A bit about me.

So, I figure that most of the people reading this already know me, at least for the time being. However, on the chance that some of you don’t know me or in the hopes that more people will read this in the future, I have decided to dedicate this week’s post to a little background on me. I hold a Master’s Degree in the history of art from University College London, which is located in (you guessed it!) London, England. I spent the past year there and got a wonderful opportunity to travel, experience life in another country, and take part in a very intense yearlong program. I studied art from a theoretical perspective and I’m pretty sure I died a little on the inside to be replaced by (mostly) dead, (mostly) French and German philosophers. My favorites include Walter Benjamin, Gilles Deleuze, and Michel Foucault, though there were many others (theory slut, I know). However, I’m originally from Upstate New York and went to Cornell for my undergraduate degree where I double majored in art history and archaeology (I had dreams of being Indiana Jones, and did actually go on an archaeological dig in Israel). I have been living in New York City, specifically Brooklyn, for two and a half years now and decided it was high time to write an art blog!

Originally, I wanted to be an artist. From as far back as I can remember it was always an artist or a dancer. I’m too tall to be a dancer and lack the passion to practice as compulsively as is necessary. I realized that one pretty early on. Also, I’m pathetically clumsy…I bump into everything, trip, etc…it’s not cute. Art, on the other hand, hung on through high school. But, I decided that I lack the proper depth of talent and a truly creative impulse. When I learned that I could write about art, it was like a new door opened. I was good at writing, theory made sense, and all of the visual, aesthetic, and symbolic pictures that I saw in everyday life I could translate and share through words. That’s how I arrived here. Art theory, art criticism, art history, these are all mine; a visual world made verbal, a translation from the eye to the intellect. I would like to share that with anyone who wants to read about it. I have many art related obsessions that I plan to explore here. Water towers, for one…I’m not quite sure where the fascination lies there. Maybe it’s the pure outdatedness of them (wonderful words like archaic, obsolete, obsolescence, and antiquated come to mind…and thesaurus.com) and the fact that they still stand tall on many NYC buildings, proud and unaware of their irrelevance. Maybe it’s the round shape among all the square façades and sharp edges, I don’t know. Another obsession is museum gift shops. I’d like to name that post “Exit Through the Gift Shop” but that would be a blatant plagiarism of Banksy, who brings me to another future blog post: graffiti. It’s everywhere, it’s been written about, but I’m gonna write about it too! The LES is covered in exquisite graffiti and public art and there are so many things to talk about there. There will also be many last minute exhibition reviews, which I will post about a week before the show closes because that is usually when I manage to go. Maybe some guest blogs from colleagues, and so on.

I hope anyone who stops by my page comes back soon and enjoys reading what I have to say and maybe decides to give museums and art a fighting chance since for so many people, they feel dusty and out-of-date. You’ll all have to forgive me if at times I become a bit theatrical and melodramatic. A year can change a girl. This past year was one of those for me. I moved to a different country, made a whole new group of friends from all over the world, maybe fell in love (?), and studied theory that shifted my way of thinking, derailing comfortable trains of thought forever and stretching my mind to the point that I physically hurt for the first two weeks…Now, I am back and it’s almost like nothing has changed. Same city, same type of dead-end restaurant job, same apartment, same routine, and yet, everything has changed. I feel like, for the past year, I have been sprinting up a hill that culminated in a month of intensity as I finished my dissertation. I lost my breath and all of my feeling. I reached the top, handed in my paper, and was done. Then, I came home and crashed. I fell to the earth gasping for air, dying, numb. Travel was over, I was out of money, I moved back to the city that had been my self-made home before the past year. I stood up on my mountain but was still bent in two, gasping for air. My lungs began to ache and my legs burned. The pain lessened but the lack of severity only made it more excruciating. I was in the exact same place I had started. A place I loved in a job I can no longer stand. I’m searching for the dream job, something in my field requiring at least a functioning brain. I feel like a different person but have come back to an apparently unchanged world. My moment of success as I topped my mountain has been shadowed as I look beyond the view and see another peak before me that I now must climb….like I said, melodramatic. Some might even say self-aggrandizing or masturbatory, but (what-ho!), I’ll try to reign it in, promise. To wrap up, here is a picture of me, isn’t that nice. Next week will bring more art stuff!

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(Photo credit to Sneha Sarcar, sorry for the lo-res quality)

P.S. ECLO stands for “Eyes Closed Legs Open” which is my own personal, cynical take on the place of women in art history, mainly the female nude. I thought that it might give people the wrong impression on what this blog is about, which I why I shortened it to the acronym. More of that to follow in future posts, weeeeeee!

 

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¿What’s The Meaning of This? A Last Minute Review

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Juan Sánchez ¿What’s The Meaning of This? exhibition opening, image courtesy of author

 

I first encountered Juan Sánchez’s art while I was an intern at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Cielo/Tierra/Esperanza (1990) was included in an exhibition put together by my supervising curator. Without any previous knowledge of the artist, his work, or the socio-political issues he was speaking to, I immediately fell in love with the piece. Then, once it was off the wall, I promptly forgot about it. If I had seen the research surrounding the exhibition and all the available information specific to that work, it would have stuck in my mind better. While I have a strictly visual memory, pictures in my mind are linked to concepts and opinions, which are strengthened by facts and tidbits. While I have only just remembered my first exposure to Sánchez’s unique and complex collage-style work, this exhibition and the subsequent research it encouraged me to conduct have claimed a place in my memory; this is both a show and artist I will not soon forget.

