Photography in the Spotlight

A close-up photo of a man with a high-definition camera.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

When we think of big donations to art museums, we often think of large canvases or dusty vases gifted by aging millionaires. However, photography is a burgeoning art form of its own, as many recent donations and gallery updates can attest.

Painting Meets Smoke Rings

 Earlier this year, thanks to generous donations from the likes of Silicon Valley businessman Thom Weisel and Italian clothing designer Max Mara, the de Young Museum in San Francisco hosted the exhibit “Frank Stella: A Retrospective.” Stella, known for his influential experiments with color and pictorial space, is also an avid user of technology in his work. His Black Series paintings might be what first made him famous in the art world, but his fascination with cigar smoking and the shape of smoke rings led to an innovative series of untitled smoke ring photographs in the late 1980s. These photos, along with his earlier paintings and more recent work with 3-D printing and other digital tools were all on display at the de Young from last November through February of this year.

The Politics of Seeing

In nearby Oakland, some of the most famous photographs of modern times are still available for view in an exhibit called “Dorothea Lange: The Politics of Seeing.” Lange, known for her iconic images from the Great Depression, captured the particular time and spirit of the American people in 25,000 negatives and 6,000 prints, which were donated to the Oakland Museum of California after her death. They’re particularly poignant to see today, when many of the social issues of the 1930s and 40s continue to plague American society. The key to the exhibit is its encouragement of viewers to interact directly with it. As Lange herself said, “The good photograph is not the object. The consequences of the photograph are the object.”

Victoria and Albert Make Room 

London’s Victoria and Albert Museum recently released the first designs for its new photography center, which will open in fall of 2018. The new space will become home to the museum’s photograph collection, including equipment and archival materials from as early as the 1820s. The gallery will be named for the California-based photographer Bern Schwartz, who was a successful portrait photographer during the 1970s. His subjects included Prince Charles, Henry Moore, and the former Victoria and Albert Museum director Roy Strong. In addition to the already-planned gallery, the museum is hoping to raise an additional £7m to include an educational facility with a library, studio, and darkroom.

The Hollywood Hobbyist

Bruce Berman, CEO of Village Roadshow Pictures, is probably best known as the producer of films like “The Matrix” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” But he’s also an avid photograph collector who recently donated huge portions of his collection to the Joslyn Art Museum and the J. Paul Getty Museum, respectively. These are just the latest two museums to receive donations from him; previous recipients include the de Young Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Berman’s collection focuses on 20th century American and Mexican scenes as snapped by photographers like Russell Lee, John Vachon, Mike Smith, David Husom, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, and Graciela Iturbide. “As an avid photographer in my teenage years, my appreciation for photographs has evolved into collecting snapshots of urban life,” said Berman. “It gives me great pride to share these wonderful works.”

With donors and exhibits such as these, museum visitors all over the world are able to experience photography just as much as more traditional paintings and cultural artifacts.

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Lucy Sparrow’s Pop-Up Art Gallery is Calling Attention to Gentrification

Exterior of a corner store created by artist Lucy Sparrow. The store sells groceries made out of felt fabric.

Exterior of a corner store created by artist Lucy Sparrow. The store sells groceries made out of felt fabric.
Photo credit: BasPhoto / Shutterstock

Not many pop-up art galleries can boast an inventory of 9,000 objects. And a bodega is not a common inspiration for chic pop art. But that’s the shape that Lucy Sparrow’s “8 ‘Till Late,” takes. The installation takes the form of a fully-stocked, New York-typical corner store. The shelves are real, but everything on them–from produce to boxes of tampons to the cash registers–is hand-sewn from colored felts.

Sparrow, 31, is a fiber artist from Bath, England. Replicating small businesses in felt is her usual inspiration; she’s done a corner store from London, a sex shop, and a cartoonish shop selling felt representations of firearms unavailable in Britain. “8 ‘Till Late” is her first installation in the U.S.A,; and she did months of research into what products would be available in a genuine New York City bodega.

Sparrow’s work, according to her, is about the things that modern neighborhoods are losing as traditional establishments are priced out. The site of “8 ‘Till Late,” adjacent to gentrifying influence Hotel Standard (also Sparrow’s lead sponsor), is far out of the price range of any actual bodega, and her cutesy objets d’art will appeal more to the hotel’s clientele than to the neighborhood’s original residents, but the effort is there.

Kevin Rockey, managing director of the Hotel Standard, said as much. He called her art “crowd-friendly,” “accessible,” and “quirky.” All words that appeal to apply just as well to the artist. She’s petite and cute, with trendy glasses and multi-colored hair, and has made herself a part of her art with hand-painted and sewn shoes, shirt, hat, and apron. But she’s also bluntly outspoken about her own past which includes mental illness and sex work, a nice parallel to the meat-packing district which the Standard Hotel is trying so hard to pretty up and polish over.

