Harmony Hammond’s Art Is Bold and Prickly as Ever, The New York Times

Posted 08/9/19


RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — With all the hullabaloo around the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, it’s easy to forget that, well into the 1970s and beyond, to be an out gay artist was to court mainstream-career suicide. Harmony Hammond, who began exhibiting and curating in the very early post-Stonewall years, was one of the people responsible for defying and reversing this repression.

In the 1970s, in New York City, she organized the first local exhibition devoted entirely to art by gay women, and called it what it was: “A Lesbian Show.” She co-founded the feminist Heresies Collective and coedited a lesbian-themed issue of its journal. In 2000, she published “Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History,” the first and still only comprehensive survey book on the subject. (It’s been out of print for years.) From the start, in her own sculpture and painting, she bucked the trend that equated political art with figurative work, and invented her own modes of queer abstraction.

She did pay a price for such focused boldness. Only now, at 75, is she having her first career retrospective, “Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art.” And it’s not at a big-guns urban institution, but at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in leafy suburban Connecticut. Wherever, the show is taut, moving and beautiful, and well worth traveling to see.

As organized by Amy Smith-Stewart, senior curator at the Aldrich, the survey doesn’t follow a chronological path, though biography clearly shaped this art. Ms. Hammond grew up in a working-class town near Chicago. She studied painting in college, married a fellow artist, and for a while supported herself with minor art-related jobs.

But after the couple moved to New York City in 1969 — the Stonewall year — her trajectory became less conventional. Within a year, she had a daughter, separated from her husband, and began the process of coming out as a lesbian. Plunging headlong into the roiling downtown cultural scene, she joined a feminist consciousness-raising group, studied weaving and tai chi (she would later practice and teach the Japanese martial art of aikido), and, in 1972, became a founding member of the all-women A.I.R. Gallery, which is still going strong.

The earliest work at the Aldrich, a set of six fabric sculptures called “Presences,” reconstitutes the main element of her first A.I.R. solo. Each sculpture, suspended from the ceiling by a rope and lightly brushing the gallery floor, is roughly human size and composed of layered strips of dyed and painted cloth. The forms, of uncertain gender, look archaic, ceremonial, and communal in spirit. Significantly, most of the fabric strips were from recycled clothing donated by members of the women’s group Ms. Hammond was involved with.

The sculptures that immediately followed, called “Floorpieces,” were also made from cloth, in this case commercial knit scraps that Ms. Hammond scavenged from sweatshop dumpsters in SoHo. She braided the cloth in a traditional rag-rug technique, then painted the surfaces. The tondo-shaped pieces — five of the original seven are in the show — are a cross between paintings, sculptures and domestic accessories. As such, they cast all three categories into question, and erase hierarchical distinctions between fine art and “women’s work” craft. To emphasize their versatile identities, Ms. Hammond insisted they be displayed on the floor in an otherwise empty gallery, as they are, to striking effect, at the Aldrich.

The art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson, one of Ms. Hammond’s most astute critics, has suggested that the “Floorpieces” were the first works to consciously introduce a queer, and specifically lesbian identity, into Ms. Hammond’s work. The artist herself gives the nod in her extraordinary series of “Wrapped Sculptures” from later in the decade.

Once again, fabric is the chief material, but now tightly wrapped around wood armatures — ladders, stretcher bars, furniture parts — in thick, bulging, skin-stretching layers like muscles pumped to the point of explosion. The artist has said she modeled the work on aspects of the female body, exterior and interior, and she comes up with some tender tableaus: In one, a small, dark “ladder” leans, as if seeking support, against a larger, light-colored one. But the same technique can produce ominous things. A large, four-pronged wrapped sculpture called “Kong” protrudes from the wall like an immense grasping hand.

When these sculptures first appeared, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they looked like nothing else in the art world. They still look that way. So does much of what came after.

In 1984, Ms. Hammond moved to New Mexico, where she still lives, and her art reflected the changed environment. With expanded studio space, she explored larger formats. In place of dumpster-diving, she collected relics of abandoned farmhouses. A 1992 installation called “Inappropriate Longings” includes three abstract collage-paintings that incorporate fragments of old linoleum flooring. In front of them stands a coffin-shaped water trough filled with dead cottonwood leaves.

At a glance, the installation gives off a nostalgic Dust Bowl vibe, though a close look delivers a nasty contemporary surprise: razor-carved into one of the panels, and smeared with red paint, are the words “Goddamn dyke.” The artist made the piece in response to reports of a hate crime committed during Colorado’s 1992 passage of an amendment to the state constitution denying gays protection from discrimination. (In 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the amendment as unconstitutional.)

Ms. Hammond entered art as an abstract painter and continues to be one, though of an emphatically un-Modernist kind. She has written: “My work is NOT pure, isolated, authoritative, universal, self-referential, self-sufficient or removed from social function.” This declared impurity is obvious everywhere in the show, from drawings made using watercolor, ink, and menstrual blood to a series of painting-like works made of straw mixed with acrylic pigment. (Some of these pieces look like blocks of spun gold, others like clods of dry earth.)

What is consistent is an unrelenting stress on materiality and a non-binary approach to form: Everything is painting andsculpture. In certain recent paintings, strips of cut canvas, secured by tacks or pierced by grommets, crisscross the surface in sculptural relief. And although this work is nonfigurative and even technically imageless, it very clearly suggests bound or bandaged flesh. In short, her monochromatic abstraction is never fully abstract. It is always, in some way, about actual tension and pressure, physical, political, psychological.

Tons of abstract art has been churned out in the past five decades, yet not much new has happened. Galleries and museums are filled with walk-on-by works that, whatever their ingenuities, are basically just variations on old models, wall-filling exercises in easy, comfortable beauty. Ms. Hammond’s art has beauty too, but of a prickly, irritant kind: it’s burlap — sometimes sandpaper — as opposed to silk. No surprise that, in a market-driven art world resistant to what can’t be classified and resentful of work that refuses to ingratiate, the spotlight has been a long time coming her way. At the Aldrich, it shines.


Best Art of 2019, The New York Times

Posted 12/6/19


Unexpected Delights

1. MoMA’s Reopening

For New York, the signal event of the year was October’s reopening of the Museum of Modern Art with its newly expanded, improved building and more inclusive, historically accurate permanent collection hang, which fleshes out the epic of Modernism with works by women, artists of color and non-Westerners. There are more creature comforts: lots of chairs by Jean Prouvé and sofas by Charlotte Perriand in the lobby, for example. And for the occasion, all other exhibitions on view were also drawn from the permanent collection, with the latest show from the “Artist’s Choice” series being especially notable. Titled “The Shape of Shape,” it was chosen by the New York painter Amy Sillman, who orchestrated a dense installation that compared and contrasted work by around 70 artists. The result was a visual feast that might also be read as a reminder to MoMA’s brainy curators that pleasure is its own form of knowledge.

