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Leon Golub
Hauser & Wirth 69th Street New York
32 East 69th Street, New York, NY 10021
May 11, 2015 - June 20, 2015


Physical Graffiti: War and Paint Collide in Leon Golub: Riot
by Bradley Rubenstein


I think of myself as a kind of reporter; I report on the nature of certain events. I think of art as a report on civilization at a certain time.

—Leon Golub

Leon Golub: Riot at Hauser & Wirth, in New York, presents a long overdue opportunity to see Golub’s paintings gathered together from several different bodies of work spanning a four-decade period. Showing Napalm I (1969) and Riot V (1987), Vietnam-era paintings, and several fine examples from his late Mercenaries series, this exhibition offers a chance to view Golub's rough-hewn, infinitely tactile, and large-scale works the way the artist intended: full-on, confrontational, and unmediated. 

Encountering Napalm I, which fills the first gallery, T.S. Eliot comes to mind: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned./The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” Yes, of course mere anarchy is always loose in the world, but if one might select an artist of passionate intensity, that might be Golub—and if there was ever an example of a twentieth-century artist of conviction, Golub was the very definition of it. Why does this work evoke such paradox? Perhaps it is Golub’s subject matter and painterly method colliding on the canvas before us.

Leon Golub, Napalm I, 1969, Acrylic on linen, 117 1/4 x 213 in

 

Created between 1968 and 1969, the Napalm series represented a pivotal moment when Golub's subject matter shifted from the mythological to the political, advancing its relevance and urgency in relation to contemporary life. These paintings are the first to reference the Vietnam War and are part of what Golub himself described as an "overt political effort." In Napalm I, he depicts the sheer vulnerability of the human body. Two figures are entangled in a rust-stained landscape. As one fights to extricate himself, the other lies mortally wounded with an open, blood-encrusted chest. Golub’s treatment of this wound in paint reminds one of de Kooning's wrinkly-skin paint skeins in his Clamdigger series of the 60s; paint no longer depicted desiccated flesh, it became it. In a repetitive process that required weeks of demanding physical work, Golub dissolved his pigments, soaked the canvas in solvents, scraped away paint with a meat cleaver, and rendered surfaces as eviscerated, porous, and raw as the violence that a human body suffers in scenarios of duress and agony. Our unease is a result of seeing this process—bodies created then eroded, laid out before us. Their faces, death-mask rictuses, evoke no emotion from us; rather, our response comes from the tortured figures wrestling in front of us. 

Interestingly, another artist who comes to mind when viewing these pieces is Francis Bacon, roughly Golub’s contemporary for a time. Bacon freely appropriated T.S. Eliot’s highly theatrical poetry for his own highly theatric orgies of flayed flesh. Like Bacon, Golub’s attacks on the figure were clumsy, physical, inelegant—and most of all sincere. Both drew on the Classical, conflict, and, possibly, underneath it all, an attempt to resurrect a type of religious painting, via Grünewald, which both vociferously denied.

Golub struggled through his early Classical phase, his Vietnam period, and (not in this exhibition) a series of head studies of political leaders in the ‘70s before recognition for his work finally caught up with him. From the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, Golub created his most celebrated works, with the series Mercenaries, Interrogations, White Squads, and Riots. Depicting scenes of coercion, torture, terrorism, and urban unrest, these paintings portray the aggressors as men who perhaps are not so different from ourselves. In these years Golub focused on power and its abuses, giving particular attention to American military activity in such places as Latin America. It is at this point that Golub turned his painting into a kind of reportage, distancing his process in favor of a kind of Christopher Isherwood-like objectivity:

I think of myself as a kind of reporter; I report on the nature of certain events. I think of art as a report on civilization at a certain time. It tells about the confidence of hierarchies, how hierarchy is expressed: who is included and who is not…Perhaps for the first time in history, with the exception of Goya and a few others, there is an art that does not celebrate state and church power. If I paint mercenaries, whatever else I am doing, I am not praising state power and the success of arms. I am reporting on the state of our society, how we use force, and how men act out their roles.

