Category Archives: Contemporary Art

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



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

Julie Mehretu Review: War, Racial Conflict and Migration Simmer Beneath Abstract Surfaces

The artist’s survey at LACMA showcases her dynamic engagement with the history of modernism and socio-political conflict
 Julie Mehretu, Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation, 2001, ink and acrylic on canvas, 2.6 × 5.3 m. Courtesy: © Julie Mehretu; photograph: Edward C. Robinson III

Several paintings and etchings by Julie Mehretu from between 2013–14 bear the title Algorithm, suggesting a calculus extraneous to the artist’s hand. As captured in a short film (GDGDA, 2011) by fellow artist Tacita Dean, however, it is indeed Mehretu’s hand which applies the strokes and architectural silhouettes to her sprawling images.

The Ethiopian-born, US-educated Mehretu has distinguished herself as one of the most talented artists of her generation, with a stylistic versatility matched by few. Spread over two floors, this mid-career survey includes a generous swathe of her outsized paintings along with drawings, watercolours and some lyrical departures from her characteristically architectural imagery. The arresting Being Higher I (2013), for instance, reveals a vaguely human form, arms outstretched in a seemingly messianic gesture of martyrdom or redemption – redolent, in a more allegorical vein, of the themes which have increasingly drawn Mehretu’s attention: war, exodus, racial conflict and migration.

Julie Mehretu, Algorithms, Apparitions and Translations, 2013, etching with aquatint, spit bite, soft ground, hardground, drypoint and engraving, 79 × 95 cm. Courtesy: © Julie Mehretu and Burnet Editions

Considering the centrality of drawing to Mehretu’s working method, the inclusion of numerous works on paper offer an instructive supplement to the large-scale canvases anchoring the exhibition. These works’ relegation to a small side gallery is somewhat unfortunate, however; the selection conveys a representative sense of the artist’s range on paper, from graphite and ink wash to aquatint and etchings with chine-collé, yet could have benefitted from more breathing room. The challenge is clearly one of scale: Mehretu’s large canvases would dwarf her quasi-hieroglyphic drawings, such as an untitled sketch from 1996, knitting diminutive, alphabet-like markings reminiscent of Paul Klee’s cryptic scripts into chains of form across an empty page. These spare marks seem wrought by an artist other than the painter of brash lines which swagger on hazy canvases in the central gallery nearby.

Julie Mehretu, Cairo, 2013, ink and acrylic on canvas, 3 × 7.3 m. Courtesy: © Julie Mehretu; photograph: Tom Powel Imaging

Indeed, the facility with which Mehretu moves between scales and styles is mesmerizing. More impressive still is the way these effects so often share the same pictorial space, in a complex layering of lines, textures and effects. Early paintings like Apropos (1998) delineate shallow, coloured quadrants over which the artist draws networks of spindly lines, evocative of topographical plans. This generates a disjuncture between the geometric flatness of the canvas and the ostensible remoteness of these tracings. Two decades later, the tension of such disjunctures appears at once heightened and expanded into an ever more frenzied matrix, by turns diaphanous and dense. Over time, Mehretu’s imagery has not only become more intricate, but has come to incorporate allusions to historical events. Black City (2007), for example, assimilates to its dense and angular surface representations of Nazi war bunkers.

Julie Mehretu, Conjured Parts (eye), Ferguson, 2016, ink and acrylic on canvas, 2.1 × 2.4 m. Courtesy: © Julie Mehretu; photograph: Cathy Carver

The five panels of the striking polyptych Epigraph, Damascus (2016) reveal a calligraphic layering in aquatint and photogravure, which nevertheless evinces the spontaneity of painted strokes. The drawn architectural elements which sit beneath more blurred abstractions are rendered upside down, lending the work a vertiginous sense of disorientation, appropriate to its war-scarred subject. If the lattice of urban imagery lends some sense of placement, black smudges and smears suggest an ashy haze. The gargantuan canvas Cairo (2013) invokes the Arab Spring uprisings, but only through a web of wispy ink and acrylic, which congeals and dissipates amidst glimpses of Tahrir Square and inverted Cairene façades. Many of Mehretu’s works from the mid-2010s strike just this tension between precision and obscurity, place and mood, the topographic and the atmospheric. 

The wall text for Mehretu’s Babel Unleashed (2001) describes it as reimagining the ‘ordered space found in traditional European painting’ – an absurd evasion of modernism, upon which the artist draws extensively, most notably by way of Wassily Kandinsky and Roberto Matta. Abstract expressionism also informs her palimpsestic imagery, redolent of a writing system which refuses legibility. In Indigene/Origine (overture) (2018–19), marks appear blurred as if glimpsed through a gauzy scrim or projected in shadow.

