Andres Serrano and Home Room at The School
By Jamie Larson
Since its inception, Jack Shainman Gallery: The School, opened in an expansive and historic former schoolhouse in Kinderhook, New York, has wowed visitors (Saturdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. only) with artwork from the world’s most notable modern artists and with Shainman’s innate ability to curate the unique space. The School’s latest exhibition, which opened January 7, is no exception. It brings together the arresting and historically controversial work of Andres Serrano and “Home Room,” a multimedia group exhibition which uses the classroom settings of The School as a powerful lens of cultural examination.
Though it spans three decades of photography, “Andres Serrano: Selected Works 1984-2015” stares vitally and urgently back at you from the walls. Widely known, Serrano is both admired and reviled for the scandal that surrounds his work “Piss Christ.” The rest of Serrano’s imagery similarly and unapologetically combines the things we love and hate about our culture and ourselves.
“Much of Andres’ historic work comes out of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, so it’s interesting to consider how far we’ve come as a society since then,” Shainman said before the opening last weekend. “But also how frustrating it can feel that we’re having similar conversations now regarding morality and freedom. The work addresses the parts of life that are uncomfortable and ever-present; they are issues that are forever with us.”
“Home Room” features work by distinguished artists Huma Bhabha, Nick Cave, Turiya Magadlela, Enrique Martínez Celaya, Claudette Schreuders, Laurie Simmons, Michael Snow, Becky Suss and Carlos Vega. Shainman writes that the joint work “contemplates relationships between familiar people, places, and things and the inner life of the self. The clothes we wear, the things with which we live, and the places we have been are personified by the spiritual traces of our individual histories with which we mark them.”
The pieces are fabulous, colorful and emotional on their own, of course, but the curation within the school creates an atmosphere you couldn’t begin to replicate without a space like this.
“The building of The School is continually a source of inspiration for every exhibition, and each installation is considered in response to the architectural space,” Shainman said. “Education, openness, and accessibility have always been a part of the gallery’s mission, but we don’t explicitly try to organize exhibitions with those themes. It’s my belief that all kinds of art should be viewed by all kinds of people; overall that motivation is behind everything we are doing with The School. I hope visitors walk away with a sense that art should not be intimidating and exclusive. Perhaps the building’s past life as an elementary school helps give a sense of familiarity.”
“Andres Serrano: Selected Works 1984-2015” and “Home Room”
Jack Shainman Gallery: The School
25 Broad Street, Kinderhook, NY
Gallery hours: Saturdays from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., and by appointment
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Featured Creatures: The Old World Pet Portraits Of Carol Lew
By Amy Krzaik
My cat, Oliver, believes himself to be the king of all he surveys (namely, the house and the front and back yards). And while the other pets beg to differ, he’s always quick to remind them of their subordinate positions. Although the smallest in size, Oliver is the oldest and craftiest and I believe his assessment of his stature to be valid. He considers himself feline royalty, and there’s a local artist who agrees with him.
Although she studied painting at Philadelphia College of Art, it took years for Lew’s formal training and her love of animals to coalesce.
“In my earlier working years, I didn’t see a pathway for making a living through art,” she says. “But almost 20 years ago, after leaving a particularly stressful management job, I decided to try to make a go of it.”
The internet, she says, has opened up new possibilities for artists to make a living doing what they love. And the public loves her back — Lew figures she’s painted more than a thousand portraits so far.
Inspired by the work of Thierry Poncelet, a European painting restorer who replaced human faces with animals on historical portraits, Lew’s first similar painting was a Great Dane done in Early American primitive style. “It’s a theme of artwork that made me happy from the start,” she says, “and it still does.”
A commissioned piece takes Lew about two weeks to complete, considering that part of the process is selecting an appropriate photo of the pet, and partnering with the client to find just the right historical portrait to use as a reference. A Lew original of your cat, dog, gerbil, bird, lizard or other beloved companion will set you back $450. If you need time to ponder such a purchase, or if you don’t have a pet but love the concept, Lew offers prints ($9.95 and up), canvas prints ($40), and magnets ($6) of past works in her Etsy shop.
