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- 08/24/14--20:52: _Louis Vuitton Acte ...
- 08/25/14--04:00: _Introducing Danna V...
- 08/25/14--07:18: _Zaha Hadid Sues NYR...
- 08/25/14--11:37: _An Evening "Close U...
- 08/25/14--14:33: _21 Questions for Mi...
- 08/25/14--18:58: _Slideshow: Understa...
- 08/25/14--20:03: _The Best and Worst ...
- 08/26/14--07:43: _Rashaad Newsome's "...
- 08/26/14--08:03: _French Culture Head...
- 08/26/14--12:07: _STUDIO TRACKS: Iren...
- 08/26/14--12:46: _Slideshow: Top 5 En...
- 08/26/14--14:26: _Zaha Hadid's Trials...
- 08/26/14--14:53: _"Through a Lens Dar...
- 08/27/14--00:35: _Giampiero Bodino at...
- 08/27/14--06:50: _15 Finalist Artwork...
- 08/27/14--09:40: _Slideshow: 15 Must-...
- 08/27/14--14:18: _Review: "The Congress"
- 08/28/14--00:43: _Red Carpet at the V...
- 08/28/14--04:00: _Collector Profile: ...
- 08/28/14--07:00: _Jasper Johns Assist...
- 08/24/14--20:52: Louis Vuitton Acte V Collection
- 08/25/14--04:00: Introducing Danna Vajda
- 08/25/14--07:18: Zaha Hadid Sues NYRB for Defamation, 5Pointz Demolished, and More
- 08/25/14--14:33: 21 Questions for Mini-Retrospective Subject Shinique Smith
- 08/25/14--18:58: Slideshow: Understated Design Shines at Hotel Quote Taipei
- 08/25/14--20:03: The Best and Worst Dressed at The 2014 Emmys
- 08/26/14--07:43: Rashaad Newsome's "King of Arms Art Ball" - August 24, 2014
- 08/26/14--12:07: STUDIO TRACKS: Irena Jurek's Sex Kitten Playlist
- 08/26/14--12:46: Slideshow: Top 5 End-of-Summer Shows
- 08/26/14--14:26: Zaha Hadid's Trials and Tribulations
- 08/26/14--14:53: "Through a Lens Darkly" at Film Forum
- 08/27/14--00:35: Giampiero Bodino at the Biennale des Antiquaires
- 08/27/14--09:40: Slideshow: 15 Must-See Fall Museum Shows in NYC
- 08/27/14--14:18: Review: "The Congress"
- 08/28/14--00:43: Red Carpet at the Venice Film Festival's Opening Night
- 08/28/14--04:00: Collector Profile: Harry and Mary Margaret Anderson
- 08/28/14--07:00: Jasper Johns Assistant Admits Theft, France Gets Arts Head, and More
Writing as reverberations of underground explosions echo throughout Doha—the soundtrack to the birthing of a city—I recall how a recent Skype conversation with the Brooklyn-based artist Danna Vajda concluded on Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh. The artist’s reference to the French architect’s utopian social project in India resonates with her long-term preoccupation with subversive politics of space and economics that control our access and understanding of public and private space.
Raised in Vancouver, Vajda, the daughter of an architect, advocates for urban planning and construction to consider civic necessity at its conception. Yet she is at odds with activism as artistic practice, preferring to make objects, installations, trompe l’oeil paintings, and scripted performances that tease out signifiers of the social and economic structures among which we live. Because these objects have no use and deal only with the politics related to their own materiality, the work maneuvers toward resistance to a commodity-obsessed art world only to reveal a series of façades.
In Anewwork, 2011, produced for a show at SculptureCenter in New York, the artist propped a glass door, a glass storefront window, and a blank canvas against the gallery wall. Together, they suggested the vapid emptiness of consumption and challenged expectations of monetary exchange and circulation. Vajda’s use of materials like glass, marble, and textiles speaks to the fiscal and social value of building-material aesthetics, as well as an acknowledgment of the real estate industry as one puppet in the capitalist theater.
Her materials gesture at the charged histories of class economies. Silk and marble, for example, speak to the longevity and authority of bourgeois taste. “The perfect simple silk blouse and yeah, you’ve fucking arrived!” she says, tongue in cheek. Questions specific to the architecture of control and private property unspool in a recent project: upagainstacurtainwall, 2013. In this installation a black silk dress, an image of an empty storefront printed on silk, and ATM receipts painted on silk mark the space for the performance of a script. Real estate developer Bob Rennie’s controversial proposal for a satellite Vancouver Contemporary Art Museum is transferred from a PDF to a Word document, in turn redistributing punctuation and formatting to create a shell of the script, I HAVE READ, UNDERSTAND, AND ACCEPT THIS AGREEMENT. Your signature, 2013. It was first performed by Vajda at CSA space in Vancouver in 2013 and read, per her instructions, “in the context of the opening while wearing the dress made from storefront curtain.” Replacing the words occupants with non-occupants and Vancouver with vacant city from Rennie’s original text, Vajda also embedded fictional characters, to create, as she describes it, “a collage of legal, official, and personal testaments to the internalization of a city and its property relations.” Reading the script as written, with its exaggerated pauses and unorthodox punctuation, Vajda delivered a Dadaist performance of dry-witted contradictory references and wordplays on the economies of real estate, time, work, and individuality.
