The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum is dedicated to fostering the work of innovative artists whose interpretations of the world around us serve as a platform to encourage creative thinking.
Drawing from Memory: A Former Prisoner Creates Art from Pain and Loss, The Marshall Project
The incarcerated artist Vincent Nardone stopped painting when he realized he might be annoying his cellmate. “I ended up slinging paint all over him and the room,” he said.
He picked up a ballpoint pen. “I thought, there must be a way to transform this pen into a paintbrush.” Instead of lines, he made dots. “As I got older, my hands got affected by arthritis, and it was hard to make the lines, so the dots were more convenient.”
The results are stunning. Nardone is uniquely gifted at conveying the warmth that surrounds memories when they are recalled from the grimness of prison, while also capturing the hallucinatory, time-stopping atmosphere of prison itself.
Some of Nardone’s drawings are on view at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, in an exhibit organized by Jeffrey Greene, an artist and curator who has been teaching art in prisons for decades through a non-profit called Community Partners in Action.
When the two met in 1999, Nardone had already served two decades for his role in a murder that a friend committed in Maryland. “While the person created an alibi for themselves in Las Vegas, I got rid of the body,” Nardone told me. He was 25 and was transferred to Connecticut under an interstate compact.
Before meeting Greene, Nardone, now 67, was in an artistic rut, producing an endless series of nautical scenes — especially clipper ships. Greene assigned him to draw an early memory, and Nardone remembered a drive he made with his parents to New York City. “He recalled how excited he was,” Greene said, “because that is where King Kong lived.”
The image shows his arm reaching out a window, his hand holding a toy plane, with the Manhattan Bridge in the background.
After that, “tons of pictures came flooding into my mind,” Nardone said. They were all from his youth in the 1950s—hyper-real, nostalgic Americana, full of soda shops and drive-in movies and cars with chrome bumpers.
But over time, his work began to address life in prison, and it grew more surreal, more symbolic, more emotional.
In “Saints, Sinners & Lost Beginners,” from 2014, hundreds of open-mouthed figures crowd towards a wall with a slot machine. “It was sort of about the appeal system,” Nardone said. “Everyone was turning a blind eye, even God. The dice are snake eyes.” In “Silence…Repent,” from 2005, prisoners appear to live in repetitious anonymity, in rings that orbit the earth. In “Last One Done in a Cell,” from 2016, a hand reaches up towards a ladder, surrounded by cell bars, as pocket watches fall from the sky: “Every watch has a time that represents when I lost someone while I was in prison. I went in with a flesh and blood family, and I came out to tombstones.”
Nardone was released in 2016, when he won an appeal; his jury had been given improper instructions. Now, he works as a fishmonger. “These pieces were my bubble, and they’re why I’m not bitter,” Nardone said. “I’m just grateful to be here. I’ll never get my life back, but I’m not trying anymore,” he said. “They ask when I’m gonna retire. I say, ‘Five minutes before they close the lid!’”
How art is transforming the US prison system: Jailhouse blues, Huck Magazine
February 5, 2019
How art is transforming the US prison system: Jailhouse blues For the past three decades, the CPA has been helping prisoners to embrace the therapeutic possibilities of art.
By Sara Rosen
The United States prison industrial complex is firmly rooted in the legalisation of slavery. For over 150 years, those rightfully and wrongfully imprisoned have been forced to endure conditions that violate human rights, their fates given over to the government and private corporations.
In the past week, stories of egregious violations at the Metropolitan Detention Centre in Brooklyn and Cook County Jail in Chicago have gone viral, revealing just a fraction of the brutality that largely goes unreported in the news.In much the same way, there are also successful rehabilitation stories that rarely get told.
Jeffrey Greene, manager of the Prison Arts Program for the Community Partners in Action (CPA), is aiming to rectify this problem – creating a non-profit organisation that works with current and former inmates in Connecticut’s prison system.
The CPA was originally founded in 1875 as the Prisoners’ Friends Society by a group of notable citizens invested in social reform. This included Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), who called out the school-to-prison pipeline by astutely observing: “Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other.”
For the past three decades, Greene has used the therapeutic possibilities of art to build a community of artists who are working on long-term projects in media that is allowed inside the prison walls. A selection of work by 28 artists is now on view in How Art Changed the Prison: The Work of CPA’s Prison Arts Program.
“People have revelations in prison all the time: about themselves, their connections to others, or how they have lived their lives, or a spiritual revelation, and then they get out of prison and the outside world is so different,” Greene says.
“I make it a point to meet with people after they get out, and you can meet with someone who spent 20 years who thinks it feels like a bad week. All the contemplative time you spent with yourself is lost, and you take away a feeling of alienation, a lack of confidence, a feeling of being other, you take that from your prison sentence.”
The Prison Arts Program gives the inmates something more, something that allows them to work through their issues while standing as evidence of it. “The show is filled with documents of these people battling the darkness within the prison and within themselves,” Greene adds.
“They have these artworks that will remind them of that moment when they were by themselves, sitting on a bunk with a piece of cardboard that they fought hard to get, using coloured pencils that they are sharpening with nail clippers – they will remember those moments through the artwork.”