Leon Golub, Riot V, 1987, Acrylic on linen, 120 x 155 in

 

Riot V shows a gang of men in paramilitary garb, caught in mid-action—cheering, attacking, recoiling. The image retains an element of ambiguity. We become the focus of the gesticulating, leering group, and, for a moment, become either victims or complicit in the action. These works, though strong, seem mediated—mediated through the source material that Golub collected, mediated through period clothes and weapons, mediated through our own exposure to the same imagery. In some ways, through all this mediation, some of Golub’s uncanny ability to depict power dissipates. Not to say that these are lesser painterly achievements, but rather, they are to depictions of power and struggle what a drone strike is to a boots-on-the-ground soldier. Equally lethal, emotionally distant.

Leon Golub, Love in Art School III, 2004, Oil stick and ink on vellum, 10 x 8 in

 

The exhibition also includes a selection of monoprints that Golub began in 2000 and continued to create through the last four year of his life. Intimate in scale, these works employ the technique of oil transfer and revisit earlier themes, referencing mythology, eroticism, and violence. They call to mind the monoprints of Eric Fischl, the modern master of the medium. In some ways their lightness and humor provide a tonic for the heaviness of the paintings. The symbol of the sphinx returns in Alerted (2003). Part man and part beast, the sphinx is an ideal metaphor for the struggles of humankind seeking both gratification and civilization. A Satyr (3 Legged Satyr, 2004) and a sketch of a Centaur (The Wounded Centaur, 2004) are a sly nod to Matthew Barney; and two standing figures fucking (Love in Art School III, 2004) parodies late-period Picasso à la Tracey Emin.

Leon Golub, Fallen Warrior, 1968, Acrylic on linen, 65 1/2 x 83 1/2 in

 

The painting Fallen Warrior (1968) is the masterpiece of this exhibition. Its fallen, broken figure is echoed in the cut and abraded scrap of canvas it barely inhabits. Approximately life-sized, this image combines Golub's early affinity to the Classical with the news of the moment circa 1969. It is timeless, nevertheless, as we see today with ISIS torture and African atrocities. Golub, like Courbet or Delacroix or Goya, managed to create an image of man, who despite centuries of civilization, is still slouching toward Bethlehem.

 

Bradley Rubenstein

 

(Image at top: Leon Golub, Riot, Installation view at Hauser & Wirth, New York) 



Posted by Bradley Rubenstein on 6/4 | tags: drawing painting war vietnam war riot protest violence

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Activating the Archive: Kameelah Rasheed Untidies History
by Jessica Lynne


“You’re going to get me started on a rant,” Kameelah Janan Rasheed says in between laughs as I begin to ask her about America’s obsession with neat and tidy histories. “America loves a linear history and a linear history wants us to think about things as discrete events. We should instead be thinking about history as sets of logic and systems that preserve power.” It is a week before the opening of Rasheed’s latest solo exhibition, Future Perfect/indices & marginalia at The Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn and it is evident that she intends the show to be one full of historical disruptions. “Funny enough, I actually hated history as a kid,” Rasheed says with another laugh.

It is difficult to find a trace of that youthful disdain in Rasheed’s work now. History is so intimately connected to her praxis. Although it is perhaps more accurate to say that it is the reconstruction of history, particularly histories outside of a white-capitalist-patriarchal framework, that most interests Rasheed. What has resulted is a body of work that is as physically confronting as it is intellectually gripping. A self-described research-based conceptual artist, Rasheed—whose artistic mediums include photography, printmaking, and installation—is painstakingly deliberate about her approach to the building of alternative canonical spaces through her art. And she is reticent to shy away from the centering of blackness in such an approach.

Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Installation Shot (detail) from No Instructions for Assembly, Activation VII at Vox Populi in Philadelphia, 2015

 

I first encountered Rasheed’s work last summer when she was part of the site-specific group exhibition If You Build It, curated by the non-profit organization, No Longer Empty. On view was her installation No Instructions for Assembly, Activation IV (2014), which served as a portable archive documenting the period of time when, as a child, Rasheed and her family were homeless. Using family photographs, texts, and other found objects, Rasheed catalogued a specific moment in her childhood, yet also asked those of us who wandered about the installation to leave behind our own ephemera. In this way, she invited multiple, disparate stories of home to exist alongside one another. This elasticity, indeed multiplicity of the archive as an artistic conceit is central to Rasheed’s historical negotiations with consequences that extend far beyond the art itself. “For marginalized communities, the archive is not merely about an artistic gesture, in many ways it is about survival,” she argues, “the question for me is always: what isn’t being documented?”

Kameelah Janan Rasheed, How to Suffer: LTP (2014-)

 

In her series How to Suffer Politely (And Other Etiquette for the Lumpenproletariat) (2014–), Rasheed targets dominant discourse more explicitly. Consisting of seven bright yellow digital chromogenic prints, the project is a tongue in cheek commentary on the failures of master narratives of racial progress. One print reads: Paddling Upstream Builds Character. Another: Purchase the Proper Boots with which to Pull Yourself Up By the Bootstraps. In their simplicity lies their effectiveness—the edicts of history never favor the poor and disenfranchised.

Thus, Rasheed charts and re-charts new maps that propose new pathways towards a black utopia. But how are these new pathways made public? What strategies must be employed in order to activate the archive? In each iteration of No Instructions… (appropriately referred to as activations), as she re-uses and re-fashions materials left by viewers while also including new objects, Rasheed builds a conduit and frees the archival material for multiple publics. The animation lives in the invitation—the invitation to contribute to the atemporality of histories, to reject the erasures of the linear. At the time of our call, the magnitude of continuing this intellectual project with the Weeksville community is not at all lost on Rasheed. “I do worry that I have overthought it to the point of inaccessibility,” she tells me.

Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Future Perfect/indices & marginalia, 2015, Installation view (found photographs, vintage Ebony magazines, transparency paper, stretched canvas, excerpts from Weeksville archive) at The Weeksville Heritage Center, Brooklyn. Photo: Dyani Douze

 

Still, Rasheed’s ideological framework is exactly why Weeksville curator Ali Rosa-Salas chose to work with her when conceptualizing a project that would make public the center’s rich archives. For those who have long debated what black liberation might look like, historic Weeksville offers some glimpses of potentiality. The heritage center now exists to connect the immediate neighborhood and wider New York City community to the largely under-told story of the vibrant free black community of 19th century Weeksville, Brooklyn. However, the task has not been an easy one. With her invitation to Rasheed, Rosa-Salas is hoping to create an intervention. She told me via email:

Kameelah's tactile manipulation of archival material (ripping, cutting, highlighting, photocopying) is to me, an act of resistance to the institutional structures that alienate the public from history that is rightfully theirs. She thinks expansively about archival sources, seeing the world she inhabits as a library in and of itself.

Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Future Perfect/indices & marginalia, 2015, Installation view (magazine text excerpts, excerpt from William H. Pease's "Black Utopia: Negro Communal Experiments in America"- 1963, and Elizabeth Alexader's, "Can You be BLACK and Look at This?: Reading the Rodney King Video(s)" - 1994) at The Weeksville Heritage Center, Brooklyn. Photo: Dyani Douze

 

When I find Rasheed at the exhibition opening, she is readying herself for a few opening night photographs. At her back is the cognitive sprawl, as Salas refers to it, of archival material—from the Weeksville library, the internet, and other institutional collections—that comprises the largely text-based installation. It is a dense, scholarly, excavation with writings from Hortense Spillers and William H. Pease, among others, that requires me to walk through three times before fully feeling satisfied. “How do I create a black utopia?” asks Rasheed when we finally get a moment to speak. “I don’t have the exact answer to that but I see my work as a space for me to think through that inquiry taking advantage of the stimuli of the world, building relationships between systems of thoughts.”

 

Jessica Lynne

 

Future Perfect/ indices & marginalia is on view at The Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, NY, until June 24th.

