Wit, Humor & Satire in Albuquerque

If you want to have a good laugh or contemplate a biting piece of social satire, head over to Wit, Humor & Satire at the Albuquerque Museum, on view through January 29.

Pulled from the museum’s permanent collection, themed sections of the show present artists’ side-glance takes on Western mythology, art jokes, image puns, and politics.

Right in the entry, you see the huge wall of Warhol Mao Tse-Tungs in blazing Pop Art colors, alongside Thomas J. Lane’s satirical ceramics – Bart Simpson impersonating Jesus and Homer as Buddha. Irreverant satire mixed with social commentary in impeccable execution.

Art history “jokes” and political portraits: Thomas J. Lane’s satirical Simpson ceramics with Warhol’s monumental 1972 Mao Tse Tung silkscreens.

There’s a dark 18th-century Goya etching in the first gallery and a funny Sloan print skewering 1920s tourists, but most of the offerings are more recent vintage, particularly whimsical sculptures and social commentary of the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties. 

Comments on Commodification: John Sloane’s 1927 Indian Detour etching, a satire showing hoards of souvenir-buying tourists descending upon Indian pueblos on their Fred Harvey packaged excursions.

It’s nice to encounter clever Sixties and Seventies Warhol, Rauchenberg, and Red Grooms prints in other humorous sections of the show, and to revisit Southwestern superstars like the T.C. Canon and Scholder, who like challenging stereotypes of what people think of Western people and cultures.

Political commentary: Red Grooms’ 1976 silkscreen Bicentennial Bandwagon,”which references America’s troubled past versus all-out patriotic celebration of American history.

Most of the anti-War and social commentary are in the back half of the gallery, with strong pieces by Bob Haozous, John L. Doyle, and Sue Coe. Diego Romero lays it out with a lithograph that resembles his normal medium of politics-on-a-plate.

War: 1990 steel-plated sculpture El Piloto by Bob Haozous, depicting a skeleton pilot whose nose is a plane with a bomb trailing.
Political commentary: Diego Romero’s 2011 Apocalypto lithograph.

Another stand-out is the first poster ever designed by Keith Haring – a combination of images that came to define subterranean visual protest in the dark, scary times of 1980s New York. He debuted it for an anti-nuclear rally in Central Park, but his unforgettable images and icons soon became ubiquitous on City streets and subways, on T-shirts, and downtown art galleries.

Indigenous humor and commentary are well represented by Jason Garcia’s water-carrying pueblo gals in a contemporary landscape and Wendy Red Star’s Native seasons studio-portraiture spoof.

War commentary: Keith Haring’s first poster – his 1982 Anti-Nuclear Weapons Poster, featuring his iconic “radiant baby”.
Western mythologies: Subversive autumnal studio self-portrait from Wendy Red Star’s 2006 digital print series Four Seasons, which highlights artificial elements.

Too bad that no one knows who made the 1960s traditional Zuni pop-culture Disney necklace. But it’s fun to contemplate the Nike-sneaker sculpture/handbag by Sean Paul Gallegos.

Exploring wit: 1960s silver Zuni necklace by unknown artist featuring Disney characters inlaid with shell, coral, turquoise, and jet.
Commodification commentary: 2015 satiric “high fashion” fetish by Sean Paul Gallegos, created from recycled Nike sneakers and gold thread.

There’s a lot to think about and enjoy in this provocative show. Visit our Flickr album to enjoy more of our favorite works.

Art of Indigenous Fashion at IAIA

How do Native American designers transform traditional beading, ancient symbols, social commentary, and tribal embroidery into contemporary fashion? 

Answers are on display in the exhibition, Art of Indigenous Fashion at Santa Fe’s IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art (MoCNA) through January 8. It’s a fitting exhibition that opened in conjunction with the tenth anniversary of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWIA) Indigenous Fashion show.

Take a look at our favorite pieces in our Flickr gallery.

2015 Jamie Okuma wool dress with shells. Courtesy: National Museum of the American Indian
2022 Recon Watchmen costumes by Virgil Otiz (Cochiti Pueblo). Courtesy: the artist.

