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Elizabeth Talford Scott at Goya Contemporary


Though Elizabeth Talford Scott’s stalwart contributions to fiber art warrant great acclaim, she is, unfortunately, underappreciated beyond Baltimore, where she lived from the early 1940s until her death at the age of ninety-five in 2011. She was not lauded in the landmark traveling exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” 2017–20, which debuted at the Tate Modern in London, or in the more recent survey “Called to Create: Black Artists of the American South,” 2022–23, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. A substantial yet concise retrospective here—covering nearly two decades of Scott’s textile-based output across thirteen extraordinary works—partly remedies these omissions.                      

Born in 1916 on a plantation near Chester, South Carolina, to a family of sharecroppers, Scott was taught to repurpose discarded materials and learned to quilt at an early age. These indelible lessons formed the cornerstone of her untrammeled art, which is often festooned by a catholic array of shiny objects. Gaze upon the bedazzled surfaces of these fastidiously sutured amalgamations and behold a haptic smorgasbord fit to satisfy even the most insatiable viewer. Take The Family of the Whosits, 1995, a roughly five-foot-high ovoid ecstatically adorned with patterned fabric, buttons, beads, rocks, shells, sequins, and other miscellany. Or consider Upside Downwards, 1992, another unbridled wall-mounted and bric-a-brac-laden piece of similar scale. As with fractals, the more one looks, the more there is to discover. The visual feast continues and reaches a celebratory crescendo in Birthday, 1997, which is emblazoned with dozens of faux pearls along its undulating border. Scott’s byzantine creations play by their own rules and rejoice in a type of unfettered abundance that is generous, dizzying, and truly unforgettable.

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Christina Quarles’s Paintings Probe Prismatic Senses of Self – ARTnews.com


The first thing I noticed when Christina Quarles opened the door for a studio visit was her face—round, inviting, with light and freckled skin, dark and piercing eyes. I extended my hand in greeting, enacting a dynamic that the Los Angeles–based artist explores in her paintings: though she sees faces as central to how we conceive other people as beings with unified bodies, she suggests we experience our own bodies largely through our appendages, a fragmented and abstracted view of ourselves.

The bodies in Quarles’s paintings—always entangled or embracing, often nude but multicolored—never feel whole, even when a viewer can trace which limbs belong to which torso. Laid Down Beside Yew (2019) depicts a tangle of bodies emerging from two planes: one patterned like a tartan blanket, the other an ambiguous green oblong shape. Three faces are present, but devoid of details; what holds the focus is a ravel of arms and legs. Quarles’s prioritization of these appendages, in this painting and elsewhere, hints at an internalized consciousness rather than an external one. The figures are defined largely by their limbs: the doers of the body, drivers of action, implements for intimacy.

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Across Quarles’s oeuvre, hands blur and repeat to suggest animated motion (as in O Holy Nite, 2021), legs dangle with liquid limpness (By Tha Skin of Our Tooth, 2019), and limbs seem to twist through space like creaturely tentacles (A Little Fall of Rain, 2020). Her figures are rarely painted like those of Joan Semmel or Luchita Hurtado, whose views are clearly from the perspective of the artists looking down at their own bodies, in emphatically corporeal self-portraiture. Quarles’s bodies are other. “The poses and the figuration are always from this muscle memory of looking and drawing other bodies,” the artist told me.

A highly abstracted rendering of dripping bodies against a boldly patterned surface like a blanket.

Christina Quarles: By Tha Skin of Our Tooth, 2019.

Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, New York, and Pilar Corrias, London

Yet her images portray others as we see ourselves; they are portraits of living within a body. Even when Quarles includes faces, they are often obscured by hands or masks, or they disappear into nothingness, lack distinguishing features, or melt into a meaty mess. Quarles avoids giving viewers the access they are most accustomed to: a clear reading of a face that conveys a person’s identity and emotional tenor.

Quarles’s own body informs the figures she paints, but only to a point. “Many of the marks and decisions are based on a one-to-one scale with my body,” she explained. “The length of a gesture is the length of my wingspan. Any sense of self-portraiture is related to scale.”

