing I learned while living for two years with the transgender community in Lima, was the survival system that they had developed to be able to move forward in their daily lives. One aspect that interested me deeply was the recreation of family ties: the majority, upon suffering exclusion from their nuclear families, constructed a new family amongst themselves. The links that they create are even stronger than blood. Another interesting characteristic is the resilience and the will to be. That force to dare to exteriorize who they feel that they are, despite prejudgements and exclusion (above all in a male chauvinist country like Peru), is what I admire in all of the transgender people. There is also the sad side, which is the reality that they face each day, of exclusion and extreme violence. Life expectancy is low, and access to basic rights is null.

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Artifactoid: How does this project fit within your body of artistic work as a whole?

TB: Lima Intrarrosa was my first photographic project. I produced it over the course of 2012 and 2013. It marked the beginning of my trajectory as a photographer. Before that I generally used painting as my mode of expression. It was also the beginning of my line of work: I search to make visible groups of people and themes that our society hides, negates, disguises or masks. All of my projects can be viewed on my website. My starting point, as a visual artist, is to search for the beauty in what is considered grotesque, unacceptable or unchaste, and show it through images. My inspiration lies in awakening sensations through themes that we tend to reject or that make us feel uncomfortable.

All of my work revolves around this duality – the contrasts – of both concepts: the horrendous, and the beautiful, and the multifarious shades of each. I am on a constant search to provoke the spectator, and induce her to observe and question herself, but above all to submerge herself into realities that she might consider foreign to her.

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Through my work I constantly take on the challenge to overthrow prejudices, ideas, and stereotypes that we have deeply rooted.

Artifactoid: Are you aware of other artists in Peru working with the theme of transgender life, like Giuseppe Campuzano? Were you influenced by them, and how?

TB: When I was developing Lima Intrarrosa, in 2012, the only Peruvian artist I knew at that time, and whose work affected me, was Giuseppe Campuzano. I met with him when I was beginning the project. I remember that I bought his book, El Museo Travesti del Perú. He advised me to visit the exhibition that he carried out at the gallery 80m2 Livia Benavides that year, where he created an installation based on newspaper cutouts that showed, over the longterm, how the media were treating the trans community in a denigrating and scandalous way.

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Artifactoid: Tell me about the idea of “double perception,” related to trans women who migrate from Peru to Europe. Why is it important to reveal this concept in your photography?

TB: One aspect that called my attention upon creating Lima Intrarrosa, was the desire of almost all of the women in the transgender community to migrate to Europe. Those who achieve this are called triunfadoras (“winners”).

Apparently, the triunfadoras experience a complex situation once they live in Europe. The term “winner” becomes contradictory, and we find ourselves facing a paradox between the concept of what it means to be a triunfadora, connected with the idea of success and the positive, versus the difficult reality that the triunfadoras live once they arrive in Europe. At the same time, the population that surrounds them abroad doesn’t know what it means to be a Latin American transgender woman migrant in Europe, and above all they don’t know that that they left their country perceived as winners.

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Therefore exists the “double perception:” they are two imaginaries of the same existence that are culturally opposite and contradict each other. Roland Barthes stated that, “The photo portrait is a palisade of forces.  The imaginaries intersect, face each other, and deform.” I view this theory in relationship to the triunfadoras.

I presently live in Paris, where I am producing a photographic project comprised of portraits of transgender women migrants from Peru, and/or South Americans who live in the French capital.

It’s not a “documentary” project, as I seek to translate my subjective point of view about beauty onto it. I am doing this to show the protagonists of my series as impregnable and glorious, in a manner contrary to how they are generally represented.

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Artifactoid: How did you arrive at your fascination for the objects of the people you documented, and why were they an important area of focus for this project?

TB: I realized that, through objects, I could show important aspects of the person I was developing a portrait of. I discovered that personal items give us information that is not evident when we only focus on the person. These things can communicate as much, or even more, than the physical body in and of  itself. I believe that a portrait can be made through objects alone.

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Artifactoid: Do you plan to explore working with the masculine transgender community in Peru?

TB: For now it doesn’t form a part of my plans, since I am developing other projects, but it seems interesting to me. I may explore it in another moment; an artist should always be open to different and diverse possibilities.

Artifactoid: What are some of your goals for this project?

TB: I have finished a photographic book of Lima Intrarrosa, curated by Jorge Villacorta, including some testimonials and reviews. My goal is to publish it in the near future, and I am currently seeking support to do that. The book can be viewed here

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Artifactoid: What do you plan to do next?

TB: Currently as mentioned I live in Paris. I came to do a Masters in Photography and Contemporary art at the University of Paris 8. I am developing artistic projects within my line of work, questioning stereotypes, and using codes of representation that interest me about certain themes and distorting them through art.

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About the artist:

Teresa Bracamonte is a visual artist who was born in Lima, Peru, in 1989. She completed two years of General Art Studies at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. She finished her studies of Plastic Arts in the Alternating Current School, where she graduated. She obtained the title of Complementary Baccalaureate in Arts at the National University of San Marcos. Then she studied Photography at the Center of the Image, where she obtained the first prize of her group.

