Friday, September 20, 2013

Last Call: James Turrell at the Guggenheim through September 25th

James Turrell, Aten Reign, 2013, Guggenheim Museum

James Turrell (b. 1943) makes art that requires long, drawn-out periods of concentration.  Do you think we can manage that in this hyper-active, ADD, Digital Age?  It's a stretch.  Aten Reign, on view in the rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum, needs about an hour of constant viewing to experience the complete cycle of color changes.

Informed by his Quaker background (the belief in receiving an "inner light" through individual meditation at meetings), Turrell seems to make secular environments that seduce us into a moment of visual - and perhaps spiritual - pleasure.  These installations illuminate shapes in contained spaces, sculpting interiors through directing radiance.  Aten Reign's slow, subtle spectacle of color transition increases our awareness of an architectural form created specifically for the Guggenheim's central rotunda. The tones change ever so slowly, asking us to be patient. To wait.

And so we wait, becoming increasingly mindful.  We wait to delight in the next magnificent hue, and we wait to embrace a fully conscious act of seeing in time and space.  

For more information on this exhibition and other Turrell projects, please watch an interview on Charlie Rose  wherein the artist explains his philosophies and ambitions.

And for an illuminating aural essay on eye-mind perception, please listen to Radiolab's podcast on color: (Season 10; Episode 13).

Aten Reign is Turrell's biggest museum installation so far.  He is still working on his colossal masterpiece, Roden Crater, in Flagstaff, Arizona, begun in 1979.  The Guggenheim's exhibition, James Turrell includes other works by the artist which belong to the museum's collection.

Concurrent with the Guggenheim exhibition, Turrell has two other shows in the US: 
James Turrell: Retrospective at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA, through April 6, 2014) and James Turrell: The Light Inside at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas (through September 22, 2013).

And now a word from Culture Grrl and Deborah Solomon on New York's WNYC.  Discotheque wedding cakes, anyone?

Shine on,
Beth New York

aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
New York Arts Exchange

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering Michael Richards on September 11th; Todd Stone Paints the WTC Site in 2012

It is that day again when our hearts are heavy remembering all who perished on that sun-filled September morning in 2001.  These last few weeks, I have worked with Rosalind Solomon to present her latest show in New York and all the time I have thought about working with Michael Richards on her show at the Grey Art Gallery, 25 years ago - so many lifetimes ago in a world transformed by the attack on the World Trade Center.

Sculptor Michael Rolando Richards died in the attack on September 11, 2001. At the time, he was enjoying a fellowship with World Views, an artist-in-residence program sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. He had been hard at work on his project, The Tuskegee Airmen, dedicated to the memory of the African-American air force who were segregated during World War II.

Michael Richards, Untitled, 1997. Tuskegee Airmen series.
Michael Richards (American, 1963-2001). Untitled, 1997.
 Fiberglass and resin with iron oxide. 72 x 24 x 19 in. (182.9 x 61 x 48.3 cm). 
Contemporary Art. Anonymous gift in honor of Michael Richards. 
Image courtesy Brooklyn Museum
Michael had attended an opening at the Grey Art Gallery on September 10, 2001 and then decided to head for his WTC studio on the 92nd floor in Manhattan to work.  Living in Rosedale, Queens at the time, he skipped the long commute home in favor of staying overnight in order to continue working into the wee hours of the morning. When the planes struck at 8:45 a.m., he might have been getting ready to go to work at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, where he was a freelance preparator.
That Richards was killed by an airplane piercing the body of a tall, trim tower seems eerily coincidental and almost mystical. Richards' well-known sculpture Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian,1999, features the artist's own tall, trim body as the full-length male figure standing straight and lifted off the floor by a slender pole. The gold resin body, clad in a military uniform, bears numerous small airplanes driven into the torso, their noses piercing the surface like the arrows buried into St. Sebastian's flesh as he became a martyr to his Christian faith.
The Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian, 1999
Michael Richards' faith was in humankind. He truly believed that our better angels would prevail - even in the face of political turmoil, bigotry, racism and injustice.  Curator Jorge Daniel Veneciano, who organized Richards' exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1996, pointed out that the artist's reference to flight worked on two levels: the flight away from repression and the flight toward redemption.
In a 1997 untitled sculpture of a male figure carrying a parachute pack on his back, the artist seems to speak of that dual experience. Here a Tuskegee Airman prepares for flight, focused on the mission and his survival. He willingly accepts the risk while he relies on his experience, skill and a parachute (a metaphor for community of support?) to see him through.  And yet, there is exhaustion in these faces and bodies.  Their patriotism may take them physically into the skies, but their souls remain grounded in despair. When will tolerance replace hatred and war?
Michael Richards, Are You Down?, Franconia Sculpture Park, 2000

