Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dispatch: Emily Jacir

[Two scenes from “Lydda Airport” (2007-2009), single-channel animation, 5 minutes 21 seconds. “Stazione” (2009), public intervention.]

In “Dispatch”—Emily Jacir’s second one-person exhibition at Alexander and Bonin—the artist presents works from two recent projects, “Lydda Airport” and “Stazione.” Running through November 28, 2009, “Dispatch” gives us a soupçon of the media range in which Jacir works. Living and working between Ramallah and New York, she utilizes video, photography, social interventions, performance, painting, writing, and sound. Born in Bagdad, this Generation X’er spent her childhood in Saudi Arabia and her high school years in Italy. Having exhibited extensively and internationally since the mid-1990s, Jacir has had solo exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, London, Linz, Beirut, and Ramallah. Jacir is a recipient of the Golden Lion for an artist under 40 at the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007) for her installation “Material for a Film” (2007) as well the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’s Hugo Boss Prize (2008).

“Lydda Airport” is a short film taking place at the eponymous location sometime in the mid- to late-1930s. The airstrip of four concrete runways on the outskirts of the Arab town of Lydda was built chiefly for military purposes in 1936 by the British during their League of Nations Mandate of Palestine. Lydda Airport was an important stop along the “Empire Route” for their national airline, Imperial Airways (that became—through various mergers—BOAC in 1939 and eventually British Airways in 1974). Until 1939, Lydda Airport was the world’s largest aerodrome. Central to Jacir’s narrative is Hannibal—a four-engine, long-range biplane airliner—one of eight planes making up the Handley Page fleet, which were the largest passenger planes in the world at that time. Hannibal mysteriously disappeared in March 1940 somewhere over the Gulf of Oman en route to Sharjah.

Jacir’s film was also inspired by Edmond Tamari, a transport company employee from Jaffa, who received a communication that he should take a bouquet of flowers to Lydda Airport and wait for the arrival of Amelia Earhart in order to welcome her to Palestine. She never arrived. During “Operation Danny” in July 1948, Lydda Airport was captured by the Israeli Defense Forces and renamed Lod International Airport. In 1974 the airport was renamed Ben Gurion International Airport. “Lydda Airport” was commissioned by the Pick Laudati Fund for Arts Computing at Northwestern University where the artist was in residence in 2008. The installation also includes a sculpture developed by Jacir while editing the film at Civitella Ranieri.

Jacir has been instrumental in contributing to the development of the arts scene in the West Bank since 1999. Among the cultural organizations she has assisted include Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center Foundation (a nongovernmental, nonprofit dedicated to the visual arts, and Palestinian identity and narrative), the Qattan Foundation (aiming to empower freethinking, enlightened individuals to overcome challenges of war and injustice to create a flourishing and dynamic society in Palestine and the Arab world), and the Virtual Gallery of Birzeit University’s Museum (offering a window on contemporary art—particularly of art, artists, projects, and exhibitions by Palestinians). Having curated the first international video festival in Ramallah (2002), Jacir also works as a full-time instructor at the International Academy of Art in that city.

Also exhibited are photographs and the brochure of Jacir’s projected “Stazione,” which was created for the 53rd Venice Biennale (2009) “Stazione” was a public intervention that was to have been situated on each of the 24 vaporetti stops along route #1 of the water bus route, beginning at the “Lido” stop and concluding at “Piazzale Roma.” Jacir translated the names of each station into Arabic and planned to place the Arabic translations on all the stops next to their Italian counterparts thereby creating a bilingual transportation route through the city. The Arabic inscriptions were meant to place each floating platform in direct dialogue with the surrounding architecture and urban design, thereby linking them with various elements of Venice's shared heritage with the Arab world. The realization of “Stazione” was unexpectedly cancelled without explanation by Venetian municipal authorities.

