Lotte Laserstein, a German Painter Who Lived Through the Weimar Years as an Independent Artist in Berlin, Explored Urban Tensions of Modern Germany

Born in then Prussia, in 1898, she was one of the first female students to study at the Berlin Academy, and excelled. She captured her subjects with meticulous realism and weighty, breathable bodies. In 1925 she won the Academy’s Gold Medal, and after leaving the Academy in 1927, set up her own studio in Berlin.


Russian Girl with Compact, 1928.

She exhibited at museums all over the continent. In 1931 she held her first solo exhibition at Gurlitt’s, Berlin, with her groundbreaking portraits (like so many of her incredible female contemporaries of the Weimar era) who broke down gender conventions, embraced androgyny, captured the female nude in full glory. 


Self Portrait with a Cat, 1923.

They were deemed as the “new woman” (see Jeanne Mammen or Anita Rée). Laserstein was set for stardom.


Morning Toilette, 1930.

But everything soon changed. In 1934 labelled under new Nazi racial laws as ‘Three quarters Jewish’, Laserstein was barred from exhibiting in public and in 1935 was forced to abandon her studio.


At the Mirror, 1930-31.

During this time the Nazis seized over 15,000 works, which they destroyed, hid or banned from public view. And deemed ‘degenerate’. Cruelly hanging them in exhibitions for the purpose of being mocked.


Selbstportrait in Schwarz, 1928.

Finally in 1937, she emigrated to Sweden, just as her work began receiving critical acclaim, with two paintings hung in the 1937 Salon in Paris and an exhibition the same year at the Galerie Moderne in Stockholm.


Self portrait with a friend, undated.

The Weimar era produced the most incredible array of female artist who embraced queer culture and the independence of the ‘new woman’ (their right to the vote in 1919 had encouraged a decade of radical making).


Evening Over Potsdam, 1928.

Wow, might history have been different.


Evening Over Potsdam, 1928, (detail).

Thank you to these women who paved the way, and how, how, did history forget them? Let’s give them the recognition they deserve.


Lotte Laserstein painting Evening over Potsdam, photograph by Wanda von Debschitz-Kunowski, 1930.

By Katy Hessel, reposted from
@TheGreatWomenArtists

Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and Other Romances That Changed Art History

Elaine and Willem de Kooning

The Stowaway and the Student: The Holland-born Willem de Kooning snuck into the United States as a stowaway on the British Freight headed for Argentina and immediately immersed himself in the art world. His life would change forever when, in 1938, a student named Elaine Fried would enroll in his drawing class. The work-obsessed and reticent Willem was seemingly immediately dazzled by the magnetically charming woman who would later become his wife.

 www

ww 

www 

www 

 

 

 

 


Elaine and Bill de Kooning, 1953. Courtesy of Bridgeman Images.

Turbulent Times: The de Koonings married in 1943, but there was no honeymoon period, as the marriage was plagued by the effects of alcoholism, poverty, mutual ambition, and a seemingly unending string of affairs from the start. And yet their mutual artistic admiration never waned. Elaine was convinced of her husband’s brilliance as he pioneered Abstract Expressionism, and she created her own distinct form of abstracted figuration. Interestingly, too—and interpret this however you wish—Elaine’s long list of dalliance’s often involved men who ultimately helped her husband’s career, including the art critic Harold Rosenberg and the curator and editor Thomas B. Hess.  

Ahead of Her Time: Perhaps Elaine was born a generation too early, as the resolute artist refused keep house at the expense of her art making, valuing her own career as equal to her husband’s. She also had an eye for style, and though the couple were known to live on coffee, she always managed to keep up with the latest fashions. 

Together Again: Though the couple separated in the late 1950s, they reconciled in 1976, and Elaine left a lucrative teaching position to buy a property nearby to his in Long Island. She ultimately assumed management of his studio.

Gala and Salvador Dalí

Gala and Salvador Dalí. Courtesy of Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images.

Against the Odds: When Gala and Salvador Dalí met in 1929, the pair faced what could have been serious romantic obstacles: Gala was ten years older than the 25-year-old Salvador, and she happened to still be married to the artist and poet Paul Éluard, with whom she had a daughter. None of that deterred the young Dalí, who was wholly captivated by the Russian émigré, later writing, “She was destined to be my Gradiva, the one who moves forward, my victory, my wife.” Dalí’s father, however, was so scandalized by the union that he cut off all contact and financial support when they wed in 1934. But they proved their skeptics wrong, and remained married until Gala’s death in 1982.

