Why Are We Asking the Same Questions About Lemonade?

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Photo: Slate

I promised myself I was not going to write about Lemonade, but here I am shaking my head.

Why is everyone asking the same questions about Lemonade? 

Who is Becky?
Did Jay really cheat?
Is Beyoncé paying homage to Pipilotti Rist?

Ok that 3rd one is pretty esoteric, but that’s what the art world is asking:

“Is Beyoncé’s Windshield-Destroying Stroll in Lemonade Based on This 90’s Art film?” 

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I think it’s rather cute that their only contribution to Lemonade commentary was an observational link between Beyoncé’s bat wielding, Cavalli wearing cat walk and Pipilotti Rist’s fanciful iron flowered frolic down the street in Ever Is Over All, her 1997 dual screen video installation.  Both Beyoncé and Rist, playfully walk down the street clad in beautiful dresses in slow motion, then both proceed to smash the windows of cars parked in the street.  Window smashing is nothing new in video, but the juxtaposition between both artists as “delicate”, “feminine” beings that transform a riotous act into something beguiling was a brilliantly smart commentary on power & feminism. In Lemonade the scene gave Beyoncé’s character a visual arch in telling her story.

1.  Everyone who made that observation just parked the similarities there.  Let me re-park some more:

2.  Rist won a prestigious Golden Lion for that video.  Beyoncé is being called a domestic terrorist that’s calling for race wars.
3.  In Rist’s video a police officer looks on as Rist smashes the window; she gets a salute by the officer.  Beyoncé lies on a sinking NOLA cop car in Formation and she’s criticized for being anti-police.
4.  Commentary on Pipilotti Rist’s Ever Is Over All rests squarely on feminism, yet Beyoncé’s media criticism frequently takes a sharp right turn that veers the discourse far from a lucid artistic dialog.

After the 20th art world luminary in my Instagram feed pointed out the comparison to Pipilotti Rist, I looked at it for myself.  Has anyone thought to ask Kahlil Joseph, the video visionary director behind Lemonade?  If you are familiar with his work, his style is a distinct one, yet you can see his influences in his work.  Joseph’s dual screen presentation of “m.A.A.d”in Double Conscience at MOCA last summer is very similar to Ever Is Over All so it’s clear to me that the team of directors for Lemonade were influenced by many artistic sources.  For those willing to do a little more digging beyond flashy ledes & gossip, you will be rewarded with experiencing something new.  I was.  I’m sure that was the intent of so many that were hell-bent on isolating this one similar element of a visually stunning piece.

Maybe we should be asking ourselves why there’s such a disparity in our reactions to art?

Mural Buffings Confirm Fears of Runaway Development in DTLA’s Arts District

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E. 3rd St. Mural by Dabs & Myla and How & Nosm.  Photo c/o:  Mural Conservancy of L.A.

Early on in my career I was given a small piece of advice that dictated how I presented myself professionally:

“Dress for the job you want.”

In the intersecting space between gentrification and street art, developers have applied that age old career advice to the neighborhoods they invest in.  When it comes to street art, they’re dressing buildings for the returns they seek;  in other words, they want to maximize their investment. Good street art is an indicator of investment’s appreciation potential. This not so subtle distinction is an important one when you think about the historic role murals and street art have played in the cultural growth of Los Angeles.

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Photos c/o:  KCET, Downtown Muse (via Instagram)

 

On April 16th a popular mural on a building in DTLA’s Arts District was whitewashed for its new tenants.  The mural was originally created in 2011 by 4 artists (Dabs & Myla on the left panel and How & Nosm on the right) and was located in the parking lot on the east side of the Neptune building.  For residents and frequent visitors to the Arts District, the mural’s buffing was another stark reminder of the negative impact of rapid change taking place there in the last 5 years. The small neighborhood, flanked by Little Tokyo and Skid Row, contains historic vacant warehouses and manufacturing facilities.  In the late 80’s and early 90’s these abandoned buildings were popular among artists, musicians and creatives who converted many of these spaces into un-permitted live/work lofts.  It was far from an artistic utopia; the deserted area was riddled with crime, drugs and homelessness that spilled over from Skid Row’s 1970’s “containment strategy”.

As street art gained cultural cachet in the late ’00s, the neighborhood encouraged murals and building owners quickly commissioned wheatpastes, stencils and other graffiti art by popular street artists.  The popularity reached its peak with Jeffrey Deitch’s “Art in the Streets” show at MOCA in 2011.  The show and the resulting murals that were imported into area brought the Arts District and other L.A. neighborhoods into focus eventually bringing attention to the residents of this small, connected artistic community.

