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    ‘People Are Lonely’: Terence Koh’s New Project Is the Ultimate Anti-Spectacle–He’s Serving Coffee in L.A.

    “I was drinking like eight coffees a day trying to figure this out,” Terence Koh was telling me last month, knelt over a portable burner in an empty micro gallery that would become his installation called KOHFEE. “Thinking about my move to L.A. and all these things, thinking about what the world needs right now… I don’t think the world needs another coffee shop.” I totally agree, and yet, was he on a journey to make one?
    A trail of handwritten pencil notes, transmitted as jpegs via text, had led me to this meeting with the inscrutable Xennial artist. They were sent by Koh with his signature flourishes like “2morrow” and a doodle of an eye in the place of the word “I.” For those who don’t know, Koh was one of the highest profile artists in New York City in the aughts—alongside other Lower East Side royals like Dash Snow, Ryan McGinley, and Dan Colen. That was before he began to pull away from the spotlight, a move roughly timed to the ascent of Instagram.
    Artist Terence Koh outside his installation. Image courtesy the artist and Make Room, Los Angeles. Photographer: Nice Day Photo
    Now on view through March 29 at Make Room, a commercial gallery tucked away on predominantly residential Waring Avenue between Hollywood and Hancock Park, “KOHFEE” offers an experience very different from the oppressively neutral aesthetics of cafes clad in cedar or Moroccan tiles and abuzz with loneliness.
    KOHFEE smells different, too: over the past month or so, Koh has transformed the alcove project space into a cave for coffee rituals whose floors, walls, and ceilings are held together by a mixture of raw earth and cow dung. The glaring daylight visible from the only window onto the space feels centuries away when you are kneeling under the earthen dome on the far side of the little room, huddled around Koh’s tiny campfire where he boils his brew.
    Artist Terrence Koh. Image courtesy the artist and Make Room, Los Angeles. Photographer: Nice Day Photo
    “It seemed ridiculous at first to do a coffee shop, but then, after I thought about how it’s a part of L.A. culture— like [the] sun and everything and how everybody seems like, ‘You know what? Let’s go grab a cup of coffee’—it’s a very positive thing for most people to come and gather,” Koh continued. “People let their guard down very quickly when I tell them it’s just like a simple coffee shop instead of an installation. I’m always joking that it’s almost like a serious art installation hidden inside a coffee shop.”
    The last time I interviewed Koh about his work was in 2016, when he was exhibiting an installation called Bee Chapel in galleries on both U.S. coasts—the work consisted of a domed room of proportions similar to the KOHFEE, with an infrastructure that allowed proximity to the thousands of bees Koh had begun beekeeping since leaving Manhattan for the Catskills.
    An interior view of KOHFEE. Image courtesy the artist and Make Room, Los Angeles. Photographer: Nice Day Photo
    Since then he has had a handful of shows in the U.S. and Europe, including one at Office Baroque in Antwerp that incorporated larger features of this current project—an earth-covered room and campfire. More recently, he had a show at Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York last year, whose press release was a handwritten decree similar in style to the texts I received, promising:

    the next 
    dedicate my life too a single body of work 
    no piece will bee larder than the size of the 
    human heart 
    —signed and dated, “24 dec ’22, lost angels.”
    Born in Beijing and raised in Mississauga, Canada, Koh came up in post-9/11 New York as the pseudonymic asianpunkboy, publishing an eponymous zine which is now on view in the Brooklyn Museum’s Copy Machine Manifestos: Artists Who Make Zines exhibition, through March 31.  
    As asianpunkboy, he began exhibiting his work at Peres Projects’s original Los Angeles location in 2003. By 2007, his art career (and market) had feverish momentum and the media had begun to canonize him as a deity of sublime excess—a characterization that found some congruence with the content of his work. His first American solo museum show, which opened as part of the Whitney Biennial that winter, was a blinding 4000-watt lamp that turned on a black orb, set in an otherwise empty and all-white gallery on the ground floor of the Breuer Building.
    A few months prior to that, Koh had moved into a three-story party palace at 45 Canal Street—in what is now the heart of Dimes Square, standing between Cervo’s and Dimes cafe—where he opened his own art gallery called ASS (Asia Song Society). By Art Basel Miami Beach of that year, he famously declared “I am the Naomi Campbell of Art” and also claimed that he intended to retire from art in the coming year.
    Terence Koh in 2010 in New York City. Photo: Marie Havens/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
    Nevertheless, his art career continued to evolve and so did his fame. By 2010, he was not only an art star, but he was also in the headlines for things like helping Oprah coax a distraught Lady Gaga out of her dressing room at the Met Gala. That year he collaborated with Gaga on performances at the Grammy’s, an Amfar Gala, and a charity event in Tokyo. Then, in 2014, Koh left New York City. The mythologizing of how Koh quit the art world began.
