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Marie Tomanova: Young American at the Czech Center New York

Marie Tomanova: Young American at the Czech Center New York

by Diana McClure

Marie Tomanova,  Ryan  (image courtesy of the artist)

Marie Tomanova, Ryan (image courtesy of the artist)

Intentionally human and unintentionally political, the Marie Tomanova: Young American exhibition at the Czech Center New York offers an insider’s view into a vibrant pocket of New York’s youth culture. Orbiting around two epicenters, downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, Tomanova’s photographs capture a diverse and eclectic range of young people that includes both migrants to the city and native New Yorkers.

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Meghann Riepenhoff: Littoral Drift at Yossi Milo Gallery

Meghann Riepenhoff: Littoral Drift at Yossi Milo Gallery

Words by Diana McClure/  Photography by Anders Jones

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Meghann Riepenhoff’s latest photographic artwork is made in collaboration with the natural world. Her “living prints” are baptized through a process that uses rainstorms, snow, ocean waves and other earthly elements as central to the development of her one-of-a-kind prints. The body of work, titled Littoral Drift, employs a cameraless, cyanotype photographic process, using paper, light and chemistry to magnificent effect.

Riepenhoff begins by coating sheets of paper with a homemade cyanotype emulsion; a mix of chemicals, producing a cyan blue print that can be altered to create a range of blue tonalities. In addition to submerging the paper in a variety of forms of water, the interaction of sunlight, sand and salt with the chemicals results in staggeringly voluptuous abstractions in a wide-ranging palette of blues and white.

A sublime familiarity can be found in the large-scale works featured in the exhibition. Without even knowing Riepenhoff's process, ocean vistas and NASA style topographical views of planet earth, as well as batik and tie-dye traditions of printing, come to mind. The added knowledge of how her images come to life, only increases the wonder found in the organic, natural and earthy feel of it.

In the final "fixing" stages of her chemical process, Riepenhoff leaves any lingering photosensitive chemistry in tact, setting the stage for future shifts in color and texture over time (sometimes a result of salt residue). This artistic choice echoes the element of chance found in the historical processes of early photography and science used in the work, as well as her own interest as an artist in the theme of impermanence.

Many of the works are comprised of a grid or grouping of images. Single pieces, diptychs and triptychs within one frame, and large-scale works comprised of multiple cyanotypes, create complete works of art that are structurally compelling. In, Littoral Drift #464 (Bainbridge Island, WA 12.07.16, Seven Simulated Waves, Freezing and Melting), 2016, 48 cyanotypes at 19"x24" each, are presented as a grid at the size of 113 1/4" x 190 3/8". The only unframed work in the exhibition, it is also the largest piece; a stunning abstraction of what could be crashing waves, ocean spray and seam foam. A textured sprinkling of white dots covers one area of the piece; perhaps salt crystals in the mist of metamorphosis.

All of the works on view are named for their location, date, and the atmospheric conditions under which they were made, a nod to nature as Riepenhoff's collaborator.

 

Marianna Rothen: Shadows in Paradise at Steven Kasher Gallery

Marianna Rothen: Shadows in Paradise at Steven Kasher Gallery

Words by Diana McClure / Photography by Anders Jones

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Upon entering Marianna Rothen: Shadows in Paradise, a deeply cinematic experience in still life imagery awaits. Black and white and color photographs flow across expansive gallery walls in a variety of sizes, installed at different heights. The topsy-turvy installation appears to act as a metaphor for the emotional narrative ofthe female protagonists in the images, as well as the continuity of scenes found in a film.

In fact, the photographs reference three films: Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, Robert Altman’s Three Women and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive; and, are part of Rothen’s second monograph, Shadows in Paradise, published by b. frank books.

The women portrayed in the images tote guns and knives, wine glasses and cigarettes, and don negligees and dresses against a 1950s style domestic backdrop.  Elegantly posed, the models, one of which is Rothen, dramatize staged scenes in what appears to be a tormented woman’s quiet malaise. Shot in upstate New York, the characters were first introduced to Rothen’s public via her premiere publication, Snow and Rose & Other Tales.

Once viewers enter an area of the gallery blocked off by black curtains, the deeper implications of Rothen’s characters, and their larger commentary on the social construction of femininity, begin to gain more clarity.  The space features the debut of Rothen’s two-channel short film, The Woman with a Crown. The video is based on Princess Diana’s 1995 television appearance in which she intimately shares details of the demise of her marriage to Prince Charles and the royal family’s less than gracious reaction.

Rothen’s plays four characters, one of which is Princess Diana, all speaking Diana’s words. Each voice starts a phrase slightly after the woman before her, creating an echo or round-robin effect. The sound comes from several speakers in different locations in the room; adding to the ethereal quality of the work.  The dual screens, sound design, and performances by Rothen standing still facing the audience against a backdrop, help viewers to disassociate from the emotional pull of the still images in the main gallery. A critical eye starts to take shape and the limitations ofubiquitous princess narratives across cultures and centuries become evident.

In an interesting twist, Rothen’s images may suggest how women have been complicit in their own trauma. The questionable aspiration towards a constructed womanhood that prioritizes and normalizes, through film and other media, a particular female persona seems to be Rothen’s ultimate critique.

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.

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)

DREAM STATES: CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEO

DREAM STATES: CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEO

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

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)

TIMOTHY GREENFIELD-SANDERS: THE WOMEN’S LIST

TIMOTHY GREENFIELD-SANDERS’ ‘THE WOMEN’S LIST: 50 PORTRAITS & FILM PROJECTION’

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)