As Project Art Lounge goes on a brief sabbatical to attend to the family building of the organizations’ founders, we remain steadfast in our support of artists doing the hard work they do. Women artists have often been the least acknowledged creators, even though creation is at the core of what they do. During these pandemic months, it has often been women who have been the frontline caregivers. They have sacrificed careers to care for children and other family members (and always have). With strength and energy, women are often the ones who speak up and speak out at injustice. They are and always have spoken truth to power, for they are truly powerful. Full stop.
Project Art Lounge has highlighted the work of many women artists over the years. We didn’t do so because they were women. We did so because something in their work inspired us to look closer. It matters to us who these artists are, of course, and we let their art speak for them. Sometimes we’re lucky to be able to interact with the artists directly. We add context and commentary from our own background and experience. That is us talking, not them. This is how we learn – through dialogue and connection.
Whether the artists we interact with are women, men, black, white, Asian, gay, straight or none-of-the-above, we’ve tried to support artists of all backgrounds without putting labels on them. But TRUTH be told, many cultural institutions have fallen short. A 2019 study found that artists in 18 major US museums are 85% white and 87% male. So while women artists are and will be a continued focus of ours, we too have fallen short and must do better in other ways to draw our circle wider going forward.
In this hyper-political moment, memes and slogans are being thrown about with abandon. Labels are being worn like a badge of honor or with blind allegiance, sometimes void of any true understanding for the underlying cause. Project Art Lounge believes that #BlackLivesMatter. They do, and it’s a shame that even needs to be said. More importantly, it needs to be demonstrated through changes in attitude. At the 2017 Whitney Biennial, the Museum presented Kamasi Washington’s sumptuous music and video installation, “Harmony of Difference” from the album “Truth” posted at the top of this page, an invitation to slow down, look (and listen) more deeply, and to think about the true meaning of “Desire,” “Humility,” “Knowledge,” “Perspective” and “Integrity”. At that time, we confessed with sincere humility that we, like all Americans need to own a “shared cultural heritage including the shamefulness of white supremacy.” Acknowledging that truth is a necessary starting point for dialogue and action.
So as we wrap up this post with some observations about the limits of one white man’s experience in the art world, we invite you to listen to Kamasi Washington’s Truth and consider the true meaning of harmony, difference and equitable justice to you.
A young follower confessed to me, “In the current environment I don’t know what to say for fear of saying the wrong thing, so I don’t say anything at all.” But then he realized that silence isn’t a solution either, telling me “if I don’t say anything, others will condemn me as well.” It was a message of frustration and grief, and one that echoed the call to action during the 1980 AIDS epidemic: silence = death.
So I suggested the young man keep reading, listening and learning. Eventually the right words and actions would come to him. I told him that just as he was struggling to join the conversation, people in the black community are also tired of explaining their experiences with racism. I could have pointed to the arts as another form of self-expression, where it still holds true that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
In the documentary accompanying the exhibition Gerhard Richter: Painting After All, Richter describes painting as a “secretive business,” a means of expression for someone “not suited for the public” or “a bit cowardly” about speaking their mind. He describes the painter’s studio as a safe place for “someone who wouldn’t speak out in public, but then goes for it here in secret.” To be sure, there are plenty of artists who put it all out there, who engage with and even provoke public criticism to get a message across. Think about the Dana Schutz Controversy or Kara Walker’s shadow art, or Marina Abramovic’s performance art. Actually, Kara Walker’s art shouldn’t be controversial at all, since her work simply tells the truth about slavery and the African-American experience, which should have been taught to every American in grade school.
What Gerhard Richter expresses in his work, in a quiet, more reserved and perhaps privileged tone, is also a truthful telling of his own experience, that of a political refugee fleeing from East Germany to the West, never to see his family again. In an interview shown in the documentary, Richter talks about the artist’s responsibility toward “personal morality.” But he also acknowledges that artists are not alone in their work. They’re “automatically part of society.” Many of Richter’s abstract paintings are based on photographs. As Richter tells it, “the photos create a world, but I don’t know what’s happening outside of the Frame.” That’s an honest admission of doubt – of the limits to individual experience, which shape one’s world view. It’s also a call to action regarding the need to pursue truth beyond the limitations of that experience.
Richter grew up in the Eastern part of Germany in an area that changed hands between Germany and Poland during the upheavals of World War II. He was a young man at the height of Nazi indoctrination, too young to fight, but old enough to be “haunted, like many of his German contemporaries, by memories and associations from the Third Reich”. He escaped to West Germany two months before the Berlin wall was built. As a political refugee he wasn’t able to return “home” until 1987. His parents were long gone. These, too, are experiences outside the four corners of Richter’s painting, which have influenced his work to be sure. With all the fame of a leading contemporary artist, Richter is also a symbol of white privilege. In a 2016 interview he expressed criticism of immigrants and used derogatory language that can only be explained as the prejudice of an old white man afraid of his own future and out of touch with the “Zeitgeist” that contemporary art portends to embody.
Richter never claimed to be an authority on multiculturalism, or the harmony of difference, but he stepped into a dialogue and spoke out. About painting, Richter says “To talk about painting is not only difficult, but perhaps pointless, too. You can only express in words, what words are capable of expressing.” Maybe he should have let his paintings continue to do the talking, but now we have a more complete picture of him, if only to educate ourselves about our own personal morality and bias.
In the documentary Richter describes an “astonishing” picture hanging in his Atelier: “it’s fascinating how peaceful it looks, how normal. When you look closely they’re having a nice little chat. But this is the commando that was forced to burn corpses.” It was a photograph of dead bodies awaiting cremation at Birkenau Concentration Camp from 1944. “I can’t explain it. It’s crazy…it hasn’t let me go since.” Rather than express his thoughts in words, Richter often conceals reality under thick layers of paint, scraped away, giving the viewer only a hint of what’s going on beneath the surface. That is the strength of his resolve – to uncover parts of our shared experience, while obscuring them at the same time. Perhaps he’s just muddying the water. At the DIA Foundation in Beacon, NY, Richter gives his process a new twist, inviting the viewer to see their own reflection on the glossy surface of his “6 Gray Mirrors”.
If Richter is muddying the water with his famous gray hues, then at least he gives viewers a chance to see themselves in the process – in the depths of his own introspection. In doing so, Richter may be offering a call-to-action after all. Take a good long look at yourself. Pause before you speak and think before you act. Just as Richter found his calling to paint, we must now find our path forward, while never forgetting the limits to our own experience.
In the n-th week of the corona shutdown, you finally get around to the projects that have been pushed aside and neglected for too long. Organizing papers and photo albums, cleaning out the files and updating the blogs that have been left unattended. Reaching out to friends you haven’t seen or heard from in a while. Sorry about that.
It’s also a good time to quiet the mind and think. That’s not easy when you are constantly inundated with emails, phone calls and invitations to zoom. Your inbox is probably full of newsletters pitching the latest virtual museum or gallery visit, online concerts and livestream events. No doubt these are all enticing opportunities in their own right:
At a time when you have too much time on your hands, it’s easy to fall prey to the never ending drum of attention seekers. After all, that’s who we are. So when you are finished with this blog post, that video stream, the online art class, take some time to listen to your own inner voice. Tune out the distractions and find the space and time to quiet your mind. Picture your favorite place, or artwork, or character from the book you are reading in your mind’s eye. Close your eyes and let the images take you on a journey. Enjoy that moment. When you open your eyes, you may find that the space around you just got a little bit bigger, your world a little better and your patience a little bit greater.
When you return to the world full of distraction, it’s worth remembering as well that the artists whose creation we enjoy are living through their own challenging times. With museums and galleries closed, exhibitions cancelled and creative energy confined to the four walls of a studio, artists need our continued encouragement and support. If you saw an artwork you liked on your last gallery tour, reach out to the gallery or artist and let them know you are interested. Buy art if you can. Support artists in other ways as well. Let them know you care. In the weeks ahead, Project Art Lounge will be thinking of new ways to support artists. That is our passion and mission.
Eleven years and 4800 miles apart, Jurgen Bey’s Treetrunk Bench and High Table have welcomed us to sit a while and remember where we come from and where we are going. Trees have that enduring quality about them. From a wedding reception in 2008 at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, Germany to Atlanta’s High Museum in 2019 these spaces of respite and conversation have come a long way. With a mind to the ubiquitous nature of the fallen tree, Bey actually only sells the chair backs and table tops. The tree trunks are locally sourced. It’s an apt reminder that we bring to any artwork our own sensibilities and interpretations. The canvas (or log) is as much a reflection of the recipient’s creative energy and potential as it is of the artist’s vision and message. It’s the dialogue that keeps art and all of us alive.
As a purveyor of contemporary art, Project Art Lounge often highlights emergent artists of our time, with a focus on art that goes beyond the literal to a more abstract or conceptual narrative. Occasionally, however, we happen upon a museum or gallery with a more traditional focus that captures our interest. Sometimes it’s the juxtaposition of established and emerging artists, which calls us to attention. Such was the case during a Labor Day visit to the Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, Michigan.
Large scale works by contemporary Korean artist, Lee Sung Keun, were presented together with a smaller retrospective of works by master painter Armand Merizon, Michigan’s own “painter’s painter.”
Lee’s exhibition entitled “Interconnected” filled the main gallery with suspended structures of organic forms and color, some mounted on the walls and others hanging from the ceilings, casting shadows as integral to the visual experience as the artworks themselves. According to the museum’s literature, “building a bridge between man and nature, Lee’s work is a perfect illustration of the concept of vital energy (Qi), which is omnipresent in the artistic culture of Eastern Asia.” The exhibition, which originated at the Waterfall Mansion and Gallery in New York City, is on display at the Dennos Museum from June 9, 2019 through September 22, 2019.
Whether by intention or happenstance, Dennos curators juxtaposed a retrospective of Armand Merizon’s work directly adjacent to Lee’s “Interconnected” – creating an interesting interplay with Merizon’s nature filled landscapes and evocative portraits of man living in and shaping the natural world of Michigan’s farms and small towns. The exhibition “ARMAND MERIZON: HIS LIFE AND ART” pulls together a diverse cross section of paintings by the Michigan painter and teacher, who died in 2010. Influenced by Dutch masters and contemporary artists alike, the Merizon exhibition includes both classical rural landscapes, nostalgic period pieces and abstract compositions with the color and vibe that seemingly harness the energy of Lee’s neighboring exhibition.
For a museum located far from the bustling art scenes of New York and Seoul, it was a welcome and unexpected delight to see these two exhibitions of local and international acclaim together. Whether it is the vivid energy that each of these artists embody or the “symbiotic unity” that both exhibitions claim for themselves and with each other, the Dennos Museum presents a well of creative energy and “Qi” in the otherwise placid surrounds of Northwestern Michigan.
Dean was a humorous, good natured man. He was a humble person, full of kindness. Most of all, he was a generous soul, sharing an endless supply of wisdom and curiosity. In his final wishes he asked not for flowers on his grave, but to give generously to the Library for the Blind and to the local bus drivers, who shuttled him to town when he could no longer drive himself. And if those causes strike a chord, Dean and his wife suggest an alternative: “Simply invite a friend to lunch!” That’s Dean, friends would say.
Sharing lunch and a conversation is more than passing idle time before continuing on with the day’s routine. It’s about making something meaningful out of the ordinary. Dean knew this to be true. Extraordinary ideas come from the musings of ordinary people doing ordinary things – just ask the startup entrepreneurs who made their first plans over pizza and a beer. Or think about the great works of artists and musicians, conceived in European cafes and brasseries. Whether in business or artistry, the valuable time in-between spurts of productivity is worthy of appreciation.
The myth of the starving artist is unfortunately no myth at all. Forced to choose between art supplies and dinner, many artists are fueled by creativity alone. Hardship or adversity can have the unintended consequence of nurturing greatness, but so can affordable studio space, good food and the occasional glass of wine among friends.
