The Quinquennial documenta* Art Exhibition

A creepy bronze statue of a cloaked figure. The photo was taken at documenta.

A photo taken at documenta.
Photo credit: Diane Chehab

The first documenta took place in Kassel, Germany in 1955 as a means to bring Germany back into a dialogue with other nations after World War II. The Kassel painter and academy professor Arnold Bode (who had been banned from practicing art in 1933) was the founder of this exhibition. One of his goals was to show 20th century art and connect with the international art world. About 130,000 visitors attended the first exhibition. There was truly a hunger for this type of event.

documenta does not take place every year. In the first few decades, it was every four or five years, and starting in 1972, it entered the current quinquennial rhythm. Also in 1972, the board decided to have an international jury elect an artistic director for each cycle who puts their personal imprint on the character of the exhibition.

This year (2017) brought a new paradigm for documenta 14, showing in Kassel from June 10 through September 9: the event partnered with the city of Athens, Greece, which held its own documenta from April 8 through July 16.

Visitors can purchase tickets for one day, two days, or the entire season. However, one day is insufficient to see everything shown. It’s best to wear comfortable shoes, as visitors walk from one building to the next. Some exhibitions are shown outside in public places and in gardens.

Migrations and refugees are one of the main themes throughout this year’s event.

The main documenta 14 space at the Fridericianum is dedicated to contemporary Greek artists, many pieces on loan from the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens. One room is dedicated to photos, including memories of the years of the junta (military rule) in Greece. In the entrance hall, visitors can frolic in patterned colored lights, forming a “painting” on the floor.

Right in front of the historic Museum Fridericianum is the “Parthenon of Books,” an edifice entirely built of books from around the world.

There is no information as of yet on documenta 15, presumably to be held in 2022.

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de Young Offers a Peek into Regional Art

A photo taken of the outside of the De Young Museum in San Francisco.

The De Young Museum, located in San Francisco.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

San Francisco’s de Young Museum has been part of the city since 1895, connecting visitors with art from around the world. Particularly since its redesign in October of 2005, it’s been a welcoming way to experience regional art, in particular art that originated in the Americas, Africa, and Oceania. Several of its upcoming exhibits, including Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire (opening in September), Beyond the Surface: Worldwide Embroidery Traditions (opening in December), and Revelations: Art from the African American South (currently running through April) provide visitors with a look into other cultures and their art.

One of the biggest sources of the de Young’s multicultural offerings is the Thomas W. Weisel Family Collection, made up of donations from Silicon Valley businessman Thom Weisel. While he’s mostly known for his business dealings over the years, Weisel is also a longtime collector and advocate of Native American art. The Weisel Family Collection includes 200 objects, from 11th-century Mimbres ceramics to masterworks of Navajo weaving. They originate from a variety of cultures and include the first Plains ledger drawings to become part of the museum’s collection.

In addition to this more permanent resource, the de Young will be showing several exhibits that focus on regional art from different cultures.

From September to February, the de Young will host Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire, an exhibit focusing on artwork from the ancient Mexican city. Teotihuacan is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as the most-visited archaeological dig in Mexico. The exhibit will feature never-before-seen discoveries and loans from both Mexican and US cultural organizations. Ritual objects, mural paintings, ceramics, and stone sculptures will give visitosr an inkling of what the city might have been like during its heyday.

Then in December, Beyond the Surface: Worldwide Embroidery Traditions will open, offering a closer look at embroidery from around the world. The exhibit will offer both a look at the intricate stitches and the connections between the work and the cultures that inspired it.

And if visitors don’t want to wait for insight into other cultures, they can visit the de Young now through April and get to know a subculture closer to home. In Revelations: Art from the African American South, major acquisitions from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation in Atlanta will be showcased. These include contemporary art by African American artists from the Southern US, including paintings, drawings, and quilts. Many of these works were never allowed to see the light of day until the civil rights movement; instead they were hidden away in personal collections and later released only to commercial galleries. Together, they will provide insight into racism, African American music, and the use of folk art traditions in modern art forms.

For more than 100 years, the de Young has offered visitors a chance to see and connect with art they might otherwise not have the chance to experience. In these latest exhibits, the museum goes a step further and encourages visitors to broaden their horizons and take a look at art originating in cultures that may or may not be their own.

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Rei Kawakubo Exhibit at The Met

Katy Perry dawns a fashionable red outfit at the "Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art Of The In-Between" Costume Institute Gala at The Met.

Katy Perry at the “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art Of The In-Between” Costume Institute Gala at The Met.
Photo credit: Ovidiu Hrubaru / Shutterstock

Rei Kawakubo, originally an artist from Tokyo, grew up in a household that enjoyed Western culture as an aesthetic, on the grounds of Keio University where her father worked. It was a fertile upbringing, blending art styles from around the world. In the 60s, when Kawakubo attended Keio, that blend was popular worldwide.