The exhibition brings together inmates and their families, revealing just how many lives are touched by incarceration and offering a means to reflect, to address, and to heal.“I went into prison and saw all of these people who could not help but make art because of who they are, where they are, and their need to confirm that they exist – and to express to their loved ones they are still there, need to be loved, and still love.”
How Art Changed the Prison: The Work of CPA’s Prison Arts Programis on view at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT, through May 27, 2019.
A 40-Year Initiative Brings the Art of Maximum Security Prisoners to the Museum, Hyperallergic
January 30, 2019
A 40-Year Initiative Brings the Art of Maximum Security Prisoners to the Museum
By Zachary Small
The supplies stay the same, it’s the students that change.
For more than 40 years, the Community Partners in Action’s (CPA) Prison Arts Program has provided thousands of Connecticut state prisoners with art lessons. Celebrating CPA’s advocacy for community-building and criminal justice reform, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum has mounted an exhibition featuring the work of 28 current and former inmates who engaged with the initiative.
Originally named the Prisoners’ Friends Society, CPA was founded in 1875 by a group of social reformers, including Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) who sat on the organization’s first board of directors. The initiative’s Prison Arts Program began in 1977, and Jeffrey Greene joined the project in 1991; he now serves as the program’s manager.
“We hope to enable inmates to transcend the prison environment and to move past stereotypes,” Greene explained to Hyperallergic via email. “These workshops are organized as art collectives, with group and individual critiques and meetings.”
This past year, the CPA Prison Arts Program worked with 227 inmates in prison and 24 former inmates. Greene says that this is about average for the program, which also hosts an annual show each spring featuring over 600 artworks from over 150 inmates. Additionally, the initiative publishes journals of art and writing, organizes mural and recording projects, and helps develop other health-education goals.
How Art Changed the Prison — the Work of CPA’s Prison Arts Program at the Aldrich Museum derives its art from current and former inmates, private collections (including that of Green, who curated the show), and the CPA’s own permanent stash. The majority of works on view were made by artists in their cells using materials that require minimal workspace, dry quickly, and can be stored immediately. Some artists have used traditional tools like ballpoint pens and colored pencils; others choose improvised prison staples including toilet paper, ramen noodle packaging, Q-tips, and floor wax.
Although prisoners are not being paid for work included at the Aldrich Museum, they regularly have the opportunity to sell their art at each year’s Annual Show. Greene says that “the artist receives 60% [of proceeds] in their inmate account, 25% goes to a fund to pay the postage to mail everyone’s artwork to loved ones,” and another “15% goes to the Commission on Victim’s Services’ ‘Victims Compensation ’”
An exhibition like How Art Changed the Prison humanizes the incarcerated for audiences who might have little contact with people caught inside the criminal justice system. “I’m locked alone in a maximum-security prison dining hall with thirty inmates for two hours every two weeks,” Greene writes in the show’s catalogue. “It would not work if I did not engender (and feel) real trust. I care. They care.”
Michael Seidman is one former student included in the show. An inmate at Brooklyn Correctional Institution whose prison sentence is about to end, he began his artistic practice by sketching designs for a puzzle website he plansto publishing upon his release. For the year-and-a-half that Greene worked with him. Seidman embarked on an ambitious array of brilliantly chromatic drawings with intricate game rules and deciphering codes. He built three-dimensional puzzles from paper fold-outs and even designed one that would be large enough for a billboard advertisement.
There’s also Veronica May Clark, who joined CPA’s Cheshire Correctional Institution workshop in 2013 as Nicholas, a young former professional skateboarder serving a life sentence. The first Connecticut inmate to undergo transgender hormone therapy, Clark slowly realized her gender identity through the work she did in art class. Incredibly complex and filled with thousands of microscopic markings that form a mosaic of smaller scenes, the drawing represents the great complexities of the artist’s life.
Advocates of the criminal justice system often claim that the goal of incarceration is to rehabilitate criminals. Yet, research indicates that the pipeline to corrections facilities is filled with systemic biases against people of color and individuals affected by drug addiction, poverty, and mental illness. With an estimated 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States is the world’s biggest jailer. Data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) also indicates that the average longest time served in prison has risen to 10 years since 2000. Worse, 8.5% of the total state and federal convicts are housed in private prisons, which have consistently strapped inmates for cash and cut educational programs— all while creating dangerous conditions for guards and prisoners to navigate.
“In the oppressive environment of the prison,” Greene says, “[prisoners]need something that they control; they need to express and confirm that they are still themselves; they need to send out into the world something that states their wish to love and be loved.
How Art Changed the Prison — the Work of CPA’s Prison Arts Program,curated by Jeffrey Greene,continues through May 27 at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum (258 Main Street, Ridgefield, Connecticut).