The show puts the work of 2022 Native American Treasure honoree Virgil Ortiz front and center, with three imposing Recon Watchmen costumes. No, it’s not runway fashion. But these futuristic sci-fi ensembles from the year 2180 are made for a film where protectors travel back in time to help the New Mexico pueblos successfully fight their opressors in the Revolt of 1680.

Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo) combines film, fabric, headresses, and history to tell the story of a real-life Native revolution that Pueblo kids never learned in their New Mexican history classes. Look close at the awesome printed silk cloaks, lamé “armor”, and dramatic sculpted masks of these dramatic Native superheroes.

Next, you see how Native artists combined art and fashion from the mid-20th century until now.

Several historic pieces are by the godfather of Native American contemporary fashion (and early leader of IAIA), Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee), who had a successful contemporary line in Scottsdale in the 1940s and1950s.

The clothes in this exhibition feature buttons and clasps made by Charles Loloma, a Hopi innovator in contemporary Native jewelry, who also had a shop in Scottsdale and joined New at IAIA in the Sixties. Lucky that collectors saved these gems for us.

1950s and 1960s ensembles by Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee). Private collection.
2016 ribbon dress by Jamie Okuma ((Luiseño/Shoshone/Bannock)) and 2018 silk dress by Orlando Dugi (Dine’). Courtesy: the artist; IAIA

The rest of the work in the exhibition represents the 2000s, primarily three types – ensembles taking a luxurious haute-couture approach, wearable social commentary, and sly conceptual art-as-fashion installations.

The 2000 embroidered, appliqued wool “Chilkat” cape by Pamela Baker (Tlingit/Haida) is regal enough to wear at any black-tie affair.

The same for Orlando Dugi’s (Dine’) 2018 feathered and beaded evening dress with a subtle golden eagle and touches of sparkling corn pollen. Dugi is a self-taught couturier, who meticulously applies each bead and feather himself.

Two dramatic red-carpet dresses by Lesley Hampton (Anishinaabe) that have appeared at recent Emmy and Golden Globe Award events are reminders of the inroads being made by Native Americans artists in the entertainment sector.

Among the most dramatic social-commentary work, Canadian design team Decontie & Brown (Penobscott Nation) has two attention-grabbers – a “wedding dress” offering the wearer protective spikes from unwanted advances and radiating power-feathers, and the “I Am A Reflection…” mirrored man’s coat. Absorbed in the kaleidoscope of the coat’s reflected light, viewers contemplate Decontie & Brown’s message as they marvel at the visual magic.

Decontie & Brown’s 2017 Armored Beauty wedding dress and 2021 upcycled I Am a Reflection…Mirror Coat. Courtesy: the artists
2018 It’s in Our DNA, It’s Who We Are ensemble by Anita Fields reflecting tribe’s past and present. Courtesy: Minneapolis Museum of Art

The elegant embroidered cashmere shift by Sho Sho Esquiro (Kaska Dena/Cree) has delicate somber black wings fluttering across the back. But these are paired with a front shouting the savage message of 20th-century Indian boarding school government policy. Beautiful but chilling.

Anita Fields (Osage) is represented by a suspended fashion installation in the center of main gallery – a wildly oversized embroidered top hat and wedding coat titled “It’s In Our DNA, It’s Who We Are.” Intertwined strands are emblazoned on the front; images of the unfortunate treaty her tribe signed in 1808 line the inside.

Outside the main gallery, MoCNA has invited Mohawk multimedia artist Skawennati to create a digital mural and installation of her “Activist Avatars,” cyber-protesters modeling a virtual clothing line. Multiple screens of social-justice protesters in power-to-the-people cammo and calico march toward viewers in the MoCNA screening room to an energetic Native hip-hop track.

Skawennati’s (Mohawk) 2022 Calico and Camouflage: Assemble! multichannel video installation.

Many of the artists represented in this show – Patricia Michaels, Jason Baerg, Jamie Okuna, Sho Sho Esquiro, and others – were featured in this year’s Indigenous Fashion show. Watch the 2022 SWIA Fashion Designers runway videos here.

