The New Los Angeles Fall 2016 – Spring 2017

There is a new class of cultural and dining experiences happening regularly now in Los Angeles that started in just the past two years. Several remarkable new contemporary art showcases have opened, causing the New York Artworld press to light upon LA en mass earlier this year as never before with the opening of the behemoth Hauser Wirth& Schimmel and the fabulous new Broad museum. In the restaurant scene LA is drawing the incredibly talented superstar chefs from Two and Three Michelin Star restaurants. In the art world we have gained several tremendous modern and contemporary art venues unlike anything ever seen in the West. These include the phenomenal 116,000 sq. ft. Hauser Wirth and Schimmel (which will have its own restaurant and on), the astonishing new Broad museum, and the remarkable new ICA Los Angeles, which will feature an experimental kitchen, and the tremendous Marciano Art Foundation, which is likely to have 50,000-60,000sq ft. of exhibition space. Both the ICA Los Angeles and the Marciano Art Foundation will open in LA in the Spring of 2017. There are now three art bookstores in the DTLA/Arts District.

Realize that the entire West Side of LA art world has shifted east, and now starts in starts in Westwood, then jumps to Hollywood and Culver City and is most remarkable and new in DTLA and the Arts District, where massive new restaurants have opened.

The culture calendar in LA has never been as robust and had so many different offerings as it does today. It is as if a new, higher tier of Los Angeles has been built atop the existing city, which itself has been radically transformed in the past few years by massive expansion of rapid transit. LA continues to attract world class chefs opening superior sushi restaurants and straight from Japan noodle bars.

In DTLA’s Arts District, there is…


Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. It’s a true museum-as-gallery from the extraordinary space to the superb programming that is, like the nearby 356 S. Mission Road and The Mistake Room, a never before seen in LA class of offerings, from free major performing arts and film and video screening events at 356 and the TMS and presentations by world class-curators at TMS to live music and artist and curator talks at HS&W, to the summer Performance Art series at the Broad. MoCA Los Angeles has never seen such competition in its entire history, and even more is coming with the ICA LA also in the DTLA ARTS DISTRICT. These add tremendously to the existing


(this photo:


The Main Museum of Los Angeles Art will open in DTLA.


356 S. Mission Road also has a basement for exhibition.


The Mistake Room debuted with the works of Oscar Murillo. TMR has an international curatorial program and shows works from across the globe.


LA is getting new restaurants from chefs from Portland to New York. It already has had an invasion of ultra-tier international art galleries that are warehouse sized, from Spruth Magers to Maccarone and Venus Over Los Angeles. This adds a new great level of depth and offerings to the already LA artworld powerhouse scene. Up the road the Main Museum of Los Angeles Art will open in downtown Los Angeles, with performance art works already planned for fall 2016.


The upcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will be next door to LACMA.

In LA we now have major coffee shops from around the US, the best ice cream shops in America are now here too, including Salt & Straw from Portland, and McConnell’s from Santa Barbara.

The formerly dead downtown LA is bursting with development with over 100 projects currently underway, including 15 boutique hotels.


Belcampo butcher shop is now in LA from Marin County.


Australian chef Curtis Stone has opened Gwen, his world class butcher shop and restaurant, in Hollywood.


EATALY debuts at the luxury Westfield Century City, with 70 new stores, in 2017.


Three Michelin Star restaurant Manresa’s Chef de Cuisine for the past 6 years has left to open her own restaurant in LA. This is a world-class coup for Los Angeles’ restaurant scene.



Former Chef de Cusine of Alinea and Executive Chef of Next, both in Chicago, is moving to LA to become part of its major new restaurant revolution.




The Broad Museum exterior and interior.


Marciano Art Foundation in Los Angeles
T Magazine

Hélio Oiticica’s first US Retrospective




Upcoming Exhibitions

Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium

October 1, 2016 – January 2, 2017


Oiticica Main

The first comprehensive US retrospective of the influential Brazilian artist.

Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) presents Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium, the first comprehensive US retrospective of the influential Brazilian artist (1937–1980). Ranging from beautifully balanced geometric paintings to immersive, interactive environments, Oiticica’s work is visually arresting, wholly original, and seeks to build a participatory relationship with audiences. The exhibition is co-organized by CMOA, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Art Institute of Chicago.

Installed in CMOA’s Heinz Galleries and expanding into its Hall of Sculpture, Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium moves from the artist’s two-dimensional works, including Metaesquemas, geometric abstract paintings in bold colors that are so alive with incipient movement that they seem to struggle against the grid that supports them, into his explorations of color and form in three-dimensional space, in which the Metaesquemas’ geometric shapes take to the air. His Penetrables are colorful structures inspired by makeshift dwellings in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro that can be traversed by viewers. Parangolés, works in fabric that can be carried or worn, were originally made for the samba dancers in the Mangueira favela. The poetic or political messages that they often carry, buried within their layers of cloth, could be read only when the dancer was in motion. In addition to original works on display, exhibition copies invite visitors to wear and manipulate the artist’s interactive works.

The massive installation Eden, installed in the Hall of Sculpture at the heart of the museum, is Oiticica’s most ambitious. This huge work includes spaces designed to engage the senses and promote creative thought, tents for sleeping or listening to music, and beds filled with straw for relaxation or light reading. Because of its size, it is rarely presented.

The first exhibition to explore in depth the artist’s New York years (1971–1978) and his return to Rio (1978–1980), Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium invites a reconsideration of an internationally recognized, yet too-rarely encountered artist.

Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium is organized by Lynn Zelevansky, The Henry J. Heinz II Director, Carnegie Museum of Art; Elisabeth Sussman, Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography, Whitney Museum of American Art; James Rondeau, President and Eloise W. Martin Director, The Art Institute of Chicago; and Donna De Salvo, Deputy Director for International Initiatives and Senior Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art; with Anna Katherine Brodbeck, Associate Curator, Carnegie Museum of Art.

Image Credit: Hélio Oiticica in front of a poster for the play Prisoner of Second Avenue, in Midtown Manhattan, 1972, Facsimile of photograph, César and Claudio Oiticica, Rio de Janeiro

Hélio Oiticica Grand Nucleus Grande Núcleo 1960–66
Hélio Oiticica
Grand Nucleus Grande Núcleo 1960–66

Hélio Oiticica (1937–1980) was one of the most innovative Brazilian artists of the twentieth century and is now recognised as a highly significant figure in the development of contemporary art. Oiticica produced an outstanding body of work, which had its origins in the legacy of European Modernism as it developed in Brazil in the 1950s. But his unique and radical investigations led Oiticica to develop his artistic production in ever more inventive directions.

Through his work he was to challenge the traditional boundaries of art, and its relationship with life, and to undermine the separation of the art-object from the viewer, whom he turned into an active participant. Among Oiticica’s most original achievements was his inventive and uncompromising use of colour.

This exhibition explores the dimension of colour as a vital focus of his work, from his early career onwards. It includes several related series of works which unfold in sequence, showing the conceptual and technical processes that led to the artist’s liberation of colour from the twodimensional realm of painting out into space, to be walked around and through, looked into, manipulated, inhabited and experienced. Oiticica emerged as an artist during a period of optimism in Brazil, before the utopian dream of a modern society was thwarted by the oppressive military regime in the 1960s. In the cultural sphere this period saw many new developments: the instigation of progressive architectural projects by Lúcio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer and others; important innovations in the worlds of avant-garde film, music, poetry, theatre and choreography; the establishment of the international Sao Paulo Biennale; and the founding of museums of modern art in both Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

It was at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio that Oiticica was taught painting by the influential abstract artist Ivan Serpa. He later joined the Rio-based Grupo Frente, a radical art organisation founded by Serpa that also included the innovative artists Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape. Oiticica exhibited in the group’s second exhibition in 1955. His work from this period shows an affinity with the abstract idiom of the group, as well as the influence of modernist masters such as Paul Klee, Kasimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian. These early works, mature for such a young artist, contained the essence of what was to follow.

Oiticica began to disrupt the dense colouring and structure of his early paintings in a series of gouaches on board called Sécos 1956–7. These formed a transition into a major series begun in the following year, titled Metaesquemas 1957–8. In these spare compositions he sought to dissolve the two-dimensional picture plane by demolishing the suggestion of a frame, and deconstructing the grid structure with a dynamic combination of squares and rectangles in black, red, blue and white. The final pieces from this series were white abstract compositions, which eventually led to the series of white-on-white paintings, Série Branca (White Series) 1958-9. Here Oiticica explored ways of producing different tones of white, and experimented with layering and brush techniques to maximise the effect of light on the colour. He later referred to white as ‘the ideal colour-light, the synthesis-light of all colours’. Meanwhile he began working on a series of irregularly shaped double-sided white paintings, Bilaterais (Bilaterals) 1959. These were designed to hang from the ceiling, compelling the spectator to walk around them. Oiticica’s experimentation with the interaction between colour and light continued with a series of yellow and red monochromes, including triangular paintings, and the first in the series of Invenções (Inventions) 1959–62, painted structures composed of vertical layers of colour. Here he developed ways of experimenting with the physicality of colour that he later made use of in three-dimensional works.

In 1960 Oiticica joined the Neo-Concrete group, a Rio-based movement that broke with the principles of the Concrete movement that had originated in Sao Paulo, by reacting against its extreme rationalism and advocating an expanded creative freedom. Oiticica had by then begun the ground-breaking series of red and yellow painted hanging wood constructions, Spatial Reliefs 1960, which effectively liberated colour into three-dimensional space. He designed many maquettes for these complex forms, but few were built in full scale.

By the end of 1960 Oiticica had arrived at a synthesis of his experiments with colour. In his theoretical text Colour, Time and Structure of 1960 he referred to this integration of colour as ‘a supreme order similar to the supreme order of architectural spaces’. This thinking led to the concept he called ‘côr nuclear’ (nuclear colour) – embodied in a group of works in which colour ascends or descends in gradual hues from its centre. This series, called Núcleos (Nuclei) 1960–6, consists of open mazes of double-sided hanging panels of varying sizes and closely related colours. The first to be made was the Pequeno Núcleo no. 01 (Small Nucleus No. 01), which includes a mirror that enhances the light and colours, and reveals the viewers to themselves as active participants in the work. Three medium nuclei were eventually combined into a large-scale hanging environment to form the Grande Núcleo (Grand Nucleus) 1960–6. This spectacular work, with panels in tones of violet at the nuclear centre unfolding into a range of luminous yellows, amplified the spatial and temporal aspects of the Spatial Reliefs. By contrast the Penetrável (Penetrable) series 1960–79 consisted of closed labyrinthine environments, as in the large scale model of Projeto Cães de Caça (Hunting Dogs Project) 1961 (its title taken from a group of stars in the constellation of Orion). Like all Oiticica’s maquettes, this model was considered a work of art in its own right. Consisting of five chromatic penetrables, it was conceived as a monumental magic garden for intense aesthetic experience, and incorporated sand gardens and areas for the appreciation of music, poetry and theatre.

Oiticica continued to construct maquettes for colour environments, including the Magic Square maquettes of 1978, which were also conceived as large open-air penetrables. PN 1 Penetrável 1961 was the first free-standing penetrable, a small-scale cabin with sliding coloured panels, which the viewer was encouraged to enter and participate in the sensory experience. It was with this series that Oiticica felt that ‘the sense of spectator involvement reaches its apex and its justification’.

Oiticica began to work on the first Bólides (Fireballs) in 1963, after the completion of the Invenções (Inventions) series, through which he had discovered the means of infusing colour with depth and luminosity. The Bólides, small wooden boxes, appeared to be ‘inflamed’ by light and charged with energy, an important evolution in Oiticica’s idea of ‘totalidade-côr’ (total colour). They were designed to be handled, with moveable panels revealing new chromatic planes. With the introduction of glass Bólides into the series Oiticica began to incorporate loose pigment in the works and to include everyday materials such as glass vessels, plastic, earth, painted cloth, shells and foam, to expand the range of sensory experience offered through interaction with the artwork. The range of colours was extended to include pinks and blues, and ready-made objects also began to find their way into the work, including poetry and images, further encouraging the viewer’s emotional and intellectual participation.

Oiticica reached a crucial point in his integration of colour, structure, time and space with the Parangolé series: banners, capes and tents constructed from a variety of materials, including fabric, plastic, mats, screens and ropes. He began to develop these flexible colour structures as a result of his involvement with the people of Mangueira Hill, a Rio de Janeiro shanty town, and they encouraged his immersion into the world of traditional Brazilian samba. The Parangolés, designed to be worn or carried while dancing to the rhythm of samba, represent the culmination of Oiticica’s efforts to encourage the viewer’s interaction with the artwork and to liberate colour into three-dimensional space.

Text by Ann Gallagher



An installation by Helio Oiticica at Tate Modern
Inside the box … an installation by Helio Oiticica at Tate Modern. Photograph: Linda Nylind

Hélio Oiticica’s work is as vivid and fluttering as an origami bird – but in his short lifetime, he proved himself to be a serious and influential artist, says Adrian Searle
An installation by Helio Oiticica at Tate Modern

Adrian Searle

Thursday 7 June 2007 05.24 EDT

Colour sings and the heart sings with it in Hélio Oiticica’s art. Many of the Brazilian artist’s painted shapes hang freely, floating on the taut wires that suspend them, and never seeming to dangle in anything so dull as gravity. These rhomboids, chevrons and compound plywood geometries invite us to turn around them, too: there is always a surprise on another side, along an edge or between their planes.Looking can be like dancing (Oiticica trained as a dancer), and his spacial reliefs, now almost 50 years old, make willing partners. In the 1960s, he went on to make coloured capes of printed, painted and dyed fabrics and plastic, – his Parangolés – to be worn and to dance in. Painted shapes and shaped paintings: do you wear his paintings or is the art the dance itself?

Oiticica first developed these forms through a series of card maquettes. They look like origami birds, which one can imagine flying out of a 1920s Suprematist or constructivist canvas to alight on a Paul Klee tree. They are not really birds, but in my mind I see two hands fluttering as they manipulate the card, score, fold and paint them. These sprightly, angular little shapes, with their sharp and flattened edges, also remind me of folded paper wraps passed furtively from hand to hand between drug dealer and client. But there is nothing hidden in these envelopes except an idea.

Oiticica died in 1980, aged 42, following a stroke. Luckily for us, he was prolific and however much of a hippy he appeared (the hair, the flares, the Afghan coat), or how wholeheartedly he embraced 1960s counter-cultural excess, he remained a serious and inventive artist. It comes as a jolt to realise that the works in the first room of The Body of Colour, Oiticica’s Tate Modern show, were completed when he was just 18.

This is a captivating exhibition, in which it is a pleasure to linger, even though it takes us only halfway through Oiticica’s career. The fact that Tate Modern is mounting this show, and has been buying Oiticica’s work for the collection, is testimony to the artist’s increasing posthumous reputation and influence, along with that of his friends and colleagues Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape. Theirs was a modernism freed from northern, protestant restraint, and an art that strove to go beyond the gallery and the closed world of the market.

These artists invited viewers to engage with their work in open and sometimes physical ways. As much as they embraced neo-constructivism and rationalism, order and rigour, they rejected hermeticism, or dry academic formalism, even though they were preoccupied by form and rhythm. They managed to take modernism somewhere its European forebears, and North-American contemporaries never imagined.

On Tate Modern’s fifth floor, several rooms within the collection have been devoted to Brazilian art of the 1960s, and to Oiticica’s sojourn in London in 1968, when, largely through the auspices of critic Guy Brett, the artist installed his Eden in the Whitechapel Art Gallery. At the time, no one knew what to make of Oiticica’s live macaws, nests for visitors to crawl into, indoor beach and jungles of foliage.

Nowadays, we call this kind of installation “relational aesthetics”. Art was always about relationships – even the most hard-assed modernism – but most of the time, audiences were too uptight to notice. If Oiticica’s art is pleasurable, light and open-ended, it is also deeply serious and rigorous. His paintings and reliefs are well-crafted, handmade things that invite respect. The surfaces are both lush and reserved, painted with a formal rightness that keeps the colour trembling and in its place, but as though it were straining for the freedom of the air. I never realised just how good a painter Oiticica was until now.

In one entirely yellow work, the colour goes from near-olive to acidic lemon, through heavy barium yellow to a dry-leaf khaki. You notice how necessary it is to have dulled colours among the bright, thoughtful gradations as well as straight-from-the tube explosions. How Oiticica’s planes catch the light matters, and so too how his colour refreshes, then saturates, then tires the eye. This is why we keep moving on and returning.

His white paintings, from the late 1950s, are the equals of Robert Ryman and Piero Manzoni. Twenty-two near-identical red paintings run the length of a wall, but how different each of them is. Oiticica’s small, square paintings are a world of variety and surface applications – paint is stippled, blotted, scuffed and criss-crossed. The brush snakes about, imitates the dancing tip of a rapier before it lunges, drags and churns. Oiticica was interested in transforming paint not into texture, but into time – a sense of extended duration.

Art that is merely colourful is so much visual noise. Colour, like sound, has to be organised or orchestrated in some way to be meaningful. The mechanisms of perception, and theories about colour might tell us a lot, but colour remains somehow unmanageable, volatile, associative, fugitive. When we talk about colour we talk about the way our brains are wired. From the first, Oiticica’s art tried to give structure to colour. He never arbitrarily assigned colour to form, the way a map maker assigns colours to countries, in order to distinguish them. Topology didn’t interest him.

In a way, Oiticica’s paintings prefigured developments in American art during the 60s and 70s – one inescapably thinks of Frank Stella, Robert Mangold, Robert Ryman, Ellsworth Kelly, and numerous later practitioners of what came to be called “fundamental painting”. Oiticica got there by a different route, taking on board the lessons of an earlier, utopian European modernism – Malevich. constructivism, concretism, Max Bill, Mondrian and their like – which informed Brazilian art and architecture in the 1950s and 60s in a way it never did in Europe or north America.

In the mid 60s, Oiticica began a series of bricollaged constructions called Bólides, or Fireballs. One of these tantalising hybrid objects, which were always meant to be handled and explored, is a glass flagon wrapped in pigment-soaked burlap and hessian scrim. The material is stiff with patches of dried paint, frozen in billows. The jar itself contains a yellowish liquid. It might be olive oil – the jar would look good set next to a bowl of salad – or linseed, in which case it belongs next to a painter’s palette. The whole work has the air of an improvised gift, on which more care than money has been spent. It is entitled Homage to Mondrian, as though this were a present to the painter.

The cumulative effect of this exhibition is breathtaking, though tinged with sadness. With certain artists who have died prematurely, our sense of loss is compounded by how much unfinished business they left behind, how much unrealised potential. With others – Yves Klein, Blinky Palermo, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Piero Manzoni – there is somehow a sense of completion within what they did. Everything one might imagine is already present. There is also a feeling that their projects are continued in the works of those who have come after them. This is also how I feel about Hélio Oiticica. These artists shared something more than an early death. They were Oiticica’s unknown peers. The work goes on.

· Hélio Oiticica: The Body of Colour is at Tate Modern, London (020-7887 8888) until September 23.

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Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica:
A Legacy of Interactivity and Participation
for a Telematic Future

Simone Osthoff

This essay discusses the artistic legacies of Brazilian artists Lygia Clark (1920-1988) and Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980), focusing on the interactive vocabularies developed from their participatory creations of the 1960s and 1970s and pointing to the practical and conceptual relevance of these vocabularies for artists working with digital communications technology. The article also explores the critical and original way Clark and Oiticica, working at the margins of capitalism, reframed modernist aesthetic issues by translating them directly into life and the body. The author concludes with an examination of the artists’ interactive non-electronic works, which share common conceptual ground with the works of Australian artist Stelarc, the New York-based X-Art Foundation and British artist Roy Ascott.

The rapid development of the Internet since 1994 and the increasing number of artists working with digital communications technology has brought new attention to the role of interactivity in electronic media and in emerging digital culture. Interactivity in art, however, is not simply the result of the presence and accessibility of personal computers; rather, it must be regarded as part of contemporary art’s natural development toward immateriality, a phenomenon that is evidenced, for example, in the works of Brazilian artists Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica. Concerning itself with the circulation of ideas among artists working in vastly different cultures, this article explores visual and conceptual parallels between Clark’s and Oiticica’s sensorial creations from the 1960s and 1970s–masks, goggles (Fig. 1a), hoods, suits, gloves (Fig. 2), capes and immersive environments–and early virtual-reality experiments from the 1960s and 1970s, such as Ivan Sutherland’s head-mounted display (Fig. 1b) and the Sayre Glove. Although not technologically based, Clark’s and Oiticica’s works are also related conceptually to those of artists pushing interactivity in art into new territories. Both in Brazil and elsewhere, Clark’s and Oiticica’s participatory creations continue to yield new meanings [1].

(Fig. 1)
With the exception of a period spanning the 1970s, when Oiticica resided in New York and Clark in Paris, both artists spent their lives in Rio de Janeiro, where they shared a common theoretical ground based in the Brazilian Neoconcrete Art movement [2]. They also shared a fertile artistic dialogue that lasted throughout their careers. Their complementary trajectories were unique and, in both cases, radical. From different perspectives, they contributed to the development of an original vocabulary of interactivity. Clark, merging the body/mind duality, focused primarily on the subjective and psychological dimensions of sensorial experimentation, while Oiticica engaged in sensorial explorations involving social, cultural, architectural and environmental spaces.

