Sara VanDerBeek at Metro Pictures: Pieced Quilts and Wrapped Forms

Sara VanDerBeek at Metro Pictures: Pieced Quilts and Wrapped Forms

Words by Diana McClure / Photography by Anders Jones

Taking Qs from the cosmos and perhaps sacred geometry, Sara VanDerBeek’s latest explorations into the realm of abstract photography have spilled over into sculpture and riffs on American quilts, Pre-Colombian textiles and ceramics, and modernist textiles and weaving.

In her current exhibition at Metro Pictures, Pieced Quilts and Wrapped Forms, VanDerBeek’s go to color palette of variations on lavender, purple, violet, magenta and white, are primary players in a body of work that examines “women’s work” and creative traditional art forms from a feminist perspective.

Archival research on weaving, quilt making and Pre-Colombian art that involved travel to North and South America, resulted in a multi-step process of photo making. Geometric plaster sculptures made by VanDerBeek were first photographed in front of a white backdrop under natural light to take advantage of various shadow formations under an evolving sky. 

The images were then digitally manipulated and layered to create orderly yet sublime abstract images.  Finally, during VanDerBeek’s one-of-a-kind mix of analog and digital printing, here signature color palette unfolded in a complementary variety of large-scale images.

Walking into the gallery, with several pieces surrounding the viewer, results in a particular sensory oasis of sunrise, sunset, and twilight hues ranging from lavender to violet, pale pink and tangerine. Subtle ombre and kaleidoscope color arrangements require a furtive glance or deep stare to render distinctions in tone; similar to the last few seconds of a night sky as it enters dawn.

In the image, Eternal Triangle, Dusk, a diptych, the digitally manipulated shadows in the piece result in an angled linear cascading pattern. Each image in the pair, at 96 7/8 x 48 7/8 inches (each framed), includes two digital c-prints layered within their respective frames. 

A complementary sculpture spills across the floor nearby, also titled Eternal Triangle, made of pigmented concrete with color quartz. Its zigzag feel echoes the diptych and speaks of two takes on one color palette and light/shadow relationship.

A rare inquiry into the shape of a circle, or curve, is gorgeously rendered in the image Japanese Fan, which invokes a night sky quality with its deep two-tone violet color play.

In the rear of the gallery, in a second recently renovated room, skylights activate the space housing a multitude of VanDerBeek’s sculptural creations, mostly in white. Depending on the time of day, and weather patterns, the work takes on a different feel, adding to the unmediated uniqueness of the viewing experience in this exhibition.                                            

With titles like, Prism, Octagon Star, Temple, Moon and Sun, as well as, Baltimore Steps, Quilt Collage I and Neo-Classical, the breadth, depth and contemplation of the meandering mind behind this work is evident. That same flexibility of mind is also required of viewers in order to indulge the deeply satisfying otherworldly sentiment animating VanDerBeek’s work.

(original blog post)

A Handful of Dust at the Pratt Photography Gallery

A Handful of Dust at the Pratt Photography Gallery

Words by Diana McClure / Photography by Anders Jones

“For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” So goes the infamous Biblical text, one of several origin stories that speculate on the relationship of human beings to Mother Nature. In contrast, the exhibition, A Handful of Dust, takes its point of departure from the early 20th century - a creative collaboration between photographer Man Ray and the artist, Marcel Duchamp. 

The exhibition, currently at the Pratt Institute’s Photography Gallery, was previously on view at Le Bal in Paris, and will travel to Whitechapel Gallery in London next, and then onto the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Curated by David Campany, the project is centered on a photograph taken by Man Ray of a piece of glass, created by Duchamp, covered with dust.

The photograph, embraced by a small avant-garde journal in 1922, has been an object of fascination for publications and artists for nearly a century.  The image’s first title was “View from an Aeroplane” and was later called, “Dust Breeding.” The work, simultaneously abstract and realist in character, is an intriguing stimulus to the work on view in A Handful of Dust.

As one walks through the exhibition, the more you look, the implications of dust, or its absence in our lives takes on new meaning. Tornadoes, domestic servitude, movies like Mad Max, or desert motorsport races come to mind.

However, when viewers are confronted with the aftermath of bombing and destruction in images that depict the devastation of Hiroshima, the implosion of a building in Kuwait, or the rubble of a post 9/11 streetscape, something oddly human, yet inhumane, befuddles the brain.

