Art21 was founded in 1997 with the mission to increase knowledge of contemporary art, ignite discussion, and inspire creative thinking by using diverse media to present contemporary artists at work and in their own words.
Women’s March in New York City, 2018. Photo by Marilyn Casey.
Over the past year, many of us have gathered in kitchens, living rooms, and common spaces to make art for protests. Sharpies have been scrawled across cardboard, pink and magenta yarn has been sewn into pussy hats, and the more ambitious have made synchronized costumes and large-scale puppets. All of these protest-art objects have added new visuals to public spaces, combining political savvy with creativity to make instantaneous messages. Like at a potluck dinner, there’s often a sense of community, with each participant expressing solidarity and bringing something unique to the conversation. It is clear that the protest art in public spaces is corresponding with greater sensitivity to the community and country in which it is made. At this time, as the temperature of political discourse rises to untenable levels, it is vital for artists, educators, and cultural institutions to publicly engage with social and political issues.
Some artists have made protest art that fits well into politically charged public spaces. Marilyn Minter, for example, best known for her provocative paintings and videos of women, fashion, and food, created a series of buttons in support of Planned Parenthood that boldly stated, “Don’t fuck with us, don’t fuck without us.” Created in advance of Donald Trump’s inauguration, Shepard Fairey’s We the People posters featured his iconic style of portraiture; protesters could download and print free versions of the images or buy copies of the Washington Post or New York Times, where the artist featured these works in full-page advertisements. These artists and many more create work that has value beyond concept and commodity, it is accessible, and it is useful for communicating en masse.
Writers Rising Protest, 2018. Photo by Florencia Varela.
Addressing protest art in the classroom can be tricky, since much of it takes too firm a stance in a profession that expects political neutrality from educators. But there’s definitely space in the classroom for studying activist art. For example, the politically charged work of Tania Bruguera is often implemented in public spaces. Her work can take the form of voting, in the case of Referendum, or a social service, like Immigrant Movement International. No matter the country where Bruguera exhibits her work, she nudges the local status quo and tests the boundaries for what’s ideologically acceptable. Truth Booth, the ongoing work of the group known as Cause Collective, invites viewers to participate in a video recording, in which they finish the sentence, “The truth is…” This nationally and internationally exhibited participatory work delicately combines the intimate and the public. Finally there are artists like Ai Weiwei, whose work can be beautiful and heart-wrenching at the same time. A student once asked me what medium Ai Weiwei was most known for working with, and I had to think for a moment before finally saying, “Conflict. His medium is conflict.”
“By including activist artwork in the curriculum, educators can present opportunities for teachable moments and socially relevant discussions.”
By including activist artwork in the curriculum, educators can present opportunities for teachable moments and socially relevant discussions. But talking about concepts raised by activist art is a far cry from attending a protest and feeling the mix of catharsis and relief when amongst so many allies. Despite persistent student interest in participating in and organizing protests, engaging in this type of political activity with their students would be out of the question for most educators. Inevitably, teachers learn the political inclinations of their students, and over the years one gleans the political trends of the community where one teaches.
Citizens of Earth Crew, Queens Museum, 2017. Photo by Andrew Buttermilch.
It became clear to me that teaching about activism in public spaces was a good start, but my students needed more. Their interests surpassed what I was able to teach inside the school; they needed a new mode in which to learn and engage with political topics, on their own terms. The young will inherit the problems that older generations create or fail to solve, but young voices are too often absent from conversations regarding governance. I strove to create a situation that blended activism and protest art, one that would allow students to engage with political ideas and develop stances rooted in their life experiences. My wife and creative partner, Miranda Kozak, and I collaborated to create Citizens of Earth. This work is a social sculpture, performed in public spaces, meant to give young people a platform to grapple with issues surrounding immigration and ancestry in American culture. Upon interacting with the piece, participants are encouraged to share their personal stories through the creation of a small global passport. My students were invited to work the piece as “diplomats,” to engage the public in conversations about their national and ethnic histories. The work itself is a verbal exchange between participants, who share their personal stories and often develop more nuanced ideas after experiencing the work. If the participants wished, the diplomats would create a small “global passport” for them, representing their “official” documentation as a citizen of the planet. More than anything, Citizens of Earth revolves around the question of how the world would be different, and how we would view each other, if we all held the same passport.
Citizens of Earth detail, 2017. Queens, NY. Photo by Nick Kozak.
“…young voices are too often absent from conversations regarding governance.”
To date, I’ve presented Citizens of Earth with my students three times in New York City; our most recent venue was Flushing Meadows Corona Park, in conjunction with the Queens Museum and the nonprofit ArtBuilt. Since the piece is performed in public, everyone can participate, and all participation is transparent to all witnesses; the work implies that political discourse should not remain behind closed doors in private spaces but rather be open for scrutiny in public spaces.
Artists and educators owe each other the opportunity to re-examine what it means to be allies and active members of our communities. This can happen by featuring new artists and new ideas in our curricula; it can also take the form of including students in specialized extracurricular work that gives them a space to test out ideas on their own. If a school is home to students that belong to groups that the current administration is demonizing or threatening to deport, it is crucial to show students how to engage in civil political discourse that will make them more engaged citizens of our country and our Earth.
