When 1960s Sci-Fi and Surveillance Collide in 21st Century Sculpture: Björn Schülke Vision Instruments at bitforms gallery

Above: Björn Schülke, Beam Engine #1, 2016, Brass, mirror, paint, electronics, solar cells, motors, laser, 7.1 x 15 x 9.9 in / 18 x 38 x 25 cm

This article was originally published in Whitehot Magazine

Would there be world peace if aliens attacked Earth? After all, doesn’t everyone get along better once they share an enemy?

In the divisive global political environment confronting us, I find myself wishing for the aliens to appear.

I started thinking about this after learning about Raumpatrouille Orion, or, “Space Patrol Orion,” (1966), the first ever German science fiction TV series, which inspired Vision Instruments, a collection of sculptures by Björn Schülke currently on view at bitforms gallery on NYC’s Lower East Side. According to bitforms gallery, Raumpatrouille Orion reflected a certain Cold-War era global attitude of idealistic utopianism, and the mentality of conquest and emphasis on space travel, which is also present in a lot of Schülke’s work.

Schülke was born in Cologne, Germany in 1967. Perhaps as an artist he was drawn to exploring the collective psychology of the environment into which he was born, utilizing Raumpatrouille Orion as his case study. But, what can we learn from Raumpatrouille Orion now? I think that some of the answers might lie in what else Björn Schülke focuses on in his sculptures.

Björn Schülke, Vision Machine #8 , 2016, Brass, steel, wood, mirrors, paint, camera, display, sensor, electronics, 15.75 x 11.8 x 14.2 in / 40 x 30 x 36 cm, Edition of 3, 1 AP (variant)

The other central theme of much of Schülke’s work is questioning the ways in which we interact with technology. To us in 2017, the “technological frontier,” its own universe without borders, can be compared to the physical universe within which exploration was idolized during the Cold War. At that time, we worshipped astronauts like rock stars. Today, we worship tech innovators like rock stars. That is absolutely not to say that we have stopped revering our astronauts, but rather to say that when it comes to astronauts versus tech innovators, the media has switched their “it girl” over the decades and the technologists are their latest sweetheart.

So, how are we interacting with technology, this thing that we worship? I think that one thing that Schülke is trying to say with his art is that we are giving it too much power.

His shiny, white, mechanical, stick bug shaped kinetic sculptures range from about the size of a football to the size of a refrigerator, and are mounted on the walls, floor, and ceiling of the gallery, surrounding viewers from all sides. They each have unique sleek, futuristic designs, but are futile in function, clearly separating them from the product design prototypes of the tech world and setting them firmly in the art category.

Although futile, they each beckon us to interact with them. For example, we look to find our reflections in the tiny circular mirrors that some of them have, and look to see our images picked up by their cameras, even though their cameras are operating in connection with a surveillance system. This evokes the Privacy Paradox, in which we are tempted to upload mass quantities of information about ourselves onto the Internet, almost like a mirror of ourselves, even if it is at the risk of our own security – which we then express simultaneous concern about.

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Björn Schülke, Drone #9, 2016, Fiberglass and epoxide, wood, mirrors, aluminum, display, camera, electronics, sensors, video transmitter, 43.4 in / 110 cm, height, 118.2 in / 300 cm, diameter

In addition, many of the sculptures are equipped with small solar panels that take in light and charge the small batteries within them. Once the charge of the battery reaches a certain level of fullness, the sculpture moves, and is brought to life, like a little anthropomorphic creature that we created, but that now has a mind of its own and operates without our assistance, catching us off guard.

This is not the first time I have seen the issue of surveillance explored in art. In fact I have seen it utilized many times, and have written about it on several occasions as I consider it one of the interesting current themes that the global creative community is having an active discourse about. You can see some of my prior explorations of this topic in my articles about The Privacy Paradox 2016 group show at Reverse Gallery, the artist Joel Holmberg at New Museum, the artist Lorraine Oades and her project TV Tracker (a part of a 2015 group show of artists from Quebec at Knockdown Center). To note, there is also a radio show on NPR right now called The Privacy Paradox.

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Björn Schülke, Supersonic #3, 2008, Fiberglass, plywood, steel, motion sensors, theremin, woofer, tweeter, amplifier, paint 22 x 46 x 15 in / 56 x 117 x 38 cm

So, back to my original question, what can we learn today from Schülke’s revival of ideas from Raumpatrouille Orion? I think that the obvious conclusion is that while it was the first German sci-fi television show, from over fifty years ago, those same issues in the show apply now. Today it seems that it might still require this threatening, alien outside force to attack for all of us humans to band together to achieve peace on earth. What shape and form would that “force” take if the show were remade today? Could it be something like climate change, or related to technology?