Some of the older works in the exhibition reflect a relationship to dust beyond war and man-made conflict. Plaster Cast of a Victim of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius, 18 3, by Giorgio Sommer, shot in 1872, documents a body in a cast as a result of a volcanic eruption just east of Naples, Italy.  The 1936 image, Child’s Grave, by Walker Evans, depicts a swath of dirt with a raised curved rectangular portion of the ground shown horizontally across the frame. A small square tombstone rests at the end, suggesting, perhaps, the simplicity of the burial.

Additional images by Walker Evans, Aaron Siskind, Gerhard Richter, Jeff Wall, and several unknown photographers among others populate the exhibition.  Display cases that houses numerous journals that have featured the original “Dust Breeding” image in the context of other work is also on view. 

Although it is hard to know what the exact allure of the Man Ray/Duchamp creation is, the simple yet powerful nature of dust is evident after a walk through of this exhibition. And, if viewers are extra curious they can take a short trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the actual piece of glass from which Man Ray created his iconic image, Duchamp’s work, Large Glass.

(original blog post)



Words by Diana McClure / Photography by Anders Jones

Bea Nettles, Mountain Dream Tarot: A Deck of 78 Photographic Cards

Bea Nettles, Mountain Dream Tarot: A Deck of 78 Photographic Cards

Nestled in the photography wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is the stellar contemporary exhibition, Dream States: Contemporary Photography and Video. Culled from the museum’s permanent collection, the work on view explores dreams as inspiration, an antidote to reason, and fertile ground for inquiry into the imagination.

A variety of photographic techniques are present in the exhibition, including double exposure, paint on prints, 3D collage and photograms. With a nod to surrealism through the lens of pioneering black and white photographers Manuel Alvarez Bravo and Brassaï, as well as 20th century standouts Robert Frank and Peter Hujar, the presentation of images spans elegantly into 21st century work by Oliver Wasow and Paul Graham among others.

Sophie Calle’s 1979 series, The Sleepers, allows viewers to witness the vulnerability of sleep through a project that also addresses themes of voyeurism, surveillance, and public/private boundaries. The artist invited 29 friends and associates to sleep on her bed for eight hours each over nine days.  The small black and white portraits frame either two women or one woman in Calle’s bed from the torso up with messy sleep ridden sheets in varieties of disarray.

A majestic large-scale black and white photogram by Adam Fuss, My Ghost, immediately invokes the obtuse mystery of dream states through its clever capturing of a swirling whiff of smoke.

Oliver Wasow’s series, Float 1984-2008, displayed as and installation of small inkjet prints in white frames, mesmerizes viewers with acolorful wall of illusory discs and orbs suspended in animation.  Speaking to his interest in science fiction, apocalyptic fantasies and the documentation of unidentified flying objects, the work is made through the manipulation and distortion of found images, allowing viewers to invent their meaning.

A playful and imaginative work by Bea Nettles, Mountain Dream Tarot: A Deck of 78 Photographic Cards, made in 1975, came to the artist in a dream she had in the summer of 1970.  When viewed collectively in their glass case, the small halftone prints in subdued hues ofnavy blue, forest green, black and white, burgundy red and plum purple,  invoke a gorgeous kaleidoscope effect that is provocative in and of itself. Upon closer view, the carefully reproduced Tarot images reveal staged portraits of Nettles’ friends and family standing in as talismans of magical yet to be imagined futures.

One of the exhibition’s most straightforward photographs is John Southam’s 1999, Ditchling Beacon, Dew Pond, chromogenic print. The large-scale landscape image is part of an ongoing body of work that documents Dew Ponds (large man-made watering holes for sheep and cattle) in Southern England that date back as far as the 9th century.  In Southham’s words, “Full, they are like a mirrored disk or an eye reflecting heavens. Empty, they resemble craters made of celestial objects crashing into the ground.”

(original blog post)


Diane Arbus: In the Beginning at The Met Breuer


Words by Diana McClure / Photographs by Anders Jones

Mad men, Cha Cha Dancers, female impersonators, men who swallow razor blades, children and a variety of others populate the more than 100 black and white photographs of Diane Arbus’ early work in The Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition, diane arbus: in the beginning. Arbus’ formative years as a photographer, from 1956 to 1962, seem to reveal what appears to be an inherent interest in the integrity of her subjects, something that has remained consistent throughout her career. 

