#RAWHIDE (Venus Over Manhattan- NYC)

#RAWHIDE is one of my favorite gallery shows of the summer. It is one of the most varied and yet thematically structured exhibits I have seen so far. The exhibit includes paintings, silkscreens, sculptures, photographs, drawings, newspapers, magazines, and comics, all depicting an interpretation of the American cowboy. He (or she) is stereotyped, exalted, made fun of, objectified and commercialized. These processes have shaped common perceptions of this public character. #RAWHIDE takes these two-dimensional representations of the cowboy and frames them, removing all context from their existence. In doing so, the audience is forced to truly see how the media’s obsession with the All-American hero has reduced the cowboy to a stock, cliche-ridden character, devoid of personality.

It is best to think about #RAWHIDE as a selection of representations. Each is an attempt to encompass the idea of the cowboy, and yet a different combination of values, influences, and targeted audiences inject bias into each one. One of the most visible representations is that of the overly sexualized cowboy. He is well-groomed, half-clothed or naked, and often homosexual. His neatly-trimmed body hair conflicts with the notion of the rugged cowboy, but this is not the rugged cowboy. This is the beautiful, glistening cowboy whose chaps seem to be missing some fabric around his derrière. This cowboy is a manifestation of desire, the image supplied when a population demanded him.

Physique Pictorial, the first all-nude and all-male magazine, provided this version of the cowboy to the masses. These covers are from the mid-20th century.

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The fetishization of the cowboy made its way from mainstream porno magazines to the lenses of more artistic photographers. The infamous Robert Mapplethorpe photographed a man with a cowboy boot. His eyes peep over the top of the boot, just barely meeting the viewer’s eyes. His subservient gaze and the title of the work, Boot Fetish (1979), further emphasize the sexualization of the cowboy.

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These images reminded me of the Naked Cowboy who runs around Time Square in a pair of tighty-wihities and a guitar. The sexualization of the male body, specifically that of the cowboy figure, continues to this day.

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Another easily tangible representation of the cowboy is that of the emotionless, brooding, loner. This cowboy is still sexualized- he is more often that not incredibly handsome- but the focus is on his impenetrable gaze. His distance is what makes him so tantalizing.

Andy Warhol produced a series of silkscreens entitled Dennis Hopper Portrait (1970).

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The saturating effect of the silkscreen draws the viewer to Hopper’s eyes. He infuriatingly refuses to look back at us, choosing instead to look off into the distance. His eyes are thickly lidded and his hat casts a shadow on his forehead, rendering him totally inaccessible. It is a sharp contrast to the easy accessibility of the naked cowboy.

Another characteristic of this brooding cowboy is Richard Prince’s Untitled (2012). This modern painting presents its protagonist with a dead body. He responds by draping it over the front of his horse and continuing on.

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It is hard to tell if the corpse is that of a friend or a foe. Is he bringing back a fallen comrade for proper burial or parading around with a victory trophy? The cowboy’s stern stare reveals nothing, except that he is a manifestation of American society; an emotionless man who will always be misunderstood. In this case, “being constantly misunderstood” is a trait that is almost fetishized.

This cowboy is the Clint Eastwood of cowboys, delivering each line in a slow monotone. This is the cowboy who rides off into the sunset, alone, when the credits roll.

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#RAWHIDE includes Native American imagery. Here I was somewhat unclear. Were the curators attempting to show that the characters of the cowboy and the native were sometimes one or that natives shaped the character of the cowboy? Roy Lichtenstein’s Face and Feather (1979) depicts a yellow geometric face and a feather.

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The color of the face suggests that it is a white man. The feather is a Native American object and symbol. Perhaps the juxtaposition of the two suggests a cultural mingling. This does not seem right, though, given the cultural obliteration and genocide that took place in its stead. It is possible, then, that Lichtenstein was attempting to portray the process of cultural appropriation on canvas. The shapes and lines of the feather are echoed in the structure of the man’s face, as if he is absorbing the essence of Native American culture. Would it be a stretch to say that cowboys, or the mountain men who interacted with native people, brought back elements of native culture that came to characterize cowboys themselves?

