Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jack Strange's “Deep Down” at Tanya Bonakdar

Jack Strange’s Deep Down investigates experiences that are perceived as reality in human consciousness and feeling. Strange’s mixed media installations find the unreal in the familiar by animating household things and nature in this multi-room exhibition. Metaphors about life, death, and daily experience guide the viewer to imagine what is possible beyond our daily reality.

In the main gallery, Strange illustrates growth and decay with the use of actual vegetables along with text that symbolizes vegetables. In Fennel, white neon letters, spelling “FENNEL”, are planted in a rectangular box of dirt. Only the top half of the letters are showing, representing the emergence of a growing vegetable. Without help from the title, the neon word is difficult to read. Even though the box contains dirt, it looks unable to support growth. Its stainless steel exterior gives it a sterile quality, and the electric cord coming out of the box makes it look like an appliance. The idea of growth is produced with words and light alone. Metaphorical Vegetables, in the same space, uses real vegetables to show a decaying process. In this work, nature isn’t metaphorical, but is as tangible as the squash, zucchini, and red peppers stuck to the walls. Each vegetable was sliced at the stem as if it was beheaded. They will continue to decay on the walls until the end of the exhibition. Beneath each vegetable is a coil drawn in black to make it look as if it’s springing in the air and full of life. The addition of the coil animates these familiar grocery items and gives them an imaginative fate other than their inevitable decay. In both Fennel and Metaphorical Vegetables, Strange questions whether the life of these vegetables exists in the ground or in imagination.

Other works in the main gallery evoke being “plugged in” to an electronic experience and, at the same time, feeling removed from the experience. Strange’s work Blues Avocado, Classical Date, Pop Plum, Electronic Olive, Jazz Nectarine includes five plexiglass columns that each contain a different fruit pit that hangs from a string. The pits resemble little brains on display inside these human-sized transparent rectangles. On the outside of each column is a set of earplugs positioned on either side of the pits so that it looks like the pits are listening to music. However, the earplug cords are not plugged into a device, but instead are inserted into the plexiglass lower down on the columns. The titles of these works help the viewer imagine the types of music that the pits are listening to, while the pits themselves are unable to experience music. All Sharks, All Dolphins, and All Fish use three iPod Touch’s to create another mediated experience. Each device is placed in a bag within another clear plastic bag filled with water that hangs at eye level. Friendly animated sea creatures are displayed on the screens, and the speakers emit cold artificial vocalizations listing descriptive words, which are slightly muted by the surrounding bag of water. The incoherent message the words form turns a typically interactive device into one that the viewer can neither play with or understand. By encasing the pits in plastic boxes and surrounding the iPods with water, Strange creates a distance between the device and the experience it promises, illustrating our vital role in experiencing technology. Without the human mind, technology cannot be experienced.

In the side gallery, Strange creates tension by combining meditative works with sensational works. Unbelievably Real takes the viewer to a completely visceral place. The artist smeared his own blood on the wall in circles along with the word “HA” written repetitively on the dried blood. This work relates hysterical laughter to a horrific action so that it becomes strongly felt and, at the same time, somewhat unreal. In the same space are cerebral works, Consciousness Combi 1 and Consciousness Combi 2. Two plexiglass boxes display an array of colored acrylics sticks that are standing upright or laying flat in a few inches of water. The clear boxes are on top of flatscreen televisions playing single-channel videos. The combination of video, water, and bright acrylic sticks creates a soothing optical effect. This experience is as much visual as it is mental. As the video gradually changes from solid colors to an abstract pattern, the light from beneath slowly changes the appearance of the colored sticks and refracts light in the shallow pool of water. The Consciousness Combi works and Unbelievably Real discuss concepts of consciousness and the visceral in one space. The emotional and psychological effects of these sensory works makes the viewer question what is real and what is imagined or felt in our daily lives.

