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Click here to see this same Hyperallergic article about the Yoko Ono exhibition in the form of a downloadable, printable PDF.

 

 

10 May 2015

Japan: Revisiting the disasters zone in photos, four years after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident

Above, left to right: Black-and-white images by the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, who is well-known internationally for his urban scenes of Japan; damaged photos from family albums, which were found among the rubble and debris in the Tōhoku region after the flood waters had receded and were rescued by the Japan-based Lost and Found Project, a volunteer organization; and photos by Lieko Shiga, which offer a hallucinatory take on the appearace of the disasters-affected region today. Photos of exhibition installation by E.M.G..

BOSTON — At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, I’ve just seen one of the most interesting photography exhibitions to have come along in quite a while; certainly the subject matter of this presentation makes it as compelling as the unusual images, produced by 17 photographers, that it features.

On view, through July 12, In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11 is a survey of photographic images of the Tōhoku region in northeastern Japan, which, on March 11, 2011, was struck by what has become known as the “Great East Japan Earthquake.” That massive temblor, which measured 9.0 on the Richter scale, was followed by a tsunami that in some places reached a height of 130 feet and rolled inland some six miles from the sea. Those natural disasters damaged a coastal, nuclear-power plant in Fukushima, leading to a deadly release of radioactivity that effectively made a vast swath of territory uninhabitable.

The photos on view here in Boston document the physical effects of the triple-whammy of natural and human-made disasters that devastated Tōhoku. Some, like Kōzō Miyoshi’s black-and-white shot of a boat resting atop piles of rubble after the floodwaters receded, offer straightforward visual records of how wiped-out towns appeared after the catastrophic events of March 2011. Some show how once-lively cities and villages look today, either abandoned or in various stages of determined rebuilding.

Other images on view, like Lieko Shiga’s picture of a shoreline covered by a blood-red sky or Masato Seto’s reverse-printed, black-and-white trees, offer more interpretative takes on the region’s sometimes eerie-looking landscape, which has been reshaped by destruction. A photo by Yasusuke Ōta shows a lone ostrich walking along the main street of an abandoned town, while Tomoko Yoneda’s images capture the beauty of plants in the disasters-stricken region, some of which, inevitably, have been affected by the radioactive fallout from the damaged Fukushima power plant.

See the museum’s website for a video clip with a brief interview with this exhibition’s curators.

Posted by E.M.G.

 

5 May 2015

At New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Yoko Ono’s once-conceptual solo show becomes very real

Above, left to right: Opening spread of article in May 2015 issue of Art & Antiques; artist Yoko Ono performing “Cut Piece” (1964) at Carnegie Recital Hall, New York, March 21, 1965; and Ono with the Gaston Lachaise sculpture “Standing Woman” (1932), in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art, NY, circa 1960-61. Both archival photographs by Minoru Niizuma, © Minoru Niizuma, courtesy Lenono Photo Archive, NY, and the Museum of Modern Art, NY.

NEW YORK — On May 17, 2015, the exhibition Yoko Ono: One Woman Show, 1960-1971 will open at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. (It will run through September 7, 2015.) One could say that it’s a presentation that has been some 45 years in the making. But in looking back at Ono’s career trajectory and the evolution of her art and ideas, it focuses specifically on one especially formative, earlier period in the development of her work.

What makes this exhibition unusually noteworthy is that there was a time decades ago when Ono imagined presenting a solo exhibition of her work at MoMA but the closest she was able to come to realizing it was to mount a conceptual show on the sidewalk in front of and, in the imagination, inside MoMA’s building. Here’s the back story, which I summarize in an article, “Plastic Ono Show,” in the just-published May 2015 issue of the American magazine Art & Antiques. My article also offers a preview of the themes and content of MoMA’s forthcoming exhibition.

In late 1971, Ono placed advertisements in the New York Times and the Village Voice announcing her conceptual Museum of Modern (F)art show at MoMA, complete with a printed catalog, which she sold by postal mail. Her ads featured a black-and-white photo showing the entrance of the museum, with its name spelled out in letters mounted above its awning. The photo was manipulated to create an empty space between the last two words of MoMA’s name. In the picture, Ono could be seen strolling by, carrying a shopping bag on which had been printed or perhaps onto which had fallen from above a big letter F, spelling out the word... Well, you know.

For two weeks, without the museum’s involvement, a man whom Ono had hired walked back and forth in front of MoMA’s entrance wearing a signboard. It bore a text explaining that a swarm of flies had been placed in a big bottle containing the same perfume Ono wore, and that the bottle had been placed inside the museum. It stated that the flies had been released into the air, and that a photographer had been dispatched to search for and shoot pictures of the scattered insects. Ono’s catalog of this imaginary exhibition contained photos of various New York locations in which, reputedly (that is, conceptually), the flies had landed.

In a recent interview with me at her home in New York, Ono acknowledged that, decades ago, when conceptual art was still emerging and dominated by male artists who often took themselves or their pronouncements rather seriously, when it came to daring to express some humor through such art, as she often did, “They didn't like it.” However she noted, referring to the art world as a rather limited target audience, “I was not creating just to communicate on that level. I was doing it for myself, too.”

For more about the staging of Ono’s “Museum of Modern (F)art” project many years ago and her new MoMA exhibition, see my Art & Antiques article. Click here to open a PDF containing this new article. (Give it some time to download. It’s a 14 MB file.)