“8 ‘Till Late” debuted on June 5th and will remain open until June 30. It is located at 69 Little West 12th Street, New York City. Her replica shelf goods sell for $20 and up.

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Trigger Warning: Upcoming Art Exhibit Explores Gender and Sexuality

A yin and yang illustration of the male and female genders.

Image credit: Shutterstock

The New Museum of New York expects controversy around its upcoming exhibition “Trigger: Gender and a Tool and a Weapon.” That’s part of the point–for the show to set jaws wagging for its run and then some. With more than 40 artists involved in the show, there’s sure to be a flurry of artistic conversations inside the exhibit itself.

Curated by the New Museum’s director and curator of education and public engagement Johanna Burton, the group show will be spread across three floors, more than half of the museum.

“I started thinking about a show to take up questions that focus on gender…” said Burton in an interview with Art News. “A number of the best artists working right now are taking up gender as a way of re-configuring how we make meaning of it and what kind of vocabulary we use. I think of it as a show that is wanting to really engage questions that feel both very urgent and very present in the context of today.”

The works in the exhibition, which will open in September, is all very much in the context of today. It’s all new or nearly new, from artists who’ve risen up in today’s artistic-political climate. But it’s also fitting in the context of the museum’s 40 year history. The New Museum’s first gender and sexuality-focused show was in 1982, when discussion of the topic was much more taboo and extreme.

“Trigger” adds to that conversation, while making certain to include the intersections of race, class, sexuality, and ability that make all discourse such a heated, tangled topic.

“It’s a tough moment for productive discourse around identity,” said Burton. “A trigger is a mechanism that, with a little bit of force, sets off a huge amount of potential reactions, both for better and for worse.”

“Trigger” will be opening September 27th at the New Museum and will run through January 2018.

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The Shed Arts Center Just Received a $75 Million Donation From Michael Bloomberg

A photo of former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomber.

Former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg.
Photo credit: 360b / Shutterstock

The Shed is still an Erector-Set-like structure of bare girders and safety netting, but next year it will be a new arts center and a lynch pin for Hudson Yards as a new cultural region of New York City. It will feature a movable shell on rails, nesting over a fixed core of the building. It will be able to alter sizes and shapes for different kinds of events. Finished, it will have a 1,200 seat amphitheater, a 500-seat black-box theater, and two open space galleries to house 25,000 square feet of art installations.

“The building is almost like a tool kit for artists of all kinds—whether it’s Kanye West or Björk or Kenneth Branagh, Steve McQueen, Matthew Barney or FKA twigs,” said Alex Poots, the Shed’s artistic director and CEO. It is scheduled to be completed in spring 2019.

Quite recently, that project has received a new inflow of cash. Michael Bloomberg, multi-channel billionaire and former mayor of New York City, has contributed $75 million to the project. With his donation, over $420 million out of the project’s $500 million capital campaign has been raised. That money is supposed to cover construction and start-up costs, such as the staff the project has been accumulating since 2014.

This isn’t the first time Bloomberg’s hand has doled out donations to the project. While he was mayor, his administration made a $75 million grant to the Shed, the largest grant New York City issued that year. That garnered a lot of criticism at the time, as the project had yet to break ground or exist on anything but paper.

It’s largely Bloomberg’s support that has continued to push the Shed’s progress forward. Compare its progress to the postponement of a planned new wing at the Met, a much-delayed renovation of the New York Philharmonic’s David Geffen Hall, or the foundering performing arts center being finished at Ground Zero. It’s clear where Bloomberg has pinned his hopes for his legacy, and he has the clout to see it through.

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Coming to Manhattan: An Art Exhibit By Dogs, For Dogs

A cute, white dog covered in paint.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

The internet, it seems, is made of pets doing silly things, and people doing silly things for their pets. Dogs painting is a neat trick that we all love to see, or making art in other ways. But if a dog can be an artist, can they appreciate art? Should we try to allow them to, whether we know they can or not?

Jessica Dawson, an art critic formerly of the Washington Post, is organizing the world’s first art exhibit specifically for our canine friends, to happen this summer along Brookfield Place I Manhattan. The exhibit, curated by Dawson, Mica Scalin, and Arts Brookfield, will be titled dOGUMENTA.

While Dawson knows many will find the idea entirely frivolous, it doesn’t bother her. It’s meant to be humorous and somewhat satirical. But it’s also meant to be sentimental, a show of solidarity with man’s best friend.

