Helen Frankenthaler, Red Shift, 1990, acrylic on canvas, 60 x 76”. © Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


Alexandra Schwartz is a New York–based independent curator and the author of Ed Ruscha’s Los Angeles (MIT Press, 2010). Her latest exhibition, “As in Nature: Helen Frankenthaler Paintings,” is on view at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, through October 9, 2017. A related exhibition, “No Rules: Helen Frankenthaler Woodcuts,” curated by Jay A. Clark, is also on view at the institution through September 24, 2017.

SINCE I STARTED WORKING on this exhibition, almost every time I mention it to a female painter, she responds with delight. Speaking enthusiastically about her admiration for Frankenthaler’s work—the “one-shot” paintings, the remarkable sense of color, the subtle use of layering, the simultaneous lyricism and aggression—she also expresses admiration for the artist’s still-outsize reputation for determination, fortitude, and toughness. She might cite a personal anecdote about meeting Frankenthaler, or having a mutual acquaintance and angling to meet her. Her voice is inflected with a hint of awe.

It is fascinating that Frankenthaler has become a sort of feminist icon, or at least a revered role model, for her own views on her status as a woman artist appear to have been fraught. When asked in a 1965 interview, “How do you feel about being a woman painter?” she replied, “I wonder if my pictures are more ‘lyrical’ (that loaded word!) because I’m a woman. Looking at my paintings as if they were painted by a woman is superficial, a side issue, like looking at Klines and saying they are bohemian. The making of serious paintings is difficult and complicated for all serious painters. One must be oneself, whatever.”

As an art historian, I must maintain that it doesn’t matter whether Frankenthaler wanted gender to come into considerations of her art; once an artist’s work is out in the world, she ceases to control it. And the fact is that Frankenthaler’s gender has always mattered. The sexism inherent in many early responses to her work was virulent: A critic wrote in 1960, “The goddess Ate, patroness of reckless blindness and mad impulse, may be responsible for the work of Helen Frankenthaler,” going on to describe the artist and her work (and treating them as one and the same) as “irrational,” “hysterical,” “romantic, hypersensitive, sulky,” and “an example of thin, nervous romanticism.” Discouragingly, this venom came from a female critic, Anne Seeley. The review also points to another tendency in Frankenthaler’s early reception—particularly in magazines such as Time and Life, which covered the female Abstract Expressionists (or, according to one article, “The Vocal Girls”)—that emphasized her good looks, privileged background, and alliances with powerful men, among them the critic Clement Greenberg and the artist Robert Motherwell, over considerations of her work. While Frankenthaler may have been complicit in cultivating these associations, they arguably both helped and hindered her career.

Feminist art history has sought to correct such distortions. One of the most important, if controversial, feminist considerations of Frankenthaler’s work was a 1998 essay (revised in 2005) by the art historian Lisa Saltzman. Charting how critics have historically insisted on the “feminine” nature of Frankenthaler’s work, she draws a connection between the artist’s painted “stains” and menstrual blood. Though she cites remarks to this effect made decades earlier by one of Frankenthaler’s great champions, the critic E. C. Goossen, her essay was derided by many of the artist’s defenders. Prominent art historians including Griselda Pollock, Anne Wagner, Katy Siegel, and Anna Chave have also offered essential considerations of gender and Frankenthaler’s work, illuminating how it was both the product and reflection of a historically tumultuous era for women.

Though Frankenthaler always distanced herself from the women’s movement and embraced a somewhat conservative lifestyle, she led what might be described as a feminist life. By this I mean: she “made it” as a woman artist when almost no one else did, forged a highly chronicled six-decade career, maneuvered the art world with great skill, and remained true to her particular artistic vision. The latter often meant undermining received expectations of her work, particularly in relation to Greenbergian formalism, which celebrated her early soak-stain paintings as the epitome of modernism. Yet much of her painting is not stained, but full of impasto and hints of figuration, with references to landscape, still life, and portraiture—all of which Greenberg disdained. As those who knew Frankenthaler (I didn’t) have told me repeatedly, she was a force; she knew what she wanted and how to get it, flying in the face of the myriad constraints on women at the time.

