Saturday, February 4, 2012

Summer Art with a Conscience, 7/28/09

Summer Art with a Conscience, at the New Museum

In the summer, the art world reverts to a kind of school semester mentality. Galleries shut on Saturdays if they’re even open to the public (and even then, close altogether in August), and often mount group shows based on whimsical themes. Museums, however, are obliged to stay open and service the hordes of visitors, but even they may tend to show art of a less academic nature, such as photography, or graphic or industrial design. With featured installations by two artists, the New Museum has managed to strike a balance between preferred summer art mediums and a historically and politically relevant conscience. David Goldblatt’s photographs of apartheid/post-apartheid South Africa occupy two floors, and Emory Douglas’ graphic designs for the Black Panthers fill another.
Photo by David GoldblattGoldblatt, who received the Henri Cartier-Bresson Award recently, is a political photographer primarily by virtue of his shot selection that records absence as much as presence. His Jewish Lithuanian parents fled persecution in South Africa, making him an observer of an outsider’s world. The mere record he made is damning by itself, requiring little commentary except for description. On one floor of Intersections Intersected: The Photography of David Goldblatt, he juxtaposes large-scale color photographs with smaller black & white images, so that each pair creates a unique tension or dialogue. Many of the photos show the built consequences of resettlements, such as in-ground latrines, incomplete cinder-block encampments, a stone outline of a children’s game at a camp. While the encampments are now empty, it isn’t difficult to picture them filled with people plucked from their natural homes, interned and exiled. Others show people reacting to the consequences of events, such as a child standing near the graves of assassinated activists.
The artist implicates society’s failings in general in a series whose titles include the phrase “In the time of AIDS.” Of empty or sparsely populated vistas, buildings, businesses from the early 2000s, this series doesn’t specifically show things related to AIDS, but we are reminded that it hovers ominously, eroding the communal fabric all the time. A group of portraits from the ‘70s captures a broad range of people, often in domestic settings—a snapshot of a segregated society before the revolution. The show, which runs through October 11, was curated by Ulrich Loock, curator at Museu de Arte Contemporanea in Porto, Portugal.
Design by Emory DouglasSpeaking of revolution, Emory Douglas: Black Panther, through October 18, shows the artist’s large collection of posters and artwork done for the activist group in the 60s and 70s, curated by Sam Durant. Douglas designed (or oversaw the design of) the Black Panther, the group’s weekly newspaper published from 1967-1979. His style—bold, eye-catching, and powerful—embodied the tenor of the group’s activities, which evolved from political into community and government service. The exhibition shows the kind of power that can be channelled through a dynamic, cohesive graphic scheme. Many of Douglas’ images became icons of the movement.
The show’s title mural was painted by Rigo 23, who created a site-specific installation in the New Museum’s Shaft Project Space. The Deeper They Bury Me, The Louder My Voice Becomes is a facsimile of a restricted prison cell such as at Angola, where a number of political prisoners were held, at times unjustly. The isolated location (between floors in stair passage) helped to underscore even just an inkling of the experience.
After viewing these thought-provoking installations on the upper floors, it’s surreal to seeDorothy Iannone: Lioness installed on the ground floor, through October 18. The sole woman currently featured at the museum, her work—an exploration of her own sexuality and relationships, and a storyboard book of her courtship with artist Dieter Roth—feels self-indulgent in this context. The other featured artists make her self-examining work seem frivolous, even if it isn’t particularly unusual among artists.
Images: (top)David Goldblatt. After their funeral a child salutes the Cradock Four, Fort Calata, Matthew Goniwe, Secelo Mhlauli and Sparrow Mkonto, anti-apartheid activists who were assassinated by six members of the Security Police on 27 June 1985.  Cradock Eastern Cape. 20 July, 1985. Black and while photograph on matte paper. Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.
(bottom)Emory Douglas. February 17, 1970, offset lithograph. Collection of Alden and Mary Kimbrough. © 2009 Emory Douglas / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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