Among this Palestinian-American’s more noted works are her painful testament and interactive piece “Memorial to 418 Palestinian Villages Destroyed, Depopulated and Occupied by Israel in 1948” (2001) in which 140 participated in New York, her conceptual and intensely political “Where We Come From” (2001-2003), and “Crossing Surda” (2003)—a record of going to and from her job at Birzeit University. The latter springs from her experience filming her feet with a video camera at a checkpoint when an Israeli soldier threatened her with an M-16 pointed toward her temple—forcing her to spend a day standing in the cold winter rain.

Museums exhibiting Jacir’s unforgettable conceptual works have included the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco), Whitney Museum of American Art, Palazzo delle Papesse (Siena), CCS Bard Hessel Museum, and Modern Art Oxford.

Dispact: Emily Jacir

Through November 28, 2009

@ Alexander and Bonin Gallery

132 Tenth Avenue (between 18th & 19th), NYC 10011

For further information …

Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center Foundation:

Qattan Foundation:

Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art:

Virtual Gallery, Birzeit University Museum:

Parts of a World: Sharon Horvath

[“Afterlife” (2002-2009), dispersed pigment, ink, & polymer on canvas. “About the Car,” (2006-2009), dispersed pigment, ink, & polymer on canvas. “Basket Weaver’s Defense” (2005), dispersed pigment, ink, & polymer on canvas.]

Borrowed from the title of a book of poetry by Wallace Stevens, Sharon Horvath’s “Parts of a World” will be up at Lori Bookstein Fine Art through November 25, 2009. Borrowed from the title of a Wallace Stevens book of poetry published in 1942, “Parts of a World” is a tribute to the poet’s lifelong involvement with “the incessant conjunctions between things as they are and things imagined.” Additionally, the titles of several of the shows paintings—including “Dezembrum,” “Palaz of Hoon,” “Description Without Place,” and “Human Arrangement”—are borrowed from his poems.

Exhibiting 20th and 21st century of American art—with a focus on American Modernist art and second generation New York School artists—Lori Bookstein Fine Art opened in 1997 on the Upper East Side before its October 2009 relocation to Chelsea. This is Horvath’s first show with Lori Bookstein and the gallery’s inaugural exhibition in its new Chelsea space.

An amalgam of sources inspire Horvath’s personal iconography—including the paintings of Quaker icon Edward Hicks (1780-1849), self-taught "schizophrenic artist" Martin Ramirez (1895-1963) who created nearly 300 drawings within the confines of California’s DeWitt State Hospital, French painter Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) whose career revitalized the Baroque idiom that became known as Rococo, Italian painter Sassetta (1392-1451), Medieval World maps, Etruscan funerary objects, Roman fresco painting and furniture, and the writings of English psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott (1896-1971) and the poetry of American Modernist Wallace Stevens (1879-1955). The poetry of Stevens—meditative and philosophical—closely relates to the composition and narrative of her paintings.

Rhythms of ordinary experience figure prominently in Horvath’s paintings whether as glimpses captured in a rear view mirror, little league playing fields of Brooklyn, breaking waves on Cape Cod, or highway exit ramps under construction. Whether points of departure constitute a poetic reference or mundane object, Horvath’s subjects are imbued with a lyricism transcending the original material. Her created world’s imagery is eerily palpable without ever being literal. This “third space,” as she has called it, is “an intermediate territory distinct from either inner or outer worlds.”

Horvath confounds and transcends what constitutes such “worlds” as interior and exterior, far and near, and figure and ground. By working up to and often over the very edge of her canvases, she explores the paradox of painting as both object and picture. Her paintings are populated from time to time by small figures or images incorporated into or caught in the web of her structures. Like the compositions themselves, these inhabitants occupy an ambiguous space and place, as if fossilized or metabolized into slow-growing organic structures. These tiny figures are not unimportant for being small. They are mischievous, and active. In an essay which has captivated the artist, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) wrote about the narrative activities in the world of his “little people” at play: “Tales where a thread might be dropped, or one adventure quitted for another, on fancy's least suggestion. So that the little people who manage man’s internal theatre had not as yet received a very rigorous training; and played upon their stage like children who should have slipped into the house and found it empty, rather than like drilled actors performing a set piece to a huge hall of faces.”

