This past week I heard an article on NPR that discussed the new use of flute in hip hop music and other more contemporary music made and performed today.
My mind immediately went flying back to 1970 when Gil Scott Heron produced many of the works that defined the groundbreaking work of merging spoken word poetry, music, and popular culture. If you listen to The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, you will hear the flute weaving throughout this performative piece that referenced the popular slogan among the 1960’s Black Power Movements in the United States. Mentioning popular culture references from television series and ad slogans from that time, talking about what the “Revolution will not” be or do, many listeners today may not understand the popular cultural references that are mentioned: white lightening, white tornado, Natalie Wood, Steve McQueen, Bullwinkle, Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and
If you are of a certain age, you’ll remember the difficult times when Nixon, Spiro Agnew, and other political miscreants were causing angst in our country. Gil Scott-Heron really put his finger on the reason why life was out of control for those that were forced into the margins of the American life at that time, drawing comparisons to the hijinks of elected officials and contrasting it with popular culture amassed in 1970’s ads and programming on television and radio.
Today, over 47 years after this song first broadcast on the airwaves, we see the same situation where we can insert different names into the spoken word poetry. Gil Scott Heron was a groundbreaking artist creating the voice of truth for the artists and citizens that had no voice.
In science, catalytics speed up a chemical reaction while undergoing no permanent change. Recently this premise is actively being tested at the Arts Mid-Hudson gallery – two Hudson Valley curators Emilie Houssart and Xuewu Zheng are launching a series of artistic dialogues through group art exhibitions. Houssart explained that this is facilitated “by getting artists together so that we might ‘collide’ with each other in interesting ways.”
Altogether, eight artists are exhibiting work that could be wildly diverse without this premise. For instance, in Jinkook Hwang’s “Sushi Nam Yeo” series, rice is seen as the object of happiness and love, stemming from his cultural background. In “Couple Sushi,” the artist draws a man and woman resting on a bed of rice that has been magnified to signify its importance in his life.
Hayoon Jay Lee also creates work responding to food, which can be seen in many of her performance pieces and artworks. Hayoon said, “I try to communicate the tension points surrounding personal conflicts and social inequities. However, a central core and a function my work is an active collaboration by artists to inform and support underserved communities.” Hayoon exhibits “Silent Witness I,” where viewers can consider the artist’s rendition of a beautifully rounded spoon, filled to the brim with rice and contemplate the idea of what is enough.
Emilie Houssart and Xuewu Zheng both use their artistic practice to make sense of contemporary culture. With Zheng’s practice of rolling and tying newspapers, the work reflects his fascination with history and the idea that we create a new history as we live our lives. Zheng’s practice can be summed up in his succinct statement about his work: “My goal is to take the treasures of the people in my left hand and the masters of yesterday in my right hand and to clasp them together. I then want to blend them to create the Zheng Xuewu of today.” His installation “Century Text” placed in the center of the gallery features thousands of pages rolled and tied, reminding us that history is made up of thousands of tiny details from each day.
Houssart’s work “Spaces” responds to the different perceptions of value in society. Similar to Zheng, Houssart has a darkly humorous approach to contemporary culture, adding it all into the mix and allowing everything to exist side by side in a vaguely chaotic presentation.
Marieken Cochius exhibits her recent ink and shellac drawings on paper. The artist may be influenced by the natural world: her abstraction of color and bold line stands out as a direct emotional response articulated with paper and inks. While Cochius presents ethereal line and shading, Leigh Williams exhibits “Vessels,” two forms that can be viewed as positive and negative space. The hand-built wood-fired clay has delicate colorations that defy their dark, organic shapes.
Joe Radoccia’s larger than life portraits show a dignity and gravitas in each face. Each portrait features underpainting in the background that adds to the depth and nuance of each face. Radoccia places the soul of each person on display using a grand scale and the direct gaze of the subject.
Sumi Pak examines human emotions of happiness, sadness, fear, and curiosity through his daily portraits of his cat, Kopi. Pak’s gestural line and colorations describe the ordinary life of his cat, and perhaps our own lives as we go about our daily business.
This essay was originally published in print: the Poughkeepsie Journal – March 10, 2017
Every year I head to the spring art fairs in New York City – including Volta, Scope, NADA, ADAA, and The Armory Show. This year the trend I noted was – gasp – textile! They were everywhere and the trend was seen in the gallery booths from around the globe. The textile artworks at The Armory had a variety of approaches – from sewn fabric strips arranged in color patterns to silk-screened silk panel (Robert Rauschenberg!) to some pieces that appeared to be inspired by the quilters of Gee’s Bend.
