One of our dearest friends and greatest supporters has passed on. Having touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, a true teacher, a true master and one of the main reasons the gallery became a success. I salute you on your journey home Dr. Blair. xo
The documentary about the life and work of Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang makes its debut at Sundance this year. It centers around his 2015 project where he created a firework installation of a 1650ft ladder leading up to the sky.
Great interview in Artinfo with Samuel Levi Jones when his Studio Museum in Harlem solo show "Unbound" debuted.
BOOKWORM: SAMUEL LEVI JONES AT THE STUDIO MUSEUM IN HARLEM
BY MOSTAFA HEDDAYA
Hardcover books today are as much about sentimentality as they are about text, but the work of a young artist now on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem eschews textuality altogether for an aesthetic and material communion with these spined signifiers. Californian Samuel Levi Jones has taken over the three walls of the project space on the lower level of the Studio Museum in Harlem for “Unbound,” a small but compelling exhibition curated by Naima J. Keith.
Consisting of just three large works, Jones’s wall-mounted abstractions take as their source material the covers of hundreds of law books which the artist has ripped apart and refashioned into geometric patchworks. Motivated by national conversations on police brutality and the failures of the justice system, Jones, whose previous body of work used encyclopedias as a source material, turned to legal texts. But the only traces of language visible in the exhibition are those on the spines of the exhibition’s titular work, “Unbound,” the wall-mounted piece that anchors the space. “Unbound” is flanked on either side by two smaller works on canvas that display the deconstructed cover material, which varies between cardboard, paper, and canvas. Taken as a whole, the show is subtle yet expressive. In a recent conversation, the artist spoke with ARTINFO about his process and work.
Tell me a little about how you came to this site-specific project at the Studio Museum, and how it relates to the work you’ve done with books so far.
In terms of having a show, Naima [J. Keith] saw my work at the gallery I work with, Michelle Papillion in LA, and we started having a conversation about potentially having a show and it came down to me submitting a proposal. This was before they contacted me about the Wein prize, which is a separate thing, because people who have gotten the prize haven’t necessarily had a show there. That’s how it came to be.
In terms of working with the space and working with the material, the really large piece with the spines, titled “Unbound” — I wasn’t intending it to making it the size of the wall, but with it being a site-specific space it pushed me to make it much larger than I originally intended it to be. That piece is a continuation of a much smaller piece I made from spines. I made a piece from a set of spines from an encyclopedia, but it’s basically embedded in a wall, the spines themselves sewn together and embedded in a hole in the wall, and about half of it drapes off the wall.
I had considered making a larger piece with spines based upon that piece, and I came to the law books because I was really thinking about a lot of things, what happened around the country in terms of law and law enforcement and I immediately told myself I wanted to get a set of law books and work with those and see what they looked like visually, I really wanted to obtain the books. The first set of books I purchased was maybe about 500 books or so, and sort of a discovery because I had no idea what they were going to look like inside, on the outside they are all completely the same, the finish is the same, but underneath the material is completely different, from canvas-like material to paper-like material, which was really interesting. That was a discovery in and of itself and kind of a risk, so to speak, because I started acquiring the material thinking that’s what I was going to use for the show, and it just worked itself out.
You mentioned that national events relating to the justice system drove you to seek out the law books. Could you speak a little bit to the relationship between material and theoretical substance in your work?
A great deal of my work has been about encyclopedias, thinking about the framework of the encyclopedia as a power structure that controls information, thinking about who compiles that information and who has that information. Thinking specifically about information that has been left out, and intentionally left out. This cathartic process of deconstructing the materials as a stand-in for these structures that exist and reconstructing the materials to create something visually, to have dialogue about the sorts of things that are going on.
Would you consider this process with the materials as part of the work? And how did you get into working with books in the first place?
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that one is any better than the other. For me personally it’s interesting, this process of deconstructing the material, it’s this personal thing, my way of grappling with these things from personal experience. Thinking about the ways in which we navigate the systems we exist within. It started off with a portrait series sort of in response to Gerhard Richter’s "48 Portraits,” first shown in the 1972 Venice biennale. The images he used were from an encyclopedia, and my immediate response was to get a set of encyclopedias, and by chance the very first set I got was from 1972, this coincidental thing.
So what I did is I recycled the pages to make prints, and I would end up printing my own portraits of 24 men and 24 women that could have been represented that year [in the encyclopedia] and weren’t. They’re under-exposed and you can barely see them, when you first see them they’re like black squares until your eyes adjust. Then I started experimenting with the materials more... all these layers. That's how I came to the books. Once I skinned the books and saw what they looked like underneath they were very visually interesting to me, so I ended up experimenting with ways of putting them back together and ended up putting them on canvas.
The material is directly associated with the ideas that I originally started thinking about and working with, it's fortunate that they're visually interesting and can create a conversation. Pretty much anyone can relate to the material, it's very recognizable, a natural entryway into the work.
Let’s go back to what’s on view at the Studio Museum.
So the biggest and most obvious piece is “Unbound,” which is composed of spines from the law books, and those are sewn together with a sewing machine — I sew all the materials. And the piece “Don’t Feel Right” is the front covers and the back covers of “Unbound.” “Unbound” was an entirely new piece. The scale of it was made for the space; I actually sourced five different sets of law books to have enough material to make the piece, about 1,700 books. The others are the largest ones I’ve done on canvas, they were made to fit the space. The scale of the encyclopedias are usually built around the amount of books that are in a set of encyclopedias. In a set of law books there can be several hundred books, so it opens up the possibility of working at scale.
Was there anything within those books, which I understand are at least in part California State Supreme Court decisions?
I just ended up with those sets of books… the only significant part is that they are law books.
Your educational background is in photography — how does that inform your practice today?
Photography was my entryway into making, and I didn’t start making until I was in my early 20s. I picked up a camera, and was interested in framing things. Photography was a way of seeing things, and the work that I’m doing now is an extension of that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What a weekend, a successful opening for Derek Fordjour & Yashua Klos and an incredible time on the Kingdom Float designed and built by Lauren Halsey for the Martin Luther King Day Parade.
We have a store✨ edition of 50...inspired by our @artforum ad #cozy #likekerryjamesmarshallsays #buyblack #justintimeforMLKbday 💸💳✊🏾 #dearartworld sweatshirts @ papillionart.com/store 🎧 @sunnicolon #lonelystardust 👈🏾song on our blog #sunnicolón
A video posted by ✨PAPILLION✨ (@papillionart) on Jan 8, 2016 at 11:08pm PST
Zanetta Smith organized the TEDxCrenshaw event and I was very excited to be apart of it.
My talk was the "Art of Doing Good"
My favorite and LA's most popular florist Bloom and Plume has debuted their first calendar Shades of Blackness Volume 1 ... get your 2016 #naturalopulence now! PS...i'm my favorite month June! Beginning of summer!!!
The San Francisco Foundation has awarded Suné Woods the 2015 John Gutmann Photography Fellowship
A photo posted by ✨PAPILLION✨ (@papillionart) on Dec 21, 2015 at 3:56pm PST
The San Francisco Foundation Names Woods and Donovan Recipients of the 2015 John Gutmann Photography Fellowship
The San Francisco Foundation announced today that Suné Woods of Los Angeles and Dru Donovan of Brooklyn, NY are the recipients of the 2015 John Gutmann Photography Fellowship. The annual award is given to an emerging artist who exhibits professional accomplishment, serious artistic commitment, and financial need in the field of creative photography.
The prestigious award, established by the late photographer John Gutmann (1905-1998) and administered by The San Francisco Foundation, brings with it $5,000 each to support the development of Woods’ and Donovan’s creative work. Eminent photographers and curators Jim Goldberg, Reagan Louie and Leland Rice were this year’s jurors.
“This year’s nominees were all impressive and strong, making our choices difficult, as reflected in the decision to split the grant. I was impressed by the accomplishment and ambition of Suné Woods’ and Dru Donovan’s work. What ultimately persuaded me was both their work is at a tipping point. I am confident that the award will help them realize the full potential of their work,” said Reagan Louie, Gutmann Fellowship juror and photography professor at San Francisco Art Institute.
Suné Woods is interested in how language is emoted, guarded, and translated through the absence/presence of a physical body within cultural and social histories. Her work takes the form of multi-channel video installations, photographs, and collage. She also uses microsomal sites such as family to understand larger sociological phenomenon, imperialist mechanisms, and formations of knowledge. “Suné Woods’ deeply personal and transformative work is revelatory in its quietude,” said Jim Goldberg, photographer and member of Magnum Photos. “Her multimedia montages navigate presence and absence with touching directness and perceptive complexity, creating a new language that captivates through empathic synthesis.”
Woods received her BFA at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, 1997 and an MFA in photography from California College of the Arts in 2010. She has participated in residencies at Headlands Center of the Arts, Vermont Studio Center, and The Center for Photography at Woodstock. Woods is a recipient of the Visions from the New California initiative and will be in residence at Light Work in 2016.
“I’m thrilled and honored to receive the John Gutmann Photography Fellowship. This award will assist me with research materials and equipment for my practice. I am extremely grateful for this timely support”, said Woods.
Andy Robert has a public art installation on view now until January 31st at Full Haus in Los Angeles.
For Heavy Rain and Lightning, Andy Robert will turn Full Haus’s backyard into a sculpture park.
Robert’s sculptural work evokes places. This happens through found materials, words, as well as a sensitivity to the way a place can evoke another place. Through the overlapping of space and histories, Robert reflects on how people live in different locations. Some of these reflections, as in a discarded umbrella, focus on the quotidian. Others, skittles on concrete, refer to specific events that have unmistakable political dimensions.
In either case, Robert’s sculptures are poetic—at times lyrical, and at times concrete. It’s more like what Magritte did for the hat.
Heavy Rain and Lightning is Robert's first public art installation in Los Angeles.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
—Langston Hughes, Harlem, 1951
Sat down with Champion City Radio for an amazing conversation about art, my other dream job, music and more!
Derek Fordjour has a site specific installation on view now in New York City. Holland Cotter of the New York Times reviews his show. Very excited to debut new paintings from him in our January 2016 show!
Entering Derek Fordjour’s “Upper Room” from Madison Avenue is like changing planets. The small reception area in Robert Blumenthal’s third-floor gallery is carpeted with loose crushed stone, destabilizing underfoot; fragments of neon advertising signs hang from and lean against the walls. To the right, up two steps, a small door leads to a darkened larger space swathed, tent-style, in semisheer fabrics and burlap; the floor here is covered with packed earth. As your eyes adjust to the dimness you can make out tree trunks standing upright like tent poles. Wreaths of dried flowers are suspended from them.
This installation is partly autobiographical. Mr. Fordjour grew up in Memphis, a child of Ghanaian immigrants. “Upper Room” refers to places of worship: a prayer room in his family home and church revival meetings in forest clearings. Worship was intended to strengthen personal identity and safety-in-numbers solidarity, though powerful forces were set against this. A soundtrack of hymns plays in the gallery, but so does live audio from a police scanner in New York City, where the artist now lives. The installation’s atmosphere is one of menace rather than safety. It feels less like a place of communion than one of abandoned ritual. The dried flowers could easily be funeral wreaths.
Mr. Fordjour takes risks here: If he had overstated his basic image, or editorialized on it, the piece would have landed with a thud. He has trusted in the truth of materials to tell a story, and they do. “Upper Room” balances information and mystery. It comes out of personal history, but refers to larger ones, including the history of refugees who still live, destitute and unprotected, in the campgrounds that are streets of this rich city.