    “You are the first person drinking coffee,” Koh told me, grinning. “I just realized you are the first customer in this place, and it is gonna be so different because it’s such a mess right now, but I think that’s the fun part.”
    Some artists seem practiced in pantomiming childlike excitement about their work for their audiences, but in Koh’s case it feels completely sincere. The fact that this project is more humble in scale than many of the outrageous creations that precede it seems irrelevant. “The next few weeks I’m really trying different oils and things that will go well together with herbs to make a coffee that’s very… very simple but also earthy… we might have milk options outside in pitchers,” he tells me before seeming to change his mind. “Or maybe no options of creamers. It’s a coffee shop, but there’s only one choice, and we don’t give you the option, and it’s free.”
    Terence Koh’s KOHFEE. Image courtesy the artist and Make Room, Los Angeles. Photographer: Nice Day Photo
    On the day of the opening in February, a small line of patrons hugged the wall outside the door to the cave. Koh escorted groups of three or four of them at a time into the chamber; the event was a marathon of small coffee ceremonies where, each time, Koh held a heavy blackened pot over a small flame and grated and stirred various ingredients into the mixture. Once each batch was ready, he haphazardly poured it over a cluster of Dixie cups, spilling plenty of what was sparse to begin with. At one point, he mentioned something to the effect that spilling is an aspect of Chinese hospitality. (Outside the rush of the opening, during the project’s regular hours, coffee is served in ceramic cups Koh made himself.)
    Personally, I was into the hippie brutalism of the experience. Everything about this project revolves around smallness and quiet: an anti-spectacle where nothing is for sale. I liked sitting on dirt and I enjoyed the taste and texture of a weird coffee-based potion with traces of plant sediment in it. I didn’t see God, but it was simple and special. Three women dressed like art collectors were conspicuously positive about how amazing they found the coffee to be. Someone told me they saw one of them sip theirs and then throw the rest on the street before saying how much she loved it. While Koh certainly has said nothing to suggest that his cafe is a social experiment, part of me wonders if it is in some way some kind of game.
    Terence Koh’s handmade tea cups. Image courtesy the artist and Make Room, Los Angeles. Photographer: Nice Day Photo
    Koh’s original talent was always weaving enigmas, and I don’t believe he has much control over the fact that he’s a pop star, but this circumstance gives him superhuman license to blur the lines between art and life. When stars retreat from public life, they remain stars and, in fact “retreating from public life” is something only a star can do. It would be disingenuous to say that KOHFEE is an art world comeback for Koh. For one thing, there’s no way out of the pantheon once you’re in it—as evidenced by the routine reports of his comings and goings from retirement (like Cher), despite the fact he has actually maintained a studio practice consistently since the start.
    As I waited for my first cup back in February, Koh rejoiced suddenly—”Nice, it kind of works…yay!”—as the water tossed into the pot loudly sizzled. “Loneliness and solitude are two different things. Solitude is a beautiful thing. I’m starting to learn that and appreciate that you can have solitude in L.A., and then go and be social when you want. But I think I miss [how] when you step out onto the street in New York City, you bang right onto humanity and human vibration,” he said while simultaneously adding that he was not moving back to New York. “We do innately need that, to connect with humans physically and not through the screen. And in L.A. people are lonely, and they connect through coffee shops.”
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    A New Show of Ancient Egyptian Artifacts Brings Conservation Efforts to the Fore

    When the Carnegie Museum of Natural History shuttered their Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt last year, many of the museum’s priceless Egyptian relics left the public eye. More than 80 pieces from its cache of 5,000 objects went back on view last weekend in “The Stories We Keep: Conserving Objects from Ancient Egypt,” a new show that allows viewers to follow their preservation.
    While the museum resolved last year that it would no longer display human remains, “The Stories We Keep” will share spectacles like a classic coffin lid and a 3,500 year old limestone stela alongside ancient ephemera like makeup and beer mugs.
    Conservation technician Jenna Anderson with the coffin lid in “The Stories We Keep.” Photo: Matt Unger, courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
    The show’s main draw is a 4,000 year old Dahshur funerary boat—one of only four known examples—currently under the care of renowned wood expert Mostafa Sherif, who CMNH recruited last year. Museum conservators will give daily demonstrations of their efforts amongst the show during its year-long run.
    “Andrew Carnegie purchased the boat in 1901 and it arrived in New York later that year via steamer and traveled via rail from New York to Pittsburgh,” CMNH assistant curator Lisa Haney told me. “Once it arrived, it was quickly revealed that it would be too large to fit inside. So it was housed in a makeshift boathouse constructed outside the museum for five years while the museum was remodeled.”