2. ‘Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory’ at the Met Breuer

This ravishing retrospective traces the changing expanses — waves, night skies, desert floors — over six decades, illuminating the artist’s penchant for revealing the infinite in the intimate (and vice versa) while pitting perception, philosophy and patient process against one another. An impressive argument for her greatness, the show also emphasized the strengths of Marcel Breuer’s landmark building in a rare collaboration of artist, curator and architecture.

3. Leonora Carrington at Gallery Wendi Norris of San Francisco, in New York

This pop-up exhibition offered further evidence that some of the best Surrealist paintings were made by women working in Mexico. Surveying the art by the well-born rebellious Brit Leonora Carrington (1917-2011), it revealed a fantastical imagination influenced in part by myths learned as a child from her Scottish mother and nanny. There were several showstopping canvases, especially “And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur” (1953), which MoMA acquired and put on view as a centerpiece in its reconfigured Surrealist gallery. It depicts an orange-robed female Minotaur and a pale flowerlike creature greeting two children in black perhaps as they return from school, with a lithe spirit trailing behind them. A genre scene it is not.

4. ‘John Dunkley: Neither Day Nor Night’ at the American Folk Art Museum This exhibition (organized by the Pérez Art Museum Miami) introduced the work of the self-taught Jamaican artist to American audiences. Part folk artist, part Surrealist, Dunkley (1891-1947) was best in luminous landscapes in which strange trees, outsize plants and sudden waterfalls cast a hypnotic spell.

5. ‘Amy Sherald: The Heart of the Matter,’ at Hauser & Wirth

The relatively unknown Ms. Sherald shot to fame in 2017 when she was commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to paint Michelle Obama’s official portrait, and soon after achieved representation by a blue-chip gallery that quickly scheduled her New York debut. Ms. Sherald, who is 46, rose to the occasion, holding down an enormous space with just seven new portraits, also of black subjects, that took her formally distinctive, beautifully painted realism to a new level.

6. ‘A Specific Eye: Seven Collections’ at Demisch Danant This Greenwich Village design gallery invited several art-related sorts — artists, photographers and art dealers — to display some of their most cherished objects on furniture designed in the 1960s by Maria Pergay (still working at 89). The resulting arrangements had a cabinet of curiosities intensity. This could be a biannual event. A trove of 3,000 quilts by African-American artists is surely one of the most transformative museum gifts of the late 20th-century. Among the riches of the Eli Leon collection are over 100 dazzling quilts and other textile works by Rosie Lee Tompkins, (1936-2006), one of the few women in the top tier of American outsider artists. The collection will form the basis of a major retrospective that opens at BAMPFA on Feb. 19, 2020.

7. Eli Leon Collection at the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive

A trove of 3,000 quilts by African-American artists is surely one of the most transformative museum gifts of the late 20th-century. Among the riches of the Eli Leon collection are over 100 dazzling quilts and other textile works by Rosie Lee Tompkins, (1936-2006), one of the few women in the top tier of American outsider artists. The collection will form the basis of a major retrospective that opens at BAMPFA on Feb. 19, 2020.

9. ‘Simone Fattal: Works and Days’ at MoMA/P.S.1

The first museum exhibition devoted to this Syrian-born Lebanese artist (who has lived for many years in the United States and Paris) revealed a polymathic talent interested in painting, drawing and film, but best represented by a profusion of mostly small, roughly improvised glazed ceramic sculptures dizzying in their suggestions: of animals, figures, ancient artifacts, religious rituals, tourist souvenirs, desert structures ruined by war, and, always, of life lived and the encroachments of time. The variety, carefreeness and layered meanings added up to a body of work with few equals in the realm of ceramic sculpture.

10. The Art World Mourns Okwui Enwezor, Virginia Zabriskie, Takis, Leon Kossoff, Matthew Wong, Carolee Schneemann, Ed Clark, Francisco Toledo, Bruce W. Ferguson, Mavis Pusey, Lutz Bacher, Robert Ryman, Gillian Jagger, Joyce Pensato, Mary Abbott, Charles Ginnever, Marisa Merz, Claude Lalanne, Ronald Jones, Ingo Maurer, John Giorno, David Koloane, Huguette Caland, Jill Freedman, Robert Frank, Nancy Reddin Kienholz, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Dan Robbins, I.M. Pei, Stanley Tigerman, Douglas Crimp, Hildegard Bachert.

Visions and Revisions

1. Bad Money

The most radical museum events of 2019 were the many individual protests aimed at questionable sources of art patronage. Nan Goldin called for institutions to cut ties with the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin; Decolonize This Place demanded the ouster of the Whitney board’s vice chairman, Warren B. Kanders, whose company, Safariland, manufactures tear gas; the Guerrilla Girls went after the Museum of Modern Art trustees Leon Black and Glenn Dubin for their business relationships with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein; several activist groups targeted a third MoMA trustee, Larry Fink, over his company’s investment in the private prison industry. But, goes an old argument, hasn’t art always been bankrolled by bad money? Sure, goes the new thinking, but why should that be O.K.?

2. A Historic Biennial

The 2019 Whitney Biennial made history: Of its 75 artists, a majority were nonwhite, and half were women. That the art chosen by the curators, Jane Panetta and Rujeko Hockley, complicated identities, rather than narrowing them down, added to the show’s politics of resistance.

3. A Museum Under Revision

On the occasion of its reopening, after a $450 million, 47,000-square-foot expansion, MoMA took steps, cautious but significant, toward rethinking the obsolete white, male, nationalist version of Modernism that has long been its brand. The obvious difference now is the presence of “difference” itself in the form of art — a lot recently acquired — from Africa, Asia, South America and African America, and an unprecedented amount of work by women. Is the rethinking foundation-shaking or skin-deep? Time will tell. The museum promises a complete rehanging of the permanent-collection galleries every 18 months, and all eyes will be on the first rotation. With much to admire and much to argue with, the general direction feels right.

4. A Plus

Exhibitions celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and the budding gay liberation movement were widespread last summer. There were several in New York, and, as commemorations tend to do, they felt simultaneously resurrecting and entombing. The exception was the very lively “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall” at the Brooklyn Museum. About to close (it is on view through Dec. 8), it’s a survey of new art that carries the story of liberation forward into the L.G.B.T.Q.+ present and into realms of gender fluidity that sometimes found a chilly reception within the gay movement itself in the L.G.B.-only days of 1969.

5. Breaking News From the Past

The most innovative historical show I saw last season was “The World Between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It took the classic ancient-art-survey model, with its chronological lineup of archaeological treasures, and filtered it through 21st-century realities. Several of the sites considered — Palmyra and Dura-Europos in Syria, Hatra in Iraq — have in recent years been subject to campaigns of ideology-driven destruction, disasters that the show addressed directly and throughout.

