Roanoke

Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark at the Taubman Museum of Art

Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark at the Taubman Museum of Art highlights the historically rich and embodied power of Black hair, demonstrating that hair is a medium as well as a message.[1] For Clark, whose work holds a significant place in the burgeoning discourse of American contemporary craft, Black hair is an aesthetic language on par with the legacies of quilting and textile work, exposing a shared system of enunciations articulated throughout time. Shaped and styled by the hands of hairdressers in barbershops, salons, and living rooms across the world, these works of art grant prestige and craftsmanship to those who use hair as a vehicle for virtuosity and expression, while simultaneously giving beauty and power to those who sit before them. Working across a range of material media and genres, from photography and sculpture to poetry and participatory practices, Clark teases out the collaborative, communal, and political nature of hairdressing by inviting viewers to understand hair as a marker of cultural, racial, and gendered identity.

Sonya Clark. The Hair Craft Project: Hairstyles on Canvas, 2013; silk threads, beads, shells, and yarn on canvas; 29 x 29 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and the Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA.

Sonya Clark. The Hair Craft Project: Hairstyles on Canvas, 2013; silk threads, beads, shells, and yarn on canvas; 29 x 29 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and the Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA.

The exhibition is structured around a series of nine collaborative pairings, which mark the shared personal and artistic bonds between Clark and her hairdressers. In The Hair Craft Project, photographs of hairstylists and their intricate creation with Clark’s hair sit above a painstakingly sewn pattern on a blank canvas below. Oscillating equally and productively between the applied practice of hairdressing and its appropriation into a fine art object, these dual images encourage the viewer to make linkages between the traditional techniques of fiber arts, such as weaving and embroidery, and the complicated patterns and improvisational designs that elegantly swarm the head of the wearer. The modest smiles that each hairdresser displays in the photographs belie the crisp accuracy and intense manipulations their materials succumb to under their discerning eyes, and reaffirm a historical continuum between the artist and her collaborators. Each braid and twist is a sacred act, bound up with rituals, traditions, and ancestral worship that structure the traumatic history of Black aesthetics. As Clark has stated, slaves removed from Africa “may have arrived empty-handed, but in fact their hands held memories of particular ways of working, making, and moving materials” that they took with them to the “New World.”[2] Thus, these images remind us of the historical continuum that undulates within these embodied material processes.

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Odd Jobs

Odd Jobs: Charles Gaines

For the past forty years, Charles Gaines has employed system-based methodologies to his artmaking in order to critique subjective expression within art. Influenced by Tantric Buddhist diagrams in the late 1960s, his photographs, drawings, and works on paper investigate how rule-based procedures construct order and meaning. Gaines is also a highly regarded educator at the California Institute of the Arts. He received his MFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1967. In 2012, Gaines exhibited his work in a mid-career survey at the Pomona College Museum of Art and the Pitzer College Art Galleries in Claremont. In 2014, his work was the subject of a survey exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem, which traveled to the Hammer Museum in 2015. Recent group exhibitions include the 2015 Venice Biennale and the 2015 Whitney Biennial. Gaines lives in Los Angeles.

Charles Gaines. Falling Leaves #10, 1978; color photograph, ink on paper. Three parts: 20 × 16 each. Courtesy of The Hammer Museum. Photo: Randy Vaughn-Dotta.

Charles Gaines. Falling Leaves #10, 1978; color photograph, ink on paper. Three parts: 20 × 16 inches each. Courtesy of the Hammer Museum. Photo: Randy Vaughn-Dotta.

Calder Yates: What did you do after graduating from RIT [Rochester Institute of Technology]?

Charles Gaines: I started teaching right away at Mississippi Valley State College.

CY: What was your experience teaching there?

CG: Well, it was pretty terrible. It was Mississippi for Christ’s sake. It was a Black college then and it was run by the state so its Board was all white. During the time I was there, Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed. Jim Crow laws were still in effect. The administration didn’t want students to participate in demonstrations or express their concerns over Martin Luther King. At various times when the students marched, the state [of Mississippi] sent state troopers who began shooting at my students. Fortunately, in that particular situation, nobody was killed. But the school tried to restrict students from demonstrating in the future. So I quit.

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Breaking Point: Accessibility and the Cummer Museum

Today we bring you Calder Yates’s essay from our sister publication, Art Practical; originally published in Issue 8.1: Art + Citizenship. Yates retraces the history of the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida, and its journey towards accessibility and inclusivity under former museum director Hope McMath. Calder states “In Jacksonville, with all of the residual bigotry that comes with its legacy as a city in the South, the creation of a museum that was accessible and relevant to communities of color was risky from a fundraising perspective.” This article was originally published November 10, 2016.