Jonathan Goodman, “Analia Segal: Contra la pared,” The Brooklyn Rail, September 2018
Analia Segal is a New York-based artist, but before she arrived in the States nearly twenty years ago, her life in Argentina was under the cloud of the Argentinian dictator, Jorge Rafael Videla, who took power when Segal was only seven years old. It was a time of extraordinary violence, and although the artist suffered no direct harm herself, she was marked by the general sense of disorder and genuine mayhem taking place. This deep sense of unease surfaces in, Analia Segal: contra la pared, which in Spanish means “against the wall” or “cornered.” The show is composed of abstract geometric patterns covering the entry doors. Inside there are three videos on three of the walls, as well as a relief sculpture of white chipboard volumes, meant to be seen as books, and a work consisting of strings of yarn descending toward a circular rug. These discrete pieces function as a totality, making the entire installation feel like a singular work of three-dimensional art.
Segal’s work picks up on the technical advances achieved in New York in environmental art and in the fierce emphasis on political awareness, and also the idea of a home—a safe personal environment—beyond the violence of the moment. Segal’s work does not begin and end with personal feeling alone. Rather than focus on things being done to people, the artist abstracts the experience of her youth, investing her videos with word play that create a soundtrack to abstract images from the Internet that reference wallpaper, drapes, doors, and other indoor objects.
Collectively titled Inland, the videos communicate disorder and distress through simple repetition of words from language tutorials in which the listener is enjoined to repeat the phrase that is spoken. The very act of doing so is an example of someone following a command—an interaction that could easily be read as the use of authority, as simple as the act of verbal repetition might be. The use of words amplifies the power and pathos of Segal’s installation, which leaves an aura of mistrust, even suspicion in the viewer’s mind.
Aleph II (2018) consists of a round rug whose circumference includes thick lozenge-shaped forms in red. Lines of black yarn rise up in columnar fashion to the ceiling. There is no overt political content, but the catalogue essay by artist Richard Klein (currently interim director of the gallery) intimates the black-and-red rug as violent, pushing into the space above it with the black lines of yarn. Like the injunctions we hear in all three videos, we also experience the violence in this very interesting work of art as implied—but inevitably hovering in near distance. Klein invokes the slashed canvases of Lucio Fontana, an Argentinian native, as a precedent to Segal’s work in its elegant, implied distress, in which passionate invasiveness stands for what it is as a simple visual. Like the gallery walls, Aleph II makes use of red, black, and white abstract patterns, whose colors themselves seem menacing enough but which do not directly, or in realist form, convey violence.
Before becoming an artist, Segal studied industrial design, and one of the considerable strengths of her installation is its creative sense of placement—Aleph II is placed where it is to encourage her audience to move through and around the exhibition, supporting the view that the entire installation is a sculpture. Indeed, Segal is extremely aware of the audience’s movement across the room. Aleph II helps make the total environment cohere in a manner that affects us first as a visual statement and then, over time, as a political treatise despite its essential abstraction. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that the personal hovers over the show like a low cloud—Segal invests her work with the emotion that comes from her difficult childhood. The feeling of oppression is primarily achieved by the addition of sound; the seemingly benign quality of the repeated commands turns dark over time.
Perhaps the most striking work is the wall sculpture Blind Volumes (2017 – 18). Consisting of white chipboard against an otherwise unadorned red wall, many of the individual pieces—which stick out roughly six inches from the wall and look rather like patterns meant to convey literary content—are deformed. They display extrusions or small but sharp changes. Classically modernist in its overall gestalt, Blind Volumes also repudiates the high, clean lines of modern sculpture by deforming many of the individual elements that the work is made up of. Segal is paying homage to a childhood past that has stayed with her, but her visual presentation is remarkable for its terse schematics. Her art lasts as remembered patterns informed by the memory of a dysfunctional, bloodily vindictive state.
This does not mean we must read everything as a symbol of a troubled younger life. The tension between art and social commentary in this environment is extreme, and it makes the work(s) memorable. Segal’s art poses questions more than it answers them, and this is how it should be; as a piece that indirectly reminds us of early life events that, in the artist’s case, are publicly—not privately—originated, contra la pared demonstrates that memory can seep from one milieu to another—even if we do not want this to happen.
Alix Browne, “T Introduces: Jessi Reaves,” T Magazine, Aug. 31, 2018
Looking at art can be tiring business, and resting spots in museums tend to be rare, crowded and generally uninviting. But at last year’s Whitney Biennial, where visitors of course knew not to touch the art, they came to an awkward consensus regarding the work of Jessi Reaves: They sat on it. In their defense, the New York artist makes sculptures with reassuring references to everyday chairs, tables and lamps — though rather than broadcast their functionality, her pieces challenge us to question the very concept of furniture. One of the pieces on view, “Basket Chair With Brown Pillow,” resembles a head-on collision between the 19th-century German cabinetmaker Michael Thonet’s classic bentwood Chair No. 14 and the sort of metal butterfly one finds in college dorms. “I didn’t anticipate the sheer number of people and the damage they could do,” says Reaves. “But you can’t create a nuanced instruction for interaction — it can’t be, Sit gently. It’s either all on or all off.”
