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)


Cacy Forgenie: Iron Flag

Cacy Forgenie: Iron Flag

Image and Text by Diana McClure



Interdisciplinary artist Cacy Forgenie’s most recent work, Iron Flag (2015), a collaboration with apparel company Le Collektor, takes wearable art to a new level with its material convergence of pop culture, art and critical dialogue in the form of the ubiquitous hoodie.

Forgenie’s conceptual design remixes, re-constructs and perhaps re-co-opts the hoodie from several of its former incarnations. The hood’s design resembles a flag, consists of red and black stripes and rectangular green insets dotted with hashtags, a riff on both history and the present moment.

Commissioned by Le Collektor, a social entrepreneurship company that partners with artists to design removable and interchangeable hoodies, Iron Flag’s design cues rest in the fine art oeuvre of artist David Hammons, the interstellar network of the internet and the grass roots organizing of Black Lives Matter.

Carrying on the color legacy of Marcus Garvey’s early 20th century Pan-African flag - red, black and green - and Hammons’ use of the color scheme in his iconic re-working of the American Flag, African American Flag (1990), Forgenie’s Iron Flag hood cradles the head of its wearers in an ironic history of what it means to be Black in America.

Another work of Hammons’ reflected in the creation of this wearable art object is the piece, In the Hood (1993), a hood jaggedly cut from an ordinary dark green hooded sweatshirt. The piece is usually displayed on a gallery wall with wire inserted through the rim of the hood, framing an invisible face.

In 2001 renowned contemporary art curator Franklin Sirmans wrote, “In the Hood (1993) represents Hammons’ acknowledgement of the symbolic power of the everyday object and its utilitarian value. The absence of the body is equally prescient here.”[1] Nearly 15 years later, in the wake of Trayvon Martin and countless others, Sirmans’ statement carries an eerie currency in our current socio-political climate. 

Forgenie’s work pushes Garvey’s, Hammons’ and Sirmans’ conversation forward by positioning his work squarely within the politics of our time and our hyper social media environment, specifically Twitter activism and the Black Lives Matter movement. His purposeful placement of 50 hashtag symbols on the Iron Flag hood displaces the 50 stars found on the American flag. In play with a red, black and green color palette, the hashtags specifically echo online social media movements that raise critical awareness around social justice issues, fundraise for legal defense funds or aid in communications strategies for localized protests. Twitter campaigns for Marissa Alexander and #SayHerName come to mind here.

Forgenie’s open-ended interplay of historical references, politicized contemporary art and technological trends, within the democratic cultural context of fashion, suggests a blurring of boundaries and a creative take on individual agency and the power to contribute.

Agency is also found in Le Collektor’s interactive take on the embodiment of hoods, their interchangeability and removability, a statement that empowers both the wearer and the artist. Code-switching and identity mash-ups so prevalent in contemporary culture today all collide in this design cue. 

As many of us await the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, works like Iron Flag extend its reach and give it life in new arenas and contexts just as the legacies of Garvey’s UNIA and Hammons’ bold artistic statements continue to resonant in society today.

After years in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City and years flying high at the entrance to the Studio Museum in Harlem, Hammons’s African American Flag is front and center at the 2015 Greater New York exhibition at MoMA PS 1, a highly anticipated quinquennial exhibition of contemporary art.

The raising of Hammons’s flag in October 2015 at PS 1, along with the removal of the Confederate flag at South Carolina’s State House in July 2015, are both symbolic gestures of solidarity with a difficult and complex moment of human rights abuses in American life, a moment also embodied in Forgenie’s work Iron Flag.


[1] One Planet Under a Groove: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art, exhibition catalog 2001, The Bronx Museum of Contemporary Art, pg. 28-29

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.