Vajda enacts the linguistic and aesthetic devices of marketing to explore the construction of myths that deviate from collective desire. In a performance of thewateringhole at Franklin Street Works in Stamford, Connecticut earlier this year, Vajda mixed eight whiskey cocktails with items including chewing gum and marbles, reciting the recipes as part of monologues that revealed themselves as resignation letters. The work mocks the revival of craft aesthetics—in this case, artisanal liquor—a nostalgic yearning for alternative, DIY forms of production. She considers this performance as a way to exaggerate and critique excess and aspiration as characteristics of an overly success-driven workforce. The artist explains her interest in the notion of “toxicity as a stoppage of the efficient body”: being intoxicated as a way to escape regulated forms of labor. The artist herself plays the role of a cocktail bartender in this setup, which is one example of what she calls “performing a dual sense of existence.” Vajda occasionally adopts the vocation of cocktail bartender to literally and conceptually feed her life and work. Objects, ideas, and Vajda’s own life form webs of temporal economies, erasing distinctions between physical and imagined modes of regulation.
Capitalism’s cycles of boom and bust are the trope Vajda deploys as she collapses and recomposes its signifiers in the same way the structure consumes itself for rejuvenation. The subtitle of upagainstacurtainwall makes clear the giving and receiving imbued in the work: “A curtain printed with real estate is the artist’s new dress. A hand that gives, once tilted, is the hand that asks. The paper trail of ATM receipts leads to a silk road, or a pit of tears.”
Her work also contemplates the possibility of individuality, even as our habits of thought, action, work, and consumption are highly choreographed. “While there is a collective ‘we’ struggling within or against capitalism, my struggle is of course different to that of everyone else,” she states, underscoring the point that “these differences are what allows me to cope with the world and feel like a protagonist; however, it is the same individuation which obscures that with which I struggle.” The performance miko1,2,3, 2012, is about our personal relationship with capitalism, and trying to locate sanity and difference within ready-made individualities. Three oil-on-canvas paintings of the April 2006 Artforum cover featuring Christopher Williams’s photograph Kodak Three Point Reflection Guide (Miko laughing) are held to cover the faces of three characters who read a script about how they “use their face, form, and language as a method of social and economic mobility.” Vajda employs scriptwriting and prose as “a means of address that positions the listener to the text, just as architecture can shape one’s movements in a place.”
She will once again investigate the performance of “dual existence” and the shifting terrain of the real estate business in “Placeholder,” her show with Cara Silk Benedetto at Toronto’s Art Metropole, which opens September 3. The project delves into individual and collective claims and desires for space. Vajda and Benedetto have collaboratively written a script that instructs them to perform various characters—including, per an exhibition spoiler, Couch Surfer, Narcy, Renter, Guest, Masoch and Gatekeeper—and to make objects for and during the exhibition. Enhancing the experience of seeing double, it is highly likely that whiskey cocktails will be served.
A version of this article appears in the September 2014 issue of Modern Painters magazine.
— Zaha Hadid Sues NYRB for Defamation:Zaha Hadid has filed a suit against the New York Review of Books and its architecture critic, Martin Filler, for accusing her of “showing no concern” about worker deaths in Qatar. The article in question examines Hadid’s comments that architects "have nothing to do with the workers" and the hundreds of deaths that have occured on construction projects in the Gulf state, where her Qatar World Cup stadium is now going up, within a review of Rowan Moore’s “Why We Build.” "Nearly all of those references are used to call our client's success into question or to characterize her personally as difficult," Hadid’s lawyer Oren Warshavsky said in a statement. “It is a personal attack disguised as a book review and has exposed Ms. Hadid to public ridicule and contempt, depriving her of confidence and injuring her good name and reputation.” [The Guardian]
— 5Pointz Demolition Begins: 5Pointz is finally gone. Demolition on the building complex began Friday and, according to a statement by owner David Wolkoff to DNAinfo, will continue for the next three to four months. He also verified that demolition would begin at the back of the building, working its way towardsJackson Avenue. [DNAinfo]
— Missing Brooklyn Bridge Flags Returned to U.S. Embassy in Berlin: The American flags that were removed from the Brooklyn Bridge and replaced with white ones in a controversial July 22 art project by artists Mischa Leinkauf and Matthias Wermke have been turned over to the United States embassy in Berlin. Though many suspect the act was politically charged, or even a security threat, the artists told the New York Times’s Michael Kimmelman in an interview it was to honor the 145th anniversary of the death of John Roebling, the bridge’s designer. The NYPD has yet to make a decision about charging the artists with felony burglary. [NYT]
— Swedish Art Gets Six Months: Swedish artist Dan Park has been sentenced to six months in jail for “defamation and inciting hatred against an ethnic group.” [The Guardian]
— Monkey Selfies Can’t be Copyrighted: An official decision by the U.S. Copyright Office has officially declared that it “will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants” meaning that photographer David Slater can’t claim the rights to that monkey selfie. [Slate]
— Is this the Art Market’s Golden Age?:Scott Reyburn investigates “the unstoppable momentum of the globalized art market” and how unstoppable it really is. [NYT]
— A $25.4 million earmark on Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s recent capital facilities bond bill has given Mass MoCA the funding it needs to finish renovations on the museum. [NYT]
— The Iraqi National Museum, which was looted in 2003 during the U.S. occupation of the city, has reopened to inaugurate two renovated halls. [AP]
— After all the merger hooplah, visitors can now go the Corcoran Gallery of Art for free. [WashPo]
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Name: Shinique Smith
City/Neighborhood: Upstate New York
Your upcoming show at the Boston MFA is a mini retrospective of sorts, with 30 pieces spanning the last ten years. What is it like to see a decade’s worth of work in one place?
