Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Movement Schmoovement: Between Movement & Stasis

[Linda Matalon with “Untitled Diptych” (2009), wax & graphite on paper. Nancy Brooks Brody with “Glory Hole, black (vibgyor)” (2010), oil on Venetian plaster on wood panel. Zoe Leonard with “Nest #5,” (1994/98), “Nest #1,” (1994/97) & “Nest #10” (1994/98), gelatin silver prints.]

“Movement Schmoovement” brings together 12 artists and highlights the tension between movement and stasis—not to mention collective and individual actions—in creating change. With a nod to Jill Johnston’s 1971 essay of the same name, the exhibit includes those who have pursued artistic endeavors for decades. One of the first women to “come out” as a lesbian in the mass media in the heady post-Stonewall period, Johnston was a vibrant and controversial culture chronicler and Village Voice columnist who authored “Marmalade Me” (1971), “Lesbian Nation” (1973), “Gullibles Travels” (1974), “Motherbound” (1983), “Paper Daughter” (1985), and “Jasper Johns: Privileged Information” (1996).

In viewing “Movement Schmoovement,” I was reminded of an encounter with a surprised and amused Johnston in Spring 1986 at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 14th Street in which I thanked her for paving the way for queers of my generation (although queer was not the label in vogue at the time). As a junior high student in the early 1970s, I regularly read her column in the Village Voice—a periodical I picked up weekly at the local “head-shop.”

The artists in this show have lived and worked in New York City since at least the early 1980s—and collaborated in ACT UP, WAC (Women’s Action Coalition), WHAM (Women’s Health Action Mobilization), the lesbian collective Fierce Pussy, various alternative art projects, and an array of initiatives in the “peace and justice community.” As mid-career artists, they have maintained rigorous studio practices for two to three decades, through various economic upswings with resulting swells in art value not to mention the all too common recessions. Throughout, they have maintained artistic integrity and curiosity despite variability with respect to interest in their work. These decades have found them sought after, exhibited, collected, and written about alternating with the reverse situation.

Movement Schmoovement participants Nancy Brooks Brody, Joy Episalla, Zoe Leonard, and Carrie Yamaoka were core members of Fierce Pussy along with Pam Brandt, Alison Froling, and Suzanne Wright. This fluid and often-shifting cadre of dykes (active in New York City from 1991 to 1995) was adamantly low-tech, fast, and low-budget—relying upon modest resources such as old typewriters, found photographs, their own baby pictures, and whatever material they could scrounge. With much of their output produced using time and equipment at their day jobs (as was the case with those cultural initiatives emanating from ACT UP/New York and Queer Nation), Fierce Pussy emerged during a decade steeped in the AIDS crisis, activism, and queer identity politics. They brought lesbian identity to the streets in a manner demanded by the urgency of that period.

Importantly, the Women's Action Coalition (WAC) was formed in New York City on January 1992, in outrage over the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas after grueling and heated hearings. Like the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) and the Women's Health Action Coalition (WHAM), they employed a direct action approach—demonstrations, sit-ins, civil disobedience, educational forums, and letter writing campaigns–to voice to their outrage.

Coming of age in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the second-generation Post-Minimalist sculptor Linda Matalon operates within an ever-expanding and -refining vocabulary noted for its individual, tactile, and luminous approach to materials and textures. Matalon’s work draws upon and pulsates with the collective legacies of Abstract Expressionist painter Agnes Martin (1912–2004), trained architect and abstract artist Gego (1912–1994), iconoclastic sculptor Eva Hesse (1936–1970), Color Field luminary Barnett Newman (1905–1970), abstract painter Blinky Palermo (1943-1977), and Cy Twombly who is so noted for large-scale, calligraphic-style graffiti paintings on solid fields of gray, tan, or off-white. One also finds strains of German avant-garde sculptor and performance artist Joseph Beuys (1921—1986). Having emerged in the early 1990s within post-Minimal examinations of feminism, the AIDS crisis, and identity politics, Matalon’s work references trajectories of context and metaphor from the human body to landscapes. She has exhibited in a range of venues such as the Wolfson Galleries (Miami), Herter Art Gallery (Amherst), the Drawing Center, the Aldrich Museum of Art (Ridgefield, Conn.), the University Art Museum (Berkeley), the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Americas Society, the Neuberger Museum (SUNY Purchase), Chrysler Museum of Art (Norfolk, Va.), the Harn Museum at the University of Florida (Gainesville), and the Weatherspoon Art Gallery (Greensborough, N.C.).

For a number of years, Nancy Brooks Brody’s work with movement-based ensemble LAVA has included photographs, videos, costumes, props, and set designs. Her drawings, paintings and sculptures have been shown across the United States and Europe, including Virgil de Voldere Gallery, White Columns, Exit Art, Andrea Rosen, Lehmann Maupin and Weatherspoon, the Musee de Beaux Arts (Rouen), Trafic Haute-Normandie, and the Musee de Beaux Arts (Bernay). In an Art in America review of her show at Virgil de Voldere, Sarah Valdez praised the Nancy Brooks Brody’s “sure-footedness, patience and intelligence.” In the New York Times, Holland Cotter described her work this way: “The effect is like having Agnes Martin’s bars and bands transmitted as sound waves, a soft, vibrant humming.”

With black-and-white photography as her principal artistic medium, Zoe Leonard’s prolific work includes sculpture, installation, and film. Reflecting experiences and observations in ways subtle and ambivalent, her work captures conflict and gray areas in gender relationships, nature, culture, and space and time. Leonard’s work—offering a language to the voiceless and bringing visibility to the invisible—has been viewed in such institutions as Documenta (Kassel), Whitney Biennial, Vienna Secession, Kunsthalle (Basel), Centre National de la Photographie (Paris), Fotomuseum Wintherthur (Switzerland), and Pinakothek der Modern (Munich).

His practice rooted in Minimalism, Tony Feher’s reworking of transient and “humdrum” materials such as bottles, jars, ropes, plastic bags, and soda crates elevate the mundane and throwaway—imbuing these items with emotion and beauty. In using these “common” materials, his works draw viewers’ attention with repetitive patterns in particular regard to an installation’s milieu and location. Exhibiting his work since 1984, Feher’s work has been shown in an array of institutions, including the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Chinati Foundation, Center for Curatorial Studies, MetroTech Commons, D'Amelio Terras Gallery, Marlborough Gallery, Aspen Art Museum, Serpentine Gallery (London), and Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago).

Liz Deschenes explores photographic processes in an investigation of photography itself, deconstructing the medium’s role and history in our culture. While circumventing the camera with counter-expectational works devoid of representational content, Deschenes produces reductive and reflective sheets by applying silver toner to black-and-white photographic paper. In doing so, she records any number of physical situations and conditions and parallels photography with method and procedure. Her compelling work has been viewed at MoMA, Tate (Liverpool), the Art Institute of Chicago,the Metropolitan Museum, the Corcoran Museum of Art (Washington, D.C.), the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington, D.C.), and CCS Bard Hessel Museum (Annandale-on-Hudson).

Episalla’s work inhabits interstices between photography, sculpture, and video and focuses on the rich output of information produced by mundane objects and architecture. Art critic Bill Arning has described Joy Episalla’s viewpoint “so close to the subject” and her works’ effect as “especially pronounced.” Like a forensic examiner or palm reader, she combs an array of exposed fissures and entities—rendering and scrutinizing their secrets. A recipient of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, Episalla’s work has been exhibited at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Carrie Secrist Gallery (Chicago), Debs & Co., Clifford Smith Gallery (Boston), the Contemporary Art Center (New Orleans), The Phoenix Art Museum, ARCO (Madrid), Aeroplastics Contemporary (Brussles), and Studio 1.1 (London).

Living and working in New York City, Carrie Yamaoka has been shown in such venues as Debs & Co., Aeroplastics Contemporary (Brussels), Artists Space, the Institute of Contemporary Art (San Jose), CCS Bard Hessel Museum, the Wexner Center (Columbus), Mass MOCA, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo). Yamaoka’s layered and mirrored surfaces are usually made of resin on wood and range from an almost mass-production quality to more random, if not haphazard, texture.

Movement Schmoovement also includes the work of Nicola Tyson, David Knudsvig, Siobhan Liddell, David Nelson, and Sarah Rapson.

While not unified by dogma, common techniques, media, or subject, these artists have lived and worked in proximity—balancing outward impulses to foster change with persistence in maintaining rigorous art practices. In the 39 years since Johnston wrote her essay, the specific political issues may have changed but the fundamental challenges of justice, equity, resource prioritization remain the same.

Movement Schmoovement
Through April 18, 2010
@ La Mama La Galleria
6 East 1st Street NYC 10003

No comments: