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    ‘It Honors Millions of Ancestors’: Watch Artist Kara Walker Build a Mobile Musical Monument to Enslaved People

    If you happen to wander into the National Gallery’s sculpture garden in Washington, D.C., right now you’ll come face to face with a 19th century-style wagon. On its covered sides, stark black silhouettes enact unsettling scenes of slavery. It’s a striking object in any context, but especially when it appears just a stone’s throw from the National Monument, the White House, and the Lincoln Memorial.
    The wooden vessel is actually a steam calliope, a musical instrument that pushes compressed air or steam through large whistles to produce loud music. Titled The Katastwóf Karavan (2018), the calliope is a work by artist Kara Walker, who collaborated with musician Jason Moran on its initial presentation at the Prospect.4 triennial in New Orleans in 2018.
    In its original site, stationed along the Mississippi River at Algiers Point, the work stood adjacent to former slave trading posts, where people were legally bought and sold like cattle.
    Kara Walker’s The Katastwóf Karavan in the National Gallery Sculpture Garden. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.
    In an exclusive interview with Walker and Moran filmed as part of Art21’s Extended Play series, the two artists reflected on how legacies of slavery are imbued in sites across America, and how the calliope serves as a modern-day monument.
    “I wanted to really create this paradoxical space where the ingenuity of American manufacturing—the same genius that brought us chattel slavery—could then become the mechanics through which those voices that were suppressed reemerge for all time,” Walker said, noting that the work “honors millions of ancestors.” 
    The calliope historically was movable, and Walker concieved of her contemporary iteration in the same manner, planning for it to travel around America, serving as a sort of mobile memorial, unlike the hulking stones and bronzes that typically serve as such markers.
    “When you have monuments or commemorative things that just exist, they sit there and they disappear,” she said. The calliope, on the other hand, “always needs to be activated,” ensuring that the voices will continue to be honored.

    Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Extended Play series, below. “Kara Walker’s The Katastwóf Karavan” is on view at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden through May 19, 2022.

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    This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of news-making artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, like New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn about the organization’s educational programs at
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    An Off-Ramp, a Trauma Specialist, and Preparedness Pamphlets: How the MFA Boston Reworked Its Philip Guston Retrospective