Several artists have taken up creating tapestry editions such as Kiki Smith’s artwork manifested as a Jacquard tapestry. The deer in the forest is the main image that you will notice in “Fortune,” a series on the seasons. The tapestry features borders that have a collage effect, the earth under the deer’s hooves is another world below the forest floor.
Although Kiki Smith‘s work is fairly recent (2011), another item of note about all the textiles was that some of them had been created decades earlier – in the 1970’s and 1980’s, as seen in Robert Rauschenberg‘s work.
For all the artists that I saw at The Armory Show, looking at the work and wondering when their art would be featured here, I wished I could tell them to continue making your work regardless whether it is fashionable for that season – be patient – your time will come.
I always know that I’ve seen a groundbreaking art exhibit when images from that show continue to play in my mind. This was the case with the Kerry James Marshall exhibit at the Met. Arriving on Friday night on the closing weekend, I wasn’t surprised to wait in a long line, and there was something wonderful about standing with hundreds of people excited about seeing the artworks inside the doors. As I got closer to entering I could see the faces of those that have seen the show exiting the museum. One woman commented to me, “Don’t worry – it’s worth the wait.”
Kerry James Marshall has done masterful artworks for decades, and this exhibit, Mastry, was significant in that viewers could see 80 artworks arranged on two entire floors of the Met Breuer. During the Met’s video on the exhibit, Marshall was interviewed and stated, “Mastery is an important concept. It implies having achieved a certain level of proficiency that gives you the freedom to do what you want, without fear of the consequences.”
Marshall was born in Alabama during 1955, but his family moved when he was a small child to South Central Los Angeles. This interested me greatly since we are around the same age, but living very different lives 75 miles apart.
The exhibit was curated using different rooms featuring Marshall’s work arranged around themes. His most well-known paintings use portraiture and reference art history using depictions of African Americans featured as the central figures in each painting. The people of Marshall’s paintings are black – making the word black into a statement that is more than the color used on the canvas. Seeing 80 works of art where all of the figures are black in a major museum is startling and gratifying.
Marshall’s work is also a reflection of the socio-political time he was growing up in the South Central Los Angeles area. With few opportunities for blacks during that time, in every facet of life: housing, jobs, education, and political representation, there was growing resentment about the inequalities that resulted in actions across the United
States. In Los Angeles, this came to bear as the Watt’s Rebellion that happened during 1965’s hot August days. My memory as a young teenager was seeing the black billowing smoke from the fires in Watts and then watching the news on television. For those who didn’t directly experience what led to those days of Americans fighting against other Americans, we can reference Marshall’s paintings to see a clear roadmap.
Marshall paints about the frustrations and limitations of being constricted to living in housing projects with genteel names, such as Rockwell Gardens, Wentworth Gardens, or Altgeld Gardens. In each of these paintings the African-American residents of these projects are depicted as caring for the grounds or doing domestic tasks, such as planting flowers, but there is no sense of joy or pride in their faces. In fact, the faces are all depicted with dead expressions.
Although these paintings were finished years after the 1965 Watt’s Rebellion, they reflect feelings of subsumed anger over circumstances that African-Americans were forced to live during that time. The Watt’s Rebellion erupted as just one of many that ricocheted across the US in the coming years.
In most of the major world museums, masters that have been collected are primarily Europeans. We can think about Renoir and his well-known painting, “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” showing a leisurely Sunday afternoon on the river with friends. Kerry James Marshall uses a narrative style and subject matter that parallels this painting. In “Past Times,” Marshall depicts African Americans spending a relaxing day at a park. The painting is large (9.6×13’) and viewers will see an idyllic park scene where black people are playing golf, croquet, and riding in a powerboat on the lake.
A woman sets out a picnic on the blanket spread over the grass and music by the Temptations is depicted as coming out of the cassette player, with lyrics written as a stylistic banner; “But it was just my imagination, runnin’ away with me-It was just my imagination runnin’ away with me,” resulting in an uneasy feeling that we are all looking at a fantasy. Further examination of the painting shows the housing projects clearly visible in the background. Marshall stated this in the Met video: “In the entire narrative of art history as we know it, there is not a single black person who has achieved the title of master, certainly not an Old Master. Mastery means that one is able to self-determine, to determine how one wants to be represented, how one wants to be seen.”
For me, an especially touching artwork was Marshall’s depiction of one of his artist-teacher idols, Charles White. The artist met him when he was attending Otis Art Institute as a 7th grader and while visiting this working artist’s studio, understood for the first time that he could become an artist.
