Cai Dongdong: Guns & Shutters

Cai Dongdong “Aiming at the Camera,” 2017, Gelatin silver print, Russian camera(!), wood. Photo courtesy Cai Dongdong and Klein Sun Gallery. Click any Photo for full size.

On October 6th the NYC Art world was permanently changed with the opening of the monumental “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” at the Guggenheim. Filling all 6 floors of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rotunda and spilling over into two of the side galleries, it was as close to encyclopedic as any show of it’s kind could ever hope to be. Having closed on January 7, I’m still processing my thoughts about it. This much I can say- In it’s wake, the training wheels are now off. The flood gate of what’s been going on in Contemporary Art in China has opened and we’re officially in the deep water.

And it’s about time.

The 71 “key Artists and groups” as the show’s site calls them were remarkably well chosen, in my opinion, divided between historically important Artists and works, and those of the moment. Still? In a country of 1.4 Billion people, it’s impossible to include everyone. Many deserving Artists were missed, especially with only 9 women represented. While big on video & installations, almost completely missing was Photography, Ai Weiwei’s famous “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” 1995, being one of the few works included.

Cai Dongdong, “Splashing Woman,” 2016, Handmade color photo, knitting, in Artist’s frame. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like this.

If you are among those left wanting to see more, see what other Contemporary Chinese Artists are doing, or see what Contemporary Chinese Photography Artists are doing, I strongly encourage you to check out some of the fine and daring galleries around town that specialize in Contemporary Chinese Art. With a 10 year history of representing and showing Chinese Artists who are, largely, in the process of becoming better known in the USA, Klein Sun Gallery on West 22nd Street is among the leading galleries in the field. Gallerist Eli Klein speaks with both passion and experience about the Artists he, and his gallery, represent, but, also about “the difficult concepts and social commentary portrayed by some of our artists,” as he told me.

The latter is exactly what makes Klein Sun a must visit gallery on my rounds. Mr. Klein comes by his passion naturally. He is the son the late, extraordinary, women’s champion, Janet Benshoof, who passed away on December 18th.

Installation view of the first gallery.

In all the years that I’ve been going to Klein Sun, this is a particularly good time to go. Their current show, “Cai Dongdong: Photography Autocracy,” through January 18, is an eye-opener, full of pushing-the-envelope creativity, in works that will linger with you after they upend your preconceptions. Mr. Dongdong’s work, which is centered on Photography, is rife with commentary, divided between themes including the military, the act of seeing and being seen, and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s famous “Decisive Moment.” But it’s the universality and humanity of his work as a whole that impresses me the most. Though the faces are Chinese, they could be anyone. For western eyes, there are echoes of Man Ray, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell in works that are “Photo-Sculptures,”as he calls them, but decidedly different from Robert Rauschenberg’s “Combines.” Unique among all the Photographers I spent last year seeing, Cai Dongdong, also, constructs the beautiful stands and frames he uses himself, ala Joseph Cornell or Holly Lane, creating an all in one experience in which the Photograph plays one part. The Artist, who turns 40 this year, has a bit of a unique background. He joined the People’s Liberation Army- as a portrait Photographer, a post he remained in for about a decade. This served to have a lasting influence on him, as one might suspect, as one side of his subsequent Art incorporates these Photos, while another side uses found images, (selected from an archive that Phil Cai, Mr. Klein’s Associate at Klein Sun, told me numbers over 600,000 images), but in all his work, he combines Photographs in ways that defy the “Autocracy” of the image to force it to say “something else,” always unexpected.

Cai Dongdong, “The Photographer II,” 2015, Handmade color photo, photographic lens in Artist’s frame. The lens goes right through the work.

Going beyond Photographs with his passion for Photography, a number of these works contain camera lenses inserted right into the piece, making the viewer the subject. Many others contain mirrors or reflective surfaces, and one, seen at the beginning, and below, puts you at the place of the Photographer- if you dare.

Cai Dongdong “Aiming at the Camera,” 2017,

Through mirrors and lenses, he also puts the viewer in the work, reminding us of our complicity by looking and seeing, most poignantly they’re included in a number of nudes on view, including one that replaces the model’s head with a round mirror, all ready for your face.

Cai Dongdong, “Back from Target Practice,” 2017, Gelatin silver print, LCD Light box. These harmless looking smiling armed ladies are returning from target practice. Or? Are they coming for us? Interestingly, the piece is mounted about head high for many viewers, making it personal.

The central element, for me, in his work is the humanity that runs through it. In “Aiming at the Camera,” 2017, the Artist, literally, puts you in his shoes when he took this Photo. In “The Association of the Cannon,” 2016, a cannon goes off expelling a harmless and lovely nude. Right next to it, in “Back from Target Practice,” 2017, a group of armed young women walk towards the viewer, making you feel that even women, the givers of life, when armed, can pose a real danger to you-particularly when they’re coming your way. These Photos have a “journalistic” feel that’s turned into something else in the whole, something the Photo may, or may not have originally intended. Hence, the Photo’s “Autocracy” in the show’s title is subject to Artist’s intervention. The Artist is the one with the unlimited power to control what it says.

Detail.

The role of guns (rifles and cannons) is a recurrant theme in the Artist’s work that was also a memorable part of his last Klein Sun show, “Fountain,” 2015. Here, guns alternate between being a threat and being “defused.” The two shows mirror each other beautifully, down to their success, with “Fountain” selling out, and “Photography Autocracy” getting very close to it. (A word to book collectors-  The Artist created an extraordinary book for “Fountain,” in a limited edition of 500 signed & numbered copies, the stack of available copies at the gallery dwindled each time I visited, partially my fault. For someone who has been buried, literally up to his neck in Art & PhotoBooks, as anyone who has seen my apartment this year could swear to in court, I was shocked to see the intricate details that have been painstakingly included in this book. It’s gorgeous. Another example of the extreme care and craftsmanship that goes into Cai Dongdong’s Art.)

Cai Dongdong, “The Guerrilla on Hunghu Lake,” 2017, Gelatin silver print, wood. This is just an extraordinarily beautiful Photograph, in addition to being a powerful image. The background is ravishing, which serves to bring another level of meaning to the “action” of the approaching guerrillas in front of it. The idea of setting this in a hand made boat is just brilliant, in my opinion.

It’s fascinating to look for evidence of his experiences in the Army in these works, but it’s unknown (to me) which Photo Mr. Dongdong took and which he found. In the end, it matters not. Some of the end results, however, have a “day dream” effect, where I picture the Artist in his Army job, armed with his camera, fantasizing about whatever scene is going on in front of him. “Wouldn’t it be great if a beautiful lady came out of this cannon right now instead of a shell?”

Cai Dongdong, “The Association of the Cannon,” 2016, Gelatin silver print in Artist’s frame. Right out of Max Ernst, a work I might have expected from John & Yoko, seems to sum up this show.

I think it’s exactly that that makes this show so successful and so popular- it’s very easy to relate to the humanity in the work, regardless of your culture or background.

“Road,” 2016, Gelatin silver print in Artist’s frame. The Photo of the “road” in the upper right is collaged on and extends out from the surface, curved on the side nearest the lady.

Regarding his background, I asked the Artist a few questions, through the gallery since he lives and works in Beijing-

Frist- What inspired you to become an Artist?

Cai replied, “A rain when I was born.”

And- Who influenced your Art?

Cai- “My kids.”

Cai Dongdong, “Obstacle,” Gelatin silver print in Artist’s frame. Notice the ridge where the print is folded about 2/3 to the right. Photo courtesy of Cai Dongdong and Klein Sun Gallery.

As Phil Cai pointed out to me, looking at it from the right, the lecturer is cut off by the ridge made by the folded print…as the solders are cut off from him on the lefl.

I also asked Mr. Klein how he discovered Cai Dongdong. He said, “I first saw his work on a chance Studio visit in Beijing. His studio was close to one of another artist I was visiting and was told I shouldn’t miss it. Quite frankly I was blown away. It was such pure art, no bullshit, no trying too hard, not showing off. It was just Real. Cameras and parts all over the place, wood that he was using to make his own frames. A unique mix of installation, old and new photography, mixed media, collage, sculpture and compelling cultural commentary. I had to pursue representing him and knew that very quickly. His demeaner and dedication were also very clearly defined which is indicative of a better potential for a long and successful career.”

Cai Dongdong, “Big Harvest,” 2017, Silver gelatin print in Artist’s frame. Phil Cai spoke to me of the influence of China’s “Collectivsim,” in this work, that they are “gathering themselves.” When I see it, I see the succeeding smaller figures representing future generations.

Mr. Dongdong’s work speaks to the larger “cultural commentary” than to one that’s specifically Chinese, in my opinion.  These are works that end up expressing the universal experience of being human- even in a “collective.” People can be “trained” to move and operate together, but it’s harder to control their thoughts, imaginations, fantasies, and Artistic impulses. Yes, guns can be dangerous. Yes, nations are continually preparing for war. But, these nations are made up of human beings who are living their daily lives, too. Here are works about the experience of being human- from basic events like being seen naked, being seen at work, being seen serving your country, that every human being experiences. In Cai Dongdong’s Art, the world becomes a little smaller, and that’s one of the best things Art can accomplish. It also looks like he has fun creating it, and that comes through, too.

Time will tell if Cai Dongdong achieves the stature of Gu Dexin, Alec Soth or Ai Weiwei, but in the meantime he’s creating beautifully made objects with their own point of view, a decidedly unique way of seeing the world, each one overflowing with humanity. That’s certainly a recipe that’s stood the test of time, for a long time.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” by John Lennon & Paul McCartney, and recorded by The Beatles on “The White Album.” (No, It’s not a drug song, as you can hear John say, here.) In lieu of their version, Gavin DeGraw does it here-

This Post is dedicated to the memory of Janet Benshoof. 

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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Art In Manhattan, 2017- And Then There Were Five

It was a year of discovery. A year where I discovered some great Artists I previously hadn’t known, finally caught up with some I knew about but hadn’t gotten to see much of their work, and got lost exploring some remarkable Retrospectives- for Raymond Pettibon and Robert Rauschenberg, both accompanied by memorable satellite shows. Most of these are represented in my monthly NoteWorthy Show selections throughout the year. But? There was more! So, I’m going to take this moment to pause and look back at the revelations of 2017, look at some memorable shows I didn’t write about at the time, and finally, highlight a pair of men who, I feel, had an exceptional 2017 in Manhattan Art.

No doubt about it- the biggest discovery this year was a long overdue deep dive into the world of Contemporary Photography. From seeing well over 100 Photography shows, to spending five long days at “AIPAD: The Photography Show” (with well over 200 galleries from all over the world showing work), to going through hundreds of PhotoBooks, and meeting many Photographers, legendary, famous, or not quite yet, along with the staffs of two of the world’s leading Photography organizations- Aperture and Magnum, both celebrating major anniversaries this year. Rarely did a week pass when Photography wasn’t in the the picture. Of course, in a world were there are now more cameras than people it’s impossible to get to see everyone who’s doing great work. As happens each year, NO matter WHAT I do to prevent it, this year too, there were shows I didn’t find out about until they closed. UGGGH!!!! Along the way, there were quite a few revelations, and a good many other things solidified…at least for the moment.

First, the revelations. In Photography, particularly by those younger than 50 (I say 50 because I seem to know/have heard of many of those over) and unknown to me, Gregory Halpern was the biggest revelation I had this year. His book “Zzyzx” won the prestigious Aperture Best Book Award for 2016, but I didn’t know that when I discovered his work at Aperture’s booth at AIPAD. I had never heard of him.

Gregory Halpern, “Untitled,” 2016, from his “Buffalo” series. Click any Photo for full size.

The work, “Untitled,” was a Photograph Aperture had run in the Spring, 2017 issues of it’s excellent quarterly magazine, in a pictorial by Mr. Halpern, titled “Buffalo.” I didn’t know that then, either. I simply saw the work, and then couldn’t get it out of my mind. It now hangs a few feet away. Out of everything I saw at AIPAD, particularly by those younger than 50 and unknown to me, this work grabbed me and didn’t let go. I went home that night with one thought on my mind- “WHO is Gregory Halpern?” After researching him most of the night, (including finding his incredibly honest and insightful answer to one very important question), serendipitously, I got to meet him the next day, and spoke to him about his book. It turned out to be a classic case where some things are better left unexamined. Gregory was so forthcoming in his answers about specific images I came too close for comfort to losing some of their mystery.

Gregory Halpern standing next “Untitled,” at Aperture’s Booth at AIPAD, March 31st.

In addition to being, in my eyes, one of the most talented Photographers of his generation, he is, also, one of it’s best writers. He’s the co-author of one of the most popular and respected Photography Manuals of 2017, “The Photographer’s Playbook,” and his occasionally published articles always enlighten and leave me wanting more. A Harvard grad, he’s now a professor in the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology for some very lucky students. As if all of that isn’t enough, his wife, Ahndraya Parlato is, also, one of the revelations of the year as a Photographer. Her Photographs “glow”- in one way or another. Her most recent book, “A Spectacle and Nothing Strange,” is ethereal…mesmerizing…magical.

Leaving aside age or era, the work of Fred Herzog was, also, unknown to me. Early pioneers of color Photography have taken decades coming to the attention they deserve, such was the disdain color held among the Photographic cognoscenti for color Photography. With the publication of “Fred Herzog: Modern Color,” in February, 2017, an Artist who was fairly well-known, and appreciated, in his native Canada finally began becoming wider known in the USA. His work was memorably shown by Equinox Gallery of Vancouver at AIPAD this spring, where, I felt, it stood out.

Fred Herzog, “Main Barber,” 1968, seen at Equinox Gallery’s AIPAD booth.

Fred Herzog considers Saul Leiter THE master of early color Photography, and even with a giant like William Eggleston to consider (who’s 1976 MoMA show, “Photographs by William Eggleston,” which can be “visited” here, is widely credited with making color Photography “acceptable” in the world of “Fine Art”), it’s hard to argue with him. No Photographer new to me, regardless of age or period, had a bigger impact on me this year than Saul Leiter.

Saul Leiter, “Through Boards,” Circa 1957. This image appears (cropped) on the cover of the now classic book, “Saul Leiter: Early Color,” 2006, which launched the “Saul Leiter Renaissance.” It’s, perhaps, my very favorite Photobook. Sadly, now out of print, it would take real diligence to find a very good copy for less than $100. But, there are many worse uses of time. Photo by the Saul Leiter Foundation.

It took until 2006 for Saul Leiter to be recognized- FIFTY EIGHT years after he started taking color photographs. As with William Eggleston, Mr. Leiter was, also, a devoted Painter. I can see it in both of their work, and I believe it’s part of the reason their work speaks to me, perhaps, more than the work of any other Photographer of any period. It was his friend, no less than the great Artist Richard Pousette-Dart (who’s also an under appreciated Photographer), to encouraged him to pursue Photography.