    As curators at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston were finalizing the checklist for their highly anticipated Philip Guston retrospective, they realized that the one painting the museum owned by the artist was not on it. Apparently, it had condition issues and a conservator needed to examine the canvas. 
    This was last summer, almost a full year after four museums postponed the touring exhibition over fears that Guston’s 1960s- and ‘70s-era depictions of white-hooded figures would be misunderstood in that incendiary moment of racial reckoning.
    The move fomented a fiery controversy. More than 100 artists issued an open letter accusing the museums’ leaders of “white culpability.” Guston’s daughter joined the chorus of dissenters, too: “The danger,” she said at the time, “is not in looking at Philip Guston’s work, but in looking away.”
    Hovering over the MFA’s own Guston work, a flooded landscape scene called The Deluge (1969), the curators saw something that, for them, refocused the debate. Underneath the painting’s oceanic foreground they spotted three subtle Ku Klux Klan hoods, which can be seen only under a certain light, in person.
    “It was a very dramatic moment, as we realized that this painting has been here since 1990 and no one had noticed this,” recalled Ethan Lasser, one of four curators who organized the show. The painting promptly became the “beating heart of the show.” 
    “It really brought home everything we thought Guston was trying to say: that these things are hidden in plain sight,” he went on. “White supremacy is always lurking, always under the water. And here it was, right in our own institution.”
    Philip Guston, The Deluge (1969). © The Estate of Philip Guston. Courtesy of Hauser and Wirth and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
    The Deluge is one of 73 paintings in the exhibition, which opened last weekend at the MFA. The selection is accompanied by 27 drawings and a few spare pieces of historical ephemera—a Life magazine spread documenting a Klan rally, for instance, and a series of photos of Nazi internment camps—meant to contextualize Guston’s political messaging. 
    The Boston presentation is smaller than the three that will follow it at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (October 23, 2022-January 15, 2023), the National Gallery (February 26-August 27, 2023), and the Tate Modern (October 3, 2023-February 25, 2024).
    The Boston show, as of now, is the only one to include more than one curator. This wasn’t always the case. Lasser, the chair of the MFA’s Art of the Americas department, was asked to team up with the show’s original organizer, Guston scholar Kate Nesin, in late 2020, after the postponement announcement. He had advocated months earlier for the show to be scrapped altogether, but he agreed to help out on one condition: that Terence Washington, an independent art historian and curator, also join the effort.
    Lasser had seen Washington speak in a Zoom panel this past fall called “Talking Guston,” organized by Helen Molesworth and Laura Raicovich. During the event, Washington withheld his opinion on whether the postponement was right or wrong—”I didn’t really care either way,” he recalled—but instead addressed the tenor of the ensuing debate. 
    Philip Guston in his studio, 1970. Photo: Frank K. Lloyd. Courtesy of the Guston Foundation and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
    “I think the conversation around the postponement was framed by and large by people who disagreed with it,” he said. He noted that critics “had been speaking about audience engagement in the galleries as if it was both neutral and abstract… I think some valid questions had been left out.”
    Still one other person joined the curatorial team, and she wasn’t a curator at all: Megan Bernard, the MFA’s director of membership. The reasoning was that, as a group, the curators made a point to emphasize how the show would impact all museum goers, not just the academic ones. 
    As such, they put a number of preemptive measures in place. Visitors to the exhibition are handed an “Emotional Preparedness” pamphlet, penned by a trauma specialist brought in by Bernard. The contextual materials shown alongside Guston’s art are housed in closed vitrines, which are optional for viewers to experience.
    There’s also an “off-ramp” on the exhibition path prior to the gallery where the majority of the 11 artworks with Klan imagery are contained, should viewers wish to opt out at that point. (The show’s original checklist featured 15 Klan paintings. Five were removed for space considerations, and one—The Deluge—was added.)
    The goal, Nesin said, was to “hold on to the open-endedness” of Guston’s work. “We’ve made some strong choices ourselves in the show, but we’ve tried really hard not to make them in ways that might foreclose the possibility that viewers can arrive at their own interpretations of paintings that are often contradictory.”
    “Holding onto to the ambiguity and letting it be uncomfortable, letting it push us to ask questions and sit with those questions,” Nesin added, “has really driven us.” 
    Philip Guston, Couple in Bed 1977. © The Estate of Philip Guston. Courtesy of Hauser and Wirth, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
    The curators pointed out that Guston himself often offered contradictory statements about the intentionality of his work, many examples of which are included in the show’s wall labels and audio tour. Historians and critics also offer differing opinions. There’s even a dedicated gallery where visitors are asked to reflect on what they’ve seen and post their responses on the wall. 
    “How do we understand the way people might see these things?” said Washington. He recalled the revelation about the hooded figures hiding in The Deluge: “How is it that things hide in plain sight?”
    Underlining the show is a larger conversation about “the way that we use artists’ intent in a curatorial framework,” Washington said. “One thing that’s important to remember is that intent does not justify impact.” 
    Philip Guston, Painting, Smoking, Eating (1973). © The Estate of Philip Guston. Courtesy of Hauser and Wirth
 and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
    “Philip Guston Now” is on view now through September 11, 2022 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
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    In Pictures: See Long-Lost Paintings by Francis Hines, Who Wrapped Art and Buildings in Fabric, Discovered in a Dumpster by a Car Mechanic