 

(Image at top: Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Future Perfect/indices & marginalia, 2015, Installation view, (found photographs, vintage Ebony magazines, monoprints, Glenn Ligon's "Hands" -1996, excerpts from Thomas Sayer Ellis' "Skin Inc.", excerpts from Jan Von Brevern's, "The Islands of Benoît Mandelbrot: Fractals, Chaos, and the Materiality of Thinking", excerpts from 1928 "Crisis" magazine, excerpts from Weeksville archive, handwritten notes, found paper) at The Weeksville Heritage Center, Brooklyn. Photo: Dyani Douze)



Posted by Jessica Lynne on 6/10 | tags: photography installation African American history Weeksville Heritage Center Archives historiography Systems ArtSlant Editions

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Faith Holland
TRANSFER
1030 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211
June 13, 2015 - July 11, 2015


Faith Holland's Cum "Paintings" Aren't Your Usual Cum Paintings
by Joel Kuennen


First, apologies for the puns to come. It’s difficult to talk about sexuality and eroticism without making a bad pun or two. Sexuality has seemingly always been a site of discomfort in our culture: through it, we are laid naked and bare, both literally and via the fetishes that express the darkest sublimations of gendered relations. The advent of a communication tool and platform for largely consequence-free expression—the internet—has greatly affected the role pornography and sexuality play in our everyday lives. Faith Holland’s exhibition Technophilia at Transfer Gallery explores the crash between human sexuality and the internet in ways that range from funny (there’s a tissue box below the exhibition title in the gallery) to thought-provoking, all the while trying to reform the inherent patriarchal nature of pornographic cinema as it currently exists.

Faith Holland, Ookie Canvas I, 2015. 84"x47.25", Edition of 1 + AP

 

The most dominating and visually enticing work in the exhibition is Ookie Canvas I, an abstract expressionist “painting” printed on canvas, crafted from an interactive project that has grown out of Holland’s previous porn interventions [NSFW] on Redtube. Earlier this year, Holland placed an open call for “sub/emissions,” riffing off the idea of cum tributes, a practice where (mostly) men cum on images (or screens) of their favorite porn stars and post the video. Holland asked for “anonymous submissions of CUM SHOTS that will be used as part of an artwork. Submissions will be accepted from any and all genders as long as it is fluid emitted as the result of an orgasm.” Each shot was then isolated and altered using color saturation values and digitally collaged onto the Ookie Canvases.

The submission process itself proved insightful. Holland mentioned one individual who submitted his contribution with the following note:

I sent this video to my ex girlfriend when she and I weren’t together last November. She was in love with (the beauty of) my cock. On the video I tell her how deep my primal need was to have a baby from her, cumming even after three times in an hour. She did get consciously pregnant from me, first try, one months [sic] after I sent her the video. However, then at 8 weeks pregnant, she got a panic attack, feared the lack of sufficient financials in the future (not an issue in this country, but she was from Hungary, which isn’t stable), ran out the house in panic, got an abortion, and went back to Hungary.

The expression of sexuality online often exposes an interesting need to lay bare the personal details of our lives. The act of cumming, even within a (mostly) anonymized space, is still an extremely personal act. Holland’s interest in the material, however, is rightfully a political one. When asked what interested her in cum, she responded: “The imbalance of visualizing pleasure that happens. The way that porn routinely ends with a man coming on a woman or a man. It indicates male pleasure and not female pleasure.” The act of cumming on someone is also an exercise of power: there is a quality of latent potency and an expression of excess virility. The Ookie Cookie series hamstrings this expression of power through aestheticization. 

Animated gif from Visual Orgasms, 2013-2015. Variable length, variable dimensions, edition of 5 + AP

 

Pornography is a male-dominated domain and the mores and practices it espouses are increasingly at greater odds within a progressive, egalitarian society. There are conflicting reports as to just how deep online pornography penetrates. (A 2013 Pew survey suggested that only a meager 12 percent of Americans watch online pornography, yet at the date of publication, the 44th most popular website in the world is xvideos.com; Netflix sits at 53.) When Slate wrote about the Pew survey, they called the article “How Many Woman Are Not Admitting to Pew That They Watch Porn.” The consensus at the time was that women mostly get their kicks from erotic fan fiction and romance novels, a world we explored last month.