In Horvath’s distinctive painting method, the viewer is always aware of looking at a handmade object, tangible like the body, with metaphorical skin and bones. Using acrylic polymers and dispersed pigment on canvas or paper, Horvath builds up her surfaces much like a textile weaving—lines of color crisscross into shaky grids or merge into organic systems. These built-up strokes form dense layers—the result of an intuitive, layered “conversation” between the painter’s sensibility and the natural restrictions of the painting process. What begins as the ground is by the end of her process often illegible as such, while elements apparently at the surface may recede to the background and vice versa. She has said of her painting, “I’d like you to see a place as if you are hovering far above it, and at the same time digging in the ground. You are large, then you are small. When you are small you can enter into things. When you are large you can see more. Artists enjoy making these switches before our eyes.” Culling from representations of worlds tiny enough to follow the laws of magical thinking—and maps of the world and cosmos—Horvath opens up strange interior landscapes for others to glimpse.

Horvath is a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Grant for Painting, the Jacob H. Lazarus-Metropolitan Museum of Art Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, the Anonymous was a Woman Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Richard and Hilda Rosenthal Award for Painting, the Edwin Palmer Prize in Painting from the National Academy Museum, and two Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grants. A fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown during the late 1980s, Horvath is an associate professor of art at SUNY Purchase.

Parts of a World: Sharon Horvath

Through November 25, 2009

@ Lori Bookstein Fine Art

138 Tenth Avenue, New York City 10011

In Through the Out Door

[1. “Untitled,” Henry Darger, watercolor & pencil on paper. “The Women of New Amsterdam Insurance Company Get Dressed for Work” (2009), Tom Duncan, mixed media. “Doomsayers” (1994), Paul Edlin, postage stamp fragments on board, & (foreground) “Untitled” (1980), Howard Finster, mixed media. 2. “Untitled (4)” (1915-1916), Adolf Wölfli, colored pencil on paper. 3. “Untitled” (2003), Michael Ryan, mixed media on panel.]

Inaugurating their new location in Chelsea in the former Bellwether Gallery (previously reviewed by Leaves of Glass), Andrew Edlin Gallery is exhibiting the work of 20 artists in “In Through the Out Door,” which runs through December 5, 2009. Established in 2001, the gallery specializes in and embraces artists of the “outsider” genre—though they also represent and exhibit trained artists. Drawn from the work of gallery artists and work in its inventory, “In Through the Out Door” is informed by Andrew Edlin Gallery’s perspective that some of the best visual art is created by self-taught or uninitiated artists who have historically been undervalued and overlooked.

Yet things have become more complicated as these “outsider” artists have become, by increments, recognized to the point where they are acknowledged for their influence on artists who define the canon. On the question of what constitutes “outsider” art, there is little agreement other than it’s a loose amalgam of art that has not been through the process of art schools, galleries, and museums. Originally, the term emanates from “Art Brut” (“rough” or “raw” art) which was coined by the French artist Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) to describe art created beyond the reach of the creative canon, and loosely translated into this English term in 1972 by art critic Roger Cardinal. Within this category, one finds a wide spectrum of individuals whose only point in common is that they have had little or no contact with the predominant art world and its related institutions. For instance, there are untrained artists aspiring to an artist status within established cultural canons. While they are often called “Outsider artists,” they are more correctly creators of “Naïve art.” Additionally, there are those artists—considered marginal to the art world—who have varying degrees of involvement with it. Possibly they may be doing their art work part time: These individuals are not true “Outsider artists” either.

Often the work of such individuals is only discovered after their deaths. A special component of this construct includes those who have been in mental hospitals. Emerging as a successful art marketing category—an Outsider Art Fair has taken place in New York since 1992—the term has been misapplied in a way to cash in on that interest. A year before the New York event first took place, Intuit (The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art) was established in Chicago. The latter maintains a museum featuring art by intuitive, outsider, and self taught artists.

Ranging from those whose work is well known to those whose work is less known, “In Through the Out Door” includes the creations of: Beverly Baker, Frank Calloway, Thomas Chapman, Henry Darger, Mario Del Curto, Tom Duncan, Paul Edlin, Howard Finster, Willem Van Genk, Brent Green, Albert Hoffman, Hans Krüsi, Martin Ramirez, Michael Ryan, Linda Carmella Sibio, Amanda M. Smith, Charles Steffen, Adolf Wölfli, Malcah Zeldis, and Domenico Zindato. The show’s title is drawn from the eighth (and final studio) album by the English rock band Led Zeppelin, recorded in late 1978 and released nearly a year later. Like other British bands at the time, Led Zeppelin was in tax exile during the Harold Wilson and James Callaghan period.

Among works featured in this show are those by the reclusive and celebrated American artist Henry Darger Jr. (1892-1973) whose hundreds of drawings and watercolor paintings were discovered after his death as well as those by Hans Krüsi (1920-1995) who is best known for his images of agrarian life in Switzerland. Krüsi—reared in an orphanage, completing only grade school, and working as a farmhand and laborer—began selling his postcard sized paintings in the 1970s at his flower stall in Zürich. In the 1980s, he achieved artistic celebrity in the wake of enthusiasm for “Wilde Malerei” (Wild Painting). Arrayed across various media as figurines, toy soldiers, scrap metal, and assorted detritus, the work of Tom Duncan—in its dialogue with such issues as the Holocaust, sexuality, and authority—makes inroads into certain realms of “Insider art.”

One of the first artists associated with the category of “Outsider art,” Adolf Wölfli (1864 - 1930) survived childhood physical and sexual abuse, a series of foster homes, and prison time (for attempted child molestation) to go on to produce a huge number of works done with the simplest of materials such as pencils and paper. His complex, intricate, and intense works were done in the over three decades he spent confined in a Swiss psychiatric hospital for his psychosis and hallucinations. Considered retarded as a child, the autistic Willem van Genk (1927-2005) suffered a particular trauma as a teenager during the German occupation of the Netherlands when the Gestapo questioned him about the whereabouts of his father who was in the Dutch resistance and in hiding. That image never left van Genk: Associating the uniforms of the Gestapo with their evil and power, he produced an impressive array of decorated black raincoats. He went on to do a large body of image-packed paintings of crowded cities replete with planes, trains, and political subjects to allay his fear of emptiness.

A Baptist reverend and artist from Georgia, Howard Finster (1916–2001) claimed to be inspired by God in the creation of over 46,000 artworks. One whose life and work straddled varying categories of folk, “Outsider,” “Naïve,” and visionary art, Finster first exhibited his work in 1976 and painted four works for the Library of Congress in 1977. Not only was he selected to participate in the Venice Biennale of 1984, but his work was used by such musical acts as R.E.M. and Talking Heads for album covers. A part of his “Paradise Garden” was installed as part of the permanent collection of Atlanta’s High Museum. The compelling work of Charles Steffen (1927-1995)—in the form of dozens of five- to eight-foot-tall drawings on brown wrapping paper—often contained text about his longing for drawing lessons.

While his education never went beyond the sixth grade, Albert Hoffman (1915-1993)—who made his living in a New Jersey junkyard—produced over 250 carvings with subjects drawn from the Torah and other Jewish subjects (as well as whaling and issues relating to indigenous Americans). Some of his carvings, bas reliefs, and compositions ended up in synagogues while others ended up with the American Folk Art Museum, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum (Williamsburg, Virginia), and Noyes Museum of Art (Oceanville, New Jersey). Malcah Zeldis—born in the Bronx, reared in Detroit, and later residing on an Israeli kibbutz—painted on a wide array of subjects, such as fairy tales, themes of social importance, personal heroes, Jewish subjects, and the urban experience. Whether Anne Frank, Marilyn Monroe, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln, or Dr. Martin Luther King, the flat style and bold colors of Zeldis’ work have conveyed these figures in her own inimitable way. Having illustrated three children’s books, her work has been collected or exhibited by such institutions as the Smithsonian, American Folk Art Museum, Jewish Museum, and Milwaukee Museum of Art.