Kawakubo established her first fashion line in 1969, and made it a company four years later. Comme des Garçons, French for “like some boys,” began in Tokyo and expanded with meteoric speed. By the time she opened a boutique in Paris in ’82, Comme des Garçons had more than 150 shops, reporting profits upwards of $30 million.

And all of this on the back of Kawakubo’s striking, trendsetting visuals. Her clothes were dark, frayed, and asymmetrical, earning her followers the nickname of “The Crows.”

That aesthetic sense is a part of what is being featured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this summer. Hosted by the Met’s Costume Institute, 140 pieces of Kawakubo’s fashion art will be featured in a themed show. The works are sorted into nine “aesthetic expressions of interstitiality,” according to the Met’s website. Alongside her “crow” garments are incredible architectures of color and texture.

“Absence/Presence, Design/Not Design, Fashion/Anti-Fashion, Model/Multiple, Then/Now, High/Low, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes,” are the nine categories. Since all featured works are runway pieces, rather than part of Kawakubo’s wearable fashion line, it could be argued that they all lie on the “Not Clothes” side of that particular dichotomy. Many of them are massive, dwarfing models or mannequins, especially while accompanied by the wigs designed for this display by Julien d’Ys.

This exhibition, which will be on view at the Met Fifth Avenue in their Gallery 999 space until September 4th, 2017, is free with admission to the museum. It’s made possible by sponsorship from Cond Nast and other sponsors.

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Remembering Iconic Photographer Arlene Gottfried

A photograph of a man and an older woman at a beach. The photograph was taken by Arlene Gottfried.

A photograph taken by Arlene Gottfried and displayed at her “Sometimes Overwhelming” exhibition.
Image courtesy of Jack Szwergold via Flickr Creative Commons.

The Gothamist describes Arlene Gottfried as a “singing photographer and NYC treasure.” That seems like an epitaph to be proud of. The Brooklyn-born artist, sister to actor Gilbert Gottfried, passed away on Tuesday, August 8th, 2017. Her name may not have been a household one, but many of her photographs were.

“Arlene was a soulful person who followed her heart in her work and in her daily life. In many ways I think that is the best any of us can do. Her photographs fill people with joy and with tears. She made art from her heart and that’s what people respond to when they see it,” said Daniel Cooney, owner of the gallery through which she sold her art.

A parade of girls in their white confirmation dresses being escorted by nuns and mothers past TVs set up on an abandoned Chevy Vega. A can-can dancer in makeup never meant for a close-up. A make-shift pig roast being watched over by a pair of boys in an alley of crumbling brick. Her photographs are New York City from the bottom up, behind the scenes, past the curtain.

“She always photographed the people she identified with—the underdogs, the unsung heroes, and the people living on the fringe,” said Cooney. “I think that’s why people loved her work so much, there was always something to relate to.”

In 2008, Gottfried released Sometimes Overwhelming, a book with many of her favorite photographs from New York’s ’70s and ’80s. The originals of those prints are part of the collection the Brooklyn Museum of Art today, except for those that she donated to the New York Public Library.

No one drags their TV into the street to plug it into the bottom of a street lamp and watch the fight with their neighbors anymore. But Gottfried’s photographs will remember that time for us.

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Artist Commits to Drawing Every Restaurant in New York City

A restaurant storefront located in New York City. There's a neon sign out front that reads, "breakfast, lunch, dinner."

Photo credit: Shutterstock

So far, John Donohue has over 100 drawings on his website, Each one is a simple line illustration, done in twenty minutes or so, of restaurants in New York City. The end-goal of the project (which he calls “intentionally hyperbolic”) is to draw, well, all the restaurants in New York City.

It is mathematically possible to visit all of them in under a year by spending 20 minutes at a stop,” he says on his site. “Luckily, it takes me almost exactly 20 minutes to draw the façade of each place, working strictly from life, in ink (without a pencil or erasing anything). So in a perfect world, I’ll be done in twelve months.

“Of course, that doesn’t take into account openings and closings, travel between each one, sleep, work, outside responsibilities, and the coloring I do, so I expect if I’d like to, I could keep at this for the rest of my life. We’ll see how it goes.”

Donohue, who has also been an editor and cartoonist at The New Yorker, an anthologist, and a cooking blogger, began drawing restaurants in January 2017. Since then, the project has largely taken off in the form of commissions. Visitors attracted to his site by word-of-mouth nominate their favorite eateries, past or present. Donohue sketches each from life, if he can, in a gesture-sketch sort of sense.

“I think of the pictures as in some ways Google Earth shots—this is in a moment in time,” he said in an interview with AMNY. His illustrations are quick impressions, evocative in their light detailing, but instantly recognizable to anyone who knows the restaurant in question.

A show featuring his work at the bookstore powerHouse on 8th was just extended to September, featuring both originals and signed prints for sale. It’s certainly worth taking a look at given his growing popularity in the New York art scene.