This is an understandable conclusion. The vast majority of porn online is made by and for a male audience which perpetuates patriarchal attitudes when it comes to sex and sexuality. Why would women watch media that denigrates, belittles, and objectifies their own gender? Cultural production needs to actively address and mitigate the slew of aggressively exploitative, patriarichal porn that is currently influencing every 16-year-old with an internet connection. Not through illegalization, banning, etc. but by investment in and production of alternative forms that actively address these underlying codes of power. If pornography can manifest our subconscious in ways that other media cannot, then it must also be able to change our subconscious attitudes founded in patriarichal power dynamics.

The Hays Code and the culture wars led by an energized conservative-Christian base that were able to prevent and censor art to an extreme degree seem like a distant past. Non-hierarchical media (like the web) are mostly to thank for this. The mass availability of pornography online, however, has and will continue to have broader cultural effects. This author would like to think that the broad availability and acceptance of pornography is having an opening effect on how we as a society practice our sexuality, allowing for more varied and inclusive kinks to become acceptable expressions of our relationships with one another. Holland remains skeptical:

Unfortunately things are becoming more sexualized whereas expressions of sexuality aren’t really any more accepted to a certain degree. LGBTQ rights have blossomed, we have gay marriage–who thought that was going to happen ten years ago? At the same time, there still is a huge culture of shaming, especially for women there is still very much a double bind. ‘We want you to be a sexual object but if you present yourself as having a sexuality that you want to fulfill...’ It’s not simple.

Left to right: It Needs You, 2015, Sub/emissions, 2015, Visual Orgasms, 2013-2015, Ookie Canvas I, 2015. Installation view

 

Visual Orgasms, a projection piece on the back wall of the gallery cycles through gifs that depict symbolic representations of orgasm: trains coming out of tunnels, champagne corks popping, rockets taking off, fireworks exploding. A nod to Hollywood's restrictive Hays Code, Visual Orgasms explores previous ways in which western visual culture represented ejaculation, not orgasm. These visual representations serve as a medium between the intimate act of sexual intercourse and the technophilia that Holland ultimately comes to investigate.

Matrice, It Needs You, and Centerfold all explore this eroticization of technology that must occur when it becomes the medium for sexual pleasure. It Needs You consists of ethernet wall plates and hundreds of feet of ethernet cables that spill out from the wall, glistening with lubricant supplied by a nearby pump jug. Matrice, a net of ethernet cords that emerges on the floor from a corner of the gallery represents an important confluence for Holland. The term “matrix,” a common metaphor for digital life, comes from the French “matrice” meaning “womb.” Holland's interest in this doubly-bound term is foundational to one of her earlier projects, VVVVVV, which practices new vocabularies for a feminist pornography.

Shifting the aestheticization of patriarchal power within pornography can be a supremely simple act. Holland related a story to me where during a book release for The Feminist Porn Book, edited by feminist educator/pornographer/director Tristan Taormino, Holland asked about the formal differences between heteronormative porn and feminist porn. Taormino responded that she once submitted a porn to a production company and got it back with edits. Someone had written in big red letters: “MAN DOES NOT CUM IN THIS SCENE.” Taormino answered, “I know…”

 

Joel Kuennen

 

(Image at top: Faith Holland, Ookie Canvas I (detail), 2015. 84"x47.25", Edition of 1 + AP. All images: Courtesy of the artist and Transfer Gallery.)



Posted by Joel Kuennen on 6/19 | tags: digital installation abstract feminist porn faith holland new media feminism pornography gif art

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Coney Island's Art Walls: Conversation or Spectacle?
by Eva Recinos


Lying somewhere on the spectrum between an amusement park and seaside resort, Coney Island attracts tourists with its boardwalk, rides, and more. But the visiting spectator might not know so much about the residential community of nearly 60,000 people who live within this area. 