Translating Geometric Abstraction into a Language of the Body

Clark and Oiticica questioned representation in art by examining ideas inherited from modern avant-garde movements–Neoplasticism, Constructivism, Suprematism and Concrete Art–that broke with mimesis and assumptions of realism. In the late 1950s, they reframed modernist notions of universal aesthetics by translating them directly into life and the body. Weaving a web of relationships around the body’s internal and external spaces, they relayed a Modern European geometric abstract tradition to Brazilian vernacular culture. This syncretic process fused two very different traditions–a Western aesthetic canon that privileges vision and metaphysical knowledge, and Afro-Indigenous oral traditions in which knowledge and history are encoded in the body and ritual is profoundly concrete [3]. It must be noted that, in a true syncretic spirit, both traditions have always coexisted in Brazilian society at large, but it was not until Oiticica began working that this syncretism was methodically investigated in the visual arts.

In spite of affinities with late 1950s and 1960s counter-cultural movements that were also subversive of the modernist aesthetic canon, Clark’s and Oiticica’s works, resisting the labels of Body Art, Conceptual Art, Performance and Happening, stressed the meaning of participation as opposed to its form. Their emphasis on meaning emphasized the experiential aspect of viewer participation. Their resistance to assimilation within mainstream art movements was perhaps less a matter of conceptual incompatibility than a way of emphasizing their original development at the margins of cultural centers, independent of international trends [4]. Their rich and complex legacies were not only plastic, but also conceptual and existential, expressed in not easily classifiable oeuvres that embraced hybrid, contingent and often immaterial forms. De-emphasizing visuality, Clark and Oiticica centered their work on the body, exploring haptic space through tactile, auditory, olfactory and kinetic propositions. Their contributions to contemporary art are relevant not only because of their original development in the context of Brazilian art, but also because of the unique universal interactive vocabularies they created and explored with their manipulable objects, immersive environments and experiential propositions based on wearable works.

Probing a language of the body and signifying processes through concrete operations that explored touch, sound, smell and movement, Clark and Oiticica worked with life’s energy and simple matter, merging perceptual and conceptual knowledge in ever-changing forms. In his 1968 book Kinetic Art, London-based critic Guy Brett compared Clark’s work with Takis’s kinetic sculptures, which introduced the magnet in sculpture as the presence of energy:

Actual energy is the subject of both their work. . . . Lygia Clark encourages the spectator to use his own energy to become aware of himself. This is something very unusual, and it seems to be a specifically Brazilian contribution to art, a kind of kineticism of the body [5].

Clark’s and Oiticica’s creations, as they changed the traditional role of the viewer and the status of the artistic object, confronting in the process the function of artistic institutions, redefined the identity of the artist and the idea of authorship. Emphasizing viewer participation and material precariousness, their works continue to resist being frozen in museum displays as relics of past actions. Their move from hard to soft and ephemeral materials clearly establishes a historical link to the current immaterial and software-based practices of electronic art. Stressing relational actions, they focused on immaterial exchanges that did not conform to traditional curatorial practices. The challenges still presented by the preservation and presentation of their work relate the issues they explored to those of artists working with new forms of communication through global computer networks.

Lygia Clark’s Trajectory: From Form to Experience

In their development from purely optical-formal concerns to participatory and body-based work, Clark and Oiticica explored the body’s multidimensional aspects. Once Clark left one phase of her work, she never returned to it, taking the experience forward into a form that was ever more immaterial than the last. The artistic residue acquired in one phase was always carried into the next, in a process described by Maria Alice Milliet as “traveling with baggage” [6].

In his 1975 book Art–Action and Participation, Frank Popper pointed to the new forms of spectator participation as partially responsible for the disappearance of the art object. He named Moholy-Nagy and three others–Israeli artist Yaacov Agam, Roy Ascott and Lygia Clark–as pioneers of the viewer participation movement. Popper described Clark’s work as “perhaps the most telling example of the way in which the discipline of optical/plastic research has led to multi-sensorial participation and a type of aesthetic behavior which reconciles the problem of individual and group activity” [7].

Clark’s participatory creations spanned nearly 3 decades. The rich interactive vocabulary she developed with objects made from very simple materials began with a series of Neoconcrete geometric sculptures dating from 1960 to 1964. These demanded the spectator’s manipulation to yield their organic meaning. These sculptures developed into a second series of interactive works centered on the body, roughly divided into two parts: Nostalgia of the Body and Organic or Ephemeral Architectures. Dating from 1964 to 1968, Nostalgia of the Body consists of hoods, goggles, masks, suits, gloves and other objects used by the viewer/participant in individual or two-person sensorial explorations. In these works, viewer participation becomes the focus of attention, while the object remains secondary, existing only in order to promote a sensorial or relational experience. After 1968, these works developed into collective body works Clark titled Organic or Ephemeral Architectures. In the last phase of her work, lasting from approximately 1979 until her death in 1988, Clark moved even further from traditional definitions of art and artist, employing the whole range of her interactive vocabulary in a form of synesthetic therapy used for emotional healing.

Clark derived the basic defining qualities of her early work from Concrete Art’s emphasis on non-representational space and rigorous explorations of line, plane, color and structure. Her reductive black, white and gray paintings from the 1950s explored the complementary aspects of positive and negative space and the boundaries between virtual and literal planes. In the development of her work from painting to interactive sculpture, the issue of edges between painterly illusion and literal space or between the canvas and the frame had a kind of primary importance that was similar to the role that color played for Oiticica. Clark moved into three-dimensional space by way of folding the plane into hinged sculptures that combined geometric shapes and organic movements. This development away from Concrete paintings resulted in a series of Neoconcrete sculptures titled Bichos (Animals, or Beasts) from 1959 and 1960.

(Fig. 3a)

Clark’s geometric Bichos needed to be manipulated by the viewer to reveal their organic nature and unfold their multiple configurations. When people asked her how many movements the Bicho had, she answered: “I don’t know, and you don’t know but it knows. . . .” [8] Despite their interactive aspect, which also introduced time and movement into the work, the Bichos remain formally beautiful objects, and many are displayed today with the attached label “do not touch.” Clark, however, emphasizing the importance of viewer’s experience, abandoned the production of art objects altogether to enter a sensorial phase of her work with her Nostalgia of the Body series, starting around 1964 (Fig. 4). When Clark abandoned the production of the art object, she used the Möbius strip as a metaphor for a new start–a new start that was paradoxically without beginning or end, inside or outside, front or back. Shared by other Concrete artists, her interest in the reversible, continuous, limitless space of the Möbius strip expressed her attraction to non-Euclidian geometry [9]. Clark’s new works dissolved the hard edges of the Bichos into soft, almost immaterial actions that had no value in themselves, but only in their relation with the participant. She referred to these action-based works as “propositions.” The endless fluid space of the Möbius strip symbolized the path she would pursue for the rest of her career.

Clark’s work with the Möbius strip contrasts sharply with Max Bill’s sculptures employing the same form. Bill pursued the visualization of non-Euclidean ideas using traditional techniques as well as permanent materials with noble associations–marble, stone and bronze–in Möbius-strip sculptures to be contemplated by the viewer. Clark, by contrast, defined the concept of endless space as a succession of paradoxical relationships to be directly experienced in the body. Her propositions acknowledged the coexistence of opposites within the same space: internal and external, subjective and objective, metaphorical and literal, male and female. For Clark, the radical new space of the Möbius strip called for new forms of production and communication impossible to explore within traditional artistic categories and practices. For Caminhando (Trailings, or Going), dating from 1964, Clark simply invited the spectator to take a pair of scissors, twist a strip of paper, join it to form a Möbius strip, and cut continuously along the unending plane. Hand Dialogue, from 1966, is an elastic band in the form of a Möbius strip that two people use to connect their hands in a tactile dialogue.

(Fig. 3b)

Head-Mounted and Sensorial Works: Hoods, Masks, Goggles, Gloves, Body Suits

The relational aspect of Clark’s work in the series Bichos became even more apparent in Nostalgia of the Body (Fig. 4). Brett describes some of Clark’s masks from this period:

Clark produced many devices to dissolve the visual sense into an awareness of the body. The Máscara Sensorial (Sensorial Hoods), 1967, incorporate eyepieces, ear coverings and a small nose bag, fusing optical, aural and olfactory sensations. A number of helmets hold small movable mirrors in front of the eyes: one can either look out into the world or back into oneself, or any fractured combination of both. Máscara-Abismo (Abyss-Masks), 1967, often blindfolds the eyes. Large air-bags weighted down with stones can be touched, producing the sensation of an imaginary empty space inside the body, and so on [10].

(Fig. 7a)

Clark’s hoods, masks, goggles, gloves, suits and other relational objects made of cheap materials provide viewers with experiences that sometimes constrain and sometimes enhance the various senses to activate new connections between them (see Figs 1a, 2, 4a, 7a). Clark’s gloves, for instance, are made of various materials, sizes and textures. The gloves aim at a rediscovery of touch. Participants use the many combinations of gloves and balls of different sizes, textures and weights, and then hold the balls again with their bare hands.

(Fig. 2)

A similar sensitizing effect resulting from immersion in virtual reality is described by Jaron Lanier:

There’s this wonderful phenomenon where when you’re inside a virtual world and if you take off the head-mounted display and look around, the physical world takes on a sort of super-real quality where it seems very textured and beautiful, and you notice a lot of details in it because you’ve gotten used to a simpler world. So there is actually a sensitivity-enhancing effect [11].

Clark’s Dialogue goggles from 1968, for instance, restrict the visual field of the two participants to an eye-to-eye exchange, merging interactivity and dialogism, two of the central concerns in Clark’s work.

(Fig. 4a)

Curiously, Ivan Sutherland’s pioneering work with virtual reality, developed around the same time, was based on the introduction of the related concept of head-mounted displays. The visual and cultural parallels between these and other investigations in art and science are as significant as they are unexplored. As Myron Krueger has pointed out, “Many aspects of virtual reality including full-body participation, the idea of a shared telecommunication space, multi-sensory feedback, third-person participation, unencumbered approaches, and the data glove, all came from the arts, not from the technical community” [12].

Clark’s experiences tend to merge the body’s interior and exterior spaces, stressing the direct connection between the body’s physical and psychological dimensions. The pure optical emphasis of her geometric abstract paintings from the 1950s are transformed by Nostalgia of the Body into sensory explorations of texture, weight, scale, temperature, sound and movement. These sensations are the basis of a non-verbal language employed both in processes of self-discovery and collective explorations among a group of participants. There is a significant conceptual link between these collective explorations and the characteristic of telecommunications art Roy Ascott calls “distributed authorship.” Clark’s collective creations became her main focus during the period she lived in Paris.

Collective and Participatory Works

In 1968, as a result of the traumatized public space created in Brazil [13], Clark moved to Paris. From 1970-1975 she taught at the Sorbonne, returning to Rio in 1977. During this period she developed with her students collective body works that she referred to as Organic or Ephemeral Architecture. She called these events “rites without myths.” She titled one of them Baba Antropofágica (translated in English as “Dribble”), meaning literally “Anthropophagic Drool” or “Cannibal Spit” [14].

(Fig. 4b)

For this work, participants placed in their mouths a small spool of colored thread that they unwound directly from their mouths onto another of the participants who lay stretched out on the ground. The body of the latter was gradually buried under a mottled web of regurgitations. This event was inspired by Clark’s dream of an unknown material endlessly flowing from her mouth to create the loss of her own inner substance. The collective vomiting experienced by the group was described by her as the exchange among the participants of psychological content. She also mentions that this exchange was not pleasurable and that it was about the vomiting of lived experience, which was then swallowed by others [15].

In the last phase of her work, Clark employed a vocabulary of “relational objects” for the purposes of emotional healing. Objects made of simple materials such as plastic bags, stones, air, shells, water, sand, styrofoam, fabric and nylon stockings acquired meaning only in their relation to the participant. Continuing to approach art experimentally, Clark made no attempt to establish boundaries between therapeutic practice and artistic experience, and was even less concerned with preserving her status as an artist. The physical sensations caused by the relational objects as she used them on the patient’s body, communicated primarily through touch, stimulated connections among the senses and awakened the body’s memory. Clark’s use of relational objects in a therapeutic context aimed at the promotion of emotional balance.

The material simplicity of Clark’s propositions confront viewers, however, with very complex issues about art, perception and body/mind relations. Considering participants as subjects-in-process, Clark’s work concerns the restructuring of the self through pre-verbal language preceding the enunciation of sentences. Stressing both the present moment and the flux of time, the work is constantly redefined by each participant. Clark’s apparently simple creations are, in fact, demanding propositions that ask viewers to infuse the work with their lives and energy. Clark was never concerned with self-expression in art, but instead with the possibility of self-discovery, experimentation, invention and transformation. She began with formalist problems about the exhaustion of representation in painting and ended, 3 decades later, in a form of synesthetic therapy. In its unique development, Clark’s trajectory shows an original inventiveness, a conceptual cohesion and a critical rigor rarely seen in Brazilian art.

Hélio Oiticica’s 1960s Aesthetic of Subversion and Cultural Contamination

In the late 1950s, in a process both analogous and complementary to Clark’s, Oiticica moved away from optical/pictorial investigations by incorporating time and movement as an active element of his work. His participatory strategies, however, contrast with Clark’s in their engagement of the viewer’s cultural, social, architectural and environmental space. Color had, in Oiticica’s early development, the same importance that edges had for Clark in her transit from pictorial to three-dimensional space. As he explored the relations between color, time, structure and space, Oiticica stated that color frees itself from the rectangle and from representation and “it tends to ‘in-corporate’ itself; it becomes temporal, creates its own structure, so the work then becomes the ‘body of color'” [16].

Oiticica’s creations, like Clark’s, became increasingly interactive as he moved from object-based to body-centered works in which viewer participation became the central focus. His Neoconcrete works Spatial Reliefs and Nucleus (1959-1960)–painted wood constructions suspended away from the wall–expanded ideas inherited from Modernist avant-garde movements, particularly the ideas of Mondrian and Malevitch. These works incorporated color, hue and value in geometrically shaped constructions to be observed from various points as viewers walked around them.

Continuing to expand color, structure and the act of seeing in space and time, Oiticica surrounded the viewer’s body with color in a series of immersive, labyrinth-like painted constructions entered by the spectator, which were titled Penetráveis (Penetrables). His series of object-containers, Bólides (the Portuguese word for fireball or flaming meteor), are also concerned with the essence of color. The first Bólides were glass containers and brightly painted boxes with unexpected openings and drawers filled with pure pigments to be opened by the viewers. The Bólides developed from the earliest boxes and glass containers full of pigment, their number expanding throughout the 1960s to reach a total of approximately 50 around 1969. As the Bólides evolved, they varied greatly in scale, form, medium and function. They were both constructed and appropriated: some include words or images, some are olfactory, others are homages to people, and some are large structures to be entered and inhabited by the spectator. They all invite perceptual explorations combining, as do many of Oiticica’s creations, conceptual sophistication with a raw physicality.

Although Spatial Reliefs, Nucleus, Penetráveis and Bólides increasingly invited the active participation of the viewer in the perception of the works, it was with his series of wearable creations, titled Parangolés, and later on with two installations–Tropicália and Eden–that Oiticica’s work became centered on the body, promoting through interactivity radically new sensorial experiences. From his colorful painted structures, Oiticica derived his first Parangolé, created in 1964. It transformed hard-edged geometric planes into folds of wearable materials made specifically to be danced with. The Parangolés were types of capes inspired conceptually by the Mangueira Samba School [17] to which Oiticica belonged, and they were often made for particular performers. They were, according to Oiticica, “proposals for behavior” and “sensuality tests.”

(Fig. 5a)

Communicating through experience, the Parangolés emphasize the fluidity of life in opposition to any attempt to fix and systematize the world. With this series of uncanny wearable creations made of cheap and ephemeral materials often found on the streets, work and body merge into a hybrid of geometric and organic forms. The participant wearing the Parangolé dances with it, exploring kinetically its multiple possibilities.

Expanding the Parangolés’ architectural origins, Oiticica made two large installations in the late 1960s that he referred to as “experiences.” Entitled Tropicália and Eden, these environments gave a new spatial context to his previous works–Bólides, Penetráveis and Parangolés–by placing them among natural elements such as water, sand, pebbles, straw and plants. Oiticica invited viewers to take off their shoes and inhabit the spaces through leisure activities (such as the simple activity of lying down). The first of these environmental installations, Tropicália, was mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro in 1967. Tropicália and Parangolés are seminal works within the history of Brazilian art.

Addressing the possibility of the creation of a “Brazilian image,” Tropicália gave name to the emerging Tropicalist movement and opened a cultural discussion that is still far from exhausted [18]. Among the many complex issues raised was Oiticica’s notion that

the myth of “tropicality” is much more than parrots and banana trees: it is the consciousness of not being conditioned by established structures, hence highly revolutionary in its entirety. Any conformity, be it intellectual, social, or existential, is contrary to its principal idea [19].

Tropicália was the product of an aesthetic of cultural contamination that Oiticica expressed by the writing on one of his Penetráveis: “A Pureza é um Mito” (Purity is a Myth.) In Tropicália, Oiticica made an important reference to the role of the media by placing at the center of his tropical environment a TV set. In 1968, he wrote,

Entering the main Penetrable, undergoing several tactile-sensorial experiences . . . one arrives at the end of the labyrinth, in the dark, where a TV set is permanently switched on: it is the image which then devours the participants, because it is more active than their sensorial creations [20].

In this text, also titled “Tropicália,” and in others, Oiticica called attention to the dangers of a superficial, folkloric consumption of an image of a tropical Brazil, stressing the existential life-experience that escapes this consumption [21]. This concern also informed his second large installation, Eden, exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1969.

(Fig. 6)

Eden, like Tropicália, contained different areas for participants to explore in a leisurely way. Eden was, however, more abstract in its architectural references than was Tropicália‘s direct allusion to the favela of Mangueira. Avoiding the notion of representation in art, as well as the construction of a tropical image for exportation, the Eden experience, similar to the rebirth of the senses enabled by Clark’s objects, invited viewers to rediscover pleasurable ways of inhabiting space. Some facets of the Eden experience are also present in Roy Ascott’s Aspects of Gaia, in which viewers placed in horizontal positions within a natural setting playfully explore the conceptual, sensorial and spatial connections of the work.

In 1970, Oiticica received a Guggenheim fellowship and built for the Information show at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York 28 Ninhos (Nests) that also invited viewer participation in the exploration of space and behavior.

Oiticica’s Leisure Strategies: Crelazer and the Supra-Sensorial

Oiticica’s contribution to a vocabulary of interactivity expanded upon Clark’s paradoxical explorations of aspects of the body’s internal/external space. He created interrelations around the sensual body and the many spatial forms it interacts with. His participatory creations were based on two key concepts that he named “Crelazer” and the “Supra-Sensorial.” Crelazer, one of Oiticica’s neologisms meaning “to believe in leisure,” was for him a condition for the existence of creativity and is based on joy, pleasure and phenomenological knowledge. The second concept, the Supra-Sensorial, promotes the expansion of the individual’s normal sensory capacities in order to discover his/her internal creative center. The Supra-Sensorial could be represented by hallucinogenic states (induced with or without the use of drugs), religious trance and other alternate states of consciousness such as the ecstasy and delirium facilitated by the samba dance. For Oiticica, the Supra-Sensorial created a complete de-aesthetization of art underscoring transformative processes. In his words:

This entire experience into which art flows, the issue of liberty itself, of the expansion of the individual’s consciousness, of the return to myth, the rediscovery of rhythm, dance, the body, the senses, which finally are what we have as weapons of direct, perceptual, participatory knowledge . . . is revolutionary in the total sense of behavior [22].

Oiticica’s work fused formal investigation with leisure activities, inviting viewer participation in the creation of “unconditioned behavior” [23]. In the cultural context of “the country where all free wills seem to be repressed or castrated” [24], the concepts of Crelazer and the Supra-Sensorial directly defied a pleasure-denying productivist work ethic, subverting it through activities that embraced pleasure, humor, leisure and carnivalesque strategies. Reverie and revolt were never far apart in Oiticica’s work, as Brett has pointed out. Leisure for him was first and foremost a revolutionary anti-colonialist strategy.

Parangolés: Samba and Interactive Art

Among the many implications emerging from Oiticica’s fusion of geometric abstraction and samba culture is the return to the mythical, primordial structure of art: a recreation of the self through an initiatory ritual. Oiticica described his relation to the popular samba, making reference to the intense experience provoked by dance:

The rehearsals themselves are the whole activity, and the participation in it is not really what Westerners would call participation because the people bring inside themselves the “samba fever” as I call it, for I became ill of it too, impregnated completely, and I am sure that from that disease no one recovers, because it is the revelation of mythical activity. . . . Samba sessions all through the night revealed to me that myth is indispensable in life, something more important than intellectual activity or rational thought when these become exaggerated and distorted [25].