When the Dabs/Myla and How/Nosm mural was buffed last week, it created an uproar among the current residents and patrons of the Arts District who were not only angered by the lack of notice of the mural’s demise but also by the seemingly clandestine decision making that led to its destruction.  In the court of public opinion (social media) it appears as though few discussions took place among community/arts advocacy groups, the building owner and its new tenants (the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions).  This mural was viewed as a symbol of the dynamic creativity that transformed the Arts District into a thriving, desirable neighborhood.  While the mural was a favorite of many who considered it representative of the present day Arts District, it was not immediately embraced by everyone living there when it was originally painted.

In April 2011 the 4 artists who created the mural were commissioned by the LA Freewalls project to paint the Neptune Building’s east wall.  The mural was a gift to the community that at the time was accepted with some trepidation.  L.A. has a history of mural creation that spans decades including works that represented the cultural richness and diversity of the communities where the murals reside.  When it was painted some questioned if the mural accurately represented the community and the residents within the Arts District at that time.  Even more problematic, leaders within the LA Freewalls project were viewed as polarizing figures in the street art community. They were characterized in the press as cultural opportunists who profited from brokering deals between street artists and building owners to create the murals that pepper the neighborhood.

Flash forward 5 years. The neighborhood is “on trend”.  In addition to the legendary murals, the neighborhood is now peppered with coffee shops, artisanal toast, blue chip galleries and haute (yet eco-friendly) designs.  The beloved 3rd Street mural now accurately represents the history of the community yet in an ironically cruel twist of fate that brief history was erased; perhaps to make room for bigger pockets and newer, “trendier” artists…

In an attempt at some damage control, the LAFPP claimed that they legitimately pursued due diligence in notifying the artists and the community prior to buffing the mural (those claims are still being challenged by arts activist groups).  They also maintain that plans are underway to create a new mural on the blank white wall that sits on the property today.  Sadly, street artists have been forced into an odd game of musical chairs where the winner gets to dress the new building… undoubtedly for the job the owner wants– to maximize their investment.

Art + Practice Re-Visits “Bad” Painting

“Not Bad Meaning Bad, but Bad Meaning Good.”-Peter Piper, Run DMC

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Catalog Cover for “Bad” Painting, by the New Museum

In 1978 the New Museum opened “Bad” Painting, an exhibition featuring artists that eschewed conventional artistic practices to create work that challenged precepts of high culture and countered Minimalist/Conceptualist art.

“It is figurative work that defies, either deliberately or by virtue of disinterest, the classic cannons of good taste, draftsmanship, acceptable source material, rendering, or illusionistic representations.”- Marcia Tucker, Curator the New Museum
In A Shape That Stands Up at Art + Practice, Jamillah James expands on the New Museum show with new slate of artists that chose to challenge creative traditions of formality.  The exhibition and the the 15 artists featured in it create a unique space for themselves with a body of work that defy convention in materiality and meaning.  By creating art in the grey space between figuration and abstraction these artists present works that encourage the viewer to consider alternative meaning from familiar objects.

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Reminiscent of Guernica, D’Metrius John Rice’s Ultimatium/Dig Me Out, 2015 features illustrated abstracted body parts that conspire to form a sense of kinetic urgency.

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Shredded t-shirts treated with resin resemble dystopian ghosts brought to life to shed light on their previous lives in Kevin Beasley’s Organ.  

Many of the works take on transformative characteristics when viewed up close.

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Sue Williams’ Democratization #3 looks like an abstracted cartoonish Chinoiserie print, but upon close examination the viewer is confronted with a surreal, comically grotesque assemblage of dismembered body parts and organs with the comical nature of the piece extends the viewers gaze into a disturbing world.

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A Shape that Stands Up is a dense show that merits multiple views. The accompanying exhibit literature penned by Hammer Museum assistant curator Jamillah James is an essential accompaniment to better appreciate the inherent complexities of the work presented in the show.

A Shape that Stands Up is on view through June 18, 2016 at Art + Practice in Leimert Park

Unmentionables: Zoë Buckman at Papillion

Peering through a gallery window at lingerie hanging from the ceiling made me feel like a voyeur.

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Catching a glimpse of Papillion while closed was probably the best way to experience their latest exhibit by Zoë Buckman called Every Curve.  In this body of work the artist explores the polarities between feminism and hip hop and the cultural dynamics of both existing within the same space.

Throughout the gallery bras, robes, corsets, garters and stockings descend into view from the ceiling bearing woven lyrics of songs by Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls embroidered onto the garments.

