Hidden In Plain Sight

I was drawn to Sebastãio Salgado’s image by the hundreds of star-like dots. I wasn’t able to distinguish what I was seeing, only that it was obviously about an environment “untouched” by modern society. As I approached, I noticed a crocodile in the bottom of the frame and I realized that what I was confusing for lights were the eyes of crocodiles and their reflections in the water. What is illuminating the crocodiles’ eyes? Would this image exist without Salgado’s intervention? These are logical questions, but beauty of the print, the formal qualities in this image, and the initial shock have me reeling too much to want to answer them. I am excited by works of art that shatter my expectations.

Sebastião Salgado, The Pantanal, Mato Grosso, Brazil. 2011

I first came across Toyin Odutola’s work on my tumblr dashboard. Similar to Salgado’s piece, I was drawn to Odutola’s work by its dark tones and by my inability to immediately decipher what I was seeing. Her drawings reminded me of my sad attempt at drawing a life-size muscular, figure and the sketches in my “Anatomy for the Artist” book. Unlike these, Odutola’s muscles were lush, fleshy, and black. As I learned more about her work, I was blown away by her process and her use of ballpoint pen to make drawings dense with ink. How many marks did it take to fill her 12” x 19” drawing of Mabel?

With her more recent work, such as LTS III, 2014, she further plays with abstraction by using every inch of her frame. At first I thought I was looking at an abstract drawing of patterns, then, as I looked closer, I followed a diagonal form across the frame and was able to make out the silhouette of a figure, the distinction of his shoulder blade and his arm, the curve of his lips and the distinction of his eyebrows, then lastly his eyes.

Charcoal, pastel, and marker on board, 32 x 40 inches. 37 1/2 x 45 3/8 x 1 1/2 inches framed. ©Toyin Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Charcoal, pastel, and marker on board, 32 x 40 inches. 37 1/2 x 45 3/8 x 1 1/2 inches framed. ©Toyin Odutola. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s piece titled Voice Array is an installation piece of an audio waveform created with light. I was drawn to it by the beauty of the dark room and flickering lights (I am a sucker for mood lighting). I kept a safe space from the piece, but as I stood there I started hearing faint voices. I realized the piece was a visual translation of the human voice, and not just any human voice, but of hundreds of participants. As I read the piece from left to right, I noticed an intercom at the far left inviting me to speak. Just as Salgado’s piece evokes a sense of community, Lozano Hemmer’s piece is a communal work only made possibly by contribution.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Voice Array, 2011. Fletcher Gallery, London, United Kingdom, 2014. Photo by: Grace Storey, Carroll/Fletcher Gallery.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Voice Array, 2011. Fletcher Gallery, London, United Kingdom, 2014.
Photo by: Grace Storey, Carroll/Fletcher Gallery.

Similar to the golden ratio in art and its direct relationship to nature, Stefanus Rademeyer translates math into the visual. Point Line Field, 2010 is a mesmerizing drawing of what looks like millions of birds in flight coming together, or ants closing in on a cloud of sugar. Upon closer inspection though, I was able to make out thin hair-lines spreading out from various starting points. It became a complicated connect-the-dots game. Now my eyes move frantically from point to point, trying to follow each line to figure out the logic behind the design. Looking at this piece never gets old.

Stefanus Rademeyer. Point Line Field, 2010. Pigment ink on archival cotton paper, 610 x 610 mm Edition of 3. Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery.

Stefanus Rademeyer. Point Line Field, 2010. Pigment ink on archival cotton paper, 610 x 610 mm
Edition of 3. Courtesy of the artist and Goodman Gallery.

As a high school student my definition of art was very limited. Gustav Klimt’s paintings seemed like child’s drawings. My best friend and I rushed around a show of his work in Ottawa in disdain. How could this be art?!?! I spent my next five years in blissful avoidance of him, even though Klimt’s posters overran every college bookstore. Slowly, and thankfully I started understanding the beauty of his work.

Klimt’s play between shape and form brings mosaic techniques into painting. In his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Adele is a three dimensional form, spurting out of a two dimensional space. Klimt uses paint and gold leaves to create intricate designs on every inch of his canvas. Adele is dressed in a gold dress with patterned tiles that merge with the gold background. Just as my surprise with Sebastião Salgado’s image, I realized the tiles are eyes.

Gustav Klimt. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907. Oil on canvas. 4’6” x 4’6” in. Neue Galerie, New York.

Gustav Klimt. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907. Oil on canvas. 4’6” x 4’6” in. Neue Galerie, New York.

