Tuesday
Feb212017

ARTE: TALK STORY - How do you know when you meet a genius?

My first interview of the year! I spoke with Nishat Kurwa at Talk Story about my inspirations, influences and opened up about my recent 6 month sabbatical. You can read the full interview at this link bit.ly/2lW2JOt

 

Michelle Papillion's eponymous art business, Papillion Art, began around seven years ago as a pop-up experience in downtown LA. These days, the hub for her work is her gallery in the black cultural district of Leimert Park. But her mission is also manifested in projects like the magnificent float she commissioned for LA's Martin Luther King Day parade last year: experiments in community-driven, place-based art. Papillion curates sculpture, painting, video and other forms of installation, and has garnered attention in the art world for presenting innovative emerging artists with an eye for the spectacular. Sometimes, though, art critics have lazily oversimplified her work, a problem she pondered while on a recent six-month sabbatical.

Is there a specific gap in the industry that you were hoping to address by opening Papillion?

When I started I wasn’t trying to address anything. The thing that I didn’t imagine happening is, my voice and my identity was kind of hijacked because I’m black and I’m a woman, and I’m young. I look at my contemporaries that are white, and they’re able to do what they want to do without the objectiveness of it being a “liberating” or “special” thing. They’re doing what they want.


I noticed that when I embarked on doing what I wanted to do, in art and in my space, there was always this thing like, “Do you know that you’re black, and you’re female, and that you’re showing artists who are black, and women artists?” And in my mind, I’m like, “I’m just participating in the art world, talking about things I want to talk about.” I felt like the Other once the rest of the world started putting those boxes around it. 

I went on this break in the summer of 2016 because I didn’t realize how burned out I was, and a lot of things were happening in our country and the world. I like to refer to it as a transitional moment, not just for myself but the entire world. And I needed a break from all of those boxes of being black, being a woman. You carry a lot on you day to day, running a business, trying to stay true to the agenda, which for me, is always like, “Art is for everyone.” 

What are some of the strategies you used to navigate the expectations imposed on you by the art world or the press? 

I think about that a great deal, and I don’t know if have an answer for that. But I’m still leaning towards the perspective of, “Do I feel like I’m contributing in a way that is more important than being in these boxes?” Obviously I have a way that I perceive myself and my work. Do I feel that the work that I’m doing is more important than the perception of what others may think about it? I love that I can work with artists, support artists, work with community, support community, and give platform, voice, opportunity to things that are not represented in art worlds or in media or anywhere. I guess I’m sort of like, “Whatever boxes we may be existing in, I’m not sure if we’ll ever not be in.” But…I think the work that I’m doing is more important than thinking about the boxes.

Describe a specific show or initiative that’s aligned with the mission you set out with. 

I was flash backing to a project we did last year, where we participated in the (Martin Luther King Day) parade with an artist named Lauren Halsey, and she built a float for us. I was looking at all these photos and video from that day, and that was the moment I realized that we’re really throwing grains in the life of this community that we’re in, which is South Central, South LA, Leimert Park. That felt like a 100 percent collaboration between us, the artists, and the neighborhood. All three of those things came together and made something really beautiful and special. And I think when I’m working in that way, that’s when it feels right, and works itself out in a way that can be successful, even if it’s not how we planned it. 

The one “aha!” moment during the sabbatical was: my business is really people. Art is the vehicle that drives the ideas of it, but what I enjoy and love the most is servicing people. It was a big breakthrough for me, because it allowed me to think about the business going forward, and how can we be more experimental, how can we broaden the spectrum for people who can’t visit the physical gallery, how do we expand outside the space, do more. 

What are the cues that help you recognize the “genius factor” in an artist? 

I have a little formula. I guess the first thing that I’m looking for is that they have something important to add to humanity. I think of my work in terms of the future, like: legacy. When I visit an artist for the first time, I’m thinking, “Where will this artist be in 5, 10, 25 years from now?” I always say if I do two studio visits,  the first visit is like, “Let’s see this art, what it’s about, is it good, is it not?” But the second visit, if I’m there, I already believe in the art — I need to now believe in the artist. I just spend the time really investigating who the individual is, the moral compass that they built upon. What are they saying, what do they think about the world that we live in now? When I start investigating in that way, it allows me to figure out if they have that thing that I call the “genius factor.” And if I feel that, then, yes this person does have the genius factor, maybe they’re not at that point today, but they’ll get there eventually. Maybe I can help develop that, or introduce them to the art world, or give them a platform for visibility for their career.

I’m looking for artists that, when we’re all gone and someone opens a textbook, and they’re like, “What was 2016 like?” — these are artists that are documenting the times, but also looking for ways to confront the abnormal things about the world, the beautiful things about the world, all the nuances that are happening on a daily basis, artists who are critically talking about those things.