At times Arbus’ interest in unordinary human beings and subjects often cast as outcasts has garnered criticism. However in this early work, people, places and things do not perform for the amusement of viewers, despite the fact that many of them are entertainers.

The work seems to seek a forthright gaze between Arbus, the shooter, and people and environments, her subjects.  Scenes are stripped of their assumed meaning and re-cast without sheen.

In one photo, a small boy on a New York City street takes center stage.  The legs and torsos of faceless adults dressed in black fill in the edges of the frame creating an ominous presence. The child’s face enshrined in the white fur trimmed hood of his jacket appears serious; empowered by menacing thoughts related to the grasp his hand has on a toy gun dangling in his belted white holster.

Through the cropping out of adults, the photograph elevates the world of a child and creates a space for the re-interpretation of the emotional depth of children and their potential for sinister activity.

Another photograph shows five boys sitting on a brick stoop.  The image frame teases the viewer with glimpses of a faux-shingled house, somewhat decrepit flowerpots, half a front door and half of a window frame. Once again the world of adults is minimized.

The boys, with their arms around each other, all wear some version of worn out jeans, striped t-shirts and converse.  They also wear grotesque monster masks. Their head coverings feel familiar, like those that can still be found at Halloween costume stores today.  Quite artistic in their own right, each mask is a unique compliment to the others; one eyed, werewolf, gargoyle, alien creature variations.

Despite the fear associated with these types of characters in popular culture, the boys’ bodily gestures and camaraderie suggest the fun and revelry of boyhood friendship, not the dangers of the unknown.

Installed on columns in a zig zaggy feeling format, each image in the main room of the exhibition, one of three rooms, is isolated and given it’s own space for contemplation.  Image themes are not grouped together but spread out throughout the room, allowing viewers to put the pieces of Arbus’ vision together themselves. The deep blue walls of the exhibition design and its content offer an engaging treasure hunt in the mind’s eye of a legendary American photographer.

The additional rooms of the exhibition include one with desks and chairs where museum-goers can browse through the monograph that accompanies the exhibition, and another where a “A box of ten photographs” is on view, a portfolio of work created by the artist in 1970.

(original blog post)



Words by Diana McClure / Photographs by Anders Jones

For a quick run-down of fabulous women of the 20th and 21st century, step into the first floor galleries of the Fisher Landau Center for Art in Long Island City, Queens. On view, is the exhibition, TIMOTHY GREENFIELD-SANDERS: The Women’s List - 50 Portraits & Film Projection.

Immediately, upon entering, a portrait of the art collector and the center’s founder, Emily Fisher Landau is to the right of the doorframe, and a young Hillary Clinton is to the left.

Known for his “photographic portrait lists”, Greenfield-Sanders has produced portrait series entitled: The Black List, The Latino List, and The Boomer List, all accompanied by film presentations featured at the Sundance Film Festival, on HBO and on PBS’s American Masters.

As in his previous list projects, The Women’s List images reflect a cross-section of well-known individuals involved in politics, entertainment, art, fashion, government and more.

Hillary Clinton’s portrait, taken as First Lady and shot in profile from the waste up in Greenfield-Sanders signature straight forward style, is the lead shot on a wall of seventeen black and white photographs.

With her smiling face turned toward the images that follow her, and a hand delicately placed across her heart, she appear to gently bow to all the women who have come before her, journeyed alongside her, and proven themselves to be pioneers in their chosen fields.

Serendipitously, although the exhibition opened in June 2016, Michelle Obama strikes a friendly knowing pose immediately to the right of Hillary; posthumously reminiscent of Michelle’s spectacular speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Following Michelle, is Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotamayor, completing a powerhouse trifecta of current female leadership in the United States of America.

These initial three images show their subjects smiling, suggesting comfort and confidence in their public lives, a similar emotional temperament in photographs of Gloria Allred and Nancy Pelosi, also included in the exhibition.

However, the remaining images in the exhibition show closed lipped chanteuses, provocateurs, and change makers whose sensibilities suggest deep immersion in the current processes of their careers and lives. Serious minded women, who also entertain, perform, induce beauty or inspire deep thought. 

Along with a video projection that includes women speaking directly to the camera against the same grey backdrop as the photographic portraits, over thirty color photographs feature female icons including: singer/songwriter Alicia Keys, writer/producer Shonda Rhimes, fashion designer Betsey Johnson, scientist/entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes, musician Patti Smith, activist Angela Davis, comedian Margaret Cho, and actor Rosie Perez.


