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Graciela Iturbide Catches the World Dreaming

Posted By Administration, Sunday, December 30, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Imagine a world where there are no judgments, no slurs or "bad" words; a place where women move in independence, where age and sexual orientation are moot; where time has adopted a different meter and language is a convergence of deeply understood gestures -- a transcendent place where past, future and present merge for one-sixtieth of a second.

This is no figment of the imagination. These are the truths that have taken form in photographer Graciela Iturbide's eye.

For more than 30 years, Iturbide has been working in the realms of dust, sweat, concrete, chain-link and bleaching sun, unearthing pride, self-confidence, love, eroticism, persistence, survival and the delicate process of self-definition in those who live in the ambiguity of the margins. Her gaze is without judgment, imbued with empathy, bringing the unseen into focus. In small villages in Mexico, she's absorbed the emotional push-pull of la frontera, which echoes again in the day-to-day rituals of East Los Angeles gangs. Near the border and in the inscrutable landscapes of Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, she's created photographs that eloquently capture what it means to occupy an undefined space, the land of the unnoticed or passed by.

Her images inhabit the province of dreams: The mundane is upended by a juxtaposition, an anachronism -- a woman in near silhouette, dressed in what appears to be a traditional costume, descends a hill into a spreading valley, improbably carrying a boom box. A simple tilt of the frame shifts the plane -- and our way of seeing the world and ourselves.

A student of photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo and perhaps most famous for a prodigious, alluring body of work made over six years in the remote village of Juchitán in Oaxaca, Iturbide, 65, has had a prolific career and has shown all over the world. This month, however, marks her first museum exhibition in Los Angeles. "Danza de la Cabrita (The Goat's Dance)" at the Getty Center contains nearly 140 pieces highlighting Iturbide's work in Mexico and the U.S. -- and the line in the sand that attempts to separate the overlapping lives she's found there. "The Mexican and the American Mexican," says Iturbide, "are marginal people -- on both sides of that line."

Her work expresses "the culture between the culture," says author Luis Rodriguez, who has also been pulled to the worlds that call to Iturbide -- Oaxaca and of course the East L.A. gangs he became famous for writing about in his memoir "Always Running." "It's the way I think of Mexico when I'm in Mexico City. You feel all the layers -- the ancient, the indigenous, the modern all coming together. Her photographs are borderless. Everything comes streaming over it. No border, no wall will stop that."

While her work reflects an amalgam of influences -- there are echoes of Mexican printmakers and muralists and a slithery sense of surrealism -- Iturbide has long been led by a deep certainty she can't consciously calibrate. "I like the surprise," she says, lighting on a padded bench in the Getty gallery, surrounded by almost four decades of work. Her short, spiked hair is slightly windblown, but her gaze is fixed -- she's the picture of calm given that she arrived only hours ago from Mexico City, just in time to see the last frame placed. "If I walk the streets in Rome, in Mexico, in Paris, for me the most important thing is the passion and the surprise that comes with it."

The surprises can be anywhere: on the street, in the tray, on a forgotten contact sheet where she discovers an image that had somehow eluded her. You could call the magic intuition, chance, luck. Echoing Cartier-Bresson and his decisive moment, she calls it "the necessary instant."

Much of Iturbide's life has been marked by necessary instants both tragic and transcendent. The oldest of 13 children born into an upper-middle-class family in Mexico City, Iturbide started on the road to a traditional life. She was married at 19 and soon had children. Still harboring creative desires, she enrolled at the Centro Universitario de Estudios Cinemagraphicos in 1969, thinking she would study screenwriting. In 1970, however, her daughter, Claudia, died suddenly at age 6. She found solace in a course in still photography taught by Álvarez Bravo. As luck or necessary instants would have it, she was the only pupil. Soon, she wasn't simply the student but the assistant-cum-apprentice, her "classes" conducted at Álvarez Bravo's home. "We talked about art and literature, music and painting," she says. "He'd put on Bach and we'd listen. And if I would say, 'Oh, Maestro, how would you make that print?' He would say: 'Kodak has literature in the package telling you how.' He was a special, special teacher. And for me there was no one in my life like that."

What she absorbed couldn't be taught precisely. It's what she felt in him, in his work: "I loved the poetry and the time of Manuel Álvarez Bravo. Mexican time. In his studio he had a piece of paper up that said, "A Tiempo." For me that was very important. You need to take it slow: to see slowly, to learn slowly. I work slowly."

She began collecting images close to home -- "fiestas in little towns," the street theater of Mexico City, "just one photograph of a fiesta, maybe another of the center."

But it was Juchitán that would unleash her. In 1979, the artist Francisco Toledo invited her to photograph the Zapotec women in his hometown, one of Mexico's oldest indigenous communities, where women are economically, politically and sexually self-governing. "In Juchitán it is not quite a matriarchy, but it is like one," she explains. "Because the woman is the center of the economy."

Far different from the rigid culture she grew up in around in Mexico City, this remote, ancient community showed Iturbide larger ways of being in and navigating the world. And with Toldeo as her calling card, she had no problem gaining entree.

Rose Shoshana, director of Santa Monica's Rose Gallery, who began exhibiting Iturbide in the early '90s, was early on struck by "the strength with which she photographed women. And seeing this dance that was going on between them. Really, there was no distance. They were doing this together."

One of her most iconic and frequently reproduced images -- "Our Lady of the Iguanas" -- features a regal Tehuana woman shot from below, with a cluster of iguanas, like a crown, on her head. She'd asked the woman, who had arrived at the market with the iguanas to sell, if she might make a portrait. "I took 12 frames, and only one of them was good, where the iguanas all looked up."

Perhaps such surprises are the reward of persistence wrapped with courtesy: For Iturbide it is "ask, never take." What's most important is "complicity with the people," that they be part of the writing of this story.

Journeys of discovery

PEERING into the folds of the culture, seeking out what was "hidden away," opened up a new avenue for thinking and working -- for good. "Juchitán opened my heart and opened my mind," she says. She's spent time among the Seri Indians in the Sonoran Desert and shooting goat-slaughtering rituals in Oaxaca. There have been journeys to Spain and Africa.

Over time, her work has scraped at sensitive skin, says Rubén Ortiz Torres, professor of photography at UC San Diego, for "both good and bad." "Graciela made these very poetic representations with a strong, subjective point of view, which at some point has been criticized as being too romanticized," says Ortiz. "But I have to say that . . . it might be true that she constructed a cliché, but it's a very difficult cliché to separate because it is seductive. And it probably has to do with her more than poetics or mysticism."

In various situations -- traveling with César Chávez and Dolores Huerta and migrant workers, slipping into the life of East L.A. gang culture -- she's been captivated by a visual conversation that loops back and forth between the Mexican in Mexico and the Mexican in America, observing how Mexico is imprinted on America.

"Cholos en Tijuana" depicts young Mexican boys mimicking the Mexican American cholo, down to the hairnet and the pleated trousers. In "Cholas, White Fence, East L.A.," the women of White Fence (some deaf) throw gang signs as they pose in front of figures from Mexican history -- Juarez, Zapata, Villa -- none of whom they recognize. "They thought they were mariachis," she says.

For all the proximity, the strength of the yearning embrace, there is vast distance between reality and fantasy: "These people live in the United States, but they have a nostalgia for Mexico," says Iturbide. "They have the Virgen de Guadalupe on tattoos and on the wall. It's everywhere. And it is incredible to me because . . . in Mexico, we have many problems -- we have poverty, no jobs -- but it is idealized here" in the U.S.

And the same holds for the Mexican nationals who long for the U.S. "Many, many Mexicans get turned back, but they come back again, again anyway," she says. "To come to the United States is like a dream. The only dream."

Iturbide has looked deeply into the dreams of her subjects, locating something essential they all share. Her images honor the transvestites of Juchitán, the cholas of East L.A. in all their theatrical self-presentation. "Identity" for them has a great elasticity, as she sees it. That is the gift of a life on the margins.

Iturbide's subjects "want to stand out," says the show's curator, Judith Keller. "They want to make a big statement. I think she admires that. She is certainly on the margins herself -- as woman, as a petite woman in the arts. There is a fearlessness and bravery and this determination to go where it is she needs to go to get the material she's interested in."

Perhaps that's what creates the startling, urgent yet difficult-to-pinpoint quality of her work, an element that shares close space with the beauty. It's that independent soul through which she navigates these worlds. "Photography is not objective. It's subjective," says Iturbide, engraving her story. "So Juchitán is my Juchitán, not Juchitán, and the United States is not the United States. It's my United States." Perhaps it's even that open, in-between space we call dreams: "We dream," she says, "and sometimes that dream is found in the streets. In life."
By Lynell George

For The Los Angeles Times

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With Bold Museum, A Virginia City Aims for Visibility

Posted By Administration, Saturday, December 29, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Since the 1980s, this old railroad and manufacturing city has been trying to transform itself into a magnet for white-collar families, who expect amenities like the ballet and symphonies.

The downtown area has been revitalized, and wine bars, boutiques and condominiums have replaced empty storefronts.

The latest addition is the new $66 million Art Museum of Western Virginia, one of the most expensive and controversial projects in the city's history. The museum's avant-garde architecture is a gamble intended to put Roanoke on the nation's cultural map.

Nationwide, other mid-size cities, including Milwaukee and Biloxi, Miss., hope similarly bold museums will revitalize their downtowns, replicating the success of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

"Bilbao really opened people's eye because it was visible on the worldwide stage," said Jim Hackney, an Atlanta fund-raiser for new museums.

The Roanoke museum's zinc, glass and steel spires rise like an abstract sculpture as workers prepare for an opening next November.

Designed by the Los Angeles architect Randall Stout, a protégé of Frank Gehry, the museum's architecture contrasts with the historic red-brick downtown with its farmers market, refurbished neon signs and faded billboards for powder-milk biscuits.

Detractors liken its architecture to the "wreck of the Flying Nun" or the crash of a flying saucer, a mishmash of jutting angles. They express fears of operating shortfalls if the museum fails to draw the projected 500 visitors a day. But many Roanoke leaders are betting that the museum will be an economic engine for this city of 92,500, strengthening its arts community and increasing tourism.

Pam Floyd, who recently opened a gallery in a former tattoo parlor, said the 82,000-square-foot museum, first proposed in 1999 to replace a smaller museum, is itself a work of art. "We knew that was going in across the street," Ms. Floyd said. "I wanted to be downtown when the arts are a growing presence."

Mayor Nelson Harris predicts that the new museum will draw people for repeated visits to this city, roughly halfway between Washington and Charlotte, N.C.

Georganne Bingham, the museum's executive director, wants to erase the perception that wealthy patrons foisted the museum on the city. She said modest admission fees of $7 to $9, school programs and family nights would attract local residents to the museum's 19th- and 20th-century American art and a special exhibit of Rembrandt paintings and etchings.

"Art museums are usually considered elitist," Ms. Bingham said, "but we're determined to break the feeling."

Mr. Stout, the architect, sees the museum as reflecting Appalachia's undulating hills, cascading waterfalls and linear rail lines. He said he thought it could contribute to the city's revival.

"I hate to think one building takes the heat for transforming an entire city," he said, "but I think it's a contributing factor to the cultural richness of the city."

Not everyone agrees.

"It looks kind of weird," said Brenda Gooden, a payroll clerk and lifelong resident of Roanoke. "And there's not much else here in Roanoke, so I doubt it'll be that much of a draw."

Michelle Bennett, who has worked for several local arts organizations, said many residents feared that the museum's capital campaign had drained Roanoke's art patrons, leaving little money for the building's operations and other causes.

"The money is so tight now," said Miki Overcast, a gallery owner. "I wonder what will happen when they have to pay the heating and air-conditioning bills."

John Reburn, whose gift shop is next to the new museum, said sentiment softened this summer as the building took shape.

"Because of my location, I get all of the nay-sayers and the happy museum people," Mr. Reburn said. "In the last few months, even the locals who were grumpy stare at it. It's like children: you have to hand it to them before they appreciate the gift."

The Milwaukee Museum of Art gained attention after a new pavilion designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava opened in May 2001.

Attendance surged initially, to nearly 540,000 in 2002 from 165,000 in 2000, before dropping to about 300,000 annually in recent years.

Russell Bowman, the museum's former director, said the $125 million pavilion helped residents see their working-class city in a more cosmopolitan light. But Mr. Bowman said he was not sure a building alone could transform a city into a tourist destination.

Curiosity seekers may come once, he said, but the trick is attracting repeat visitors.

"Certainly, the challenge is to keep the interest alive through programs, exhibitions and events," Mr. Bowman said.

Private donations are covering most of the cost of Roanoke's new museum. Officials said $51 million of the project's $66 million cost had been raised from about 175 arts patrons. A $3 million endowment for operations has also been acquired. City, state and federal governments are providing $12 million. The city also donated the museum's one-acre site, valued at $1.1 million.

Nicholas F. Taubman, a Roanoke native who is the United States ambassador to Romania, and his wife, Jenny, who heads the museum's capital campaign, contributed $25 million.

"I think the museum will be a hinge on which the economic future of downtown Roanoke will swing, as well as the region," Mr. Taubman said. "It's just the right thing in the right place."

Mr. Hackney, the Atlanta fund-raiser, said residents would embrace the new museum as it progressed from blueprints to steel beams. "People hated the Eiffel Tower when it first went up, and now it is cherished," he said. "I'm predicting the same turnaround in sentiment for Roanoke."
By Pamela J. Podger

For The New York Times

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Three Museums Seek Answers to Tough Questions

Posted By Administration, Sunday, December 23, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Even as some cultural organizations turned the page this year, opening new buildings (the New Museum of Contemporary Art on the Bowery, for example) or shifting strategies (Asia Society plans to build a contemporary art collection), others are in transition. Having backed out of an expansion of its Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue in 2006, the Whitney Museum of American Art says it is close to releasing a design by Renzo Piano for a new downtown site at the entrance to the High Line, the abandoned West Side elevated railway that is to become a park. But the museum's financial ability to sustain both sites is an open question.

The Dia Foundation, which shelved plans to move to the very same downtown site in 2006, is also hoping to recast its Manhattan identity. For now, its sprawling former factory in Beacon, N.Y., remains its anchor; Dia has been without a Manhattan bulwark since it shuttered its old four-story building on West 22nd Street in Chelsea in 2004. After losing both its longtime director and chief benefactor last year, Dia is seeking a new Manhattan home under the leadership of Jeffrey Weiss, formerly a curator at the National Gallery of Art.

The Smithsonian Institution has been under tough Congressional scrutiny since its top official resigned last spring in a scandal related to his personal expenditures. Even as it plans a National Museum of African American History and Culture, expected to cost about $400 million, it faces a shortfall, and many of its component museums are in a dire state of disrepair.

Here are a few of the wrinkles facing each institution as they try to map out a strategy in 2008.

A DOWNTOWN WHITNEY? Many in the art world were floored by the Whitney's decision in 2006 to shelve a $200 million expansion of its Madison Avenue home by Mr. Piano. The museum had fought long and hard for public approval, and Mr. Piano had repeatedly revised the design to allay objections by neighborhood residents.

All of this leaves the Whitney at the start of a building process that it had desperately hoped to have finished by now. What is more, the new location carries considerable risk. Will the museum find an audience in the meatpacking district? Will the adjacent High Line neighborhood develop the way the museum hopes? How will the existence of two comparably important sites affect the Whitney's identity and attendance figures?

Adam D. Weinberg, the Whitney's director, said the new site would enable the museum to plan sweeping exhibitions, show large-scale works and arrange outdoor installations. "Now we're able to fit everything in that we want to," he said, adding that with the discarded Piano plan, "we were having to make judicious cuts."

The project is expected to cost about $200 million, although Mr. Weinberg said it could be a "bit higher." Fund-raising is in the "quiet phase," he added, and while the city is expected to make a significant contribution, it has yet to set a figure.

(The Whitney's tiny Altria branch, at 120 Park Avenue, across from Grand Central Terminal, is expected to close sometime in 2008 because the Altria Group is phasing out its arts financing.)

Rumors have circulated that the Whitney might consider selling its 1966 building by Breuer, but Mr. Weinberg dismissed the idea. "That's not going to happen, because we love it," he said.

DIA CASTS ABOUT In a step that might be construed as progress, the Dia Foundation recently sold its remaining Chelsea exhibition space, which it shut in 2004, for about $38 million. Some money might go toward a new Manhattan location. Dia is so far limiting its search to existing buildings. "We're looking to ideally reclaim a disused historic space, which is true to the history of Dia and sites it has occupied since the 1970s," Mr. Weiss said. (Its Beacon site is a former Nabisco factory.)

The city urged the foundation to consider Governors Island, now envisaged as a budding cultural destination. But Dia officials said the site would only allow for buildings that were too small in scale. "It's hard to envision how that's going to evolve," Laura Raicovich, Dia's deputy director, said of the island's future.

Ideally the Dia wants a space that is 50,000 to 75,000 square feet. "We're pounding the pavement," Ms. Raicovich said. "It could be an old courthouse, it could be a former bathhouse."

Long known for sponsoring contemporary art projects across the country, Dia began presenting commissions and projects at the Hispanic Society of America in Washington Heights this fall.

Meanwhile the organization is adjusting to Mr. Weiss and Nathalie de Gunzburg, who became chairwoman in May. She succeeded Leonard Riggio, who abruptly resigned in 2006 upon learning that the institution's charismatic longtime director, Michael Govan, had taken the top job at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Mr. Riggio had financed most of Dia's Beacon space. While Mr. Riggio's donor shoes will be difficult to fill, Ms. Raicovich said, "there is a lot of enthusiasm on the board" for the Manhattan project.

SMITHSONIAN BLUES Congress, which finances 75 percent of the Smithsonian's $1 billion annual budget, has been pressuring the institution to get its house in order. In particular Congress wants it to stop relying on the federal government to repair its crumbling infrastructure and start raising money privately. In a Senate committee hearing this month Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, proposed a pilot matching program: Congress would appropriate $15 million in federal money once the Smithsonian raised $30 million on its own.

The main message was that the Smithsonian will have to start operating as other major museums do. A major step will be finding the right candidate to succeed Lawrence M. Small, who resigned as the Smithsonian secretary under pressure in March. The Smithsonian's Board of Regents is considering candidates who would be adept at competing for donors.

Institution-wide fund-raising is foreign to the Smithsonian's DNA, given that the organization's 19 museums have historically raised money separately for programs. Even if Senator Feinstein's match proposal comes through, the Smithsonian faces an enormous fund-raising burden. After last spring's money scandal, Congress does not plan to let up on the pressure. "We owe it to the Smithsonian to use every available resource at our disposal to clean up this mess," Ms. Feinstein said at this month's hearing.
By Robin Pogrebin

For The New York Times

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China Gets its First Contemporary Art Museum

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 20, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

This is the moment we have all been dreaming of," is how Lu Jie, director of the Long March Space, a not-for-profit gallery in Beijing, summed up the opening last month of the Ullens Center of Contemporary Art in the Chinese capital.

The new gallery is entirely funded by the Belgian foodstuffs baron Guy Ullens and his wife Myriam who have signed an eight-year renewable lease for a former munitions factory in the 798 district, an industrial complex built by Bauhaus-trained East German architects in the North-east of Beijing. This area is already home to nearly 100 Chinese and international galleries, not-for-profit spaces, bookshops, and cafés—a product of the phenomenal rise of Chinese contemporary art on global markets in recent years and the growing interest of regional and domestic collectors. However, it has lacked a proper art institution with the full complement of museum services: curators on staff, major exhibition programme, publications, and research facilities. The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) now fills that gap.

"UCCA will help shift the focus away from the art market," says Lu Jie. "Chinese art today is overproduced and overexposed. There are many very good artists working in China who are unknown. In the last month alone, 28 new art magazines launched in China—all of them

are market led; none of them contain any

art criticism."

Speaking at the press launch of UCCA, Colin Chinnery, deputy director and chief curator, voiced similar concerns: "There is a chronic lack of research on artists not embraced by the market [UCCA will set up the first archive in mainland China for contemporary art]. Despite the growing interest in Chinese contemporary art, most Western collectors are not really interested in buying Chinese art, they're interested in buying a piece of China."

As a result, only a handful of artists are known in the West—those whose paintings now sell for millions at auction. And the temptation to churn out work which appeals to rich, Western buyers can be hard to resist resulting in a vastly distorted impression of what is really happening on the ground. "Our job is to promote emerging artists. The $2m canvas is not for us. We want to show a lot of art produced in China," says Guy Ullens.

Engaging with China

Baron Guy Ullens comes from a Belgian diplomatic family first posted to China in the 1930s. He inherited a family business that refined sugar and grew seeds and made a fortune selling it for e1.2 billion in 1990. In 1985 he established a new company, Artal Group, which invested in the US, Europe and China and then bought WeightWatchers at a fraction of the price it achieved when it then went public. His collecting is eclectic: he began with antique Chinese art, including calligraphy, and also acquired an important group of Turner watercolours which he sold at Sotheby's in London on 4 July for £10.8m ($21.7m) to help fund UCCA. His focus now is on Chinese contemporary art and he owns some 1,500 works.

He says that when he first saw the factory which was to become UCCA (converted by French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte) he thought "it was made for an institution like the Guggenheim [who at one point was in discussions to establish an international outpost in the 798 district] but they wanted too much money from the Chinese government."

The Guggenheim offer was rejected; there is almost no State money for contemporary art in China. The senior members of the Politburo are nearly all trained engineers with little knowledge or affinity for art. If anything, their interest lies in architecture: landmark buildings by leading international firms are now under construction in Beijing for the summer Olympics. However the popularity of Chinese art abroad and Baron Ullens' offer to fund UCCA in its entirety proved hard to resist—as John McDonald of the Sydney Morning Herald puts it: "The Chinese have nothing to lose and everything to gain from

this venture."

Not that the baron is taking anything for granted: "At the moment we are under probation," he says. Having taken round a group of Chinese officials just before the press launch, he reported that: "Their initial feedback has been very positive." When asked if he'd like to move his entire collection (currently housed in a freeport in Geneva) to China, he replies: "Eventually, yes. But we can't push this. The dream of every collector is to find a home for his collection. To set up a major museum in Europe would have been impossible. Our dream is to achieve this in Beijing."

He remains cryptic on the subject of money, telling reporters only that all of the funding for UCCA has come from his own pocket. Recalling his attempts to raise funds from bankers, he says: "It was painful. They actually decreased my line of credit because they thought I was crazy." However he hopes "the institution will be financially independent within four to five years" and he has hired Virginia Ibbott, previously of Tate and the V&A in London, to set up a fund-raising friends group for UCCA—the first such initiative in China.

