Lower East Sides: Elsewheres Around the Corner

Posted by on Aug 29, 2015 in Patricia Silva | No Comments

Lorenzo Masnah and Alex Seel, Entre La Guardia y El Dorado, 2015. Installation at XY Atelier Gallery.


Every summer, many expect the art world to hibernate, in cool temperature-controlled repose, remerging with a roar of high sales in the fall season. And every year, I stumble upon some fantastic independent shows in New York’s humid season, usually just strolling by, or in this case, at the recommendation of a friend. Not just any friend, but someone who has lived in the Lower East Side since the mid 1990s and has watched its culture change dramatically, from a multi-ethnic enclave where English was a minority language, to another frightening model of how rampant gentrification and predatory capitalism combine to erase and displace. Many New York avenues and Squares have been transformed to function like any other domestic mall. The global problem of economic displacement creates unlivable conditions that are increasingly looking like one another, especially among places with existing patterns of immigration.

That was how the Columbian-born Masnah began to describe this work: the street language of marginality is disappearing in ways that reflect the sameness of rampant corporatization. Entre La Guardia y El Dorado, is a collaborative installation by Lorenzo Masnah and Alex Seel, in which photography plays a key role in demonstrating these cycles of sameness across borders. In fact, the idea of a border is rendered null because our social poverties are increasingly looking like, or referencing, one another. The use of photography in Masnah and Seal’s installation is key: the repetition of images present a cycle. Seel’s photographs are shown as pictures, then shown again after Masnah has drawn on them and made outlines to emphasize certain qualities. Allan Sekula has warned us of the problematic power dynamics and the constant othering present in the “find a bum school of photography” approach to representation. Without betraying that warning, Masnah and Seel have assembled a collection of what is at stake: the objects and lives that become discarded, and the displacement that is activated when public policy ignores the harm of gentrification. Photographs are shown in a cycle of constant modification, mirroring the subject matter of the installation, which is that in this global climate, the marginality present in Loisaida can feel interchangeable with similar living conditions in Bogotá. And elsewhere.


Kari Soinio’s A Way By  Numbers, 2014. Installation at Station Independent Projects.


Not too far from XY Atelier where Masnah and Seal are exhibiting, is another work referencing the disappearing street language of urban life. Kari Soinio’s A Way By  Numbers on view at Station Independent Projects, is a conceptual mapping of building markings from the Bronx through Crown Heights, including all five boroughs of New York City. Much like an accidental continuation of Zoe Leonard’s Analogue series, Soinio looks the numeric language that sets one building apart from another, buildings we can expect to be demolished in the near future. Capturing urban space with an eye on its “highly contested air space”  and making a visual record of the soon-to-be lost language of building identification, Soinio makes the human passage clear. Bodies are still moving through these spaces and inhabiting spaces that instead of remaining neighborhoods, become sites of unaffordable transition.


Entre La Guardia y El Dorado: Lorenzo Masnah and Alex Seel
XY Atelier Gallery
81 Hester Street at Orchard
Closing August 30th, 2015

(Un)livable: Janet Biggs, Kari Soinio
Station Independent Projects
138 Eldridge Street, 2F
Closing Sept. 6, 2015

IM Heung-soon: “Reincarnation”

IM Heung-soon: “Reincarnation”

Posted by on Aug 20, 2015 in Patricia Silva | No Comments

The dual-channel projection begins with a female figure looking out to sea. From the first moments of the video, the viewer is aware that the artist has placed the audience between two points of dialogue, and our body is not passive in the space.  Viewers shift attention from one wall to the other, keeping up with what seems like a disparate conversation across cultures, but it’s all quite connected. The residue of historical events is examined through place, through the human vestiges that remain pulsing in the air despite being unspoken in public dialogue.

IM Heung-soon’s Reincarnation, 2015, the South Korean artist’s most recent film, is currently on view at PS 1 in Long Island City. At this year’s Venice Biennale, Heung-soon was awarded the Silver Lion for Factory Complex, a work about the oppression of female factory workers. This is the highest award ever received by an individual Korean artist at the Venice Biennial. Effectively editing seemingly incompatible sequences of archival footage with the poetics of art history, Factory Complex and Reincarnation are both focused on female experience, each work presenting historical information not usually discussed in the West.



IM Heung-soon, Reincarnation, 2015. Two-channel HD video; color, sound 23:44 min. Image courtesy of the artist, Sharjah Art Foundation and MoMA PS1. Photo by Pablo Enriquez.


In the early years of the 70s, before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the rapidly modernizing Tehran was an alluring destination for Korean immigrants seeking economic stability and opportunities. Knowing this history, Heung-soon became interested in a group of Korean women who lived through the Korean war in their youth, the Vietnam war (as entertainers, part of the foxhole circuit), and eventually experienced the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 after settling in Tehran in the 70s. As a viewer seated between three shifting worlds—a woman in a chador wailing in Farsi; a Korean domestic scene; a Vietnamese landscape—it is not obvious how each site is connected historically.  Heung-soon focuses on the subtle casualties of war’s aftermath and created a dual-screen installation that places a Western audience between these shifting points of reference that are connected, but unannounced. The viewer experiences confusion, but a steady view into the states of disconnection that contradict normalcy.