The 31-year-old Reaves, who studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, arrived at these more workaday forms when she started taking freelance jobs as an upholsterer after graduating. “It was amazing because I had all of these materials accumulating around me, and I liked the sensation of peeling things back and getting familiar with pieces in their unfinished state,” she says. She embarked on a series of chair sculptures, dressing a Thonet chair in a diaphanous pink slipcover so that it appeared to be wearing lingerie and covering a cheap plastic chair in jacket fleece in an approximation (or abomination) of an expensive Scandinavian model she’d seen at high-end furniture stores. “In design, there is a lot of theft of ideas, even as people aspire to make something new and iconic,” she says, adding, “which strikes me as really funny and bro-y.”
Reaves isn’t striving for the glory of invention but for nuanced riffs that play with ideas of both usefulness and beauty. Aesthetically, her pieces — erotically misshapen, with more than the edges left raw — have as much in common with the paintings of Jenny Saville than anything produced by Charles and Ray Eames. Earlier this year, she was selected for the Carnegie International, opening on Oct. 13 in Pittsburgh, where she’ll show curvaceous multimedia “recliners,” as well as a baroque chaos of plywood, caning and even a purse that, for lack of a better word, could be described as a shelf. There, her work will literally occupy the no man’s land between art and design, in a space bridging Carnegie Museum’s Hall of Architecture and its main galleries that was originally constructed to house the last office of Frank Lloyd Wright.
But while her body of work is sweepingly subversive, Reaves remains fascinated by the materiality and perceived purpose behind each piece. On the day I visit her studio, in the basement of a former carriage house in Chelsea, she shows me a large electric fan that she’s working on for her friends Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta, fashion designers whose own Whitney installation is now on display. “I love the fan because, unlike a chair, you don’t have to use it to activate it. It just acts on you,” she says. Still, she’s built a decorative wire cage and placed it atop a pedestal of scrap wicker, giving it, in effect, a special chair of its own. — ALIX BROWNE
Greg G. Weber, “With help from DWR surfaces, Conn. museum tests ‘the edge.’,” DWR Blog, August 2018
An expansive new art exhibit in Connecticut is exploring the way objects are displayed on surfaces throughout our homes and our relationship to them. The exhibit, The Domestic Plane: New Perspectives on Tabletop Art Objects, at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, is presented in five separate “chapters,” each with its own curator and one employing a plethora of furnishings from Design Within Reach as props. Featuring art objects from the 20th and 21st centuries, the exhibit presents an experience that could be likened to theater, as “viewers encounter objects that interact with each other, their audience and their setting, forging relationships to be examined and meanings to be discovered in their adventurous methods of display.” More than 70 artists are represented in the show, which runs through January 13.
The largest of the chapters, Objects Like Us, represents more than 50 artists and explores the “relational behavior of intimately scaled objects that personify or embody a human condition or attribute that transmits a performative potentiality, aura or beingness.” Artist and curator David Adamo laid out white chalk in a herringbone pattern to suggest antique parquet. With foot traffic, the chalk will crack and crumble to reveal pathways of interaction from exhibit visitors.
Another chapter, On Edge, considers the table as a territory with the inherent boundary of its “edge” and its relationship with gravity. Using DWR dining tables and a bench, coffee table, desk and dresser, sculpture is placed in positions that test the surface edges, where safety and danger coexist.
Three other chapters complete the exhibition. Kitchen Arrangement, a commissioned installation, provides an immersive exploration of the “home’s primal epicenter: a social space essential to living and an area full of relational potentiality.” Almost Everything on the Table, with more than 30 objects, is largely interactive and invites exploration of metaphysical questions. And finally, with 20 or so objects laid out on a single table, Handheld invites the examination of the relationship between hand and eye.
Founded by Larry Aldrich in 1964, the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum is one of the few independent, non-collecting contemporary art museums in the United States and the only museum in Connecticut devoted to contemporary art.
Pieces from DWR were used exclusively in On Edge. They include the Celine Desk, Cross Extension Table, CTW1 Rectangular Coffee Table, Dulwich Extension Table, Gather Table, Kayu Teak Dining Table and Nelson Thin Edge Double Dresser.
Joel Lang, “Extensive Aldrich exhibit explores tabletop art objects,” Connecticut Post, June 2018
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum is describing its new show, supertitled “The Domestic Plane,” as a “meta-group exhibition in five chapters.”
“Mega” would work just as well though, because “The Domestic Plane” is very, very big. It occupies all the Aldrich’s galleries but one and represents the work of 80 artists. “Five chapters” refers to the separate exhibits that make up larger “Domestic Plane.”
“It is a record. It’s encyclopedic,” says Richard Klein, the Aldrich’s exhibition director. “This is the greatest number of individual works and artists that we’ve ever shown simultaneously.”
Their common theme, very freely interpreted, is the household as a place for art. Just one exhibit, “Objects Like Us,” displays sculptures done over six decades by more than 50 artists.
Arranged on shelves along three walls of a second-floor gallery, many seem comic, almost imitations of collector’s kitsch. Two examples are a red-building brick sprouting human ears (from 1968 by Robert Arneson) and a pair of ladies panties crafted from clay (from 2017 by Sally Saul). Florally decorated, cream-colored and sheet-cake thick, they look edible.