(original blog post)

Ragas Live Festival 2016 @ Pioneer Works

Ragas Live Festival 2016 @ Pioneer Works

Words by Diana McClure / Photographs by Anders Jones

Whether you are a devoted student of Ragas Indian Classical Music, an avid listener or you have simply heard it streaming out of yoga studio sound systems, the Ragas Live Festival, now in its fifth year, is an awesome joy to behold.

Mesmerizing in its annual 24-hour continuous labyrinth of aural pleasure, this year’s program broke new ground; its presentation live and in person at Pioneer Works in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Epic in its scope, the festival has streamed live in-studio performances by connoisseurs of Indian Classical Music for 24 hours straight, once per year, on New York’s WKCR 89.9 since its inception in 2012.

Created by musician, producer and radio host David Ellenbogen with Brooklyn Raga Massive, HarmoNYom, Chhandayan and several other community partners this year’s festival, supported by the Rubin Museum, featured 24 sets of music and over 70 musicians performing live in Pioneer Works’ cavernous main gallery.

Ragas Live’s international following could tune in, per usual, in real time via partner media outlets Clocktower Radio, NYC Radio Live Podcast and Radio Al Farouk 89.0 Timbuktu.

According to festival materials, “The beauty of Indian Classical Music and the Raga system around which it developed is that it is closely tied to the rhythms of nature.”

Ragas can be understood as musical modes or essences that are associated with the mood of a specific time of day or season. Each raga is meant to be played at a particular time in order to color the mind and feelings with its fullest essence.

Arriving at 3:30am and blending into melodic cyclical rhythms over the next several hours, I was graced by the Sohini Paraj (pre-dawn), Bhatiyar Lalit (dawn) and Bhairav Ramakali Jogia (early morning) hours of music from the Raga Samaya System.




Derrick Adams at Pioneer Works


Words by Diana McClure / Photographs by Anders Jones

For anyone interested in changing the media landscape of American culture, Derrick Adams is an artist at the forefront of that dialogue. His latest exhibition, ON, is currently on view at Pioneer Works, Red Hook's own leading contemporary art venue. The exhibition offers a layered critique of consumerism, capitalism, race, gender and personal autonomy through the lens of television, entertainment and pop culture. 

What appears at first glance to be a deluge of color, playful sculpting and a feel good visual landscape, is in many ways a metaphor for the subliminal messaging embedded in the cultures of television and advertising.




Anna Mikhailovskaia and John Schacht @ Knockdown Center


Words by Diana McClure

Anna Mikhailovskaia, Bubba's Ghost, 2012                                                                                                                      (Photo: Anders Jones)

Anna Mikhailovskaia, Bubba's Ghost, 2012                                                                                                                      (Photo: Anders Jones)

A serious conversation on the topic of play appears to be at work in the two-person exhibition, Anna Mikhailovskaia and John Schacht, currently on view at the Knockdown Center. With very few right angles or orderly readings available, the show calls into question larger assumptions about the association of irresponsibility with playfulness, the assumed randomness of organic forms, and predilections toward linear thought.


Brooklyn Museum - Disguise: Masks and Global African Art

Contemporary Artists Animate Masquerade Traditions

Words by Diana McClure

Zina Saro-Wiwa

Zina Saro-Wiwa

"These various forms —  classical masks, the contemporary art on view, masquerade in a larger context, and the expression of writers like Dubois and Dunbar — all raise questions of individual and communal agency.  Who has a choice (literally and figuratively) about when, where and how to perform masquerade? 

In this exhibition several artists disrupt and subvert the power dynamics of traditional masquerade. For example, artists Zina Saro-Wiwa, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, and Alejandro Guzman all perform traditionally male masquerades from a female point of view."

 READ FULL ARTICLE on IRAAA+ (International Review of African American Art)


Words by Diana McClure / Photographs by Anders Jones

Shimmering soundscapes, otherworldly earth tones and interactive instrumentation embrace visitors to the Museum of Art and Design’s exhibition, Atmosphere for Enjoyment: Harry Bertoia’s Environment for Sound.

Words on the granite headstone that mark Bertoia’s grave (1915-1978) poetically summarize the artist, designer and sculptor’s creative gift, “He heard the voice of the wind. Bringing sound from form to life.”

