From the Carnal to the Sublime: The Figure Electrifies

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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”812″ img_size=”large” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]If the depiction of the figure in contemporary art were a barometer into the climate of the times, how would that forecast read? What would the prognosis be? In a culture obsessed with image, speed, identity, fashion, violence and the rise of social media, today’s artists have much to say. From the Bowery to Chelsea to the Upper East Side (and even to Princeton, New Jersey!), this artist traverses New York and beyond to uncover a litany of attitudes. In a search to discover what her contemporaries are up to, she unmasks the re-emergence of the figure as subject matter – The figure in art?! How novel! Stay with me now.  In apparel, paint, watercolor, animation, sculpture and found material, the figure is adorned, adored, cajoled, sliced, diced, effaced and in some cases, silenced.

Who are these individuals that stir the very air? Why, these are thought leaders – artists. Artists so hot as to melt the paint off the walls![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”816″ img_size=”large” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]There’s no denying the high watt voltage emanating from the Byzantine and Medieval Galleries in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” showcases the dramatic haute couture of leading designers influenced by Catholic iconography and its practices.  Designers from the House of Givenchy, Dior, Lacroix, Versace, Valentino and Alexander McQueen reinterpret rosary beads, head dresses, veils, angel wings and the adornment of the crucifix. The austere lines of Dominican habits find expression in spare black bodices while regal crimson robes used by Bishops and Cardinals are reimagined in a dramatic billowing gown.  Opulence and elaboration are rife as depictions of the Madonna and Christ lead to an abundant use of duchesse satin, crystals, beads and gold thread.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”818″ img_size=”large” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row bg_type=”bg_color” ult_hide_row=”ult_hide_row_value” ult_hide_row_tablet_small=”xs_tablet” ult_hide_row_mobile=”mobile” ult_hide_row_mobile_large=”xl_mobile”][vc_column][vc_column_text]While frenetic crowds created a mob scene at the “Heavenly Bodies” show, during the recent Memorial Day weekend, the pace downtown remained laconic. Bereft of flounce and fabric, Philip Pearlstein’s models lie in languorous repose. “Today” at the Betty Cunningham Gallery testifies to the dogged determination of an artist obsessed with portraying the classic nude. Pearlstein truncates figures and weaves in visual cues in “Two Models, Rooster, Weathervane, Luna Park Lion and Blow-up Dinosaur” (2016). The forest green dinosaur compliments the earthy terra cotta tones of a weathervane.  The work is suffused with warmth and the toy dinosaur gives quirky appeal. A lion king head and a sinuous sculpture of an ebony eel contrast sharply against the milky paleness of white flesh tones. The viewer is forced to do a double-take as a sculpture resembles a phallic shape.

Left: Philip Pearlstein, “Two Models, Rooster, Weathervane, Luna Park Lion and Blow-up Dinosaur” in “Today”. (2016), Oil on canvas 60 x 48 in. The Betty Cunningham Gallery, New York May 10 – June 17, 2018 Top right: Installation view.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row bg_type=”bg_color” ult_hide_row=”ult_hide_row_value” ult_hide_row_large_screen=”large_screen” ult_hide_row_desktop=”desktop” ult_hide_row_tablet=”tablet”][vc_column][vc_column_text]While frenetic crowds created a mob scene at the “Heavenly Bodies” show, during the recent Memorial Day weekend, the pace downtown remained laconic. Bereft of flounce and fabric, Philip Pearlstein’s models lie in languorous repose. “Today” at the Betty Cunningham Gallery testifies to the dogged determination of an artist obsessed with portraying the classic nude. Pearlstein truncates figures and weaves in visual cues in “Two Models, Rooster, Weathervane, Luna Park Lion and Blow-up Dinosaur” (2016). The forest green dinosaur compliments the earthy terra cotta tones of a weathervane.  The work is suffused with warmth and the toy dinosaur gives quirky appeal. African sculpture contrast sharply against the milky paleness of white flesh tones. The viewer is forced to do a double-take as a sculpture resembles a phallic shape.