Strange recontextualizes familiar objects so that our perception of these things is taken beyond our daily understanding of technology, food, and the body. A fruit pit becomes a brain listening to music, pieces of vegetables spring into action, and something so tangible as blood becomes surreal. With the variety of daily objects that Strange uses, it seems possible that he could create human metaphors with almost anything in our physical surroundings. It’s left up to the viewer to decide whether the actual or the metaphorical is perceived as reality in human consciousness.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Carsten Höller: (In)experience at the New Museum - Revision

Taking up almost the entire museum, the exhibit “Experience” offers various distinct experiences that employ large-scale, interactive pieces. Visitors are also welcomed to share in a secondary experiential level with the help of special mirrored headgear, which creates an upside-down view of the world for the wearer. Employing size, light, optics, and sensations, Höller triggers the senses, removing individuals from typical daily life and, more noticeably, the typical museum experience.

Unfortunately, “Experience” does not have the effect its artist and curators probably had in mind. Despite the exhibit’s emphasis on spectacle, the New Museum’s curators and staff grossly underestimated the repercussions of a successful show. Visitors hoping to walk around a topsy-turvy world, courtesy of the previously mentioned headgear, must wait in line for an unexpected amount of time. Visitors must wait in another line to sign a legal release. Before they enter, a visitor is already waiting on noticeably understaffed, lines. Once in, visitors may choose any floor to begin their sensory excursion. The fourth floor presents two options, the first choice being waiting on line for a slide, an activity accompanied by watching put-together adults (children below a certain height and weight are not permitted) make a big to-do over laying in a slide and hearing their overly dramatic screams as they fly down it. Your other option is to sit on a grandiose Mirror Carousel (2005) plastered with fanciful lights and mirrors, only to take the slowest, most boring and anticlimactic turn around the room possibly imaginable. The third floor provides audiences with another, even slower, line to experience the Giant Psycho Tank (2000), designed to replicate the feeling of weightlessness. Before anyone gets a chance to feel weightlessness, they’ll get to experience a great wait. It should also be noted that this piece is designed for the true exhibitionist, as most likely your naked backside will be seen by anyone who happens to venture too close to the less than substantial partition.

The impact of Höller’s work is dissolved rapidly by a combination of inefficiency and pieces not designed to accommodate vast crowds. It is clear that his work, which evinces amusement park spectacle, is not equipped to mimic their efficiency and crowd-control, especially within the confines of a museum. The visitor is left with a malaise of sensory overload compounded by periods of anticipation and inactivity.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Real/Surreal at the Whitney Museum of Art

George Tooker (1920–2011), The Subway, 1950

Installation view of Real/Surreal

Real/Surreal explores the convergence of the literal and the psychological as it exists in 20th century realist and surrealist painting, drawing, and printmaking. Whitney curator Carter Foster’s arrangement is thought-provoking and deliberate; his selection meticulous and pitch-perfect, even with the initially brow-raising absence of big-name Surrealists like Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, or Frida Kahlo. What I find to be most striking and unexpected, however, is that walking through the Real/Surreal show at the Whitney is like being in a dream about walking through the Real/Surreal show at the Whitney, due in large part to the incredible likeness of the transformed space to the iconic surrealist landscapes of the artworks it was designed to frame.

Upon entering the 2nd floor gallery of the museum, we as viewers are confronted with options regarding where we wish to begin our journey. Devoid of a preordained sequential trajectory, the layout of the show ingeniously exemplifies the surrealist practice of geographical automatism, wherein a person wanders from place to place, led only by their unconscious instinct. The design employs this branch of automatism but confines it to the closed gallery, with the artworks standing in for architectural landmarks, quietly lending an interactive element to the would-be conventionality of the spectator experience. Divided by a wall, the space becomes two separate environments interacting with each other through an asymmetrically quadrilateral opening cut in the dividing wall at eye level, the level of the rest of the works. Its placement suggests that the hole is to be viewed as an artwork, prompting visitors to consider the entire space with the same regard that they would give to any of the pieces. The hole, in framing the mundane real life action taking place in the adjacent room, references the surrealist perception of painting as a window into the unconscious, or, as in the realist works, functioning as an unsettling (and often voyeuristic) view of reality. It allows visual access to another alternate reality or universe, a common theme in such works as Henry Koerner’s “Mirror of Life” (1946), which contains several disconnected realities that appear simultaneously.

