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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NoteWorthy Shows: March Through May, 2017

Catching up from my March computer meltdown. To recap, AIPAD-The Photography Show, was my NoteWorthy Show for March, “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work” at the New Museum for April, “Rod Penner” at Ameringer McEnery Yohe for May. Here are some other “NoteWorthy Shows” I saw from March through May (in no particular order). Better late than never…especially where these fine shows are concerned. 

“Elliott Hundley: Dust Over Everything” (@ Andrea Rosen Gallery)- According to Siri there were 41 days between January 1 and February 10, during which Elliott Hundley must have been THE busiest man on the planet creating the 22 works for this show, which opened on February 10. He must not have eaten, slept, or gone to the food store, saving every second of every day to create what are the most intricate works I’ve seen in years, each one of which is dated “2017.”

“the song dissolves,” Paper, oil, pins, fabric, foam and linen over panel, 11 3/8 x 14 3/8 x 2 3/4 inches. Click any image to enlarge.

Side view.

Theatrical…Intimate…Grand…Microscopic…Bombastic…Quotidian…There are as many styles as there are works, and almost as many materials listed having been used on them. Ok. He probably had (some) help creating these. Practically? I get that. But, you can’t see it. Every single detail seems to spring from the same source- a seemingly boundless imagination that shows us a different side of it in each piece.

“Dust Over Everything,” Paper, oil, plastic, fabric, pins, foam and linen over panel. 36 1/4 x 24 1/4 x 6.

And the pins! I feel for whoever has to count them when these works wind up in Museums. “Countless” is how I’d describe them. It must have taken an army of acupuncturists a week to do even one of these works, because they are so extraordinarily well placed I found myself continually looking at the works from a 45 degree angle so I could appreciate them all. They’re such a tour de force as to be, a bit, distracting. I wondered what order they were placed in, which took away valuable moments I should have spent pondering the work as a whole (before getting to the details.) They are a bit like veil on a stage that you have to look through (after you’re done appreciating them) to ponder all that’s under them. But, they are not present in every work here. What’s under them struck me as being a whole life told in episodes, glimpses, memories and relics.

“Gallows Bird,” Oil and paper on linen, 80 1/8 x 96 1/4 x 1 7/8

Suffice it to say there’s, also, a life time’s worth of looking ahead for whoever buys these obsessive works- some of the freshest work I’ve seen in the first 65 days of this year, and among the densest work I’ve ever seen.

“Until the end,” Paper, oil, pins, glass, lotus, plastic, foam and linen over panel, 96 1/2 x 80 1/4 x 8 1/2

Detail of the right side. Mr. Hundley features friends & family in his work, giving them a personal depth he feels comes across to the viewer.

“Seurat’s Circus Sideshow” (@ The Met)- From the first time prehistoric man made a mark on a surface, countless billions of people down through the intervening millennia have drawn. Where is the OTHER one among them who draws, or drew, like Georges Seurat? Seurat only lived 31 years, so he didn’t get the chance to create either a lot of drawings, or a lot of paintings, so this was a very rare chance to see (mostly) his drawings, along with 2 paintings, and works by others, all more or less related to the theme of the circus, with Seurat’s “Circus Sideshow,” from The Met’s collection, as the centerpiece. How fascinating it must have been to watch him make one of these unique Drawings, let alone one of his even more remarkable paintings? So, even the otherworldly presence of Rembrandt’s “Christ Presented to the People” wasn’t enough to distract from focusing on the extremely rare opportunity to see a number of Seurat’s drawings in one place.

Looking down at the entrance for “Seurat’s Circus Sideshow”. Exactly one year ago this Robert Lehman Wing Courtyard was full of scaffolding for the false floor of the “Ghost Cathedral” of the Manus X Machina Fashion Show sat at the level of the upper floor here- a few hundred feet in diameter! Amazing.

“Seurat’s Circus Sideshow” entrance, features the titular work.

“Trombonist,” 1887-88, Conte crayon with white chalk

“At the Gaiete Rochechouart,” 1877-78, Conte crayon with gouache

“Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms,” & “Marsden Hartley’s Maine” (@ The Met Breuer)-

Meanwhile, across town, Sheena Wagstaff , The Met’s Modern & Contemporary Art Chairwoman, continues to give us unexpected shows of M&C Art at TMB, this time focusing on the late Brazilian female Artist, Lygia Pape (1927-2004), and American Painter Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)- two Artists who have almost nothing in common, except, perhaps, Ms. Wagstaff as a champion, and that neither has had a substantial show in NYC, for at least anytime in the recent past (as far as I know). I couldn’t escape the feeling that Ms. Pape has a style not all that unlike the great Nasreen Mohamedi, who Ms. Wagstaff chose to be the very first show of M&C Art at TMB. Mr Hartley, however, does not. “The Painter from Maine” has a strong, muscular style that is worlds away from the from the geometric abstraction Ms. Pape’s and Ms. Mohamedi’s works may seem to be at casual view. His in another part of the story of American 20th Century Art, one that is often, unfortuatley, overlooked, perhaps because it’s rare to see more than one of his works at a time. His place in the long line of important Maine Artists that runs from Thomas Cole to Winslow Homer (a key influence on Hartley) through Edward Hopper to the Wyeths and Richard Estes is assured. While the opportunity to see more of these interesting Artists was most welcome, for me, these shows were equally interesting for what “more” they might reveal of Ms. Wagstaff’s direction, which, given the state of flux The Met is in at the moment, I believe in supporting.

Lygia Pape’s vision extended from paintings to sculpture to people, as seen on the screen on the left,”Divisor (Divider), 1968, performed in 1990,, which seems to mimic the effect of the wall sculpture, “Livro dos caminhos (Book of paths),” 1963-76, paint on wood,  on the right.

Lygia Pape, “Tteia, 1, C,” 1976-2004, Gold thread, light and a few staples create a haunting, shimmering vision.

Lygia Pape, “Liver do tempo (Book of time),”1961-63, A tour de force of almost endless creativity & variety in 365 tempera and acrylic on wood pieces in relief.

I particularly admire these 3 early Landscapes by Marsden Hartley done between 1907-09, with their unique, almost “Pointilistic” technique, (26 years after the Seurat’s death), which is much “softer” than his “muscular,” later landscapes, like the next one.

“The Lighthouse,” 1940-41, Oil on masonite

Perhaps the most “muscular” painting since the Mannerists.

“Romare Bearden: Bayou Fever and Related Works” (@ DC Moore Gallery)- Highlighted by 21 collages from 1979 Romare Bearden (1911-88) created for a ballet entitled “Bayou Fever” that he hoped Alvin Ailey would choreograph, they confirm Mr. Bearden’s place as a master of collage who was ahead of his time. While some works have an overt Matissean influence, everything here is uniquely Bearden, an Artist who is not seen nearly often enough and never seems to fail to impress when he is seen. I mentioned him in in my Post on his friend, Stuart Davis, and my Post on Kerry James Marshall, who selected a piece by Bearden for his “KJM Selects” section of his excellent TMB Retrospective.

Installation view. The 21 collages from “Bayou Fever,” 1979, are seen to the right.

2 works from “Bayou Fever”- “Untitled (The Conjur Woman),” left and “Untitled (The Swamp Witch, Blue-Green Lights and Conjur Woman), both Collages from 1979

“Feast,” 1969 21 x 25,” Collage

“Noah Means A New Day,” No date, Collage

“Prevalance of Ritual/Tidings,” 1964, Gelatin silver print

“Rat Bastard Protective Association” (@ Susan Inglett Gallery)- Who? The RBPA was “an inflammatory, close-knit community of Artists and Poets who lived and worked together in a building they dubbed ‘Painterland,'” in San Francisco, to quote the press release. As I wrote about last year, Bruce Conner was, somehow, new to me when I first walked through the black curtain at the entrance of the utterly amazing “Bruce Conner: It’s All True” at MoMA last year but, Susan Inglett had a long history with Bruce Conner, as I learned in speaking with her briefly, earlier this year. So, her (always excellent) gallery’s show of works by “The Rat Bastard Protection Association,” a group of San Fran Artists that included Mr. Coner was something special, and quite rare. In addition to the chance to see amazing work by Bruce Conner I’d never seen before, the show marked my first chance to see work by his Artist wife, Jean Conner, an important Artist in her own right. Add Jay DeFeo, Wallace Berman, Michael McClue to the roster and this was a small show that packed a punch, and pointed out, once again, that the East Coast needs to become much more familiar with this whole group of San Francisco based Artists, who were associated in the Rat Bastard Protection Association from the late 1950’s to early 1960’s. Up from April 27 to June 3, it anticipated the Robert Rauschenberg show now at MoMA and provides a reminder that these Artists were working strikingly similar veins at the same time, 2570 miles, as the crow flies, apart1.

Bruce Conner, “THE EGG,” 1959, Mixed media assemblage in a convex brass frame. Even his extraordinarily wide-ranging MoMA Retrospective didn’t prepare me to see this.

Bruce Conner “MARY, MOTHER OF GOD,” 1960, Charcoal on paper. Almost “conventional,” it shows little sign of the revolutionary drawings to come.