IM Heung-soon, Reincarnation, 2015. Two-channel HD video; color, sound 23:44 min. Image courtesy of the artist, Sharjah Art Foundation and MoMA PS1. Photo by Pablo Enriquez.


Those who have not lived through war, or with a veteran, know that violence does not end when wars end. Political conflict may end at national level, but individual survivors of the trauma may continue living and processing their experiences. Heung-soon stages some of these disconcerting moments: a leg shaking while sleeping, a mother praying for her son’s return. The disorienting image of human black hair blowing in the desert wind and sand is a stark reminder of just how buried these histories feel to those who carry them, and how faceless these stories are to most of the world.

“Pain slowly reappears when we try to escape from memory and oblivion. ‘Reincarnation’ does not seek to signify the emergence of an unprecedented phenomenon, but suggests a way of remembering the deceased and the suffering, as well as restoring conscience, morality, empathy, and justice.”—IM Heung-soon

A timelapse of the sea at twilight is particularly beguiling, especially when the camera lingers at the moment where the sky is not yet at its darkest but cerulean steady, and the waves’ foam absorbs an orange hue from distant street lamps. The video thrives on the movement of juxtaposition between screens. In one segment, a sequence of toy soldiers is shown while on the other screen a bonfire is burning in the middle of the woods. When a woman piles $100 dollar bills on a burning offering, the other screen shows Iranian women lighting candles. A strobe of light bouncing off a polished tombstone with arabic script faces a puddle in a tropical setting, reflecting clouds and sky between inverted palm trees. IM Heung-soon’s Reincarnation takes these lesser known histories and presents them in lyrical structures, showing the intense connection between people and place, in the act of coping with the enduring legacies of conflicts without resolution.


Mickalene Thomas, “Untitled” 2015

Mickalene Thomas, “Untitled” 2015

Posted by on Aug 12, 2015 in Patricia Silva | No Comments

Mickalene Thomas, Untitled, 2015.
Installation at the Queens Museum, on view until March 31, 2016


This past June, the Queens Museum premiered a new installation by Mickalene Thomas. Painter, photographer, and video artist, Thomas is hyperprolific across media; expertly adapting each medium into the sense of beauty and complexity Thomas works from. Museum goers might recall seeing a mural installed outside of MoMA’s restaurant, and maybe even the 2012 piece at Barclay’s Center.  New York City’s grid system is a prominent form in Untitled, 2015, also echoing the structure of the 1964 World’s Fair globe, also on  museum grounds and easily glimpsed while viewing Untitled.

Inspired by the New York City panorama at the Museum, Thomas culled from a studio archive of “natural imagery from the five boroughs, [advancing] my investigation of collage’s potential to represent specific locations and communities.” Communities are central to the greater identity of the borough: at least 160 languages are spoken in Queens, some of them extinct in their place of origin. In addressing the unique and exquisite collages of human diversity, Thomas reframed the space that brings people together, or at least where inter-cultural encounters first happen: out of doors, in a public setting.


Mickalene Thomas, Hudson River On My Mind, 2009.


The public world and its charged perceptions aren’t new themes for Thomas. Reclaiming traditions is an important process, especially from the relationships and tensions between painting and photography. In photographs, landscapes have been an extension of  the subject’s personae, but in works without a figurative presence Thomas reshapes angles and modulates the spatial experience directing the eyes to all the movements and textures convincing the eyes with their impeccable beauty. Hudson River On My Mind has its own form (of wind? of water? of watching fauna sway by the river?)  just as Monet’s Kitchen shows a play with linearity that, instead of flattening space, gives a feeling of 3 dimensionality.


Mickalene Thomas, Monet’s Kitchen, 2014


Mickalene Thomas, Untitled, 2015.
Detail view: installation at Queens Museum, on view until March, 2016


The photographs composing the mural show a natural world uncrowded and overpopulated—patches of calm within the urban framework. In a very open manner, Thomas activates the details of public spaces where festivals happen; where people meet and picnic; play sports; or just enjoy the sun. Thomas shows us a grid where the positive and negative space, although far from interchangeable, are in constant play with each other. Untitled, 2015 inverts the cityscape, highlighting the predictability of well-cut paths, and frames our upward glances at wide skies, glances at the park. Living in such a compressed environment that already feels like a collage, Thomas renders elements of the five boroughs with an understated attention to the spaces between crowds, the spaces  enabling movement of a different kind—connection between communities.


Summer Seeing: 10 Must-See Photos in August

Summer Seeing: 10 Must-See Photos in August

Posted by on Aug 4, 2015 in Patricia Silva | No Comments

As mentioned in the first installment of this summer series, I am joining Baxter St at CCNY to present a monthly selection of not-to-be missed photographs in New York City.

This month’s photographs are showing in the Bowery, Chelsea, the Upper East Side, and in two shows that can be seen on the same day: one in Staten Island and another near the Staten Island ferry at Bowling Green. Some works are in shows closing by the end of this week, do not wait an extra minute to view them in person.
Enjoy the second of three installments this summer!