While in the process of painting, Quarles plays with images of her works in progress on a computer, using the trackpad to change the scale of her gestures and consider different compositional options. In this digital stage of her work, she often introduces intricate patterns and precise shapes that contrast with her looser figurative style, like the planes—one patterned like a quilt, the other like stained glass—in Bless tha Nightn’gale (2019).

Quarles describes this process as a state of constant zigzagging; the same phrase could describe the overlapping and sometimes contradictory narratives and tones within each piece. In Yer Tha Sun in my Mourning Babe (2017), a figure lounges on what might be a beach towel, face framed by hands, propped up on elbows. A swath of blue and white along the top of the canvas suggests the glimmer of distant water or sky. The figure seems to yawn in the heat. With its downturned mouth, though, the face comes to resemble a Munchian scream, and the pleasant summery scene devolves into something more disconcerting.

A mass of what appears to be multiple bodies going into and out of a portal of some kind.

Christina Quarles: New Moon, 2021.

Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, New York, and Pilar Corrias, London

A second figure, less apparent at first, emerges with its dark gray arm wrapping around the main figure’s leg. The complications within the painting—between tender love and horrifying possession, sun-soaked indolence and hysterical grief, even the titular word “mourning” and its homonym “morning”—undermine any single read. As with all of Quarles’s work, the longer you look, the more complex and ambivalent the image becomes. These are not, or not only, scenes of intimacy or self-examination: they also contain shades of violence, revulsion, and self-doubt.

Quarles was born in Chicago in 1985 to a Black father and a white mother, and her fascination with self-perception started in early childhood, when she realized that the way others saw her body was not how she understood herself. “To me, that comes largely from being in a multi-racial body that’s usually seen as white, especially by white people,” she said, “and then, on top of that, being in a queer body.”

Quarles moved to Los Angeles when she was young and grew up near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which she visited often. One of the paintings that stuck with her was David Hockney’s Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio (1980). She marveled at how Hockney could paint something very recognizable—the city’s iconic hills and winding drives—yet do it through abstracted patterns and fantastical color.

In her undergraduate studies at Hampshire College, in western Massachusetts, Quarles explored bodily perception through the lens of critical race theory. Later, at the Yale School of Art, she began conveying her interest in bodies and identity through figurative art. She wanted to be “very clear and direct about ambiguity,” she said, but she hadn’t figured out how. A revelation came during a lecture by painter Jack Whitten, when she saw how acrylic paint could take on the appearance of collage.

A painting of writhing bodies peering into what looks like a window or a door.

Christina Quarles: O Holy Nite, 2021.

Courtesy Hauser & Wirth, New York, and Pilar Corrias, London

Professors tried to dissuade her from figurative work, which in the 2010s was mostly out of fashion. But she was undeterred. Now, with figuration all the rage—and particularly queer figuration that tends toward bodily abstraction and ambiguity—Quarles has garnered interest that led to gallery representation by Hauser & Wirth and Pilar Corrias, as well as institutional accolades, including a survey show opening this month at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin.

Where many of her contemporaries in queer figuration—Doron Langberg, Kylie Manning, Salman Toor—paint bodies and their intimacies like delicate gossamer, Quarles paints hers in a weighted, freighted, burdensome form. Quarles evokes Surrealists like Roberto Matta and André Masson at their most grotesquely figurative. Some paintings border on meaty Francis Bacon-esque sexual horror, like New Moon (2021), in which a stack of enmeshed bodies reaches out to yank another out of a threshold. Quarles’s approach emphasizes an ongoing process of formation, maintaining the mystery of the atomized self.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had Quarles rethinking the way she views bodies. After all, her practice evolved from the idea that we view others through their faces: a socially distanced, masked society upends that mode of perceiving not only other people, but also ourselves and the world through which we all move. She’s still working through how these last few years have impacted her formal and aesthetic choices. But as her paintings and installations grow more elaborate—the planes and figures, patterns and textures mingling in ever more complex ways—one thing will, I imagine, remain the same, for Quarles is definitive about this, if about little else in her work: “There’s nothing to imply a straight-forward narrative.”  