Julie Mehretu, Haka (and Riot), 2019, ink and acrylic on canvas, 3.7 × 4.6 m. © Julie Mehretu. Courtesy: the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York; photograph: Tom Powel Imaging

Mehretu’s practice is an exceedingly sophisticated affair, assimilating world history to non-objective mark-making – incorporating imagery from the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri in Conjured Parts (eye), Ferguson (2016) for instance, or, more recently, the American detention centres callously enclosing migrants in Haka (and Riot) (2019). Yet this presentation of her work leans too heavily at times upon extensive wall texts, and numerous photographs of civil rights struggles in the catalogue, as if they might magically illuminate her abstractions. At its most exhilarating, Mehretu’s imagery is a spectacle unto itself.

By Ara H. Merjian for Frieze magazine

Three Stephen Douglas paintings have found new homes this summer.

Three Stephen Douglas (American, b. 1949) works have found new homes this summer.

Frost Art Museum, Miami, FL. In With Poe, 2013, Oil on linen, 48 x 48 inches. © Stephen Douglas

Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA. Overcast Imminent, 2002, Oil on linen, 40 x 30 inches © Stephen Douglas

Bakersfield Museum of Art, Bakersfield, CA. Marsha, 1995, Oil on linen, 70 x 58 inches © Stephen Douglas

These artworks are posted in accordance with fair use principles.
#IRequireArt @irequireart #art #american #aldisbrowne #stephendouglas

“Yayoi Kusama: Festival of Light,” David Zwirner, NYC — through Dec 16, 2017

Portrait of Yayoi Kusama in her studio. Image © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York; Ota Fine Arts,Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai; Victoria Miro, London; YAYOI KUSAMA Inc.

“Yayoi Kusama: Festival of Light”
November 2 — December 16, 2017
David Zwirner, 525 & 533 West 19th Street in Chelsea, New York
“Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Nets”
November 2- December 16, 2017
David Zwirner, 34 East 69th Street on the Upper East Side, New York

David Zwirner presents two major concurrent exhibitions of recent work by Yayoi Kusama on view across three gallery spaces in New York: Festival of Life at 525 and 533 West 19th Street in Chelsea and Infinity Nets at the recently opened space on 34 East 69th Street on the Upper East Side. The exhibitions will feature sixty-six paintings from her iconic My Eternal Soul series, new large-scale flower sculptures, a polka-dotted environment, and two Infinity Mirror Rooms in the Chelsea locations, and a selection of new Infinity Nets paintings uptown.

Installation​ ​view,​ ​​Yayoi​ ​Kusama:​ ​Festival​ ​of Life,​ ​​David​ ​Zwirner,​ ​New​ ​York,​ ​2017.​ ​Image ©​ ​Yayoi​ ​Kusama.​ ​Courtesy​ ​of​ ​David​ ​Zwirner, New​ ​York;​ ​Ota​ ​Fine​ ​Arts,
Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai;​ ​Victoria​ ​Miro, London;​ ​YAYOI​ ​KUSAMA​ ​Inc.

Yayoi​ ​Kusama,​ ​Installation​ ​view,​ ​​Yayoi Kusama:​ ​Festival​ ​of​ ​Life,​ ​​David​ ​Zwirner,​ ​New York,​ ​2017.​ ​Image​ ​©​ ​Yayoi​ ​Kusama. Courtesy​ ​of​ ​David​ ​Zwirner,​ ​New​ ​York;​ ​Ota Fine​ ​Arts,​ ​Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai; Victoria​ ​Miro,​ ​London;​ ​YAYOI​ ​KUSAMA​ ​Inc.

Kusama’s work has transcended some of the most important art movements of the second half of the twentieth century, including Pop art and Minimalism. Born in 1929 in Matsumoto, Japan, she briefly studied painting in Kyoto before moving to New York City in the late 1950s. She began her large-scale infinity net paintings during this decade, and went on to apply their obsessive, hallucinatory qualities to three-dimensional work. In a unique style that is both sensory and utopian, Kusama’s work—which spans paintings, performances, room-size presentations, sculptural installations, literary works, films, fashion, design, and interventions within existing architectural structures—possesses a highly personal character, yet one that has connected profoundly with large audiences around the globe. Throughout her career she has been able to break down traditional barriers between work, artist, and spectator.

Yayoi​ ​Kusama,​ ​​Infinity​ ​Mirrored​ ​Room-Love Forever​,​ ​1966/1994.​ ​Installation​ ​view,​ ​YAYOI KUSAMA,​ ​Le​ ​Consortium,​ ​Dijon,​ ​France, 2000.​ ​Image​ ​©​ ​Yayoi​ ​Kusama.​ ​Courtesy​ ​of David​ ​Zwirner,​ ​New​ ​York;​ ​Ota​ ​Fine​ ​Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai;​ ​Victoria​ ​Miro, London;​ ​YAYOI​ ​KUSAMA​ ​Inc.

Presented in a tight grid in one of the largest configurations ever executed by the artist, here covering the entirety of four walls, the recent My Eternal Soul paintings on view are part of a highly celebrated, ongoing series begun in the late 2000s. Conveying the extraordinary vitality that characterizes Kusama’s oeuvre, each composition is an innovative exploration of form, subject matter, and space, in which abstract and figurative elements combine to offer impressions of both microscopic and macroscopic universes.