Doreen Garner. Rack of Those Ravaged and Unconsenting, 2017. Installation view: Pioneer Works, Brooklyn. Silicone, insulation foam, glass beads, fiberglass insulation, steel meat hooks, steel pins, pearls; 8 × 8 × 8 feet. Courtesy of the artist and Pioneer Works, Brooklyn.
In a conversation with film director, Brian Redondo, artist Doreen Garner shares the motivation driving her sculptural practice: to educate viewers about suppressed racist histories embedded in the foundations of a nation built on slavery. Her recent project at Pioneer Works, White Man On a Pedestal, forced viewers to confront the horrific practices of J. Marion Sims, one of the most famous doctors of the nineteenth century, long celebrated as the “father of modern gynecology,” despite the fact that he regularly operated on enslaved Black women without anesthesia or their consent. A statue of Sims in Central Park in New York City was recently the topic of heated debate concerning its removal or preservation. In January 2018 the City of New York decided to relocate Sims’s monument to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where Sims is buried. The statue will be installed without its pedestal and accompanied by informational plaques that contextualize his legacy of medical experimentation on Black women.
BRIAN REDONDO: Who is J. Marion Sims? What are some examples of the things that he did that are particularly atrocious?
DOREEN GARNER: Dr. J. Marion Sims tortured, sliced up, and discarded Black bodies to advance his career. He performed experimental surgeries on female slaves without anesthesia. He would crack open babies’ skulls because he thought it would allow their brains to expand and grow. His work was built on the false, racist idea that Black people were physically different from White people; Sims said Blacks experience pain less than Whites, so he didn’t need to use anesthesia on them.
BR: How did this history motivate your work on view at Pioneer Works?
DG: My work is concentrated on stories in which Black bodies were exploited by the medical industry. The show also makes reference to W.H. Robert, a physician from Georgia who cut off the leg of a fifteen-year-old girl because she had a minor leg injury. At the time, doctors would amputate Black people’s limbs, hoping that any discoveries they might encounter in the process would promote their careers. My sculpture about this amputation is displayed on an operating table on a rotating platform. It slowly spins around, like in a car show or on the QVC channel. On the bottom of the platform, there’s a mirror that reflects a weird ghosted image of the sculpture onto the wall behind it.
Doreen Garner. Poneros, 2017. Installation view: Pioneer Works, Brooklyn. Foam, blood-tinted polyurethane; 48 × 48 × 216.5 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Pioneer Works, Brooklyn.
BR: What specifically are you bringing to audiences, with this show?
“Sims’s monument stands as a symbol of acceptance of hate and of racism.”
DG: My work helps me to question why White men are on pedestals. Sims’s monument stands as a symbol of acceptance of hate and of racism. It’s as if his horrific acts don’t matter because we have benefited from his medical advances. But it’s not healthy to ignore the horror. I like the idea that we can deconstruct his statue. If Sims could see me, a young Black woman, cutting up [a silicone cast of his statue] as a means of entertainment for not only Black people but also White people, I think he would be horrified.
Black people have always been dehumanized. In the media, we are like snuff porn: you can watch a video of someone getting shot and killed, and nothing’s being done about it. From 1700 to 2017, not a lot has changed. I try to analyze what it means to dehumanize someone.
There is a history that needs to be taught and known. I try to illustrate some of the things that I’ve read, like Harriet Washington’s The Medical Apartheid, to contribute in some way to making this information relevant. I’m also trying to find a sparkle of hope, that people have hearts, that people are horrified and disgusted [by Sims] even if they aren’t people of color.
“… I do have the power to change things.”
As an artist, I can inspire a feeling in someone who might have the power to make decisions [about monuments]. Therefore, I do have the power to change things. These conversations we’re having about monuments and statues are a wake-up call for everybody to get to the issue that’s most important: equality.
Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted in December 2017 and has been edited for length and clarity.
Yinka Shonibare’s Wind Sculpture (SG) I in Central Park. Courtesy of The Guardian.
Three blocks from Trump Tower, Yinka Shonibare’s new sculpture Wind Sculpture (SG) I was installed last week at the entrance to Central Park near 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. Dynamic folds emulate the sail of a ship, puffed by fanciful wind gusts and the intricate, hand-painted patterning in turquoise, red, and orange recalls Dutch wax batik fabrics—a familiar reference for Shonibare. These designs allow the Nigerian-British artist to unpack cultural identity in a globalized world. Presented by the Public Art Fund, Shonibare’s sculpture transcends staid public monuments and commemorative works of the past with a vivid alternative.
Inside the park—and elsewhere—the dialogue surrounding public commemorative works continues. The condemnation of Confederate monuments and the momentum of the #MeToo movement have converged as our nation’s monuments continue to be evaluated. All of the twenty-two historical figures in Central Park are male, and while fictional women like Alice in Wonderland and Mother Goose have statues, the first female statues honoring historical women are slated for completion in 2020. A site was dedicated to the future location of a memorial for Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony last year.
This Week in Women’s History Month
The second edition of the public art exhibition Word on the Street debuts this month, featuring political works by Tania Bruguera and Laurie Anderson, as well as the writer A.M. Homes and the poet Naomi Shihab Nye. The all-female cast will bring protest art to the nexus of tourism and advertising in Midtown Manhattan: Times Square. Organized by the public art organization Times Square Arts, Word on the Street continues through August.