Left: Philip Pearlstein, “Two Models, Rooster, Weathervane, Luna Park Lion and Blow-up Dinosaur” in “Today”. (2016), Oil on canvas 60 x 48 in. The Betty Cunningham Gallery, New York May 10 – June 17, 2018 Top right: Installation view.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row bg_type=”bg_color” ult_hide_row=”ult_hide_row_value” ult_hide_row_tablet_small=”xs_tablet” ult_hide_row_mobile=”mobile” ult_hide_row_mobile_large=”xl_mobile”][vc_column][vc_column_text]Display case with Baron Von Fancy/s Coupe Set at The New Museum Gift Shop, at the New Museum, the Bowery, New York 2018

Speaking of phallic symbols, enfant terrible Baron Von Fancy (a.k.a. Gordon Stevenson), continues to keep things playfully irreverent if not sexually deviant. His (retail) works dominate the landscape in and around the Bowery and his witty captions emblazon plates, apparel and phone cases. Why be sexually active when one may be “textually active”? And with “Wine me, dine me, 69 me” – what better time to think of coitus than at the dining room table? Need a gift? Consider the handy-dandy screwdriver emblazoned with an invitation to “Screw Me”! The sayings in and of themselves are unoriginal but the audacious placement upon everyday consumer items create surprise.

Right: Display case with Baron Von Fancy’s Coupe Set at The New Museum Gift Shop, at the New Museum, the Bowery, New York 2018

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row bg_type=”bg_color” ult_hide_row=”ult_hide_row_value” ult_hide_row_large_screen=”large_screen” ult_hide_row_desktop=”desktop” ult_hide_row_tablet=”tablet”][vc_column][vc_column_text]Display case with Baron Von Fancy/s Coupe Set at The New Museum Gift Shop, at the New Museum, the Bowery, New York 2018

Speaking of phallic symbols, enfant terrible Baron Von Fancy (a.k.a. Gordon Stevenson), continues to keep things playfully irreverent if not sexually deviant. His (retail) works dominate the landscape in and around the Bowery and his witty captions emblazon plates, apparel and phone cases. Why be sexually active when one may be “textually active”? And with “Wine me, dine me, 69 me” – what better time to think of coitus than at the dining room table? Need a gift? Consider the handy-dandy screwdriver emblazoned with an invitation to “Screw Me”! The sayings in and of themselves are unoriginal but the audacious placement upon everyday consumer items create surprise.

Right: Display case with Baron Von Fancy’s Coupe Set at The New Museum Gift Shop, at the New Museum, the Bowery, New York 2018

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Regarding quixotic messages assailing the consumer, consider the disturbing content found in “Riverboat Song” (2017-2018) by video artist Jordan Wolfson at the David Zwirner Gallery. (May 2 – June 30, 2018).

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Image from "Riverboat Song”“Presented across a sixteen-monitor video wall, “Riverboat Song” revolves around one of the artist’s recurring figures, a Huckleberry Finn/Alfred E. Neuman hybrid that appeared in animatronic form in his 2016 work Colored sculpture. Opening with a seductive dance number and later delivering a cajoling and coercive address to an absent lover, this figure is but one of a disparate array of animated avatars including a group of smoking rats, a pair of horses, and a bathing crocodile, that Wolfson employs throughout the video.” 

– Statement, the David Zwirner Gallery

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Image from "Riverboat Song”“Presented across a sixteen-monitor video wall, “Riverboat Song” revolves around one of the artist’s recurring figures, a Huckleberry Finn/Alfred E. Neuman hybrid that appeared in animatronic form in his 2016 work Colored sculpture. Opening with a seductive dance number and later delivering a cajoling and coercive address to an absent lover, this figure is but one of a disparate array of animated avatars including a group of smoking rats, a pair of horses, and a bathing crocodile, that Wolfson employs throughout the video.” 

– Statement, the David Zwirner Gallery

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Our Huck Finn character employs Wolfson’s own voice. Violently drawn and quartered, Colored Sculpture flails helplessly about as he is hacked into pieces. In the following scene, the same character provocatively gyrates to Cecy B’s “All I Do is Werk”; He sprouts gargantuan breasts and fleshy buttocks. Appropriating the erotic dance moves of Cecy B., he croons:

“Welcome man in these Laboutins, they don’t wear these shoes where I’m from…”

