I believe when we engage intimately with works of art, who we are and how we view our world, changes. The creation of art and the viewing of it, allow for us to reconfigure our thoughts, and to make ideas and abstractions, concrete. All art germinates from a need to see, understand and communicate. Like alchemists, great artists distill and transform. For me then, art becomes an experience and a lens through which to view the world. The alchemy in art is that it allows us to see stars where once we saw only dust.
James Turrell, Afrum I (White), 1967. Projected light, dimensions variable
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Panza Collection, Gift 92.4175 © James Turrell
The French call it, le menu degustation. In restaurant parlance this means to taste and carefully savor a delicate sample of everything the kitchen has to offer provided by the chef. The show on view at The Drawing Room in East Hampton from May 3 through June 3, presents just such an exquisite representation: 50 years of works on paper by the artist Jack Youngerman.
Youngerman was greatly influenced by the flavors of French Art and his time in the Parisian Art World in the aftermath of Word War II. In 1947, when most young American artists were congregating in New York, Jack Youngerman left Missouri for Paris on the GI Bill, immersing himself in a city bursting back to life following the dark period of German occupation. This reemergence of vigor, of esprit and essence, as well as the clean cutout shapes of Jean Arp and the saturated colors of Henri Matisse, left indelible marks that are evident throughout Youngerman’s long career.
Grouped chronologically and ranging in size from delicate 3-inch squares to more formally resolved 21-inch forms, the show traces Youngerman’s evolution toward his own style of organic, geometric abstraction. Works from the early ’50s, such as White Blue Construction (1951) and the gentler, soft paintbrush marks of Banlieue (1953), are both small symphonies of rhythm and color informed by the paintings of Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian.
In the late ’50s, when Youngerman returned to New York at the behest of the art dealer Betty Parsons, he had moved on from the precision of his early collages and drawings, evolving into a bolder style of gestural shapes, evidenced by such works as Blue Delfina(1961).
This 21-inch square of blue and black gouache on paper is one of the largest pieces in the show. The dynamic interlocking jagged forms take on the vocabulary of Abstract Expressionism, but without the angst and bluster. A few years later, in the ink on paper work titled August 31, 1966, the artist unites flowing forms with ragged edges that define the white space of the paper.
By the late ’60s, Youngerman’s irregular shapes, both on the canvas and on paper, had given way to more iconic imagery. He was producing work with central, organic motifs, some of which resembled large, abstracted flower heads. Look at Yellow and Black (1960): This watercolor resembles a Pop version of a Georgia O’Keeffe if the point of view on the flower was as up close and personal as a bumblebee. The lemon yellow design in the lower quadrant is nearly symmetrical, the encircling black shape provides an emblematic focus, and the entire composition is a merging of strength and sensuality.
Soon Youngerman’s shapes became looser and more flowing. In the late ’60s he established a studio in Bridgehampton, and his imagery, which had always harked back to the natural world, became imbued with organic shapes. By the ’70s, his ink and gouache compositions, like July 2, 1972, had successfully blended the cutout forms of Matisse’s that inspired his early work, with his own gestural lightness, his own way of infusing lyrical design with white space in a dance of positive and negative elements.
Over the next decade, Youngerman worked with stylized patterns—crisp squares, circles and triangles, layered in contrasting colors that caused the images to pulsate and vibrate. Pieces such as Crucifer (study) 2008 combine geometric shapes with the juxtaposition of primary colors, lending the work a dense optical quality.
In his latest work, Youngerman’s hard edges have given way to a softer geometry. Circles and curves dominate gouaches such as Green/Orange/Blue(2010), in which the colored form has been applied to handmade Japanese paper. The paper maintains the brown-grey color and the texture of the tree-bark it was made from, and this bestows a fragile, natural delicacy to the origami-like complexity of the central images.
