The Insistent Image

My hometown of Charleston, SC never ceases to surprise me when it comes to arts, food, and culture.  As far removed as it is from art hubs like NYC and LA, Charleston serves up some southern heat with exhibitions like The Insistent Image: Recurrent Motifs in the Art of Shepard Fairey and Jasper Johns.  I caught the tail end of the exhibition, which will leave the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art on July 12. Split between new work from Shepard Fairey and survey of prints made between 1982-2012 by Jasper Johns, the exhibition’s aim was to highlight both artists’ usage of the repetition of imagery.

Fairey, a Charleston native based in LA created works for this exhibition under the theme of “Power and Glory.”  At a time when our country is celebrating its history and freedom, his propaganda-like pieces call American hegemony into question.  He takes the “insistent images” of iconic symbols and phrases and turns them on their heads, so that our stars and stripes no longer signify freedom and justice for all and “America’s Favorite” brands no longer seem so appealing.  One piece that struck me was his Empire State of Mind, 2014 which departs from Jay-Z’s version by presenting an oil rig spewing toxins into the atmosphere from the peak of the Empire State Building.  By repurposing phrases like, “The Land Where God Saves,” and “Lifeguard Not On Duty,” Fairey addresses political issues and makes you think twice about that last vacation you took.  All of this ultimately to show that while we have come a long way toward being a great country, we still have work to do.

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Do the One Thing

For an artist, life will almost always be difficult when you are starting out.  The artist has to rise above the fear of being isolated from their peers, sacrifice any luxuries they may have previously been afforded in order to pound out a living, and keep going despite the intense competition in the field.  To be an artist is not just about being creative—you must be resilient, extremely hardworking, and above all, fiercely determined.  And that is just for artists in general—the artist of New York City is on another level entirely.  Because rent is so expensive in NYC, the artist of New York City has it extra hard.  They must be able to balance the demands of working a stable job (or three) and still devote time to nurture their artistic vision.  Sometimes, the artist must choose between the two pursuits (art/ work), and the answer is harder than you would think.  At this point, the artist must think back to the very question of why they are in a city like New York in the first place.  They are here for their art, not for the stability of the job that they are far more than qualified to be doing.  Still, it is hard to let down colleagues and shirk work responsibilities for one’s own dreams.  I have to say that while being in a full-time, stable job position is nice on my bank account, it is much easier to choose art when you have less responsibility at work.  For this reason, I advise any aspiring artists to start small with their job search—part-time, low responsibility positions are ideal.  This will allow you to always choose art and not have such difficult decisions about work interfering in your goals.  A little hackneyed, but don’t let your job keep you from your career.  

The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier

               While fashion in New York City is everywhere—from the streets to the catwalks of NYFW, nothing is so comprehensive as a museum exhibition.  A few years ago, I had the fortune of viewing the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition at the Met.  For the first time, I saw fashion as an art form and haute couture as something that is accessible.  Now, French designer Jean Paul Gaultier is up for review.  I finally made it out last week to the Brooklyn Museum to see The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier and was happy I made the trip.  Running from October 25- February 23, the exhibition features nearly 140 ensembles by Gaultier, organized thematically by his inspirations.  In the multimedia exhibition, you will ooh la la! at the Parisian influence on Gaultier’s romantic designs, be intrigued by the cone bras once famously donned by Madonna, rock out with the mohawked mannequins and shredded leather inspired by the 80’s punk era, and feel the world shrink as you recognize various countries’ influences on the multicultural designs.  Formerly unbeknownst to me, Gaultier is a champion of women, freedom of sexuality, individuality, and diversity.  He succeeds where he challenges the status quo by rebranding stereotypes to give power to the individual.  With only one day left at the Brooklyn Museum, this exhibition is a rare peek at Gaultier’s mind.  It is not to be missed.

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New York City Ballet Art Series 2014

The New York City Ballet Art Series is back for its second year to host French artist JR.  For those of you unfamiliar with the series, it includes three performances by NYCB with seating priced at $29 and the opportunity to view a specially commissioned work by a contemporary artist.  The series aims to unite the performing arts with the visual and to encourage people to come to the ballet that might not normally be interested.  Each of the three nights in the series consists of short ballet works that are linked to one another in either theme or creation.  No night is the same.  This year the nights are entitled, “Quintessential NYCB,” “Contemporary Choreographers,” and “20th Century Violin Concertos.”

A particular fan of contemporary ballet, I attended the February 7 performance of “Contemporary Choreographers.”  While the dancing was beautiful, two of the pieces that were chosen for this performance missed the mark.  The works included Angelin Preljocaj’s La Stravanganza, Christopher Wheeldon’s A Place for Us, and Peter Martins’ Todo Buenos Aires.  Certain elements (costumes, sounds, choreography) in La Stravanganza were not cohesive.  While Joaquin de Luz was excellently cast as the lead in Todo Buenos Aires, the bravura of the rest of the dancers seemed put-on.  The ballet highlight for me was Tiler Peck’s performance in A Place For Us—she and her husband and partner, Robert Fairchild were absolutely stunning.