For Oiticica, samba was a conduit for the flow of energy and desire. Samba was a relay, a connector. In an article from 1965 entitled “Ambiental Art, Post-Modern Art, Hélio Oiticica,” critic Mario Pedrosa traced Oiticica’s trajectory from purely plastic concerns to the existential, the culturally based and the postmodern. In this process of development from modern to postmodern art, Pedrosa noticed that Brazilian artists participated “this time, not as modest followers but in a leading role” [26]. According to Pedrosa, Oiticica’s aesthetic nonconformism merged with his social/individual nonconformism due to his Mangueira experience. It was the artist’s initiation into samba that dissolved dualisms and expanded his work from being object-based to environmentally based, incorporating in this process the kinetic knowledge of the body, the structures of popular architecture and the cultural environment in which they existed. In Pedrosa’s words,

It was during his initiation to samba that the artist went from the visual experience in all its purity to an experience that was tactile, kinetic, based on the sensual fruition of materials, where the whole body, which in the previous phase was centered on the distant aristocracy of the visual, became the total source of sensoriality [27].

Oiticica’s premature death at the age of 43 left at loose ends the many threads he explored, both as an artist and a thinker, in a meteoric career. His experimental creations assumed a range of forms that have conceptual rather than formal coherence. Ranging from paintings to writings, from sculptures and objects to public actions and events, from constructed immersive environments to found and appropriated objects and from wearable works to ambulatory experiences through Rio’s bohemian, marginal and poor neighborhoods, his creations emphasized sensorial expansion through leisure activities. Oiticica took playfulness seriously, infusing interactivity with what Pedrosa termed “the experimental exercise of liberty” [28].

Body/Machine Hybrids, Interfaces and Networks: Interactivity into New Realms

In general, Neoconcrete artists, among them Clark and Oiticica, did not explore the possibilities of technology for art making. Their trajectory from object-based works to body-centered experiences, from material to immaterial and from hard to soft processes, however, opened conceptual ground for practices similar to those of electronic performance and telecommunications art, with their emphasis on fluid, intangible exchanges.

The masks, hoods and goggles Clark made between 1965 and 1970, which altered binocular perception, can be compared, for instance, with the helmets and goggles made by Australian artist Stelarc from 1968 to 1972–the starting point for his relentless investigation of the limits and possibilities of the body.

(Fig. 7b)

Stelarc described his series of works titled Helmets: Put on and Walk as follows:

There were six different helmets structured to split your binocular vision in various ways. Because each eye saw unrelated sets of images, the visual effect was not a three-dimensional solid but a field of superimposed moving images that changed as the person walked around. The fragmentary and fleeting images undermined depth perception and although the person’s vision was saturated with a multiplicity of images (combinations of side, back, up and down), there was no frontal vision, resulting in the person groping forward [29].

As this comparison clarifies, Clark’s works are connected stylistically to virtual-reality head-mounted displays and can be perceived as radical parallels to early prototypes of the new immersive technology, exemplified by Sutherland’s well-known stereoscopic headset [30] (Fig. 1b).

Contrary to the suggestions of many advocates of virtual reality and related technologies that virtual reality promotes a disembodied mind, Stelarc, who has been exploring body-machine relations for 3 decades, is concerned, as was Clark, with blurring the body/mind dichotomy. In a recent interview addressing his interactive performances on the Internet, when asked if his work was about a mind/body divide, Stelarc answered,

I get so tired and irritated when people talk about the Internet as a kind of strategy for escape from their bodies. They say that the Internet is “mind to mind” communication. Well! If “mind” means this reductive realm of text with a few images thrown in them, that notion of mind for me is a very reductive concept. Mind for me is smell, sight–all these things generate this notion of a mind in the world. It’s not a mind that should be talked of separately from the body. We’re superimposing old metaphysical yearnings onto new technologies. We have this transcendental urge to escape the body, and we’ve superimposed this on technology [31].

Developing his work through direct actions on the body, Stelarc celebrates a fusion of the body and technology–the cyborg hybrid of “wet” and “hard” ware. His explorations of the body’s limitations have included sensory deprivation performances; 24 body-suspension performances with insertions into the skin (in different situations and locations); amplified brain waves, heartbeat, blood flow and muscle signals; and films made inside his lungs, stomach and colon. His strategies to enhance the body’s capabilities have included prosthetics–such as an artificial hand activated by electromyograph signals of the abdominal and leg muscles–and computer technologies promoting body/machine interfacing. In his latest performances involving the Internet, his body became a host for interactions with remote agents. Stelarc’s remote explorations with the body both contrast with and recall Clark’s collective works, in which the body was a host for interaction with local agents.

The affinities between Oiticica’s creations and the participatory paradigm in telematic art are evidenced in the “cyber Parangolé” created by the New York-based X-Art Foundation, a nonprofit art-making organization that involves individuals and groups at the intersections of art, cultural studies and information technologies. The Parangolé (after Oiticica) was presented as part of Blast 4: Bioinformatica, an issue of Blast named after a corresponding exhibition that showed at Sandra Gering Gallery in New York in December 1994 [32].

(Fig. 5b)

Exploring alternative editorial practices, cross-disciplinary hybrids and open-ended relationships with readers, each issue of Blast is presented in a boxed container called a “vehicle.” The issues contain printed matter, computer programs, sound works and objects. They also incorporate live, online elements that, in the words of editor Jordan Crandall, “disrupt and augment the publication’s physical presence. A tension is maintained in this way between its ‘inside’ and ‘outside,’ and the editorial content is deflected into that tensional field” [33]. Crandall continues, “One of the ‘pages’ we experimented with in Blast, is the Parangolé (after Oiticica). This structure is worn on the body and it changes in direct relation to bodily movements” [34].

For the Bioinformatica show, the X-Art Foundation created new, colorful Parangolés worn by participants both at the physical space of the Sandra Gering Gallery and in the virtual space of their MOO (Multi-User Object-Oriented Dimension) on the Internet. In the Parangolés’ “pockets,” both in the gallery and on the Internet, participants could find fragments of texts and maps that were assembled and reassembled through body movement. Participants accessed these texts and maps in different ways in both virtual and real spaces. In the MOO, the user produces action by means of a typed set of codes in order to “reach” into a pocket. Keyboard commands locate a virtual body in telecommunicational space, while in the gallery the body sitting at the computer terminal finds texts, maps and computer diskettes in the pockets of the Parangolé he or she was invited to wear. A double play was produced between the movements of the virtual body and the experiences of the “real” body visiting the gallery. The ambiguity between bodies and Parangolés and between material and immaterial exchanges added new meanings to Oiticica’s work by expanding the Parangolés’ interactive nature in analogy to digital interfaces. Crandall observed:

Like the flat surface of the computer interface, the Parangolé is softened and deepened through interaction: it draws the participant into the space of the artwork similar to the way the interface draws the participant into an alternate, hybrid space or situation. To “put on” the Parangolé or the computer interface (or the environment that seemingly lies behind it) is to merge body and technology, in order to alter or extend body and sociality and to integrate subjects, bodies, and social formations in a process of constructing and inhabiting space [35].

The Parangolés recreated for the Bioinformatica show regained the conceptual fertility they once had by virtue of their direct involvement with viewers, who were invited to wear the brilliantly colored cloaks. Expanding the meaning of these works across cultures and disciplines, the X-Art Foundation revisited the radical, subversive experience of the Parangolés created by the samba dancers at Mangueira in the mid-1960s. Thirty years later, their experience was recreated in the streets of New York by the Merce Cunningham company dancers. A video of the experience was also shown at the Bioinformatica exhibition.

Contrasting with the X-Art Foundation’s dynamic exchange with Oiticica’s Parangolés are the curatorial choices that document Oiticica’s work and thereby relegate its participatory aspects to a past event. In Oiticica’s retrospective exhibition at the Walker Art Center in 1993, for instance, the Parangolés hung in the gallery space as lifelessly as skins shed by an animal long ago. The only reference to their participatory nature was, unfortunately, a video documentary of the exuberant performance of some samba dancers, twirling, holding and dynamically manipulating Oiticica’s materials, fusing the body and space through movement and rhythm. In this case, viewers, paradoxically, were distanced further from the experience of the Parangolés by being encouraged to locate these uncanny creations in the past as expressions of a distant culture’s “exotic” dance.

Curatorial challenges presented by the ephemeral and participatory nature of Clark’s and Oiticica’s works are shared today by artists working with the immateriality of the Internet. In a recent lecture titled “The Digital Museum” presented at the Total Museum Conference held in October 1996 at the Art Institute of Chicago, Roy Ascott, one of the pioneers of telematic art, suggested the obsolescence of museums in relation to new creative spaces opened by telecommunications technology [36]. His criticism of the museum’s curatorial limitations is based on the participatory nature of art as experience and event and on new notions of authorship and of collective creativity that share elements with the work of both Clark and Oiticica. According to Ascott,

To engage in telematic communication is to be at once everywhere and nowhere. In this it is subversive. It subverts the idea of authorship bound up within the solitary individual. It subverts the idea of individual ownership of the works of imagination. It replaces the bricks and mortar of institutions of culture and learning with an invisible college and a floating museum the reach of which is always expanding to include the possibilities of mind and new intimations of reality [37].

Ascott envisions a museum with imagination–one that can grow and evolve to permeate all systems, a new museum for a new perception he terms “cyberception.” He sees the traditional museum as an institution of outdated curatorial practices in need of radical reinvention. According to him, new World Wide Web site designs, interactive guides to collections, rearrangements of the exhibition apparatus and reinventions of the museum’s architecture are simply not enough [38]. He sees museums as outdated metaphorical cages–museum pieces themselves–and states that “the old museum colonized the world” [39]. Continually championing a new architecture of connectivity, Ascott calls for spaces that enable the emergence of new realities. He envisions a museum that is adaptive to complex and increasingly immaterial systems. “With computer-mediated systems of perception, memory, intelligence and communication,” he states, “we are redescribing and reconstructing the world; we inhabit increasingly what is essentially a dataspace, a telematic environment, a virtual reality” [40].

Ascott’s criticism of the museum’s role at the end of the twentieth century echoes Clark’s and Oiticica’s attitudes of the late 1960s and early 1970s toward artistic institutions. In fact, all three have tried to banish the very notion of spectatorship from their works, which stressed the experimental and experiential. After the Eden experience, Oiticica wrote and spoke of the “impossibility of experiences in galleries and museums,” opting for a more marginal mode of working that he termed “subterranean” [41]. Clark’s similar criticism of museums’ limitations in relation to viewer participation has been described by Yve-Alain Bois, a witness to her dramatic confrontation with a museum curator in Paris in 1973 [42].

The abandonment of an aesthetic of closure and completion for one that stresses relations across different modalities, disciplines and dimensions, privileging what is relative and dialogical rather than absolute, identical and monological, opens multiple connections across heterogeneous forms, spaces and cultures. These concepts are, however, not related exclusively to technological approaches. They are tied viscerally to the continuing development of a new aesthetics beyond the fixed immutable object. As Clark’s and Oiticica’s interactive legacies so poignantly illustrate, a participatory art endlessly merges conceptual and perceptual, material and immaterial, embodied and disembodied experiences.

References and Notes


1. Although Clark and Oiticica did not focus on technology as a medium for art making, they ventured into it either conceptually (Clark’s Four Propositions of the late 1960s) or experimentally (Oiticica’s explorations with drugs and audiovisual media in the mid-1970s). Clark’s Four Propositions, two involving film and two involving magnets, remained unrealized. See Lygia Clark, Lygia Clark (Rio de Janeiro: Funarte, 1980) p. 32; and Lygia Clark, “Nostalgia of the Body,” October 69 (Summer 1994) pp. 107-108. Her film proposition “Man at the Center of Events” is very similar to Gary Hill’s video work Crux (1983-1987), in which five cameras were attached to a walking man and the recorded images shown simultaneously in a room in the shape of a cross. Clark’s second film proposition, “Invitation to a Voyage,” involved the relation between real and virtual events that were to take place on the screen and in front of it, in an early form of virtual reality. The project is analogous to Jeffrey Shaw’s The Legible City (1988-1989), in which a stationary bicycle is placed in front of a large screen that projects the roads the cyclist explores. Oiticica’s experimentation with Super-8 film and other audiovisual media in the mid-1970s, when he lived in New York, mixed art and life in an even more radical way, further enhancing his leisure strategies. See Ligia Canongia, Quase Cinema (Rio de Janeiro: Funarte, 1981) pp. 20-23.

On Lygia Clark, see also Guy Brett, “The Proposal of Lygia Clark,” in M. Catherine de Zegher, ed., Inside the Visible (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996); Guy Brett, “Lygia Clark: In Search of the Body,” Art in America (July 1994); Maria Alice Milliet, Lygia Clark: Obra-trajeto (São Paulo: Edusp, 1992); Guy Brett, “A Radical Leap,” in Dawn Ades, ed., Art in Latin America (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1989). Lygia Clark’s works and archives can be seen at the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro, Centro de Documentação Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro. Av. Infante Dom Henrique 188, Parque do Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil, CEP 20021-140. Tel: (021) 210-2188 extension 212; Fax: (021) 240-6351; contact: Anna Maria Innecco.

On Hélio Oiticica, see also Waly Salomão, Hélio Oiticica: Qual é o Parangolé? (Rio de Janeiro: Relume Dumará, 1996); Celso Favaretto, A Invenção de Hélio Oiticica (São Paulo: Edusp, 1992); Guy Brett, “Hélio Oiticica: Reverie and Revolt,” Art in America (January 1989); Lucilla Saccá, Hélio Oiticica: La Sperimentazione Della Libertà (Udine: Campanotto Editore, 1995); and Guy Brett, Catherine David, Chris Dercon, Luciano Figueiredo and Lygia Pape, eds., Hélio Oiticica (Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center and Rotterdam: Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, 1993). This comprehensive catalogue accompanied Oiticica’s international traveling retrospective from February 1992 to February 1994 (Rotterdam: Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art; Paris: Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume; Barcelona: Fundación Antoni Tapies; Lisbon: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian; and Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center). It contains a large part of Hélio Oiticica’s writings as well as essays by Catherine David, Guy Brett and Waly Salomão. Hélio Oiticica’s works and archives can be seen at the Centro de Arte Hélio Oiticica, Rua Luis de Camões 68, Centro, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil, CEP 20060-040. Tel: (021) 232-2213, 232-1104, 232-4213; Fax: (021) 232-1401. Curator: Luciano Figueiredo.


2. Concrete Art movements were formed in Rio de Janeiro (Frente, formed in 1953) and in São Paulo (Ruptura, formed in 1952) as part of the artistic explosion created by rapid industrialization in Brazil during the post-war era. In the visual arts, the theoretical polarization between a “functionalist” tendency in São Paulo and a “vitalist” tendency in Rio de Janeiro resulted in the creation in 1959 of the Neoconcrete Art movement in Rio. Clark and Oiticica were the two most original artists to come out of the Neoconcrete movement. See the Neoconcrete manifesto in October 69 (Summer 1994) pp. 91-95 and also in Dawn Ades, Art in Latin America (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1989) pp. 335-337.


3. For a discussion on the concreteness of thought and ritual in oral-based traditions, see Marilyn Houlberg, “Magique Marasa,” in Donald Cosentino, ed., Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou (Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum, 1995) pp. 273-274. Holberg’s observations about the physicality of ritual in many Afro-American religious ceremonies can illuminate this discussion on the concreteness of Oiticica’s and Clark’s notion of the body. The artistic traditions of Haitian Vodou have also been recently examined in the light of a postmodern aesthetic by M.A. Greenstein, “The Delirium of Faith,” World Art, No. 3 (1996) pp. 30-35.


4. In a discussion between Chilean Nelly Richard and Briton Guy Brett, Brett illustrated the traditional hierarchical gap between South American and Euro-American artists that Clark and Oiticica struggled to overcome: “There was an interesting comparison to be made between the exhibition of Hélio Oiticica, a Brazilian artist, which took place in London at the White Chapel Gallery in 1969, and an exhibition of Robert Morris, the American minimalist, which took place at roughly the same time at the Tate gallery. Both exhibitions had a participatory element for the public, and the differences between the two approaches were very fascinating . . . but it was very unlikely at the time that such comparisons would be made because of the immensely greater prestige enjoyed by American artists in London. To have suggested a comparison on equal terms between a famous American and an unknown Brazilian artist would have been somehow `improper,’ to borrow Nelly Richard’s use of the notion of propriety. For a Brazilian writer to have made claims for Oiticica in direct comparison with Morris would have seemed the height of naive nationalism, and even for a non-Brazilian it would have been difficult. The same naivet? on the part of the British or North Americans, went, well, unnoticed here.” See Witte de With Cahier No. 2 (June 1994) p. 90. For further discussion, see Nelly Richard, “The International Mise-en-scène of Latin American Art,” Witte de With Cahier, No. 2 (June 1994) p. 83; Nelly Richard, “Postmodern Disalignments and Realignments of the Center/Periphery,” Art Journal, No. 51 (Winter 1992); Mari Carmen Ram?1?rez, “Beyond `the Fantastic’: Framing Identity in U.S. Exhibitions of Latin American Art,” Art Journal No. 51 (Winter 1992); Simone Osthoff, “Orson Welles in Brazil and Carmen Miranda in Hollywood: Mixing Chiclets with Bananas,” Blimp 33 (Spring 1996).


5. Guy Brett, Kinetic Art (London: Studio Vista/Reinhold Art, 1968) p. 65. In another article entitled “In Search of the Body,” Brett further emphasized Clark’s and Oiticica’s roots in Brazilian culture, underscoring a special dimension of the body in Brazil: “Like most such generalizations about national character, perhaps, the `popular culture of the body’ exists both as a stereotype and a truth. It is what makes it possible to read a phrase `Brazilian elasticity of body and mind’ in both a football report and an article on Lygia Clark!” This special dimension of sensuality in Brazil poses theoretical challenges both within and without the culture. On one hand, within the Western metaphysical tradition, it reinforces the stereotype of sensuality in opposition to logos along with other related antinomies such as nature/culture and primitive/civilized. On the other hand, as a source of body knowledge inherited from oral traditions, it dissolves the body/mind duality, which was precisely what Clark and Oiticica strove to accomplish. For further discussion, see Simone Osthoff, “Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica: Translating Geometric Abstraction into a Language of the Body,” thesis, Department of Art History, Theory and Criticism (Chicago, IL: School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1996).


6. See Milliet [1] p. 179; and also Maria Alice Milliet, “A Obra É O Trajeto,” MAC Revista, No. 1 (Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo, April 1992) p. 37.


7. Frank Popper, Art–Action and Participation (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1975) p. 13.


8. Lygia Clark, as quoted by Lula Vanderlei and Luciano Figueiredo in Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark Salas Especiais, 22 Bienal Internacional de São Paulo (Rio de Janeiro: Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro and Museum of Modern Art of Bahia) n.p.


9. Max Bill, “The Mathematical Way of Thinking in the Visual Art of Our Time,” in Michele Emmer, ed., The Visual Mind: Art and Mathematics (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993) p. 8. Originally published in Werk 3 (1949).


10. Brett, “Lygia Clark: In Search of the Body” [1] pp. 61-62.


11. Jaron Lanier interviewed by Lynn Hershman Leeson, “Jaron Lanier Interview,” in Clicking In (Seattle, WA: Bay Press, 1996) p. 44.


12. Myron W. Krueger, “The Artistic Origins of Virtual Reality,” SIGGRAPH Visual Proceedings (New York: ACM, 1993) pp. 148-149.


13. The year 1968, a historic milestone in many Western countries, marks in Brazil the beginning of an era of state terrorism. The military government in power since 1964 issued the AI-5 (Fifth Institutional Act) signed by military President General Costa e Silva on 13 December 1968. The AI-5 closed Congress and suspended all political and constitutional rights, initiating a period of political oppression and persecution, youth revolt movements and counterculture. The period is the darkest one in the history of the Brazilian military dictatorship. The suspension of human rights opened the way to political persecution, torture and censorship, making it extremely difficult for artists to work. According to Zuenir Ventura, 10 years after the AI-5 was declared, approximately 500 films, 450 plays, 200 books, dozens of radio programs and more than 500 music lyrics, along with a dozen soap opera episodes, had been censored. See Ventura, 1968 O Ano que Não Terminou (Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1988, p. 285). The AI-5 was responsible for an artistic and intellectual diaspora (Oiticica and Clark included) and for the fragmentation and isolation of artistic production in Brazil. Cultural production in the 1970s became mostly marginal, isolated from the public and hermetic, communicating only to a small elite. During the 1980s, the country slowly returned to democracy, and little of the irreverent experimentalism of the 1960s survived.


14. “Anthropophagia” literally means cannibalism. As employed by the Brazilian avant-garde of the 1920s (the “Anthropophagic Manifesto,” by Oswald de Andrade, was published in 1928), anthropophagy called for a cannibalization of European culture in Brazil. It highlighted Afro-Indigenous myths and traditions as superior to the Christian ones, for they were without the double standards of morality and repressed sexuality that artists saw in the patriarchical Catholic behavior. The Anthropophagic movement pointed to the “out of placeness” of European ideas in Brazil using inversion, humor and parody as subversive anti-colonialist strategies.