“Walk with Soames,” 1958, This was 20 YEARS before William Eggleston’s ground breaking MoMA show “legitimized” color Photography in the Art world! Photo by Howard Greenberg Gallery.

Mr. Leiter saw and used color in his Photography in ways no one else has, achieving effects that today’s finest digital manipulators can only dream of. As very good as his Black & White work is, like Turner or Van Gogh, Saul Leiter was a true Poet of color, perhaps the greatest Master of Color in Photography, though it’s, of course, impossible and pointless to qualitatively compare.

“T,” Circa 1950(!).Photo by the Saul Leiter Foundation. Daring. Gorgeous.

Saul Leiter didn’t need Photoshop to get his results. He just stood there with his camera, and click…Art.

A number of established Photographers had terrific shows in NYC in 2017 that I didn’t get to write about here. Among them are Mark Steinmetz, Mike Mandel, Raghubir Singh (though marked by controversy), Richard Avedon, Herman Leonard, Michael Kenna, and Edward Burtynsky. But, I’m going to address one I simply can’t let pass, because I continue to think about it.

Richard Misrach’s Photo, “Effigy #3, near Jacumba, California,” 2009, Pigment print mounted to Dibond, right rear, with Guillermo Galindo’s Musical Instrumet/Sculpure “Effigy,” 2014, center2014. Barely visible are two strings between the forearms. The grey rectangle on the lower left side of the pedestal is where a speaker is mounted.

“Richard Misrach: Border Cantos,” (at Pace, 510 West 25th Street), was an utterly remarkable and serendipitous collaboration between renowned Photographer Richard Misrach & Composer/Sculptor Guillermo Galindo on the subject of our southern border, those protecting it, and those trying to cross it. To accompany Mr. Misrach’s large, atmospheric Photographs, Mr. Galindo created a whole orchestra of Musical Instruments out of objects found along the border, and proceeded to compose and record a 4 hour score that was looped in the show’s back room to meditative effect, ingeniously installed so that the music being played was coming from speakers mounted inside the display of the specific instruments that were playing at any given moment. (The Artists have an excellent website for this show where you can, also, hear these remarkable instruments.)

Instruments, like this. Guillermo Galindo, “Tortillafono/Wall Vibraphone,” 2014, Metal. The discarded metal cap of an electrical box from the failed SBInet (Secure Border Initiative) surveillance program was turned into a mallet and string instrument sits in front of Richard Misrach’s “Artifacts fround from California to Texas between 2013 and 2015,” 2013-5, 86 x 57 inches, Pigment prints mounted to Dibond. Photos of items found along the border.

And this- Guillermo Galindo, “Teclata,” His description- “On this keyboard, empty cans, bottles, and a plastic cup act as piano strings. The surface of the instrument is decorated with Border Patrol ammunition boxes.”

The surround sound effect was like sitting in the middle of a small chamber music group. The instruments, themselves, were beautiful as sculpture, and the music, which sounded to me like a cross between Harry Partch (who, also, made his own instruments) and John Cage, on instruments that looked like Rauschenbergs, had me asking if it had been released on CD. Why not?

Richard Misrach, “Playas de Tijuana #1, San Diego,” 2013, Pigment print mounted to Dibond, 42 x 160 inches.

Mr. Misrach, who has spent forty years working in the American Desert on his renown “Desert Cantos” project, showed a remarkable selection of images taken since 2004, but more intensely since 2009 (the collaboration with Mr. Galindo dates back to 2012), that told the story in slices. The effect of the music, the images and the sculptures (musical and non) was hypnotic, and ultimately meditative on the situation, the people protecting the border, and the refugees, while at the same time, even for those directly untouched by this story, the show spoke to a larger sense of walls, borders and refugees, and resilience. The Artists found, or created, beauty in this situation, reflecting the very perseverance that is at the essence of survival.

Richard Misrach, “Wall, east of Nogales, Arizona,” 2014, 68 x 84 inches, Pigment print mounted to Dibond

On the Painting & Drawing front, the most important Painting/Drawing gallery show I haven’t addressed was Kara Walker (at Sikkema Jenkins and Co.). Before it opened the buildup was downright intense. First, these posters began appearing, which certainly raised eyebrows until you notice (along the lower left side) that the text was written by the Artist. The show was also featured in a cover article in one of the last print issues of the Village Voice. I can’t remember the last time an Art show made the Voice’s cover, but this was the last time one did.

 Kara Walker sounds a bit weary in the poster, and particularly in the “Artist’s Statement” that appears on the show’s page on the Sikkema website.

“Dredging the Quagmire (Bottomless Pit),” 2017 Oil stick and Sumi ink on paper collaged on linen, 18 feet long, seen in the show’s first room. A “bottomless quagmire” is what the history of and current state of race and gender relations does feel like at this moment in time.

In the lower right side, this almost submerged head seemed to echo Ms. Walker’s weariness in her Artist’s Statement. “But frankly I am tired, tired of standing up, being counted, tired of ‘having a voice’ or worse ‘being a role model.'”

After all the anticipation and buildup, at the packed opening, Ms. Walker, herself, was only to be seen for a little while, at least while I was there.

Kara Walker at the opening, September 7, 2017, with part of  “U.S.A. Idioms,” 2017, Sumi ink and collage on paper, almost 15 by 12 feet, in the background.

While she continues to create her signature Silhouettes, showing a gorgeous 2017 work titled “Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something),” that’s almost 18 1/2 feet long, the bulk of the show consists on her ink and collage works, that have increasingly come to the forefront of her shows as time has gone on, most recently in her Cleveland Museum show, “The Ecstasy of St. Kara,” 2016, and at MoMA’s “Unfinished Conversations: New Work from the Collection,” which closed on July 30, 2017, where her “40 Acres of Mules,” a Charcoal Drawing on 3 sheets totaling almost 18 feet long that was acquired by the Museum the year before, was on view in what was something of a one-work preview for her Sikkema show.

“Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might be Guilty of Something),” 2017, Cut paper on canvas. For me, one thing Ms. Walker’s Silhouettes all seem to ask is “Why do you see, what you see?”

Whereas it’s hard for me to imagine the care, patience and deliberation it must take for Ms. Walker to create one of her silhouettes, her Drawing & Collages look like they are done in bursts of raw energy and passion. At times the images approach the quality of a caricature of an event. No matter the differences in creation, when you see her Silhouettes and Drawings side by side they’re unmistakably by the same Artist.

While the Silhouettes, mostly, seem to leave quite a bit to the imagination, including the race of each character, her Drawings & Collages do not, especially when it comes to violence. Nothing is held back, hinted at or hidden. In the Drawings and collages, she has taken away the curtain inherent in Silhouettes in depicting racism and gender crimes. We see the faces, skin color, eyes, and what each one is involved in doing.  You can choose to look away, but otherwise, it’s pretty hard to “miss” what’s going on. The results are shocking, though they have precedent going back to Goya’s “Los Caprichos,” and “The Disasters of War,” and Daumier through Warhol, as well as in the work of Photojournalists and “Conflict Photographers” from all over the world. In Kara Walker’s work, though, the time is centered between 1788, when slavery was legalized in the US, through post Civil War “Reconstruction.”  Where the Silhouettes present a shadow of the figure, and the actions, the Drawings shine direct light. In fact, there are almost no shadows in her drawings- there’s no where for the perpetrators to hide.

“The Pool Party of Sardanapalus (after Delacroix, Kienholz,” 2017, Sumi ink and collage on paper, Almost 12 feet long.

Eugene Delacroix, “The Death of Sardanapalus,” 1844, Oil on canvas, Louvre, Paris. Kara Walker is, also, an astute student of Art History. In her work, Sardanapalus lies horizontally near the upper left corner, apparently, taking no interest in the orgy of death going on, as he does, lying arm on elbow on a huge red bed in Delacroix’. Her Ed Kienholz reference is a bit harder to track down, but it might be this one.

In “Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” 2017, the ground is, also, gone. The figures hang in the space of the paper, though some sense of perspective remains- as you get closer to the top of the sheet, they get smaller.

“Christ’s Entry into Journalism,” 2017, Sumi ink and collage on paper, 140 x 196 inches.

In this work, Ms. Walker’s figures cut across time, with some appearing to be contemporary. To the right of center, a figure “rocks the mic.” In the lower center is a figure that appears to be a modern riot trooper, in a helmet with face shield and body armor. He appears to have clubs in each hand. Right next to his left hand is what appears to be a black head, in a hoodie, on a platter, being carried by a woman, who looks away, while others nearby watch, some with shock on their face, some pointing to the scene. Just behind them, an extended arm holds and American flag, while above them a figure gives a Nazi salute with one hand while holding a Rebel flag with the other. Up top, a lynched figure hangs from a tree branch while women on either side of him perform acrobatics, with Klansmen standing next to them. In front of that naked black women are attacked by a group of men, while, again, others see what is going on. In the center of the work, the decapitated hoodied head looks straight across at a Civil War soldier pointing a gun at him, across time. Is this 1863? Or 2016?

“Storm Ryder (You Must Hate Black People as Much as You Hate Yourself),” 2017, Oil stick and Sumi ink on paper collaged on linen.

The primacy of Drawing in her work was reinforced with the recent release of one of Ms Walker’s Sketchbooks from 1999, when the Artist was 29, as a book appropriately titled, “MCMXCIX.” It contains Drawings that, in style and subject, visitors to the Sikkema show will immediatley recognize. Interestingly, as Raymond Pettibon does in his shows (the latest concluding on June 24th, shortly before Ms. Walker’s opened), she prefers her larger works be tacked to the walls.

“Future Looks Bright,” 2017, Oil stick and Sumi ink on paper collaged on linen.

Kara Walker may be growing tired of being a “role model,” of being “a featured member of my racial group and/or my gender niche,” (as she says in her Artist’s Statement referenced above). Of course, I can’t imagine being Kara Walker, but I can understand that it gets to be “too much.” I’m not sure, however, what her other choice is. I mean, I’m sure she COULD do something else if she REALLY wanted to. After seeing all the work and passion she put into this show? I guess I’m just not convinced that she really DOES want to do something else. Yet.

Finally…Looking back on 2017… Last year I wrote that I felt Sheena Wagstaff had the best year in NYC Art. She’s had a very good 2017, too. But, this year, I think that The New Museum’s Massimiliano Gioni & Gary Carrion-Murayari. had special years, highlighted by the truly exemplary, and revolutionary, “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work” retrospective, which they then remounted simultaneously in Maastricht and Moscow. I feel it was “revolutionary” because totaling an unheard of 800 works, including brand new works created by the Artist for this show (some on the very walls of the New Museum), they gave an exhaustive look at Pettibon’s career, yet the show never slowed, never failed to keep and even raise interest. It even included work Pettibon did as a small child that he has now ammended in his own, unique style. Word has recently come that Gary Carrion-Murayari, who kindly answered my questions on the Pettibon Moscow show he co-curated, has also been named as a co-curator for the New Museum’s 2018 Triennial, so he could be ready to have another “big” year. Stay tuned!

The end result is that Massimiliano Gioni, Gary Carrion-Murayari, and the New Museum have served to put the “Big Four”1 Manhattan Museums on notice that, on their 40th anniversary, we are going to have to get used to saying the “Big Five.”

———————————–
A Special “Thank You!” to all the Artists who gave me their time and shared their thoughts with me in 2017, and to David White & Gina Guy of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation and Gary Carrion-Murayari and Paul Jackson of the New Museum.
“Thank you!” to the Hattan Group and Kitty for research assistance, and to The Strand Bookstore for being open until 10:30pm seven nights a week. R.I.P. Owner, Fred Bass this week.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Heroic Elegy, Op. 36,” (1918), by Ernest Farrar, in honor of the 100th Anniversary of WW1, which was featured in another memorable show, “World War 1 & The Visual Arts” at The Met this year, as a way of honoring it, and all the Artists, and Musicians, lost during it. Shortly after “Heroic Elegy’s” premiere, Second Lieutenant Farrar was ordered to the Western Front. Two days after he arrived there, he was killed at the Battle of Epehy. He was 33. I first heard it while I was driving in Florida on September 11, 2002. The classical station there played it in honor of the first anniversary of 9/11. So taken with it was I that I pulled over and listened to it with my eyes closed, then immediately set about researching it’s composer. Though he wrote other fine works, “Heroic Elegy,” is special. It’s lightning in an 8 minute bottle. As beautiful as it is, there’s a quality, a confidence, in it that seems to promise so much more to come that he, tragically, never got the chance to give us, like the other Artists & Musicians lost far too early in this most senseless of wars.

On The Fence, #17, The Good Riddance” Edition.

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
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  1. With all due respect to The Frick Collection, who the powers that be that came up with “the Big Four” left out.

Now Is A Good Time To Join The Met- UPDATED 1/4/18

This is an update to my recent Post “Now Is A Good Time To Join The Met,” published on December 10, 2017.

Incomparable. That’s one way to describe Michelangelo. The buzz for “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer ” is that it’s “once in a life-time.” I’ve been anticipating it all year. With 133 of his Drawings(!). 3 Sculptures(!). His earliest Painting (The Met’s experts say it’s his. I’ve saw it in 2009 and it’s hard to argue with them)…That sounds about right. Here’s the sign at the entrance, fronting part of the scaffolding TM built to mimic Michelangelo’s own for the section on the Sistine Chapel. Click any Photo for full size.

Well? Anytime is a good time to join the country’s greatest Art museum. They can use the support. I’ve been a member of The Met since 2002, during which time I’ve gone over 1,400 times. It still truly feels like Home to me. Today, I renewed and a perusal of the shows up right now made me feel that it may be the most amazing lineup I can recall at one time.

Here’s what’s there right now

The Met’s Current Exhibition page on December 8, 2017.

“He’s making a list
He’s checking it twice…*”

Let’s see…

Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer 

-the David Hockney Retrospective

Rodin At The Met

World War I and the Visual Arts

Leonardo to Matisse: Drawings from the Robert Lehman Collection

EACH one is a big show at 1000 Fifth Avenue. Depending on your stamina, seeing all of any one of those would make for a good visit to The Museum in itself. And? These smaller shows are also there-

Frederick Remington at The Met

Talking Pictures: Camera-Phone Conversations Between Artists

Cosmic Buddhas in the Himalayas

Company School Painting in India (ca. 1770-1850)

Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection

And? Since too much is never enough in NYC-

Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed

Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh Photographs

Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950-1980

Are up at The Met Breuer.

Yes. Santa came early for NYC Art lovers. Suffice it to say that I, also, bought a new pair of shoes cause I expect to be wearing my current pair out soon.

And then there was this…

All I wanted for Christmas. My name up in lights on a wall in The Met! Actually, before I feel special, they do this for all new and renewing members. Pay attention. Your “immortality” lasts for 3 seconds.