    In a surprising instance of accidental discovery, a car mechanic found several hundred works by the artist Francis Hines in a dumpster outside the late artist’s studio in 2017. Tomorrow, 30 of the paintings and one sculpture are going on show in “Unwrapping the Mystery of New York’s Wrapper” at Hollis Taggart’s Southport gallery in Connecticut. A smaller presentation will also be exhibited in Manhattan.
    The works in question were being cleared from the studio barn in Watertown, Connecticut following Hines’s death in 2016, aged 96. The artist was well known in the 1970s and 80s for wrapping both his artworks and major city structures in strips of synthetic fabric. The most famous example was the Washington Square Arch, which Hines wrapped in 8,000 yards of white polyester in 1980, as part of an effort by New York University to raise funds for its restoration. But by the end of his career, Hines had fallen into near obscurity, and his works were left abandoned in the old barn.
    Taggart says the new show “captures Hines as an artist ahead of his time, as we have seen the ongoing dissolution of boundaries between artforms and dynamic combinations of materials.” 
    The trove’s discoverer, Jared Whipple, who is selling the works, first heard about them from a friend contracted to clear out the studio. At the time, he thought they might work well as a Halloween-themed “haunted art gallery”, until he spotted a signature on the back of one of the canvases. 
    Whipple began tracking down the artist’s family and colleagues in order to further research Hines’s life. Additional archival material related to Hines’s work, including photographs, video footage and drawings, has since come to light, some of which will be included in the exhibition. It has been curated by Hollis Taggart’s director Paul Efstathiou and the art historian Peter Hastings Falk, who helped Whipple with his research and put him in contact with the gallery. 
    Whipple soon realized the collection might be worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Twenty-three of the paintings in the show, which are priced at $35,000, have already been snapped up by keen collectors. Whipple plans to use the profits from these sales to renovate his Connecticut warehouse, where he will display other works by Hines.
    “The significance of the discovery has been the four-and-a-half-year journey that I’ve been on,” Whipple said. “It has opened up friendships, avenues and a world which I never thought I’d be a part of, or have such a deep appreciation for.” 
    See the works that will be included in the show below.
    Francis Hines, Legacy (1988). All images courtesy of Hollis Taggart.
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983).
    Francis Hines, Icon, NY (1987).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983)
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983)
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (circa 1984).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1987).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1987).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1986).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1985)
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1984).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1984).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1984).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1984)
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1983).
    Francis Hines, Untitled (1984).
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    Here Are the 9 Best Pavilions at the 2022 Venice Biennale

    After three years, the Venice Biennale has returned to Italy. In what has been described as the art-world Olympics, nations from around the globe organize presentations in a bid to gain international exposure for their artists. (The stakes can be high: The Polish pavilion, for example, receives more visitors during the first week of the Biennale than any of its museums draw all year.)
    To help narrow down which pavilions deserve your closest attention, we’ve put together a guide to our nine favorites below.

    Gian Maria Tosatti, “History of the Night and the Fate of Comets” curated by Eugenio Viola
    Gian Maria Tosatti’s “History of the Night and the Fate of Comets” curated by Eugenio Viola at the Italian pavilion in the Arsenale. Photo by Sarah Cascone.
    The Italian pavilion in the Arsenale has been drawing long lines to see its massive installation, which takes over a 6,500-square-foot space called the Tese delle Vergini.
    As the first artist ever to singlehandedly represent the country at the event, Gian Maria Tosatti has created a haunting site-specific installation that draws on Italian history and the decline of industry in the 20th century.
    Visitors are asked to line up one at a time to enter the exhibition, which is filled with old machines sourced from defunct factories. You’ll encounter strange control panels, a room full of mysterious ductwork hanging from the ceiling, and a large bank of sewing machines, seemingly ready for workers to return at any moment.
    Throughout, you’re asked to maintain silence, which allows the ominous quiet of the space to take full effect—especially when it’s interrupted, as by a thunderous creaking door.
    The installation is imbued with a sense of dystopia, culminating with a darkened room where you can step out onto a platform above the water. Contrasting with the emptiness of the rest of the space, there are lights twinkling in the distance, suggesting that someone is out there, beyond this failed experiment.
    —Sarah Cascone

    Skuja Braden, “Selling Water bythe River,” curated by Solvita Krese and Andra Silapētere
    Latvian pavilion, Skuja Braden, “Selling Water by the River,” curated by Solvita Krese and Andra Silapētere, installation view at the Arsenale. Photo courtesy of the Latvia Pavilion.
    Ceramics are not typically the flashiest of mediums, but artist duo Skuja Braden has created a show-stopping installation at the Latvian pavilion at the Arsenale. The more than 300 porcelain works make up for their modest scale in sheer volume, with a profusion of lovingly painted vessels piled up on tables, hanging from the walls, and even scattered across the floor.
    The partners Inguna Skuja and Melissa D. Breiden have been a couple for 22 years, but cannot legally marry in Latvia, where homophobia is widespread. They’ve spoken about facing physical violence, including people throwing bags of excrement at them, making their selection a particularly progressive choice for the nation.
    Their advocacy for the LGBTQ community is visible in works with erotic scenes of female lovers and a wall of bottles shaped like large, perky breasts. But there are also skulls, snails, fruits, lily pads, and many other objects represented in works that range from purely decorative to functional plates, adding a welcome element of design to the exhibition.
    This is one pavilion that rewards close looking, with a plethora of tiny little details waiting to be discovered.
    —Sarah Cascone