Seeing this arrangement of my work is personal “proof” that a distinct line of energy has been consistent and true through these years of my artistic practice. Moving through the space, I am filled with memories of making, the materials used in each work and the spaces where I created them.
Feelings well up of pride and discovery as I see these works with a fresh eye and realize that what I wanted to convey was expressed, and that the work is strong. The latter is sometimes harder for me to admit. All these memories and realizations lead me to my next steps in the studio.
The show will also include more than a dozen new pieces that span painting, sculpture, full-room installation, video, and performance. Have you been experimenting with working in different materials lately? Or has this always been part of your practice?
Yes and no. I’m working with new materials and returning to ideas within the video, sound, installation and performance that I was experimenting with over a decade ago in undergrad and grad school. Now I am able to infuse new works with knowledge and experience I’ve gained over the years.
You will also make a public mural in Boston’s Dewey Square Park. Do you approach making such public works differently than other artworks?
I approach public works with the same considerations of space, composition and energy as in all my works. I am, however, more conscious of the viewer’s or the community’s presence in making a public work and how the work might connect to the environment in which it exists.
What project are you working on now?
“BRIGHT MATTER” at the MFA, the Mural for the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, a mural project for UCSF in San Francisco, and developing a show for 2015 with The Center of the Arts at Virginia Tech.
What’s the last show that you saw?
“Carrie Mae Weems – Three Decades of Photography and Video” at the Guggenheim. The show was inspiring and moving for me, as I’ve loved her work since I was a young person interested in becoming an artist. And I was honored that Carrie Mae invited me to participate in a three-day presentation of a number of artists, poets, musicians and innovators whom she found inspiring that occurred during her exhibition. That kind of open dialogue and support toward other artists is something to strive toward.
Describe a typical day in your life as an artist.
I wake, make coffee, and feed the cat. I go to the studio and look at what I’ve been working on. Then I either answer emails or begin working directly, depending on where the inspiration leads me. I go for walks outside and draw inspiration from the scenery of our country home. I spend time with my fiancé, watch TV, read or surf the net. Go to bed and if I can’t sleep, I go back to work.
Do you make a living off your art?
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?
Everywhere – travel sites, Young Adult fiction, poetry – lately Audre Lorde, classic musicals, interior design and garden planning, Feng Shui, fashion and many other sources.
Do you collect anything?
Fabric, paper, flattened cans, dollhouses, My Little Ponies, sci-fi, comic book or fantasy related action figures, seascape paintings, art and small random found objects with landscapes like a bottle cap, matchbook cover, puzzle piece or coin.
What is your karaoke song?
“What’s up” by 4 Non Blondes, “The Beautiful Ones” by Prince, “Love Rears its Ugly Head” by Living Colour.
What’s the last artwork you purchased?
A Melvin Martinez painting
What’s the first artwork you ever sold?
I sold a number of drawings to my mother and her friends when I was younger, and early in my career I sold a few works in group shows, but my first significant sale was when the Rubell family purchased three works at an important transitional moment in my practice. Since then, they’ve traveled the works extensively in a show of art from their collection called “30 Americans.”
What’s your favorite post-gallery watering hole or restaurant?
In NY, Tequila Chito’s in Chelsea. In LA, Soho House. In Miami, The Seven Seas for karaoke, and in Boston, City Table at The Lenox Hotel.
Do you have a gallery/museum-going routine?
Not really, because I spend most of my time in the country and in the studio. I go when I can, when a friend has a show or if there’s an artist or show I am interested in.
What’s the last great book you read?
Therese Raquin by Emile Zola.
What work of art do you wish you owned?
Wow…there are many, but there are artists I know whose work I really would like to own. It’s a long list, but a few on that list would be Xenobia Bailey, Joanne Greenbaum, Erika Ranee and an Ann Craven deer painting or a Fred Tomaselli, Leonardo Drew or Jacob Hashimoto work.
What would you do to get it?
Trade if they were interested.
What international art destination do you most want to visit?
