Artists The Leading Source for Art News & Art Event Coverage Fri, 05 Jul 2024 15:42:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Artists 32 32 168890962 25 Masterpieces at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris Mon, 08 Jul 2024 11:29:00 +0000 In 1900 the Exposition Universelle drew thousands of art lovers to Paris, many of them arriving by train at the new Gare d’Orsay. Who among them would have thought that the train station where they disembarked would become an illustrious institution holding the greatest collection of Impressionist art in the world? Opened in 1986 and located on the Left Bank of the River Seine opposite the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay today is home to some 100,000 works dating from 1848 to 1914.

Before being transformed into a showcase for paintings by the likes of Berthe Morisot, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Gustave Caillebotte, and many more, the Victor Laloux­–designed building played several roles in the life of the city. After being decommissioned as a station, it served as a reception center for prisoners after World War II, was a film set for Orson Welles’s 1962 movie The Trial, and was used as an auction venue while the Hôtel Drouot was closed. Its conversion into a museum was led by architects Renaud Bardon, Pierre Colboc, and Jean-Paul Philippon.

Here are 25 masterpieces in the Musée d’Orsay’s collection. (Please note that not all of these works are on view at a given time—we have indicated those that are currently displayed and where they may be found on this map.)

What to See Before (and After) the Tokyo Gendai Art Fair Thu, 04 Jul 2024 16:53:50 +0000 Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in Breakfast With ARTnews, our daily newsletter about the art world. Sign up here to receive it every weekday.

The flight to Japan from art world centers like New York, London, and Paris isn’t exactly short. Those that do make the trip this year, however, won’t be disappointed with the art offerings, which span modern to contemporary. This week, during the Tokyo Gendai fair, the shows to see in the city are dominated by strong sculpture.

First up on the itinerary: the Artizon Museum’s exhibition of Constantin Brancusi, the first proper survey of the Romanian-born sculptor’s work in Japan.

Brancusi’s The Kiss has it all: it’s cute, it’s romantic, it’s profoundly Instagrammable. Made at the turn of the twentieth century, it also happens to mark the starting line of modern sculpture: from The Kiss’s economy of means, the rest was a sprint, from Picasso to Moore to Giacometti all the way up through Eva Hesse and Rachel Whiteread. So it’s no surprise that the Kiss is situated front and center at the Artizon show.

The exhibition neatly charts Brancusi’s wiggling free of Rodin’s influence and taking flight: the show culminates in a section dedicated to the form of the bird, represented by the rightly famous Bird in Space, an elegant skyward swipe of bronze. There are also photographs, and a section dedicated to recreating Brancusi’s Montparnasse studio. Purists will gripe about the large number of posthumous casts but, for a lay audience, the show serves as a decent dose of beauty and a fine introduction to a titan of modern sculpture.

Installation view of “Calder: Un effet du japonais,” Azabudai Hills Gallery, 2024.

If Brancusi conceived of the bird, Alexander Calder taught it to fly. Over at the Azabudai Hills Gallery is a compact survey of the master of the mobile—done in collaboration with Pace Gallery , whose huge new space is upstairs—assembled by the artist’s tireless grandson Sandy Rower, head of the Calder Foundation. The title? “Calder: A Japanese Effect” Why not. We’ve already had Calder paired with artists from Giacometti to Miro to Fischli and Weiss. As Rower has shown us over the past two decades, Calder is indeed the gift that keeps on giving. 

There are some real gems in this exhibition, including an unexpected series of drawings of animals in motion: there are no other words for these than just perfect, especially the cats, with their movements captured in just a few strokes of ink. A star of this particular show, though, is Japanese architect Stephanie Goto, who did the exhibition design. A black mobile set against a black ceiling? Unexpectedly brilliant. Other works are situated against a wall covered in large black sheets of paper, another effect that shouldn’t work but does. 

Thomas Houseago, Owl at my Studio, 2024. 

You may think of Brancusi again when you visit “MOON,” an exhibition of Los Angeles-based British artist Thomas Houseago at BLUM , the gallery formerly known as Blum & Poe. Best known as a sculptor, Houseago has several pieces in the show that recall the Romanian master, one of them an abstract egg-like shape set on a rough-hewn wooden plinth, and the other an owl in his signature technique of drawing in plaster.

For my money, the owl is the best piece in this show, displayed silhouetted against a large window. Like Ann Craven’s paintings of birds, this piece seems to capture the essence of the animal. Houseago has recently branched out into paintings, and they are dramatic and rich with color, if somewhat less successful than the 3D work. A large painting of an owl, for instance, is accomplished, but seems only to highlight the less-is-more brilliance of the sculpture.

After seeing the work of those three male sculptors, you will have to put on a different hat to experience the work of Rei Naito. Think of Henry James’s famous dictum and “try to be one of those on whom nothing is lost.” Because if you are not paying attention in the various displays of Naito’s work throughout the enormous Tokyo National Museum, you are going to lose quite a bit. 

Naito, who was born in Hiroshima in 1961 and represented Japan at the 1997 Venice Biennale, works in a minimalist tradition, but not in the sense of, say, Donald Judd. There is nothing heavy about her work. Instead, objects ranging from small to miniscule—pompoms, balloons, pebble-like blown glass bubbles, animal figurines, bones, little mirrors, a jar of water—are deployed in ways that demand meditation on the part of the viewer. In one long, narrow gallery of the museum, such things are arrayed against slate gray walls and under dimmed lights: the effect is of being inside the artist’s imagination. Along one wall is white fabric inside a glass display case, looking like a snowbank. What amazes about Saito’s work is just how close it gets to twee without ever stepping over that line.

Installation view of “Kojiki” (2024) by Mariko Mori at SCAI THE BATHHOUSE, Tokyo. 

In the 1980s, Naito said of a particular artwork of hers that she was attempting to “create a spiritual place of her own.” The same might be said for another Japanese artist of Naito’s generation who works in a very different mode. Mariko Mori became known in the nineties for photographs of herself posed in urban environments in Japan, dressed up as various stereotypes of a Japanese woman. But over the past two decades she has been working in a spiritual mode, right down to merging her art with her living quarters. 