2019 silk and leather Sunset Dress by Jason Baerg (Cree Métis), symbolizing dynamic optimism and referencing trees, sky, and earth. Courtesy: the artist.

Transgressive Photography Shown in Santa Fe

Want to meet some people who enjoy breaking the rules?  You’ll meet plenty of mavericks who challenged the norm in Transgressions and Amplifications: Mixed-Media Photography of the 1960s and 1970s, an exhibition on view at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe through January 8, 2023.

Edward Weston and Ansel Adams set a high bar for classic, modernist photography, but the generation of image-makers who followed were driven to experiment, shake things up, and see where it all led. 

Detail of 1983 Joyce Niemanas Grandfather Polaroid collage
Detail of 1864 Lady Filmer’s album mixing watercolor and albumen print collage. Courtesy: UNM Art Collection.

Why not go back a hundred years and make new images with historic photo techniques (sun prints, anyone)? Has anyone tried embroidering photos? What about mashing up photo-silkscreen prints with readymade collages decorated with rubber stamps?

Can Polaroids be turned into fine art? Or making a sculpture or kitch card deck out of photos?  What about dreamscapes? What about creatively repurposing magazine photos or TV images?

A stroll through the gallery shows a broad range of creative 20th-century minds at work, with at least one case showcasing some 19th century pioneers.

Meet Lady Mary Georgina Filmer, a London society gal who mastered the art of photocollage as early as the 1860s. A page from one of her albums shows how she merged topsy-turvey photo images, botanical watercolors, and text to tell stories her own way – a true stay-at-home pioneer!

Lady Filmer’s album looks out on dozens of other Americans who went back into the time machine to toy with making albumen prints, stereographs, hand-colored photos, drawing, and cyanotypes. Example: the arresting 1970s hand-colored gelatin silver print by Karen Truax where she ghosts-out her central figure.

1970-1974 gelatin silver print Supernal by Karen Truax, featuring a bleached-out central figure and hand-colored domestic interior

For anyone curious about these old-timey methods, the curators have provided visitors with a place to relax, leaf through books about it, and watch YouTube videos on the gallery iPad.

Another gallery features artists who took photography mixed-media to the next level, like Rauchenburg’s litho that appropriates Bonnie and Clyde movie stills and an over-the-top abstraction by Thomas Barrow that combines gelatin silver print technique with a crazy-quilt of stencils, spray paint, and objects. So totally Eighties!

Detail of Thomas Barrow’s 1980 gelatin silver print Discrete Multivariate Analysis, mixing lights, objects, stencils, and spray paint

The third gallery displays lots of fool-the-eye and 3-D delights. What’s the most fun? Jerry McMillan’s photo-offset inside a “paper bag?” Betty Han’s Soft Daguerreotype of Xeroxed weeds on fabric? Probably Robert Heinecken’s T.V. Dinner/Shrimp. Hard to choose.

Robert Heinecken’s 1971 Van Dyke print T.V. Dinner/Shrimp, #1C. Courtesy: University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography.

Other sections of the exhibition show how 1970s photographers made images in which photography itself was the subject and told highly personal stories.

Take a look at some of our favorites in our Flickr album.

Artist book: Keith Smith’s 1972 gelatin silver print Book 32 – a 3D take on photography.

And don’t forget the coda that features a dramatic images by more recent photographers that make provocative social statements and represent voices that were not fully represented within the university system during the 1960s and 1970s.

Lorna Simpson’s 1991 Black, a dye diffusion transfer print with engraved plastic plaques

Artists Call to Action for Central America

In the early 1980s, socially minded artists living downtown in New York couldn’t handle the news coming out of Central America and did something about it. The United States government was intervening in the affairs of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and everyone was worried that the situation was going to devolve into another Vietnam.

This is just one part of the story told by the dynamic, timely, informative exhibition, Art for the Future: Artists Call and Central American Solidarities, on view at the University of New Mexico Museum of Art in Albuquerque through December 3.