What better defines a feminist? And yet, can this be said of someone who eschewed feminism? For me, Frankenthaler has always been a bit of a puzzle, but one that must be reckoned with if you are interested in the history of art and gender. If nothing else, the complicated issues of femininity in her work and career spoke to the shifting norms of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. And I will say, I was one of those young women who regarded Frankenthaler with admiration and awe; as a student, I sought out her work, and it is one of the reasons I am an art historian today.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Suzanne McClelland, Runners Up (detail), 2014–16, ninety-nine pieces of sandblasted, fused glass with photoresist. Installation view, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut, 2017.


Suzanne McClelland’s exhibition “Just Left Feel Right” at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, is a survey that includes some of the artist’s recent forays into unfamiliar territory. Here, she discusses her glass piece Runners Up, 2014–16, in the context of her twenty-five years of painting. The show is on view through September 4, 2017.

EVERY TIME I plan a piece and, again, when I finish a piece I wonder if it needs to be in the world, and what might come after it, if anything. Does it need to take up space and time? I feel that the time that goes into something matters as much as the object itself. For this exhibition I spent time with the curator, Amy Smith-Stewart, deciding what to show and whether to indulge in a retrospective or to look at it more as a survey. Amy was adventurous enough to let me show not only my paintings, but also work that I’ve made out of glass, ceramic, and wallpaper.

The idea of a survey was engaging to me because I could not predict what Amy might respond to, from twenty-five years of my life. In the show you can see LA Uprising, 1994, for instance, which is a grid of broadsheets from the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. I was looking at the gap then between experience and text, and how when reading a news story, for instance, you don’t know what physically happened. There’s so much more left out than what is there right in front of you. That’s why the materials are what they are: the Mylar magnifies what’s underneath it and also obliterates it, or removes it, because of the reflection.

As our technology has changed, I’ve adjusted how I read and absorb the things going on in the world. Runners Up comprises ninety-nine discrete glass objects—basically a collection of images of people running that one can hold in one’s hand. I made them with the assistance of glass artist Dorie Guthrie during a generous residency at Urban Glass. I’ve never worked with that material, but I wanted to present imagery in a way that was similar to how we encounter it on screens. In urban environments when we see people running, there are all these quick perceptions and assumptions that we make about what’s going on—who’s guilty, who’s innocent, what’s happened. I wanted to freeze those moments, not freeze them, not fix them with a photograph, but embed them in these layers of glass that both obscure and magnify what’s there. As you walk down the ramp next to Runners Up—I organized the piece for that wall because it faces a glass courtyard—you can’t see the imagery until you’re right on top of it due to the reflection

In some ways I might call this work “Almost”: nothing is ever arriving, no one ever gets anywhere, there’s no progress per se. It’s about fragmented movement, which I have looked at as subject matter in my paintings for years. It seems to me that in the twentieth century, physical movement has not only accelerated, but has become relevant subject matter in relationship to memory.

In the 1980s, when I first came to New York, works by Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer were on view a lot and were important to me. One reason their works were so powerful is that at that time they inserted themselves into the local New York world of macho expressive painting. I was interested in how you could take physical material and let it function in a way a voice would—as speech rather than disembodied text. I also like to isolate a single word, because that single word doesn’t tell you what to do. It doesn’t instruct you, it’s not a narrative, it’s not even creating an image necessarily. I didn’t want to name things either, which was the way in which Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, and Cy Twombly positioned themselves with language. I wanted my paintings to be more about the combination of thought and feeling that I saw in Kruger’s and Holzer’s work. That’s how it started, and since then, there’s always been something to make a painting about.

— As told to Laura Hoffmann

Tyree Guyton

08.22.17

Tyree Guyton, The Times, 2017, Philadelphia. Rendering.


What is a monument? The Detroit-based artist Tyree Guyton has long asked this question, beginning with his ongoing site-specific installation The Heidelberg Project, 1986–, which has entailed transforming his childhood neighborhood into a living museum. Now, for Philadelphia’s citywide public art and history project Monument Lab, Guyton is creating The Times, 2017, a massive mural of caricature-styled timepieces on a former factory in the city’s Kensington neighborhood. The work will be on view at the Impact Services building on A Street and East Indiana Avenue from September 16 through November 19, 2017.