Tell me about a moment of transition in your career and a piece of advice you received that helped you navigate it. 

When I first started in 2010, I didn’t really have the plan or focus to start anything. I had an idea for an exhibition that I thought was just going to be a pop-up shop, or a pop-up show. That first show was really successful, surprisingly. I was shocked and I decided to do another thing, and that worked out, and then another — and then a year had passed, and this pop-up idea was still around.

But I think around there was a transition moment around year three where I was like, “Wait, we have something here, and I should be more serious, and more focused, and more together about what the mission of the space really is, and where it can go.” At the time, we were at the outskirts of downtown LA, and there was really nothing else around. I decided to go to Leimert Park, and at the time, all of the businesses were longstanding mom and pop, family-owned shops that had been there a really long time. The Leimert space was my attempt at thinking more seriously about what I wanted to do, not just with my business, but also with my life, and be devoted to something that is my passion in a way that I could do until I die. 

I had one of the greatest individuals in art as my mentor, someone who’s sort of a living legend and an icon, and that was Jeffrey Deitch. Jeffrey moved to Los Angeles the same year that I started my business, and he got to see it literally from the beginning and saw the changes. And he saw me changing as well.

He was very instrumental in mentoring me at that time of transition, and he was planting the seeds of “You could do something special if you really buckled down, applied yourself, and got serious with it.” I felt like, well, if Jeffrey Deitch feels like this little thing that I have on the outskirts of downtown could be something, then maybe I should try. He was very encouraging during that time, giving advice, and being very practical too. I could run things by him, and he was able to give next steps on, “This is a good idea, this is something “ — he was very hands-on with me during that time. The things that I learned from him were invaluable.

Sunday
Jan152017

ARTE: LANA FUTURA

Celebrating our dear friend LANA FUTURA.  I first met Katharina when her and Shawana Davis came by the gallery in 2011.  It was still P.I.A. back than and we were still in the downtown space.  That day they came over and we chatted about ways to collaborate the Be Beautiful Project was born out of that visit.  When the the exhibition opened it was a special night for all of us.  Pretl who went by the name Lana Futura in her art career was a special soul and will be deeply missed. 

You can support this artist by donating here gofundme.com/katharinas-fund

Thank you to Kawai Matthews of Air Philosophy who also was apart of the Be Beautiful Project and who made the tribute for LANA
Tuesday
Jan102017

ARTE: PERRIER ARTXTRA

Very happy to serve on the advisory board for Perrier's new art initivative ARTXTRA

"At Perrier, extraordinary art has always been a part of who we are. That’s why throughout the years, we’ve partnered with extraordinary artists in a variety of ways. This year we introduced ARTXTRA, an art program which took our partnership with art even further. Through the ARTXTRA Advisory Board, a panel of experts from across the art world, we selected three artists to showcase their art, one of whom would reimagine and design our new limited edition bottles and cans based on your votes. You voted and we’re proud to announce our Artist of the Year."

The ARTXTRA program will also support the selected emerging artist with a stipend for a year as the new label is commissioned and completed.  Saya Woolfalk, HOTTEA and Hayal Pozanti are the artists nominated that the audience (you) get to vote for! Visit perrier.tumblr.com/artxtra to find out more.

 

Tuesday
Nov082016

ARTE: ARTIST TALK WITH TISA BRYANT & SUNE' WOODS

A conversation between writer/professor Tisa Bryant and artist Suné Woods during her solo exhibition To Sleep With Terra. They discuss Woods process, UFO and ailen life, Charles Burnett and other influences on her work.

Saturday
Oct292016

ARTE: KEEP SAILING

Petra Collins directs a short film with Lil Yachty

Monday
Oct032016

ARTE: Mykki Blanco x Zoe Leonard

"“I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two evils”. These are words published nearly 25 years ago by American artist and prominent Aids activist Zoe Leonard in her poem I Want A Dyke For President. In 2016, as we watch Hillary Clinton and, unbelievably, Donald Trump battle it out for control of America, as xenophobic politicians helped the United Kingdom leave the EU, as Russian bombs drop on Syria, the poem – that aggressively questions the violent banality of our elected politicians – remains as relevant and striking as ever."

Tuesday
Sep272016

ARTE: INSECURE

So excited to see the new HBO comedy series "Insecure" by Issa Rae.  We've been fans of Issa since the early days of Awkward Black Girl.  The director Melina Matsoukas brought me in to consult on art for the show.  The show premieres on HBO October 9th, but if your an HBO GO or HBO Now subscriber than you can catch the first episode now. I've seen it and its soooooooo good.

