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This past week has left the venerable nonprofit Townhouse Gallery shaken. Though the attempted demolition of its building at 10 Nabrawy Street in Cairo has been halted, the gallery is faced with months of work ahead to secure its future. Operating since 1998, Townhouse is known for drawing international artists and thinkers to Egypt, and nurturing an emerging network of support for Egyptian artists through its library and archive, cultural salons, theater, and nonprofit incubator programs. Their presentation of cutting-edge, often political art in a space that welcomes and serves Egyptians of every class has invited rancor from reactionaries, and over the past week, Townhouse and its neighbors were nearly displaced permanently when local police forcibly evicted them and then threatened to demolish the property after a section had collapsed. The process of securing protection for the 19th-century building in order to list it as a heritage site and proceed with restoration is underway, a process that was only made possible because of widespread community protests against the demolition. Says William Wells, Townhouse’s co-founder and director, “Given that we are in the center of the city and demonstrations have begun again after a two-year absence, we must act quickly.” The convergence of many different social classes in support of preserving the mixed-use building illustrates how the arts can operate as a site for citizenship where such spaces are hard to come by. The threat against Townhouse is a lesson in how liberal development can function as cover for acts of cultural erasure by conservative political interests—a trend observed in cities across the globe.

Townhouse Gallery, 10 Nabrawy Street, Cairo, Egypt, c. 2011. Image courtesy Townhouse Gallery.

Townhouse Gallery, 10 Nabrawy Street, Cairo, Egypt, c. 2011. Courtesy of Townhouse Gallery.

On Wednesday, April 6, a section of the historic building that houses Townhouse partially collapsed. No one was injured, and staff salvaged what equipment and archives they could from the rubble and resolved to rebuild. At 8 a.m. on Saturday, April 9, police arrived and declared the building condemned, but did not produce any documentation supporting that finding. Townhouse is situated within the Mechanics’ district, and the working-class neighbors (who have long defended the space from government censors) turned out in large numbers to stop the demolition. Mido Sadek, a former Townhouse employee, described the scene at the time: “They were supposed to just clear the rubble from the collapsed part of the Townhouse building, but the army [said] they will demolish the remaining three-fourths of the building that is still stable. Some families will sleep on the street tonight.” Residents were able to initiate a government review process that Sunday to list their building as a protected heritage site; however, the police returned on Monday and began to physically dismantle and destroy architectural elements, removing doors and smashing windows and tile, while forcibly vacating the remaining occupied units. Townhouse media and communication officer Karim Moselhi described how, “It was really shocking to see how the laws regarding heritage were completely being disregarded, and on top of that, it was devastating to see the authorities evicting those families and shop owners without notice.” Sadek asked, “Who made this decision without informing the owner or tenants of the building? How was this decided so quickly, and why would it be implemented on a weekend? There are a lot of unanswered questions.” On Wednesday, April 13, in response to continued public pressure, the demolition order was reversed by a specialized delegation of government representatives and engineers. Quite a bit of work is still required to make the building habitable and to restore the damage created by police and by the original collapse. Townhouse has temporarily relocated to its adjacent Factory and Rawabet spaces, and has set up a co-working space for staff and community organizers to complete the architectural and cultural surveys of 10 Nabrawy Street that must be submitted to secure the building’s protection. Meanwhile, the building’s six resident families remain homeless.

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Los Angeles

Eric Yahnker: Noah’s Yacht at Zevitas Marcus

Eric Yahnker’s large-scale colored pencil drawings are often satirical, social, and political in nature. The Los Angeles–based artist, who has worked both for South Park and as a journalist, views himself as a political cartoonist in the often patronizing and self-involved art world. Many of his previous shows have felt like incredible, offbeat, anarchic versions of the very best in political cartoons or Dadaist reinterpretations of popular culture, with titles such as Sticks and Drones and Ebony and Benghazi. Noah’s Yacht at Zevitas Marcus is much more than rebellious tongue-in-cheek. The exhibition winks at establishment politics and inane pop culture as, what Yahnker describes in an interview, “a true visual poem, where the beats, rhythms, and verse reflect individual concepts, but there is a palpable personal introspection that runs current.” The show feels like just that: a great piece of improvisational jazz, with not a note, reference, title, implication, or concept out of place.