A 43-foot tall neon uterus is now on view over Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. In place of the ovaries, two white fiberglass boxing gloves flank the glowing uterus. Champ is the first public installation by the British artist, Zoe Buckman, and the work will be installed for one year.
During the museum’s “pay as you wish” hours, Maurizio Cattelan’s 18-karat toilet at the Guggenheim Museum was yarn-bombed by an anonymous artist last week. The golden threads used pay homage to the installation, entitled America (2016), and added a feminist twist.
This Sunday, a workshop with artist Aliza Shvarts at the Ely Center of Contemporary Art in New Haven questions public exposure and shamein the digital landscape. A yearlong performance by Shvarts involving self-induced miscarriages gained national attention in 2008 while she was a senior at Yale University. Workshop participants are invited to consider and construct new parameters for the visibility for women.
In a new Art21 video, artist Abigail DeVille talks about how the atrocities of history are the first to be forgotten or misremembered. Inspired by the Great Migration, DeVille’s The New Migration involves a public procession of musicians, dancers, and marching bands, dressed in the artist’s wearable sculptures which signify the “weight of history.”
In a video last year for the Art21 New York Close Up digital series, Meriem Bennani discusses how she used humor to bring the private lives of Muslim women to a public setting. Bennani’s Holiday Hijab series was displayed on the “Oculus” screen outside the Barclays Center as part of Public Art Fund’s Commerical Break series.
Installation view of Emissary Sunsets The Self (2017) in the exhibition Ian Cheng, Carnegie Museum of Art, 2017. Photo: Bryan Conley.
Working as a curator of contemporary art at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, I have the pleasure of collaborating with artists to realize their exhibitions in a space we call the Forum Gallery. The room has hosted a rotating program of new artworks in a variety of media since 1990, and because Forum is on the ground floor of the museum adjacent to the main lobby, it’s the most visible space for art at the Carnegie. One may be visiting the museum to view the Impressionist paintings, or the dinosaur display down the hall at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, but the first thing one sees when entering the museum is contemporary art, which tunes the mind to a state of discovery.
The usual installation in Forum may offer a suite of paintings or some new photographs, but recently visitors were confronted with something out of the ordinary: a computer-generated live simulation by the New York–based artist Ian Cheng. Drawing on his background in cognitive science and his research into artificial intelligence (AI), Cheng develops immersive fictional worlds on Unity, a popular video-game publishing platform. However, unlike traditional video games, Cheng’s simulations have minds of their own; they are constantly changing, unpredictable, and indefinite in duration.
Installation view of Emissary Sunsets The Self (2017) in the exhibition Ian Cheng, Carnegie Museum of Art, 2017. Photo: Bryan Conley.
Installation view of Emissary Sunsets The Self (2017) in the exhibition Ian Cheng, Carnegie Museum of Art, 2017. Photo: Bryan Conley.
When Cheng and I began discussing the prospect of a show, he was absorbed in the final stages of producing Emissaries (2015–17), a trilogy of live-simulation works that represent his interpretation of the past and future of cognitive evolution. While the three episodes occur thousands of years apart, Cheng’s imagined setting remains the same: an evolving volcanic atoll populated by creatures of his invention. His protagonists, or Emissaries, are equipped with composite AI models built using reinforcement-learning algorithms. These sentient agents shape and are shaped by their strange environments as they work to accomplish narrative tasks based on programmed needs and desires.
“Gazing into one of Cheng’s imaginative simulations is like peering through a microscope and witnessing the alien behavior of single-cell organisms.”
We decided to exhibit the final chapter of the trilogy, Emissary Sunsets The Self (2017), which is set millennia into the future. In this part, the formerly lush and verdant atoll is now a barren landscape populated by a meerkat-like species, which has been genetically engineered to rid the environment of mutations prompted by an all-controlling intelligence called MotherAI. Gazing into one of Cheng’s imaginative simulations is like peering through a microscope and witnessing the alien behavior of single-cell organisms. That said, there is something uniquely human about the intentions and actions of Cheng’s strange beings. One minute they appear to cooperate, and the next they abuse each other. Intermittently, they kneel together in contemplation, as if sharing the same mystical beliefs. Cheng’s simulation is a social one—it models relationships, needs, and desires over time—and his perspective is unflinching, with the camera recording everything that unfolds without any narrative emphasis. At the level of its apparent subject, Cheng’s simulation offers viewers a glimpse into an alien public whose behaviors he can condition but not control.
Ian Cheng. Emissary Sunsets The Self, 2017, live simulation and story, infinite duration, sound, Carnegie Museum of Art, A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2017.32 Courtesy of the artist, Pillar Corrias London, and Standard (Oslo).