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MFA Exhibits Offer Opportunities to Share and Explore

A college-aged woman taking photos at an art exhibit.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Whether it’s striving to elicit a specific emotional reaction, make a statement about society at large, or simply showcase diverse approaches and new media, MFA exhibitions give graduating students the opportunity to share the results of their hard work and to be recognized for their artistic contributions and experiments.

Because these students are creating in a setting where selling or professionally displaying their art isn’t a priority, there can be a tendency for their work to suffer by virtue of existing in an echo chamber. Several recent MFA shows belie that stereotype, however.

PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art)

Located in Portland, Oregon, PNCA is home to a graduating class of multimedia artists whose most recent work requires viewers to exert some real mental energy.

Savanna Youngquist’s Being Half and Whole, for example, may seem calm on the surface. Paper folded to look like envelopes addressed to “The Visitor” describe the exhibit as an expression of the artist’s relationship with her boyfriend and her twin sister. But the underlying theme is more complicated, with pillows placed on the gallery’s walls along with two mirrors reflecting phrases at each other: “We don’t hug” on one, and “Because hugging you would be like hugging myself” on the other.

Jenna Reineking has created a similarly serene-on-the-surface-but-troubling-underneath offering called Reconstructing Deconstructed Constructs. Two deceptively plain brown platforms are covered with various objects, including a dustpan and broom covered with mothball-like film. There’s not much to it at first—but there’s an underlying sense of disturbance.

School of the Museum of Fine Arts (Tufts University)

This year, 39 students graduated from Tufts University’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Their work—film, video, painting, performance, sculpture, photography, installation, drawing, and more—was recently showcased in an exhibition at the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Riley Allen’s ACityIsACityIsACity is made up of a series of videos showing what urban environments would look like if some things were removed and others added. This results in a series of shots of places like New York and Chicago strangely bereft of the people and cultures we normally think of as defining these cities. The removal of this energy makes viewers stop and think about what really defines a city.

Rather than focusing on one medium, Isabel Beavers’s Arctic Lab installation uses video, animation, drawing, painting, sculpture, and sound. She draws on her experiences collecting ecological data to present a melancholy piece about the effects of climate change and our cultural responses to it.

Meanwhile, Douglas Breault’s digital print Flowers Don’t Ask to Be Picked uses sculpture and mixed media to draw parallels between the imagination presented on the internet and our concepts of heaven.

University of California, Berkeley Department of Art Practice

Berkeley MFA graduates this past year came together with the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) to celebrate their work. While each of the six graduates’ work is unique, they all look at social norms and their effects on us, including class, race, gender, sexuality, and education.

Takming Chuang’s sculptures, built using his own body, focus on ideas of the physical impermanence. Classmate Lucas DeGiulio uses flora, sticks, branches and even garbage, collected during nature walks, to create sculptures, collages, and assemblages that speak to the human connection with nature. And Behnaz Khaleghi uses a façade of scatological humor and phallic structures to talk about men’s anxieties around female power.

It can be easy to dismiss young artists and their earliest works, particularly when they come out of insular MFA programs. But as these examples show, MFA exhibitions can showcase extremely complicated and important narratives—not to mention the real talents of an up-and-coming set of artists.

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Highland Park’s First Art Installation Consists of Giant Flowers

Highland Park as shown on a map.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Highland Park (located in Brooklyn near Queens) is a renovated reservoir park on a high hill in the thick of the city with views that include East New York, the Rockaways, and the ocean. It has a playground and a lake, beautiful stairways, and a thriving new forest in the basins on the former Ridgewood reservoir. Its gardens and micro farm are maintained by a local high school, and ice skaters use the lake in the winter.

This year, as NYC Parks celebrates 50 years of Art in the Parks, Highland Park will have its first-ever art exhibition.

“The Giant Flowers” is the installation chosen for Highland Park. It consists of five windsock-style flower sculptures on white painted poles, hand-sewn by local resident artist Daniele Frazier.

“‘The Giant Flowers’ brings eye-catching colors and welcome whimsy to this beloved open space. Art brings people together, and it is our mission to make sure it is accessible to all of New York City’s vibrant communities,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver.

Frazier is a multi-talented artist, working in drawing, sculpture, textiles, with accolades also in musical performance and acting.

Her flowers are simple, and evoke not only spring and summer but also kite-flying, waving flags, parade floats, and balloons. They can’t be seen without smiling, especially on a day when the breeze makes their stems snap out straight, petals blown to their fullest shapes.

The Art in the Parks program will continue to roll-out all through 2017, celebrating its 50 year track record of making New York City into an open-air gallery larger than some countries. To date, Art in the Parks has produced and placed over 2,000 public art installations by over 1,300 artists, both the famed and the unknown, into over 200 of New York City’s 1,700 parks.

“The Giant Flowers” will remain in Highland Park until June 2018.

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