Opening gambit

UCCA's inaugural exhibition, "?'85 New Wave: the Birth of Chinese Contemporary Art", curated by the gallery's artistic director Fai Dawei, examines the art made in China from 1985 to 1995—the decade when artists broke with centuries of tradition and began to engage with the idea of the avant-garde. "Chinese artists saw Western art through black and white reproductions," says Hans Ulrich Obrist, of the Serpentine in London. "Joseph Beuys was incredibly influential in the 80s, as was Andy Warhol. This was a very important movement which is very little known in the West." The art on view represents the moment of contact, which all emerging national schools experience, when artists experiment with dominant international trends before finding their own vision. The work ranges from the abstract and figurative to the expressionist, and symbolist. There is even a home-grown version of Dada (Xiamen Dada). There was, according to Colin Chinnery "a diversity in the show which no longer exists in Chinese art today".

Displays includes an installation by Wu Shanzhuan who adopted the colour, form and style of the posters and slogans of the Cultural Revolution to express personal messages; Huang Yong Ping's Reptile, which consists of three washing machines and mountains of lint—a work first seen in the 1989 Pompidou exhibition "Magiciens de la Terre", and Fish Bed, by the artist Shen Yuan (Huang Yong Ping's wife), a disturbing work consisting of a plastic mattress filled with water in which five fish, deprived of oxygen, are slowly left to die. "The idea might have been an intuitive reaction to contemporary society, political life and the situation of living in a time when freedom was only limited to smaller spaces," writes the artist in the exhibition catalogue. The work was made in 1989, shortly before censorship began to affect every aspect of artists' lives: they moved their shows to basements and private apartments.

That UCCA is able to display these works at all in a country where freedom of expression is still highly curtailed is encouraging but traces of censorship are not hard to find.

A timeline which accompanies the exhibition informs visitors that "On 4 June 1989 martial law forces begin to clear out Tiananmen Square in the early morning", a disturbing euphemism for the massacre which took place that day. Another example is the wall text accompanying an installation of phone booths by Xiao Lu, an artist who famously fired a gun at her own artwork in 1989, which led the authorities to immediately close down the show where this occurred. It reopened only to be closed down again. In the wall text this is referred to simply as "the gun incident" with no further explanation.

Colin Chinnery explains that all exhibitions are vetted by the China International Exhibition Agency. "We submit everything to them and they submit our proposals to the Ministry of Culture. Catalogues go through the vetting process as well."

Will it succeed?

If UCCA is to succeed as a major international institution, Baron Ullens will need to grant his curators complete autonomy and he repeatedly assured the press that he will divorce himself from the running of the institution. The roster of upcoming exhibitions and new commissions is certainly impressive: the Walker Art Center's Huang Yong Ping retrospective "House of Oracles" opens in March 2008; Rebecca Horn will also get a solo show; while an exhibition drawn from the Baron's own collection will coincide with the Olympics next summer.

Whether the programme will attract sufficient crowds to generate the revenue needed to run the place remains to be seen. "How many people will come? Will it be popular? Who knows?" says Guy Ullens.

Dong Qiang, professor of French literature and art history at Peking University, says: "There is no real tradition of accepting contemporary art in China. It is all very new. The Chinese art history curriculum is still dominated by Gombrich." Professor Dong, who studied under Milan Kundera in Paris and has translated the works of Derrida and Deleuze into Mandarin, continues: "I think many Chinese will be indifferent to UCCA's venture, schools will not come here with spontaneity with their students as they might visit museums in the West but young artists will come."

Professor Dong also believes UCCA will galvanise local collectors: "The Chinese are very, very competitive. I think Chinese collectors will be jealous of UCCA and will want to do the same thing, they will launch their own spaces."

Collector Guan Yi who has the largest contemporary Chinese art collection within China (and is a lender to the opening UCCA show) has been talking for some time about creating a museum to display his vast holdings of paintings and installations. And telecoms entrepreneur Zhang Haoming (who owns the Beijing Art Now gallery) and who started buying Chinese contemporary art in 2002 has built a 1,700-square-metre private villa to display his growing collection. "What makes the Chinese scene so interesting is that everything moves so fast," says Hans Ulrich Obrist. In years to come, the opening of UCCA may be seen as one of the defining moments in Chinese art.
By Cristina Ruiz

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A Big Gift for the Met: The Arbus Archives

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Two years ago gallerygoers had a chance to discover the personal side of Diane Arbus in a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition to the portraits that made her famous — powerfully unsettling photographs of dwarfs, transvestites and everyday people — the Met filled librarylike rooms with her photographic equipment, pages from her diaries, books from her home and studio and family pictures.

Now the photographer's estate has presented this intimate chronicle of Arbus's life — her complete archives — to the Met as a gift, along with hundreds of early and unique photographs; negatives and contract prints of 7,500 rolls of film; and hundreds of glassine print sleeves that she personally annotated before her death by suicide in 1971.

At the same time, the museum has bought 20 of Arbus's most important photographs, including "Russian Midget Friends in a Living Room on 100th Street, N.Y.C." from 1963 and "Woman with a Veil on Fifth Avenue, N.Y.C." from 1968, from the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, which represents her estate. While the Met declined to say what it paid for the photographs, experts say they are worth at least $5 million. The gift of the archive is impossible to value, experts said.

Jeff L. Rosenheim, curator in the Met's department of photographs, predicted that the archive would be an enormous boon to scholars. "Generally this kind of material doesn't survive the artist," he said.

Unlike the belongings of artists who fade gradually from view, which are sometimes scattered, pilfered or lost, Arbus's effects were in some ways frozen in time when she committed suicide at 48. Quickly her life began to acquire a cult status paralleling that of her photography. (After her death her daughters, Amy and Doon, looked after their mother's estate.

Born into a wealthy family in New York, she married Allan Arbus when she was 18. The two ran a fashion photography business until 1959, when they began working on independent projects, many of which eventually found their way into magazines like Esquire and Harper's Bazaar.

What makes her portraits so unusual and so popular, as she once said, is that "nothing is ever what it seems." She photographed subjects from nudists and freaks and carnival performers to just plain faces on the street that compelled or intrigued her.

"These pictures ask more questions than they answer," Mr. Rosenheim said. "When you look at them, you almost feel as though you are having an interaction with the subject and the picture maker simultaneously. You are in a place where there is a lot of intimacy being shared."

Unlike many photographers with whom she overlapped, like Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Frank, Arbus would often meet a subject and form a long relationship, the diaries and date books show. It could take 10 years for her to produce her best photographs of that subject.

"Most of the artists of the period who photographed their subjects did not know them at all and did not wish to know them," Mr. Rosenheim said. "But Arbus worked so differently — she was a medium for a lot of people." He cited the famous 1970 portrait of Eddie Carmel, a performer who was known over the years as the "World's Biggest Cowboy" and later the Jewish giant. "That picture took 10 years to gestate," Mr. Rosenheim said.

Arbus was also very much a New York artist: Many of her subjects were people she had met in Central Park. "It couldn't be closer to home," Mr. Rosenheim said of the Met, a stone's throw from her old haunts.

For years the museum has pushed to expand its modern photography holdings. In 1994 it captured the archive of Walker Evans, including some 30,000 black-and-white negatives, 10,000 color transparencies, motion picture film from the late 1920s to the 1970s, original manuscripts, diaries, recordings of interviews and lectures and his personal library.

That archive also included ephemera like road signs and driftwood that Evans collected on walks on the beach near his Connecticut home toward the end of his life, when he was too infirm to hold a camera. "He also had an enormous correspondence and volumes of writings," Mr. Rosenheim said. "But his life was much longer than Arbus's."

Mr. Rosenheim said it took six years to catalog, conserve and make sense of the Evans archive. Even though he was one of the curators who helped organize "Diane Arbus Revelations," the traveling exhibition that stopped at the Met in 2005, he said he had not really had the chance to "dig deep" into her archival material, which starts in 1923.

His ultimate goal, he said, was "to present in an unfettered way the direct material from which Arbus created her work." Once the materials are cataloged, scholars will be able to have access to them.

"I need time to sit there with these volumes," Mr. Rosenheim said.
By Carol Vogel

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The Getty Center at 10: Still Aloof, yet Totally L.A.

Posted By Administration, Sunday, December 16, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

During much of the 1990s, as the Getty Center was rising on its Brentwood hilltop, a couple of stubborn questions dogged the hugely ambitious project: Would Richard Meier's design ever have anything meaningful to do with, or say about, the cityover which it loomed? Or would it exist as an expensive import, a vast collection of smooth enamel and rough travertine conjured up by a New York architect who looked west for commissions but east, to Europe and its Modernist past, for inspiration?

This weekend, as the $1.2-billion complex celebrates its 10th anniversary, those questions seem as relevant as ever.

In part that's because the answers keep changing. When Meier's design proposal was unveiled, the Getty was widely seen as an anomaly in Los Angeles, an effort to lend instant, old-fashioned respectability to an institution that craved it. Then, after it opened Dec. 16, 1997, the Getty surprised usby fitting in. And in the last couple of years it has begun to look like an anomaly all over again, though for a fresh set of reasons.

Looking back at the museum's changing reputation offers more than the chance to see how the relationships between a city and its most significant landmarks change over time. It also helps explain the various shifts -- many of them profound -- that have redefined the field of architecture, and the city of Los Angeles, over the last 10 years.

Architecture's leading figures have become global brand names, courted by commercial, governmental and cultural clients alike. L.A., for its part, has grown more vertical and noticeably denser -- and less white by the day. It takes most of its external cultural cues these days not from Europe or New York but from Latin America and Asia.

That's not to say we have given up entirely on the idea that some Old World glamour can save or redeem us. The biggest local museum commission since the Getty, the expansion and reconfiguration of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, went to Renzo Piano, 70, a talented and genteel architect who splits his time between Paris and Genoa, Italy. But the next music director of the L.A. Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel, is a 26-year-old from Venezuela. The new dean of the architecture department at USC is Qingyun Ma, a Shanghai architect who just turned 42. His counterpart at UCLA, 45-year-old Hitoshi Abe, arrived here in April from Sendai, Japan.

Though the Getty was a force for architectural and civic change, both as a model to follow and to react against, it was far from the only one. Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, among the most catalytic designs in architectural history, also opened in the fall of 1997 -- a triumph that helped get Gehry's stalled Walt Disney Concert Hall back on the track to completion.

Still, there is no question that the Getty Center permanently altered the way we think about new high-profile buildings here. The thumbnail version of its influence goes like this: The ways in which the complex successfully took advantage of L.A.'s climate, landscape and culture are worth copying; the ways in which it remained separate from the city, physically and symbolically, or tried to impose an inflexible approach to architecture better suited to Manhattan or Bauhaus-era Germany are worth avoiding.

Ultimately, however, exploring the question of the Getty's connection to Los Angeles raises another: In a global city as wildly diverse and prone to amnesia as this one, how do we define what fidelity to local context, to the spirit of a place, even means?

A curious choice

In 1984, Harold M. Williams, president of the Getty Trust, announced that the architect for its ambitious new headquarters, on 110 acres just west of the San Diego Freeway, would be Richard Meier, then 49. The choice was curious: To design a museum on a site detached and aloof from the quickly changing city below it, the Getty picked an architect whose work -- and whole professional persona, for that matter -- was often detached and aloof as well.

By sticking to an orthodox version of Modernism in an era of Disneyland eclecticism, Meier, throughout the 1970s and '80s, had at least won points for consistency and rigor. But his chiseled designs, seemingly allergic to color and humor in equal measure, appeared to exist in a vacuum, without any of the sense of social mission that had driven the European architects who inspired him. The purest examples of his work were exercises less in Modernism than in antisepticism.

A funny thing happened, though, after the complex opened: It seemed more relaxed and more comfortable in its spectacular setting than we might have guessed. Maybe it was all that travertine, which softened the edges of the architect's machine-like style. Maybe it was the way the center itself sprawled across its huge site. Or maybe Los Angeles culture seeped into the design because Meier -- and Michael Palladino, the architect who relocated here from New York in 1986 to run the project for Meier and never left -- spent so much time in the city as the project moved through more than a decade of gestation.

People got used to the idea, so alien at first, of leaving their cars at the bottom of the hill and taking a sleek tram to the museum at the top. Even Thierry Despont's galleries, lined with fabric panels in rich colors, didn't seem so fussy or aggressively handsome after a while.

The way Meier chose to break up the design, distributing more than 900,000 square feet of interior space among six separate buildings, some holding art and others a library and the Getty's various research arms, did reinforce the idea of the museum as campus -- corporate or collegiate, take your pick -- and as a rather sterile, self-contained world floating above the city. But it had the practical effect of creating a whole series of plazas between and around those distinct blocks of space, nearly every one providing a spot for a bench or a fountain or a remarkable view.

And if the central courtyard, with its 120-foot-long fountain edged by Mexican cypress trees, seemed like a quad -- a nostalgic reference not just to classical architecture but also to the idea of being sequestered in a safe, self-contained place of higher learning -- well, most of us enjoyed it all the more for that.

The design seemed reflective of Los Angeles architecture in another, almost paradoxical way. If the whole idea of L.A. art and architecture was to ignore the idea of fitting in, to reject slavish conformism, then wasn't the Getty a supreme example of precisely that attitude? Turning its back on the notion that it needed to match the spirit of Los Angeles in some prescribed way -- didn't that make it somehow truer to the city than a row of palm trees or a red-tile roof?

Perhaps more to the point, the Getty joined a long line of L.A. landmarks that sit at a dramatic remove from the city around them -- most notably Griffith Observatory and Dodger Stadium and houses by John Lautner, Pierre Koenig, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Ray Eames, and many others.

Different mission

In recent years, the role the Getty Center plays in the city's imagination has shifted once more. It hardly ranks as L.A.'s final stand-alone icon: Gehry's Disney Hall, which opened in 2003, and Thom Mayne's 2004 Caltrans building -- to pick two examples downtown -- proudly continued that tradition.

But in the last three or four years, we have embarked on a kind of high-profile architecture here that requires very different skills from those Meier displayed at the Getty. Instead of building new landmarks from scratch, architects are being asked to extend, restore or otherwise re-imagine existing ones.

The list of such designs includes recent expansions of the Getty Villa (2005) and Griffith Observatory (2006), along with plans for a third building by Cesar Pelli at the Pacific Design Center and Gehry's work on the mixed-use project soon to rise across from Disney Hall. Call it infill with an L.A. twist.

Few L.A. architects have the luxury now of dropping a prominent building onto a wide-open plot of land, let alone a billion-dollar collection of buildings onto a virgin hilltop. And as those changes accelerate, the magisterial and isolated Getty, created whole, begins to appear anomalous all over again.

Of course, this tension between standing apart from the city and in the midst of it, between indigenous and imported culture, has always been a defining feature -- maybe the defining feature -- of L.A. culture. Reviewing "The Long Embrace," Judith Freedman's new book about Raymond Chandler, in the New York Review of Books, Pico Iyer notes that Chandler, who was brought up in England and moved here in his mid-20s, "got hold of L.A. partly by always remaining at a distance from it."

"The sound that Chandler made his own was a mix of incantatory lyrical poetry and the rude vernacular of people who mocked all that such poetry traditionally described," Iyer writes.

