Daniel LaRue Johnson (1938–2017)

Daniel LaRue Johnson at a school on behalf of the South Bronx Multi-Purpose Supplementary Educational Center, c. 1968. Photo: The Hammer Museum

American artist Daniel LaRue Johnson, best known for his large-scale public sculptures, including the fifty-foot stainless-steel monolith Peace Form One, which was erected across the street from the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan in 1980, has died, Pac Pobric and Sarah P. Hanson of the Art Newspaper report.

Born in Los Angeles in 1938, the painter, sculptor, and printmaker studied at the Chouinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of the Arts) in the early 1960s. In 1964, Johnson was invited by John Weber to participate in “Boxes,” an exhibition at Dwan Gallery. In the show, he presented works from his “Black Box” series, assemblages of objects painted black that addressed America’s civil rights movement. One such work, titled Yesterday, an open-faced box containing a section of the American flag besides a headless doll, comments on the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. After graduating in 1965, Johnson received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, which allowed him and his wife, artist Virginia Jaramillo, to live in Paris, where he studied with Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, before settling in New York.

The artist’s return to the US coincided with a shift in the focus of his work. Johnson began creating colorful abstract paintings and Minimalist steel sculptures. He also worked on a series of public commissions, including Peace Form One, which commemorates Ralph Johnson Bunche, the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. Previously, Johnson created the largest Corten steel sculpture in the world. Dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr., the work was installed in a park in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1970.


October 16, 2017

Pyotr Pavlensky Arrested for Setting Bank of France on Fire

Pyotr Pavlensky in front of the Bank in France in Paris. Photo: Twitter @capucinema

Dissident Russian artist Pyotr Pavlensky, known for his radical performance art, was arrested for arson in Paris after he set the fašade of one of the branches of the Bank of France on fire early Monday morning, the Moscow Times reports. If he is charged with the crime, Pavlensky may face deportation from France.

The artist has been living in France since he was granted asylum there earlier this year. Pavlensky fled Russia with his family after he and his partner Oksana Shalygina were accused of sexual assault by actress Anastasia Slonina. The artist claims the allegations are false, and that the case is the Russian government’s way of forcing him to leave the country.

According to photographer Capucine Henry, who shared a photo of Pavlensky standing in front of the fire on her Twitter feed, the artist was detained by the authorities at 4:10 AM. Activist Sarah Constantin, who also witnessed the performance, reported that the artist said, “the revival of revolutionary France will trigger the global fire of revolutions.”

October 16, 2017

Omer Fast’s Exhibition at James Cohan Gallery Accused of Racism

View of “Omer Fast: August,” 2017. Installation view, James Cohan Gallery, New York.

A group of artists and activists known as the Chinatown Art Brigade—established in 2015 by Tomie Arai, ManSee Kong, and Betty Yu—have called out what they perceive to be racism in the current exhibition at James Cohan Gallery’s Chinatown location in New York. The show is an installation by the Berlin-based artist Omer Fast that includes works in video and film, including a 2016 work inspired by the life and work of German photographer August Sander, but also perhaps most notably features a change in the fašade and interiors of the gallery to resemble “what they were like before gentrification: the waiting room of a Chinatown business with an eclectic aesthetic,” according to the gallery’s press release. While the gallery goes on to note that the installation is meant to address the following: “In a very tense political climate, this ambiguous gesture represents a futile attempt to roll back the clock and speak about community, citizenship and identity,” CAB issued a letter to the gallery that stated, “Not only does this guise have little to no bearing on the actual works being shown, the choice of visual signifiers is a racist aggression towards the community of Chinatown that James Cohan Gallery is currently gentrifying.”

The letter goes on to address how the artist’s practice fits into the context of Chinatown specifically as well: “As a gallery representing the non U.S., non New York based artist Omer Fast, it is reprehensible that you see fit to support this exploration of ‘temporal space’ while contributing to the displacement of low income tenants and business owners in Chinatown. The artist may be heavily invested in ideas of ambivalence, ambiguity and the theatrics of performing authenticity, but let it be known that there is no ambiguity in the critical conditions residents here are facing today.” The writers close their statement with the hashtags “#RacistGallery” and “#JamesCohan #ShutItDown.” You may read their letter in full here.