Emissary Sunsets The Self may look like an animated film, but it differs fundamentally as an open-ended computer program and as a visual display. It doesn’t depend on a start time, and there is no beginning, middle, or end. A causal narrative doesn’t drive the viewer’s emotions or identification to a predetermined conclusion, and one can choose to observe for a few seconds or a few hours. The continuously evolving form of a live simulation raises a host of questions about spectatorship, the visitor experience, and museum spaces. Museums often show moving-image works in “black box” environments that offer darkness and a sense of immersion conventionally associated with the cinema. But Cheng and I were interested in how we might use his show to rethink expectations about the public address of art in the Forum Gallery. During his earliest planning visit, Cheng immediately saw the potential of the site and wanted to amplify the public visibility of his simulation and its dialogue with the framing architecture. Using a seventeen-foot LED screen, we could show his work without the hermetic enclosure of a black-box space. The work could be viewed from the lobby, from the nearby sculpture courtyard, even from the parking lot one hundred yards away. And, because the simulation runs continuously, Cheng’s work lit up the closed museum at night with its pulsating, digital glow.
Installation view of Emissary Sunsets The Self (2017) in the exhibition Ian Cheng, Carnegie Museum of Art, 2017. Photo: Bryan Conley.
“Museums have the potential to puncture our private bubbles with the shared experience of artistic expression, and artists like Cheng offer us new reasons to look up.”
The sheer size of the screen in the rather small gallery upended the usual architectural relationship between artwork and space. Cheng’s simulation consumed the room, transforming the white cube into an alien habitat. The gallery’s threshold became an imagined barrier, prompting visitors to peer in while the artwork seemed to look back. Another facet of the installation involved Wi-Fi-enabled LED lightbulbs that shifted in color and brightness in synchronization with the day-night cycle of the world depicted in Emissary Sunsets the Self. These emphatic presentational choices commanded attention, in effect putting spectatorship on display. The public lobby, through which visitors routinely pass on their way between wings of the museum, became a site of distraction and immersion, a strange environment not unlike Cheng’s imagined atoll. The power and draw of his simulation is in large part due to the way it defamiliarizes our museum-going routines, casting us as agents in our performance in institutional space.
Today, the small screens of our mobile devices encourage us to look downward and inward; our personal media environments feed us imagery and news that reinforce our perspectives and preferences. These individual experiences now seem to compose our public sphere. Museums have the potential to puncture our private bubbles with the shared experience of artistic expression, and artists like Cheng offer us new reasons to look up.
Ian Cheng. Photo: Bryan Conley.
Forum 79: Ian Cheng was on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh from September 22, 2017–January 28, 2018.
Black panthers cover the walls and are now inked on the bodies of visitors to Doreen Garner’s pop-up shop, Invisible Man Tattoo at Recess Assembly. The subject of the blockbuster Marvel movie and symbol of the 1960s socialist party is one of many flash tattoos created by Garner with designer Donte Neal. Through March 3, visitors who identify as Black can receive free flash tattoos, and more elaborate tattoos are available for purchase for all visitors regardless of self-identification. Garner—a licensed tattoo artist—encourages visitors to discuss the meaning of their selections. Collected video recordings from participants are on display in the waiting room of the shop.
The title of the project also nods to the 1952 novel by Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man. The narrator of the novel is an unnamed Black man who explains, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” Garner’s project uses permanent body art to make invisible histories and experiences indelible. By curating imagery related to the African Diaspora as well as the experiences of heroic and historic Black people, Garner endeavors to open the American tattoo aesthetic to include and celebrate Black culture.
This Week in Black History
The exhibition, Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, is open at the Seattle Art Museum through May 13. Three American painters confront the narrow canon of Western painting through masterful and poignant representations of Black histories and experiences. Art Historian and critic, Gayle Clemans at the Seattle Times, heralds the show as “a powerful, important exhibition that really must be experienced in person.”
In a new video for Art21’s New York Close Up series, Doreen Garner discusses her mission to convey trauma, focusing on the appalling medical experiments conducted on enslaved Black women by Dr. J. Marion Sims for a recent project at Pioneer Works.
Over President’s Day weekend, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. documented an increase in its visitors by over 300%. The spike in museum-goers accompanies the recent installment of the Obama’s presidential portraits by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald.
Tate Modern announced last week that Tania Bruguera is the museum’s next commissioned artist for Turbine Hall, with new work opening in October.
The Madison Square Garden Conservancy reports that a show of works by Diana Al-Hadid will be unveiled this May in Madison Square Park. The public installation will combine sculptural elements and plant matter, exhibited alongside Diana Al-Hadid: Delirious Matter at the Bronx Museum of Art from May 23 through October 14.
Ernesto Neto is at work on an elaborate installation for Zurich’s main train station. Using strips of cotton, Neto will create a makeshift tree canopy called GaiaMotherTree, opening at the end of June.
The Artist Speaks
Ai Weiwei describes Remembering, a work from his 2009 exhibition at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, as one of the most compelling of his career. The backpacks of over 9,000 children were used to spell out a sentence written to Ai from the mother of a child killed in the earthquake in Sichuan. Reflecting on the work, Ai said:
“I have made many other works relating to the Sichuan earthquake, but this one had a profound impact on how I deal with social and political issues. It’s about a real-life tragedy, the human condition, civil rights—an embodiment of my passion and imagination. If I hadn’t engaged with that tragedy, I would not be the artist I am today.”
Today we’re excited to welcome a new artist to the Art21 roster as part of our New York Close Up digital series: Doreen Garner. Born in Philadelphia and based in Brooklyn, Garner creates corporeal sculptures that utilize glass, silicone, beads, crystals, synthetic hair, and other materials to explore the frequently suppressed and traumatic medical histories of the Black body.