As you might expect, Lew is an animal lover and she and her husband live with two cats, a dog, a flock of chickens and three hives of honeybees. Working from home, as she does, has also allowed Lew to foster shelter animals and serve a six-year stint chairing a local animal non-profit. She currently works with an organization that spays and neuters free-roaming cats. “This kind of work is important to me because I believe that we, as humans, are responsible for the welfare of companion animals,” she says. “It’s wonderful to see pets who are loved and well cared for, but there are others who need help.”
Her incredible skill and obvious love of animals shows in her work, and people are noticing. Target online is selling pillows with Lew’s images in its Beekman 1802 FarmHouse line. And soon, her portraits will be featured on woven fabric items in the European market, as well as on playing cards.
The more of Lew’s witty works there are in the world, the better, I say.
“My artwork is fun,” she says, “and the best part of it for me is that it makes people smile.”
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50 Years Later, “The Concerned Photographers” Still A Focus
MUSCLE BOY, Harlem, NY 1963 © Leonard Freed/Magnum
By Shawn Hartley Hancock
Ralph Brill, owner of the Brill Gallery in the Eclipse Mill Building in North Adams, Mass., calls it “probably the most important photography exhibit in 2016.” Leonard Freed’s Civil Rights Photographs of the 1960s, he says, are still more than relevant today, and all the more impressive since they were taken at the dawn of photojournalism. They’re part of an exhibit from the 1960s that Cornell Capa, now president of Magnum, pulled together and called “The Concerned Photographer” as a way of honoring his older brother, the much-heralded war photographer Robert Capa, who was killed by a land mine in Indochina in 1954.
The original exhibit, which includes work by Gordon Parks, Bruce Davidson and Leonard Freed, documents a host of world events, especially the turmoil of the American civil rights movement. Considering the current events of our day, it seems quite timely to bring back the collection. Brill has located and assembled as many of the original artworks from that show as possible, reprising, as it were, the original exhibit and book for a new generation. On view through August 21, the exhibit will heavily feature the work of documentary photojournalist Leonard Freed, whose widow, Birgitte, and daughter, Susannah Elka, will help put Freed’s work in historical context at their talk and reception on Saturday, August 13, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Brill Gallery.
BROOKLYN WEDDING DANCE, 1954 © Leonard Freed/Magnum
Photojournalism wasn’t really a “thing” until World War II, when cameras became smaller and lighter, and film became more light sensitive. These technological improvements allowed photographers to capture important dramatic moments as they happened – and like never before. This brand of photojournalism, which sought to educate and change the world as much as document world events, grew more powerful and impactful in the post-war years in the hands of masters like Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour, who founded Magnum, the photographic cooperative, in 1947. These giants of photography, who blended reporting and art, set the standard for all modern photojournalism.
“Ultimately photography is about who you are. It’s the seeking of truth in relation to yourself. And seeking truth becomes a habit,” Freed said about his photography. Over a long career as a photojournalist (Freed died in 2006), he captured important and pivotal moments in social history, including black men packed into a prison cell in New Orleans, black youths playing on a hot summer day in Harlem, and Martin Luther King leaning out the back of his limousine to shake hands with admirers at the March on Washington. Upward of 30 works by Freed are in the current exhibit.
Ralph Brill. © Roman Iwasiwka.
The timing couldn’t be better, considering the current state of race relations in the US and its parallel to the turmoil documented by Freed and his contemporaries fifty years ago. “For most photojournalists, the details of their work and its context die when they do,” Brill says. “We’re so fortunate to have Birgitte and Susannah coming to speak about Leonard and provide that context. Birgitte was truly Leonard’s partner – she printed many of his photos and knows the ‘back story.’ She and Susannah are doing a great job of keeping Leonard’s legacy alive.”