The way the Getty has settled into the Los Angeles landscape over the last decade is a product of the same dynamic. The best sense of where the city stands, 10 years on, is to be found not just in the detached, Olympian architecture of the Getty itself or in the restless, organic local culture it seems to oppose, but in the relationship -- thoroughly intertwined by now -- between the two.
By Christopher Hawthorne

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Southern California Art? Look It Up

Posted By Administration, Sunday, December 16, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

In Los Angeles, Lyn Kienholz is known within the art world as a hostess extraordinaire. Since 1974, the year after her divorce from the Pop sculptor Ed Kienholz, she has entertained and connected countless California painters, sculptors, writers, politicians, and museum curators at her home in the Hollywood Hills.

Yet her target audience is often the world beyond Los Angeles, where she feels the work of California artists is underappreciated. Working through the California/ International Arts Foundation, which she set up in 1981, she has originated 13 shows of California artists and architects that have toured internationally, compiled dozens of artist interviews at her two Web sites, and helped organize and finance dozens of films, books, and shows.

Now, in her latest and perhaps most ambitious project, she is at work on an encyclopedia that aims to write Southern California into international art history. As yet untitled, it will document more than 600 artists who lived, worked and showed there between 1940 and 1980 as well as the salient galleries, art schools, exhibitions and art-related events of the period.

"There's so much written about L.A. and art, but it doesn't give the full story," Ms. Kienholz said in a telephone interview from her home office. "You need a place where you can go to one document and find everything."

The book will include virtually every artist who ever exhibited professionally in a museum, gallery or public space in Southern California, from San Diego to Santa Barbara and as far east as Claremont, between Jan. 1, 1940, and Dec. 31, 1979. Along with the usual suspects — John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, John Outterbridge, Betye Saar, Sam Francis and Robert Irwin — there are also figures one might not typically associate with the area, like the Surrealist photographer Man Ray, who was active in Los Angeles from 1940 to 1953, and the sculptor David Hammons, who lived there between 1963 and 1974.

Only a few decades ago the city's art profile was basically "la-la land," Ms. Kienholz said. "We were the laughing stock, because of the film business."

But in reality, she observed, the midcentury Los Angeles art scene was wildly inventive and exciting, as she learned in 1961, when, after moving to the area from Washington, she took a job at the front desk of the storied Ferus Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard in West Hollywood.

Ferus had been founded in 1957 by Mr. Kienholz and Walter Hopps, who later became the curator of the Pasadena Art Museum. During her first year there the gallery gave Andy Warhol his first solo show and drew a visit from police officers for exhibiting "Roxy's," a Kienholz assemblage that took viewers through the rooms of a surreal bordello populated by mannequins.

From 1965 to 1967, Artforum had its office upstairs, and throughout the decade there were many other galleries nearby, including the Huysman Gallery, the Rolf Nelson Gallery, Primus-Stuart Gallery, and the Ceeje Gallery. Around the corner on Melrose Avenue was the print publisher Gemini G.E.L., founded in 1966 by Ken Tyler, a master printer, and others.

"It was just fabulous," Ms. Kienholz said. "On Monday night you'd walk up and down La Cienega with your glass of wine, and go into the galleries."

A lot of the excitement, she said, arose from the sense of "no holds barred."

"The artists weren't conservative," she said. "It was all these funny guys who got off their surfboards and started making art, like Ken Price and Billy Al Bengston."

After marrying Mr. Kienholz in 1966 she became his office manager and studio assistant and also traveled widely with him abroad for his exhibitions. Along the way her outgoing personality helped her forge friendships with artists, curators, and collectors, and a powerful idea took hold.

"We'd travel, and people would say, 'There's no good art produced in Los Angeles,'" Ms. Kienholz said. "I'd say, 'But there's lots of good work.' It was a seed that grew."

In 1974 she was hired by Pontus Hulten, founding director of the Pompidou Center in Paris, then under construction, to establish a foundation that would acquire American artworks for the museum. That's when the idea for her foundation was born, she said. To finance it she sold Mr. Kienholz's notorious 1964 assemblage "Back Seat Dodge '38" to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where it is a defining highlight of the collection. (During her marriage she had bought it back from a collector at her husband's suggestion.)

Ms. Kienholz's first major show was an exhibition of large-scale California sculpture by Robert Arneson, Manuel Neri and others that opened at the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival in Los Angeles and later toured Europe. More exhibitions followed, including an early solo show for the architect Frank Gehry that toured Europe in 1990 and '91.

Armed by two grants from the Getty Foundation, she and Henry Hopkins, the former director of the Huysman Gallery and the retired director of the Armand Hammer Museum, instituted the L.A. Art History Project. Between 2002 and 2004 they investigated the records of dozens of local museums, galleries, artists and collectors. "Lyn was one of the people who really made us aware of the threat to these important historical materials," said Joan Weinstein, an associate director of the Getty Foundation who oversaw the project.

The impetus for the encyclopedia kicked in when she collaborated on "Los Angeles 1955-1985," a 2006 show at the Pompidou Center. Early on, she was asked to draw up a list of artists and was crushed when not all were included.

"On the way home from Paris once, I thought, 'What should I do so that everyone who should be recognized is recognized?'" she said. The answer seemed to be the encyclopedia.

Ms. Kienholz began her research by sitting down with a glass of wine and listing every artist she could recall and later brainstorming over more wine with friends. Later her associate Corinne Nelson gathered more names by combing through vintage issues of Art in America, Artforum and The Los Angeles Times.

In addition to the big names the encyclopedia will also include lesser-known figures whose careers began in the 1960s, like John Lincoln, whose drawings and paintings can suggest Jean Cocteau. From the 1970s, there are intriguing examples like the artist Bruce Houston, known for kitschy assemblages made from cake decorations and plastic toys, and Connie Zehr, a Minimalist installation artist who has often worked with sand and silk.

Ms. Kienholz is especially intrigued by midcentury custom car artists like the painter Kenneth Howard, known as Von Dutch, said to be the first to decorate the nose of a hot rod with flames. She will also include Tony Rosenthal, who set off a controversy in 1954 when he designed a 14-foot bronze for a new Police Department building that depicted in a highly abstract style a policeman protecting a family.

In October the Getty awarded her foundation another grant to document the little-known history of the city's African-American artists, many of whom will also appear in the book.

Each entry will contain an excerpt from a vintage review as well as two color images showing how each artist's work developed, provided that Ms. Kienholz and her assistants are able to track them down.

She intends to publish the encyclopedia sometime next summer, well before the next big European survey of Southern California art, "Time and Place: Los Angeles, 1958-1968," opens at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm in October.

"Many of us out here do know what went on, and what's going on," she said. "But the rest of the world is still learning."
By Carol Kino

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33 Ways to Say 'Black' and 'Box': An L.A. museum show of African American photography finds out just how volatile two simple words can be.

Posted By Administration, Sunday, December 9, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"Blacks In and Out of the Box." As rubrics go it seemed straightforward enough. It had a certain directness, but with enough play built in for a bit of interpretive wiggle room -- or so curators Jill Moniz and Lisa Henry thought.

When they settled on the title, which also worked as an organizing theme for their current photography exhibition at the California African American Museum, they weren't thinking poetically. They saw "the box" as a camera, the actual apparatus used to still a moment, provoke a narrative or cue critique. What they didn't quite count on was what artists would read between the title's lines, or how charged the words "blacks" and "box" in close proximity might be. "The artists were having these real expectations," says guest curator Lisa Henry. "They'd say, 'That's a weird title,' or, 'What do you mean?' "

There was a certain power in the words' juxtaposition: It was an incantation of sorts that pulled in an array of work from the show's 33 invited artists, an intergenerational roster that includes instantly recognizable names -- Charles Gaines, Betye Saar, Lorna Simpson -- and others to watch for. As Moniz and Henry began to consider the pieces collectively, they couldn't ignore a not-so-subtle thread that looped through many of the pieces and the emotional conversations that attended it.

What was the box? "Stereotypes." "A school of thought." "A niche." "The museum." "The brain." "Fear." "A frame." "Blackness . . . . "

The concentration of works that deliberated, deconstructed or dabbled in notions of identity gave Moniz pause. "I was shocked if not dismayed," she admits. "I wasn't thinking about blackness at all. Except that the artists were black."

The show, as she and Henry had conceived it, was to highlight California's groundbreaking photography traditions through the prism of African American artists, says Moniz, the museum's visual arts curator. Juxtaposed against rare historic images of African American life in California drawn from the Steve Turner collection, it would be not just a survey of black artists living or trained in California, but a way to root around, exploring the medium and how African Americans "commemorate or critique" it. The topic seemed wide open, but "the exception to the rule were the folks who didn't focus on race," she says. "Race is still at the forefront of people's thinking in terms of their artistic endeavors. I had expected something different on the whole."

Still, there was nothing monolithic about the responses. As the work was laid out end to end, grouped by aesthetics, not by racial charge, ultimately much of it spoke to the complexity of experience -- both in the pieces' ambition and their subject matter.

Carla Williams, 42

How she saw the box: "Art history, a particular kind of practice."

Williams is a San Francisco-based archivist, a portrait photographer who's been immersed in landscapes and the many ways in which race is literally inscribed there -- towns called "White Settlement," "Negro," "Squaw" and "Jap Road."

One of the pieces in the show, a landscape titled "Nigton, Texas" -- is at the core. Short for "Nigger Town," the settlement was founded in the late 1800s by a group of recently freed slaves and christened by a white rancher -- named, incredibly, Jim Crow. Nigton is still entirely African American, and the majority of those who live there don't want the name changed. "It's this, 'Well it's always been this way' thinking" -- played out again and again from town to town.

"It's also complicated by the fact that every reference to 'Negro' gets changed to something like 'Rolling Hills,' which erases the history entirely." It leaves her of two minds.

The elision is a bitter metaphor: "We had a huge multicultural movement in the '90s, then there was a complete reversal -- 'Aren't we past all of that?' So the discussion of identity, race is totally paramount. It's my entire focus."

Through assemblage, collage, video and all manner of hybrids, the works explore a washof themes: The names we call ourselves. The masks we wear. The legacy of ancestors. How we mark territory and how it marks us. Staring point-blank at excruciatingly painful history. Erasure and its antidote: writing yourself into being.

lauren woods, 28

How she saw the box: "The frame."

Relocating from Texas to San Francisco, filmmaker woods found herself searching -- "looking for my own reflection." Art school in the Bay Area was a shock after life in Texas. "I had to seek out a black experience," she says, both in the traditions of filmmaking and the communities themselves.

That quest laid the groundwork for "Outside of the . . . ," woods' 16mm/digital video hybrid, which she shot at a black arts flea market in Berkeley. Her camera wanders through the environment, focusing tightly on fine details -- mouths, noses, cheekbones -- its gaze almost like a caress.

"I felt uncomfortable bringing a camera in public shooting black people, because of the history of ethnographic and safari films," she says. "I had all those things in my head. And there was a certain pressure of not wanting to continue a certain tradition." But purpose cut through her ambivalence.

While woods calls the piece "ethnofictive," she realizes that her work is becoming more abstract and yet -- "Isn't it the million-dollar question? Am I a black artist or an artist who happens to be? I want to say it's moot but . . . ."

The show's cacophony of expression, of media and points of view, collectively speaks to the "African Americans as a monolith" canard that pervades so much of the media and consequently public thought. Step into the middle of it and it shatters the old notion of a people thinking in lock step, dreaming in unison.

Keba Armond Konte, 41

How he saw the box: "Boundaries that we put on ourselves, those roles and expectations."

Based in the Bay Area, Konte is a self-taught, self-guided artist. Inspired by his mother, a portrait photographer, early on he was picking up work photographing hip-hop artists, which would ultimately fund his world travels, chasing politics to South L.A. or South Africa.

"88 Pieces of Me: A Photo Memoir" is Konte's nonlinear spill of life reflections -- faded store fronts, staircases, musicians on the bandstand, tail fins cruising wide avenues -- photographs on wood saturated in dreamy hues of sepia and wistful, almost melancholy hints of blue. "I never had the desire to go to art school. Never had the inclination to have a job at a magazine. Early on I saw the bias in the media and the power of photography as the visual voice. I just wanted to generate my own stories, pursue my own leads.

"I've been out of the box for a long time. So I'm looking for more boxes to squash."

To dodge the identity issue would have been not just short-sighted, but a mistake, Moniz realized, particularly as themes began to emerge that were complicated by ethnicity. It isn't often that an institution can react in real time. But the push-pull of the discussion seemed essential, so, says Henry, "We decided to make it a part of the show." They opened it up, invited artists to write statements, address their impressions of the title, the metaphors each saw embedded in it.

Sifting through all of this, "grappling with the artists' understanding of what we meant by the title" not only further shaped the conversation, says Moniz, it seemed to be the very purpose of the show: creating dialogues between past and present, tradition and innovation, new skin ceding old.

Lewis Watts, 61

How he saw the box: "A niche."

Of late, Watts has taken to revisiting some old haunts, going back again and again, charting the changes. He's been interested in how cultural landscapes shift and how that process differs from place to place -- West Oakland, New Orleans, Harlem, "communities that wear their heart on their sleeve." Will the imprint of African American culture disappear, he asks, or is it something willful, clinging -- innate?

In his photos, he's made note of how a place has been marked by its inhabitants, how gentrification shades past and future. He's interested in the stories and characters that live inside the frame -- from the homeless/griot artist whose work he calls "genius" to a neighborhood whose gentrification he tracks by noting changes in the tiny details on a front door.

What happens when that history, those markings, are smudged out? "I'm just looking at how environment reflects history. So a lot of my work has been about things I know, and things I don't know yet."

As the discussion on the wall begat new ones, "the box" continued to be like a set of nesting dolls, one opened only to reveal another, and then another, slightly different.

Todd Gray, 53

How he saw the box: "Context. The Museum. Practice. Going against the grain."

"I had real problems with the title," says Gray. "To be honest I shook my head. Just the rhythm of it, 'blacks in and out of the box.' It wasn't a title that connotes seriousness. There was a catchiness to it that was more reminiscent to advertising jingles. And it was not necessarily ironic."He remained skeptical.

Gray, a professor of art at Cal State Long Beach, is known for being forthright. His 1984 piece "Support System," pitting a prizefighter against a high-rise, was a sharp metaphor for the artist's plight. "I'd gotten out of CalArts with a BFA and saw my friends exhibiting, and that wasn't happening with me," he says. "Now that is one of the great things about CalArts -- there is a strong emphasis on critical thinking and coming up with a solution: 'Why do I have to stay within the boundaries?' "

He plastered posters of his fighters along bus routes and significant cultural points around town. "I used prizefighters because they had to fight their way out of slavery, but what we have is economic slavery. And the most iconographic thing for that would be a high-rise."

Gray saw the same tension -- struggle, resistance, turning problems into solutions -- in the show. Most eloquently expressed, says Gray, was the "chameleon-like nature of the box. The box is practice -- classical and avant garde, just the idea of categorization; the generalities of the type of art that we, as African American artists, are going to make.You can't really corral the show, and I like its refusal to be corralled."

If you moor yourself in the gallery long enough, something exquisite happens, something that very much feels like a conversation, rising and falling, building momentum: Kendell M. Carter's video images of sidewalk break dancers juxtaposed against main-stage ballet jostle for attention while questioning hierarchies. The hundreds of faces on vellum that make up Carla Williams' "Women in My Family," fixing their gaze on their futures or smiling down at their legacy on their lap, feel keenly familiar. Gray's heavyweights poise themselves against glass-and-steel foes and you figure they have adrenaline on their side.

Floating off video soundtracks: saxophones, stump speeches, talking drums, wind chimes. And just out of the corner of your eye flashes the silent scroll ofApril Banks' digital montage "Parables of Freedom" -- racial epithets sped up so quickly that they almost register as subliminal.

The frames, those boxes, invoke historical imagery, echo vernacular, signify and carry on conversations on several levels simultaneously. They take us on journeys, refute the simplistic.

Taken together, "Blacks In and Out of the Box" is a body of work as complex as the mind and body itself. "It's celebrating, grappling with, proclaiming all of these different ways," says Henry. "I don't think of identity as being static, pinpointed, easily defined. I think we could look at the show as a first part of a conversation to be continued. To look at work not as a history lesson, but to see associations. Not trying to sum it up so completely."
By Lynell George

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Renaissance Mailolica and Chinese Contemporary Art Win Top Prizes

Posted By Administration, Thursday, December 6, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The 2007 Art Newspaper/AXA Art prize for the best exhibition catalogue published in the UK and Eire has been won by Xanto: Pottery Painter, Poet, Man of the Italian Renaissance by John Mallet, the catalogue of an exhibition held at the Wallace Collection, London. It was chosen for its sheer intellectual ambition, elegantly expressed, in putting Italian Renaissance pottery with the related poetry of the time. It vividly communicates the aesthetics, thought, and habits of the Renaissance through the scholarly study of one man and his art.

The second prize was awarded to The Real Thing: Contemporary Art from China by Simon Groom, Xu Zhen and Karen Smith. for the exhibition held at Tate Liverpool. This is a courageous publication that takes on art still in a very fluid situation, where speculation is rife, prices are rising with every auction season, but there is a lack of serious art criticism, publications or public reference collections. The catalogue acknowledges the problems and cross-cultural issues, avoids hyperbole and concentrates on getting the artists themselves to explain their work. The writing is clear and brief, which is not always the case with contemporary art catalogues.

Prizes were awarded to three more works. Encounters: Travel and Money in the Byzantine World by Eurydice S. Georganteli and Barrie Cook, published by the British Museum and Barber Institute, Birmingham, was admired for encompassing so much in such a small format. It is the product of profound numismatic scholarship, used to recount history in a lively way through the evidence of coinage. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: the Poem and its Illustrations by Robert Woof, Stephen Hebron, Seamus Perry, published by the Wordsworth Trust, has excellent essays and entries on the various editions of this poem, and lives up to the exceptionally high design and printing standards established by this small museum in the Lake District. Finally, Home and Garden: Paintings and Drawings of English, Middle Class, Urban Spaces 1914-2006 edited by David Dewing, published by the Geffrye Museum, London, appealed to the judges because this unpretentious book, with its well informed narratives about each painting, is in the tradition of studies of historic interiors, with the difference that the catalogue entries are by people who have personal experience of living like the people in the paintings, and often actually knew them.

The Art Newspaper/AXA Art exhibition award was set up in 2002 to compensate for the anomaly that, while exhibition catalogues are one of the most important parts of the art-book publishing industry, they are also the most neglected. They rarely get reviewed in the newspapers or literary journals even though they are often where the newest research and ideas get aired. They also reach a wider public than most ordinary art books. The Art Newspaper and AXA Art therefore felt that merit should be rewarded, and that over a few years the prize might even encourage good practice. In the past five years the prize has become recognised as a major publishing award.

The first prize is a cheque for £5,000 to the institution originating the exhibition and there are five other prizes, of advertising space in The Art Newspaper.

The judges this year were: Louisa Buck, this newspaper's contemporary art correspondent; James Lindow of AXA Art; Neil MacGregor, director, the British Museum; John Spurling, playwright; Grey Gowrie, former Minister for the Arts and chairman of Sotheby's and then the Arts Council; Simon Jervis, former director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and then of Historic Buildings, National Trust, and Anna Somers Cocks, Group Editorial Director of The Art Newspaper.
By Anna Somers Cocks

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This Year's Models: Searching for Fresh Approaches in Photography

Posted By Administration, Monday, November 26, 2007
Updated: Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bright letters announce "New Photography 2007" on a wall outside the Museum of Modern Art's photography galleries. Just inside is a room of vintage-looking black-and-white photographs. Contemporary photographers are showing a strong interest in early photography, so your first thought is that the curator has unearthed someone recycling the ideas and methods of Eadweard Muybridge, Alfred Stieglitz or Clarence White.

A detail of Berni Searle's "Approach," which is made up of seven prints.
But no. These are pictures by Muybridge, Stieglitz and White. Keep walking; the annual showcase of emerging photographers is in the next room. After that accidental spark of excitement, though, the show itself is something of a letdown.

"New Photography" is generally limited to three or four artists, which puts pressure on the chosen few to deliver something fresh. None of this year's photographers accomplish that. The one who comes the closest is Tanyth Berkeley, who lives in New York, has shown in Chelsea and was included in the 2005 edition of P.S. 1's "Greater New York."

Ms. Berkeley is from the Diane Arbus school: Her work involves a lot of social engineering. She identifies people on the street or subway, and over a period of time coaxes them into posing. (Arbus used urban parks as her hunting grounds.) Ms. Berkeley's art is often described as showcasing odd beauty or challenging stereotypes of female beauty.

"Grace in Window" features one of her favorite subjects, a woman who is either an albino or close to it. Posed with her eyes closed before a light-filled window, her eyelashes barely register. She looks like an ethereal alien.

Ms. Berkeley's full-length portraits are more complicated. Here the approach that got Arbus in trouble — exposing differences, which led to accusations of exploitation — raises the same issues. Her photographs of transgendered people completely abandon Arbus's carefully constructed empathy for the subject. Gazing becomes staring, possibly at pathology, given the people's extreme thinness and their evident fondness for surgical procedures.

Scott McFarland, who lives in Vancouver, uses digital techniques to create crystalline color photographs that depict unsettling tableaus and suggest uncanny narratives. Sound familiar?

Earlier this year MoMA mounted a retrospective of Jeff Wall, the master of the digitally enhanced (or fabricated) faux-narrative photograph and one of Vancouver's most famous artists. Mr. McFarland's picture of a young family watching a keeper feed porcupines at the Berlin Zoo could be a Wall from around 1989 or a student facsimile. (It's no surprise, then, to discover that Mr. McFarland once worked as Mr. Wall's assistant.)

Mr. McFarland's photographs of nature controlled by human beings — an orchard digitally manipulated to present all four seasons at once or a series merging different areas in a botanical garden — recall Thomas Struth. Mr. McFarland's aesthetic and techniques feel overly familiar and dated.

Serialization, a hallmark of late-20th-century art, is Berni Searle's focus. Ms. Searle, who lives in Cape Town, has photographed herself climbing up and down giant mounds of grape skins discarded after a vineyard harvest, and then joined the images in a long horizontal frieze. Another series uses crepe-paper silhouettes traced from family photographs and immersed in water as repeating motifs.

Ms. Searle is good at creating visual effects: the rhythm of the rising and falling grape-skin mounds; the sandstorm look of the crepe-paper silhouettes in water. But her conceptual basis feels weak, particularly when it is spelled out in hackneyed wall texts.

A consistently strong point of the "New Photography" series, including this edition, has been the international array of artists. But so far it has been weak in showcasing new developments and contextualizing contemporary photography within the collection, which helps explain the jarring transition from Stieglitz & Company to the current crop. You hate to be the spoiler, the insatiable art viewer constantly demanding that rush of something new. But when a show is called "New Photography 2007," you feel within your rights.

By Martha Schwendener

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