Yayoi​ ​Kusama,​ ​​HUMAN​ ​BEAUTY​ ​OF SMILES​,​ ​2015.​ ​Image​ ​©​ ​Yayoi​ ​Kusama. Courtesy​ ​of​ ​David​ ​Zwirner,​ ​New​ ​York;​ ​Ota Fine​ ​Arts,​ ​Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai; Victoria​ ​Miro,​ ​London;​ ​YAYOI​ ​KUSAMA​ ​Inc.

Yayoi​ ​Kusama,​ ​​IT’S​ ​ME​ ​WHO​ ​IS​ ​CRYING OUT​,​ ​2013.​ ​Image​ ​©​ ​Yayoi​ ​Kusama. Courtesy​ ​of​ ​David​ ​Zwirner,​ ​New​ ​York;​ ​Ota Fine​ ​Arts,​ ​Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai; Victoria​ ​Miro,​ ​London;​ ​YAYOI​ ​KUSAMA​ ​Inc.

Yayoi​ ​Kusama,​ ​​TEARS​ ​WITHIN​ ​THE HEART​,​ ​2016.​ ​Image​ ​©​ ​Yayoi​ ​Kusama. Courtesy​ ​of​ ​David​ ​Zwirner,​ ​New​ ​York;​ ​Ota Fine​ ​Arts,​ ​Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai; Victoria​ ​Miro,​ ​London;​ ​YAYOI​ ​KUSAMA​ ​Inc.

Yayoi​ ​Kusama,​ ​​I​ ​WANT​ ​TO​ ​LIVE​ ​AT​ ​THE FAR​ ​END​ ​OF​ ​THE​ ​UNIVERSE​,​ ​2016.​ ​Image ©​ ​Yayoi​ ​Kusama.​ ​Courtesy​ ​of​ ​David​ ​Zwirner, New​ ​York;​ ​Ota​ ​Fine​ ​Arts,
Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai;​ ​Victoria​ ​Miro, London;​ ​YAYOI​ ​KUSAMA​ ​Inc.

Placed within the vibrant, immersive environment created by the paintings, Kusama’s new stainless steel sculptures depict fantastically scaled, individual flowers featuring the artist’s distinctive bold palette. Made from stainless steel and covered with urethane paint, their exaggerated features and horizontal orientation echo the dualism found throughout her work between the organic and the artificial. This is also evident in With All My Love For The Tulips, I Pray Forever (2011), a sculptural installation—shown for the first time in the United States—in which oversized flower-potted tulips in fiberglass-reinforced plastic are painted with the same red polka dots as the floor, ceiling, and walls, creating an all-enveloping viewing experience while at the same time diminishing the appearance of depth.

The exhibition debuts two new Infinity Mirror Rooms, one which invites the viewer to look inside through three peepholes, and another which can be experienced from within. In the former, miniature light bulbs in changing colors reveal a hexagonal pattern that is mirrored endlessly. The latter envelops the visitor inside a large mirrored room with stainless steel balls suspended from the ceiling and arranged on the floor; an enclosed column within the room offers yet another mirrored environment accessible through peepholes. A sense of infinity is offered through the play of reflections between the circular shapes and the surrounding mirrors. The balls recall Kusama’s installation Narcissus Garden, first shown outdoors at the 33rd Venice Biennale in 1966 with over 1500 reflective spheres and recently presented in the United States at The Glass House in Connecticut.

Yayoi​ ​Kusama,​ ​​INFINITY​ ​MIRRORED​ ​ROOM -​ ​LET’S​ ​SURVIVE​ ​FOREVER​,​ ​2017
Image​ ​©​ ​Yayoi​ ​Kusama.​ ​Courtesy​ ​of​ ​David Zwirner,​ ​New​ ​York;​ ​Ota​ ​Fine​ ​Arts,
Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai;​ ​Victoria​ ​Miro, London;​ ​YAYOI​ ​KUSAMA​ ​Inc.

The Infinity Net paintings on view at the gallery’s uptown location are the latest works in a series begun in New York in the 1950s, when Abstract Expressionism was still the dominant style. These canvases embodied a radical departure, featuring minutely painted nets across monochrome backgrounds. Donald Judd was an early admirer of these works and an exhibition currently on view at Judd Foundation on 101 Spring Street in New York presents four recent, white paintings from the series as part of a program that explores Judd’s relationship with his contemporaries in the 1960s through the 1980s (through December 9).

In 2018, David Zwirner Books will publish a fully illustrated exhibition catalogue with new scholarship by Jenni Sorkin.

Yayoi Kusama at David Zwirner
November 2 — December 16, 2017
Festival of Lights, 525 & 533 West 19th Street in Chelsea, New York
Infinity Nets, 34 East 69th Street on the Upper East Side, New York