A 2004 meeting of Women of Vision. The group of low-vision and blind women meet monthly at the Cummer Museum to make art, go on touch-tours of the museum, and write their memoirs. Photo courtesy of Hope McMath.

A 2004 meeting of Women of Vision. The group of low-vision and blind women meet monthly at the Cummer Museum to make art, go on touch-tours of the museum, and write their memoirs. Photo courtesy of Hope McMath.

As Hope McMath, director of the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida, packed up her office a couple of weeks ago—her last day—she came across her old performance evaluations buried in a closet. The evaluations, dating back to 1994, described her first project at the museum: the Very Special Arts (VSA) Festival, an annual event that would increase access to art for individuals with disabilities. Jean Hall Dodd, the director of education at the time, had assigned McMath the task of making the small museum’s staid collection of paintings and sculptures relevant to people with disabilities.

“She said, ‘Here’s a cool project. Figure it out,’” McMath recalled.

McMath was twenty-three at the time, working two days a week as a museum educator. Now forty-five and cleaning out her spacious corner office at the museum, she reread her evaluations. They described her efforts to answer a question that would follow her for the twenty-two years that she worked at the museum, ascending to director of education, then to deputy director of the museum, and finally to director. McMath, with cropped gray hair and a faint Southern accent, said: “We were trying to figure out what it would mean for a museum to be fully accessible, as one of its core values. What would that mean?”

Read the full article here.

 

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Shotgun Reviews

John Buck at Robischon Gallery

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Kate Nicholson reviews John Buck at Robischon Gallery in Denver.

John Buck. The Immigration, 2016; jelutong wood, acrylic paint, leather, motors; 114 x 268 x 168 in. Courtesy of Robischon Gallery.

John Buck. The Immigration, 2016; jelutong wood, acrylic paint, leather, motors; 114 x 268 x 168 in. Courtesy of Robischon Gallery.

John Buck’s colossal kinetic sculptures draw passersby into Robischon Gallery, including families who might be otherwise unlikely to enter an art exhibition. One Saturday, I watched the wonder on a child’s face when he powered the switch to animate a resting sculpture—Buck’s largest sculpture, The Immigration (2016). As the hand-carved jelutong wood sculpture came to life, the sounds of the gears squeaking and wood clanking echoed through the gallery. Carved busts of political figures, from Donald Trump to Barack Obama, and Chairman Mao to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., bobbed across a bridge flanked by Blind Justice and Lady Liberty, both encaged. Buck harnesses the power of spectacle that can equally delight a child and seduce a voter, inviting a serious critique of American politics.

Buck’s work, which includes kinetic and still figurative sculptures, wall reliefs, and woodblock prints, involves a dizzying pageantry of iconic and allegorical figures that reflects the daily news cycle and mass media, but he does so without pomp and circumstance. His materials are as simple and unvarnished as his vision is dystopian. Today’s political consumer may simultaneously be entertained and disempowered, like a child playing with wooden blocks in view of the big show, but Buck demands more of his audience. By audibly and visibly revealing the inner workings of his sculptures, Buck invokes curiosity. By layering references from different historical periods throughout his work, he provides needed context. By interposing despots and heroes with artists whose vision challenged the sinister trends of their times, Buck elevates the conversation.

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Sculptures and People

Today we bring you an Elena Harvey Collins essay from our sister publication, Art Practical. Harvey Collins explores the genius loci of the Fulton Mall in Fresno, California, its history and redevelopment, and the public artworks that surround it. She says “The mall had the feeling of a permanent film set made for the performance of civic life—one steeped in magical realism. ‘I woke up feelin’ like, I was on the moon': This film came with a soundtrack, the strains of Chedda Da Connect coming from a boom box strapped on the back of a bicycle slowly weaving through groups of people walking.” This article was originally published November 10, 2016 in Issue 8.1: Art + Citizenship.

Gordon Newell. Valley Landing, (date unknown); installation view, Fulton Mall (Fresno, CA). Photo: Elena Harvey Collins, 2016

Gordon Newell. Valley Landing, (date unknown); installation view, Fulton Mall (Fresno, CA). Photo: Elena Harvey Collins, 2016.