15. Lygia Clark as quoted by Brett, “In Search of the Body” [1] p. 62.


16. Hélio Oiticica, in Brett et al., Hélio Oiticica [1] p. 33.


17. Mangueira is the name of one of the oldest and most famous favelas (hillside slums) in Rio de Janeiro. The Mangueira Samba school is among the most popular in Rio. See Alma Guillermoprieto, Samba (New York: Vintage Departures, 1990). Guillermoprieto lived for 1 year in the favela of Mangueira. In Samba, she gives an account of this experience while examining the history and culture of black Brazilians and the social and spiritual energies that inform the rhythms of samba. For a complete history of Rio de Janeiro’s samba schools, see S?rgio Cabral, As Escolas de Samba do Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro: Lumiar Editora, 1996).


18. Adopting an aesthetic of mixing and contamination, the Tropicalist movement of the late 1960s aggressively combined high and low and industrial and rural cultures, merging political nationalism with aesthetic internationalism and rock and roll with samba. It included all the arts–theater, cinema, poetry, visual arts and popular Brazilian music (especially the works of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa and Maria Betania). It also inaugurated the “aesthetic of garbage,” explored by the second phase of Cinema Novo. It represented a return to cannibalist strategies in the arts, leaving behind the more austere “aesthetic of hunger,” with its simplistic Manichean opposition between pure popular nationalism and the alienation of international mass culture. An interesting parallel between Oiticica and the Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha, who became the spokesperson for the New Latin American Cinema, is made by Katherine David in “The Great Labyrinth,” in Brett et al., Hélio Oiticica [1] pp. 248-259.


19. Oiticica, “Tropic?lia” (4 March 1968), in Brett et al., Hélio Oiticica [1] p. 126.


20. Oiticica, in Brett et al., Hélio Oiticica [1] p. 124.


21. Oiticica’s critical views of Brazilian art and culture were condensed in his 1973 article “Brazil Diarrhea,” reprinted in Brett et al., Hélio Oiticica [1] pp. 17-20.


22. Oiticica, “Appearance of the Supra-Sensorial” (November/December 1967) in Brett et al., Hélio Oiticica [1] p. 130.


23. Oiticica, untitled text, in Kynaston L. McShine, ed., Information (New York: Museum of Modern Art, Summer 1970) p. 103. See also “Appearance of the Supra-Sensorial” [22] pp. 127-30.


24. Oiticica, untitled text, in McShine [23] p. 103.


25. Oiticica quoted by Brett in “Hélio Oiticica: Reverie and Revolt” [1] p. 120.


26. Mario Pedrosa, “Ambiental Art, Post-Modern Art, Hélio Oiticica,” introduction to Hélio Oiticica, Aspiro ao Grande Labirinto (Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1986) pp. 9-13. Translation mine.


27. Pedrosa [26] p. 9. Translation mine.


28. The “experimental exercise of liberty” is a phrase created by Mario Pedrosa and quoted often by Oiticica in his writings. See, for example, Hélio Oiticica, “Experimentar o Experimental,” Arte em Revista No. 5 (São Paulo: Centro de Estudos de Arte Contemporânea, ed. Kairós, 1981) p. 50. See also Oiticica, “The Appearance of the Supra-Sensorial” [20] p. 127.


29. Stelarc, letter to the author dated 27 October 1996.


30. Ivan Sutherland, “The Ultimate Display,” Proceedings of the IFIP Congress (1965) pp. 506-508. (IFIP stands for “International Federation for Information Processing.”) Ivan Sutherland, “A Head-Mounted Three-Dimensional Display,” Proceedings of the Fall Joint Computer Conference (1968) pp. 757-764.


31. Stelarc interviewed by Annie Griffin, “We Can Rebuild Him,” Guardian (Saturday 4 May 1996). See also Stelarc, Obsolete Body Suspensions (San Francisco: Contemporary Art Press), 1984; Stelarc, “Prosthetics, Robotics and Remote Existence: Postevolutionary Strategies,” Leonardo 24, No. 5, 591-595 (1991); on the World Wide Web, see


32. See Margot Lovejoy, Postmodern Currents, Art and Artists in the Age of Electronic Media, 2nd Ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997) p. 235.


33. Jordan Crandall, “From Pages to Parangolés,” in Mute, Digitalartcritique, No. 3 (Autumn 1995).


34. Crandall [33].


35. Jordan Crandall, “Bioinformatic Alignments,” Blast 4: Bioinformatica (New York: The X-Art Foundation, 1994) n.p. Also published in Medien.Kunst.Passagen (Winter 1995) pp. IIa+b.


36. See the Total Museum World Wide Web site at; see also Roy Ascott,


37. Roy Ascott quoted by Lovejoy [32] p. 212.


38. Illustrating Ascott’s argument (albeit unwillingly) was a recent article by Lee Rosenbaum addressing the plans for the expansion of MOMA in New York, which was explored by the lecture series “Imagining the Museum of Modern Art in the 21st Century.” The idea of a new exhibition design put forth by Terence Riley, chief curator of architecture and design, aims at substituting for a linear narrative one that is more flexible and multiple. Rosenbaum explains, “Gone will be the tidy delineation of a single, coherent saga of modern art’s progress from post-Impressionism to Cubism to abstraction.” He concludes the article by noting that “today’s diversity of artistic and curatorial sensibilities may have rendered the old articles of modernist faith obsolete.” MOMA’s director and curators are endorsing Bill Viola’s suggestive metaphor of the World Wide Web site with lateral and vertical choices across time and space as a desirable model for the museum space of the next century. This may give the new MOMA a cyber-inspired flavor, but with the exception of video, the museum continues to ignore electronic art per se and the artistic immaterial exchanges that use the Internet itself as a site for aesthetic explorations. Whether with linear or non-linear narratives, judging from these initial plans, the MOMA will continue to define art for the twenty-first century with a canonic object-based aesthetic. See Rosenbaum, Art in America (February 1997) p. 25.


39. From my notes on Ascott’s lecture “The Digital Museum,” presented at the Total Museum Conference on 26 October 1996 at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Rubloff Auditorium.


40. Roy Ascott, “Connectivity: Art and Interactive Telecommunications,” Leonardo 24, No. 2, 115-117 (1991).


41. See Oiticica, “Depoimento,” in Arte em Revista No. 7 (São Paulo: Centro de Estudos de Arte Contemporânea, 1973) p. 44. While alive, Oiticica always recontextualized earlier works within new bodies of work, acknowledging the passage of time and the live nature of his concepts. The relationship between Oititica’s legacy and museum institutions is also addressed by Brett in “The Experimental Exercise of Liberty,” in Brett et al., Hélio Oiticica [1] pp. 222-224 and in “Musem Parangolé,” TRANS Vol. 1, No. 1, 6-10 (1995); also on the World Wide Web at


42. Yve-Alain Bois, “Lygia Clark,” October 69 pp. 85-88.

This article is part of the Leonardo special project A Radical Intervention: The Brazilian Contribution to the International Electronic Art Movement,” guest edited by Eduardo Kac.

For the print version of this article, see Leonardo Volume 30, No. 4 (1997), available from the MIT Press.

Updated 23 November 2004.

Leonardo On-Line © 2004 ISAST
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On the Visionary Harmonic Abstractions of Alma Thomas

Alma Thomas’ work deserves a major retrospective. Perhaps the book on the use of color in painting by African-Diaspora painters that focuses on the year 1971, forthcoming this year from MoMA will begin a sustained conversation and a full-scale exhibition of her art and a richly researched and illustrated definitive catalog is forthcoming.

until then

Vincent Johnson

Artist and Writer in Los Angeles.

Curator of The Photographic Imaginary, and exhibition opening in Los Angeles in the Spring of 2017.

Museums Bring Pioneering Painter Alma Thomas out of Storage for Her First Major Retrospective in over 30 Years

Portrait of Alma Thomas © Michael Fischer, 1976. Courtesy of the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
“Through color, I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.”

In 1972, at age 80, Alma Thomas was the first African-American woman to receive a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum. Interviewed that same year by The New York Times, the artist, who grew up in Columbus, Georgia, before settling in Washington, D.C., said: “One of the things we couldn’t do was go into museums, let alone think of hanging our pictures there. My, times have changed. Just look at me now.”

Thomas, who achieved widespread recognition late in her lifetime for her colorful, exuberant abstract paintings, is once again in the spotlight after slipping from the mainstream art-historical canon following her death in 1978. Last year, the White House hung a newly acquired Thomas painting in the Obamas’ dining room, while the Whitney pulled another canvas by the artist from storage, juxtaposing it prominently with a Cy Twombly painting in the inaugural exhibition of its new building. “Thomas is a legend and a discovery at the same time,” says Ian Berry, director of Skidmore College’s Tang Teaching Museum in Saratoga Springs, New York, where a major retrospective of the artist’s work opens on February 6th. Berry has organized the show with Lauren Haynes, associate curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, where the retrospective will travel in July.

The first graduate of Howard University’s fledgling art department in 1924, Thomas taught art for 35 years in a segregated junior high school in Washington, D.C., while always making her own work. In the 1950s, taking night and weekend classes at American University, Thomas shifted from representational painting to abstraction. After retiring as a school teacher in 1960, she committed herself full-time to her art. Thomas forged a highly personal style of brilliantly hued short brushstrokes aligned in dazzling vertical stripes and radiating circular compositions inspired by natural phenomena like the patterns of light in her garden and images from the Apollo moon missions. “Through color, I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man,” the artist said in 1970.

Left: Alma Thomas, Cherry Blossom Symphony, 1973. Collection of halley k harrisburg and Michael Rosenfeld, New York. Right: Alma Thomas, Iris, Tulips, Jonquils, and Crocuses, 1969. On loan from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift on Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay. Images courtesy of the Frances Young Tang Museum.

Michael Rosenfeld, the primary dealer of her work for the past 25 years, says it took courage for black artists during the civil rights era to buck the expectation to make work representing African-American life and struggles. “Her decision to be an abstractionist was in itself a major social-political statement—that a woman of color can be part of the larger picture of American painting,” says Rosenfeld, whose Chelsea gallery had a solo exhibition of Thomas’s work last spring. Along with loaning several canvases to this new retrospective at the Tang, he has shepherded her works into the collections of numerous institutions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, as well as the White House.

When it opens next month, the Skidmore show will begin with a salon-style hanging of some 30 small studies and sketchbook pages working out color and form, about half of which have never been exhibited. The curators are borrowing these works (dating from 1960 on) from the Columbus Museum in Georgia, where Thomas, who never married and had no heirs, left her archival materials. (The artist also left many paintings to what is now called the Smithsonian American Art Museum.) “This first room sets up her pathway to abstraction and gives a view into her process,” says Berry, who will also include the large canvas March on Washington (1964), along with two studies for it. The only semi-representational painting in the retrospective, it shows her intimate involvement with the civil rights movement. “The signs and the faces become abstract shapes in that painting,” says Berry.

Left: Alma Thomas, Splash Down Apollo 13, 1970. Right: Alma Thomas, Apollo 12 “Splash Down,” 1970. Images courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, and the Frances Young Tang Museum.
“One of the things we couldn’t do was go into museums, let alone think of hanging our pictures there. My, times have changed. Just look at me now.”

The exhibition will also underscore Thomas’s engagement with flowers and nature distilled in large-scale canvases, such as Breeze Rustling Through Fall Flowers (1968). These works, highlighting Thomas’s signature style, bristle with broken stripes of almost every color in the spectrum, with different hues peeking through the top layer of color. Another room will focus on paintings influenced by imagery from early space flights, including Snoopy Sees Earth Wrapped in Sunset (1970) from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The orange orb brimming with rows of staccato brushstrokes, balanced perfectly inside an atmospheric square field of paler orange, is both minimal in geometry and maximal in optical effects.

The final gallery will show paintings from the mid-1970s, when Thomas’s brush marks start to deviate from their ordered lines to form rhythmic webs and mosaic patterns. “She’s in her 80s and making her most confident nature-inspired images,” says Berry. In the final painting included, Hydrangeas Spring Song (1976), Thomas’s deep blue marks fall free-form like wedges and commas through white space, breaking apart as they tumble.

For the curators, who are pulling together many works never or rarely exhibited, “it’s the kind of show where you feel like you’re really adding something to the telling of art history,” says Berry. While the Smithsonian put on a major Thomas exhibition in 1981, three years after her death, this is the first museum retrospective since a 1998 show organized by the Fort Wayne Museum of Art in Indiana. “As museums start pulling their Alma Thomas works out and showing them more, people almost unanimously are moved by them,” says Berry. “All these paintings that we’re borrowing from great museums, maybe when they get them back they’ll put them up rather than back in storage. That’s definitely a hope and a goal.”

Alma Thomas, Deep Red Roses Chant, 1972. Image courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York, and the Frances Young Tang Museum.

—Hilarie Sheets

“Alma Thomas” will be on view at the The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, Feb. 6–Jun. 5, 2016, and at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, July 14–October 30, 2016.


A small but wondrous Alma Thomas retrospective at the Studio Museum in Harlem put me in mind of a desert plant that spends all year as an innocent cactus and then, in the middle of the night, blooms. Thomas, who died in 1978, at the age of eighty-six, was a junior-high-school art teacher in Washington, D.C., whose own paintings were modernist and sophisticated but of no special note until she retired from teaching, in 1960, and took up color-intensive abstraction. Her best acrylics and watercolors of loosely gridded, wristy daubs are among the most satisfying feats (and my personal favorites) of the Washington Color School, a group that included Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and others associated with the prescriptive aesthetics of the critic Clement Greenberg: painting shorn of imagery, the illusion of depth, and rhetorical gesture. Wielding brushes, Thomas eschewed the group’s signal technique of working strictly with stains of liquid paint on raw canvas, proving it inessential to an ordered glory of plangent hues. She seemed to absorb in a gulp the mode’s ideas—rational means, hedonistic appeals—and to add, with no loss of formal integrity, a heterodox lyricism inspired by nature. The boldly experimental work of her last years suggests the alacrity of a young master, but it harvested the resources of a lifetime.

Thomas, who was African-American, was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1891. Her father was a businessman, her mother a dressmaker. She had three younger sisters. In 1907, the family moved to Washington and took a house in a prosperous neighborhood, in which she lived for the rest of her life. She concentrated on math in high school, and dreamed of becoming an architect. Unsurprisingly, given the time’s odds against her race and her sex, in 1914 she found herself teaching kindergarten. In 1921, she enrolled at Howard University as a home-economics student, but gravitated to the art department, newly founded by the black Impressionist painter James V. Herring, and became the school’s first graduate in fine arts. Later, she earned a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College and studied painting at American University, where she encountered Greenberg’s doctrines.

Though she initially hung back from a studio career, Thomas was active in Washington’s cultural circles, including a “little Paris salon” of black artists, in the late nineteen-forties, which was organized by the educator and artist Lois Mailou Jones. Thomas’s modern-art influences included Vassily Kandinsky and Henri Matisse, especially after she saw a show of his paper cutouts at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1961. Recognition came slowly but steadily. When she became the first black woman to have a solo show at the Whitney Museum, in 1972, she told the Times, “One of the things we couldn’t do was go into museums, let alone think of hanging our pictures there.” She added, “Look at me now.”

Thomas said that she was moved to paint abstractions after studying the shapes of a holly tree in her garden, and that she based her color harmonies on her flower beds—or on the way she imagined them looking from the air. Space exploration fascinated her. A painting of a disk in reds, oranges, and yellows is titled “Snoopy Sees Earth Wrapped in Sunset” (1970)—a whimsy that seems meant to deflect any hint of mysticism. Thomas was not sentimental. Nor, after painting some semi-abstract, resonant oil sketches of the 1963 March on Washington, was she political. She said, in 1970, “Through color, I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.” She did so with panache in such works as “Wind, Sunshine, and Flowers” (1968), which deploys touches of hot, warm, and drenchingly cool colors in vertical columns. Intervals of white canvas align here and there to form horizontally curving fissures: wind evoked with droll economy.

Thomas suffered increasing health problems, but her work developed apace. She closed the gaps between her surface strokes with underlying colors in the darkling “Stars and Their Display” (1972) and in the shimmering “Arboretum Presents White Dogwood” (1972). A startling late work, “Hydrangeas Spring Song” (1976), heralds a new style, with swift patches, squiggles, and glyphs (crosses, crescents) in two blues, energetically scattered on white. It feels quite as up-to-date, for its moment, as anything being painted then in New York or Cologne, where abstraction was sprouting representational marks and references on the way to revived figurative styles. The uncompleted arc of her talent makes her a perennial artist’s artist, consulted by young abstract painters even now. Thomas didn’t change art history, but she gave it a twist that merits attention, respect, and something very like love.



Arts in Review

Art Review

Alma Thomas’ Review
Alma Thomas was an underappreciated artist who immersed herself in a lifetime of learning and beauty
By Judith H. Dobrzynski
March 1, 2016 4:50 p.m. ET

Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Hanging in the last gallery of “Alma Thomas,” a large evocative abstract painting titled “Cherry Blossom Symphony” (1973) seems to place viewers amid hundreds of the delicate pink flowers. Or hovering above them, looking down on a sea of pink. Composed not of discernible petals, but of rosy-hued daubs of paint piled on under-layers of blues, greens and reds, it’s a marvel, the conceptual equivalent of a warm spring day.
Alma Thomas
Tang Teaching Museum

Through June 5

“Cherry Blossom Symphony” is one of several wonders here at Skidmore College’s Tang Teaching Museum, which has gathered 18 paintings and 27 works on paper to showcase the talent of an underappreciated artist. Inspired by nature and influenced by Matisse and Kandinsky, Thomas (1891-1978) created exuberant works long on pattern, rhythm and, most of all, color. As she once said, “color for me is life.”

Thomas was African-American, but that was no play on words. Though she sometimes touched on racial matters, her identity did not define—or limit—her work. She also said, another time, “through color, I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.”

Thomas was born in Columbus, Ga., during what some historians have called the most oppressive decade of the Jim Crow South. Her family departed in 1907 for better lives in Washington, D.C., where Thomas seemed to flourish. She earned a teacher’s certificate and taught art for a few years. Then she attended Howard University, graduating with the first degree in fine arts it ever conferred, and went on to earn a master’s in art education from Columbia University Teachers College. Returning to the capital, she took a job teaching art at Shaw Junior High School, where she remained until she retired at the age of 69.

Having always dabbled in making art, Thomas now started to take painting classes at nearby American University. She joined the Washington art scene, associating with Morris Louis, Sam Gilliam and other members of the Washington Color School, though she was not really one of them. Their art was about formalism (line, color, and other purely visual elements of a composition); hers had more life. Franz Bader, one of the most prominent and influential dealers in Washington, gave her numerous exhibitions and sold many of her paintings.

In 1972, a dozen years after her retirement, the Whitney Museum of American Art presented a solo exhibition of her work—its first-ever show devoted to an African-American woman. (From it, the museum bought “Mars Dust,” from 1972, a beguiling red with blue work structurally akin to “Cherry Blossom Symphony” that was on view when the Whitney inaugurated its new building last year with a celebration of its permanent collection.)

The Tang exhibition opens with some early works. Two abstract canvases, “Yellow and Blue” (1959) and “Untitled” (1960), hint at her way with color, but are derivative and undistinguished. If Thomas had stopped there, she would not have merited this exhibition. But three figurative paintings nearby show her coming into her own.

In “March on Washington” (1964), Thomas deployed blocks of color as protest signs and loosely rendered protesters, whose featureless faces are much like the trademark daubs she would later use in her abstract works. The two other figurative works (c. 1964) are oil sketches for “March on Washington” that show her experimenting with space: One devotes more of the canvas to the signs, the other to the people. In the final version, the people won.

It’s all uphill from there. Her evolution takes place before your eyes in the trove of works on paper in the next gallery (c. 1960-1978). In them, Thomas experiments, working out spatial and structural issues. Many can stand alone as sumptuous watercolors.

Thomas painted abstractions of what she saw, often from the windows of her home. Her “earth” works, four on view here, generally look like grids of vertical stripes in bright colors. They are actually shimmering, aerial abstractions of rows of flowers in her garden, which she considered a relief from daily indignities she and her neighbors suffered.

Thomas was also enthralled with space exploration, so she imagined the cosmos seen from space. Still mostly abstract, still latticed in structure, her visualizations are hotly colored visions of the heavens and the earth. Perhaps the best, “Starry Night and the Astronauts” (1972), reveals just a corner of light—a blood red, orange and yellow sunset—on a deep blue-black canvas.

The last gallery contains, for me, her finest works. Alongside “Cherry Blossom Symphony” there is the similarly patterned, equally subtle “Arboretum Presents White Dogwood” (1972), softly colored in white and blue. “White Roses Sing and Sing” (1976) and “Scarlet Sage Dancing a Whirling Dervish” (1976) are brighter in color and bolder in pattern. They are her “mosaics,” fashioned from irregularly shaped “tiles” of paint.

“Alma Thomas,” which will move to the Studio Museum in Harlem this summer, shows her to be a spirited artist who got better and more innovative with age.

Ms. Dobrzynski writes about culture for many publications and blogs at


The Changing Complex Profile of Black Abstract Painters

by Hilary m. Sheets, ART news, June 04, 2014

Donald Judd didn’t have to explain himself. Why do I have to?” asks Jennie C. Jones, an African American abstract painter who has grappled with the issue of how her work can or should reflect her race. “Fred Sandback can make this beautiful line and not have to have it literally be a metaphor for his cultural identity.”