Just as I was drawn into Salgado’s image by it’s dark tone, I am similarly drawn in by Albrecht Düer’s engraving Knight, Death, and the Devil. What keeps me looking in this piece is Düer’s marks on copper. The harsh and jagged lines in the background echo the morbid theme of the image. At the same time the lines that define the horse’s neck and thigh muscles are delicate and soft. When I look at the horse’s thigh I imagine myself creating the same lines and how delicate I’d have to be with my mark. The lines carved in this engraving are echoed in Rademeyer’s drawing. Everytime I see this image I make new discoveries like a game of “Where’s Waldo.”

Albrecht Dürer. Knight, Death, and the Devil, 1513. Engraving, 9 13/16in  x 7 11/16in. Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1943.

Albrecht Dürer. Knight, Death, and the Devil, 1513. Engraving, 9 13/16in x 7 11/16in. Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1943.

As a kid, museums and galleries were very intimidating places for me. My experience was reminiscent of browsing stores with easily shop-liftable items where guards followed you around making sure you didn’t get too close. In art classes I learned about great Greek sculptures such as the David and the Nike of Samothrace. Therefore, I wasn’t expecting any surprises while strolling through the MET until I came across La Capresse des Colonies by Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier.

I had the broken expectation of seeing a black woman immortalized in a sculpture inside of one of the world’s most famous museums. I made the association to Odutola’s use of black ink to depict the black body and Cordier’s use of Algerian onyx-marble. La Capresse des Colonies beauty is further emphasized by her confident stance and coy smile. I had the desire to touch the smooth marble and invade her space. However, this made me uncomfortable because I didn’t want to fall into the role of colonizers and f exoticize her. This feeling lead to the same question as Salgado’s image. What is illuminating the eyes of the crocodiles? How was La Capresse made? How did she get to be here? Is her armband a slave mark? These questions remind me of my initial disappointment of walking through the museum. Regardless of the negative answers I find, seeing a figure I can relate to is an important step for me to see my value in the art world. For all I know, this could have been my grandmother’s grandmother.

Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier. La Capresse des Colonies, 1861. Algerian onyx-marble, bronze and gilt bronze, and enamel; white marble socle. 37 ¾in x 23 1/4 in. 208.4 lb. European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Fund, 2006.

Charles-Henri-Joseph Cordier. La Capresse des Colonies, 1861. Algerian onyx-marble, bronze and gilt bronze, and enamel; white marble socle. 37 ¾in x 23 1/4 in. 208.4 lb. European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Fund, 2006.

Vincent van Gogh’s painting Starry Night Over the Rhone has an opposite effect to Salgado’s painting. I am certain of what I see from afar, a view of a city across a river during a starry night. But up close I am taken in by the beauty of van Gogh’s paint dabs. The blotchy brush strokes that create the whole are reminiscent of mosaic work. My most recent “a-ha” moment was noticing a couple walking from the shoreline towards me. I easily overlooked them because their bodies blend in nicely with the water and their faces can be confused for the reflection of stars in the water. The couple reminds me of the “tortured artist” cliché. They become a reminder that none of us are alone; that I am not alone.

Vincent Van Gogh. Starry Night Over the Rhone, 1888.Oil on canvas 28.5 in x 36.2 in. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Vincent Van Gogh. Starry Night Over the Rhone, 1888.Oil on canvas 28.5 in x 36.2 in. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Paul D’Amato’s portraits of Chicago’s West Side residents are some of the most arresting I’ve seen. A D’Amato image is unmistakable, yet his image titled Angela, 2010 is not easily placed. The scale, the soft diffused light, and Angela’s golden skin is what draws me in. Angela’s gesture and gaze insinuates a longing. The pattern created by the leopard print sheets becomes a sea engulfing Angela. The overall impact of the image makes the photographer’s intent and background trivial. Similar to Cordier’s piece, Angela is drapped in white linen. Angela is our modern day Capresse des Colonies transplanted in the reality of Chicago’s West Side neighborhood.

Paul D'Amato, Angela, 2010. Copyright the artist. Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

Paul D’Amato, Angela, 2010. Copyright the artist. Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery.

Some of my favorite works of art are those that combine art and the utilitarian. The craft and science behind arms and armor are impressive on their own, yet Filippo Negroli’s helmet, Burgonet, stands out by the intricate design and relifs decorating the helmet. A mermaid runs like a mohawk over the headpiece. Her tail morphs into acanthus leaves where each vein is discernible. Through closer inspection I was able to make out each of the mermaid’s ribs, the snakes that create Medusa’s hair, and the individual feathers in the cherub’s wings.