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Sneak Peek: Galleria x Bachman’s 2023 Floral Experience


With this weekend’s balmy temps come just the dose of spring we’re all craving—Edina shopping center Galleria and locally owned Bachman’s annual floral experience. This year’s theme, “world of wonder,” kicks off on Sunday, and will showcase gorgeous fantastical and whimsical floral displays and vignettes throughout its public areas.

This year, the center is transforming its spaces into a springtime fairy wonderland of oversized motifs—butterfly wings, disco balls, mushrooms, crystals, and more—made of bold, bright blooms from its floral partner, Bachman’s.

Galleria stores and restaurants are also getting in on the garden fun with themed window displays, menus, sales, and promotions.

Crave is serving up a special lavender champagne cocktails garnished with edible flowers, COV and Pittsburgh Blue are featuring exclusive floral experience specials, and Good Earth’s whipped up an edible flower salad and floral cupcakes. Plus, retailers Pumpz, Fawbush’s, Parachute and Sweet Ivy have designed floral window displays. Shoppers can hop over to the neighboring Westin Edina Galleria Hotel for its Afternoon Tea Flower Show Edition.

The World of Wonder Floral Experience is free and open to the public, March 26–April 9. galleria.com

March 24, 2023

1:55 PM

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Hong Kong Department Store in Removes Digital Video from LA Artist – ARTnews.com


A department store in Hong Kong took down a digital artwork containing hidden references to defenders of free speech during the city’s Art Week activities. The artist behind the work said the incident is evidence of the erosion of free speech by the Chinese government.

No Rioters by Los Angeles-based artist Patrick Amadon was displayed on a large digital billboard, measuring 230 by 65 feet, on the side of the Sogo department store in the busy Causeway Bay shopping district. The red and black glitchy video included names, ages, and jail terms of convicted protestors displayed in flashes of Matrix-style text. Amadon told the Guardian these details were shown too quickly to be notices by the naked eye, and could be seen by viewers through photographs.

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An Asian woman looks up at umbrellas in plastic sleeves in an apparently cluttered and full shop of umbrellas.

No Rioters had been on display on the department store’s exterior for several days before it was removed, featured a panning surveillance camera. Amadon believed the momentary flashes of pro-protest graffiti and the details about the democracy protesters in No Rioters would go unnoticed after he was invited to submit the work, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.

Amadon said his video was an expression of solidarity with Hong Kongers after he had followed news of the 2019 demonstrations and the effect of China’s “national security law” which resulted in the trial, jailing and silencing of activists.

No Rioters was part of an installation of several video works presented by the Art Innovation Gallery titled “The Sound of Pixels”. The video display took place during a major tourism push in the city timed to the return of Art Basel Hong Kong after three years of restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Guardian reported that “it was unclear whether the government played a role in the decision to remove the artwork” but the department store’s legal team asked the Art Innovation Gallery whether it was aware of the content and message of Amadon’s video.

“Our intermediary told us that the owners of Sogo were concerned about the sensitive political content hidden behind Patrick’s work, so they decided to remove the work from the exhibition immediately,” Art Innovation Gallery CEO Francesca Boffetti told the British news outle , noting there was no mention of any law or threat of fines.

The Hong Kong Police Department, Sogo, and the Art Innovation Gallery did not immediately respond to emails from ARTnews.

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Gagosian’s DALL-E Art Exhibit Throws Us into the Uncanny Valley – ARTnews.com


The arrival of AI text generators and chatbots like Chat GPT and Bing (or is she named Sydney?) over the last year has shattered the assumption that creativity is the sole domain of humans, and other living things. But, while image generators like DALL-E and Midjourney are the visual equivalent technologies, the same crisis has not quite registered in the art world.

Perhaps, this lack of response stems from a lack of opportunity. No longer! Earlier this week, mega-gallery Gagosian opened an exhibition of works by DALL-E, which, like its AI image generator competitors, can turn a simple text prompt into an image in seconds. Might I find some crisis awaiting me there? (Yes).

