Mar 282023

Charles Gaines’ work never fails to impress and his recent exhibition, Southern Trees, at Hauser and Wirth in NYC, is no exception.

From the press release-

One of the most important conceptual artists working today, the show explores the evolution of Gaines’s complex practice, demonstrating how he has continued to forge new paths within the innovative framework of two of his most acclaimed series, Numbers and Trees and Walnut Tree Orchard. The exhibition’s title, ‘Southern Trees,’ alludes directly to the 150-year-old pecan trees pictured in the new works, and symbolically to the opening lyrics of ‘Strange Fruit,’ Billie Holiday’s haunting protest anthem from the 1930s.

The image of the tree has been central to Gaines’s practice since he first began the Walnut Tree Orchard series in the 1970s. In ‘Southern Trees,’ Gaines advances the series using pecan trees photographed on a visit to Boone Hall Plantation in Charleston County, South Carolina––not far from where the artist was born and lived until he was five years old. Presented alongside a key early example from the walnut tree series, eight new triptych works on paper revisit and expand upon this significant original body of work.

‘Walnut Tree Orchard: Set M’ (1977), on loan from the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, pairs a black and white photograph of a walnut tree with two drawings derived from it––an ink outline of the same tree and a grayscale grid that plots all of the trees included in the series up until that point. The newest series, titled Pecan Trees (2022), begins similarly, with a stark black and white photograph of a tree; yet in the drawings that accompany it, Gaines has filled in the outline of the tree with solid ink and used vibrant watercolors to plot all the previous trees in the final drawing. These successive modifications to scale, color and background demonstrate Gaines’s theory that while ‘the system has never changed, the outcome is always different.’

This extends to Gaines’s new Numbers and Trees Plexiglas series, which begin with the artist assigning each tree a distinctive color and numbered grid––breaking down the composition into individual cells that reflect the full form of the tree depicted in the photograph on the surface. However, Gaines reverses his signature process in this new series by overlaying the forms of the trees one at a time and in progression on the back panel of the work rather than on the front. He then brings the photograph to the surface by printing an enlarged detail of the most recently added tree on the work’s Plexiglas surface. This approach brings the tree’s shadowy branches to the foreground, highlighting its textural details and contrasting tones while obscuring the colorful numbered grids painted underneath it. This reversal produces a dramatically different effect, igniting a more somber, yet stirring, reaction to the work as the austere branches, dripping with moss, dominate the picture.

Created through carefully considered systems rather than through the artist’s own imagination or intuition, these new works remove the artist’s subjectivity by following a set of self-determined rules and procedures. The works call into question both the objective nature of the trees and the subjective natural and material human actions that surround them. The fastidious layering process allows Gaines to reveal the differences between the trees’ shapes where the forms do not align. These differences, highlighted by the artist’s systems, suggest the arbitrary nature of other manufactured systems in our society––such as politics, gender, race and class.

This exhibition closes 4/1/23.

Mar 032023

Renée Stout, “Navigating the Abyss”, 2022

Renée Stout, “A Question for Christoper Wool“, 2022

Renée Stout, “Escape Plan D (with Hi John Root, Connecting the Dots)”, 2022

Renée Stout, “Wall of the Forlorn”, 2022

Renée Stout, exhibition room

Renée Stout, “Armored Heart/Caged Heart”, 2005

Renée Stout’s exhibition at Marc Straus in NYC,  Navigating the Abyss, presents a collection of her recent work in various mediums. From sculpture and painting to photography, her skillful and inventive work draws you in.

From the press release-

Starting out as a photo-realist painter depicting life in everyday urban neighborhoods, Stout soon developed an interest in the mystical and spiritual traditions in African American communities. Fascinated with fortunetelling and the healing power of Hoodoo, Vodou and Santeria still practiced within the African Diaspora in the American Southeast and Caribbean, she delved into ancient spiritual traditions and belief systems. She has drawn inspiration from a wide variety of sources such as current social and political events, Western art history, the culture of African Diaspora, and daily city life. While her artistic practice is rich with references and resonances, her works are eventually unique manifestations of her own imagination, populated by mysterious narratives and imagined characters derived from the artist’s alter ego.