PAPILLION, CULTURED MAGAZINE & BB|AM: HOST PRIVATE EXHIBITION VIEW & DINNER TO CELEBRATE ZOE BUCKMAN "EVERY CURVE"
Zoe Buckman: Every Curve.  Image c/o Papillion

Commercial hip hop in the 90’s ushered in a video vixen era that celebrated an increasing level of misogyny in music that has undermined the industry to this day. Juxtaposed with the problematic lyrics, Buckman counterbalances the sexist narrative with positive affirmations of femininity by the same artists.  The hanging garments invite the viewer to pass through them, beckoning them to take in the visual spectacle and the messages whispered amongst the billowing satin, lace and chiffon. After being exposed, the viewer is then left with the shame of confronting the meaning behind them.  Buckman’s choice of lingerie subtly reminds us that misogyny did not start with hip hop; the use of vintage garments places the work in a historical and cultural context.

PAPILLION, CULTURED MAGAZINE & BB|AM: HOST PRIVATE EXHIBITION VIEW & DINNER TO CELEBRATE ZOE BUCKMAN "EVERY CURVE"
Zoe Buckman: Every Curve. Image c/o Papillion

Every Curve on view at Papillion until April 30.

The Ghost in the Machine: Mark Bradford & Robert Glasper Combine Creative Forces

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Apollo/Still Shining by Mark Bradford & Robert Glasper.  Photo c/o Christie’s 

Art and music collide in a beautifully explosive Steinway & Sons collaboration that showcases the Spirio piano in a new light.

The Steinway Commission pairs visual artists with Steinway musicians to create unique works of art that reflect their collaborative vision and process.  This three year project makes its debut with a Steinway Spirio piano that has been given the Mark Bradford & Robert Glasper touch.  In Apollo/Still Shining the Spirio (a high resolution player piano) undergoes a physical transformation that leaves the piano with the appearance of an instrument set ablaze, singed with flames that lash at the mahogany.  In lieu of the Steinway’s classic black lacquered gloss, Apollo’s surface takes on rich matte finish with a gilded gold tones.

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Mark Bradford’s “Apollo” Photo: CultureShockArt

Bradford extends his artistic process by creating chemical alchemy with paper and pigment that imprints the piano with a sepia toned topography that is reminiscent of some of his late 2015 works.  While much of the work he created between 2014-2015 focused on the body, his innovative use of materials and process takes this work in a new direction.  With Apollo, Bradford leaves behind a mysterious shell of a form that begs to be uncovered.

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Steinway’s Spirio piano reproduces live performances by capturing fine details in the pianist’s depressions during play. The grand piano automatically replicates and plays back the performance using a high resolution player piano system.  Photo: CultureShockArt

When I saw this piano I knew it had a story to tell.

Apollo is brought to life and given a voice in a melodic tale composed by jazz pianist and legendary producer Robert Glasper.  In Still Shining Glasper guides the listener on an emotional journey through waves of happiness, melancholy and despair.  The movements vacillate between light moments of whimsy to a manic, middle passage where chaotic chords of dissonance eventually give way to light, melodic notes of promise and hopefulness.  It is a cinematically sharp piece that harmonizes with Bradford’s Apollo to tell a complete story that manages to leave room for individual interpretation.  When I see Mark Bradford’s work my view is always heavily influenced by the cultural context that surrounds me at that given moment.

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Mark Bradford, “Scorched Earth”

The first time I experienced Bradford’s “Scorched Earth” (2006), I learned about the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921.  When I last saw the same piece at the Broad in the summer of 2015, I was reminded of the anniversaries of the Watts Rebellion and the L.A. Riots of 1965 and 1992. In many respects, the tragic results following each of these incidents remained the same, yet the circumstances, dynamics and characteristics differ. With Apollo/Still Rising, the two artists tap into universal feelings of turmoil, social struggle and the desire to emerge from those challenges stronger and more resilient.  All of these concepts are timeless.

The inaugural Steinway commission is currently on view in L.A. during Christie’s Post War & Contemporary preview from April 8-13 (at UFO-Space on Highland).  On May 11th Apollo/Still Shining will be presented for auction where the proceeds from the sale will be allocated among three museums chosen by Steinway’s CEO Michael Sweeney (MOCA, the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Walker Art Center).  For those of you in New York, Christie’s will be hosting a special event on May 4th featuring Mark Bradford and Robert Glasper which will be hosted by the Studio Museum Director, Thelma Golden.  That’s a creative trio that will undoubtedly deliver on improvisational entertainment & enlightening artistic insight. For additional information on the L.A. preview, please see Christie’s website.

Christian Louboutin and His Stylish Take on “the Gaze”

 

Loub Group Bazaar.jpgIf you walk up to any makeup counter or shoe salesperson wanting to create the perfect nude lip or find a classic nude pump you will likely get one shade.  What if that nude looks nothing like your skin tone?  Why is the universally accepted nude distilled to a single ivory hue? If you’ve never even thought of this before, welcome to a very subtle and admittedly superficial form of the gaze.

While the side effects of the gaze are far more pervasive and damaging in social and economic environments (education, housing, employment), for people of color the lessons of color preference and adaptation are learned at a very young age.  A simple foray into coloring with crayons once meant that children had a limited selection of hues to choose from when drawing pictures of ourselves, our family or our friends.