Posted by E.M.G.

 

1 May 2015

 

28 April 2015

Vienna’s great Kunsthistorisches Museum, deep behind the scenes

NEW YORK — At IFC Center, the multi-screen movie theater in downtown Manhattan, I just had the pleasure of seeing Johannes Holzhausen’s superb, new docu-film, Das Grosse Museum (The Great Museum), a cinema verité look at the inner workings of one of Vienna’s most venerable cultural institutions, the Kunsthistorisches Museum. A repository of paintings, sculptures, arms and armor, garments, decorative objects, books and documents, and antiquities, the museum’s collections are encyclopedic in scope. In particular, Holzhausen’s film documents the preparations the museum’s collaborating teams of designers, curators, managers and general staff members undertook to renovate and reinstall the KM’s emblematic Kunstkammer Wien, a core collection of treasures whose creation and acquisition in past centuries benefited from the patronage of old Austria’s former rulers in the House of Hapsburg. (The Kunstkammer Wien reopened to the public in March 2013.) Some of the most compelling scenes in the film are also its most unassuming; these are the moments in which Holzhausen’s camera slips quietly into the museum’s storerooms and also into the workrooms and laboratories of its art conservators, and watches them at work. Their highly specialized technical skills are indispensable to the long-term survival of both the famous masterpieces and the smaller, odd objets the state-funded institution is charged with preserving and protecting.

I most recently visited the Kunsthistorisches Museum in February of this year, at which time, using an Apple iPhone 6, I snapped the photos of the black-and-white patterns on its main-lobby floor that appear above.

Posted by E.M.G.

 

1 March 2015

In Japan, one of the world’s legendary collectors of classic Asian art tells me his story

NEW YORK — Several months ago, in Japan, I had the pleasure of meeting Yasuyoshi Morimoto, a Kyoto-based collector of ancient works of art from China, Japan, the Korean peninsula, Thailand, India and other parts of Asia. Morimoto is something of a legend among collectors in this field. Over a period of many decades, along with his late partner, the American writer David Kidd (1926-1996), Morimoto built up one of the most wide-ranging private collections of classic Asian art to be found anywhere in the world.

Kidd was born in Kentucky and grew up in Detroit. In 1946, he headed to China’s capital, then known in the West as Peking, as a college exchange student. There, he taught English and watched China’s tired, fractured ruling system collapse as Mao Zedong’s revolutionary communist forces defeated the Nationalists and in 1949 established the People’s Republic of China. Kidd married the daughter of a former high-ranking judge, which made him the odd, foreign member of an aristocratic family and provided him with a unique vantage point from which to observe the pain and pathos, for China’s privileged elite, of the demise of their way of life. Kidd’s stories about these experiences were published in the United States in The New Yorker and in a book, All the Emperor’s Horses (1960; later reissued as Peking Story: The Last Days of Old China). After the Communists’ vistory, Kidd returned to the U.S. but he longed to return to China. A few years later, divorced and hoping to make his way back to China, he went to Japan, where he remained until his death. A self-taught, erudite connoisseur of classical Chinese and other East Asian art forms, Kidd became an indefatigable collector.

In Japan, Kidd and Morimoto became friends and life partners, sharing a home and a passion for Asian art. “What little money we had, we poured into collecting,” Morimoto told me. In the world of Asian art collecting, Kidd and Morimoto became the go-to experts for a range of inquisitive, discerning clients.

My article about Kidd and Morimoto’s collection, based on my interview with the seventy-something Morimoto at his home in Kyoto, has been published in the March 2015 issue of the American magazine Art & Antiques. This article’s text and main photos can be found online, here.

Posted by E.M.G.

 

23 February 2015

In New York, Yoko Ono Lennon presents the 2015 Courage Awards for the Arts

Above, left to right, images from the dinner event in New York on Sunday evening, February 22, 2015, at which the artist Yoko Ono Lennon presented her 2015 Courage Awards for the Arts: The jazz saxophonist, composer and band leader Ornette Coleman and Ono; the artist with the art dealer and former museum director Jeffrey Deitch; and the Japanese avant-garde composer Toshi Ichiyanagi, who sent his acceptance speech via pre-recorded video clip from Tokyo. Coleman, Deitch, Ichiyanagi andJonas Mekas, the avant-garde filmmaker and co-founder of Anthology FIlm Archives in New York, were all recipients of this year's Courage Awards. Photos by E.M.G.

NEW YORK — There was another awards ceremony in the United States last night…

At a private dinner at The Modern, a restaurant in the Museum of Modern Art’s main building in Manhattan, the artist Yoko Ono Lennon presented the 2015 Courage Awards for the Arts. First awarded in 2009, Ono’s prize is among the less familiar expressions of philanthropy and cultural activism for which this internationally recognized multimedia artist, performer and peace activist is known.

Still, as Ono has said, it is an awards program whose mission and character resonate deeply with the artist herself. That’s because, as she has observed, over the decades of a long, multifaceted career she has learned firsthand about struggling, perseverance and striving to remain true to one’s creative vision, often in the face of harsh criticism, misunderstanding or rejection. With such themes in mind, over the years Ono’s Courage Awards have acknowledged the achievements and the stick-to-itiveness of art-makers, music-makers, creative visionaries and champions of free expression.