6. True Monuments

Contemporary public sculpture has an iffy track record, but we got sterling examples this year. Simone Leigh’s “Brick House,” a 16-foot-tall bronze figure of a black woman merging with an African architectural form sits commandingly on the spur of the High Line that bridges 10th Avenue. Four luminous bronze female figures by Wangechi Mutu fill the once empty sculptural niches on the Met’s Fifth Avenue facade. And, in an extension of Siah Armajani’s traveling survey at the Met Breuer, the Public Art Fund installed that artist’s ineffably poetic “Bridge Over Tree” on the East River between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

7. Retrospectives, Finally

In 2019, museums trained a spotlight on important but little-known artists in retrospectives of work by Alvin Baltrop at the Bronx Museum; Harmony Hammond at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Conn; Mrinalini Mukherjee at the Met Breuer; and Zilia Sánchez at the Phillips Collection in Washington (and now at El Museo del Barrio in New York). For me, the most stirring survey of all was an informal one. On a visit to Medellín, Colombia, I was taken into the storage area of the city’s Museum of Modern Art, where the director, Emiliano Valdés, pulled out rack after rack of paintings by the great Colombian political artist Débora Arango (1907-2005).

8. Gallery Solos

Outstanding, among the short-term sightings of the season, were Alex Katz’s big, dark, deep landscapes at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise; William Powhida’s exquisitely incisive, connect-the-dots dissections of art and politics (including the Kanders affair) at Postmasters; and a David Hammons solo at Hauser & Wirth in Los Angeles which, blocks away from one of the country’s largest urban homeless encampments, included its own tent city.

9. A Bigness Problem

Hauser & Wirth was one of a handful of international gallery franchises — Gagosian and David Zwirner are others — busy hoarding artists and real estate. Zwirner made interestingly offbeat things of its imperial power in two excellent group shows: “God Made My Face: A Collective Portrait of James Baldwin,” put together by the critic Hilton Als, and “The Young and Evil,” organized by the artist and writer Jarrett Earnest. Gagosian, by contrast, continued to calcify into utter predictability. It is now often the equivalent of a luxury car showroom and an art bank.

10. Losses

In October, New York City’s much-admired cultural affairs commissioner, Tom Finkelpearl, who knows local art and its history better than anyone in town, abruptly resigned from his post. In July, the blind poet and East Village legend Steve Cannon, founder of the journal A Gathering of the Tribes, died, and with him went the spiritual archive of an irrecoverable New York era.

11. Moving Up

This year, as in most years, I looked to smaller museums and university galleries for unusually inspiring and instructive shows. I found a gem in “Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal” at Cantor Art Gallery at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Assembled by two scholars, Jinah Kim and Todd T. Lewis, it uses objects to tell a tale of the little-studied traditions of a popular religious art in the Kathmandu Valley, an art that is devotional, intensely social and inevitably political, and one that takes the pursuit of do-no-harm generosity as its subject, creed and goal.

Art for Our Moment

1. ‘Sun & Sea (Marina)’

Their names are Rugile Barzdziukaite, Vaiva Grainyte and Lina Lapelyte — and these friends from Kaunas, Lithuania, the immensely deserving winners of the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Biennale, created an unforgettable performance whose even temper cloaked an ecological sucker punch. In “Sun & Sea (Marina),” an opera staged continuously on an artificial beach, bathers sang blithely of package holidays and disposable water bottles, and faintly sensed that the seasons are coming unstuck. In November, Venice’s worst flooding in half a century shuttered the Biennale and inundated Saint Mark’s Basilica, just as the populist-led regional government rejected a raft of climate measures. But some of the Lithuanian pavilion’s sand has been recycled, to bulk up an island disintegrating into the lagoon.

2. Okwui Enwezor

Some deaths feel like the end of an era — but the example of Okwui Enwezor, the most significant curator of the last 30 years, will govern for decades over the global art world he helped forge. In exhibitions like the ravishing “El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale,”which opened at the Haus der Kunst in Munich just before his death in March, the Nigerian modeled a broader artistic discourse nourished by politics, economics and current events, and affirmed that African artists were as “contemporary” as their Western counterparts. If it now seems self-evident that an exhibit with new art only from the United States and Europe is provincial, that is because of Okwui, who in art and in life made cosmopolitanism an ethical duty.

3. MoMA Turns South

Among the inaugural offerings at the larger, nimbler, hardly perfect, much improved Museum of Modern Art, the most important is “Sur Moderno”: a stupefying showcase of more than 200 midcentury abstract works from Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and Uruguay. These gifts from the collector Patricia Phelps de Cisneros make essential viewing on their own; when they later get integrated into MoMA’s refreshed collection displays, they will reshape a museum approaching fluency in Spanish and Portuguese.

4. ‘Monumental Journey: The Daguerreotypes of Girault de Prangey’

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exquisite exhibition of these architectural images of the 1840s — including the first photos taken of Athens, Cairo and Jerusalem — was one of the finest shows of early photography I’ve ever seen. Its intertwined themes of technology, colonialism and wanderlust still resound in the time of Google Street View.

5. New Old Masters …

Three museums reclaimed undersung heroes of European art of the 15th and early 16th centuries. Brussels’s Center for Fine Arts, known as Bozar, brought out the paintings, prints and tapestries of the all-media monster Bernard van Orley; the Palazzo Reale in Milan revived Antonello da Messina, the Sicilian savant; and the National Gallery of Art in Washington went to bat for Verrocchio, the artistic paterfamilias of Medici Florence. Add to these a new show of the Renaissance women Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana, at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, and old canvases are looking mighty fresh.

6. … and One (Leonardo) Reborn

The Musée du Louvre’s “Leonardo da Vinci” took a decade to organize, with loans uncertain until opening day. But the curators Vincent Delieuvin and Louis Frank pulled off a benchmark achievement in cobwebs-clearing, which sloughed off celebrity and conspiracy and returned Leonardo to us as a genuine artist. The very archetype of a scholarly blockbuster.

7. ‘Matthew Barney: Redoubt’

Mr. Barney’s return to his birth state of Idaho inspired his greatest film since the “Cremaster” cycle, infused with a new agility thanks to the intrepid dancer and choreographer Eleanor Bauer. His freer gaze on American exceptionalism and environmental degradation was also channeled into electroplated etchings and ambitious multimetal sculptures, now at the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing.

8. Lee Ufan

In Beacon, N.Y., the Dia Art Foundation has been undertaking a quiet but considerable broadening of its collection — and made its most profound new addition this summer, with an impeccable new display by Lee Ufan, Korea’s most significant sculptor. In the company of Mr. Lee’s delicate contrapuntal arrangements of sand, rope and boulders, Dia’s American and German all-stars suddenly seemed a bit ponderous.