    Associate conservator Mostafa Sherif at work on the Dahshur boat. Photo: Matt Unger, courtesy of the Carnegia Museum of Natural History
    According to Carnegie Magazine, Sherif has worked on two of the four boats from Dahshur. There, head curator Gretchen Anderson explains how CMNH’s specimen sustained damage since arriving. The boat was in a case from 1907 to 1956, but went on view, once staff coated it in a permanent compound called Wife’s Pride for protection. While it was exhibited over the next 20 years, visitors etched graffiti on the boat, and even climbed aboard.
    Sherif’s “minimal intervention” to reinforce its structural integrity will avoid painting over gaps, which he considers “forgery.” He’ll then reassemble the boat, plank by fragile plank, for the 2026 show “Egypt on the Nile.”
    Conservation technician Jenna Anderson at work. Photo: Matt Unger, courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
    In addition to working before visitors in the show’s Visible Conservation Lab, conservators will host office hours and solicit questions via QR code to answer over social media. Attendees can try black lights and microscopes for themselves and reassemble 3-D scans of pot shards.
    Objects on view in the Visible Conservation Lab. Photo: Matt Unger, courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
    A press release around the exhibition acknowledges society’s longstanding fascination with its subject matter.
    “I think ancient Egypt is so fascinating because there is such an amazingly preserved presence that is still visible,” assistant curator Haney told me. “All of the temples, architecture, and beautiful visual culture are so compelling and engaging.”
    A coffin lid being conserved in the show. Photo: Matt Unger, courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
    “The Stories We Keep” also recontextualizes these artifacts without demystifying them by drawing parallels amongst life across the ages.
    One display presents Ancient Egyptian baubles alongside contemporary counterparts—including a beaded bracelet that belonged to an Ancient Egyptian child, hanging next to a plastic hospital bracelet worn by the newborn daughter of the museum’s director of exhibitions and design. Inviting viewers to observe these conservation efforts while staging such comparison inspires respect for yesterday’s trinkets as today’s treasures.
    A visitor examines the Visible Conservation Lab in “The Stories We Keep.” Photo: Matt Unger, courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
    “The Stories We Keep: Conserving Objects From Ancient Egypt” is on view at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 4400 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, through March 9, 2025.
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    Iconic Photos of Music Legends Radiohead, David Bowie, and More Go on View in London

    Name a celebrity, and the British photographer John Rankin Waddell—better known as Rankin—has probably photographed them. Over the course of a three-decade career that began with co-founding the magazine Dazed and Confused (now Dazed) in 1991, Rankin has shot the likes of Kate Moss, Madonna, the Rolling Stones, Jay-Z, and Oasis. He has selected some of his most iconic images for a new show at Tin Man Art gallery in London.
    How does Rankin get take some of the most photographed faces on the planet and create something new that allows each personality to shine through? “My main approach is actually just talking to them about collaborating,” he said during a conversation at the show’s opening. “Obviously, I’m quite directional but I’m not trying to take the photograph, I try to make a photograph with the person. That approach allows people to feel comfortable.”
    Rankin, No Different From Anyone Else?, David Bowie for Dazed & Confused magazine in 1995. Photo: © Rankin.
    As you might expect when meeting a legendary musician, some of the shoots were filled with fond memories for Rankin. When meeting David Bowie in L.A., for example, “I thought I was going to meet the king of cool,” he recalled. “In bounced this guy who was the most enthusiastic sixth former [high-schooler] I’ve ever met. He was just extraordinary.”
    “It really threw me because I was expecting him to be like his other pictures,” he added. “It taught me not to presume too much from what I saw in photographs.” The image was published in a 1995 issue of Dazed & Confused.
    Press photo of Radiohead (1997), Pulp album promotion (2001), and PJ Harvey for Q Magazine (2001) at “RANKIN: Sound Off – Musicians 1990-2023” at Tin Man Art in London. Photo: Benjamin Deakin, courtesy of Tin Man Art, © Rankin.
    While taking press photos for the band Pulp, Rankin was surprised when lead singer Jarvis Cocker suggested the shoot take place in his old Datsun minivan. “It’s kind of the most anti-popstar picture ever,” Rankin said with a laugh. “I think he bought [the car] because he was obsessed with the ads for it in the ’70s.”
    “It’s kind of brilliant because it sums Pulp up in a way,” added Rankin, who also shot the cover for the band’s album Different Class (1995). “It’s almost the best Pulp picture I’ve ever taken because they’re very down to earth, very common people.”
    Rankin, Smokey Richards, Keith Richards tour promotional image from 2002. Photo: © Rankin.
    In a pre-Instagram age when images of celebrities were accessed via newsstands, Rankin was responsible for some highly memorable editorial shoots from the 1990s. Provocative, fun, and informal photographs that appeared in the pages of Dazed & Confused captured the spirit of Britpop and a cultural renaissance in both British art and fashion.
    Rankin, Thom Yorke: You Do it to Yourself (1996). Photo: © Rankin.