Muse & Manager: Their love was both collaborative and unconventional—Gala believed Dalí to be a genius, while he saw her as the fount of all his creative inspiration and energy. She often acted as his muse and model, and was pictured famously as the Virgin Mary in his painting The Madonna of Port Lligat (1949). Though content to play second-fiddle to Dalí’s celebrity, she was also the managerial whiz behind his success, handling his sales, exhibitions, and finances.

Unorthodox Arrangements: Dalí openly acknowledged his fear of intimate relationships. To skirt the issue, the couple had an open marriage, with Dalí regularly encouraging his wife to explore herself outside of their union. However, over the years, the marriage became strained as the artist became increasingly consumed by a fear of abandonment, distraught by the money and time Gala spent on her lovers. The relationship even occasionally devolved into violence on both parts. And though Dalí had grown embittered by his wife over the decades, her death, at the age of 87, ultimately devastated him and he entered a state of isolation that lasted through the remainder of his years. 

Marina Abramović and Ulay


Marina Abramović and Ulay. Courtesy of the Louisiana Channel.

Extreme Intimacy: The Yugoslavian-born performance artist Abramović and the German-born Ulay met in Amsterdam in 1975 and started working together immediately, forming a collective they called “the other.” The pair referred to themselves as a “two-headed body,” who felt as close as twins.

Trust Exercises: Together, the young artists developed a series of hyper-intimate tests of physical endurance and emotional trust. One of the performances, Rest Energy (1980), involved Ulay holding a bow and arrow, which Abramović pulled her weight against. “We actually held an arrow on the weight of our bodies, and the arrow is pointed right into my heart,” she recalled. “It was a performance about complete and total trust.”

Great Wall Goodbye: Though their romance laid the groundwork for the future of performance art, this same ambition ultimately pulled them apart. In Nightsea Crossing—a dual performance in which the artists were meant to sit, staring at one another from across a tableUlay’s endurance wavered, and during one performance, Abramović continued on her own, facing the empty chair in front of her. The pair split in 1988 and, fittingly, marked the end of their relationship by walking from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China and meeting in the middle.

Public Reunion: The two were reunited after decades during Abramović’s 2012 MoMA retrospective, “The Artist is Present.” There, Ulay (apparently unexpectedly) joined Abramović across a table in a moment reminiscent of Nightsea Crossing and the pair shared an emotional moment that brought both to tears. Nevertheless, the acrimony endured, with Ulay suing his former partner for alleged unpaid royalties and erasing him from formerly co-authored works in the years that followed. Since 2017, the pair, however, have reportedly put the past behind them. 

Christo and Jeanne-Claude


Christo and Jeanne-Claude during The Gates in Central Park, New York (2005). Photo by Wolfgang Volz, ©Christo, 2005.

The French Connection: He was born in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, and she in Casablanca, Morocco, but it was Paris that would bring them together, when, in October 1958, Christo, a refugee living in the city of lights, was hired to paint a portrait of Jeanne-Claude’s mother. Though Jean-Claude was engaged when they met—and even went through with her marriage—she ultimately followed her heart and left her new husband for Christo during her honeymoon.

Gemini Twins: These two artists were born on the same day: June 13, 1935.

Creative Concealment:
 The husband-and-wife duo became famous for their large-scale environmental artworks of draped fabric, including The Gates in Central Park and the epic 24-mile Running Fence in California. In addition, they swathed architectural icons, like the Reichstag and the Pont-Neuf bridge, in veil-like drapery. Taciturn about interpretation, the couple maintained that the only significance of their creations was visual impact.

Nota Bene:
 For decades, Christo was the only artist credited for their installations. Then, in 1994, their entire body of work was retroactively credited to “Christo and Jeanne-Claude.”

Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns


Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns attend a Larry Rivers gallery opening at the Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York on December 1, 1958. Courtesy of Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images.

Downtown Dreamers: Though perhaps the most quintessential New York couple of all, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg were only together from 1956 to 1961. The pair had studios on different floors of an industrial building on Pearl Street and lived, for a time, on Coenties Slip near the South Street Seaport alongside other artists, including Agnes Martin and Ellsworth Kelly. 

Opposites Attract
: Rauschenberg was a gregarious, chatty fellow, while Johns was reticent and a little bit removed. Despite their differences, the couple came together to unravel the dominance of Abstract Expressionism: Rauschenberg with his “Combines” and Johns with his “Flags” and “Targets” series, which respectively offered new paths forward from the macho-individualistic aesthetics of the era.  

The Green-Eyed Monster: 
Perhaps more poisonous than romantic jealousy is the professional sort—and this couple was not immune. As history would have it, when renowned gallerist Leo Castelli came to visit Rauschenberg’s studio to plan for a scheduled exhibition, he happened upon Johns’s works while in the building and signed the artist on the spot. Rauschenberg’s show, meanwhile, was postponed indefinitely. The couple’s ensuing breakup was bitter, and the pair didn’t speak for many years after their split. 