9. Christodoulos Panayiotou

If you think institutional critique is a joyless enterprise, two heart-stopping shows by this Cypriot artist reveal the romance in mining the museum. At the Camden Arts Center in London, Mr. Panayiotou took the doors off their hinges and replaced window panes with pink glass to equate two sundered islands: his own Mediterranean homeland and Brexit-divided Britain. And at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, he evoked the wreckage of time through the most subdued gestures, like a Rodin installed backward and a carpet exhumed from the museum’s trash.

10. The Paris Fire Brigade

History tumbles toward oblivion, yet still heroes rush in. The blaze that engulfed Notre-Dame on April 15 came much closer than first acknowledged to annihilating the 850-year-old cathedral. It stands, roofless but intact, thanks to the 600 lionhearted firefighters and engineers who risked their lives for the world’s cultural patrimony. The motto of Europe’s largest fire department befits our ecological era: “Sauver ou périr,” save or perish.


‘Weather Report’ exhibit at The Aldrich goes beyond clouds and rain, The Ridgefield Press

Posted 10/24/19


From gray and stormy skies to a sunny day with pillowy clouds, many landscape paintings have historically depicted weather as a central element. Given the complexities of depicting the vagaries of weather, it almost seems unfair to label them as mere landscapes. A diverse selection of art ranging from drawings and paintings to sculptures, videos and installations — all featuring weather as the thematic subject — is on view at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum through March 29.

While photography and paintings have long been the dominant medium for depicting weather in the visual arts, technology is increasingly allowing artists to utilize a wider variety of media to explore weather and atmospheric effects in their artworks.

In presenting the “Weather Report” exhibition, the Aldrich wanted to present a wide sampling of international artists who reference weather in striking ways. This task is all the more impressive given the ephemeral nature of weather and the challenges artists faced in depicting clouds, rain, wind, temperature extremes and seasonality. Some artists used weather as a metaphor for war, politics, history or surveyed the effects of weather such as climate change and the relationship between man and weather.

“My primary goals were to open the viewer’s eyes to how beautiful and complicated the earth’s weather is and the fascinating and unexpected ways that artists have interpreted various aspects of the atmosphere — what is certainly the most remarkable aspect of our planet,” said Richard Klein, the museum’s exhibitions director, of his task to curate the exhibition.
The artworks span decades from Nick Cave’s “Tondo,” 2018, which uses mapping of catastrophic weather movements as a metaphor for violence in urban America to Nancy Graves’ 1974 untitled work (Heat Density Map of a Cyclone). Graves was one of the earliest artists to use satellite imagery as a source for interpreting weather. Among sculptures on view is “Storm Prototype,” a 2007 series of sculptures that Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle created to represent models of super cell thunderstorm clouds.

Klein said technology has afforded artists new methods of exploring weather through art.

“Technology, particularly satellite imagery computer modeling, and Doppler radar, have provided insight into the earth’s weather that could not of been gleaned from the human eye alone,” he said. “Artists in the exhibition use technology such as photography, computer animation, data capture, and chemistry to expand how art can reflect on weather phenomenon. It’s not just technology — science is also a huge influence on many of the artists in the exhibition.”

Asked about the challenges of capturing the ephemerality of weather in art, artist Colin McMullan said, “The style of art I often do is very ephemeral as well so the content is fitting in that sense. I would say the biggest challenge is also the biggest advantage depending on your perspective: no two experiences of weather are alike, it’s utterly subjective. I feel inspired by that very nature of it, how fleeting it is, how intangible.” His work in this exhibition is connected to the water cycle; how water flows through trees, reservoirs, and rivers, just as it flows through people, industry, and cultural histories.

“In a sense, all paintings are about atmosphere. Great paintings capture and translate a stranger’s experience into something resembling an intimate familiarity,” said artist Damian Loeb, who is represented in the exhibit with his work, “The Big Dipper.” “The atmosphere of indoor paintings can be about rendering how silence bounces off the walls, the muffled sound of rain against a distant window, and the smell of old fabric and a finished dinner. In nature, the challenge can be painting the sound of crickets, the smell of ionized air, or the sense of rapidly changing pressure, as well as the angry granite grays at the center of cumulonimbus clouds.”

Mats Bigert says the development of meteorology has historically always been connected with military ambitions to gain an upper hand on the battlefield. He and fellow artist Lars Bergstrom have created a series of sculptural works depicting weather maps in 3D form for the exhibit under the collective title: The Weather — a Synoptic Battlefield. “Usually, we look at a weather map as a two-dimensional surface describing how cold and hot fronts revolve around high and low pressure areas but weather is three-dimensional and deserves a sculptural interpretation,” he said. “So we have transformed the meteorological symbols into building parts of which we can assemble different scenarios.”

For information about the exhibit, visit


Easy, breezy, beautiful: Sara Cwynar’s ’Covergirl,’ Document Journal

Posted 10/24/19


In Ancient Egypt, color was considered an essential part of an item or person’s nature—so much so, that the Egyptian word “iwen” was used interchangeably to mean appearance, character, or being. Through the symbolic application of color, they imbued their art, clothing, and jewelry with a deeper layer of meaning that could be interpreted according to the object’s hue. While the evolution of these systems varies among different cultures and time periods, the widespread use of color as nonverbal social code helped cement the legacy of dye and other colorants as one of the most highly valued trade goods in the ancient world.

Canadian-born artist Sara Cwynar investigates the relationship between color, cosmetics, and social capital in her 16mm short film Covergirl (2018). Currently on view at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, the film mixes footage shot within the artist’s studio and in an undisclosed makeup factory, punctuated with shots of flowers, red lips, and dripping colorants. Images accumulate and dissolve, producing a peculiar flattening of signal power; as with her representative works, Cwynar’s expert manipulation of pop culture imagery serves to collapse the distance between cultures old and new, high and low, unfamiliar and cliché.

The focus of Covergirl alternates between the factory floor and studio footage of Cwynar’s friend and longtime muse, Tracy. In a 2018 interview with Aperture, Cwynar remarks that she picked Tracy as a sitter because “she poses kind of ironically, with the knowledge of a history of representations of women in mind.” We watch as she carefully applies lipstick, shifts in glossy red shoes, reclines on the couch like an odalisque. Yet even as she performs the gestures of feminine deference, there is a sense of barely contained subterfuge: her image courts the gaze, while her confrontational glance condemns it.

