Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Why I Love Yinka Shonibare

A globally recognized artist of rock-star status, Yinka Shonibare's exhibit Magic Ladders just opened at The Barnes Foundation.  I was fortunate to be there for Mr. Shonibare's talk at the opening.  When it was mentioned that it is the first time The Barnes Foundation has commissioned any work since Dr. Barnes commissioned Henri Matisse in 1930, Shonibare smiled and said he was glad he didn't find that out until later.

When the Barnes Director of Education asked him what she should say about his work to the school children who will see his exhibit, he said "As an artist, I would rather hear what the children have to say." 

His website says:
"The Barnes Foundation presents Yinka Shonibare MBE: Magic Ladders from January 24, 2014 through April 21, 2014. A British artist of Nigerian descent, Shonibare has exhibited extensively in the United States and Europe. His work alludes to European art and intellectual history and explores race, slavery, authenticity, and commerce. The works in the exhibition—approximately 15 sculptures, paintings, photographs, and a room installation—address themes of education, opportunity, and scientific and cultural discovery.  This is the artist’s first major exhibition in Philadelphia, since his residency at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in 2004 and it includes a commission entitled Magic Ladders."

The image above is one of the three Magic Ladders in the exhibit, in which children ascend ladders constructed of books written or read by Albert Barnes, some very heavy tomes both literally and otherwise.  As a deeply philosophical intellectual, Shonibare feels a resonance with Barnes' interest in culture and education, as well as with his early collecting of African sculpture and ties with the African American community.  He was a natural to be the artist for their first contemporary commissioned exhibit.

The sculpture above is at a museum in The Netherlands.  Shonibare's work is all over the world.  He also enjoys doing public art:

Though born in London, he lived in Nigeria from age three until he went back to London for art school.  He received his MFA from Goldsmiths, graduating as part of the 'Young British Artists' (YBAs) generation.  Why is he not thought of as a YBA?  Because he is Black?  Because he is African as well as British? Post-colonial and global?  Because his work can be political? Because he is disabled?  (He uses a motorized wheelchair.)  Because some of his work plays with gender (e.g. an over-life-sized figure called Big Boy, that also has breasts and a female train)? 

I love him for carving his own niche, especially with Guest Projects:  
http://www.yinkashonibarembe.com/articles/guest-projects/.  "Guest Projects offers the opportunity for artistic practitioners, of any artistic discipline (dance, visual arts, music, etc.) to have access to a free project and exhibition space for 1 month...Guest Projects provides an alternative universe and playground for artists.  It is a laboratory of ideas;  a testing ground for new thoughts and actions."  Shonibare's studio and home is above the Guest Project space.  I don't know of anyone else in the 1% of top earning celebrity artists who is using his or her influence to nurture and mentor a whole new generation of emerging artists in this way.  My guess is that the Guest Project artists are as global as Shonibare himself.  And the space is fully wheelchair accessible.  He is a real mensch, with rare generosity of spirit.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

So Dry: a beautiful fire hazard

Cuyamaca State Park is only an hour outside San Diego, and offers many miles of mountain hiking trails.  The drought was so evident.  The creek was completely dry - we didn't have to worry about fording it.  The dust was pervasive.  Evidence of previous years' fires was everywhere.  It was a great day-hike with my daughter and her family in this raw wilderness with a beauty of its own, so different from the lush greens we love back East.

It was wonderful to escape the cold back East and to be in 75 and 80 degree weather, but the trade off was the high fire hazard alert.  

Some places the trail was quite wide.  We had to restrain the younger grandson from disappearing around corners too far ahead of the rest of us, teasing he was just the right size for mountain lion food.  But no joke...

The dryness was stark:


A stump the woodpeckers loved.  Good insects no doubt!


Fire damage from previous years:

The meadow where we found a little shade and stopped for lunch,  great bean burritos we had picked up on our way there:

An oasis of sorts, a little green with slightly damp ground from an underground spring.  No wonder the Native Americans who lived here put their morteros (grinding rocks) in this spot!

There were seven or eight easily found morteros in this small area.  It must have been very social for the women to grind the acorns together in this shady welcoming oasis.

Grandsons Charlie and Noah:

The family:  my daughter Sarah, her husband Roy, and the kids:

It's good to have a map:

Me and my boys!

Who Needs an Exhibit to Have Fun?

Only the cafe and gardens of the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla were open.  The galleries were closed for installation.  I was there to visit with my friend Sheila while back in San Diego for a few days, and we had a great time.

I was marveling at the small fortune required for packing and shipping the crates being unpacked for the exhibition, not to mention storage.  Then I found out it was for a Christo and Jeanne-Claude exhibit...

It was a joy to see the Sarah Sze installation over the stairs.  I first fell in love with her work when it was installed there many years ago.  Seeing it is like visiting an old friend:

In all the years I have looked at this installation, I had never seen it before at quite this angle or color or time of day, looking out over the Pacific.  Part of the brilliance of Sarah Sze's work is how it is an organic landscape - never the same.