The introductory wall text is as conclusive as it can be, given the many facets of both movements. The text is located on the right wall, facing George Tooker’s “The Subway” (1950), a nightmarish rendition of a frightened woman in a subway station, composed with a startlingly diagrammatical use of 3-point perspective. Lurking behind the woman, who is positioned in the centered foreground, are coated male figures, ominous and threatening. The exaggerated 3-point perspective enhances the unreality of the scene as well as the unsure-ness: Are these men really threatening, or is she paranoid? These figures poke out from behind the woman and from booth-like structures along the left-hand side of the painting as they recede into space. “The Subway” seems to strike a perfect balance of the real and surreal: It is paranoid and uncertain, like a dream, yet there is no fantastical imagery; everything is recognizable, from the setting to the figures. It seems no wonder, then, that this piece, frontally visible from, and in close proximity to the entrance of the gallery, is the first piece we see when we enter and the last piece we see when we leave, as well as the show’s promotional image.

Though the quadrilateral window is the most obvious physical reference to a surreal atmosphere, one architectural element worthy of such consideration is the presence of two multi-planar, monolithic structures breaking up the space in the front room, significantly evocative of the looming, often ambiguous edifices that haunt many of the exhibition’s paintings, such as the rows of buildings in Kay Sage’s “No Passing” (1954), the shadowed structure in the upper right of Edward Hopper’s “Early Sunday Morning” (1930), and the ambiguous cubed wall in Federico Castellon’s “The Dark Figure” (1938). The multi-sidedness of the structures primarily functions as wall space on which to hang works but also elicits a comparison to the confusion and exaggeration of planar space in pieces such as Man Ray's "La Fortune" (1938).

Even when Real/Surreal is milling with guests, one can wander the show with the same disconnected feeling of wandering any of the dreamscapes it showcases, a feeling emphasized by the open space of the front room, interrupted materially by the edifices, but also optically by the spotlighting illuminating not only the works but the visitors as they float in and out of the contained pools of light, creating the impression of physical and mental detachment. This alienating psychological landscape is a distinctive characteristic of real/surrealist depiction. It is present in Robert Vickrey’s “The Labyrinth” (1951), in which a lone nun engages with her reflection from within a monochromatic maze; it is felt in Tooker’s “The Subway,” in which, despite being in the company of other travellers, a woman is anxious and paranoid; and it is particularly evident in Jared French’s “State Park” (1946), in which a family lounges under an umbrella, each gazing outward, disengaged from each other. All of these characters exist in some form of isolation, speaking to the attempts of the surrealists to make the movement universal by appealing to the collective psyche, connecting with the individual by presenting familiar psychological scenarios. The resulting unnerving mental state is one felt by the viewer not in the typical vicarious fashion inherent in the act of looking at and reacting to the art, but, thanks to the brilliance of the Real/Surreal exhibition design, first hand.

Carsten Höller at The New Museum - Revision

A mirrored carousel, a three story tube slide, and a sensory deprivation chamber (among a variety of other works) installed throughout the towering New Museum. The result? Carsen Höller’s Experience.

Höller’s blockbuster one-man show at the New Museum invites viewers to participate in a museum experience unlike any other. The retrospective includes the most noteworthy pieces from the past two decades of the scientist-turned-artist’s career. His work breaks the conventions of audience/artwork interaction and relies heavily on audience participation with almost experimental twist. Resonating throughout (and quite literally penetrating) the museum’s lobby, second, third, and fourth floor galleries, Höller’s work successfully transforms the museum and art viewing experience, flipping the politics of the conventional art institution on its head.

