Art Writing

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)

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 | The Brooklyn Rail


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 | IRAAA+

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)



Words by Diana McClure / Photographs by Anders Jones

Adult playtime is in full effect at the Arcade Classics: Video Games from the Collection exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image. You will see children scattered among the retro video games on display. But, middle-age parents intensely reminiscing on the thrills of early computer gaming accompany most.

All the classics from an 80s childhood spent in arcades entranced in digital mayhem are at the fingertips of visitors keen for a trip down memory lane. Mainstream hits like Space Invaders, Mortal Kombat, and Donkey Kong only cost twenty-five cents and can be played with tokens purchased at the museum.

Ms. Pac-Man in all her feminist glory is even available to play. Exhibition wall text accompanying her notes, “The new game added just the right amount of complexity.”  A challenge to original Pac-Man players, the Ms. Pac-Man spinoff not only offered romance, but the introduction of randomness in the movement of ghosts in the game. This upgrade in programming made the use of memorization, a winning technique in the original Pac-Man, null and void.

The curvy-boxed green design of the oldest game in this exhibition, Computer Space, created in 1971 by Nutting, was the first coin operated video arcade game. Based on a 1950s computer game developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, the physical casing of the game personifies the recurring character Gumby, played by Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live, a spin off the original 1960s claymation character.

All the big names of early gaming, Sega, Atari and Nintendo, have playable games on view alongside lesser-known manufacturers like Midway, Taito, Konami/Centuri, and Gottlieb. Covering four dimly lit intimate yet roomy spaces; the exhibition includes approximately 30 games from the museums collection of four hundred.

The most popular by far is Galaxy Force II created in 1988 by Sega.  A three-dimensional seated round convertible space ship like object simulates your screen driving movements in live action. Riders shift, tilt and jerk usually with three to four people waiting in line to take a spin. Some of the other games available to play include: Narc, Star Wars, Asteroids, Q*bert, Tron, Out Run, and Pole Position.

For a first hand glance at the formative years of interactive digital life, this exhibition offers not only a good time, but also an interesting reminder of how far we have come.

Arcade Classics: Video Games from the Collection is on view through October 23, 2016 at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens (Long Island City), New York.

(original blog post)

Diana M. Writing: Abstract Painter Erika Ranee | IRAAA+


Words by Diana McClure

Erika Ranee,  Must Be Nice  (detail), 72"x72" (overall), 2014

Erika Ranee, Must Be Nice (detail), 72"x72" (overall), 2014

Painter Erika Ranee is on the cusp of a second coming of sorts. After earning an MFA and a promising start to her career in the mid-1990s, she settled into a self-imposed hiatus for nearly a decade. During that period, she refrained from showing and re-emerged having replaced her figurative painting style with a new passion for abstraction.  READ MORE