“Not Bad Meaning Bad, but Bad Meaning Good.”-Peter Piper, Run DMC
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Peering through a gallery window at lingerie hanging from the ceiling made me feel like a voyeur.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the beginning of Women’s History Month the National Museum of Women in the Arts asked an intriguing question when they created this hashtag:
It was a call to action with a simple challenge: Name 5 women artists. Can you name them off the top of your head? Sure that may be easy, but if you walk the galleries of your favorite museum and attempt to identify five, this could be more difficult. Of the works shown in U.S. contemporary art museums and galleries, only 5% are by women; it is no surprise that the struggle to name 5 is all too real. One Downtown L.A. gallery is on a mission to change that.
On Sunday March 13, Hauser Wirth & Schimmel will open it’s sprawling 100,000 sq foot complex in a converted flour mill in L.A.’s Arts District. The inagural exhibition, “Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women, 1947-2016”, is a historical review of abstract sculpture created by women who have pioneered innovative processes, forms and materials in their artistic process. The work selected in this ambitious undertaking will not only activate the new gallery space but will also offer a large scale survey of art that demonstrates the unique innovations these women contributed to abstract sculpture. This is by no means a comprehensive study, nor is it intended to be. The exhibition avoids the temptation to be overtly self referential, instead it focuses on process, material and space. There are 4 unique gallery spaces in the Hauser Wirth & Schimmel complex that are each dedicated to artists of a specific era who are not defined by a school or movement but by their individuality and innovation in their solo practice.
When I walked into the South Gallery, I was immediately enraptured by a large scale Ruth Asawa sculpture. The hand crocheted, continuous wire form hung from the 2nd level’s sky lit atrium and extended to the mezzanine’s concrete floor that contain flashes of patinated ceramic tiles which harken back to the South Gallery roots as the employee bank of the flour mill. The sculpture’s presence holds court over a cluster of 11 additional Asawa wire forms and an impressive assembly of Louis Bourgeois “Personage” wood carvings that form a circle in the center of the gallery.
The North Gallery is bifurcated in two spaces that showcase works created in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Yayoi Kusama’s sidewinding “Snake” undulates on the floor next to a pair of Lynda Benglis sculptures that occupy space on the gallery wall and floor. Similarly, Senga Nenguidi’s nylon stretched, “R.S.V.P. Reverie-0” commands the viewers gaze away from the gallery walls downward.
As one moves to the gallery’s East corridor, the viewer’s gaze is directed skyward where exhibition space is raw, experimental and befitting of the artists who best harmonized the space with their work.
Phyllida Barlow, who was recently commissioned by the British Council to represent Great Britain at the 2017 Venice Biennale, challenges viewers to not only engage in her work but in the space that contains it. In “GIG” colorful pom poms are strung up on a vividly painted wooden “pick up stick” structure that soars to the vaulted ceiling. The piece envelops the space and the viewer in saturated color. Meanwhile, in the breezeway between the East and North Gallery, Shinique Smith’s “Forgiving Strands” beautifully adorn the exposed brick in the rough hewn walkway with a colorful string of fabric bundles that resemble long strands of thrown Mardi Gras beads.
Revolution in the Making was curated in an 18 month partnership between Paul Schimmel and Jenni Sorkin, PHD at the University of California Santa Barbara. One of the challenges in curating this show was that it was difficult to narrow the selection of artists down to 34. A very different challenge from naming #5womenartists. After this show you will not have a bit of difficulty with that hashtag.
Hauser Wirth & Schimmel opens Sunday afternoon between 2:00- 6:00.
Ruth Asawa’s art celebrates diversity of style and technique. Drawing from illustration, painting, dance, basket weaving, music and pottery, her multi-disciplined approach to art was nurtured as a student at Black Mountain College in the late 40’s. Her introduction to art however, came to Asawa under less than auspicious circumstances. During WW II Asawa’s entire family was interned in Santa Anita, CA and later Rohwer, Arkansas. As a teen living in the internment Assembly Center in Santa Anita, Asawa was forced to live in a horse stall. During this time before being sent to Arkansas, she learned to draw and was taught by fellow internees who were animators for Walt Disney Studios. After leaving Rohwer after 18 months, Asawa continued her education which eventually led her to Black Mountain College in North Carolina. The experimental, interdisciplinary curriculum of the school allowed Asawa to explore various artistic mediums among students who would become legends in their own right.
It is in this context that I was recently introduced to her art, however little did I know her work had made a profound impression on me decades earlier.
Asawa’s sculptures are intricately woven pieces fabricated from a single thread of wire used to create infinite loops. The delicate spheres are forms within forms that obscure the points where one orb ends and another begins. The beauty of their transparency is unveiled in the intricate shadows cast by the forms.
Today I went to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles for “Leap Before You Look”, the multi-institutional exhibit curated by Helen Molesworth. The Hammer’s presentation of the show was organized by Anne Ellegood who gave an interesting talk about Asawa’s story this afternoon. Asawa’s participation in Black Mountain was that it was fairly unknown, in fact Molesworth’s inspiration for the exhibit was borne out of a curiosity about Ruth Asawa and a quest to learn more about her work at the school. Asawa is clearly gaining recognition by institutions and galleries, but until recently she was fairly underrepresented outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. In San Francisco however, her legacy is far reaching.
As an advocate for arts education, Ruth Asawa founded the Alvarado School Arts Workshop in San Francisco in 1968. She later leveraged her civic participation in the San Francisco Arts Council to champion the arts and art education in the city. Her advocacy was not only effective, it was far reaching; the Alvarado School Arts Workshop was replicated in over 50 public schools in San Francisco. Asawa also executed a number of public art installations in the bay area.
“Art is for everybody,” according to Asawa. “It is not something that you should have to go to the museums in order to see and enjoy. When I work on big projects, such as a fountain, I like to include people who haven’t yet developed their creative side — people yearning to let their creativity out. I like designing projects that make people feel safe, not afraid to get involved.”
When I was a child growing up the the Bay Area one of my fond memories was when my extended family would gather for brunch in San Francisco for Mother’s Day. I distinctly remember a large bas relief fountain wedged into the expansive brick laid staircase leading to the Grand Hyatt in Union Square. The longer you looked at it the more you saw, it is a fascinating piece of civic sculpture that captures your imagination-I loved it. Today I learned that Ruth Asawa was the artist behind the work.
The large scale 7 foot high fountain is comprised of bronze casts forms of San Francisco landmarks. The fountain’s design was created by Asawa, while the original baker’s clay molds used to cast the bronze fountain were fabricated by a group of volunteers including children. The piece is a testament to community collaboration and beautifully reflects the spirit of San Francisco in the 1970’s. Asawa created numerous fountains that decorate San Francisco and surrounding areas. Because of this, she was affectionately known as the “Fountain Lady”.
Ruth Asawa’s work is stunning and her story was compelling. The diversity of her creative range enabled her effectiveness as an engaged, inspiring community leader who selflessly shared her talent. She has left a legacy that has inspired many to embrace creativity in all forms.
I was incredibly moved to experience her work today.
“Leap Before You Look” is on view at the Hammer Museum through May 15, 2016.