History books and travel guides from Key West to Paris are full of stories about intimate artist haunts, where painters, writers and philosophers gathered to converse with one another. Except for the occasional patron or benefactor (watch the film about famed art addict Peggy Guggenheim here), these were places of artistic retreat, not social inclusion.
It is time that we cast our net of curiosity wider, including people in our lives who think differently, creatively, inspiringly. Whether it’s a new neighbor, a colleague you met at the corporate offsite, or a person standing next to you in the check-out line, our lives are impacted by them. For better (a helping hand) or for worse (someone just standing in the way), your perspective will likely be shaped by unknown souls who surround you. It is far too human to look away and focus only on selfish needs and wants, but wouldn’t it be nice to just say “hi, how are you?” or even better, “can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
The artistic practice of Lee Mingwei is steeped in conversation and reflection about connections between strangers. In 2014, a solo exhibition of Mingwei’s relational art was on display at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. It included a version of his “Living Room” project originally conceived for the Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. In both editions, visitors were invited to spend time in a living room created by Mingwei, reflecting about objects in their lives and sharing their meaning with others. Strangers were even invited to host an afternoon in the living room, sharing their own stories with museum visitors. The point wasn’t to entertain or to celebrate the objects on display, but to create a sense of connection, an opportunity to reflect and learn about oneself through the rather ordinary act of human interaction.
In the spirit of that simple goal, and in honor of what would be Dean’s 90th birthday, Project Art Lounge is embarking on a bold new project, the “Take an Artist to Lunch” project. We’ll even throw in a few questions as ice breakers. To keep it genuine, there won’t be a film crew or microphones to ruin your appetite, just an opportunity to learn about one another and, hopefully, about oneself in the process.
Our hope is that what begins with a rather ordinary experience at the lunch counter, will provide inspiration and a sense of connectedness going forward. For details and information on how to participate, please respond below, indicating your city and whether you are an artist or would like to be a guest host.*
*Thank you for your interest in participating – the “Take an Artist to Lunch” project. Registration is finished for now. We’ll be back soon with more opportunities to support artists. Nothing stops you from reaching out to or hosting an artists in your community.
So please continue your support!
Michele Schuff’s highly anticipated new show opens on February 2nd at Sandler Hudson Gallery in Atlanta. To explore Michele’s work is to discover a deep and indecipherable sensitivity masked by layers of wax and pigment. Indeed she may only have scratched the surface of her immense talent in a show that promises to take us to a new galaxy “On The Edge of Forever.” Having had a sneak peek inside her studio a few months ago, I am intensely curious to peer through the polished lens of Michele’s telescope. Knowing her work, I don’t expect to unearth any dark abyss, but a world full of light and wonder and awe. Her show runs through March 17th at 1000 Marietta Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30318.
If only we lived in Andy Warhol’s world, where everyone could be famous for 15 minutes. After enjoying our minutes of fame we could move on with the rest of our lives. In a world of fleeting moments, we could muse about what might have been before returning to the reality that life is too short to be fulfilled and too long to be remembered in every detail.
Sadly, that is not the world we live in. Our new digitally afflicted lives are laden with photos and self-declared moments of fame and (mis)fortune, all well-documented on Facebook, Instagram and twitter. We no longer have the luxury of forgetting, or moving on as the moments of our lives are incessantly regurgitated by anonymous algorithms perpetually reminding us and our friends of yesterday’s reality.
Luckily there is art as a welcome distraction – a different way of looking at ourselves and the world than through the lens of the iPhone selfie. Artists like Pola Dwurnik, who takes us on a journey of her imagined world as the Queen of Painting, are the antidote to yesteryear. By taking her typical “self-ironic vision of future” to Instagram, Pola re-interprets the selfie as more than just a memory of the past. She gives us license to reinterpret or reimagine our own reality.
Birthdays come and go, but our news feeds never seem to disappear and birthday wishes are just a click away. As we think about how to answer them (in 140 characters or less) we should learn from Pola’s example and imagine our live not as a series of selfies, but as an endless array or possibilities waiting to happen. Happy Birthday, Pola and Happy New Year to all.