Juan Sánchez ¿What’s The Meaning of This? is on display at BRIC House in Brooklyn from November 6th – December 27th, 2015. Curated by the VP of Contemporary Art, Elizabeth Ferrer, the show takes up the entirety of BRIC’s 3,000-foot exhibition space and unabashedly commands the attention of any viewer that chooses to walk through it. Several of the pieces are large-scale and the visual field sublimely takes up the space before the viewer, drawing them into the symbolic and colorful world of the artist. These collages, or multi-media paintings, are a welcome respite from the cliché magazine clipping collages that I continuously encounter online on the pages of several less experienced artists, on the clothing of hip Brooklynites, and even on the postcard of a popular new bar/restaurant in the LES. The cliché collages mimic the cutting edge work of world war era Germany and the Dada movement, pioneered by artists like Raoul Hausman and Hannah Höch. While at the time, the pairing of fragmented bodies with machinery, words, and cultural curiosities spoke to the atrocities of war and living in a newly industrial and technological society, seeing it now, created anew in millennial New York, I always end up thinking “I’ve seen that before.” Judgmental and mean, I know, but I’ve accepted that as part of my life now. However, Sanchéz’s collages look new to me, even though several of the pieces that I like the most were created in the late ‘80s. They are full of bright colors and painted strokes that remind me of graffiti tags that cover the façades of New York, the multi-cultural and ethnic foods, patterns, and flags that symbolize the many neighborhoods and boroughs of a city that I’ve come to call home. The symbols, which range from religious to political to biological and cover each categorical facet, dot the canvas, showing up at surprising moments. A butterfly covers the eyes of an upside-down portrait in Mariposas, Marisposas y mas Maripsas (2014). Does it signify the death of the woman, since covering the eyes of the deceased is common in many cultures and the inversion of flags or images is often meant to be subversive or show a changed state? Each piece is different and draws more questions from my mind, from the catalogue of information – both art historical and cultural – that I have, and yet each piece is clearly connected by an aesthetic and thematic oeuvre that is created by the artist.

To begin to understand and verify the meanings that I came up with on my own, I began to research the work and opinions of Mr. Sánchez. The more that I read about him, the more I liked and agreed with him and thus the more I liked and agreed with his art. BRIC’s press release reveals that Sanchez was born in Brooklyn and raised by Puerto Rican-born parents. His art has a long history of speaking to race, religion, politics and cultural identity not only of immigrants and first generation Americans in New York but also to the countries and cultures that their ancestors came from. This is backed by short biographies provided by Hunter College – where Sánchez teaches – and the Met, MoMA, and the Whitney – which all include pieces of Sánchez’s art in their permanent collections. Further, an interview of Sánchez, conducted by Susan Canning includes some very thoughtful quotes by the artist, showing his strong views and opinions about art, culture, and the state of the world. For example: “The reality is that art has always been a reflection of society, it’s always been a reflection of a particular cultural entity…I think the ‘80s really reinforced and reaffirmed that art and politics are not really separate but that art is politics, that art is about society, about culture, about the rejuvenation and the evolution of humanity.”[1]

All of this left me wondering (as it inevitably does in any exhibition, be it at a museum, gallery, auction house, etc.) why is none of this information, this research that a quick Google search turned up, not made available by the gallery to the general public? There is, of course information on the website. A press release and two interviews are provided on BRIC’s website. A packet (or exhibition catalogue in other cases) that has a good amount of information, colored through the lens of the curator’s POV, is available on site. This is useful and important, but what about the wealth of information already available that lends insight beyond the thematic point of the show, beyond the aesthetics of the works on display, beyond the artist talks, and curated tours? Walking through the opening reception of ¿What’s The Meaning of This? I could see this deeper meaning symbolically laid out in the art, in the highly thought out placement of the pieces on the wall. Artworks next to, across from, and, as one curator I worked for put it, “speaking to” each other magnified the meaning found within these beautiful and powerful collages, but out of the dozens of people who walked through that space that night, drinking wine and eating cheese (staples at any opening, I assure you), and the hundreds that must have seen it between then and its rapidly approaching closing, how many could see what I see, what the curator and artist imagined?

My Master’s program was theory heavy, which means that I spent a year linking art to politics, economics, philosophy, linguistics, anything and everything because, to my mind and many others that dedicate their lives, talents, and passion to art and its study, art is a social practice deeply rooted in philosophy and theory where Marx’s economic theory holds as much import as Plato’s aesthetics. I see that every time I walk into a museum or gallery, but who else does? Who else, further, takes the time to search the artists they are viewing and to read the essays written on them, the interviews conducted, or at the very least, the gallery’s website? These questions are, to a degree, rhetorical, but they are not new to me and because of them, this show falls just short of what I want it to be. The art is exceptional and a retrospective of Juan Sánchez was way overdue. The exhibition was beautifully presented, well researched and demonstrates the undeniably impeccable taste of Elizabeth Ferrer. But, perhaps, in the future, BRIC and all other institutions could include on their site links to previous interviews and essays, whatever they used in their own research and anything additionally relevant that they found. Computers displaying articles and websites with information could be placed near the gallery space and books that are relevant to the show could be beside them. Granted the budget for non-profits is small and computers left in public spaces do not usually last long, but materials provided within the gallery have a better chance of being utilized. It is not guaranteed that many people will read this information, but it will at least be there, easily accessible and giving “art history goggles” to the general public who come to look at the beautiful and meaningful art on the walls of the white box.

[1] “Juan Sanchez Interviewed by Susan Canning,” in Interviews and Provocations: Conversations on Art, Culture, and Resistance, ed. Glen Harper (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1998), 78.