Hoping to add a cultural currency to the historic tourist spot, this summer Coney Art Walls presents more than 20 temporary walls painted by artists like Miss Van, Lady Pink, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Futura, and artist-in-residence Marie Roberts. While it’s a veritable visual candy shop for a street art fan, the initiative has also attracted criticism for being a thinly-veiled marketing scheme—yet the project is more complicated than it appears at first glance. 

Following the format of many similar initiatives, Coney Art Walls lends itself to street art’s ephemerality. Artists get temporary walls in a prime spot to paint murals, without worrying about legal repercussions. In exchange, locals and visitors experience the work of many talented artists in one place. What could possibly go wrong?

Irak. All images via @ConeyArtWalls on Twitter

 

Development in Coney Island has always been controversial, since the first structures were built there in the 1900s. One of the biggest criticisms today responds to the fact that Coney Art Walls is largely backed by Thor Equities, the controversial development company which has been buying up and selling off real estate on Coney Island, closing down its amusement parks, since 2003. They enlisted the help of curator and former MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch, himself a divisive figure who continually rouses controversy amongst peers. The financial backing of the project has cynics up in arms, and it raises a fundamental issue that street artists are facing today: they are often used by developers to capitalize on their gentrifying power and push property prices up, forcing local communities out. 

The project has also been slammed for the art itself. Stepping into a rare territory for art critics, Artnet’s Christian Viveros-Fauné argues that “to call 'Coney Art Walls' an art exhibition is to commit what philosopher Gilbert Ryle would have termed a category mistake.” Viveros-Fauné goes on to describe the murals as riffs on “tame wall art.” The simple patterns and almost garish color palettes of some of the murals lend some credibility the writer’s statement: these pieces seem completely disconnected from the area, as if they could exist in any context. So why here?

Starting an outdoor art show at Coney Island is different from staging an art show just anywhere. The area has a complicated cultural history—specifically when it comes to the manner in which Coney Island became a well-known attraction in the first place. As an attraction, it is a place burdened with stereotypes and myth.

Artist-in-residence Marine Roberts

 

Murals like those of iconic graffiti artist Lady Pink—a bright, eye-catching tableau depicting a snake lady, mermaid, and a devilish figure—demonstrate the artist’s talent for transforming a simple temporary structure into something more dynamic. But the viewer can’t help but notice that the images reinforce the perspective of Coney Island as a space for carnies and freaks. Not that there’s anything wrong with depicting these alternative subcultures—it’s just that this view reaffirms a clichéd perspective of Coney's residents and history. 

Lady Pink

 

Perhaps more productive in activating the space—and engaging with its residents—is a mural by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Framed against a plain white background, her portraits stand out for their stark simplicity. Fazlalizadeh decided to photograph and interview local residents. While speaking with them, the statement that stuck with her the most became the phrase displayed at the bottom of the six portraits: “The day before Easter, and the day after Labor Day—people still live here. People die here. People love here.”

In the end, questions still remain about the motives for drawing more visitors to the area: is it for the art, or the location?

If it’s for sheer spectacle then viewers might only leave with a surface understanding of the area and a newfound (or re-affirmed) admiration for the artists involved. But when Coney Art Walls comes down, the viewers will have to work hard to remember the area as much more than an attraction—or an area with real estate opportunities. Fazlalizadeh’s mural asks that viewers come face to face with likenesses of Coney Island’s citizens— and the reality that the Coney Island is more than merely a tourist destination. 