    Yunchul Kim, “Gyre,” curated by Jungyeon Park, Kahee Jeong and Catherine (Hyun Seo) Chiang More

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    Vesuvius Was Hot, But This New Exhibition of Erotic Art Excavated From Pompeii is Hotter. See Images Here

    It turns out the eruption of Mount Vesuvius was not necessarily the hottest thing to happen in Pompeii.
    A new exhibition in Italy brings together the many examples of erotic art that once hung in the razed Roman city. Some 70 objects, including sexy frescos, marble sculptures, and bronze medallions, are on display in the show, which opens today at the Pompeii Archaeological Park. 
    Many works have been excavated from the site in recent years, such as a wall painting discovered in 2018 that depicts Priapus, the god of fertility, weighing his penis on a scale. Another, unearthed in 2019, shows the Greek princess Leda being impregnated by a Roman god disguised as a swan.
    Greek myths like that of Leda and the swan were commonly depicted in ancient Roman life, as were more quotidian scenes of intercourse, explained Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the director of Pompeii archaeological park, in an interview with the Sunday Times. 
    “Eroticism was everywhere,” the director said, “in houses, baths, and public spaces thanks to the influence of the Greeks, whose art heavily featured nudity.”

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    With new discoveries like those in the show, experts are reconsidering their assumptions about the significance of erotic imagery to ancient Roman culture. “Scholars have tended to interpret any rooms decorated with these scenes as some kind of brothel,” Zuchtriegel told The Guardian. The images, he went on, were once thought to be like menus of the services offered at the site. 
    But applying a modern-day morality to these scenes of the past is not always prudent.
    “It looks a bit like this as you have scenes above each single door, but it is always very risky to make this kind of simplification,” Zuchtriegel said. “The ancient daily life was just as complex as our own, and it’s risky to reconstruct what happened in these places just by judging from the images.”

    Illustrating the commonality of sexual imagery, curators have recreated Roman homes within the exhibition’s galleries. Visitors, including young ones (children are encouraged to attend), are also invited to explore the show through an interactive app, which helps contextualize the images and the figures that appear in them. 
    See more examples of work on view in the exhibition below:
    A sculpture representing Priapus, the Greek god of fertility. Photo: Marco Cantile/LightRocket via Getty Images.
    An installation view of “Art and Sensuality in the Houses of Pompeii.” Photo: Marco Cantile/LightRocket via Getty Images. More

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    In Pictures: See Practically Every Artwork in the Venice Biennale’s Arsenale Section

