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Ima Mfon: Nigerian Identitites / Donna Ruff: The Migrant Series at Rick Wester Fine Art | Photograph magazine

IMA MFON: NIGERIAN IDENTITIES / DONNA RUFF: THE MIGRANT SERIES AT RICK WESTER FINE ART

by Diana McClure

 Photos: Anders Jones

Two solo exhibitions, Ima Mfon’s series Nigerian Identities and Donna Ruff’s The Migrant Series, are presented in dialogue with each other at Rick Wester Fine Art, through April 22, as a curatorial choice. Together they amplify what appears to be a global reckoning with notions of migration and immigration, both voluntary and forced.  

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AIPAD: The Photography Show at Pier 94

AIPAD: The Photography Show at Pier 94

Words by Diana McClure/  Photography by Anders Jones

An annual occurrence in New York City for the last decade, the AIPAD Photography Show's move from the East Side to the West Side this year was a smart choice. Shedding the heavy ominous architecture of the Park Avenue Armory, the show moved to the airy and much larger environs of Pier 94 on the Hudson River. Making space for 150 participants, including galleries, organizations and publishers from around the world, this year's event included approximately 50 new dealers, expanding the Association of Independent Photography Art Dealers impact immensely. 

The spaciousness of the new location lent itself to the curious atmosphere of discovery that art fairs can have when they are designed with an eye toward the overall experience of viewers.  However, despite the more modern atmosphere, plenty of traditional photography was on view. Magnum photographer Susan Meiselas’ straight forward black and white photographs from her series, Prince Street Girls, were presented as a portfolio of 12 silver prints by Galerie Catherine et André Hug out of Paris. The small-scale images simple presentation elegantly highlighted the intimate subject matter of personal relationships. Featuring a group of girls growing up in New York City's Little Italy, Meiselas' images offer a rare glimpse into the antics of girlhood with iconic fashion staples like plaid (presumably Catholic school) skirts, knee socks and feathered hair, as signifiers of a specific moment in time.

Another glimpse into late 20th century New York neighborhood life was represented in the work of documentary photographer Martha Cooper, presented by Steven Kasher Gallery. Cooper has published approximately twenty books, including the worldwide classic Subway Art, a collaboration with Henry Chalfant first published in 1984. She is known for one of the most highly regarded bodies of work capturing the emergence of early hip-hop and graffiti culture in New York City and several prints from that collection were on view. Impeccably printed and presented unframed and at different sizes, the photographs offer stunning views of the colorful poetic magic of early graffiti. For the uninitiated, images of graffiti art stretched across subway cars on above ground tracks and outdoor platforms, embedded in the landscape of the Bronx and elsewhere, reveal the surreal awe of what living in a city with moveable, ephemeral, mysterious art making might look like.  

Another photographer using natural light, Lise Sarfati, used the urban landscape of 2013 in the City of Los Angeles as a muse. In a series of large-scale works entitled, Oh Man, presented by Belgian and France based, La Galerie Particulière, the artist set up shop with a tripod and camera across the street from carefully selected locations, waiting for portraits to emerge. With minimalist backgrounds found in downtown Los Angeles chosen for what appears to be swaths of clean natural light and tight color palettes, Sarfati created images of what could be described as 'figures in a landscape'. Using random people as they walked through the frame for the final element in each artwork, complimentary colors in the clothing and shoes of her subjects, as well as personal style, flush out a simple, yet compelling take on portraiture.

An interesting technologically based work by Jim Campbell was presented front and center at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery. The work combined video and still photography of the Tuileries Garden, a public garden near the Louvre in Paris. Campbell, a renowned electronic light artist and former recipient of Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundation fellowships, is also an electrical engineer. The work on view included a photograph of the garden printed on plexiglass and placed in front of a panel of LED lights. A video of the garden featuring people strolling through the exact same location as the still image, often dressed in black with black umbrellas, is projected from the back, through the image, as well. The video's low resolution helps give the figures a blurry ghost-like effect, while the plexiglass diffuses the imagery. At first glance, passers by may think the random figures passing through the frame are reflections of themselves, somehow temporarily embedded in the image on screen. 

Undoubtedly, this year's Photography Show presented by AIPAD offered a delightful amount of visual adventure in the world of photography, alongside a new foray into photo books and publishing, and a full schedule of panel discussions everyday. Coupled with its presentation in a modern space, next years show should be a must see.