Richards' life hardly touched Tuskegee, Alabama. Born in Brooklyn on August 2, 1963 to a Costa Rican mother and Jamaican father, Michael Richards lived in Kingston, Jamaica during his childhood. He graduated with honors from Excelsior High School and then returned to New York to pursue his undergraduate degree at Queens College, which he completed with distinction in 1985. He went on to earn a Master's Degree in Arts from New York University in 1991. While at NYU, Richards worked as a preparator at the university's Grey Art Gallery.
In 1993, Richards participated in the highly-coveted Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, followed by an Artists-in-the-Marketplace Program at the Bronx Museum of the Arts in 1994.
From 1995 to 1996, he participated in the Artist-in-Residence program at the Studio Museum of Harlem and The Space Program, run by The Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
In 2000, Richards received the Franconia Sculpture Park/Jerome Fellowship. Today, his project for the part Are You Down? is on display in this Minnesota park and has become the Michael Richards Memorial. It consists of three airmen (cast from Richards' body) sitting in a circle surrounding a target, facing outward. Originally created in fiberglass, Franconia hopes to raise enough money to cast the work in bronze in order to preserve the work in perpetuity.  A film about the project can be found here
The Tuskegee Airmen series highlights a squadron of African-American pilots in World War II--formally called the 332nd Fighter Group in the U.S. Army Air Corps--who were segregated from the other Army units. Despite this racist slight, the squadron excelled in its service to this country. Some sources have said that no airmen lost their lives on a mission during the war. This assertion has been challenged since 2006. However, in Richards' day, the reputation of the Tuskegee Airmen remained almost mythic--as Richards' works tend to be.
The name Tuskegee also brings up the association with the notorious syphilis experiment conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service from 1932 to 1972. Infecting African-American sharecroppers, the scientists wanted to observe this horribly destructive disease. Another example of racism in the United States, this experiment withheld penicillin (which became available in 1929) from its subjects. During the course of this experiment the wives and children of the subjects were infected, too.
Clearly, Tuskegee resonated with Michael Richards for a number reasons.
At the time of his death, Richards was working on Fallen Angel, a life-size piece based on his own torso that was meant to be positioned on the floor. Wings were attached to the back with one wing broken off and left on the floor. Today it serves as a metaphor for the artist’s life and death.
Executive Director of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in 2001, Liz Thompson noted that "He was so promising. He was on a tear." So true.
Today, we remember him for all that he was and all that he was meant to be. And we mourn the loss of a great artist and equally wonderful friend. A memorial was held at the Studio Museum of Harlem on September 23, 2001.

Known Extant Works:

  • Untitled (from Tuskegee Airmen), 1997, Booklyn Museum, NY
  • Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian, 1999.
  • Are You Down?, 2000, Franconia Sculpture Park, MN
  • Grey Art Gallery, New York University , New York
  • Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Aldrich Contemporary Museum, Ridgefield, CT
  • Studio Museum of Harlem, New York
  • Bronx Museum of Arts, New York
  • Miami Art Center, Miami, Florida
  • Franconia Sculpture Park, Franconia, Minnesota
  • Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City, New York
  • North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC
  • Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, IL
  • The Debeyard Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Artists' Space, New York
We still miss you, Michael.