At 87, Youngerman is having a Renaissance. Additionally, Washburn Gallery has a display of his cut plywood paintings (to be reviewed shortly on Hamptons Art Hub) and Longhouse Reserve in East Hampton is displaying six of his black and white fiberglass sculptures from the 1980s through October 12. Also currently on display at The Parrish Art Museum is Conflux II (2003), a vermillion red wood relief. Youngerman began working with these elegantly carved shapes in the 1970s; the piece at the Parrish combines the gestural form that is reminiscent of his earlier work, with the boldness of color and central configuration of his later plywood paintings.
As The Drawing Room rightly states in its press release, its current show on Jack Youngerman is “a window on the development of Youngerman’s visual language.” And this is a window with a spectacular view.
-By Gabrielle Selz
BASIC FACTS: “Jack Youngerman: Works on Paper 1951-2012” opened May 3 and remains on view through June 3 at The Drawing Room. The gallery is located at 66H Newtown Lane, East Hampton, NY 11937. www.drawingroom-gallery.com
To see more artworks in the show, click: “In Pictures: Jack Youngerman’s Visual Language.”
If one of the major pursuits of 20th- and 21st-century art has been to break down the barrier between artists and viewer, between viewer and created object, then Doug Wheeler's installation on view at David Zwirner until Feb. 25 is a gorgeous example of dissolving this borderline. Stepping across the threshold of Wheeler's Infinity Environment one is immediately swallowed up by luminous space. Inside the rounded room, the light changes slowly from brilliant white to a murky lavender darkness. And one wonders, where does the artist's space end and the viewer's begin?
Wheeler, along with James Turrell and Robert Irwin, was one of the founders of the West Coast Light and Space movement in the 1960s and '70s. I remember the '70s as being the era that completely broke down the physical boundary separating art from viewer. For a while, every gallery I visited had some large piece of art that invited tactile exploration. Art was theatrical, big, off the wall, out of the box, and leaping into the world. And the light and space artists pushed this fluidness between shape and container through their investigation of the act of perception. Often they depicted voids, open space, spaces that looked empty, but were in fact filled with atmospheric light. Art was no longer a thing, but an essence. And the west, with its vast vistas, its dramatic lighting, and its utopian ideas of a flexible society was the perfect environment for this type of art to flourish.
I happen to be a great proponent of art that encourages active participation. Where the permeable boundary is pierced and we are encouraged to climb inside the artwork. It's the same feeling I get from falling into a novel, the sense that I am walking around in someone else's imagination. In Wheeler's case it is purely the medium of light that we explore, touch, see, and sense. His simplified use of material heightens and distills the experience. Being inside his space is at once ethereal and dense. It's like being consumed by a bank of fog, or like confining infinity in a room.
As part of Pacific Standard Time, a show on Light & Space Art can also be seen at The Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego.
* Photo is author's own.
Under the racket of taxis and buses barreling up 10th Avenue, people chattering, the endless throb of drills ripping city pavement, and the piercing warning of trucks backing up, comes a low sound, a reverberating boom, boom, boom as distant and intimate as the heartbeat of a baby in the womb. Then the sound stops momentarily as if to catch its breath before starting up again. Rounding the corner and heading west on 25th Street, the erratic beat grows louder until, ducking between two buildings underneath the train-tracks of The Highline, the source of the sound is finally revealed. It's the world, our bulging, straining Earth.
This is Tight Spot, an installation piece of a blue blown-up globe by musician and visual artist, David Bryne that measures 48 by 20 feet and is an inflatable globe reminiscent of those grammar school globes that used to spin in the front of classrooms. Only instead of a hard globe we can hold in our hands, Tight Spot is giant sized and as soft as a beach ball. Since September 15th Tight Spot has occupied the space adjacent to Pace Gallery, where, compressed between the buildings and squished below The Highline, it emits low frequency vibrations.
Like a lot of Byrne's previous installation pieces, Tight Spot is deceptive in its simplicity. A simple object remembered from childhood, but like a memory in its recreation, this globe has become exaggerated. Tight Spot has also been given Bryne's voice. The thumping sound comes from two speakers placed inside the interior of the world that plays recordings of Bryne's filtered and processed voice and are, he has said, an open invitation to passersby to come, investigate and discover the object.