Johannesburg and Sao Paolo – soon.
Who’s your favorite living artist?
Too many to list.
What are your hobbies?
Does shopping online count as a hobby?
— French Culture Head Quits: French Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti, who has been an active and highly visible arts advocate since she was promoted to the position in 2012, publicly resigned in an open letter published yesterday. Filippetti is a casualty of the current crisis in the French cabinet. She addressed a lack of arts funding in her departure letter: “I held on with the same loyalty when I had to endure an unprecedented drop in the budget of the ministry of culture… for two consecutive years.” [TAN]
— NYRB Critic Retracts Zaha Hadid Criticism: New York Review of Books critic Martin Filler has made a statement on the publication’s website saying that he regrets the error he made in a recent article about Zaha Hadid that led the architect to file a libel suit in New York State Supreme Court. On Monday night, the NYRB appended a letter of correction to the article, wherein Filler had called out Hadid, quoting remarks she made in London in February, for being dismissive over construction worker deaths in Qatar. Filler had written that "an estimated one thousand laborers...have perished while constructing" Hadid's World Cup Al Wakhrah Stadium, but in fact, as the correction acknowledges, work on the stadium had not begun at the time of Hadid’s London statements, and actual construction won’t begin until 2015. (The estimate Filler cited, from an article in The Guardian, referred to worker deaths on other projects in Qatar.) [NYT, Guardian]
— First Superman Comic Fetches $3.2M: A copy of Action Comics No. 1 — the first comic to feature Superman — was sold on eBay last Sunday night for $3.2 million, in an auction organized by Pristine Comics. A copy of Action Comics #1 in similarly near-perfect condition, which had been owned by actor Nicolas Cage, was sold in 2011 for $2.1 million. The new sale tops the price record for a single comic book, according to Art Daily. [NYT]
— Posthumous Weston Prints For Sale: On September 30, Sotheby’s is set to auction off 548 posthumously printed Edward Weston photos in a single lot that they expect to bring $3 million. [NYT]
— Aspen Finally Removes Tortoises: Animals rights people have been protesting the use of iPad-toting tortoises in Cai Guo-Qiang’s Aspen Art Museum piece since July and the museum has finally relented to remove the slow-moving creatures. [Aspen Daily News]
—Artist Gnomes for Children: Author James Frey is writing a children’s book based on Elliott Arkin’s garden gnome sculptures of famous artists. [TAN]
— Claire Messud, author of “The Woman Upstairs,” profiled artist Marlene Dumas for T Magazine. [T Magazine]
— Sam Hunter, art historian and founding director of two Brandeis University art institutions, has passed away. [NYT]
— Two big appointments this morning: the Perez Art Museum Miami has chosen Jeff Krinsky to serve as president of its board of trustees, and Thomas Welsh is the Cleveland Museum of Art’s new director of performing arts. [Art Daily, Cleveland.com]
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“My cat women are independent, feral, and unpredictable creatures, living by their own set of rules,” says Irena Jurek of the eccentric protagonists that populate many of her drawings and paintings. “They're comfortable in their own furry skin. They take possession of their femininity and sexuality.” You can see a bevy of these coquettish kittens in "The Fury of Sunsets,” Jurek's two-person show with Michael Dotson at New York's Zürcher Studio from August 28 through September 28. We asked the artist to share her feline-approved playlist, and discovered why Missy Elliot is better than T.S. Eliot.
“Miss Kittin,” Frank Sinatra
“Miss Kittin is my all time favorite musical artist, because I can really relate to her. She’s just like me, the down-to-earth girl next door! If I could only listen to one song, on repeat, for the rest of eternity, this would be it.”
“Shave ’Em Dry,” Lucille Bogan
“Sigh, whenever I listen to Lucille Bogan, I end up feeling really nostalgic and wishing we could all go back to the good old days, back when no one had ADHD or smartphones to distract them from having amazing sex all day long.”
“Fuck the Pain Away,” Peaches
“Listening to Peaches is a very cathartic experience. Fucking the pain away is excellent advice for everybody, not just for artists, but it’s especially good advice for artists since we’re more sensitive.”
“Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus,” Brigitte Bardot
“Whenever I’m entertaining in my studio, I like to put this on. It puts my visitors at ease. It’s just like cotton candy: pink, fluffy, sweet, and it sticks to everything.”
“Work It,” Missy Elliott
“This is a very special song for me and my best friend, Natalie Wood. Yes, Natalie Wood is still alive, and we hang out all the time. Nat has the voice of a songbird and I melt whenever she sings Missy to me, particularly when she gets to the chocha part! Last summer, I did an entire series of drawings based on just the line, 'take my thong off and my tail go vaaaaaroom.' Even if I dedicated my entire life’s work to studying this song, I still wouldn’t come close to deciphering all the paradoxes it contains and the full depth of meaning. It’s a lot like T.S. Eliot's 'Wasteland' in that way, only it’s obviously way better, because you can actually grind to it.”