A pioneer in the field of sound art, Bertoia’s seminal work Sonambient was a collection of ninety-one sounding sculptures installed in Bertoia’s stone barn in Pennsylvania.  Refined over two decades, the artworks explored the intersection of sound and sculpture and were built from groupings of metal rods designed to create an array of radiant tones, harmonics, and vibrations when held or strummed. 

The particular musicality of Bertoia’s sounding sculptures lent itself to deep listening, explorations of the healing potential of tonality, and a strong resonance with nature and the cosmos.  Bertoia occasionally held listening sessions in his barn for groups of no more that twelve. The barn also functioned as a recording studio for his experiments in sound, which culminated in the production of eleven LPs on the Sonambient label.

The LPs were recently re-released along with previously unheard material on John Brien’s Important Records’ label.  A re-mix of the music by Brien, Sonambient Museum Mix, 2016, is part of a continuous algorithm four channel sound installation at the exhibition. 

For audiophiles interested in optimal sound staging, the installation room features speakers in all four corners of the space.  The speakers, housed in wood diamond cut cabinets, are a nice compliment to the legendary mid-century Bertoia Diamond Chair seating available for visitors. The chairs were designed by Bertoia in 1952 for Knoll, and allowed him to generate enough income through royalties to fully engage his art practice.

Other than listening, the opportunity exists to play sounding sculptures and experience a brief sensation of what it might have been like to attend one of Bertoia’s barn sessions.  An interactive installation created by Bertoia’s son, Val Bertoia, showcases approximately ten of his elegantly minimalist metal creations.

Museum guests are encouraged to hold the long slender rods, gently push them together, and then release them into a sustained swaying rhythm that resembles a field of wildflowers in the breeze or flowing sea grass.  Other instruments include Bertoia’s famous Gongs, and a low-lying sculpture meant to be strummed with one finger.

The musical experience at Atmosphere for Enjoyment is complimented by gorgeous monotype prints, most on rice paper, in earth tones including maize, forest green, red earth and black. The delicate and precise drawings articulate what fundamental tones disseminating as vibrations might look like.  Design notes, as well as a survey of Bertoia’s lesser known work as a jewelry designer are also on view, offering a truly sublime feast of the senses for all who choose to look, touch and listen.

(original blog post)

The Lowline - Lower East Side, New York City


Words by Diana McClure / Photographs by Anders Jones

Nestled on the lower east side a few blocks from the Williamsburg Bridge and the iconic Essex Street Market, a discreet urban jungle is growing underground. It is not the urban jungle of skyscrapers and concrete that dominates the sprawl of New York City. It is in fact a living plantscape, the Lowline Lab, a subterranean answer to the wildly popular High Line park, built on an old above ground rail line on the West Side of Manhattan.

Billed as “The World’s First Underground Park”, the proposed location of the final project would be under Delancey Street near the J/M/Z train Essex Street subway platform. A site that was formerly the home of the Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal, the final stop on a train that took passengers over the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn, active from 1908-1948. 

The Lowline Lab, located a block or two from this historic site in an abandoned warehouse, showcases a complex solar technological setup that transports natural sunlight underground.  Through a system of reflective surfaces and distribution dishes the transference of natural light supports photosynthesis, enabling plants and trees to grow.

This prototype presents visitors with a lush hilly landscape that includes a majority of plants donated by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden alongside plants growing from seed.  The names of a variety of plants populating the mini landscape enhance the futuristic sci-fi aura of the man made environment – Dwarf Snake Plant, Rattlesnake Plant and Rabbit’s Foot Fern to name a few. Depending on what day you visit and the weather forecast, you could find the space lit entirely by natural light with awe inspiring rainbows filtering through the landscape, or electrical lighting theatrically enhancing your experience.

Planned to be 20 times the size of the Lowline Lab model, about the size of a football field, the final project suggests an oddly innovative future for humankind. The experience of sunlight filtering through an intricate system of manipulated reflection and re-direction to create plant life and illuminate unused deep dark cavernous spaces is a bit eerie.  But, if the dystopian future depicted in much of popular culture is fastly approaching reality, the scientists at work on the Lowline would be the good guys.

If all goes according to plan the full-scale site is scheduled to open in 2020.  However, in the interim,  several visits to the Lowline Lab under different weather conditions , in different seasons, promises to offer a unique experience every time.

The Lowline, located at 140 Essex Street, is free and open to the public on weekends from 11am-5pm through March 2017. Visit the website for more details.

(original blog post)