WM | contemporary art magazine whitehot
By JAN JARDIN CASTRO, October 2021
The great art hunt was back during the new Covid 2021 edition of The Armory Show at the Javits Center. It was good to see art at all prices sell out and to see artists who creatively focused on serious themes, including one that made me laugh out loud.
Given that this and the supporting shows were huge, I will focus on a handful of international artists whose work is memorable, historic and innovative. Ranu Mukherjee exhibition at the Wendi Norris gallery at the top of my list. By creating alluring and enigmatic hybrid worlds, Mukherjee ingeniously tackles climate change and species extinction. In some works, jade, ocher, scarlet and fuchsia trees, plants, birds, animals, humans and outlines of ghosts create dreamlike worlds. Mukherjee told me that his art titled What we lose is all around us “This is an imaginary forest that is home to mangroves, bamboo, banyan trees and kapok trees, all of which are sacred and ecologically important plants. I think the things we lose are here in one form or another, whether it’s physical or in our mind. Mukherjee, an artist based in San Francisco, was signing her new book, Shadow time, at a reception of prisoners of war on Friday evening. Its owls gaze at us with questioning expressions as its human outlines overlap with abundant nature – to suggest that humans are not fully faced with the enormous challenges of extinct species and ecosystems. Its rich and diverse materials include prints on silk saree fabrics with historical ties. His processes, such as painting, printing, collage, mixed media and film, come in and out of his compositions to reconnect us to what is important. Go to www.gallerywendinorris.com to buy Mukherjee’s book. His current art is big; for example, futurism, 2020, is 72 x 42 inches; it combines pigment, ink, Cristalina, UV inkjet printing and sari fabric in silk and cotton on linen. He prefigures his next exhibition Dear future, which opens at 18e Street Arts Center, Santa Monica, California, in 2022.
Alison Saar of Tandem Press was my favorite well known artist doing something new. Her Topsy’s Wrath, 2021 (silkscreen on found cottonseed bags with sewn edging and eyelets, 18 ½ x 18 inches, edition of 30) shows righteous anger. Seven braids stand up to form a star around a blue-black female face against a streaked off-white background; a frame and a burgundy t-shirt complete the red, white and blue composition. Just as Jasper Johns (who just opened at PMA and Whitney) once symbolized American art using red, white and blue, it is high time to let black women symbolically take the stage by as founders of America. Saar’s series of prints on bags found at Tandem show anger at what women of color have endured and also pride in all they have overcome. Saar approaches the race head-on and emancipates his characters (www.tandempress.wisc.edu).
Saar and most of the artists below were in The Armory’s future as a specter refreshing section curated by Wassan Al-Khuhairi, chief curator at the Saint-Louis Museum of Contemporary Art. My pick from this group also includes Jeffrey Gibson at Tandem Press and the Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago (www.kavigupta.com); Andrea Galvani at the Curro Gallery (www.galeriacurro.com); and Wendy Red Star at Sargeant’s Daughters (www.sargentsdaughters.com).
Jeffrey Gibson, based in Hudson, New York, is a member of the Chocktaw and Cherokee Nations. Its symbolism A time for change was at Tandem Press. At Kavi Gupta, his grid of Indigenous decorative tropes, featuring a pearly black ghost-like face with a yellow mask and an Indigenous boy searching for something, seemed to be about the disappearance or loss of something. An Armory press release noted, “Gibson’s practice reorients the place and status of Indigenous art in contemporary culture, providing a unique representation of broader Indigenous and queer identities.
Wendy Red Star, at Sargent’s Daughters, presented an exceptional show called A float for the Future, 2021. His series of sold-out portraits of parade cars and images of past Crow Fair parades and a symbolic wall-sized backdrop framed a small-scale silver flatbed truck. The truck’s large Crow hood on its hood represents the culture keeper of the Apsáalooke community of Red Star in Portland, OR. The installation celebrates the originality and rituals of its Aboriginal heritage. Red Star also created Native American versions of the classic Pendelton costumes. She has exhibited widely and is part of permanent collections, notably at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and at the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris.
Andrea Galvani’s neon sculpture series in Curro has been titled The totality of electromagnetic phenomena [Maxwell’s Equations], 2019. A forest of mathematical equations and scientific graphs, like the one showing wind currents, stood out for its eloquent forms of known phenomena. In addition to its striking aesthetic qualities, the installation is a collaboration with scientists and mathematicians from the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich and La Sapienza Università di Roma. Galvani is based in New York and Mexico and the gallery is in Verona, Italy. Galvani’s many professional credits include exhibitions at the Whitney Museum and the 4e Moscow Contemporary Art Biennial.
My favorite laugh was a ceramic winged Sphinx with big pink breasts and golden nipples. To me, this mythical female lion who sticks out her breasts, buttocks and cock (tale) speaks to all women and all genders more sincerely than an Oscar A-Lister showing off her real or fake cleavage. Unfortunately, I was so amused that I failed to jot down the basics, including the names of the artist, work and gallery; please send me any leads on this one.
Although I liked the blur of seeing so many works of art in one place – most of them works by artists I knew well – I was happy to have found artists and works that were mine. both unknown and memorable. My reason for including Saar, a favorite, is that she embodies the highest level of an artist facing American history as she leads the charge into America’s future. MW