This year’s Courage Award recipients included Ornette Coleman, the pioneering jazz saxophonist and composer; Jeffrey Deitch, the New York art dealer and former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Toshi Ichiyanagi, the Japanese composer (who was Ono’s first husband); and Jonas Mekas, the avant-garde filmmaker and a co-founder of New York’s Anthology Film Archives.

To read more about this year’s Courage Awards for the Arts, click here to open a PDF containing a report about last night’s awards ceremny.

Posted by E.M.G.

 

1 February 2015

In SCULPTURE magazine, my article about Gillian Jagger’s evocations of the life force and passing time

Above, left to right: The British-born sculptor GIllian Jagger in one of the barns on her property in the mid-Hudson Vallery, north of New York City, which serves as a studio. An artist who has worked in a wide range of media, Jagger created one of her most recent sculptures by using plastic-coated electrical wire. She based its form on that of a bucking bull, which she depicted in a mural-size drawing on paper after seeing in person and feeling deeply moved by prehistoric paintings on cave walls in southern France. Photos by E.M.G.

NEW YORK — The British-born sculptor Gillian Jagger’s work defies familiar art-category labels. Her art is self-consciosuly postmodern-ironic, nor does Jagger send her designs out to nameless fabricators to be manufactured for her — bigger, shinier, more expensive! — to sell to trophy-seeking Russian oligarchs or oil-rich Qataris. Certainly many of her mixed-media works are large — and complex and unusual, too, for they may incorporate the dried bodies of dead animals or rusty sections of old farm implements or trunks of fallen trees. Still, despite or because of their strangeness, her sculptures do not traffic in one-trick sensations; instead, they tend to conjure up resonant, ambiguous emotions and atmospheres that feel at once primordial and timeless, charged with some kind of unnameable, soulful-psychic energy.

Jagger, who is now in her early eighties and has lived for several decades in the rural Hudson Valley region, northwest of Manhattan, says: “As human beings, we’re interconnected with each other and with nature. We are or we should be, that is, and I want my works to reflect that idea.” Jagger is a professor emerita of Pratt Institute, the art, design, architecture and engineering school in Brooklyn, where she taught for 40 years. She also continues to teach, in the role of visiting critic, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

See my feature article about this engaged and empathetic artist’s work and career history in the January-February 2015 issue of Sculpture. Click here to open a PDF showing the complete article just as it appears in the print edition of this magazine. The file’s size is approximately six megabytes.

Posted by E.M.G.

 

24 January 2015

For the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, a donation that could change art history’s tale

 

17 January 2015

She didn’t just play the cello: A new bio of avant-garde performer and impresario Charlotte Moorman

Click here to see my review of the new book about Charlotte Moorman in Hyperallergic, the arts-and-culture magazine.

Posted by E.M.G.

 

15 January 2015

In Tokyo, artist Jack McLean presents his vision of a goofy-banal world, in which he is a leading anti-hero

Above: Details of large-scale drawings made with ink on canvas by the Tokyo-based, Scottish artist Jack McLean and the artist himself, standing next to one of his works. Photos by E.M.G.

TOKYO — The Tokyo-based, Scottish artist Jack McLean is a master of a certain kind of super-dry satire, whose mischievousness is on view at The Container, a small, alternative-space gallery in the capital’s Nakameguro district. In just a few years, this replica of a metal shipping container, installed inside a hip haircutting salon, has become a much-watched venue for conceptual and other forms of contemporary art. McLean’s exhibition, It’s a Long Story, in Full Colour, Without a Happy Ending, includes a large drawing in oil-ink pen and watercolor on canvas, which fills the gallery’s far wall, and two long, horizontal drawings made with the same materials, which radiate out from it on either side like cartoon friezes. Also on view is a large, papier-mâché airplane, a prop from one of McLean’s performance art events.

Read my article about McLean’s unusual drawings and sculptures — he also presents performance art works, in which he appears himself as a kind of reluctantly active agent-object — in the Japan Times, the leading, independent, English-language, national/international newspaper that is published in Japan. Click here to see this article.

Posted by E.M.G.

 

10 January 2015

Guitar strings, neckties, dried flowers and artificial hair: Donna Sharret’s art mixes media and meanings

Above, left to right: Michelle, 2013, 6 x 6 inches, made with old neckties, jewelry, guitar strings, guitar-string ball ends, buttons and thread; a detail of Dancing Barefoot, 2014, 48 x 48 inches, made with men’s shirts, women’s dresses, wedding dress hem, jewelry, blue jeans, neckties, guitar strings, needlework, damask tablecloth, negligee edging, interfacing, buttons, bone beads, pins, synthetic hair and thread; the artist Donna Sharrett at the opening of her exhibition in New York on January 8, 2015; and some of the artist's preparatory sketches, with which she develops ideas for her compositions. Photos: Courtesy of Pavel Zoubok Gallery; Margaret Fox; E.M.G. and E.M.G.

NEW YORK — I’ve been following the development of the American artist Donna Sharrett’s work with great interest since I first encounetred and wrote about it in the New York Times in October 2000. At that time, still early in her still-young career, her unusual, mixed-media creations were being featured in a solo exhibition at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York. Made with dried rose petals, which she joined together in intricate patterns using hand-stitched, artificial hair, the works Sharrett presented there in her Mementos series explored the theme of memorializing deceased family members and other loved ones. Each of the works in that series was set against a black-velvet background and constructed using a needlelace stitch.