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera


Marcel Sternberger, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Mexico City (1952). Courtesy of Frida Kahlo Corporation. © Stephan Loewentheil.

Epic Proportions: We’d be hard pressed to name a greater and more turbulent love affair in art history than that of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. A May–December romance, Kahlo was still an art student when she took up with Rivera, who, at 20 years her senior, was already a giant of Mexican art. Disapproving of the marriage, her parents infamously nicknamed the couple “the elephant and the dove”—a not so subtle jab at the disparity between their sizes.

The Art of Infidelity:
 Rivera revered Kahlo’s talent, and she his, and their relationship was a whirlwind of creative support and mutual fascination coupled with romantic disloyalty on both parts. The openly bisexual Kahlo enjoyed love affairs with both women and men (including, famously, Trotsky). However, Rivera crossed a line too far when he pursued Kahlo’s younger sister, Cristina, a discovery that absolutely ruined Kahlo. 


Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images.

He Said, She Said: The couple divorced in 1939, but the forces of passion and admiration kept bringing them back to one another, and they remarried the following year. Rivera once referred to Kahlo as “the great fact of my life.” She was not always so certain. Alluding to the streetcar accident that nearly killed her, she said “There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the streetcar, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.” 

Political Passions:
 In the 25 years they were together until Frida’s death in 1954, at the age of 47, the couple were the faces of socialist activism in Mexico. Nicknamed “a ribbon around a bomb” by André Breton, Kahlo pioneered a new, daring form of self-portraiture, and became the first Latin American woman to have a painting in the Louvre. Rivera, meanwhile, revived the Mayan mural tradition and created a contemporary, wholly Mexican visual language that spoke to the lives and experiences of laborers in his native country.

Françoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso


Françoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso, 1952. Photo by Roger Viollet via Getty Images.

Cafe Encounter: In May 1943, the 61-year-old Picasso locked eyes with the 21-year-old Gilot while she was with friends at the Parisian restaurant Le Catalan. Though Picasso was dining with his then lover (the photographer Dora Maar), at the end of the meal, he approached Gilot’s table with a bowl of cherries and an invitation to visit his studio.

Three’s a Trend:
 Gilot became the object of Picasso’s affections while he was still involved with Maar, whose own intensity had charmed the Spanish artist while he was still living with his young French lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter. (Of course, the 17-year-old Walter had likewise first delighted the artist while he was still amidst the demise of his marriage to the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova.) The young Gilot was enraptured by the famed artist, but also cautious of Picasso’s intentions, writing later, “I came onstage with an unavoidably clear vision of three other actresses who had tried to play the same role, all of whom had fallen into the prompter’s box.”

The 10-Year Itch: 
During their near decade together—and through the births of two children, Claude and Paloma—Gilot supported Picasso as he experimented with sculpture, ceramics, and lithographs, and largely abandoned her own creative ambitions. But by the early 1950s, Gilot had grown weary of her role and decided to walk away from the relationship—a first for the romantically fitful Picasso. An enraged (and ego-bruised) Picasso told Gilot she was heading “straight for the desert” and convinced dealers not to sell her work.

The Parting Shot:
 Gilot went on to marry Jonas Salk—yes, the genius who developed the polio vaccine. Then, in 1964, Gilot published Life With Picasso, a particularly revealing memoir of her life with the artistic genius, filled with occasionally unflattering details. As retaliation, Picasso cut off all contact with their two children.

Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence


Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight, New York, 1974. Courtesy of Anthony Barboza/Getty Images.

Art-School Sweethearts: Both were students of influential teacher and godmother of the Harlem Renaissance, Augusta Savage, while she was teaching at the Harlem Community Art Center.

Different Pasts, Shared Visions: 
The Atlantic City-born Lawrence and the Barbadian Knight wed in 1941 and remained together until Lawrence’s death in 2000. Lawrence was a complex fellow, having moved frequently with his mother and siblings as a child, spending time in foster care, and serving in the military, which was followed by in-patient mental-health treatment. But he painted and drew resolutely through his upheavals. A sense of community drew Lawrence and Knight together, and both worked as members of the Works Progress Administration. During those years, Lawrence developed his style of “dynamic cubism,” which was deeply influenced by the shapes, sounds, and minds of Harlem. The WPA years culminated with Lawrence’s 1941 “Migration Series,” which focused on Black American migration from the rural South to the industrial North.