The project currently on view at SCAI The Bathhouse is complex, involving crystals and a spiritualistic painting, and is connected to Mori’s artwork Peace Crystal (2016-2024), which is currently on view outside a palazzo in Venice during this year’s Biennale. At SCAI, Mori appears in augmented reality (you need to make an appointment) as a priestess whose attire draws on both Japan’s history and on the kind of futuristic effects found in video games. Like Saito, Mori has crafted an entire immersive world, one you can only enter in person.

Installation view: Theaster Gates: Afro-Mingei, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2024

For Theaster Gates, too, as a wall text explains in the Chicago artist’s first solo exhibition in Japan, at the Mori Art Museum , making art is a spiritual enterprise. Gates prepared for the Mori show by working with potters in Tokoname, which he had first visited in 2004, and came up with the concept of “Afro-Mingei,” a reference to the word for Japanese folk art, a movement that was overshadowed by the introduction of Western art to Japan in the 19th century. (“[W]hat is key for me is the way in which Mingei honors makers native to a place and resists external impositions of cultural identity,” Gates explains in wall text in the show.) 

The results are displayed in the final section of this survey of Gates’ work and they are by far the highlight. After an elaborate timeline that traces Gates’ links with Japan comes an enormous display case holding ceramics by Tokoname potter Koide Yoshihiro, who died in 2022, and an enormous wooden bar—stools and all—that fronts a set of shelves holding binbo tokkuri bottles (sake bottles) made in collaboration with Japanese potter Tani Q. There’s also a terrific soundtrack (Busta Rhymes was on when I visited) and a spinning disco ball in the shape of an iceberg.

Artist Joel Mesler Takes Over New York with Midtown Pool Party and an Upper East Side Gallery Show Wed, 03 Jul 2024 15:39:16 +0000 On a recent afternoon, a couple was walking through the latest show by Joel Mesler, at Lévy Gorvy Dayan gallery’s Beaux-Arts townhouse on New York’s Upper East Side, when Mesler himself stopped them and asked a jarring question. “Have you seen the secret clown room?” the art dealer–turned–artist said. “You really have to see the secret clown room.”

The “secret clown room” is hidden behind a sliding door on the gallery’s first floor and has eight painted portraits of, you guessed it, clowns, who are shown in varying states of joy (or distress). These works are outliers in Mesler’s show, titled “Kitchens are good rooms to cry in,” which is made up of new paintings, sculptures, and installation. They’re kind of an inside joke. “If someone hasn’t seen that room,” Mesler said in an interview, “they probably left too soon. When they do hear about it, maybe they’ll feel they have to come back.”

“More foot traffic,” he said, flashing a wide, toothy grin.

The Lévy Gorvy Dayan show is, in a way, the end of a chapter of Mesler’s life—and also the start of something new. “It really feels like the end of the first act,” the 50-year-old artist said. “After this, I won’t have to tell my story again. I can stop living in the past and start just being in the world, in the present. Maybe I’ll even help other people tell their stories.”

Walking through the show is like stepping gingerly through the molted Technicolor skins that Mesler has sloughed off over the years, from his childhood in Los Angeles, to his time as an booze-addled art dealer in the Manhattan’s Lower East Side, to his move out the Hamptons in 2016. It was there, out East, that he Twelve Stepped into sobriety. In the basement of his art space Rental Gallery, he began making paintings: brightly colored pictures often adorned with text written in jaunty bubble letters. 

The first room of his current Lévy Gorvy Dayan show is covered in wallpaper that mimics the way summer light dances and slithers across the top of a swimming pool. Mesler co-designed it with the brand Martinique specifically for the show. On small pilasters sit 200-pound beach balls, cast in bronze and painted to match the room. Each is decorated with a different word—“LIFE”, “LOVE”, “MOM”—and painted to look like the metallic helium-filled balloons that are ubiquitous at children’s birthday parties.

The second room downstairs is darker in tone. The bright, six-foot-tall paintings featured here contain phrases like “PLAY THE HITS” and “GO GO” in ’70s-inspired fonts. The words are set above scenic mountain ranges, the snow on top acting as a not-so-subtle reference to cocaine binges and the subsequent come-downs that follow. One picture captures that feeling with the words “ITS FINE”, thick and brown, melting into a murky river below. Rising above it all is a crisp white mountain “slopes” with a rainbow peeking out. A disco ball gleams from the top left, as if it were hung from an unseen cloud. Another has the words “PARTY TIME” cut out in messy lines. The rainbow this time feels menacing behind the shadowy white slopes.

Joel Mesler, Untitled (Party Time), 2024

Upstairs is where it gets interesting. In one gallery, among display cases filled with little drawings, tchotchkes, and childhood ephemera, Mesler has placed a desk and a sofa. There are two cozy chairs, a rug, and a table. “It’s an extension of my office, really,” he said. “I call it my office.” Mesler was not joking: he is there every day. He keeps banker’s hours, sitting in the chair behind his desk under a hanging balloon sculpture that spells out the word “JOY.” There’s even a working phone. In one corner, next to a pile of CDs, there’s an easel on which he’ll make portraits of the LGD staff.

“I literally just sit here and wait to see what will happen,” Mesler said. “People peek in and ask if they can come in. I say, ‘Of course!’ Soon, they’re sitting. We start chatting about the art, about whatever. It creates a whole different experience.” 

Art galleries in general can be intimidating, even unwelcoming. Lévy Gorvy Dayan’s space, with its regal staircase and elegant molding, has the air of a venerable institution. It’s definitely not somewhere you’d come to shoot the breeze. But that’s what makes Mesler’s project work. 

While the pictures and sculptures downstairs have sinister undertones—he said the first room was inspired by “those awkward childhood pool parties where the grownups drink too much”—the upstairs is filled with messages of healthy positivity and acceptance. Words like “PRAYER” and “FEELINGS” are painted on tie-dye backgrounds. The office space functions similarly, acting as a symbol of an artist at peace, finally comfortable at middle age.