All the while, the narrator’s voice—a combination of the artist’s plus male and female voice actors—maintains a staccato quality even as it speaks over itself. The auditory overlap mimics the symbolic density of Cwynar’s visual landscape, juxtaposing the aesthetic of consumerism with the contributions of dominant cultural theorists as quotes from Ludwig Wittgenstein, Frantz Fanon, Henri Matisse, David Batchelor, Kathy Peiss, and Susan Stewart comingle with the artist’s wry observations about everything from the ontological perception of color—“the essential thing about private experience is really not that each person experiences her own color, but that nobody knows whether other people have [this or] something else”—to its complicated relationship with social status—“The taste for color costs many sacrifices.”

Before the advent of synthetic dyes, the market value of a color was determined by the difficulty of its production. To harvest Tyrian purple, marine snails were boiled for days in giant vats to produce a single kilo of the famed hue, with thousands of shells and countless hours of labor required to color even the trim of a single garment. This turned purple-dyed textiles into elite status symbols ruled by sumptuary laws, and by the fourth century AD, Tyrian purple was so closely regulated in Rome that the emperor was the only person permitted to wear it.

Though purple came to be seen as a symbol of elite status—it would clothe many a king, noble, priest, and magistrate—the use of color as a class signifier extends far beyond the singular shade. As Philip Ball describes it, “Medieval and Renaissance cultures were virtually color-coded hierarchies. Crimson and scarlet garments were for cardinals, bishops, popes, and monarchs, echoing the ruby-purple of the emperor’s robes in classical Rome. Clothing displaying other rich colors was a mark of wealth; black in particular came to signify the conspicuous consumption of the affluent merchants, who could afford cloth dyed in several expensive dyes until it took on this somber shade.”

The advent of new dyes marked a major transformation in value, and black—notoriously expensive to produce throughout the 16th century—suddenly became accessible to the masses. By the 19th century, it had been adopted as a standard uniform color for service professions, including the shopgirls who staffed retail shop floors, fully entering into the cultural mainstream with the introduction of Chanel’s little black dress in 1926 (in The Atlantic, Shelley Puhak describes how shopgirl style was later co-opted by the upper classes as a symbol of modern ease, bringing the color’s evolving class associations full circle.)

Not limited to the textile trade, the use of color to denote class differences is a common feature of many ancient cosmetic traditions. In 3000 B.C. China, men and women stained their fingernails with substances like gum arabic, gelatin, beeswax, and egg to produce a class-based color code, with only Chou dynasty royals permitted to wear gold and silver (while subsequent royals could wear black or red, the lower classes were, predictably, forbidden from coloring their nails at all.) When pale skin came to be seen as a marker of aristocratic status, white powder and lead paint were used to mimic the look of one who could afford leisure time indoors. In the 18th century, women would bleed themselves to induce a white-ish cast, whereas society women in Elizabethan England took to wearing egg whites on their faces in pursuit of a paler complexion.

Though we may not bathe in milk like Cleopatra, today’s women still manipulate our natural skin tone with chemicals to attain an even, plump, and poreless complexion—which constitutes a class signifier in and of itself, as Amanda Mull described in The Atlantic. Studies show that the average woman uses between nine and 15 personal care products per day, and with the typical product containing anything from 15-50 ingredients, researchers have estimated that with the combined use of cosmetics and perfumes, women place around 515 individual chemicals on their skin each day. The intersection of color and class association is also informed by a racist history that pervades the language of cosmetics advertising. (For example, even the most innocuous moisturizers claim to affect a brighter—and lighter—complexion; meanwhile, skin bleaching products retain a global market despite toxic or unknown safety profiles.)

“Most of our information on makeup comes from a hostile tradition, written by men regarding women,” states Cwynar, over footage of cosmetics being automatically dispensed and packaged on an assembly line. The mechanized production and distribution of makeup products calls to mind the manner in which beauty standards are socially disseminated throughout a culture. Deemed “the noblest of the senses,” the role of vision is especially dominant in Western thought; this makes it easy to forget the brunt of societal forces involved in fostering the desire for beauty, which is in many ways commensurate with other forms of success and social status. As Cwynar puts it, “In order to achieve [that success], whether it be mental, physical, financial, or social, one has to be looked at by everyone with whom one comes into contact.”

Covergirl is part of Sara Cwynar’s exhibition Gilded Age, on view at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut through November 10th.


N. Dash’s Disintegration, Garage

Posted 10/20/19


The first photograph I saw by N. Dash was in a 2012 exhibition in the Lower East Side. It was an image of bits of disintegrating cloth and, over time, similar images have consistently cropped up in the artist’s practice. Termed “fabric sculptures,” these small, gestural forms are made by the artist’s fingers working pieces of cotton. Colored by dirt, oil, time, and the residue of labor, which are photographed and then silkscreened, the resulting images have become something of an enigma for the artist’s wider practice. What is this object? Just a bit of cloth? Is it refuse, or is it the remains of a special, personal keepsake? I queried the artist and was told it was a piece of white cotton fabric carried with her and constantly touched—a material that has the capacity to imprint information both material and immaterial. In the artist’s latest solo show at Casey Kaplan in New York, her second for the gallery, I viewed an homage that points to something larger than the work itself, to possibly something nonphysical.

Walter Benjamin’s well-known 1939 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” has a quote that correlates fittingly with N. Dash’s work. He begins, “With the close-up, space expands… The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear; it reveals entirely new structural formulations of the subject.” The author alludes to the technology of the camera and its ability to capture and condense the world into a new reality or a “different nature.” This “different nature” has developed and expanded into the current age wherein a proliferation of activity is affecting “actual nature” and resulting in shifts in our climate and tilts in our ecosystemic balance. Benjamin extols, “exploring common place milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera… assure(s) us of an immense and unexpected field of action.”
Certainly, these silkscreened images exist on an unexpected field of action. They are printed on a bed of actual dirt – adobe clay, more specifically. In using adobe, the artist directly engages with the desert landscape of New Mexico, where the artist spends a lot of time in when away from New York. The material engages both the artist and the viewer in a conversation with land conservation, a major component to future ecological and climate stabilization. The adobe is sourced in the desert and applied to wood panels via a trowel used for re-mudding adobe architecture. The porous nature of the clay results in high shrinkage coefficients; it dries, shrinks, puckers and cracks. This reference to desertification aligns with ecological decline and the ability for terrestrial conservation to both provide climate stability and the ground for a healthy planet.

There is something both hard-hitting and soft in how these paintings exist in the world: specific, piercing, and, in the end, empathetic, as seen in a recent solo exhibition at the Aldrich Museum in Connecticut, curated by Amy Smith-Stewart. This reuse and revaluing of things closest to us is was communicated plain as daylight in that show. I would say the work is firmly rooted in recycling: utilizing what is on-hand and producing a carbon footprint lower than most. At a time when all are aware of the current climate issues, N. Dash’s works remind us to slow down and look to nature. They propose an alternative way of experiencing the world––suggesting the subtler things and changes might just be the big thing after all.