Naturally the most playful piece on view is Höller’s signature 102’ long tube slide installation. The aluminum and Plexiglas slide punctures the poured concrete floors of the museum’s interior, stretching from the fourth to second floor galleries. The interior space of the fourth floor is the most cohesive and unified gallery. Adjacent to the entrance to the tube slide is a mirrored carousel that invites viewers to step onto the platform and sit in slowly revolving seats. The industrial material of both the artworks and museum’s interior are reflected in the mirrored surface of the carousel, tying the whole floor together. While viewers wait to dive down the tube, live songbirds caged within a gigantic mobile fill the space with their chirps and project an unexpected calmness over the chaotic environment.

Upon being thrown high speed out the reverse end of the side, viewers are assaulted with a series of flashing fluorescent lights that line the walls of the gallery. Apparently meant to induce hallucinations, the flashing bulbs illuminate a group of brightly colored polyurethane that lethargically lay in the migraine-inducing space.

Located on the third floor gallery is Höller’s Giant Psycho Tank. Here, viewers are encouraged to experience nude or swimsuit donned weightlessness in a foot of super saline water, which has recently gained a controversial reputation with the NYC Board of Health. Further, visitors have the option to rent upside down glasses, consequently disorientating the wearer as they navigate the gallery.

Adults and children alike wore an almost drug-induced expression as they wandered around the museum. Their boisterous smiles and laughter, otherwise inappropriate in the museum context, suggests that Höller’s experimental artistic intent was reached successfully.

Geometry by David Smith

Untitled (Candida), 1965. Stainless steel, (261.6 × 304.8 × 78.7 cm).

17 h’s, 1950. Painted steel, (113 × 73.7 × 31.8 cm).

The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City is showing a retrospective of abstract expressionist David Smith (1906-1965) called “Cubes and Anarchy.” The exhibit covers a 33-year period, from the 1930’s to the mid 1960's, the last decade of his work. The show displays his three rarely seen sketchbooks, a variety of paintings, eleven early photographs, and over sixty sculptures. Throughout his career, David Smith created his pieces by means of basic geometric forms, which were constructed to reveal abstract compositions. He is considered one of the greatest American sculptors of his generation, He utilized industrial materials to construct iconic works. His choice of materials was heavily influenced by his job in the automobile industry. Although he was trained as a painter at the Art Students League in 1927, it is unclear whether his works are spatialized paintings or painted sculptures. As he states: "In my own case, I don’t know whether I make some pieces as painted sculpture or paintings in form."

Stepping out of the elevator in the fourth-floor gallery, you come face to face with the abstract piece named Untitled (Candida), 1965. One of the last works that Smith completed, this piece was named after his daughter, Candida; it is a central, stainless steel sculpture comparable to an abstract person opening her arms as if to give you a welcome warm hug. It was created by combining eight irregular-sized sliver plates, cut into rectangles and squares, arranged to overlap on certain edges, welded together at the sides and heightened on a low base. It resembles a giant three-dimensional collage cutout in the center. An interesting characteristic of this piece is that it looks incredibly heavy from the front but appears thin and weightless when viewed from the side. Moreover, the steel surface has textual burnished elements that reflect and absorb the surrounding light to add a pristine polished effect to the steel.

The exhibition begins with two amazing collections from the Cubis and Circle series. These particular collections from the 1960's present sculptures using burnished and painted stainless steel formed in geometric styles. In the first area, there are five large sculptures spread in the space. Behind the only colored sculpture, Circle III, 1962, hang three small paintings that are barely noticeable. The Circle III sculpture is made of painted steel, created from a concept driven by Smith’s “drawing in space.” It contains his main practice elements of scale and color divided in three parts: a white thin base, an orange full circle, and a green semicircle that gives the impression of a horn.