THROUGHOUT MY CAREER, I have explored the concept of time from a visual perspective by playing with clocks. As caricatures, these clocks often have no hands, or the numbers are traveling backwards, or are mixed up, or the clocks have no numbers at all. My goal is to help people explore how time factors into our lives and how it sometimes hinders our ability to progress, or accelerates our anxiety about not being productive at all. Both are centered on the illusion of time, to do and not do.

Plato said, “Time is the moving image of reality.” What this means to me is that everything we do revolves around time and yet the only time that we ever really have is the very moment we are in. My challenge with this project is to help people to appreciate the present time as a time to act, think, be, and do, here and now. Yesterday lives only in our minds, and tomorrow is not promised. I believe that we must make the most of time, and the time to do that is now.

In response to the question of what an appropriate monument for the city of Philadelphia would be, I proposed broadening that question to ask, What is an appropriate monument for our country and our world? I’m offering The Times, a project designed to explore the concept of time in our lives. Now is the time to move towards positive change. Often we hear these familiar clichés: I don’t have enough time; time is running out; I don’t have time; I need more time; time is on our side; I wish I could go back in time; etc. Through this work, I’m challenging us to think consciously about what we’re saying.

People publicly claim to be offended by certain monuments that stand today, but I’m not so sure that this is the case. Social media is a vehicle where people can hide their true feelings while presenting another face to the public. Our current political climate feels like we are living in a pre–civil rights era. What I am asking with this particular work is, What time is it? Kensington, the community where I am working in Philadelphia, has one of the worst drug epidemics in the country, but it’s just one of many distractions. What about being drunk or high on artificial enhancements, prescription medication—or hate, greed, or power? So the question I am asking is not only to the folks in this community, but also to all people. It’s time to challenge the norm. To create a spectacle that is so striking and offbeat that it forces you to look, see, and think.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Brendan Fernandes, Hit Back, 2017. Performance view, Recess, New York, August 10, 2017. John Alix, Khadija Griffith, Oisín Monaghan. Photo: Wendy Ploger.


Brendan Fernandes’s practice straddles the intersection of art and dance, addressing questions of labor, queerness, colonialism, and the formation of identity. For the New York nonprofit Recess, Fernandes has produced Steady Pulse, a project which comprises Minimalist-inspired sculptural elements and a series of events that call to mind the Pulse massacre in Orlando and the vitality of the body in times of political precarity. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 3 to 6 PM, through August 26, 2017, dancers will hold open rehearsals of the collaborative dance piece Hit Back. On August 19, 2017, from 3 to 5 PM, Fernandes will be in discussion with Kavita S. Kulkarni. On August 25, 2017, from 7 to 9 PM, Recess will host Fernandes’s dance performance and party Free Fall, honoring the Pulse tragedy and the dance floor as a space of sanctuary, featuring DJ Thomas Ian Campbell. And on August 26, 2017, from 12 to 6 PM, visitors are invited to mark the dance floor in Make Your Mark, an event inspired by an AIDS memorial in California. Steady Pulse is on view until September 1, 2017.

TWO EVENTS that deeply affected me last year were the Pulse nightclub massacre and Trump’s win, which still is difficult to say out loud. I began to really think about my political agency and my responsibilities as an artist. The title of Steady Pulse at Recess references the Orlando massacre in June 2016, but it also comes out of the idea of the dance floor as a space of agency. The dance floor is a space of support—a physical, architectural support—but also a support system that questions the body’s relationship to it as it moves on it. I wanted to create a queer space—a space that is constantly in action, in flux, in a non-definitive moment. It’s always becoming something else. At Recess, there are dance parties, conversations, gatherings, moments when we’re performing, and moments in which the piece acts as a static art installation.

Dancers often speak about how the dance floor hits the body. There’s a sensation of penetration, pain, and pleasure, but also one of agency. At Recess there are panels painted in flesh tones. They have rubber spacers beneath them that create resistance—a little bit of a bounce, a little bit of give, so you are not hitting the body as hard when you are moving on it. For me, that question of the barrier is where the social and political aspect of agency comes in. The barrier of the rubber against the floor creates resistance, separating the body from the floor, but also giving the performer the ability to endure longer, to last longer in the action of dancing.