Two collages from 1960 by the overlooked Jean Conner, both titled “(ARE YOU A SPRINGMAID)

Two assemblages by Bruce Conner, “UNTITLED (DO NOT REMOVE),” 1960 and “FLOATING HEAD,” 1958-59

“Alice Neel, Uptown” (@ David Zwirner Gallery)- An increasingly beloved and respected New York Artist (she settled here at age 27, and lived here for over 50 years), her star continues to rise, though it’s taken a long time (she passed in 1984, at age 84). She always leads with her humanity, and it seems to me that that’s something that makes New York proud of her. Though one of her works was the featured/poster image for The Met Breuer’s 2016 blockbuster “Untitled: Thoughts Left Unfinished,” a perfect choice, IMHO, there hasn’t been an Alice Neel show all that recently, as far as I can recall. This one would still prove itself different even if there had been a few. For one thing it focused on work Ms. Neel did while she was living “Uptown,” in East Harlem (aka Spanish Harlem), from 1938 to 1962, and, as the press release says, it focuses on portraits of her family, friends and neighbors. The results are classic Alice Neel. Though not everything here is a major work, the breath of fresh air it provided only hints at how much pent-up longing I think there is to see more of her work.

The time has come!

The show has moved to Victoria Miro, London, where it can be seen through July 29.

Shown in two adjoining David Zwirner locations, this is one of the two entrances.

“Building in Harlem,” 1945, Oil on canvas. Ms. Neel lived in East (Spanish) Harlem from 1938-62.

“Alice Childress,” 1950, Oil on canvas. An actor who became a playwright and novelist when she found “little dramatic material that represented the lives of black women she knew,” per the show’s curator, Hilton Als.

“Two Girls,” 1954, Ink and gouache on paper.

Georgie Acre, a young Puerto Rican boy who often ran errands for Ms. Neel, seen in 4 Drawings and a Painting from 1950-58. In 1974, Mr. Arce was convicted of murder. He’s shown praying in the second Drawing from left.

“Ron Kajiwara,” 1971, Oil on canvas. A son of Japanese immigrants, he was detained in a California internment camp during WW2. He later became a design director for Vogue before dying of AIDS in 1990.

And finally, Kevin Francis Gray (@Pace, West 24th Street)- I can’t recall encountering anyone who’s doing what Mr. Gray is with “figurative” sculpture.

“Reclining Nude 1,” 2016, All works are Carrara Marble

Does he use a secret laser ray? Has he discovered how to melt marble, then work it in it’s molten state? Somehow, he’s able to make Carrara marble attain the properties of clay!

“Salamander,” 2017

Ummmm…Yes, I had to remind myself continually, after tying my hands behind my back so I wouldn’t touch them to appease my wonder… These are MARBLE!

“Reclining Nude 1,” 2016, front, and “The Aristocrat,” 2017

I find it daring, exciting, and revolutionary. Along the way, he blurs the lines between the representational and the abstract, while adding all sorts of new levels of appearance, meaning, and possibilities to “portraiture.”

Detail of “Reclining Nude II,” 2017

While some of his past works, especially his “Twelve Chambers,” 2013, group of 12 life-sized figures vaguely reminded me of Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais“, these recent works appear, to me, to be a breakthrough. Is Kevin Francis Gray the successor to Rodin? He’s only 45. We’ll see where his new developments lead him. Stay tuned…he said, with bated breath.

“Heavenly bodies…”

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “It’s Quiet Uptown,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda, from “Hamilton.”

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. My fine feathered friends (aka “The Birdies”) just smirked when I said that, again, and said they stand by their prior comment on the matter, here.

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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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

Winterlude: Homage To “The Gates”

Note- This Post is also be my “NoteWorthy Art Shows, February, 2017” Post. The most “NoteWorthy” Show I saw this month just happened to be outdoors. (Yes, NoteWorth January is coming.) What follows is, also, something “different” for this site. 

This month marks the 12th Anniversary of the Art Installation “The Gates,” by the Artists Christo & Jeanne-Claude, in Central Park in February, 2005.

February 12, 2005, Opening Day of “The Gates,” Central Park, NYC

February 21, 2005

I took those two week off so I could try to see all  23 miles of it. It culminated with my being very fortunate to stumble upon the Artists, on a hilltop, on the very last night of it as they watched it’s final sunset, together. I wondered what they were thinking watching the climax of the gigantic project they had begun in 1979. For me, it was an unforgettable moment capping a once in a lifetime experience.

“Time, time, time
See what’s become of me…”*

The High Line, February, 2017. Click to enlarge any photo on this site.

Walking around a different NYC Park, The High Line, this February, twelve years later, often with no one else in sight, I couldn’t help remember what Christo & Jeanne-Claude said about why they chose February to hold “The Gates.” They mentioned that “their free hanging saffron colored fabric panels seemed like a golden river appearing through the bare branches of the trees.”

“Look around
Leaves are brown
And the sky
Is a Hazy Shade of Winter”*

The photos I present here are meant to be taken individually, as what they are- isolated scenes from a large landscape, and so as individual works themselves (please click on the image to see it full size), and also to be taken as a group that tries to give a sense of the larger experience. They were all taken in February, 2017.

 

 

 

 

“Look around
Grass is high
Fields are ripe
It’s the springtime of my life”*

While there was no saffron to be seen, there was, indeed, “a golden river,” a natural one, utterly magnificent to be seen. It was as if nature, herself, was remembering…

 

 

 

 

 

The High Line is, of course, one of NYC’s newer Parks, and, a public work of Art in itself- Even in the dead of winter. Frankly? I can’t recall ever seeing it as beautiful.

“Seasons change with their scenery
Weaving time in a tapestry
Won’t you stop and remember me?”*

 

 

 

Since nature seemed to be doing it without prompting, I have no choice but to take the hint and dedicate this Post to Christo, and the memory of the late Jeanne Claude, both of whom I had the honor to meet once, before “The Gates,” as my way of saying “Thank you,” for them, and the 25 years of effort & dedication it took to get “The Gates” to happen.

After all, Art doesn’t just happen. Unless, it does.

*-The Soundtrack for this Post is “Hazy Shade of Winter,” by Paul Simon and recorded by Simon & Garfunkel on “Bookends.” Lyrics published by Universal Music Publishing Group.

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

NYC Art Shows 2016- Sheena Wagstaff Rules The Waves

This year past, Manhattan Art was largely dominated by two themes. There was a seemingly continual string of shows by many of the bigger names in Abstract Expressionism (i.e. AbEx), one after the other, and I wrote about every one of them, beginning with Jackson Pollock @MoMA, Lee Krasner, Philip Guston (two- here and here), Richard Pousette-Dart, Joan Mitchell and Mark Rothko, along with a few excellent satellite compilation shows, each in a different venue, which, apparently is continuing into 2017 with Jackson Pollock set to open at the Guggenheim, completing the circle, for now. It was also a year of Women Artists getting important shows. Patti Smith, Nasreen Mohamedi, Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Marilyn Minter1, June Leaf, Carmen Herrera, Nan Goldin, Mary Bauermeister, Carrie Mae Weems, Latoya Ruby Frazier, Krasner and Mitchell were only some of the highlights. Still? Artists weren’t the only women making a big impact on the NYC Art Scene in 2016. In fact, for my money, the biggest impact of all was made by another woman, The Met’s Chairwoman of Modern & Contemporary (M&C) Art, Sheena Wagstaff.

As far as I’m concerned, no other single person had the impact on NYC Art, all year long, that Ms. Wagstaff and her department did.

Sheena Wagstaff was named Chairwoman of TM’s M&C Department on January 20, 2012. Four years later, her 2016 began with putting finishing touches on TM’s new “branch Museum,” The Met Breuer (TMB), the first “branch” The Met has opened since The Cloisters in 1926! No pressure there. As it was about to open, ostensibly as the showcase for The Met’s “new” M&C Art iniatative, The Times’ Roberta Smith put the situation perfectly into perspective, speaking about the task Ms. Wagstaff faced/faces-

“But the Met is huge and old, with a history of treating contemporary art as an afterthought. Getting it to change is like turning around an ocean liner.” Roberta Smith, NYT, March 3, 2016.

It sailed into it’s mid- March opening with 2 shows- “Unifnished: Thoughts Left Visible,” a veritable Museum in itself covering 2 full floors (the third and fourth), and, easy to overlook, tucked away on the second floor, “Nasreen Mohamedi,” the first American Retrospective of the Indian woman artist who passed away in 1990, aged 53. Wait…Who? Yeah. Me, too.

Met Breuer, Opening Lineup, March 8, 2016. 11 months on? The 5th Floor is now gallery space, the 1st Floor Gallery is now the Gift Shop. Those 2 shows? They live on, indelibly. Notice that for all of Art History that’s represented in “Unfinished,” the signature image chosen is by Alice Neel, a woman, of “James Hunter Black Draftee”

Vijay Iyer (piano, left) performs with his trio. Met Breuer, Member’s Opening Day, March 8, 2016.

The first members of the public get to see “Unfinished” on March 8, 2016. That tiny drawing on the far opposite wall is by Michelangelo.

After over 15 visits later, to my eyes, “Nasreen Mohamedi” was nothing less than 1) an epiphany. Here was an Artist who was a Major figure in Art in the 20th Century who’s name exists in not one Art History survey that I know of.

I now haunt these galleries, in my memory.

2) Therefore, it was easily one of the best shows of the year, and 3) the more I think about it, for many reasons, it was one of the best shows I’ve seen in years.