    Delayed for a year because of the pandemic, the Venice Biennale, titled “The Milk of Dreams,” has finally opened to previews this week.
    Curator Cecilia Alemani said the process of putting together the massive endeavor in difficult conditions, doing Zoom studio visits and working remotely, made her appreciate the physical and non-technological dimensions of art-viewing even more. And indeed, this is a very physical show, with a focus on embodied knowledge, artworks with physical presence, and personal sensation.
    It also has a self-reflective perspective on art history, and one of its most notable curatorial gestures is the presence of a number of capsule shows within the show, each one looking at a theme that serves as an intellectual guide to the other art on view.
    In the plunging Arsenale space, there are two such mini-shows. One, with the prolix title “A Leaf a Gourd a Shell a Net a Bat a Sling a Sack a Bottle a Pot a Box a Container,” is a selection of artworks that reflect on the vessel as a metaphor. The other, “The Seduction of the Cyborg,” pays homage to female artists who have, in various way, thought about the body as a reprogrammable machine.
    But there is much more to see. Here are some pictures to give you a sense of the Arsenale section of “The Milk of Dreams.”
    The entrance to the Arsenale section of “The Milk of Dreams.” Photo by Ben Davis.
    Simone Leigh’s Brick House greets visitors in the opening gallery. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Belkis Ayón in “The Milk of Dreams.” Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Gabriel Chaile. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Portia Zvavahera. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Ficre Ghebreyesys, City With a River Running Through (2011). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Rosana Paulino. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Thao Nguyen Phan, First Rain, Brise-Soleil (2021–ongoing). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Britta Marakatt-Labba. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Eglė Budvytytė, Songs from the Compost: mutating bodies, imploding stars (2020). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Niki de Saint Phalle, Gwendolyn (1966–1990). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Frantz Zéphirin and Célestin Faustin. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Myrlande Constant. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Violeta Parra. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Felipe Baeza. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Pinaree Sanpitak. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Safia Farhat and Roberto Gil de Montes. Photo by Ben Davis.
    A special capsule presentation titled “A Leaf a Gourd a Shell a Net a Bag a Sling a Sack a Bottle a Pot a Box a Container.” Photo by Ben Davis.
    One of Aletta Jacobs’s “Womb Models” (1840). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Display of works by Ruth Asawa. Photo by Ben Davis.
    A display of works by Tecla Tofano. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Luiz Roque, Urubu (2020). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Delcy Morelos, Earthly Paradis (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Jaider Esbell. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Firelei Baez, something ephemeral and beautifully whole, when seen from the edge of one’s vision, too full when taken head on (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Emma Talbot, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (2021). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Sandra Vásquez de la Horra. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Two sculptures by Candice Lin. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Noah Davis, Isis (2019). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Aage Gaup, Sculpture I & II (1979). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Zheng Bo, Le Sacre du printemps (Tandvärkstallen) (2021). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Tau Lewis and, in the foreground, Solange Pessoa. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Jessie Homer French. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Display of Ibrahim El-Salahi’s Behind the Mask (2020–2021). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Prabhakar Pachpute, Unfolding of the remains II (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Ali Cherry, Titans (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Ishaan Adams, Bonteheuwel / Epping (2021). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Ali Cherri, Of Men and Gods and Mud (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of the “Seduction of the Cyborg,” a capsule gallery in “The Milk of Dreams.” Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation view of the “Seduction of the Cyborg,” a capsule gallery in “The Milk of Dreams.” Photo by Ben Davis.
    Louise Nevelson, Homage to the Universe (1968). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Weimar-era costumes by Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Rebecca Horn, Kiss of the Rhinoceros (1989). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Liliane Lijn, Feathered Lady (1979), Heshe (1980), and Gemini (1984). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Kiki Kogelnik. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Liv Bugge, Play (2019). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Noor Abuarafeh, Am I the Ageless Object at the Museum? (2018). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Tatsuo Ikeda. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Kapwani Kiwanga. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Elias Sime, Red Leaves (2021). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Dora Budor, Autophones (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Teresa Solar, Tunnel Boring Machine (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Paintings by Allison Katz. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Özlem Altın, Translucent Shield (calling) (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Paintings by Jamian Juliano-Villani. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Tetsumi Kudo, Flowers (1967–1968). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Photos by Joanna Piotrowska. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Louise Bonnet, Pisser Triptych (2021–22). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Carolyn Lazard. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Entrance to Marianna Simnett’s video installation. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Mariana Simnett, The Severed Tail (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Raphaela Vogel, Ability and Necessity (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Jes Fan. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Mira Lee. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Kerstin Brätsch. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Raphaela Vogel, Psychogräfin (2022) and work by Kerstin Brätsch. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Sandra Mujinga. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Marguerite Humeau, Migrations (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Monira al Qadiri, Orbital (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Sondra Perry, Lineage for a Phantom Zone (2020-2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Elisa Giardina Papa, “U Scantu”: A Disorderly Tale (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Geumhyung Jeong, Toy Prototype (2021). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Tishan Hsu. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Lynn Hershman Leeson, Logic Paralyzes the Heart (2021). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Zhenya Machneva, A Girl (2022) and Echo (2021). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Janis Rafa, Laceration (2020). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Beginning/Middle/End) (2022). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Diego Marcon, The Parents’ Room (2021). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Robert Grosvenor, Block of Water (2019). Photo by Ben Davis.
    Installation by Precious Okoyomon. Photo by Ben Davis.
    Works by Giulia Cenci. Photo by Ben Davis.
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    A New Retrospective Reveals Photographer Imogen Cunningham’s Masterful Range—and How It Hurt Her Career