Jones, 45, sidestepped the debates around multiculturalism that were raging when she was in school in the 1980s and gravitated toward Minimalism. Yet over the last decade, she has forged a conceptual link in her work between the histories of abstraction and of modern jazz in America—“black guys in the 1950s taking jazz into the concert hall and making it this bluesy hybrid with Bach,” as she puts it.

In her recent show at Sikkema Jenkins in New York, an atonal sound environment accompanied her monochromatic paintings that had acoustic panels attached to the canvases. Strips of fluorescent color painted on the edges of the canvases bounced off the white walls and created a sense of movement, rhythm, and vibration. “This art and music juncture,” she says, “gave me the permission to point to something in the room that said, ‘I didn’t fall out of the sky.’”

The contributions of African American artists to the inventions of abstract painting have historically been overlooked, or else fraught with the kind of questions faced by Jones. “Generations of black abstract painters never seem to be celebrated,” says Valerie Cassel Oliver, senior curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, where she recently organized “Black in the Abstract,” a two-part exhibition that focused on the history of African American painters working in abstraction. She placed younger artists, including Jones, Shinique Smith, and Angel Otero, in dialogue with members of the older generation, such as Felrath Hines, Alma Thomas, and Romare Bearden, who were producing seminal works in the 1960s.

“You find these artists being marginalized on both ends of the spectrum,” Cassel Oliver continues. “There was this manifesto with the Black Arts Movement that you did work that reflected the beauty of that community in no uncertain terms,” she says, referring to a group that coalesced in the 1960s to promote social and political engagement in art and literature. “Oftentimes abstract painting is not as celebrated as more figurative work by the black community. From the mainstream art world, it’s just the sense of not being preoccupied with what black artists are doing, period.”

The 1960 canvas Strange Land, included in the Houston show, would be unrecognizable to most viewers as a work by Bearden. It wasn’t until 1964, when he started making collages inspired by the rituals and rhythms of African American life, that he achieved acclaim. Bearden and his contemporary Jacob Lawrence, whose subject matter was similar, were the most renowned African American artists of their time. Their sensitive portrayals of black families were the kind of works many thought were needed and that they expected from black artists. Yet Bearden, in his 1946 essay “The Negro Artist’s Dilemma,” bristled at the tendency to critique work by blacks on “sociological rather than esthetic” merits. His extensive experimentation with Abstract Expressionism from 1952 to 1964 has gone virtually unnoticed. The first exhibition devoted to this lost decade of his work is being prepared by the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, New York.

“It took a lot of integrity and a lot of courage for an African American artist to be an abstractionist in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s even,” says Michael Rosenfeld, who organized “Beyond the Spectrum: Abstraction in African American Art, 1950–1975” at his Chelsea gallery earlier this year. The show brought together what Rosenfeld calls the first-generation African American abstract artists—Charles Alston, Harold Cousins, Beauford Delaney, Norman Lewis, Alma Thomas, and Hale Woodruff—and the second generation, including Frank Bowling, Edward Clark, Melvin Edwards, Sam Gilliam, Richard Hunt, Al Loving, Howardena Pindell, William T. Williams, and Jack Whitten.

Rosenfeld points out that Norman Lewis (1909–79) participated in the landmark symposium organized in 1950 by Robert Motherwell and Lewis’s friend Ad Reinhardt and held at Studio 35 in New York, where the artists present debated what to call the new art movement. (Abstract Exressionism was the term that eventually prevailed.) Yet Lewis is routinely omitted from the narrative of this defining moment in American art. The first comprehensive overview of his career opens in November 2015 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

Alma Thomas was picked up by the Martha Jackson Gallery in the 1960s and was the first African American woman to have an exhibition at the Whitney Museum in 1972. Yet she is not well known today.

“The African American Abstract Expressionists are part of the same movement as their white counterparts,” says Rosenfeld, “delving within themselves and trying to express something universal.”

While all these artists resisted the pressure to paint images that told stories of black experience, most were very politically engaged. “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties,” on view at the Brooklyn Museum through July 6, includes works by several committed abstractionists who found ways to meld their art and activism.

The 80-year-old Sam Gilliam, known for his ravishing color-field canvases that he sometimes drapes sculpturally on the wall, painted a monumental canvas stained and splattered all over with hot pinks and reds, titled Red April (1970), in direct response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968.

Lewis’s Untitled (Alabama) from 1967 shows a crowd of abstracted angular figures in white packed into a bladelike shape slicing through a black field. The artist always disavowed overt narrative content in his work, but the visual suggestion of hooded Klansmen together with the title clearly alludes to the civil rights movement.

“Lewis became a beacon for the next generation, moving into an abstract space and saying, ‘I don’t have to put that burden of representation on my work,’” says Kellie Jones, cocurator of “Witness” and associate professor of art history and archeology at Columbia University. “Somebody like Jack Whitten makes the same decision.”

The Brooklyn show includes Whitten’s Birmingham 1964, in which a newspaper photograph of a confrontation in Birmingham is partially revealed under layers of stocking mesh and black oil paint, like a wound that can’t be covered over. The 74-year-old artist, who grew up in Alabama and moved to New York in 1960 as an art student, revered the Abstract Expressionists, many of whom he met at the Cedar Tavern. While Whitten said he felt pressure to make work about the civil rights movement in the 1960s—and wanted to do so—he made a decisive leap into abstraction in 1970.

“If I was going to get around Bill de Kooning, first of all I had to go faster than he, and second of all I had to do something much larger than he,” says Whitten, who created a 12-foot-wide tool he called the “developer” to drag paint in a single gesture across the entire picture plane. (This was a decade before Gerhard Richter began his heralded abstract paintings using a similar technique.) Whitten, who shows at Alexander Gray Associates in New York, will be the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in September.

As a graduate student at Yale in the mid-1960s Howardena Pindell, 71, also found inspiration in the work of the older generation of abstractionists —namely Ad Reinhardt’s paintings of close-value colors and Larry Poons’s Op art canvases of circles and ovals. Throughout the ’70s, Pindell experimented with color, surface, and texture. She cut out hundreds of tiny paper dots with a standard hole puncher, collaged them onto cut-and-quilted canvases, and smothered them in layers of acrylic, dye, sequins, glitter, and powder. One of them, the pale, luminous Untitled #20: Dutch Wives, Circled and Squared (1978), was included in “Black in the Abstract.”

“I remember going with my abstract work to the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the director at the time said to me, ‘Go downtown and show with the white boys,’” says Pindell, adding that William T. Williams and Al Loving met with the same kind of response. “We were basically considered traitors because we didn’t do specifically didactic work.”

Pindell, who just had an exhibition at Garth Greenan in New York, says her conscious intention was to explore the esthetic possibilities of the circle when she started on those works. Then she was startled by a childhood memory that came back to her. On a car ride through Kentucky in the 1950s, she and her father, who lived in Philadelphia, stopped at a root-beer stand and were served mugs with red circles on the bottom.

“I asked my father, ‘What is this red circle?’” she recalls. “He said, ‘That’s because we’re black and we cannot use the same utensils as the whites.’ I realized that’s really the origin of my being driven to try to change the circle in my mind, trying to take the sting out of that.”

Odili Donald Odita, 48, says that he feels indebted to the persistence of the older generation of black abstract artists who asserted personal freedom in the face of an art market that rewarded cultural and political stereotypes. In the early 1990s, as a young artist out of graduate school at Bennington College in Vermont, where he studied the work of mainstream abstract painters such as Helen Frankenthaler and Kenneth Noland, Odita got a job at Kenkeleba House in New York, owned by the painter Joe Overstreet, who collected and showed work by African American artists. Stunned that he had never heard of these artists, Odita began a project to interview abstract painters from the 1970s and 1980s, such as Pindell, Loving, Edward Clark, Frank Bowling, and Stanley Whitney. Odita’s research grew into a series of talks he has given at universities over the years.

“Any kind of formal invention in the work of black artists was seen as, if not second rate, then something done the second time around,” says Odita, noting that Clark laid claim to making the first shaped painting—before Frank Stella—and that the king-making art critic Clement Greenberg regularly visited Bowling’s studio but never took the opportunity to write one word in support of his work. “In the competition of the avant garde in modern art, these older-generation African Americans felt disenfranchised and marginalized in the race to advance art.”

Odita didn’t want his own work subsumed under the standard narrative of Stella and Noland, and all this information helped him navigate his path as an abstract artist. Because his family fled the civil war in Nigeria when he was a baby and settled in Ohio, he grew up with the duality of African traditions at home and American pop culture in school. In 1999, he started making geometric paintings in which shards of vibrant colors zigzag and abut in compositions that suggest colliding cultures and emotions.

“I wanted people to identify the trope of Africa with this structure and color and see the patterns of one world and another world pushing into the space of the painting,” Odita says. He draws on the palette and designs of African textiles, TV test patterns, the Nigerian landscape, and suburban wallpaper in his work, which he shows at Jack Shainman in New York. “If it’s successful, it doesn’t end in that trope. Then people start engaging with other things that are occurring—texture, color, the dynamic of the composition, light, what the space creates, how it relates to your body and mind,” he says.

James Little, 60, also has an affinity for color, design, and structure in his hard-edge abstract paintings that are strongly influenced by jazz. “I’ve figured out ways of suggesting movement, rhythm, speed, and how to shift color,” says Little, pointing out that de Kooning and Piet Mondrian were also responding directly to jazz. “I felt that abstraction, coming from my background, which was a very segregated upbringing in Tennessee, reflected for me the best expression of self-determination and optimism and freedom. I’ve had to do an uphill battle in a lot of ways in the art world on both sides, amongst the blacks and whites, but I’ve just really stuck with what I believe in.” His canvas Juju Boogie Woogie (2013) was included in “Black in the Abstract.”

June Kelly, whose gallery represents Little, has noticed a positive shift in the art world at large toward black abstract painters. “There’s a wonderful group of collectors who are more receptive to the work of black abstract painters now,” says Kelly. “As they read more and look, they see the need to open up their collections. The writings and exhibitions of black historians and curators such as David Driskell, Kellie Jones, Richard J. Powell, Lowery Stokes Sims, Judith Wilson, and Valerie Cassel Oliver are making a difference.”

Jennie C. Jones is thrilled by the large number of black collectors who are now interested in her work. She credits, in part, Studio Museum director Thelma Golden, who has organized such shows as “Energy/ Experimentation: Black Artists and Abstraction 1964–1980” in 2006.

“Over the last 20 years, she has been really educating black collectors to step away from focusing on the WPA era,” says Jones, who will have a solo show at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston in October. “I have black collectors today who say, ‘I’ve always been in love with Russian Constructivism, and now I feel I can have something close to that but reframed in a new context.’”

Inside the superb: SFMOMA


The newly expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Credit Henrik Kam/Sfmoma

SAN FRANCISCO — Inside the newly expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, one of the most startling sights is the absence of works on the towering walls flanking the main zigzagging staircase.

The blank walls are awaiting the arrival of a pair of paintings next year by Julie Mehretu, the Ethiopian-born, New York-based artist. “She’s working on the commission,” said Gary Garrels, a senior curator, climbing stairs with the ease of someone who has given many museum tours. “The paintings are so large that she has to use an old church in Harlem as her studio.”

When the museum officially reopens on May 14, after a three-year closing, a $305 million addition by the architecture firm Snohetta and a campaign that elicited some 3,000 works of art from donors, it will have bragging rights on many fronts.

Spanning a full city block at its widest, with a dynamic white structure that resembles a cruise ship, the museum will be the largest in the Bay Area. It will have more exhibition space dedicated to photography than the Getty in Los Angeles, and more gallery space than the current Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

It will also have extraordinary concentrations of 20th-century art: Calder mobiles, Warhol silk-screens, Richter paintings and LeWitt wall drawings across three floors, thanks to a 100-year loan by the Gap founders Don and Doris Fisher that necessitated the expansion.

But curators at the museum, who don’t want it to be seen as the Fisher Museum of Modern Art, are already working hard behind the scenes to bring the museum into the 21st century, with major commissions like Ms. Mehretu’s, as well as lesser-known discoveries. They are seeking to bring a visual and cultural diversity to the museum that the Fisher collection, rooted in blue-chip work of the white male art world of 1960s America and Germany, is lacking.

“S.F. MoMA has always had a commitment to the emerging, the experimental and the new, but that has waxed and waned over the decades,” Mr. Garrels said. “It’s more important than ever that we strongly commit to being engaged with contemporary art in its global dynamics.”

“Global contemporary” is a buzz phrase heard in museum board rooms throughout the country. “It will be interesting to see: What’s going to set them apart from every other museum in every other city that has contemporary ambitions?” said Ian Berry, who runs the Tang museum in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and was an early visitor to the Snohetta building. (He called it “a great achievement.”)

Among the contemporary initiatives underway are film programs, community-driven projects and residencies for performance artists. The museum’s director, Neal Benezra, plans to hire a curator this fall to focus solely on contemporary art “across all collecting categories,” shaking up departments long organized by medium: photography, media arts, architecture and design, and — Mr. Garrels’s area — painting and sculpture.

Mr. Benezra has earmarked one large lobby for new art, once the Fishers’ 214-ton Richard Serra sculpture is removed in a couple of years. “It will be like our version of Turbine Hall,” he said, referring to the Tate Modern’s vast and enormously flexible space.

Elsewhere in the building, signs of the museum’s commitment to the hyper-contemporary and geopolitically diverse are already visible. A project room on the fourth floor has a new Bauhaus-inspired installation by the Berlin-based Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes, while the seventh floor (the top floor for visitors) has a survey of recent donations: major pieces by Ai Weiwei, Mark Bradford and Mark Grotjahn, as well as some less predictable choices.

One surprise is Brad Kahlhamer’s 2014 hanging wire sculpture “Super Catcher,” which looks like dream catchers caught in an archaic fisherman’s net, studded with small bells. “The rattling makes me think of native dance rituals,” said Mr. Garrels, who placed the work in a new gallery exploring “issues of cultural identity.”

Another standout is a vibrantly patterned and painted collage, by the Nigerian-born Njideka Akunyili Crosby, that depicts her own cross-cultural wedding. She kneels in traditional African dress and offers her American husband, who wears jeans, the ritualistic palm wine. “We bought it straight from her show at the Studio Museum, before she even had a gallery,” Mr. Garrels said.

Katie Paige, a trustee at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (and whose father, Charles Schwab, is board chairman), has started a contemporary-art support group to organize studio visits with artists, trips to biennials and fairs. It’s meant for new collectors, including the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors whom everyone in cultural philanthropy seems to be chasing, with little success.

The guests at the first event, a March conversation between Mr. Garrels and the artist Carol Bove at Ms. Paige’s home, included the Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger; his wife, Kaitlyn Trigger; and the venture capitalist Anthony Schiller, who works with the longtime museum patron Dick Kramlich.

“Maybe we can’t compete with L.A. or New York in terms of the depth of museums or galleries or community of artists,” Ms. Paige said. “But we certainly compete very strongly on the collectors’ end. And this group is a way for the museum to reach a new generation, a younger donor base.”

A long-running group affiliated with the museum supports Bay Area emerging artists; this newer one has a more global focus, in line with the curators’ expanding interests.

“I think their big challenge,” said Mr. Berry, the Tang Museum director, “is to be attentive to their local audience and community of artists while simultaneously finding the time and resources and energy to get out and see as much as they can in the larger world of art making.”




SFMOMA’s reopening: a ‘game-changer for San Francisco’ – and contemporary art

With its newly acquired collection of Richters and Warhols and a multi-million dollar renovation, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is aiming to join the top rank of galleries. Ahead of its reopening, Paul Laity takes a tour

Grand entrance … Richard Serra’s Sequence (2006), in the Roberts Family Gallery at at SFMOMA.
Grand entrance … Richard Serra’s Sequence (2006), in the Roberts Family Gallery at at SFMOMA. Photograph: © Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA

For years, workers at the San Francisco HQ of the clothing chain Gap walked past an enormous piece of fruit. At the entrance to the company cafeteria sat the 8ft-high Geometric Apple Core by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen – the “Gapple”, a classic of contemporary art. Though held in great affection, however, the sculpture was, in those offices, rather commonplace. Art was everywhere, including a 1963 silver Triple Elvis by Andy Warhol, a roomful of monumental Chuck Close portraits and an array of dazzling Ellsworth Kelly abstracts.

Gap’s founders, Donald and Doris Fisher, used their millions from the 1970s onwards to amass 1,100 works of prestigious mid and late 20th-century art – including 21 Warhols, 23 works by Gerhard Richter and 45 Alexander Calder mobiles. It was recognised in art circles as a hugely significant collection, but, outside their firm, was kept largely under wraps.

All that changed in 2009 when, just two days before Don died, a longstanding agreement (unusual in the art world) was reached to show the collection at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for at least 100 years. It was a momentous occasion for SFMOMA, which began to plan a major expansion to accommodate the new treasures. Having been closed for nearly three years for the redevelopment, the museum – now doubled in size, with three times the gallery space – reopens on 14 May.

An external view of Snøhetta’s expansion.
An external view of Snøhetta’s expansion. Photograph: © Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA

Alongside 260 pieces from the Fishers – the first trawl – will be not only the old permanent collection but hundreds of new works donated by the region’s art collectors, as part of a special campaign led by the museum’s director, Neal Benezra. The new SFMOMA is about to join the very highest rank of galleries of contemporary art in the world.

The museum, which opened in 1935, got its own building 60 years later – the postmodern structure by Mario Botta, recognisable by its stacked boxes of red brick and central cylinder wrapped in zebra stripes of black and white stone. This exterior has been left alone, but wedged around it is a distinctive new building on seven floors, created by Norwegian architects Snøhetta: its white rippled facade, we’re told, evokes the waters of the bay surrounding San Francisco and the rolling in of the city’s famous fog.

The interior has been designed to merge the two buildings seamlessly. Benezra and I walked around as the installation of the art was in its final stages, and only a few pieces were left in crates or cellophane. Much of the ground floor is near-complete: a huge Richard Serra sculpture, Sequence – two spirals of weathered steel transported to the museum on 11 flat-bed trucks – has long been in place at one glass-walled gallery entrance; a dozen people had just lifted a 26ft-wide Calder mobile to help in its suspension over the main atrium.

The director talks of the reopening being a “game changer for San Francisco”, but is careful to emphasise that the museum is now world-class in “contemporary” art – work, that is, from the last four decades of the 20th century and since – rather than “modern”. “I define modern art as going up through abstract expressionism,” he explains, “then with Warhol and Lichtenstein and the pop artists, Johns and Rauschenberg, there is a return to the visible world in one way or another. And to me that’s … contemporary art.”

When the Botta building opened in 1995, reviews noted how “spotty” or “skimpy” the museum’s permanent collection was: its highlights include Matisse’s Femme au Chapeau and works by Paul Klee and the Mexican masters, but it has no examples of futurism or Russian constructivism and no significant Picasso. There are plenty of first‑rate pieces to fill the galleries now, but SFMOMA still has a different, less historical, story to tell than its New York equivalent, the core collection of which comes from the early 20th century.

Gerhard Richter’s Geäst (Branches) (1988).
Gerhard Richter’s Geäst (Branches) (1988). Photograph: © Gerhard Richter

So there is not much in the way of cubism, but plenty of pop art and minimalism – as well as postwar German masters (Richter, Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys) and the works of such California painters as Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud and Joan Brown. There is a whole room of Calders, a sun-filled gallery devoted to modern British sculpture (by Anthony Caro, Anish Kapoor, Antony Gormley, Richard Long and many more), and a new centre that, Benezra hazards, “might just” make SFMOMA the most prominent photography museum in the US.

Benezra offers no apology for where SFMOMA’s strength lies, and as we tour the galleries his excitement at the remarkable bounty of the new museum is obvious. “You’ll be hard pressed to see a better room of Warhols,” he says, pointing out celebrated new acquisitions including Silver Marlon, with Brando on his Triumph motorbike from The Wild One, and the Triple Elvis, as well as the museum’s own famous study of Elizabeth Taylor on horseback, National Velvet. There is also a “museum within a museum” of 26 works by Kelly, who became a good friend of Doris Fisher. These include the jazzy arrangement of rectangles Cité from 1951, and the vivid stripes of Spectrum I, as well as the sliced shapes of Red Curves (1996) and Blue Panel (1985). The Kelly rooms, Benezra says, are “strikingly beautiful”: “We expect our colleagues in other museums to be green with envy.” Geometric Apple Core proudly sits on the fifth floor (after a special party was held at Gap HQ to say farewell).

The Fishers collected certain artists, among them Kelly and Calder, in great depth. Partly in consequence, according to Benezra, the new SFMOMA “runs counter to normal museum practice these days. Most museums – the Tate is a pretty good example of this – are working more thematically. You’ll go to a gallery and … the curator has authored an idea and the pictures illustrate that idea. We’ve done something just the opposite, and terribly old-fashioned … we’re refocusing on the artists and letting each one speak. The curators are not imposing their will on the paintings at all … You work with what you have, and with artists in such depth, why would we do anything else?”