 

 

Saturday
Jul092016

ARTE: WOW

Beck - WOW

Monday
Jul042016

ARTE: JESSE WILLIAMS

Peace peace. Thank you, Debra. Thank you, BET. Thank you 
Nate Parker, Harry and Debbie Allen for participating in that.

Before we get into it, I just want to say I brought my parents out 
tonight. I just want to thank them for being here, for teaching me to 
focus on comprehension over career, and that they make sure I 
learn what the schools were afraid to teach us. 
And also thank my amazing wife for changing my life.

Now, this award - this is not for me. This is for the real organizers 
all over the country, the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the 
struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are 
realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us 
cannot stand if we do.

It's kind of basic mathematics - the more we learn about who we 
are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.

Now, this is also in particular for the black women in particular 
who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone 
before themselves. We can and will do better for you.

Now, what we've been doing is looking at the data and we know that 
police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white 
people everyday. So what's going to happen is we are going to have 
equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure 
their function and ours.

Now... I got more y'all - yesterday would have been young 
Tamir Rice's 14th birthday so I don't want to hear anymore about 
how far we've come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on 
12 year old playing alone in the park in broad daylight, killing him on 
television and then going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd 
how it's so much better to live in 2012 than it is to live in 1612, or 
1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to 
Darrien Hunt.

Now the thing is, though, all of us in here getting money - that alone 
isn't gonna stop this. Alright, now dedicating our lives, dedicating 
our lives to getting money just to give it right back for someone's 
brand on our body when we spent centuries praying with brands on 
our bodies, and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies.

There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the 
front lines of. There has been no job we haven't done. There is no 
tax they haven't levied against us - and we've paid all of them. But 
freedom is somehow always conditional here. "You're free," they 
keep telling us. But she would have been alive if she hadn't acted 
so... free.

Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter, but you know what, 
though, the hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.

And let's get a couple things straight, just a little sidenote: the 
burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That's not 
our job, alright; stop with all that. If you have a critique for the 
resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established 
record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest—if you 
have no interest in equal rights for black people, then do not make 
suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

We've been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and 
we're done watching and waiting while this invention called 
whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight 
and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our 
entertainment like oil - black gold, ghettoizing and demeaning our 
creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying 
us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of 
strange fruit. The thing is though... the thing is that 

JUST BECAUSE WE'RE MAGIC... DOESN'T MEAN WE'RE NOT REAL 
Thank You.

Wednesday
Jun082016

ARTE: LAKISHA

Kilo Kish has a new video to my favorite song on RRT, "Hello, Lakisha" video is a collaboration with artist Yong oh Kim. She also has a performance in Moscow this week June 10th at the Strelka Institute, catch it if your there!

 

Tuesday
Jun072016

ARTE: Orpheus & Eurydice

One of my favorite films is the Brazilian "Black Orpheus" Gia Coppola does a film for Vogue by Gucci chronocling the myth.

 

Sunday
May292016

ARTE: SMASHD/ She Made It

Smashd presents “She Made It” a new original series which gives you an inside look at the authentic and inspiring stories of female entrepreneurs.

Friday
May272016

ARTE: Rebuild Foundation

Andre Wagner has a wonderful photo in the benefit auction for Theaster Gates Rebuild Foundation.  Click below to visit the auction and to buy tickets to the summer party!

Wednesday
May182016

ARTE: Suné Woods solo show at SF Camerawork

Suné Woods is the 2016 Baum Award winner for an emerging American photographer. The show is on view in San Francisco until June 25th at SF Camerawork

Sunday
May012016

ARTE: Khalil Joseph x Lemonade

The trailer for the Kahlil Joseph film Lemonade for Beyonce.  Kahlil and his late brother Noah Davis have an exhibition on view now at the Frye Museum

Monday
Apr182016

ARTE: NEWSMAKER

Featured in Modern Painters magazine April issue. Read the article online at Artinfo

Friday
Apr082016

ARTE: BOW DOWN

Lakwena takes over Shoreditch Boxpark with UP IN THE AIR and BIG UP!

UP IN THE AIR

The immersice installation continues Lakwena's expoliration into the use of decoration in worship and myth-making.  Here she juxtaposes a contemporary expression of the sacred with the intrinsically commercial and transient surroundings of BOXPARK re-appropriating a space synonymous with commerce and entertainment to create an intimate place of praise.