This is art that actively engages with the viewer. A meet-up with an object that has been given a human sound and that is itself pressed into a tight spot, but so are we. As viewers we are held in the small space allotted us, between sidewalk and large object. It is an intimate encounter in our everyday world with an everyday object but one that points beyond itself to the social currents of society and the world at large. As if to suggest that, come hell or high water, we are all in this together.
Standing there, one wonders if like a balloon, our world is expanding too fast? Or inversely, are we, like the compressed globe, being crushed by outside forces? Will the tissue of our world hold? And is this the sound the world makes when it is under too much stress and like an exhausted heart, an infant unable to be born or about to putter out?
All recognizably representational art is a distortion. And these distortions can be either formal or emotional. However, in Tight Spot, Byrne has done both. The compressed sphere of our earth protrudes in the center and flattens out at the side, like a fisheye lens it maps the curve of the earth though the image is almost entirely of blue sea -- blue being Bryne's favorite color -- calming to look at and yet, startling in the realization that there isn't enough space for the whole earth to fit. Not in this tight spot. This bulbous though representational exaggeration is both comical and sad as if in Tight Spot, Bryne has found a way to walk the line between truth and paranoia.
Tight Spot is on view at 508 West 25th Street in New York until October 1, 2011.
"I am always an outsider looking in," says Iranian-American artist Taravat Talepasand. "By portraying myself in different cultures I start to understand how another culture might see, and where they might place me." Indeed Talepasand's current body of work, now on view at Steven Zevitas Gallery in Boston until June 11th, examines how the Eastern and Western cultures conflate and clash. Even the title of the show, The Corrupt Minority refers to a recent combative statement made by Iranian clerics that lightly veiled women are a corrupt minority. The irony of course is that Islamic legislation has made women legitimate sex objects and this is at the heart and core of Talepasand's recent body of work: issues of global and personal identity, sex and gender, and most specifically, that of the process of subject (Talepasand) as she is transformed and overtaken by objectification.
Image-making is by definition always a process of objectification; Talepasand extends this process by incorporating the use of self-portraiture into her work.
In the exquisitely crafted "Self Portrait: Sanctioned," Talepasand merges the traditions of European and Persian painting into a self-examination. As dark and mysterious as the Jan Van Eyck it alludes to, Talepasand re-appropriates not just the colors of that rich, red turban, but the invention of oil painting, a technique originally credited to Van Eyck and the Renaissance that, in point of fact, originated in the Middle East. Taking it one step further, Talepasand has painted herself naked, as a sculptural relic reminiscent of a pre-Islamic time. Her face is covered in black oil, the source of much of the value and conflict between her Western and Eastern identities, and she has truncated her image at the arms, though she still manages to shield her breasts from the viewer as she boldly stares out of the canvas.
"Still Life: Halft Sin" is a depiction of the tradition during the Persian New Year, to set up a table of meaningful objects, often grains, candles and The Koran. Unable to visit Iran because of the recent unrest, Talepasand sought connection through blogs and the internet. Online, she discovered an illicit and subverted culture, hidden from traditional view, much like women are hidden behind their burkas. She has appropriated some of these images into her own tableaux of relics, painting scandalous images of Iranian women posing nude that she found on these sites. Although the painting is quite risqué, the hookah in the center is an instrument allowed to both men and women of the culture, and the use of a female palette of pinks and reds softens and personalizes the explicit subject matter.
