TIO NYC: Art as Activism – and Just for Fun!

TIO NYC: Art as Activism – and Just for Fun!

How to patch up the holes gauged out by life in the Age of Corona? Try art caulk. Try New York City, which is fully open for business –  at least for now.

In what is arguably the first book of art criticism, “The Mirror of Art,” the poet Baudelaire contends that art both anticipates and reflects the zeitgeist or the defining spirit of a particular period of history, a notion that plays out big time in the current  (fine and performing) art scene in New York this spring.

Take for example Andy Goldsworthy’s “Red Flags,” up now through May 7 at Galerie Lelong & Co, 528 West 26th Street and previously exhibited for Frieze Sculpture at Rockefeller Center in the month of September 2020.

The story goes that on a visit to Rockefeller Center in November 2019 Goldsworthy observed the U.S. state flags flying in place of the customary flags that represent the countries of the United Nations. In response, he proposed to replace those with flags colored with earth from each state. Having worked for many years with red earth found near his home in Scotland, the artist was aware of the remarkable staining qualities that result in vibrant and permanent colors. While red earth is a familiar material, the artist also considered its significance in the context of flags in general, which most often denote land that was fought over.

Goldsworthy has saw red earth as the earth’s veins, its iron content being the same reason our blood is red. According to the artist when proposing the work:

“Collectively I hope they (the flags) will transcend borders. The closeness of one flagpole to another means that in certain winds the flags might overlap in a continuous flowing line. My hope is that these flags will be raised to mark a different kind of defense of the land. A work that talks of connection, not division.”

Or else – or in addition – the tradition notion of “red flag” as a warning of danger kicks in.

This is art as activism speaking in a whisper. The shout is a play like “Coal Country,” which we were lucky to see at the Cherry Lane Theatre just before it closes on April 17.

The creative minds behind the award-winning docudrama “The Exonerated,” Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, brought their signature, no-frills style to this strikingly innovative New York Times Critic’s Pick that, umm, mines the aftermath of the the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, an explosion that killed 29 workers in rural West Virginia. The production highlighted the indomitable resilience of an American community on a quest for justice, a community that would otherwise remain largely unseen and unheard.

While coal mining remains a hot-button issue, from environmental concerns to political debates, the play offered gentle reminders that options are limited for many folks who were attached to their town and did not want to move. All that set to live music by the rootsy singer-songwriter legend Steve Earle.

Deep divisions of politics, wealth and power underlie the story. Read the daily headlines? Listen to the Talking Heads these days? Should sound all too familiar, turning “Coal County” into a meta.

And speaking of, The Whitney Biennial (through September 5, 2022) is yet another prime example of The Now. According to The New York Times:

“It’s a notably somber, adult-thinking show, one freighted with three years of soul-rattling history marked by social divisiveness, racist violence and relentless mortality.

“Organized by two seasoned Whitney curators, David Breslin and Adrienne Edwards, the Biennial’s title, ‘Quiet as It’s Kept’ — a colloquial phrase, sourced from Toni Morrison, indicating dark realities unspoken of — suggests the show’s keyed-down tone. Its very look gives a clue to its mood: Its main installation, on the 5th and 6th floors of the Whitney Museum of American Art, is literally split between shadow and light…”

Personally the work we liked best looked over our shoulder at the Modernist tradition of abstraction upon which the Whitney itself was built, two eye-dazzling images by Trinidad-born Denyse Thomasos all about painterly gesture – and ok – the history of Black enslavement, past and present as revealed by the titles of the two canvases:“Displaced Burial/Burial at Goree” and “Jail.”

“The dead are alive at the just-opened 2022 Whitney Biennial, a tender, understated survey of the American art scene as it stands right now that also acts as a means of processing the grief of the last two years. In this show, zombies peer out at viewers mournfully, specters flit across screens, and people who passed away years ago are reanimated. The terror all of this inspires is shot through with a muted kind of sadness…” wrote Art News.

Continue reading here.

Maggi Hambling is one of Britain’s leading –  and most controversial – artists. Her exhibition,’”Real Time,” at Marlborough Gallery is up through April 30. Don’t miss it.


“Real Time” features two major new groups of paintings alongside works from Hambling’s celebrated “Walls of Water” paintings from a decade ago, monumental gestural portraits of roiling waves, which like all the work in this powerful show toggle between realism and abstraction.

The artist’s “Edge” series featuring rhythmic abstractions are clearly nods to Chinese landscape scrolls and Japanese nanga painting, both esteemed traditions that pay tribute to Mother Nature.

The second floor displays Hambling’s “menagerie,” whose sorry contents are foreshadowed by “Edge XVI” on the first floor, in which the ghostly outline of a polar bear is meant to embody the catastrophe that is climate change. Tuskless pachyderms, abandoned baby elephants, an enclosed lion look to the sad reality of our world to come – unless we act now in the full knowledge there is no Planet B.

Hambling’s exhibition, her clarion cry, marks a long-overdue debut in New York, where the artist lived for a short time. The show is yet another riveting example of art giving heft to critical issues of our day and time. Hambling’s images are as beautiful as they are alarming (or should be).

A New York Times review explains further.

And just for fun, (not to score socio-political points):

In a show titled “Bhoga Marga,” Joe Bradley’s paintings at the Petzel Gallery, 456 West 18th Street, (open though April 30), feature meandering white lines that suggest roads less traveled into unknown worlds. Then again, “Bhoga” is a Sanskrit word meaning “enjoyment,’ “sensual pleasure” and “experience”; Marga is Sanskrit for the path to spiritual realization, salvation or enlightenment… An uplifting show in our challenging times and the artist’s first in six years.

Poet, sculptor, and printmaker (and a great narrator of her own story) Dorothea Tanning was a force of nature.

Tanning’s show “Doesn’t Pain Say It All?, is up at the Kasmin Gallery, 509 West 27th Street, through April 16.  The 19 Surrealist-influenced paintings of figures and flesh are really all about the tension between abstraction and representation.

A show of the work of Renaissance artist Hans Holbein the Younger, “Capturing Character,”  is on display through May 15 at the Morgan Library, 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street.

Hans Holbein was one of the greatest portraitists of the 16th century, his likenesses renowned for their detail and precision. Holbein’s images of the English elite came to define their public personas in their own time – and in the centuries to come. He was Top Dog among the artists in Henry VIII’s court.

Beyond portraiture, Holbein turned his agile hand to religious paintings, frescoes, jewelry and clothing design, plus book illustrations.

Though linked to the Northern Renaissance, Holbein incorporated elements and ideas from the Italian Renaissance into his work, creating lavish and detailed images of penetrating light and deep texture. The artist’s exquisite renderings of fabric, fur, and glass roll speak volumes about the artist’s extraordinary gifts.

Peter Schjeldahl of The New Yorker offers great insights.

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