Sitting in Ni’Ja Whitson’s A Meditation On Tongues Sunday night, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching ghosts. Part of the American Realness festival, their moving performance (Note: Ni’Ja identifies as gender non-specific and prefers the pronouns “they/their”) reinterpreted Marlon Riggs’s seminal 1989 film Tongues Untied, which explored the fraught intersection of black and gay male identity during the critical years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
More than an ode to an important cultural object, A Meditation On Tongues seemed like a raising of the dead. By appropriating the film’s dialogue and imagery, Whitson and their fellow performers channeled the lost generation of black gay men depicted in the film through the bodies of today’s gender nonconforming and queer artists of color. This allowed Whitson to not only address a wider range of gender presentations, but also powerfully represent the ongoing legacy of Riggs and other late poets, writers and dancers in Tongues Untied.
It took me about 15 minutes to notice that the performers in Ligia Lewis’s “minor matter” were wearing black contacts that obscured the white of their eyes. That’s probably because for the duration of the piece, I was preoccupied by the worry that performers Jonathan Gonzalez, Ligia Lewis, and Hector Thami Manekehla might accidentally break a partner’s vertebrate. “minor matter” is approximately 65 minutes of these dancers slamming each other on the floor, climbing on top of one another and basically beating the shit out of each other. I loved it.
New Yorkers are prone to nostalgia. It’s a byproduct of the city’s rapid changes and frequently traumatic displacements, which is why art addressing these constant evolutions is almost always relevant.
The latest project confronting New York’s transformations is Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe’s Paranoia Man In A Rat Fink Room at Storefront for Art and Architecture. While gentrification is well-trod artistic territory, the show takes a fresh angle on the subject by representing, at once, the city’s seedy past, transitional present and sleek future. Beyond the city, the installation also indirectly but successfully points out the alternative space’s anachronistic placement within the open-air mall of contemporary SoHo.
Manifestos don’t age well. This became clear as Cate Blanchett, playing twelve different characters, channeled some of the most notorious artist manifestos of the 20th century in Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto at the Park Avenue Armory.
And yet, the installation succeeded not in spite of the manifestos’ irrelevancy, but because of it. The show compellingly reveals the universal drive to replace previous generations’ achievements with the fiery ideals of younger artists. There’s something reassuring about this continual cycle of rejection and innovation, as well as the inspiration viewers can still find within past manifestos.
Sometimes an artist’s project is so timely that it doesn’t matter if the concept is hokey. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Rob Pruitt’s The Obama Paintings, which is currently on view at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise.
Starting with Obama’s inauguration in 2009, Pruitt embarked on an eight-year long project to paint Obama every day of his two-term presidency. These red, white and blue-toned works might look cheesy in another political moment. But, in the context of the looming Trump administration, The Obama Paintings provides a meaningful opportunity to reflect on Obama’s presidential legacy, as well as the forthcoming exit of this empathetic and considerate leader. I’ll admit, I got a little choked-up in the gallery.
Feminism isn’t easy to pin down. It’s a social movement that shares a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, and social rights for women. It’s famously defined by waves (first, second and third) that only a few of us can fully explain without referencing Wikipedia.
For me, feminism is characterized less by the social movement it describes, than by woman who chose for themselves what they like, what they want, and who they are. It’s simple, and that’s part of why I like it. It’s inclusive, and it can be fun, pleasurable and charming—all qualities of the most infectious and influential kinds of movements.
As it happens, this is exactly the strength of “Pipilotti Rist: Pixel Forest”, the New Museum’s 30 retrospective of the artist’s videos curated by Massimiliano Gioni.
What is an artist’s role in activism? A panel at e-flux on Tuesday night explored the question many in the arts community have been wondering since Trump’s election a month ago.
The panel What Now: The Artist-Writer As Activist-Critic not only considered artist writing as a form of sociopolitical and institutional critique, but it also took a more expansive look at the intersection of art and activism. And this focus struck a nerve. Even on a rainy and miserable evening, the event space at e-flux was filled to capacity with over 70 people searching for a way forward in the forthcoming Trump administration.
A loud, tacky sign emblazoned with “Everything Must Go” would not feel out of place in the Jewish Museum’s current exhibition Take Me (I’m Yours). A rack of plastic goodie bags branded with the exhibition’s title hang in the show’s entrance, encouraging viewers to fill up on artist-made pins, T-shirts, used clothing, candy and a 25-cent ball of air from Yoko Ono. With this free-for-all curatorial style, the exhibit looks more like a display of samples than a contemporary art show.
That’s a bad thing. The whole show feels like a gimmick designed to lure people in the door by offering them free swag. Meanwhile, the Museum is presenting the idea that they are challenging the traditional relationship between art and its viewers, which not only isn’t true (it’s been done to death), it distracts from the sociopolitical critiques made by many of the artists in the show. Simply put, the show is a disaster.