Using the play between darkness and light and images of pop, humorous puppetry, "Presumption of Justice" is a mythical commentary on the sinister repression of women in Iran. The painting is a complicated narrative of fairytale melded with contemporary culture. The three radiant female images representing the mind, body and soul of women. In the center of the picture, Talepasand, disguised under a Pinocchio mask gazes at the soul, draped and glowing up on a pedestal. Like the fictional Pinocchio -- a wooden puppet that wanted to be a "real boy" -- Talepasand, too, wishes to rescue the sculpture and turn it into a real woman. But unable to do the forbidden, she is transformed into a donkey cleric who stands with back to the canvas and scolds the only real boy in the picture: the man with the truncated arm who is pointing at the female image descending. For like a goddess leaving Mount Olympus, "woman" has climbed off her pedestal and returned to earth to warn and rescue her tribeswoman. In so doing, her private parts, those identifying her as female, have been exposed to the X-ray vision of the clerics as well as the viewer.
Talepasand's palettes are often separated between blues and grays for male depicted subject matter, and pinks and reds for female, a comment on the division between men and women within Iranian culture. In the painting Andarooni, Biooni, Lies and Man (Insider, Outsider , Lies and Man), these colors come together. Blooming bursts of orange and red vines -- feminine flowers -- are in the process of breaking through a stone cleric bust of cold blue. In depicting Andarooni Biooni, Talepasand is embracing her outsider insider status in the culture, as a woman and an Iranian/American.
Insisting on her right, even her ownership of taboo imagery, Taravat Talepasand re-appropriates the female form from both Iranian and American culture. By portraying subjects in moments of objectification she connects the personal to collective experience, thus her art becomes a lesson in the futility of ever truly erasing identity from society.
In the world of computer software a Virtual Easter Egg is a hidden message within the text or program that once clicked on, opens up to reveal a joke or feature. It is the modern day version of the Russian cluster egg and takes its name from the first Faberge Egg that opened up to reveal a golden egg. Recently Lady Gaga used the idea when she gave birth to herself out of a transparent Egg at the Grammy Awards. For a long time, the artist Hope Sandrow has been fascinated by this conundrum and the multi-step process of discovery, of worlds and landscapes and ideas hidden inside containers that are both virtual and real.
And indeed, entering Sandrow's world is akin to stepping inside the diorama of a sugar-coated Easter Egg or slipping into the scene of a pastoral painting where art and vision merge. (Go on a Virtual Easter Egg hunt by clicking on the word And and searching the images.)
Hope Sandrow's Open Air Studio sits up a dirt road, tucked into the side of a hill in Shinnecock, Long Island. But wander through the turn-of-a century carriage house and suddenly, her sunny living space opens up into a continuous art installation, a panorama that is both an artscape, in which to view art, and a studio space in which her art is created.
Hope Sandrow, an artist who has worked with complex photographic images, conceptual and installation art, has long been preoccupied with evolution and ecosystems. In her Open Air Studio she now raises Panduan fowl, a rare breed of exotic roosters and hens. She began this project a number of years ago when Shinnecock -- a singular rooster with a Shakespearean personality -- followed her home while she was out taking photographs. The tale of Sandrow's interaction and involvement with the rooster she since named Shinnecock is now a well-documented story on her website, and he and his flock are viewable on live feed from her webcast. Needless to say, Shinnecock was the inspiration that first pursued Sandrow. In turn, she embraced and adopted Shinnecock as part of her life and work.
Out the living room window and even sometimes in the home, chickens, landscape and the art commingle. Roosters and hens wander freely through this paradise of form following after function. In an effort to protect her flock, Sandrow planted a wide variety of feather-like foliage, ostrich ferns, corkscrew grass, tall flowering balls of purple allium and bristling shrubs of juniper and cyprus that camouflage the birds' exotic plumage thereby protecting them from the hawks circling above. "No matter where I set the camera," Sandrow said. "I could create art that examines the concept of the growth of form through function."
A creek runs through the garden, and two odd structures sit on slight rises at various ends of the yard. These are the coops constructed from drawings of a Sol LeWitt parallelogram, which Sandrow transformed into a 3-dimensional habitat. Sol LeWitt had a long history of engagement and exchange with other artists, and Sandrow has honored the spirit of LeWitt in her use of materials, for they are full of light and she even calls them her Coop LeWitts. Sandrow says her flock lives in them happily. "My approach to conceptual art, and I believe this was Sol LeWitt's approach, is that this art is not removed from nature, but connected to it."