As a collection, though, “Objects Like Us” is hardly all fun and games. The title can ask how much we are like the shelved objects. In fact, viewers can see themselves and much of the gallery reflected in the raised-mirrored lid of a jewelry case encrusted with brass pins (from 1973 by Lucas Samaras).
The exhibit declares its conceptual seriousness underfoot. The gallery flooring is made of thousands of pieces of ordinary blackboard chalk laid out in a herringbone pattern. It is an installation by the Berlin-based sculptor, David Adamo, who doubled as guest curator, collaborating with the Aldrich’s own Amy Smith-Stewart.
One of Adamo’s ideas is that as the chalk disintegrates it will show the pattern of human traffic. Still pristine on opening day, the floor almost lost a couple of pieces to a child, who saw the chalk as chalk and bent to collect some. A parent stopped the theft.
How Adamo or the Aldrich would have reacted to the child’s alteration could be the subject of a lecture. Museum postings say the “The Domestic Plane” can be likened to a theater experience and is interactive. That promise is fulfilled in another second-floor gallery by an exhibit that is a collaboration between Dakin Hart, the senior curator at the Noguchi Museum in Queens; and Tucker Nichols, a California-based artist who often works with found objects.
Titled “Almost Everything on the Table,” their subject matter is nothing less than the laws of physics and the universe as they might be investigated at home. One of several intentionally interactive elements is an overhead projector re-labeled a “Starfield Simulator.” It comes without instructions, but daring gallery visitors discover that colored plastic cutouts provided in a tray can be used to project sky after sky on a gallery wall.
Nearby is a large, shallow basin filled with water and scores of floating bottle caps. Children know to spin the basin, forcing the bottle caps to the center. A gallery guide identifies it as a “big gyre.” Surrounded by children, it looks like fun. But an impression lingers from the bottle caps. In many colors and sizes, they appear used, as if collected as litter. Could they also be an environmental alert to the giant gyres of discarded plastic polluting the oceans?
Altogether, 38 separate pieces are in “Almost Everything on the Table.” Not all are meant to be manipulated, but so many are constructed from scavenged balls and rings that the general feeling is one of playfulness.
A posted statement by Dakin Hart explains the amateur scientific spirit informing the exhibit. “Cobbled together at the speed of thought, these models and experiments … have enabled us to engage in the sublimest foolishness,” he writes.
He issues a wonderful alliterative challenge: “Consider the cosmic comedy of the constellations.” He regrets to answer that they exist as “narcissistic delusion,” forms visible only from Earth.
In contrast, a third exhibit titled “Handheld” explicitly invokes the rule “look but don’t touch.” Yet its 20 familiar objects are arranged on a single tabletop, almost like place settings, and beg to be picked up. All hand-crafted, they are also the most plainly beautiful pieces in the entire exhibit.
At the head of the table is a Chinese-style teapot, by Ron Nagle, that is such a lustrous deep blue that it appears covered in soft fabric. In fact, it is glazed earthenware.
At the other end, a fine linen table napkin, by Anne Wilson, appears to have cigarette burns outlined in orange. A closer look reveals the burn marks are stitched and the ragged rim of the hole is sewn with human hair.
Nearby are two cups that don’t appear to deserve a place at the table. One looks to be a Styrofoam coffee cup and the other the cheapest kind of plastic party cup. It has a wine stain at the bottom. But both cups, by Christopher Taylor, are blown-glass trompe l’oeil pieces.
Elizabeth Essner, the guest curator from Brooklyn, writes that the crafted pieces are a reminder of the primal importance of the human hand as both an instrument of creation and of touch at a time when the cellphone has become the most common handheld device and the swipe a kind of sterile touch.
There is less profusion in the other two “Domestic Plane” chapters because their pieces on are a larger scale. One, “On Edge,” is a collection of modernist tables that themselves are works of art. Each supports a single sculpture, some balanced precariously on the table edge.
“Kitchen Arrangement” is a site-specific installation by Jessi Reaves. It is a sculptural interpretation of furnishings that might be found in any kitchen. All are twisted, a couple almost beyond recognition. Her “Pearly Slobber Shelf” is a catch-all cupboard that appears to be sticking out a porcelain tongue.
Like other artists in the exhibit, Reaves’ name might be unknown to the general public, but is recognized in the art world. She is one of the artists represented in last year’s Whitney Museum of American Art’s biennial exhibit.
Klein says “The Domestic Plane” was conceived partly as a response to “gigantism” in art; art too big to fit in any house. The bigness of the Aldrich exhibit is measured in its abundance and also its ambition.
Among the many events associated with the exhibit will be the fall publication of a 260-page book. The exhibit runs until Jan. 13.
Joel Lang is a frequent contributor to Sunday Arts & Style.
Françoise Mouly, “The Profound Mundanity of Richard McGuire’s ‘My Things,’” The New Yorker, May 18,
Richard McGuire is an American artist whose work is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art and at the Morgan Library & Museum. He’s also an illustrator, children’s-book author, toy designer, and founding member of the post-punk band Liquid Liquid, for which he plays bass. It would be fair to call his work multidisciplinary.