Ahhhh…It’s good to be Home for the Holidays…

UPDATE– January 4, 2018. The world’s greatest Museum announced an “updated” admissions plan this morning. The gist of it is-

  • The “pay as you wish” policy will continue for all New York State residents.
  • This will be expanded to cover students from New Jersey & Connecticut.
  • Mandatory $25.(general)/$17. (seniors)/$12 (students) admission fee will be required henceforth for all of those from elsewhere/non-students from NJ & Ct.
  • All full-priced tickets will be honored for three consecutive days.
  • The “updated” policy will be implemented on March 1, 2018

This morning, Daniel Weiss, President of The Met, said-

“…The Met is a profoundly different place from that envisioned by its founders. Decades ago The Met made a decision to expand its operations and outreach and to become the Museum that we know today: a cherished institution that is both the top tourist destination in New York City and a world-renowned center of scholarship and learning.

Maintaining this level of excellence, and continuing to serve the New York region at the same high level, requires that The Met take stock and decide, once again, what kind of Museum we want to be for future generations. The world has changed dramatically in the almost 50 years since our admissions policy was last reviewed, and the way we budget and plan for the future needs to change as well.

What is clear is that our current pay-as-you-wish policy is no longer sufficient to meet the Museum’s daily operational demands. Paid admissions represent only 14 percent of our overall revenue, one of the lowest percentages among our New York City peers. Moreover, in the past 13 years the number of visitors who pay the full suggested admission has declined by 73 percent. We are now the only major museum in the world that relies exclusively on a pure pay-as-you-wish system or that does not receive the majority of its funding from the government.”

His full statement on the matter is here.

Personally? I’m for this. TM has an estimated 10 million dollar deficit. It’s the fifth consecutive year they’ve been in the red, with an 8.2 million shortfall in 2015-16. This at a time where they are the #1 most attended Art museum in the world.

The Met’s Grand Hall, December 28th. I can’t recall ever seeing TM as crowded as it was this weekend. There were waiting lines to see Michelangelo & David Hockney.

What happens when the Art boom fades, or slows? Yes, it’s easy for me to say I support this since I could get in paying what I wish. I could have for the past few years. I’ve been a Met Member since 2002, and I will continue to be a member. Why? I believe, for any number of reasons I’ve outlined on NighthawkNYC over the past two years, like here, they are the best Museum in the world. And? They need my support. And your’s, too. Remember that if you are one of those effected by the new policy.

Or? You could just join. As I said, this is as good a moment as any.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” writer & publisher unknown to me. Ok. I’ve been naughty. Coal for me. I’m used to it…

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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On The Frontiers of Photography: Trevor Paglen, Willa Nasatir, Caslon Bevington

While I’ve spent much of this year exploring the world of Photography, my focus has largely been on the period beginning with Robert Frank’s universally revered book “The Americans,” 1958. Most of those I’ve encountered work in fairly “traditional” realms- “Find a subject and shoot it.” Ah…the good old days. Of course, the world isn’t going to stand still for me while I look back, thank goodness, a point brought home by 3 concurrent shows this fall.

Unprecedented times call for extlraordinary means. Trevor Paglen at work on a prior project using equipment originally designed to see distant galaxies. Photo from his website.

Trevor Paglen (B. 1974), who holds both an MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago’s School and a PhD in geography from Berkley is, perhaps, best known for his Photos of “black sites”- classified defense department/CIA/NSA installations. Those pictures are usually murky, because of the haze from the extreme distances he has to work from because of security, and legal, restrictions to shoot many of these places. He prefers them that way, usually foregoing clearer images because, as he told the New Yorker in 2012, his “aim is not to expose and edify so much as to confound and interest1.” In the same piece, he said that a clearer image would say “a little less, really,” adding “that blurriness serves both an aesthetic and an ‘allegorical’ function2.” “It makes his images more arresting while providing a metaphor for the difficulty of uncovering the truth in an era when so much government activity is covert,” writer Jonah Weiner concluded3. As a result, some of his more “atmospheric” work have been compared to Painters, including J.M.W. Turner and Gerhard Richter, by some.

So, I was somewhat surprised when I walked into his new show, “A Study of Invisible Images,” at Metro Pictures. Robert Longo’s “The Destroyer Cycle” had recently been up on these walls, featuring huge charcoal drawings deep with socio-political imagery. I was expecting more of the same from Mr. Paglen given his books of “black site” Photos.

That’s not quite what we get.

Installation view, with a still from his video, “Behold These Glorious Times,” 2017. Click any image for full size.

It’s about something different, though not entirely unrelated. It turns out that Mr. Paglen has, also, been deeply involved in studying computer learning, specifically, how computers see the world. As he explains in the “Artist’s Notes” for the show-

 “Over the past decade or so, something dramatic has happened to the world of images: they have become detached from human eyes. Our machines have learned to see. Without us.”

He goes on to talk about how smart airports, smart homes, even smart cities are becoming ubiquitous, with self-driving cars possibly on the way, before adding, “Most images these days are made by machines for other machines, with humans rarely in the loop. I call this world of machine-machine image making ‘invisible images,’ because it’s a form of vision that’s inherently inaccessible to human eyes. This exhibition is a study of various kinds of these invisible images.” They break down to three groups- “machine readable landscapes (landscape images overlaid with marks that show how they’re being interpreted by machines), training images (made by humans for machine eyes), and things that we might call ‘ghosts.'”

“It Began as a Military Experiment,” 2017, ten pigment prints

While the new iPhone X uses facial recognition technology instead of passwords or fingerprints, this technology is nothing new. The military wanted it developed back in the mid-1990’s, so the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) began funding research. They quickly realized they needed to create a gigantic database of facial images and these folks, above, mostly military employees, were among the first of tens of thousands of photos it took and compiled into what was called the FERET database. Mr. Paglen then combed this database to arrive at this selection of faces. He then ran them through an algorithm to locate the key features of their faces. “One of the ways I think about these portraits is as a kind of super-structuralism in the sense that they are images not made for human eyes. They are meant for machine eyes. What’s more, these photos represent the original faces of human facial recognition- the ‘Adam and Eves’ that nearly all subsequent facial recognition research has been built upon,” he says in the “Artist’s Notes.”

Closeup of the fifth portrait, shows the key points on his face.

Recognizing one face out of this gigantic database first requires a “faceprint,” made out of all of the faces of a particular subject, aligned so their eyes and mouths are in the same place. Once you “average” them, you subtract the average image of all the other people in the database from the average of your subject. You’ll end up with a faceprint of your subject showing what distinguishes him form everyone else in the group. This portrait translates the faceprint of philosopher Frantz Fanon into an image that looks like a face to human eyes.

We’ve gone from the images seen just above- images that humans would recognize as people and faces, to this, an image constructed from computer to computer images so humans can recognize it as a face. “Fanon” (Even the Dead Are Not Safe) “Eigenface,” 2017, Dye sublimation metal print. The Afro-Carribbean psychiatrist Frantz Fanon is the subject.

It gets stickier from there. The Artist’s Notes continue, “A.I.s (artificial intelligences) are taught how to recognize objects by giving them training sets….(which may) consist of thousands or even millions of images organized into pre-sorted classes that correspond to each of the kind of objects that the A.I. will eventually be able to distinguish. For example, if you want to train an A.I. to recognize all the objects in a kitchen, you might give it a thousand pictures of a fork, a spoon, a knife, a countertop, etc…Once that A.I. is trained, you can give it a picture of a fork it has never seen before and it should be able to recognize it as a fork. ” After mentioning that “every image posted to Facebook or other social media sites undergoes powerful artificial intelligence algorithms that can recognize the identities of people, the objects, the products, and even the place depicted in those images,” Mr. Paglen created his own “massive” training sets, “based on literature, philosophy, folk-wisdom, history, and other ‘irrational’ things, and taught the A.I. to recognize things from those ‘corpuses.'” The last half of the show consists of the results of these experiments, which are much more ethereal and evocative than literal, at least to this human’s eyes.

“A Man (Corpus: The Humans) Adversarially Evolved Hallucinations,” 2017, Dye sublimation print.

Mr. Paglen has groups this part under the broad heading of “Hallucinations,” or “Adversarilly Evolved Hallucinations.” These further break down into the subcategories, or “Corpuses,” which includes-
“Corpus: Eye Machines” (Fittingly)
“Corpus: American Predators” (The Artist’s notes include Mark Zuckerberg, who he lists as a “predatory machine,” reminding viewers that computers mine every image loaded to his site and are capable of reading a tremendous amount of information from them.)
“Corpus: The Humans” (As seen in the image above. Porn was included in the training sets, and another image depicts it as seen by a computer…or so the title says.)
“Corpus: Omens and Portents”
“Corpus: Interpretations of Dreams” (Examples of both are seen below.)

“Rainbow (Corpus: Omens and Portents),” left, “False Teeth (Corpus: Interpretation of Dreams) both from “Adversarially Evolved Hallucinations,” 2017, Dye sublimation prints.

Trevor Paglen seems to like to push the boundaries of our perception while avoiding the sharp detail most Photographers live by, which, indeed, ventures into the domain of Painting. Now, he has gone beyond what humans can perceive, and into the realm of what is only “seen” by computers to create Art for humans. I wonder how long it will be before computers get around to doing that for us on their own.

Installation view, with another still from his video, “Behold These Glorious Times,” 2017.

These images are haunting, nightmarish, and beautiful, at the same time. In his Art Basel Conversation with Jenny Holzer, Mr. Paglen said the basis of his work can be summed up as- “How do you see the historical moment that you live in?” This show certainly provides answers to part of that question, though it raises others. Mr. Paglen’s new work is no less unsettling than his “black sites” and drone Photos. Perhaps most unsettling is not what’s in these images. It’s what they portend for the future.

Willa Nasatir,”R.V.,””The Green Room,””Bird,””Blue Girl,””Sunbather,””Conductor,” 2017, Chromongenic print mounted on wood, from left to right. Installation view, Whitney Museum.

Unlike the other Artists featured in this piece, Willa  Nasatir (B. 1990) doesn’t use digital techniques to create her Photographs. That might be hard to believe after seeing her work. Her analog process involves creating props, often from found objects, shooting them, and then reshooting the resulting Photographs, which has sometimes been modified by fire, water, and any number of other things. The results, as seen in her revelatory Whitney Museum show, “Willa Nasatir,”achieve something of a 3D effect in a 2D work. Fresh from a show at the Knox-Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, who owns one of her most stunning images, Ms. Nasatir shows herself to be at once a throwback, and a visionary.

“The Red Room,” 2017, Chromongenic print mounted on wood. The-Albright-Knox Art Gallery owns this one. They chose well.

Ms. Nasatir created the 6-part work, shown first in this section, especially for the Whitney’s long gallery wall, the unifying feature of which seems to be the color grey with green or blue. All of the works on view are dated 2017 and show a remarkably consistent unity of style and vision, and a somewhat daring use of color.  As for what’s going on in these, or any of her work? You’re on your own. The Whitney’s introduction to the show says, in part, “The resulting works are hand-manipulated images that become psychologically charged and difficult to discern; the viewer is left to parse out unresolved narratives that the image only implies.”

“The Green Room,” 2017. When I look at this, with it’s mirror reflection, even some of it’s props, I can’t help but recall Samara Golden’s work in this year’s Whitney Biennial.

Hmmm…Where have I heard that recently? Her style shares some similar props and some of the effect of Samara Golden’s work, particularly “The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes,” 2017, which I felt was the show-stopper of this year’s Whitney Biennial. Ms. Golden’s work can look like “sets” that Willa Nasatir might base one of her Photographs on. Whereas I called Ms Golden’s astounding work in this year’s Whitney Biennial “unphotographable,” (as a whole), Ms. Nasatir’s Photographs are often impossible to locate in the real world. Both Artist’s works features elements of the “known world,” but place them in contexts which are unknown, mysterious, ominous.

Samara Golden’s “The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes,” (detail), 2017, at the Whitney Biennial earlier this year.

In thinking about precedents for Ms. Nasatir’s work, Man Ray once again comes to mind. Ray, of course, didn’t use digital techniques, either. He pre-dated them. The Dadaists, Marcel Duchamp, the German Expressionist filmmakers also come to mind, as do Robert Rauschenberg’s found objects. But, as with Samara Golden, it’s what these image stir in the mind, and the mind’s eye, that overcomes any attempt at reference- in the real world, or the historical one.

Willa Nasatir, “Street Sweeper,” right, “Half Heart, Bus Depot,” both 2017, Gelatin silver prints.

It all fades away as you ponder “What happened here?” Or, “What is about to happen?,” and then feel resonances in your mind and life. Oh, and by the way, there’s the beauty of her work, which I say as almost an afterthought, though it’s not, to their main impact- mystery.

“Butterfly,” 2017, Chromongenic print mounted on wood.

With two museums shows to her name by her mid-20’s, Willa Nasatir is an Artist who’s stock is rising pretty quickly. It will be interesting to see how her work evolves from here.

Caslon Bevington (B. 1992) is an up and coming NYC Artist I met during the run of the Raymond Pettibon show at David Zwirner. Her reaction to that show struck me, so I became interested in seeing her work. To this point, I had only seen what’s on view on her gallery’s, Apostrophe NYC’s, website.

One of the earlier pieces by Csalon Bevington I saw on Apostrophe NYC’s site. When I saw it in person, I guesstimated it at 12 feet tall. Photo courtesy of the Artist & Apostrophe NYC

My shock was palpable when I walked into her show, “A Home for Formless Creatures: The Charisma of Fragmentation,” at Apostrophe NYC’s studio & gallery space at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, NJ. (Yes…I went to N.J.) to find she had spent the summer creating a new body of work that, at first look seemed quite different from what had come before. When I looked at the show of new work one word summed up the experience.

Qucksilver…

Installation view of Caslon Bevington’s show “A Home for Formless Creatures: The Charisma of Fragmentation,” shows her new, “Translation,” series, 2017. Photo by Roman Dean, courtesy of the Artist and ApostropheNYC

As fast as lightning, her work had altogether changed and, low and behold, there was an entire show of new work that was largely unlike any of her work I’d seen thus far. The show centered on a series of 10 works in which the Artist takes found and original images and processes them using more software programs than she could list for me, including some involving sound waves. The results were outputted to paper and then mounted on wood blocks with resin to create a series of black and white works titled “Translation” that are quite mezmerizing.

Caslon Bevington, “Translation #8”, 2017. Photo by Roman Dean, courtesy of the Artist and Apostrophe NYC

They have the glossy surface of gelatin prints, but the images are mounted on blocks that extend 2 and a half inches out from the wall, jutting into the viewer’s space. Their rectangular shape and size (7 x 11 inches) is different from the usual sizes of Photographs, making them feel like something else. In them, images are juxtaposed- sometimes recognizable images (like fire escapes), with unrecognizable images, or repeating lines or waves, or abstract patterns or circles, leaving the viewer somewhere between reality and…?

“Translation #10,” 2017. Photo by Roman Dean, courtesy of the Artist and Apostrophe NYC.