    Sometime late in Imogen Cunningham’s life, a younger female photographer asked her, “What do I have to do to become more famous, to have my work appreciated?” 
    “You have to live longer,” Cunningham replied. (The artist receiving the advice? Ruth Bernhard.)
    A joke, surely, about the art world’s tendency to appreciate the artistic contributions of women only after they’ve entered the last chapter of their lives, the retort nevertheless contained some plain truth for Cunningham. It wasn’t until 1960, when she was in her late 70s, that she experienced the first real financial success of her then decades-long career—one of the most influential in the history of photography.  
    To call Cunningham underrated or overlooked might be inaccurate; despite the meager money she made, she’s rightly considered among the 20th-century greats. Still, her name doesn’t ring as familiar as that of, say, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, or Dorothea Lange. 
    Imogen Cunningham, The Unmade Bed (1957). © Imogen Cunningham Trust.
    There’s a reason for that, said Paul Martineau, a curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, who has just organized a major retrospective of Cunningham’s work.
    The name of each of those photographers—all friends of Cunningham’s—comes with a specific image. For Adams, it’s the Western mountainscape; for Weston, the fleshly pepper. Cunningham, on the other hand, “didn’t make one type of picture,” said Martineau. It’s the paradox at the heart of her legacy: the quality that separates her art is the reason people underappreciate it.
    “You can’t really assign a label to Imogen,” he went on, calling Cunningham a “pioneer in the field for women.” 
    “She wasn’t satisfied with anything… She wasn’t rehashing things over and over again like some artists. She was always pushing herself to innovate, to learn more and experiment.”
    Imogen Cunningham, Amaryllis (1933). © Imogen Cunningham Trust.
    Cunningham’s capacity for reinvention is on full display in the Getty retrospective, which spans six decades and 180-some prints (roughly three dozen of which were made by contemporaries like Judy Dater, Lisette Model, and Alfred Stieglitz). 
    Included are her early pictorialist experiments, made in her late 20s and 30s while living in Seattle with then-husband Roi Partridge; her carefully studied botanical photographs she made upon moving to the Bay Area in 1917; the richly detailed pictures she produced while working alongside Sonya Noskowiak, Paul Strand, and the other artists with whom she co-founded Group f/64; and many other bodies of work. 
    And yet, if the exhibition instantiates the stylistic range of Cunningham’s pictures, then it also highlights the subtle artistic tendencies that tie the works together. These are most apparent when looking at Cunningham’s work in portraiture, a constant throughout her career. 
    Making pictures of her children or editorial portraits of celebrities for Vanity Fair, Cunningham preferred an intimate approach bereft of artificiality. Rarely did she manipulate her images in the darkroom or even let her sitters wear makeup. 
    Imogen Cunningham, Stan, San Francisco (1959). © Imogen Cunningham Trust.
    “Cunningham didn’t like to indulge people’s vanity,” Martineau explained. “She’s trying to find the real likeness rather than making people beautiful.” 
    She also had a special penchant for capturing other creatives on film, such as dancer Martha Graham, painter Frida Kahlo, writer Gertrude Stein, and fellow photographer Minor White. Her pictures of Ruth Asawa, one of her closest friends, are some of the most sensitively realized portraits of an artist you’ll ever see. 
    In the early 1930s, she was sent to Hollywood to photograph “ugly men” like Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, and Wallace Beery. Cunningham recalled the assignment on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1976, the last year of her life. 
    “Did you consider [Grant] an ugly man?” Carson asked the aging photographer in the segment. 
    “He convinced me that he wasn’t,” she said knowingly. The crowd erupted in laughter. 
    Imogen Cunningham, Self-Portrait with Elgin Marbles, London (1909-10). © Imogen Cunningham Trust.
    But for Martineau, Cunningham’s signature portrait wasn’t of an artist or actor. It was of herself—and it came just a few years into her career. The self-portrait, made around 1909, shows the young artist before a small plaster cast of the Elgin Marbles, a sketchbook and pencil in hand. 
    “She’s basically putting herself in the trajectory of the history of art, reaching back to the ancient Greeks,” the curator said. “It sets the tone for the rest of her career. She considered herself an artist and she wanted to leave something behind for generations to come, something of value.”
    Indeed, the world may have needed 50 years to recognize her talent, but Cunningham saw it in herself right away.
    “Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective” is on view now through June 12 at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. 
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    A New Show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Shows Just How Relevant Winslow Homer’s Art Is Today