Björn Schülke, Drone #9, 2016, Fiberglass and epoxide, wood, mirrors, aluminum, display, camera, electronics, sensors, video transmitter, 43.4 in / 110 cm, height, 118.2 in / 300 cm, diameter

Finally, it is this issue of surveillance resurfacing in both the outer space universe and the technology universe. During the Cold War era of Raumpatrouille Orion, sci-fi fear of aliens was this major allegory for xenophobia, fear of other countries, and fear of apocalyptic nuclear disaster. Sound familiar? At that time, a person might have asked, who are the aliens from outer space who are watching us, spying on us, maybe ready to attack? Today, we could think in those same terms, but digitally. Who is watching us, spying on us, maybe ready to attack, replete with our data?

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A Compass for Kuitca: Artifactoid Exclusive Tour with Sotheby’s SVP of Fine Art Eric Shiner

When I was based in Buenos Aires during the fall of 2011, there was a time when nearly every Saturday night I would go to the Universidad Torcuato de Di Tella for the weekly opening nights at the Beca Kuitca, an artist residency founded by Argentine artist Guillermo Kuitca in Buenos Aires in 1991. Many of the artists who were participating in the Beca Kuitca at that moment are incredible creators who I feel lucky to know, including Eduardo Basualdo, Florencia Rodriguez-Giles, Juan Tessi, and Nicolas Mastracchio, among others. It is beautiful to think about how Guillermo Kuitca, aside from being a hauntingly skilled artist who is included in the TATE and MET collections, developed this amazing, influential program to give back, and provide more growth opportunities to some of the premier rising artistic talents in Argentina today.

Eric Shiner, Senior Vice President of Fine Art at Sotheby’s and former Director of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, shares my reverence for Kuitca, and below, I am pleased to publish excerpts and photographs from my recent tour with Mr. Shiner for Artifactoid of the Guillermo Kuitca solo exhibition he curated, Terra Nullius, featuring works by the artist from the early 1990s through 2010. Below, Shiner shares his curatorial concept, his expertise on pieces from several of Kuitca’s most important series, as well as fascinating details about the artist’s life.

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I was really thinking about doing an exhibition about being lost, prior to the U.S. presidential election, because I think so many of us were just completely aimless, tired, frustrated; all of the many things that come up when you are heading into such a momentous period and momentous occasion with so many repercussions tied to it. So I wanted to do a show about being lost, and I immediately thought of Kuitca because I loved his work for ever and he’s such a phenomenal artist and has always been just below the radar even though he should be well on the radar, or above it in so many ways. And of course he’s had such an incredible exhibition history with the things at MoMa, project space show at MoMA in 1991, to the Sao Paolo Biennale in 1989, and on and on and on. So I thought that that would be a good thing to do and because his work is very much about being lost, and it’s about displacement, about migration, immigration, persecution, psychology, and the way humans navigate space and think about space. It seemed that that would be a good topic at this precise moment in time. So, I decided to call the show, “Terra Nullius,” in Latin, (“No Man’s Land” is the English translation), to really capture that idea of not really knowing where we are, feeling displaced, and perhaps, with certain political implications, people rethinking their own geographies based on the result. One way or another, depending on who won [the election], one group of people was going to feel displaced, disconnected, and that’s ultimately what I wanted this show to reflect.”

kuitca1Guillermo Kuitca, “Everything,” Mixed media in two parts on canvas, 120 1/8 x 65 in. ea., 2003

“In this huge two-panel work (above), which is just exceptionally beautiful, Kuitca does exactly that with the maps in that they make no sense whatsoever. You’ll have Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania next to Ottowa, Canada, for example. So they’re not actual maps, but there are some semblances of reality within it that you’ll also see. In addition to a bird’s-eye view of the road system, there’s also a topographic map blended into the piece – you could read weather map patterns into it – it’s just a complete combination of all of the many layers through which we view our world; and that’s why I just absolutely love this piece; in that it’s so complex, and also, strangely, for me at least, a lot of the work is incredibly meditative and calming — that this is something you can stand in front of and stare at, and for me it’s an incredibly calming thing, but maybe for others it has a completely different vibe.”

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“I wanted to put together this main gallery space, and then the two wings on either side. I wanted to focus on maps and floor plans here, and then in one side space, put two paintings from the “Crown of Thorns” series, and in the other side space, two pieces from the “Beds” series. I also wanted to mix it up in terms of the different ways that Kuitca looks at maps: some very crisp and clean, some bordering on abstract. And of course, include this work (below) which is a complete ode to cubism.”

kuitca14Guillermo Kuitca, “Lontano,” Oil on linen, 76 7/8 x 64 1/2 in., 2010

kuitca2Guillermo Kuitca, “Untitled,” Acrylic on canvas, 76 x 117 3/8 in., 1990

“This one (above) is twenty-four different grids of maps based on real places in some cases, and in other cases, not. I love that the zoom is different in terms of how high up you are looking into the space, so the scale is completely different from square to square. Here, you are much closer, and here, you are further out, and again here further out, and further out. I just absolutely love the way he’s thinking about the veins and the arteries of a city – of a space – and the way that water, rivers, or other areas become blank. It’s just a great piece – and again for me, very meditative.”

kuitca5“Untitled,” detail

“I was speaking with a group of architects from Brazil about this work, and one of them brought up the fact that today, we understand geography in our world in a completely new way through technology. In the old days you actually had to have the physical map that you would unfold – a paper map – and that was how you would chart your course; you would figure it out or probably write it down, and either memorize it or figure out how to navigate that way – left here, right there; landmarks, etcetera. Whereas now, all we do is turn on our phone, plug in the address, hit “go,” and follow its lead without really paying any attention to where we’re going; we just know that we’ll get there. It was such an interesting conversation to have, because that’s the reality of what we’re doing right now.”

“And of course, it goes without saying that Kuitca has a huge map collection. He collects vintage maps and atlases, and he uses these things as his inspiration and as his guide.”

kuitca6Guillermo Kuitca, “Crumlin Road,” Acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 59 1/8 x 70 7/8 in., 1993

This painting (above) is of Belfast. It is fantastic. It’s on a terra-cotta ground, painted with a very terra cotta color, smudged, so it’s abstract in the background, and the map is superimposed on top of that. This is Belfast in Ireland, and it shows the dividing line between the Protestant side of town and the Catholic side of town. So, even though it’s only a road [Crumlin Road], it is the dividing line, and a site of war and conflict. The thing that I love about this work is that every church is demarcated.”

kuitca7“Crumlin Road,” detail

“Kuitca obviously has a very conflicted view of religion. Growing up third-generation Eastern European Jewish in Latin America (an otherwise Catholic place), I’m sure has a lot to do with his feeling displaced, lost, and not horribly religious – so how do you factor all of these things in? Both of Kuitca’s parents were psychotherapists, so you can just imagine how they (and he in turn) thus had to deal with religion and human psychology, their place in the world, being intellectuals in Buenos Aires, and all of the things that come along with that.”

“It’s very interesting to think about how Kuitca grew up, and of course, to remember that he was a child prodigy as well. As a young man, well, as a little boy, he showed huge talent in painting and could copy anything, and really was a star painter right out of the chute. It’s interesting that someone with such huge talent chose not to be a representational, or even an abstract, painter, but instead, to do something based not in painting, but in geography, cartography, and concept. And obviously, his hand is so incredibly skilled.”

kuitca16Guillermo Kuitca, “Sacramento,” Oil on canvas, 72 x 36 in., 1990

“This is Sacramento. It’s a really lovely work. It’s based on a map company that Kuitca particularly liked, which was prevalent in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He loved the color palette, with their yellows and their green major highways. As you can see, it’s fractured into 11 canvases, so here Kuitca is literally fracturing the landscape through the use of these small canvases as opposed to doing it on one big one. Then you have the void, where it’s not filled in what’s going on in these spaces, and it may or may not actually be real as to where these roads really go. Often times, in Kuitca’s works you can see that a road leads to the same place, or to absolutely nowhere if you really start to analyze.”

“Why did he choose to work with this particular map? One may ask. It’s really just a matter of what maps Kuitca comes across; now this one [Sacramento] could be read as the epicenter of California; Sacramento is the state capital, and it’s the title of the work. It’s obviously also a Spanish name of an American capital, and could deal with the things that play off the “sacred” and the implications of “sacra-“ in terms of the root of the word in a sacred lexicon. But, Kuitca is focused on areas all over the world, and there’s no rhyme or reason, except in a painting like Belfast where Belfast is very specific. The painting around the corner of Mexico City (below) is also very specific.”

kuitca20Guillermo Kuitca, “Idea de una pasión,” Acrylic on canvas, 78 5/8 x 75 in., 1991

This is Mexico City, and it is just absolutely phenomenal. Here Kuitca takes his map, based on Mexico City but again not exacting at all, and all of a sudden, the roads turn into thorns and brambles of thorns. Then you read the idea of violence, persecution, and bloodletting into this, and of course, sadly, Mexico City has the stereotypical view of being a dangerous place, even though for those of us who go there often, we are aware that that danger is unlikely. It’s just like any other city in the world where everyone is careful, but otherwise it’s not that dangerous. In addition, the imposition of Christianity on indigenous culture – I’m very convinced – is present in this work. Indigenous religions are very very different from Christianity, and the Spaniards came and put Christianity on top of Mexico. I think obviously with the implication of the crown of thorns, that’s very much there.”