Benezra talks of how big public art galleries have changed their role, from being “good stewards of the works of art in their custody” to more popular and fully public institutions, places where people come to meet and spend time. To reflect this, the new museum has more free-access space: the architects have knocked out the forbidding stairwell that dominated the old atrium to create a brighter entrance – where two enormous Julie Mehretu murals will eventually adorn the walls – and built a new wood, cantilevered “grand stair” that leads to an admission-free “art court”. The architects’ buzzwords include “reaching out” so that the museum becomes “more extroverted”.

Andy Warhol’s Triple Elvis (1963).
Andy Warhol’s Triple Elvis (1963). Photograph: © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Allied to this now obligatory inclusiveness is Benezra’s desire to explode the cliche that contemporary art is difficult. “For me,” he says, “if you want something really hard to understand, you’ll stand in front of a multipanel Renaissance altarpiece – you have to know who all the saints are, and why they’re there.” Contemporary art such as minimalism is, in contrast, much more accessible, and people shouldn’t think it esoteric because of its simplicity – gallery goers “should feel very confident about what they bring to the work”.

There are several new welcoming features at the museum. One is the vivid green “living wall” that lines a courtyard on the eastern side and comprises nearly 20,000 plants, all California native species. This triumph of vertical gardening involved planting in huge sheets of porous felt. Another is the expanded restaurant, called In Situ, run by chef Corey Lee, who Benezra calls, with a straight face, “our curator of food” – the idea being that, as well as serving up his own dishes, Lee will “borrow recipes from chefs around the world” much as “a curator putting on a Picasso exhibition would identify and borrow the best pictures”.

To help with the design of the galleries, an astonishing, tiny replica of SFMOMA has been constructed: over the past four years, a model-maker has made maquettes – detailed, accurate and some as small as half an inch long – of at least 2,000 artworks, which have been moved around by the curators to see how effective different hangings are, and what connections between pieces are suggested from different viewpoints.

Benezra calls the gifts recently acquired in the “campaign for art” an “outpouring”: news of the museum’s expansion “enabled us to tap more fully into the energy all around us, in a region known for its special creativity” and philanthropy. Much of this campaign involved approaching known collectors: “We tried to be as specific as possible with our requests”, asking for work by a particular artist or from a critical period in an artist’s career. “We know who owns what.” Before recent efforts, for example, SFMOMA had almost no works by Beuys: now there are drawings, a vitrine, a blackboard. Other donations include major works by Rauschenberg, Philip Guston, Lee Krasner, Pollock, Cy Twombly and Brice Marden.

A sculpture by Alexander Calder beside a living wall on the Pat and Bill Wilson Sculpture Terrace.
A sculpture by Alexander Calder beside a living wall on the Pat and Bill Wilson Sculpture Terrace. Photograph: © Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA

The campaign shines a fascinating light on how a major American art gallery such as SFMOMA operates; it is also the latest chapter in the story of how the museum has been transformed by the tech-led boom in the Bay Area. One aspect of this is the neighbourhood, SoMa, in which the museum stands: as recently as the early 90s it was, Benezra points out, “not a place where polite company would go looking for culture. Today it is one of the centres of the tech industry, dynamic and lively.” Another aspect is the availability of great wealth. “Entrepreneurship is a big thing in San Francisco, and the visual arts are particularly amenable to it,” investment mogul and chair of the SFMOMA board Charles Schwab said in 2000. “The art world moves … quickly … It reflects our changing society.” According to Benezra, the city has, outside of New York, “the greatest body of private collectors of contemporary art” in the US.

On SFMOMA’s board are real estate magnates, venture capitalists and the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer. The museum’s trustees have dug deep into their pockets and it has benefactors that represent really big money – the families behind the Hyatt hotel empire, for instance, and Levi Strauss retail. And when the museum held a party to celebrate its 75th birthday, Mark Zuckerberg came along.

The Fishers are, of course, the most obvious embodiment of immense wealth combined with a loyalty to San Francisco and an intense desire to collect art. The LA Times has described their collection as “very 1980s … big, brash, expensive, even vaguely avaricious in tone. Call it Dynasty-style acquisition” focused on “big-ticket artists … born of the American art world’s first, big, market-driven era”.

Dan Flavin’s untitled (to Barnett Newman) two (1971).
Dan Flavin’s untitled (to Barnett Newman) two (1971). Photograph: Don Ross/Katherine Du Tiel

Yet the quality and range of Fisher pieces on show at SFMOMA, from David Hockney to a Louise Bourgeois black spider, speaks for itself. At one end of the fourth floor is a hexagonal Rothko-type chapel of superb near-monochrome minimalist works by Agnes Martin. When I ask associate curator Sarah Roberts to choose a few favourites, she mentions untitled (to Barnett Newman) two by Dan Flavin, a rectangle of red, yellow and blue fluorescent tubes; the coils and drips of Note 1 by Twombly; and Bracket by Joan Mitchell, a 15ft-wide late-career work.

Perhaps the best instance of an artist the Fishers collected in depth is Richter, the world’s most revered (and expensive) living painter. He is also the practitioner of contemporary art par excellence thanks to the famed plurality of his output. “The whole set of assumptions about modern art was that it was incumbent on an artist to define for him or herself a particular signature style, something that was indisputably their own,” Benezra explains. “So Jackson Pollock poured and dripped paint, and so on. But with contemporary art you don’t allow yourself to be boxed in.”

On the sixth floor of the new museum it’s possible to see Richter “in all his conceptual glory”. The variety of his work is immediately evident in one room, which juxtaposes the conventional-seeming grey-blue Seascape with the “near-abstract aerial view of a city” titled Townscape Madrid and 256 Colours, one of his canvases based on paintshop colour charts.

Nearby is the well-known, Vermeer-influenced study of Richter’s wife, Sabine, The Reader, and – yet another contrast of style – examples of his big abstractions made using a squeegee. Propped against a wall, waiting for hanging, is the Richter work Benezra describes as perhaps the most important for the Fishers in their entire collection: the delicately blurred Two Candles, which the family took off the wall and slipped into the back of their car twice a year, as they moved back and forth between their house in San Francisco and their place just south of the city, on the Peninsula.

The top floor of the museum leaves the Fisher collection behind and brings the museum’s holdings up to date, by showing media arts and works made since 1980. “We wanted it to be the most contemporary space,” Benezra says: instead of a ceiling, the ductwork has been left exposed for a rather predictable touch of industrial chic. We walk past a Jeff Wall light box not yet switched on, and pieces by Ai Weiwei, Matthew Barney and Richard Prince.

Perhaps the most noteworthy piece for the reopening, however, is Sleeping Woman, a solid stainless steel sculpture by Charles Ray of a clothed black woman, clearly homeless, asleep on a bench. With the influx of tech money, the homeless situation in some neighbourhoods of the city has become acute: it’s a “powerful piece for San Francisco”, Benezra comments.

Strenuous efforts are being made in the marketing of the new museum to link it to all parts of the local community. (One initiative is free admission for under-18s.) Benezra expresses the hope that San Francisco remains “not just a great consumer of culture but also a producer of culture”. That’s “a big challenge” because it’s increasingly “hard for people of ordinary means to live” in the city, and those “who produce culture” – the up-and-coming artists themselves – “are often-times doing so on a shoestring”.

With its Calders, Warhols, Richters and Kellys, SFMOMA is about to rise high up the table of art museums and become an unmissable attraction on the west coast. Without doubt this achievement is in part a product of the money-fuelled transformation of the Bay Area – and the gallery’s expansion is unlikely to silence the increasingly loud talk of how the tech industry has stripped San Francisco of its culture and its soul. Yet both the Snøhetta building and the augmented collection will surely continue to please and impress after any number of Silicon Valley bubbles have burst. And as its director reflects: the new museum represents something that simply “would not have been possible in another place at another time”.

SFMOMA reopens on 14 May at 151 3rd Street, San Francisco.



Contemporary art in America

Going public

The biggest contemporary-art museum in America will be unveiled next month. Building it took ingenuity, persuasiveness—and a lot of money

IN MANY countries rich art-buyers are deserting public institutions in favour of building their own private museums. Not in the Bay Area, where some 200 collectors have been persuaded to donate over 4,000 works of art to the new San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). As if that were not enough, they have also contributed generously to a new $305m building designed by Snøhetta, a Norwegian firm, and to a healthy endowment of $245m. When it opens on May 14th, SFMOMA will be the largest museum of modern and contemporary art in America.

Five years in the making, the new SFMOMA reflects the confluence of old money from the American West and new wealth from Silicon Valley. And it proves, in a way that few other projects could, how important collecting contemporary art has become as a measure of wealth, taste, ambition and civic duty.

Nearly three-quarters of the works on show in the inaugural exhibitions are recent gifts. Neal Benezra, the director, engineered a “Campaign for Art” in which the museum cherry-picked works from important local collections. “We did not just drop a net to see what we could catch,” he explains. The museum has focused on filling gaps in its collection and bolstering areas where it is already strong.


Robin Wright, a lifelong philanthropist and vice-chair of the board, helped SFMOMA solicit gifts. She gave the museum a list of the works in her collection; the museum chose 36 pieces, including a rare Ed Ruscha painting from 1973 entitled “Evil” and made with the artist’s own blood. “It’s hard to imagine dying,” says Ms Wright. “And who could be a better guardian of your art once you’re gone?” Collectors can enjoy knowing that their art pieces are (literally) museum-worthy, and that they will return home when the museum changes displays. It all, says Mr Benezra, contributes to “great estate planning”.

A decade ago, many donations to American museums were “fractional gifts”; collectors could benefit from tax write-offs on a proportion of the changing (often increasing) market value of their works. When the rules were changed by the Pension Protection Act of 2006, the practice became financially unattractive and art donations fell.

Another system known as “promised gifts” began to take precedence. SFMOMA has done a good job of spelling out the psychological and social benefits of this form of philanthropy. Just as it was confirming Ms Wright’s gift, Charles Schwab, chairman of the board, and his wife Helen made an offer of their own—27 works, including stellar paintings by Fernand Léger, Jackson Pollock and Francis Bacon. Soon afterwards, seven other important collectors pledged over 100 more works.

By far the largest contribution came from Donald and Doris Fisher, co-founders of Gap, a clothing chain. In September 2009, just before he died, Mr Fisher shook hands with Mr Benezra on a deal which granted SFMOMA a 100-year loan of 1,100 works, including 25 by Alexander Calder, 22 Gerhard Richters, 18 Andy Warhols and 18 Ellsworth Kellys (some of which can be seen pictured).

Fascinated by the creative process, the Fishers had bought “in depth”, sometimes following an artist’s career over several decades. “In many museums, you see one of this and one of that,” says Bob Fisher, the eldest of three Fisher sons who is president of the SFMOMA board. “You gain an understanding of what Abstract Expressionism or Minimalism is, but you aren’t given the chance to appreciate the mind of an artist.” Neither the Fishers nor the museum will disclose the value of the collection, but experts suggest it is worth well over $1 billion.

The partnership of SFMOMA and the Fishers is unprecedented, and it comes with strict rules. Every ten years, the museum must put on an exhibition that focuses exclusively on the Fisher collection. At other times, the museum can mix the Fisher works with those from its own and other collections. SFMOMA will also take care of conserving and promoting the art. In return, the Fishers contributed an undisclosed “very generous” sum towards the new building and its endowment.

The challenge of presenting this onslaught of gifts to the public has fallen principally to Gary Garrels, senior curator of painting and sculpture, who spent three years contemplating scale models of the museum’s seven exhibition floors and has been installing the works since December. The museum decided to include at least one work from each of the campaign’s 231 donors, so the installation will offer a portrait of the Bay Area collecting community rather than an art-historical narrative.

Visitors can enter the museum through the elegant new Snøhetta structure into the sort of grand light-filled space that has become a standard requirement of art museums (Tate Modern, which will open its own new extension a month after SFMOMA, will have one too). In San Francisco the space will be filled with a classic rusted-steel sculpture by Richard Serra; upstairs in the atrium is an uncharacteristically joyful, blue-and-white wall drawing by Sol LeWitt entitled “Loopy Doopy”.

What will make SFMOMA unique is the enfilade of rooms offering mini-retrospectives of individual artists. Thanks to the bounteous gifts the museum has received, these are so good they will become destinations in themselves. One has an exuberant range of mobiles and other sculptures by Calder, who went to the same San Francisco high school as Donald Fisher. Another, nicknamed “The Chapel”, is an octagonal room with a suite of seven serenely geometric paintings by Agnes Martin.

San Francisco is the Wall Street of the West, but it is also the historical hub of hippies, gay liberation, the farm-to-table movement and digital culture. It is a creative city that sprang from nothing in 1848, when the Gold Rush hit. Its citizens know all too well that culture does not just happen; it has to be made, underwritten, nurtured. “One thing I’ve learned through this fund-raising process,” says the museum’s director, “is that this community loves a big idea. They are willing to take chances and risk failure, but they want the next awesome idea.”

Jun 6, 201602:27 PMPoint of View

In Detail: Snøhetta’s SFMOMA Expansion

In Detail: Snøhetta's SFMOMA Expansion

All images courtesy Paul Clemence

Craig Dykers, founding partner of Snøhetta, compares libraries and museums to theatres and cinemas—people go to experience the magic (not observe the nuts and bolts of making). With the expanded SFMOMA, however, the Norwegian-based firm has made explicit the increasingly collaborative relationship between artist and community, art and public, and visitor and architecture. The architecture both privileges and exposes the vital act of dialogue. And the magic, albeit slightly demystified, is still there.

Despite a challenging and constricted urban lot, the architects came up with an intriguing solution: a voluptuous volume whose shape is both a functional and aesthetic gesture. “The bows allow for extra gallery space without the extra volume having to go all the way to the ground of the building,” says Dykers. “But it also helps us manipulate the scale relationship with the neighboring buildings and the city fabric.” Interestingly, this play of curved void & volume also appears in a sculptural installation of Richard Serra’s “Sequence,” which will be occupying the ground floor gallery facing the street (with only a glass wall separating it from the sidewalk, this gallery will be free and open to the public).

For the facades, the architects developed undulating cement and polymer fiber panels (less than a quarter of an inch thick) produced by a high tech robotic system that makes unique panels more cost-effective than repeated ones. The resulting effect adds even more movement to the building’s design. “The rippling façade gestures towards the identity of San Francisco – the fog, the bay waters, all pull together into the shaping,” explains Dykers.

Inside, the transitional spaces, hallways and staircases become opportunities to engage the visitor. In Dykers words, “We wanted to create an experience of architecture where people could feel they owned their moment, whether alone or in a crowd. When you invest personal energy into using a building—and when you invest in something you feel you own—this is kind of like a handshake with the design.” Staircases become exercises in transparency, with views in different directions, hallways act as breathing spaces, and the façade opens up to generous open vistas to the city.

For an even more guttural connection to the surrounding cityscape, a long open terrace on the fifth floor gives visitors a broad, perched urban overview. From this terrace, visitors will also be able to peek through glass walls into the room where the SFMOMA team and visiting artists will be busy at work planning, producing, conserving or even creating the pieces that later will appear in the galleries.

7 x 7

Art + Design

First Look: Inside the Newly Transformed SFMOMA

It’s been nearly three years since SFMOMA shut its doors with the promise to return much bigger and better in 2016. On Saturday, May 14, the celebrated art museum will finally unveil its richly expanded collection in a striking new home.


(The views from the new museum are just as wonderful as the art.)

SFMOMA’s gorgeous new home will have social media buzzing for months. In 2010, SFMOMA tapped international firm Snøhetta to design a new structure to exhibit the museum’s expanded collection and seamlessly meld with the existing building designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta in 1995. The new 10-story structure rises above SoMa like a futuristic edifice from the planet Hoth. The facade is comprised of 800 unique panels that appear to ripple and shift with the light, a literal reflection of our famously foggy climate. Made of a lightweight material embedded with sand from around the Monterey Bay, the 235,000-square-foot addition actually weighs less than the original 225,000-square-foot building.

(A Richard Serra sculpture greets guests as they enter on Howard Street.)

Guests now enter on Howard Street, catching sight of ghost signs that were exposed when a fire station was removed to lend space for SFMOMA’s expansion, as they walk in. Visitors are greeted by a gargantuan Richard Serra sculpture of burnished metal and a bold patterned wall painting by Sol Lewitt dubbed Loopy Doopy. As part of the museum’s commitment to community access, the first two floors — nearly 45,000 square feet — are free to the public. The museum will also offer free admission to everyone 18 and under. Director Neal Benezra stated, “We want to mean more to more people than ever before.”

(The largest living wall open to the public graces the third floor terrace.)

Guests are sure to swoon for the third floor outdoor terrace, anchored by a dramatic 150-foot living wall — the largest public one in the U.S. — whose stretch of green looks like a mini Golden Gate Park affixed to the building. Another terrace on the seventh floor offers invigorating views of the downtown cityscape. Craig Dykers, lead architect and founding member of Snøhetta, encourages visitors to take the stairs. From the spectacular Roman Steps on the ground floor to the floating staircases of the upper floors, each unique stairway functions as its own sculptural objet d’art lending strong incentive to bypass the elevators.

Even restrooms delight with a shock of of monochromatic color — a different hue for each floor — that wouldn’t be out of place at the clubby W Hotel next door. As arresting as the art and interiors are, some of the best visuals are outfacing via huge wood-framed windows that offer glimpses of SoMa’s hidden rooftops and busy alleyways. With so much visual info to digest, museum fatigue is real. Bleary-eyed patrons can seek refuge in smartly designed “palate cleansers,” a series of composed spots to rest, reflect and mind your Instagram feed.


When SFMOMA moved to their new South of Market location in 1995, the museum possessed 12,000 pieces of art. Today, the number has grown to 33,000, thanks to over 1,000 pieces made available from the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection — a remarkable assemblage of masterworks that began as decoration for bare Gap walls — in addition to the museum’s Campaign for Art which committed 3,000 works from over 230 individuals associated with the museum.

The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection is a boon for the museum with postwar and contemporary works from artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, and Gerhard Richter. The inaugural shows feature beautiful galleries of some of the Fisher’s favorite artists. For the late Don Fisher, big powerful works by Anselm Kiefer, and for Doris, serene paintings by Ellsworth Kelly whom she maintained a close friendship with until the artist’s death.

The new SFMOMA also aims to be an epicenter of photography and film. Occupying most of the third floor, the Pritzker Center for Photography is the largest gallery and research space devoted to photography among art museums in the nation. Plus, a new partnership with the San Francisco Film Society means a new film program, Modern Cinema, exhibited in the newly renovated Phyllis Wattis Theater

Aiming to embody a 21st century art museum, SFMOMA also premiered a new app that guides guests through galleries with commentary from a wide range of personalities including Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani of HBO’s Silicon Valley as well as players from the SF Giants.


Corey Lee, chef-owner of the Michelin three-star restaurant Benu and Monsieur Benjamin, is opening the museum’s destination eatery. In Situ will present a rotating menu of dishes contributed by an all-star list of 80 international chefs including Rene Redzepi, David Chang, and Alice Waters. The restaurant is expected to open in June. For more casual fare, Cafe 5 will serve a contemporary cafe menu adjacent to the sunny fifth floor sculpture garden. And San Franciscans will feel right at home at the museum’s Sightglass outpost, a hip mini coffee bar carved out on the third floor.


SFMOMA is offering free admission on opening day but all visitors must have a ticket via online reservation system and the museum is currently sold out. Still, eager fans can join ribbon-cutting festivities with city dignitaries at 8:30am that morning.

SFMOMA will be open to the public seven days a week from 10am to 5pm through Labor Day, with extended hours until 9pm on Thursdays. Admission ticket prices are: General admission $25, Seniors (65 & older) $22, Ages 19-24 $19, Ages 18 & Under Free. Membership starts at $100. // SFMOMA, 151 Third Street (SoMa),

Art Basel 2016 articles and images collection


Top 10 Most-Anticipated Highlights for Art Basel 2016

  • Davide Balula Burnt Painting
  • El Anatsui Gli Wal
  • Cindy Sherman
  • Mira Schendel
  • Scarlet Cheng
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Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland, is now the granddaddy of all modern and contemporary art fairs, drawing over 98,000 visitors and featuring about 286 international art galleries and museums from 33 countries. They bring the works of modern masters, as well as emerging art stars, to one of six main show floors, works meant to wow fairgoers and help add to their collections. Things kick off with a grand vernissage (by invitation only) on June 15, followed by public viewing days June 16 through 19. Tickets are priced from $29 to $124. Below are 10 of the most-anticipated highlights. (

Bergamin & Gomide (São Paulo, Brazil)

This Brazilian gallery will feature works by Mira Schendel. Known for her drawings and sculpture, she is one of the most important Latin-American artists of the 20th century. The gallery will showcase works from the important phases of the artist’s career.

Fondation Beyeler (Basel, Switzerland)

Every year, this museum presents something special to coincide with Art Basel, and this time it is a retrospective of the man who made mobiles famous, Alexander Calder. The exhibition features 75 works spanning 4 decades of his productive career, juxtaposed with the collaborative work of contemporary artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss.