Filippo Negroli, Burgonet, 1513. Steel and Gold, 9 1/2in. x 7 5.16 in, 4 lb 2 oz. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917.

Filippo Negroli, Burgonet, 1513. Steel and Gold, 9 1/2in. x 7 5.16 in, 4 lb 2 oz. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917.

The color palette in Edvard Munch’s painting, The Sick Child, 1885-6, causes a sense of uneasiness and nausea. It consists of greens and yellows in vertical brush strokes. It’s clear that we’re looking in on a sad scene, and a young girl that is beyond help. There’s an older woman with her head down that looks highly distraught, and a redheaded girl propped up in bed who has accepted her fate. The beauty in this painting is in the abstraction created by rough brush strokes that evoke a feeling of a dream or an unclear memory from long ago.

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1885-6. Oil on canvas, 120 × 118.5 cm.  Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo.

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1885-6. Oil on canvas, 120 × 118.5 cm. Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo.

The joy I experienced of a broken expectation first occurred through the discovery of my identity. Perhaps this is the reason my work revolves around my family history. The thrill in seeing La Capresse was parallel to when I learned I was not an only child. That in fact, I had two half sisters. Discovering the presence of crocodiles in Salgado’s image is similar to the feeling of finding out my great great grandmother had a beard and was “Africana.” The discoveries in Düer’s work are reminiscent of being introduced to an unknown aunt or cousin. Rademayer’s Point Line Field is my family tree.

Groana Melendez. Untitled, 2014.

Groana Melendez. Untitled, 2014.

Guayabera

This exhibition explores the relationship between the United States and Cuba through photographs of the guayabera.  The inspiration for this exhibition is a piece by Milagros De La Torre piece titled “Guayabera” from her series “Bulletproof”.  The guayabera is a formal shirt that is common in Latin America, although its design roots are up for discussion, with many regions claiming it as their own.  The origin of the name guayabera too seems to be up for debate but in both instances it is believed that the name is Cuban.  Miguel Caballero, a Colombian famous for his bulletproof clothing, designs the guyabera in this image.  What I find so intriguing about this image and item is that the guyabera is a summer piece of clothing, light in weight and designed, it is hard to imagine this item of clothing being bulletproof or hiding armor under its seemingly transparent material.

Milagros De La Torre, Guayabera 2008

To start to get a handle on the relationship between the United States and Cuba one must first look at the Monroe Doctrine of 1821, which stated that efforts to colonize or interfere with states in the Americas, would be seen as acts of aggression requiring US intervention.  At the time Mexico had just revolted from Spain and creating its own government.  For the next century Mexico went through revolutions one of which having France place Maximilian I of Mexico (born Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph of Austria) as the head of state.  Because of the Monroe Doctrine, the US never recognized him.  Of note, the Monroe Doctrine did not stop the US from interfering with Mexico’s sovereignty (see Mexican-American war 1846-1848).  The first image we will look at is Francois Aubert’s Emperor Mazimilian’s Shirt.

Francois Aubert, Emperor Maximilian's Shirt 1867

Next we will consider the Spanish-American War or Cuba’s fight for independence.  In 1898 the United States went to war with Spain after Spain rejected American demands for resolution of the Cuban fight for independence.  It concluded with the signing of a treaty that gave the United States control of Cuba, the Philippians, Puerto Rico, and Guam.  It was the first time that the United States took on imperial power and had “colonies.” Although the United States had promised independence to Cuba the Platt Amendment, kept Cuba from true sovereignty, allowed for the US to “stabilize” Cuba Militarily and established an US Naval base in Cuba.

A company of the Cuban army, Pinar del Rio, Cuba - Strohmeyer & Wyman, 1899

There was a long pried of piece between the United States and Cuba for the coming years, so much so that some of Americas Greatest artist were know to spent much time there.  Famously Earnest Hemmingway and Walker Evans became friends from an original meeting in Havana, Cuba in May of 1933, Hemmingway moved there full time in 1939.

Hemingway at his home in Cuba, the Finca Vigía (now Museo Hemingway), circa 1947. JFK Library Collection

Walker Evans, starving cuban family 1933

On January 1, 1959 there was an armed revolt to overthrow Fulgencio Batista, a US backed dictator, by they 26th of July Movement led by Fidel Castro.

