Artistfacts: Subodh Gupta


Artistfacts: Subodh Gupta

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Banyan Tree

This week’s post is inspired by a fabulous retrospective show of  Subodh Gupta’s work  at La Monnaie de Paris last spring. It is a shame that it will not be coming to the US.

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Subodh Gupta is a contemporary Indian artist, born in 1964, who lives and works in Delhi. He is best known for his monumental sculptures made from every day metal objects, objects often tied to the making or storage of food, objects that are ubiquitous throughout India, such as the steel tiffin boxes, Haandi (serving bowls), thalis (plates), dabbas (containers)  and water jugs.  The sculptural massing of these objects, their presentation out of the context of a kitchen transforms them from banal to poetic and  their meaning from utilitarian to symbolic. This removal from context was all the more vivid in the 17th century Mansart Petit Hotel de Conti that is part of the Louis XV Monnaie de Paris building. Although he is using objects ubiquitous in India, their shapes and uses are easily translated into all cultures.

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The water is in the pot, and the pot is in the water

Subodh Gupta is looking at the cultural and economic changes not only in India but worldwide that result from globalization and industrialization. Issues of modernization and loss of cultural differences, issues of migration and belonging, issues of consumerism and waste, issues of need and want, subsistence and gluttony.

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Very Hungry God (2006) made up of stainless steel pots and pans

Cooking and eating, food in general is a universal need.  All cultures have rituals in the preparation and eating of food, with the kitchen the center or soul of most homes. Through his work, by his play on scale, his massing of objects and the mixing of media or layering in of technology, Subodh Gupta transforms the domestic to the spiritual, the intimate to the cosmic. There is the dichotomy of excess, gluttony, consumerism and starvation, of the haves and the have nots, of unity versus individuality.


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Line of Control– a giant mushroom cloud shaped sculpture made of steel utensils. Although it refers to the line between Pakistan and India, both nuclear armed countries, it clearly reminds the viewer of the devastation that war causes to civilians and the risk of war and nuclear armament.


When he looks at a pot or an utensil,  he sees and is showing us not only the pot, but the stories of the people who used the pot. Their lives, their fears and their joys. The utensil is a stand-in, a metaphor for a human life. The burnt out bottom a reflection of the cosmos.

18bm Long read Subodh Gupta show Pg7 In this vessel lay the seven seas, in (2)


His works also address and confront issues of climate change, the environment, what is wasted, what is reused, consumerism and the unexpected consequences of human actions.


Everything is Inside consists of a ubiquitous in India Ambassador taxi, cast metal luggage on its carrier with the bottom half cut off so it looked like it was overwhelmed by water or sunk into the ground, being swept away by the monsoon, a person’s life and possessions lost.



Unstruck consists of a cube or house made of bricks formed from pressed and fused kitchen utensils and strips of brightly colored cloth, behind the cloth and within the chinks an eye looking at the viewer.

The titles are often humorous Two Cows (2003) pictured below consists of two cast in bronze bicycles with milk churns ready to be delivered. The bronzing of a utilitarian object ennobling it and elevating it.

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In the same way he bronzed a toilet and set it next to its more commonplace twin, still far more luxurious than what is often available in India

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He alternates between pieces made of found objects, ready-mades and pieces profoundly marked by the artisan’s hand, playing with issues of organic versus industrial.  The addition of technology, the contrast between the shiny and the used add tension  and visual interest to his works.

Casts of the luggage typically carried by workers returning from the Gulf placed on trolleys, luggage and trolleys are cast in bronze. The titles of such pieces are both humorous and poignant  “Dubai to Mumbai” or “Vehicle for Seven Seas”. Cloth bundles elaborately tied with string  now bronzed become the precious objects they are in reality to their owners, forcing the viewer to consider the intense poverty and difficulty of these migrant workers seeking to survive.

Vehicle for Seven Seas and Fire

There are several artists that use everyday objects in creating large sculptures and for each of these artists the material they choose and the messages they seek to convey are markedly different. To review a few:

Tara Donovan uses everyday materials such as styrofoam cups or drinking straws to create large scale sculptures with organic forms thus metamorphosing them from the very banal into constructs often site specific that are organic and amorphic and poetic.


Song Dong in Waste Not, made an installation showcasing more than 10,000 objects accumulated by his late mother—everything from pots to shoes to toothpaste tubes, focuses on details of a human life and ideas of memory.



Damien Hirst, in particular in the series, ‘Medicine Cabinets’ or ” Pharmacy” has used ubiquitous household items  but with a darker Pop Art aesthetic to address his preoccupations of mortality.  His work, For the Love of God, as with Gupta’s Very Hungry God incorporate the skull but Hirst uses diamonds instead of stainless steel to create his .




