Take Me to Art 11/16/19: Postwar Women at the Art Students’ League

What is the case for exhibiting women artists as women artists?  Postwar Women, at the Art Students’ League through December 1st, unites the visions of women artists in the later twentieth century in such a way as to both pose and answer questions of how women artists see, and to make a case for collecting these visions in one space that tells a story across painting, sculpture, and mixed media.

Elizabeth Catlett and Faith Ringgold both look into the past, in some cases the very distant past.  Catlett’s “Standing Mother and Child” and “The Door of Justice” both recall African mask traditions (I am not an expert, but for me they evoke the Dean gle of the Dan people of Liberia) in the stylized but steady faces…

“Standing Mother and Child” and “The Door of Justice,” Elizabeth Catlett

…while Faith Ringgold recontextualizes the famous remains of “Lucy” as those of a beloved ancestor by placing a miniature skeleton in a gold coffin, surrounded by flowers and colorful fabric.  The scale is intimate and familiar, the notes in block printing on plain white paper, bringing Lucy out of the museum and into a setting that feels funereal, reverent, and joyous all at once.

“Lucy, the 3.5 Million Year Old Lady,” Faith Ringgold

Catlett and Ringgold both look behind to look forward, reaching into the past to bring dignity and tenderness to depictions of people of African heritage.  The explicit embrace of African history and artistic traditions reminds me of El Anatsui or Yinka Shonibare; the affection the artists radiate towards their subjects brings to mind Kehinde Wiley.  But ultimately, the modest dimensions lead to a different interpretation, distinct from Shonibare’s irony or Wiley’s grandeur: Catlett and Ringgold, by way of the familial and fond, draw the viewer’s attention to the ways in which people of color have been dehumanized and embrace them with seriousness and profundity.

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Take Me to Church 7/28/19: Particularity in the Lions’ Den

Photo by Francesco De Tommaso on Unsplash

The king caved in, and ordered Daniel brought and thrown into the lions’ den.  But he said to Daniel, “Your God, to whom you are so loyal, is going to get you out of this.”
Daniel 6:16


Daniel’s true crime might be described as what Community Minister André Daughtry described in his sermon today as “particularity.”  Daniel worships the God of Israel, quietly but openly flouting a decree that Darius be worshipped as a God (a decree that Daniel’s enemies connive Darius into signing).  Darius is reluctant to sentence Daniel to the lions’ den, urging Daniel to call on his God to save him.

The artistlike the exile, like the spiritual leaderis someone who answers the call to particularity.  André shared his photographs of Rev. Jeff Mansfield, a former community minister at Judson, which included an action shot of Jeff leading a Moral Mondays protest in Albany.  (“Leading,” it should be noted, is not the word Jeff himself would use.  Reflecting on the picture, Jeff instead described a sense of feeling steered by the protesters, of being in front “not because [he] knew the way, but because [he] knew they needed to get there.”)  Protesting systemic racism and poverty is, in these darkening days, still particular.

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Take Me to Art 5/15/19: Undiscovered Countries (Judson Arts Wednesdays)

Screenshot 2019-05-19 at 9.05.04 PM
Undiscovered Countries on Facebook

On Wednesday nights, when Judson becomes an arts venue (always free for both artists and audience, always live, always uncensored), the Meeting Room looks different.  The LaFarge windows only suggest the saints and angels within themselves; there are more shadows, the Vignette on the Instagram turned all the way up; more ways to be ambiguous, more ways to hide and then emerge.

In the dimmed room, as the Judson staff and the artists of Undiscovered Countries worked together to set the stage for the show, I was reminded of why Judson Arts Wednesdays are so important, both for us as a faith community and for the artists who come to work and perform there.  There was the lighting, the sound system, the microphones carefully placed and adjusted; the infrastructure often barely visible to an audience, but so important for artists to be able to access as they grow their art and the audience for it.  Before the show even started, I was grateful just for that, for the columns holding up our aging building, for the people who take such good care of both it and the people who take spiritual, artistic, and religious shelter within it.