Outside a Payless ShoeSource in the Fulton Mall, a six-block pedestrian mall built in 1964 in downtown Fresno, there sat, until a redevelopment plan went into action this past spring, a much-rubbed, sometimes tagged casting of Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s La Grande Laveuse (The Washerwoman) (1917). Sited down a side street leading to an underground parking garage and flanked by hedges holding nesting sparrows, it was easy to miss. Across from the sculpture were two benches toward which the sculpture mutely gestured—sometimes empty, sometimes occupied by sleepers, most often by people sitting, smoking, pausing, and looking. The whole arrangement was theatrically incongruent, and emblematic of a place that brought a certain wildness and elegance to downtown.

The new plan for the Fulton Mall is part of a larger effort to redevelop the downtown area, making it attractive to young professionals. It includes a flurry of new loft and townhouse building, in addition to preparations for the construction of the high-speed rail line; when complete, the pedestrian mall will be reopened to car traffic.

Read the full article here.

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From the Archives

From the Archives – Taravat Talepasand: Not an Arab Spring at Beta Pictoris Gallery

Spurred by recent elections in the US and abroad, there’s been a resurgence of interest by artists and critics alike in so-called “political art.” Today from our archives we bring you a review of Taravat Talepasand’s work at Beta Pictoris; author Jordan Amirkhani argues that Telepasand’s work operates much in the same way as Andy Warhol’s, wherein a cultural actor becomes a symbolic fetish to be reified, scorned, or even destroyed. This article was originally published on May 6, 2015.Khomeini

Taravat Talepasand. Khomeini, 2015; egg tempura on linen; 48 x 36 in.

Taravat Talepasand’s work takes on the representational codes and image systems of the Iranian state: national currency, political propaganda, religious iconography, and gendered forms of identity making. The paintings in Not an Arab Spring open up the ideological assumptions that index Iranian identity, state power, and gender in order to consider how the body (male and female) comes to signify the state as well as rebel against it.

However, there is more to Talepasand’s practice than poststructuralist critique. By staging provocative encounters between aesthetic conventions, techniques, and traditions of European and Islamic art, Talepasand’s work challenges the viewer to uncover (and thus confront) the tricks and abstractions that coalesce into effective forms of image making and propaganda, and reorder the various disciplinary processes that continue to shape our understanding of “Eastern” and “Western” subjectivity and aesthetics. If anything, the exhibition is a recovery project of the material images of contemporary Iran, and a sophisticated détournement of state power. Of course, states and nations do not exist a priori, but are founded in reified objects, invented symbols, cultural traditions, material bodies, ideological apparatuses, and reflexively discursive acts that replicate and reproduce power relations and inform the visual and conceptual consciousness of real and imagined communities existing within and outside borders and national goals.[1] However, the ideological unification between the assumptions and condition of Iran’s theocratic government, the will of the public, and the messy history that ignited the constitutional revolution of 1979 can never be fully covered over, as Talepasand’s mockery of famous propaganda images makes clear.

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Boston

Edgar Arceneaux: Written in Fire and Smoke

Edgar Arcenaux’s exhibition at MIT’s List Visual Arts Center, Written in Fire and Smoke, is relatively modest in scale, occupying the List’s two main galleries. But while the exhibition is physically constrained, conceptually it is oversized—colossal, even. Written in Fire and Smoke is comprised of three bodies of work, all of which manifest through different material approaches. All, however, share the complexity that defines Arceneaux’s practice, a process that centers on research, layering, and remixing references and imagery from diverse parts of American culture and mashing them into sublime expressions.

Edgar Arceneaux, A Time To Break Silence, 2013; single-channel HD video with color and sound; 65 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

Edgar Arceneaux, A Time To Break Silence, 2013; single-channel HD video with color and sound; 65 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

While Written in Fire and Smoke includes a variety of media, the pivotal pieces in Arceneaux’s show are the two film-based works, A Time To Break Silence (2013), and Until, Until, Until… (2015). The first of these is an hour long, and presents a bizarre layering of referents. The setting of the film is an abandoned Detroit church, littered in its grand chamber with bits of itself that have fallen or been ripped off of its bones. The light filters through the church’s large leaded windows, leaving the whole building luminous but ravaged, a bit like a picked-over rib cage, with its great arching lines framing the hollowed out interior.

Though this singular setting remains consistent, Arcenaux’s film seems split into three separate temporal registers—layers of time that sometimes overlap but seem not quite to blend. The first figure to enter this solemn space is an ape-like creature (a mass of hair and set of movements that some might recognize from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey) huddling and bounding close to the floor, examining bits of detritus throughout the gutted church. With wild hair obscuring its face and white powder from the church’s mangled plaster clinging to its simian hands and feet, it is hard to tell if this is a creature from the future or past. Pre-human or post-apocalyptic?

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