On April 17 – 19 1961 there was an unsuccessful attempt to over throw Castro by a US CIA trained force of exiled Cubans.  (on January 28, 2008 Mitt Romney wore a guayabera for a speech in Sweetwater Fl, to a mostly Cuban-American crowd,  the shirt was given to him by Luis Arrizureita one of the 1400 Cubans to storm the beaches at the bay of pigs)

Apr 21, 1961 - Central Press/Getty Images

Central Press/Getty Images - Apr 21, 1961

Mike Segar/reuters - January 28, 2008

On June 14, 1994 Castro appeared at the Cartagena de Indias Summit of Heads of State and Government, in the guayabera, for the first time shedding his official uniform.  This is the first public appearance Castro made out of his usual military uniform.

Liborio Noval - June 14th, 1994

In May of 2002 former President Jimmy Carter of the United States of America, visited Cuba.  Durning this visit Carter spent time with Castro.  This was the first time since 1959 that a current or former president has met with Castro.

GREGORY BULL AP - Monday, May 13, 2002

In my interpretation of this work, I stray from the Cuba-America theme and take a picture (in much the same style) of the shirt I wore when a stray bullet missed my head by a few inches, piercing the sliding glass door I sat in front of, crossing the room and embedding itself in a wall.

clark richard nelson, lucky bullet 2009

Advertising and Art

There has always been a close correlation between advertising and art. They have always borrowed ideas from one another, and will only continue to do so more as the amount of images we see everyday increases and our access to images from all over the world and historically throughout time become more and more accessible.

Silvia Kolbowski explores this notion in her series, “After Atlas” in which she collages together images from magazines that reference the art world in some way. Here we will look at “After Atlas #4” from the series and use it as a basis for this curatorial experiment.

"After Atlas #4"

Silvia Kolbowski, "After Atlas #4" 1996 to Present

Man Ray, Robert Smithson, and Lucio Fontana are all represented in this collage. We will look at the source material from each of them, and also look at other works that also share this symbiotic relationship.

"Noire et Blanche"

Man Ray, "Noire et Blanche" 1926

We know that Man Ray was looking at African masks and drawing inspiration from that source. We can also see the influence of the African mask in Mondrian’s faces.

"Short Pants"

Amedeo Modigliani "Boy in Short Pants" 1918

Below we can look at Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and see that was looking at other earth works to draw inspiration from.

"Spiral Jetty"

Robert Smithson, "Spiral Jetty" 1970

Nazca Line Monkey, 900 BC - 600AD

Nazca Line Monkey, 900 BC - 600AD

The last image in Kolbowski’s collage could be drawing inspiration from  Lucio Fontana. I also particularly like the possible reference to Caravaggio as well.

"Concetto Spaciale Attese"

Lucio Fontana, "Concetto Spaciale Attese" 1965

Caravaggio, "The Incredulity of Saint Thomas" 1601 - 1602

We see examples of art crossing into advertising and vice versa everyday. Here are a few more examples.

Rodrick Angle, 2007

Photographs from "La Filature - The Shadow." 1981

Steven Klein, "Rihanna for Vogue Italia" September 2009

Eadweard Muybridge, "The Horse in Motion" 1878

Richard Prince, "Untitled (Cowboy)" 1983

Leonard McCombe, "Portrait of Texas Cowboy C.H.Long" 1949

Jason Woolfolk, "Untitled (Crowd)" 2007

Robert Heinecken, "Are you Real" 1967

The Theater

Since the invention of photography, our expression toward art has expanded. People used photography not only to document the observed but also as a tool to express their fantasy, desire and ideas, which don’t exist in reality.  In order to create those works, artist’s commonly use aspects of theater, which include, drama, character, costume, gesture of character, songs, story and empathy from viewers. These represent crucial devices, which control perceptions and are often based on stereotypes.In the music video, Ignorant Oil (2009), Kalup Linzy attracted viewers by his presentation of himself as a melodramatic diva who is reflective of popular culture.  Linzy successfully created a theater that is not only about costume and appearance but, which also brings drama and a storyline to his performance. 

“Ignorant Oil” (2009) Kalup Linzy

 

This exhibition focuses on the artists who utilize both theatrical effects and the viewers perception as tools to lead the viewers from nineteenth century to today.

"Puzzle made of postcard of Sarah Bernhardt in variety of roles forming portrait of Bernhardt as L’Aiglon” after 1906

 

Sara Bernhardt, the most famous and fashionable stage actress during nineteenth century, played various dramatic roles including Queen Elizabeth, Hamlet and Cleopatora.   In addition to her talent as an actress, Bernhardt attracted audiences with her appearance in different costumes and characters on each performance on the stage as depicted on this piece. 