Willa Nasatir, Green #1, 2015. Courtesy Company Gallery.
Currently showing in the “Close to the Skin” group show at Company Gallery.
Closes August 8

One of the most beguiling works on view this summer.



Benny Merris, An Other Another 76, 2015. Image courtesy of the artist and Murray Guy New York.
Currently showing in the group show “The Secret Life” at Murray Guy.
Closes August 7

Merris has two works of gorgeous colour on view at the ever tasteful Murray Guy, but this one humorously and bluntly interjects photographic space with the gesture of painting.



Alice Austen, The Grounds at Clear Comfort, ca.1900s.
Currently showing in the show “Becoming Clear Comfort: History of a Landmark” at the Alice Austen House.
Closes August 30

Clear Comfort, the home where photography pioneer Alice Austen lived for 78 years contains an exquisite archive of early street photography, unique New York photographs, and of course, Austen’s social circle. In a show celebrating the 30th anniversary of Austen’s private home becoming a public museum, this photograph shows the grounds of Clear Comfort relatively unchanged, the expansive and remote characteristics Austen valued in Clear Comfort. Renwick, the well-known New York architect, was responsible for one of its additions. An affluent woman breaking gender roles at the turn of the century, Austen would have passed away penniless in a shelter had it not been for the rediscovery of her work.



Abelardo Morell, Upright Camera Obscura: The Piazzetta San Marco Looking Southeast in Office, Venice, 2007
Currently in the summer group show at Edwynn Houk.
Closes August 14

It may seem ineffectual to look at photographs taken within a camera obscura when the joy of the camera obscura is in rendering photography as a full-body experience. In looking at photographs such as these, in a flattened format, we face the the other optical qualities that in real-time our eyes can’t keep up with, or detect.


Glenn O’Brien, TV Party. Video Installation
Currently in “The Last Party” at WhiteBox.
Closing August 23

A fantastic archive of the Lower East Side’s creative scene from the late 70s to the 90s, “The Last Party” is an oasis of rebellion and individuality in an otherwise and regretfully gentrified neighborhood. Glenn O’Brien’s public access video is one of the many gems of the show, but important to review and enjoy its charisma and spontaneity in an era of visual quickies.


Leslie Hewitt, Untitled (Geographic Delay), 2009. Image courtesy Yancey Richardson.
Currently showing in the group show “A Room of One’s Own” at Yancey Richardson.
Closes August 21

Taking its cue from the unset energy that artists’ studios contain, Hewitt’s arrangement plays with media histories as a subject for arrangement.



Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Self-Portrait Study with Two Figures (1506), 2015.
Currently showing in the group show “A Room of One’s Own” at Yancey Richardson.
Closes August 21

Working with the “studio portrait as a site of exchange,” Sepuya’s photograph is a dynamic take on the accumulation of angles that form a self.



Meryl McMaster, Meryl 3, 2010.
Currently showing at The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
Closing December 11, 2015

Why wait until the last possible day? Close to the Staten Island ferry, this is the perfect show to see after spending a good portion of the day at the Alice Austen House. What Countess Castiglioni did with the idea of the frame in photography, McMaster revisits with an approach that is all construction and modular.


Ladislav Postupa_HowardGreenberg

Ladislav Postupa, Untitled, 1968.
Currently showing in the “Land Lines” group show at Howard Greenberg.
Closes September 4

From the little that I know and have seen of this photographer’s work over the years, this photograph is unusual for Postupa because of its stark composition and blunt lack of pathos. And yet, for the time in which it was taken, and in the context of photography, I find it just riveting that it references, either consciously or unconsciously, the mechanism of portable bellows, and relationships of distance and weight in the tools of photography.


Stephen Somerstein, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Looks out at crowd in Montgomery, 1965.
Currently showing in “Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March by Stephen Somerstein” at the New York Historical Society Museum.
Closes October 25

Days away from the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, we know that 683 individuals have been killed by police in the first 7 months of 2015. Discussing and evaluating the varying levels of embedded racism has always been relevant, and now more than ever. Despite video evidence to the contrary, Brown’s actions remain described as robbery (rather than shoplifting). Trayvon Martin’s death led to the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement, Eric Garner magnified the importance and risks of citizen media, and social justice organizers honoring Michael Brown didn’t take either of those social tools for granted. Citizen-driven still images and smartphone-generated videos have played a crucial role in the discussion of each of these cases. Somerstein’s photograph was made with the same urgency and similar level of access in a time of critical upheaval—one of many points of heritage for the digital media shaping today’s dialogue on racial and social disparity.




Alice Austen House: 2 Hylan Blvd, Staten Island, NY 10305
The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian: Broadway, New York, NY 10274
WhiteBox: 329 Broome St #1, New York, NY 10002
Company Gallery: 88 Eldridge Street, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10002
Murray Guy: 453 W 17th St # 3SW, New York, NY 10011
Yancey Richardson: 525 W 22nd St, New York, NY 10011
Edwynn Houk: 745 5th Ave #407, New York, NY 10151
Howard Greenberg: 41 E 57th St Suite 1406, New York, NY 10022
New York Historical Society Museum: 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024