The show is traveling to the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (March 21 – July 2, 2017) and is worth every penny to travel and see if you haven’t experienced Marshall’s Mastry exhibit.
Driving around the Hudson River Valley every day, I see lovely views around each corner. The mountains, trees, Hudson River, and apple orchards are beautiful in every season.
I also see this house every day on my commute to work, not particularly beautiful, but the upright piano outside the front porch of this abandoned house haunts me.
I don’t know how long this house and property has been abandoned, it looks like years. The farmhouse might have been built in the early 1900’s, a time when many families had upright pianos in their parlor and gatherings frequently ended in an impromptu concert around the piano. Making music was important at that time but sheet music was expensive for a popular song, selling for as much as $2.00, which is equivalent to $54 today.
After 1900, cheaper ways to print music were found and the twenty-five cent song sheet was introduced. Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” became the first Ragtime composition to become a sheet music best-seller, and American music and ragtime were on everyone’s soundwaves.
Consider that a piano like the abandoned one sitting on this porch might have cost $400 during that time, as shown in this receipt on the left. In 1900 an average annual salary was $450 – can you imagine spending your annual salary on a musical instrument? Music in the home was a valuable part of making a good life for your family.
Today that upright piano continues to molder away on the porch, exposed to the four seasons of the Hudson Valley. The musical gatherings around the piano are a memory for our local elders and maybe that’s what haunts me the most.
For over a century, the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony has a history of providing a place for artists to create work. Today, the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild sustains that creative work through an integrated program of exhibitions, performances, classes, workshops, symposia, summer residences, and artist housing. The annual Members’ exhibition demonstrates the sustainability of founders Jane and Ralph Whitehead’s multi-disciplined model that welcomed artists and craftspeople to work collaboratively and without restrictions.
This year’s member’s exhibit, Byrd & Image, provides a glimpse of the immense amount of talent showing in a broad array of media. Artist and curator, Linda Weintraub designed the installation of the exhibit with over 100 pieces of artworks on display. She commented, “Debra Priestly was honored with this year’s ‘curator’s choice’ award for her meticulously constructed print, but those eligible as runners-up are plentiful. Other impressive works include emotionally expressive abstractions, masterfully constructed sculptures, beautifully crafted collages, and hauntingly intimate photographs.”
Visitors to the exhibit will notice Weintraub arranged the exhibit works in groupings, allowing each work to be appreciated on its own merits. The larger pieces of work that are standouts include Calvin Grimm’s “Clearing Out the Stories,” an exuberant oil on canvas, and Laura Gurton’s “Unknown Species #215,” a beautiful composition of patterning, reminiscent of Aboriginal designs. The exacting designs of dots and drawn lines are enhanced by the luminescent depth of the painting’s surface. Mary Anne Erickson’s “Binger’s Rocket Gas” painting reminds us of the nostalgic roadside attractions seen during the mid-century era. Similar in mood to Edward Hopper’s work, the image depicts a place where the architecture, signage, and vehicles dominate the world. In direct opposition to this feeling is Marjorie Grinnell’s portrait of a man lying on a fainting couch, fully dressed in evening wear, which is both a beautiful portrait and a narrative painting.
The smaller artworks really shine in this setting, surrounded by other works on their own scale. For instance, Debra Priestly’s modest-sized pieces have a delicate beauty and convey a personal story about memory, ancestral knowledge, and historic events. Carole P. Kunstadt’s “Interlude” series are small artworks that have a large presence. Utilizing an old music manuscript found in a thrift store, Kunstadt cut and wove the papers followed by repetitively knotting linen threads into the fragmented surface of musical notations and lyrics, resulting in a meditative artwork. Viewers of these artworks could consider that these small framed pieces also serve as sacred objects.
Byrdcliffe Arts Colony was founded with the idea of venerating the handmade, fostering an artistic community and creating beautiful objects for everyday use. In this exhibit, there are ceramic pieces on exhibit that reflect this ideal including work by Megan Dayl, and Deirdre Puleo’s “Creepy Forest,” a wood-fired pot with branch embellishments. The exhibit also includes bronze sculptures by Philip Monteleoni, Alex Kveton, and Jean Newburg.
Weintraub commented on the artworks and artists in the region; “They each provide evidence of the artistic vitality that endures, to this day, in the historic Hudson Valley.”
This article was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal Enjoy!, January 13, 2017.
Neil Gaiman, one of our contemporary artists and thought leaders said:
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”
My desk shows that recently I have been busy making something. My hope for you is that 2017 brings the accomplishments of making and trying new things and that you’ll join me in pushing ourselves to be the best we can be.