Martin Filler, the architecture critic for the New York Review of Books, has apologized for a factual error that prompted Zaha Hadid's recent lawsuit for defamation against the publication. In a note to the editors posted last night to the publication’s website, Filler corrects a statement made in his June article “The Insolence of Architecture,” in which he quoted her expressing supposed indifference to construction worker deaths in Qatar, and said about 1,000 workers had died in building her Al Wakrah stadium for the 2022 World Cup. “There have been no worker deaths on the Al Wakrah stadium project," Filler writes, "and Ms. Hadid’s comments about Qatar that I quoted in the review had nothing to do with the Al Wakrah site or any of her projects. I regret the error.”
A rendering of Hadid's Al Wakrah Stadium / Courtesy of Zaha Hadid
The suit demanded that Filler “publish an immediate retraction in the NYRB with at least as much prominence as the Article itself,” and while the critic’s statement may not fully satisfy those conditions, they do offer an earnest correction. The article remains online, with appended qualifications.
Hadid’s legal actions, meanwhile, appear to be a disturbing, if not absurdly comical, measure of her social consciousness. The suit’s allegations of journalistic misconduct are valid — Filler did, in fact, commit an egregious factual error in claiming that there had been 1,000 deaths on a project that had not yet begun construction. But the suit’s claims of damage done to Hadid’s reputation are serving as a counterattack against the architect's many critics, not an answer to their very legitimate concerns.
“The Article has exposed Hadid to public ridicule, contempt, aversion, disgrace, and induced evil opinions of her in the minds of right-thinking persons, while depriving her of confidence and friendly intercourse in society,” reads the complaint filed by Hadid’s lawyer, Oren J. Warshavsky, in Manhattan Supreme Court on August 21. But haven’t Hadid’s own actions done as much to earn her the disapproval and disdain of many architecture critics, fellow design professionals, and conscientious members of society? As another architecture critic, James S. Russell, so aptly noted: "Hadid wins dafamation battle, loses reputation war."
Those thousand workers did not die at Hadid’s construction site, but they perished in circumstances closely linked to her forthcoming project. Nothing suggests that more such tragedies won’t transpire with the commencement of construction of the stadium. Precautions to prevent the further loss of life could begin with a demand that the Qatari government, her engineer, AECOM, and the eventual project contractor engage in humane building practices. Instead of pursuing initiatives that would ensure worker safety and drastically distinguish her construction site from prevalent working conditions for laborers in Qatar, she pillories the press.
Filler’s mistake was factual, not a lapse in critical judgment. "Hadid has suffered severe emotional and physical distress as a direct result of the Article," note her suit documents. Unfortunately, construction workers across the Gulf are regularly exposed to rather more serious forms of such distress while toiling to realize the formal whimsies of many a lauded architect. If Hadid was truly troubled by Filler's statements, she could use her position of authority to do something about their suffering, and her own.
A good chunk of the history of photography in America is a history of subjugation. From postcards of lynching scenes to the front pages of tabloids, many photographic images do not just document the prejudices of the past or present but reinforce and even strengthen them.
But as Thomas Allen Harris’s documentary “Through a Lens Darkly,” which opens at Film Forum on August 27, proves, there was a parallel narrative running within the practice of photography almost since its inception, which upended traditional modes of representation. The film uses the photographer and historian Deborah Willis’s “Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present,” the first large-scale history of the subject, as a foundation to present its argument, told through an array of historical photographs, personal meditations, and the interweaving of scholarly voices. Harris, a photographer himself, has structured the film as both history lesson and call to action — the struggle of representation through the stream of images produced by the culture is ongoing, and needs continual counter-images of refusal.
Harris focuses on the importance in African American photography of the "family album," a term that has a double meaning here. In its most literal sense, the family album was an important way for African Americans to create and present their own images, but Harris also wants to look at the body of African American photographic work as a collective family album, a way to merge personal stories and representations within a historical narrative.
This focus also gives Harris an opportunity to explore his own personal history with images. His grandfather was an amateur photographer, the keeper of the family album, which, in Harris’s description, included personal photographs next to images of historical African American figures and the work of Harlem-based artists like James Van Der Zee, all conversing on the album's pages. It was a key source of inspiration for Harris, and also worked as an antidote to the imageless presence of his father, who took and kept no pictures of the family. Harris links this to the guilt his father felt about his own color. Harris's own photographs (and the film) have been part of a process of understanding and challenging this way of thinking, and of suggesting the importance not just of African American artists but of African American images in general, from the amateur to the professional.
“Through a Lens Darkly” shows that this kind of challenge has taken many forms throughout history. African Americans have often disrupted the standard representation of their culture through dignified portraits and joyful scenes of community and familial harmony (a tradition that actually extends back to before the advent of photography, in mediums like painting and woodcarving). Often, as the film shows, these images were relegated to the shadows, crowded out by the dominant representations of African Americans in the news media and advertising—which, in the words of Henry Louis Gates, “were used to demean and delimit our people as human beings and as citizens.”