Eva LeWitt, Sol LeWitt’s Daughter, on Appreciating Her Influences and Making Her Own Space, Observer

Posted 10/11/19


Experiencing the artist Eva LeWitt’s new installation is a bit like how one would imagine it might feel to walk into a color-field painting. Now on view at the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, the colorful, enveloping new work marks the artist’s first ever solo museum presentation.

As a child, Eva LeWitt spent a lot of time hanging around in her father’s studio—a formidable art education, considering she is the offspring of Conceptual pioneer Sol LeWitt. Though some have placed her work in the context of her his, with this show it’s easy to see how the younger LeWitt has carved out a space for herself and her own unique practice in the contemporary art world.

Rather than working with traditional sculptural materials, the artist opts for ones used in everyday objects: plastic, latex, rubber and polyurethane. Their malleable, lightweight qualities are easily-manipulated to fill the spaces in which she is intervening. Senior curator at the Aldrich, Amy Smith-Stewart was taken with LeWitt’s work for this reason, drawing a parallel with the work of Eva Hesse, as they both share a “kinship with minimalism” and something of a sensual quality.

Smith-Stewart says when she first came across LeWitt’s installation at Frieze in 2017 the term “eccentric abstraction” came to mind, a description first used by the art critic Lucy Lippard to describe the work of Eva Hesse. Both artists “inserted a softness that animated material in unexpected ways,” Smith-Stewart told Observer, “manipulating and transforming rigid and industrial properties to become more bodily and performative.”At the Aldrich, suspended drapes of colorful, layered mesh line the walls of the gallery harmoniously. Made primarily of mesh, the installation washes onlookers in vivid color, while the screen door-like cross-hatching of the material gives the room a light airiness. Here, LeWitt presents an experimentation with materials by coating it over vinyl and fiberglass. Appropriately, it is entitled Untitled (Mesh A–J), and it’s her largest site-specific installation to date.

Observer spoke to the artist about her process, influences and upbringing.

Tell me about creating this work for the Aldrich.
It’s pretty specific to the space. [The space] has a unique architectural feature they call it “the flying nun,” which is sort of a drop ceiling in the middle that basically leaves a four-foot border around the whole space, and I knew that I wanted to use it as a deep wall to put the work in. I used it as completely free space to make these kind of large scale—I’m thinking of them as drawings—individual sections that together made up a big whole but you could stand in front of one and it would be its own unique piece.

You used to work for Tara Donovan, how has that influenced your work?
She taught me to tackle space in a fearless way. We would show up, with just a small group of assistants, to a big empty room and leave having transformed the space. [Creating site-specific work] seemed less daunting after working for her.

How did you get the idea to use mesh?
I knew I wanted it to be transparent, translucent material, and this material came in a lot of colors. When put together, the [layers of mesh] have an energy, and that’s important to me. I want the work to be active even after I’ve left the space. I want it to have its own electricity.

Why are you drawn to these materials, opposed to traditional sculptural ones like wood and metal?
I generally like soft materials, I like to be able to handle the materials myself—that rules out a lot of metal, wood, and other materials that require a lot of technical expertise. You could be more creative with the way you put them together, develop your own ways of sculpting.

Your work is often been compared to Eva Hesse, has her worked influenced you directly?
Directly is a tricky word. It’s always been there in the back of my mind. Her broken down vulnerable minimalism is kind of, I feel like I relate to just her as a woman making art more than the work itself, though it ends up translating into the work in a very similar way

And she was one of your father’s contemporaries. Were you familiar with her work at an early age?
Yes, I was familiar with her as sort of a mythical figure. She died before I was born so she was always sort of looming large in history.

I read that you used to hang around and make art in your father’s studio as a child, what was this experience like?
He was very generous with his time. He’d always be happy to see me in his studio, now I think that was so nice of him, I must have been so annoying coming into his studio! If someone did that to me I’d be like “please go away” but he was really happy when I was there.

Did you have an awareness of how influential he was?
He was just working most of the time, he didn’t really like to go to his openings. He didn’t like a lot of attention. He just went to the studio every day and came home every night, it was sort of mundane.

What is your process like, is it more intuitive or methodically planned?
It’s a little bit a both I think the ideas come to me intuitively but there’s a lot of planning to translate them from my head to the space.

What sorts of things are inspiring you lately?
That’s a tough one. I keep my interests pretty separate. I like crime fiction. I don’t read art criticism or art theory. I like entertainment that has nothing to do with the art world.

Do you listen to anything while you working in your studio?
I like to listen to audiobooks. I listen to them all day long.

What are some recent ones you listened?
I just listened to Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee which was really sad and it took me a long time to get through because it was so devastating! I like fiction, ethics, history, biographies.


Sara Cwynar: Gilded Age, ArtReview

Posted 09/18/19


‘The new is already on hand so we don’t even need to wait / But does newness have any mean- ing at all if it brings no new truth in its wake?’ This is one of many handwritten lines of text scrawled across Sara Cwynar’s archival pigment print A Rococo Base (2018), which explores how our immersive (digital) image culture instils and feeds our search for newness – a nearly meaningless term today, with ‘new’ lasting merely minutes. Drawing on the excess of the late-Baroque era, the print depicts a densely layered collage of neon Post-it notes, pictures of fashion sneakers and jewellery, makeup advertisements mixed with three-dimensional makeup tubes, hotel keys, phone cords, perfume bottles, pens, paperclips, pictures of models posed in studio, red roses, slices of artworkby Rubens, Koons and Picasso, and images of ancient sculptures, all against a bright green background. Woven between these references is Cwynar’s handwriting, lines of media theory mixed with her own, such as the observation, ‘Baroque is the closet to our current time, there is stuff everywhere’.

For those familiar with Cwynar’s prints and videos, this work is recognisable for its expres- sion of surplus – visual-verbal sensory overload that captures how the visual language of commercial advertising cultivates an almost nos- talgic desire for an ephemeral newness. Gilded Age brings together a diverse range of her work, including her earliest work, the artist book Kitsch Encyclopedia: A Survey of Universal Knowledge (2014), prints from her ‘Avon Presidential Bust’ (2017) and ‘Plastic Cups’ (2014) series, her wallpaper 72 Pictures of Modern Paintings (2016) and a selection of her films exploring Western beauty standards such as Tracy and Me & Xtina V.2 (both 2019). Her work smartly engages in a constant loop of signification, images of images that convey the referent-less nature of internet culture; it is not the thing itself that matters, but the image of the thing.

For an artist whose work is rooted in interrogations of digital desire, Cwynar’s process is surprisingly analogue. She prints out enlarge- ments of her source images or her own studio photographs, lays them on the floor and places objects and other printed images on top, writing directly on these surfaces as she goes. She then photographs these physical collages, sometimes with several rounds of rephotographing and printing. Sometimes she enacts a similar process using a magnetic board – the evidence of which in which metal corner magnets cast shadows across the added images.

