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Amy Sillman, Abstraction, Quarantine, and Art News of the Week 5 – 11 October 2020

Amy Sillman. Image: Calla Kessler for The New York Times
Amy Sillman. Image: Calla Kessler for The New York Times

We Fight to Build a Free World is an important artistic undertaking carried out by a group of artists who resist intolerance. Hito Steyerl makes a fierce criticism of the present in her new solo exhibition at the museum K21 in Düsseldorf entitled “I Will Survive”. New York painter Amy Sillman presented new works where abstract art has a lot to say in these times of quarantine.

We Fight to Build A Free World: a history of artists resisting intolerance

8 Oct 2020 – Via The Guardian

A selection of newly designed posters. Photo: Courtesy of the artists

We Fight to Build a Free World is an important artistic project carried out by a group of artists who resist intolerance. This new exhibition explores how the use of artwork to protest is more necessary than ever before. A very interesting scenario where the spectator can appreciate how art has responded in the past to authoritarianism and evil.

We Fight to Build a Free World is a large and powerful exhibition curated by artist Jonathan Horowitz at the Jewish Museum in New York. But it was postponed until further notice a few days before the opening last March when the exhibition was set up with the labels mounted and the press previews planned. Therefore becoming one of the many victims of Covid-19’s cultural sector.

The exhibition takes its name from a series of WWII propaganda posters that the artist Ben Shahn created in 1942. In particular from one of the paintings that were part of the series created by Shahn for the United States War Information Office. It includes images of Shahn himself and four other artists who addressed the critical issues of their time: Yasuo Kuniyoshi (Torture), Käthe Kollwitz (Famine), Edward Millman (Suppression), and Bernard Perlin (Murder).

The exhibition was inspired by Shahn’s attempt to incorporate multiple voices and cultural identities over the years into a single work. Horowitz has created a colorful tribute that looks like a brick wall. The installation occupies the space from floor to ceiling and is made up of signs created from the many contemporary voices that Horowitz invited to respond to the current struggle.

Featured in the exhibition are 36 political posters recently commissioned by contemporary artists. The themes driving the exhibition, such as racism, oppression, colonialism, and xenophobia, have become even more relevant in the seven months since the exhibition’s planned launch. Due to the horrific murder of George Floyd and the ensuing global protests. Artists’ responses to these harms are more relevant today than ever before.

The exhibition is also an opportunity to highlight several legendary black, Chicano, Latino, and indigenous luminaries within the world of art. Giving a strong rejection of the rise of ethno-nationalism and authoritarianism.

“The exhibition came about as a result of an invitation from the Jewish Museum to carry out a project that would address the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the country. Of course, the world seems a different place now compared to that of seven months, much less three years ago. Obviously, many lines can be drawn between the violence perpetrated today and the incidents of the past.” Horowitz said.

Hito Steyerl delivers a fierce critique of the present

Oct 7, 2020 – Via ART SY

Hito Steyerl, still from How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013. Photo: Courtesy of the artist; Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; and Esther Schipper, Berlin.

Hito Steyerl is a German filmmaker, writer, and essayist born in 1966. She has a doctorate in philosophy and is a professor of New Media Art at the University of the Arts in Berlin. Her main topics of interest are media, technology, and the global circulation of images. Steyerl makes a fierce criticism of the present in her new solo exhibition at the museum K21 in Düsseldorf entitled “I will survive”. In it, she deals with current issues such as racism, police violence, pervasive surveillance, conspiracy theories, data exploitation, digital overload, and artificial intelligence.

The pandemic and quarantine also appear in her latest work during the closing of the exhibition. After the exhibition closes in Düsseldorf on January 10, 2021, “I will survive” will open at the Pompidou Center in Paris in February. This exhibition is the first overview of Steyerl’s art in her home country. Her video works were shown at Documenta 12 in 2007 in Kassel and at the Venice Biennale in 2015 and 2019.

“I will survive” begins with Steyerl’s films from the 1990s projected on boxed and outdated television sets with dubious subtitles. These films focus on German society and politics. It ends with her recent and more complex multi-screen installations covering entire rooms. The exhibition covers some two dozen video works from the last 30 years. It is so large that even a full day at the museum would not be enough to see each work from beginning to end.

Steyerl’s first films dealt with attacks on foreigners and nationalism in post-reunification Germany. Although technically unsophisticated by today’s standards, they are as relevant as ever in terms of content. In works such as Babenhausen (1997) and Normality 1-X (1999-2003), Steyerl explores the hate crimes of right-wing extremists. In the last three years, the number of anti-Semitic attacks in Germany has almost doubled. Last month a Jewish student was attacked outside a synagogue in Hamburg.

Amy Sillman, abstraction withing the quarantine

Oct. 8, 2020 – Via The New York Times

Works from “Twice Removed” at Gladstone Gallery in Manhattan, 2020. Photo: Calla Kessler for The New York Times

New York painter Amy Sillman presented new works this year in an exhibition at the Gladstone Gallery. It can be seen in this exhibition that abstract art has a lot to say in these times of quarantine. By walking through Amy’s new exhibition you can learn how abstraction can capture the tense spirit of 2020.

Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” while he was in quarantine and Amy seems to have had a very productive quarantine as well. Last year she had great success with the exhibition “The Form of Form” which she curated at the Museum of Modern Art. Even though the coronavirus outbreak kept her away from her usual study, Amy managed to have an unprecedented 2020 of productivity. “Twice Removed” is the title of her new exhibition that opened last week at the Gladstone Gallery in Chelsea.

In this exhibition, she shows only a fraction of the hundreds of abstract paintings she produced in the last 12 months. Her new works are dynamic and lively improvisations that she developed on canvas and paper. It can be seen in this late works that Amy is playing an important role in the recovery of gestural abstract painting.

“I did literally a titanic amount of work during the Covid period. I went to live on Long Island, in the North Fork. I found this small standardized house in the city, and I found a studio to rent during the summer, but for the first part I couldn’t do paintings. So I drew flowers on my kitchen table, and I wrote. I could only find cheap canvas, and instead, I painted on sheets of paper.” Amy told to The New York Times.

Born in Detroit, raised in Chicago, she came to New York in 1975. Amy is 65 years old today and has come a long way to this turning point in her career. She spent more than ten years working in media such as Vogue and Rolling Stone, then taught at Bennington College, Bard College, and the Städelschule art academy in Frankfurt.

During all those years she did not show art until she became part of the counterculture of New York. She published one of the first bibliographies of lesbian artists for Heresies, a feminist magazine from 1977. Her career as a painter began when critics were expressing the death of painting. Amy has worked the last decade making abstract art alongside colleagues such as Joanne Greenbaum, Laura Owens, Julie Mehretu, and Jacqueline Humphries. Mostly women, these artists have regained the power of abstract painting that they had felt for so long.


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