But McGuire’s most recent project, “My Things,” a depiction of the innumerable small objects he interacts with in a single day, still feels like a departure. “Here,” his award-winning graphic novel from 2014, was awash in color, and its images evinced a deft, relaxed sense of space. “My Things,” meanwhile, employs a tight grid of black-and-white panels. What remains consistent are McGuire’s powers of attention: in the ten pages of “My Things,” above, McGuire studies the minutiae of touch, gesture, and interaction, his eye keenly attuned to the way objects shape and scaffold our lives. That theme is of a piece with McGuire’s “The Way There and Back,” an installation on view, this month, at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum; the exhibit will feature more than a hundred objects, each an “abstracted sculptural evocation of a shoe.”
Annie Godfrey Larmon, “Analia Segal: Contra La Pared,” Artforum, May 2018
Ever since Charlotte Perkins Gilman set her protagonist against the walls of the room that provoked her hysteria in “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892), we’ve been reckoning with the Janus face of domestic design. Haven or prison, the interior is fodder for Argentine artist Analia Segal, who remembers her childhood home in Buenos Aires as decorated with the paranoia of living under a military dictatorship. The title of her exhibition at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum—which will feature an installation comprising works in sculpture, furniture, and textiles alongside the animated video trilogy Inland, 2012–18—translates to “against the wall” or “cornered.” Indeed, these works are suggestive of the ways in which space can invite or alienate. Segal turns to the substrates of such projection—carpets, tiles, wallpaper, and window blinds—to subtly intervene in architectural space and in the viewer’s perception of it.
Commentary by Ryan Scails and Tessa Rosenstein; Series edited by Paul VanDeCarr
I grew up in this area, in Bethel, Connecticut, and I’ve always felt fortunate to have the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum nearby. In high school, I took a docent program at the museum through my art class, and then I worked at an art camp here between semesters at school in New York. At school, I started out studying industrial design, but that wasn’t a good fit for me.
I took a break and came back to Connecticut and learned metalworking from a welder here, then I finished school majoring in sculpture and drawing. I returned to Connecticut, and now, for the past couple of years, I’ve worked for the Aldrich-first as an installer on a couple of shows, and then, after doing some traveling, as an attendant.
I love the standard of art shown here, and I’m friends with the staff. The Aldrich is part of a local circuit for contemporary art; people who know of Dia:Beacon or the Katonah Museum of Art also know of the Aldrich. The museum is artist-centered, and artist-centered institutions shouldn’t be only in New York or Boston or other big cities.
I like stuff, though I don’t accrue a lot of it. When I look at art now, I’m looking at the formal and physical aspects of things- texture and weight and craft and how things are installed. The physical can convey the artist’s idea, and it can also fabricate an idea in the mind of a viewer. The tactile quality of artwork is one of the most universal topics I discuss with visitors, in that it is relatable to people of all backgrounds.
There’s a show up now called Your Turn, which is what Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley, the two artists who created it, call performance architecture. It’s a two-sided wall that has rungs to climb on and a compost toilet and a bed and a comfy chair and a little kitchenette and some other amenities, each of which slides back and forth to one side of the wall or the other. The two artists lived on opposite sides of the wall for 10 days, and only one of them could use each item at a time. After the first 10-day stay, they came back for a shorter stint, and since then there have been videos projected in the gallery showing them living on the wall.
Schweder and Shelley are enthusiastic and childlike in their pursuit-it feels like something you would’ve wanted to do as a kid . The whole structure has bright, youthful colors, and it looks like those weird ‘90s game shows on Nickelodeon that I used to watch. I’ve been thinking about that with my own work, drawing with the delight that I had as a kid. I can’t remember an age when I didn’t have a pen or a pencil in my hand.
It’s different seeing the artwork while working at the museum, as opposed to visiting. As an attendant, I spend more time with the art, for one thing, and I hear more conversations about it-and I often take part in them. Kids and adults all have a strong reaction to this piece. A lot of them are just amazed. They ask questions about the logistics, like “Do they cook?” or “Who empties the toilet?” and they wonder out loud about whether they could manage it themselves. Aldrich is in Ridgefield, which has some big, lavish homes, so the questions that this piece pose are about how can you make do with less, and how you cooperate in a domestic setting. Some visitors say they just couldn’t do it.
Me, I would love to live on the sculpture. I love the challenge of living that way. I don’t mind putting myself under duress. The piece has more amenities than the trailer I lived in at Joshua Tree when I was hosting a residency program.
This installation is at once lighthearted and thought-provoking. The discussion that art can lead people to is what it’s all about.
I’m from this area originally, and I was aware of the museum as a teenager, though I didn’t visit until I went to college nearby. I just got a master’s degree from the University of Edinburgh in contemporary art history. I started the job of museum attendant in May 2017. I guard the art, give information, and help interpret the work for visitors.