Cwynar is often visible in her films, moving in and out of the frame, rearranging props and people. Me and Christina (2019) depicts a photo- shoot with Christina Aguilera lounging in a classic odalisque pose against a green drop cloth. Playing in the same loop of short videos is Me
& Xtina V.2, a split-screen video that includes excerpts from Me and Christina alongside a video of Cwynar behind the camera. While Me and Christina is over 18 minutes long, V.2 is just over a minute. And while it may appear at first that we are getting a look behind the Aguilera shoot, Cwynar stands by a red curtain, and as the camera angle pans past the curtain, we see Cwynar filming herself in a mirror, a behind-the-scenes of the artist making a video we are not shown.

It creates a sense of authenticity to her work that is in fact at odds with her subjects, and is itself manufactured. Cwynar’s work offers the illusion of seeing behind the curtain only to reinforce the multitude of ways that our increasingly satu- rated and manufactured image culture belies the truthiness of images we continue naively to look is visible in 141 Pictures of Sophie 1, 2, and 3 (2019), in which metal corner magnets cast shadows across the added images.

Cwynar is often visible in her films, moving in and out of the frame, rearranging props and people. Me and Christina (2019) depicts a photo- shoot with Christina Aguilera lounging in a classic odalisque pose against a green drop cloth. Playing in the same loop of short videos is Me
& Xtina V.2, a split-screen video that includes excerpts from Me and Christina alongside a video of Cwynar behind the camera. While Me and Christina is over 18 minutes long, V.2 is just over a minute. And while it may appear at first that we are getting a look behind the Aguilera shoot, Cwynar stands by a red curtain, and as the cam- era angle pans past the curtain, we see Cwynar filming herself in a mirror, a behind-the-scenes of the artist making a video we are not shown.

It creates a sense of authenticity to her work that is in fact at odds with her subjects, and is itself manufactured. Cwynar’s work offers the illusion of seeing behind the curtain only to reinforce the multitude of ways that our increasingly satu- rated and manufactured image culture belies the truthiness of images we continue naively to look for.


Artsy Vanguard 2019, Genesis Belanger

Posted 09/16/19


Genesis Belanger charmed the New York art world in the fall of 2017 with her small-but-mighty show of otherworldly ceramic foodstuffs, cigarettes, and fingers at Mrs. Gallery. Her ceramics—with lush pastel hues, matte surfaces, trompe l’oeil aesthetics, and finely hewn details—transcend the typical clay-and-glaze constructions we expect from the medium.

Recently, these enticing sculptures earned the artist a presentation in the New Museum’s storefront window and representation by three esteemed galleries: Perrotin, Rodolphe Janssen, and François Ghebaly. Plus, she’ll have a solo show at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in 2020.

New Museum curator Margot Norton remarked on Belanger’s ability to “cull the uncanny from the everyday, while walking a striking balance between seduction and disquiet.” In a recent show with Emily Mae Smith at Perrotin’s Lower East Side gallery, a bouquet of flowers perched on a chaise lounge turned from lovely to eerie upon close inspection—three pairs of pure white fingers protruded from clusters of bubblegum-pink blossoms.

While tackling “pertinent subjects such as mass production, chemical dependency, and the absurdity of the patriarchy,” Norton noted, Belanger draws upon the art-historical traditions of Pop art, Surrealism, and 17th-century Dutch vanitas paintings. She also captivates us with nods to contemporary American culture—“particularly,” Norton added, “those that we consume to overcome daily stresses, yet also trap us in a liminal state, such as fast-food items, pill packets, liquor bottles, and cigarettes.”


Don’t Miss These Art Shows and Events This Fall, The New York Times

Posted 09/12/19


Elegant architectural whimsies in a young artist’s solo museum debut. Oct. 6-Apr. 5; Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Conn.,


Sculptor Eva LeWitt on Growing Up With a Famous Artist Father and Finding Her Own Voice, Artnet

Posted 09/12/19


The walls of Eva LeWitt’s studio are lined with sheets of graph paper. Most have seemingly random numbers and letters printed across them, like a secret code. In fact, they’re instructions—a way of plotting out patterns that will eventually manifest themselves in one of the artist’s post-minimalist sculptures, which she creates from commonplace materials like latex, vinyl, and acetate.

If the words “artist” and “instructions” bring anyone in particular to mind, it’s almost certainly Sol LeWitt, the pioneering late minimalist and conceptual artist who also happens to be Eva LeWitt’s father. But a penchant for preparing art projects with strict internal logic is one of the only similarities between the practice of the older artist and his daughter, who has carved out an impressive career of her own in a relatively short time.

Where Sol LeWitt’s work is all about divorcing the image from the hand of the artist, Eva’s is about using her own touch to transform mass-produced materials into delightful tableaux—turning commercial plastic, for example, into a theatrical curtain that looks straight out of a storybook.

“I wanted to get away from the meaning of the manufactured, to transform it into something that you wouldn’t have those associations with,” LeWitt says. She’s sitting at a long table in her railroad-style studio on the Lower East Side. The space, located on the ground floor of a building her family has owned for decades, used to house an accordion store called The Main Squeeze. Her father’s longtime studio on Hester Street is just around the corner.

Fish tank-colored plexiglass and sheets of colored mesh—the kind that you might find on a screen door or a pull down window shadow—are splayed out before her, clamped together with drying glue. This is one of the dozen or so hanging scenes that will make up Untitled (Mesh A–J), her new site-specific installation that opens next month at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The installation, a series of hanging swaths of layered mesh, will line the walls of the museum’s nave-like Leir Gallery, a space with 16-foot-high ceilings.

The Aldrich exhibition marks both LeWitt’s second museum outing and solo exhibition to date—an impressive resume for an artist, especially one who just turned 34 this week. Indeed, LeWitt looks young—even younger than she is—though she is an old soul. She complains about the lineup on the local classical music station and says things like, “I never learned computers. One day I’ll have to find a youngster that can do it for me.” Perhaps in part because she grew up in the art world, LeWitt has the air of a veteran who has been around the block.

This attitude translates to her art as well. Her approach is not particularly trendy: work that incorporates the human figure or homespun materials like ceramic and textile is far more in vogue than minimalism-inspired sculpture. But LeWitt’s art aims to make minimalism feel vibrant and urgent.

LeWitt was born in Spoleto, Italy, in 1985 (her father moved to the small European town in the early ’80s to get away from New York) and spent much of her early life between there, Chester, Connecticut, and downtown Manhattan. She knew from a young age that she wanted to be an artist and would often hang around her father’s studio.