Also included in #RAWHIDE is another Warhol silkscreen, The American Indian (Russel Means) (1976).

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This figure does not attempt to be anyone other than who he is, an Oglala Lakota native and activist. The definition of a cowboy is “a man who does most of his work on horseback.” Many Native AMericans, of many different tribes, rode horses. They were a vital part of daily life. And so, #RAWHIDE asks, is Russel Means a cowboy? He fits the definition, and yet he most certainly is not one. Is a cowboy always white, then? Is a cowboy automatically in conflict with natives, by definition? The inclusion of such a picture is a key dialogue-opening artwork. It makes the viewer question what the term “cowboy” even means.

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Throughout the rest of #RAWHIDE, other representations of the classic American cowboy are shown. Is the cowboy always a man? Annie Oakley comics beg the question. She has the hat, gun, fringe.. she even has the silent stare.

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A portrait by Richard Avedon entitled Peggy Daniels, cashier, Giddings, texas, May 7, 1981 (1985) asks the same question, and further attempts to define a “modern” cowboy.

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Not only is she a woman. She wears (relatively) modern clothing and does not work on horseback daily. She is a cashier. And yet she is from rural Texas, freckled from the sun, and wears the determined expression seen in representations of cowboys for a hundred years prior. She appears to be much more authentic than the glossy, naked men wearing banana hammocks and toting guns who appeared in pin-up calendars.

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#RAWHIDE presents the cowboy as commercialized. A mixed media piece entitled Ndofu, by Jason Rhoades (2005) places a cowboy hat atop a conglomeration of kitschy cowboy porcelain pieces. Dream catchers peek out from behind extension chords, and the entire work sits atop of a metal shelving unit.

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Ndofu represents the commercialization of the cowboy. Now every person can have their own porcelain horse and cart for their kitchen, their own dreamcatcher… In fact, anyone can play cowboy if he or she puts on the hat! Cigarette burns on the hat symbolize its dissolution as a token of pride into a costume. The cowboy was once a person elevated from the masses, albeit extremely objectified. But now, he has become so flattened a character that his clothes can be slipped into in order for his personage to be temporarily borrowed.

This is the effect of American media. An individual undergoes a series of transformations. First into an object of desire and then an object of consumption, until his or her insides are wiped clean for appropriation. #RAWHIDE embodies the dehumanization of people through media, by isolating images of cowboys over a hundred year period. What we are left with is a room filled with stereotypes, reflections of desires and values; the aftermath of a character overly-saturated by books and TV. It is a warning and a reminder of the toxic effect of media. In true artistic style, it manages to achieve this and yet also be utterly beautiful. I was enamored by Ed Rushca’s Dry Frontier (1987).

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It should be noted that this review is not an attempt to deem “cowboy appropriation” more important an issue than other forms of stereotyping. In fact, given the inclusion of Native American influences and characters, I would like to clarify that it is not my intention to place more emphasis on cowboys as a people appropriated. The appropriation of Native American culture is a widespread and extremely pressing issue. The mass-murder of entire tribes- often at the hands of “cowboys”- is an unforgivable crime. I put cowboy in quotations because, as you have just seen, it is not an easy term to define. #RAWHIDE simply looks at one case in which American media created and destroyed its own hero for the benefit and consumption of society. It is certainly not the only example.

I hope that you will go see these and more works in #RAWHIDE at Venus Over Manhattan before July 11th. I found it riveting, and the subject matter is very recognizable to both art-lovers and the less artistically inclined. In fact, if you have a friend who abuses the sentence, “My kid could make that,” then this is the exhibit to bring him to! He will not be disappointed, and you will not be exasperated! 🙂

xoxo, Chloe ❤

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Revolution of the Eye (The Jewish Museum- NYC)

Hi everyone!