In her "box" unit #26 you can read the text "Throw your hands up in the air" painted across the walls and ceiling.  The phrase "bow down" in large silver vinyl letters is on the floor.  In the outdoor upstairs area of Box Park she has an outdoor installation with text that reads "Shout Out"


Thursday
Mar242016

ARTE: W MAGAZINE

Check out Zoë Buckman in the April issue of W Mag as she discusses her solo show Every Curve! On newsstands now!!

Wednesday
Mar232016

ARTE: Rising Stars

OZY featured me under there Rising Stars column!!!!

Boy, can artist Derek Fordjour remember the first time he met Michelle Papillion. They were in a room full of big names and up-and-comers at the estate of a very important Black artist. Papillion stood up in her purple pants and great shoes and proclaimed: “I run a gallery in the hood.” 

Since then, Papillion’s gallery has shifted quarters, but not too far, and today you can find it below a neon sign — PAPILLION, it spells, in flamingo-pink capitals — in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. Nearby, there’s Jamaican food, African-style silhouette murals and a whole lot of dudes drumming in the parking lot for a Friday afternoon. Maybe it’s an unlikely birthplace for the next great renaissance of African-American art. Or maybe it’s the perfect one. Whatever the case, Papillion’s ambitions recall nothing less than the Harlem of 90 years ago. Her shows, which feature the work of Black artists on the rise, already draw some of the most powerful collectors in the world. “We’re in the beginning of it,” she tells me when I visit. 

She looks weirdly fashionable in her oversize gray hoodie, hoop earrings, black pants and all black sneakers — even the Reading Rainbow mug she’s clutching seems somehow cool. Papillion isn’t the only reason that New York and London bigwigs like Jeffrey Deitch and Jay Jopling have come calling on the L.A. art scene, of course. Los Angeles looks a lot more like Brooklyn nowadays, with artists going at giant canvases in abandoned warehouses and an accompanying gentrification. But art in the City of Angels has a different kind of aesthetic — bigger pieces, bolder colors, outdoor installations — and a more inclusive, less elitist vibe. “People need to feel comfortable in this environment,” Papillion says.

To me, Papillion’s gallery recalls W.E.B. DuBois’ dream for Black drama: It would be by, for and near African-Americans — though it’d be inaccurate to suggest that Papillion is only for Black audiences. Visitors are greeted by one of Fordjour’s canvases, featuring faceless Black men lined up as targets in a carnival game. Two panels of a Black man at an ATM cover an entire wall of Papillion’s office; it’s the work of Haitian-born, New York–raised, L.A.–based artist Andy Robert. A collage of magazine photos by Suné Woods (formerly a photographer), stressed and manipulated, hangs with a texture like overlapping tissue papers. “Curatorially she’s doing all mediums,” Shelley Holcomb, cofounder of Curate L.A., says, with “really young artists that are subsequently gaining attention internationally.” Indeed, the day I visit, she’s just met with a couple of collectors from Tokyo. 

In some ways, Papillion’s work runs parallel to that of Theaster Gates, the South Side Chicago revitalist, in whose property she made that declaration about the gallery in the hood. Making the space around her beautiful is Papillion’s art project. “There are no galleries on this side of town owned by people of color. Period.” To do good for a community is an art in and of itself, she says. And there’s much good to be done in Leimert Park, a predominantly Black neighborhood with the second-highest property crime rate in the city, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Papillion is protective, even possessive, of the dozen Black artists she’s shepherded to wider renown. Sometimes she is downright political. In Artforum, in the pages where owners typically advertise upcoming exhibitions, she took out an ad that said, “Dear Art World, Let’s End Police Terrorism #blacklivesmatter.” Last Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Papillion underwrote a colorful float, designed by one of her artists, to represent the Crenshaw neighborhood, near Leimert Park. One of the sayings plastered on it was “Black money matters.” It’s rare of a gallerist to be that explicit — and loud — about her politics. 

But activism was in the water she drank, growing up in Oakland. Her mom was an educator, and her dad an architect. At Howard, she studied the classics at first, learning Latin, Greek and Egyptian (yes, she can read all three and waves off my impressed expression). She joined an Egyptian art class, and in terms of falling in love with visual arts, that was “the tip of an iceberg for me,” she says.

It’s not easygoing, of course. Finding emerging artists is like winning the lottery, and turning unknowns into collectors’ darlings takes an eye, nurturing, skill, advocating, branding — as well as time and justice. Of the 10 people on the Most Powerful Art Dealers list that Forbes put out in 2012, none were women of color. But Papillion, has already come far, says Fordjour, who remembers coming up with her: “We were all at this scrappy space at the same time,” he says. Things have changed: “Now people know her name when she comes into the room, and that’s a different way to advocate.”

Saturday
Mar192016

ARTE: TBT

Its more fun if you mute your computer and watch them all play simultaneously.