Sheila and I had fun posing in the garden with the Niki de Saint Phalle sculpture.  Here's Sheila:

and me:

I love the little dog!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Dumpster Divers Opening at the Archives!

I didn't have words to describe the opening of Archives Alchemy: The Art of the Dumpster Divers. "Unprecedented" was the only word that came to mind. My friend Roseanne Murphy sent me the following email the next day.  Her words capture it:

"Archives Alchemy/ The Art of Dumpster Divers/ opening last night Wowed/ So firstly I thank you for whisking me the e-mail invitation. Who would have anticipated such an astounding crowd/ to show up on a lousy/brr cold and rainy night? So yep I was astonished by the crowds of art lovers all that infusion of la bohemia the gaiety the overheard conversations of bon homie like an Art Salon/ of another time. That ignited all 5 senses/ simultaneously/ Tellin ya it Wowed Me. As did the complexity of the Art/pieces/ the delving of themes/ like dumpster diving/ expressions  via satire/ sardonic wit and some just let it rip/ like Hip/Hop ya better be thinking/ about this theme/ right in front of your nose Girl/ found in old archives/ and re imagined for the now/artist perspective. As you can tell I was besotted and beyond fascinated/ with my cup of plenty running over the top. So I will re/visit again/ sans the hoards of people/ and take more time/ to peruse the pieces."

Ann Keech invited me to help her make the sign that said Archives Alchemy, the Art of the Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia, that hung in the center of our 'quilt.'  To our delight, the Archives asked to keep the sign.  It now hangs in their new location.

I have three pieces in this 'quilt':  the two in the center just below the sign, and the one on the bottom right.  I later bought Ann Keech's piece, second from left on the bottom, and Ellen Benson's, second from the left in the row below the sign.  Altogether I had twelve pieces in this show.

It was the occasion of my first real review:

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Susan Richards, Tear Down Fences, mixed media, Archives Alchemy. Philadelphia Dumpster Divers at the National Archives

Susan Richards, Archives Alchemy. Philadelphia Dumpster Divers at the National Archives

“As an artist, I am inspired by Outsider and Vernacular artists, Dada, and third world people who make art from the trash heap of civilization. I love art as a vehicle for creating community,and as a voice for social change, as well as for humor, and for pure pleasure. I am especially inspired by anonymous artists from every culture of the world, over the centuries, who made art from the depths of their souls, moved by awe and wonder at life itself and its mysteries. In a former life I was an Art History major at Columbia University. Life in the Big Apple was my best art education.” -   

The Dumpster Divers of PhiladelphiaThe National Archives had miles of microfilm and piles of debris from moving records and renovations, doomed for the dumpster. “Call the Dumpster Divers!”  Who? The Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia are a group of over 40 found object artists, their artwork as diverse as the group and materials used. They were officially recognized with a 2012 City of Philadelphia Mayor’s Tribute for “helping to raise the consciousness of art lovers and heightened awareness of taking a creative approach to support a more sustainable city, country and world.”This show is an unusual collaboration between two very different Philadelphia institutions and demonstrates the infinite possibilities available when we think outside the dumpster. Leslie Simon, Director, Research Services, the National Archives at Philadelphia said, “I challenged theDumpster Divers of Philadelphia to create art out of the debris from our moves and renovations. Materials included decommissioned ladders and carts, miles of microfilm and readers, aged leather book bindings, as well as decommissioned electronics and displays, posters, photographs, and lots of red tape.” - Archives Alchemy

Susan RichardsHome Movies, mixed media, Archives AlchemyPhiladelphia Dumpster Divers at the National Archives

Susan Richards is an artist with the ability to coalesce a collection of disparate objects, dissembled parts of modern life, by creating artworks that speak with a dialect all their own. Strong, strange narratives emerge from the assemblage using bricolage –  ’(French for “tinkering”) is the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work created by such a process’. Each of the artworks Susan Richards created  for the National Archives assemblage show is dramatic, thoughtful and articulate, filled with information rich media to communicate her point of view from the inside out.

Home Movies uses the metaphor of the bird cage to represent the situation of many women in contemporary society, home-keepers responsible for maintaining the health and welfare of the family through house-keeping, cleaning, child rearing and endless maintenance. The film scavenged from the archives say’s. ‘Look at me. Watch all that I do.’ The doll/father is literally upside down, suspended, trapped, his conundrum of expectations and responsibilities turned into a movie clip that is unbelievably real. It’s hard to look at at first, the disarray and depiction of entrapment is beautifully disguised in objects designed for preserving and protecting. The bird cage, the baby shoes, the life on film speaks of feminism, the male gaze and the need for a fully unfettered personal identity. The vernacular of visual cultural cues presents assemblage as narrative loaded with cultural feedback and buzz.