Mesler’s expansive rolodex has led to a mass of visitors. Over the course of one morning in mid-June, visitors to the office included a gossipy art adviser who used to work at Pace Wildenstein, a lovely older couple from Florida who were visiting their granddaughter, art advisor and podcaster Benjamin Godsill, and Mesler’s friend, the artist Rashid Johnson, who brought sushi. The staff at the gallery’s front desk told me that, on some days, between 80 and 100 people pass though.

Joel Mesler, Untitled (Courage), 2024

If the show at Lévy Gorvy Dayan were the only thing going on for Joel Mesler this summer, he’d be batting 1000. But it’s not. In late May, he threw out the first pitch at Mets Stadium in Queens as part of the two “artist series” giveaways. That Saturday night, the first 15,000 fans through the gate were given a beach tote he designed. Later this month, it’ll be Rashid Johnson behind home plate. 

What can be bigger than throwing the first pitch at a New York City ball game? How about taking over Rockefeller Plaza. On Tuesday, a grand public installation turned 30 Rock’s Ice Rink into a Mesler-designed “pool party.” The wavy, deep blue wallpaper from the first room at Lévy Gorvy Dayan was spread over the ground, making the whole plaza from above look cool enough that your feet felt pleasantly wet. Extra-large versions of his beach-ball sculptures, weighing in at more than 500 pounds, were installed along with giant versions of his balloon letters that spell out “LOVE” and “JOY.” Each of the 193 flags that surround the plaza was replaced with rainbow-colored banners straight out of Mesler’s mind. Massive pool noodles really drive home summer vibes. 

Phil Collins’s “Take Me Home” gently swept through the air and during the ribbon cutting on Tuesday morning. A few tracks later, it was “I Can’t Go For That” by Hall & Oates. It was a real ’80s pool party. 

Kids were decorating actual beach balls on picnic benches, sitting on the pool noodle sculptures and posing pictures while hanging off the letter “L” or hugging the letter “Y.” Pink and white beach balls were floating in the Prometheus statue’s fountain. Art-world heavies like Hank Willis Thomas, Rujeko Hockley, Sarah Harrelson, Hiba Schahbaz, Brett Gorvy, and Glori Cohen mingled with French Canadian tourists slathered in sunscreen and would-be influencers who snapped pics of their dogs for Instagram. Mesler-designed swag, including the Martinique wallpaper, was on sale in the gift shop. Later in the day, ice cream was served.

“Joel stands out for his humor, yes, but also his pathos,” Gorvy told me while standing next to a hefty pink and white beach ball emblazoned with the word “YOU.” “To him, the public is as important as the collector. How many artists today have really touched the public in a way that isn’t ironic or cynical, or filled with false sentiment? Joel’s putting his tremendous positivity out there in the world and it works, because he’s an honest guy, a good guy.”

Every so often, it seems, the good guys do win.

A New Photo Exhibition by David Hockey’s Longtime Dealer Shows the Artist and Friends Living the Good Life Fri, 28 Jun 2024 18:13:20 +0000 The tale of the artiste maudit is often spun to inject mystery and intrigue into the lives of great painters, that image of a tortured soul working all hours for peanuts, fingers worn to paint-splattered bone, barely sustained on a diet of mind-curdling absinthe and stale bread. Vincent van Goth is one painter spoken about in these terms, Chaïm Soutine is another. David Hockney is definitely not—and the heady, carefree photos taken by his former dealer John Kasmin show why.

Kasmin’s Camera at Lyndsay Ingram gallery in Mayfair, London documents Kasmin’s lasting friendship and professional partnership with Hockney, which stretches back to 1960. They traveled together, holidayed together, and worked together, and Kasmin’s photos portray a shared Life of Riley. Color images reveal a tightly-knit young cohort of lithe, tanned, semi-naked—and incredibly happy—creatives idling under the French sun, cigarettes perpetually in hand, Kasmin the voyeur. A few photos are laced with sexual energy and longing. In one snap, the late British painter Patrick Procktor sits on the edge of a bed smoking a joint, naked save for a pair of tiny trunks. Hockney, also naked, lies behind him reading the paper. They look blissfully postcoital.

“It was not, as it is now, a common thing for everyone to take photographs,” Kasmin said in a video produced for the exhibition. “Once I got a gallery going, my profession and my friends were overlapping and that’s why I started taking photographs. Looking at the pictures is an extremely helpful resource, it’s one of the ways in which you can keep your memories organized.”

Other artists, dealers, and critics including Leo Castelli, Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, Howard Hodgkin, Ossie Clark, and Cecilia Birtwell feature in the photos, all very willing muses. Many are shot in black and white. Others record Kasmin’s adventures with his friend, the late travel writer and novelist Bruce Chatwin, in Africa and the English countryside. Chatwin is less comfortable in front of the camera, mostly stony-faced looking like the classic explorer archetype; beige shorts, woolen knee-high socks, ruddy, sun-kissed cheeks. It looks like they had a lot of fun.

Helen Frankenthaler and Anthony Caro posing at the ancient throne, Torcello, Venice, 1966.

“The exhibition gives a flavor of what the art world was like 50 years ago when artists and their gallerists were friends and worked together,” gallery owner Lyndsay Ingram told ARTnews. “The intimacy between them is immediately apparent in these photographs. You really have the sense that they were living their lives on the same team. These images reveal a shared sense of purpose, which perhaps has been lost by many artists and galleries in our current landscape, but it is reassuring to see that it is possible. Indeed, as many of these artists went on to be among the most important artists of their generation, this shared sense of purpose may not just be possible but preferable, even a necessary ingredient for lasting success.”

Hockney’s unmistakable shock of blonde hair illuminates the majority of the photos in the show. The bond between him and Kasmin is clearly strong and trusting. Hockney is sometimes photographed asleep, weary from cavaliering jaunts to India.