Most Memorable Art Work of the Year. Nasreen Mohamedi “Untitled,” circa 1970. When I first saw it, I thought it was a piece of fabric. Nope. This is a DRAWING.

Detail (about 10″ x 6″). Two amazing things about this- 1- The superhuman focus & manual skill on display. 2- The disease that would kill her would take these incomparable motor skills first, and shortly.

The subtlety, uniqueness and micro/macro impact of Nasreen Mohamedi’s drawings is seemingly without precedent. They speak to the “grand design” of the universe, while also giving the feeling that they are somehow familiar, though they are not.

 

Some call this work “The Seven Planes of Existence.” All her works were left untitled and undated, only 5 here were signed. Many were given to friends as gifts. She created most while dealing with an illness that would kill her family members, then rob her of her skills, and eventually kill her, as well.

Also an accomplished photographer, I find her photos every bit as wondrous as her work in other mediums. Each “Untitled,” ca. 1970

Closeup of the photo on the right. What exactly are we looking at?

I spent an hour sitting right next to Sheena Wagstaff at a “Nasreen Mohamedi Symposium,” at The Met 5th Avenue in June. After it was over, I had the chance to speak to her. All I could say to her was “Thank you,” for Nasreen Mohamedi, which gave me the chance to discover her. Then, I told her she had made “the perfect choice” to begin M&C Art at TMB.

Sheena Wagstaff, right, Met curator Brinda Kumar, center, and an Artist who’s name I didn’t get, left, at the Nasreen Mohamedi Symposium, June 3 at The Met. Ms. Wagstaff then sat down immediately to my right.

Six month later, I stand by those words.

Think about how much guts it took to make that call. How daring it was. TMB famously costs The Met 15 million dollars a year to operate. The Met, reportedly, ran a deficiet in 2016, costing jobs.  To say “a lot” was, and is, riding on the success of TMB would be an understatement. Not to mention TM’s world leading prestige. “Nasreen Mohamedi” was followed by “diane arbus: in the beginning.” Perhaps it would have been “safer” to have run Diane Arbus first. Maybe. Probably. I’m glad it was Sheena Wagstaff’s call (along with the rest of TM’s powers that be), and they chose Nasreen Mohamedi.

A page from one of her diaries. She blotted out much of what she had written. I wonder why. They left these patterns, reminiscent of her drawings.

The show was, apparently, a labor of love for Ms. Wagstaff. Hidden away in the very last gallery, in an iPad on the tables where visitors could peruse the now out of print and rare catalog, were some of the few extant photos from Ms. Mohamedi’s life. One of the last photos was a photo of Nasreen Mohamedi’s unmarked grave. I marvelled that someone had found it and photographed it. I looked for the credit to see who the photographer was. Sheena Wagstaff.

“Nasreen Mohamedi” was more than a terrific show. It was a statement. What was as easy to miss as the show itself was, as visitors made a bee line to see the copious treasures upstairs, it was more. It was the “answer” to the question about where Ms. Wagstaff was likely to steer The Met’s “new M&C initiative” going forward. As such, it was a shot over the bow of the future.

The future of M&C Art at The Met, and The Met Breuer, appears to be international, and inclusive. I expect more of the unexpected, more of the unknown and under-known. Bring it on. MoMA is running on all cylinders, putting on shows that are spectacular. It’s good for them, the Whitney, The Guggenhim, et al, to have some competition in M&C Art from The Met, and for us.

While “Nasreen Mohamedi” was blowing my mind on the 2nd floor, upstairs on 3 & 4, “Unfinished” was blowing everyone’s who saw it. Right off the elevator on 3, you make a right and in a small gallery you’re confronted by Leonardo da Vinci AND Michelangelo (all too rarely seen together in this hemisphere), AND Jan Van Eyck, and a few other works I can’t even remember because my mind was already overloaded. Oh yeah, some guy named Durer did one. This was TM “showing off,” as I read Ms. Wagstaff say in an interview. Boy, did they. The rest of the show had a roster that would make 90% of all other whole Museums in the USA jealous.

For a New York Minute, Michelangelo, left, and two Leonardos were on display in “Unfinished,” as the show opened. The triumvirate was soon broken up, no doubt due to the fragility of the works.

So? Ok. This was a “fail safe” show. Ms. Wagstaff was by no means finished.

Rembrandt & Velazquez- the two greatest Painters who ever lived, according to many, very rarely seen side by side.

After Nasreen closed, “diane arbus: in the beginning” came in on 2, with an installation unique in art & photography shows in my experience. Every piece got it’s own wall. Yup. You read that right. Over 100 pieces. Over 100 walls. Amazing. No beginning. No ending. The point being that it was all her beginning.

A rare shot of Tatsuo Miyajima’s “Arrow of Time,” on view in TMB’s first floor gallery. The only show to take place there before it became the gift shop.

After “Unfinished,” the year at TMB ended with another blockbuster success- “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry.” This is the kind of show that makes you wonder WHY it took so long for Mr. Marshall to be so recognized. He’s been creating at a very high level for a long time. It was only 3 years ago that he was showing at the always excellent Jack Shainman Gallery in Chelsea. But? Not everyone was sleeping on KJM. Walking through this show it’s a sad feeling for a New Yorker to read the tags and see great work after great work that belongs to Chicago or Los Angeles. Not even MoMA has stepped up to a large degree with Kerry James Marshall. TM FINALLY got a major work of his last year.

The beginning of “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry.” In many ways, this was the show of the year.

Now? It’s probably too late.

This, unfortunately, highlights one area where much work remains to be done. The Met’s collection is sorely lacking the work of M&C Masters. As I recently pointed out, as far as I know, they own no work by Ai Weiwei. no work by Nasreen Mohamedi, and only one work (albeit a very, very good one) by Kerry James Marshall (and this was only acquired in 2015), to name but 3 cases. Frankly? I find this shameful. TM recently elected three new trustees, two of which are M&C specialists, so hope springs eternal for a little more wind to be added to those sails.

New York had until January 29 to enjoy seeing a lot of KJM in one place. (My piece is coming soon.) Now? It’s going to be a long wait. Los Angeles? You get your chance beginning March 12.

So? By my scorecard, that’s 4 shows in 9 months that will be remembered and talked about for a very long time, including no less than TWO that were major breakthroughs for the Artists- Nasreen Mohamedi and Kerry James Marshall2, putting both in the pantheon of the Artists who belong in our greatest Museums.

But? Ms. Wagstaff, who struck me as having so much energy, downtown NYC could have used her during the Hurricane Sandy Blackout, still wasn’t finished. Over at 1000 Fifth Avenue…(remember The Met’s Main Building?), she and her staff have also rehung TM’s M&C Galleries there, and done an amazing job.

While at sea, mind the lighthouse! Edward Hopper’s iconic “The Lighthouse at Two Lights,” 1929, receives pride of place in TM’s newly rehung M&C Galleries. Which reminds me- Sheena Wagstaff edited the Tate’s 2004 Edward Hopper Show catalog.

Works have come out of storage that haven’t been seen there in…?, and some, thankfully, have gone there in their stead. The arrangements are new, too. Themes take the place of chronological arrangements in many rooms, while the AbEx Galleries still remain largely together, but subtly ammended. We get to see, what I consider to be, a major work by Philip Guston that I never knew TM owned! Other works are given new prominence, notably Edward Hopper’s famous “The Lighthouse at Two Lights,” and Richard Pousette- Dart’s “Symphony No. 1- The Transcendental,” (photo, here, further down the page.)

In this one gallery, I was shocked to discover works by Pousette-Dart (“Path of the Hero,” 1950, right) and Philip Guston (left, and below) that I didn’t even know The Met owned because they haven’t shown them!

Philip Guston, “Performers,” 1947. WHERE has this been? With one foot in his past, and one in his future, for my money, this is one of the most important periods of Guston’s career, and very few works from it exist, after he destroyed most. A major Guston.

The result is a veritable breath, no, wind of fresh air throughout. More wind for the sails of that S.S. Met Roberta Smith wrote about.

Sheena Wagstaff had a great year, in my book. Here’s to her. May the wind be at her back. That sound you heard in January was my giving a major sigh of relief at the news that we didn’t lose her when the Tate Museums chose a new Director (Ms. Wagstaff was Chief Curator at Tate Modern before she joined The Met).

P H E W…

Elsewhere, in the big City…

Other Museums and Galleries, of course, put on shows that linger in the memory, and I would be remiss in not including them. In addition to Nasreen Mohamedi’s, another Retrospective tried to make the case for it’s Artist’s place in the canon on 20th Century Art History, and wildly succeeded, in my opinion- “Bruce Conner: It’s All True” @ MoMA  Though he spent some time early in his career in NYC3, he, and his work, were rarely seen here after, and as a result, seeing this broad & in-depth look at his accomplishment over a mind-bending number of mediums was nothing less than a bombshell in it’s impact on myself, and I suspect many other New Yorkers. The depth, the staggering detail in the work (most famously in his films, but we see here it was carried over in most of his other work in other genres.), the mediums he probably invented, (like the music video), techniques he created or mastered, and on and on. This show was a capstone on a great year for shows at MoMA. “Picasso Sculpture,” “Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty,” were must see/won’t soon forget in their own right. Bravo, MoMA. Now? About that building and the new one on the way…

Picasso, “Owl,” seen in “Picasso Sculpture.” One sure way to make this list? Include an Owl in your show. ; – )

In the galleries, what lingers with me were Ai Weiwei’s return to NYC at long last with 4 concurrent shows, “Mark Rothko: Dark Passage,” “Patti Smith: 18 Stations,“Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark,” “Stuart Davis: In Full Swing,” at the Whitney, and “William Eggleston: The Democratic Forest” (mostly for the chance to study his work at length, which only made me want to look again). And, I always enjoy the chance to be captivated by someone I previously didn’t know, like the amazing Sydney Cash at Heller Gallery, or the up and coming Robert Currie at Bryce Walkowitz- both of who share a fascinating ability to make you see things that aren’t really there.