They have a presence as a group, like a visit to another world that exists in multiple visual dimensions. Images explode out of some, interrupt others, or dialogue with each other, or mirror each other, while sharing not quite half of the work. There’s an elegance, an other-worldliness, and a haunting presence to these new works, especially, when seen in a group of them.

As for Quicksilver…What are the processes in an Artist’s mind that leads to such radical changes in their direction? Changes that seem “quick” to outsiders?

The Artist’s statement in the lovely catalog she produced, in conjunction with Apostrophe NYC, for the show.

Later, she gave me a tour of her studio, and we looked at, and discussed, her earlier work. I was very surprised at the journey her work has taken. Having studied at the Art Student’s League and Parsons, the drawings she showed me were by no means academic. They explored geometric possibilities of color in abstraction. Later works all around were often complex weaves (literally) of painted cut strips of fabrics and canvas, in a square or rectangular grid. She then explored the possibilities of rope in patterns that freed the composition from the grid, and made the picture plane transparent, including one fascinating and intricate rope work of many layers on a large rectangular frame that looked to me to be about 12 feet tall (shown earlier). Ms. Bevington has also worked in metals bending strips of them onto a frame, delicately weaving each piece, and in fashion, creating a very cool T Shirt for the show.

“Flying Saucer Archive,” 2017, Photo Transfer on Linen. Photo by Roman Dean, courtesy of the Artist and Apostrophe NYC.

Along with these works, were some works, that also involved Photographs, on woven grids, that seem to bridge the woven grids seen in some of her prior work. One features found images of UFO’s, or what might be UFO’s. Two others featured images of sunsets shot from moving vehicles.

“Photos of Sunsets Taken From Moving Cars #1 & 2,” 2017, left to right. Photo by Roman Dean, courtesy of the Artist and Apostrophe NYC.

Whereas earlier she took abstract painted canvas cut into strips and imposed “order” on them by subjecting them to being woven into a rectangular or square grid, now she does the same thing using images. Along with these, also on view was an Artist’s Book she created from found images using all kinds of search algorithms- closeups of fabrics, rugs, and she only knows what else. Caslon tried to explain the process of finding and selecting it’s images to me, but I was lost looking at the pages go by as she turned them. Besides, knowing too much often steals some of the mystery. This beautiful object was produced in an edition of 9, while the other works shown were unique.

Yes, there was Painting, too. “Static Painting,” 2017, Oil on Wood. Photo by Roman Dean, courtesy of the Artist and Apostrophe NYC.

The “Translation” pieces struck me, among other things,  as creating successful, new, compositions out of the juxtaposition of existing images. Thinking about her new and earlier work, while she makes something “else” out of unexpected combinations (of materials or images), for this viewer, they share the common thread of having a “new order” brought to them.

Caslon Bevington seen with “Translations #10, 11, 12, 13 and 14,” 2017, left to right, at Apostrophe NYC’s gallery at Mana Contemporary, Jersey City.

Caslon Bevington is part of “Base 12,” “an experimental project…(that) groups together 12 emerging artists in a quasi-collective,” represented by Apostrophe NYC, which is run by the brothers Sei and Ki Smith, and has been in residency at Mana Contemporary. Given how rapidly Caslon’s work is evolving, seemingly like quicksilver, she’s an Artist who will be fascinating to watch. It will be interesting to see what she does next, and if she continues to explore this new realm of her work, or moves to another new frontier.

Bonus Show- Lucas Samaras (B. 1936) may be as familiar to many Art lovers as a subject for Chuck Close (like this one) as he is for his own work. At his new show, “New York City, No-Name, Re-Do, Seductions,” at Pace, 510 West 25th Street, all the works on view were digitally modified Photographs. The show  concluded with a large gallery of what he calls “Kastorian Inveiglements,” works that began as Photographs that depict “every day objects” subsequently manipulated in Photoshop into symmetrical abstractions.

Lucas Samaras, “NO NAME (Kastorian Inveiglements),” 2017, Pure pigment on paper mounted on Dibond

Detail of lower left quadrant.

Having seen other Artists experiment with these, though not to this level of complexity or accomplishment, I decided to try one myself to gain an understanding of the process. Here is my first experiment-

“Symmetrical Abstraction 1,” 2017, based on one of my Photos.

It shows that I’ve got a ways to go to match Mr. Samaras, as I do in getting up to speed on the frontiers of Photography, and Photo-based Art. Before it moves, again.

“Willa Nasatir” is my NoteWorthy show for October, though it ended on October 1.
*- Sundtrack for this Post is “X-Ray Visions,” by Clutch, from the appropriately titled album “Psychic Warfare.”

This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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  1. New Yorker, October 22, 2012, P.56
  2. ibid P.57
  3. ibid P.56-57

The Whitney Biennial Turns The World Upside Down

There’s more than “one way” to select a Biennial, and therein lies my rub…Click any photo to enlarge.

Ahh…The Whitney Biennial. That semi-annual whipping post, “they don’t make Art like they used to” kind of a show of Contemporary American Art by “young and lesser known Artists” that, frankly, I gave up on and stopped going to, missing the last one at the “old” Whitney (now The Met Breuer) in 2014. This new one, the first in their new building, ends on June 11.

“Liberty” by Puppies Puppies, 2017. “Give me your tired tourists, yearning for a selfie moment, rife with sociopolitical comment,” with an incomparable background. At various times, it’s a real performer, at others, it’s a mannequin. At no time will the Nighthawk go out on that deck.

Oh! What I do in the name of “Art!” Ummm…You need some gel or something for those spikes. That Torch seems to be slipping. And? Where is that big book? Whatever you do? DON’T look down!

If you have any interest in Contemporary American Art you should see it if you can. Is it a “must see?” My initial impression, which I Posted here on March 31 (which this Post replaces) left me feeling there was much to see and impressed by some of what I’d seen. Having made 10 visits thus far, however, my answer is “No.” Unfortunately, though there are a number of memorable pieces on view, and I think it’s highly likely you’ll discover some new names you’ll put on your list that you’ll want to explore further, overall, it’s not a must see, in my opinion. Let’s face it- there are so many really, really good shows going on here now. If you’d ask me what to see that’s up at the moment? I would say about the Biennial, “See it if you have time,” after seeing the others.

As always, it wouldn’t be the Biennial without some hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing, and “Wtf moments.” In this edition’s case they are there, and fairly serious negatives, in my opinion, mostly regarding the choices of what is included and what has been omitted.

True, but I’d at least like to survive this show. “In the Wake,” 2017, 2 of 16 Banners by Cauleen Smith.

As for my lists, after two visits, the name Samara Golden made mine of Modern & Contemporary Artists- of any age, to keep an eye on. After 10 visits? She’s still there. During each one, my wonder never ceased every time I experienced her work…ummm…installation….ummm….ok…creation, “The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes,” 2017. It is, literally, one of the most astonishing Art works I have seen since…? I honestly don’t know. Maybe, ever.

Check your expectations at whichever side door you choose to go in to enter Samara Golden’s work.

It’s so big with so much to see it may well be un-photographable. Hmmm…where have I heard that before?

“Your looks are laughable
Unphotographable
yet your my favorite work of Art”*

It, literally, turns your world upside down it’s so disorienting. Like I said about the unforgettable Bruce Conner Retrospective when it was at MoMA, “Htf?,” substituting “How” for “What,” this work takes that “How” to the “nth” degree. Unfortunately for me, it’s a work that uses height as a key element, (as does “Liberty,” above). Being deathly afraid of heights I was unable during either visit to get close enough to the preferred viewing areas to really even see most of it and get the full effect. This is as close as I’ve managed to get (thanks to the Whitney staff for nailing me to the floor)-

One little bit of Samara Golden working her magic. Ok. I’m looking down at the sky, and up at the street. Whatever is going on? I’m not sitting in that chair.

During one visit, a viewer turned away and said, “It’s an optical illusion.” I didn’t reply, but thought to myself- “Yeah? So is the “Mona Lisa.” There’s no real woman up there on that canvas. There’s only oil paint, and whatever Leonardo Da Vinci put under it, and what’s been put over it up there. It’s what the Artist does with his or her materials that makes the miraculous thing called “Art.” I don’t understand exactly how that translation occurs, but I’m always glad when I it does, as with Samara Golden’s “The Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes.”

Taken as a whole, I heartily applaud the up to the minute, very politically and socially aware bend to the show, which leaves plenty to think about, which both honors, and continues, the Whitney’s long-standing tradition of being involved.

Occupy Museum’s piece, “Debtfair,” recounts the historic rise of the mounting debt Artist face, as shown in this graph, trying to survive & create.

Samara Golden’s work does this, too, except she gives you very different things to think about. The feeling that came to my mind was the so-called “trip” section of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” forever my favorite film. I don’t want to say more about it to give readers a chance to experience it for themselves without anyone else’s words in their head (and that’s also why I’m including only one of the photos I attempted at this time). Ok, and also because I still don’t know what to make of it myself. To help me, I bought the brand new MoMA PS1 book for her “The Flat Side Of The Knife,” 2014 show there (of the same title) for background. After 10 visits, I’m not sure the book, interviews with the Artist, or ANYthing will help me better understand this work. (Note to self- You haven’t even read the information card for this piece. In fact? You don’t even know where it is!) You’re on your own to make of it as you will, and frankly? I prefer it that way. I wish more Contemporary Art “needed” less explaining.

Elsewhere, the other highlights, for me, are- the brilliant choice of having Henry Taylor and Photographer Deanna Lawson (who share a real life working dialogue) share a gallery (Mr. Taylor’s biggest work is in the lobby area just off the elevator on the 6th floor, as I wrote about, and pictured, in my Post on Henry Taylor). Deana Lawson is, undoubtedly, one of the stars of this Biennial. For weeks after the show opened,  I heard her name on people’s lips just about every where I went. Amazingly, you can still buy an original work of hers, in a signed and numbered limited edition of 50 on Light Work’s excellent site, here, for $300.00! They also have an excellent edition of “Contact Sheet” dedicated to her, which was available there for $12.00. Neither will last long.

Installation view of the Deana Lawson-Henry Taylor gallery.

Deana Lawson, “Sons of Kush,” 2016. Apologies for the glare.

The Artists, KAYA (Painter Kerstin Bratsch and Sculptor Debo Eilers), impressed me with their unique works, as Artists striving to bend boundaries between mediums, possibly following the path of Frank Stella, and they succeed to memorable effect in the works shown here.

“SERENE,” “Processione (ALIMA),” “Processione (JAKE),”” Processione (TIN),” all 2017, by KAYA (Painter Kerstin Bratsch and Sculptor Debo Eilers)

Painters Jo Baer, Aliza Nisenbaum, Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, and Dana Schulz stood out, for different reasons, but perhaps most importantly as far as I’m concerned, they show the ongoing vitality of Painting in 2017.

“Veteran’s Day,” 2016, Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, “looks at figures who engaged in meaningful resistance. These include the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the international volunteers who fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, Muhammad Ali, and Karl Marx and Engels,” per the info card.

Paintings outdoors? At night? One of an interesting series of work by Ulrike Muller, yes, seen outside on the 5th Floor, at night.

 

Jo Baer, “Dusk (Bands and End-Points),” 2012

The Whitney & the Biennial’s curators have taken a fair amount of heat, which I don’t understand, for the inclusion of Dana Schulz’ “Open Casket.” Further on the controversy front, an entire gallery was devoted to Frances Stark’s series “Censorship NOW,” which consisted of a series of huge, painted, double page reproductions (with underscores in blood red paint) from the 2015 book of the same name by musician, writer, D.J., etc. Ian F. Svenonius. While her/their point is fascinating, I was left wondering if she/they chose the right targets. As with the other works I’ve shown thus far, it’s worth seeing for yourself and making your own mind up.

Frances Stark, “Censorship NOW,” 2017, large, painted reproductions, with notations, of the book of the same name by musician Ian F. Svenonius.

I will say that a good deal of the Biennial I most likely won’t see because I’m not particularly drawn to film & video. As for the negative aspects of this Biennial. I’m quite puzzled by a good deal of what’s installed on the 5th floor. This wouldn’t be so frustrating for me except for the fact that I can’t understand why so many deserving Artists, who I feel should be here, are not.

Yes, there was snow on the ground as the Biennial opened as seen on the 5th floor roof deck. I have nothing to say about anything else in this photo.

In line with my ongoing policy against being negative about Art or Artists, I’m not going to get specific about the latter. With regards to the former, there is a long list of Painters and Photographers, especially, who I feel are serious omissions. Here’s a short list-

Painters (in no particular order)- Where is Andy PiedilatoJeff Elrod? Fahamu Pecou? Hope Gangloff? (Heck, Rod Penner is only 2-3 years older than Henry Taylor.)

Drawings-Ethan Murrow? Emil Ferris?

Photographers (By my count, there are only SIX in the show! Not counting, Artists, like Oto Gillen, who display stills from video. I don’t consider that Photography.)- Where is Gregory Halpern? Mike Brodie? (He’s 32, and though he says he’s “retired,” he deserves to be here.) Matt BlackAhndraya Parlato?

In closing there is one thing I will say about Samara Golden’s “Meat Grinder’s Iron Clothes.” Already, it’s apparent that no matter how many times in the years to come I visit the western end of the Whitney’s 5th floor I will think back to this work having been there, and marvel at how she did it…

“Hey,” I’ll say to no one in particular nearby in the future. “Did you see THAT?”

“Yeah,” someone I haven’t yet met will say. “They don’t make Biennials like they used to.”

On The Fence,” #4- Samara Golden Edition.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is My Funny Valentine, written by Rogers & Hart and published by Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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“Only God Sees This”

As I continue to explore Contemporary Photography this year, I find I am increasingly drawn to the field of “PhotoJournalism.”

Is this the “Early Magnum: On & In New York” Show, or the Black Hole of Photography that has swallowed me whole in 2017. Or, both? Click to feel engulfed, like I do.

Or, what was called “PhotoJournalism.” As far as I can discern it was a term meaning using pictures to tell a story, report a story, or support a story. Was? Or is? It’s a term that I struggle to define today, in the dual print & cyber world. As I explore the field, I find that some Photographers have an issue with the term, too, while others still use it. Since I am someone who loathes “boxes” applied to work in any creative field of endeavor, or the creators, themselves, I’m going to use it (with those caveats) only for the sake of clarity, though I prefer to refer to the creators of this work as Photographers. For a number of reasons, I wonder if the term is on the verge of outliving it’s usefulness, though professionals, no doubt, may differ.

At a time when these Photographers are under seemingly ever-increasing threat, on many fronts, showing their work is one of the best means there is of combating that, and helping them because it brings this work more and more into the light and before more eyes. In making the rounds of shows and in doing my research, I’ve been surprised by the amount of Photographs I’ve seen documenting current and recent conflicts and crisis around the world- in gallery shows, at AIPAD, and in PhotoBooks. In most of these instances, they’re seen on their own, with almost no supporting text, save for the ever-popular small info card. This also makes me wonder- Without the “Journalism” (i.e. a text), is it still “PhotoJournalism?”

