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1. CCS Bard Hessel Museum of Art (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY)
CCS Bard Hessel Museum, Martine Syms: Grio College, 2022, Image courtesy of CCS Bard
Currently on view at CCS Bard Hessel Museum of Art are three exhibitions not to be missed. They are: Black Melancholia curated by Nana Adusei-Poku, Dara Birnbaum: Reaction and Martine Syms: Grio College both curated by Lauren Cornell. All of these exhibitions are located in the same building in various galleries. Black Melancholia is a large, group show while Birnbaum’s Reaction and Sym’s Grio College are installed in parallel galleries. All three exhibitions are incredibly powerful.
Black Melancholia features the work of 28 artists. Upon entering the gallery, the visitor is confronted with older work from the Hessel’s permanent collection and the Diaspora. The exhibition explores the concept of grief, loss, and longing, and how it was often assigned and made acceptable, as stated in the press release, for white cis (fe-)male subjects. Viewpoints on visible sadness have spanned various interpretations over the years. Ranging from sadness being translated into hysteria, or weakness, to something that is both accepted in certain circles or under certain circumstances, or completely sequestered. Through the veil of the Western canon, Black mourning was rarely seen or encouraged in art. This exhibition changes that and shines a light on artists who have not only removed the veil, but embraced personal and collective mourning. Two pieces in particular to look out for are a Shadow-work by Lyle Ashton Harris, and a video portrait by Rashid Johnson.
Included artists are Clay Apenouvon, William Artis, Ain Bailey, Edward Mitchell Bannister, Selma Burke, Roy DeCarava, Ja’Tovia Gary, Cy Gavin, Lyle Ashton Harris, Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle, Sargent Johnson, Rashid Johnson, Valerie Maynard, Charles McGee, Danielle Mckinney, Shala Miller, Tyler Mitchell, Arcmanoro Niles, Otobong Nkanga, Zohra Opoku, Rose Piper, Pope.L, Walter Price, Augusta Savage, Lorna Simpson, Charisse Pearlina Weston, Charles White, and Alberta Whittle.
Dara Birnbaum: Reaction & Martine Syms: Grio College, organized by Lauren Cornell, are not initially two artists I would have thought of bringing together, and two separate solo presentations. However, upon walking through these exhibitions in a clockwise manner (seeing Martine Syms first, followed by Dana Birnbaum), I was incredibly and unexpectedly moved. Birnbaum was born in 1946 and the work in her show stretches from 1975 through 2011. In contrast, Martine Syms was born in 1988 and works in various mediums with a focus largely on digital media. Cornell includes a vast selection of work from each of these artists, who are both tackling ideas around identity, gender, the concept of social (public) versus private and feminism as it related to the 1970s (Birnbaum) and what it means today (Syms). While the technology has changed over the years, the vision has remained predominantly the same, for better and for worse. Birnbaum was looking at footage from the original Wonder Woman TV series which ran from 1975-1979. In one of her most well-known video works,”Technology/Transformation” (1978/79) she has aggregated content of actress Lynda Carter transforming from the dowdy Diana Prince into Wonder Woman, through a series of dramatic turns and explosions. In a 2021 piece by Martine Syms, titled, “DED '' the artist has animated a female, Black, avatar that delves into a destructive pattern of self harm to the point of death, and then is repetitively resurrected. While the two works were made 40 years apart, the relationship they share is undeniable. In both, there is a visible erasure of the female form, the first through the eyes of men ‘exploding’ a plain woman into a scantily clad superhero seen as more beautiful, and the other, the self-inflicted pain of the Black body made visible through a 3D rendering and the miracle of the violence being made infinite and more importantly, reversed through digital means. Cornell has brought these two artists together and reopened a charged dialogue in the most effective, and profound way, forcing us to acknowledge how much has changed, while even more has stayed the same.
2. Aldrich Museum (Ridgefield, CT)
The Aldrich Museum of Art, Installation views, 52 Artists: A Feminist Milestone Erin M. Riley (left, back) and Florencia Escudero (right) 2022, Photos by Katy Hamer
A monumental exhibition about feminism of the past and present is on view at The Aldrich Museum. Titled 52 Artists: A Feminist Milestone, the exhibition brings together an original group of artists who were in Twenty-Six Contemporary Women Artists, curated by Lucy Lippard in 1971, with 26 additional contemporary artists. Organized by Amy Smith-Stewart, the exhibition brings together two disparate generations who have similar views on feminism, although the artists from the original Lippard exhibit, were the trailblazers. How do artists react to feminism today? A few years ago, in a class I was co-teaching, some of the undergraduate art students announced that they thought feminism was dead, that it was too closely connected to the past and static. Fast forward to today, and I think many young artists see this quite differently, with Roe v. Wade overturned, and so many other ways that rights are being challenged for people who have the capacity of pregnancy, as well as for those who do not. Feminism no longer revolves around the gender binary and is less defined as a women's issue as it was in the 1970s. Today, it is expansive and includes people who identify as women or are female adjacent.
The exhibition does an incredible job at aggregating artwork from the original version of the show, and each of the included older artists also contributed a newer work. There is a conversation happening that feels fluid, and flows from gallery to gallery. Rather than raise flags or voices, all of the artists in the show make work that is in direct response to the body, in one way or another. One extremely special work that was performed during the opening was a piece by artist Adrian Piper. People walked around inside the museum and property, occasionally and seemingly unprompted, blowing whistles. The work wasn’t announced or titled, and those present only discovered that Piper was the artist at the end of the evening. It had only been performed once prior, and was the most audible call to action.