Sydney Cash’s “Split Selfie,” 2016, oversees two of his other works that no photo can “capture,” at Heller Gallery. See them better here. When you watch, remember all that’s happening is the viewer moves slightly side to side.

And finally, personally, the chance to meet Patti Smith and Sheena Wagstaff, or run into Chuck Close, were things that remain rich, as much for the opportunity to speak with them as for what I learned from each encounter.

All of these experiences reminds me that in the final analysis? Art is personal. For every one of us.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Andy Warhol” by David Bowie (who we lost this year, and who is Ms. Wagstaff’s fellow countryman, and an Art collector), from his classic album “Hunky Dory.”

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. in 3 shows- 2 in Manhattan, 1 at the Brooklyn Museum, as part of their “Reimagining Feminism” Series
  2. It must be noted that “KJM: Mastry” is a show organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, L.A. the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and The Met.
  3. when legend has it he was denied entrance to MoMA for the opening of a show that included one of his works.

Cancer Saved My Life

I grew up in a pre-determined life.

An empty lot? No, this is the box I grew up in. Click any image for full size.

I existed to follow in my father’s footsteps. The problem was that I had absolutely no inclination, or desire to do so.  Right through high school graduation there was never one iota of thought or discussion given to thinking “he might want his own life” by my family. After I escaped, by going on the road with a band, my family actively worked against my efforts trying to force me to come back to their plan. I disowned them in 2005. Lots of lonely holiday seasons have followed. By then, the die had been cast. I wound up knee deep in a career I never wanted to be in just to survive.

I know how he feels.

Finally, I dug myself out and got back to having a career in music, which went very well, until I got fed up with the record business (back when there was a record business), but that’s a story unto itself. Then, in 2007, I was diagnosed with cancer. I got the news, the results of my biopsy done the previous week, over the phone while I was sitting in my office.

“How was your weekend?,” the doctor asked quite casually. “Good,” I said. “That’s the good news. The bad news is that you have cancer,” were his exact words.

Time stopped. The clock read a little after noon as I recall.

I could see the blurred shapes of my coworkers walking in front of the glass walls of my office who’s door was closed, but, after those words, that room symbolized how I felt. It felt like I was in this box surrounded by immediate circumstances- this diagnosis and my job. It felt like a room I’d never been in before. The world was going on outside of it, beyond the glass walls. I could see out the window across the hallway and see sunlight coming down the narrow street, shining on the windows on the other side, a few hundred feet distant.

I was in a different world now.

Life was closing in on me, putting me in a box. No stranger to spending a lot of time alone, I was now in a  world inside myself, more fully than I had ever been before.

After giving me my diagnosis on the phone, he said you really should come in to talk. “Yeah. I guess so,” I remembered saying. I was barely listening at this point. Disbelief is the first thing that hits you.

A few days later I went to meet with him, he sat down, and said to me “I had to show your slides to my colleagues. We’ve never this before.”

Huh?

What could possibly be worse? To get a diagnosis with cancer, THEN the doctor tells you “we’ve never seen this before.”

!?

Apparently all 15 of my biopsy cores came back with cancer. I asked “Are you sure those are my slides?” He said yes, and I don’t remember anything of the meeting after that. It was like a window shade rolled down over my mind after that, like it had been glazed over. I walked out of the hospital, in a daze and crossed insanely busy Park Avenue (which runs both ways) a few hundred feet north of 14th Street in the middle of the day without even looking to see if traffic was coming! Somehow I made it across to Union Square. To this day I have no idea how I got there. I walked back to work at 2 PM. My boss, Rob, who would become a good friend, and the only one I had told at work, came in and sat in my office, he looked at me and asked me if I was OK. I don’t remember responding, just sitting there in that space deep inside of myself still in shock.

Cancer? And? It’s bad?

I’ve never really been sick a day in my life. I’ve never had surgery. I’ve never spent the night in a hospital. There was no cancer in my family. I broke a bone in my hand once, I messed up my knee a little bit, I destroyed the hearing in my left ear playing in the band, and I destroyed my feet wearing rock ‘n’ roll shoes onstage made by the guys who made Kiss’ famous boots. That’s been the extent of my health issues in my life. To be diagnosed with cancer, and have to work your way through the biology, the medicine, the treatment options, the incredibly incomprehensible technology, and try to figure out, alone, what is the best treatment for you, is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Shock was the first stage for me, and it was quite a while before I got over it. Looking back now, it was years before I got over the shock that yes, I have cancer. Growing up, cancer was a death sentence. One thing I learned that even then, in 2007, most people I eventually told, treated me like I was going to die.

I was alone as I’ve ever been. Why is there even a light on?

Given all my responsibility at work, I didn’t say a word to anyone else there about any of this. A few days later my boss, Rob, came in and announced he was leaving. ! What? Are you serious? He got a better offer. The owner of the company, who still didn’t know, wound up giving me his job. He was the CFO of the 3 corporations with offices in 3 states! He was making $150,000 more than I was making. I was the Controller, but I wasn’t a CPA, which he was. And? I didn’t get a raise.

I had to deal with researching treatment options, not to mention the strain of being newly diagnosed with cancer, while learning his job, at the end of the year with a financial closing period looming for three corporations. I don’t know how I got through all of that. I had two full-time jobs.

Well? At least I didn’t have to worry about “celebrating” the holidays!

I did my due diligence, learned as much as I could, got four opinions, and then decided on the treatment. And then? Every cancer patient’s worst nightmare happened. I picked the WRONG treatment. I chose to have hormone therapy followed by two types of radiation treatment. That’s 3 treatments. Why? Because I just didn’t want to have surgery. People die during surgery.

So, at peace with my choice, that I had avoided surgery, I went back to the hospital to begin my treatment. The doctor who had diagnosed me sat nearby holding the needle with the hormones in it about 2 inches from my left arm. He said, “You know you’re not going to have any libido for twice as long as you’re going to be on this, right?” The treatment was scheduled to take 2 years. So? That was four years. “Um, what? No. I didn’t know that.” I had asked the question during the original meeting, but didn’t ask the right follow up question. Uggh!

I stopped him. He, basically, saved my life right there.

I went home devastated. After all of this, all of these opinions, all of this research I had made a mistake!

The writing on the wall SCREAMING at me. These letter are about as big as the mistake I made.

This treatment plan was chosen for the WRONG reason- basically, for my comfort. Since it wasn’t surgery, it was in my comfort zone. Ok. So? Now what, Kenn? The cancer is still here.

I had no choice but to start over. Square one.

Going to back to the beginning, I had to face that the most basic fact was the one I wasn’t focused on COMPLETELY. And that is-

Cancer was trying to kill me. This was WAR.

I then asked myself a hard, fundamental and essential question- What do you want to accomplish through treatment? There was only one answer. Get ALL the cancer out of my body as quickly as possible, via the means with the longest track record of proven results. By that I mean long term survival rates free of cancer.

A woman reached out to me online to tell me about her husband’s story. He had been treated and it hadn’t gone well. He had bad side effects after, and both of their lives were now negatively impacted, every day, by them. Then, she said, “If I had to do it over again, I’d insist he go to Dr. Samadi.” Who? He’s a surgeon. Since my treatment choice had turned out to be WRONG, I decided to consider surgery even though, yes, “people die during surgery.”

Umm..? People die from cancer, too, Kenn! MANY more people.

You want your best chance of getting cancer out of your body and possibly beating this horrible disease? Surgery was my best choice. (Mine. Every diagnosis is different. I am not a doctor and I am certainly not giving medical advice here. What worked for me may not for someone else. There are side effects from any treatment, and they are just one factor that needs to be carefully considered.) I was still young enough that if surgery didn’t work I could have radiation treatment(s) after. In my case, I couldn’t do it the other way around. I posted on a cancer support website asking who other patients thought was the best surgeon in NYC. About 20 people responded in 24 hours. Dr. Samadi got 3 votes. No one else got more than 1. The next day Dr. Samadi, himself, contacted me through the website.

“Hello. With your diagnosis, I can treat you and your prognosis will be excellent.”

Huh? What “good” doctor is on the internet looking for patients?

I didn’t respond. My bias against using the internet for this returned. What was I thinking looking for a cancer doctor ONLINE? The road to help, and an answer, felt endless…cold, lonely. It was November, outside and the dead of winter in my soul.

Life lies dormant on The HighLine in February. The path stretches far out ahead into the cold night…

About this time my friend, Fluffy, told me to try Columbia Presbyterian. President Clinton had been treated there. So? Being as Dr. Samadi was there, and with these other recommendations, I decided to call his office.

No one returned my call. ?

I decided to finally write back to him and tell him I tried. He said, “I’m leaving on a trip tomorrow at 1:30pm. Just come to my office and I will get you in.” Without an appointment? Again, irregular. But? Ok. I did. He did. Opinion #5.