Speaking, without words. Dennis Stock of Magnum Photos, “Audrey Hepburn during the filming of ‘Sabrina,'” NYC, 1954. Standing there, it was hard for me not to think that she survived near-fatal starvation in Nazi Holland at the end of WW2, just 9 years before.

With all of that being said, I find I’m being drawn to “PhotoJournalism” for one overriding reason-

I believe these Photographers, especially those who work in what is called “Conflict Photography,” may well be the bravest creative people in the world today. To my mind, that gives them a leg up on being among the most compelling creators of our time. And, especially in these times, their work is critically, and increasingly, important. For all of us.

Robert Capa’s eight surviving photographs of Omaha Beach on D-Day (out of the 106 he’s said he took) were among the first works of what is called “Conflict Photography” to captivate me. Their story is tragic. I mean the story of his film being ruined, and only these precious few, now iconic, images surviving, is tragic. Yet, I’ve come to make peace with that, first, because there’s nothing to be done to change it, and second, because I’ve come to see them as symbolizing the larger experience- that not all of those incredibly brave fighting men who entered that living hell survived, either. They, and the ones that did survive, (though, with typical modesty, say otherwise in interviews), ARE Heroes, of what was the most important day of the 20th Century. That Mr. Capa lost his life almost exactly 10 years to the day after D-Day covering another battle in a far away land speaks to the dedication he had to his craft, and his life’s mission.

It truly was life and death to him. Every single time he stepped on to a battlefield- to do his job, “armed” with only a camera.

Giles Caron (APIS & Independent), 3 images from his “Vietnam War Series,” 1967. Mr. Caron was killed there 3 years later. Seen @ School Gallery, Paris, AIPAD Booth

But, before Robert Capa left us, he also left us Magnum Photos, which he was a co-founder of1, now the world’s leading Photo Agency. It’s a cooperative, an agency and an archive, owned by it’s Photographer-members. The list of past and present men and women who have been, or are, members is closer to staggering than impressive. Though of course, there are many Photographers who are not Magnum members who are doing/have done great and important work. Being as 2017 marks the 70th Anniversary of Magnum’s founding, I’m going to focus on Magnum Photographers, though begin with two “Independents,” the first, Giles Caron, above, who died in Cambodia at age 30 (I will note “Independent/Other Association” next to their names here).

Tony Vaccaro, center rear, seen with a wall of his masterpieces to his right. From the far right corner- Georgia O’Keefe (2), Picasso, “The Violinist” directly behind his head, Hitler’s Eagles Nest (top, in front of him) and a fallen GI (bottom), at Monroe Gallery’s AIPAD Booth, in March.

I can’t go any further without mentioning, again, having recently been in the presence of the the second, the “Dean” of Photographers, 94 years young Tony Vaccaro, at Morgan Gallery’s booth at AIPAD, because it still feels like I imagined it. Like Mr. Capa, Mr. Vaccaro is today known for many other genres of photographs, especially portraits, besides his classic World War II photos, (which are the subject of a PBS Documentary), examples of all lined the wall behind him that day. Looking at these, like looking at Robert Capa’s “other” work (after putting down “Robert Capa: This is War!”), is fascinating because it provides insights into the man and, once in a while, his life. Sometimes it’s hard to remember these Photographers, who shoot War and Conflicts, are real people, with real lives.

Flesh and blood human beings.

Smile! Werner Bischof’s “Magnum Photos office,” 1953. See that Magnum bottle of champagne on the left? That’s the inspiration for the name “Magnum.”

The recently ended show, “Early Magnum: On & In New York,” produced by Magnum Photos at the National Arts Club focuses on this “other” side, as we get to see Photos of NYC by Elliott Erwitt, Bruce Davidson, Cornell Capa, Erich Hartmann, Dennis Stock, Eve Arnold, Werner Bischof and others, along with candid early shots of the Magnum Offices in action.

(Another) Installation View of “Early Magnum: On & In New York” in the Grand Gallery of the National Arts Club, on Gramercy Park.

A good many of these are famous. As a group, they show the contribution Magnum has made to our culture in preserving memories and time, as well as to the Art of Photography by having so many terrifically gifted, and amazingly versatile Photographers as members. Their work is eternally of it’s time, timely for us now, and a good deal of it is still ahead of our time. There are pleasures, familiar and unexpected, throughout this well conceived and arranged selection, and it does a fine job of celebrating this part of Magnum’s achievement.

Dennis Stock’s haunting portrait of James Dean on Broadway in Times Square, in 1955, a block from Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio, taken just months before his death that September.

While it was utterly fascinating looking at well-known images like this, or Sammy Davis in his hotel in 1959,

Cornell Capa (Robert’s brother), “JFK in NYC,” 1960, a month before the election.

or JFK campaigning in an open vehicle (poignant now, on it’s own) in an NYC Motorcade a month before the 1960 election by Robert Capa’s brother, Cornell Capa, it was images of people mostly forgotten to history that held me longest, like a group of shots from Bruce Davidson’s “Brooklyn Gang,” in 1959, which captures the lives of a Brooklyn gang so brilliantly that the images still look ahead of their time to me, like the second one below.

Styling. Bruce Davidson, center in 1959, with 2 members of the “Brooklyn Gang.”

Bruce Davidson, “Brooklyn Gang on the Boardwalk in Coney Island,” 1959, the gent on the right is also on the right in the previous shot.

I previously mentioned asking Mr. Davidson, who I revere as the living Master of NYC Photography2, how he was able to survive shooting “Subway” in the dark days of 1980. He said “Because I looked like a photographer.” Looking at these “Brooklyn Gang” classics, taken in yet another environment not welcoming of outsiders, I again marveled he survived. I mean, just look at how he’s dressed! Part of the answer, and his disavowal of the term “PhotoJournalism” for his work, can be found here-

While all of this shows that “other” side I spoke of earlier very well, meanwhile, on the “Conflict Photography” front, I wondered many other things looking through another PhotoBook, a new one, about conflict, revolution, it’s effects and aftermaths. It’s “Discordia” by Moises Saman, a Spanish-American PhotoJournalist who’s been a full member of Magnum Photos since 2014, and consists of Photographs he took over four years of the “Arab Spring,” from 2011 to 2014, edited, and with collages, by Daria Birang.

Moises Saman, “Discordia,” 2016, Cover

It’s cover shows a silhouetted figure who’s, possibly, just thrown something?, or has just been hit by something? Either way, he seems to be off his feet, as if picked up out of the world and transported somewhere else, and lost in the world he’s collaged in over part of a static-covered TV Screen. It’s not an image you’d see in the “real world,” and it’s not an image you’d see on TV. Right off, “Discordia,” the name of the Roman goddess of strife, seems to be announcing it is walking the line between document and Art. After my first pursuing of  this self-published book, I asked myself…

How does someone become Moises Saman? Who, in addition to being a Magnum member, is a world-renowned Photographer, who’s work appears regularly in the New York Times, Time, National Geographic, among other places, and is a winner of a 2016 “Picture of the Year” Award. (“Discordia,” won the 2016 Anamorphosis Prize.) Do you just get on a plane with a camera, go somewhere where there’s a battle or revolution taking place and start taking photos? And, being someone who almost broke both of his knees a few weeks ago photographing on the High Line (I’ll wait for the laughter to subside…)…How do you learn to survive?”

And, if you do?- “What drives you to keep going back?”

All of these questions come to mind before the key question at the heart of the matter of this book- How do you get such amazing photos in the midst of utter chaos, bloodshed, even death going on all around you?

When I saw this one, of nothing less than a bomb maker actually making a bomb in Syria, I was struck by a thought-

Moises Saman, Magnum Photos “A bombmaker working for the rebels mixes chemicals in a makeshift bomb factory in a rebel-held district, Aleppo, Syria, 2013.” (Quotes denote Magnum captions.)

“Who sees this?”

Yes, it raises questions that are beyond the scope of this site. So, I am not going to get into any of the “bigger” questions regarding the individuals photographed here. Hopefully, each viewer assesses the work for themselves and, after all, in a free society, that’s one of the key freedoms we have- to be able to do so. Another is the right to see such images. And that’s why whatever you call them- “PhotoJournalists,” “Conflict Photographers,” or “Documentary Photographers” (which Mr. Saman refers to himself as),  who’s jobs, and very existence, seems to get harder with every passing day, are so important to all of us. It will be up to the future to decide if it, like every thing else being created today, is “Art,” or not. For now, work that speaks (at least to me), and has importance, in my life, and the world, makes it “important” now. For myself, looking at this shot- the angle Mr. Saman chose, that light actually enters this room, and shines on the floor, the bomb maker himself- what he’s wearing and how he looks, what else is in the room. It’s familiar. It’s foreign. It’s everyday- (you want to think- “Ok. He’s preparing to paint the walls.”)..and it’s…not. It’s unimaginable. It’s impossible. And then? It’s unforgettable.

Or this? Moises Saman, Magnum Photos, “Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, son of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi photographed shortly before the fall of Tripoli, Libya, 2011.”

In looking through “Discordia,” the emphasis often seems so be on the posture and/or expressions of those depicted, which can be seen even on the cover. This brings a powerful human element to everts that often takes place in rubble, or completely or partially destroyed structures. We see leaders feeling the weight of their dilemma, fighters seen in the act, and, their families in the throes of dealing with their deaths, after. We see business people trying to maintain some semblance of “normal life,” traveling to and fro, one climbing over a wall with his pretzels to sell on his back, another navigating ever changing roads.

You think your commute is hard? Moises Saman, Magnum Photos, “Pretzel seller near Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, January, 2013.”

These serve to remind that conflicts affect everyone in these towns, cities, or countries. Though “Discordia” documents 4 years of work, capturing the “Arab Spring” as it spread through the Middle East, there are no chapters separating one part of it from another. The effect is to show the basic nature of these revolts- their commonality. The struggle against and the resulting push back, before, during and after, and, most of all, the effect on lives. For those of us far far away from these lands we see the face of struggle, of revolution being born and fighting for life against the powers that be that want to remain being the powers that be. From afar, it seems as “alien” as the cover image. Mr. Saman appears to show us both sides, and while the names, places and background info he provides in the back of the book shed light on the photos, they’re still incredibly powerful without knowing any of this- just as pictures of people in a revolution, human beings in unimaginable circumstances, and in the process, presenting them this way “separates” the images from “traditional” PhotoJournalism,” especially since the only words to be found in the book are in a section in the back3. At least for me, this is a book about human beings, and their underlying humanity- the pain and suffering, and the struggle to overcome injustice, and the inevitable results of their actions, or the actions of others, in the midst of unbelievable situations and environments, that looks like another world.

Moises Saman, Magnum Photos, “Young protesters take shelter during clashes near Tahrir Square. Cairo, Egypt, January, 2013.”

Right from the silhouette on the cover, I was taken by the postures and expressions of those in the Photographs, which becomes a running theme in them, and, for me, their essence. Julian Stallabras, author of a book on Contemporary Art, “Art, Incorporated,” that I highly recommend, said, “Discordia shows the hopes, idealism and strength of rebellion against long-established dictatorial regimes, and also- with great clarity- the price paid for it.” Indeed. But what’s left (largely) unsaid, and not shown, is the price Mr. Saman paid. Only at the end of the plates, in a small section of text do we learn that the helicopter crash in 2014 that he shows us the aftermath of (below) was one that he, himself, survived! He makes no mention of whether he was injured, or not, and only shows us the reactions of others, that injured, or not, he kept on capturing!

Mosies Saman, Magnum Photos, “A boy whose mother was onboard the helicopter cries as he does not know the fate of his mother. (She survived.) An Iraqi Air Force helicopter on a rescue mission in the Sinjar Mountains crashed shortly after takeoff. Onboard the helicopter were dozens of Yazidi refugees stranded in the mountain for days unable to reach the safety of Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq. Sinjar Mountains, Iraq, 2014.”

If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about his commitment, nothing does.

Meanwhile, I also hear an undercurrent of talk about this work being “difficult” to look at, let alone buy or hang in homes. Is it because it’s a Photograph and not a Drawing or Painting? When I hear this, I’m reminded that many found Jackson Pollock’s work “ugly,” and while a good many, no doubt, still do, many more now accept it. With the number of excellent shows and PhotoBooks around, this may be changing for these Photos, too. Slowly. Renowned Photographer turned Photo collector, Harriett Logan, recently spoke to Magnum about building a collection of these works, which she started (I think astutely) only four years ago. It includes work by Robert Capa, Dorothea Lange and Matt Black, among others. She, through the Incite Project, supported the publication of “Discordia,” in return for prints by Mr. Saman. She said, “Like the tank man in Tiananmen Square, history stops at those still images, and the photographers that took those pictures did an incredible job of essentially isolating, for all of us, those moments of history.” Those isolated moments adds up. Ashley Gilbertson’s (of VII Photo Agency) “Refugees Disembark on Lesvos, Greece” at Monroe Gallery at AIPAD, provided “another chapter” to the story Ai Weiwei so movingly told in his show, “Laundromat,” about the Refugee Camps, which I wrote about recently. And there are others.

Ashley Gilbertson’s “Refugees Disembark on Lesvos, Greece, 2015,” at Monroe Gallery, AIPAD.

The always excellent Jack Shainman Gallery recently had a compelling show of Richard Mosse (a former Magnum member), and Sebastiao Salgado, perhaps the best known “Concerned Photographer” alive, just had a show of his extraordinary Photographs of the 1991 Kuwaiti Oil Fires at the Tagore Gallery,

The legendary Sebastiao Salgado at the opening for his “Kuwait 1991” show at  Tagore Gallery Show, March 30, 2017.

Sebastiao Salgado, “Kuwait, 1991,” at Tagore Gallery.

and, the Howard Greenberg Gallery had a show of the work of Magnum’s Alex Majoli, who’s chiarascuro  lighting has the power of a modern Caravaggio, with all the drama and theater of Grand Opera, without music or words, which included this-

Alex Majoli, of Magnum Photos, faced these Sao Paolo, Brazilian, Police in 2014, with just his camera, and took this Photograph. Seen at Howard Greenberg.

This past week, at the beautiful new show by the Artist Robert Longo, the Contemporary Master of Charcoal Drawing, I had a deja vu moment-

The Artist Robert Longo DREW this work, “Untitled (Riot Cops), 2016,” possibly inspired by a Photograph, in the safety of his studio, brought back memories of Mr. Majoli’s, above.

Or, two-

Robert Longo “Untitled (Raft at Sea)” 2016-17, (both works at Metro Pictures), totals 24 FEET wide. These are Drawings!