This show is interesting for the “high notes” possible with artists largely operating outside the expectations and opinions of peers and professionals. Among such artists there is little or no reluctance to convey their own vision.

In Through the Out Door

Through December 5, 2009

@ Andrew Edlin Gallery, 134 Tenth Avenue NYC 10011

Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art (Chicago)

Outsider Art Fair (New York)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mystical Contemplation: Jay Milder

[“Noah’s Ark 34” (2007-2009), mixed media on canvas. “Noah’s Ark 117” (2006-2009), mixed media on canvas. “Noah’s Ark 874” (2007-2009), mixed media on canvas.]

From his early studies with Hans Hofmann in 1958, in which he learned the vibrant vernacular of Push Pull Abstract Expressionism, Jay Milder has been a powerful and influential artist in the New York art scene. During that period in the late 1950s, he exhibited his work at Provincetown’s legendary Sun Gallery with other figurative expressionists such as African-American figurative painter Bob Thompson (1937-1966), sculptor Mary Frank, painter Lester Johnson, and multimedia artist Red Grooms. In 1959—with Thompson and Grooms—he founded the City Gallery in New York’s Chelsea, which later moved downtown to become the Delancey Street Museum, an early site for counterculture “Happenings.”

Girding and enriching Milder’s work has been a mystical belief system encompassing Kabbalistic numerology, Eastern philosophy, and Byzantine space, resulting in works combining the exuberance of pure painting with shamanistic ritual and the desire to communicate “universal truths.” The latter included his connection with the Theosophical Society and the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986). The Theosophical Society was formed in 1875 to advance its spiritual principles and search for “truth.” Krishnamurti was known for his talks on meditation, human relationships, and bringing about positive change—stressing the need for change in the individual human psyche. Additionally, Hasidic mystic practitioners in his familial background—conveyed to Milder through family stories in his youth—led him to an interest in spiritualism and mysticism. Both have been important influences in his art and life.

Indeed, Biblical references and numerology permeate Milder’s canvasses as eye-popping colors and textures communicate this excitement of revelation. Milder’s paintings contain an encoded collective knowledge, which is revealed through the artist’s ritualistic studio practice. Milder combines a child-like scrawl with the contemplation of a Theosophy scholar.

In pursuit of techniques that would maximize discovery in his painting and sculpture, rich textures (as seen by above examples from his current show) have remained part of his work throughout the decades. During the 1980s Milder experimented with various materials mixed with raw pigment, including porcelain, clay, and volcanic ash. As the 1990s moved into the 2000s this exploration has continued with heavy impastos built of clay, various binders, and raw pigment. Even use of media is informed by Milder’s spiritual interests—in this case such concepts as numerology and chakras (or centers of energy).

As a founding member of the influential Rhino Horn Group during the 1970s, Milder became a leading exponent of Figurative Expressionism, a movement that challenged the cool calculations of Minimalism and Pop Art. The group largely orbited around political commentary and expressionism. In a seminal exhibition of Rhino Horn work at the New School, there was an obvious effort to weave connections between art and life. The group was very committed to depicting the struggle of people’s lives and was very much part of the “consciousness raising” of that period. Afterward, Milder’s work continued on its path of heavily encrusted surfaces—containing its retinue of animals, inscriptions, and animistic forms.

Milder was the subject of two recent career retrospectives at the National Museum (Brasilia) and the Museum of Modern Art (Rio de Janeiro). His work has been seen in an array of places such as Art in America, ArtForum, The New York Times, The Brooklyn Rail, The Mint Museum (Charlotte), Neuberger Museum (Purchase), The Newark Museum, The New Museum (New York), Tel Aviv Museum, and the Weatherspoon Art Gallery (Greensboro).

Jay Milder’s paintings make visible a search for understanding the universe. Their physical urgency conveys a joyful struggle. An unfolding mystery, they are endowed with the excitement of a journey, which never quite ends.

Jay Milder: Recent Work

@ Lohin ∙ Geduld ∙ Gallery

Through November 14, 2009

531 West 25th Street, NYC 10001