Sculptor and installation artist Robert Gober has used the art of trompe l’oeil, meticulously handcrafting common household items, human body parts and Sudobh Gupta has also used this method. However the meanings and references are very different with Gober focusing more on exploring themes of family, religion, sexuality, alienation.


While Gupta has Atta, a loaf of bread made of bronze but covered with flour.

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Ai Wei Wei has also produced some large conceptual installations traditional Chinese modes of thought and production.  In particular, bicycles have been used extensively, as symbols of the freedom to move as well as a strong symbol of the changes occurring in China.




Jeff Koons with The New placed vacuum cleaners manufactured by iconic American companies such as Hoover in illuminated perspex boxes, the vacuum cleaners carefully presented alone or in small curated groupings, symbolising wealth, elite consumerism,  of  more implicitly sexual pop culture.


Leonardo Drew’s sculptures often look like they were made from an accumulation of found objects but in fact are made of materials (wood, cotton, paper) that he has “aged” or spoiled, weathered, oxidized, burnt.



El Anatsui transforms found materials, in particular liquor bottle caps into carpet wall sculptures of color commentating among other things on issues of globalization and trade.




The last two artists I will relate Gupta’s work to are:

Andy Warhol in particular with the Brillo Boxes where he replicated a common household item


Duchamp and the use of the Ready made into an art object. Sudobh Gupta makes that influence quite clear himself in a piece included in the show at La Monnaie de Paris, where a urinal found at a flea market is filled with what look like real but are actually cast mangoes.

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Wash before eating

He is married to a fellow artist Bharti Kher and in an article by Girish Shahane from January 2007 he claims that she said to him “Subodh what you’re creating is no good” and he realized that “he was not doing himself justice”  and moved away from painting to installation art and new media art. He set himself apart through a use of materials intrinsic to Indian culture.

Unfortunately, Subodh Gupta was accused of repeated sexual misconduct as of December 2018 and he has stepped down from his role of co-curator of the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa. The artist has denied the charges. If true it is unfortunate that such a brilliant artist will be tainted by such actions.

Artistfacts: Eddie Martinez

Artistfacts: Eddie Martinez

Eddie Martinez Love Letters

Snap, crackle and pop. The works by Eddie Martinez combine cartoon figures, pop art designs, luscious brush strokes, heavy impasto layers and blocks of vivid colors into vibrant canvases. The works are alive, full of motion and action.  His larger works are the more powerful and encompassing. There is a happy, fanciful, at times childish exuberance, almost recklessness to the art. Though usually large (96″by 75″ in the case of Love Letter#13),  his works have the intimacy of drawings.

Eddie Martinez Love Letter

In his last show at Mitchell-Innes &Nash , Love Letters, the works appeared as if made on a giant notepad, with his address on the bottom and his name and that of his wife,  Sam Moyer at the top.  According to the gallery press release, Eddie Martinez used  silkscreened, blown up small Sharpie drawings as a starting point for the works on canvas. He then built up dense layers of colors using a wide variety of materials, acrylic, oil, spray and enamel paints alongside collaged canvases and studio elements- thumb tacks, wipes, the lids of paint cans, an icy/hot patch, gum. These works are mesmerizing and enchanting.

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The paintings combine the spontaneity of a doodle, with the strong painterly strokes of abstract expressionism. As opposed to Basquiat there are few words in the pieces. However, he shares with Basquiat the bold lines, vivid colors and a personal iconography.



In his practice over the past five years, Eddie Martinez has moved from the figurative to the more abstract. His figurative works were never realistic. His iconography then as now was grounded in comics and graffiti. Figures with large eyes, clowns, what may be an elbow or a shoulder, coiled snakes, vases of flowers, talk balloons filled with images instead of words, skulls, ducks, warriors with oversized eyes. All of his work  then and now filled with an urgency of action, strength, movement and confidence.  Today’s works are simply more open and fluid, less easily read.


In an article in Ocula, Martinez has referred to his process as that of boxing, approaching the canvas like his opponent, stepping forward to make contact with the canvas and then stepping back to regroup before he connects again.


Eddie Martinez has spoken of his daily drawing practice and his desire to make paintings that feel like drawings. As a result he carries pen and paper with him at all times and is constantly drawing. One wall in his studio is covered with these drawings. As he works on a canvas, he takes some of them down as inspiration or source material and several of them may end up in one composition. In the final work, sometimes the drawing is completely obliterated, sometimes it does not. The process is one of scraping, erasing, carving and layering. The finish is wild and furious. Blacked out backgrounds, impasto, drips and mixed media thrown together. Colors are applied aggressively and combined much like in a work by Miro. The combination is captivating.


In a few of the works,  mainly the Mandela series that were part of the show Ants at a Picknic, the final product is more faithful to the initial drawings and seem more a case of coloring between the lines. These works are large circular paintings and collages prominently displaying the artist’s initials EM.