Teresa, at age 25, had her first solo show curated by Jorge Villacorta at the II Lima Photography Biennial: Lima Intrarrosa. Her second individual show was in the city of Trujillo (2016). Bracamonte has participated in several group exhibitions in different places of his country, such as Ricardo Palma Cultural Center; The Museum of the Nation; The Inka Garcilazo Cultural Center; Gallery of the French Alliance, Euroidiomas Foundation, Cultural Center of the University of Lima, among others. She has also had the opportunity to exhibit twice in Dubai, in 2016.

She currently resides in Paris, France, where she is studying a Masters of Photography and Contemporary Art at Paris 8, La Sorbonne.

Carolee Schneemann, Kinetic Painting at MoMA PS1

Above: Installation view, Kinetic Painting. Image © Artifactoid.

Museum retrospectives give viewers the opportunity to fully understand the career of an artist in-depth. The variation between the distinct styles of the artist’s work over decades is visible, as is their impressive generative capacity. One example of a great retrospective was the Constant Nieuwenhuys exhibit at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, where the artist’s whimsical, emotional and painterly techniques segued into highly conceptual and architectural ones spanning from the mid-century to present day.

Carolee Schneemann’s current retrospective at MoMA PS1 titled Kinetic Painting is special because it demonstrates Schneemann’s transformation from beginning in the postwar period as a female artist working within the confines of the masculine genre of abstract expressionism, to an artist who masterfully approached a diverse variety of media, fearlessly implementing new ideas. She created works, which, whether or not she intended them to be, were radical and activist.

On view through March 11, 2018, Kinetic Painting includes Schneemann’s paintings, sculptures, films, drawings and performances, ranging from interactive social experiments with friends, lovers, and pet cats, to pieces dealing with violence, mourning, grief, sex, gender, and the politics of the female body. For instance, in the below work, Vulva’s Morphia (1995) Schneemann problematizes if womens’ understanding of their own anatomy/physiology is defined in masculine terms.

Carolee Schneemann, Vulva’s Morphia, 1995. Image © Artifactoid.

Carolee Schneemann, Interior Scroll (detail), 1975. Image © Artifactoid.

Historically, Schneemann was part of the global avant-garde movement of Fluxus artists of the 60s and 70s who refuted the market and confronted the structures in place. Today, her influence continues to inspire creators such as New York-based performance artist and painter Theresa Byrnes who has previously been interviewed on Artifactoid. The above image depicts detail of the original manifesto that Schneemann pulled out of her vagina during the 1975 performance of Interior Scroll, one of her most famous and controversial works.

While Schneemann is most widely known for her performances, she has always defined herself first and foremost as a painter. Throughout her oeuvre, the two media are inextricably connected. As part of Schneemann’s love for painting, she is also interested in the limitations of painting and  ideas that may only be able to be expressed through performative action. Both this philosophy and her critique of abstract expressionism are revealed in works like Up To and Including Her Limits (1973-76), detailed in the below video clip courtesy of © MoMA:

When Schneemann debuted as a painter, the challenges for female artists were severe. After World War II, abstract expressionism emerged as a masculine, all-American painting style which flourished in the patriotic environment of the U.S. at the time and dominated the art market. Female painters were unable to reach the same level of success as male painters within this framework.

Siwin Lo, PhD Candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center, notes,
“The climate of the art world before the 1960s in New York was a profoundly masculinist one, even though there were women who managed to attain some degree of recognition. In many cases, women artists had to navigate promoting themselves in an environment where they were considered women first, and artists second. For some, such as Lee Krasner and Helen Frankenthaler, their careers were read largely through their relationship to their male partners, a tendency that we still see in the discussion of many women artists. For Carolee Schneemann, coming up in this type of scene, the desire to be seen as herself as well as the desire to make art as herself would have been understood as contradictory. The fact that she was punished for painting herself nude really crystallizes the assumed incompatibility between the body painted, and the artist painting—for the art schools of Schneemann’s time, these two could not co-exist in the same person. By refusing to separate herself between being the object and the maker of her kinetic paintings, she points to the gendered hypocrisy of Abstract Expressionism, as if to say, “if Pollock famously locates himself within his paintings,* why can’t I?”
Confronted with these challenges, Schneemann was a pioneer and fearless visionary. However, she generally didn’t view her own work as shocking or radical even though others did. And, while she has achieved a major museum retrospective such as Kinetic Painting, she experienced a deluge of backlash and criticism throughout her entire career. There were critiques that her work was narcissistic, diaristic, and pornographic, among other things. Despite this, she kept creating, following her truth, and providing an original perspective, which I think can be a lesson to us all.

Installation view, Kinetic Painting. Image © Artifactoid.

“When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.” -Jackson Pollock, quoted in Kirk Varnedoe, Jackson Pollock (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1998), 48. Courtesy Siwin Lo.