Demonstrators continue to gather and protest the shooting death of Michael Brown along West Florissant Avenue on August 23, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
With the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, the challenge of representation took on the form of images of protest. Pride was not showing how “normal” you were, but accepting difference and fighting for your right to exist in spite or even because of it. During this period, artists like Gordon Parks, Roy DeCarava, and Moneta Sleet, Jr. (the first African American man to win a Pulitzer Prize) were able to more publicly address issues of representation by showing resistance to the dominant modes of oppression and presenting not just public intellectuals and musicians, but people on the street as heroic figures in the family album of American life.
These images, despite their power, didn’t displace the common modes of representation. They just made those modes more complicated, influencing them in ways that made their imbalances and false representations less obvious. We can see the results today, in forms of cultural appropriation (e.g., the use of African American culture as a fashion accessory) and the coded messages of advertisements (some of which are not so subtle).
But as these messages continue to proliferate through the culture, there has been a greater form of rebellion. Look at the images coming out of Ferguson, Missouri. The protests over the shooting of Michael Brown, have worked hard to reverse the narrative of disruptive agitation the media likes to promote. The most beautiful and important images in Fergurson have been of peaceful protests, of people from the community with their hands up in solidarity; the most horrifying have been of the authorities, guns drawn. These images have helped push a conversation about systematic police brutality against African Americans, sparked by images of a hyper-militarized police force fighting its own citizens.
“Through a Lens Darkly,” with its detailed study of dominant forms of representation and their parallel forms of resistance, helps us see African American images, from the past through the present to the future, as part of a larger shifting historical narrative that needs to be constantly rewritten in order to present the fullest collective image of American life.
“The Congress,” a bewildering live-action/animation hybrid from Israeli director Ari Folman, is a film with a lot on its mind — maybe too much. Adapted from “The Futurological Congress,” a 1971 science-fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem, the film strips almost everything out of the original text except the bare necessities, trading its critique of the utopianism of youth culture for a jumbled meditation on the future of celebrity in a world of fickle and slippery identities.
Robin Wright stars as a version of herself, an actress who is hitting the glass ceiling. She is growing older, and her reputation as a difficult collaborator has hurt her standing in Hollywood. She lives in a bunker near the airport with her two children, one of whom is suffering from a rare disease that threatens deafness. Her only visitor is her agent (Harvey Keitel), who one day shows up at her door with a curious offer. A studio wants to meet with her about a secret project. When she arrives, she discovers the plan: as technology advances, there will be no more need for actors; instead, performers will be paid hefty sums to be scanned, so that their moving images can be reproduced in any ways deemed useful, forever and ever.
After some reluctance, Wright agrees. This all happens in the first hour. Then the film shifts gears. We’re now 20 years in the future, and the world we see is animated. We learn that in the intervening years Wright’s scanned image has become more popular than she ever was, starring in a franchise of grotesque action flicks. She arrives at something called The Futurological Congress, an event hosted by the studio to unveil their new technology, which allows anybody to switch identities — from a superhero to your favorite movie star in a matter of seconds — and they want Wright to sign up, essentially licensing her image not just to the movie studio but to the world.
From there, the film goes down a rabbit hole of convoluted twists and turns. A character named Dylan Truliner (voiced by Jon Hamm) arrives to steer Wright through the animated maze, and the narrative jumps years, maybe even centuries—it’s hard to tell. By this point, the story has veered wildly off track, and it feels like the viewer, not Wright, is stuck is a brightly colored and confusing world.
You have to give credit to Folman for even attempting such an ambitious project, or at least somehow convincing people to give him money to make it. But the problem with too much ambition is that the work of art often becomes simply about that and nothing else, scale and density for their own sake. Here, the ambition also deflates the critiques of the commodification of women’s bodies and the lust for immortality, which begin as brash and clever and, by the end, have transformed into a puddle of incoherence.
Toward the end, the action shifts back to live-action, and the viewer is reminded of the film they were once watching. But it’s too late. “The Congress,” by trying to cram so many ideas into its future-world, gets buried under the weight of them.
“The Congress” opens August 29 in Los Angeles and September 5 in New York City.
When Hunk Anderson was a senior at Hobart College in Geneva, New York, in 1948, he and two enterprising classmates started providing meals for students who were hungry after dining-hall hours. Initially investing $500 each, the three partners grew Saga, their grassroots business, into the nation’s largest college food-service contractor. In 1962 they moved their headquarters to Menlo Park, California, adjacent to Stanford University.
As pioneering West Coast art collectors, Harry W. Anderson, who still goes by his beefy nickname, and his wife, Mary Margaret, known as Moo, have shown the same sort of American pluck and ingenuity that made Saga so successful. “We were absolute novices,” says Hunk, recalling a 1964 visit to the Louvre. “On our way home from Paris, we decided to see if we could become knowledgeable about art and put together a dozen paintings and sculptures.” They began a process of self-education that blossomed into a passion around which they have structured their lives for 50 years. The result: one of the most significant private collections of postwar American art in the world, with more than 800 works displayed throughout their ranch-style home in the Northern California Bay Area—built in 1969 with art installation in mind—and a nearby nine-building office campus designed in 1964. (Saga was sold to Marriott in 1986, but Hunk retained his office and continues to exhibit art throughout the hilltop complex, renamed Quadrus.)