The titles of the paintings are Cowboy Town, Blue Stump, Wave Rider, Intergalactic Go Fish, Hat Closet, Open Life, Mini Fresh Direct….evocative more of a feeling than a story.

I have not seen his sculptures which are apparently made of styrofoam,  cardboard and metal scraps, objects found on the beach in Long Island, wood, plaster, plastic, paint, and epoxy and are now also being made into painted bronze and range in scale from 10 1/2″ x 14 1/4″ to 85″x65″. Like the more recent paintings, they are light and fanciful and I look forward to seeing them.




Eddie Martinez was born in 1977 in Connecticut and had a nomadic childhood, moving from Connecticut to California, Florida, Texas and Massachasetts. He is basically self taught as a painter but clearly has absorbed the influences of Basquiat, De Kooning, Miro.  He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

Eddie Martinez has an upcoming solo show at the Bronx Museum scheduled for November 2018 that I am looking forward to.

I am attaching two videos from Art21 on Youtube that show you the artist at work.


Artistfacts: Lisa Reihana

Artistfacts: Lisa Reihana

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One of the pleasures of a mega-show like the Venice Biennale is the encounter with artists from countries other than Europe or the United States in the national pavilions, artists that may never be shown at a gallery or fair in the United States. In 2017, New Zealand was represented by such an artist, Lisa Reihana, born in 1964, a multi disciplinary artist of Maori descent with a wonderful work, ” Emissaries”.

“Emissaries”  includes a 32 minutes entrancing  and immersive video titled  “Pursuit of Venus (infected)” that deals with issues of colonization, identity and ownership of history and was accompanied by photographs and sculptures. I am including a link to a short part of the video from the Alberton House website as it is worth watching, although unfortunately the small screen does not have the same immersive effect as the 23.5m long by 3.3m (77 feet by 10.8 feet) projection in Venice did and I could not find a link to the entire work,  It took the artist 10 years to complete.

The setting of the video is a panoramic view of a well known 19th century wallpaper ” Les Sauvages de la Mer Pacifique” or “The Savages of the Pacific Ocean”  made by the french firm Joseph Dufour and Cie. that depicts a romanticized and idealic Pacific Island. Lisa Reihana added live action scenes to the film to portray a more realistic and historically accurate view of colonization. Easily recognized figures within are Tupaia, a gifted Tahitian navigator, the botanist Joseph Banks and the explorer Captain Cook.





We live in a time when historical narratives are being tested and challenged be it:

  • who is represented in the monuments and the appropriateness of monuments to confederate generals or Christopher Columbus as a few examples;
  • the way museums present ethnographic artifacts that were taken from third world countries;
  • the issue of the repatriation of artifacts and artworks to their places of origins;
  • the issue of reparations to be paid to African Americans for slavery or
  • the way colonial history is taught in schools to name but a few.

History as they say is written by the victors and our knowledge of history is shaped and influenced in a political process that has presented a narrative of progress emanating from Europe to civilize the “primitives” and ignored how this history allowed for the exploitation if not decimation of the colonized countries and people. Continuing to learn the colonial past without looking at it based on the fact and evidence of the colonized, plays on exoticism but continues a legacy of discrimination and racism.

In 1769, Captain James Cook berthed the Endeavour in Tahiti and observed and recorded the astronomical phenomenon known as “the transit of Venus”. He then continued on a secret mission to find and claim a hopefully rich southern continent in the name of King George III. First landfall on the Australian continent was at Botany Bay. The arrival of the Europeans in Australia and New Zealand had terrible effects on the Maori population as did most colonizations of indigenous people.

Lisa Reihana’s work unfolds slowly with a muted sound track and no dialogue an, as we watch, what appears to be an ideal island paradise, evolves into clashes of cultures, growing moments of tension and then violence.


Pursuit of Venus (infected) is unfortunately the only work by Lisa Reihana I have had the pleasure of seeing live, though she is well known in New Zealand for other video installations such as:

Native Portraits n 19987 an ongoing project is started as a multimedia installation using video and sound that reconceptualizes historic photographs, and continues with a series of color photographic prints on aluminum dealing with issues of  identity, dignity (or the lack thereof) and representation. Dandy (2007) borrows the trappings of a british gentleman. Diva explores ideas associated with sexuality and gender in a 1930s way, in the vein of singer Billy Holiday.


Tai Whetuki / House of Death from 2015 is a two-screen video that depicts the crossing over of the spirit from life into the land of the dead with a ghost figure that beckons and protects the passage. Lisa Reihana uses rituals from various traditions and times to merge and lure the viewer into the mythology.  It was inspired by a historic collection piece at the Bishop Museum.


Lisa Reihana, Tai Whetuki – House of Death, 2014. Dead Ringer(installation view, PICA), 2015. Photo by Alessandro Bianchetti.

Discussing Tai Whetuki- House of Death which unfortunately I have not seen in an article for Heart of the City in Auckland, Lisa Reihana mentions how costume was historically an important element of the mourning process. Tai Whetuki- House of Death  features an intricately and beautifully handmade 8ft tall traditional Tahitian mourning costume which was in use at the time that Captain Cook visited Tahiti and that the artist recreated for the piece.

Tai Whetuki1-2





Lisa Reihana’s talent is to draw the viewer into her video works in such a way that instead of the cursory, 2 minute max viewing of a video one often observes I hate to admit, the viewer sits/stands rapt watching for the entire time or, in the case of “Pursuit of Venus (infected) re-watching so as not to miss the details, drawn into the history, the mythology and the tale, almost like a full length commercial movie. I look forward to her video works coming to museums here for us all to enjoy.




Artistfacts: Lara Schnitger

Artistfacts: Lara Schnitger

lara schnitger

Contemporary sculpture is a wasteland. Not as a result of a dearth of extremely talented artists but because most galleries only give lip service to showing works by young, emerging sculptors.  Thus I was very excited to get to see works by Lara Schnitger recently. These works intrigue and disturb, draw in, disquiet and are very much part of the zeitgeist of the time.

Lara Schnitger is a Dutch artist, born in 1969, currently living in Los Angeles and Amsterdam whose work is boldly feminist, full of humor and anger, politically charged and at times semi- pornographic. She is best known for giant fabric sculptures, many of which with catchy names, such as Pas de Deux, We Are Sexy, Beijing Bitch, Proud Slut. Although originally her works focused on the misfits and outliers of society:  I Want Kids (2005) deals with pedophilia, Grim Boy (2005) with the angst ridden teenager, she tends to be best known for the works that explore female representation, female protest, female identity, women’s ownership of their bodies, and sexuality, women’s desire for motherhood.


Other works are massive, totem like, dancing figures. The “Mothership” in the Rubell collection is a massive tower (108″x120″x130″) of a cow patterned fabric stretched over joined sticks of wood, and culminating in a canvas representation of a nipple, referencing the act of breast-feeding made shortly after the Lara became a mother.

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” Icebergs” incorporates fur and “126 inches of Fun” is made of silky fabric and black lace. All appear ready to move around the galley with effortless grace, like dancers in voluminous ball gowns.


Her style and process is on the surface firmly craft based, often a derogatory term in the art world. She starts with fabric, knitting, quilting or dyeing it, then assembling it    into sculptures, puppet like, anthropomorphic forms or large banners.  One piece, “Vanity Man”, is made out of dozens of old neckties.” Rabble Rouser” is composed of scarves, political protest T-shirts and bumper stickers with slogans such as “Wearing buttons is not enough”.  The materials used and stylistic elements are influenced by her time in China and Japan and explore the push and pull of cultures. The faces of the women often have a wistful, romantic, old-fashioned air. The pureness of vision, the visceral honesty of the emotions and the strong sculptural forms empower the pieces.


The fabrics do not blend seamlessly together but rather clash, with plaids, dots, checks, discordant colors. The armature of lightweight wood is left plainly visible. At time,  the materials are like clothing, at others translucent they appear to stand alone   with the works more vulnerable.

She has stated:” Sculpture was always something very exciting for me. I wanted to get it off the pedestal; let it walk, talk, move around; play with the space. I always like to see things get made in new ways. I feel myself more a sculptor than an object-maker: I definitely deal with gravity and space and materials”

Her collages depict strong women, often in sexy if not lascivious poses. The narrative is explicit. Schnitger ’s pictorial sensibility is sexually charged and feminist. There is no question as to the fact that it is the woman who controls, who desires, who owns the space. Suggestive text clarifies any misconceptions the viewer might have about it such as” It ain’t Gonna Lick Itself” or “I at least had fun”, “Milk Pistols”or “My Other Car is a Broom”.

In 2013 she developed a line of couture clothing, “Sister of Arp” and began a traveling hybrid procession-protest piece “Suffragette City” that draws inspiration from occult rituals to champion performance based explorations of what it means to be a woman, irrespective of your physique, race, sexuality or sexual proclivity. The processions and protests include tapestries, banners and sculptures. The name,  Suffragette City harks back to the beginning of the feminist movement, when women fought for the right to vote and considers how much further we have to go. At the same time it creates a community of protesters. Suffragette City is often shown alongside a work called  Slut Parade that was inspired by the marches that happened internationally where women dress in lingerie, asserting their right to wear what they want without being harassed. This work strongly ties into the women marches and #metoomovement currently occurring.

Anton Kern Gallery in New York recently released a call for volunteers  for an upcoming performance by artist Lara Schnitger during Frieze New York on Randalls Island in May 2018. I look forward to seeing it as well as more of her work.

It is exciting to view works that engage with such dry wit some of the important issues of today and makes work you recall and engage with.















Artistfacts: Byron Kim

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Artistsfacts: Byron Kim

Byron Kim is a romantic and poetic social commentator. He makes generally small scale, minimalist, monochromatic- i.e. one color, serial works that are engaging, personal and evocative. Hard to believe that these small panels can be so captivating and thought provoking. .

A contemporary Korean- American artist, born in 1961, Byron Kim received a BA from Yale University in 1983 and attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1986.  He has stated that the most exciting part of his work as an artist is coming up with a good idea,  the second finishing something that has come out well. He claims no allegiance to any one technique or material but is primarily a painter with a strong sense of color.

Until his most recent show at James Cohan Gallery in New York entitled Sunday Paintings, the work by Byron Kim that I knew best was Synecdoche (1991- present) at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art and the National Museum. Synecdoche, the work by Byron Kim, is a grid of oil paint mixed with wax, monochrome, 10x 18 inch panels.  Each panel is a record of the skin color of a sitter. The colors are shades of beige, peach or brown, and each panel is titled the name of the sitter.  As the grid is presented, the names of the sitters are listed alphabetically by first name. Synecdoche, the word, means a figure of speech in which a part stands in for a whole. For Byron Kim this is a work of portraiture. For the viewer, it is a social commentary on race and individuality.  Some are tempted to try to match their skin tone to one of the panels.  Though at first glance the work is completely abstract, in reality it is representational and fiercely evocative.

Synecdoche was first shown at the Whitney Biennial in 1993. It is a work in process and currently there are 400 panels. He has said that he remembers every single person whose skin color he has copied.



Byron Kim, _Synecdoche [left to right, top to bottom: Annette Lemieux, Brice Marden, Byron Kim, Chuck Close, Donald Moffett, Donald Baechler, Ed Baynard, Elizabeth Murray, Fred Tomaselli, Fred Wilson, Glenn Ligon, James Casebere, Jane Hammond, Janine Antoni, Jon Kessler, Joyce Kozloff, Kiki Smith, Lesley Dill, Lois Dodd, Lorna Simpson, Lynne Yamamoto, Mel Bochner, Mel Chin, Merry Alpern, Lee Mingwei, Natvar Bhavsar, Nayland Blake, Oliver Herring, Philip Pearlstein, Polly Apfelbaum, Robert Gober, Robert Rahway Zakanitch, Sam Messer, Sandy Scolnik, Suzanne McClelland, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Vija Celmins, Vito Acconci, William Wegman]

For the series of this work at the National Gallery he added the “portraits” of the employees increasing the sense of inclusiveness, race, community and cultural biases or class. Color here acts a signifier and metaphor for the individual.

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Byron Kim paints the forearm of Jay Krueger at the National Gallery of Art. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

An interesting collaboration at the Smithsonian Institute, entitled Black and White  between Byron Kim and Glenn Ligon, examines the limited range of “flesh-colored” paint available in art stores. Byron Kim painted sixteen panels of the “white” flesh tones and Ligon painted sixteen panels using  black pigments.  Using the same grid as Synecdoche, this work again examines the superficiality of race.


The Sunday Paintings which were recently on view at James Cohan Gallery in New York are each slightly larger in scale, 14″x14″, and are not monochromatic but rather show the sky on the Sunday it was painted. The series was begun on January 7, 2001, when he made a painting of the sky and below wrote: “Clear, snow melting dripped into the painting.  Every Sunday?”.  The Sunday paintings have continued virtually every Sunday since then, the notations at first at the bottom then in the middle of the canvas. A diary of occurrences or thoughts for the day.  The skies are realistic and varied. The blue, grey, clear or cloud-filled skies he sees over Brooklyn or California.

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The paragraphs are autobiographical and often uneventful and mundane,  activities with the kids,  dinner parties, difficulty with work, marital comments,  moods, and from time to time an update on politics. The same short jottings one would expect in a quick diary note. “Today we have a black president” (“1/20/09”); Hurricanes Irene roils New York City (“8/28/11”); “Donald Trump is the president elect of the United States” (“11/14/16”).

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It is a very moving project, making me at least wish I  had the same ability and discipline to beautifully chronicle my life. For Byron Kim this is a life long project and, as it requires that he observes the sky, it combines both observation and introspection. As opposed to On Kawara’s Date Paintings which followed a strict set of rules, with 3,000 made over four decades that only included the date on which they were made, there is a winsomeness to the works by Byron Kim, a willingness to let the viewer into his personal life. You are drawn to read all of the entries and observe the differences in the sky. Yet in common language,  a Sunday painter is an amateur painter who goes out and dabbles at painting  on his day off, not a professional, gallery represented artist.  These works therefore as with much of Byron Kim’s work engage the viewer in an intimate, perhaps  ironic and humorous moment,  one where the artist is painting for the pleasure of painting and making works that may not be as serious as the more weighty topics he takes on when he is pursuing his career as “an important artist”.

Byron Kim is a profound observer of intimate and small wonders that he renders with  poetic and seductive panache. There is often a link to poetry or writing. He has stated:”It’s almost like I don’t know anything except the little things I encounter every day and the relationships I have with people. I can only get at that in art by concentrating on very small things.”


In his Mud Root Ochre Leaf Star Series, Byron Kim painted bruises. These works both attract and repel, seduce and disgust. Without the titles these works could pass as beautiful, abstract,  color field stained canvases. With the titles, they force a questioning of violence versus beauty. They also draw strong parallels to the body as cosmos, to time as they show the evolution of the bruise.

The process used in these works show Byron Kim’s willingness to explore mediums. He boiled and dyed raw canvas and linen with natural dyes before stretching them onto frames, and,  to avoid brushstrokes, painted  with rags soaked in glue or oil.

The idea of painting a bruise came from a poem by Carl Phillips in which the poet observes a bruise on the skin of his sleeping lover. A  bruise is a stain under the skin,  paint is a stain on the canvas.  The titles of this work however comment as much on the event as on the process:  ” Evidence of a Struggle” and  ” Stain, Methylene Blue” for example.



Emphasizing his attention to detail and the way that his monochromatic panels are portraits, Byron Kim has used the format of the grid  to disarmingly document and portray all of the hues on his one year old son’s body.


 or his son at age 10 (not in grid form)

As a wonderful observer and interpreter of the intimacies and intricacies of life and society and an artist who forces the viewer to look deeper, care more, think more, Byron Kim is an artist whose future works and shows I look forward to.


Artistfacts: The Power 100

ArtReviews-Power-100Artistfacts: The Art Review Power 100

A different topic today, instead of an artist I am writing about the Art Review Power 100, a list of the most powerful people in the contemporary art world and looking at how this list has evolved since its inception in 2002.

The impetus for this blog came from a wonderful class I took as part of  Christie’s Short Courses run by Marysa Kaymen. If you have not had the pleasure of taking some of these classes, I highly recommend them- informative and fun. The course I took, entitled The Art World Power Players and taught by the wonderful Rebecca Taylor, Executive Vice President of Fitz & Co. reviewed the individuals included in the 2017 list.

ArtReview’s Power 100 appears to be the “nec-plus-ultra”  source ranking the power players of the art world, similar to the Forbes 100 list for money. The list is derived by an international  and anonymous panel of 20- 26 art world insiders, artists, collectors, gallerists, critics and curators. Members on the panel are excluded though ” some of them may at one time or another have been included.” They hail from Delhi, Shanghai, Beijing, New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Sao Paolo, Dubai, Berlin, Paris, Milan and London. The list ranks people in order of influence, and claims to be the world’s definitive guide to the often invisible structures of the current artworld.

ArtReview is a contemporary art magazine based in London with a sister publication ARtReview Asia based in Shanghai and a website A quick internet search did not allow me to uncover  the ownership of ArtReview other than Richard Gainsborough Periodicals Ltd. Opacity often goes hand in hand with exposure in the art world.

ArtReview’s criteria for making the list are:

  • the ability to influence the type of art that is being produced today,
  • having been active in the past 12 months,
  • having an international influence, and
  • playing a role in shaping the public perception of art.

So how has the list evolved since 2002? Have there been any major shifts in the art world power structure? Is the shift of power from the West to the East demonstrated in this list? Have women made headway? Who holds the majority of the power- gallery owners, collectors, artists or museums?

My first general observation is that the 2002 list is very different than the following ones. Almost an anomaly and therefore should be ignored. Too insular. I believe this is demonstrated by the fact that 70 out of the 100 figures on the list changed from 2002 to 2003, a far larger percentage than any later year to year change.

Graph New Power List

The second general observation is that 18 people have been on the list every year but one.

  • 11 gallery owners- as one would expect the big 3 (David Zwirner, Larry Gagosian, Iwan &Manuela Wirth) but also smaller, more focused galleries such as Matthew Marks, Marian Goodman, Sadie Coles, Barbara Gladstone and Lisson Gallery,
  • Four collectors namely Francois Pinault, Eli Broad, Dakis Joannou, Cisneros,
  • Two artists,  Jeff Koons and Gerhard Richter and,
  • Two museum/ curators  Nicholas Serota of the Tate and Hans Ulrich Obrist of Serpentine Gallery.

The power in the art world is increasingly concentrated within the galleries, museums and curators.  Collectors, auction houses, critics and artists themselves do not exert as much influence and that influence is waning.

Although artists do appear in large numbers, 20 in the 2017 list, those names are the ones that to me are the most readily questioned, not in terms of merit as artists but of power. Can one really say that Hito Steyerl, Theaster Gates, Kara Walker, Ai Wei Wei, Pierre Huyghe, Kerry James Marshall, David Hammons are the most powerful artists today and among the 100 most powerful people in the art world? Are they selected because as strong voices on the issues of social justice, political totalitarianism, artificial intelligence, gender and race their  work and writings aim to disrupt and force a strong political narrative and they are in fact representatives of that narrative?  Then, if  political engagement by an artist is what dictates power, where do Yayoi Kusama, Marina Abramovic and Jeff Koons enter the narrative?  Yayoi Kusama and Marina Abramovic can draw amazing crowds and I am in no way disparaging their work and career but we are talking about power here.  William Kentridge, Olafur Eliasson, Rirkrit Tiravanija and Hague Yang also on the list,  are fabulous artists, but do they exert the degree of power in the art world that inclusion in this list would imply?  What scale is being used  to measure that power? Why is Jeff Koons the only artist to have been on the list every single year?



I believe that the fact that year to year the list includes 17 to 25 new names indicates a desire by the voters to influence the narrative of what power means in the art world, to attempt to open up a debate and to diminish the appearance that money is the key determinant.

The group that Artreview calls “Philosophers” has taken the place the critics used to occupy. Their actual impact is diminished in my mind by the fact that each individual appears on the list for at most couple of years to be replaced by a different name, so their is a lack of continuity in their influence. You do not have the long term impact of a Harold Rosenberg or a Clement Greenberg shaping the art world.  2017 showed a marked increase in the number of these philosophers as it did in the number of artists,  a clear reaction to the bigoted, partisan, totalitarian political climate we are in, Engagement is the driving force of the world we are now in be it in the art world or not.

The good news, is slow but steady progress appears to have been made within the gender gap with more women within the list.  We remain far below a 50/50 split though and the progress does remain slow.


Finally, within the general observations, geographically although Europe and the US have maintained dominance, the Middle East and Asia are rising, and Africa remains underrepresented.




Of course, all statistical analysis by geography in the global world we live in is slightly misleading. Are Hauser and Wirth and David Zwirner European galleries? Gagosian and Pace American? Are Frieze and Art Basel European fairs? Clearly names such as Richard Chang, Sunjung Kim, Zhag Wei, Luisa Strina and Claire Hsu or Kuri and Manzutto, Christine Tohme, Sheika Hoor Al Qasim and the Al Thani who appear in 5 or more of the more recent lists demonstrate the rise of Asia, the Middle East and South America.

The list raises a lot of anecdotal questions such as why certain people get left out. For example, from Miami, Margulies has never been on the list but Cisneros and Rubell both have. Interesting collectors such as the Julia Stoschek Collection in Berlin, Wiels Brussels, Hall Art Foundation, Marciano Foundation, M. Woods Museum, Pioneer Works, Zeitz Mocca, The Alan Gibbs Farm, Faurschou Collection, Museo Jumex, MoNA, have never been included. Curators such as Stuart Comer, Nancy Spector and Vincent Honore or Jochen Volz have never been included.

What guarantees you to be on the list? Curating Documenta or the Venice Biennale, not necessarily curating Skulptur Project Munster or Manifesta nor being the gallery representing the artists that make the list. Hito Steyerl is represented by Andrew Kreps but they are not on the list, Joan Jonas by Gavin Brown, Theaster Gates by Richard Gray, Kara Walker by Sikkema Jenkins, Trevor Paglen by Metro Pictures. I could continue. Don’t the galleries that represent and nurture these artist deserve a seat at the table in line with the galleries such as Sadie Coles and Lisson?   It is encouraging to see London based galleries Vanessa Carlos on the 2017 list as a result of her gallery sharing initiative CONDO, an indication of some attention being paid to the disruptors in the market place.

Articles discussing the list spend a lot of time going through the rise and decline of the various names, who supplants whom. Not sure that is as relevant to the review of who makes it onto the list or off.  As with all rankings, the list includes reality and aspirations.  The reality of who has the power, where money speaks and the aspirations of who should have power. I wish it would therefore include even more of the people at entry points to the art world.










Artistfacts: Zanele Muholi

Artistfacts: Zanele Muholi


Zanele Muholi is a very talented and courageous South African photographer and social activist, she is also a very highly decorated one, and I do not mean dressed and adorned, thought that too does occur in her photographs. She just was awarded France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, their highest order for the arts.


Zanele Muholi’s art is political. Through her photographs, she is exposing the dangers, pleasures, day to day lives and diversity of black, queer, lesbian and transgendered individuals in South Africa. Muholi exposes South Africa’s mixed attitude towards gender and sexual orientation;  although LGBTQ–protection is written into  its constitution and it is the only country in Africa to recognize same-sex marriage,  violence and harassment, including “corrective rape”  and murders are still common.  Zanele herself has been targeted.  In 2012, her home was burglarized and hard drives containing eight years of work were stolen. She describes herself as a political activist, not an artist.


Her artistic practice is made up of three major series. The first was the series Only Half the Picture where she photographed friends and acquaintances,  modifying their appearances but also exposing the injuries inflicted on them by violence.


The second, Faces and Phases and Brave Beauties is made up of close up portraits of the LGBTQ community. Within this series over two hundred and fifty people have gazed frankly, shyly, proudly, or defiantly at Muholi’s camera, including the artist herself. Her photographs show proud individuals,  confident,  owning the spaces they live in. The idea of community is extremely important to her. Apparently she travels with a large group, not an entourage but more a mutual support network comprised of other artists, friends…in 2012, for a project in Paris, she brought a whole soccer team to the famous Parc des Princes stadium — with the constant that all are South African, black, and queer, lesbian, or trans folk.

Her latest series and in my opinion the most powerful and compelling one is called either My Year as a Dark Lioness or Hail the Dark Lioness depending on how  the zulu “Somnyama Ngonyama” is interpreted. Within this series, Zanele Muholi is planning to have 365 self portraits, one for every day of a year. Reading her interviews and commentaries of these portraits, they are the works that have the most intense emotional meaning for her and are the more difficult for her to make. The intensity of her engagement comes across and compels the viewer’s consideration. In these works, Zanele Muholi appears unsmiling, confrontational and at the same time shy and exposed,  with piercing eyes staring out at the camera. Her skin is very black, darkened for the pictures.  She has said: “In America, Europe, Africa, the experience is never the same. But that judgment, that discrimination, that lingering sense that you are not supposed to be here persists, having to continually justify your presence.” These self portraits, force the viewer to engage. You are being judged for your attitude, your willingness or unwillingness to accept and understand the person staring out at you.

Each portrait has a name. It might reference someone she knows, or a woman whose contribution to South Africa has been erased in patriarchal history. Each title mentions the location at which the photo is taken, becoming a diary of both Muholi’s extensive traveling and of the many places where black bodies are still unwelcome.

Muholi makes her self-portraits where her travels take her, absorbing those experiences into the process, using found materials or ones she buys in local shops. “I work in any space that is given to me, and I use it in ways that work for me,” she says. She likes to shoot in natural light. Earlier this year, she was in Amsterdam, where she had an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum; there, one of her entourage, the filmmaker Sibahle Nkumbi, got pushed down a flight of stairs by an aggressive Airbnb host. Muholi channeled the experience  into a self-portrait as a Dutch Renaissance aristocrat in black coat with elaborate white neck ruff and cuffs, hands crossed, eyes appraising.

She has said: “Somnyama Ngonyama is about self-representation. It’s me looking at particular political issues that still affect us as human beings and I’m drawing on very real historical events in South Africa, and beyond South African borders. I used my own body to speak on issues of race for instance and focussed mainly on the importance of blackness. What does it mean to be Black today? I explored that question through and through.” She is also exploring inequality, minimum wage, displacement, death and violence.

In certain works she is responding to very specific events and using materials and her body to do that. For example in one of the images she wears a safety hat, a symbol of the men at the centre of the Marikana Massacre in 2012 wore when 112 men  were shot,  34 killed as they walked out on strike at a platinum mine in South Africa.

In others to more general issues of society inequalities. These works are commentaries not only on events in her life, but also on the destruction of the environment, the destruction of ancestral traditions, the brutality of society, the violation and politics of blackness. In one work,  she has cable ties around her body. As she has said: “When you look at cable ties you think functionality, they are often used to lock suitcases, protect possessions and to keep people away. For me here, they become a sign of social brutality, imprisonment, and exploitation. So basically, it says something about how people use common materials in different ways and moving beyond the expected, the stereotyped and the prescribed.” In another money is woven throughout her hair. In a third, she is wrapped in what appears to be trash bags.

The messages and locations contained within the works provide clues to the viewer through the “props” or materials such as the cable ties, the elaborate hairstyles, the blanket from a police cell, hairpins, tubes, plastic gloves, a stool.  She has said:”We all have skeletons in our closet. I’m just a troubled human being, and I decided not to see a shrink, but instead to use photography. After taking photographs I feel better, because I feel that I have achieved something.” She definitely has in my mind as her images continue to haunt long after one has left the gallery.

In 2009, Muholi founded Inkanyiso, a non profit organization dedicated to visual art, media advocacy and visual literacy training for South Africa’s LGBTQI community and Forum for the Empowerment of Women

She is represented by Yancey Richardson and Stephenson