Blum & Poe (Los Angeles and other locations)

In the Parcours sector, Blum & Poe galleries will present Sam Durant’s installation Labyrinth (2015), a large-scale steel structure made of chain-link fencing materials. The work was developed by working with prisoners at State Correctional Institution—Graterford near Philadelphia, Penn., and designed as a space for reflection on issues of freedom and imprisonment, movement and stasis. The gallery booth will feature a smaller version.

Gagosian (New York and other locations)

Gagosian will showcase the work of Davide Balula, both as part of its gallery presentation and as part of the Unlimited sector (in conjunction with Galerie Frank Elbaz). At the latter, Balula’s Mimed Sculptures employs mimes “shaping” the air with their hands over empty plinths, recreating canonical sculptures by Louise Bourgeois, Alberto Giacometti, Barbara Hepworth, and others.

Goodman Gallery / Marian Goodman Gallery (New York / Johannesburg, South Africa)

The galleries will feature noted South African artist William Kentridge, whose bold freehand drawings are often used to make stop-action videos. Both his dynamic and often stream-of-consciousness drawings and videos will be shown at Art Basel.

Kukje Gallery / Tina Kim Gallery (Seoul / New York)

In the Unlimited sector, the galleries will present a major installation, Sol LeWitt Upside Down—Structure with Three Towers, Expanded 23 Times, Split in Three, by leading Korean contemporary artist Haegue Yang. The work is made up of stacks of open cubes with Venetian blinds inserted into them.

Timothy Marrinan and Richard Dewey, Filmmakers

Their new documentary film Burden (2016) will present a special screening as part of Art Basel. The subject is pioneering avant-garde artist Chris Burden, whose career spanned early performance art to large-scale installations, including Urban Light, which graces the entrance pavilion of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Metro Pictures (New York)

Metro Pictures will showcase the newest body of work from iconic American photographer Cindy Sherman—her first since 2012. In this series Sherman transforms herself into movie-star heroines in the style of 1920s publicity stills—heavily made up and in stylized poses.

Regen Projects (Los Angeles)

This leading American gallery will be presenting a selection of works in various media by gallery artists, including art stars Doug Aitken and Anish Kapoor. Born in Bombay, Kapoor has worked in London since the 1970s, and the gallery will feature his radiant Mirror (Laser Red to Oriental Blue) (2016).

Jack Shainman Gallery (New York)

Located in the Unlimited sector, the gallery features El Anatsui’s Gli (Wall) (2010), five hanging curtains made of recycled materials, coming together to create a large contemplative enclosure. El Anatsui is internationally famous for refashioning humble material into monumental sculpture.


Art Basel: Politics as Unusual

The world’s leading contemporary art fair broadens its reach—sort of

Art Basel, in Basel, Switzerland, 2016.

Art Basel, in Basel, Switzerland, 2016. Courtesy Art Basel

Going to an art fair always brings to mind the great song by the 70s LA punk band Fear, “New York’s All Right If You Like Saxophones,” which we amend in this case to “Art Basel’s All Right If You Like Julian Schnabel’s New Purple Paintings.” Even if it’s the big apple of art fairs, in other words, we’re going to pretend to hate Basel (which wound up on Sunday), or at least complain about all those big galleries and all that money everyone was throwing about, from the $4.5 million for Paul McCarthy’s goofy, Mr. Potato Head-inspired Tomato Head (Green) to the $8.35 for two scoops of ice cream at the Mövenpick kiosk.

Meanwhile, in nearby Zurich, Manifesta 11 (the ‘nomadic European biennial’) was getting underway with the organizing theme of “What We Do For Work.” If that isn’t a sly poke at Art Basel by the exhibition’s curator, Berlin artist Christian Jankowski, it should be.

In any case, don’t believe any of the stories that suggest that the 47th Art Basel—with 286 very commercial galleries in attendance—was political in nature. A few politically savvy installations in its Unlimited section doesn’t mean the fair wasn’t about what it always is: money, those who have it and spend it, those who benefit from it, and the rest of us who come along to check out the action and wind up thoroughly exhausted, overwhelmed by the commerce as much as by the art, but at least partially enriched in the process because there’s actually so much worth seeing. Finding it amid the trudgery—yes, trudgery—along with the mental space to enjoy it, is both the challenge and the occasional pleasure.

It proved to be even more of a challenge at Liste, the adjunct fair for young galleries and emerging artists, which seemed to be Liste-ing with Godawfulism. Notable, happy exceptions included the clean, bold paintings of Cornelia Baltes at Limoncello (London); Erika Voigt’s exuberant knife paintings at LA’s Overduin & Co; the funny cellar installation by the now-surely-post-emergent Liz Craft (Truth & Consequences, Geneva); and Yuji Agematsu’s tiny beautiful-ugly assemblages at Real Fine Arts (Brooklyn). Agematsu, a Japanese artist living in Brooklyn, gathers street detritus daily into a cigarette box, then makes a sculpture from it and places it inside the box’s vitrine-like cellophane wrapper. Straddling Art Basel and Art Brut, Agematsu was for me one of the real pleasures of the entire fair.

In the main hall the next day, when I came across a small red match-box sculpture by the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark, at Alison Jacques Gallery, it felt like an echo, as did the miniature inks-on-paper by Wilfredo Prieto at Annet Gelink Gallery.

With the world’s top galleries in attendance, such beautiful works abound—two small Morandis that sold for $1 million apiece at David Zwirner, others from Günther Förg, Etel Adnan, Eva Hesse, Dorothea Tanning, Albert Oehlen, Hélio Oiticica, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Ryman, Otto Piene, Martin Kippenberger, Sigmar Polke ($6.5 million! again by Zwirner), two incredibly lovely Richard Tuttle pieces on wood (I think). Gavin Brown showed some great little rough-hewn Alex Katz studies, a welcome relief from the artist’s usual neat-freak control.

Inside the Basel Messe, it’s a sort of upside down Downton Abbey affair: the super rich are downstairs—here a Hauser, there a Wirth, everywhere a Schimmel—with a few moderns thrown in for an occasional reality check, while most of the edgier contemporary personalities are found upstairs. It didn’t hurt Gavin Brown to be positioned just at the top of the escalator, where he leaned six large new Kerstin Brätsch marbleized paintings, all of which sold to museums and foundations at $60,000 apiece, according to the gallery. From there, depending on your level of exhaustion (or checking account), it is either an amazing smorgasbord of leading contemporary artists or one massive, eye-and-brain-numbing exercise in wishful thinking, aesthetically and otherwise.

Dan Finsel at Ramiken Crucible in the Statements section, Art Basel 2016.

Dan Finsel at Ramiken Crucible in the Statements section, Art Basel 2016. Courtesy Art Basel

Some respite is afforded along the edges, where galleries in the curated Features and Statements sections are situated; some might say exiled. Feature galleries on both floors focused on established or “historical” (read: dead) artists. Among the most interesting were Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner and Jay Defeo (all dead) at frank elbaz, filmmaker Pat O’Neil (still kicking) at Cherry and Martin, and the very much alive Sadie Benning’s sumptuous paintings on cut-and-inset wood at Susanne Vielmetter. Memorable in the Statements section for solo projects by emerging artists were L.A.-based Dan Finsel’s large organic pods at Ramiken Crucible and the Baloise Prize-winning videos of Sara Cwynar and Mary Reid Kelley at Foxy Production (New York) and Arratia Beer (Berlin) respectively.

Allan McCollum at Galerie Thomas Schulte, Parcours section at Art Basel 2016.

Allan McCollum at Galerie Thomas Schulte, Parcours section at Art Basel 2016. Courtesy Art Basel

Outside the main hall, things got a bit more Documenta-ish, and socially aware. In the Parcours section, a mildly engaging series of site-specific installations, interventions or performances in the old town area along the Rhine, Sam Durant erected a prison-like labyrinth of chain-link fencing meant to represent the lines between freedom and captivity, movement and immobility. (These notions seemed lost on a group of small children running through it happily.) The New York-based Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar offered visitors to the Münsterplatz a small blue box, The Gift, inside of which recipients found means to donate to the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS)—the gift of giving. The question is, how many people at a short-lived art fair have the time or energy for a walking exhibition, especially in the rain. My guess is: not many.

Tracey Rose of Goodman Gallery in the Parcours section, Art Basel 2016.

Tracey Rose of Goodman Gallery in the Parcours section, Art Basel 2016. Courtesy Art Basel

Better attended was the nighttime performance by Anne Imhoff at the Kunsthalle, which featured several young performer/dancers interacting in various guises, including amusing/horrifying contempo-fashion runway striding, as well as a falcon and several cans of Pepsi. Does this sound intriguing? It was a come-and-go affair over five hours, and most visitors did just that, at times seeming to be part of the performance—or the performers seeming to be part of the audience. Some of the intrepid, those who stayed till the midnight end, were later seen at a bar called Kaschemme, listening in a tiny smoky dungeon to a young woman playing cello with three guys fiddling sonic dials. Hauser, Wirth & Schimmel were nowhere in sight.

Unquestionably, the most interesting aspect of the fair—for the non-buying audience at least—is Unlimited, featuring a who’s who of top artists: El Anatsui, James Turrell, Dieter Roth, Tracey Emin, William Kentridge, Tony Oursler, Julie Mehretu, Jannis Kounellis, Francis Stark, Anish Kapoor, Frank Stella, Laurie Simmons, Wolfgang Tillmans, Pope L., Kader Attia, Allison Knowles and Isa Genzken. Set in a giant, otherwise empty hall, and curated once again by the New York-based curator at large for the Hirshhorn, Gianni Jetzer, Unlimited affords generous space to exhibit work unshowable in an ordinary fair context. And yes, that meant yet another oversized (and over-conceived) piece by Ai Wei-Wei, who may as well be known as Ai Wei-Wei-Too-Much.

Unlimited at Art Basel 2016.

Unlimited at Art Basel 2016. Courtesy Art Basel

But it also meant a suite of Martha Rosler’s incisive “Bringing the [Vietnam] War Home” series, House Beautiful; Mike Kelley’s 1989 Reconstructed History (which Skarstedt sold for $1.5 million); and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Zoom Pavilion, which offered entrants insight into surveillance and social media creepiness. There was also a wonderfully understated and pedestrian piece by Christo called Five Storefronts. When a friend photographed it, a woman said, “How can you take a photo of that?” Too real, too ugly, not fun! Somewhere in the main hall was a selection of Ed Ruscha’s old banality projects—on gas stations and every building on the Sunset Strip, etc. But it was another L.A. artist, Khalil Joseph, who with his stunning 2014 short film m.A.A.d., set in the less-than-serene streets of Compton, brought a serious dose of gritty “reality” to the otherworldly life cushion that is Basel, or at least Art Basel.

Then it was outside again for some more $8 ice cream.

Ocula Report

A blended mass: A report from Art Basel 2016

Stephanie Bailey Basel 24 June 2016

Image: Gerwald Rockenschaub at Unlimited, Art Basel 2016. Courtesy Mehdi Chouakri, Galerie Vera Munro, Galerie Eva Presenhuber. Photo: © Timothée Chambovet & Ocula.

It was both a conservative and global year for the 47th Art Basel, as Scott Reyburn reported for The New York Times. Volatile markets—and politics—explained the wealth of historical pieces featured amongst more contemporary installations in Gianni Jetzer’s Unlimited section, this year with a record number of 88 works in total from an impressively global list of artists (including, as Jetzer noted, ‘three of the most important contemporary female artists from India’: Archana Hande, Prabhavathi Meppayil and Mithu Sen). There was a monumental 1970 painting by Frank Stella, Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation I), and a historical 1993 piece by Vlassis Caniaris, In Praise: a cube of vintage cement sacks wrapped with Greek flags presented by Galerie Peter Kilchmann (in collaboration with Kalfayan Galleries). In one room, visitors were able to experience the 1968 work Microfoni by Gilberto Zorio courtesy of Galleria Lia Rumma, in which microphones hung within the space for visitors to participate in a spontaneous, sonic symphony.

Image: Frank Stella at Unlimited, Art Basel 2016. Courtesy Marianne Boesky Gallery, Dominique Lévy Gallery, Sprüth Magers. Photo: © Timothée Chambovet & Ocula.

Newer works presented at Unlimited offered an overview of contemporary practices that engage in the world cross-cartographically. Nina Canell, brought to Unlimited by Barbara Wien, presented Shedding Sheaths (2015): sculptures produced for the Swedish artist’s first institutional Asian show at Arko Art Center, in which Canell presented a series of gutted—and deformed—fibre-optic cables based on her research into cable recycling facilities located on the outskirts of Seoul. Stan Douglas presented, with the support of Victoria Miro and David Zwirner, a single-channel video projection titled Luanda-Kinshasa (2013) that explores the African origins of the early 1970s New York music scene through the prism of historical migration and cultural synthesis. In the case of William Kentridge’s excellent Notes Towards a Model Opera, produced in 2015 as part of the artist’s solo exhibition at UCCA in Beijing and presented here with Goodman Gallery, we see a globalised reading of the political and social history of modern China, namely the Cultural Revolution and its operatic ballets, through a prism of, as the artist has stated, ‘cultural diffusion and metamorphosis’ placed within ‘a history of dance that spans continents and centuries’.

Image: Nina Canell at Barbara Wien, Unlimited, Art Basel 2016. © Art Basel.

Meanwhile, Davide Balula offered a more tongue-in-cheek homage to the weighted history Art Basel offers not only in terms of the fair’s identity as one of the first of the modern art fairs, but also as a fair that emphasises a certain kind of historical canon. In Mimed Sculptures, placed at the entrance to Unlimited, performers mimed the forms of various canonical works, from Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure: Hand (1979) to Barbara Hepworth’s Curved Form: Bryher II (1961), and Louise BourgeoisUnconscious Landscape (1967-8). Approaching the notion of the canon in a different way was Samson Young’s impressive performance piece, Canon, which appropriated a Long Range Acoustic Device, normally used as a sonic weapon to disperse crowds, to capture distressed birdcalls. These sounds were transmitted into the Unlimited hall, and within a prison-like room, presented in Unlimited by team (gallery inc.) and Galerie Gisela Capitan (and featuring Young dressed in a Hong Kong policeman’s uniform).

Image: Samson Young at Galerie Gisela Capitain, team gallery inc, Unlimited, Art Basel 2016. © Art Basel.

Tellingly, Canon comes with project statement that makes a note of the fact that in music, a ‘canon’ refers to the technique of imitative counterpoint—that is, a sound that is at once inter- and in- dependent. It is a way of exploring existence—and expressions of it—from a complex grid, made up of crosshatchings and inter-weavings that are at once singular and part of a larger whole. The ambiguity of such an expansive position, underscored in the connection Young makes between state apparatuses (LRAD, for instance, and the police who deploy it) and the art world, is punctuated further with razor-sharp ambiguity in the so-called Zoom Pavilion by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Krzysztof Wodiczko. Presented at Unlimited with Carroll / Fletcher, the work consisted of a room in which the faces and scenes captured from within the exhibition space were projected from the lenses of 12 surveillance cameras. To this end, though curator Jetzer made a concerted effort to create a truly global frame, there remained a sense of unease when it came to thinking about the supposed globalism of the art world, and who gets to define it.

Image: Sadie Benning at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Features, Art Basel 2016. © Art Basel.

This blended—and inescapably contradictory—complexity seeped into Art Basel’s Hall 2, where some 286 galleries from 33 countries presented works by a cumulative number of more than 4000 artists. At Features, 32 galleries offered a series curatorial projects, many of which with historical leanings, from Sarah Benning at Susanne Vielmetter, Jannis Kounellis at Luxembourg & Dayan and Mira Schendel at Bergamin & Gomide, to Braco Dimitrijevic at espaivisor—an artist who last showed at Art Basel during the fair’s inaugural edition in 1970. Balancing out Features’ history-heavy showings was Statements, in which 18 galleries introduced an exciting crop of young artists in solo booths, from Sara Cwynar (with Foxy Production) and Lantian Xie (with Grey Noise), to Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme (with Carroll / Fletcher), and Piotr Łakomy (with Stereo).

Image: Piotr Lakomy at Galeria Stereo, Statements, Art Basel 2016. © Art Basel.

As always, Hall 2’s first floor was reserved for the blue chip galleries dealing in the kind of names one would expect to see in the two environments created for Unlimited that spoke specifically to the market context: Hans Op De Beeck’s creation of an ashen Collector’s House, and Elmgreen and Dragset’s Secondary, which saw two auction lecterns placed on either side of block of chairs arranged in rows, the recordings of auctions playing from each. Among this global spread were staples of canonical art history, including a breadth of Fontana works, from canvases to ceramics, to some choice Basquiats (including one commemorating the Chinese year of the boar). There were canvases by Robert Mangold at Pace and The Mayor Gallery, a 1997 example of Kusama on canvas at Greta Meert, a fantastic collection of works by artists including Jean Arp, Sonia Delaunay, Francis Picabia, and Man Ray at Natalie Seroussi, and a focus on ZERO artists in a number of spaces, including Galerie Thomas, who also showed some beautiful Peter Halley works on paper. Meanwhile, James Cohan offered some remarkable plastic panels created in the 1960s by Robert Smithson; Landau Fine Art featured Chun Kwan Hung’s abstract surfaces created from Korean mulberry paper wrapped around block shapes; and Kukje and Tina Kim Gallery offered an excellent selection from the Dansaekhwa movement.

Image: Installation view, Tina Kim and Kukje Gallery at Art Basel 2016. Photo: © Timothée Chambovet & Ocula.

Across the main Galleries sector, there was a trend for a kind of blended curatorial, which offered both a balanced scope of practices from around the world, as well as a mix of abstract works and more overt, political gestures. At Galerie Lelong, abstract pieces by Zilia Sánchez and Hélio Oiticia were presented next to two lightboxes by Alfredo Jaar capturing interventions the artist staged in New York’s Times Square, A Logo for America (1987–2014) (2016), in which ‘THIS IS NOT AMERICA’ is written over the image of North America in one image, and ‘AMERICA’ is written over the entire Americas (North, South, and Central). Meanwhile, at Mehdi Chouakri, a cross-eyed portrait of Karl Marx by Hans-Peter Feldmann stood out amidst abstract works by artists including Charlotte Posenenske, John M. Armleder, and Gerold Miller, not to mention a haunting installation featuring Japanese lanterns by Saâdane Afif. More Feldmann was on view over at Galerie Hans Mayer, where a cross-eyed portrait of Lenin added to the many historical faces that were being remembered throughout the fair floor. These included Indian ink portraits of Fanon and Patrice Lumumba by William Kentridge, showing at Goodman Gallery, and brightly coloured busts of such figures as Simon Hawking, Yuri Gagarin, Nicolaus Copernicus and Isaac Newton fastened to the ends of long metal rods arranged into various configurations as part of the “International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation” by Goshka Macuga, showing at both Andrew Kreps and Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle (the former also showing Andrea Bowers and Hito Steyerl, among others).

Image: Installation view, Galerie Lelong at Art Basel 2016. Photo: © Timothée Chambovet & Ocula.

In all, walking through Art Basel 2016 felt like—to borrow the words of a Lawrence Weiner presented at MAI 36 Galerie—being ‘between; and ‘beneath’ a ‘resolved mass’, in which a kind of emerging globalism has taken firm root. That is, visual languages appear to be coming together, intermingling, and developing in tandem. This was most evident in some of art history’s most common tropes, such as the colour spectrum a la Gerhard Richter’s colour panels of the 60s and 70s, or Ellsworth Kelly’s Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance 1 from 1951. Damien Hirst showed Spectrum (Oil Paints, Studio Colours) (2015), at White Cube: a canvas of various colours that recalled Henryk Stazewski’s Relief No.30 from 1969, presented at Starmach (a small canvas presented a colour spectrum divided five by five), and Manuel Espinosa’s Los ciclopes, la taberna de Barney Kiernan from 1977—a black canvas offering a similar colour spectrum to Stazewski’s relief. Bringing the notion of colour blocking into the present was Colour Test (182) (2015) by Spencer Finch showing at Stephen Friedman: an LED lightbox that presented blocks of colour transparencies overlapping; as well as Zheng Guogu’s Fortune No. 9 (2009) showing at Chantal Crousel, in which colour blocking was re-mixed into a mass of brightly-coloured text scrawled over in oil paint over black silk. (Funnily, the use of colour against a dark backdrop was invoked in Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg’s characteristically sinister—yet colourful—installation at Giò Marconi).

Image: Installation view, Stephen Friedman at Art Basel 2016. Photo: © Timothée Chambovet & Ocula.

Yet, despite the quality of the works on show in both halls, it was the exhibition that took place outside of the Messeplatz that offered the real experience of the year. Parcours, this year curated by Samuel Leuenberger, offered a meticulously planned route from the Wettstein to Mittlere Bridge. Nineteen site-specific installations included entry into the garden of a stately home on Rittergasse, where Alberto Garutti presented a series of benches on which sculptures of various dogs rested, modelled after those that belong to the families of Trivero, and the perfect installation of Bernar Venet’s cluster of large steel curves—Effondrement:Arcs (2015)—in the courtyard of Ramsteinerhof, Rittergasse 17. Walking the Parcours route, Leuenberger’s knowledge of Basel—he is the curator of SALTS at Birsfelden—as well as his affection for the city, became palpable in the precision of each work’s placement. This included the installation of an outdoor toilet by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov—what felt like a ruse to draw visitors down the stairs from Münsterplatz in order to walk along the rushing river that defines so much of Basel’s character, and to connect with the city beyond the confines of Art Basel itself.