I am really excited about today’s review. I went to see Revolution of the Eye at the Jewish Museum a few weeks ago and absolutely fell in love with it. I think I spent an hour and a half just in that exhibition alone. It was so overwhelmingly interesting that I forgot to take notes on it, and since photographs aren’t allowed, I was unable to write a post about it later! And so, when Museum Mile came around last night (which is basically Christmas for someone like me), I took the opportunity to go back- for free- and do some artistic reporting.

Revolution of the Eye examines the relationship between modern art and early television. It charts the expansion of avant-garde genres like pop, op, psychedelic art, dada, surrealism, and more into the new medium of TV. The exhibit is split into different sections that highlight specific interactions between the two. The exhibit feels relevant to the Jewish Museum itself because so many modern artists and early TV creators were Jewish. The interplay between art and television involved so many Jewish figures that art and television have become engrained in American-Jewish culture.

When one enters the exhibit, he or she is faced with a TV special of Barbra Streisand strutting around a museum filled with modern art, wearing a psychedelic-print dress and Twiggy-esque winged eyeliner. She sings, “Gotta move, gotta get out/Gotta leave this place, gotta find some place/Some other place, some brand new place/Some place where each face that I see/Won’t be staring back at me/Telling me what to be and how to be it/Some place where I can just be me.” It is ironic that she sings this song in the middle of a museum, where faces indeed stare at her no matter where she goes. At the same time, museums are often seen as anonymous places where people go to relax and focus on something other than their lives. A modern art museum in particular does not follow the rules, perhaps mirroring Barbra’s desire to find a place where she doesn’t have to either. This TV special of Barbra serves as a wonderful starting-off point for this exhibit because it starts the flow of connections between art and TV both in the mind of the viewer, and the physical space of the museum.

The next section I encountered displayed several eerie photographs of televisions switched on while the living rooms they sat in were vacated. A giant eye filled the screen in one image, and an ominous face in another. This reflects the concern in TV’s early years that the new form of communication would take over people’s lives. It is even reminiscent of the irrational yet ever-present fear that our screens are not one-way. If we are looking into them and watching, perhaps they are looking out at us, watching our every move.

Continuing with the creepy theme is the section dedicated to the Twilight Zone and its artistic inspirations. The notion of a fifth dimension, one that cannot be propertied quantified or explained, comes from surrealist ideas. Picture Salvador Dali and René Magritte’s dreamscapes. They include recognizable elements of our world, and yet something about them defies all logic. It is the same with the Twilight Zone. One cannot properly define the show as fantasy, sci-fi, or horror. It is a combination of all three and also none of them at the same time since it is rooted in reality. This connection goes further when one examines the motifs present in the show. The door, the mannequin, the eye, the spiral… all of these are recurring motifs on the Twilight Zone and in surrealist/Dada art. The door was one of René Magritte’s favorite images. It can be seen in awe-inspiring paintings such as “La Victorie” and “L’Embellie.” The mannequin was a favorite of Dali’s. He positioned two in “Rainy Taxi,” a 3D artwork featuring a cab, two mannequin occupants, and a pipe creating a perpetual drizzle. In one of my favorite episodes of the Twilight Zone, a man suffering from delusions sees mannequins sitting in cars and tries desperately to wake them up. The connection is not coincidental.

The next section of the exhibit focuses on CBS. Many of the executives in charge of CBS, including the president, William Paley, were strong advocates of modern art. He would later donate his personal connection to MoMA. CBS adopted the symbol of the eye, along with its surrealist connotations, as the symbol of the channel. Its all-knowingness and watchfulness supported the visual nature of television. The high contrast and simplicity of the eye imprinted a memorable symbol in the eye (pun intended) of the viewer. In order to attract advertisers, CBS created a slew of advertisements FOR advertisers, that reflect both post-war consumer culture and avant-garde genres of art. A stand-out ad features the outline of a television screen, and a man’s face looming in front of it. His hand is on the TV dial. “This man is dangerous,” the ad reads. “He’s got to like what he sees or he’ll turn you off. Turn to CBS first because CBS has most of the programs most of your customers want.” The allusion to an omnipresent “he” is a creepy surrealist reference. This “he” is the everyman, the average Joe who the advertisers want to attract. This reflects a rising consumer lifestyle in which individuals are flattened into types, in order to be broadly marketed to. Another memorable advertisement features entangled shopping carts that resemble a loose concoction of lines. The image reflects the growing influence of minimalism.