In this exhibition, we encounter a group of portraits depicting Hoodoo Assassins and Agents (#213 and #214) who, in Stout’s imagination, are healers, seers, and empaths from a Parallel Universe in which fairness and balance rules. Erzulie Yeux Rouge (Red Eyes) is a spirit from the Haitian Pantheon of spirits whose empathic nature makes her a fierce guardian or protector of women, children, and betrayed lovers. Ikengas, originating in the Igbo culture of Southeastern Nigeria, are shrine figures that are meant to store the owner’s chi (personal god), his ndichie (ancestors) and his ike (power), and are generally associated with men. Stout’s Ikenga (If You Come for the Queen, You Better Not Miss) is a powerful female figure with her breasts and horns turned into weapons, and she is adorned with jewels and charms to boost her powers. Beyond the playful yet powerful imagination of these female characters are serious undertones of political commentary as Stout ponders the concepts of these deities while witnessing the recent rulings in our society that infringe on women’s rights.

In Escape Plan D (With Hi John Root, Connecting the Dots) Stout maps out her potential escape to the Parallel Universe when the daily news weighs unbearably on her psyche.

Visions of the Fall, in Thumbnails is a series of five small paintings that comments on the current state of our world and its imagined future with the titles as upcoming stages of its evolution.

American Memory Jar is an entirely black sculpture consisting of a glass jar covered with thin-set mortar, plastic and metal toy guns, topped with a doll head and adorned with a bead and rhinestone cross pendant. Memory Jugs are an American folk-art form that memorializes the dead adorned with objects associated with the deceased. Stout’s jar is a bitter but painfully accurate assessment.

While Stout’s work alludes to history, racial stereotyping, societal decay, and a set of alarming tendencies in our socio-political structures and ecosystem, it also reveals possibilities and the promise of healing. Various works reference healing herbs, potions, and dreams. Herb List, Spell Diagram and The Magic I Manifest speak of Stout’s belief in the power of consciousness, in the existence of more solid and fertile grounds, and of individual responsibility.

There is one overarching narrative that clearly emerges from Stout’s work – her personal history and spiritual journey as a woman and as an artist.

This exhibition closes 3/5/23.


Mar 022023

Iulia Nistor “Evidence L3 W2 P8”, 2022, oil on wood, 50 x 40 cm

Iulia Nistor “Evidence L5 W8 P1”, 2022, oil on wood, 50 x 40 cm

Iulia Nistor “Evidence L/E0 F4 A5”, 2022, oil on wood, 50 x 40 cm

Iulia Nistor “Evidence L6 F2 A9”, 2023, oil on wood, 50 x 40 cm

Currently at Mendes Wood Gallery in NYC are Iulia Nistor’s paintings for her solo exhibition properties without object. The new works are part of her Evidence Paintings series. Each painting is the same size and titled with coordinates “suggesting not only the representational function, but also documentary specificity, of paintings which rarely picture anything we can automatically name”.

More from the gallery’s press release-

Paint is used with a diverse range of techniques, applied with a fine brush in painstaking detail or with broad gestures. Hard-edged forms cede to organic scumbling. Deep illusionistic spaces, evoked by geometric lines of perspective, contrast with marks which emphasize painting’s limitations to its surface. Trompe l’oeil plays sly games with our habitual perceptions. Dried paint is removed with a sanding device, subverting Nistor’s intentions, producing unforeseen configurations and textures, and reducing multiple layers of paint to ground.

Irreducible to any singular style, these expressive resources are positioned to represent the properties of certain things, perhaps an observed aspect of an object, a place, a person, or the space between them. Nistor’s purpose is not primarily to represent the things themselves but the qualities which they possess. This aim makes her paintings register less as representations than inquiries into the nature of representation itself, questioning the opaque relation between how something appears, how it is perceived, and how that duality can be pictorially rendered. How much of what we experience is a given of the environment, and how is it changed by the subjectivity which accompanies it? Does a painting, unlike a photograph, need to depart from the ostensible form of its subject to, paradoxically, achieve a true likeness of it?

Nistor often proceeds through gestures of subtraction, isolating a property of an object by eliminating aspects of it. The specificities of her practice correspond to the specificity of the phenomena they are used to capture.

Alongside her paintings, for the first time, Nistor exhibits a pair of photographs, each showing one side of an A4 sheet of paper, upon which a sequence of propositions is printed. These are attempts to define the relationship between objects and the properties which seem to adhere to them. The spare sentences, phrased in objective, philosophical language, have been edited by queries and remarks, written in pencil and ballpoint pen, in the artist’s hand. This process of revision and redefinition, preempting the demand for a categorical answer, reflects the artist’s process in painting.

