Museum Week 2015

If you are on Twitter or Instagram follow #MuseumWeek to hear from your favorite cultural institutions.  I love this global community and it’s great to see this digital campaign that brings together thought leaders in the curatorial and cultural institution sectors with their all-important patrons and visitors.



Hank Willis Thomas photo credit c/o HankWillisThomas.com

Hank Willis Thomas photo credit c/o HankWillisThomas.com

For the past week I’ve been thinking about James Baldwin; so much so that I was searching for an original copy of “The Price of the Ticket”.  In the meantime, it’s Armory Week in NY and all I am hearing about is Hank Willis Thomas and his art.sy collaboration.  While looking at Thomas’ work on-line I came across this video installation of James Baldwin interviews spliced with current day media that cements Baldwin’s prophetic and prescient commentary on power, identity, greed, freedom and liberty.  Thomas’ also featured clips of Angela Davis reading excerpts from Baldwin’s open letter to her.  This is such a powerful piece that really brings home this week’s events in Ferguson as we see the effects of systematic, fundamental failings of their leadership.

“A Person is More Important Than Anything Else…” James Baldwin Festival @ NY Live Arts from hankwillisthomas on Vimeo.

Mickalene Thomas, "Mama Bush (your love keeps lifting me) higher and higher"  Photo c/o Lehmann Maupin

Mickalene Thomas, “Mama Bush (your love keeps lifting me) higher and higher” Photo c/o Lehmann Maupin

Mickalene Thomas has a unique style that is nothing short of bodacious. Her colorful, glitter infused portraiture work is commands your attention and invites you delve into a deeper understanding of the person that is being portrayed.  Her use of interiors and recent pivot to abstract portraits were a mystery to me because I couldn’t connect the dots to the disparate mediums she employs in her practice.

Today I watched Thomas’ ode to her mother/muse in HBO’s 2014 documentary, “Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman”.  It was such an amazingly beautiful tribute that exemplifies the complexities of our relationships are and how those relationships shape who we are today.

I also saw an old ArtNet interview with the artist and it perfectly connected the dots between the work that defined her career, what inspired it and how it influences other areas of her creative practice.

I could pull from my own imagination, but I think reality is so much more raw and there’s so much more information and discomfort and excitement and happiness and beauty and all of these layers that you can pull from that I find exciting.”

In researching Thomas I learned that her interior work, which is strongly rooted in 70’s wood paneling, colorful, floral tapestries, shag rugs and dayglo, played a critical role in her photography and paintings.  The artistic forms are so strongly linked together that Thomas felt the need to recreate the conditions under which her portraits were created.  This was a critical element in understanding the portrait as a whole.  In this sense the surroundings were as much of a creative muse as the subjects themselves.

The documentary is under 30 minutes, if you don’t have access to HBO Docs, find a way to subscribe!

Patrick Kelly, Photo Credit, the Guardian

Patrick Kelly, Photo Credit, the Guardian

Saturday’s and Elsa Klensch were about as regular as watching Soul Train for me in the 80’s, and when I first saw Patrick Kelly on Klensch’s CNN weekly style rewind, I was inspired.  He was one of the first black designers I ever saw and he was one of the first designers that made an “it” item.  I wore one of his signature red buttons on my Levi’s faded jean jacket.  He was one of the first designers that was relatable and showed me that fashion was attainable.70251006

What I didn’t realize about Patrick Kelly was that he spent the majority of his short-lived career in Paris.  When he moved to Paris from New York (Kelly was originally from Mississippi) in 1979, he designed costumes for Le Palace, one of the infamous Parisian night clubs on par with Studio 54 and the Paradise Garage.  His runway shows were legendary for being theatrical and irreverent.  Between his design and my adolescent love for all things Benetton, this is where my unfulfilled childhood dream of being a model began.

His talent, like so many young men in design and the arts in the 80’s, was taken from us all too early.  His work was full of love and joy.  I’m writing this post while listening to a Larry Levan mix and dancing in my chair.  Absolutely perfect.  For a glimpse into the fantastic world of Patrick Kelly, here is a video from the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s 2014 retrospective of his career in fashion.

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, Beauford Delaney. Photo Credit, SCAD

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, Beauford Delaney. Photo Credit, SCAD

This painting by Beauford Delaney out of all his portraits of fellow artists really stuck out to me, not just because it is a beautiful piece, but I wonder why he chose to obscure the Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald amongst this colorful palate of brushstrokes.  Delaney’s work transitioned from figurative to abstract upon his move to Paris to flee the persecution and isolation he felt in New York as a gay black man in the 1940’s. This piece seems to demonstrate the artists transition.

One thing I did not know about Ella Fitzgerald was that she was horribly shy and extremely meek when it came to recognizing her own talent.  This is so shocking to me for someone who is so universally cherished for their talent.  Perhaps what was more shocking to me was a comment I heard in an NPR interview featuring a singer from the Manhattan Transfer that said, “I never listen to Ella for emotional depth”….

… and she proceeded to laud Fitzgerald for her technical prowess and the precision of her voice.  WHAT?  Without question Fitzgerald has one of the most dynamic, precise voices but to dismiss it as lacking emotional depth was strange to me.

That blew me away.  I look at this painting of Beauford Delaney and listen to Ella Fitzgerald with this new knowledge of her shyness and hear something very different in her music.  Taken together, I hear so much more than Janice Siegal manages to distill and I have a deeper, more profound appreciation for what Delaney conveys in this portrait of her.

"The Family", John Biggers. Photo C/O Golden State Mutual Insurance Comapny, CACLO

“The Family”, John Biggers. Photo C/O Golden State Mutual Insurance Comapny, CACLO


There are photographers that make me wish I was in an MFA program for creative writing.  Their work begs for a story to be told. This is how I feel about Carrie Mae Weems’ Kitchen Table Series.  Using a simple setting Weems was able to create a rich albeit fleeting glimpse at complex relationship dynamics in this series of photographs.  This project allowed the artist to explore her creative voice in a familiar setting.

It swung open this door of possibility of what I could do in my own environment.”~Carrie Mae Weems

The idea of limitations leading to liberation of thought is interesting.  Our creativity is only limited by emotional or psychological constraints, not physical ones.

"From Here I saw What Happened and I Cried", Carrie Mae Weems.  Photo Credit: the artist

“From Here I saw What Happened and I Cried”, Carrie Mae Weems. Photo Credit: Carrie Mae Weems

Another series of photographs that are captivating, haunting and compelling is “From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried.”  In this series, the artist takes images historically used to categorize, simplify and fetishize our existence as African-Americans and she brings them to life by adding a voice to the photos.  It is a sobering way of forcing the viewer to think of how these images have shaped both our perceptions and those of others over time.

For more on the Kitchen Table Series.


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