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Take Me to Art 5/9/19: Mavis and Friends (Mavis Staples’ 80th Birthday Show!)

Mavis Staples, Valerie June, and her wonderful band!  (As always, not-great concert photo by yours truly.)

After we saw Amazing Grace, we decided we’d be total fools if we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to see national treasure, living history, wildly talented musician Mavis Staples perform live for her 80th birthday at the Apollo Theatre. And we weren’t disappointed, of course; in addition to Mavis herself, she was joined by a coterie of other terrific musicians (like Valerie June in that fabulous lime-green number at left).  And it was more than a show; in both the songs and the stories Mavis shared, the evening was a testament to the power of music to change hearts, sustain social movements, and bring meaning and purpose to life over eras and generations.

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Take Me to Art 4/6/19: Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving at Brooklyn Museum

Untitled collage
Lightboxes and paraphernalia.  Yup, mine.

Soy una mezcla (I am a mixture).
–Frida Kahlo

A few days after seeing Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving at the Brooklyn Museum, I keep coming back to one of the smaller works on display, one I didn’t know before I saw the show.  Both its size and its black-and-white palette made it easy to overlook.  Entitled Frida y el aborto (Frida and the Miscarriage), it’s a simple lithograph of which only three copies remain, Frida having destroyed the rest.  She commented about her miscarriages, “Many things prevented the fulfillment of the desire all consider normal, and nothing seemed more normal to me than to paint what I had not achieved…I lost three children…Painting replaced all of that.”

As with Kahlo’s body of work itself, color is a defining element of much of the rest of the exhibition.  It includes clothing both from her personal wardrobe and similar pieces, down to the plaster casts she wore on her torso after a streetcar accident left her permanently disabled; photographs from all stages of her life, including the brilliant color photos by her lover Nickolas Muray; and some of her best-loved paintings, including one of my favorites, Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego, and Señor Xolotl.  The lightboxes at the front of the exhibit (pictured above) pop in cerulean and peach; the walls inside are emerald and maize.

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Take Me to Art 3/21/19: Hozier in Orlando

Hozier performs in Orlando, 3/21/19.  I don’t take great photos during shows, but I thought this one was aight.

This __________ will change your life!

Will it, though?  Probably not.  At least not the way you think.  Change is hard and slow, and it usually isn’t a single process.  To really change your life, you need to rewrite your programming, and if you operate on Shame.0 (there are no other versions; Shame.0 is a primitive, miserable program upon which improvement is not possible), coming out about who you really are and what matters to you is especially difficult.  But I’m becoming convinced that it’s the only real project, I who do love a good project, at the same time that it’s dawning on me what a long project it has been and will continue to be.

This (***waves hand vaguely***) is part of the project.  About a year ago, I realized I couldn’t last much longer pretending I didn’t write, pretending it wasn’t still so important to me.  I couldn’t let my words sit unread and unremembered in my journal anymore.  I had to try to put them out in the world.  I prayed about it (and still do); I read The Artist’s Way and started doing morning pages; I took time off from work specifically to finish a book I started writing in 2013; I finished a 50k first draft of a new book during NaNoWriMo; I asked Dakota to help me set up the domain name he bought for me a few years ago so I could have a website.  And when I wondered how in God’s name I could get into the spirit of publishing something cohesive with regularity and rhythm and accountability, I figured I could start blogging about church (and cheekily name my church posts after a Hozier song fairly critical of organized religion), since I had been taking notes on church services for years, and share poems from time to time.  At the beginning of the year I also started to make a concerted effort to write about art.  And here it is: an occasionally awkward project, still a fairly small project with a fairly small audience (thanks everyone), but a project nonetheless.

So: I’m not going to tell you that the Hozier show in Orlando changed my life.  And I’m not going to write about it like a music journalist; this isn’t a “review” of the show, per se.  But it still felt like a cairn along the path of change that told me I was going the right way.

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