3. Public Art Fund (Brooklyn, NY)
Public Art Fund, Black Atlantic, Brooklyn Bridge Park, 2022, Photos by Katy Hamer | Artist: Kiyan Williams
At Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Public Art Fund has organized an outdoor treasure hunt. In this instance, the treasures are various artworks that have been installed in wooded areas and grassy knolls along the walkway that traces the waterfront. Titled Black Atlantic, the exhibition is co-organized by artist Hugh Hayden and former Public Art Fund Curator Daniel S. Palmer. The work included was commissioned specifically for this exhibition and gave space for each of the selected artists to mine personal and collective relationships to the Atlantic Ocean, the most direct connection for many years to Africa, the Americas and Europe. While these ports received goods such as pepper, tea, silk, coffee, porcelain, and ivory, they were also the entry-point for slaves. These marked shores remain, years later, a point of reference for so many, and the artists selected have made work in direct relation to the trade and sale of bodies. Each work is a poetic solution to something still so hard to digest.Some approach the narrative directly, while others reimagine the narrative and offer a welcoming totem and vessel as a way to alter the perception, perhaps as an offering to the ancestors.
Artists in the exhibition include: Leilah Babirye, Hugh Hayden, Dozie Kanu, Tau Lewis, and Kiyan Williams
Public Art Fund, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Black Atlantic | Artist: Dozie Kanu
Additional information including a map identifying the location of each sculpture can be found at: https://www.publicartfund.org/exhibitions/view/black-atlantic/
4. Watermill Center (Watermill, NY)
Adam Parker Smith, Installation views, The Watermill Center, New York, 2022, Photo by Katy Hamer
The Watermill Center was founded by Robert Wilson in 1992 in Watermill, New York. The Center has functioned as a venue for performance, installation, art exhibitions and an annual residency. They are known for their annual summer benefit, which attracts art world luminaries in a beautiful setting, filling the property with performers, sculptural installations, and an audio component. This year, one of the artists-in-residence includes painter Robert Nava, who is working vigorously in a studio on the property. A dizzying exhibition by artist and longtime friend of Robert Wilson, Christopher Knowles, includes a huge amount of work by the prolific artist, who has autism. Knowles uses a variety of mediums to achieve his vision, including typewriter text—repetitive letters, in this case C for Chris, form incredibly detailed patterns and drawings. The artist also makes paintings, marker drawings, and sculptures.
Another artist exhibiting at The Watermill this summer is Adam Parker Smith. Smith has been recognized over the years for his hyper-realistic sculptures that are freestanding and often painted in industrial car paint. In this case, his most recent work, one of which was installed as part of NADA Governor’s Island last year, dot the lush green landscape. The eerie shapes are imagined totems, something that might be found by those in the future wanting to learn about our society. They represent bodies in sleeping bags, frozen in time, frozen in place. They are striking and their colorations remind me of the rainbow reflections associated with an oil slick one might see in a car park. Parker Smith’s vision may not necessarily be warm and fuzzy, as these totems almost feel apocalyptic, but they are his vision. I recommend making a trip to the East End of Long Island, and deciding for yourself. I wonder what his totems would look like next to one of Daniel Arsham’s objects, which also are imagined relics that one might dig up and give hints about our current time. Arsham utilizes technology and pop culture objects such as cordless telephones, boom boxes, the Back to the Future Delorean, and Casio keyboards to name a few. In my opinion, while both artists’ works lend themselves to being a little tongue-in-cheek, I’d prefer finding one of Arsham’s objects as far as a symbol of our time, and can appreciate Parker Smith’s vision more as an art object, than as something with the power to reference where we are as a society.
5. The High Line (New York, NY)
The High Line, Paola Pivi, You know who I am, New York, Photo by Timothy Schenck, 2022
The High Line was built and used as an elevated train line, before being abandoned long ago. In recent years, it was transformed into a beautiful park with a walkway that extends north to south from 33rd Street to Gansevoort Street on Manhattan’s west side. Each year the Friends of the High Line commission artwork and often open the call up to artists who are invited to present a project. This year, four commissioned works are on view; You know who I am, by Paola Pivi, Women & Children by Nina Beier, Untitled (drone) by Sam Durant, Windy, by Meriem Bennani, and long-term installation of a mural titled, The Baayfalls, by Jordan Casteel. The High Line has an app that is available for free download and marks all of the locations where the artwork has been installed. Similar to the Public Art Fund installed works at Brooklyn Bridge Park, visitors are invited to look and stroll organically without an intention or to specifically search for artwork.
One work that begs visitors to return is You know who I am, by Paola Pivi. Pivi’s installation is a replica of the Statue of Liberty. In her style and aesthetic, which tends to be playful and colorful, she has made emoji-style masks that fit over the face of the sculpture. In this instance, Pivi who is Italian, channels the humor of Maurizio Cattelan, parallel, but with a twist. The masks are scheduled to change every two months, and will reference various groups who have immigrated to the United States, but whose features are not found on Ms. Liberty. Since 2006, Pivi has lived in Alaska with her husband. For years, they struggled with the adoption of their son who was born in India. The arduous process stretched on for years, inspiring her to think about the process of citizenship and struggle that so many face. Have you ever looked for yourself in the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty?