Andres Serrano, Cross, 2015
Andres Serrano has explored a number of socially engaged themes in his work throughout the years. From early on, the artist was interested in the power dynamics that exist within civilization. He first came to prominence during the Culture Wars of the late 1980s with a work called “Piss Christ,” which was a photograph of a plastic crucifix suspended within a plexiglass tank of the artist’s own urine. The work is stunning in its formal beauty, and addresses the artist’s faith in Christianity, while being critical of organized religion’s embrace of capitalism and tokenism. Serrano, a self-proclaimed Christian, has been interested in the way humans treat each other in the name of religion, politics, and social justice. He has photographed homeless individuals, the Ku Klux Klan, and bodies in the morgue. He was also previously commissioned by New York Times Magazine to create a photo-essay to accompany a story on the methods of torture that were being used on prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
His current show at Jack Shainman Gallery revisits the theme of torture, through conceptual photographs that recreate horrific imagery of abuse. The photographs were taken inside of a large empty warehouse that provided the isolated and haunting setting necessary for these images to strike a visceral chord within the viewer. There is no obvious narrative, Serrano brilliantly leaves room for our interpretation. We occasionally see the actual victims, however, in the majority of the images, the victim is covered by a hood or obstructed in a way in which we can’t identify them. In the case where there are no figures, we are presented with evocative still lives featuring chains, bloody objects, iron masks, and hulking ominous structures, through which we can only begin to fathom the amount of pain that was inflicted upon the individuals. What we see clearly overall, is the physical and psychological trauma that victims of abuse are subjected to.
Peter Passuntino, Mother of War, 1969, Oil on canvas, 69/5 x 61/5 in.
During the 1960s the poignant images and narrative of the Vietnam War had far reaching effects on generations of American and Vietnamese citizens. In America, the civilian resistance to this war was wider spread than any previous historical conflict and it gave rise to new forms of progressive grassroots movements that were active in multiple facets of American life. The Anti-War movement was also emotionally supported through the vibrant music and fine arts scene. For example, the cost of the war in terms of physical and psychological devastation was the inspiration for Peter Passuntino’s yearlong series of works that expressed his anxiety and disgust with the Vietnam War.
Passuntino was working as an artist in New York, while the war in Vietnam was happening. At that period, coffins carrying the bodies of young men were arriving in droves, and due to the mandatory draft, friends and loved ones were separated from each other with uncertainty as to whether they’d ever be reunited. The visions and first hand accounts of the trauma surrounding the Vietnam War compelled the artist to create a grotesque vessel, using paint, pastel, and ink, that would express the horrific nature of war and the turbulent issues like social justice that we’re still dissecting and grappling with today. He aptly titled the resulting works “Mother of War.”
Dana Schutz’s Open Casket (2016) & Henry Taylor’s The Times Thay Aint A Changing, Fast Enough! (2017)
Every two years, the Whitney Museum presents a survey of the most topical, and aesthetically profound works of art being made in America, at least in respect to the vision of the appointed curator(s). Often this means that there is a certain bias and a string of controversy or criticism directed at the Biennial’s selection and display of artworks. This year’s show was no exception, in fact, the controversy and criticism has been amplified to a level that has not (in my memory) ever been experienced in the show’s history. The following critique will comment upon the controversy around the display of a painting of Emmett Till by Dana Schutz (a white female painter), and compare it to a painting by Henry Taylor (an African American painter) portraying the murder of Philando Castile at the hands of the Police. While Taylor’s painting has been celebrated, Schutz’s painting has faced opposition by those who have advocated not only for its removal from the show, but for its physical destruction.
After Donald Trump was elected as the forty-fifth President of the United States of America, several cultural commentators and contemporary artists mentioned the importance of art as a form of resistance. In fact, art has always had the means to provide a powerful rebuttal to the corruption of culture, and Political art has continuously existed within the aesthetic discourse of art. For example, we can observe artists similarly protesting issues like police brutality in Thomas Nast’s 1874 wood-engraving Jewels Among Swine, which depicts the police as swine with batons, engaging affably with gangsters, while arresting female activists protesting against the lack of enforcement against crime; Spain Rodriguez’s 1969 comic strip Manning, a film noir inspired narrative of a crooked detective who takes little issue with using his authority to lie, cheat, steal, and brutalize innocent civilians; and more recently, Dread Scott’s installation A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday (2015), a stark re-appropriation of the NAACP’s banner (which read A Man Was Lynched Yesterday) that was hung from their New York City office during the 1920s. Dread Scott, a self proclaimed revolutionary artist, made the piece in response to the epidemic of black men across the nation being killed in cold blood by police officers.