kuitca21“Idea de una pasión,” detail

“To note I love this particular area of the painting (shown above), which is not a real place, but instead becomes a spider web or what could be read as a roll of barbed wire, so it’s like a trap.”

kuitca8Guillermo Kuitca, “Corona de Espinas,” Oil on canvas, 60 1/8 x 70 3/8 in., 1994

“And this is Kuitca’s homage to Cy Twombly, of course, but instead of it just being a free-spirited release in form and space, here, Kuitca is very carefully hand-painting all of these brambles of thorns. And again it is obvious that this could be Christ’s crown of thorns or it could just as easily be a reference to barbed wire and persecution, to concentration camps, to genocide, to all of those things; it’s all very wrapped up here.”

notredamekuitcaGuillermo Kuitca, “Untitled,” (Marble flooring plan of the sanctuary and part of the choir of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris), Graphite and ink on linen, 77 1/2 x 63 in., 1999

“This one (above) is graphite on canvas, and it is Notre Dame in Paris. It is from Kuitca’s series of church floor plans. The image is first laid down in graphite, and then Kuitca uses an emulsion with water and some chemical agents to get the graphite to blur. He moves the canvas around so that it bleeds and blurs and stains, and I see this as the Shroud of Turin in many ways. This is the idea of the body of Christ represented in the architectural form of the church, bleeding, melting – either into the architecture, into Paris, into the city, it’s just so beautiful.”

notredamedetail“Untitled” detail

“The image is also a very powerful sculptural form in and of itself. It is as if it is both a floor plan and something achieving actual elevation at the same time.”

kuitca9“Lontano,” detail

“This painting (above) is exceptionally good. It’s based on cubism, the history of art, and the history of painting. Kuitca fuses this with another very central tenet, which is his inclusion of the floor plans of apartments or domestic space. As you know, Kuitca started off doing floor plans of his own apartment, and then just started playing with that form, that cube, of our lived environment, which is a formal element in the painting. I love that in this work the floor plans are very rigid, rectangular or square – very straight edged, straightforward – but are then surrounded by chaos.”

kuitca10Guillermo Kuitca, “Untitled,” Oil on canvas, 75 x 96 in., 1995

And this (above) is from Kuitca’s “beds in rooms” series, and it is so – well – you can really tell that his parents were psychoanalysts when you look at a painting like this! It just becomes theatrical in many, many ways. We brought a group of school kids in last week to show them this, and they immediately said, “Somebody got murdered there!” because of the blood red and the overturned furniture.”

“If you take a look at the doors in the painting, it’s as if the painting asks, which door do you choose? It really forces you to think about which way you go. Through the black door, or, is that a white door? Or is it a closed door? Is it good or is it evil? What lies behind? It’s also interesting that Kuitca was very good friends with Pina Bausch the choreographer. They collaborated often on her stage sets; she was a huge influence on him and he on her. So when you think about Pina’s stage sets, they’re very much like this: simple, stark, just a few pieces of furniture – and just in doing research for this show, I came across this one little essay explaining that relationship and it was like, oh okay, of course! This makes total and complete sense.”

“Also Guillermo of course literally has painted on mattresses, and has hung those on a wall or has made them sculptures or bed sculptures. The bed is a site of ‘human psychogeography,’ and obviously our beds are very very important to us in terms of where we sleep or rest, have sex, enact our lives, where we have insomnia – I mean the bed is both site of trauma and absolute calm. So it’s interesting that several artists have honed in on that.”

kuitca11Guillermo Kuitca, “Untitled,” Oil on canvas, 72 1/2 x 108 in., 1998

And in the work here (above), it’s a reflection of the same space, but also laid on top of an incredibly complex abstract work; just in terms of the staining and the mark-making that’s going on. When you start to look into it, things are more or less matching, yet completely blurred and nothing like the others at all, so is this a reflection in water? Is it a reflection in space, with the overturned beds again going on? And yet, either way it’s not a perfect reflection, because in one place, the chair is upright, in another, upside down and, in another it’s turned over on its side. So beautiful. The color palette is just incredible.”

kuitca22“Untitled” detail

“So ultimately, I was very happy with this show. It’s beautiful, and also, sadly, even more timely than I ever expected it to be. Now that we’re facing a totally new direction in our country, and the implications of what’s to come – with immigration, and ideas of walls, and architecture – from that angle, these things will take on very new meaning. But again, based on one’s politics, some people are elated and thrilled, whereas others are scared and miserable, and I mean I guess that’s always the human condition. And in many ways, when an artist is looking very specifically at how we navigate space, how we inhabit space,and how we position our own identities within it, I thought that they don’t get any better than this.” -Eric Shiner, SVP Fine Art, Sotheby’s

Many thanks to Mr. Shiner from Artifactoid for this thoughtful tour. Unfortunately this exhibit is no longer up, but please stay tuned for more beautiful upcoming shows at the Sotheby’s S|2 Gallery!