In 2011 the Andersons promised 121 works to Stanford, which will unveil the Anderson Collection at Stanford University, a dedicated museum for the gift, in September. “We will miss them,” says Moo, referring to prized canvases by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Sean Scully, and Terry Winters, along with 86 other works that will come from the walls of their home and office. “But then new kids will be coming in. It will be exciting.”
Sitting at their kitchen table, where they have entertained visitors including Richard Diebenkorn, Philip Guston, and Frank Stella, Hunk, 91, and Moo, 87, who met at a local yacht club during college, are unpretentious and gregarious, looking more like the golfers they are than like arterati. The lack of formality is just part of the disarming charm that has won the couple close relationships with artists, dealers, and academics. But they also do their homework. Initially attracted to the Impressionists at the Louvre, they began their self-education by consulting catalogues, then acquired Fourth of July Parade, circa 1886, by Alfred Cornelius Howland, a peer of Winslow Homer. They went on to buy a smattering of works by European Impressionists including Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir.
The couple’s collecting became more focused in the late 1960s after they met Albert Elsen, a Rodin scholar at Stanford who steered them toward modern and contemporary work. “We became enamored with the first internationally acclaimed American art movement and set our sights on the Abstract Expressionists,” says Hunk, who sat in with Moo on some of Elsen’s introductory classes and took his advice to consider only museum-quality works. With more resources available for art after Saga went public in 1968, the Andersons developed a wish list, identifying, for instance, which Pollocks were in private hands. With the help of dealer and collector Eugene Thaw, they stalked Lucifer, 1947, for a couple of years before acquiring it from an entertainment mogul. The quintessential drip painting hung, along with works by Josef Albers and Ad Reinhardt, in the bedroom of their daughter Mary Patricia, a.k.a. Putter. Moo notes that although Putter got to choose the works that hung in her room, she was completely indifferent to the art as a child. Now an art adviser, she has since come around, but like the contents of many children’s bedrooms, her impressive choices are being moved by the Andersons out of the house—as part of the gift to Stanford.
In addition to Thaw, Elsen introduced the Andersons to New York Museum of Modern Art painting and sculpture curator William Rubin. In the early 1970s, Rubin sold the couple five major works from his own collection—a sculpture by David Smith and canvases by Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Rothko, and Clyfford Still. The collectors acquired two 70 other canvases by Still at the time, the largest of which they donated to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1974. The gift caught the attention of the notoriously cantankerous and controlling artist. “He was very curious to know who, all of a sudden, had three paintings,” remembers Moo, who received a call from Still’s wife that year saying they were visiting San Francisco and wanted to see the Andersons if they would send a car. “Of course, I was the car,” says Moo, who still motors around Palo Alto in her 1979 Porsche 911.
Despite Still’s hauteur, the Andersons were tickled to have the artist hold court in their home. “I’m not sure if they recognized anybody else” in the collection, jokes Hunk. “The emphasis was on Clyfford Still.” Patricia Still asked them to shade their walkway so no direct sunlight would hit 1957-J No. 1, 1957, the towering canvas acquired from Rubin, hanging alongside works by Rothko and Louise Nevelson. The Andersons did as instructed. “We had to,” says Moo. “They came back and checked on us.”
The Andersons had far more easygoing friendships with Guston, whom they championed for having the courage to shift from abstract to figurative work when critics initially panned him, and Diebenkorn, whom they affectionately call Dick, and whose work they collected in depth. They were introduced to the Santa Monica-based artist by Stanford faculty member and painter Nathan Oliveira, who was also instrumental in directing the collectors’ attention toward California artists such as David Park and Peter Voulkos. Balancing New York School artists with their West Coast counterparts appealed to the Andersons as it reflected their own move from New York.
The Andersons work primarily with galleries. “Once you find their taste is the same as yours, you keep going back to them,” says Moo, noting that dealers including Edith Halpert, Robert Elkon, and Martha Jackson “were very influential to us, teaching us how to look, recommending books.” In the last couple of decades, Putter has introduced them to younger generations of galleries and artists. She was instrumental in getting them to take another look at Susan Rothenberg, who Hunk initially thought was “just fooling around with horses.” She steered them toward Nick Cave as well as California artist David Allan Peters and Sam Richardson. Putter also helped select the 121 works going to Stanford. Long before they decided to create a gift, “Moo and I had always thought about which 100 works would form a core collection of the second half of the 20th century, both east and west,” says Hunk, explaining it was a game they played when thinking about their collection. About a decade ago, Putter became a part of those discussions, causing the number to swell as she advocated for artists including Lynda Benglis, Squeak Carnwath, Jay DeFeo, and Nancy Graves. “It’s a family affair,” Hunk says.