Revolution of the Eye goes on to describe the Modern Art Television Project, sponsored by MoMA. Through this project, programs were created for television that taught adults and children about modern art. One such program was a kid’s show called “The Invisible Mustache of Raoul Dufy.” A clip in this exhibit features a doodled cartoon child painting his surroundings with a large brush while singing, “If I can’t be a painter, I’ll be a millionaire/I’ll buy a lot of pictures and put them everywhere/I’ll buy up all the paintings that other people make/Some little ones some big ones/All that I can take/If I can’t be a painter, a rich man I will be/My castle will be famous as a picture gallery.” For an entire clip of “The Invisible Mustache of Raoul Dufy,” click here. This cute animation, which features a whimsical little boy creating an entire world for himself in his head and on the screen, reflects the irrationality of dadaism. The dreamlike qualities of this vision seem almost surrealist. And yet the animation is minimalist, using lines that resemble doodles to illustrate the little boy’s visions.

I do not want to give too much away here- I DO want to convince people to see this incredibly stimulating, intellectual, visual exhibit. So I will not dictate all the other pieces that moved me. But I will drop a few hints…

Andy Warhol mocking television while ON television. The psychedelic stage designs featured on the Ed Sullivan Show. The beginnings of video art. The comparisons between Batman and pop art. Psychedelic rock posters.

As you can see, Revolution of the Eye seems less like an exhibit, and more like the coolest history book you have ever opened. I learned so much about art, television, and history than I ever have in one sitting. This exhibit made me think about entertainment and communication in an entirely new way. If such comparisons and connections can be drawn from early TV and modernism, what can I better understand about later TV and the art forms that developed around it? How were early blockbuster movies influenced by art? And how is the current major mode of communication- the internet- related to art?

I think the best kind of art is the kind that teaches you about something and inspires you to learn even more. Revolution of the Eye accomplishes exactly that. Check it out through September 27th at the Jewish Museum!

xoxo, Chloe ❤

“The Great Ephemeral” (The New Museum- NYC)

Greetings everyone!

Here’s the latest from the New Museum: an exhibit co-curated by the Taipei Contemporary Arts Center, entitled “The Great Ephemeral.” This exhibit explores the economic and political trends that define the contemporary global market. Taken out of their context and placed within frames and before lenses, these trends become odd abstractions. Notions of political parties, financial competition, and national identity seem like flimsy trivialities when context is removed. What we are left with is simple human movement, bright colors, and anonymous bricks. Life, it appears, goes on, regardless of the names and significance we give to abstract ideas. It is no coincidence, either, that these particular ideas- of finances and politics- are strong contributors to global conflict. Perhaps the curators of this exhibit are suggesting that simplification is a means for peace.

This is Chelsea Knight’s “Don’t Tread on Me” (2011).

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The video is roughly 20 minutes long and comprises two different TVs. The characters in her short film are all supporters of free-market capitalism, though some are members of the Tea Party, and others define themselves as artists, libertarians, or Ayn Rand enthusiasts. These people explain their fiscal views to the audience- one woman states that no one should be able to take away her hard-earned money. It looks like we are watching some kind of political propaganda film. Then the screens start to change bit by bit. In one shot, the image of the woman is doubled. In another, a man speaks to the audience about his beliefs while another woman contorts her body around him, walking slowly across the frame. Organized chaos results, with all of the passionate speakers’ actions devolving into animalistic, repetitive movements in front of the screen. In some shots we see a director tell the figures how to move. What is the meaning of such a strange assortment of camera shots? Why are these people shown sharing their political beliefs and also depicted in a clumsy interpretive dance?