Now Sharrett’s skilled needlework and other kinds of meticulous craftsmanship are evident again in her newest series of mixed-media compositions, Love Songs, which is on view in an exhibition of the same name, through February 7, 2015, at Pavel Zoubok Gallery in New York.

In a recent interview, Sharrett told me that, over time, the main theme of her work has become memory, “and, more specifically, the idea of remembrance,” or as she puts it, “people and their belongings,” as well as the “events, places, times and things that we remember and what triggers our memories to flow.” Something about the way she creates her art seems to echo the sense of reverie it evokes. She told me, “The slowness of this kind of work, the long time it takes to produce it, are some of its essential characteristics. My work is slowly built up. It’s not linear. It’s not like following a pattern to make a quilt. I’m constantly taking apart and reassembling.”

My article about this artist’s current exhibition, “Donna Sharrett’s Art of History, Remembrance and Time,” which describes the development of Sharrett’s art-making methods and ideas, and the themes of this new body of work, has been published in Hyperallergic, along with a good selection of photographs of these hard-to-classify creations. Click here to see the article on this arts-and-culture magazine’s website.

Posted by E.M.G.

3 January 2015

18 August 2014

Magiciens de la Terre: 25 years later, a pioneering exhibition is reconsidered — in a new exhibition

   
Views of the current "'Magiciens de la Terre': Return to a Legendary Exhibition" exhibition at the Pompidou Center in Paris, in which big photos of the works that were presented in the original 1989 show cover the walls, and vitrines are filled with documents and background materials indicating how that innovative show's organizers carried out their research and decided which artists' works to include in it; cover of the original exhibition's catalog; and the Australian Stuart McArthur's Universal Corrective Map (1979), which reverses the usual cartographic positions of the Earth's northern and southern hemispheres. McArthur's map is on display in a vitrine in the current exhibition. It provided a major point of reference for the organizers of "Magiciens de la Terre," who sought to look at the world and its cultures in new, non-Eurocentric ways. Photos by E.M.G.  

PARIS — In Paris, through September 15, the Pompidou Center is presenting Magiciens de la Terre: Return to a Legendary Exhibition, an exhibition that looks back at this museum’s historic 1989 show Magiciens de la Terre (Magicians of the Earth). That original exhibition was one of the first major presentations in Europe or America to display works by non-Western, self-taught art-makers  living and working outside the commercial mainstream alongside works by academically trained, mainstream contemporary artists. Often those featured self-taught artists were deeply rooted in indigenous cultural traditions or influenced by post-colonial conditions in their homelands.

“Magiciens de la Terre” attempted to view all of its participating artists’ creations in an even-handed manner without regarding works from the non-Western, developing world as “primitive” or aesthetically inferior. This new exhibition about an exhibition presents research materials that show how the original show’s curators decided which themes to explore and which artworks to include in their headline-making survey 25 years ago. Some of the ideas and contentious issues that informed the original exhibition find echoes in today’s bringing together in numerous exhibitions of works by mainstream contemporary artists and less well-known, self-taught art-makers.

Posted by E.M.G.

 

26 July 2014

In the farm shed of a rural-Nebraska recluse, an astonishing healing machine

Emery Blagdon (1907-1986) was a reclusive, former farmhand, saw mill worker and gold prospector who settled on a farm in his native, rural Nebraska, not far from the city of North Platte. He lived alone and, over time, in an 800-foot-square shed on his property, used wire, metallic foil, scraps of wood, colored lights and assorted found objects to create unusual, talisman-like sculptural objects and abstract paintings. Densely packed together inside the shed, these

   
Above, left to right: Various components from Emery Blagdon's larger, all hand-crafted "healing machine" creation, including a mixed-media, chandelier-shaped sculpture, an abstract painting on board and a box-like wire sculpture. First photo by Kelly Rush; photos in center and at right courtesy of Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York.  

“pretties,” as Blagdon called them, collectively constituted his “healing machine.” Blagdon believed his creations, individually and together, possessed a curative power that could positively affect people who found themslves in their presence. Just to be near them, he believed, was to absorb a soothing electromagnetic energy, which supposedly emanated from them. The artist was prompted to make his “machine” after having been deeply moved by the deaths from cancer of many of his family members. That disease would also lead to his own demise.

Now, Kelly Rush, a longtime promo-spot producer for Nebraskas statewide public-television network, has made a short film about Blagdons life and accomplishments. Click here to see my just-published article in HYPERALLERGIC about the film, Emery Blagdon & His Healing Machine. Click here to go to NET Nebraskas website, where the film may be viewed in its entirety. That website also offers a special section filled with archival photos and other material related to Blagdons life and remarkable artistic creation.

Posted by E.M.G.

 

8 July 2014

 

10 July 2014

More about the Japanese modern artist Akira Shimizus intriguing art — collages and sculptures

LONDON — Im in sunny and hot, summertime London right now, but back in the U.S.A., Art & Antiques magazine has published a second article of mine about the work and career of the Japanese modern artist Akira Shimizu. It appears in the summer 2014 issue (the July-August double issue) of this publication. Recently, in New York, Shimizu presented his first-ever solo exhibition in the U.S. at Pavel Zoubok Gallery. I wrote about that show in Hyperallergic. See the orange-colored picture box above, at the top of this home page, to go to that article, or simply click here.