His show, “The Destroyer Cycle,” at Metro Pictures as I write this, consists of 12 powerful, typically brilliantly executed, black and white charcoal drawings. The press release states- “For each exhibited work, Longo has developed a technique that reflects the medium of the drawing’s source image.” Specifically about the one above, it says it is- “A composite image partially sourced from the cover of a Doctors Without Borders publication, the drawing depicts refugees on a raft amidst the vast, turbulent Mediterranean Sea.” Curious to learn more, I reached out to Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, as they are known), who kindly provided me with what may be one of those “images partially sourced?” In any event, it’s an amazing photo in it’s own right, taken by Will Rose (of  Rose & Sjolander)-

Will Rose, of Rose + Sjolander, December 18, 2015

MSF provided this information about it-

“A Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) and Greenpeace rescue team responded to a sinking rigid inflatable boat carrying 45 Afghan refugees crossing from Turkey to the north shore of Lesvos, Greece. On arrival to the scene, the poor quality inflatable was taking on water. The people on board were having problems with the outboard motor as it was poorly fitted and could not be restarted. It was soon obvious to the Greenpeace/MSF crew that the sponsons were rapidly losing air and the lives of the people were in immediate danger…The women and children were grabbed first and transferred into two Greenpeace/MSF boats that were flanking both sides of the sinking boat. All people were successfully rescued and transferred to MolyvosHarbour in Greece, where response teams were on standby.” 

Snapping a camera’s shutter freezes a moment in time for all time. Part of what remains from December 18, 2015, beyond the memories of those who lived it, is Mr. Rose’s Photo, and the ongoing effect, and possibly inspiration, it has on all who see it. With shutters being snapped billions of times each day, it becomes easy to be overwhelmed by the number of images before us. Billions of people also draw, but very few of those wind up speaking to people over hundreds of years. Time will judge the lasting import, if any, of everything created today. That it has importance to us living now is undeniable, and what matters most, it seems to me.

Robert Longo’s amazing drawings are, rightly, in many of the world’s great Museums, including MoMA, the Guggenheim, and Whitney Museums4. Alex Majoli or Moises Saman are not in any of them (as far as I know.)

Why not?

The movements of NYC Museum Acquisition staffs remains a mystery to me, so I can’t answer that. I do feel that they will be there one day. In the meantime, their work needs to be seen by us, the people they risk their lives for to show us what they see. We miss it at our own peril.

While “PhotoJournalism” strikes me as a term in flux, Magnum co-founder, and legendary Photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson said, “Magnum is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually.” That might be the “other” definition I was looking for.

“Before you board that plane
I owe you a bottle of cold champagne
Yeah, cold champagne
I don’t know if we have coffee cups
Or plastic cups, I think Sonny has the cups-
Tonite we’re drinking straight from the bottle.”*

Happy 70th, Magnum Photos.

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Champagne,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda from “In The Heights,” 2008. Publisher not known to me.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

  1. Along with Henri Cartier-Bresson, David “Chim” Seymour, George Rodger, William Vandivert, Rita Vandivert, and Maria Eisner.
  2. He spent FOUR YEARS shooting in Central Park in creating his classic book of the same name.
  3. You can see other work by Mr. Saman, accompanied by text, i.e. more traditional “PhotoJournalism” here.
  4. The Met owns a print of his, though I recall seeing a series of his works on view there in the Great Hall during their “Pictures Generation show in 2009, so they may own others.

The “Other” Russian Revolution

“I’m back in the USSR
You don’t know how lucky you are, boy
Back in the USSR”*

There was that “big” one…you know…the one that was in all the papers over here one hundred years ago, in 1917 – The “October Revolution,” or the “Russian Revolution.” Whatever you call it, 9 million people died in 5 years, and it resulted in the loss of freedom for countless more millions over the next 74 years, I’m no historian or political writer, but I hear it’s been fading in importance for quite a while now. While that one caused a big stir, meanwhile, off in what was then a quiet, small town (a city of 350,000 today) in the eastern U.S.S.R. (Belarus today), the seeds of another revolution were beginning to sprout. No one was killed in that one, as far as I know. The instigator of a good deal of it is a world famous Artist now, who, though a pioneer of modernism, is not often thought of as a revolutionary.

Today, he’s famous for flying lovers.

Marc Chagall is the most famous native son of that small town- Vitebsk, Belarus. In the early days after the “October Revolution” he accepted the Post of “Commissar of Visual Arts” for Vitebsk. He then founded the Vitebsk Arts College, and in 1919 invited a number of Artists to be it’s teachers. Among them were Kazimir Malevich, El Lissitzky and Yehuda Pen. Kazimir Malevich would soon become the fountainhead of a movement that crystalized in a group named “UNOVIS” ( or “Exponents of the New Art”), who, in the spirit of the larger revolution, shared credit for the works they created. At the core of this movement was Malevich’s “Suprematism,” a style of work that focused on basic geometric forms and colors, in the service of “pure artistic feeling.” This put him (stylistically) directly at odds with Chagall, who was, at heart, a classicist…

On The Fence, #2: El We-sit-ski.” Click any image to enlarge, if you dare..

and when Lissitzky, who was on the fence between both camps (sorry!), sided with Malevich, Chagall soon left the school to continue his career elsewhere. 100 years later, Suprematism and the Russian Avant-Garde is still growing in importance and appreciation, as was plain to see in MoMA’s recent exhibition, “A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde,” 1915-1932,  which featured, and grew out of, Malevich’s “Suprematism” movement. MoMA’s show, consisting exclusively of works from it’s own collection, is NOT to be confused with a show of a very similar title, “Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932,” running concurrently at the Royal Academy, London, which included quite a few loans from Russia. While the show, and the movement, includes filmmakers, poets and other visual Artists, I’m focusing on the Painters, Photographers and Graphic Artists included. Many are, surprisingly, multi-threats (i.e. multi-talented). To quote MoMA about these Artists, they were “a group who was fed up with form, the way the “other” revolutionaries were fed up with 300 years of Czarist rule and decided to throw it all out, so to speak, and start over from the basics, giving a new hierarchy to basic forms, and basic (or non) colors, like black and white. (i.e. Suprematism. )1” Stalin’s 1933 decree led to the banishment of the Avant-Garde, in favor of “socialist realism,” which has already been forgotten, as we approach the 100th anniversary of the “Russian Revolution.”

While Chagall, himself, was not included in MoMA’s show (though he was in the Royal Academy’s), the headline highlight was an extremely rare opportunity to see so many works from MoMA’s incomparable (in the West) collection of Kazimir Malevich, the brilliant visionary who died only a few years after the period this show covers ends, 1932, passing in 1935 at 57. That New Yorkers are lucky enough to enjoy this superb collection is due to the foresight of another legend, Alfred H. Barr, Jr, MoMA’s first Director, who in 1929 had the prescience to secure many of Malevich’s works.

Shots across the bow of painting. An entire wall of rarely seen works by Kazimir Malevich, that are at the crux of the Revolution, featuring  “Suprematist Composition: White on White,” 1918, considered his masterpiece, center.

Close-up with Malevich’s “Suprematist Composition: White on White,” 1918.

At 26, in 1927-28, Mr. Barr went to Moscow, where he wrote in his diary, “Apparently, there is is no place where talent of artistic or literary sort is so carefully nurtured as in Moscow. Would rather be here than any place on earth.” This trip stayed with Barr when a year later he became the founding director of MoMA, as part of his vision of MoMA as a lab of critical inquiry analysis and communication1. MoMA went on to compile one of the most outstanding collections of Russian Modern Art outside of Russia under his stewardship, which lasted until 1969, part of which is on view in the 8+ galleries of this surprisingly large, and excellent, show. While I am showing selected highlights, you can see Installation Views and get a different idea of the experience towards the bottom of MoMA’s page for the show, here. To get an idea of the ongoing importance of Mr. Barr’s choices, while I was standing in front of what many consider Malevich’s Masterpiece, “White on White,“ 1918, complete strangers to each other had a moment after each posed for pictures in what they both announced was their “very favorite painting,” 99 years after it’s creation.

Two total strangers explain to each other why this Malevich is their “very favorite painting of all time.”

A case of early books by Malevich, including “Suprematism: 34 Drawings,” 1920, published by UNOVIS, Vitebsk, left.

Remarkable insights to genius. 4 charts Malevich made as visual aids for his European “Introductions to Suprematism” Lectures.

This blows my mind, so I’m showing a closer view of it. In this chart, we get an incredibly rare insight into how a founder of an Artistic movement (how many of them are there?) sees Art. We get to look over his shoulder as he recaps the development of Modern Art through Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism.

As impressive as Malevich’s works are, which is equalled by the ongoing importance of his ideas, for me the show’s biggest revelation came in two words- El Lissitzky. A student of Yehuda Pen’s at age 13, he then studied to become an Architect, before Chagall’s call summoned him to Vitebsk. There, he became convinced by Malevich (who he had known previously), and this led him to create “Suprematist” works that remain both fresh and incredibly inventive today.

Visionary, and then some. In 1920, UNOVIS staged a utopian opera in Vitebsk titled “Victory Over the Sun.” El Lissiztky created these designs for abstract, electromechanical dolls for it, which were never realized. Seen are 5 Lithographs from a set of 11 he did titled “Figurines: 3 Dimensional Design of the Electro-Mechanical Show ‘Victory Over the Sun,'” 1921.

MoMA owns the only complete copy known of what may be Lissitzky’s masterpiece, “Proun,” from 1920, a Portfolio of 11 lithographs, published in Vitebsk. MoMA’s curator called it a “project for the affirmation of the new.1” The exact definition of “Proun” is not known, or lost to us, but the work itself explores the creative possibilities of Malevich’s theories in startling, and beautiful, (yes, beautiful) ways.

3 photos above- El Lissiztky, “Proun,” 1920, a Portfolio of 11 lithographs, who’s title is untranslatable now. A masterpiece of invention & design, seen in the only complete set that includes the covers (top), detail of 4 prints, center, and the translation of it’s manifesto, bottom.

While his work is, strangely & unfortunately, absent from MoMA’s fine and surprisingly large show, behind the scenes looms the over-looked Artist, Yehuda Pen. Teacher of both Marc Chagall and El Lissitzky, his work is brilliant in it’s own right, to my eyes, though different from that of either of his students. Pen went on to teach at Chagall’s School, alongside Malevich, and Lissitzky.

The great Artist & Teacher Yehuda Pen, center, with friends in 1922.

Yehuda Pen’s studio in 1917, a few years after he taught El Lissitzky.

“Portrait of Marc Chagall,” circa 1915, by Yehuda Pen. More of his work is here.

Along with El Lissitzky, Aleksandr Rodchenko, impresses, on a number of fronts, including his attitude- ”I reduced painting to its logical conclusion,” he said, speaking of his three monochrome paintings- “Pure Red Color, Pure Yellow Color, and Pure Blue Color” in 1921, “I affirmed: it’s all over. Basic Colors. Every plane is a plane and there is to be no more representation4.”

Oh yeah? Rodchenko “Non-Objective Painting no. 80 (Black on Black),” 1918, his “answer” to Malevich’s square “White on White.”

Wow. Luckily, 96 years later, painting, itself can quote Mark Twain: “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” thank goodness! I’m left to wonder what was in Rodchenko’s Borscht. Having buried his paintbrush, he got into Photography after buying a camera in Paris in 1925, four years after declaring the death of painting. He turned out to be a naturally gifted Photographer, a medium he never formally “studied.” His photography has, also, remained influential ever since.

Avant-Realism? Rodchenko “Pro eto. Ei i men (About This. To Her and to Me),” 1923, showing off his unique approach to photography, and graphic design.

There was a lot to see over 8+ galleries, in spite of the fact there was only one work by Kandinsky on view. It would have been most welcome to see more, but I never missed them, thanks to the many works by Rodchenko, and Lissitzky, who’s Photography was also shown, proving that he was, like Rodchenko, a very gifted (and underrated) Artist in that medium, too.

Remember my name (well, it’s there over the “XYZ”). El Lissiztky was, also, a naturally gifted Photographer. This amazing “Self Portrait,” 1924, Gelatin silver print, was made using SIX exposures.

Other Artists impressed, too (Lyubov Popova, Vladimir Tatlin and Olga Rozanova among them), yet regardless of how impressive this show was, more importantly, the names of many of the Artists on view have been increasingly coming from the lips of today’s important Artists, including Nasreen Mohamedi, hereWilliam Kentridge, and the late, great Architect, Zaha Hadid, who speaks about Malevich, here. Also, amazingly, the legacy lives on in Vitebsk, Belarus, something that astounds me given that the biggest battle of World War II, and possibly EVER fought, was fought in Belarus, with monumental horrific fighting in Vitebsk. Chagall’s former School, after somehow miraculously surviving, has been renovated and is to reopen as the Museum of the History of the Vitebsk People’s Art School later this year. Below is a photo of the restored building, courtesy of myrecentdiscoveries.com, the International Marc Chagall researchers, who visited the building, and wrote about it’s new life, here. A photo of it’s new lobby, which appears to pays homage to Malevich, can be seen here.

The Revolution Happened Here. Miraculously, Chagall’s School in Vitebsk, Belarus, survived the biggest battle ever fought, while everything around it was destroyed. Malevich, Lissitzky, Pen & Chagall taught here. UNOVIS was founded here. It’s being remodeled and reopened as the Museum of the History of the Vitebsk People’s Art School! Photo by, and courtesy of myrecentdiscoveries.com

They were kind enough to also put me in contact with the Director of the Vitebsk Modern Art Center, Andrey Duhovnikov, which includes the new Museum, above, and who is also an Artist in his own right. I asked Mr. Duhovnikov about whether UNOVIS will be represented in the new Museum of the History of the Vitebsk People’s Art School. He told me, “There will be 12 thematic sections, two of which will be dedicated to UNOVIS, where archival documents will be presented.” I’m not surprised by this. Chagall and Malevich’s influence & memory live on in Vitebsk, a city that continues to hold celebrations to mark anniversaries of milestone events, like the 100th Anniversary of Chagall’s wedding in 2015. In response to my question about whether Yehuda Pen is being forgotten, Mr. Duhovnikov explained that Yehuda Pens’ work is too fragile to travel, which prevents it from being better known outside of Belarus, however over 180 works by Pen can be seen today at the Vitebsk Art Museum, and a Museum dedicated to Pen is being discussed. Good news, indeed.

The process whereby Art goes from “Contemporary,” or “Modern,” to “Art” is endlessly fascinating to me as I look at what Artists are creating now, and wonder- “What, if ANY of this, will be considered Art one day?” Certainly influencing major Artists who come after (like Nasreen Mohamedi, William Kentridge, and Zaha Hadid) plays a part in that, so do visionaries, like Alfred Barr, who had the foresight to hand pick 21 works from Malevich’s 1927 Retrospective for MoMA, thereby giving countless future generations, including mine, the chance to see these works in shows like this one, (which is MoMA “showing off,” a bit, like The Met did with “Unfinished“). But, also, in there quietly working away are others, like Mr. Duhovnikov, and his associates, who feel and recognize the value & importance of the work, and are dedicated to sharing it, and making sure this legacy endures to influence more generations.

That’s how “Revolution” becomes evolution, and “Art History.”