Eric Yahnker. Angel in the Outfield, 2015; colored pencil on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and Zevitas Marcus.

Eric Yahnker. Angel in the Outfield, 2015; colored pencil on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and Zevitas Marcus.

Through the exhibition’s title, Noah’s Yacht, Yahnker reimagines Noah’s Ark as a “smaller, ritzier, and more exclusive one, in which the ticket to ride—or ultimately survive—is privilege and wealth.” The first piece in the show, Angel in the Outfield (2015), is a nine-foot-tall drawing of Christ in midair with a catcher’s mitt, about to catch a pop fly. The history of the Christian god is intrinsically tied to the history of white male privilege, spanning from the crusades through colonialism and post-colonialism. Yahnker is, himself, a white American male, and much of this show is his coming to terms with his own privilege and what it means in this vibrant and pivotal political climate.

Caged Birds (2016) is a sculpture made of handcuffs, leg shackles, jewelry, and marijuana pipes.  Hanging from the ceiling, the piece unmistakably alludes to the American justice system and the “War on Drugs” as both inherently broken and racist. It is placed in front of a powerful diptych, Abe Lincorn and Pierced Piety (2015). Abe Lincorn references Rachel Dolezal’s performed blackness, while in Pierced Piety, Donald Trump wears Christianity (and racism) as a style. Both pieces speak to power and privilege in the appropriation of culture for political gain. Together, they serve as brilliant bookends of the Republican Party, which will either implode or explode after this coming election.

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From the Archives

From the Archives – Malick Sidibé

This week at Daily Serving we’re remembering the life and work of photographer Malick Sidibé (1935–2016), whose studio portraiture and candid images of nightlife in Mali during the 1960s and ’70s recorded a powerful time for the recently liberated country. As author Lia Wilson comments in her 2014 review, Sidibé’s photographs “chronicle a flourishing of human hope, ambition, and newfound opportunity” while remaining timeless. This article was originally published on April 17, 2014. 

Malick Sidibe. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Malick Sidibé. Untitled, 1969/2004; silver gelatin print, hand-painted wooden frame. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery.

The photographs of Malick Sidibé remind us how the political content of an image can shift and evolve under the unpredictable influences of time and the arrival of new contexts. Currently on view at Jack Shainman Gallery, Sidibé’s work is a mix of black-and-white portraits and candid shots of local people from his native Bamako, Mali. The artist first began his work in photography by assisting a French colonial photographer and then later opened his own studio, Studio Malick, in 1962 in Bamako. Mali gained liberation from France in 1960, and Sidibé’s photographs taken throughout the ’60s and ’70s document a community of young Bamakois during this postcolonial transition and the subsequent socialist and military regimes.

In a brief documentary directed by Douglas Sloan, Sidibé stated he was most interested in letting people enjoy themselves and in making his subjects happy.[1]  At the time, he didn’t consider his portraiture as art, but rather as a service: providing people with striking, beautiful pictures of themselves. Some of the portraits shown in Jack Shainman are hung in hand-painted, colorful frames made by Checkna Toure, an artisan who had a studio around the corner from Studio Malick. This framing grants its photograph a status of distinct object rather than an endlessly reproducible image, and serves as a reminder that the initial prints were meant as keepsakes and items of proud display by the subjects themselves.

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Freestyle: Interview with Rashaad Newsome

Today, from our friends at Guernica, we bring you curator Laura Blereau in conversation with artist Rashaad Newsome. Newsome says, “I’m playing with gender and roles that are shifting as this elaborate allegory for transformation. The body can change. That’s ultimate emancipation, to just completely change your body, to change your physicality.” This article was originally published on March 17, 2014.

Rashaad Newsome. King of Arms, 2013 (performance still); live procession in City Park, New Orleans. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Jena Cumbo.

Rashaad Newsome. King of Arms, 2013 (performance still); live procession in City Park, New Orleans. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Jena Cumbo.