I was impressed with every thing about him. He told me he could give me a triple golden outcome (i.e. be free of cancer with no serious side effects). An expert in the (then) new robotic surgery, he also had had state of the art training, and experience, in the two other, time tested types of surgery. Should the robot somehow fail, he could switch to one of them without missing a beat and complete the operation. No other doctor I knew of in NYC could do that. He had treated many patients successfully (I would speak to some). He seemed to have every base covered. The robotic surgery seemed to promise minimal incisions leading to a quicker recovery. I left feeling I didn’t want anyone else to touch me. I realized later that that feeling of ultimate confidence is something you MUST have in a doctor you choose to treat you! I decided then and there to make an appointment to have Dr. Samadi operate on me. I had done a 360 on surgery. Let’s go! It was the third week of November. The earliest appointment was in March!

What? Let me get this straight-

He’s booked FOUR MONTHS in advance AND still took time to offer his help (to me) online? Wow. Now? I was in awe. It felt like a hand had come out of the sky and plucked me out of the worst nightmare of my life. “Just get on the schedule and I will move you up,” he said, as my condition required quicker treatment.

He operated on me on February 7, 2007. 10 years ago today.

4 hours later, my eyes partially opened. The bottom half of my closed eyes revealed light. I slowly opened them more. There were trees, branches and sunlight. Where was I? It was early February. This wasn’t winter. This was spring. Around this narrow opening of light, it was all darkness. Just a narrow rectangle of light in the lower center.  It didn’t look like the famous “tunnel” near death experience survivors speak about. But, there was a center section of light surrounded by blackness.

Passing this doorway this week uncannily reminded me of “waking up” that day.

I laid there for over an hour and a half before anyone came over. I was in the recovery room. At least that’s where I was told I was. The light was from an open window about 100 feet across from me. I wasn’t sure I was alive.

To this day? Part of me feels like I died on that operating table on February 7, 2007.

In many ways, my life did end that day. As I realized that, I started thinking of my “new life” as having begun that day, too.

So, today? I’m 10 years old.

The part of my life that DID die from cancer? Ok…

I had no wife, no girlfriend, no family, no kids, no one I could see on a daily basis, there was almost no love in my life. Most of my friends took off after I got sick. The girl I had been seeing did me three days before my surgery, then I didn’t hear from her for four months. Until she sent me a card. A card? You live two blocks away from me. You’re the closest person I know in the whole world to where I live. I’m getting through my recovery alone, in a 4th floor walkup, with no one to help me. And, you send me a card?

She wasn’t the only one.

My “best friend” of seven years pulled up shop in New York and decided to move home to Indianapolis, Indiana. She went to see a friend of mine at a bar the night of my surgery when I was lying unconscious in the hospital. She told him she was leaving in the morning. He asked her, “Are you going to say goodbye to Kenn?” She said “Yes.” She never did. She left town and never even said goodbye to me. I was hoping and expecting she would help me over the next couple of weeks.

One of the first things cancer taught me was it made me realize that the two or three friends I had left were my real Friends (cap, mine, as I am wont to do in this Blog). Forget the online nonsense of what people call “friends.” How dare they use that word! I KNOW what a “friend” is. I learned the hard way. When push comes to shove, When the sh*t hits the fan, and all bets are off, like the soldiers talk about “in their foxholes,” you’re lucky if you have two or three people by your side. That was the first major lesson I learned then, and one reason I have nothing to do with so-called social media. It’s a total waste of time. All you’re doing is giving your personal information away FOR FREE to big corporations to use to sell stuff to you, or for other purposes that no one knows. If someone walked up to you on the street and said, “Hi. Tell me this, this, this, this, and this about yourself,” you’d think they were nuts, dangerous or criminals. Yet? Online, in front of the entire world, billions of people do it every minute of every day, without wondering about it. This is something I will never understand.

The doctor who diagnosed me told me I had a 20% chance of making it through year 1 after treatment without needing additional treatment. Today, I celebrate TEN YEARS without addtional treatment!

But? Early on? I was sure I was a goner. That 20% quickly flipped in focus to 80% against.

I decided to sell everything I owned and make preparations for “the end.” I lived like I was going to die. My assistant at work forced me out of my job while I was laid up in bed, so I left my job of 10 years, and the career I never wanted, to focus on my recovery. After I did, I took stock of my life.

Almost everyone was gone. My career was gone. My former boss, now friend, Rob used to ask me, “What are you doing in this job? You’re a creative guy.” It hit me pretty hard. I didn’t have an answer for him, until life handed me the answer. My cancer was gone (at least until my next test). What am I going to do now?

I decided to take care of myself. Complete my recovery, and live being myself- 24/7. Crazy, right? Who does that? 10 years later, I haven’t looked back. (Yet.) It’s pretty scary, though. I can’t say I don’t worry about the future. Then again? Who doesn’t?

Yes. There’s someone in that box, outside a “Home Parts” place.

So? Yes, a fair amount of the life I knew did die on February 7, 2007.

The second big thing cancer taught me was what REALLY MATTERS in life.

Are you ready?

I realized that ALL that matters in life is Loving and being Loved.

Read that again. I’ll wait.

That’s all. Period. End of sentence. Goodnight! Get home safely.

But, having no love in my life? Being a “get it done” kind of guy. I decided I could “get it done” and find love. I spent most of the next 5 years looking for love- E V E R Y W H E R E. What I re-learned was that “finding love” is impossible. Love isn’t something you can “find.” It just happens. Or? It just doesn’t happen.

 

I had an unforgettable moment on that corner, before things blew up horribly.

Of course, I didn’t find it. I thought I found it once, but it blew up, horribly, in my face and I came as close as I ever have to doing harm to myself. Yes, to actually doing away with myself. Cancer hadn’t killed me yet, but “love”/the loss of said “love” almost did. But? I survived that, too.

Finally? I decided to love myself. It was all I had left.

“The words of the prophet are written on the subway wall,” Paul Simon once sang. Or? A block away.

Besides? If you don’t love yourself, who will?

Beyond this, being thankful & grateful is absolutely essential. Of course I’ve been very lucky, and have so very much to be thankful for. I have been trying to practice mindful giving thanks from moment to moment. Having cancer, also, puts you in touch with the cancer community. I heard a lot of stories. Many terrible. Many inspiring. It’s miraculous, to me, that anyone survives cancer, given how it was when I was growing up. I’ve watched some dear people die from it. I’ve talked to quite a few people who didn’t have good outcomes- either from complications from their treatment, or from cancer returning and spreading. The cancer community is, also a wonder. Survivors like the author Musa Mayer, (who is “also” the great Philip Guston‘s daughter) have forged new paths in cancer advocacy and given hope and support to countless others in ways that didn’t exist when I was diagnosed.

I was privileged to be in the presence of Musa Mayer a few weeks ago as she spoke about her father’s work in the Nixon Drawings show @ Hauser & Wirth.

Beyond them, to say I’m grateful to the doctors who treated me and saved me 10 years ago is a huge understatement. Recently, I had the honor to meet another one who’s on the front lines right now, Dr. Melissa Pilewskie at Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center. Listening to her, I couldn’t help but marvel at her inner strength, and those of my doctors. She told me that as a surgeon she has treated 2,000 patients in 5 years. That’s 400 a year. There’s only 365 days in a year! Ok, Dr. Pilewskie is obviously a world-class doctor, with an extraordinarily rare skill set. I couldn’t help but wonder…where does this young lady get the inner strength to deal with cancer patients all day every day? Let alone to deal with them so well. It was a humbling experience that reminded me of the debt I owe the doctors who treated me. On my 10 year anniversary, it was also an insight into how far cancer treatment has come in my lifetime, and continues to progress, and a reminder of how many very special people are in there fighting tooth and nail to treat, beat, and even cure cancer. This isn’t a “job” to them. It’s their mission.

THANK YOU! And, bless you all.

If you get diagnosed with cancer (PLEASE, no!), you now have a great chance of being treated, and then get to go on with your life. My advice to you is- Get the best doctor your insurance will cover and get treated. Go for your follow up tests, religiously. For everyone else who doesn’t have cancer? Catching cancer early really is your best chance to beat it. Don’t miss those checkups! That’s how mine was discovered.

The big reveal from my experience with cancer is that cancer wound up forcing me to have the life I always wanted to have.

Finally.

No one lives forever. I was living my life like I was going to live to be 200, and everything I REALLY wanted to do, I would get to one day. Well? One day is N O W. That’s why I have this blog. That’s why I spend my life going to see Art 6 days a week, taking photos and listening to music. I can’t wait for “one day” anymore. Damn the expense (which goes up every minute)! Damn the later impact on my life (he says now)!

Life on the edge.  Yes, someone is sleeping in the doorway of this gallery. Maybe they’re trying to be first in line.

If I don’t do this NOW? WHEN am I going to do it? I don’t know if any of this would’ve happened if I didn’t get cancer.

After I started to recover, I had some of those plastic bracelets made for my last Blog before this one. I was writing about my daily experiences with cancer, in an effort to give others who were newly diagnosed some information through sharing my experiences, because at the time no one else was doing it. On them, I had three phrases engraved. One was

Get tested

The second was

Get treated

And finally-

LIVE YOUR LIFE!

They were there as a reminder to myself, a mantra, as much as what I’d learned.

