Hunt Slonem’s Unique Spaces

Hunt Slonem stands in his colorful new studio, a parrot on his shoulder.

Image: Hunt Slonem in his new studio | New York Post

Hunt Slonem lives the kind of life you’d expect of an eccentric hermit in a Victorian novel – extravagant collections, more houses than he can keep track of, parrots perching in chandeliers and plants decorating grandiose, colorful spaces, and the kind of furnishings where every piece is storied. And he’ll tell you all of them. This couch came from a palace in India. That throne (yes, a throne) came from a Prince concert set (may he rest in peace).

Slonem, who has been called “Brooklyn’s wildest artist,” is a middle-aged world traveler. From his youth as the oldest son of a navy man, he’s traveled his whole life and never put down roots until he came to New York in the 1970s. He struck gold in the art world with his Saints paintings, a series of vivid, feverish portraits that evoke both drugged hallucinations and religious visions. Forty years later, his paintings sell for a quarter of a million each, and he paints incessantly. Everything from a wall full of simple, almost childish rabbits to murals eighty feet long.

He knew from childhood that he would be a painter all his life, but still he considers his greatest works to be his collections. The Brooklyn loft he uses as a studio today is 30,000 square feet, a massive museum dedicated to a single personality. He estimates it took movers 450 trips to move his belongings from his former studio, a 50,000 square foot penthouse in Hell’s Kitchen.

And yet there’s nothing hoarder-like about his spaces. Walking into the Brooklyn lair, as he calls his new place, one is met with light, space, and glowing colors. Twenty red antique fezes are piled like cupcakes on a 16th century inlaid table.  Photos of Slonem and his boyfriend from visits around the world fill corners. Fully five dozen parrots provide the soundtrack, living in a small forest of potted citrus trees and orchids. Slonem defines the studio as a conservatory, and it is in the classical sense – an airy, warm place, intended to be beautiful.

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Ricardo Mulero: Architect Turned Painter

A wall bears the title of the exhibit with a small oil painting of a pair of hands.

Image: The title opening for the spring exhibit in Soho | Ricardo Mulero

Ricardo Mulero could be called an expert at putting emotions onto the world stage. A decade ago, he was one of the lead designers of the exhibitions in the 9/11 Memorial Museum. He and his team created the cavernous, almost mythic spaces that honored both the lives lost and the monumental grief of the city that had lost them.

Now, the NYC-based, Puerto Rican-born architect-turned-artist is turning all of that skill inwards. The recent death of his mother is the driving emotion behind his new exhibit in Soho. Her death turned him to painting, his hobby from his youth.

“I feel a very private and personal part of me will be on display,” said Mulero of his upcoming solo exhibit. It will feature 29 oil paintings.

Mulero’s oils are a melancholy lot, featuring semi-abstract figures expressed in unsettling colors and poses, usually alone. He uses the space of his canvas as if it were confinement. His favorite, “Man-In-The-Box,” is of a sketchy, indistinct figure folded tightly into the shape of the frame.

“Some will say it’s creepy, and others will comment on how peaceful he seems or how beautiful it is,” he says of viewers’ reactions to that painting.

Most of the figures of his paintings are male. Mulero, who is gay, grew up through the AIDS crisis. He paints male bodies as being vulnerable, as well as strong and self-contained. His semi-abstract style speaks worlds of emotion out of each figure.

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David Hammons’ (Possibly Unwilling) Retrospective

An art installation by David Hammons.

Image: An art installation at the David Hammons retrospective | Mnuchin Gallery

In 1986, when David Hammons was already a name in the New York art scene, he told an interviewer, “I can’t stand art, actually. I’ve never, ever liked art.” He’s never explained what he meant by that, but for someone who doesn’t like art, he sure produces it. And in quantity.

Visiting the exhibition “David Hammons: Five Decades” in the Mnuchin Gallery in Manhattan is a real experience. 34 objets d’art, pulled from across Hammons’ fifty-year (and counting) career, show the sheer breadth of his eccentric creativity, and the tight focus of his politics.