Reflections on Manus X Machina at the MET: Fashion and Technology, Couture to RTW

While Yves Saint Laurent once quoted, “Art is a very big word for couture. It’s a métier like any other, but a poetic métier,” it was difficult for me to look at the pieces on display at the MET’s Manus x Machina exhibit and not see many of them as wearable sculptures.

img_3268-1Dress featuring both hand-embroidered and 3D-printed elements, by threeASFOUR, 2014

If you didn’t get a chance to check out the recent fashion and technology exhibit before it closed this Labor Day weekend, I wanted to give you an opportunity to see some of the beautiful pieces that were featured, and consider the topic of fashion and technology.

dressIris van Herpen dress including polyurethane resin and iron fillings hand-sculpted with magnets, Autumn/Winter 2014

One thing that really struck me about this Apple-sponsored, Andrew Bolton-organized exhibit was that, for a fashion and technology exhibit, it didn’t feel very high-tech. It was more like a retrospective of how high fashion has kept up with and experimented with the tech of its time over the last century. For instance, many of the 3D-printed pieces which were presented as some of the more technologically advanced of the show were created several years back. I’d even previously seen the Iris van Herpen 3D-printed corset in early 2014 the Bass Museum in Miami.

vanherpenIris van Herpen, 3D-Printed Dress (far right, 2010)

The lower-tech vibe of the show, on the positive side, can be viewed as a testament to how well some of the show’s participating haute couture designers have been integrating new technologies into fashion – allowing couture to retain its handmade look while keeping up with some of the latest technologies available. According to The New York Times, this has always been the case, i.e., with the invention of “the sewing machine (used to make a Paul Poiret coat in 1919) and machine-made lace (Coco Chanel, in the late ’30s).”

diorGowns, Dior (left, center) and Alexander McQueen (right)

There also seems to be a limiting factor in regards to the marriage of high-tech and haute couture: since a lot of technology is created to be utilitarian, and by its nature haute couture seems to be the antithesis of utilitarian, will the applications of technology in haute couture be limited to purely the aesthetic?

Even when considering Hussein Chalayan, whose fashion designs have included robotic, LED, and remote controlled technologies, the tech provides a visual wow-factor but no practical benefits for the wearer. Then again, no one ever looked to haute couture for its practicality.

Has it been frowned upon in the fashion world for couture to incorporate practical technology? Is there this consensus that the wearer of couture wouldn’t need high-tech life hacks woven into her ensemble at the moment of wearing it because its presence might reveal her earthly needs in her moment of being a goddess? I wonder if any designers right now are experimenting with pushing what those limits seem to have been.

chalayan“Kaikoku” Floating dress, Hussein Chalayan, 2011-12

Breaking from those limitations, the ready-to-wear fashion industry on the other hand is using technology to transform clothing itself into wearable tech smart devices. For instance, Google’s “Project Jacquard” recently debuted a partnership with Levi’s for a smart commuter jacket made of tech-connective denim that you can swipe like a smartphone screen to answer calls, control your music, and more, while remaining alert riding a bike. Antonio Cerruto, an engineer working on Project Jacquard, notes, “What I find exciting is that the people working on fashion tech now are the people who will be defining a vocabulary and mode of interaction for this area.”

It’s interesting that while tech is being integrated into both haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion in different ways, the core principles of the two categories – one as essentially wearable art and the other as utilitarian – seem to remain the same. And, the most “cutting edge” of the tech seems to be applied to the most common of the clothing: a denim jacket.

Culture Beach: There’s More to See at Fort Tilden than Katharina Grosse’s Painted House

The Rockaways: Your friends might all be going to The Hamptons or Fire Island – hey, maybe you are too! But you might also be stuck thinking (like I am many times), the only way I’m getting to the beach this weekend is by taking the subway and bus. And you know what? I’ve learned it’s pretty darn awesome. Especially when your day can be filled as filled with arts and culture as it is with seashells and waves. And that’s what brought me to Fort Tilden.

Fort Tilden is an historic district next to Jacob Riis Park. Its initial building was constructed during the War of 1812 as a part of the “2nd system” of defense to protect the area from the possibility of British attacks coming from the ocean. The fort wasn’t expanded and reactivated again until World War II, and remained active during the Cold War, but was officially deactivated in 1974 when it became an official national recreation area.