October 16, 2017

Audrey Azoulay Elected Next Director General of UNESCO

Audrey Azoulay.

Though the United States and Israel will be withdrawing from UNESCO, the organization has also recently announced that the former French culture minister, Audrey Azoulay, will be their next director general, according to a report by Aurelien Breeden in the New York Times. She was elected to the position, for the next four years, on October 13, winning the vote to lead the cultural agency by a short margin with thirty votes to twenty-eight against the Qatari candidate Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari. Despite two and a half years of using his financial leverage to campaign for the job, and an expectation that it was the Arab region’s turn to run the organization, Al-Kawari was seemingly handicapped by his country’s diplomatic isolation. The director general is a post usually chosen by UNESCO’s executive board after three rounds and the results of the election shall be confirmed during UNESCO’s general conference next month.

Azoulay, whose father once served as an adviser to the Kings of Morocco, was minister of culture for only fifteen months, after serving as Hollande’s councilor. During her tenure, the country’s budget for cultural heritage was slashed, though funding for French museums was seemingly a priority for the ministry when she headed it. Though she claimed to support the campaign launched by France to protect cultural sites in conflict zones globally, her commitment to this was disputed by multiple observers, including Jack Lang, France’s special envoy for the mission, who publicly stated she “made things very difficult for the project.” The French candidate’s victory was apparently something of an upset also due to the fact that UNESCO’s headquarters are based in Paris and UN tradition dictates that the host country of one of its agencies should not also run it. Her bid was supported by the country’s former president Franšois Hollande—against the counsel of the foreign affairs ministry according to diplomatic sources—and also endorsed by his successor, Emmanuel Macron.

The new director general will take charge of an organization which has “lost 40% of its budget in adjusted value over the last decade,” according to a Western diplomat. The crisis deepened under current director general Irina Bokova’s watch when the US suspended its financial contributions back in 2011—more than thirty percent of UNESCO’s annual budget—after Palestine was admitted as a full member state. The US withdrawal will take effect on December 31, 2018.

October 15, 2017

Foundations Feud Over Work By Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins

Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins at 124 West Houston Street in New York in 2008. Photo: the Reversible Destiny Foundation

Two organizations started by artists Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins are tied-up in a legal battle over who is the rightful owner of The Mechanism of Meaning, a monumental work comprising eighty-three canvases made between 1963 and 1973, Alice Dingle of ArtAsiaPacific reports. The conceptual art project presents puzzles and diagrams on subjects ranging from Chinese poetry to physics.

The Architectural Body Research Foundation (ABRF), established by the husband-and-wife team to fund major projects in 1987, claims to be the rightful owner of the work. It filed a lawsuit after learning that the Reversible Destiny Foundation (RDF), set up by Arakawa and Gins in 2010, was planning to sell one of two editions of The Mechanism of Meaning after Gagosian Gallery agreed to represent the foundation.

According to a federal lawsuit filed on Wednesday, October 11, ABRF is accusing RDF of copyright infringement and unlawful exploitation of the work with wrongful possession of the property. ABRF is asking the court to declare it the rightful owner of the second edition of the project and is seeking $1 million in punitive damages.

October 13, 2017

German Cultural Figures Up In Arms over New Right-Wing Parliament Representative

AfD's Siegbert Droese.

More than twenty-five thousand people have signed an open letter protesting the appointment of Siegbert Droese as the new chairman of the German parliament’s Committee on Cultural and Media Affairs, Monopol reports. Droese is a member of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, the country’s young, but growing, far-right political party.

Published on September 26, the “Open Letter – For Freedom and Diversity in Art and Culture!” was sent to members of the Council of Elders of the German Bundestag and to the other main German political parties.

It reads: “The AfD, a right-wing radical party, [is] moving into the German Bundestag for the first time, unashamingly undermining the principles of our co-existence in this country. These new developments call for a clear attitude from all democrats in the Bundestag, beyond [any] coalition-tactical considerations. It cannot happen that in the struggle for spheres of influence, the AfD injects its nationalist poison into the debates within one of the most sensitive, most important places of our parliamentary system: German cultural policy. It is therefore imperative to prevent the AfD from chairing the Culture Committee.”