Bottlecap sculptures in sub-Saharan patterns, the silent commentary of a torn-up green hoodie on a white wall, a crystal chandelier made out of a basketball hoop, a riotous bushlike eruption made of black human hair and sand – these are just a few of the selections made by the Mnuchin Gallery. After the selections were made, Hammons himself interfered, pulling some pieces, inserting others, adding a soundtrack to the show. He made a point of including art that had previously shown in the same gallery, like a collection of paint-slashed expensive fur coats and a massive canvas with the kind of bland abstract art one sees in the lobbies of Fortune 500s, covered by a painted industrial tarp in vivid orange.

It’s these last two, particularly, that just might hold the key to his quote from 30 years ago – perhaps what David Hammons, a man who clearly cannot stop creating art, can’t stand about art is the trends in it. What is expensive, what represents privilege, what sells, and especially, what is excluded.

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Kapwani Kiwanga Displays 2 Exhibits at Armory Show

Kapwani Kiwanga presides at an art show.

An image from a performance of Kapwani Kiwanga’s “Afrogalactica: A brief history of the future.”Credit Courtesy the artist and Galerie Tanja Wagner, Berlin | Artsbeat

The Armory Show is a big deal for every artist involved, but perhaps doubly so for Kapwani Kiwanga. The Canadian-Tanzanian artist has not one, but two, major installations in the multinational art fair.

One of her projects is the center-point of the fair’s “Focus: African Perspectives” section. Her family ties to Tanzania gave her a direction to go, and the installation uses one of the African nation’s main export crops – sisal. Her installation is large sheaths of the tough, fibrous plant fibers, looking like pale animal pelts. The sisal plant is never used as itself, only as a component of ropes or twine or carpet. That and the plant’s organic nature appeal to Kiwanga. She calls the un-processed sheaths “a liminal space.”

Kiwanga’s other project, displayed in a booth operated jointly by her Paris and Berlin galleries, is a single, massive photograph with an eerie story. The photo, which she discovered in the United Nations photo archive, seems very plain at first glance. It’s a pair of chairs, a glass-topped table, and a leopard-skin rug. There are few details – some art on the wall, a plant on the table. But the setting of those scarce details is the 1961 chambers of the late Swedish Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, and the photo was taken about two weeks before Hammarskjöld’s mysterious death. She’s brought that story back into the still photo with a video work, depicting her hands shuffling around photos while she narrates stores – some factual, some fictional.

Kiwanga wants both of the installations to inspire a feeling of discomfort, of things left unfinished or not quite begun.

Her art and all of the art of the Armory Show is on view through May 6 at Piers 92 and 94, New York City.

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Barbara Takenaga’s “Waiting in the Sky”: 8 Pieces

An art piece from Barbara Takenaga's "Waiting in the Sky."

Half of “Folds” (diptych), 2015, acrylic on linen, 42″ x 72″ | The Paris Review

Today marks the opening night of Barbara Takenaga’s “Waiting in the Sky,” a new collection of eight pieces on display at the DC Moore Gallery. The series includes large-scale paintings on linen and panel and a wall-piece that works in tandem with one of her current installations at MASS MoCA. “Waiting in the Sky” is Takenaga’s fourth solo exhibition at DC Moore.

The paintings in the series show soft colors reminiscent of the stars or the deep sea; gentle swirls like sparkles crown what could be the tentacles of anemones. This body of work “continues the artist’s eloquent inquiry into the emotional weight of imagined spaces and natural phenomena. Each carefully constructed composition questions the boundaries of the known by offering visual translations of the ever-changing nature of the physical world,” writes Artnet.

Dots, splashes, and swirls confuse the territory of solid with that of any other form; it’s unclear what is, what isn’t, and what is left between. Some of the works look like fresh rain or skyscrapers; others, the bottom of a jellyfish, floating away towards the surface of the sea. Small Springs (2015, 12” x 10” acrylic on wood panel) looks like it could be a map of fountains.