Artist Todd Stone Remembers:

Todd Stone, 4 Raising, 2012

How can we adequate commemorate in art over 3,000 people who perished on September 11, 2001 in the World Trade Center towers, Shanksville, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon, plus those who died or live with chronic ailments because they worked at Ground Zero?   Todd Stone answered this question 11 years ago as he witnessed the attacks on the WTC towers from his studio in Lower Manhattan.  He recorded what he saw and he continues to record the rebirth of the site.   Recently he sent me a new image, 4 Raising, which interprets the shiny resilient surface and spirit of this new building at 150 Greenwich Street. 

Upon completion, the buildings at the former WTC should look like this:
A digital illustration of 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 WTC

To learn more about Todd Stone's September 11th series Witness and Downtown Rising, please visit his website: and read my review of his 2011 exhibition at 7 World Trade Center, which included poetry readings and other commemorative events.  A film of the events on August 27, 2011 entitled Witness Downtown Rising Renga premiered in March 2012.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Diane Radycki to sign her Paula Modersohn-Becker monograph on Tuesday, September 10th in Rizzoli's on 57th St, 5:30 - 7 pm

Please celebrate the publication of Paula Modernsohn-Becker: The First Modern Women Artist with its author Diane Radycki, director of the Payne Gallery and Associate Professor of Art History at Moravian College, on Tuesday, September 10th.  Professor Radycki will sign her fabulous book at Rizzoli Bookstore, 31 West 57th Street, from 5:30 pm to 7 pm.  (Click on this link to watch Professor Radycki lecture on Paula Modersohn-Becker's work.)

This new monograph is Radcyki's second book Modersohn-Becker.  Her first was the translation and annotation of PMB's letters. Four years ago Radycki published an article "Pictures of Flesh: Paula Modersohn-Becker and the Nude," in Women's Art Journal (Fall/Winter 2009), which now seems to be a preview of things to come.

Born on February 9, 1876 in Dresden, Paula Modersohn-Becker was the third child of seven born to the son of a university professor and the daughter of aristocrats. Her father worked for the railroad. In 1888, she moved with her family to Bremen, and in 1892, she took her first art lessons while visiting with an aunt in London.
After her trip to London, she completed her teacher-training studies and kept up with her art through private lessons (1893 to 1895). In 1896, she joined the Union of Berlin Women Artists. Two years later her life changed significantly. She moved in with a group of artists who resided in Worpswede, an artists' colony outside of Bremen. There she socialized with Fritz Mackensen (1866-1953), Henrich Vogeler (1872-1942) and Otto Modersohn (1865-1943). The sculptor Clara Westhoff (1875-1954) joined the group in 1899, and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) joined in 1900.
Paula and Clara became close friends. In 1900 they spent the first six months of the year together in Paris. Modersohn-Becker studied art at the Académie Colarossi and anatomy at the École des Beaux-Art. Westhoff studied sculpture with the great master Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Then they spent the summer together in Berlin.
Clara married Rainer on April 29, 1901; Paula married Otto on May 25, 1901. The Rilkes' only child, Ruth, was born in December 1901.
After a short period of estrangement, Paula and Clara reconciled in 1903, perhaps when Modernsohn-Becker spent February and March in Paris. Paula returned to Paris in 1905, again in February and March, and studied at the Académie Julian.
Paula Modersohn-Becker, Self-Portrait with Amber Necklace, 1906
oil on canvas, 24 x 18 inches
Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, Bremen, Germany
In February 1906, Modersohn-Becker packed her bags in Worpsweder and stole out of the house, much like Nora Helmer in Ibsen's A Doll's House (1879), to start her new life outside of her nuclear family.  Filled with ambition (rather than Nora's shame), Paula wanted to establish her own identity. Her Self-Portrait with Amber Necklace (1906) is among the few nude self-portraits that would set her apart from her female contemporaries. Painting the self nude was unusual among male artists, but among women artists almost unheard of (even though the female nude dominated art from the Renaissance forward).  
Paula Modersohn-Becker, Otto Modersohn Sleeping, 1906.
Diane Radycki writes that the sexual relationship between Modersohn-Becker and her husband was not consummated until five years after their wedding day - just before Modersohn-Becker took off for Paris. The marriage might be considered one of convenience for Otto Modersohn, who had become a widow shortly after the birth of his daughter Elsbeth.  Once married to Paula, Otto would have a mother for his child and a wife to serve his needs.  Eventually, Paula wanted out.
In June 1906, Otto Modersohn spends a week in Paris to plead for his wife's return to Worpswede. They lived together in Paris in September, in October  and the winter of 1907.  In March Paula knew she was pregnant. In April she was back in Worpswede. Paula Modersohn-Becker gave birth to her daughter Matilde on November 2.  Eighteen days later, the artist died of an embolism.  She was 31 years old.