    American artist Winslow Homer is best known for his dramatic seascape paintings of fisherman and rescuers battling harsh maritime elements. But an expansive new show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art aims to delve far deeper into the artist’s rich and varied life, as well as the lesser-known topics and subjects he explored.
    “Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents” aims to reconsider the artist’s work “through the lens of conflict,” according to the museum. It features 88 paintings, including many from the museum’s own collection, along with roughly 65 loans from institutions and private collections.
    Viewers may be surprised to learn in this skillfully organized show that the artist painted many images of the Civil War and Reconstruction, including depictions of its impact on the landscape, soldiers, and formerly enslaved people.
    Winslow Homer, The Cotton Pickers (1876). © 2021 Museum Associates / LACMA. Licensed by Art Resource, NY
    “This is an important show of one of the most important American artists,” Met director Max Hollein said at a press preview last week. “Homer not only addressed complex social and political issues, but his work is  also about universal concerns: the fragility of human life and the dominance of nature.
    “By focusing on the theme of conflict in Homer’s art, this exhibition presents a fresh understanding of his deeply thoughtful approach to depicting race, nature, and environment.”
    The centerpiece of the show is The Gulf Stream (1899; reworked by 1906), considered one Homer’s most important works, and one of the first to enter the Met’s collection.
    The painting depicts a lone Black man in a small boat on a turbulent sea threatened by sharks encircling the mast-less boat.
    While some have interpreted it as a rumination on mortality following the death of his father, the painting “also alludes to the legacies of slavery and American imperialism as well as more universal concerns,” according to the museum. 
    Sylvia Yount, who co-organized the show with Stephanie Herdrich, said discussions about the show stretch back to the summer of 2020, which was marked by racial justice protests across the U.S. and the world.
    Winslow Homer, The Gulf Stream (1899). Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
    The protests “made our specific approach to Homer that much more relevant as we all reckon with our complex histories and their consequential legacies,” Yount said. “Homer’s deeply humanist art has spoken differently to generations and we feel our examination of the darker undercurrents and tension between sentiment and struggle makes the production decidedly resonant for our viewers today.”
    Yount and Herdrich put an interesting and timely spin on the show with a coda selection of works by contemporary artists including Elizabeth Columba, Hugh Hayden, Kerry James Marshall, and Kara Walker that respond to The Gulf Stream and other Homer works.
    One gallery includes five works on paper from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis for Gulf Stream (2003), Marshall’s reimagining of Homer’s canvas.
    Marshall’s image “transforms Homer’s dramatic composition, with its uncertain outcome, into what has been termed an ‘allegory of liberation,’ rejecting Black trauma for Black joy,” the museum said in a statement.
    Kerry James Marshall, Study for Gulf Stream (2003–04). Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Butler Family Fund, 2005. © Kerry James Marshall. Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
    Brooklyn-based artist Hugh Hayden, whose work Brier Patch was on view earlier this year at Madison Square Park, came to know Homer’s The Gulf Stream though Marshall’s revision.
    Having adapted the subject matter through his own vision, the artist’s three-dimensional sailing vessel has 12 ribs and evokes a sea serpent that reflects both danger and salvation.
    Hugh Hayden, Gulf Stream (skeleton study) (2019).©Hugh Hayden, Image courtesy Lisson Gallery
    Also on view is a major diptych by Walker titled The Crossing (2017), that offers a response to both Homer’s The Gulf Stream and Emmanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware by addressing the realities of a precarious ship of state.
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