Mesmerizing, deadpan, and shamelessly in-your-face, Wolfson feeds his audience an underlying message of violence, overindulgent sexual mores, and the worship of money. “All I do is work, work…”. Colored Sculpture repels and titillates all at the same time. Wolfson’s persona speaks through variegated images of disheveled smoking rats, horses at the breakfast table and a bathing crocodile to cajole and seduce the viewer only to dismiss the next moment. Colored Sculpture defecates while holding a mirror unto himself. Viewers, rapt with awe at the unfolding drama, are too entertained to realize that they’ve been hoodwinked. Is society looking at itself in a mirror? “Riverboat Song’s” spoof is palatable so long as the story is delivered via animation. In a world riddled with violence and pornography, Wolfson’s send-up is nothing new, but his delivery leaves viewers discombobulated. The clips end with Colored Sculpture giddily drinking streams of his own urine.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”836″ img_size=”large” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]An implosion of another sort occurs in the works of Artist Yi Junfei. “The Wait” combines classical Chinese painting, calligraphy and writing.  At first glance, the piece, resembling a bucolic landscape, reveals a disquieting scene:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row bg_type=”bg_color” ult_hide_row=”ult_hide_row_value” ult_hide_row_tablet_small=”xs_tablet” ult_hide_row_mobile=”mobile” ult_hide_row_mobile_large=”xl_mobile” css=”.vc_custom_1527728577184{padding-right: 200px !important;padding-left: 200px !important;}”][vc_column][vc_column_text]

“The Wait” depicts some of the 1.5 million people displaced from the Chinese provinces of Hubei and Sichuan by the building in 1994 of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangzi River. Seen as a milestone of Chinese construction, the resultant reservoir provides a power source and allows massive oceangoing freighters to pass, thus promoting the economic prosperity of the country’s interior. Many residents, however, were forcibly displaced from the homes that their families had lived in for generations.

-Statement, The Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ

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“The Wait” depicts some of the 1.5 million people displaced from the Chinese provinces of Hubei and Sichuan by the building in 1994 of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangzi River. Seen as a milestone of Chinese construction, the resultant reservoir provides a power source and allows massive oceangoing freighters to pass, thus promoting the economic prosperity of the country’s interior. Many residents, however, were forcibly displaced from the homes that their families had lived in for generations.

-Statement, The Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row bg_type=”bg_color” ult_hide_row=”ult_hide_row_value” ult_hide_row_tablet_small=”xs_tablet” ult_hide_row_mobile=”mobile” ult_hide_row_mobile_large=”xl_mobile”][vc_column][vc_column_text]Yunfei, himself, a survivor of the Cultural Revolution, empathizes: “I [was] very involved in this forced migration of people, many to cities to find a new life for themselves… China has [become] increasingly industrialized and urbanized…changing…rapidly. I wanted to capture some of these changes and the ways they affected individual lives”. – An Interview with Yun-Fei Ji, Studio International June 26, 2016

Detail of Ji Yunfei’s “The Family Belongings” (2011) Watercolor and ink on Xuan Paper and mounted on silk 18 ¾ x 29 ½ in. at the exhibition “Rumors Ridicules, and Retributions” at the James Cohan Gallery, New York April 19 – June 16, 2018

In “The Wait”, individuals stand ashen amidst packages, boxes and worldly possessions. They stare ahead rapt in silence.  A forlorn figure wipes away tears in (Left): “The Family Belongings”. Her life will never be the same again. Yunfei employs gentle greys, beige and blue washes while fluid lines and staccato mark making keep the eye circulating.

“I wanted to capture some of these changes and the ways they affected individual lives”.  – Ji Yunfei[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row bg_type=”bg_color” ult_hide_row=”ult_hide_row_value” ult_hide_row_large_screen=”large_screen” ult_hide_row_desktop=”desktop” ult_hide_row_tablet=”tablet”][vc_column][vc_column_text]Yunfei, himself, a survivor of the Cultural Revolution, empathizes: “I [was] very involved in this forced migration of people, many to cities to find a new life for themselves… China has [become] increasingly industrialized and urbanized…changing…rapidly. I wanted to capture some of these changes and the ways they affected individual lives”. – An Interview with Yun-Fei Ji, Studio International June 26, 2016

In “The Wait”, individuals stand ashen amidst packages, boxes and worldly possessions. They stare ahead rapt in silence.  A forlorn figure wipes away tears in (Left): “The Family Belongings”. Her life will never be the same again. Yunfei employs gentle greys, beige and blue washes while fluid lines and staccato mark making keep the eye circulating.