Smith's work in the exhibition is arranged as smaller galleries within a large one. The show flows in a patterned, chronological order. The east section concentrates on his works from the 1930’s through the 1940’s. This room displays four paintings on the walls and three welded metal sculptures in the middle. Smith's artwork relied on aesthetics of Cubism that were inspired by 20th century modern artists such as Picasso and Julio Gonzales. I find Blue Construction, 1938, particularly striking with its unique deep blue color that dissolves to black in certain regions of the piece. Using different shape forms such as angles, circles and cubes welded with each other, the entire composition elegantly expresses a kinetic energy, largely through the use of angles and lines floating in space, in spite of the large, heavy base anchoring the piece.

The experimental photograph collection from the early 1930’s is located in a separate room. Smith’s black and white photographs document the artist’s vision for his sculptures to be presented outdoors. Using natural lighting and low vantage points, Smith is able to emphasize and exaggerate the scale of his sculptures. He also creates interesting photomontages that reflect industrial aesthetics by combining close-up shots of the docks and a ship’s deck.

Walking to the end of the room, you find yourself in the third section that exhibits three rare sketchbooks covering a great deal of brainstorming and concepts from 1933 to 1954. The pages of each sketchbook are marked with pencil and pen, and one sketchbook shows notations written by Smith in 1951, indicating the artist’s stream-of-consciousness at the time. At the very end of the space stands a highly interesting two-dimensional piece called 17 H’s, 1950. Once again adhering to his guiding concept “drawing in space”, Smith creates the painted steel piece by using 17 letter H’s. A sculpture that is abstract and resembles the unreadable language of a musical note can also be seen as a configuration of little chairs organized in different levels.

The Tanktotem series is the last collection shown in the exhibition made in the 1950’s. The sculptures look like standing human figures guarding the area. The Hero, 1951 is one of the sculptures created in painted steel that displays a disproportionately large head.

The exhibition is organized with ample space between sculptures, encouraging the viewer to absorb the magnitude that each conveys. Visitors have the privilege to examine the welded steel and the simplified geometric forms from 360 degrees and to experience the scale of his works firsthand. David Smith’s almost unparalleled ability to control and manipulate steel is displayed beautifully in the pieces contained in this exhibit. There have been many major exhibitions around the world honoring this talented artist of Geometric abstraction. The Whitney Museum has frequently shown David Smith’s collection, giving the public access to study and admire his unique geometric art form.

Sherrie Levine-Mayhem

My first inclination after reading the text accompanying Sherrie Levine’s exhibition entitled “Mayhem” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, was to disregard it. I felt that the goal of the curators is to convey to the viewer that the artist’s point is to honor the masters who came before her. This idea seems to puts the wrong context around the work. Levine’s work is less about exalting previous artists and more about asking the viewer to question the validity of that art. By appropriating or reinterpreting master’s works, Levine pushes the boundaries of art in an almost comical way. She reexamines pieces that are influential and interprets them in ways that make the viewing of them seem humorous. Levine gleans ideas from the master’s works in small snippets and creates pieces which push the boundaries of the viewers thought process on what art can be. Levine is known for appropriation and the critique of authorship in art. In this exhibition the pieces included asks the viewer a series of questions; Is this art? What makes this art? Who’s art is it? By asking these questions and several others the artist challenges the accepted system of art and proposes that viewers open their minds to the possibilities of art.

The exhibition is arranged in five rooms each containing several replications of works by well known, influential, and recognizable artists. The artists include Marcel Duchamp, Walker Evans, Gustave Courbet, Man Ray as well as others. Each room contains a variety of works by these artists and are created in an array of media.

The first piece you encounter when entering the exhibition space is a series entitled “After Walker Evans”. Levine has rephotographed photos taken by the artist Walker Evans, during the Depression era and displayed them in such a way that when encountering them all together a moire or interference pattern becomes visible. The photographs blending together when viewed as one piece calls into question the importance of the individual works.