(Image courtesy of Hope Sandrow)
The studio can stretch away from the flock and their habitat. Sandrow has done a number of performance pieces that take the Open Air Studio on the road. In 2008 she created a tableau on the side of Montauk Highway, which borders her property. In En Plein Air, Sandrow, clad in a nude body stocking, sat with Tom Edmonds, her husband Ulf Skogsbergh, and Margaret Kelly, in a live re-enactment of Edouard Manet's famous painting of a blissful pastoral picnic, Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe. Manet's image depicting the scene of a nude woman sitting and enjoying a lunch beside two fully dressed men had caused controversy back in 1863 when it was first exhibited. Sandrow's piece was a provocative homage to pastoral art as well as to contemporary installation art and to the artist's ability to inhabit both the inside and outside of the canvas. The work fully engaged its audience. "Commuters loved it," she said. "They waved, honked their horns and even stopped to talk. We were the highlight of their morning commute."
(Image courtesy of Hope Sandrow)
More recently Ms. Sandrow has been producing elegant, poetic multimedia pieces that incorporate shells, feathers, even, on one occasion, a gallon container of eggshell white enamel paint. In 2010 she created Two Eggs Observational Findings from the series titled The Sky is Falling. In the description of material used to produce the work, Sandrow gives credit to the two eggs created by the Shinnecock Family Hens, which she has placed under a glass bell jar.
(Image courtesy of Hope Sandrow)
Hope Sandrow can be seen as the glass bell jar, a protective yet transparent womb. An egg, of course, is also a womb, an incubator that holds a secret, a message, a life that will hatch and transform. Hope Sandrow, in serving as a window on her own work, allows visibility into this magical world, which is constantly revealing itself both to her and to us. In examining and participating in this fragile ecosystem, Sandrow's art acts as a permeable membrane through which we witness and access her creative process, which is not separate, but in tandem with nature.
Hope Sandrow has two upcoming events: a live, streamed performance from the Open Air Studio conceived by Elke Luyten and a work titled Happening Live that will begin in summer of 2011.
One of the gifts of art is that it allows us to image ourselves into another’s experience. Last week, as I sat on the floor of the Whiney Museum of Art, pondering an installation by artist Gary Simmons titled, Step in the Arena (The Essentialist Trap) 1994, I was profoundly moved by the power of Simmons’ piece to evoke the African American man’s experience. A multilayered installation of a whitewashed boxing ring, Step in the Arena stands alone in a bare room, on view in the show Singular Visions. Save for seven pairs of black wingtip tap dancing shoes, which hang from the ropes, this ring is empty. The floor, made of stretched canvas, is covered with a chalked-in diagram of footsteps, an intricate schema of the cakewalk, the dance preformed at minstrel shows during the days of slavery. A sense of absence pervades the piece: the fighters have gone, the white footsteps on the black floor are smudged and partially erased, the tap shoes have been left behind. We, the viewers—the spectators--are left on the outside, literally gazing through the ropes, with a sense of waiting. The stage is set, but empty. We are filled with both anticipation, and the haunting remembrance of past events, as if we have stumbled upon a ruined coliseum where gladiators of the past had no choice but to do battle.
However, the roped boxing ring suggests that for the African American man of today situations have not changed so much. Often compelled by disadvantage and limited choice to enter the ring, this metaphorical boxer is seduced by the promise of riches, but that promise is just another form of enslavement.
The title, Step in the Arena, referencing a song by the rap singer Gang Starr, is at once a call to arms and a warning to step into the arena—where a black man’s gift is merely flesh – and where he is owned once he steps in. Simmons’ work suggests that the arena is also about art and the marketing of the black artist’s experience once he has been “essentialized.” In this case, being essentialized means to be stripped down like a fighter, to a mere physical essence, or race-related experience, which is again an unchangeable trap, a static existance from which one can only emerge leaving ghostlike footprints behind.