The exhibition is produced by Bennet Miller, a film director who has been nominated for Oscars for Foxcatcher (2014) and Capote (2005); the works, and the exhibition are untitled. Over the past several years, Miller has been making a documentary about AI, through which he interviewed Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, who gave him beta access to DALL-E far before the rest of the public.

The images DALL-E produces produce range from obviously amiss (twisted fingers, a fuzzy swirl of pixels) to hauntingly accurate in their targeting of one’s request. Despite these occasional flaws, no longer is the AI image quickly clocked for what it is by that tell-tale sheen of psychedelic patterning. It’s no wonder then why the word “real” was invoked, again and again, by the audience at Miller’s opening this week.

Untitled, 2022–23
Pigment print of AI-generated image

Robert McKeever

One woman I pass gestures at one of Miller’s prints, a large piece laid on with deep, dark, wet-looking ink onto sepia-toned paper, depicting a child as she stares at the viewer while the wind tosses her hair. It looks as if it comes from the Victorian era, dated not just by its coloring but by what looks to be a simple, linen dress of the era. It’s all projection. The woman tells her friend, “It’s not real.” There is no linen dress.

Well, so what. It’s a bit melodramatic to behave as if we don’t already live in an era of unreal-ness. And anyways, since when does art require a real-world referent to represent something “real”? Since when is “realness” a metric?

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A dog wearing a baseball hat eating ice cream.

Sure, many of Miller’s works look like they could be photographs, but many are heavily stylized. Often extremely out of focus and piled on with grain, there is just enough form to suggest a subject or a landscape. Some of them seem to represent momentous or historical moments in the past. Here is a profile that looks Native American, extending an arm that could be a wing, that could be cultural dress. Here is a mushroom cloud, as if from an explosion, but flattened in a way that, perhaps, Nature wouldn’t allow. A machine like a train but it’s not. A disk, just a flat circle of some substance, held in the hands of a woman. Beguilingly simple, pointing back to nothing.

I spot Fran Lebowitz. Blunt, coarse bob, big coat, tortoiseshell glasses perched on her nose and another set in her welt pocket. Loafers! It really is her. She’s thumbing through the exhibition text that was produced for the show by author Benjamin Labatut using ChatGPT, an AI text generator also produced by OpenAI. It turns out Miller also interviewed Lebowitz for his documentary, though it doesn’t seem clear why. She repeats an apology to me several times: she doesn’t know what this means, the exhibition, the fact of its genesis. But she makes an effort.

“These are not real photographs, but what are real photographs?” Lebowtiz begins. “Are the only real photographs the ones made on film, not the digital ones? My friend Peter Hujar would say so.”

The slippery slope tack: if we’ve accepted that cameras do not make the photographs, but that photographers do, why should any succeeding technology that the human mind directs for its purpose not be judged similarly? That is, as a genuine, human act of creation. I ask Lebowitz a clumsy question, something like, ‘Isn’t the labor of trying to make something worth something?” She says of course. What are we even talking about? It’s too basic but I can’t help it.

The concern about realness comes from two places. Where did these images come from and can we credit Miller with a “real” creative act. It’s really one problem: what do we do with this other actor in the picture, AI? What spasm was it that gave birth to these images, that Miller guided and curated?

It’s telling that these new tools are called AI “generators” not “creators”. Generation is to bring into being, but behind a veil. Generation has its roots in the phenomenon of conception, which is not done with the conscious mind but the secret efforts of the body. It is only in this way that I can relate to the concept of AI, this thing that brings into being without conscious, all the indifference and capability of nature. But this is false analogy (is there a word for anthropomorphizing but for nature? Naturmorphizing?). I’m not sure why I can’t see it as an extension of all the other amazing technological capabilities with their hidden mechanisms. I don’t know how my computer works.