So when Christian Louboutin announced a multi-hued line of nude ballet flats called the “Solasofia”, I nodded with knowing approval and a slow clap.  It is about time!

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Christian Louboutin Solasofia Flat “Ada”

 

 

The beautiful milk chocolate shade in Safki is already sold out and the lovely deep cocoa brown in Toudou looks incredible against the iconic red sole, it is the best of the series (and looks amazing in the Pigalle Follies as well).  The Solasofia flat collection is an extension of the diverse nude line launched by Louboutin in 2015.  The color palate has been expanded by 2 shades.

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My Mourning of Synergy: The Legacy of Phife & a Tribe Called Quest

 

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When De La Soul “officially” came on the scene with “3 Feet High and Rising” in the spring of 1989, I was in High School walking a not so fine line between my obsession with new wave synth pop and my love for rap (frankly I jumped between worlds), but when “Me Myself and I” was released, that line got narrower.  De La’s creative universe included a collective of like minded souls from the Leaders of the New School and the Jungle Brothers to Monie Love and Queen Latifah.  Their music and look stood out from formulaic, newly commercialized rap and somehow I felt like I didn’t need to choose between musical worlds.

Each group/artist in Native Tongues had their own style, yet they uplifted and amplified each other’s music in a powerful way.  Collectively the Native Tongues were influential, but when A Tribe Called Quest entered their cosmos, that collective became a force.  If “People’s Instinctive Travels” placed Tribe on the map, then the “Low End Theory” kept them there;  it remains one of the most influential hip hop albums of all time. ATCQ’s music served as the soundtrack for my college years when I was schlepping my Jansport backpack around campus between classes at U.C. Berkeley.  When the news of Malik Isaac Taylor’s passing came out early Wednesday, in an odd way it was a wake up call for us.

 

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Photo Credit:  Rolling Stone

When I say us, I mean those of us who grew up with Tribe, not necessarily later fans familiar with Q Tip’s solo projects or new fans who go to K Town to listen to Ali Shaheed spin at the Line without knowing the words to Electric Relaxation… no, I’m talking to and about the old heads, the golden era fans. For us, Tribe’s music was our life; it played a pivotal role in shaping our creative and conscious minds as we navigated our new world, reconciling our past and present realities while forming our identities and coming into our own as individuals.  It was during this time that I realized that there’s value in our differences.  Phife, Q Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi White were all distinct individuals with diverse aesthetics and styles.  Creatively, they developed a synergy that harmonized their differences resulting in a progressive sound that took hip hop to new heights.  As my love for hip hop grew, Tribe taught me that my appreciation and affinity for disparate styles of music aren’t mutually exclusive; embracing that uniqueness lead me to new discoveries that helped me grow as a person.  Unfortunately for Tribe, the same differences that fueled their success also led to personal and professional frictions that became evident in the group’s later album releases, but for me the early years were pure gold.

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Photo Credit: Stereogum

In 2011 Michael Rapaport released a documentary about Tribe that gave fans a somewhat raw and unfiltered look at the group’s conflicts in addition to the health struggles that plagued Phife.  Throughout the movie I was mesmerized by their talent and the chemical reaction they created when working together; when they performed live in the film it was sheer magic.  I remember thinking of how epic a reunion album and tour could be if they could put aside their differences to get into the studio again.  In the documentary there was a scene in Tokyo of a bullet train rocketing out of the camera’s view with a force and momentum so fast you wanted to catch it to experience the speed of progress. The train whizzes by to the the bass line accompanying Phife’s opening lines to “The Chase Part 2”:

“Them can’t touch we, no them can’t touch we”
“Them can’t hold we, no they can’t hold we”…

Despite intermittent touring, for 20 years the individual members of the group went their own ways: Q Tip continues to produce and was recently named as the first “Hip Hop Curator” at the Kennedy Center.  Ali Shaheed now lives in L.A. working with producers like Adrian Younge on some amazing vanguard neo soul projects and if you aren’t following Jarobi White on Instagram, please do so immediately.  He’s amassed a large following among hip hop heads and foodies alike and he hosts a monthly “Tribe Taco Tuesdays” pop-up in Brooklyn.  Despite all this, there was something missing– that magical, chemical reaction created by their music has been elusive, and as fans we just wanted them to put their personal beef aside to make great music again.  The mourning of Phife has hit us so hard because we are not only mourning the death of an amazing artist and lyicist, but we are also coming to grips with our delayed mourning for Tribe as a group.

True fans continued to hold a torch for the Tribe of 1991-1993, waiting for an opportunity to hear new music and see them perform again.  Sadly, that train continued forward and we’ll never catch it.

Rest in Paradise Phife.  Rest in Power Tribe.

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