Rainer Maria Rilke's poem "Requiem for a Friend," written one year after Modersohn-Becker's death, expresses his grief. Perhaps Rilke was in love with Modersohn-Becker and his wife Clara Westhoff.
Modersohn-Becker's daughter Matilde (Tillie) established the Paula Modersohn-Becker Foundation in 1978.  Matilde passed away twenty years later. The Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum was opened in Bremen in 1927. In May 2005, Jenny Holzer (b. 1950) installed For Paula Modersohn-Becker in the museum. The Otto Modersohn Museum is located in Fischerhude.

Radycki's book Paula Modersohn-Becker: The First Woman Artist is breathtakingly beautiful from cover to cover, enhanced by this art historian's engaging prose which draws us into the world of modern art at the turn of the twentieth century.  Radycki speculates that Modersohn-Becker might have met Picasso at the artist Ignacio Zuloaga's studio at a party in late April 1906 (p. 144). We imagine PMB in Montmartre and Montparnasse, at the avant-garde salons and among her friends in rural Germany - bristling with radical notions of the "new art."

I cannot imagine that this heartbreaking story will bypass Hollywood.  With the right actress and screenplay, PMB's star will most certainly rise again - and soon.

Best wishes for the new year - l'chaim,
Beth New York

aka Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D.
New York Arts Exchange

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rosalind Solomon: Selected Works at Fridman Gallery, September 10-17, 2013

Rosalind Solomon, Bananas, Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, 1980
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1980, 20 x 16 inches
Courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York

Rosalind Solomon: Selected Works at Fridman Gallery, September 10-17, 2013
opening from 6-10; artist's lecture at 7 pm 

New York Arts Exchange will tour the exhibition on Wednesday, September 11, 1 - 3 pm.
Visit: for details

Solomon is not an ethnographic photographer.  She is a revealer of truths filtered through personal experience and interpretation. Her next exhibition Rosalind Solomon: Selected Works at Fridman Gallery opens on Tuesday, September 10th.  The evening will include a rare opportunity to hear Ms Solomon discuss her work with a slide presentation and a screening of her awarding-winning film A Woman I Once Knew, named the Best Experimental Short at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival in 2010.

Rosalind Solomon, After 9/11, Self with Frozen Turkey, 2002
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 2003, 20 x 16 inches
Courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York

Born in Highland Park, Chicago in 1930, she followed the typical conventions of her generation: married well, had two children and perfected the roles that were required for upscale middle-class American women.  Although her husband resented any careerist moves on her part, she took up photography in earnest after a trip to Japan.  At the time, she was the regional director of the Experiment in International Living in Chattanooga, Tennessee, receiving students from abroad since 1961. In 1968 she traveled alone with a few useful phrases written in a book and a camera to communicate with her host family in Tokyo.  This occasion catalyzed her breakthrough. By 1969, she began to juggle her social and family obligations with a serious commitment to honing her skills in order to become a professional photographer. 

