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.
Interested in history? This week I was remembering 1968 when Cream‘s album, Wheels of Fire was released. Eric Clapton was at the beginning of his career and his fascination with American Blues fused with rock is the standard on this album.
Cream’s Wheels of Fire became the soundtrack of my life that year. Eric Clapton’s virtuoso guitar, Jack Bruce’s bass, and Ginger Baker on the drums created a sound that was transformational.
For me, life was in California, but the news went beyond those borders. That summer of 1968 began with the shooting murder of Martin Luther King. In August, Richard Nixon was elected as the presidential candidate during the Republican Convention, and eventually elected president in November. Every night you could watch Walter Cronkite announce the latest death toll of Americans on the news from the Vietnam War. Finally, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed.
Most importantly, that August in 1968 was the month that my mother died – she was 37 – and today I realize how young that really was. As my life unraveled, Wheels of Fire became the touchstone of a new reality that I had moving into the future. The album had songs of memory (Those were the Days), political wit (The Politician), fantasy (Pressed Rat and Warthog), and the blues, (Born Under a Bad Sign and Crossroads). Wheels of Fire carried me through that first year on my own and helped me imagine how on earth I was going to put my life back together again. Thank you, Cream for the music that provided magic and comfort in our lives.
Hear the entire album here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPIXJ7B2I7E
Winter is here, bringing cold slush, freezing temperatures and making me think about heading back to Mexico. The temperatures are not only warmer, but the people are friendly and the food is wonderful.
Finding good food in Mexico City is easy enough – just walk into the nearest little place and order the menu of the day. Most of the time lunch will include soup, salad, main dish and a dessert. Eating this way is easy and inexpensive, but the more we wandered through markets with the stunning piles of chiles, fresh squash blossoms, fruits and tortillas, the more we talked about how fun it would be to be able to make our own meals. During our last trip to Mexico City, we stayed in an Airbnb with a kitchen, which opened up the possibility of shopping and cooking our own meals.
First, I should mention we are a family of people who love to cook, including two chefs who make their living this way. There are few travel activities more exciting than wandering through a food market and finding new options for dinner.
Some of the food is simply beautiful in its color and pattern, such as the stacks and stacks of dried cereal, pasta, and spices. Other types of foods we had no idea what we were looking at and had to ask how the vendor cooked it at home.
Shopping in the neighborhood also gave us a glimpse of life in that community, since we had to visit the green market, the Mercado for supplies, the bakery, and a liquor store for our favorite tequila, Gran Centenario.
Dessert from the bakery – an important part of dinner.
We enjoyed every minute of these neighborhood wanderings and arrived back to begin preparing that evening’s feast. Dinner one night included a simple stew with garbanzo beans, corn, tomato, and small red potatoes – it was delicious, but the experience of shopping and cooking was a large portion of the pleasure.