Untitled, 2022–23
Pigment print of AI-generated image

Robert McKeever

Walking around Miller’s show I’m surprised that so many people look happy and curious whereas I feel bitterly on guard. I look closely at each image, which range from looking like vintage photographs to charcoal drawings, and investigate for signs of their computerly origins. I’m not to be tricked!

As images, though, I do like them. They remind me of a picture book I once had and spark my love of old and whimsical looking things, for what that’s worth. A lot of AI images I’ve seen do this, that is, open the door to alternate, fantastical worlds, which says a lot about the people who request these images. There’s a lovely impulse to see something wondrous, magical, not of our reality. But how tightly and terribly joined is this desire for the fantastic to the impish twitch for falsity.

By now, haven’t we all seen those AI generated images of Trump getting arrested? How quickly we come back to Earth. One day it’ll feel normal. For now it’s tripping me up.

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Valentin Noujaïm’s requiem for a razed nightclub


Valentin Noujaïm, Pacific Club, 2023, mixed media, color, sound, 16 minutes. Benjamin Taos Bertrand.

ONLY ONE PERSON dances in Valentin Noujaïm’s short film Pacific Club, 2023, named for Le Pacific Club Privé, a quondam nightclub once located in a parking garage several stories below an office building in La Défense, the steely, corporate fortress built just outside of Paris. Open tous les nuits to a predominantly Arab, North African, and immigrant clientele for the better part of the 1980s, the Pacific spun bops by Québécois R&B act Boule Noire, American soul singer Lillo Thomas, and Egyptian-born, Franco-Italian chanteuse and gay icon Dalida, among others; the club also introduced Raï music and hip-hop to two generations of Black and Arab people in the region who were old enough to go, or at least hear about it from their older siblings or cousins. Noujaïm’s film ambulates across the concrete landscape where the Pacific Club once stood; his dancer, the Paris-based choreographer Benjamin Taos Bertrand, begins a routine on the floor of a vacant parking lot, lying prostrate. A sudden jolt moves his limbs to stiffen; a second propels him a foot or two forward. As he gets up, he glides and rotates to the aortic swells and beatless textures of a track by electronic music duo Space Afrika, and skids across the gray, unpeopled complex with movements that quote ballet and breakdance, occasionally reeling back into a bystander’s stroll—a dance that falls and swoops, hides itself, and after a few moments, vanishes.

For several years now, Noujaïm, born in the northwest town of Angers, France, to Egyptian and Lebanese parents and based currently in Frankfurt, has written and directed a suite of films that stud documentary storytelling with elements of myth and science fiction to frame narratives about the disappearance of places and peoples, and about the cosmos of possibility that exists just behind the elaborate architecture the French state erects for history to better forget them. In 2021’s Les Filles Destinées (Daughters of Destiny), the disappointment felt by a trio of queer girls at the closing of their favorite bar gets interrupted by an opportunity for interstellar travel; in 2020’s “auto-film” L’Étoile Bleue (The Blue Star), Noujaïm’s family history is told using a palimpsest of photographs his grandfather took while in the Lebanese army, DV footage captured on Noujaïm’s return to Lebanon, and reels pulled from NASA’s archives. The mostly silent footage is accompanied by several overlapping voiceovers in Arabic and in French, including one by French actor Denis Lavant, whose distinctive rasp tells the story of a brown man who, on receiving transmissions from a distant planet called Blue Star, abandons his family for a quixotic assimilation fantasy. Pacific Club is the first work of the director’s “Le Défense” trilogy (the second, a fictional film titled To Exist Under Permanent Suspicion, starring Saint Omer’s Kayije Kagame, will be released this fall). Pacific exhumes the catacombic liveliness of the eponymous, much-beloved club to offer an oblique view onto Mitterrand-era France, intimating how the former president’s racist administration exploited AIDS, real estate development, and heroin to oppress Arab life in the aftermath of France’s colonial rule.

Valentin Noujaïm, Pacific Club, 2023, mixed media, color, sound, 16 minutes.

The film opens with newsreel footage depicting the pharaonic architectural program Mitterrand oversaw during his fourteen years in office, darting Paris from the Louvre to La Défense with postmodern carbuncles lionizing the French Socialist Party’s doomed return to power. We see a partially constructed Grand Arche de la Défense, the cuboid structure symbolizing “Fraternity” and erected for the bicentenary of the French Revolution, looming above a district built over razed slums, shantytowns, derelict factories, and farmlands, once home to tens of thousands of Algerian migrants and citizens. Noujaïm’s film makes scant reference to the neighborhood’s decades-long prehistory, whose leveling ultimately gave life to the Pacific Club. Instead, it braids interviews together with ludic choreography, animation, and found footage to create an elusive picture of the bygone boîte at the work’s center, an elegy divested of mythomania. At no point does Noujaïm peddle in clichéd claims about nightlife’s revolutionary potential, nor does he offer a genealogy of the Pacific Club as the progenitor of venues like The Galaxy, La Maine Jaune, The Midnight, and The Fun Raï, which opened their doors to Paris’s Arab population throughout the Mitterrand years.

Valentin Noujaïm, Pacific Club, 2023, mixed media, color, sound, 16 minutes.

Retrieval and retreat—this is the errant flux that animates Noujaïm’s aesthetics, as he looks up at the glassy steelscapes of La Défense as a cold afterworld or antimonument. Pacific Club’s flânerie is anchored in the testimony of Azedine Benabdelmounene, a French-Algerian man born in Paris’s nineteenth arrondissement who, years before agreeing to be filmed, helped Noujaïm move apartments in Paris. Clean-cut and in his fifties, we see Benabdelmounene in alternating takes that depict him from a distance, unmoved by Défense Plaza, and in a medium-shot, where he speaks frankly to the camera. His memories of visiting the Pacific are conveyed through anecdotes of the elder siblings who took him there (“Since I didn’t have much money on me, I would just borrow stuff from my older brother”); why they went there (“we wouldn’t be allowed elsewhere”); and what they wore: (“Adidas Tobacco shoes, turtlenecks . . . everyone called it the REURTI [a slangy inversion of word tireur, the French word for shooter] trend.”). Later, his narrative shuttles us to scenes outside Pacific Club, where fights broke out between young men, heroin was bought and sold, and les flics turned a blind eye: “As long as it’s between Arabs and Blacks, who cares.”

A dirge played by the Paris-based alto saxophonist Julian Mezence closes the film. The dancer has slipped away, and Benabdelmounene, having spoken about the loss of a teenage friend to the heroin epidemic, has fallen silent. A simple animation of the narrow dancehall is introduced. It floats in space, and inside the room, several line-drawn silhouettes waver in small groups, their whispers muted, their intimate gestures sapped of dimension. Slowly the black box spins out of focus, like a die cast out into the dust of star-spangled space, which, like history, is fuzzy and incomplete.

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Diego Rivera Exhibition At Crystal Bridges Puts Spotlight On Murals – ARTnews.com


Northwest Arkansas is not the first place you would think to stage the first major exhibition of work by Mexican artist Diego Rivera in two decades.

Yet, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is uniquely suited for Diego Rivera’s America. It’s a museum specifically for American art  (unfortunately people often forget that the United States and Mexico are both part of North America) and Bentonville, where the museum is located, is among the fastest growing cities in the U.S. and the surrounding area has a rapidly growing Hispanic community. Sadly, the exhibition only hints at Rivera’s politics, which championed the working class and dreamed of a more equitable world, a missed opportunity in a society so focused on diversity and inclusion.

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An image of a flat in York, England where an ancient fresco was recently discovered.

With over 130 works including easel paintings, pastels, watercolors, illustrations for print magazines, and of course the murals on which Rivera’s legacy is built, the show has the weight of a full-on retrospective, but that is definitely not what it is. Here, Rivera is presented fully formed. The works, as the title suggests, were all made in either Mexico or the United States between the 1920s and the early 1940s.