While Jacob Riis Park is now a lot of fun with eclectic food stands, live music, a bar or two, and a diverse family-oriented crowd, Fort Tilden beach is more like a quiet, hipster, adult beach where (ladies) you can freely go topless without anyone bothering you as if you’re in Europe, and check out a variety of artistic interventions thanks to MoMA PS1’s Rockaway!, the Rockaway Artists Alliance, the Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy, the National Park Service, the Central Park Conservancy, NYC Parks & Recreation and Rockaway Beach Surf Club.

MoMA PS1’s Rockaway! has become a known program in New York City over the past couple of years since its inception in 2014, and deservedly so. It came to life as a collaboration between MoMA PS1 Director Klaus Bisenbach and Patti Smith, a Rockaway resident who has been visiting Fort Tilden beach since the 1970s with Robert Mapplethorpe. Rockaway! celebrates bringing the area back to life after it suffered destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, two weeks prior to which Smith had bought a house there (queue Alanis). The debut of Rockaway! included a large-scale, site-specific work by Smith titled, “Resilience of the Dreamer,” along with projects by Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas, Canadian artist Janet Cardiff, and a Walt Whitman poetry reading performed by Smith together with James Franco (a friend of Bisenbach).

Warehouse

This year’s main attraction is the site-specific project created by Katharina Grosse, a mid-career German artist with a hefty CV whose painted post-Hurricane Sandy ruin is generating ubiquitous buzz this 2016 summer season. So much so, that it appears to have sealed the deal making her the latest addition to the Gagosian Gallery‘s roster (which looks like it could be confused with a hall of fame of sorts but could seriously use a few more female artists in the mix). Grosse’s Rockaway! exhibition will be on view through November 30th, 2016, and her first commercial solo show with Gagosian is expected for early 2017.

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If you aren’t yet aware, Grosse painted a similar dilapidated house in New Orleans’ 9th Ward following Hurricane Katrina as a part of their 2008 biennial, so this Fort Tilden installation following Hurricane Sandy can be viewed as the second in a series. According to the New York Times, Grosse’s 2008 project actually humiliated one of the hurricane’s survivors. I have yet to find more details on that story, but learning that that happened piqued my interest. I wonder how that individual felt about the art, and what his or her perspective was.

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To me, something that was important while visiting was to pay attention to the fact that PS1’s Rockaway! is not the only cultural attraction to participate in in the Fort Tilden beach area. There are additional cultural centers and installations to check out that have a beautiful local vibe and help you feel the soul of the community and more intimately connect with it.

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These include The Rockaway Artist Alliance gallery, and The Rockaway Theatre Company, a thriving center for the performing arts which was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts this June.

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Dan Guarino, president of the Rockaway Artists Alliance, was kind enough to give me a great tour of the space and a special peek into a rehearsal for “La Cage aux Folles,” which opened at the theater last weekend to great success.

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John Gilleece, Artistic Director of the Rockaway Theatre Company and Director of “La Cage aux Folles,” notes:

“Rockaway Beach, New York is a beach community with a summertime feel. Sun and surf take precedence over many other pursuits.  But, what makes the Rockaway arts community unique is that the art does not begin on Memorial Day and stop after Labor Day.  The two major arts groups, the Rockaway Theatre Company and the Rockaway Artists Alliance, offer year-round shows, exhibits and events. Nineteen years ago, when the RTC started, Rockaway Beach was very much underserved in the area of local, live theater.  But endurance and hard work bore fruit. Today, our reputation for Broadway-quality musicals has enlarged our audience base so that we have people coming from all over the New York area.”

At the Rockaway Artists Alliance art gallery, you can currently enjoy an indoor/outdoor art show including a display of sizable paintings from the exhibit, “Forbidden Fruit: Street Art in a National Park,” and enter the large abandoned locomotive repair space where Patti Smith’s 2014 project was staged. At the theater, “La Cage aux Folles” has three upcoming performances on August 19th, 20th, and 21st, and you can get tickets here.

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The Austrian Cultural Forum New York: A Hidden Treasure near the MoMA

For the first time, I recently visited the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York City’s midtown. Situated on 52nd Street and 5th Avenue, it is close to the MoMA and is a special cultural site in an area filled with mainly retail stores and corporate offices. If you are in the area shopping, visiting the MoMA, or the south side of Central Park, I would recommend stopping in at ACFNY.

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The ACFNY is a multi-faceted destination that offers many more than one reason to visit. First of all, the physical building stands at 24 stories and is a unique and known architectural achievement in the city. It is a very deep yet narrow building that soars high with walls of windows that provide a sweeping view of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which will remain, because the air rights between the two structures are privately owned by a prominent New York family. To note, the building was originally a smaller, townhouse-style structure but was eventually re-done. Co-curator Prem Krishnamurthy of current ACFNY show “DIS – PLAY / RE – PLAY” comments,

“The ACFNY is a sliver of Austria inscribed within the complex real estate relations of Manhattan. The building is significant architecturally, as it negotiates a narrow 25-foot wide site and multi-tiered program. It’s the particularities of this architecture — both positive and challenging alike — that inspired the specific approach of the show I worked on there.”