In both photographs, the sheets appear on a black studio surface. One rests parallel to its frame, resembling an aperture, while the other lies tilted, negating this illusion. The abstractions of language qualify—or are qualified by—the materiality of the wooden surface, much like those upon which Nistor paints, stained with traces of the artist’s process. A window into Nistor’s conceptual method doubles as a formal metaphor for the axis, central to her practice, between the given and the made.

Iulia Nistor, “Untitled (properties without object)”, 2023, photo on cotton paper (image via Mendes Wood )

This exhibition closes 3/5/23.

Feb 202023

Pictured L to R: Peter Cotroneo, Alexander Nixon (foot), and Joshua Haddad

Pictured: Molly Evans (sketches installation) and Kendra Frorup

Pictured L to R: Chris Valle; Emma Quintana and Rick Hanberry; Joseph Scarce

This is the last week to check out the Art+Design Faculty Exhibition at University of Tampa’s art gallery, Scarfone Hartley. It’s a wonderful chance to check out the talent that is teaching at the school as well as some impressive work.

Artists included: Jaime Aelavanthara, Peter Cotroneo, Molly Evans, Kendra Frorup, Corey George, Jennifer Guest, Joshua Haddad, Ry McCullough, Samantha Modder, Alexander Nixon, Eric Ondina, Angelina Parrino, Emma Quintana, Joseph Scarce, and Chris Valle.

Below are more selections from the exhibition-

Mar 152022

Artist Sophie Calle’s Here Lie The Secrets of the Visitors of the Green-Wood Cemetery, a 25 year long public artwork. The project debuted on April 29th and 30th, 2017.

From Creative Time’s website-

To inaugurate the project, the public was invited to Green-Wood Cemetery, a National Historic Landmark, in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to privately unburden and inter their most intimate confessions.

During the two-day opening, in a setting nestled among the mausoleums and monuments of Green-Wood’s verdant rolling hills, visitors transcribed their secrets onto paper, and deposited them into the earth below, through a slot on a marble obelisk of Calle’s design. The artist was on hand during the two-day event to receive some visitors’ secrets.

The two-day performance was free and open to the public. Guests were invited to spend the day exploring the sculptures and monuments throughout Green-Wood, a tradition that dates back to the early 1800s. Free maps of the cemetery, specially designed to accompany Calle’s installation, were be available. Guided walking tours emphasizing the cemetery’s symbols and iconography were offered at no cost.

Visitors to the Cemetery can now see Calle’s installation during regular cemetery hours and independently deposit secrets into the marble obelisk. Calle has also pledged to return periodically over the next 25 years, each time the grave is filled, to exhume and cremate them in a ceremonial bonfire service and moment of remembrance.

Everyone has a secret to tell, now there’s a place to put one of yours.


May 052018

Will Ferrell and Joel McHale visit the Hammer Museum

What makes an object art? Does an object only have importance with a narrative attached to it? Conceptual art can be challenging. Walking around the exhibition Stories of Almost Everyone, at the Hammer Museum, it’s hard not to share a bit of the sentiment in the above video. There are so many questions to ask. What am I looking at? Is it art? Why? Does the stack of mail being added to every day feel like art (Mungo Thomson’s contribution)? What about the empty postcard rack (Ceal Floyer’s Wish You Were Here)? Does it gain more meaning when you read about why it’s there? These questions are subjective, of course, but some of the works included resonate more than others. Danh Vo (who currently has an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum) contributes a lit up globe once owned by Robert McNamara, US Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. The object itself is beautiful but is given additional meaning when looked at through the eyes of the Vietnamese artist.  Other objects are manipulated, like Fayçal Baghriche’s The clock, which has been sped up to give the illusion of altering time.

In addition to the wall texts, author Kanishk Tharoor contributed a short story that can be listened to on an audio guide or read. As you listen to (or read) the story, the objects now take on a different meaning with their inclusion within the fictional narrative. Does this change your perception of the works? Does it make them resonate more with you? All of this depends, ultimately, on the individual. You’ll have to head to the Hammer to decide for yourself.

This exhibition closes 5/6/18.