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Lena Henke

Lena Henke is an artist based in Frankfurt and New York and the cofounder of M/L Artspace. She has recently mounted solo exhibitions at White Flag Projects in Saint Louis, Skulpturenmuseum Glaskasten in Marl, Germany, and Real Fine Arts in New York. Her work is currently on view in New York in the New Museum’s triennial “Surround Audience” and at Off Vendome.

  1. LOSING GROUND (KATHLEEN COLLINS, 1982)

    This phenomenal comedy-drama was produced in 1982 but only premiered this past February in New York, on the occasion of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s series “Tell It like It Is: Black Independents in New York, 1968–1986.” The film—which features several strong female characters and the paintings of Jack Whitten—follows Sara (Seret Scott), a philosophy professor embarking on an intellectual quest to understand ecstasy, and her husband, Victor (Bill Gunn), a painter preoccupied with young women. During a summer vacation spent in upstate New York, each finds a lover, and their relationship falls apart. In my favorite scene, Sara cuttingly compares her insensitive and flamboyant husband’s penis to a paintbrush—and a failing one at that!

    *Kathleen Collins, _Losing Ground_, 1982*, 35 mm, color, sound, 86 minutes. Sara (Seret Scott) and Victor (Bill Gunn). Kathleen Collins, Losing Ground, 1982, 35 mm, color, sound, 86 minutes. Sara (Seret Scott) and Victor (Bill Gunn).
  2. COOKIE MUELLER, WALKING THROUGH CLEAR WATER IN A POOL PAINTED BLACK (SEMIOTEXT[E], 1990)

    The late writer, dancer, musician, and mother Cookie Mueller is one of the most influential figures of the downtown avant-garde and a queer icon. She starred in many of John Waters’s bawdy films, including Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974); the former also featured her baby son, Max. In this book of short stories, Cookie details Max’s excruciating birth on September 25, 1971, casting herself as some grand martyr of organ stretching. With this passionate telling of her life story, Cookie’s candid, poetic voice moved me.

  3. “REALMS OF IMAGINATION: ALBRECHT ALTDORFER AND THE EXPRESSIVITY OF ART AROUND 1500” (STÄDEL MUSEUM, FRANKFURT)

    Basically, this exhibition presented the sixteenth century’s version of camp. One hundred twenty objects were on view, including paintings, prints, and illuminated books, but I was really struck by the wooden reliefs. Deformed and disfigured, the carvings are so expressive they seem truly perverse. Tiny heads, knobby legs, and unruly facial hair twist together and proliferate in action-packed murals and altarpieces. Even in these serious religious tableaux, the drama is amusing in its extremity. Against the naturalism of their contemporary Albrecht Dürer, the artists in this show produced work that was anything but realistic. Currently on view (through June 14) at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

    *Master I. P., Epitaph Altarpiece (detail), ca. 1526*, limewood, formerly polychrome, 39 3/8 × 38 1/4". Master I. P., Epitaph Altarpiece (detail), ca. 1526, limewood, formerly polychrome, 39 3/8 × 38 1/4".
  4. 186F KEPLER

    Last summer, during Art Basel, I found a refreshingly guerrilla scene at 186f Kepler, Jeanne Graff’s peripatetic and shape-shifting nonprofit institution, which here took the form of a relaxed exhibition space and restaurant run with artist Anina Troesch. One evening’s highlight was a performance by Marie Karlberg (with whom I run M/L Artspace), starring the artist as “Mario” and Graff as “John.” The duo wore mustaches they fashioned by trimming the ends of their hair and using clear tape to affix the clippings above their lips. The simple but powerful gesture blurred the boundaries of the male/female dichotomy in order to challenge societal norms. This year, 186f Kepler will host projects in Milan; Los Angeles; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; and New York.

  5. HANUMAN BOOKS

    These pocket-size volumes have been trusty companions on many journeys. They fit perfectly in my fake Furla and can be enjoyed during a quick coffee break. Launched by Raymond Foye and Francesco Clemente in 1986 and based out of the Chelsea Hotel, Hanuman published handmade books that were printed in Madras, India, until 1993. Miniature Indian prayer books inspired the series, and each delicate publication features the title in gold leaf on its cover. Their contents range from discourse on gay issues to Beat poetry, rare translations to experimental verse about female celebrities. My favorites right now are Elaine Equi’s Views Without Rooms (1989) and René Daumal’s A Fundamental Experiment (1987).