A Childhood Surrounded by Art

“I think he was a really great teacher in his own way,” she says. “He would give me all his old scrap paper and old paints to work with. I would just use what was around.”

It wasn’t until she got to college at Bard and started working with artist Judy Pfaff, she explains, that she realized she could use any material she wanted to say what she wanted to say. She began identifying exclusively as a sculptor, even though her work can take a number of forms.
After graduation, LeWitt worked as an assistant to artist Tom Sachs for four years. Then she went to work for Tara Donavan, whom she assisted for eight more, doing “a little bit of everything” and traveling around the world to mount exhibitions. Donavan was particularly instructive as a mentor.

“She’s a small woman, but she has never been intimidated by space,” LeWitt says. “She has so much confidence in her forms and her materials, their ability to hold a room on their own. I learned from her how to look at space like that—without fear, just excitement.”

During her time as an assistant, LeWitt was constantly making art, albeit on a small scale. She participated in group shows here and there and focused much of her energy on churning out what she calls “drawings”—three-dimensional sketches with sculptural elements.

In 2017, after coming across an installation by LeWitt at a group show in London, Esperanza Rosales of the Olso, Norway-based gallery VI, VII, reached out and asked to see more of her work. LeWitt sent along a few drawings and the gallerist was impressed. She surprised LeWitt when she proposed mounting a solo presentation of her work at the high-profile Frieze New York fair that spring.

It was a considerable leap of faith for the dealer. “She hadn’t even seen the work in person,” LeWitt recalls. “She didn’t really know what I was doing.”

The artist showed up with a handful of large new sculptures including a hanging, curtain-like installation of latex and clay. None looked anything like the sketches she had previously shared.

Fortunately, the booth was a smashing success. It led to a prominent group show at Joan gallery in LA, an invitation to create a site-specific installation at the Jewish Museum in New York, and, eventually, the upcoming Aldrich show.
Unlike her father, who outsourced the execution of his work to others, LeWitt defines her art in part by the fact that everything she makes can be manipulated by hand, without the need for a fabricator or even an assistant. Though minimal in appearance, LeWitt’s works are not capital-M minimalism; they eschew the kind of large-scale, polished sculpture of older male artists like Donald Judd or Carl Andre in favor of a subtler, more welcoming spatial intervention—like DIY, home-improvement-store minimalism.

A New Approach to an Old Form

It was this dialogue between her work and those macho minimalists that caught the eye of Amy Smith-Stewart, who organized the Aldrich show after spotting the work at Frieze New York in 2017. “Eva finds softness in the spaces she inhabits,” Smith-Stewart says. “She rounds the curves.”

The curator says the work reminds her of artists like Eva Hesse, whose sculpture evokes the body and “shares a kinship with minimalism, but there’s definitely a transformative quality happening within the more commercial or industrial materials she’s choosing, and a sensuality that comes out of that.”

Unlike many artists responding to this particular thread of art history, however, LeWitt saw it all developing in real-time. “This is a young artist who actually was around all these major artists who were testing the boundaries of what a sculpture or a drawing could be,” Smith-Stewart says. “It had to have had an incredible impact on her own thinking.”
“It was around,” LeWitt says, laughing. “A lot of it was really beautiful to a small child, especially my dad’s work—when I was young it was really colorful. Those were the walls I grew up with, and it was a comfortable, happy place.”

Yet LeWitt contends that she’s never felt burdened by the shadow of her father’s legacy.

“People have really given me my own space to say what I want to say, without comparing our careers or our work,” she says. “Maybe it’s a generational thing. People aren’t so reverential of these male, behemoth artists anymore. There’s a much more nuanced understanding to the history of what everyone was doing at that time.”


In The Studio, Photograph

Posted 09/1/19


Sara Cwynar’s studio is on the third floor of an artist-filled walkup in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood. It’s a small space that’s relatively clean and organized, which is a mild surprise given that Cwynar’s pictures often seem like the work of a hoarder.

As she sits down to talk about Gilded Age, on view at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT, through November 10, a big printer nearby lets out a sigh, as if from exhaustion. It makes sense – the artist does a lot of printing, often for an individual piece. Consider, for instance, the recent triptych 141 Pictures of Sophie 1, 2 and 3, 2019. Cwynar took a straightforward photograph of a ubiquitous e-commerce model, printed it out, then layered hundreds of internet-sourced images of that same model on top of it.

This is emblematic of how Cwynar’s photos tend to go: she shoots an image, prints it, then arranges objects on top of the print and re-photographs the composition. Sometimes a single picture is composed of dozens of prints stacked atop one another. Other times it will look like someone laid out the contents of a long-forgotten flea-market bin onto a fashion shoot outtake. It’s a visual language that’s unmistakably her own: eBay bric-a-brac mingles with cheap art postcards and found family photos. Every aspect of the final product – the perspectival trickery, the distorted scale, the attention drawn to the photographic print as object – is a reminder of photography’s artifice.

“One of the great problems that I’m always trying to sort out is how to make what is essentially a pile of garbage look like it’s not a pile of garbage,” says Cwynar, with a self-deprecating smile. “I’ll spend days moving things around to try to get it to be something that has that holistic logic to it. The way photography transforms things is at the core of my work. I find that layer of removal from what the object actually is to be endlessly exciting and satisfying to look at. It allows for combinations of things that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.” Like her printer, Cwynar is tired. Having just returned from a monthlong residency in Italy, she’s battling jetlag. This year alone, the 34-year-old artist has mounted four solo shows in three different countries, two at major museums. (In addition to the Aldrich exhibition, she opened a show at the Milwaukee Art Museum in March). She’s also producing a video series for MoMA and has her first monograph coming out with Aperture next year. But that grind is normal for the artist who has, in the nine years since first picking up a proper camera, received her MFA at Yale, been the subject of several institutional exhibitions, and had her work placed in the collections of more than a dozen museums.

Sarah Cwynar, Tracy (Pantyhose), 2017. Courtesy Cooper Cole and Foxy Production

It began when she was fresh out of undergrad at York University in Toronto. She began working as a designer for the New York Times – an experience that helped put into focus some of the larger ideas she had been thinking about, she explains. “It was really fascinating to watch, from inside this big institution, conversations play out about what an image means or how we can visualize something, then put it out into the world and see how differently people would actually react to it.”

Even today, the roots of this idea still inform Cwynar’s work. Take her minimal pictures of flowers, her essayistic films on the beauty industry, or her everything-but-the-kitchen-sink assemblages: with her eye for design and pop-anthropological interest in consumer objects, Cwynar toes the line between critiquing the capitalistic fetishization of things, and enacting that desire herself. “I’ve always wanted to be on the line,” she explains. “I don’t always know if I fall on the right side of it, but that’s interesting to me.”