1981 pamphlet Mujer Revolución by Association of Nicaraguan Women. Private collection
1983 Print of Contra (after a drawing in Rock Comics, 1979) by Jerry Kearns, depicting communist fears stoked by the US government

In 1982, a group of New York artists collaborated with Latin American artists to create a show with contemporary art and cultural artifacts to draw attention to the escalating crises in Latin America. By 1984, organizers launched a national call to artists to raise money and awareness of what was happening.

Artists responded with performances, music concerts, films, poetry readings, and exhibition. In New York alone, over 1,100 artists participated in over 30 exhibitions.

Nationally, artists in 27 cities organized chapters and events and tried to build alliances in Latin America.

Videos, photographs, sculptures, paintings, and ephermera pulled from archives (like posters, buttons, mail art, and pamphlets) bring the story of artist-activists to life – their concerns about US government intervention, their efforts to organize artists across the United States, and their attempts to help artists living in oppressed Central American countries.

The Tufts University-organized show resurrects a largely forgotten story of artist activism, illuminates the tribulations of indigenous communities in Central America at the time, introduces us to contemporary works from artists inspired by their indigenous heritage, and gives us an idea of what’s happening in those countries now.

Two contributions to Solidarity Art by Mail project, a fast, cheap solution to boost Latin American and Caribbean participation in a 1984 New York exhibit at Judson Memorial Church. Private collection.

The three-floor show is packed with arresting images, works, and histories. The art work and documentation push and pull visitors between the international political crises of the 1980s and social-justice issues being addressed by artists today.

Take a look at the show on our Flickr site.

The installation features work by heavy hitters of the 1980s New York art scene – wall-size Vietnam-era work by Leon Golub, images documenting Ana Mendieta’s performance pieces, and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s sketches, maquettes, and exploding-banana image that branded the Artists Call Against US Intervention initiative.

The first-floor exhibition area includes Nancy Spero’s dramatic scroll-like drawing that calls attention to the oppression of Salvadorean women.

1984 Arts Magazine cover with Oldenburg’s image promoting Artists Call. Private collection

Downstairs, there’s another 1984 work that similarly unfurls the length of the gallery – an accordian-book project led by Sabra Moore that is a collaborative reconstruction of a rare 16th-century Mayan codex by 22 women. It’s the first time the codex has been displayed since 1984.

1984 “Reconstructed Codex,” a project organized by Sabra Moore with contributions from 22 diverse female Latin American and US artists. Courtesy: Barnard

The third floor packs a punch, installing revolutionary images and publications around the infamous (and censored) Hans Haacke piece that questions the aftermath of the 1983 US invasion of Grenada.  Across the room, visitors pour over Carlos Motta’s 2005 wall-sized chalkboard installation Brief History of US Interventions in Latin America since 1946. 

Although the 1980 artist-activists did not achieve all of their utopian goals, the contemporary selections show that social consciousness, pride in indigenous heritage, and artistic futures are still alive – including a beautiful feathered immigrant history dome by Batriz Cortez, stitched by a team of immigrant collaborators.

2021 sculpture 1984: Space-Time Capsule by Salvadorian artist Batriz Cortez and immigrant collaborators – a shelter for immigrant histories.

Learn more about how the curator Erina Duganne and her collaborator Abigail Satinsky created this remarkable show:

Art for the Future will be on display at Chicago’s DePaul Art Museum from March to August 2023.

Carlos Motta’s 2005 detailed chalkboard installation Brief History of US Interventions in Latin America since 1946. Courtesy: the artist

O’Keeffe Museum Shows Georgia at Home

One of the most photographed artists of the 20th century, everyone is used to seeing Georgia O’Keeffe in her “formal” pose and gear – angular black hat, stark wrap dress, punctuated by her modernist Calder pin, standing against the New Mexico sky peering solemnly into the future.

In its latest offering, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is giving fans a special treat (and a different view) through its exhibition, Georgia O’Keeffe, a Life Well Lived: Photographs by Malcolm Varon, on display in Santa Fe through October 31.

2021 print of Varon’s 1977 photo of Georgia relaxing at Ghost Ranch. Courtesy: the artist
Georgia’s 1946 Part of the Cliff, a painting inspired by the view through her studio window.

The show features a smiling, at-ease 89-year-old surrounded by family, friends, companions, and pets – images quite apart from the GOK that we all admire and revere. How did this happen?