Image: Bernar Venet at Parcours, Art Basel 2016. Courtesy von Bartha. © Art Basel.

Of course, when it came to thinking about the world beyond the fair, and indeed, beyond the city and its location, Alfredo Jaar offered a clear link, both as part of the conversations programme and Parcours, for which Jaar distributed ‘gifts’ to whomever crossed the paths of those carrying blue cardboard boxes in large sacks. These boxes were offered to passersby as a gift, with instructions to turn them inside out in order to reveal a message inside—a link to make a donation to the Migrant Offshore Aid Station. The address is: —[O]

Art Basel 2016

Art Basel puts photography in the frame

Wolfgang Tillmans to get Beyeler’s first show of photos, as collectors buy major works at the fair

by Julia Halperin  |  16 June 2016
Art Basel puts photography in the frame

Cindy Sherman’s exhibition opened at the Broad in Los Angeles at the weekend, making her the first artist to get a solo show in the new museum. Her works dominate Metro Pictures’ stand at the fair. Photo: David Owens
Move over painting and sculpture: the definition of blue-chip is expanding. As the International Center of Photography prepares to reopen in New York next week and the new Pritzker Center for Photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art welcomes its first visitors, dealers at Art Basel are dedicating extensive (and expensive) wall space to photography, which is being embraced by a new generation of collectors.

Meanwhile, the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, near Basel, is planning its first major solo show dedicated to a photographer. We have learned that an exhibition of works by Wolfgang Tillmans is due to open next year (27 May-1 October 2017). At the fair, his inkjet prints sold at Maureen Paley for $180,000 (Greifbar 29, 2014) and David Zwirner for $80,000 (mid-air flap movement, 2013).

“Photography is part of the family; it’s at the table alongside painting and sculpture,” says Andreas Gegner of Sprüth Magers. The medium has prices to match. The gallery sold a print by Andreas Gursky (Aletschgletscher, 1993) for €450,000 and a work by Cindy Sherman (Untitled #108, 1982) for $250,000.

Not so long ago, photography was considered niche. “In my lifetime, it wasn’t even allowed to be exhibited at Art Basel,” says Genevieve Janvrin, Phillips’ head of photographs, Europe. Photography dealers were marooned in a dedicated section of the fair until 2002.

The line between photography and contemporary art began to blur well before the market acknowledged it, says Eva Respini, the chief curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. From the 1960s, Bernd and Hilla Becher—whose images are on show with Fraenkel Gallery and Kicken Gallery—influenced a younger generation to look beyond the history of photography for inspiration, while technological advancements enabled artists to create works on the same huge scale as their painter peers.

Although the market for photography took off in the 1990s, the medium still offers a chance to get a brand name for less. “People come in and buy a $35,000 photo and say, ‘We got off easy today,’” says the dealer Edwynn Houk. The most expensive photograph sold at auction last year (a film still by Sherman) made nearly $3m, but 85% of photographs sold for less than $10,000 in 2015, according to Artprice’s annual report.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, many are keen to cultivate photography’s crossover potential. “There are artists who are included in photography sales and contemporary sales, but most artists we know would prefer to be in the contemporary art sale,” says Robert Goff of David Zwirner. This autumn, the gallery will present large-scale prints by William Eggleston, who joined its roster earlier this month.

Even so, “there is still a bias towards painting because it has a much longer history”, says the art advisor Todd Levin, the director of the Levin Art Group. “If you are looking at an exceptional painting and an equally exceptional photograph, the painting is going to outperform.”

See the major photo shows, buy the works in Basel

László Moholy-Nagy, Die Schlemmer-Kinder (1926). Image: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

László Moholy-Nagy, Die Schlemmer-Kinder (1926). Image: Galerie Berinson, Berlin

László Moholy-Nagy, Die Schlemmer-Kinder (1926)

This vintage print at Galerie Berinson (€450,000) is unusually large for Moholy-Nagy, whose survey is on show at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (until 7 September).

Wolfgang Tillmans, New York Installation, PCR, 525 (2015). Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

Wolfgang Tillmans, New York Installation, PCR, 525 (2015)

Tillmans, who will have solo shows at Tate Modern (15 February-11 June) and the Fondation Beyeler next year, takes over a room in Unlimited with an installation featuring portraits of activists from around the world ($1.2m, presented by David Zwirner).

Stephen Shore, Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974 (1974).  Stephen Shore: Uncommon Places, The Complete Works, (New York: Aperture, 2004).

Stephen Shore, Holden Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, July 13, 1974 (1974)

New York’s Museum of Modern Art is planning an exhibition of work by the early adopter of colour photography, who also has a retrospective at the Huis Marseille in Amsterdam (until 4 September). An example from his Uncommon Places series is at Edwynn Houk ($40,000).

Diane Arbus, Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey (1967). Photo: David Owens

Diane Arbus, Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey (1967). Photo: David Owens

Diane Arbus, Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J. (1966)

Ahead of a presentation of early works by the US photographer at the Met Breuer in New York (12 July-27 November), Fraenkel Gallery sold this prime example ($575,000). “When you say Arbus, you think twins,” says the gallery’s Frish Brandt.


Art Fairs

10 of the Best Artworks at Art Basel 2016

By Andrew M. Goldstein

June 15, 2016

10 of the Best Artworks at Art Basel 2016

A view of Art Basel 2016

This year’s edition of Art Basel is, on the whole, not a place to find something you didn’t already know—go to LISTE for that. Instead, it’s best approached as a repository for new quirks in the accepted canon, little progressions of the art-market battleships to the left or the right. Here are some works that stood out in the vernissage, with a focus on the fair’s more contemporary second floor.


Untitled (Wall of Ice) (2016)
Galerie Hans Mayer (Düsseldorf)
Around €400,000

ROBERT LONGO Untitled (Wall of Ice) 2016 Galerie Hans Mayer (Düsseldorf) at Art Basel

For the last decade or so, Robert Longo has been synonymous with his dark, brooding, chiaroscuro-heavy large-scale drawings of epic imagery—shark attacks, terrorist incidents, mushroom clouds—all at the point of culmination. Now, with this latest body of work, Longo seems to be stepping into the light. Inspired by a trip to Iceberg Alley in Newfoundland, these grand charcoal drawings of sheer cliffs of ice are like the photo negatives of his darker works, and also recall the photography of artists like Sebastião Salgado and Thomas Ruff. On display at Art Basel, the series was debuted at the much-in-demand artist’s recent show at Thaddaeus Ropac Galerie in Paris and will be included in his upcoming show at the Garage in Moscow.

Push Papers (1986)
Luhring Augustine (New York) 

CADY NOLAND Push Papers (1986) at Luhring Augustine (New York) at Art Basel

This is the moment for Cady Noland. An artist who for decades has been examining the ugly gunk on the bottom of the American Dream, Noland makes work that captures the anger, the pathos, the desperation, the violence, and above all the scary, fascistic tendencies of the country’s white underclass. Look at this 1986 piece, and all the cues are there: the fetishistic tools of authority, from the badge to the cuffs to the life-altering pencil, and the copy of Guns & Ammo, with a schlubby man in glasses relishing the power of a gun on the cover and the magazine opened to an article boasting that “this highly accurate and reliable assault rifle represents real ‘state-of-the-art’ among military hardware.” It’s Trump Nation she’s talking about here, 20 years ago.

Untitled No. 7 from the “Yosemite Suite” (2010)
Annely Juda Fine Art (London)

DAVID HOCKNEY Untitled No. 7 From the Yosemite Suite (2010) at Annely Juda Fine Art (London) at Art Basel

It’s been three years since David Hockney debuted his iPad paintings, and it’s worth savoring these marvels every time they make an appearance. Hockney is 78—a youthful 78, but still—and he stands as the paragon of a historical kind of painting, one that goes back through the Modern era to the Impressionists to Gainsborough and Corot to Rembrandt. For him to be the one to accept the iPad (and its digital ilk) as the successor of the plein-air palette has a certain symbolic heft, a bit like when Degas picked up the camera. Interestingly, Hockney started out making art on his iPhone, embracing the clumsy limits of the drawing program as not a bug but a feature, but now uses it primarily as a sketching tool while the iPad serves as his painting canvas. This series, the “Yosemite Suite,” will go on view in full at Annely Juda’s London space on June 28th.

Untitled (2016)
Metro Pictures (New York)

CINDY SHERMAN Untitled (2016) at Metro Pictures (New York) at Art Basel

In her 2008 “Society Portraits” series, Cindy Sherman took an arch view of the artificially preserved patronesses of the upper class—a milieu she knows well from her collectors—and caught some flack for her portrayal of them as pure vessels of vanity. Too cold, too mean, too unsympathetic. Her latest series, shown in its tender glory at Art Basel, is a corrective: again portraits of women of a certain age, these lived-in portrayals are not satires but celebrations, showing beautiful women whose lined faces tell of struggles and laughter, and whose postures are not brittle but calmly self-assured. Based on publicity stills of 1920s actresses like Louise Brooks where the artist has run the age clock forward, the photographs are most telling as candid portraits of the artist herself, particularly this one set against the backdrop of Sherman’s own backyard in her Long Island home.

Self-Portriat for the Cat (2006) and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (2016)
Galerie Gisèle Linder (Basel) 
5,500 CHF for the video, 13,000 CHF for the cat

LUZIA HÜRZELER Self-Portriat for the Cat (2006) at Galerie Gisèle Linder (Basel) at Art BaselLUZIA HÜRZELER Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (2016) at Galerie Gisèle Linder (Basel) at Art Basel

Ten years ago, the Swiss artist Luzia Hürzeler made a sculpture of her head out of cat food and filmed her cherished cat as it licked away at her face, eventually munching off her nose. She called the video—which of course suggests a more animal-involved version of Janine Antoni’s 1993 Lick and Lather—Self-Portrait for the Cat, which is a double-entendre because of the German slang term where to do something “for the cat” means to do it for no good reason whatsoever. This year, the cat died, so Hürzeler had it taxidermied to display her pet at the fair next to its artistic claim to fame. The video comes in several editions, a gallerist helpfully explained, but its accompaniment “is an edition of only one, because this is the cat.” Art is a many-feathered thing.

Labor Day (2016)
David Kordansky Gallery (Los Angeles)

KATHRYN ANDREWS Labor Day (2016) David Kordansky Gallery (2016) at Art Basel

After driving again and again past billboards of provocatively posed American Apparel models hawking skimpy undergarments, the Los Angeles artist Kathryn Andrews hired the same models and took them to her studio. She gave them each garments of her own design and asked them to pose individually with oversized cardboard tools, then printed these images and displayed them underneath replicas of the front doors to American Apparel stores. The result is dripping with indignation: young women wearing ridiculously phallic cartoons while posing sexily with symbols of their own capacity as tools for Dov Charney’s notoriously misogynistic corporate brainchild, imprisoned within the store’s commercial setting. Eight of these ripostes were made in total, and they’re far more effective than a simple angry honk on the car horn while driving past an ad.

Diane & Acteon (1990)
Cabinet (London) 

PIERRE KLOSSOWSKI Diane & Acteon (1990) at Cabinet (London) at Art Basel

The older brother of the artist Balthus, Pierre Klossowski is known primarily as the author of such philosophical texts the La Monnaie vivante and Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, which were major influences on the work of Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari. He was also a collaborator of Surrealist paragon George Bataille, and a lifelong draughtsman who worked out many of his literary concepts, and the themes for his fiction writing, as large-scale drawings that he would then describe in print.

Later in his life, he met a fabricator who was able to transform his art into three dimensions in resin and wood, and this monumental work—of a sculpture joined with the backdrop of a painting—brings to life a particularly twisted telling of Ovid’s myth of Diana and Actaeon. Here, the rapacious hunter is becoming a stag just as he grapples for the virginal forest goddess, licking her armpit with his cervine tongue while one of his dogs licks at Diana’s genitals and another bites at his ankle, preparing to devour his ensorcelled master. Taking plentiful cues from Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, the work has the psychological layers, muted palette, and relished perversity of one of the artist’s brother’s paintings.

Seated sculpture (2016)
neugerriemschneider (Berlin) 
Low six figures

PAWEŁ ALTHAMER Seated sculpture 2016 at neugerriemschneider (Berlin) at Art Basel

Celebrated for his gloopy Venetians installation at the 2014 Venice Biennale, featuring portraits of that island city’s denizens made from extruded gray plastic, Paweł Althamer is best when he places his plausibly lifelike creations in theatrical settings, like life-sized dioramas of humanity. This sculpture arises from one of those environments, a recent installation at neugerriemschneider’s Berlin gallery that placed this self-portrait of the artist—sitting cross-legged while carving a sculpture of his mother from a piece of wood—in an ancient mise-en-scène of mud, vegetation, and live birds, like some squalid, smelly patch of prehistory. Fabricated from plaster in the Pergamon Museum, which is famed for its stellar collection of antiquities from the Near East, the sculpture’s ancient affect is undercut by the contemporary tattoos the artist burnt into his ersatz body.

Irish Cock (2016)  
The Approach (London) 
Around £19,000 

ALLISON KATZ Irish Cock (2016) at The Approach (London) at Art Basel

Living in London for the past several years, the American painter Allison Katz has gained an enthusiastic following among collectors, curators, and critics alike for her fresh and exuberant paintings of all manner of things, but especially for her irresistible portraits of monkeys and birds. The paintings tend to express personal themes from the artist’s life, though not in an overt way, and the viewer does not need to know that Katz recently got married to appreciate this heroic, vivacious view of an Irish Cock showered with handfuls of real rice. (Previous paintings in the series have featured rice as well.) Katz will have her next solo show with The Approach in September, so watch out for it.

Untitled (2016)
Petzel (New York)

WADE GUYTON Untitled (2016) at Petzel (New York) at Art Basel

In 2014, Wade Guyton used Art Basel as the staging ground to launch a retaliatory salvo against Christie’s following its sale of one of his fire paintings for $6 million—a price the artist thought smacked of pure speculative frenzy—by giving an identical painting to each of his five dealers at the fair, New York’s Friedrich Petzel, Cologne’s Galerie Gisela Capitain, Milan’s Gió Marconi, Paris’s Galerie Chantal Crousel, and Zürich’s Galerie Francesca Pia. Revenge, if you can call it that, was sweet: each sold the $350,000 painting in the early hours of the vernissage.

Guyton evidently enjoyed that, because he’s done it again this year, and then some: each of his dealers has come to the fair with a brand-new oversize piece from a new series that he made, this one an inkjet print of a photo he took of the floor of his Brooklyn studio, showimg his foot in the lower left and patches of blue tape throughout. Recalling both Jasper Johns and Gustave Caillebotte’s The Floor Planers, the piece—at nearly twice the size and price as last time—is actually a diptych, since the printer couldn’t do the whole width in one go, and the series will go on view in Dijon later this year.


Soft Film (2016)
Foxy Productions (New York)

Special reports

Art Basel’s Unlimited section is one big party

Curator Gianni Jetzer says that organising the show is like party planning—and with a record 88 works this year, he has pulled out all the stops

by Julia Michalska  |  15 June 2016
Art Basel's Unlimited section is one big party

A detail from Mithu Sen’s MOU (Museum of Unbelongings) (2016). Photo: David Owens
Unlimited curator Gianni Jetzer. Photo courtesy of Stefan Holenstein

Unlimited curator Gianni Jetzer. Photo courtesy of Stefan Holenstein

“It’s like organising a birthday party,” says Gianni Jetzer of overseeing Unlimited (until 19 June), Art Basel’s special section dedicated to large-scale installations. “The cake is the foundation, but as the curator, I have to add the icing, the candles, the cherries and some music to celebrate.” Jetzer, who is also curator-at-large at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, has brought together a record 88 works for Unlimited in this, his fifth year, including four performance pieces. “Performance art is part of the 21st-century museum,” Jetzer says. “It addresses the public in a completely different and more direct way.” Amid his party planning, Jetzer tells us about six key works.

Davide Balula, Mimed Sculptures (2016). Photo: David Owens

Davide Balula, Mimed Sculptures (2016)

“Around 20% of the works in Unlimited are new productions and this is one of them. There are seven ‘sculptures’ on show—by artists including Henry Moore, David Smith and Louise Bourgeois—but they’re invisible as long as they’re not activated by the hands of mimes. The work draws on the theories of two art historians: Herbert Read and Clement Greenberg. The artist did a huge casting for the mimes, and there was lots of training involved. They are dressed in white and wear pink gloves, which really emphasises their hands. The market for performances is still quite difficult: production is costly and prices are still very reasonable.”

• Galerie Frank Elbaz (Paris) and Gagosian Gallery (Paris)

Mithu Sen, MOU (Museum of Unbelongings) (2016). Photo: David Owens

Mithu Sen, MOU (Museum of Unbelongings) (2016)

“There are three female Indian contemporary artists in the show this year. This work is comprised of [Mithu Sen’s] collection of fetishes, curios and souvenirs, much in the tradition of the cabinet of curiosities. Basel has beautiful cabinets of curiosities because it has such an old university and has a long history of collecting. In India, the artist was unable to show this work in its entirety because of its allusions to homosexuality, religion, mixed marriage and all kinds of matters that are impossible to speak about publicly. When she had an offer to show a redacted version, she turned the curator down, saying that it would be like cutting off one of her arms. This work is an exhibition within an exhibition, almost like a Russian doll.”

Chemould Prescott Road (Mumbai), Galerie Krinzinger (Vienna) and Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris)

Chelpa Ferro, Jungle Jam (2010). Photo: David Owens

Chelpa Ferro, Jungle Jam (2010)

“This Brazilian collective, made up of three men, often works with musical compositions. Here, they are using blenders, ordinary household items that are reconfigured as musical instruments. Each one is attached to a MIDI controller, a digital steering device that activates the blenders. The work is like an orchestra of plastic bags and the MIDI controller is the invisible conductor. The plastic bags are from various stores, most of them Brazilian but some European. Chelpa Ferro have not had many museum shows in Europe, so it’s great that they’re included this year, as so many international curators come to Unlimited. It’s really exciting to work with artists who are still relatively unknown.”

• Sprovieri (London)

Hans Op de Beeck, The Collector’s House (2016). Photo: David Owens

Hans Op de Beeck, The Collector’s House (2016)

“[The Belgian artist] Hans Op de Beeck is a regular at Unlimited. This year’s work is brand new and is having its premiere here. It’s a re-creation of a collector’s house in an almost Stanley Kubrick way; everything is intensified and over the top, like the pond in the middle of the living room. The work reflects the neo-bourgeois culture that comes with collecting. On the other hand, it looks almost like a 21st-century Pompeii, as if an ash rain has come down on this home and frozen it for eternity. Time and colour have been sucked out.”

•Marianne Boesky Gallery (New York), Galleria Continua (San Gimignano), Galerie Krinzinger (Vienna)

Koji Enokura, Untitled No. 11, 12, 13 and 14 (1978). Photo: David Owens

Koji Enokura, Untitled No. 11, 12, 13 and 14 (1978)

“[Koji Enokura] is relatively unknown, but I think he’s very important; I’ve always loved his work. This particular piece was created for the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1978. He uses a wooden plank that has been dipped in used oil to produce the images on the four canvases. He omits the frame and just hangs the fabric directly on the wall, showing all the irregularities, the staining and the creases. The leaning wooden panel has a long art-historical tradition. It builds a bridge between the floor and the wall, between three-dimensional and two-dimensional space. This work has more to do with reduction than accumulation. Unlimited is itself an accumulation of works by 88 artists, but this work creates an oasis in which you can almost refresh your mind.”

• Taka Ishii Gallery (Tokyo)

Elmgreen & Dragset, Secondary (2015). Photo: David Owens

Elmgreen & Dragset, Secondary (2015)

“This piece shows a mirrored auction room with two auctioneers bidding in parallel. It is titled Secondary, which is a reference to the secondary art market. Auctions have become a form of entertainment; there’s an excitement around them. They have a formula that pops up in movies and novels; everybody knows what it feels like to be in an auction. But, like in Hans Op de Beeck’s work, all the colours and imagery have been left out, which in turn triggers the images that we have stored in our mind. At a time when auction records keep being broken, this work seems very timely. It also addresses the relationship between secondary and primary. Unlimited is a platform for sales, but it’s a primary one—so here the secondary is infiltrating the primary.”

• Galería Helga de Alvear (Madrid)

Lucy McKenzie, Lina Mouton (2016). Photo: David Owens

Lucy McKenzie, Lina Mouton (2016)

“Lucy McKenzie is a Scottish artist who went to a decorative painting school in Brussels, the Ecole Van Der Kelen, to learn how to paint faux wood and marble, so this technique forms a large part of her work. Here, she turns the furniture, which is all hand-painted, into a three-dimensional canvas. It’s kind of Lucy’s take on Richard Artschwager, showing the tension between representation and decoration, 2D and 3D. It also reminds me of Claes Oldenburg’s Bedroom Ensemble from the 1960s. There is no personal element in this work; she has removed the bedding and the linen. It has also been created especially for Unlimited.

Galerie Buchholz (Berlin) and Cabinet (London)

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