Settled next to this series is a piece entitled “Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp)” Levine replicates the infamous Duchamp readymade “Fountain” but has cast this version in bronze. Levine’s version of the readymade molds Duchamp’s gesture of appropriating an everyday object with the materials of a colleague Constantin Brancusi. By merging the two, Levine’s piece is paying homage to the lineage of the masters but also calling into question authorship and what makes an artwork belong to a specific artist, if that work can be replicated by another.

Levine has a knack for choosing a particular piece from an important artist and recreating that piece in such a way that makes the work unique. For example, in the second gallery twelve eerily lit skulls are placed in wood and glass panelled boxes in the center of the room. The artist is responding to the European still life tradition in which artists used skulls to depict the presence of death. Levine begins to pokes fun at this concept by placing the skulls in repetition so that the gallery has become a place where one could come gather supplies in order to create a still life, as if the skulls were an everyday commonplace object. The repetition of the skulls places the context of vanitas, or the presence of death, as inconsequential.

In the piece “La Fortune” after a surrealist painting by Man Ray, Levine has reworked the other artist imagery of a two dimensional surface into a three dimensional, functional object. In Levine’s version four, three dimensional, life size billiard tables occupy almost the entire space of the middle gallery. When entering this space I felt dwarfed by the presence of the tables. There are fairly wide rows between each table but the colors and materials used have an ominous feel to them. Levine blurs the line between the reality of an actual pool hall and a minimalist sculptural installation. Out of the context of the gallery the works would be likened to nothing more than pool tables used in a familiar pastime. Which calls into question the idea of the importance of the gallery space or context in which art is seen.

Overall the exhibition was enlightening and the questions the artist wanted to convey through her work were apparent. It was also exciting to have the opportunity to guess who each work was created to signify. What I found confusing is that the curators of the exhibition, seem to have interpreted, at least in my opinion, the ideas behind Levine’s work in a way that is inconsistent with what the work is actually about. Maybe it is presumptuous to assume that what I interpreted the works to be is more correct than the way in which the curators have interpreted it, but I did not understand the work in the way that the curators seem to have expected. What I undesrstood from the exhibition was something different than what was outlined in the texts accompanying the work. Instead of honoring the masters who came before, Levine’s work probed the viewers with questions about why we exalt certain artists, or aspects of art. The artists works stand for themselves and make statements without the need of texts to accompany them. The exhibition clearly ask viewers to challenge themselves when assuming that a piece of art is valid just because it was made by someone who is highly regarded in the art world.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


With a highly "blinged" exhibit, Rashaad Newsome's first solo show at Marlborough Gallery delivers a classical neo-baroque style from the 17th and 18th century with a modern spin to it. Inspired by high art such as Europeans tradition of heraldry, the profession of creating hierarchical coat of arms, Newsome is using “low art” images of popular culture. Taken from hip-hop magazines such as XXL, he is using golden chains, Rolex watches, hip-hop video girls, rappers, rims, hair weave, marijuana, pearls, money, big cars, rims, teeth grills, etc. to create collages of his own coat of arms. The art of heraldry is all about presentation, design, archive and defining what the coat of arms stands for. Not only are these intricate and meticulous handmade collages an homage to hip-hop culture but the frames are as well. Referencing status symbols of the hip-hop community, he incorporates golden chains and ropes into the frames. Newsome takes it a step further and works with an auto body shop in Long Island, New York to help match the colors of cars such as Lamborghini's, Ferraris and Buggatis to the frames, other objects pertaining to status symbols. The frames add to the excessiveness of the collages.

Black Barbie, a piece that caught my eye immediately, is based on the highly publicized and over-the top rapper Nicki Minaj. Her whole persona of being a "real life" barbie doll is displayed in this piece, especially with the overly decadent and saturated pink plastic framing the collage. This tribute to Ms. Minaj, someone who is at the pinnacle of hip-hop culture and has established herself as a status symbol, speaks volumes to the comparison Newsome’s making between her luxurious and lavish life and that of a officer of arms.