    *Cover of Elaine Equi’s _Views Without Rooms_* (Hanuman Books, 1989). Cover of Elaine Equi’s Views Without Rooms (Hanuman Books, 1989).
  6. SCULPTURE PARKS

    Lately, I have been fascinated with the age-old but very weird genre of the sculpture park. Here are my top three: Pier Francesco Orsini’s sixteenth-century Sacro Bosco in Bomarzo, Italy, designed by Pirro Ligorio; spurned lover Edward Leedskalnin’s Coral Castle in Homestead, Florida (built between 1923 and 1951); and Edward James’s mid-twentieth-century Las Pozas, a “Surrealist Xanadu” in Xilitla, Mexico.

    *Orcus Mouth, Sacro Bosco, Bomarzo, Italy, 2013.* Photo: Aurelio Candido/Flickr. Orcus Mouth, Sacro Bosco, Bomarzo, Italy, 2013. Photo: Aurelio Candido/Flickr.
  7. DEEP LAB

    This all-girl collaborative consists of artists, designers, writers, hackers, and engineers; together, they examine cultural and societal problems surrounding privacy, surveillance, and data aggregation and challenge conventional forms of representation and distribution. An interview with Deep Lab was just featured in Topical Cream, an online magazine that centers on women working in FAT: fashion, art, and technology. A fitting combination of subjects that speak to us girls right now: #topicalgurls #vajaycial #cyberfeminist #womenshealthgoth #transencouraged #deeplab.

    *Rendering of Deep Lab’s public-domain book, 2014.* Rendering of Deep Lab’s public-domain book, 2014.
  8. CALLA HENKEL, MAX PITEGOFF, KARL HOLMQVIST, KLARA LIDEN, ARTO LINDSAY, AND NHU DUONG, THE RANT (NEW THEATER, BERLIN, JANUARY 25, 2015)

    “I guess this is THE RANT,” Karl said, smiling as he spoke into the microphone. Arto’s guitar was plugged into an amp behind Karl’s chair. “Period, it’s like rent. Every fucking month, why do I have to hide it?” Arto cut in sharply on guitar. They were both wearing costumes by Nhu. Klara’s cardboard boxes spun like disco balls around the stage, spray-painted with pink letters spelling no—or maybe it was on. They kept spinning all night, even after the performance ended at this storefront theater in Kreuzberg, which was founded in 2013 by the American artists Calla and Max, who both wrote THE RANT with Karl.

  9. TERROR: A FILM ABOUT THE STATUES OF LIBERTY (HENNING FEHR AND PHILIPP RÜHR, 2015)

    In this eerie short film, artist and filmmaker Nick Zedd portrays J. Gordon Lippincott, the forefather of corporate design. Though his pen is responsible for the visual identity of brands such as Coca-Cola and Campbell’s Soup, Lippincott himself has remained relatively unknown. Fehr and Rühr give the designer a posthumous voice, sourcing material from his autobiography and theories of design, industry, and art. At the end of the film, a young Lippincott—played by artist Isaac Gerard—draws an urn that would contain his own ashes, and the old Lippincott (Zedd) empties a pitch-black bottle of Coke Zero over it. These young German filmmakers have a remarkable interest in obscure aspects of American history, and each of their scenes is shot through with imagination and cunning parody.

    *Philipp Rühr and Henning Fehr, _Terror. A Film About the Statues of Liberty_, 2015*, digital video, color, sound, 10 minutes 34 seconds. J. G. Lippincott (Nick Zedd). Philipp Rühr and Henning Fehr, Terror. A Film About the Statues of Liberty, 2015, digital video, color, sound, 10 minutes 34 seconds. J. G. Lippincott (Nick Zedd).
  10. THE SPECTRUM

    Beyond underground, the Spectrum is a club in Williamsburg run by @gageoftheboone that has plenty of good vibes. Check their Instagram (@thespectrumbk) and come party with liberated individuals of all sexual persuasions. Make Brooklyn burn with your badass voguing.