Guernica: The kind of art that you create has found a wide international audience, yet its themes are emblematic of the Gulf Coast. How did being raised in New Orleans influence your perspective on art and culture at large?

Rashaad Newsome: When I think about New Orleans as a point of inspiration, I think about growing up in a place where street theater is so readily available all the time. Brass bands are vibrant. Drumming, improvisation. In my work I often use improvisation as a device to compose. For example, it’s a very important component of my performances FIVE and Shade Compositions. In that sense, I think part of my process is connected to the musical traditions of the New Orleans landscape. I’m also influenced by the region’s sense of color, ornament, its interest in pageantry, obviously, and Baroque architecture.

The experience of art can be had strolling from Camp Street to the Bywater, and on that walk one can encounter so much. Maybe someone is playing a trumpet, and then you go a little further and see a mime; then up the block somebody is singing, and another person is painting canvases on the street. Whether it is “good” or not is debatable, but there are a lot of artistic gestures constantly happening around you there. It’s a very accessible art community that way.

Read the full article here.

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Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Jason Kearney

Jason Kearney’s collage Untoward (2015) juxtaposes one figure against another, creating an ambiguous relationship. A man sitting at the wheel of a car gazes through the windshield at a man on a fainting couch. The man at the wheel has a perplexed look on his face (viewers can see him reflected in the rear-view mirror)—or maybe he is simply squinting from the sunlight. Untoward is part of Kearney’s ongoing book project, The 100 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language, which is based on American linguist Robert Beard’s list of words with the same title. In Beard’s list, “untoward” is defined as “unseemly, inappropriate.” If the collage is a visual interpretation of this term, how does it correlate to the dictionary definition of the word? Perhaps the unseemly element of this collage exists in the voyeuristic gaze of the man in the car—or of the viewer who peers at the awkward space between the observer and the observed.

Jason Kearney. Untoward, 2015; digital collage; 9.8 x 11.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Jason Kearney. Untoward, 2015; digital collage; 9.8 x 11.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

The Dublin-based Kearney also works as a carpenter, and collage initially provided a creative release during his formal education in photography. In contrast with the technical limitations of working with a camera, Kearney found that collage offers a less restrained realm of artistic practice; the challenge in collage comes in the infinite number of possible configurations of the subjects. “You have to wait for the image to come to you,” Kearney says, “and usually that involves sifting through dozens and dozens of images.” Kearney has a collection of 200 National Geographic magazines dating from 1988 to 2008 that he uses as his main source material. The older editions of National Geographic have been especially popular in recent years, perhaps due to a nostalgia for the pre-internet aesthetic of unsaturated imagery and subdued tonality. This probably explains the sense of wistfulness that characterizes much of collage work today; collaging, as Kearney describes it, is a “form of escapism” or an attempt to create vignettes for a realm of fantasy that does not otherwise exist.

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Columbia

Remix at the Columbia Museum of Art

The recent curatorial trend of probing the fringes of art history for artists who have been eclipsed by the canon of white, European, male artists is a noteworthy one. While shows that feature such artists—in many cases, those who are Black—are becoming more prevalent, organizers must take care to contextualize the work without reinforcing myths that persist. The curators of Remix: Themes and Variations in African-American Art at the Columbia Museum of Art achieve this with their exhibition. Featuring a diverse group of artists and meticulous contextualization, this show helps to elucidate the creativity and motivations of African American art from the past several decades.

Fahamu Pecou. Rock.Well (Radiant Pop, Champ) (after Norman Rockwell’s Triple Self Portrait), 2010; acrylic on canvas; 48 x 48 in. Courtesy of Scott and Teddi Dolph and Columbia Museum of Art, South Carolina.

Fahamu Pecou. Rock.Well (Radiant Pop, Champ) (After Norman Rockwell’s Triple Self Portrait), 2010; acrylic on canvas; 48 x 48 in. Courtesy of Scott and Teddi Dolph and Columbia Museum of Art, South Carolina.