Photography became Freed’s means of exploring societal violence and racial discrimination. “While most photojournalists were taking pictures of bombed-out buildings after the war, Freed never did that,” Brill says. “He took photos of people.” Freed did his share of documenting post-war Europe, however, especially Amsterdam and The Netherlands in the 1950s. “He followed and photographed a few surviving Jewish families in Amsterdam,” Brill says. The Jewish community there had suffered the greatest losses during World War II – upwards of 85-percent – more than any other European city.
In addition to re-assembling as many of the photos as possible from the original Concerned Photographers exhibit (the original book will also be re-published), Brill is organizing a book of Freed’s photos documenting the March on Washington, in the context of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement in America. Many of these seminal photos are already in the collections of the National Archives.
“The Concerned Photographer”
Works by documentary photographer Leonard Freed
July 30 - August 21
Reception with Brigitte Freed: Saturday, Aug. 13, 6-8 p.m.
Brill Gallery at Eclipse Mill
243 Union Street, North Adams, MA
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Cabinet Of Curiosity: What Were The Curators Thinking?
Photos by Karl Rabe, courtesy of Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College.
By Robert Burke Warren
If you’re a collector — of anything — we have an exhibit for you. Even if you’re of the “no clutter” camp, it’s hard not to be inquisitive about a “cabinet of curiosities.” But this exhibit is no rambling collectibles barn; it’s been seriously curated. In fact, it’s an exhibit that has as much to do with curators as it does the objects. “Universal Collection: A Mark Dion Project,” is on view until December 11 at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, and what you’ll see really is a curious installation.
Since the era of modern museums, curators have chosen certain artifacts to tell the stories of our world. Who were these deciders? Why did they make certain choices? And what if modern Vassar students explored the basements and storage areas of their school, and unearthed formerly venerated exhibits and “mundane” objects of bygone days? Multi-media artist Mark Dion’s fascinating Universal Collection takes on these questions.
The exhibit, encased in a 23-feet high, 9-feet wide custom-made wood-and-glass cabinet, is the culmination of From the Natural History Museum to Ecotourism: The Collection of Nature, a course Dion co-taught in Spring of 2016 with Vassar Professor of Anthropology Anne Pike-Tay. Students and their teachers procured objects from the museum’s basement – which houses collections dating back to the school’s 1861 founding – as well as closets and forgotten rooms of other campus buildings. Dion then painstakingly arranged the objects in the cabinet and the museum’s atrium.
“The students mined every collection we could think of,” Lehman Loeb co-curator Elizabeth Nogrady says. “We found things we didn’t even know we had. And the students talked about why certain items were used, or not used, in past exhibits, and the political ramifications of those actions.”
Among the strangest objects: a replica of the infamous “Piltdown Man” skull, an anthropological “Missing Link” hoax, now nestled alongside an anteater and a ferret, both stuffed; a collection of beautifully carved fencing handles; a diminutive, Hobbit-sized statue of Matthew Vassar himself, placed beside a Victorian-era dress; a well-worn hockey stick beside a Picasso still-life. Seen together, these objects invite consideration of the circumstances and implications of their accumulation. Put together in certain ways, they tell narratives and question ideas of classification. Resulting impressions are intriguing, and often quite funny.
“The objects aren’t labeled,” says co-curator Mary-Kay Lombino. “That’s important to Mark. If someone doesn’t know what something is, it’s important to him that they talk about what they think it is, and why they think that.”
In a storage area of a science building, a student found something very close to Mark Dion’s personal history: a series of board-game-like psychological tests from the 60s, pictorial challenges in which a person must “correctly” complete a visual story with images on cards. To the modern eye, these tests are clearly biased and questionable, but in their day, they were gospel. When Dion was a child, experts made him submit to these tests and a battery of others. Doctors were trying to figure out what was “wrong” with him. Turns out, he was – and is – dyslexic. He is more image-oriented than writing-oriented. The tests – all but one in Universal Gathering solved “correctly” – are housed in the cabinet near some antique official Vassar crockery and cutlery.
“The tests say something about the history of psychology and the history of education,” says Lombino. “Mark says he’s getting a little bit of revenge on them now.”