Close, and seeing this this week was a coincidence, and a reminder.

Early on my friend and cancer survivor, Stephanie 2, told me that cancer “would change my life in ways I could not imagine.” She was right. My experience with cancer challenged me in more ways than any other. In the end? It challenged me to face myself. To love myself and to be myself, fully, no matter what.

I’m not grateful for cancer. I HATE cancer. It’s taken the lives of friends, acquaintances, and many I’ve admired from afar. It’s cost me parts of my body I didn’t really want to lose.

In the end, I’m more grateful for life (than what it cost me to have it). For the chance to change the course of my life, and finally live the life I always wanted to have.

Ok, so cancer didn’t really “save my life.” Doctors Chuey, Dinlenc and Samadi did. I used cancer as a wake up call to save myself after they did.

So?

Life, in February. The High Line, February, 2017.

I hope you’ll join me in celebrating my 10th Birthday.

If I’m actually still alive.

———-

With my undying thanks to those who saved me-

-Dr. David Samadi

-Dr. Caner Dinlenc

-Dr. John Chuey

-Helen Petrocelli, RN

-The staff of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital

To those who stood by me-

-Fluffy

-Rob

And, with my thanks, and admiration to fellow cancer survivors, patients, and a professional-

-Stephanie 2

-Dave (R.I.P)

-kitty

-Mrs. kitty

-Mrs. Fluffy

-Musa Mayer

-Sv

And,

-Dr. Melissa Pilewskie

I took all the photos appearing in this Post over the first six days of February, 2017, except the photo of Musa Mayer, on January 10, 2017.

*- The Soundtrack for this Post is “Accept Yourself,” by The Smiths (who you can watch perform it in 1983!, below), written by Morrissey & Johnny Marr. Morrissey was 23, or 24 when he wrote this. Astounding. It’s Lyrics, published by Warner/Chappell Music and Universal Music Publishing, just fit-

“Every day you must say
So, how do I feel about my life?
Anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
When will you accept yourself?
I am sick and I am dull
And I am plain
How dearly I’d love to get carried away
Oh, but dreams have a knack of just not coming true
And time is against me now…oh
Oh, who and what to blame?
Oh, anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
When will you accept yourself, for heaven’s sake?
Anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
Every day you must say
Oh, how do I feel about the past?
Others conquered love – but I ran
I sat in my room and I drew up a plan
Oh, but plans can fall through (as so often they do)
And time is against me now…

And there’s no-one left to blame
Oh, tell me when will you…
When will you accept your life?
(The one that you hate)
For anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
Every day you must say
Oh, how do I feel about my shoes?
They make me awkward and plain
How dearly I would love to kick with the fray…
But I once had a dream (and it never came true)
And time is against me now…
Time is against me now…
And there’s no one but yourself to blame
Oh, anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
Anything is hard to find; for heaven’s sake !
Anything is hard to find
When you will not open your eyes
When will you accept yourself ?
When?
When?
When?
When?”*

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

Ai Weiwei’s Mute Witnesses

This is the second of two Posts about Ai Weiwei’s 4 recent concurrent NYC shows. Part One, about “Ai Weiwei: Laundromat,” at Deitch Projects, may be found here. This piece is on the other 3 shows. 

“Ai Weiwei: 2016: Roots and Branches,” Lisson Gallery, Chelsea

If there’s one thing I think NYC needs many more of, it’s trees. Given the extremely high rate of tree deaths here1, it’s always great when new ones show up. Even transiently. Ai Weiwei temporarily added to our tree population in 2 of his 4 shows, as only he could. Though it’s been over for nearly a month as I write this, I continue to think about this show every day, only partially due to the meditative properties of trees.

Click any photo to see it full size. Lisson Gallery, December, 2016, nicely nestled under the High Line.

Walking into the long rectangular space of Lisson Gallery on West 24th Street in Chelsea during “Ai Weiwei: 2016 Roots and Branches,” you’re confronted by a “forest” of 9 massive tree parts (3 measure almost 16 feet each) situated among 4 newly exposed and equally massive columns for the High Line, which runs directly above the gallery’s ceiling. Along the seemingly endless right hand (western) wall, 16 rows of black and white graphic images fill it’s wallpaper. The other 2 walls remains stark white (the 4th wall being the doors). Natural light streams in from both sides of the long ceiling as if there really were a canopy of leaves and branches above the “trees” allowing only some sunlight in.

A “Zen Garden” of the beauty, and horror, man can create. 7 of the 9 sculptures are seen, or partially seen, along with a partial view of the wallpaper, right.

But, these tree parts show no signs of life, the ones that “stand” only do so due to placement. Or, is it dis-placement?

Though their arrangement invites walking around them and viewing them from all sides, a relevatory experience in itself…

9 views of the same piece- “Iron Root,” 2015. Seen larger, below-

it is viewing them from one angle in particular- directly behind, that one gains a unique perspective. Standing behind them (to their east, that is) you see them with the wallpaper behind them. The effect struck me as making them “mute witnesses” to the seemingly endless spectacle unfolding on the wall. The saga unfolding therein is about war and displacement. The displacement of countless thousands of refugees due to the war in Syria.

A view of just about all of the 200 x 25 feet (my estimate) of wallpaper.

The wallpaper is also designed to be looked at every bit as closely as the tree parts are.

A close-up. You’re not alone if you think you’re looking at real tree bark. Then again? I never get out of Manhattan. This is cast iron.

So encouraged, I returned again and again, continually seeing something “else” so often that after 15 visits, I stopped counting. The first thing that’s striking is it’s all in black and white. Looking a bit closer you note the poses, the lack of detail, and even some of the outfits call to mind the Ancient Greek Vases I’ve seen often at The Met, which is fitting since Idomeni, home of the camp in Ai Weiwei’s “Laundromat,” is in Greece.

About a third of the wallpaper. Each row seems to have it’s own theme.

There’s a lot to see. A detail of 12 of 16 rows in this section.

From bottom- 2 rows of the refugees in flight- by boat, by foot, by vehicle, while the third row depicts the reasons why. In the 4th row from the bottom, Ancient Greek soldiers march on the left, while their modern counterparts march to the right of the fighting animals. Directly above them in Row 5, Ai Weiwei’s iconic extended arm and middle finger looms as a repeating circular motif, which will appear again. To the left in Row 5, a backhoe picks up the clothes left by the refugees in the Idomeni Camp that would become the clothes in Ai Weiwei’s show, “Laundromat.”

Looking even closer, I realized that some of the motifs recur, except in the very middle! There, in what musicians call “the golden section,” some fascinating images appear. They include Michelangelo’s “Vatican Pieta,” and a variant of the image of Nour Al Khzam, the 24 year old Syrian woman refugee who Ai Weiwei had a piano brought to the Idomeni Camp for, (as I wrote about, and Posted a photo of, in Part 1)! We see her playing the piano, while others (including Ai Weiwei himself, seen from the back) hold up a plastic sheet to protect her from the rain that day. Yet, in the wallpaper, we don’t see rain. So? Perhaps they are protecting her from everything else that’s going on. Is this Ai Weiwei’s way of speaking about the value of protecting your creativity, no matter what’s going on around you? Or, protecting what’s most important to you? Or, does it speak to overcoming all over this and having a life after, like Ai Weiwei, himself did?

The wallpaper’s “Golden Section,” (the darkened center section) features Nour Al Khzam right smack dab in the middle of the entire 200 foot piece (rows 6 & 12). Also notice Michelangelo’s “Vatican Pieta,” just to the left of center in rows 3, 9 and 15. Elsewhere we see a huge explosion (rows 4, 10, 16) and a baby, perhaps abandoned, under trees (rows 1, 7 and 13).

A singular image. A close-up of the image of 24 year old Nour Al Khzam playing piano as Ai Weiwei (right) and others hold a plastic sheet over her. A photo of the event is here.

I was left to ask my friends, the trees.

If you were careful, you could stand inside the semi-circular “Iron Tree Trunk,” 2015. It felt like a hug.

I felt a terrible pang when this show ended on December 23, and I’ve missed it daily since.

Outside Lisson Gallery on December 26, “Iron Tree Trunk,” 2015, and a piece of the wallpaper still barely visible on the right. My tears are not shown.

Why?

Partially, it’s the beauty of these “trees.” They are contemporary sculpture at it’s finest, in my opinion. I could look at them endlessly. Partially it’s the wallpaper has sucked me in to trying to understand it’s every detail. Real trees spend their entire lives in one place. Something humans can’t imagine doing. Trees have been meditative objects for a thousand years in Zen Buddhism and elsewhere. They are that, here, as well. These “tree parts” were created from parts of dead trees brought down from the mountains of southern China and sold in the markets of Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, where Ai Weiwei found them and brought them to his studio.

Maybe the show reminds me of life in NYC, where the few trees we have stand alone as all the chaos and activity of this insanely busy City happens around them. Perhaps, Ai Weiwei, who lived here for 10 years, intends this. Perhaps not. But this is no story of City life unfolding up there, with each of those 16 bands telling a different part of it simultaneously, perhaps symbolizing that these events were happening to so many people simultaneously, each making their own journey, and each with their own experiences and story. It’s a story that begins with the horrors of war and it’s various instruments (including Ai’s trademark surveillance cameras), followed by the long, treacherous journeys, of (too) many refugees, to lands unknown, their lives in the camps, a story that, unfortunately, continues for who knows how many. Here we come face to face with man- at his best, as when he is creating Art, and at his worst, when he is killing and ruining the lives of countless innocents, who have no one to turn to for help. Taken as a whole, Ai Weiwei has created one of the most unique Zen-like “Gardens” ever seen. One that offers almost as much to ponder as a “real” Zen Garden.