“They still seem to naturally gravitate,” Takenaga said of her works in 2013. “Or maybe anti-gravitate, to some kind of explosive/implosive situation. I still love the idea itself of the Big Bang. I feel like I am on this really giant ocean liner and I’ve got this little tiny steering wheel, and I’m turning and turning and turning it, and I’m trying to make a different course for the shop, turning and turning the wheel, and nothing happens.”

“Finally, the thing—me, my attitude, the history of the work, the paintings themselves—because its mass is so big, it starts moving, ever so slowly shifting,” the artist added.

She holds a BFA and an MFA from the University of Colorado Boulder. She is the William Wirt Warren Professor of Art at Williams College, and she currently lives in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and New York.

“Waiting in the Sky” runs from March 31st, 2016, to April 30th, 2016. An opening reception takes place tonight from 6-8 PM.

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Art Basel Hong Kong Begins

An art installation at Art Basel Hong Kong.

Installation view of Esther Schipper gallery. Image: Andrea Rossetti. Courtesy of Esther Schipper | ARTNet

A city established by trade and passers-through, Hong Kong, China, now boasts one of the world’s most robust and compelling art markets. This week, like an added sparkle or a swirl of whipped cream, Art Basel opens in the city for all to enjoy. This is the fourth edition of the festival in Hong Kong and one of the biggest yet, with 239 galleries to see (600 applied!), so there’s plenty to see, do, and appreciate. So while the event isn’t going on in New York City, lots of Western galleries like Gagosian and Lehmann Maupin have galleries on Art Basel Hong Kong’s list.

The fair is so large that even Doryun Chong, chief curator for gallery M+, recommends that visitors pick and choose what they want to see because there’s just no way to do it all. “It’s the most clichéd recommendation that is the most truthful,” he says. “Don’t put importance on mastering the whole space—you will quickly tire out. Focus on what catches your eye. Think about why it’s catching your eye and try to learn more about that artist.”

Some of those things to see and do include works by fan-favorite Warhol, of different mediums, all with different content. If bugs or creepy-crawlies are of more interest to you, you can go see some enormous sculptures of spiders by Louise Bourgeois. Spiders are said to bring happiness and wealth, according to Chinese culture. Those works are on display with Hauser and Wirth who selected a “bugs” theme for their collection.

Korean artist Do Ho Suh’s works sold for between $10,000 and $200,000 with Lehmann Maupin, hefty prices for a city that considers itself pretty moneyed.

An interesting and interactive piece from Zhang Ding and ShanghART and Krinzinger is 18 Cubes, a display that invites guests to put on a pair of black gloves, grab a piece of onyx from the work, and destroy it.

Art Basel Hong Kong will run until Saturday, March 26th, and tickets range from 180 HKD to 650 HKD.

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Hunted Undies: The Unique Origin of Paulina Skavová’s Art

A plastic model wears underwear in an art exhibit.

Image: A piece of art from Skaková’s exhibition | Czech Center

Women’s underwear has been an object of art as long as we’ve been wearing it. Whether the purpose is a statement of power, of sexuality, or conquest, whether the underwear is modern panties, Victorian corsets, burning bras, or dainty bloomers, it is a theme that has arisen over and over again.

And it’s back once more.

Czech artist Paulina Skavová’s 14 handcrafted bras and panties are on display in the Czech Center of New York. There’s nothing scandalous about them – they are simply pieces of utilitarian-shaped underwear in frames on a wall. But Skavová’s statement is in their materials. Each piece is made of fur or feathers, all hunted by her own husband in the Czech Republic.

“It’s about the role of women in this moment and how underwear can be their weapon and they have some power in their sexuality,” Skavová said in an interview with art magazine DNAInfo. “Underwear is a bit of a sexual symbol and it could be an artifact.”

Is it part of her statement that all of her materials came from her husband’s hands? There’s no knowing. But the small collection is certainly arresting.

The collection is open to viewing at the Czech Center at 321 East 73rd St. through March 30, and admission is always free.

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