In a global world that is often polarized by fixed ideologies, the risk of essentialism is the risk of reducing ourselves to just our inherent qualities. Essentialism relies on definitions by race, sex or other biological characteristics, and while these classifications are empowering, they can also be dangerous. Simmons’ point is that whether gender or ethnic-based, specifications are traps because they limit us to gross generalizations.
The hip-hop artist, businessman and author, Jay-Z when discussing his book Decoded said that the hidden mission of rap “is to find fresh angles into emotions we all share.” Thus art can serve as a revelatory doorway through which we think ourselves into another’s world. It’s an audacious ambition and one that plays out powerfully in Step in the Arena. There is great beauty in the elegance of black and white and smeared dance steps on a canvas floor, but the true force, potency and gift of this work of art lie in its transformative capacity to enable us to identify with an experience we might not have had otherwise. In the end, that’s what allows Step in The Arena to deliver its a knockout punch.
Conceptual, earth, performance, body artist and lately, large-scale public sculptor, Dennis Oppenheim died Friday night January 21st, 2011 at the age of 72 from complications from cancer. He’d been diagnosed only six weeks earlier, was in the process of undergoing chemotherapy, but then slipped away so stealthily that the Las Vegas Metro reported his death as a possible hoax. Would that it were a joke. Dennis loved a good joke. He was a supreme satirist, a punster extraordinaire, an artist who constantly reinvented his medium, endeavoring to find ways to synthesize multiple ideas. In the beginning, Dennis used his body, the earth and sky as art and as a means to explore creating sculpture; then performance became his sculpture, and recently, his public artworks investigated structures that incorporate architecture into sculptures that are both visually stunning and thought provoking.
Starting in the 60s Dennis became well-known as one of the original earth artists. The first piece I ever saw by Dennis Oppenheim was a photograph of a work titled Annual Rings, an action and earth/art piece done in 1968 in which he transposed the annual rings that mark a tree's growth onto the snow-banks along the U.S. and Canadian border line. Cutting with a shovel back and forth across political as well as time zones, Dennis’s piece dramatized the arbitrary boundaries in our cultural landscape. Politics is largely about taking sides, and Dennis’s shovel literally cut through sides and stances, while his image of concentric circles united them.
In the late 70s Dennis began to use puppets as a way to segue from performance art to motorized sculptures. He called his puppets his “surrogates.” They bore his facial features and danced and sang songs Dennis wrote, “It ain’t what you make, it’s what makes you do it,” and even lectured on art history. In the infamous Lecture from 1976, a puppet with Dennis’s face discussed the death of body and earth art to a room of empty chairs. Dennis’s puppets were an extension of himself. They were often marionettes of Dennis being manipulated by strings, and they spoke of the artist as a puppet being at the mercy of art commerce.
Another favorite and darkly humorous piece was a large-scale public work, Devise to Root Out Evil first shown at the Venice Biennale in 1997 and later installed and then uninstalled after an uproar at the Vancouver Biennale in 2005. Dennis’s Devise was a galvanized steel structure of a church turned upside down so that the steeple pointed into the ground like a divining rod to expose the wicked.
My father, the art historian Peter Selz, wrote that artists play an important role in changing social and political issues and that to transform situations, “We must change not only our industrial practices, but the way we view the world.” In tackling the physical environment, the body, and the corporate infrastructures of public institutions, Dennis continued to practice in his inimitable way, the art of social and political dissent.
Dennis was a shaman, part magic man, part irritant. And though his cleverness could frustrate his audience, even in that regard, by working so closely within the public realm, he endeavored to “critique” his ability to annoy, amuse and engage us. He referred to himself as, “a little devil.” And in truth, like the art he created, Dennis could be wickedly demonic, widely clever, beautiful all at once.