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry

Words by Diana McClure / Photography by Anders Jones

The prolific evidence of an artist who has engaged the medium of painting and shaped it into a succinct and recognizable vision is on view in the retrospective exhibition, Kerry James Marshall: Mastry.  Occupying nearly two floors of exhibition space at the The Met Breuer, a treasure trove of work from the artist’s thirty-five year career immortalizes the black experience in America through an evocative series of narrative paintings.  The black figure, traditionally absent in the art historical canon of text books and rarefied culture, is central to his oeuvre and is situated within well known archetypes of western painting including: the historical tableau, landscape, genre painting, and portraiture.

The work also references mural and comic book aesthetics, two mediums that have also been traditionally absent from the field of so-called high art. Photography, an art form that was not officially considered “art” until the late 20th century, is also on view in a small room that features both conceptual and candid images by Marshall. Aside from sophisticated skills as a painter and engaging storyteller, Marshall’s intentional choice of content and breadth of aesthetic styles works to expand the established art historical mainstream and bring fresh an imaginative life to contemporary visual culture.

Although, the figure is primary throughout the exhibition, a pair of abstract paintings, Untitled Blot (2014) and Untitled Blot (2015), offers a visual pause in the curation of the space.  Amidst the narrative plot lines of subsets of paintings throughout the exhibition, they riff on the colors of the Pan-African flag (red, black and green), comment on the politics of modernism for black artists, and play with metaphors in relation to the Rorschach test. Despite the fact that the conceptual underpinnings of the paintings are not necessarily obvious, the work is boldly delightful in its use of an amusing color palette that works hot pink, yellow and a few other shades into their red, black and green reference, resulting in a striking symmetrical pattern. 

A recurring thread throughout Marshall’s paintings is the multi-tonality of the color black evident in the intricate shading and use of light and shadow to indicate highlights in facial features and hair texture. However, skin color remains the same shade of black throughout all of his paintings, perhaps a metaphor to signal his intention to speak of black culture as a whole. Subject matter ranges from depictions of black artists in their studios, African Americans at leisure - strolling, biking, golfing, and camping – to a series on the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and scenes from beauty salons, romance, and more. In his series on leisure, the Garden Project, several large scale paintings feature black figures set among lawns, trees and birds- idealized landscapes - in front of both low income housing, such as Los Angeles’ Nickerson Gardens, and suburban homes.

Marshall’s ability to capture intimate, community-based and historical narratives in his works is very much grounded in the rhythms of daily life. However, his unique eye and insider’s point of view elevates and celebrates the stages, dramas, and scenes where black life plays out day in and day out, presenting viewers with a magnificently rich and bountiful American tableau.

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.

 

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Anna Mikhailovskaia and John Schacht @ Knockdown Center | The Brooklyn Rail

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.

 READ FULL ARTICLE on the BROOKLYN RAIL

HARRY BERTOIA: ATMOSPHERE FOR ENJOYMENT AT THE MUSEUM OF ART AND DESIGN

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)

FRIEZE ART FAIR - NEW YORK 2016

FRIEZE ART FAIR - NEW YORK 2016

Words by Diana McClure / Photographs by Anders Jones

New York’s iteration of the international art fair Frieze is a bit of an adventure.  Located on Randall’s Island in New York City since its inception five years ago, its airy light filled structure houses around 200 galleries from 31 countries in early May each year and overlooks the East River.

Getting there is half the battle, but well worth it. Ferries and buses transport fairgoers from the east side of Manhattan for 20-30 minute journeys on what one could think of as a mini-vacation. Upon arrival, Randall’s Island welcomes visitors into a lush green landscape, an invigorating compliment to the potpourri of contemporary art inside the fair’s exhibition space. To really enjoy the fair, setting aside several hours with plans for lunch at one of the fair’s outdoor eateries along the river is a must. 

From video, sculpture, assemblage and photography to sound art, installation, weaving and ceramics, the variety of work on view is more often than not, both exciting and satisfying.  

Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys’ work for Gavin Brown’s Enterprise entitled, "I Piccoli Pupazzi Sporchi di Pruppà (The Small Dirty Puppets from Pruppa)," 2015, featured over 50 small handmade figures on wall pedestals in a humorously enticing installation. Each figurines mannerisms, poses and fashion styling coalesced to create unique personalities in what felt like familiar characters from daily life in a myriad of places. 

Theaster Gates’ work, Ground Rules (black line) 2015, on view in a vast open area of the fair where various pathways intersect, constitutes a re-organization of wood planks from gym floors into a large-scale minimalist rectangular wall sculpture.  The work echoes Gates’ conceptual concerns with race, history and urban renewal, most vividly on display on the south side of Chicago where he has re-habilitated dilapidated buildings into community centers, archives, librariesand more for local residents.

Above are a few highlights from the fair.                                          

(original blog post)