    “Thom Yorke was always exciting to photograph. He knew how to be himself perfectly,” Rankin recently wrote on Instagram. “Being so anti-commercial, Radiohead were perfect for conceptual shoots.” The image appears in a 1996 issue of Dazed & Confused.
    Yorke recently showed his own artworks at the same gallery Tin Man Art, produced with long time artistic collaborator Stanley Donwood.
    “Rankin’s visionary photography and publishing has transfixed music lovers for 30 years,” gallery director James Elwes said of the new show. “The works in this show empower and iconize an array of musical artists—for me, there are moments where we see pop transcend into folklore.”
    Rankin, Blondie Eyes Shut, Debbie Harry for Dazed & Confused magazine in 1996. Photo: © Rankin.
    On shooting Debbie Harry, Rankin has said: “You really have to try and push every image you’ve seen of her out of your mind when you photograph her. Everyone has seen hundreds of amazing pictures of her, you have to make a real effort to be different.”
    Now the founder of HUNGER magazine, Rankin is still photographing stars of the British pop scene like Sam Smith and Dua Lipa, as well as titan of the U.K.’s grime music scene, rapper Stormzy. His view on how visual culture has changed since the 1990s? It’s become “very boring.”
    Rankin, Spectre, Sam Smith in 2015. Photo: © Rankin.
    “I reminisce about the period of time when you weren’t chained to the phone, this 24/7 always ‘on’ thing,” he said. “I know it feels attractive or like it makes us less bored but actually I think it makes us more bored. The greatest ideas come from me not being engaged with other people in the new way, through social media or video calling. It’s either when I’m walking my dog and being bored, reading books, going to a gallery. If I don’t do that, I feel very empty.”
    He also lamented an era in which “you aren’t really make mistakes anymore. Everything’s being photographed or filmed 24/7. Everyone has a camera in their pocket and essentially doesn’t understand how powerful and destructive a camera can be,” he said. “It makes people anxious and creates a feeling of constantly being watched. That’s very bad for human beings.”
    “RANKIN: Sound Off – Musicians 1990-23” is on view at Tin Man Art in Cromwell Place, London, through March 24. 
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    See Nearly Every Work on View at the 2024 Whitney Biennial

    The press got its first glimpse of the always anticipated Whitney Biennial yesterday. Curated by Chrissie Iles and Meg Olni, this 81st edition of the museum’s signature survey is titled “Even Better Than the Real Thing.”
    Curiously, the Whitney’s press release leads off by saying that the title is meant to capture the threat to our sense of reality posed by Artificial Intelligence. Truth be told, this topical theme seems at best a side note in its story. It is mainly represented in two works by the Berlin-based duo Holly Herndon and Matt Dryhurst (their project is also featured on the museum’s website) They seem like conceptual and aesthetic outliers here.
    P. Staff, Afferent Nerves (2023) and À Travers Le Mal (2023). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Four works by Harmony Hammond. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Julia Phillips, Mediator (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Julia Phillips, Nourisher (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Diane Severin Nguyen, In Her Time (Iris’s Version) (2023-24). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Carmen Winant, The Last Safe Abortion (2023). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Detail of Carmen Winant, The Last Safe Abortion (2023). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Various works by B. Ingrid Olson. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by K.R.M. Mooney. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Nikita Gale, TEMPO RUBATO (STOLEN TIME) (2023-24). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Various works by ektor garcia. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of Seba Calfuqueo, TRAY TRAY KO (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of work by Holly Herndon and Matt Dryhurst [foreground] and Suzanne Jackson [background]. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Various works by Suzanne Jackson. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Sharon Hayes, Ricerche: four (2024). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Carolyn Lazard, Toilette (2024) [foreground] and Mary Kelly, Lacunae (2023) [background]. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Eddie Ruoolfo Aparicio, Paloma Blanca Deja Volar/White Dove Let Us Fly (2024). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Kiyan Williams, Statue of Freedom (Marsha P. Williams) (2023). Photo by Ben Davis.
    The second association the museum proposes for “Even Better Than the Real Thing” is more clearly where this show’s heart is. The defiant tone is meant to suggest a questioning who is considered the “real thing” and who has been considered marginal, fake, or derivative.
    The show is full of statements about disability (Carolyn Lazard, Constantina Zavitsanos, and the collective People Who Stutter Create); statements about contemporary discrimination (Carmen Winant’s The Last Safe Abortion, Sharon Hayes’s piece interviewing queer elders); and works celebrating Indigenous resilience (Cannupa Hanska Luger, Rose B. Simpson, Demian DinéYazhi).
    Charisse Pearlina Weston, un- (anterior ellipse[s] as mangled container; or where edges meet to wedge and [un]moor (2024). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of Tourmaline, Pollinator (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of Dora Budor, Lifelike (2024). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich, Too Bright to See (2023-24). Photo by Ben Davis.