Premiering today, our film on Garner follows the artist’s recent performance and exhibition at Pioneer Works, White Man On a Pedestal. Garner asks audiences to face the profound racism underlying the work of Dr. J. Marion Sims, the subject of a to-be decommissioned public statue along Central Park.
This film is the third in our series of five film premieres kicking off our 21st anniversary year. And as Garner states, we hope the film stays with you: “I want the audience to walk away feeling like they can’t unsee what they just saw.”
Premiered February 21, as part of the Art21 digital series New York Close Up
Doreen Garner creates visceral, life-like sculptures that acknowledge the brutality endured by the subjects of J. Marion Sims, a nineteenth century doctor who operated on enslaved Black women without anesthesia or consent. For her performance Purge, Garner recreates the monument to Sims that stands in Central Park, enacting the very gynecological surgery that Sims became famous for upon this silicone body with a group of Black female performers.
“I’m operating in a really weird place,” explains Garner. “I’m a Black woman horrified by these actions, and yet I have to show all these actions so that it’s not a situation where people are able to overlook this information anymore.”
Subscribe for Early Access to Two New Films Premiering in March
We’re kicking off our 21st year with a run of five new film premieres over ten weeks. We just premiered our third film today, but there are still two premieres to come in March, featuring artists Abigail DeVille and the late Jack Whitten.
To celebrate the film premieres, we are offering an opportunity to gain early access to these two upcoming films.
Subscribe for early access with a recurring contribution of $5 each month in February and March. This special subscription package will not only give you early access to two of our newest films, but will also help to support the creation of future Art21 films featuring the leading artists of our time.
Extended Play is Presented by alta in 2018
We are thrilled to announce that during 2018, new films from our Extended Play digital series will be presented by alta, a digital age print studio and fine art publisher providing artists a new medium for creating original editions from physical sources and digital intervention. alta shares in Art21’s belief that we can inspire a more creative world through the works and words of contemporary artists, making them a natural partner for our Extended Play series.
By transforming the contemporary Black experience into powerful works of art, African American artists have created some of the most compelling, significant artworks of our lifetime.
Whether they’re bringing attention to important issues that news headlines omit, or celebrating the history and heroes that brought us to our present moment, the artists in this playlist are celebrated in their own right for expanding and illuminating the conversations we have around bias, race, and representation.
There’s less than a month left to apply for the upcoming year of Art21 Educators. K-12 teachers from across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico are invited to apply for this year-long program, which kicks off with a Summer Institute here in New York City.
Last year’s cohort visited Leonardo Drew’s studio (above!) and went to the American Museum of Natural History with New York Close Up artist David Brooks.
Save the date for a festive gala celebrating Art21’s history of excellence documenting the voices and creative practices of the greatest artists of our time. Join us for an evening recognizing the artists, producers, and leaders that have made Art21 possible.
Tuesday, May 1, 2018 New York City Agnes Gund pays tribute to Susan Sollins Honoring Julie Mehretu
Art21 is celebrating a significant milestone in 2018—it’s our 21st anniversary. Today we’re proud to premiere a debut film, our first in the new year: a rare, exclusive interview with legendary artist Barbara Kruger. She reflects on her beginnings as an artist and discusses her most recent projects: a site-specific installation in a New York City skatepark commissioned by Performa, and an immersive room-wrap at Sprüth Magers gallery in Berlin.
Kicking off a year-long celebration of our 21st anniversary, this film is the first in a series of five premieres this winter, featuring artists Raúl de Nieves, Doreen Garner, Abigail DeVille, and Jack Whitten. Our winter programming also includes a themed issue of the Art21 Magazine inspired by Kruger’s direct approach to interacting with the world around us, and in particular those places for communication outside of museum and galleries. Launching this Friday and entitled “Whose Public?”, the issue will include a special interview with Kruger accompanying her new film.
“Something to really think about is what makes us who we are in the world that we live in,” says Kruger in today’s premiere, “and how culture constructs and contains us.” We hope our programs inspire you to consider our shared spaces this year—both physical and digital, cultural and political—and expand on their limitless possibilities.
Premiered January 24, as part of the Art21 digital series Extended Play
While sharing her earliest influences and what led her to become an artist, Barbara Kruger explains the origins of her 2017 Performa commission, Untitled (Skate), a site-specific installation at Coleman Skatepark in New York City’s Lower East Side.
“Money talks. Whose values?” says Kruger, quoting some of the panels installed in the skatepark. “These are just ideas in the air and questions that we ask sometimes–and questions that we don’t ask but should ask.”
Join Art21 on February 5 at the Ace Hotel New York for the premiere of an upcoming film from our New York Close Up digital series.
The film features artist Doreen Garner as she prepares for her recent exhibition at Pioneer Works, entitled White Man on a Pedestal. Garner’s sculptures and performance explore the medical history of Dr. J. Marion Sims, who has been canonized as ‘The Father of Modern Gynecology,’ despite the savage procedures he performed on enslaved women without anesthesia or consent.