“There have been two major retrospectives of Diego Rivera, one in Detroit in the ’80s, and one in Cleveland in the ’90s,” James Oles, the exhibition’s curator, told ARTnews. “I didn’t want to repeat those models, so I chose to focus on about the period between 1921, when he returns to Mexico after this extended time in Europe and paints his first mural, to the beginning of the Cold War, when Rivera’s impact and influence in the United States in particular begins to wane because of the shifting political climate.”

Diego Rivera, La Tortillera (The Tortilla Maker), 1926, oil on canvas,
42 3/16 x 35 3/16 in. University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine Dean’s Office at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. © 2022 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Because of the specific nature of the exhibition, those unfamiliar with Rivera’s work would very much benefit from reading the labels, which give a great deal of arguably-needed context about Rivera’s life before the years covered in the exhibitionWithout a doubt, the show is anchored by Rivera’s murals. It’s a tricky thing, showing murals anywhere other than on the walls where they were painted, but Oles found a way around that obstacle: projections.

The projections are a novel idea, giving visitors a life-sized view of Rivera’s most gripping stuff in more ways than one. That’s because they aren’t just projected stills but short films with accompanying sound. It’s so simple, so smart. But, as most creative types know, it’s often the simple things that are most difficult to get right. 

“I kind of timed it so that if you walked into the room, you might see nothing. But if you were a little patient, then suddenly somebody would appear or some action would happen,” said Oles. “One of the big things that a museum curator wants is for people to stop and look, instead of just walking by, looking at the label and moving on to the next work of art. But, with these videos people stop and look … kids just come in and sit on the floor and watch the film. There’s no story, no plot. But that someone can enjoy watching the whole thing for three or four minutes, that’s a huge success story.” 

Unfortunately, the projections just slightly miss their mark, sadly taking away from the grandeur of Rivera’s murals. To give these short films life, to show scale, and to inject some narrative, Oles hired actors that appear randomly during each loop. A preteen ensemble duo sits in front of one, sawing away at their instruments on an otherwise empty stage. During another, chicly dressed women and tuxedoed waiters walk up and down a set of stairs while in the background floats the clamor of a Roaring ’20s themed party. But it’s clear we aren’t at the party. And the people walk by so infrequently that one gets the feeling there actually isn’t a party at all, or a concert. It’s all a slightly distracting put-on that draws the eye aways from the murals.

Diego Rivera, La Ofrenda (The Offering), 1934, oil on canvas
48 3/4 x 60 1/2 in. Art Bridges. © 2022 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The first projected mural you come across (the one with the string duo) is Creation (1923). Commissioned by José Vasconcelos, the first secretariat of public education after the revolution, it was Rivera’s first important mural. Heavily biblical, the fresco is aesthetically inspired more by Rivera’s time in Europe than the later murals, but his unique style is fully present. Thick, almost cartoonish hands and limbs that somehow project a solemn dignity and, at its center, a man who represents the “mestizaje,” that mixture of Indigenous and European cultures that makes Mexico unique.

Where the projected murals are beautiful and slightly awkward, the preparatory sketches and ephemera throughout the exhibition are elegant, subtle, and as powerful as the finished works. They provide a glimpse into Rivera’s mind, his processes, and reveal that Rivera was not just a singular painter but also an exceptional draftsman, illustrator, and storyteller. The chalk and charcoal studies for Creation are a grad school seminar in anatomy, and the chalk-on-paper version of The Corn Seller, which hangs right next to the oil-and-canvas version are worth the trip down south alone.

The exhibition is organized into thematic galleries, which put the objects, scenes, and cultural intricacies that set Rivera’s imagination to work in pleasant, digestible portions. A room dedicated to pictures of mothers and daughters not only shows Rivera’s gentle touch but also, if you’re paying attention, his revolutionary hope in a generation that at the time was still counting on their fingers and braiding each other’s hair. Another is focused on the rural customs and idyllic culture of Tehuantepec, a municipality in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Rivera first visited the area in 1922, shortly after joining the Mexican Communist Party, and like many before and after romanticized the area’s pastotal customs and traditions, which fell in line with the Communist goal of an economic system that would lead to an equitable society that still embraced cultural diversity.