    An element of Torkwase Dyson, Liquid Shadows, Solid Dreams (A Monastic Playground) (2024). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Canupa Hanska Luger, Unziwoslal Wašičuta (from the series “Future Ancestral Technologies”) (2021-)
    Maja Ruznic, Deep Calls to Deep (2023). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Two paintings by Mary Lovelace O’Neal. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of Dionne Lee, Challenger Deep (2019). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of Isaac Julien, Once Again… (Statues Never Die) (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    installation view of Karyn Olivier, How Many Ways Can You Disappear (2021) and Stop Gap (2020). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Various paintings by Takako Yamaguchi. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of Constantina Zavitsanos, All the time (2019) and Call to Post (Violet) (2019/24). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Various paintings by Mavis Pusey. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of Lotus L. Kang, In Cascades (2023-24). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of works by Jes Fan. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of Eamon Ore-Giron, Talking Shit With my Jaguar Face (2024) and Talking Shit With Amaru (Wari) (2023). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of Dala Nasser, Adonis River (2023). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of Rose B. Simpson, Daughters: Reverence (2024). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of Ligia Lewis, A Plot, A Scandal (2023). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of Clarissa Tosin figurines at the Whitney Biennial. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of one part of Demian DinéYazhi, we must stop imagining apocalypse/genocide + we must imagine liberation (2024). Photo by Ben Davis.

    There’s also a notable theme of celebrating heroic figures from Black history, in works by Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich (a tribute to Suzanne Césaire), Isaac Julien (an installation that examines the story of Alain Locke), and Kiyan Williams (a deck sculpture of Marsha P. Johnson).
    Pippa Garner, Inventor’s Office (2021). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Detail of Pippa Garner, Inventor’s Office (2021). Photo by Ben Davis.

    Speakers playing Holland Andrews, Air I Breathe: Radio (2024). Photo by Ben Davis.

    Installation view of work by Ser Serpas. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Detail of Installation by Ser Serpas. Photo by Ben Davis.

    Billboard of by People Who Stutter Create, Stuttering Can Create Time.
    On the whole, the show is anti-spectacular, with a focus on abstraction, assemblage, and fragments of things that suggest instead of speaking.
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    ‘The New Tower of Babel Is A.I.’: Artist Tu Hongtao Makes His New York Debut

    Born in 1976, in the year of the dragon according to the Chinese zodiac, artist Tu Hongtao welcomes the fifth dragon year of his life with an exhibition at Lévy Gorvy Dayan, making his New York debut.
    Best known for his visceral portrayal of dense cityscapes packed with bodies, Tu Hongtao developed his distinctive style in the early 2000s, following a brief stint in the clothing business in Guangdong Province, where he witnessed firsthand the frenzy and debauchery of a society grappling with rapid urbanization and globalization.
    For the following decade, Tu maintained a studio on the outskirts of his hometown of Chengdu, and sought solace in nature, poetry, and classical Chinese arts. His earlier critique of rampant consumerism and unbridled desires turned introspective, morphing into psychologically charged landscapes that grew increasingly abstract.
    The Covid years marked the latest evolution of that style, which is on display in Tu’s current show, “Beyond Babel.” A general reference to the biblical story, as well as a literary one to George Steiner’s linguistic treatise After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation (1975), the mythical tower stands as the symbol for a new language in an era of technological advancement.
    Installation view of Tu Hongtao’s exhibition “Beyond Babel” at Lévy Gorvy Dayan
    “I feel the new Tower of Babel is artificial intelligence,” Tu said in an interview with gallery co-founder Brett Gorvy. “Man has advanced technology and the homogeneity of the world and global communication appear to have been restored. But how much longer can the world order and our existing social ecology remain?”
    Such reflections stem from Tu’s experiences during the Covid lockdowns in China, which prompted him to question the application of technology in societal control. While such technology emphasizes the precision of converting individuals into digital data, just like AI aims to achieve an ever-higher degree of mimetic accuracy, Tu Hongtao seeks the opposite—an appreciation for ambiguity and uncertainty that remains distinctly human.
    For the artist, this poetic uncertainty is where creative freedom lies, and it is also part of the reason that Tu has turned to abstraction.
    “Tu Hongtao is a highly trained artist who brings together a deep understanding of traditional picture-making and a powerful gestural expressionism. While proudly Chinese in his identity, he strives for an international language that can be understood universally,” said Gorvy, commenting on Tu’s painting “language.”
    Tu Hongtao, The Corrupted Garden of Eden, 2020-23. Image courtesy of Tu Hongtao Studio and Lévy Gorvy Dayan.