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By juxtaposing clips of people explaining their fiscal views with clips of people moving bizarrely, Knight highlights the strangeness of what we call “political views.” We watch people lament and intone their thoughts, and then we watch them writhe physically. The two start to blend together, forcing the viewer to fuse the abstract notion of politics with the physicality of movement. And then what do we have? A breakdown of images: an arm, a leg, an open mouth. A breakdown of speech patterns: No, yes, money. “Don’t Tread on Me” unravels intellectualism until it is as primitive as the biology of the human body. And then, the viewer asks himself, do we really need it?

The highly complex inner-workings of politics are trivialized by the emphasis on the human form. A man in a suit seen twisting and writhing about makes the audience squirm and giggle. He loses some of his commanding presence when seen this way. His words, too, lose some credibility. If all it takes to unravel a political platform is to make a politician do a little dance, then what, Knight asks, is really the point of it all?

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Here’s a very interesting work entitled by “Molyneux,” by Chou Yu-Cheng (2014).

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“Molyneux” encompasses one entire wall of the exhibit. Several framed images are stacked one in front of the other. All of the images are careful copies of works by an older artist and friend of Yu-Cheng’s, Geoff Molyneux. In 2012, Yu-Cheng won the Taipei Arts Award Grand Prize. He chose to critique the very system that launched his career by showcasing copies of Molyneux’s works in HIS solo show. In doing so, Yu-Cheng questions why he achieved success and critical acclaim while his artist friend, who created the originals of these works, remained out of the spotlight. Yu-Cheng critiques the institutional framework that new artists often rely on to catch a break in the art world. Why, he asks, must we rely on these institutions? Clearly one artist is not more famous than another due to his talent alone- after all, “Molyneux” is composed of works by a less famous artist. “Molyneux” is a sharp criticism of the way the hierarchy of the art world and its reviews and awards brings some artists acclaim while leaving others in the dust.

“Molyneux” also questions what authenticity and authorship really mean. Is a copy of a piece of art its own piece of art? At what point does inspiration become plagiarism? Yu-Cheng painstakingly copied every centimeter of Molyneyx’s owkrs, and then layered them in front of one another. Is this enough of a change for it to be considered Yu-Cheng’s art alone?

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Lastly, here are two photographs from Nir Evron’s poignant “Threshold” series (2015).

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When you looked at these photographs, were you able to pinpoint their location? Exactly. These photographs could have been taken in any developing area, in any place in the world. Would you be surprised to know that they were taken in Palestine? Evron’s self-aware photographs are intentionally devoid of any Islamic symbols. They pointedly inform the viewer that what he or she might think about Palestine- perhaps that it is a land marked at every meter by Islam- is incorrect. The series does not attempt to obscure Islamic symbols. Rather, it showcases scenes that are naturally more anonymous. It is an attempt to shed light on the multifaceted culture of Palestine, from its beauty at dawn to its growing infrastructure. Viewed through this lens, “Threshold” is both a love letter to a beautiful place and an incisive response to ignorant western views of Palestine.

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This exhibit fascinated me because it attacks institutions that we rely on today- political parties, artistic institutions, nation-wide stereotypes- through lyrical, beautiful artwork. I did not walk away feeling attacked in any way, which is often a result of politically charged art. Rather, these artists cleverly make the viewer feel uncomfortable, in order for the viewer to question his or her own worldview. If one looks at “Threshold” and is surprised that the images are of Palestine, then he is embarrassed at his own surprise, and then thinks more deeply about why he was so surprised. In my eyes, that is the greatest thing that art can do: make you think differently about the world. “The Great Ephemeral” does exactly that.

Good news is, you can see this show until September sixth! Check it out.

Until next time,

xoxo, Chloe ❤

Link to my review on Parsons’ Website!

Hey everyone! Hope you’re having an art-filled day 🙂 I just got back from my first day interning at Arcadia Contemporary Gallery in Soho. More to come on that later…

Just wanted to share some exciting news! A few weeks ago, I reviewed “Off Pink,” the MFA thesis show for Parsons Fine Arts students. The New School-Parsons posted my review on their website a few days ago.

Click here to see my review featured on their website! Thanks so much to Parsons for featuring me.

xoxo, Chloe ❤