My thanks to myrecentdiscoveries.com and  Andrey Duhovnikov for their assistance.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Back in the USSR,” by John Lennon & Paul McCartney, published by Sony/ATV Music Publishing.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

  1. From the MoMA LIVE Video- “The Russian Avant-Garde: Scholars Respond”, which can be seen here.
  2. From the MoMA LIVE Video- “The Russian Avant-Garde: Scholars Respond”, which can be seen here.
  3. From the MoMA LIVE Video- “The Russian Avant-Garde: Scholars Respond”, which can be seen here.
  4. https://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/1998/rodchenko/texts/death_of_painting.html

AIPAD: The Picture Show

This is the fourth Post in my series on “The Photography Show, 2017,” aka “AIPAD.” The first three Posts are here. AIPAD was, also, my NoteWorthy Show for March. 

This time, I’m finally going to show some Photographs! After all? Isn’t that why anyone went? I’ve shown some in my prior Posts, and here are some more (with who was presenting it, of course), along with a few shots of Gallery Booths (after all, it’s the work being shown that matters, right?), and one of the Collections, (which were included this year for the first time), that stood out to me. Then, I’ll wrap up all of my coverage with the reaction to the show of the Gallerists I spoke to, as well as my own. Ok. Let’s see pictures!

“Look at that cloud
As high as a tree
At least that’s how it looks to me

How about you?
What do you see?
What if we see things differently?

Show me how the world looks through your eyes
Tell me about the sunrise, let me see the stars shine
Show me how the world looks through your eyes”*

Speaking of “Look at that cloud…,” this is Glenda Leon’s “Between the Air and Dreams,” 2008, from The Plonsker Collection of Cuban Photography (see below). I don’t know if the clouds REALLY aligned like this, but it sums up the global scope of The Photography Show, 2017. Click any image to enlarge.

A world, and 140 years apart, gives an idea of the range seen at AIPAD. Sohei Nishino’s incredibly complex “Diorama Map of New Delhi,” 2013, at Bryce Wolkowitz left, across the hall from Edward Muybridge’s equally incredible 1873 “View of Yosemite” at Robert Koch Gallery, right.

Ashley Gilbertson’s “Refugees Disembark on Lesvos, Greece, 2015,” quickly becoming iconic, at Monroe Gallery, where…

I still can’t believe that really was the legendary Tony Vaccaro. Seen with a wall of his masterpieces to his right. Georgia O’Keefe (below), Picasso, “The Violinist,” Hitler’s Eagles Nest and a fallen GI, from the far right corner, behind him, at Monroe Gallery’s booth.

Living history. Mr. Vaccaro actually knew Georgia O’Keefe (seen in both of these), Jackson Pollock, Frank Lloyd Wright, and on and on.

Want to buy top quality work by major Photographers in signed, limited editions for as little as 300.00? Check out Light Work, at lightwork.org, a non-profit in Syracuse, NY. The money goes to help Photographers. Their astounding list of their Artists In Residence to date, which includes Cindy Sherman, can be seen here.

Wonderfully friendly Gallerists were on hand from all over the world, like Raffaella De Chirico, all the way from Turin, Italy, bringing stunning work…

like that of Fabio Bucciarelli, with her, which she sold shortly after I got this photo.

Tribe came all the way from Dubai, U.A.E. to represent the thriving Photo world in 22 Arab countries.

With Galleries as far as the eye can see (check out the signs up top), you’ll need a plane. This is only one aisle of them.

Collections were a new feature this year, including the Plonsker Collection of Cuban Photography, above, and the renowned Walther Collection.

 

Intermission. In case you need a rest, here’s a little thing I call “On The Fence, #1- AIPAD Edition,” 2017. The Owl in question was by no less than Masao Yamamoto at Yancey Richardson.

 

Far & Away THE most amazing book on view, and that’s saying something- “Rijks”. $7,000.00 per, and 55 pounds. Huge! It comes with the table.

Seen the way Rembrandt created it. An immortal “Self Portrait,” as never seen before- UNFRAMED, gives a remarkably different effect.

More workmanship went into the cover of it than I could explain in an entire Post.

I know what you’re thinking- “The ‘Painting guy’ goes to The Photography Show and winds up writing about what else? A PAINTING BOOK- The ONLY Painting book in the place, no less! Well…Yes, and no1. It’s “Rijks: Masters of the Golden Age,” published by Marcel Wanders (Uitgeverij Komma and Magic Group Media), a book of photographs of paintings, but not just any paintings. 64 masterpieces from the Rikjsmuseum, Amsterdam’s “Gallery of Honour,” like you will never see them- UNFRAMED. Yes. You read that right (It STILL blows my mind) with details of each blown up to over 1,000%! Of course, I couldn’t stop looking at it, and just WOW! It may well be the greatest, the most beautiful, and the most well done Art Book I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen Rembrandt in anything close to this level of detail. I told them that most of it’s pages would make stunning posters. For the “rest of us,” who don’t have the 7 grand, the space, or both for this incredible book, there is a smaller version available for 150.00. It’s cheaper than a plane ticket to Amsterdam!

Forever young. “Two Sisters,” 1850, by Southworth and Hawes at Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, Chalfont, PA.

Interesting to contrast with these hauntingly beautiful portraits of the moment by Ruud Van Empel at Jackson Fine Art

“Washington Merry Go Round,” 1950, by Weegee. An unusual work of his using lens experiments, and a very rare signed piece by the NYC Legend, at Michael Shapiro Gallery.

“Mommy, Are you SURE Kate Moss started out this way?”

Fred Herzog, who began doing color street photography in Vancouver circa 1954, and continued for 50 years, has only been shown since 2007. He has a marvelous eye, and a universal charm that is only beginning to be as recognized in the USA, as he is in Canada. Vancouver’s Equinox Gallery revealed his range over about 25 wonderfully chosen works.

Todd Hido, from his classic series, “House Hunting, 2002,” at ClampArt, NYC. Somebody better buy this before I do!

And, Finally- Summing up AIPAD…

I spoke to approximately 25 Gallerists (out of the 115 or so attending) about their experience at AIPAD starting on Thursday, and followed up on Sunday as the show was about to end. I’ve continued to do so with those I encountered this week as the dust was still settling. (Amazingly to me, most of the NYC Galleries had shows going on WHILE they were at AIPAD!) Of course, there was a range of reactions. Most of the Gallerists I spoke to seemed pleased. Some thought the show was too big, others wondered about the inclusion of the book area. Early on (through Thursday night), most of those I spoke with weren’t happy. “I could have done this from home,” one told me, summing up the general feeling. This was understandable as there was an absolutely torrential rain storm that lasted all day and night Thursday. Given Pier 94’s out of the way location (the trade off for getting it’s generous size), only the very, very dedicated somehow found a way to get to the show (the MTA runs not exactly near it, and cabs in hard rain that far west are as rare as finding a real, signed Diane Arbus at a flea market. There were shuttles, but I never tried them). Friday, the crowds returned, and the show seemed well attended, as far as I could tell, from then on. Activity seemed steady at the Gallery booths, in the book area (aided by a never ending string of book signings), and in the talks. The two cafe areas looked pretty full much of the time. It was hard to judge sales by only looking for red dots on title cards or lists, so I asked. No one dodged my question. On the contrary, most seemed eager to express their experience and feelings. A surprising number had taken the time to wander around and see the show, and were well versed in specifics of what they saw, which was fascinating. Some bemoaned the encroachment of “video,” which I agree with, unfortunately extending to Colleen Plumb’s “Path Infinitum,” a very laudable work about animals in captivity, being out of place in a Photography show. Some felt there was relatively little older/classic work. I found this interesting given that the Art/Painting Gallery world is so skewed towards Modern & Contemporary Art- the number of Galleries showing “classic” works is, relatively, small. I expected to see something similar at AIPAD, especially since I have been to most of the NYC Galleries who were exhibiting. (This was my first AIPAD.) Personally, I was surprised by the number of beautiful classic works by Ansel Adams and Robert Frank, though I was disappointed to see only one William Eggleston, only a handful of Saul Leiters, and no Araki’s (I am sure I just missed them. Many of Araki’s books were present in the book area).

The hair of the dog that bit me. William Eggleston’s “Yellow Market Sign and Parking Lot,” 2001, at Jorg Maas. The only work by the Photographer that I saw. He started all this “trouble” for me back in December, and STILL only continues to grow in my esteem, which surprises the heck out of me, Typically, this work haunts me. What better way to close this chapter?

From the following generation of Photographers, there were only a couple of Bruce Davidsons, and Sebastiao Salgados, though there was a nice group of Ernst Hass, who’s “Route 66, Albequerque, New Mexico,” 1969, seemed to stop everyone who passed it at Atlas Gallery. Personally? I came looking for great Photographers previously unknown to me, and aided by an expert, the man called Jackson Charles, I added about 100 names to my lists. Most of the Gallerists I spoke with agreed that there was an impressive amount of PhotoJournalists on display, a number of who turned their cameras on the refugee crisis, with amazing results. Particularly surprising, and impressive, for me were the Galleries that came the longest distances, like Raffaella De Chirico from Turin, shown above, often showed PhotoJouralism, or other similar work that many deem “difficult” to hang. Others who traveled significant distance, featured Photographers who are not big names here, but who’s work deserves more attention, like Shoot Gallery, Oslo, I wrote about earlier.

Too Much Is Never Enough In New York. That’s Pier 92, seen from half way down Pier 94 (where AIPAD was) to give a sense of size. Pier 92 is SMALLER than Pier 94!

The reaction of the attendees I heard most often later on Saturday was their feet were getting tired. It dawned on me that if there wasn’t so much worth seeing, they would have left before their feet got tired. I heard mixed things in the book area. Some Booth-holders were very pleased with how they did. Others not so much. It seemed to me it drew a lot of visitors, not surprising given how many Photographers were on hand for book signings throughout the show. A number of publishers debuted titles, or brought about to be released books. I think there were quite a few people who went to AIPAD purely for the book area. (Maybe this will lead to a separate PhotoBook show…?) Some of these tables seemed a bit small and crowded together (just like NYC Apartments), but the range of Publishers and Organizations present in this area I found most impressive. I hope they are included next year, and the layout is improved.

Personally? I found AIPAD to be professionally staged, managed and run throughout. I think most visitors were impressed by it. I found little to complain about- and I looked hard. Getting to and fro was the biggest downside, in my opinion. In the end, I hope lessons are learned from this year’s show to make a very good experience even better next year.

Thank You’s-
I can’t leave AIPAD without thanking the following people-

-Jackson Charles- Photography & PhotoBook Expert Extraordinaire, for his guidance and insights above and beyond the call of duty over FOUR days.
-Kellie McLaughlin of the legendary Aperture Foundation for introducing me to Gregory Halpern, and considerations throughout
-Paul Schiek and Lester Rosso of TBW Books for introductions to Jim Jocoy, Raymond Meeks, and other considerations
Jim Jocoy for sharing his extraordinary experiences, and amazing new book with me
Raymond Meeks for sharing his beautiful work, especially his lovingly crafted hand made new release
-Danny who turned me on to Curran Hatleberg
-Forrest Soper of PhotoEye for turning me on to Moises Saman’s “Discordia
-Sophie Brodovitch of Equinox Gallery, Vancouver for her Fred Herzog expertise, and consideration
-All the Gallerists and Organizations who spoke with me and shared their expertise and insights with me.
-Margery Newman of Margery Newman Communication for her help and consideration throughout

And, finally, to Bruce Davidson, and all the great Photographers, past and present, all over the world, who are the reason we went to AIPAD- To see the world through their eyes.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Through Your Eyes,” written by Richard Marx and Dean Pitchford, published by Wonderland Music Co., Inc.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

  1. I’ve written about a number of excellent PhotoBooks I saw at AIPAD in the earlier parts of this series.

AIPAD SnapShots: The Photographers- Memorable Meetings

This is the third of my Series of Posts on “The Photography Show 2017” aka AIPAD.

I gave up trying to count how many Photographers of note were on hand over AIPAD’s 5 days. But, it’s with great pleasure I recount the opportunities I had to speak with many of them. Along with Jim Jocoy, the subject of the second Post in this series, here are some of my most memorable encounters…

Gregory Halpern-

Gregory Halpern standing next to his work, “Untitled” from his “Buffalo” series, at Aperture’s Booth at AIPAD, March 31st.

Gregory Halpern was the biggest revelation I had at AIPAD. Another Photographer I had never heard of until I saw this piece, “Untitled,” at Aperture’s booth on Wednesday night. I was immediately taken by it. I went home and spent the night researching him and his work. Every single example of Mr. Halpern’s work I saw held me…fascinated me…spoke to me, and downright compelled me to look again. This doesn’t happen often (the last two times being William Eggleston and Todd Hido), so I pay attention when it does. Later, I discovered that his monographs “A”,  and 2016’s “ZZYZX,” (which won Aperture’s 2016 Best Book Of The Year Award), were sold out. Hmmm…I’m not the only one his work speaks to.

This was not posed. Gregory Halpern, “Untitled” From ZZYZX. Courtesy Gregory Halpern & AIPAD.

Luckily, thanks to Kellie McLaughlin of Aperture, I was very fortunate to get a chance to meet Mr. Halpern and speak with him Friday afternoon. A cerebral, thoughtful and humble man, who also teaches Photography to very lucky students at Rochester Institute of Technology, he was so forthcoming, I found myself pulling back on asking him about certain of his works because I began to worry about losing some of their mystery that I love. Even in this brief time I could sense the depth of what is going on under the surface of this Artist. Beyond this, it seems to me that his work often has a magic to it that is incredibly rare. I came away on Wednesday night believing “Untitled” was the most compelling work I saw in the entire show by a Photographer unknown to me. During my research, I came across an absolutely amazing interview with him that anyone interested in his work must read, here. Not only might he become one of the most important Photographers of the next few years, he may, also, become one of it’s key writers. For my part, I was very surprised when he told me that Todd Hido was one of his teachers! Hmmm…Is Todd Hido (who I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting) teaching his students how to get to me? He seems to have the secret. Maybe if I ever do meet him, he’ll tell me.

Mike Mandel-

Mike Mandel signs his classic book, “Evidence.”

I met the co-author of “Evidence,” (which is listed in Martin Parr & Gerry Badger’s 3 volume set “The Photobooks,” widely considered one of the two standard references to the best PhotoBooks ever created), in passing and spoke to him briefly. My impression was that he may be a bit surprised at the ongoing importance and relevance of “Evidence,” which was first published 40 years ago in 1977. Perhaps, even he didn’t see that coming. The first book created from found and repurposed photos, the branches that have come off of it’s tree just seem to go on and on, and given the world’s current situation, show no sign of ending.

Lee Friedlander and Tabitha Soren-

Lee Friedlander, with TBW’s Lester Rosso, left, peruses his new book, “Head,” part of TBW Books Subscription Series No. 5

Tabitha Soren, who was with MTV back in the day, now a Photographer, with Lester Rosso and Paul Schiek (left and center) of TBW Books.