Taking the concept of the remix as a theme, the show features forty artists who recontextualize familiar visual forms in their own works. Several works interpret famous pieces from art history and popular culture. As such, the show exemplifies a dialectic model in which the works are synthesized through the artists’ engagements with art history. Instead of focusing on collage and digital media—two formats closely aligned with the concept of the remix—the curators also present works in more traditional media, such as painting and drawing, that evince the diversity of creativity.

In the exhibition, the artworks that plainly cite famous predecessors introduce the idea of the remix. One of the first such works encountered is Fahamu Pecou’s Rock.Well (Radiant, Pop, Champ) (After Norman Rockwell’s Triple Self Portrait) (2010). Pecou’s version of the popular painting replaces Rockwell’s artistic influences (Dürer, Rembrandt, Picasso, and van Gogh) with his own: Muhammad Ali, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol. Bob Thompson’s Bathers (1964) is a scintillating amalgamation of similar erotic scenes painted by Europeans such as Paul Cézanne and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres; Thompson’s insertion of Black bodies into the picture reminds the viewer of the exploitive, exoticist paintings of the late 18th century. Similarly, Robert Colescott’s brilliant and sardonic Between Two Worlds (1992) blurs racial boundaries by portraying the figure in Diego Velazquez’s famed Toilet of Venus (1647, known as “the Rokeby Venus”) as a Black woman with a White reflection; her palpable angst in this scenario anticipates the country’s current inability to reconcile racial differences more than two decades later.

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Atlanta

The 5th Of July at Atlanta Contemporary Art Center

The symbolic charge of “the day after” marks itself as an interval structured by ambiguity as opposed to closure—a time of wake-up calls, hangovers, regrets, and comedowns. In science fiction, the phrase often suggests the apocalyptic nightmares of a world threatened by total disaster, while in revolutionary politics it articulates the call to reality after the collective euphoria from battle has worn away. It is this landscape of post-event fallout and failed achievement that undergirds The 5th of July, an exhibition at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center curated by Daniel Fuller. Fuller gathers a diverse group of artists from across the United States who work in an equally diverse range of media, united by their unique “explorations of failed promise.”[1] Invoking the day after America’s national celebration of independence, and the traditions of spectacular neighborhood firework displays, street parades, picnic banquets, and other forms of gluttonous consumption that define the holiday, Fuller asks us to be attentive to the ways in which celebration is often followed by its opposite.

Installation shot of ‘The 5th of July’ (Far Left: Katherine Bernhardt’s Cantaloupe, iPhones, Nikes and Capri Suns (2014), Acrylic and Spray Pain on Canvas, 96 x 120 inches). Image courtesy of The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (Atlanta, GA).

The 5th of July, 2016; installation view, far left: Katherine Bernhardt. Cantaloupe, iPhones, Nikes, and Capri Suns, 2014; acrylic and spray paint on canvas; 96 x 120 in. Courtesy of Atlanta Contemporary Art Center.

In many ways, the desire to cultivate an uneasy dialectic between celebration and despair is what animates the vast majority of contemporary art—a lesson learned from Pop Art, which seized upon the slick, disposable, literal image-culture of the postwar era in order to point to the anxious cultural desires at the core of capitalist consumption.[2] This tension between transcendence and travesty is at the core of modernism. And yet, despite the exhibition’s many rhetorical prompts that ask viewers to hold these works together under themes of regretful failure and empty promise, I was struck more by the ways in which certain works of art seemed to struggle under this narrative. If anything, there are moments within the show that resound with an optimism and euphoria that are difficult to ignore.

The inclusion of a constellation of garish name-brand logos and sweet consumables might point to the depressing core of disposable modern life, yet Katherine Bernhardt’s electric orange and pink cacophony of Capri-Suns, cantaloupes, and Nike sneakers, Cantaloupe, iPhones, Nikes, and Capri Suns (2015), rattles with a repetitive patterning that seems to celebrate brashness with humor and joy. Bernhardt’s jazzy color harmonies and playful rhythms of pattern speak less of conspicuous consumption and more of the formal history of modern painting through their cheeky merger of decoration and consumer kitsch.

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