   
Above, left to right: One of the works from Akira Shimizu's Guidebook series of mixed-media collages, made with printed topographic maps of Japan, 1962-1972; Mesien, a mixed-media collage, 1999; Shunkou, a collage, 2011; and another work from Guidebook. Photos courtesy of the artist and Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York.  

My Art & Antiques article echoes that earlier text but it also offers a different selection of photos of Shimizus works in various media, especially his sumptuous collages. Shimizu is an unusual figure in the annals and within the specific context of Japanese modern-art history in that, unlike many other Japanese modernists, he has always worked alone, not as a member of any artists association or artistic school or movement. Also, he has always been a collage-maker. Collage has been a big part of his oeuvre. However, among Japanese modern artists, collage-makers have been relatively rare.

Click here to see a PDF showing my complete, published Art & Antiques article as it appears in the print edition of this magazine.

Posted by E.M.G.

 

3 July 2014

Art in the streets: Its where you find it

NEW YORK — As I emerged from a long meeting, which had taken place in a building filled with offices and art galleries in Manhattans Chelsea district, the early-evening, summer light illuminated the street like a stage set. My mind was on the business matters I had just discussed with a friend and colleague, but as my eyes surveyed the urban landscape, an extraordinary object caught my attention. It was a large, clear-plastic bag filled with shredded paper — garbage, that is, from one of the nearby office buildings.

Above, left to right: Clear-plastic trash bags, each one filled with shredded papers from offices, lying in a dumpster on West 20th Street in Manhattan in early July. Photos by E.M.G..  

The fluffy ball glowed in the warm, yellowish light of the artificially long, late afternoon. (Thanks, Daylight Saving Time. Look up the history of this human-concocted, time-controlling practice here.)

Simply put, what I saw was one of the most evocative sculptural objects I had encountered in quite a while; it was plain, unassuming, even charming in its teasing play of visual textures and shadows and light. I wanted to touch it but I did not do so. Maybe it was sleeping or at least lounging lazily in that delicious, enticing, mood-changing light.

Of course, what I spotted there in the street was not a work of art at all. Still, it had more of a sense of presence (or what some aesthetes like to call an aura) than many works of contemporary art Ive seen in recent years. Certainly it had more going for it aesthetically and, dare I say it, emotionally, than anything in the bloated, vain, soulless Jeff Koons extravaganza that is now on view at the Whitney Museum in New York. Make a discovery like this, and the joke is on whom, exactly? Attention, conceptual artists: Back to your drawing boards!

Posted by E.M.G.

 

28 June 2014

At the leading folk art museum in the United States, an insightful re-examination of a diverse field

NEW YORK Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum is a new, wide-ranging exhibition now on view, through August 17, at the American Folk Art Museum, the leading institution in its field in the United States. Featuring roughly 100 creations in a variety of genres and materials — textiles, furniture, functional-decorative objects, paintings, sculptures and more — it is a rich, diverse survey of folk art that examines what the term self-taught” can, does and perhaps should mean when used to describe artists and artisans from many different backgrounds who produced highly original works from the mid-1700s to more recent times. This exhibition also looks at the notion of genius — at what it means, what its sources might be, and where, across a broad landscape of artistic creativity, it has been found.

Above, left to right: Logo of the current exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in New York; David Cordier, Birth Record for Hana Oberholtzer, 1816, watercolor and ink on paper, 7 3/4 x 12 1/2 inches; uknown artist, Flag Gate, circa 1876, paint on wood, with iron and brass, 39 1/2 x 57 x 3 3/4 inches . Photos courtesy of American Folk Art Museum.  

My article about this exhibition has been published in HYPERALLERGIC. Click here to read it online.

Stacy C. Hollander is the American Folk Art Museum’s deputy director for curatorial affairs, chief curator and director of exhibitions. In her essay in the catalog that accompanies Self-Taught Genius, she notes that “the concept of ‘self-taught genius’ [...] has changed dramatically over time” from the 1700s to today. She writes, “The idea of ‘self-taught’ in America is entrenched in a culture of self-actualization that was fundamental to the revolutionary temperament and critical to the growth and success of a new nation.”

Hollander also points out that Enlightenment-era thinkers in Europe debated whether or not genius was something innate or God-given, a state of being or a psychological phenomenon. Whatever it was or wherever it originated, it certainly got swept up in the heady vapors of Romanticism. Hollander writes that, in “liberating genius from God and classical precedent, [and] by placing it within the life spark of man,” Romantic and Enlightenment ideas “opened [up] the possibility for freedom” of the self and the individual.

In other words, however much certain objects tagged as “folk art” might have been shaped by particular cultures or communities, or however much their forms might perpetuate or emulate certain well-established models (think of traditional baskets, ceramics, furnishings or painting genres, for instance), often there is a lot of self-expression packed into them, too — and it’s just waiting to be recognized and appreciated.

Check out this new article of mine to find out about some of the highlights of this intriguing exhibition, which, after its New York showing, will travel to six other venues in the U.S. through early 2017.

Posted by E.M.G.

 

12 June 2014

Kazumi Kamae packs mystery and emotion into her unusual expressions in fired clay

TOKYO — The Japanese self-taught artist Kazumi Kamae, who was born in 1966, lives in Shiga Prefecture, near Kyoto, where she produces her unglazed, fired-clay sculptures at Atelier Yamanami, an art-therapy workshop in the city of Koka. Her creations are among the most unusual to have appeared anywhere in recent years in the self-taught art field.