The collages were stronger than his video works, which I would have disagreed with if it were Shade Compositions, Five from the Whitney Biennial or The Conductor (Primo Vere Omnia Sol Temperat) exhibited at P.S. 1s Greater New York show. The video pieces exhibited at Herald were not as fluid or dynamic compared to Newsome's previous videos mentioned above.

Grand Duchess of Gainesville, on the top floor of the gallery, seems like one of his collages in motion. This is a blinged out composition of car rims framed by a necklace in front of a golden background with diamonds jumping across the screen. After a few minutes of that, two African American women come into the frame to hold up the emblem while cars and copious amounts of jewels encompass the space. He also plays around with the idea of making video collages with an older piece, The Conductor, but in a much more successful way because the collage process is not as literal. He is using different video clips to compose a collage whereas with his current piece at Marlborough, he is using an already existing collage and playing around with the shape and movement of it. By putting his highly complex collages into a moving image, Newsome is detracting from the fixed ones on the walls. It is repetitive having two different mediums of the collage coexisting in the same gallery show.

I found Dance of Succubus more appealing with the vouger fully clad in an elaborate golden body suit. The vouger is encased in a box of never ending dark skinned hands and legs moving around as they mirror each other. One of his past videos, Five, has to do with the interesting history involving vouging. Herald is a 12-minute video piece in which Newsome goes to London, England to earn his own coat of arms through The Royal College of Arms and leaves with the title of an honorary pursuivant, a junior officer in the heraldic ranking. In an interview for his Matrix 161 show at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut, he refers to himself as the “herald of my generation.” This piece embodies that he holds such a title because getting a coat of arms is a traditional of the white man.

Newsome is using a contemporary theme in an extremely intellectual way to display an age-old practice of Europeans status. While he is defining this specific culture of abundant luxury and wealth, an archive is being created at the same time, which is a large part of heraldry. He views these rappers as warriors, with having overcome adversity. Rashaad states their raps are based off of “medieval poems that are pretty much about the fickleness of wealth and partying and how spring brings forth new things.” Newsome is taking something that is looked down upon by several classes within American society, and putting it on a pedestal, rightfully so. He is transforming the way the hip-hop culture is viewed. An officer of arms is regarded as a highly respected figure who represents class and elegance. While rappers may have lewd and obscene lyrics, they represent social and economic status. Rashaad has adopted this practice of heraldry and given it a new definition. By replacing traditional objects that would customarily be placed on a coat of arms shield such as coronets, helms, mantling, unicorns and griffins with bling, cars, video girls and money, Newsome draws a parallel between the two and defines the royalty of today, which are rappers. A coat of arms embodies achievement, power, status and clan, which is accurate to describe hip-hop culture.

Arms of Luxembourg

Arms of Canada

Black Barbie

Let Them Eat Cakes

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Anyone care for Lisa's Breasts or Lollipops?

Despite social conventions that “everyone should be on their best behaviour”, eroticism can now be embraced as a recreational activity in Lisa Yuskavage’s third solo exhibition at the David Zwirner gallery. A vivid series of female nudes overly occupied in exploring their sexuality within surreal landscapes and dramatically lit interiors.

With each painting coexists a psychological and sordid narrative behind human beauty. This duality increasingly obscures the viewer’s ability to interpret and contextualise the fantastical worlds that the nudes are situated. A general conclusion that one arrives at from these vibrantly lush sceneries is that they serve as a playground in which the young women playfully reside. Yet their uninhibited behaviour hints at a sexual psychology that is perverse and even sadistic. For example in a small but psychologically powerful painting that evokes sensuality and danger is Stormy Mound (2011). A portrayal of a solitary young female kneeling promiscuously on a beautifully lush earth mound creates a psychological drama as the viewer is conflicted between feelings of sympathy for the isolated girl and mistrust due to her sexually implicit body language. This conundrum is heightened by the ominously violet skyscape and the whisking of Yuskavage’s brushstrokes; a desolate and uninviting atmosphere contrasted with the young girl’s invitingly carnal kneeling pose.

