Mother of War

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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.”

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Separate, not equal: A Look at the Problematic discourse of African American subject matter at the Whitney Biennial.

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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.

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Benny Andrews’ Bicentennial Human

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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.

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June Leaf at Edward Thorp Gallery

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.
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Rhino Horn Artist Updates!

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 Hereat 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.

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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.

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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.

From Mosaic to Man

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Untitled (Two Figures on Mosaic Background), oil on wood mounted on wood shingle, c. 1953, 8 x 10 in. Courtesy of Lori Bookstein Fine Art.

From Mosaic to Man on view at Lori Bookstein Fine Art is a seminal examination of the painter Jan Müller’s (1922-1958) transformative style. The exhibition features a group of early paintings and late that highlight Müller’s transition from painting colorful mosaic-like abstractions to incorporating blatant representational imagery.

Müller is considered to be one of the first practitioners to realize the conflation of both figurative and abstract expressionism during the early 1950s. Upon arriving in New York and Provincetown’s flourishing artist community, the German refugee found artistic kinship from his fellow native countryman Hans Hofmann. Müller studied with Hofmann at his school from 1940 to 1950, and the two German-born painters had great admiration for each other, despite consistent disagreements and passionate debates regarding their diverse ideas about painting. Müller stated (published in Marika Herskovic’s 2009 survey, American Abstract and Figurative Expressionism) “The artist … cannot take flight to the Elysian Fields of the preciousness of perfection, the prism of the eye, but has to deal with matter complex.” This quote was in stark contrast to the dialectic that Clement Greenberg was espousing at the time, which celebrated formalism – taught by Hofmann and employed by Pollock, Rothko, and others – as being rendered pure because it removed itself from all extrinsic effects. Another quote by Müller (published in “Airless Despair,” Time, 2 February, 1962) elaborated “Abstraction is no longer enough for me. So I am returning to the image. The image gives me a wider sense of communication.”

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Super Tuesday

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Leonard Reibstein, Great Again, 2016.

While the country nervously awaits the results of a Super Tuesday that can propel Donald Trump to the top of the GOP pack, many rational people are bewildered about how such an unlikely event has become a reality.

Trump’s campaign antics are directly aimed at the Americans who’ve long been marginalized due to their radical and hateful views. With David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan endorsing Trump, and given Trumps unwillingness to disavow the hatemonger’s praise; it is evident that Trump knows that his demographic includes anti-Semitic, racist, and xenophobic individuals. Worse yet, he has been embracing them all along.

Perhaps there is no more resounding work of art to express the madness and fear of a nation in crisis than Leonard Reibstein’s witty, yet gravely serious painting Great Again (2016). Reibstein’s work is at once a history painting and an art history painting. The painter juxtaposes Trump with a recognizable Klansman a la Philip Guston, the two figures form a pyramid by touching their finger tips together, symbolizing the creation of evil. Through the touching of fingers they symbolize their creation in the likeness of evil. This imagery is reminiscent of G-d and Adam in the Sistine Chapel, where G-d is reaching out to Adam -indicative of their hands not yet touching-  to give him life and signify that the image of G-d is reflected in man, yet they’re not on the same level. In Reibstein’s image, however, the two figures are in effect one and the same, just as Guston’s Klansmen were meant to be ironic self-portraits.

Guston reflected about his crude and poignant Klansmen paintings ‘They are self-portraits. I perceive myself as being behind the hood. In the new series of ‘hoods’ my attempt was really not to illustrate, to do pictures of the Ku Klux Klan, as I had done earlier. The idea of evil fascinated me […] I almost tried to imagine that I was living with the Klan. What would it be like to be evil? To plan, to plot.’ (Guston quoted in Philip Guston Paintings 1969-1980, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1982, p. 54.)

What would the late socially engaged artist say about Trump’s persona? Guston and his family of Jewish-Canadian decent were familiar with the terror and hatred that the Ku Klux Klan represented. I’d imagine that his response wouldn’t be too far off from the statement that Reibstein made. The black outlines of the buildings along the skyline says it so subtly.

Anxious Men

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Rashid Johnson, Untitled Anxious Men, 2015. White ceramic tile, black soap, wax, 47 1/2 x 34 1/2 x 2 inches © Rashid Johsnon, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo by Martin Parsekian

The monochromatic chaotic faces of Rashid Johnson’s “Anxious Men” evoke a feeling that is at once relatable to the contemporary human condition. In our current state of crisis, these portraits project complex issues of identity, fear, and uncertainty. They are Johnson’s way of discussing his own biography and the complexity of the black male identity today. This recent exhibition at The Drawing Center of this series is the artist’s most figurative work to date.

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Post-War Humanism Revisited at MoMA

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Jan Muller, Walpurgisnacht – Faust I, 1956, oil on canvas

The devil is in the details in Jan Müller’s grandiose painting  Walpurgisnacht—Faust I (1956), which is the centerpiece of an exhibition called Soldier, Spectre, Shaman at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The exhibition – curated byLucy Gallun, Assistant Curator, Department of Photography, and Sarah Suzuki, Associate Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints – is a rare peek into MoMA’s collection of post World War II figurative art. What bonds these works is their concern for humanity in an age of crisis. The artists in this exhibition express sadness, confusion, anger, and complex reactions, as a result of being witnesses to the horrors of the second deadly world war.

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Is Landscape Painting Still Relevant?

In a recent review of Maureen Gallace’s current exhibition at 303 Gallery by Barry Schwabsky, the subject of whether painting a landscape is relevant in today’s era was brought up. Gallace’s landscapes are certainly an example of how a landscape can be far more than just an aesthetic rendering of a natural scene. They present moments in time that exhibit specific personal and subconscious occurrences. In a way, her handling of light and movement of natural elements makes her a contemporary Impressionist painter.

So to answer the question that Barry posed in the headline: Yes, yes, a million times yes! There are so many great painters today that return to the landscape. Wolf Kahn has been mastering landscape painting since the 1950s. His new work is just as sublime, masterful, and new as it was six decades ago. Just check out his current show at Ameringer McEnery Yohe. With an environmental pull, Dorothy Robinson‘s expressionistic awe inspiring landscapes are also examples of how landscape painting fits within the contemporary cannon. Israeli painter,  Guy Yanai, is another example of how landscape painting is not only still possible but can feel completely fresh; Eleanor Ray’s landscape paintings are a tour de force utilizing both form and scale; Rifka Milder’s landscapes are both unique and intimate; Jay Milder shows us how landscape can be a theme in a painting in a non-material realm; and Peter Passuntino’s landscapes transport us to a dreamlike world.

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