In the 1960s in New York, photographer Malcolm Varon established quite a reputation for documenting painters’ works in a way that captured a lot of their spirit. No wonder that in the mid-1970s, he was summoned out to Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu to document some of Georgia’s huge body of work.

While he was working with the artist during the summer of 1977, a journalist arrived to interview the icon for a feature in ARTnews.

No photographer had been attached to the story, so Georgia came up with hew own solution – ask her colleague Malcolm to shoot her in the setting of her Ghost Ranch home.

Since Malcolm was already familiar with the operations around Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu, he ended up taking about 300 photos of her homes, the landscapes that inspired her, and the people who kept things humming.

2021 prints of Varon’s 1977 portraits of Ida Archuleta, Candelaria Lopez, and Estiben Suazo, the people who managed Georgia’s homes and properties. Courtesy: the artist.

Despite Georgia’s reputation as a loner living out in the middle of nowhere, Malcolm appreciated that the day-to-day operations in the outback were quite fun, busy, natural, and happy at her two studio compounds.

ARTnews made a few selections from Varon’s photographs and ran them in the feature, but the majority of the 300 shots were never printed or seen…until now.

Visitors at the GOK museum pour over every detail of the portraits and landscapes, enjoying a new, different glimpse of the artist and her world – Varon’s portrait of Georgia’s sister, beautiful portraits of her property caretakers (whose families still take care of the GOK home for the museum), and her assistant Juan Hamilton.

The curators present several paintings from the 1940s showing the same cliffs, landscapes, and skies that Varon captured in the summer of 1977. Visitors have fun shifting back and forth between the oil paintngs and photos.

2021 print of Varon’s 1977 photograph of the tall ladder at Georgia’s Abiquiu home – a platform from which she surveyed the world. Courtesy: the artist

2021 print of Varon’s 1977 fun photograph of Georgia at Ghost Ranch with her friend and assistant, artist Juan Hamilton with the Pedernal as backdrop. Courtesy: the artist

Take a look at some of our favorites in our Flickr album.

Listen in as the curators of this delightful show draw back the curtain on the legendary O’Keeffe, her relationship with photography, and what happened when a trusted friend got her to smile for the camera:

Fashion Manifestos by Carla Fernández

What does “slow” fashion look like? A revolutionary Mexican haute couture designer shows how it’s done in Carla Fernandez Casa de Moda: A Mexican Fashion Manifesto, on display at the Denver Art Museum through October 16.

As a young woman, Carla met and got to appreciate Mexico’s indigenous communities as she traveled with her father, a renowned anthropologist. She loved collecting hand-made indigenous garments reflecting the distinct local styles she saw. 

As a student of art history and fashion design, the complex indigenous textile techniques in these out-of-the way communities seemed to stand in contrast to the ever-changing, always-disposable cycle of Western fashion.

Carla Fernández 2014 jacket collaboration with Juanez Lopez Santis (San Juan Chamula, Chiapas) over digital-printed silk top and leggings.
2003 wool poncho – a Carla Fernández collaboration San Juan Chamula (Chiapas) artisans ­– over a 2009 pantsuit. From the collection of photographer/model Luisa Sáenz

Why not use these indigenous “haute couture” techniques for a high-fashion collection? Why not create a mix-and-match aesthetic using traditional, geometric shapes? Why not credit the artists?

As presented in her first-ever museum retrospective, the results are dramatic, detailed, intriguing, and one-of-a-kind – a completely different kind of fashion system that incorporates indigenous work, pays and credits community makers, and gives artisans the time to create pieces that collectors cherish.

Carla travels to mountain and desert communities to collaborate with textile artists.

With her fame growing, communities now invite her to drive over, see what they’re doing and brainstorm about potential collaborations. It’s an approach that involves time, dialogue, and mutual respect between the artisans and Carla-as-fashion-facilitator.

In her mobile studio (Taller Flora), they create hand-woven, dyed, and painted works of wearable art that Carla brings to the runway, but always with an eye toward collectors who value innovative, indigenous craft traditions.