In a recent WAMC interview, Dion spoke of his interest in “pre-enlightenment” museums, 16th and 17th century wunderkabinetts. These attractions featured strange objects from around the world, put together in gatherings modern folk wouldn’t imagine. It was, he said, “a radically different kind of expression.” With the founding of Manhattan’s Natural History Museum in 1869, attitudes toward curating and presenting artifacts became more codified – and political – and the wunderkabinetts faded.
For “Universal Collection,” Dion spent countless hours arranging artifacts and objects, in both hierarchical and non-hierarchical groups, spacing nonsensical gatherings among harmonious ones, and striving to let students and museum goers see objects differently, understand stories more visually, and even discover aspects of themselves in the stories they create about what they see. His process, he says, allows unexpected conversations between the items, and between us.
And it may have you looking at your own collections with a different eye.
Universal Collection: A Mark Dion Project
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College
124 Raymond Ave., Poughkeepsie, NY
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The Art Of The Ride At Good Gallery In Kent
By Jamie Larson
There’s something captivating about shiny chrome, matte black rubber, the curve of a gas tank or sloping fender. These lines, shapes and textures make up the motorcycles that descend on Kent, Conn. during good weather weekends and are also the muse of photographer Gary Halby. Now a collection of his photographs, from his book The Art of the Ride will be on display in Kent at The Good Gallery.
The images are zoomed in, focused on elements of the bike, rather than the entire machine. The bikes are broken down to their most basic and photogenic characteristics. Some photos border on abstraction but there is something in each photo that captures the power, grit and grace that is unmistakably Motorcycle.
“I’m not a biker. I’m a photographer,” Halby said. “I’ve been a photographer my whole life. The thing that attracts me most (to motorcycles) is their graphic quality. I’m really interested in their reflective quality. The wheels are like from a chariot in Game of Thrones.”
The month-long exhibit, kicking off with an opening reception this Saturday (noon to 7 p.m.) will be unique for a number of reasons, according to gallery owner Tim Good. This will be the first photography-only exhibition in the venue’s six-year history and the subject of those photos will create an interesting atmosphere as Kent’s refined ambience converges with the controlled chaos of a biker rally. Good expects a sizable crowd of bikers to come to the gallery for the opening and throughout the month. He says he’s not completely sure what to expect — and that’s exciting.
“Not only are they really, really good photos,” said Good who, for Saturday’s occasion, will also display a custom motorcycle in the gallery from neighboring Iron Horse Custom Motorcycles. “The work also shows an affinity for Kent and it’s a way to give back to the bikers in a real way.”
Halby, who splits his time between Cornwall and Manhattan, says he was in town one day, three years ago, running errands when he saw the bikes and became fixated on the chrome.
He talks about motorcycles like a nature photographer catching the perfect composition of a sunset. Each image captures not just interesting forms but also a unique moment. This sense is helped by the fact he’s taking his photos out in the wild (on the street). He could take the same photo at the same angle in a studio, but it wouldn’t capture the life and story of the bike the way his method does, picking up the colors of the world around, reflected in the chrome.
“The hardest part is not getting yourself in the reflection,” Halby said, only half joking.
Bikers are a close-knit community and even though Halby doesn’t ride himself, he said he has gotten to know many of those who come to Kent regularly. They are enthusiastic about his project and the reverence he pays the vehicles they love.
“I feel very much a part of the crew.” he said. “I just don’t go 100 miles an hour on back roads with them. I’m a little more conservative than that. There’s a great group I’ve become friendly with. They’re weekend warriors, professionals, with really amazing bikes.”
Good said the well-heeled, bucolic way of life in Kent and that of the bikers are two worlds that don’t just coexist, but overlap. This particular group of bikers, many with significant day jobs and expensive bikes (that are in themselves art objects) ride to Kent to experience the culture. With this exhibit they and their motorcycles are now a part of that culture, framed and proudly displayed on The Good Gallery’s walls.
Listen to Mark Williams, Rural Intelligence publisher, in conversation with photographer Gary Halby and Tim Good of the Good Gallery, as they discuss how the exhibit came about.
13 Railroad Street, Kent, CT