Secondly, the ACFNY was founded in 1942 by Austrian Jewish families who fled Austria during World War II and were seeking to establish an institution to preserve Austrian culture in a place where it could flourish. In addition, there are a network of Austrian Cultural Forums globally, and the one in New York is a member of this group. I personally feel strongly about the survival of the arts during World War II, specifically the perseverance of Jewish artists who were persecuted or the recuperation of artworks seized by Nazis, like Austrian painter Gustav Klimt’s “Woman in Gold” which I mentioned in my previous article about Jewish Czech artist and concentration camp survivor Jan de Ruth, of whom I own a work titled “Daydream.”

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But, the ACFNY is anything but a cultural relic from the 1940s. The institute is currently showcasing two contemporary art exhibitions, including Ulrike Königshofer, “Sense and Record,” on view until 7/28, and the previously mentioned “DIS – PLAY / RE – PLAY” put together by internationally revered curators including Krishnamurthy (of P! and Project Projects) and Walter Seidl, on view through 9/5. And, believe it or not, the next concert being held in the ACFNY’s petite, clean and modern theater will be a house music performance in September.

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Additional features of the ACFNY institution include a full library filled with preserved Austrian literature (if you are a lover of “old book scent” like I am, this is the place for you!), and a friendly, engaging and passionate staff led by ACFNY Director Christine Moser. For a free guided tour of the space and current exhibits, stop by on a Wednesday at 4PM.

2009 Art Activism in Buenos Aires Combats Bathroom Discrimination: More Relevant Now than Ever

In 2009, a group of artists and activists in Buenos Aires, Argentina transformed the gender-segregated bathrooms at the University of Buenos Aires’s Social Science Faculty into universal, gender-neutral bathrooms with a project called “Baño Revolution” (Restroom Revolution).

Led by artist and sociologist Dr. Syd Krochmalny and lead member of the well-known Argentine rock band “Ahora,” Nacho Marciano, a group of about 50 participants linked to the national university’s sociology department took action to both draw attention to and combat the discrimination against the LGBT community inherent in the gender binary bathroom system.

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During the Baño Revolution happening, participating activists concealed the men’s and women’s signs on all the bathrooms in the national university’s social sciences building by covering them with universal, genderless bathroom signs (shown below). Each bathroom that used to be designated as “men’s” or “women’s” was then open to anyone who chose to identify as either gender, or anyone who fell anywhere along the gender identity or sexuality spectra, regardless of the gender indicated on his or her birth certificate.

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Also during the happening, participants were invited to express any gender they identified with, and freely enter any of the new, universal bathrooms. There was even a discotheque set up inside one of the new universal bathrooms, where participants were invited to dance, observe, interact, and celebrate.

Expanding beyond the one-time happening, performance ephemera from the Baño Revolution project includes universal Baño Revolution bathroom signs, Baño Revolution T-shirts, an eponymous original song and music video composed by Ahora specifically for the project, plus a music video, unique still images, and more.

In Argentina, Baño Revolution generated press in newspapers and drew significant attention. To note, the project was executed in 2009, which was a very important and charged year for gender and sexuality rights activism in the country. In 2010, Argentina became the first country in Latin America and the second country in the Americas to legalize gay marriage.

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A considerable amount of time has passed since I last thought about this project. But, given recent current events happening here in the United States like the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act (HB2), it returned to my radar in a new way. It makes an impact when artistic interventions are carried out in order to address societal problems and work toward sparking positive change. It is an awesome use of art and creativity which we could use here, now.

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I think it could be interesting to look into what creative or artistic action might currently be being taken, and even keep our eye out for future projects, aimed at combatting the problem of bathroom-oriented (and other) discrimination due to new laws in North Carolina, Mississippi and other U.S. states.

While this isn’t quite the same thing as Baño Revolution, some celebrity creatives in the U.S. are protesting the laws in their own way. According to this article, Sharon Stone refused to film a movie in Mississippi and musicians including Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr cancelled concerts in North Carolina in reaction to the new discriminatory laws. Other prominent art world figures are also taking a stand, such as the director of the Andy Warhol Museum boycotting the laws by declining an invitation to serve as the visiting critic for UNC Chapel Hill’s 2016 MFA class.

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It is at least somewhat settling to see President Obama speak out against these laws in a recent visit to the UK, but it is still shameful that the laws are even able to exist. I agree with British PM David Cameron, who according to the New York Times recently stated that the British “view on any of these things is that we believe that we should be trying to use law to end discrimination rather than to embed it or enhance it.”