The central theme of Kamae’s work is her affection for Masato, a male staff member at the workshop. Kamae lives in a country whose popular culture is loaded with expressions of cuteness and sometimes mawkish sentimentality — smiling bunnies, puppies or fish routinely turn up in company logos, and Hello Kitty’s mouthless mug is ubiquitous. By contrast, despite the fact that Kamae’s subject matter is so personal, in her art she manages to abstract it in a manner that yields objects of mystery, intriguing ambiguity and considerable charm.

Above: Unglazed, fired-clay sculptures made by the self-taught Japanese artist Kazumi Kamae, on view at Yukiko Koike Presents, in Tokyo. Photos courtesy of the gallery.  

An excellent selection of Kamae’s works is now on view, through June 20, 2014, at Yukiko Koide Presents, a gallery in Tokyo that specializes in works made by self-taught artists. The exhibition, Kazumi Kamae: Masato, My Love, offers a good overview of the expressive range of Kamae’s art. Some of the sculptures on view are semi-abstract, totem-like forms with stubby arms and multiple eyes and mouths. Others seem to slouch like strange animals in repose. Kamae meticulously covers her sculptures with short, thick daubs of clay that resemble three-dimensional brushstrokes. From a distance, her works appear to be covered in fluffy pelts, belying the hard, crusty character of their surfaces. The artist’s remarkably skillful transformation of her humble material and the unusual aura of her creations contribute in a big way to her work’s allure.

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24 May 2014

17 May 2014

13 May 2014

12 May 2014

 

4 May 2014

A dialog in art: The folk art of Ilija (Bosilj) Bašičević and the heady conceptualism of “Mangelos”

   
Above, left to right: Dimitrije Bašičević (known as "Mangelos"), Paysage, 1951-1956, watercolor and ink over printed text on cream paper, 7.5 x 10.625 inches; Ilija (Bosilj) Bašičević, Noah's Ark, 1967, oil on wood, signed "Ilija," upper left, 31.875 x 48.25 inches; Mangelos, Pithagoras, 1951-1956, tempera on the centerfold from a book (ivory wove paper), inscribed "pilogora," lower left and "ser. d-5," lower right, 7.75 x 11.25 inches. Photos courtesy of Galerie St. Etienne.  

NEW YORK — Taking family ties and the notion of different categories of art (what is folk art or outsider art; what is “academic” art; in the former Soviet bloc countries, wasn’t avant-garde art “outsider,” too?) as starting points, Galerie St. Etienne, at 24 West 57th Street, in midtown Manhattan, is now presenting Ilija/Mangelos: Father & Son, Inside and Out. On view through July 3, this exhibition looks back at the distinctive oeuvres of two art-makers who lived and worked in what used to be Yugoslavia.

It pairs the paintings of Ilija (Bosilj) Bašičević (1895-1972), a Serbian peasant who in his lifetime received only four years of primary-school education and made pictures with allusions to the Bible, folk poetry and myth, and the conceptualist works of his highly intellectual, well-educated, critic-curator son Dimitrije Bašičević (1921-1987), whose nom d’artiste was “Mangelos.”

The aesthetic dialog between their two bodies of work is highly charged; Ilija’s pictures are full of color, fantasy and whimsy, while his son’s works are printed texts or images that he blacked out or obscured with gouache and, apparently, a minimalist aesthete’s determination — or glee. Literally or symbolically, what was Mangelos obliterating? At the time in his country, how provocative was such an artistic act? The frisson of tension that emanates from these two, side-by-side bodies of work is unusually compelling.

Painting at right: Ilija (Bosilj) Bašičević, Blue Lady,1967, oil on cardboard, signed "Ilija," center right, and titled, center left, 27.5 x 20.5 inches. Photo courtesy of Galerie St. Etienne.

Posted by E.M.G.

 

3 May 2014

 

27 April 2014

Now tracking: Michael Newman’s long journey to the heart of gestural abstract art-making

 

Above: Nuances (2014), pencil on Magnani paper; two sheets, each sheet 21.125 inches high x 23.75 inches wide. Click on the ART PROJECTS button on the menu in the upper, left-hand corner of this home page or click here to read my description, with photos, of artist Michael Newman's paintings and drawings in various media, which I'm looking at and thinking about now, and about which I'm working on an in-depth critical essay. Posted by E.M.G.

 

 

25 April 2014

Sculptor John Crawford: The subtle monumentalist

   
Above, left to right: The sculptor John Crawford at the opening of his current exhibition at Lori Bookstein Fine Art on April 24, 2014; Bifurcation—Arches (2013), forged steel; detail of Bifurcation—Arches; detail of a tall, free-standing work, Tower 1 (2006), forged steel, showing the triangularly shaped elements of which it is composed. Below: Interlock 3 (2014), forged steel. Photos by E.M.G.  

NEW YORK — As some art historians have noted, something happened to public sculpture after World War II. When it came to creating and displaying sculptural works whose purposes were to commemorate historic events, heroic individuals or groups, or such lofty concepts as world peace, abstraction as the language for evoking or expressing such themes was inherently not literal. Sometimes it lacked the oomph of more traditional, figurative forms. Also, assemblage and minimalist sculptures changed viewers’ perception of the space they and such works actually occupied and in which they engaged each other’s energies. Non-public or studio sculpture felt the effects of such tendencies. In any case, modernist abstract sculptures do not have to be as huge, imposing and bombastic as Richard Serra’s COR-TEN steel leviathans to make an impact. The American sculptor John Crawford proves this point convincingly in his new exhibition at Lori Bookstein Fine Art (138 Tenth Avenue, Chelsea, through May 24). Muscular, full of allusions to organic shapes and confidently clever (these works don’t have to show off), Crawford’s creations, like fine woodwork, seem to celebrate the craftsmanship that gave them form in texture-rich forged copper or forged steel.