“Ai Weiwei: 2016: Roots and Branches,” Mary Boone Gallery, Chelsea

The new LEGO triple self portrait, “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” a LEGO version of his well-known work, “Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn,” 1995, is seen in the background. Better view and details below-

Ai “was so much older then, he’s younger than that now.” And, “playing” with toys. Sorry, Bob. Ai Weiwei as seen in his recent LEGO version of his work, “Dropping a Han Dynasty,”1995

Besides “Laundromat” (the only show of the 4 with a different title), Ai Weiwei’s three other NYC shows, “Ai Weiwei 2016: Roots and Branches,” eshewed the use of his most renowned media- the internet, photography and words (seen to devastating effect in “Laundromat”) to focus on two other of his “signature” mediums- natural elements and ancient artifacts along with one newer medium- LEGO portraits, originally inspired by his son, who constantly plays with them. His LEGO works were previously seen in, perhaps, his most political show to date- “Ai Weiwei: @Large,” which took place at none other than the former site of one of the world’s most notorious prisons, Alcatraz. Ironically, Ai Weiwei, himself, was not able to attend that show as he was still living out the rest of his sentence following his 81 days of imprisonment, that saw him unable to travel internationally (because his passport was still held). At Alcratraz, the work, “Trace,” consisted of LEGO portraits of 176 people from around the world who have been imprisoned or exiled because of their beliefs or affiliations,” according to the show’s press release. This time, the LEGO Portraits on view at Mary Boone Gallery, Chelsea (a few hundred feet west of the Lisson Gallery show), were confined to “Self Portraits.” These were juxtaposed with two works in wood- both “sculptural,” and both “puzzles” in their own way, while, again, one wall was lined with gorgeous, fascinating wallpaper, this time in gold.

“Tree” at Mary Boone Gallery, Chelsea

In the main room, facing the LEGO triple self portrait seen above, a “Tree” was, again, the centerpiece This time it’s one, monumental “Tree,” 25 feet tall, that is constructed of actual weathered sections of dead trees that, according to the press release, “may be seen as a comment on the strength of modern China built from many ancient ethnic groups, or a determined attempt to create something new and vital from what is irrevocably lost.” In China, dead trees are venerated as important counterparts to the dead on earth, the realm between heaven and the underworld.2 It stands in front of another monumental wallpaper piece, this one I believe titled “Golden Age,” another graphic tour de force. This work is based on images from AWW’s life- from the ever present surveillance cameras, police chains and handcuffs, to cats- all depicted in a lustrous 3-D gold. For me, it stands for overcoming oppression and turning it’s artifacts into beautiful objects that are, now, just another part of his life, like his beloved cats.

“Golden Age,” detail, and reflection.

Situated on center stage, here, “Tree,” is, seemingly, another work that speaks to modern China being a blend of many ethnic groups, like “Map of China” is, see further down. That the parts making it are dead, as is the whole construction, of course, is something I cannot offer a comment about. I can say that I find it a compelling idea, and object, and one that some of it’s base parts seemed to bear a resemblance to the Iron Roots seen at Lisson.

Also on view here was the amazing “Treasure Box,” a sculptural piece of furniture made of ancient reclaimed huali wood, which is actually an intricate puzzle box of sliding and locking components3

Ancient & Contemporary puzzles. “Treasure Box,” sits in front of “Self-Portrait,” made of LEGO bricks.

This is, surely, an aspect of Weiwei’s work that, while not by any means new, deserves more attention and study. The Mary Boone, Chelsea show struck me as being “about” things not being what they seem. Being “more,” perhaps, and being “other.” There’s still one more show left to see…

“Ai Weiwei: 2016: Roots and Branches,” Mary Boone Gallery, Uptown

40,000 spouts broken from antique Chinese porcelain teapots are surrounded by “Finger” Wallpaper.

The final show, at Mary Boone’s Uptown Gallery may be his comment on all of this.

Detail of the spouts

“Finger” Wallpaper, and detail-

Yes, a variant of this wallpaper, too, is available, here.

As the world has seen these past 6+ years since his “Sunflower Seeds” Show at Tate Modern, London, brought him to international renown in 2010, Ai Weiwei is a man with a strong conscience. He’s not shy to share it with the world, whenever, and wherever he sees things that bother him. While it’s tempting to say that he’s turning his attention away from China after his arrest and 81 day imprisonment in 2011, he said to the Council on Foreign Relations in November

“When I fight human rights in China, I never think that’s human rights in China. I think that’s human rights everywhere. That’s first. And also, when I’m dealing with situation outside of China, I don’t even think that it’s not going to help China, you know? Human rights is the value which I believe is universal, it relate to everybody.”

“Garbage Container,” an elegy to five homeless boys who suffocated in a dumpster while trying to stay warm.

Summing up…

The meditative effect of all four shows was the common takeaway for me, vastly different from the meditative effect of “Mark Rothko: Dark Palette,” a few hundred of feet away from Ai Weiwei’s 2 Chelsea shows. While Rothko’s meditative impact is almost otherworldly, akin to standing in a door way open to…?, Ai Weiwei has us meditate on life, presence and absence, having roots and being rootless, what it is to be human, and what it should be to be human.

Speaking of “being human,” it almost looks like a hand. Or, maybe an extended arm and extended…hmmm…

For me, the shows seemed to flow into each other from south to north, beginning with “Laundromat,” the southern most, in Soho, to Lisson on West 24th, to Mary Boone, Chelsea, further west on 24th, and finally up to Mary Boone uptown. I have no idea if this was the intention, or not.  The Lisson show carries pieces of Laundromat, while the Mary Boone, Chelsea, shares the “tree” motif of Lisson, and Mary Boone uptown shares Ai Weiwei’s trademark extended arm and extended middle finger motif with Mary Boone, Chelsea, though it now is the overriding motif. It’s hard, for me, not to see this as Ai Weiwei extending his middle finger (and that of 39,999 refugees), now, to the “powers that be,” that have created and largely ignored this refugee crisis, while seemingly having little solution for the crisis to come. But? Your results may differ. Everyone is free to take from it what they will, or leave without taking anything from it. In this case, that would be a shame, and might be shortsighted. If it’s not “personal” for you now, it might be one day. There…but by grace, go I.

“Golden Age,” Detail. You, too, can hang (a variant) of this on your wall, here.

Of course, Ai Weiwei is not the only Artist who was a refugee. The 20th Century, for instance, is full of them. Some of them, like Marc Chagall, and the great composer Bela Bartok, created works of nostalgia for their homelands, not documentary works about being exiled. Then, there is Picasso, who created “Guernica,” in 1937, about the tragic bombing of that small Spanish town in his homeland, while he was living in Paris, where he would remain throughout the Nazi occupation that began a few years later, through the end of the Second World War, and after, in continuing exile from Spain. Perhaps the greatest artistic record of exile we have was created by a “young girl,”- Annelies, better known as Anne, Frank, the brilliant young writer who’s life ended at 15 at the hands of the Nazis, but who managed to write for the ages about her exile in her own country before she was discovered, and arrested in her “Diary of a Young Girl,” which has sold 30 million copies to date. While Ai Weiwei depicts, and documents, the Syrian Refugee crisis, he has only, as yet (as far as I know), documented his own exile in words. He’s spoken about it in interviews, and written about it in “Ai Weiwei’s Blog,” (which I will say, again, is the best place to start reading about him, so far). His words are chilling, unforgettable, and impossible for me to get out of my mind when I visited these shows. About the “earthen pit” his family lived in when he was 8 years old he said –

“…when pigs would run overhead, their bottoms would fall through our roof, making us all too familiar with the sight of swine nether regions….on one occasion, because there was no light in our earthen pit, my father was descending into our home and smashed his head on a roof beam. He fell immediately to the earth on his knees with a bleeding forehead. Because of this, we dug out a shovel’s depth of dirt, an equivalent to raising our roof twenty centimeters (about 8 inches).”4

While his mediums keep expanding (LEGO portraits), others, especially his sculpture and “furniture,” continue to evolve in wonderful ways. Yet no matter what he does, or what he creates with, his heart, mind, passion, and humanity- his core values, come through loud and clear. Not being one who’s given to compare creative beings, I still find it hard to think that this decade, that still has 3 years to go, is the decade of any other Artist. This is Ai Weiwei’s decade.

Like son, like father. Ai Weiwei says he was inspired by his son’s passion for LEGO to try them himself.

As this decade has unfolded, I find he reminds me of someone else. Another man from the East, who has lived in exile for a very long time. A man with a deep knowledge of the West, a man of compassion, wisdom and humanity. The Dalai Lama. One has written a book called “The Art of Happiness,” the other has done more than most others to bring compassion to those suffering, through Art. I make no comparison of them. I am simply saying that one brings the other to mind. In any event, there is no doubt that Ai Weiwei has gone from being an exile to being an unknown Artist and Art Student in New York for a decade to now having the eye, and ear, of a good part of the world. In doing so, am I alone in feeling that what he espouses about human rights and freedom sounds a good deal like what passed for “traditional American values” for most of my life?