One piece on display now at the Aldrich that I’ve really liked is a still from Rapture, a 1999 video installation by the Iranian artist Shirin Neshat. It’s in the group exhibition Shared Space: A New Era, and it’s competing with lots of colorful, large-scale pieces in the show. Right across from it is a photograph by Massimo Vitali, LA dancer’s forum #1262, and elsewhere there’s a large Walter Niedermayr diptych of a mountain, called Kitzsteinhorn V, which a lot of people are drawn to, I think because it looks like a typical landscape painting until you get closer and realize it’s a photograph. Like Kitzsteinhorn V, the Neshat piece doesn’t immediately give itself away: It’s in black and white and it’s small, so it requires more intimacy. You have to step in close to interact with it.
While other artworks in the exhibition don’t show people at all or catch their subjects unaware, in this piece, the women pictured engage directly with the camera. You’re immediately confronted by their stern gazes. The piece depicts a group of 50 or more women arranged in a triangle out in the desert, all wearing black chadors. I love that there’s a lot going on beneath the surface: You have to wonder who these women are, why they’re kneeling in the desert, what happens before or after this particular moment in the video. The women have poetry written in Farsi on their hands, which the artist uses to imply an internalized voice or dialogue. I love this, because the exact text is not accessible to those of us who don’t understand Farsi. It reinforces restrained silence.
For me, this is an image of solidarity, solemn and ceremonial. The women are banding together to highlight what Neshat identified in an interview with Scott MacDonald as a shared Middle Eastern experience. I’m drawn to this piece because I find the subjects’ direct eye contact very engaging and very personal–it activates the piece for me in a way that’s distinct from the other photographs in the show. While my background is not at all similar to Neshat’s–she and I are so different, in age, nationality, perspective–this piece deeply resonates with me because, like reading a good book, it temporarily takes me out of myself and presents me with a perspective that in some ways varies widely from my own.
Contemporary art can sometimes be a bit off-putting and difficult to understand, but the Aldrich makes it accessible–the museum wants people to get involved and ask questions. I get excited about talking with people about the art.
In larger museums, I often feel dwarfed by the space and have to move with the flow of the crowds. Here you can explore. I’m able to study artworks at more length, and pieces that don’t necessarily strike me or please me right off I have time to learn more about. Sometimes working here feels like I’m doing another graduate-school dissertation!
Meredith Mendelsohn, “And the Blue Ribbon Goes to…Anissa Mack,” The New York Times, October 20, 2017
RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — The state fair, that familiar ritual of the late summer and early fall, looms large in the catalog of what makes America American: agrarian industriousness meeting the tame vices of the midway.
For Rodgers and Hammerstein, who wrote the songbook of old-fashioned American values (with a wink), it’s a place, as portrayed in their 1945 musical ‘‘State Fair,’’ where housewives derive their self-worth from prizewinning mincemeat, and restless young farm folk seek romance with worldly strangers. Writing in National Geographic, Garrison Keillor, the keen-eyed observer of heartland behavior, praises the state fair for giving us the permission to forget our buttoned-up lives for a day and “plunge into the pool of self-indulgence.”
For the Brooklyn-based, Connecticut-raised artist Anissa Mack, state fair rituals are not just a seasonal recurrence, but the engine driving a continuing body of work. Around two dozen of her newest collagelike objects and sculptures inspired by a lifetime of fair-going are on view in “Junk Kaleidoscope,” a solo show at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum here, through April 22.
“Some families have Easter or Christmas. We had the state fair,” Ms. Mack recalled recently, reflecting on a childhood spent around the fairgrounds in Durham, Conn. “My grandmother was a pickle judge, my aunts always entered jams and jellies, my mom would make a quilt or needlepoint or enter vegetables or flowers, and my dad always did something — photography or horticulture, usually, sometimes baking.”
Ms. Mack, 47, who now lives and works out of a historical rowhouse in Bushwick, had her own role to play in the family holiday — aside from taking a gamble at carnival games and sampling deep fried you-name-its: Every year she’d compete in the Durham Fair’s craft competition.
“I know every artist says this, but I was always making stuff as a kid,” she said. “Plus, you could win a few bucks of prize money and you’d get into the fair for free.” The ritual would begin each August with daily trips to the mailbox to check for the Durham Fair’s entry booklet, which contained the long list of craft categories that would guide Ms. Mack’s plan of attack. (Soap carving and pumpkin decoration were among her favorites.)
That annual tradition has evolved through many twists and turns into “Junk Kaleidoscope,” a phrase that Amy Smith-Stewart, the Aldrich’s curator, likes to think of as “a ruptured view of the world through everyday cultural artifacts,” she said recently while installing the show.
Hung in frames, displayed on shelves, or arranged in domestic-scaled installations, Ms. Mack’s new work quietly exudes the motley variety of a craft show crossed with a fair exhibition hall in its mix of stained glass, gilding, silk flowers, neon lights and lots of denim. There are references to early sideshow banners, commemorative wreaths, needlepoint samplers, teen longing, and American heartthrobs.