    A highlight of the exhibition, the monumental, three-panel composition The Corrupted Garden of Eden (2020-23) reveals the artist’s process, in which he covers an initially figurative composition with layers of gestural lines and colors. This piece, three years in the making, also chronicles Tu’s emotional tumults and creative challenges throughout the pandemic. He nearly abandoned the painting twice. The many sheep that appear are a playful reminder of that period, playing on the homophonic nature of the Chinese word for “sheep” (yáng) and “testing positive.”
    As his inaugural exhibition in New York launched, we had a conversation with Tu Hongtao about his latest creations, his reflections on the Covid years, and his outlook on the world.
    Installation view of Tu Hongtao’s exhibition “Beyond Babel” at Lévy Gorvy Dayan.
    How was your experience during the years of the pandemic?
    In my city, Chengdu, there were intermittent lockdowns. We had to get vaccinated because without the vaccine, my child couldn’t go to school, and then after attending school for a few days, classes would stop again. In the first two years, people’s values, as well as their emotions, were all somewhat dazed. Starting from the third year, especially in the latter stages of preparing for the exhibition, I felt that people’s vitality was gradually restored. Last October, I chatted with some artists from Nanjing and Beijing, and it seems that everyone was more or less the same. Our values were shrouded in confusion.
    During that time, were you able to go to your studio? Did you have the motivation and inspiration to paint?
    For nearly two months, I was locked in my studio by myself. Creation came in stages. It was especially apparent with the large painting [The Corrupted Garden of Eden] that took three years to complete. At the beginning, I was very impulsive and painted for two or three months, then suddenly I lost the desire to paint and left it there for half a year before I felt the urge to continue painting. It was like adjusting to a new time zone, sometimes my eyes couldn’t focus. In the second year, I was so angry at one point that I tore the canvas down from the stretcher. Later, I made a new frame and stretched the canvas back onto it before finally finishing the painting. It was a process that happened in stages.
    Installation view of Tu Hongtao’s exhibition “Beyond Babel” at Lévy Gorvy Dayan.
    Could you tell us more about Babel and how it became the theme that tied the show together?
    The Tower of Babel has provoked a lot of thought in me. On the one hand, it represents globalization, as if everyone has a shared dream. But today that dream seems to have collapsed or, rather, torn apart. Reality is moving in the completely opposite direction. On the other hand, the Tower of Babel comes from George Steiner’s book After Babel, in which he questioned the language of technology and consumerism. In the book, Steiner says language has become very much like advertising, losing a lot of its original implications and experiences about humanity. Today, technology is advancing very quickly, and scientism has become a collective Tower of Babel. Steiner felt that language could save the collective unconsciousness of humanity from the turmoil of reality. And I agree with him.
    You mentioned that consumerism, including the commercial shaping of language, has been an important theme in your work. Is it still the case?
    Before 2010, I would criticize or mock consumerism more directly. Later, I moved beyond it. At that time, consumerism constituted a dilemma in reality, and today I feel that this dilemma might be created instead by technology and technicism. I want to find a more personal visual logic. Influenced by poetry and philosophy, I feel that nonfigurative forms are purer, hence I have gradually moved towards abstraction.
    Abstraction is an attitude. AI can do a better job of depicting things. Abstraction, like poetry, is inherently undetermined. Technologies like AI are moving towards certainty; the larger the dataset, the more accurate it becomes, whereas human thought and language are uncertain and infinite. On the surface, abstraction seems vaguer, but in fact, it is more accurate. Like poetry, the mood they create are more fitting, even though it is not precise or quantifiable. In this sense, abstractness is actually more accurate.
    Tu Hongtao, Melancholic Neuschwanstein, 2023. Image courtesy of Tu Hongtao Studio and Lévy Gorvy Dayan.
    Is this attitude rooted in an understanding of classical Chinese culture?
    I’ve spent a long time studying and understanding classical Chinese culture, as well as being familiar with Western and post-war culture, trying to blend the two. However, overall, I lean more towards the classical and the spiritual. I really have no interest in the materiality that the West often focuses on. Chinese classical culture has its own issues; it later became rigid and closed-off. When the classical spirit encounters today’s realities, having learned and understood a lot about Western art, whether Chinese art can release a new kind of feeling and perspective is a concern and practice of mine.
    Are you worried that doing more abstract work will reduce the recognizability of your works?
    I’ve been quite confident recently because I’ve found that the rhythm and sense of abstraction of lines are very unique. Western artists might have more experience with light, so they are good at colors and layers. If I were to progress in the direction of color blocks, it would indeed be difficult to truly step out of the contemporary context. I have come to value lines more and more. Especially the paintings upstairs, they are representative of my latest developments. They are powerful and full of energy, and I believe painting as a language can transcend other human languages.
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    A Hip-Hop Jewelry Show Is Headed to New York’s Museum of Natural History

    Last year, New York celebrated the 50th birthday of its proudest musical offspring, hip-hop, with a string of exhibitions and concerts across the city. On May 9, the American Museum of Natural History continues the festivities by spotlighting an aspect of hip-hop culture with a slightly longer timeline: its minerals and gemstones.