Application Now Open for the Upcoming Year of Art21 Educators
Last week we were pleased to open the application process for the eighth year of our professional development initiative, Art21 Educators. K-12 teachers from across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico are invited to apply for this year-long program, which kicks off with a Summer Institute here in New York City.
While some artists fill their studios with noise and action, others require a certain quiet–an intimacy facilitated through stillness. For artists whose work and practices exist in this quiet, they tune their energies to develop environments that foster peacefulness for creators and viewers alike.
The artists in this playlist find serenity in silence and ask us to press pause so we can find it too.
Support Art21 & Help Bring Contemporary Art to Classrooms
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Adrian Viajero. Aguas de Oro, 2017. Photo by Marco Martinez.
Over the past fifty years, street art has become one of the most common forms of contemporary art in urban public spaces. Sometimes it’s called vandalism and other times the more generic term, ‘graffiti.’ These aesthetic acts in public spaces are not only worthy of discussion, but also important to teach since they often contain social cues that help us decipher the visual landscapes in which we live. Teaching students an academic vocabulary to discuss street art helps them understand and analyze the nuance that can exist in what appears to be mere paint splatters on a street sign. An important conversation is happening in our urban spaces, and you don’t need to purchase an admission ticket to see it.
This intricate discussion on Street Art, Vandalism, and Graffiti is one that I facilitate every year at Manhattan Hunter Science High School, where I teach a Contemporary Art History class. For the past eight years I’ve taught this course, I’ve had complete freedom in terms of curriculum design, and I have constructed the class I wish I could have taken in my own undergraduate studies. In the course, we investigate and study exhibitions that are currently on view, and then go see them in person. I tend to focus on exhibitions that have an edge of controversy to them, as they provide the largest possibility for dialogues that have real world consequences. For instance, when the Museum of Modern Art responded to the Trump Administration’s first travel ban of 2017 by hanging work from their collection by artists from these banned nations, we engaged with that institutional response. When the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum received threats for featuring artwork that involved live animals, my students unpacked the disagreement. Each year the curriculum is completely reinvented but I always begin the year focusing on Street Art, since it addresses the abundance of contemporary art that is constantly being refreshed in our public spaces and it is the only art form that my students have unlimited free access to. Street Art has such a presence in our day-to-day lives, especially in diverse urban spaces like New York City, and studying its roots can provide us with a wider understanding of the communities that make up our cities. Through careful observation, documentation, and categorization, we can decipher the language and concepts that reach beyond the classic combination of spray paint and a wall.
Aaron Schraeter. Birdhouse Repo, 2017. Photo by Aidan Jennings.
For many of my students, studying street art is a bridge between understanding aesthetics in the real world and aesthetics in museums and galleries. It’s important for students to learn to move between their usual interaction with artistic imagery (largely via social media) to topics where they can sustain elongated discussions and dive deep into reservoirs of big ideas. When setting up this unit of study each year, I have three benchmarks that I consistently aim to reach: students should understand origins of graffiti in the 1970s, the global impact of the graffiti movement as it evolved into the street art genre of present day, and finally the aesthetics of the local neighborhoods where they live.
“An important conversation is happening in our urban spaces, and you don’t need to purchase an admission ticket to see it.”
On the first day of this unit, I’ll often begin by asking questions about the spaces where we live: “What does your neighborhood look like? Describe it with details from memory.” This exercise always yields interesting results and provides a baseline for how students will come to understand spaces in which they live, as each night they’ll go back and find something new for homework. Through this slow accumulation of observations, students develop mental maps of their neighborhoods and within a matter of weeks, their understanding of these spaces undergoes a radical transformation. The affordability of smartphones with geotagging and high quality cameras have been a major boon for assignments like this.
Shepard Fairey. Rise Above, 2015. Photo by Marco Martinez.
In the next phase of the unit, I introduce artwork from some local street art favorites with strong connections to New York—artists like Lady Pink, Cope2, BNE, Swoon, and the collective Tats Cru (to name a few). As these lessons continue, students consistently come to class excited to have found these works of art near their homes, and academic vocabulary starts finding its way into the discussions. Soon, students are able to differentiate between stickers and wheatpastes, between tags, throw-ups, and burners. As we unpack the aesthetic descriptors for the triumvirate of Street Art/Graffiti/Vandalism, this unit inevitably ends up orbiting around the central question of who is allowed to design public spaces.
The next stage of this unit typically reviews a number of artists that are getting up locally and internationally; we cover the wheatpasted works by Human Bote, the crocheting of Olek, the wide array of amazing work by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, as well as many more artists featured on the Houston Bowery Wall, 100 Gates Project, and the Coney Island Art Walls. Of course, we discuss Shepard Fairey, whose work sets off a firestorm of curiosity in the students, who learn that the Obama ‘Hope’ graphic, the OBEY clothing brand, and a slew of other images around NYC are all connected to the same artist. His work raises a number of issues, from political criticism to social justice to propaganda to appropriation. More than anything though, his work epitomizes the idea that popularity and power can be gained through visual culture—perhaps the most relevant parallel to the digital age in which we live.