Then she finally cut loose in 1984 and established a studio living space right on the border of the emerging experimental art scene in the  East Village. When asked about this decision, Solomon remembers her mentor, American photographer Lisette Model's advice: “Lisette had strong convictions about everything. She gave blunt personal advice. The essence of what she said is: You are an artist. You must be selfish and not give too much time to others.”(Murphy)

An insatiable adventurer, Solomon is not adverse to taking risks that might endanger her life or her career.  She is our witness to the vast diversity of our contemporary cultural communities as she travels through India, Latin America, Israel and the deep South.  Whether photographing individuals or groups, she succeeds in capturing the essence of their humanity - that spark or spirit which connects us all.

Rosalind Solomon, Catalin Valentin's Lamb, Ancash, Peru, 1981
Gelatin silver print, printed c. 1985, 20 x 16 inches
Courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York

When asked about her preference for black and white photography, Solomon explains: “My challenge is not format or color, but deepening my perception and range of ideas. I am interested in making expressive pictures.  Black and white pictures work for me as poetry and metaphor in a way that color does not. I have tried color and I have tried digital. Neither gives me the sense of depth that I feel with black and white.” (Murphy)

Her allegiance to black and white print marks Solomon as a Model disciple (along with Diana Arbus, Larry Fink and many others).   And yet, she does not cultivate a signature look.  Instead she expresses her feeling for the subject through manipulating light and composition.  Sometime she works up high contrast and sometimes she diffuses the light, obscuring the imagery in a haunting web of integral parts. In this respect, Solomon’s body of work is highly original and difficult to categorize stylistically.

In 1988 Thomas Sokolowski (then director of the Grey Art Gallery at New York University, currently director of the Andy Warhol Museum) curated her solo exhibition Rosalind Solomon: Portraits in the Time of AIDS.  It took guts on both their parts to present this controversial body of work that spring.  Today the exhibition belongs to a landmark movement that also founded the annual December 1st “Day without Art,” which commemorates those lost to us from the AIDS. (In June-August 2013, Bruce Silverstein Gallery exhibited this historic series as Rosalind Solomon: Portraits in the Time of AIDS, 1988.)

Rosalind Solomon: Selected Works offers an opportunity to study the artist's range and to consider her more recent self-portraits within the context of her earlier photographs.  It's an intimate show, organized to stimulate conversations as, indeed, the works seem to converse among themselves--revealing truths on their own terms.


Beth S. Gersh-Nešić, interview with Rosalind Solomon, May 15, 2010.

Thomas Sokolowski  Rosalind Solomon: Portraits in the Time of AIDS, New York: Grey Art Gallery/NYU, 1988.  Chronology, Beth S. Gersh-Nešić.

Biography and Chronology, Bruce Silverstein Gallery.


Polish Shadow, Steidl 2006
Americans [1940-2006], Kunsthalle Wien, Gerald Matt, Peter Weiermair.
Chapalingas, 464 pages with 204 photographs by Rosalind Solomon, includes essays by Susanne Lange, Ingrid Sischy and Gabrielle Conrath-Scholl. Co-published by Steidl, Göttingen, Germany and Die Photographische Sammlung / SK Stiftung Kultur, Köln, Germany. 2003 (English, German and French.)
Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, California, 1986, Earthrites, Arthur Ollman
The Grey Gallery and New York University Study Center, New York, 1988, Portraits in the Time of AIDS, Thomas Sokolowski
Museo de Arte de Lima, Peru, 1996, El Peru Y Otros Lugares, Peru and Other Places, Natalia Majluf and Jorge Villacorta
Bilbao Bizkaia Kutxa, Bilbao, Spain, 1993, Desconnections
Etherton Gallery, Tucson, Ariz., Rosalind Solomon, Photographs 1976-1987
Ikona Photo Gallery, Venice, Italy, 1982, Rosalind Solomon, Peru, Ljerka Mifka
The Corcoran Gallery, 1980, Rosalind Solomon: Washington, Jane Livingston
United States Information Service, 1984, Rosalind Solomon: India, Will Stapp