The exhibition features runway looks, accessories, and videos of performance art that showcase different facets of her fashion manifesto – that artisan-made is the true “luxury” in a “fast fashion,” throw-away world.

2021 hand-painted coverall and digital-printed jumper and coat with Leonardo Linares (Mexico City); embroidered jumper with Antonia Vasquez (San Pedro Chenalhó, Chiapas).

Fiesta masks, leather caballero fretwork, whimsical basket-purses, and fuzzy handmade pom-poms provide home-grown Mexican flair to the cinched, draped, easy ensembles.

Take a look through our Flickr album, and enjoy this video of the installation at Denver Art Museum:

Every section of the exhibition demonstrates her commitment to stimulating innovation and creativity among indigenous makers.

Inspired by decorative fretwork on rodeo apparel, a 2022 wool poncho and pants done in collaboration with calado master Fidel Martínez (Chimalhuacán, State of Mexico).

As of 2022, Carla’s collaborated with more than 164 artisans in 39 communities in 15 Mexican states, with more to come. The show presents a map and identifies all of her collaborators.

To see and hear more about Carla’s collaborative process, watch the Denver Art Museum’s 2019 seminar on culture, cultural appropriation, and fashion in this YouTube video.

And join in on Carla’s beautiful, expressive fashion revolution by checking out her current and past collections on her website.

Jeffrey Gibson at SITE Santa FE

What happens when a Native American MacArthur genius is asked by SITE Santa Fe to create an art exhibition during a time of a global pandemic and social justice marches? And invite him to a location where Native Americans make up a significant percentage of the population?

The result is Jeffrey Gibson: The Body Electric – a constantly surprising gallery journey where shape-shifting, cultural disassociation, beadwork, kitsch-image appropriation, gender-identity questions, and science-fiction inspiration reigns.

The show is filled with life-size beaded dolls and garments, films, pulsing papered walls, mysterious film experiences, and social statements either woven or stamped onto clothes (or are they banners?).

Gibson’s 2021 White Swan mixed-media painting in wall-papered gallery with a beaded, life-size, genderless “doll”
2020 Red Moon and Desert Sky minimalist sculptures created from strands of dance fringe.

Gibson, who is based in New York, is an intertribal artist who is a member of Mississippi Band of Choctaw and half Cherokee. However, his influences were forged from prestigious art schools, international travel, and living in non-Native societies.

The opportunity to come to Santa Fe, host a cinema series and several performances, and stay out West for a while was an open door to explore inter-cultural influences, host discussions with appreciative audiences, and show off his wide intellectual and artistic breadth.

In many of his works, Jeffrey mixes traditional “Indian” materials like beads or fringe with slogans, sayings, dime-store “Indian” images, and big-time art-world references.

See some our favorites from this exhibit in our Flickr album and hear Jeffrey explain his influences in SITE Santa Fe’s audio guide.

The little beaded birds that greet visitors in the first gallery and the big beaded life-sized “dolls” in the second were inspired by Jeffrey’s early work in the ethnographic collections of the Field Museum, where he encountered Haudenosaunee-made beaded tourist-trade whimsies and traditional “third gender” dolls for the first time. Why not make his own, but over-size them?

2021 My Joy My Joy My Joy, a mixed-media beaded bird inspired by Victorian-era Native American tourist whimsies

The nearby video gallery features a kaleidoscopic multichannel video of Sarah Ortegon, an award-winning Eastern Shoshone/Northern Arapaho jingle dress dancer, performing to the energetic Sisters track by A Tribe Called Red. This piece – She Never Dances Alone – refers to the dancers who came to the Standing Rock Reservation and lent their support to the 2016 pipeline protests though dance.

Here’s Sarah Ortegon in Gibson’s 2019 Times Square installation of She Never Dances Alone here…wait for it:

2021 They Play Endlessly mixed-media crazy quilt of paint, beads, words, and found objects.

And here’s another look at Gibson’s 2020 exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, where he mixed works from his studio with artifacts and art from Brooklyn’s own collection.

And check out Gibson’s work our album documenting the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian exhibition of Native painting, Stretching the Canvas.