Tats Cru. Wallworks Mural, 2018. Photo by Nick Kozak
At this point in the unit, both the idea of street art and the physical manifestations of it truly begin to rise to the attention of my students. I find that my morning inbox is flooded with images they’ve shot from their urban investigations the day before. Students comment that they cannot help but notice street art everywhere they go, wondering if it was always there to begin with. At this exact moment of studying street art, the mise-en-place has been set, and a final project is assigned: to create a video documentary for the visual landscape in their neighborhoods and in the process, find answers to the question of who has been affecting the design of the spaces in which they live.
This documentary project mixes anthropological studies with art history research, with a heavy emphasis on personal history. Each student must tell their story, tracing where they’re from and how those stories are visualized in their neighborhoods. Some students are wary at first—it’s difficult for areas of suburban Queens to measure up to some of the examples from class. I remind students that the point is not to find big street art names in their neighborhood, but rather to find out that their neighbors are artists who are working with the common spaces around them.
Mr Gore. Mural in the Bronx, 2017. Photo by Promia Chowdhury.
There are potential technical challenges with video recording and editing, but as long as students continue to bring in new videos and images each day, the process takes care of itself. There’s an eagerness that takes over when students begin to learn more about the common tags and stickers they are finding. Often, students encounter a well-crafted sticker or wheatpaste, and research reveals it to be an advertisement for a product, often related to fashion or music (a corporate advertising technique known as ‘wildposting’). There’s always a tinge of disappointment when they learn this; like the clandestine aesthetic object they’ve been fascinated by has been hijacked just to sell a product. But other times they discover artists like UnCutt or Nicer (from Tats Cru) and begin following their work through Instagram, regularly updating the class and sharing news when their exhibitions pop up at Wallworks Gallery in the Bronx (one of the few local institutions that consistently exhibits new work by street artists).
“Through studying street art, students can learn to look critically at how anonymous individuals are affecting the public spaces in their city.”
Through studying street art, students can learn to look critically at how anonymous individuals are affecting the public spaces in their city. While some of it may look like vandalism on the surface, many students quickly realize that a wealth of effort and aesthetic precision often goes into these urban interventions. They begin to understand that everywhere they go has been affected by layers of artists and designers. Educators who teach in or near such aesthetically active public spaces can open this world of possibility to their students. And if you still have those around you who are clinging to the question of “Why is this art?” then I would paraphrase an answer I’ve heard once before: “That’s a boring question and it’s already been answered.” There are extensive artistic processes that can be found beyond the traditional museum or gallery—and they’re right outside your door.
Nick Kozak is an artist educator based in New York who joined the Art21 Educators community two years ago for the 2016-2017 school year. He’s been a public school teacher for nine years at Manhattan Hunter Science High School, focusing on art history. An artist himself, he creates social sculptures and is currently developing a body of work related to living in the Anthropocene. Dedicated to breaking down barriers between young people and adults, and between the classroom and the real world, Nick joins us as the Educator-in-Residence for our Winter 2018 issue, “Whose Public?”
Why do you believe the thinking and practices of contemporary artists are important to incorporate in the classroom? What do students get out of it that they might not otherwise?
Nick Kozak: At the moment, it’s never been easier for young people to find a comfortable media bubble to sit in and be complacent and entertained. I believe contemporary artists have an important role to play in shocking us out of all that, making us reconsider where we choose to focus our attention.
being able to think like an artist is one of the most useful skills to have in twenty-first century living
While I’m sure that most of my students don’t self-identify as artists, I believe that they all know the importance of thinking like an artist. This means constantly challenging themselves to manifest their ideas in new ways, and to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. I believe that being able to think like an artist is one of the most useful skills to have in twenty-first century living—it allows you to hone in on the layers of meaning and intention that are woven every aspect of our lives.
Nick Kozak leads a group of students in a discussion for the interactive workshop at Pioneer Works, “Talk to Me.”
NK: When joining Art21 Educators, I was hoping to find a professional learning community that I could engage with and draw inspiration from. I was in my sixth year of teaching, feeling like my curriculum was in a bit of a rut and some colleagues suggested I apply. The program definitely nudged me out of my comfort zone and pushed my professional practice in new directions. I would recommend it to any educators who are interested in taking their pedagogy to the next level.
Additionally, I’ve always appreciated Art21 in how they promote artists from all across the world, drawing our creative communities closer together. The resources they produce provide a window into the diversity of practices that exist in contemporary art-making.
Art21: How has Art21 Educators changed your practice, as both an educator and an artist?
There is something incredible about being able to directly connect with a fellow artist and educator that lives in a different part of our continent
NK: At my school, I’m the sole visual art educator and I’m constantly looking for new areas to expand my class content into. Art21 Educators has aided me in developing what I call a “kinetic curriculum,” one that grows and changes each year, evolving to reflect the times in which we live. In practice, this has taken the form of collaborations, field trips or dialogues with those outside of our immediate community. The program has helped me sustain these ambitions by providing me with a network of educators who are interested in new types of experimental pedagogy. For my peers that are not hampered by standardized tests handed down by their local state, Art21 Educators is a great way to keep curricular content fresh and engaging. There is something incredible about being able to directly connect with a fellow artist and educator that lives in a different part of our continent. Particularly at times of social-political division, this helps challenge notions of who our allies are, where they live, what they look like.
Nick Kozak takes a selfie with students after participating in the interactive workshop “Talk to Me.”