October 13, 2017

Smithsonian Acquires Largest Audiovisual Art Archive

Painter Larry Rivers (center) with Artists Talk on Art board members Doug Sheer and Vernita Nemec at an event on February 17, 1995. Photo: Smithsonian Archives of American Art

More than five hundred New York panel discussions, screenings, and public dialogues about art have been procured by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. Featuring artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Agnes Denes, Robert Longo, Ana Mendieta, and Alice Neel, the audio and visual collection is the largest ever acquired for the archive.

Founded in 1974 and considered the longest running art discussion series, the Artists Talk on Art (ATOA) gifted thousands of records dealing with concerns in the American art world, dating from 1975 to 2015. Many of these dialogues were featured in the 1992 book by Judy Seigel, Mutiny and the Mainstream: Talk That Changed Art, (1975–1990), and are considered a primary source for contemporary American art history.

“We see the fit with the Archives of American Art as uniquely perfect in that they are dedicated to maximum accessibility and democratic use, which is what we have always stood for,” said Douglas I. Sheer, cofounder and board chairman of Artists Talk on Art. “We were courted by a number of institutions and only Archives of American Art possessed the experience, capability, massive capacity, and appreciation of our historic content, which is what convinced us to choose them.”

October 13, 2017

Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald to Paint the Obamas for Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

Artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald.

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, announced today that artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have been commissioned to paint Barack and Michelle Obama for the institution’s permanent collection. The portraits will be revealed at the museum in early 2018.

“The Portrait Gallery is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former President and First Lady,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the twenty-first century.”

Wiley, known for his large-scale portraits of young African Americans that reference iconic portraits of prominent figures by Western artists, was selected by Barack to create his likeness. Michelle chose Sherald, whose works often challenge stereotypes and notions of identity, for her portrait.

October 13, 2017

El Museo Del Barrio Adds Six New Board Members

El Museo del Barrio.

El Museo del Barrio in New York announced today that it has appointed six new members to its board of trustees: CEO of Jose Cuervo, Juan Domingo Beckmann; entrepreneur and film producer MoisÚs Cosio; cofounder of Zona Maco: Mexico Arte Contemporaneo, Veronica G. Powell; art historian Clarice Oliveira Tavares; philanthropist and collector Renata Paula; and managing partner at the investment firm A+Capital Monica Vidal.

Director Patrick Charpenel, who began his tenure at the museum on September 18, said, “El Museo del Barrio is thrilled to welcome these extraordinary individuals to its evolving board of trustees. With their valuable input, care, and diverse perspectives, we are confident that El Museo will continue to grow in its exhibitions, programming, and influence in the Latin American and global arts communities.”

Charpenel was tapped to lead the institution in May, after former director Jorge Daniel Veneciano stepped down after two years at the museum. El Museo del Barrio was established as an arts space dedicated to Puerto Rican art in 1969, but it eventually expanded its mission to include Latino, Latin American, and Caribbean cultures.

October 13, 2017

Hikaru Fujii Wins Nissan Art Award’s 2017 Grand Prix

Hikaru Fujii and his award-winning work Playing Japanese, 2017, at the BankART Studio NYK in Yokohama. Photo: Yukio Koshima

The Nissan Art Award has named Hikaru Fujii the winner of its 2017 Grand Prix. The artist will receive around $44,500 as well as the opportunity to participate in a three-month residency program at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York. Founded in 2013 to celebrate achievements in contemporary art, the biennial award honors emerging Japanese artists.

Playing Japanese, 2017, Fujii’s winning work, is a multi-channel video installation, which shows clips of footage gathered from a workshop for which the artist asked members of the public “to perform” what it means to be Japanese.

“Fujii’s artwork broaches an extremely complex period of Japanese history from around when the nation started to interact with other cultures, and then, through the means of a workshop, presents us with a strong message and questions,” the jury chair, Fumio Nanjo, said. “Responding also to the state of affairs in the world today, his superb work transcends cultures and nationalities to resonate with all kinds of people.”