Dawson attributes the idea to having been inspired heavily by her own dog, Rocky, a little yorkie-Maltese mix she found in a shelter. She claims that he got very excited at the idea of including the street-front galleries of Chelsea on their regular walks. In February, at a lecture she gave in Brooklyn titled “Five Things My Dog Taught Me About Art,” she pitched the idea to a pack of artists and curators.

The premise that she pitched, which would become dOGUMENTA, was this: If canines can teach us so much about human creativity, what if they had a show of their own? How would artists respond to this massive new audience?

dOGUMENTA, which will begin in August 2017, will take place at prime dog-walking hours (8am-8pm, with a gap from 1-4 when the pavement is too hot for bare paws) with the installations all being at doggie-eye-level. It will include ten works by New York artists.

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‘Human Structures’ by Jonathan Borofsky is on Display at Plaza33

A picture of a huge sculpture of a man with a hammer in his hand. The artwork is called "Hammering Man" by Jonathan Borofsky.

A photo of Jonathan Borofsky’s “Hammering Man” sculpture.
Photo courtesy of Kai C. Schwarzer at Flickr Creative Commons.

Plaza33, the broad triangle outside Penn Station, has hosted a parade of large installations by notable artists. Keith Haring and Roy Lichtenstein are notable recents. Now, yet another big, bold, simple sculpture has risen on the low plinth at the center of the pedestrian-only space. “Human Structures,” by Jonathan Borofsky, is childlike in its simple shapes and blocky colors.

More than fifty feet high and made out of geometric cut-out human figures, like stacked paper dolls, it is a statement.

“It’s about humanity connecting together to build our world,” said Borofsky in an interview with Untapped Cities.

He also says that the sculpture is meant to be passed through, made to be viewed from outside and inside. Standing beneath the figures, they take on a little of the sense of a cathedral, all vertical lines open to above. People standing inside of it become a part of the work in a way, echoing the much larger shapes, participating in the whole.

The “Human Structures” in Plaza33 is not a unique piece. Borofsky tends to work in repeating concepts, allowing them to evolve over time. Other “Human Structure” pyramids have been installed in Vancouver B.C., Germany, China, and San Francisco, and he’s sculpted and painted to the same theme in smaller works in Korea, Washington D.C., and Chicago. Perhaps in the artist’s mind, they are all linked, a global structure inspiring cooperation.

Other sculptures by Borofsky include his “Hammering Man,” which is in four different countries, and “Walking to the Sky,” which is in six different cities. He is always finessing and spreading his artistic vision, giving far-flung communities something to share. It’s very fitting with the slogan of Plaza33: “We used to walk with our heads down, but now we have a chance to look up.”

Up, and out, at a wider world.

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Frieze New York 2017 Is This Weekend

A photo of people browsing the 2015 Frieze Art Fair.

A photo taken from the Frieze Art Fair in 2015.
Photo credit: lev radin / Shutterstock

Frieze New York, an annual event since 2014, is a fair of international and contemporary art that takes place each spring on Randall’s Island in Manhattan. More than two hundred galleries fill space in the 256-acre island park in the Harlem River, along with scattered exhibits and performances elsewhere in the city.

One of the central features in Frieze New York is its Frame section, which is a space reserved for shows of new artists hosted by new galleries, a sort of debut stage. Artists are suggested and nudged onto this stage by two luminaries of international art: Jacob Proctor of the University of Chicago and Fabian Schöneich of the Portikus Contemporary Art Center in Frankfurt, Germany. Both curators, the two men make suggestions which are usually listened to by the fair organizers.

A few of this year’s Frame featured subjects:

Hudinilson Urbano Jr.
This late South American artist’s medium of choice is an unusual one: the photocopier. Copying found objects and his own body, Urbano’s work from before his 2013 death was an exploration of sex, gender, and identity.

Jan Vorisek
From Zurich, Vorisek uses found objects, mostly technological detritus, to build animated sculptures that includes elements of performance art, mostly through recorded voice.

Daiga Grantina
This Latvian artist’s large-scale installations have rarely come to America before. Massive and organ-like, using unexpected materials, her sculptures are exciting to see from every angle.

Susan Cianciolo
From right here in New York City, Cianciolo’s artworks span a variety of media, from watercolor tapestries to garment sketches and illustrated recipes. She is, by education, a fashion designer and has a concurrent exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Greenwich.

Milano Chow
Chow, a young artist from Los Angeles, is an illustrator in pencil, and her work will perhaps be an island of tranquil simplicity in the multimedia storm that is Frieze New York.

Frieze New York takes place each year on the first full weekend in May on Randall’s Island. This year, that is May 5-7.

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