“Cover” (2002) Tomoko Sawada

 

Sawada, a Japanese photographer takes self-portrait in variety costumes and presents her self as different characters in the photographs.  In this photograph, Sawada dresses up in fashion that is poplar among Japanese teen age girls and pose stereotypical manner that young girls often do in their photograph.  She find her possibilities to create a fantasy in the photographs which does not exist in reality by changing her appearance. Sawada describe “ My appearance could be change easily but not my personality” she fascinates the viewers with all characters she performes and made us fantasize about the personality in the photographs.

“Shoes” (2006). Liam Sullivan

 

In this comedy music video, Sullivan played multi characters. Sullivan sings a song as the main character, Kelly in the video, a stereotypical defiant American teenage girl.  Being played a stereotypical character comically by  opposite genders based on their observation emphasize on specific age gender’s stereotype idea in the society  and  transform  to a comment from third person.  Sullivan’s monotone emotionless vocal on its simple beat,  girls’ wild and obsessive shoes shopping scene is ridiculous and humorous.  Because of those combination plus video’s accessibility reflects all elements of today’s materialistic poplar culture.

 

"Rrose Selavy” (1923) Man Ray

 

Man Ray photographed Marcel Duchamp as Duchamp’s female alter ego Rrose Selavy.  Like Sawada used specific pose in her photograph, Duchamp gently holds the scurf with his left hand emphasizes his fingers, which suggests femininity. In doing this, Duchamp as s male mimics feminine expression and plays with the notion of his female alter ego.

“Self Portrait” (1920) Claude Cahun

 

Cahun challenged the traditional notion of gender identity by presenting herself with a shaved head and by wearing male clothes.  Her standing pose with her fist clenched and witha serious facial expression removes  her femininity. She succeeded to create a new reality or  imagined self by taking on the traditional perception of the male role.    

Self Portrait (2009)

 

In order to create sexual fantasy in my art, I decided to become a male which lead sexual fantasy in stereotypical manner in the photograph.  As Linzy invited and seduced viewers to his sexual  fantasy in opposite gender, I explored my sexual fiction as opposite gender.  In order to create the fantasy, I adapted standing pose of  Ewan McGregor  from the movie poster of “Trainspotting”(1996) ,  with boots on to emphasize the stereotypical western male.  Moreover,  I situated my self  in the space with art objects to give an impression of traditional male nude model in western art history.  My intention is to create a sexual fantasy that suggest unclear gender based on the body and stereotypical pose.

"The Dream” (1860) Oscar Gustave Rejlander

 

 Rejlander, a Swedish-born photographer studied painting and lithography in Rome. He created a narrative scene which he inspired by late Renaissance art and contemporary cartoons from the newspaper. The small human figures in front and the reclining man makes viewers imagine what the man is dreaming about.  Moreover, because of this reclining man’s gestures of his closed eyes and the placement of his hand suggests to viewers an erotic narrative, which brings to the photographs story of more than just man sleeping.

    

"Mr. and Mrs. Turtledove New French Cook” (1902) .William H. Raw

 

This is detail from a stereograph which was a popular form of image in the late 19 century.  The viewer used a hand held device into which a sequence of stereographic cards would be inserted.  Each card contained two images, which would be viewed at the same time,  giving the effect of a three dimensional picture. The images were often a narrative focusing on humorous domestic situations..  In Mr. and Mrs. Turtledove New French Cook the Raw created a scene of Mr. Turtledove’s flirtation toward his new young female cook.  When Mrs. Turtledove found out about them, she asked the cook to leave and hire an older cook as a form of revenge and jelously. The use of the Stereograph, which was a popular format of the time and the common themes easily drew viewers into the storyline.

“Seven Last Words of Christ” (1898). Fred Holland Day

 

 In this work, Day depicted him self as Jesus with a scene of the Crucifixtion. He made a sequence of his head shots with facial expression. By presenting the suffering in sequence, viewers can imagine the scenes more realistically than from a single image or painting.  Day’s performance,  brings the viewer to a level of empathy on the suffering of others. 

“Be Without You” (2005). Mary J Blige

 

In this video clip, Blige sings about love she does not want to lose, and the feeling she wants man to understand. The video shows a pain be in love and its  merodrama between man and woman with her  emotional performance followed by her ecstatic vocal.    The depiction of passion and pain in this music video  connects those of Day’s Crucifixion, so does Linzy’s music video.