If you’re near Nashville, you’ll be able to see Gibson’s The Body Electric at the Frist Art Museum February 3 – April 23, 2023.

Jasper Johns Takes Victory Lap at The Whitney

Iconic imagery, big statements, technical mastery, and long-distance endurance are all on display from the second you enter Jasper Johns: Mind/Mirror at The Whitney – the mind-bending retrospective of one of the century’s most celebrated artists.

Then you realize that this 12-part extravaganza is only half the story ­– a mirror image of the Whitney retrospective that is also on display 90 minutes south at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

1961 Map by Jasper Johns. Courtesy: MoMA
1982 Savarin monotype of Johns’ 1960 bronze.

Each has different works and minutely different themes (the number paintings vs. the flag), but reflect the same scale and scope of the artist’s astonishing 70-year career.

Most art lovers know that the early work of Johns and Rauschenberg in the late 1950s and early 1960s helped to redirect the New York art scene from Abstract Expressionism toward Pop. But show puts a much-needed spotlight on the rest of Johns’ career – how he kept experimenting with media, pushing his own boundaries, manipulating paint to evoke an emotional response, and not letting any art-world “ism” impede his creative journey over the next 50 years.

Hear what the show’s two curators, Scott Rothkopf (NYC) and Carlos Basualdo (Philly), have to say about Johns, the “rules” he “broke,” and the mark his work left upon 20th century American art:

The sheer magnitude and quality of the artist’s output is on full display as you take the journey through the Whitney – masterful paintings, prints, drawings, watercolors, and sculptures

See some of our favorite works in our Flickr album.

Exhibition entrance with full scope of Johns prints.

As soon as the elevator doors open at The Whitney, viewers are confronted with a curved wall that contains dozens of surprises – a chronology of prints stretching from Johns’ early days in New York through works completed as recently as 2019.  Walking left to right, the wall serves as a mini-retrospective as well as the intro to the larger show.  Bravo to the team for this brilliant, engaging welcome.

It’s joyful to poke through the first few galleries and experience Johns’ early experimentations with stenciled lettering, disappearing letters, collaged newsprint, and maps enlivened by painterly gestures and swipes.

But then you see works done in South Carolina, where Johns took in the beach and sky and recollected back to his childhood in the South. Big, bold, mystical, evocative puzzles taking the form of large-scale canvases, small intimate sculptures, and all forms of drawing and mark making.

1964 Studio with paint cans, created at the South Carolina beach.
1967 Harlem Light from Johns’ 1968 Leo Castelli gallery show. Courtesy: Seattle Art Museum.

You experience a room where the team has brought together work originally shown by Leo Castelli in his New York townhouse gallery in 1968. The exhibition designers mimic the size of the original gallery to let you experience the same thrill of interacting with these big, colorful, slightly conceptual, architectural paintings.

The centerpiece of the Whitney exhibition is a spectacular gallery created by the exhibition team to showcase the retrospective’s theme – how Johns used doubles and “mirroring” to explore perception and entice viewers to ponder the works more carefully.  The exhibition designer explains and shows how the famed bronze Ballantine ale cans are the fulcrum around which Johns’ subsequent work revolves:

There are hundreds of loans from other museums and private collectors, and the two museums even swapped some of their own holdings.

And Johns himself has loaned never-before-exhibited works, including watercolors and drawings that he did in the 1980s. Although the colors draw you in, they represent the artist’s process of working through the ravages of HIV and loss inside the art community.

The curatorial precision of the show allows you to experience an evolving appreciation of Johns’ later work – experimental monotypes in the print studio, contemplation of the arc of life in monumental elegiac grey paintings, and sculptures completed in the 2000s. See more on the Whitney website about the works in the show.

1990 watercolor from Johns’ collection with mysterious, surreal, personal imagery.

The latter are displayed in natural light, which allows you to enjoy the cast bronze and aluminum number blocks as the sun shines over the Hudson from different angles. The changes illuminate the hand work, gestures, and conceptual rigor over time – a fitting encapsulation of this two-city tribute to Mr. Johns.

Reverse side of 2008 bronze 0-9 sculpture. Private collection.