As a young man venturing out into the (real) world during the George W. Bush years, art, music, and politics became the backbone of my grappling with the human condition in the midst of what I interpreted to be a grave point in the history of Western Civilization. Punk rock music and the revolutionary, anti-establishment charged imagery of underground comix, would have a lasting impression on myself and a generation of contemporary artists, writers, and musicians. It was during this time that I first came across the work of Raymond Pettibon, a major forerunner of today’s counter-cultural scene. He began his career drawing album art and posters for California’s Hardcore Punk rock scene in the 1980s. His most iconic work during this period is the art and the logo for the highly influential band Black Flag (Pettibon’s older brother Greg Ginn was a founding member). Pettibon’s current exhibition, “A Pen of All Work”, at the New Museum on New York City’s Lower East Side is a breath of fresh air in the midst of today’s foul political and social climate.
Benny Andrews, Circle, 1973, oil on twelve linen canvases with painted fabric and mixed media collage, 120 x 288 inches. Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
The Michael Rosenfeld Gallery presents a seminal series of collages and drawings from Benny Andrews’ Bicentennial Series (1970-1976). The series’ six thematic groups that are the basis for this exhibition include the Symbol Series, Trash Series, Circle Series, Sexism Series, and Utopia Series. Within these themes, Andrews reflected on his experience as an African American in the post-civil rights era and during the two hundred year anniversary of the United States of America. At the time series was conceived, it was evident that African Americans had made innumerous significant cultural contributions both locally and nationally, yet their role in shaping American history had been vaguely reported and celebrated. Additionally, the national dialogue surrounding the celebratory attitude of the bicentennial seemed naive and dishonest in light of the social and economic conditions across the country.
9 Cruel Nails, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 36 inches
While diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia and committed to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, medicine and art became the catalyst for Issa Ibrahim to free his mind from the dark confines of mental illness.
Many words can be written about the work of American artist June Leaf. She has maintained a visionary style since emerging as a seminal contingent of post-WWII American artists committed to representational imagery through uniquely expressive means. It’s due time that she’s getting recognition on a grand scale with a major exhibition at The Whitney and a career survey at the Edward Thorp Gallery, where she is represented. Below is a visual essay of the current June Leaf exhibition at Edward Thorp Gallery. The show is on view through June 4, 2016.
I’m proud to announce that my review of Martin Wong: Human Instamatic, which was recently on view at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, has been published in the Spring Issue of Black Cat. You can read the review by clicking on the image below:
There’s quite a lot of exciting news involving past-Rhino Horn artists. Co-Founder Benny Andrews currently has work in a group show titled Here, at the Arts and Sciences Center for Southeast Arkansas. The show, which runs through October 15, 2016, presents a selection of art by African-American artists from the museum’s permanent collection.
June Leaf, Twin Volcanoes, 1951, Ink on paper, 8.5″ x 9″ Courtesy of Ed Thorp Gallery, New York.
June Leaf has two important upcoming retrospectives in New York City. The first is Leaf’s major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which opens tomorrow, April 27th. The exhibition will focus mainly on her incredible large scale drawings. The second exhibition, organized by Edward Thorp Gallery will showcase works in a variety of mediums during her career from 1949 to most recently and will open on Thursday, April 28th. The exhibition will run concurrently with the Whitney show. June Leaf has been represented by Edward Thorp Gallery located in New York City since 1985.
Jennifer Samet recently spoke with June at her New York City studio and has published the inspiring conversation on Hyperallergic in a segment called “Beer with a Painter.”
Jay Milder, # 13, 2016, Oil Stick on Rag Paper, 20″ X 26″, Courtesy of the artist and Quogue Gallery.
Rhino Horn Co-Founder, Jay Milder’s latest work will be on view at Quogue Gallery beginning May 12 and running through June 15, 2016. The exhibition titled Noah’s Ark: Many Views focuses on Milder’s recurring Kabbalistic interpretations of the covenant between G-d and humankind, envisioned through vivid works on paper and canvas that recall spray-can graffiti and embody a brilliant spectrum.