Posted by E.M.G.

 

19 April 2014

Strange — and strangely compelling — images from the Iranian-born painter Marzie Nejad

Marzie Nejad self-taught artist Luise Ross Gallery

NEW YORK — The self-taught, Iranian-born, New Jersey-based painter Marzie Nejad has come up with some of the strangest images I’ve seen in a long time. How about a picture of Frida Kahlo, that unibrowed, cult-worshipped patron saint of Mexican modernism, appearing to enjoy a pleasant nap as she tumbles down a rushing waterfall in a Chinese-style canoe? (See “Frida” [2012], here on the left.) In the background: a high ridge topped by the ruins of an ancient Roman aqueduct. Or how about “Memory” (2014) with its row of vine-filled flower boxes rolling out into the far distance of the pictorial space against a curtain of foggy color that is joyously multi-striped, like a rainbow. Where do such images come from?

In a recent interview, Nejad, who gladly retired from medicine (kidneys were her specialty) to devote her time to painting, told me, “My pictures come more from visions than from my dreams.” More evidence of Nejad’s audacious image-making will be on view in “Conversation,” her solo exhibition at Luise Ross Gallery in New York’s Chelsea district, which will open on April 24 and run through May 31. See my article about the work in this show in HYPERALLERGIC. In it, I consider whether or not looking at this kind of art from a typically ironic (and, implicitly, somewhat condescending) postmodenist point of view is the most appropriate way to examine it or not.

 

12 April 2014

Primoridial, mark-making gestures and texture-rich surfaces in Gene Mann’s New York debut

Gene Mann Andrew Edlin Gallery abstract art

NEW YORK — The Swiss-French artist Gene Mann is presenting her first-ever solo exhibition in New York at Andrew Edlin Gallery (through April 26). On view: Richly textured works, which blend gestural painting, figurative drawing and collage on everything from small pieces of cardboard to big boards. Often an air of something primordial and elemental wafts through Mann’s art. Her images of semi-abstract human figures and freewheeling abstractions celebrate the basic act of making lasting, even yearning personal marks. They’re gestures that emphatically say, “I am alive. I am here.” For more about Mann’s life and work, see my article about this exhibition in the online arts-and-culture magazine HYPERALLERGIC.

 

10 April 2014

Make it big, really big: Artist Jack McLean’s strange, funny, crowded, sprawling drawings

NEW YORK — A few months ago, in Tokyo, I met the Scottish-born artist Jack McLean, who has lived and worked in Japan for two decades and who sometimes likes to dress up as a tree. In my just-published article about McLean’s art and ideas in the April issue of the American art magazine Art & Antiques, you can read about his unusual drawings in ink on paper or canvas, and about how packed they are with overlapping, weird-funny scenes and goofy characters. You might even recognize some of the neurotic urban types and 21st-century zombies McLean depicts in his visual offerings of the human comedy in all of its self-absorbed, head-turning, gadget-obsessed, curse- and laughter-inducing splendor. See a PDF containing the published pages of this magazine article here. McLean is represented by The Container, a gallery in Tokyo.

 

23 March 2014

Carve it! Near Chicago, the works of self-taught artist William Dawson in career survey

MUNSTER, INDIANA — In this town some 30 miles southeast of downtown Chicago, the South Shore Arts Center is presenting “William Dawson” (through April 20), a retrospective of the work of the well-known American self-taught artist who was born in Alabama in 1901, spent most of his life in Chicago and died in 1990. The exhibition was organized by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama. Known for his wooden totems featuring stacks of heads with nearly generic facial expressions, Dawson also made paintings on paper of animals and the occasional abstract creation. Highlights of this survey include carvings of birds, several stand-alone figures (including a forlorn-looking Uncle Sam) and a charming but somewhat ghoulish depiction of the cheery 1970s pop-music act, Tony Orlando and Dawn (left). Remember “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” the group’s big hit from 1973? Probably better not to... I love the idea that Dawson compressed his depiction of this chart-topping trio’s two female back-up singers into a single figure. That’s them/her on the right in this photo, with real human hair, too.

 

21 March 2014

Strange images from a sometimes spontaneous, sometimes masterfully controlled flow of ink

Marcos Bontempo    
Untitled works on paper (2012), made with ink and/or acrylic paint, and sometimes with salt or iron oxide, by Marcos Bontempo. Photos: Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago.  

CHICAGO — Here in the Loop’s gallery district, Carl Hammer Gallery is presenting Spiritual Meanderings (through March 29), an exhibition of 52 small-format drawings by the Argentine-born artist Marcos Bontempo. Bontempo, who has lived in Spain since his childhood, sometimes suffers from schizophrenic episodes. To make his art, he uses ink or acrylic paint, occasionally mixing salt or iron oxide into these materials (which can give his black ink a molten, blood-red appearance) to make images the surrealists of the 1920s probably would have found captivating.