Throughout the show, especially in the murals, is Rivera’s idealized version of Communism. As strange as it sounds now, in the 1930s, when the US economy was crippled by the Great Depression, the idea that Capitalism as an economic system was on its way out was commonly held and Communism seemed like a viable alternative. Throughout the exhibition, the labels hint at Rivera’s Communist ideals with words like “workers” and “working class” but there isn’t much mention of his political leanings until the gallery dedicated to “the proletariat.”

This feels another slightly missed opportunity in that the explanation of what Communism meant back then (as opposed to what it means in a post-Cold War society) feels like an afterthought, or worse, something that was intentionally avoided. Oles explained, however, that apart from the murals not much of Rivera’s work had overtly political themes or images, in large part because he survived on commissions from wealthy patrons who were (gasp!) more interested in “tranquil and idealized images of traditional life in Mexico” then radical left-wing imagery. And, of course, like Rivera, museums often rely on the whim of generous patrons and Oles pointed out that “that there simply aren’t many images that one can borrow with that [radical] theme.”

(Incidentally, another reason Crystal Bridges is so perfect for this Rivera exhibition is that the museum is a private institution founded by Alice Walton of the Walmart family, exactly the kind of patrons that Rivera relied on throughout his life.)

Still, the proletariat room highlights Rivera’s illustrations for magazines like Fortune and reminds viewers that, back then, communists and capitalists were united against fascist threats like Nazi Germany and Franco’s Spain. And, it would be remiss to leave out the studies and cartoons made in preparation for the mural Man at the Crossroads, a fresco commissioned by the Rockefellers in 1932 for the lobby of the RCA building at Rockefeller Center. The work was harangued by the media as “anti-capitalist propaganda” before it was completed, which ultimately led to its destruction.

In his day, Rivera was considered equal to modern art giants like Picasso and Modigliani, a reputation that has undeservedly waned. An exhibition of this magnitude and depth is well deserved and will hopefully encourage not only an interest in Rivera’s work but also in his revolutionary ideals, class consciousness, and his cultural empathy.

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Hispanic Society Workers To Go On Permanent Strike – ARTnews.com


After a year of negotiations sparked by a scrapped pension plan, workers at New York City’s Hispanic Society Museum and Library have decided to go on a strike that begins on Monday, March 27th and, for now, will last indefinitely, ArtForum reported Thursday.

The forthcoming strike comes just days before  the Hispanic Society was due to reopen the doors to its main building for the first time in six years while the Beaux Arts building underwent a needed $20 million dollar renovation.

In 2021, Hispanic Society workers unionized with UAW Local 2110 which also represents workers at the Brooklyn Museum, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, the Jewish Museum, and the Dia Foundation as well as several universities and non-profits.

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NEW YORK, US - NOVEMBER 16: Part-time faculty at The New School are on strike after the union was unable to reach a new tentative contract with the university in New York, United States on November 16, 2022. (Photo by Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

According to a press release from the Union, Hispanic Society workers agreed to a wage lower than that of comparable institutions because they were provided with benefits including a pension and health care. Their unionization was a direct result of the museum’s board of directors offering a contract that removed both the health care coverage and the pension plan while keeping the wages stagnant.

“The Hispanic Society’s offer to us is unfair. We’re a small, dedicated staff that has worked under difficult physical conditions with constant staffing shortages,” Javier Milligan, a librarian at the museum said in a press release.

The Union also claims that the museum has actively fought organization attempts by “by threatening to subcontract out positions and by misclassifying positions as temporary,” and that workers “have repeatedly complained about workloads, lack of staffing and concerns about safety of the collection.”

“Many of us stayed at the Hispanic Society accepting lower salaries than what we would earn elsewhere because of the collegial working environment and common sense of mission to a truly extraordinary collection,” Monica Katz, a retired former Collections Manager who is heavily involved in union efforts, said in the release. “Unfortunately, the new administration doesn’t seem to value our dedication.” 

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How to watch March Madness 2023 in the US and UK


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