Johanna Fateman is a writer, art critic and co-owner of the Seagull Salon in New York City. She is Associate Editor-in-Chief of Art Forum.
“Against Artsploitation”, the widely distributed article by Dana Kopel published in September by The Baffle, is the most detailed account I have read of organizing art workers. Kopel, a former employee of the New Museum, describes the gap between the institution’s progressive programming and its internal working conditions, the 2018-19 union campaign, contract negotiations and a meeting with Hans Haacke at Pain Quotidien. With last summer’s announcement that workers at New York institutions, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Hispanic Society had joined UAW Local 2110, perhaps we can hope for a greater confluence of organized labor and public protest as the outcry against a cabalistic philanthropic class continues.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND (TODD HAYNES)
I am still under the spell of this hypnotically stitched and transcendentally noisy documentary about the legendary group that destroys paradigms. Haynes captures the alchemical processes and synchronized brain states that produced the entropic and funereal grooves of the Velvets with wacky, precisely edited stock footage, incredibly awesome interviews, and an ever-evolving split-screen device. Periodically, the film ripples outward to elucidate the cultural moment to contract again, showing the volatile bonds and eccentric synergy of unlikely, unhappy, and hopelessly ahead of their time group members. Like the group, the film sometimes seems on the verge of disintegration, maintained by the pure sound, the illusion making its beauty more exhilarating.
BRUCE CONNER, THE WHITE ROSE (PAULA COOPER GALLERY, NEW YORK)
I could watch Conner’s 1967 movie forever; Fortunately, the floor-to-ceiling projection played in a loop. A seven-minute platonic love letter to the great Jay DeFeo, it documents the uninstallation, crating and removal of his legendary painting The Rose, 1958-1966, a 2,300 pound canvas with a chiseled white paint star. Part of a silent show demonstrating the symbiotic magic of the two artists (through works on paper, mainly), the high-quality amateur film was more than inspiring in the long season of the bad friend of art.
“HIGHWAYMEN” (CHARLES MOFFETT GALLERY, NEW YORK; ORGANIZED BY NINA JOHNSON AND CHARLES MOFFETT)
Before Bob Ross’s wet-on-wet views and Andy Warhol’s factory, a group of black painters from Florida, in retrospect known as Highwaymen, took a fast-paced, sometimes assembly-line approach, cultivating a market. (often from the trunks of their cars) for their abridged tropical landscapes and respectful of the decoration. This intimate presentation of eleven dark or candy-colored interpretations of coastal wetlands was revealing for its focused reframing of the production of an aesthetic school historically separate from the gallery system but beautifully relevant to a broader understanding of American art from the aftermath. -war.
SOPHIE CALLE, THE HOTEL (SIGLIO)
A surprisingly new English book produced from Calle’s 1981 project is a perfect opportunity to revisit – or present to yourself – the compelling photographs derived from her masterful espionage. Working as a maid in a hotel in Venice, the French artist adopted a delightful practice of aimless and nationless espionage. Explosions of exquisite color from flowery linens and wallpapers and black-and-white still lifes of dirty linen or personal effects strewn in open drawers are paired with ruthless, uninflected text: “The left pillow is stained. . She drools a little at night. The work would be unforgivable, perhaps, if the guests were ever named.
ROSEMARY MAYER (SWISS INSTITUTE, NEW YORK)
Mayer, who died in 2014, was the most romantic and rigorous conceptual artist, forging an idiosyncratic feminist path for herself, from rule-based painting to ephemeral sculpture events made of snow or balloons (“monuments temporary ”, she called them). In particular, it’s her abstract fabric sculptures – floating feats of drape and light volume in melting fairytale hues – that take my breath away. Here, the large-scale sea creature form Galla Placidia, 1973, is the highlight of the show, his tail huddling on the ground.
On view until January 9, 2022.
Launched at the end of 2020, LUX, named after both Rosa Luxemburg and a radical reimagining of luxury, is a stylish socialist feminist magazine with a global mission, offering exactly the articles I want to read. (This got me with Jennifer Wilson’s essay on the Soviet perfume factory New Dawn in its inaugural issue.) “It’s sex, with class” is the ingenious slogan. You should subscribe.
“SURREALISM BEYOND BORDERS” (METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK; ORGANIZED BY STEPHANIE D’ALESSANDRO AND MATTHEW GALE)
André Breton is there, of course, as the leader of the European surrealists. But really this spectacle snatches the narrative and, to a certain extent, of the capital-S movement in general. By extending the timeline to include recent works and expanding the scope to forty-five countries, the exhibition may appeal to people who don’t really like, or think they don’t like, surrealism. Puerto Rican painter Cossette Zeno’s Ni hablar del peluquín (No Use to Talk About the Little Wig), 1952, with its dark shapes and dark fur, was one of my favorites.
To see until January 30, 2022.
“WORKING TOGETHER: THE PHOTOGRAPHERS OF THE KAMOINGE WORKSHOP” (WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NEW YORK; ORGANIZATION BY SARAH ECKHARDT)
You could say the casually militant image of Ming Smith America seen through stars and stripes, New York City, New York, California. 1976, which uses reflections – in a young man’s glasses and a glass storefront – for graphic and psychedelic effect, echoes Herman Howard’s first storefront with a flag and a mannequin. But, in the end, tracing the possible influences in this unforgettable exhibition became less interesting than seeing the range of subjects and formal strategies. The Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of black photographers founded in 1963, brought together a remarkable group of New York artists in a network of intellectual and material support. “Working together” seemed to accomplish a lot, although it has probably only scratched the surface.
PRECIOUS OKOYOMON (PERFORMANCE SPACE, NEW YORK)
A garden with a small waterfall and gravel paths appeared at the Keith Haring Theater at the end of March, a record as well as a spring revival. Okoyomon, who is at the same time poet, chef and artist (they are members of the queer-Conceptual Spiral Theory Test Kitchen collective), has conspicuously integrated the symbolically charged material of cremated kudzu into the environment. The invasive and devouring grapevine has been introduced to the southern United States to mitigate soil erosion, particularly that caused by cotton crops; its presence on this continent is thus linked to the legacy of slavery. The Lush Oasis Memorial was an inspired metaphor of Earth as a witness and a visionary example of art as an ecosystem.