Eva Recinos

(Image at the top: Mural by Futura, Via Coney Art Walls Twitter)



Posted by Eva Recinos on 6/26 | tags: Coney Island Jeffrey Deitch Coney Art Walls murals gentrification painting graffiti/street-art

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Andy Warhol's Portrait of Gay Underground Culture
by The ArtSlant Team


In celebration of Pride week, Christie's ran a special Warhol auction this week, making some 100 photographs and drawings available to purchase. Beyond the price tags, the works, many in the public eye for the first time, draw a passionate portrait of the underground LGBT scene of the '70s and '80s that was so much a part of the artist's life. They are a historical archive, charting a defining era of sexuality and social politics in American cities like San Francisco and New York City. Though the gay community suffered one the worst decades during the AIDS crisis of the '80s, the works here are on the whole celebratory, an exploration of what excites us, the kind of bodies that arouse us, charting a growing sense of freedom up to this week's triumphant news that same-sex marriage is now legal across the United States. 

Here are some of our favorite images documenting a unique period in gay history through Andy's eyes. 

 

—The ArtSlant Team

 

All images: Courtesy Christie's



Posted by The ArtSlant Team on 6/26 | tags: photography pride auction Christie's Gay Pride andy warhol

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EVOL
Jonathan LeVine Gallery - 529 W. 20th
529 W. 20th Street, 9E, New York, NY 10011
June 25, 2015 - July 25, 2015


Evol Brings East Berlin to Chelsea, with Talk of Gentrification
by Stephanie Berzon


Gentrification is the big bad wolf in the modern day urban party. Never formally invited, it heard of the gathering by word of mouth and will restlessly attempt to enter even if it has to blow the entire structure down. No one likes it—neither the apologetic gentrifier nor the displaced community who lack enough financial clout or power to resist or keep up with the shift. It barrels forward as if it has no memory of itself, all history lessons completely erased. After it passes, the area has a new face: cultural and physical landscapes are transformed, a coat of fresh paint is at once attractive and hollowing. 

In his show Unreal Estate at Jonathan LeVine artist Evol brings a familiar conversation back to New York’s Chelsea art district, a place where art itself played a role in transforming a neighborhood and changing the real estate market. 

Freudenberg (left). All images: Frankie Galland

Altering streets is nothing new to Berlin-based Evol. His trompe-l'oeil paintings of residential buildings in East Berlin are deceivingly realistic and commonly found on surfaces common to the streets: on cardboard boxes to be framed and placed inside of an art institution, or on outdoor electrical boxes and cement slabs that remain in their native environments. The tenements he recreates in miniature are usually depicted in daylight and in a state of vacancy—as if they house a working class who use the space for little more than sleep. There is a continual awareness of the ordinary, established city block. Tears and holes on the façade of his painted buildings are cleverly matched the defects that his cardboard canvases already had; tears, folds, tape residue, and packing labels become features in his painted buildings, the imperfections suggesting the neighborhood’s history and battles.

HHHaus

These architectural scars (in the artwork and in real life) may be charming to a visitor, but to Evol they “symbolize the possibility of a certain freedom.” In less affluent neighborhoods, there is more room to self-govern, to try and start a business or to openly struggle. With the rise of luxury condos comes a shift for the responsibility of culture—the ability to create culture versus consume it—and this exchange is mirrored in the architecture.

In the front of the gallery there is a broken window painted on a cardboard box. Through the holes of another painting we can see construction undertaken inside a building’s gutted shell. In Who's afraid of Yellow, Orange and Blue?, a long, warehouse-like structure is covered in graffiti; the sun casts a shadow of scaffolding on a residential building in Shadows of Things to Come. Moving towards the back of the gallery, the work becomes more surreal and also more like an installation.

A funhouse mirror hangs opposite the show’s only sculpture, which is a typical Evol city building spray-painted on a cardboard box, leaning against the wall. However a sticker on it reveals a New York City address. All reflections in the mirror are warped: the building along with the gallery hopper viewing the artwork along with the leisurely white walls of the gallery. Everything is caught in the eye of gentrification, participating in its rituals, brought together by this moment of awareness in the artwork’s contorted reflection.

 

Stephanie Berzon

 

(All photos: Frankie Galland)



Posted by Stephanie Berzon on 7/1 | tags: graffiti/street-art mixed-media painting gentrification East Berlin chelsea trompe l'oeil architecture evol

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