Detail of Ji Yunfei’s “The Family Belongings” (2011) Watercolor and ink on Xuan Paper and mounted on silk 18 ¾ x 29 ½ in. at the exhibition “Rumors Ridicules, and Retributions” at the James Cohan Gallery, New York April 19 – June 16, 2018

 

“I wanted to capture some of these changes and the ways they affected individual lives”.  – Ji Yunfei[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

oe Mintner “Four Hundred Years of Free Labor”1995 Welded found metal
Above: Joe Minter’s “Four Hundred Years of Fee Labor” (1995) Welded Found Metal

This same sentiment is shared by sculptor Joe Minter in “Four Hundred Years of Free Labor”.  A free-standing sculpture of rusty shovels, hoes, rakes and chains, the piece alludes to the American legacy of slavery in “History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation Gift” also at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. (Now through Sept. 23, 2018).  Donated by the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, the society aims to give voice to black self-taught artists of the American South, particularly those replete of opportunity.

Lean and spare, the elongated limbs throw shadows along the wall. The work brings to mind Giacometti figurines or Picasso’s “She-Goat”. Minter’s family grew up amid the backdrop of Jim Crow laws.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row bg_type=”bg_color” ult_hide_row=”ult_hide_row_value” ult_hide_row_large_screen=”large_screen” ult_hide_row_desktop=”desktop” ult_hide_row_tablet=”tablet”][vc_column][vc_column_text]

The artist recalls the onus for creating “Four Hundred Years…”:

“My African ancestors built America on the sweat of their backs, in their blood, in their life—free slave labor—and the only pay is death. I saw how the races was drifting further and further apart and how black people ourselves was drifting apart. And I asked God to help me find a way that I could help bring people together as one, for understanding, even for the littlest child. Because America had started to lose the family, and when the family is lost, that is the end of all of us here as a people.”

-Taken from interviews and correspondence with Joe Minter by William Arnett in 1998-2001 The Souls Grown Deep Foundation

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The artist recalls the onus for creating “Four Hundred Years…”:

“My African ancestors built America on the sweat of their backs, in their blood, in their life—free slave labor—and the only pay is death. I saw how the races was drifting further and further apart and how black people ourselves was drifting apart. And I asked God to help me find a way that I could help bring people together as one, for understanding, even for the littlest child. Because America had started to lose the family, and when the family is lost, that is the end of all of us here as a people.”

-Taken from interviews and correspondence with Joe Minter by William Arnett in 1998-2001 The Souls Grown Deep Foundation

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Installation view of “Senzenina” (2018) mixed media by Haroon Gunn-Salie in “Songs for Sabotage” at the New Museum, NY
Installation view of “Senzenina” (2018) mixed media by Haroon Gunn-Salie in “Songs for Sabotage” at the New Museum, NY

Beyond bondage, the figure is silenced in Haroon Gunn-Salie’s ghostly installation “Senzenina” (2018). The work, part of “Songs for Sabotage” at the New Museum, pays homage to the 2012 Marikana massacre which claimed the lives of thirty-four striking miners.  Men were brutally shot by South African security forces in one of the bloodiest security operations recorded since the apartheid. Footage undermined the police claim that they were acting in self-defense. Gunn-Salie alludes to collusion and gross injustice by presenting seventeen headless figures crouching low. The figures, arranged in a triangle, bring to memory the last recorded moments when the victims were gunned down in grassy fields of shrubbery.

The figure – once classical, is shown in a variety of formats, – present and absent – to cast a critical eye on society’s ills, obsessions, idols, and gross injustices. Across color lines, artists speak of progress at the expense of effacement, the subjugation of one race over another, morality and consumerism, mortality and the human condition. Artists don’t take things lying down but employ media, pageantry, paint, illustrations and cast-off detritus to exalt the Catholic iconography and its practices, to acknowledge base urges, question progress and defy detractors.  It is this that makes artists todays’ thought leaders.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Uncommon Alchemy

SLIDE 1: “momentum’s nursery…” handcut vintage paper collage (2020) 10” X 6 3/4” SLIDE 2: “an eruptive dismay…” handcut vintage paper collage (2020) 5″ x

Justin Barrie Kelly, Gold Medal for Excellence, found object, assemblag, contemporary art, Welsh artist, sculpture, Low relief, Wall hanging, Sculptural relief, Collage

Wickedly Welsh

“Gold Medal for Excellence” . Image courtesy of the artist. Wickedly Welsh In the Studio with Artist Justin Barrie Kelly @justin_barrie_kelly   Fascination for geometry