The real performance was watching the audience “dance” around the David H. Koch promenade on a massive installation by JR.  The piece incorporates the photographs of 75 NYCB dancers in elegant poses, sheltered by sheets of white.  The effect is something of the divine.  To put it in perspective—only a truly fabulous work would be able to bring well-dressed New Yorkers to their knees for that perfect Instagram moment.  The best view, however, is from the highest balcony, or “ring,” of the theater.  From up there, the dancers’ figures merge to reveal an enormous eye with its sights set on beauty.

At the end of the night, every audience member received a takeaway piece from JR in the form of a pop-up card of the David H. Koch Theatre with a miniature JR installation in its tiny promenade.  The special thing about the Art Series is that there is something in it for everyone—art, ballet, celebrity sightings, and if all else fails…free beer.

 

NYCB + JR

Pierogi Gallery: Idiom I

Pierogi Gallery, 177 North 9th Street, Williamsburg

Idiom I

10 January- 9 February, 2014

            Idiom I is the first of two consecutive exhibitions at the Pierogi Gallery in Williamsburg.  According to the write-up by the gallery, Idiom I is designed around the concept of “willing suspension of disbelief,” meaning that even if the narrative of the piece is fictional, the viewer can will it into reality because it also contains “human interest and a semblance of truth.”  It’s like when someone points out the implausibility two people getting together in a movie and you tell them to shut up because it’s so beautiful.  It’s getting lost in a fantasy and believing for just a moment that it could be true.  This moment becomes the second part to the idiom that is revealed when viewer collides with work.

So, with this philosophy in mind I entered Pierogi ready to eat up some disbelief.  Unfortunately, I did not achieve the desired feeling with all of the works.  Everything was stunning, but perhaps too fantastical for me to will forward a moment of belief.  Actually, let me rephrase.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t will it forward, but that I didn’t want to.  I didn’t really want to believe in a green blob with eyes or a vagina in a hillside sprouting with trees.  Reason for the former: aliens, robots, and green blobs seem to be popular right now, but I just can’t get into them.  The latter:  I think the suspension of disbelief for this piece would simplify the imagery it invokes and I personally would rather question why the artist feels the female genitalia is as such than believe in the fantastical landscape.

I was, however, quite taken with Ryan Mrozowski’s paintings, Orange Painting #1, #2, and #3.  Suspension of disbelief was easy with these three works—the more I looked at them, the more I felt like I was in Florida in the summertime.  I believed there were oranges (or reproductions of oranges) in the painting before I realized that there actually weren’t—what I had perceived to be oranges were just orange circles amidst leaves.  I also enjoyed Mrozowski’s work, Untitled (Small Audience), 2008, which was a painting of the backs of heads in an audience.  It made me recall times when I have been a part of a weirdly related community of theatre or moviegoers.  The piece also provides some comic relief, though it is mingled with a touch of discomfort as emphasis is placed somewhere it typically wouldn’t be.

So, the cat’s out of the bag.  Or maybe the cat’s still in the bag.  You decide—check out http://www.pierogi2000.com or visit the gallery on your next trip to Williamsburg.

Kirsten Deirup, Green Blob, 2013

Ryan Mrozowski, Orange Painting #1, #2, #3, 2013

Ryan Mrozowski, Orange Painting #3, 2013

Ryan Mrozowski, Untitled (Small Audience), 2008

Saying Goodbye to Art

           While I have had it in my mind to start this review for a while, I did not premeditate this particular post to be the first; however, sometimes we must follow the path in which inspiration strikes.  We all have our own beliefs about what happens when we die, but let’s think for a minute on the same vein for something arguably not alive—art.  For as many art pieces that we see in museums, there are probably 100 times that existing elsewhere—on the streets, in studios, in schools, and stuck to refrigerators.  Some art might win prizes, but a lot will never even scrape the surface of public attention and may be tossed away without a second glance. We cannot mourn the life of art lost that we never knew existed, but we can seek to understand why it is ok for art to move on.  Who better to learn from than a street artist whose art is by very nature fleeting?

            By now, street artist Banksy is more than halfway through his month-long New York residency, Better Out Than In.  Even though some of his works have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, Banksy is equally as vulnerable to a kid with a can of spray paint as any other street artist.  His first work in the NYC residency included a telephone number that when dialed, explained, “Before you, you will see a spray art by the artist Ban-sky…or maybe not, it’s probably been painted over by now.”  Prophesy foretold, the work is no more.

Yet, we can’t let its passing upset us or keep Banksy from doing what he does best.  The artist knows that they can put their heart and soul into a piece and have it last for only a few minutes, but they do it anyway.  Street art is like a cherry blossom—it creates a bang and then disappears forever.  Yet, the transience may actually give it more clout than if it was a permanent fixture.  It is only human nature to want to hold on to things…if we don’t see an exhibition before it closes, we consider it “missed.”  Regardless, Banksy’s works always leave a lasting impression.  Instead of mourning what is in the past, we need to just open our eyes and look at the art happening all around us.  Who knows, we might even be the first to see a Banksy…or we might be lucky enough to see Banksy himself!

For more on Better Out Than In, check out http://www.banksyny.com