The Andersons have always been committed to sharing their collection with others. From early on, they have regularly opened both their house and the office to groups and students. In 1975 they initiated an intern program, giving Stanford Ph.D. candidates the opportunity to work with the collection, which continues today. More than 30 graduate students have participated, including Neal Benezra, now director at SFMOMA, who was one of the first interns to work with the couple in their home. “I don’t think mentor is too strong a word,” the director says of his relationship with Hunk. Unlike many students pursuing doctoral degrees, Benezra was not pulled toward a career in academia. “The opportunity to work with such important collectors gave me direct exposure to works of art and, ultimately, museums,” he says. “It’s a different kind of art history. Working with Hunk every day, I learned about the real world of art.”
Bay Area institutions have long benefited from the Andersons’ generosity. In 1992 the couple donated 30 important Pop works by artists including Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol to SFMOMA. In 1996 they gave more than 650 contemporary prints to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. When considering where to bestow their core collection, Hunk says they were impressed by the Stanford Arts Initiative, begun five years ago to construct new facilities and integrate the arts throughout campus life. “It is creating art as a discipline equal with engineering, humanities, medicine, and so forth, which we wanted to be a part of,” says Hunk. The university’s willingness to build and operate a new light-flooded facility by Ennead Architects, where the collection would stand alone, was instrumental in the choice. “It’s worthy of that,” Hunk says of the gift.
“The Andersons have historically made donations to SFMOMA and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco,” says Jason Linetzky, who was the collectors’ curator and has become director of the Anderson Collection. “This one to Stanford now completes a triangle of seeing how these gifts work in different institutions. Anyone coming to the Bay Area will have an opportunity to see the full extent of the holdings.”
After the 61 works come down from the house and another 60 from Quadrus, the couple look forward to the opportunity to rethink their home. The monumental Sam Francis canvas over the living room fireplace, facing off with the Morris Louis over the couch, will be replaced with canvases by Helen Frankenthaler and David Hockney from the office campus. A figurative work by Park in the family room will take the spot of Lucifer in the dining room, alongside the sole Still and lone de Kooning they are keeping. The wide hallway in the bedroom wing, which will lose Serpentine, 1961, by William Baziotes—one of Putter’s favorites—and canvases by Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, and Robert Motherwell, will be rehung with original works on paper and prints, as was originally intended for the space when the house was built. Still active collectors, the Andersons are particularly excited to bring in some of the younger artists they have acquired recently, including Mark Fox, Julie Mehretu, and Kate Shepherd.
Hunk, who still goes to the office every day, says he has relished managing the collection full-time since selling his business in 1986. “It keeps us motivated,” he says. “It keeps us interested. It’s one of our hopes and desires that this is going to do the same for other people who are going to be able to see this collection at Stanford. I think it has had a direct influence over our relationships, as well as our longevity.”
A version of this article appears in the July/August 2014 issue of Art+Auction magazine.
— Jasper Johns Assistant Admits Theft:James Meyer, who served as an assistant to Jasper Johns for more than 25 years, pleaded guilty yesterday to selling 22 of the artist’s unfinished works for a total of $6.5 million. Meyer could face up to ten years in prison. "James Meyer made millions by stealing and selling the valuable artworks that he was entrusted with maintaining," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. "Meyer will now have to pay for that decision." [WSJ]
— France Gets Arts Head: Earlier this week, Aurélie Filippetti publicly resigned from her role as French Culture Minister in an open letter, and now French President François Hollande has replaced her. Fleur Pellerin, who was previously minister of foreign trade and tourism, has been appointed to the position. [TAN]
— Protestors Want Piss Christ Removed: More than 25 years after it first sparked protests, Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” is once again ruffling the feathers of religious groups. The Musée Fesch in Corsica, which is currently hosting an exhibition of Serrano’s work, saw around 50 protestors gather outside earlier this week. “[Corsica] is soiled by the presence of this picture. It’s an insult to every Corsican,” said a member of the Catholic organisation Cristiani Corsi. [TAN]
— Artist to Make Levitating Building: Artist Alex Chinneck, who was responsible for that Kent building façade that looked like it was sliding off, is now attempting to make a Covent Garden structure appear to levitate. [Telegraph]
— Drama at a Legend’s Architecture School: Here’s a look at the complicated politics over at the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture school, which lost its accreditation last week. [NYT]
— More Art/Music Collabs: Singer Kimbra (of “Somebody That I Used to Know” fame) debuted her new album with an art show. [Sundial]
— Look like Andre 3000 is making art as a way to cope with dirty laundry. [Artnews]
— Downtown party fixtures John Tuite and Carlos Santolalla— better known as Jarlos — have a one-night-only photo show tonight. [WSJ]
— “But my recent visit to the Institute of Russian Realist Art revealed a tradition with surprising range and complexity, encompassing not only photographlike portraiture and landscapes, but many artistic approaches: images projected through a dreamy, Impressionist filter; renderings that startle with their bright, radiant colors; and paintings with poignant symbolic messages.” — A report from inside Moscow’s Institute of Russian Realist Art. [WSJ]
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