Sunday, January 17, 2016

New Territories

My wife Penelope met a young woman in the Education Department of the Metropolitan Museum some 40 years ago.  Her name was Lowery Stokes Simms.  They ended up both working in the curatorial department of what was then known as the Department of 20th Century Art.  Lowery was particularly involved in “flatware” i.e. paintings and drawings Penelope in the decorative arts known today as design.  Lowery went on to become Director and then Chairman of the Studio Museum in Harlem.  Preferring curatorial work to administration Lowery left to become Chief Curator of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York formerly known as the American Craft Museum.

Lowery has remained a good friend over all these years and happily she has come to visit Santa Fe on various occasions.  In 2013 Lowery came at the invitation of our contemporary Kunsthalle, Site Santa Fe, to have a public conversation with Jaune Quick-to-See Smith a Native American artist, educator and activist of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nations.  As always when visiting firemen, so to speak, travel for an event there are dinners or parties to introduce them to the movers and shakers in the community.  At one of these events for Lowery, Cathy Wright, director and Andrew Connors, chief curator of the Albuquerque Museum were invited .  Lowery took the opportunity to tell them about her project, “New Territories”.   They immediately jumped at the opportunity to ask her if she would consider having the exhibition come to Albuquerque after its run at the Museum of Arts & Design. So a first rate east coast exhibition came to the southwest.

The complete title of the show is, “New Territories:  Laboratories for Design, Craft and Art in Latin America”.  Unfortunately, Lowery was not able to make it for the opening lecture but she left the introductory remarks in the able hands of Andrew Connors who did a masterful job of explaining some of the concepts of the exhibition.  His main point was to look at the objects carefully because there was often more than immediately came to mind.

The show is broken into sections introducing subjects such as the role of the designer as opposed to the craftsperson who actually makes the work but generally get little credit.  Connors compared this to the architect who also takes the credit for the end result.  Other issues are artistic legacy, experimentation and new markets.

After walking through the show twice Penelope and I ended up discussing issues such as legitimate appropriation vs. something that in our opinion was just a rip off, and when did a concept come into its own as an original work of art.  Here are some examples of works of art where we had no qualms or need for discussion. 

Carlos Garaicoa of Havanna does trompe l’oeil floor tapestries.  Here is one that you will relate to called, “El Pensamiento” , (the Thought) in wool, mercurized cotton, trevira-cs and cotton,  lent by Galleria Continua.    We have all walked along the street and looked down and there was a shadow often deep in thought and it was ourselves.

I must say that I love the idea of Guillermo Bert who is from Chile and living in Los Angeles.  His textile called “Redemption” 2012 in wool and natural dyes has in the center a design that I did not give much thought to the first time I saw it.  After hearing the lecture I realized  it was a bar code that could be scanned.  The QR code leads you to a video about a traditional Childean craftsperson whose words are encoded into the textile.  It is lent by the Museum of Arts & Design.

Courtesy of the Albuquerque Museum

One of the most impressive objects in the show is by the artists Leo Chiachio & Daniel Giannone from Argentina who are known for their colorful embroidered work.  This one is  over 9 feet by almost 15 feet.   It is entirely hand embroidered in cotton, rayon and wool, and was recently acquired by the Museum of Arts and Design.  The artists have usurped the traditional role of women in making embroidery in order to gain access to a more contemplative world.

Courtesy of the Albuquerque Museum

It is not only beautiful in the overall but in the details. Take a look at these life-like parrots. And, surprise, although they read into the whole at first, as you get closer you find self-portraits of the artists together with their dog, not as if they were the subject of the piece but  a rather a personal signature.

One piece that may have the most international appeal is by Vik Muniz an artist from Brazil based in New York.  It is a photograph called “Marat (Sebastiao)” 2008, acquired by the Museum of Arts and Design.  It shows a man posed in a bathtub exactly as Jacques-Louis David’s, “The Death of Marat” on July 13, 1793 with the radical journalist and leader of the French Terror, lying dead in his tub.  At a massive landfill outside Rio de Janero the artist encountered the organizer of the professional garbage pickers, Sebastao Santos, reading Machiavelli’s Prince,  (no ordinary garbage picker he!).  The garbage pickers he led normally sort through garbage dumps to find salvageable and saleable material to make a meager living.

A discarded bathtub being carried by Santos gave Muniz the inspiration for the composition.  He photographed Santos posed as Marat using his shirt for the wrap on his head.  Muniz then projected the image on the floor of his studio and directed the garbage pickers to fill it in with trash. Photographing the result from a scaffold, he has sold the prints for the benefit of the trash pickers’ organization.  Here we have politics, social commentary and activism coming together in dealing with poverty and the consumer society.

Courtesy of the Albuquerque Museum

Though obviously unplanned, most appropriate for this moment considering the recent recapture of El Chapo, are works representing the drug trade and violence occurring in Mexico.  Actually, one of these is by, Marcio Kogan and Isay Weinfeld, artists from Brazil, another country plagued by violent crime.  The work “Gradil” 2004, courtesy of Studio MK27 and Isay Weinfeld. represents a fence with guns lining the top aimed outside the defended position.  The power of this work when it confronts you cannot be effectively conveyed in a photograph. Another more delicate reminder of the current situation south of our border is by Pedro Reyes who lives in Mexico City.  His “Guitarra” of 2013 is made up of confiscated guns.  The bible is updated, not turning swords into plowshares, but guns into a musical instrument.  This object is lent by Tiroche DeLeon Collection and Art Vantage PPC Limited.

When I asked Lowery what she came away with after working for four years on this exhibition, she replied, “My encounter with all the young designers I met in my travels in Latin America and in New York City reaffirmed my faith the power of creativity to effect change."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for the article.
    Chiachio & Giannone