Her Time to Shine:
 The couple relocated to the Pacific Northwest in 1970, where Knight began to paint in earnest, often creating intimate portraits of friends. She received her first solo museum exhibition in 2003 at the Tacoma Museum of Art. Besides her artistic career, Knight was also an active philanthropist who worked tirelessly to support children’s causes.

Yayoi Kusama and Joseph Cornell


Yayoi Kusama with Joseph Cornell in New York (1970). Courtesy Yayoi Kusama Studio, Inc.

Are They, Or Aren’t They?:  Though Yayoi Kusama may espouse the language of free love, she’s historically been rather tight-lipped about her own romances. The Japanese artist moved to New York in the late 1950s and soon after befriended Donald Judd, who was also just starting out in his career. The soon-to-be father of Minimalism reviewed her first solo show positively in 1959, even buying one of her paintings. Soon the two were living and working on different floors of the same 19th Street building. Kusama called Judd “an early boyfriend,” but the pair were destined for friendship. Instead, it was her intense, though arguably platonic relationship with the master-of-assemblage Joseph Cornell that dominated much of her New York life.

Odd Couple:
  Kusama was in her 30s when she met the idiosyncratic Cornell, who was 26 years her senior. Their unusual relationship lasted for years, with Kusama regularly visiting Cornell at his mother’s home on Utopia Parkway in Queens, where he lived and worked. Though their romantic interludes may or may not have been physical, the two were deeply emotionally enmeshed. Cornell would call her innumerable times a day, pen her long letters, and when she had no money, gift her works of his to sell.

A Disapproving Mother: 
Though we may never know her side of the story, Cornell’s mother was rumored to be controlling and overbearing. Vexed by her son’s intimacy with the younger Kusama, she supposedly once poured a bucket of water over the two artists while they sat kissing in her backyard.

Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst


Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst with his sculpture, Capricorn (1947). © John Kasnetsis

Checkmate: Ernst and Tanning first met when he visited her studio at the behest of his then wife, Peggy Guggenheim, who was interested in Tanning’s Surrealist-inspired paintings. With a shared passion for chess, Ernst and Tanning sat down to play a few matches. We don’t know what transpired exactly, but, a week later, Ernst moved in with Tanning.

Take Two: 
Tanning and Ernst were married in Hollywood in a joint ceremony with their friends, the artist Man Ray and dancer Juliet Browner. 

Scorecard: 
Tanning and Ernst were married from 1946 until Ernst’s death in 1976. It was Tanning’s only marriage and Ernst’s third, excepting his long relationship with the Surrealist Leonora Carrington.

Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz


Georgia O’Keeffe pictured with her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. Courtesy of Getty Images.

American Modern Love: Famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz and pioneering American painter Georgia O’Keeffe were married from 1924 until his death in 1946. He was older, a photographer, a New Yorker, and his gallery, 291, was at the center of the push towards Modernism. 

Complex entanglements: 
Stieglitz was a womanizer with a fondness for younger women, but also an advocate of promising women artists. O’Keeffe and Stieglitz shared a profound intellectual and creative respect for one another, though their marriage was the definition of tumultuous, with O’Keeffe and Stieglitz living separately for a great deal of the marriage.

Love letters: 
In 2011, My Faraway One, a volume of correspondence between the couple, was published and revealed the immense struggle, respect, and complexity within their marriage. Some of the details were perhaps too intimate for outside eyes, however, including Stieglitz’s many references to their life behind closed doors.

© artnet, Katie White

Faith Ringgold & Jordan Casteel Talk About the Living History of Harlem and Painting in the Midst of Protest

Born in Harlem in 1930, Faith Ringgold became part of the New York neighborhood’s fabric as a painter, writer, sculptor, and performance artist in the ’50s. Her politically engaged work has taken many forms, including visceral styles of painting—typified by American People Series #20: Die (1967), which was displayed next to paintings by Picasso in the recent Museum of Modern Art rehang—and story quilts such as Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima? (1983) and Tar Beach (1988), the latter of which Ringgold made the subject of a celebrated children’s book. The many facets of her career will be the focus of a survey exhibition scheduled to open at the New Museum in New York in fall 2021.

Faith Ringgold & Jordan Casteel. Ringgold: Courtesy ACA Galleries, New York. Casteel: Photo David Schulze.

Denver native Jordan Casteel was born in 1989 and now resides in Harlem, where she has emerged among a new class of figurative painters with a focus on portraiture. Her first gallery show was in 2014, and she was an artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2015. This past February, her first solo museum exhibition, “Within Reach,” had a brief run at the New Museum before the coronavirus pandemic shut it down—though the show reopens September 15 and will remain on view into January 2021, with some 40 paintings of Casteel’s friends and family members as well as strangers in her neighborhood with whom she initiated conversation.

Faith Ringgold, Black Light Series #12: Party Time, 1969. ©2020 Faith Ringgold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Courtesy ACA Galleries

ARTnews: What are your earliest formative memories of experiencing art?
 
Faith RinggoldI’ve been doing art since I was a child. My mother always made sure I had art supplies. My father bought me my first easel. I did it a lot—because I had asthma, my doctors did not want me to go to school during kindergarten and first grade. They were afraid that I would catch something. But then finally I went on a steady basis, like, from second grade, and we had art every day in school. I loved it.

Jordan Casteel: This is perfect, because my earliest formative memory was reading Faith’s book Tar Beach. I was obsessed with it. My dad tells a story that he was on a mission to find one of the original prints from that book and he gave it to me when I was young. That was my first artwork. We also had a lot of prints in the house, from Romare Bearden and Hale Woodruff. I knew of Charles White. My mom had an Elizabeth Catlett painting in the house. So I was aware of those artists, and that was my earliest understanding of art in a historical context. I felt like I lived with Faith Ringgold, with Romare Bearden. That was the visual community I knew, and it gave me a sense of belonging and a desire to tell stories in the way they were.

Faith Ringgold’s first children’s book, Tar Beach, tells the story of a character named Cassie in 1930s-era New York who flies around the city from the “tar beach” of her Harlem rooftop with help from the stars. Courtesy Penguin Random House.

ARTnews: What about Tar Beach and Faith’s work in general was most important to you at the start?

Casteel: To have a representation of a young Black girl as the central character in a story was the main thing I identified with. Visually, I’ve always been really drawn to color, and the illustrations really captured a sensibility and a visual longing I always had. My mom says as early as six months, I had a keen fascination for the color of cartoons. I would take blocks and put rainbows together. Particularly in Tar Beach, the way that colors are used and the movement of the characters—I was really drawn to that. And it was a story of a Black family that was similar to mine. I felt like the adventures I had as a child were represented in a story that felt like my own.

Ringgold: I love children’s books.

Casteel: I could feel that. I felt like you were speaking to me, as a three-year-old—I felt like you were telling my story back to me.

Ringgold: That’s what I was trying to do.

Casteel: You did it! And then you got my dad running around trying to find a print because I was so obsessed.

Ringgold: A lot of artists don’t want to get involved with children’s books, because that’s not—

Casteel: —fine art?

Ringgold: Right. It’s not fine art. But I wanted to make one because I think children’s art lays the groundwork for adults to do it later. I loved it when my children were old enough to do some art. They used to do it on the wall, and I said, “Hey, wait a minute—don’t draw on the wall! Come on, you’ve got an easel here!” [Laughs.] But children are absolutely the best.

Casteel: Have you always considered yourself an educator?

Ringgold: Oh, absolutely. I taught all the way down and all the way up. I started out with the little ones, and I went on ahead and got my Ph.D. and all the licenses and everything. I taught elementary school, junior high, high school, and then on to college. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to stay anywhere too long, because they get tired of you and they want to keep somebody around who doesn’t make everybody else work so hard. I like to work! But I loved teaching and I loved what the kids do—kids are so creative. I just went along with it and it was great for me.

Jordan Casteel, Sylvia’s (Taniedra, Kendra, Bedelia, Crizette, De’Sean), 2018. Courtesy Casey Kaplan, New York.

ARTnews: Harlem has figured prominently in both your lives. What rises to mind most immediately about the neighborhood’s significance to you?

Ringgold: All the important Black artists lived in Harlem. All you had to do was walk down the street and here they come. I was fascinated with them. But they didn’t want anybody to make a lot of fuss. I would say, “Oh my God, you’re Sam Gilliam!” or “You’re Aaron Douglas!” I got to know all those guys. Romy Bearden, all of them. And the jazz, the music—we had everything. People would come from all over the world to Harlem if they had a chance. And we had such great neighbors. I was fascinated by the stories they told. Everybody had stories, and I wanted to hear them. Today people don’t talk that much to each other.

Casteel: Not as much as they should. As a new person in Harlem—I consider it my transplanted, adopted home—I discovered the neighborhood as a Studio Museum in Harlem resident [in 2015–16]. And I immediately felt the energy that you’re describing, which I imagine was tenfold when you were there. Now, there are cars, headphones, cell phones—everyone’s looking down and focused on themselves. Everything is so self-centered these days. But I really wanted to get to know all the people I was walking by every day, so I would just walk up and say hello. It’s as simple as introducing yourself, and you build a whole network of family. Community builds by listening to one another. My parents taught me that, and their parents taught them that: as Black people growing up in New York, you go to the people across the street on the stoop. You say hello when you move to someplace new. They are the keepers of the stories of the neighborhood, and they are going to look after you.

Jordan Casteel, James, 2015. Courtesy Casey Kaplan, New York.
 
ARTnews: How has Harlem changed since you’ve been there?
 
Casteel: I’ve come into Harlem at a time when things are shifting quite rapidly. Lenox Lounge—people have told me stories about what that place represented, and it’s no longer there. Shake Shack has come in. One of the people I’ve painted—James, who’s become a dear friend of mine and is in his 80s—I asked him how he feels about the Starbucks that opened across the street from Sylvia’s. Things come and go, but people will always be here, telling stories. And it was important for me to acknowledge and hear those stories. For me, that really resonates. I knew I could call Harlem home before it was my home. There was a procession for my grandfather, Whitney Moore Young, Jr., when he passed that went down 125th Street. My blood and my ancestors set foot here long before I did and created a home for me before I even had to create a home for myself.
 
ARTnews: Through your grandfather and others, how did growing up with social-justice activism in your midst figure into the way you paint?
 
Casteel: There were certain values that were imposed on me. I grew up knowing that you are not one—you are a community. The sense of getting to know your environment and its stories is really important, and that came from my grandfather and his work. It went on to my mother, who has always worked in philanthropy and taught me a philanthropic social-justice way of moving through the world since the day I was born. That has always been consistent with who I am. I’m always thinking about relationships and the ways we are communicating with one another, making sure that all voices are heard within the space that I occupy. 

When I started painting, I read a quote of yours, Faith, talking about the moment you said, “I’m not going to do landscape painting.” At some point you realize that if you’re going to do this, you’re going to do it and use your voice—as a catalyst to create change and paint the world you hope to see. That happened for me in graduate school, when I thought about how I could use my practice of painting to say something, even if it’s not as explicit as I think oftentimes people make it out to be. My existence as a Black woman making work at 31 in New York is political. I mean, there’s something about being a Black woman artist that inherently feels political. I have to acknowledge that and push back in ways that are an act of justice and create space for those who come behind me. I’m always thinking about my students [at Rutgers Univsersity] and what I want them to experience in the art world. I want to create a more equitable experience for them. Sometimes that comes with some blood, sweat, and tears—and difficult conversations. But without passion, it’s pointless, all of it.

Faith Ringgold, Groovin’ High, 1996.
 
ARTnews: Faith, how does it feel to hear younger artists like Jordan talk about the importance of your legacy? Do you recognize your own role in the present?
 
Ringgold: I know I did a lot to make things better for Black people, and women in particular. I’ve met a lot of young people like you today who have benefited as artists and continue to work. They don’t see what I saw, but it doesn’t matter. There’s a certain warmth in New York. It’s the kind of place where whatever it is you go there to do, you’re going to find a door open to let you in to do it. That’s what is so great about New York. You can always find an opening somewhere.

Casteel: But you created the space for people like me. I have an acute awareness that I couldn’t enter certain spaces [otherwise]. Like my show at the New Museum—it’s amazing that you were doing that long before I did. Knowing that you existed in that kind of space gives us permission as young people to feel empowered to create space for ourselves. I definitely feel that.

ARTnews: Faith, do you feel a connection to younger artists protesting inequity and injustice at institutions these days?

Ringgold: Well, there was nothing but protests when I was young in New York. We all did it. It’s a totally different kind of protest that we had back in the day. In fact, there used to be a protest march every weekend down Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Casteel: That’s starting again—that kind of energy.

Ringgold: It’s different in some senses but I guess not all that much different. It’s what we’ve always done—pick up on something that’s happening, make a big deal of it, and correct it.

ARTnews: Are you hopeful for the prospects of results?

Ringgold: Do I have a sense of hope? I don’t know. At this stage in my life I can no longer sit back and hope. What is it really going to do for us? The pandemic is interfering with what the movement’s results will be. We’ve been through other sorts of epidemics or crises, but never anything like this. This is outrageous.

ARTnews: Jordan, what has been your experience of the Black Lives Matter protests of late?

Casteel: I think they’re profoundly important. The act of protest is always of the utmost importance—to use and utilize our voices by any means necessary. There has always been power in collectivity. What we’re seeing now—what kind of gives me hope—is that Black people are tired and, though communities of color have a lot of fight in us, to also see other people take the mantle on behalf of our lives is really empowering. I’m grateful for that. I hope it continues—other people’s sense of necessity and urgency that we have been feeling our entire lives. I just want the momentum to maintain. In general, I feel like the ground is shifting beneath us, and it’s going to create change that is necessary to better our future and systems that have been wrong for many years. It’s like everybody is forced to reckon with their own humanity right now, in every capacity.