    From the gold rope chains of early pioneers Run DMC to the diamonds of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Tiffany campaign, hip-hop artists have forever used jewelry as a means of creative expression. “Ice Cold” will speak to this fact by bringing together a dazzling collection in which items of jewelry blur the lines between status symbol and work of art.
    Housed in the moody atmospherics of the museum’s recently revamped Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems, the exhibition offers pieces from each decade of hip-hop, from items sported by the 1980s Bronx trailblazers through to those worn by contemporary artists who continue to innovate the genre today.
    There’s Notorious B.I.G.’s gold Jesus piece (seen on his posthumous 1999 record Born Again), which boasts a lineage of wearers including Ghostface Killah from Wu-Tang Clan and Jay-Z. Slick Rick has called jewels a “super hero suit” and his gem-studded crown is included here, a nod to having being raised in the U.K. There’s the diamond-studded medallion of Roc-A-Fella, the record label that has platformed the likes of Kanye West and Cam’ron. There’s Nicki Minaj’s “Barbie” necklaces and further jewelry from the likes of Erykah Badu, A$AP Rocky, and Tyler, the Creator.
    “Hip-hop jewelry has had a huge impact on our wider modern culture,” said Sean M. Decatur, the museum’s president, in a statement. “These jewelry pieces are not just magnificent in and of themselves, they’re an important part of hip-hop history and hip-hop culture as artists claimed and transformed traditional symbols of luxury and success.”
    The show is in essence part three of a trilogy on the subject of hip-hop and its eye-catching jewelry. All parts are named Ice Cold. First came a documentary series by Karam Gill that sought to answer the question of how and when jewelry became incorporated in hip-hop culture.
    The follow-up was a glossy Taschen tome that told hip-hop’s “transformative story” of “loud and proud” with photography by Wolfgang Tillmans and David LaChapelle, and guest essays from A$AP Ferg and LL Cool J. It was compiled and edited by Vikki Tobak, who, alongside Gill and a star-studded advisory board, acts as guest curator at the American Museum of Natural History.
    “Jewelry is a cornerstone of hip-hop culture and you can see the evolution of jewelry alongside the rise of hip-hop itself,” Tobak said. “This exhibition explores that world of hip-hop’s culture of adornment and celebrates the pioneering artists and jewelers who made it all come together.”
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    A New Show in Paris Celebrates Vera Molnár’s Pioneering Generative Art

    Success arrived belatedly for generative art pioneer Vera Molnár: a major retrospective now on view opened a mere two months after her death.
    It was Paris’s Centre Pompidou that broke the news on X in December with a message that read, “It is with deep emotion that we learn of the death of Vera Molnár, with whom we had worked passionately for her next major exhibition.”
    That show, “Speak to the Eye,” now occupies the fourth floor of the Pompidou and offers a comprehensive look at an artist who seemed forever ahead of the curve.
    To gauge Molnár’s art world standing today, look no further than the tributes that followed her passing. Aside from institutions, curators, and critics, prominent digital artists, and NFT platforms chimed in to herald the impact of her algorithmic experiments, or “Machine Imaginaire,” as she called them.
    Vera Molnár, Four Randomly Distributed Elements (1959). Photo: Georges Meguerditchian Centre Pompidou.
    Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1924, Molnár studied art history at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. She would later say that her first impactful encounter with art came through the pastoral paintings of her uncle. This influence is evident in the earliest works presented in “Speak to the Eye,” a collection of drawings from 1946 that present landscapes as geometric abstractions.
    A year later, Molnár moved to Paris with her husband and sometime collaborator, the scientist François Molnár. There she fell in with a crowd of abstract artists that included Fernand Léger and Victor Vasarely, who pushed her geometric inclinations further. Works such as Circles and Half Circles (1953) and Four Randomly Distributed Elements (1959) speak to her contributions to the post-war geometric abstraction movement.
    But the concept that would come to guide Molnár’s practice and shape her legacy was the “Machine Imaginaire.” Beginning in 1959, she used simple algorithms to inform the placement of lines and shapes. At the time, computers were elephantine, academic, screen-less things, and for nearly a decade she worked on grid paper by hand.
    In 1968, Molnár talked her way into gaining access to a computer at the Sorbonne. She duly taught herself early programming languages such as Basic and Fortran and began producing work using punch cards and a plotter printer. This period is captured at the Pompidou in works such as A Stroll Between Order and Chaos (1975) and 160 Squares Pushed to the Limit (1976).
    Installation view of “Speak to the Eye” at Centre Pompidou. Photo: Janeth Rodriguez-Garcia/Centre Pompidou.
    This may be the breakthrough for which Molnár is best known, but “Speak to the Eye” offers an artist whose oeuvre is broader.