Exploring New York with Painter Alice Neel

The sights you’ll see! The people you’ll meet!  There’s nothing like seeing 20th-century New York through the eyes of one of most astute observers of the human condition. It’s why people have been flocking to The Met to see Alice Neel: People Come First, on view through August 1.

Considered one of America’s greatest figurative painters, Alice herself considered her relentless artistic pursuit more in line with history painting.  And what a history you’ll experience, walking through room after room of insightful portraits and cityscapes.

1958 Two Girls, Spanish Harlem with Alice’s neighbors Antonia and Carmen Encarnación. Courtesy: Boston Museum of Fine Arts
1972 portrait depicting Irene Peslikis, a leading Seventies feminist activist. Private collecdtion.

Alice’s colorful, insightful works introduce you first-hand to bohemian life post-WWI, the Great Depression, the socialist fight for workers’ and artists’ rights, the push for civil rights, the art underground, and the rise of feminism.

Through it all, Alice kept raising her family and painting in her home studio, sparing nothing in her portrayals of kids experiencing the world, families just trying to make ends meet in Harlem, marriages, births, and annual trips to the country.

Her earliest artistic influence was her early 20th-century academy training, in which the bravura brushwork of Robert Henri was admired – merging virtuoso painting with unfiltered views of everyday people and sights. Alice drew and painted like a virtuoso herself, sure of her ability of laying down an expressive line. 

Neel’s 1955 A Spanish Boy with Henri’s 1907 Dutch Girl in White.

Throughout her life, her frequent trips to the Metropolitan Museum bolstered her work with the continued influence Cassatt, Soutine, and other grand masters of the brush and the masters of social commentary, like Jacob Lawrence or Daumier.

The result is a decade-by-decade window into the life, times, struggles, and perseverance of a working mother-artist who took the same master, unflinching approach to documenting her pregnant daughter-in-law, civil rights leaders, Andy Warhol, and her own aging body.

Take a look at our favorites in our Flickr album.

Detail of 1978-79 portrait of her son when he worked for Pan Am, Richard in the Era of the Corporation.

Alice and the curators keep the surprises coming through the exhibition, but why not hear from her yourself?  Here is Alice’s own description of her life, times, and what inspired her:

Experience Alice Neel’s New York in the Met’s multimedia primer here, and see all of the works assembled for her incredible exhibition.

1984 photo of Neel as a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Courtesy: Neel estate

Hockney’s Personal Drawings at The Morgan

The drawings at the Morgan, David Hockney: Drawing from Life, on view through May 30, are a tribute to the friendships maintained and the artistic experimentations sustained over the artist’s 83-year lifetime.

Hockney self-portraits through the years.

The show was created by the National Portrait Gallery in London and centers on 100 portraits of five people who sat for Hockney across the decades – his mother and several close friends.

The exhibition is organized by person, so you can compare how each person looked from the beginning of Hockney’s studies, across the years, and most recently when they came to visit him in Normandy, where he lives now.

Most of the works are from the Hockney Foundation or from the artist’s own personal collection, which makes the show extra-special.

The exhibition begins with a series of self-portraits that Hockney did as a teen, and features his etching series about his first trip to America in the early 60s. Then it jumps to the many portraits he did of his mother in England.

Colored pencil portrait, Celia, Carennac, August 1971
Digital wall of Hockney 2010 iPad drawings
Charcoal drawing Maurice Payne, October 9, 2000

Each series shows off his masterful accomplishments in precise colored pencil, mixed-media collage, watercolor, crayon, arranged Polaroid mosaics, etchings, ink washes, tight pencil sketches, and the biggest leap of all – digital drawings from his iPad.

Walking past the portraits, self-portraits, sketchbooks, and digital drawings, it’s quite a tribute to an artist who never stopped looking, wanting to sit with his favorite people, and slowed down to adopt techniques by other masters that he admired.

Take a look at works by a pop-culture virtuoso. Here’s a brief introduction to the exhibition by the Morgan’s director:

Take a walk through the exhibition on the Morgan’s website here, and join a YouTube tour with the curator here.

And see our favorites in our Flickr album here.