I met both (separately) in passing at the TBW Booth. The legendary Mr. Friedlander was looking over his new book by TBW, and Ms. Soren was perusing their latest releases, while 3 of her Photo-works were on view over at Aperture’s booth, along with her Baseball-themed book.

Jo Bentdal-

Jo Bentdal, with 4 of his portraits from his series “Common Sensibility.”

I met the Portraitist at Shoot Gallery, Oslo, Norway’s booth. I couldn’t believe it when I got home from the show and looked at the shot I took of him. It so looks like one of his portraits he’s standing alongside of, right? Did he do this knowingly? I don’t know, but meeting him was full of fascinating insights into the state of Photography in this country most New Yorkers know almost nothing about. Mr. Bentdal’s Portraits of young women (part of a series of 11 works of girls ages 13-15 titled “Common Sensibility”) hang in the collection of a large bank in Norway, which I found very interesting, and hopeful, as a statement of responsibility to (the) next generation(s), who are watching us. I couldn’t help but think back to the Northern European Painted Portrait tradition, which share some similar poses, but always with more going on in the background (usually religious). There is a hint of them here, for me, but more, there was a purity New Yorkers don’t often see in portraits, surrounded as we are by the Nan Goldins and others who have come along since Diane Arbus here. I found Mr. Bentdal’s work a refreshing reminder of other possibilities, and that there is a big world out there, I hear. More about him, here.

Continuing to explore Shoot Gallery’s booth, right next to four of Mr. Bentdal’s Portraits, were two double exposures by Dag Alveng-

Den Alveng with “This is most important/Table Cloth,” a double exposure from 2001, before 9/11.

Mr. Alveng was born in Oslo, but commuted between Oslo and NYC between 1986 and 1996. Even New Yorkers would call that a heck of a commute! Both works he showed were shot in NYC, the one above in pre 9/11 2001, which I found an interesting choice to show here. When I mentioned that, Mr. Alveng said that 9/11 had the same impact everywhere. The work has an image of dining tables in the forefront, with additional tables seen in the same shot through the window. This leads to the second exposure, which takes us further and further back, until we reach the World Trade Center all the way in the center rear. Even though 9/11 was almost 16 years ago, I still find it hard to look at pictures of the Twin Towers without thinking about that day- in spite of the fact that I have many many other, earlier, memories of them. This one was no different, with it’s juxtaposition of fine dining, which is a pleasure for most, the looming tall towers in the back, make it hard to enjoy anything, leaving me with the overriding feeling of impending doom. Like the saying “he who doesn’t remember the past is doomed to repeat it.” But, that’s just me- Your results may differ. As he explained to me, the resulting image from the double exposure was pure chance. Remarkable, indeed. It is exceedingly well done, with a subtlety that rewards multiple viewings, especially at this generous size. Depth of field seems to be a key element in Mr. Alveng’s work- be it single or double exposure. His use of the latter technique led to fascinating results in both works he showed, the other work features children frolicking in the City, an interesting “bridge” to Mr. Bentdal’s Portraits next to it. The children’s mother magically appears in the work, in double exposure, insights I could only get by being fortunate that Mr. Alveng was there, and was gracious enough to tell me about the work’s genesis, and to pose for a photo with “This is most important/Table Cloth,” a piece I will forever think of when I think of him. More of his work is here, and at Shoot Gallery, Norway’s site. I have a feeling we will be seeing more of his work in NYC. I hope so.

Right next to his work was a small set of unique works- glass negatives on black sheets by Eric Antoine, priced at 5,000. each. Mr. Antoine, who was unknown to me, and who I did not meet, is a Master of this medium, and the extraordinary detail contained in each of these very beautiful works made me feel the price was a bargain.

Raymond Meeks-

Raymond Meeks’ “Cabbage White” Folio (in progress). He asked I photograph his work instead of him.

Another Photographer I had never heard of until meeting him at the booth he shared with TBW. I should have heard of him. He’s had a few books released by prestigious Nazraeli Books, including one in their renowned “One Picture Books” series, and a darn good one, as well as a book in their very first “Six By Six” (Series 1), where he was joined by no less than Todd Hido, Anthony Hernandez, Martin Parr, Mark Stenmetz and Toshio Shibata- heavy hitters, all. He’s also been published by TBW Books, and if you hurry, a classic example of his work is available at Light Work, the fine non-profit organization that supports Photographers, here, for 300.00. Mr. Meeks was showing a gorgeous hand made Artist Book entitled “Cabbage White,” a folio that includes a hand made box, a book, a broadside, a silver gelatin print, mostly shot near his upstate New York home that alternates intensely lyrical Black & White shots of nature and people- singly or in groups. The effect is transportive, like a trip to another place where people swim, hang out, jump and leap into the water and live, like people Live, like the exceptionally beautiful trees he seems to be known for live. Though accompanied by text, Mr. Meeks is a visual poet, who’s work possesses a rare lyricism that has the power to take you out of yourself on journeys his work suggests. This may be best experienced in the Artist-controlled context of this precious boxed set, of which he has only created 30 copies, so this strikes me as, perhaps, the ideal way to experience Raymond Meeks. Beware- this work will get inside you, sprout roots and grow inside of you, like one of the trees he renders with a beauty and skill reminiscent of classic Photography. Like his work, he’s an equally down to earth and forthright man, who’s looming, quiet, watchful presence mirrors his work.

Bruce Davidson-

 

Bruce Davidson signs his book “Central Park” for yours truly.

(As I mentioned in the first Post in this series.) I asked the man who I consider the Dean of New York City Photographers how he survived shooting the 1980 photos that became his classic book, “Subway,” back when the trains were like the Wild West. He cryptically told me “It was because I looked like a photographer.” I spent the rest of the day thinking this over. While this was the fist time I’d met Mr. Davidson, I own two of his pieces, and a number of his books, and along the way, I’ve spoken to many people who know or knew and/or who worked with him. The one thing I remember all of them saying was, “Ohhhhhh…..Bruce…”, with an utter fondness in their voice, that’s rare in my experience- not about Photographers. About people. I came away feeling that Bruce Davidson has a presence, a persona that people just like, and/or don’t feel threatened around. Looking at his work, how else to explain how so many of his subjects show us parts of themselves they probably don’t show everyone? Mr. Davidson sat and signed at Steidl’s booth for a solid hour, and I took the chance to have him sign his extraordinary collection of many of his greatest books, “Black And White,” for me. It’s a set every lover of great Photography should have, in my opinion, before it goes out of print, like the original versions of all the books it contains did.

Other Photographers seen, but unmet-

Builder Levy, the social documentarian and street photographer seen in front of some of his work.

Richard Rinaldi, right, discusses his new book “Manhattan Sunday,” about night owls in Manhattan circa 2010. Hey! Wait just one minute there.

Paolo Ventura, left, with Kellie McLaughlin of Aperture (center), shows a copy of his latest book, “Short Stories.” I can’t imagine how much work goes into one of Mr. Ventura’s pieces.

And finally, the amazing Tony Vaccaro, who’s lived an unfathomable life in Photography. Famous for iconic shots of Georgia O’Keefe, Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Frank Lloyd Wright, among many others, oh, and World War II, which France gave him the Legion D’Honneur for his photos of, seen at Monroe Gallery’s Booth.

Had enough of AIPAD? Me neither. Over 5 days, (and I was there for all 5), there was a lot to see. More to come!

The rest of my 4-part series on AIPAD is here

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Every Picture Tells A Story (Don’t It?)” by Ron Wood and Steve Harley and recorded by Rod Stewart.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

 

AIPAD SnapShots: The Photographers- Jim Jocoy

This is the second of my Series of 4 Posts on “The Photography Show, 2017,” aka “AIPAD.”  This part is a close up of one of the Photographers I encountered at the show, Jim Jocoy. More soon…

“…no hard chords on the car radio we set the trash on fire and watch
outside the door men come up the pavement under the marquee
there’s laughing outside we’re locked outside the public eye…”*

If you love Rock n Roll, and/or great Photography, Jim Jocoy is a name you should know. That’s easy for me to say now. Up until Thursday at 3pm, I had never heard of him.

Then, aiding me in my recent efforts to get up to speed on the world of Contemporary Photography, Paul Schiek, Owner of TBW Books, one of the most respected imprints in the PhotoBook world, handed me a copy of “Order of Appearance,” TBW’s just released collection of his 1977-1980 punk rock photos. It’s only Mr. Jocoy’s second book after the initial collection of his work from this period, 2002’s “We’re Desperate,” which included an interview with the Photographer by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, and a preface by Designer Marc Jacobs. It’s now a collector’s item going for $300.00 and up online.

One look through “Order of Appearance” and I was mezmerized.

Having been a musician in a band on the road at the same time Mr. Jocoy has immortalized, though on the East Coast, while was he busy on the West Coast, I’d lived through this, too, but only seen photos that captured both the essence of what it was like as well as the moments that defined the scene in the extraordinary shots taken by the late, great Bruce Conner, some on view at MoMA this past year, as I mentioned, here.

Until now.

Speaking with him a few hours later, Mr. Jocoy told me actually saw Bruce Conner in the clubs quite often, and came to know him, but, he said that he never once saw Bruce Conner with a camera! In fact, he initially thought he was just an odd guy who danced funny.

Jim Jocoy’s “Order of Appearance,” a brand-new release from TBW Books, features a cover design by Paul Schiek that lifted the black lines of a design on a shirt worn in the book and placed it on top of one of a statue in true punk fashion. Click any image to enlarge.

As I looked through “Order of Appearance,” I was struck by the thought that here, Mr. Jocoy has gone even Bruce Conner one better. He captures more of what it was like, taking you, on, but also off stage, and back stage, and only he knows where else, continually providing the feeling that you are right there- seeing things that only happen late at night when there’s an excess of excess, except that you also happen to be a terrific photographer, so indescribable moments that no one who wasn’t there would ever believe happened, are magically frozen in time for you, at the “peak of their freshness” as they say. The resulting body of work, hidden away in Mr. Jocoy’s archives for these past almost 40 years (or, “locked outside the public eye,” as X sings in “The Unheard Music,” on their album “Los Angeles,” I quoted up top) is many things- a work that captures a musical and social movement in time, and, as I was to find out a short while later when the Photographer, himself, gave me a guided walk-through of the book, a very personal remembrance for him, as a number of those pictured are no longer with us. Yet, Mr. Jocoy turned this precious body of work over to Paul Schiek and Lester Rosso of TBW who then created this book out of it. Mr Schiek, in addition to being the Owner/Publisher of TBW Books is also a Photographer of renown in his own right, and so was a serendipitous collaborator for this project, bringing the sensitivity only a fellow Artist could bring to the project, and the results are stunning, often down right uncanny.

I was so much older then. Jim Jocoy poses with a 1980 Portrait of his 37 years younger self!

Right from the first image in the book.

Muriel Cervenka with bruised knees. Photo by Jim Jocoy, the first image in “Order of Appearance.”

Mr. Jocoy explained to me that this lady, sitting next to a road case that once belonged to dancer Twyla Tharp, and who’s knees are bruised in this photo (as a dancer’s might be), and who’s feet look like they are “on pointe” in her red shoes, no less, is Muriel Cervenka, the sister of Exene of the band “X.” Muriel was killed in a hit and run just days after this photo was taken, and on the night of X’s debut for their first album, “Los Angeles.” What a unique photo it is- I’ve never seen a “portrait” like it- in Paint or in a Photo. Exene actually went on just after getting the news, he told me. While that adds incaclulable levels of poignancy to seeing it, the fact that it was placed first by Messers Schiek & Rosso, where it sets a tone for the rest of the book’s three sections astonished me.

Already, I knew this was a special book.

As he continued, reminiscing with such immediacy that I felt like these things had happened this past week, the passing images were equally remarkable, whether they were of members of bands I’d heard of, or not, or people who just happened to be there, including Allen Ginsberg. I felt that many of the portraits in this book were “ideal” portraits- THE image someone would want to be remembered by. They encapsulated them so well, you got a sense of who they were, though they’re total strangers to me, and probably most of us. Mr. Jocoy seems to have been everywhere at once, but no matter where he is, his personal connection to everything in this book takes it light years beyond being a party book, or even an amazing document of the time and a moment in music and culture, to make it a beautiful & moving personal testament, and all of that is what makes it special1. And, did I mention that Jim Jocoy is, also, one of the nicest guys you will ever have the pleasure to meet?

“Woman reclining on car,” 1977. Something similar happened to me, and only lives in my memory. Luckily, Jim Jocoy beautifully captured his for the ages.

Then we spoke about that passage of time. I asked him about these slides sitting in his archives for so long. He mentioned looking at them a little while after he took them and feeling they were good, and they “would still be good,” after even more time passed. Well now, almost FORTY YEARS have passed, and these images are not just “good.” They’re very, very good, and as lovingly presented as they are in “Order of Appearance?”

“D.N.A. and Sharon,” a miraculous double exposure that every other bass player on earth, starting with me, is jealous of. Sharon was lying on the street, which you can barely make out. Sorry for the poor pic- I didn’t want to open my book too far.

“Guy passed out,” 1978. If this doesn’t sum the whole thing up, perfectly, I don’t know what does. My photo is poor, so pick up a copy and see it in all it’s glory.

“Friends in a Gold Car,” 1978, by Jim Jocoy.

With only 1,000 copies printed, I think it’s destined to be as sought after as “We’re Desperate” is now.

Book Artists. Paul Schiek, Owner of TBW Books, left, with Lester Rosso, Program Director, designers of “Order of Appearance,” with the finished book, the poster for it, and some of Jim’s work at AIPAD.

Don’t take my word for Mr. Jocoy’s talent. No less than that huge fan of rock n roll, Shepard Fairey, used one of Jim Jocoy’s other images, his classic shot of Sid Vicious, in an Obey Giant print in 2004 called “Sid Jocoy.”

Jim Jocoy’s now iconic Polaroid of Sid Vicious in January, 1978, after the Sex Pistols last performance together. Photo by Jim Jocoy. (Not in his new book)

Then, Mr. Jocoy spoke about releasing these photos now, partly, out of a “responsibility” to those he photographed who have passed. While “Order of Appearance” is a beautiful tribute to his departed friends, who will continue to live on through his work, it also cements Jim Jocoy’s legacy among both the great music photographers, and portraitists, of our time.

Jim Jocoy holding TBW’s poster for his new book. As it says, THIS is the real deal.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “The Unheard Music,” written by Exene Cervenka and John Doe, from “Los Angeles,” by X, published by The Bicycle Music Company.

The other parts of my 4-part series on AIPAD are here.

Please send comments, thoughts, feedback or propositions to denizen at nighthawknyc.com.
Click the white box on the upper right, for the archives, to search, or to subscribe.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

  1. Mr. Jocoy includes a page of captions, most including names, near the end of the book.