A detail of the above. LEGO refused a bulk order from Ai Weiwei last year, which resulted in a furor that led to the company reversing themselves.

Artistically, these shows raised another question for me.

Even now, very rarely do I see his work on view in the museums here. Right now, The Met lists zero works of his in their online database of over 700,000 items (about 1/3 of their total holdings)! I do recall seeing 5 works of his displayed during the “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China” Show there in 2014., including the one I photographed, below. It turns out that all five were lent to The Met. MoMA lists 12 of his works out of their 73,000 items currently online. Of those 12, 7 are photographs with his extended middle finger at various locations, 4 are books, and one is a magazine! I have to say I find it shameful that there is no major work of his in either The Met or MoMA! I would love for either, or both, to tell me why not.

Ai Weiwei at The Met! “Map of China” 2006, a work that speaks to the mosaic of fragments that is China today, made from wood salvaged from destroyed temples, as seen (on loan) in the “Ink Art” in China Show in 2014.

While we see the results of uprooting in both it’s natural and unnatural ways, at Lisson, Ai Weiwei turns uprooting into creative acts in using the felled tree parts as the basis for his sculptures and the travails of the refugees who’s journeys he shows us in “Laundromat” into what he depicts so beautifully on Lisson’s western wall, in trying to give them a voice, and make their experiences known. During my daily visits, I, and many of my fellow visitors, stood looking at, and contemplating, the complex images that seemed to stretch out endlessly before us on that wall. Like the lines of refugees must have looked like in transit. When I was alone in the gallery, I was like the the cast iron trees before me standing as “mute witnesses” to what was going on in front of us on the wallpaper.

Now that this unique show that was equal parts horror show, and equal parts astonishingly beautiful- depicting the best, and worst of what man is capable of, is over, it’s up to all of those who saw it to not remain mute.

Since Ai Weiwei lived in New York for 10 years? In my book, he will always be a New Yorker.

Welcome home, Ai Weiwei. Come back soon.

*-Soundtrack for this Post is “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” by Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Phil Selway, Ed O’Brien and Colin Greeenwood of Radiohead, as performed on “OK Computer.”

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This Post was created by Kenn Sava for www.nighthawknyc.com

  1. In my 25 years of living here, I’ve come to believe this is part of the reason for so many tree deaths. Not all of it. Part.
  2. https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/ai-weiwei-6
  3. It can be seen opened in the Royal Academy, London’s Ai Weiwei Exhibition catalog.
  4. “Ai Weiwei’s Blog,” P. 53

Art Is The New Rock n Roll

Manhattan, 2016. Click to enlarge.

Among the sites not seen above are-

C.B.G.B.
The Bottom Line
The Knitting Factory (Manhattan)
Fat Tuesday
Sweetl Basil
The Angry Squire
Lush LIfe
The Lone Star Cafe
Bonds International Casino
Max’s Kansas City
The Peppermint Lounge
Danceteria
The Gaslight Cafe
The Electric Circus
The Five Spot Cafe
The Half Note Club
The Lion’s Den
Minton’s Playhouse
The Mudd Club
The Cooler
Coney Island High
Great Gildersleeves
The Ritz
Gerde’s Folk City
The Palladium
The Savoy Ballroom
Sin-e
Slug’s
Cafe au Go Go
Smalls Paradise
Tonic
The Village Gate
Wetlands Preserve

and on and on…Going back further-

The Academy of Music
The Fillmore East

Those are just some of the live music venues we’ve lost in Manhattan. Spill a little of your drink on the pavement in their memory. In spite of the title to this Post, I include Live Music Clubs as a whole. The list includes Jazz and Folk Clubs, and clubs that had a variety of types of music, along with Rock Clubs. Some intrepid places have come along in their absence, though I don’t think anyone would say they’ve “replaced” them. There are some legendary places that still remain, including the Village Vanguard, for me, the greatest music club in the world. It’s nothing short of a cultural tragedy that so many clubs have UNWILLINGLY closed, which most of the above have, mostly due to rent increases that they couldn’t afford. When I walk past their former locations, which are “sacred” in their way (and so, some I consciously avoid), and see what’s there now, I continually shake my head and remember-

A little piece of New York City, and what makes this City great, special & unique, went away every single time each one of the Clubs closed.1

City government doesn’t care. They’ve done nothing to stop it. As the clubs have closed, it’s been interesting to me to note that there has been an increase in Art venues, a few Museums, but mostly galleries. Where some of those clubs were “cheap,” they were all at least “affordable,” to the average music lover, and they made going to see and hear music regularly possible. In the mid-1990s, I was going out every night, and hearing a crazily wild range of music, often in the clubs listed above that we’ve now lost. I wrote about many of the shows I saw as part of my Artist Management website. That led to my writing for a national music magazine for 4 years.

As prices, especially real estate, have risen steadily since the mid 1990’s the clubs have faced extremely challenging business environments, with no protection from government2, that has seen their business model largely change from a “club” to more of a “concert/show” environment. Clubs like “City Winery,” founded by Knitting Factory founder Michael Dorf, have become a model for franchises all over the country. Customers can sit, eat and drink, and hear music. I’ve never been to one. It’s not my scene.

Live music in NYC is almost a museum piece “Moon Duo” outdoors, in MoMA’s Sculpture Garden, 2016

And so, this Post is my way of saying I realize that I only wrote about one live music event this year, a damn good one (Jacob Collier opening for Kamasi Washinton), and that I, unfortunately, expect this trend to continue.

As the music clubs closed, in another part of the City, Chelsea, hundreds of Art Galleries were starting up- unprecedented numbers. While most specialized in Contemporary Art, some showed the work of established Artists. Soon, it was possible to wander for endless hours and see as many Art shows as you wanted, or as your feet could take, without spending a dime, (unless you wanted to make a purchase.)

Little by little, completely unintentionally, Art began to usurp Music’s primacy in my life, even though I am someone who was a professional musician who spent 5 years on the road. This has continued to expand to the present minute, where as I sit here on New Year’s Eve, at the end of a terrible year in many ways, I sit back and realize that I’ve gone to see Art every day for the last 6 weeks, except Sunday and Mondays, when the galleries are closed, and the Museums have short hours. I’m now living the life I was living in the mid-1990’s as a live Music fan as an Art lover.

I still listen to, and love, Music. My iPhone is packed with Music to the point I have very little room left for Apps or photos, and it’s constantly being changed and updated. I am always listening to Music when I’m looking at Art. But, I so miss that spontaneous creativity of a a great live Jazz Band, or the energy of a great live Rock Band, even though my years of performing live have taken their toll on my hearing.

For me, anyways, there’s not a heck of a lot of difference between Art & Music, in many ways. If you look through the history of both, there are similar “movements” that happen in both at about the same times. You’ll find Baroque Art & Music, Romantic, Impressionistic periods in both, and 20th Centuries marked by similar explorations. Picasso and Miles Davis have been compared often, not without good reason (and I don’t mean qualitatively compared). A good number of Musicians (including Miles), are/were Artists, though very few Artists were also Musicians (as far as I know). The similarities don’t end there, but that’s the subject of another Post3.

I don’t expect the number of Art Galleries we have in Chelsea to last. When their leases are up, many will close, move, or go online only. A current list can be seen here. Their number is probably already down from the peak number, which was over 300, an astounding number for such a small area of Manhattan, and more than there has ever been in any neighborhood in the world. Back in the day, Soho experienced a “boom” in the number of Art galleries opening. Today, not many remain. It’s hard to know what the future is in Chelsea. Some galleries have moved to the Lower East Side, Brooklyn, even to Midtown (traditionally more expensive). This will, no doubt, continue. Given that I believe the Art Market has, or will very shortly, peak, a downturn in prices may well be followed by a downturn in interest/demand, which would further exacerbate things. Time will tell. The Art market has gone down, a lot, in the past and recovered. Right now, though, many of the people in the Art market today have never experienced a large downturn in prices, so who knows how they will react.

High tide. West 24th Street on Nov 6, 2012, a few days after Hurricane Sandy flooded these Chelsea Galleries. How many will now survive the tide of rising rents?

As 2017 dawns, however, I expect one of the biggest years in memory in the NYC Art World. Blockbuster shows loom in the Museums, and the galleries are going strong. Both auger well for new records being set in Art attendance. I think it’s a good thing. For me? This is the reason I continue to live in Manhattan.

Making the rounds of the galleries and Museums to see Art shows before they end now reminds me of the days when I’d make the rounds of bars and clubs to see bands while they were there. Yes, back in the day there were often so many bands playing at the same time it was hard to juggle, unless they were all playing at the same place, I’d find myself going from CBGB downtown on the Bowery far uptown to the original, classy, Iridium on the same blind date. Now, I find myself going to see a similar range of extremely wide ranging Art on the same day so often I expect it.

Having seen the rise, peak and fall of live Music in NYC, I well know that the Art gallery scene here is likely to follow the same trajectory. The unknown factor is- how much longer will it last? Somewhere, Carly is singing…

“We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway”*

Enjoy it now, while you can, Art lover, because these are “the good old days.”*

*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Anticipation,” by Carly Simon. Published by BMG Rights Management US, LLC.

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. Feel free to let me know if I’ve left one out. I know I have.
  2. like our supermarkets don’t receive now
  3. I touched on in in this one.