The panels within the installation are painted in flesh tones. Whether or not there are bodies moving within it, the panels act as indexes of bodies. When a dancer is lying on top of one of the panels, it creates an intimate moment as if they were lying on top of another body. It’s meant to be a reflection on the different ways a body can be present in space—presence is implied through shape, color, and index, and through the actual physical presence of bodies breathing, moving, or being still. There are also gray felt mats in the installation that become placeholders for the body; they create horizontal spaces where a body could fall, could be held, or could pray.

Excerpt from Brendan Fernandes’s interview for 500 Words.

Falling and the possibility of falling in this piece are really important because it’s read as a sociopolitical gesture. In dance, you can never fall. Falling on stage, unless it is choreographed, is a mistake. In my choreography, there are many moments of falling, of feeling the resistance of the floor. But in the end, there’s always that action of standing back up. We stand up even after we fall. So it’s never an ending. It becomes an action through which new possibilities for resistance and movement may be found.

The piece I'm currently working on at Recess is Hit Back. For me, hitting back is not always a violent gesture. I’m trying to find out: if something hits you, how do you hit back to regain your agency? And can this be done in a nonviolent way? In the piece, I work very collaboratively with the dancers to think about ways of playing with these floor panels that have resistance to them. The gestures have become very interesting. A lot of them have referenced resuscitation movements, where the body is pushing against the floor and the sprung floor panels are pushing back. They reference gestures of intimacy and care, of picking up, and of holding each other.

There are forty-nine coat hangers in the installation, and they reference the forty-nine victims of the Pulse massacre. The dancers wear jumpsuits made by the Rational Dress Society, but not all the dancers are there all the time, so a garment might just be hanging there, without a body. They will take the jumpsuits off the rack, and they will hold them. They will dance with them. They will fold them. I’m playing a lot with gestures of commodification and commercialization. These movements evoke how the body is commodified, even through the means of performing or in the club.

— As told to Wendy Vogel

Aman Mojadidi, Once Upon a Place, 2017, Times Square, New York. Photo: Brian William Waddell / FT SET for Times Square Arts.


Afghan-American artist Aman Mojadidi works largely on site-specific projects that combine qualitative research, traditional storytelling, postmodern narrative strategies, and mixed-media installations to approach themes such as belonging, identity politics, conflict, and migration. His latest installation, Once Upon a Place, 2017, comprises three phone booths that are wired to relay dozens of oral histories told by immigrants living throughout New York City. Mojadidi recorded the stories during his residency with Times Square Arts. The work will be on view in the heart of Times Square (Forty-Sixth Street and Seventh Avenue) until September 5, 2017.

I DON’T KNOW if I identify as an ethnographer or as an artist, to be honest. I feel like I straddle this position between the two. My process is ethnographic, but the product that I create is much more artistic.

My family comes from Afghanistan. They came to the US in the late 1960s. I was born in the US, so issues of migration, immigration, biculturalism, and identity play a role in the work that I’ve done from the beginning. For the past five or six years, my background in cultural anthropology has driven me to create site-specific projects that in some way involve communities and address particular environments.

In Cuba, I’ve done work that looks at Guantánamo Bay prisoners and detainees who are being released, and I’ve done projects on my own upbringing within two cultures. I currently live in France, where immigration is a huge issue, and I lived in Afghanistan for about twelve years, where I know a lot of people who are trying to leave. These artist friends of mine, and others who are looking for legal and illegal ways to get themselves to Europe or farther, made me want to look at the anti-immigrant hysteria that has been brewing in the US, Europe, and other places over the past couple of years. I wanted to make a work that dealt with the humanity of people leaving their homes, and I wanted to do it within an urban environment that is a flagship of immigration. I mean, New York, even globally, is seen as a model of how immigration builds a city.