Art21: How does your work as an educator relate to the upcoming Art21 Magazine theme of “Whose Public?”
NK: For me, “public” is a beautiful and messy place. There are spaces where we are all sharing a part of our existence with one another, breathing the same air, experiencing the same ephemera and responding in completely different ways. As an artist, I’m particularly fascinated by the serendipitous elements that find their ways into our lives and end up challenging or reinforcing our worldviews. While walking through a public park, the most mundane of circumstances can shake up our social-emotional routine—it could be bumping into a stranger, a stray soccer ball that lands nearby, or a work of public art that we’ve walked by a thousand times and never paid attention to. Every day we’re offered an opportunity to try it again—or try something differently. A lot of these ideas about public space have informed the social sculpture I developed with my students called Citizens of Earth, which I’ll be writing more about later in this issue.
Nick Kozak participating in “The Language Gap,” a student-led discussion and collaboration between Kozak and artist Paul Pfeiffer at Art21’s 2015 art education symposium, Creative Chemistries.
Art21: What specific work of art, artist, or exhibition has recently inspired you or your teaching practice?
NK: I’m definitely influenced by the work of Luis Camnitzer, in particular, his “Teacher’s Guide” from the 2014 Under the Same Sun exhibition at the Guggenheim. He describes three educational approaches that help me contextualize the work I’m doing in my classroom while prepping a unit of study: There are Problems (ideas to consider), Projects (a call to action), and Questions (openness to disciplinary boundaries).
I don’t need to balance my educational and artistic goals, but to fuse them together as two parts of the same practice
Camnitzer’s ideas definitely help me maintain my educational practice as one that operates on artistic principles—not bureaucratic ones. His work has helped me understand that I don’t need to balance my educational and artistic goals, but to fuse them together as two parts of the same practice. Now I’ve come to understand that educators can be amazing artists—since we’re constantly thinking about how our ideas are going to land with our audience, what’s going to challenge them, provoke them, soothe them, or inspire them to reach to new heights.
Nam June Paik. Internet Dream, 1994. Credit: ICA Boston
In 1974 Nam June Paik envisioned an “electronic superhighway,” a utopian space of emergent, networked technologies whose collective powers could initiate social change. These changes are the subject of a new exhibition, entitled Art in the Age of the Internet at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, featuring work by Paik—as well as artists across the globe including Judith Barry, Dara Birnbaum, Harun Farocki, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Trevor Paglen, Thomas Ruff, Hito Steyerl, and Martine Syms. Through painting, sculpture, installation, and new media, the works in the show address how the internet has shaped contemporary culture and artistic production since its inception in 1989. The exhibition, arranged thematically, traces the impact of the world wide web on the human body, surveillance, the increasing accessibility and consumption of information and images, virtual communities, and social media.
Another current running through the exhibition is the juxtaposition of new and old technologies used to fabricate fresh content. Avery Singer explains how she combines traditional aspects of painting—a gessoed canvas support, for example—with designs she has rendered in the 3D modeling program Sketchup in an Art21 Extended Play film. This video is on view in the museum’s digital learning space in conjunction with the show through May 20.
News of the Week
All the Things I Lost in the Flood (Rizzoli), a new book by Laurie Anderson is now available. The book is a collection of works from Anderson’s career featuring her sketchbooks, drawings, and documentation from various projects, installations, and performances. Its publication coincides with the release of Anderson’s new album, Landfall, a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, this Friday, February 16.
In D.C., the Hirshhorn Museum will project a video by Krzysztof Wodiczko on its building’s facade for three nights, beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, February 13 from 6:30-9:30 p.m. The projection commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of the site-specific video installation first displayed in October 1988.
Next Monday, a flag designed by Trevor Paglen entitled Weeping Angel will be raised at Creative Time’s headquarters in New York City, and over a dozen cultural organizations nationwide, as part of the series, Pledges of Allegiance.
Edgar Arceneaux will perform Until Until Until at the YBCA in San Francisco on February 22-24. Featured in Season 8 of Art in the Twenty-First Century, the performance reenacts and reimagines Ben Vereen’s tragically misunderstood blackface performance at Ronald Reagan’s 1981 Inaugural Gala.
The Artist Speaks
In a recent talk at LMAK Books+Design with The Brooklyn Rail’s Thyrza Nichols Goodeve, Caroline Woolard described the origin for the works included in her current show Carried on Both Sides:
“I know that, often, the most powerful thing I can do in a group is to create a shared vision, and take action—not make an object. And yet, I thought: What if the tables and objects in our spaces were as imaginative as the conversations we were having?”
The collaborative, three-part installation by Caroline Woolard, Helen Lee, Alexander Rosenberg, and Lika Volkova considers how the spaces artists encounter contribute to the possibilities they imagine. The show closes on February 25 at LMAK Gallery, New York.
Krzysztof Wodiczko examines the role of art in public spaces in the Power episode of Art in the Twentieth-First Century. Wodiczko’s mother fled a ghetto in Poland during World War II, and his works often comment on the impact of war and violence. By projecting his projects in public spaces, like at the Hirschhorn later this week, Wodiczko relies on communities themselves to “break the code of silence, to open up and speak about what’s unspeakable.”
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