Susan RichardsYour National Capital Beckons You, mixed media, Archives AlchemyPhiladelphia Dumpster Divers at the National Archives
Just as there is a ‘male gaze’ story going on in the works, the groin gaze of Your National Capital Beckons You really messes with my head over the meaning of power. Are kitties more influential than the Statue of Liberty? What does handsome mean? What’s it like for a boy? The hegemony of power icons from pure bred beings, man or dog, social hierarchy and power symbols vibrate with an intense hyperpower.

Susan RichardsImmigrants Prayer, mixed media, Archives AlchemyPhiladelphia Dumpster Divers at the National Archives
Immigrants Prayer is an action oriented art statement combining text, content, symbols and memes in a minimalist assemblage of bricolage loaded with information. The story plays out like a Faulkner novel with the prayerful man pleading to be just allowed to make his own way. Washing clothes on a washboard represents, family, caring, love, and hope for tomorrow. The family portrait, a universal theme, posing quietly on the rippled surface, looking for the key to the resolution of their dilemma through promises of hard work, diligence and honesty.

Assemblage art can be confounding to consider. The process raises so many questions, we know the National Archives wanted the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers to make new artworks for the show. Finding that particular scrap of document filled with semiotically charged language about the human condition paired with the washboard is so random. It really makes you wonder what the artist was doing when these things came together, integrating a socio-political statement through bricolage and creating new context. The whole idea of taking materials from the National Archives adds an extra gooey layer of history and time.

 Susan RichardsQuilt, mixed media, Archives AlchemyPhiladelphia Dumpster Divers at the National Archives

Susan RichardsQuilt, mixed media, Archives AlchemyPhiladelphia Dumpster Divers at the National Archives
“I’m proud that Ann Keech asked me to assist her with the show’s sign at the center of the quilt.  It was a lot of fun working on it together and I enjoyed putting together the spines on the ends – truly bookending it.” -  Susan Richards
There are so many cool Philadelphia artists in Archives AlchemyBetsy Alexander and Burnell Yow! of Raven’s Wing Studio, Alden Cole’s Conscious World of Art, Eva Preston, Linda Lou Horn, Ellen Benson, Toni Nash, Carol Cole…the list of artists is long all, each of them took objects from the archives that had either been digitally cataloged or was simply disintegrating and made something amazing and new. The Divers reintegrate the elements of modern life, little bits of
 someone’s own mastery that are doomed for the dumpster into a magical mosaic of deep thought art.

Susan RichardsQuilt, mixed media, Archives AlchemyPhiladelphia Dumpster Divers at the National Archives
‘As a loosely bound collective of classically trained and self-taught artists the Dumpster Divers’ unique found object artwork has been exhibited at the American Visionary Art Museum, Noyes Museum of Art, Perkins Art Center, Please Touch Museum, the Garbage Museum and many other regional and national exhibitions. They are featured in books such as Found Object Art(Schiffer Art Book), books 1 and 2.  They established South Street galleries that have entranced more than fifty thousand people, while recycling these abandoned storefronts into viable neighborhood businesses. In the words of their founder, Neil Benson, “Trash is simply a failure of the imagination.”
 Thus, in a new kind of alchemy, this partnership between the National Archives at Philadelphia and the Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia preserves, conveys and interprets stories of our pasts hidden in words and objects.’

Archives Alchemy: The Art of the Dumpster Divers,  April 24, 2014. Gallery Hours listed belowLocation: National Archives at Philadelphia, 900 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107-4292 (Entrance on Chestnut Street).

The National Archives at Philadelphia
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the record keeper of the Federal government. About 2% of all records created are preserved permanently and are available to the public, whether exploring family history, proving a veteran’s military service, or researching an historical topic. The National Archives at Philadelphia, one of 15 research facilities across the country, holds records of federal courts and agencies operating in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The records range from hand written 18th century customs manifests to 20th century scientific data.

Calendar Listing:  The Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia are exhibiting their unique found object artwork created for the National Archives at Philadelphia. Opening Reception January 10th, 5:00 – 7:30pm at the National Archives, 900 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107-4292, 215-606-0101. Show runs from Jan. 10 – April 24, 2014. www.dumpsterdivers.org

Gallery Hours of Operation:
M-F:  8:30 am – 4:45 pm. Second Saturday of each month: 8 am – 4 pm. A Photo ID is required to enter Federal Buildings.

Address: National Archives at Philadelphia, 900 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107-4292, 215-606-0101

Photographs for this post courtesy of Susan Richards.
Written by DoN Brewer except where noted.
Read more about Archives Alchemy: The Art of the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers at DoNArTNeWs.
Although I didn't agree with everything the reviewer said about my work, I appreciated the coverage nevertheless!

Sara Benowitz, tying part of her costume on Neil Benson in top photo.