Ringgold: Yes. It’s amazing. I can’t isolate myself, because then I won’t know what’s going on. I have to know what’s going on to get inspiration. I’ve got to stay in touch with the present and the people in it.

Soft sculptures on view in the exhibition “Faith Ringgold: The 70s,” 2018, at ACA Galleries, New York. © 2020 Faith Ringgold/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy ACA Galleries, New York.
 
ARTnews: Will that inspiration figure into your artwork?
 
Ringgold: Well, I keep trying to look at it and see what I see, and I can’t place it just yet. It will come. But right now, I don’t know what’s going on. I know how I feel about it, but how to envision it, how to get a concept of it in my head—I don’t have it together. This is young people doing this—this is a young people’s thing.
 
ARTnews: Jordan, are you inspired artistically by what’s going on?
 
Casteel: I think there’s no way not to be in the sense that my practice is centered on the most authentic version of the world that I can find. That authenticity holds truth, and that truth holds pain, and that truth holds fear. I feel urgency. There’s a sense of urgency that is deeply affecting the way I’m moving through space and engaging with institutions. Every place around me is now a piece of the puzzle, and we have to hold each other accountable, for our systematic racist beliefs and also for wearing masks and thinking about other people. What’s interesting to me about this all happening at the same time is that it’s centered around coming outside of oneself and thinking about our effects on others. We put on our masks to protect others. We think about police reform to protect others who we might not even know. It’s the deepest act of empathy, and that does invigorate my practice. I feel inspired to work.
 
ARTnews: Faith, can you imagine trying to engage the protests in your art in some way?
 
Ringgold: I think I will. But I’m not ready yet. I don’t have a true sense of what is really going on that I can react to in some visual way. I can’t think of what I would like to record at this time. But something’s coming out of it, without a doubt.

ARTnews: Jordan, how might it affect your practice?

Casteel: Nothing happens without the work. I am in motion when I am making paintings, and the world’s in motion with me. If I am going to commit to painting Black and Brown bodies—and I will continue to do that—it is going to be an act that contributes to the conversations that are happening right now. I’ve been doing this work all along, and the people are just becoming more aware of it. That’s how I feel about how art history functions, too—thinking about what it means that people are becoming aware of Black art at this time and historicizing it and trying to make sense of the past and the present. For me, as a person of color, that’s all I knew. Charles White, Faith Ringgold, Romare Bearden—that was my history. It actually wasn’t until later in life that someone told me there was a “more important” history I needed to know.

There’s this part of me that always struggles with the sense that people are having an awakening around Black art, because we’ve always been here. We are plenty. We are thick as thieves. We are having these conversations all the time. We’re collecting our histories, and it’s exciting that people are paying attention. But I’ve been in fear for my Black body and space for as long as I’ve lived. And the same was true for my parents and grandparents and great grandparents.

That video of George Floyd is absolutely horrifying. There’s no question that it is horrifying—it’s a visceral experience when you see something like that on your couch, on your cell phone, and it changes people’s understanding. But I’ve been telling people for a long time that Black and Brown bodies are being killed and subjected to that kind of violence, and nobody believed it. It’s like how nobody believed we were great and now they’re like, “Black artists are great!” We’re like, “We know! Thanks for catching on!”

Installation view of “Jordan Casteel: Within Reach,” 2020, at New Museum, New York. Photo: Dario Lasagni

Ringgold: Creativity is very empowering. You can’t always do something to make the time better, but you can go ahead and change it.

Casteel: To live and breathe as Black and Brown bodies, and to fight for what we believe in is an act in opposition to what we were brought to this country to do. And that’s a fight that I’m going to keep fighting as long as I can, in a way that my ancestral blood and my community have taught me to do.

Ringgold: It’s a way of life—to participate in your own culture. It’s always going to be positive. The thing that always upset me about the art world was that it was so difficult to get an opportunity to do it. You were subjected to a lot of racism.

Casteel: And that’s a part that still has to change. I hope it does change with people’s reckoning and understanding and desire for knowledge around Black art in the history of our communities. As people start to make space, it will be easier to enter those spaces and we won’t have to fight so hard. For some of us it’s been an internal joke—like, “It’s ‘Call-the-Black-Artist Week!’” But we’ve always been here, and we have a story to tell.

Ringgold: Yes, indeed. It’s an open door.