“I’m interested in my body of work looking like the things that came out of the fair, not in their craftiness, but in their diversity,” said Ms. Mack, who cites as inspirations Ree Morton (1936-1977), Rosemarie Trockel and Robert Gober, artists known for their idiosyncratic use of various materials.
She returns to the Durham Fair almost every year and took road trips to visit state fairs through the Southeast and the northern Midwest. “Fairs are great sources for images,” she said, while assuring me that she is not obsessed. What she does obsess over, she explained, is “their collections of things, the categorization, their repetitive nature.” Fittingly, a large poster-size list hangs at the entrance to the main gallery at the Aldrich, enumerating 73 categories.
The evolution of the kind of official list that Ms. Mack would eagerly pore over as a kid, the show at the Aldrich mixes existing competition categories, like “#14 Wood, three-dimensional construction” with more ambiguous entries, like “#38 My heart wants more” and “#55 After the fact.”
The list is also a link to the exhibition’s pivotal origins, Ms. Mack’s epic project, “The Fair” (staged in 1996 and 2006). Fresh out of the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, where she earned her M.F.A. in sculpture, Ms. Mack decided to enter all 73 craft categories in the Durham Fair. It was an act of near-manic D.I.Y. industriousness, done in the name of art rather than heartlandish moral rectitude. She taught herself leather tooling, screen-printing and chair caning, and won dozens of ribbons.
“Art gave me this framework to put around the fair, this permission to allow myself to allocate an insane amount of time to making crafts — all summer, every day, two crafts a day, while working a full-time temp job,” she recalled. Real Art Ways, a nonprofit art space in Hartford, showed the items — adorned with their ribbons. The following year, Postmasters Gallery in New York showed the project.
In 2006, Ms. Mack was at it again, entering all 69 craft categories of the Durham Fair. “That second time it was more about using repetition, remaking, and memorialization to think about how I was processing these familiar images and experiences,” she said. Ten years later, she was planning “Junk Kaleidoscope,” fleshing out her interest in commemoration. “All the work in the show came from either a memory I have or an image I saw, maybe a very specific object I walked by,” she explained. “But they’re not exact reproductions, they’re combinations of a few things.”
There are several wreath motifs in the show, including “Conn Con,” from 2017, a large ring of straw festooned with ornamental corn. It’s the kind of regional homage that one might find at the fair, but also an allusion to the false impression of household bliss that the mastery of the “domestic arts” might imply. “How you decorate your house, your curb appeal — it was all very important where I grew up,” said Ms. Mack, who now has work in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Seattle Art Museum, among others.
Ms. Smith-Stewart, who came across the artist’s work in a group show at MoMA PS1 in 2002, while working as an assistant curator, said: “Anissa is interested in the storytelling power of objects, and many of the works have a narrative that can be pieced together differently depending on the audience.”
Ms. Mack’s list is a gathering of ideas that have been percolating in her psyche over the years. “#45 Amy, Amy, anyone,” for instance, refers to the artist’s childhood fascination with Amy Carter. “I was so curious about her,” said Ms. Mack, who still has the straight red hair, sprinkling of freckles and gently angular features she shared back then with America’s First Kid. “She was my ageish, but a little older. And she sort of looked like me.”
Ms. Mack hasn’t tackled the subject of Amy Carter quite yet, but that doesn’t matter. The list, for her, is a live document for future work. It can be a catalyst (or excuse) to make something new, or a way of understanding something she’s already made.
Everything in the show refers to something on the list, she explained, but some might match three, “and some categories, like Americana, might cover everything.” “Everyone’s favorite angel, 2017,” for instance, a pencil sketch of Farrah Fawcett drawn on a canvas that the artist has molded to look like white denim, could be “#20 Best of the best,” “#33 I never thought she’d take his last name,” “ or “#60 Locations, actors, obstacles.”
“Wreath,” from 2017, is a good example of how Ms. Mack might bundle together different impressions into a cohesive work. It revolves around a story she read in the paper last year about a terminally ill 14-year-old British girl whose last wish was to be cryogenically frozen. The artist printed the condensed tale, word by word, on the surface of around 300 resin-cast rings (tiny wreaths, if you will), and then arranged them among dozens of inexpensive vintage rings in a rectangular grid of foam slots, the kind of display she frequently sees at fairs and flea markets.
The work shows how nuanced Ms. Mack’s state fair resonances can be. “The girl’s story reminded me of the midway,” she said. “It’s this place of incredible hope, where you might win this huge stuffed thing, but you also kind of know you’re going to lose.”
A white neon sign casting cold light in a dark side gallery transports viewers to the midway’s fleeting alley of rickety rides and ringtoss stands. It reads “FACTS FAKES FREAKS.” Ms. Mack didn’t have political intentions when she made the sign last year — the wording came from an old sideshow banner she had seen. But the relevance today doesn’t escape her.
“The emotions generated in the space of the midway are things that really play out in other parts of American culture,” she said. “The pride of winning something for someone else, the showing off, the hucksterism.” It’s all right there.
A version of this article appears in print on October 22, 2017, on Page AR14 of the New York edition with the headline: And the Blue Ribbon Goes to ….