The duality of dangerous beauty is repeated in all of Yuskavage’s paintings, some more sexually explicit than others. In one of her many mundanely titled works Little Afternoon Feeding (2011), two young prepubescent female nudes seem, upon first glance, to be innocently picking and feeding one another lollipop shaped fruits. However upon close viewer inspection, the viewer is suddenly becomes aware of the youthful erotica conveyed through their bodily dispositions. Yuskavage bestows her figures with curvaceous bodies and breasts, it is the indecent acts that they partake in that stir senses of arousal and eroticism…I know I have been stirred several times. The painting contains a squatted woman feeding her seated counterpart in a richly lush environment. Immediately the viewer is confronted with a lewd sense of vaginal pleasure that is explicitly prompted by the sitter’s foot. Additionally, the seemingly benevolent feeding act subtly hints of masochism with the sitter submissively consuming what is being “given” to her. The erotic pathos that the artist paints revolves around a cyclic correlation between innocence, beauty, and sexuality conjuring concurent emotions of great endearment and perplexity. Is it possible that a group of youthful, innocent looking girls- angelic in countenance and voluptuous in form- have the capacity to ignominiously succumb to such dishonourable acts of carnal desire? This perceptual bemusement is compounded by the disturbing presence of village bystanders that- who are painted in many of Yuskavage’s outdoor compositions -overlook the artist’s young protagonists without any clear dissent or animosity. In fact, their voyeuristic dispositions seem almost consenting to the debauchery that Yuskavage’s young nudes indulge in, evoking the idea that just maybe, such public indecency can be acceptable; even perhaps inspiriting. Though the notion may sound inconceivable, the absurdity of it is strikingly evident in the waywardness that is exhibited in the richly painted diptych titled Little Outskirts(2011). The drearily yellow and umber skyscape with its beautifully vegetated foreground, is queerly juxtaposed with the explicit act of sadism exhibited by the two young girls- one of whom is kneeling on all four whilst her companion sits playfully on her backside. This painting is irrefutably the artist’s most deviant portrayal as is accentuated by the dainty insertion of flowers into the kneeling girl’s anus. Intensifying this highly aberrant spectacle is the voyeuristic demeanour of the meticulously dressed male onlooker in the background. As the observant Farmer leans suavely on his cane the viewer can only help but wonder what meaning lies behind this visual theatre of nymphomania?

The biggest and most spectacular of these theatrical paintings is a vivid green triptych which is amusingly titled, Triptych (2011). Green clouds and mountains dominate this three- panel composition and is overtly erotic as the rest of the works. On the right panel a carefree girl lies with only a thong and striped socks while sucking on a lollipop as she gazes into the distance; in the center, another figure lies on a table with her legs splayed, her dress casually hiked up exposing her vagina. Within the background, a group of village women- all of whom are contrastingly dressed from head to toe- appear to be sternly observing the girls’ reprehensible behaviour. This salacious psychological narrative coupled with the comparably large compositional scale, entice the viewer to intriguingly scan and glean in pursuit of knowledge and understanding behind the extreme dichotomies between rational and irrational, inhibited and uninhibited, exotic and erotic, and between innocence and sinful.

Such social paradigms combined with the visual surrealism that Yuskavage masterfully paints easily fudges the boundaries between what is real and what is fiction. It is also a psychological paradigm that doesn’t instantaneously strike the viewer at first sight. In fact, such is the visual complexity of Yuskavage’s narrative that as the viewer strives to search for cognitive answers they inadvertently become one with the village people, participating in voyeuristic acts that are as “uncivilised” as the lewd behaviour that the young girls perform- whether it be by themselves or with each other. Yuskavage’s adeptness with light and shadow is as sensuous as the nudes she paints (regardless of how young they are) and this exhibition will certainly leave all those unwary gobsmacked…whether or not they have a lollipop in their mouths.