Casteel: And there’s a real shift in my experience compared to yours. The challenges that I face are less visible. I’m given the opportunity to have a show at an institution, but my voice is not always valued in that space. That comes from how young I am, it comes from being a woman, it comes from being a woman of color. There is a constant struggle, and I often feel that my voice is not really given a seat at the table. It’s like the difference between “diversity” and “inclusion.” You put me at the table, but you’re not going to let me speak. My generation is at the table, but we’re still trying to figure out how to speak and really be heard and included in the conversation. There’s still a gap there.

Ringgold: Yeah, and it has a lot to do with the way you see and how you can project what it is you’re feeling about what’s happening around you. You’ve got to have courage because, in the beginning, they may not like it so much. You’ve got to be out there. You’ve got to be fearless.

By Andy Battaglia, ART News
@artnews, #artnews

Art as mental health balm

By Katy Hessel

Mesmerizing is the work of Czech self-taught artist, Anna Zemánková born in 1908. Known for her lucid botanical drawings made from pastel, ink, and thread, it wasn’t until she was in her late 50s that she began to draw such wonderfully surreal and meticulously-crafted masterpieces. 

Moon Flower [cab-11470], crayon and ball-point pen on paper, 63 x 45 cm, early 1970s. © Anna Zemánková.

Untitled [00620], pastel and India ink on paper, 88 x 62 cm, 1968. © Anna Zemánková.

From the age of fifteen to eighteen she studied dentistry and then worked as a dental technician until her marriage, when she forwent paid labor in order to care for her children. In 1948, she and her family moved to Prague, and when she found herself increasingly depressed, her son, a sculptor, encouraged her to pursue the creative work she had always previously dismissed. 

Early in the morning, before anyone else arose, she’d sketch pastel and ink onto large swaths of paper, creating botanical dreamscapes all her own. In order to get recognized she held ‘open house’ exhibitions, which caught the attention of fellow artist Jean Dubuffet who launched her career exhibiting in the likes of London’s Hayward Gallery in 1979, six years before her passing. 

-Katy Hessel #katyhessel #thegreatwomenartists

Untitled

Untitled

Lamp [00730], mixed media, 1970s. © Anna Zemánková.

Anna Zemánková

Calming watercolour paintings made in quarantine by Nicolas Party celebrate forests and treetops

Known for his familiar yet unsettling landscapes, portraits, and still lifes rendered in soft pastels, Nicolas Party is a New York-based Swiss artist whose latest body of work, Canopy, looks to treetops for inspiration.

Trees, 2020. Watercolour on paper 30.5 x 40.6 cm / 12 x 16 in. All images: © Nicolas Party Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

The watercolour paintings follow his previous collection, Sottobosco, which instead looked at the atmosphere of a dense, richly alive forest floor. With these new artworks, he looks up to pay homage to the tops of trees where “light and air expand”.

On show in Hauser & Wirth’s latest online exhibition, opening Thursday 7 May, his series of 11 atmospheric landscapes were created while quarantined in upstate New York. Each embraces watercolour’s intimacy, fluidity, and animate qualities, and inspiration is drawn from Charles Burchfield, George Grosz, Georgia O’Keeffe, and William Turner.

“Throughout history, trees have been present in so many stories, legends, and religions,” says Party. “They are one of the most important elements in human culture. Today, they are also one of the primary reminders of our fears and anxieties for the future. How many trees are being painted today? And how many trees are burning?”

Party’s distinctive vision of the natural world derives equally from his relationship to the art historical canon and his childhood explorations in Switzerland, which instilled within him a deep love of nature’s endless arrays of colour, pattern, and form. Recalling his early experiences in the outdoors, he says: “One of the first things that you draw as a child are trees. The unsteady lines on the paper find a structure in the form of a tree. A line topped with circle structures, the page creates a space, shows us where the sky is and where the ground… Trees are nature’s alphabets. The infinite flexibility of the visual language of the tree makes its execution endlessly playful.”

Party will follow Canopy with a commission from RxArt to create a giant mural for the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, and a major survey exhibition at MASI Lugano.

Trees, 2020. Watercolour on paper 40.6 x 30.5 cm / 16 x 12 in. All images: © Nicolas Party Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Trees, 2020. Watercolour on paper 30.5 x 22.9 cm / 12 x 9 in. All images: © Nicolas Party Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Trees, 2020. Watercolour on paper 30.5 x 30.5 cm / 12 x 12 in. All images: © Nicolas Party Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Trees, 2020. Watercolour on paper 25.4 x 17.8 cm / 10 x 7 in. All images: © Nicolas Party Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Trees, 2020. Watercolour on paper 30.5 x 22.9 cm / 12 x 9 in. All images: © Nicolas Party Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

By Katy Cowan for Creative Boom