If you are aware of any artistic intervention against HB2 or other similar discriminatory laws, I invite you to comment on this post and share your thoughts.

Wynne Greenwood Spent Seven Years as All Three Band Members of the Activist Punk Rock Trio, “Tracy and the Plastics”

Many of you might have seen Jim Shaw’s recent multi-floor show, “The End is Near” at the New Museum, but what I’m hoping you had the chance to check out was queer feminist artist Wynne Greenwood’s smaller exhibit, “Kelly” which was open simultaneously on the fifth floor. Greenwood is an inspiring and unique creative talent who works with performance, video, object-making and music to practice what she calls “culture-healing.” From what I gathered at the exhibition, the idea of “culture healing” has to do with disrupting/debunking harmful, commonly held cultural beliefs that divide or misrepresent people, with the goal of healing relationships between different types of people.

Specifically, “Kelly” (which was also a 6 month artist residency for Greenwood at the New Museum) comprised Greenwood’s works from 1999 to 2015, during which time she concepted and acted out a variety of distinct characters for live performances and video recordings. To execute this, Greenwood would create partially improvised/partially scripted dialogues for these characters, generating profound conversations that questioned common beliefs and behaviors related to identity, gender and sexuality, and were frequently set to original music.

Greenwood’s main three works included in “Kelly” were Tracy and the Plastics (1999-2006), Strap-On TVs (2010), and her most recent project, More Heads, which she is still working on. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to shine the spotlight on the fascinating Tracy and the Plastics.

Tracy and the Plastics  is a three-member punk girl band, created by Greenwood in her basement in 1999 in Olympia, Washington (birthplace of the Riot Grrrl movement). The Tracy and the Plastics project was presented at the New Museum in the form of a series of music videos displayed across about 20 individual TV screens.  In terms of the band members, Greenwood would play all three of them herself (she would pre-record two of the band members and display them to either side of her on television screens – or project them onto the walls next to her – during performances). You can check out some official Tracy and the Plastics videos here and below to get a real idea of some of the interesting themes Greenwood brings up in the project and see it in action.

To note, Tracy and the Plastics went on tour in 2000, was featured at the 2004 Whitney Biennial, and joined forces with other bands and artists including Le Tigre, Bangs, and Fawn Krieger for a variety of shows, before it later “broke up” in 2006.

One of my personal favorite things about Tracy and the Plastics is that Greenwood developed complex relationships between each of the band members, Tracy (vocals), Nikki (keyboard), and Cola (drums), which resulted in potent conversations brought about in often subtle and unexpected ways regarding identity, perception, sexuality, and more. In addition, the dynamic between Tracy, Nikki, and Cola was never boring: like any rock band, the three members often had disagreements or misunderstandings, and would sometimes hurt each other’s feelings. For example, per written materials authored by New Museum curators Johanna Burton, Stephanie Snyder and Sara O’Keefe:

…while setting up for a show, Cola spray-paints the name of the band on a wall and then asks, “Hey Tracy, does that look straight?” When Tracy confirms that it does, Cola, concerned rather than reassured, spray-paints two women’s symbols beside it, in an attempt to make it look “less straight” after all.

In 2013, seven years after Tracy and the Plastics’ 2006 dissolution, Greenwood realized that she’d wished she’d documented all of their performances, so both privately and over the course of an artist residency, she completed recreating and documenting the majority of all of the Tracy and the Plastics performances so that they could be shown as they are in exhibits like “Kelly.”

A final point that I found interesting was that at the New Museum, “Kelly” was situated within the context of a larger exhibit called “Histories of Sexuality.” This was an interesting and enriching curatorial choice because the museum placed Greenwood’s work among that of other artists in the past who had worked with similar ideas about sexuality and gender, ultimately providing viewers with the possibility of a more full-circle experience of Greenwood’s work.

The two former New Museum programs that “Histories of Sexuality” focused on included: “Homo Video: Where Are We Now” (1986-87) curated by William Olander, and New Museum Founder Marcia Tucker’s “Bad Girls” exhibition (1994) curated by Cheryl Dunye. According to the New Museum’s archives, these programs:

…attempted to redress the reductive representation of homosexuality and gendered subjects that their curators perceived in art as well as in culture at large. Both were characterized by works concerned with the texture of individual subjects and communities rather than celebrating some uniform, idealized fantasy of either gay or female liberation.

In other words, with works like those featured in “Kelly,” Greenwood carries on the conversation about these critical ideas that Olander, Tucker and Dunye focused on in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Greenwood’s additions amplify and electrify the full conversation when compiled in one unified exhibit with the other artists’ works.

For more information about Greenwood, I encourage you to check out her official website. For more information about current exhibitions at the New Museum, click here.