As I was thinking about doing this project in 2014, I learned that phone booths were being removed from the streets of New York, and then the idea immediately hit me. The fact that so many people have used these booths in the past, and that so many stories have been told through these phones, made them a natural way to present new stories.

In terms of identifying communities, there was a lot of desk review. I reviewed reports through the census bureau, as well as though articles and reports on immigration in all the boroughs. I tried to reach people through community organizations and centers, I approached mosques and temples, and I spent a lot of time in neighborhoods. I met with people during the run-up to the election last year, so there was a lot of suspicion from them, which added an extra barrier to reaching people. They wanted to know why I was collecting information on immigrants. Many people who spoke with me were illegal and stayed anonymous. In the end, we were still able to get about seventy stories from immigrants from twenty-six countries.

There’s a young man who was carried over the Mexican border by his mom when he was three years old—she carried him on her back—and now he is an activist for immigrant rights and lobbies in Washington, DC. There’s a gentleman from Yemen, who worked as a cook in Windows on the World before the attack on the Twin Towers; he talks about how the politics around his identity as a Yemeni changed after the towers fell. There’s a woman from Puerto Rico who had been a drug addict and needed to make a change.

I’m hoping that other immigrants will listen and feel a connection with these people, and that within this climate of heightened xenophobia the project can help people see beyond all of the anti-immigration rhetoric being spouted by the Trump administration, as well as in other places in the world. Picking up that phone and listening to someone’s voice is an intimate experience; it’s different from hearing someone’s story on the news or through some other medium. In a way, the project just cuts out the politics; the person just tells their story.

— As told to Lauren Cavalli

Rey Akdogan

08.01.17

View of “Rey Akdogan,” 2017, Hannah Hoffman Gallery, Los Angeles.


Rey Akdogan’s works touch on invisible standards and everyday objects, such as crash rails, in order to mine emotional reactions and systemic analysis. The latest exhibition of concise gestures by the New York–based artist is on view at Hannah Hoffman Gallery in Los Angeles through August 26, 2017.

I AM INTERESTED IN MOTION, our everyday lives, and how we move through space. Each of my works extracts elements from much larger systems. And usually they are standard systems that perform specific tasks in our everyday lives. A standard is something that—if it works well—we don’t usually register. It is not an evident part of our visual universe. For instance: You go into a supermarket. You just want to get a bag of carrots, and they look fantastically orange there. You bring them home. You unpack them. Then, all of a sudden, they are not so orange. The plastic they’re wrapped in is tinted, and the supermarket’s light had an effect; both of these layers react, and they become something—an environment.

The French cleats used in the exhibition typically exist between an artwork and a wall. Yet, they have a strange quality when you extract them from their normal function. They become visible. French cleats have a specific shape. They have two parts, with standard interlocking angles and types of wood. It’s all very specific. Usually the visible edges of a French cleat are painted to match the color of the artwork it supports, to make the cleat less visible. In the “Faction” works at Hannah Hoffman, I wanted to reverse the application of the paint, by placing it on the angles and surfaces of the cleat that are usually unexposed. But there are actually functional cleats behind the “Faction” works too; there are cleats holding the cleats in a stack. That’s how they are.

On one of the long walls at Hannah Hoffman I replaced the gallery’s usual matte white paint with a high-gloss commercial paint typically used for machinery or architectural facades. The visibility of the wall was alienated; it became mirrorlike. This type of paint also yellows over time if it is not exposed to sunlight. The standard UV-filtering properties of the gallery will set this process in motion.

There was a period when I had to spend a lot of time at the hospital, sitting in waiting rooms for hours and hours. They are such strange environments. I was looking around and saw these odd things projected slightly from the wall, almost like trompe l’oeil objects. I thought, What is this? Then, I started noticing them everywhere. They’re in corridors; they’re in elevators; they’re found throughout public buildings and institutions—universities, post offices, you name it.

Some of the works in the show are these objects called “crash rails,” fixtures with specific measurements that protect walls from scratches and marks. They usually have to be approved through all sorts of administrative offices. They also have to be sturdy in a specific way. I’m interested in how their varying physical appearances are largely determined by how they operate. That sort of operational abstraction is what holds together the construction of ambience.

— As told to David Muenzer