Helen Frankenthaler in her studio, New York, c. 1965

“I sent [Hockney] a letter at the Royal College of Art, where he was a student, inviting him to tea,” Kasmin wrote in The Telegraph in 2013. “He had black crew-cut hair and National Health glasses and was frightfully shy and very poor. I liked what he was doing so I tried to get him represented by the gallery where I worked, the Marlborough. They found the work a bit sloppy and silly, so I started selling the odd drawing on his behalf for seven or eight pounds and not taking a cut. When I set up my own gallery in 1963, Hockney was one of the first people I arranged to represent.”

Kasmin’s Camera runs until August 23 at Lyndsay Ingram gallery.

Queer Artists Brought Pain, History, and Hope to the 60th Venice Biennale Fri, 28 Jun 2024 13:40:48 +0000 Deep within the cavernous Arsenale di Venezia, amidst hundreds of works on view at the 60th edition of the Biennale, two paintings by Peruvian artist Violeta Quispe offer an invitation into a queer, gender-breaking multiverse. The works — El Matrimonio de la Chola (2022) and Apu Suyos (2024) — are a patchwork of nearly 100 characters pulled from Andean traditions of Quechua culture, recontextualized and filtered through a prism of sexual and gender equity. The inspiration for these colorful pieces comes from an adolescence spent navigating Lima’s deep conservatism. 

“This led me to ask myself, where do I place myself in the nature of a society where ‘those minorities’ are found and marked by the society of a country that, unfortunately, still has patriarchal, racist, classist, homophobic and sexist thinking?” Quispe told ARTnews in a recent interview. “My origin is part of my blood, my touch, my art, my customs and my identity.”

This question of placement (or, more often, displacement) forms the core of Quispe’s work, but could also serve as a subheading for the exhibition’s central theme: “Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere.” It’s a concept that the Biennale’s curator, Adriano Pedrosa, knows well. As the first Latin American and first openly queer person to lead the famed exhibition, foreignness and identity have been at the top of his mind. But so, too, has beauty. Specifically, as his curatorial statement explains: “A foreign, strange, uncanny, and queer sort of beauty.” Constructing an exhibition full of this exact kind of beauty was the only directive he’d received when former president Roberto Cicutto appointed him artistic director in late 2022. After exploring the exhibition over two balmy days in early June, it seems Pedrosa’s mission was accomplished, mostly. There is beauty, strangeness, uncanniness, and, yes, queerness to this year’s Biennale.

“Foreigners Everywhere” is a particularly salient topic for exploring queerness. History is overflowing with all manner of LGBTQ people from all corners of the world. As Pedrosa’s statement notes, the figure of the Queer Artist “who has moved within different sexualities and genders, often being persecuted or outlawed” is integral to his grand vision. Of the 331 participating artists and collectives, there are dozens for whom queerness permeates their practices. These artists are often presented in clusters.  There is a large “queer room” (as one Biennale attendant referred to it) at the back of the Arsenale’s Corderie, which gathers works by artists from Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, and the USA. In the Central Pavilion, there are abstract works by queer artists from China, Italy, and the Philippines, while a small space near the entrance shows two congruous black-and-white photo series — Colombian artist Miguel Ángel Rojas’ El Emperador (1973–1980) and El Negro (1979) and Berlin-based artist Dean Sameshima’s being alone (2022) — staged next to a public restroom. While those works are a cheeky nod to both artists’ voyeuristic foci on cruising spaces, Sameshima’s paintings, Anonymous Homosexual in the Central Pavilion and Anonymous Faggot in the Arsenale’s Corderie, tap into broader themes of history and obfuscation in the Biennale’s queer offerings. 

“The paintings are an homage to all the queers who are no longer with us and for those who can’t be out and fully themselves yet,” Sameshima told ARTnews

An installation shot of works from the being alone series by Dean Sameshima.

Homage is also key to the work of Seoul-born, Los Angeles-based artist Kang Seung Lee, whose impressive Untitled (Constellation) stretches across the floor and up the walls a few rooms away in the Central Pavilion. A mix of drawing, embroidery, installation, and reappropriated organic materials and objects combine to pay homage to a generation of artists cut down by the AIDS crisis; forgotten figures such as Goh Choo San, Tseng Kwong Chi, Martin Wong, José Leonilson, and Joon-soo Oh are woven into her narrative. 

“Histories are very often transnational,” Lee told ARTnews. “By talking about the legacy of these artists, who are from different continents, cities, and locations, I wanted [to] create a queer genealogy that has not been recognized enough by mainstream history.” 

For Lee, this idea of “foreignness” became “an invitation to consider that we are all ‘visitors’ to this world and are here temporarily. In this way, it’s also about suggesting new possibilities to relate to one another and start a conversation.”

Conversation and community center Chinese artist Isaac Chong Wai’s deeply personal seven-channel video series In Falling Reversely (2021–2024), located in the Arsenale’s Corderie. The piece, borne out of an attack against Chong Wai near a construction site, features the artist and a group of dancers moving as one communal unit, reacting to a body falling. Viewers sometimes see performers fall in a circle, or else reenact, reverse, and slow down the movement of falling, “referencing CCTV footnotes of people who have fallen in public spaces due to physical assault.” Violence is a throughline in many of the artist’s works, but Chong Wai notes that his practice has helped recontextualize the darkness. 

“These violent incidents occur in the blink of an eye, and the speed of violence prompts me to use artistic practice to slow it down,” he told ARTnews. “Creating art has become a way to construct a different narrative — one where the aggressor’s belief in their inherent right to impose violence on others is removed.” 

A few rooms away, Lebanese artist Omar Mismar presents Two Unidentified Lovers in a Mirror (2023), a mosaic work of two lovers that notably obscures their faces through tesseracted tiles. “The reshuffling of the tesserae messes the faces up, maims them,” he told ARTnews, but it also “protects the identities of the lovers while furnishing their faces as screens onto which other faces can be projected. It is reminiscent of covering or pixelating one’s face on dating apps and platforms, especially for fear of persecution or for wanting to remain anonymous.” The work commands attention, leading many viewers to pause for reflection in front of it (and, often, take a quick photo). For Mismar, overtness was key: “I craved a non-oblique, assertive moment, where homoeroticism is not subtly hinted at but, rather, unabashedly portrayed without the codes of myth or symbolism.” 

Omar Mismar, Two Unidentified Lovers in a Mirror, 2023.

Like the work of Peruvian painter Quispe, fighting societal oppression with resilience and hope forms the narrative core of Diaspore (2024), a commanding, site-specific mural by the Indian collective Aravani Art Project. Stretching over 100 feet wide and towering at 25 feet tall, the work is a major statement of faith in the Bangalore-based group of cis and transgender women. With a caged bird set free as its symbolic heart, the painting curves along the canvas, showing a series of trans bodies that, as the collective explains, “depict emotions throughout the journey of [navigating the] gender diaspora, which is part of a long process called life.” Just steps away, Quispe’s colorful paintings El Matrimonio de la Chola (2022) and Apu Suyos (2024) invite viewers into a multiverse of nearly 100 characters as she filters Andean traditions of Quechua culture through a prism of sexual and gender equality. 

With Diaspore, the Aravani Art Project is not just claiming their space; the work also marks the 10th anniversary of the Indian judiciary’s recognition of transgender people in society. “A few years ago, I felt like a foreigner in my own country, as I was not recognized for my identity,” Shanthi Muniswamy, a trans artist from Aravani, told ARTnews. The collective added that transgender people “have to fight oppression, abuse and discrimination from every part of society […] The life of transgender people is a daily battle.” As Omar also noted: “Queerness is under a renewed threat everywhere, in places where it is still deemed unnatural, as well as in places where it is not legally criminalized anymore.” Staging a show focused on foreignness during an era defined by a steady creep toward fascism and nationalism was a gamble, but it paid off. 

Walking through the Arsenale, Central Pavilion, it became clear that the 60th Venice Biennale is not so much about magnifying differences, but rather, about human connection, struggle, resistance, and celebration. It is about art’s power to bridge cultural and historical divides. As Lee explained: “I have always understood that our thinking or artmaking is influenced by people [who] came before us. In that regard, almost everything we do is not just our own, but comes from the knowledge and histories created before us.” 

As hundreds of thousands of people pack into Venice this year, an array of strange, uncanny, beautiful, and queer perspectives nod to the past and stand rooted in the present, offering a hopeful look at what a future full of foreigners, everywhere, connected through art, could look like. 

Artist Bertille Bak’s Video Portraits of Workers Are Turning Heads in Europe Wed, 26 Jun 2024 09:00:00 +0000 In Bertille Bak’s five-part video installation Mineur Mineur (2022), children from Bolivia, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, and Thailand pretend to get dressed to go for work in the mines. Then these kid performers act out their labor, getting dressed in mining gear before heading off to their jobs and waving their tools in the air. Bak superimposes all this over lo-fi, childlike backgrounds, including a piece of cardboard with a rainbow painted on it. The footage acts as a reminder that there are real-life minors in these countries who have been forced by their circumstances to become miners.

When Xippas gallery showed this work at the 2022 edition of Paris+, Art Basel’s fair in the French capital, there was only one bench and a handful of headphones available. Interest quickly outpaced resources at the fair’s opening, where attendees competed to get a spot before this work. All editions of Mineur Mineur ended up selling to institutions.

This work captured the attention of Jeu de Paume head of public programs Marta Ponsa. “The aesthetic of the images took us to a universe of games and fables,” she said. “The mise en scène had humor and lightness.” She later realized she’d seen Bak’s works already, back in 2012 at Paris’s Museum of Modern Art, but, by then, Bak’s practice had matured: Bak’s 2012 show focused on Romani people that she’d encountered in the Paris Métro, but the artist has since turned her thematic concerns global with works like Mineur Mineur.

Seeking to capture Bak’s evolution, the Jeu de Paume showed eight of Bak’s video works, along with some sculptural accompaniment works, in a solo show this summer. These works ranged in subject, from Bolivian shoeshiners to Moroccan shrimp peelers, to cruise ship workers and their families living in Saint-Nazaire. All these works are bound by one subject: a focus on marginalized communities, especially their labor and the way this restricts their lives.

These works have gained the attention of many across Europe. Last year, Bak was nominated for the Prix Marcel Duchamp, France’s most prestigious art prize. By that point, she’d already appeared in one edition of Documenta, the famed art exhibition in Kassel, Germany. Signs that her art is on the rise are set to be further evident this June, when Athens’s National Museum of Contemporary Art opens a solo show of her work as part of a series of feminist art exhibitions.

Two benches in front of a five-screen video installation with a painting of a rainbow behind it. The screens show rural landscapes.
Bertille Bak, Mineur Mineur, 2022.

Ever since Bak started making video art in her early 20s, she has always been centered around labor. Her first works in that medium were shot in her family’s hometown, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, a French village whose life revolved around the charcoal mines—her grandparents were among the immigrants who were called to work in them. She shot her family and her family’s friends, looking at how the residents were being left behind. Her videos showed how renovations made everyone leave without the possibility of rehousing and shined a light on the lung sicknesses contracted by the miners.

Using video as an artistic medium interested Bak from the beginning—she shot home movies when she was young. But there was no video-specific instruction when she attended the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris’s top art school, and the medium’s not all that sellable in the art market. “But that isn’t my priority,” Bak told me, sitting on a folding chair near the Jeu de Paume’s café. “For me, it’s most simple to tell stories through videos with groups I meet, nothing more.”

This is the challenge Bak’s gallery, Xippas, has faced since it signed her a couple of years out of art school. Part of it is, of course, the relative newness of video as a medium, and collectors’ reticence about it—Bak said she sells more drawings than her videos, and that allows her to “live simply” in a suburb south of Paris. Still, major private collectors, like the Arnault and Pinault families, have bought her work, as well as major European institutions, among them the Centre Pompidou and the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco. “She has an approach that interests institutions who have a mission to discover new forms of contemporary art expression,” said Xippas director Tristan van der Stegen, who added that Bak also wants to “help people have another look at society—there’s something about it that raises the education and culture in a public institution.”

“I always return to my origins,” Bak said about how her grandparents’ friends’ plights speak to society’s inequalities. Of her subjects, she added, “They are often people who are in weak situations, facing gross inequalities we don’t necessarily know about. The idea is to show them in their own way.”

A group of tractors holding large rocks that move along a stepped hill.
Bertille Bak, Mineur Mineur (still), 2022.

Bak is not the most gregarious person—van der Stegen called her “shy” in his interview—so it seems ironic that her work requires her to speak extensively with communities that have never before been contacted by her. (Sometimes, she and her subjects do not even speak the same language, so she involves an interpreter to help her.) “Throughout the course of my life,” Bak said, “encounters occur, without my going out to search specifically to meet a group of people.”

Residencies are the reason these encounters occur. She met the cruise ship workers during a residency in Tétouan, Morocco, for instance. “When I’m exhibiting somewhere,” she said, “I like to be interested in the immediate environment—and why not create something in situ when it’s possible?” Before even writing a script, she spends months getting to know people, listening to stories about their lives, “so I don’t screw up their social and cultural context,” she explained.

Unlike some video art made today, Bak’s works do not have a large budget—she edits her videos herself, so the final products’ animated components do not gel like a Hollywood blockbuster. Bak hopes “there’s a feeling of reality, despite the storytelling I deployed, that we can believe absolutely in it, even though it’s just a game of cutting scenes together.”

She uses special effects inspired by arcade games—Mineur Mineur’s child miners wander up and down paths that zigzag across the screen—and adds her own DIYed sets, such as a cardboard diorama of cruise workers’ living quarters. Bak said she uses “cheap” special effects because she isn’t aiming to make her videos appear cinematic. “Everything that is a special effect can be tinkered with, like everything else: How can we tinker with people’s lives, augmenting or pulling them from the original reality?”

Yet the reality of her film’s participants, who are paid, remains. “I don’t come with the promise of social change,” she said. “It changes nothing in the situations of people involved in these new tactics of representation, so it’s an implicit activism.”

The ARTnews Culture (and Food) Lover’s Guide to Barcelona, Spain Mon, 24 Jun 2024 11:01:00 +0000 Barcelona, the crown jewel of the Catalonia region of Spain, is a city that weaves an enchanting tapestry of culture, art, history, and of course food. Nestled along a sun-kissed Mediterranean shore, this vibrant city mesmerizes visitors. I’m admittedly biased, Barcelona having been a favorite city of mine for years thanks to its connection with George Orwell and Picasso, though for many people, the only things that come to mind about Barcelona are the Sagrada Familia and the onetime Barcelona FC captain Lionel Messi. But there is a great deal for an art lover to see and an abundance of pleasant distractions in between museum trips.

The ARTnews Culture Lover’s Guide to Madrid Fri, 21 Jun 2024 09:02:00 +0000 With 3.4 million inhabitants, Madrid is the second-largest city in the European Union, and with about 45 museums, it is one of Europe’s most robust cultural centers. Landmarks in Spain’s capital city include Plaza Mayor, the Royal Plalace, the National Library, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, the Reina Sofía Museum, and the Prado Museum, one of the most-visited museums in the world. If you want to see the best that Madrid has to offer, consult our list of 20 must-see landmarks and cultural destinations below.

Outed as an LGBTQ Activist in Uganda, Leilah Babirye Finds Fame Abroad with Proudly Queer Sculptures Fri, 21 Jun 2024 09:00:00 +0000 Like her imposing sculptures, Leilah Babirye is still standing. And even better, she is thriving.

In 2015, Babirye fled Uganda after she was outed by a local publication as an activist and a member of the queer community. In her home country, being queer is considered a crime and can even be punished with a life sentence in prison. (Since Babirye left, the consequences have only gotten worse. Last year, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023, which includes punishment of death sentence for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality.”)

Babirye ended up in New York, and has been based there for the nine years since, working as an artist as well as an activist. During a recent interview with ARTnews, it was clear that she had no regrets about her identity—and that she wanted her artworks to similarly exhibit a sense of pride.

“I want my sculptures to command attention,” she said. “I give them hairstyles and adornments, inspired by the queer community, so yes, it gives the feeling of: We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere.”

In the Luganda language, one of the most widely spoken tongues of Babirye’s homeland, the Ugandan queer community is referred to as “abasiyazi,” which translates to “sugarcane husk,” a reference to the fact that the community’s members are thought of as discarded parts or rubbish. In Babirye’s hands, however, trash from the streets, junkyards, bike shops and other places takes on a new meaning, becoming material used in artworks that explore sexuality, identity and human rights. The negative connotations that follow the word “rubbish” are turned positive.

“Once I realized that you can use found objects and trash as art materials, I realized that I could let go of the negative meaning of the word. No one is rubbish,” she stated. “The process was very positive for me. I used to make work from pain, but now, I make it from joy.”

These artworks—acrylic paint on paper drawings that represent queer people, ceramics made of clay and sculptures made from wood she carves, welds, burns, burnishes, and adorns with found items—have caught on with the art world. Babirye’s artworks can now be seen at the Venice Biennale, where they line one part of a garden that acts as a venue in Adriano Pedrosa’s main show, and at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield, England, where she is having a solo exhibition. On Saturday, she will open her first-ever US solo show at the de Young Museum in San Francisco where she is showing a dozen sculptures, some of which are new.

Two giant sculptures of abstracted heads with hairpieces formed from arrays of trash.
Works by Leilah Babirye at the Venice Biennale.

For some, Babirye’s art is so effective because it bridges so many timelines and formal techniques. “I think Leilah’s work resonates with many people because it taps into historical and contemporary art as well as social issues across cultures and geographic boundaries,” said Sam Gordon, cofounder of Gordon Robichaux, her New York gallery. “Her work is deeply personal, confident, commanding and political, and this is bound up with the material and form.”

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park show, the result of a 2023 residency there, situates a series of larger-than-life works within an 18th-century chapel. Titled “Obumu (Unity),” it features seven wooden sculptures that were carved out of a 200-year-old fallen beech tree from the park and five large ceramic portrait sculptures made of clay all adorned with found objects, building on her practice of giving life to discarded materials, which tell “a story of joy, transformation, and, of course, unity,” she said. The latter, which she calls “an important theme” in her work, is about bringing together queer communities and showing the power of collaboration, not just when it comes to making her art but within life more broadly.

The artist said she was fascinated by the experience of working in the environment at the sculpture park because of its history. The park hosts works by British modernists Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, whose sculptures are sleek and sinuous. By contrast, Babirye’s are rough-hewn, a quality the artist embraces. But even so, Babirye said she’d looked to Hepworth and Moore for inspiration since college, and it becomes clear that her works does share a connection to theirs.

“It’s as though Leilah has absorbed centuries of global sculpture-making, and she has made an innate ability to transform trees and clay into entities that have never existed, that have individual personalities yet speak of a universal earth,” Clare Lilley, director of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, told ARTnews.

Contemporary artists, from Yinka Shonibare to Ai Weiwei, have regularly shown their art here, but Lilley praised Babirye’s show as being unique among because of its “abundant personalities who so loudly sing together in the space. Leilah is at the heart of what is important and worthwhile in art.”

A grouping of sculptures set in a sunny space, most of which are out of focus. In the front a black head is shown. The head has a gaping mouth and eyes, and metal loops dangling from one ear. A metal circular element holds a pile of abstracted hair.
Leilah Babirye’s Yorkshire Sculpture Park show, “Obumu (Unity).”

Lilley first became aware of Babirye’s practice when she saw her “raw and uncompromising” sculptural double portrait, Tuli Mukwano (2018), which was shown at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, New York. The two figures in that work—pressed cheek to cheek, with crown-like attachments made of used cans—were carved from a pine log using a chainsaw. The sculpture’s title translates from Swahili to “We are in love.”

Three years later, Lilley was awed by a show at London’s Stephen Friedman Gallery, which represents Babirye alongside New York’s Gordon Robichaux. “ It was strong and visceral and also loving and celebratory, most especially of women and Uganda’s LGBTQ+ community,” she said. “Her work caused me to cry.”

Babirye was born in 1985 in Kampala, Uganda. In high school, she and her mates took art course because they thought it’d be “an easy class.” There, she studied basics like still life drawing, which didn’t exactly have strict guidelines.

She didn’t become serious about art until 2007, when she was a student at Makerere University, where her professors taught wood carving and ceramics. “The ceramics program was focused on wheel throwing, but I was more excited about hand building because of the endless possibilities in what I could create,” she said.

In 2011, David Kato, a Ugandan LGBT rights activist, was murdered. Babirye said that was “an important event that sparked my activism.” She noticed that during the ensuing protests and Kato’s funeral, some demonstrators decided to cover their faces with masks to protect their identities. “This inspired me to create masks during my senior dissertation,” she said.

Since the early 2010s, Babirye has been including found objects including newspapers, aluminum cans, trash, and items she found on the streets in her work. The intention, she said was to “give honor to discarded materials and show that there is beauty in everything.” She went on, “I still get materials from the street, junkyards, bike shops, and more. I make them into something beautiful and important.”

A blocky black sculpture of a head with hair from a crumpled metal coil.
Leilah Babirye, Nakalyango from the Kuchu Ngo (Leopard) Clan, 2024.

Within the US, her work was almost immediately recognized as such. In 2015, the year she was forced to leave her home country, she participated in the Fire Island Artist Residency in New York, billed as the first LGBTQ artist residency in the world. Three years later, she was granted asylum in the United States and had her first solo show at Gordon Robichaux.

Even while working in New York, she continues to ensure that her work retains an African context. She has drawn influence from West African masks, which she finds “interesting because of the facial expressions and emotions that they communicate. For the Yorkshire Sculpture Park show, she created a mask titled Nakakumba, based on similar ones from the Kuchu Ngo (Leopard) clan. Babirye’s rendition is adorned with hammered metal, nails, bicycle parts and braided tires. “I draw inspiration from drag queens and fashion in the LGBTQ+ community when I add these adornments, which I think of as jewelery, accessories and hair,” she shared.

Babirye has also continued to create painted works on paper that she’s called “Identity Cards,” a reference to Ugandan ID cards. They’re inspired by people she knows, and also feature imagined characters that represent queer Ugandans.

“I like there to be some ambiguity when it comes to their gender. I draw fun hairstyles, jewelery and clothes similar to how I adorn my sculptures,” she said, adding, “I want people to feel empowered to embrace themselves when they see my work.”

In New Exhibition Series, Curator Avi Lubin Centers Artists from Kibbutzim Along the Israel-Gaza Border Mon, 10 Jun 2024 15:33:29 +0000 In his 1968 print Remaining Words, Israeli artist Dov Heller wrote in blocky Hebrew letters: “I finished reserve duty on Friday/I was in Gaza they threw rocks there/Today I want peace more than ever.” 

The work, created not long after the 1967 Six-Day War, was never exhibited during Heller’s lifetime—he died in 2018. The print, along with numerous other works, was found tucked in a drawer at his home in Kibbutz Nirim, a community along the border with Gaza, where he lived for most of his life. At the time of the work’s making, Israel had just seized control of the Palestinian territory from Egypt, before ultimately withdrawing in 2005. That piece, along with eight others, is now being exhibited for the first time in Kibbutz Sometimes, a solo exhibition open at the Mishkan Museum, an art museum in northern Israel.

“Heller returns from reserve duty and writes a text—in real time, which I think is super radical,” Avi Lubin, the museum’s chief curator, and the curator of the Israel Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale, told ARTnews. “This is a work from 1968 but I’m convinced he would say the same thing today, that despite what happened and despite the horrors of October 7 and despite everything Hamas did and everything Israel is doing in Gaza—we must find the way to make peace and talk.”

The exhibition is the second in a series that Lubin has devoted to artworks from towns along the Gaza-Israel border that survived the October 7 attack by Hamas. The curator, who has been a frequent figure at protests in Israel calling for a ceasefire and hostage deal, links the series to the historic mission of the Mishkan, which began in 1937 with the goal of salvaging European Jewish art and culture at risk of destruction. In the weeks after the attack, Lubin considered what became of the works by several artists active in the kibbutzim and towns that were targeted that day, which the museum considers part of its broader goal to “preserve the works of Jewish artists from communities that no longer exist,” per the Heller show’s description.

Other Israeli museums have also addressed this question, with Jerusalem’s Israel Museum installing a shrapnel and bullet-damaged landscape painting by Be’eri-based artist, Ziva Jelin, in November. A solo exhibition of photographic still-lifes by Osnat Ben Dov was on view at the time of the attack at Be’eri Gallery, an art gallery incinerated during the Hamas attack,  and was restaged at the Janco Dada Museum in December.

Lubin waited until April, when it was permittable to go to Nirim, to select works from Heller’s estate, noting when he was there that a structure close to Heller’s storage had previously been hit by a rocket. A painter, sculptor, and printmaker who established an etching workshop in Nirim’s defunct cowshed, Heller was best known for socialist and autobiographical works, like those that explored his separation from his parents due to the Holocaust.

(Heller was born in 1937 in Bucharest; his parents emigrated to British Mandatory Palestine in 1939 and he was unable to join them until 1949).

Rabuba, 2010-2011, Dov Heller.

In the Mishkan exhibition, however, Lubin felt it was critical to show another side of Heller.

“It was important to me to put his political work at the forefront,” said Lubin. “He was a man who lived until 2018 and, despite years of war and rockets and conflict, he kept working towards dialogue.”

Like many who lived in kibbutzim along the Gaza border, Heller had deep political commitments, both as a Marxist and as one devoted to peace with Palestinians. (It is a bitter irony for Israelis that the communities attacked in October were typically home to some of the country’s most devoted peace activists.)

Kibbutz Sometimes highlights Heller’s seldom-exhibited works. A 2010-2011 etching titled Rabuba, of a bird perched on the trunk of a potted tree,comes from Heller’s late Tel Gamma series. Made after Israel’s 2009 war against Hamas, it recounts the tragic story of Majda Abu Hajaj and her mother Raya Salama Abu Hajaj, two Palestinian women fatally shot in an incident with the Israel Defense Forces. (While an investigation was inconclusive, witnesses at the time said the women were shot by IDF soldiers while carrying a white flag and fleeing fighting.)

Heller often used baskets and birds as motifs for works about his own life.

“He connected his biography with their biography and his images with the images of Tel Gamma,” Lubin said, explaining how Heller intermingled his personal visual language with individual stories from Gaza to highlight their shared humanity.

Dov Heller’s print titled The Green Line, 1972.

Another work, a print titled The Green Line, was made in 1972, exhibited a year later, and never since. For those who don’t live near a border, it can be an abstract concept. Heller, confronted by the border every day of his life, rendered it unflinchingly real. In the work, a rough swathe of emerald green hangs beneath a wire fence, referencing the demarcation line defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel and its neighbors. For Heller, the line represented an omnipresent literal barrier that prevents dialogue between two peoples.

Shortly before his death, Heller met Haran Kislev, an emerging artist living in nearby Kibbutz Be’eri who was also creating images of the border. The two met at the opening for The Road to El Bureij, a 2017-2018 exhibition at Be’eri Gallery showing Kislev’s abstracted landscape paintings depicting a path between Be’eri and the El Bureij refugee camp in Gaza. For over a decade, Kislev has painted the landscape around Be’eri as, in his artist statement, “in the shadow of an armed struggle, concrete roadblocks near the border and the constant presence of armed forces.”

“Haran peers outwards and documents the blocked road, the changing light, atmosphere, and landscape, capturing the political interruption and estrangement,” artist Etti Abergel wrote in that exhibition’s catalogue. “The intense beauty erupting from his paintings stresses the horror and anxiety, the missed opportunities, the obstructed feeling of existing between the studio and reality, between the painting and the geographical location, between a utopia and its downfall.”

For Kislev, who carries on Heller’s legacy of engaging with the border, the series has taken on new meaning since October 7. Kislev was born and raised in Kibbutz Be’eri and was there with his wife and two children during the attack.

“That’s where they broke into the kibbutz from,” reflected Kislev. “There was always this fear in the paintings, of ‘what would happen if? If there was a very, very big catastrophe. And what does it mean to live there?’ This bubbling of the earth is something that preoccupied me for many, many years.” Since October 7, Kislev and his family have been displaced to a kibbutz in central Israel and he moved his work to a temporary studio in Tel Aviv; while repairs and reconstruction of Kibbutz Be’eri are underway, resettlement is currently slated for sometime in 2025.

Kislev’s work, in many ways, prompted the Mishkan’s ongoing series showing works that survived the attack. His last series produced in his Be’eri studio formed the basis of the first exhibition, Kibbutz Anxiety, which opened in December. It included nine works that the artist evacuated in a complex multi-trip process that involved military permits and the aid of a nonprofit organization—since regular movers weren’t allowed in the area—all during a period of frequent rocket attacks from Gaza. The exhibition, ironically, saved the artworks.

“A week after we removed [the paintings] a rocket or something fell in the area and the roof above where the works had been kept was completely destroyed,” Kislev said. “If we hadn’t done the exhibition, it all would have been destroyed.”

Lubin is continuing to work on the exhibition series, but at a wartime pace.

“Everything is very sensitive and I’m trying to do this very slowly together with the artists and their families, in order to understand what their needs are,” Lubin said. “I thought about one person and understood that this person is in a difficult emotional state, and that it’s better to wait at the moment.”

Returning to Heller’s Remaining Words, the artwork gracing the invitation to the opening of Kibbutz Sometimes, Lubin is unsure how audiences will respond to this print and the other artworks in the show.

“I think there are two components to our responsibility as a museum. One is to express solidarity and promote healing and extend a hand,” Lubin said, recounting how the museum immediately began hosting daily activities and workshops for the many displaced families in the area. In October alone, the museum hosted roughly 5,000 displaced Israeli children.

“In parallel, as a museum, we can’t only be a place of refuge and healing. We must also ask questions and challenge ideas. And part of our role, in this moment, is to not forget the questions: Where are we going, how do we move forward, and what is our future here?”