    There’s sculpture in the form of Perspective on a Line (2014-2019), a site-specific installation that contorts exhibition walls, and a photographic series of sand and shadows from the 2000s.
    Thrown in for good measure are 22 of Molnár’s diaries, filled with jottings and photographs and plans for upcoming works. She once said in interview that her whole life was squares, triangles, and lines. These diaries prove the point.
    See images of works in the show below.
    Vera Molnár, Icon (1964). Photo: Bertrand Prévost / Centre Pompidou.
    Vera Molnár, Same But Different (2010). Photo: Philippe Migeat / Centre Pompidou.
    Installation view of “Speak to the Eye” at Centre Pompidou. Photo: Janeth Rodriguez-Garcia/Centre Pompidou.
    Vera Molnár, “In Search of Paul Klee”, 1970. Photo: Hervé Beurel.
    “Speak to the Eye” is on view at Centre Pompidou, Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France, through August 26.
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    Iconic Photographs Capturing Early 20th-Century Nightlife Go on View in New York

    “Nightlife,” a new exhibition at New York’s Marlborough gallery, brings together the works of six photographers known for chronicling the nocturnal goings-on of European and American cities in the early 20th century, including Berenice Abbot, Brassaï, Bill Brandt, Weegee, Helmut Newton, and Irving Penn.
    Each of these photographers approached their subject from a different angle. In the 1920s, French-Hungarian photographer Brassaï spent his evenings walking past Parisian bars and brothels, armed with his camera and 24 glass plate negatives. His images variously captured the intimacies, excesses, and joys of night-crawlers, and were celebrated upon the release of his 1933 book, Paris de nuit. Henry Miller dubbed him “the eye of Paris.”
    Inspired by Brassaï, Brandt did the same for 1930s London, where he documented the nightly festivities of both the upper and lower classes. His own photography book, A Night in London, published in 1938, offered a glimpse into the prewar night life and labors of British folk across social classes.
    Bill Brandt, In the Public Bar at Charlie Brown’s, Limehouse (ca. 1942). © Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive. Photo courtesy of Marlborough New York.
    Many of the photographs in “Nightlife” were made possible by the invention and commercialization of the flashbulb, which for the first time in history allowed photographers to take pictures in the absence of natural or artificial light. Prior to the flashbulb, visual documentation of nightlife had fallen to draftsmen to record these environments in sketches.
    Photographers Penn and Newton, however, worked in far more controlled settings. Both were active in the field of fashion photography and vastly expanded its scope. Penn’s minimalist portraits hinted at nocturnal trends and styles. Meanwhile, German-Australian photographer Newton favored private as opposed to public scenes. His first two photography books, 1976’s White Women and 1978’s Sleepless Nights, are filled with intimate and erotic pictures of fully or partially nude women posing in bedrooms—a reflection of changing gender norms as well as a commentary on the male gaze that turns observers into voyeurs.
    Helmut Newton, Security, New York III (1976). © Helmut Newton Foundation. Photo courtesy of Marlborough New York.
    Then there’s Abbott and Weegee, two New York-based photographers who used the same documentary style to depict the Big Apple from opposite perspectives. Abbott’s images of 1930s New York see her hovering in the sky, presenting skylines, squares, and neighborhoods as they developed over time. The city is in the making and unless this transition is crystalized now in permanent form, it will be forever lost,” she once said. “The camera alone can catch the swift surfaces of the cities today and speaks a language intelligible to all.”
    Conversely, Weegee stayed on the ground, listening in on police radio broadcasts so he could capture inner-city mishaps such as crime scenes and brawls in the moment. “What I did,” he said, “anybody else can do.” Though ostensibly a press photographer, Weegee’s dynamic frames appealed to the fine art world: his work was first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943, included the show “Action Photography,” and later compiled in his first photography volume, 1945’s Naked City.
    See more images from the show below.
    Berenice Abbott, New York at Night (1932). © Berenice Abbott/Getty Images. Photo courtesy of Marlborough New York.
    Weegee, Lovers at the Palace Theatre (1945). Photo courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery © Weegee Archive/International Center of Photography.
    Brassaï, Le bal des Quatres Saisons (1932). © ESTATE BRASSAÏ – RMN-Grand Palais. Photo courtesy of Marlborough New York.
    Bill Brandt, Hermitage Stairs, Wapping (1930s). © Bill Brandt / Bill Brandt Archive. Photo courtesy of Marlborough New York.
    Irving Penn, Girl Behind Bottle (Jean Patchett), New York, 1949 (1978). © Helmut Newton Foundation. Photo courtesy of Marlborough New York.
    Weegee, Woman at a bar (1940s). Photo courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery © Weegee Archive/International Center of Photography.
    “Nightlife” is on view at Marlborough gallery, 545 West 25th Street, New York, March 7 through April 20.
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