Using a technique that seems to be as controlled as it is spontaneous, Bontempo masks out certain parts of his larger, animated forms, such as their hands and feet, while allowing broader brushstrokes to shape the main trunks of their bodies. From a distance, some of the artist’s primordial-feeling, half-human, half-animal figures — a man with a bird’s head, a giraffe with a man’s head — appear to be ornately decorated with line work as fine as that of old engravings. On closer inspection, however, it turns out that it is the free flow of his ink or paint that naturally generates such richly, randomly patterned passages.

Bontempo’s strange figures, with their gargoyles’ wings, curling tails or spiky plumage jerk, twitch, bend and stretch in silhouette, like bizarre characters in shadow-puppet plays. Compelling and mysterious, his haunting pictures leave after-images that are hard to shake.

Carl Hammer will bring a selection of Bontempo’s works to the 2014 Outsider Art Fair in early May (May 8-May 11).

Posted by E.M.G.

 

25 February 2014

In New York, artist Yoko Ono presents the 2014 Courage Awards for the Arts

NEW YORK - First presented in 2009, Yoko Ono’s Courage Awards for the Arts are among the less well-known expressions of philanthropy and cultural activism for which the internationally famous multimedia artist, performer and peace activist has been recognized. Still, as Ono has said, it is an awards program whose mission and character resonate deeply with the artist herself. That’s because, Ono has observed, over the decades she has learned a thing or two about perseverance, struggle and striving to remain true to one’s creative vision, often in the face of harsh criticism, misunderstanding or rejection.

Above, left to right: Artist Yoko Ono presiding at the podium at the presentation of the 2014 Courage Awards for the Arts in New York this past Sunday, Feb. 24, 2014; Ono’s white top hat; performance artist Laurie Anderson, one of this year’s laureates, at the awards ceremony.. Photos by E.M.G.  

With such themes in mind, Ono’s Courage Awards acknowledge the achievements and the stick-to-itiveness of art-makers, music-makers, creative visionaries and determined champions of free expression, that indispensable, basic human right that allows creativity to flow. Past recipients of the awards have included, among others, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange; the feminist artist, writer and activist, Kate Millett; composer-performer Meredith Monk; the Guerrilla Girls; composer-performers La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela; and the 19th-century writer Émile Zola. (In fact, PEN American Center, the organization that supports writers and freedom of expression, picked up Zola’s 2010 award for him in that long-deceased author’s name.) Each award consists of a framed certificate and a check in the amount of $25,000.00.

Speaking to a gathering of guests that included Patti Smith, composer and WNYC-FM radio-program host David Garland (“Spinning on Air”), artist and Franklin Furnace Archive founder Martha Wilson (a 2012 Courage Award laureate), museum curators and other art-world figures, Ono presented the 2014 Courage Awards for the Arts to performance artist-musician Laurie Anderson; the Vienna-based, Austrian artist Valie Export; the British singer-actress Marianne Faithfull; and the London-based artist Gustav Metzger, who is most often associated with “auto-destructive” art.

More... (Click here to open a PDF containing full news report.)

Posted by E.M.G.

 

14 January 2014

American Visionary Art Museum

In this article, the American Visionary Art Museum’s founder-director, Rebecca A. Hoffberger, who organized the exhibition, notes that it “proposes that we can either use technology to empower or to diminish what it means to be human. The choice, as the art and information on display suggest, is ours to make — and it’s one we have a responsibility to make wisely.”

 

Below: Some of my articles and essays published in late 2013 and early 2014

Click on each box to go directly to a PDF or website, where you can read the text in its entirety, as it appeared in its original publication.

 

11 December 2013

In Japan, a Scottish artist creates fantasy worlds (on some very large sheets of paper)

Click here for the website of The Container, the Tokyo gallery that represents artist Jack McLean.

 

1 December 2013

Ati Maier’s complex compositions explore outer (and inner) space

 
Above, left to right: Paintings by the artist Ati Miaier, including Giant Dipper (2010) and Savvy (2010). Dimensions of both works: 53 inches x 94.5 inches. Materials used to make both paintings: Airbrush and ink on paper. Photos courtesy of Pierogi.  

NEW YORKPierogi, the well-known gallery in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, the very epicenter of world hipsterdom, recently presented “The Map Is Not the Territory” (September 6-October 6, 2013), an exhibition of paintings by the German-born, New York-based artist Ati Maier. At its nearby sister space, The Boiler, it offered a mixed-media installation and thematically related video works Maier had created.

The exuberant, complex compositions of Maier’s paintings (which she makes with ink, wood stain and acrylic on paper, often using an airbrush) especially caught my eye. They were dazzling. I wrote a brief article about this artist’s work for the American magazine Art & Antiques, which has been published in its winter 2013 issue (its December 2013/January 2014 double issue).

“I’ve long been very interested in outer space,” Maier old me. She added, “I see my recent work as a reflection of my exploration of inner space, too.” Packed with overlapping, web-like thickets of pulsating lines, roller coaster ribbons of color and spinning wheels of vibrant hues, Maier’s abstractions bring to mind various points of reference. Among them, she notes, are “constellations of stars, the palettes of the expressionist Blue Rider group — artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc — and outer-space phenomena like black holes and comets.”

Click here to see a PDF containing my article. Please note: It’s a large file (9.6 megabytes). Give it a few seconds to download.

Posted by E.M.G.

 

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