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chitra-ganesh-catwoman-series

Chitra Ganesh has made her name in the art world by defamiliarizing canonical narratives—integrating popular imagery like Bollywood posters, anime, and comic books with lesser known Hindu and Buddhist icons as well as 19th century European fairly tales. The resulting images participate in the nuanced conversation surrounding contemporary imperialism, subalternity, and the subversion of power. Specifically, much of Ganesh’s work engages with the colonial Indian term junglee, which literally translates to “of the jungle.” Though the idiom is traditionally used to denote women who are perceived as wild, defiant, or transgressive, Ganesh utilizes the term to empower her female protagonists who often include pin-ups, priestesses, warriors, witches, mothers, and goddesses.1

Her mixed media collage, Cat Women Series, epitomizes this kitschy, enigmatic, and complex style, making use of handmade paper, embroidery, drawing, and painting, as well as a wealth of inscrutable folkloric references. While bizarre and slippery, Cat Women Series seems to deal with conflicting expectations of femininity in practical application. Though the smoking, nude, headless, and three-breasted heroine appears to be running, given the position of her leg and athletic footwear, her other leg has been taken over by an enormous rose—a clichéd indicator of romantic love in Western traditions. In this struggle between running and the rose, the protagonist is reproachfully monitored by an open book, which may indicate expectations of female independence derived from higher education or the omnipresence of patriarchal narratives. Overall, the work imparts a vibrant sense of stasis—trapped headless between domineering narratives, expectant love, and an enormous plume of smoke—that can be read as a commentary on the condition of being a woman in post-colonial post-modernity.

Ganesh has remained relatively close-lipped about the exact meanings of her pieces. In fact, she has stated that she intends her images to have “friction” and “dissonance” between text and image, which contributes significantly to the general sense of mystery and peculiarity in her work.2 She has however been very clear about her intent to confront and subvert traditional power dynamics through her work by privileging “buried narratives or marginalized figures typically excluded from official canons of history, literature, and art.”3

Ganesh has exhibited widely in the United States and abroad and has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, Art Matters Foundation Grant, and a Columbia University Dean’s Fellowship. She is currently a collaborator with artist Miriam Ghani on the Index of the Disappeared, an ongoing so-called “parasitic archive” of the disappearance of immigrant, ‘other,’ and dissenting communities post-9/11. She received her MFA in painting from Columbia University and her undergraduate degree in Comparative Literature and Art-Semiotics from Brown.

– Rica Maestas

1Gopenath, Gayatri. “Chitra Ganesh’s Queer Re-Visions.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies (2009): 469.
2Ibid., 471.
3Ibid., 469.

Bacon-Leiris

Francis Bacon, Portrait of Michael Leiris, 1976
Aquatint, 11.75″ x 9.875″
Gift of Kenneth A. Cohen

 

Infamous during his life and raised to mythic proportions in death, the work of Francis Bacon (1909–1992) defined an era of British painting. He built his oeuvre using provoking, and at times unsettling imagery. Thrown out of the house at sixteen, Bacon sought out a reality all his own. While living in Paris and Berlin as a young man before he began his career as a painter, he would have been able to see the work of post-impressionists, cubists, surrealists, constructivists, and examples of the Bauhaus Movement first hand. His style was highly influenced by his exposure to Picasso during this period, and was inspired by the freedom with which Picasso abstracted the forms of the body.

It was not until the 1930s that he began to practice as an artist. Bacon worked primarily with oil on canvas and was for the most part self-taught. Bacon was known for being keenly perceptive of all that was occurring around him, and once described himself as “a pulverizing machine” in regards to the way he consumed images.[1] Pictures of his studio reveal hundreds of photographs and magazine cut outs, covering the walls and piled in corners. He approached his source imagery through a purely aesthetic lens; appropriating a pastiche of photographic representations from a variety of sources to blend with the figural representation of his sitters.

Executed in 1976, the Bell Gallery’s print of Portrait of Michel Leiris exemplifies the style Bacon developed later in his career. Where his early work is regarded as carnal and violent, the portraits he produced in the 1970s and onward display a relatively tranquil depiction of their subjects. The figures often appear on a flat, cool colored background, compared to the confining environments and the florid reds and oranges he frequently employed to surround his subjects earlier in his career. The increased stability of the images he produced at this point parallels the footing he found late in his later career while being managed by the Marlborough Gallery and exhibited internationally as the greatest British painter since J.M.W. Turner.[2]

Michel Leiris (1901–1990) was a prominent 20th-century French surrealist writer, ethnographer, poet, art critic, and a close friend of Bacon’s. During his career he sat at the nexus of many strands of French intellectualism. By the end of the1920s Leiris was a colleague of the dissident surrealist George Bataille and frequently contributed to his magazine Documents. Bacon and Leiris met frequently whenever the former visited Paris, and Leiris is credited with influencing Bacon’s worldview. In 1983 Leiris published an illustrated monograph on Bacon’s work.

In the rendering of Michel Leiris his face is recognizable through the abstraction, though it appears as if the features of two or three people have been combined with those of his own. The portrait rests on a flat dark background that encroaches on the figure, bleeding into the forms of the face. This later portrait was rendered in pastel before being reproduced as a print, as was common in Bacon’s work during the 1980s.[3] Bacon’s portraits present a hybrid of figuration and abstraction, producing a new altered reality that attempts to express the psychological condition of the sitter over traditional mimetic representation.

– Maya Code-Williams ’16

 

[1] Domino, Christophe, and Ruth Verity Sharman, Francis Bacon: Painter of a Dark Vision, (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1997) 57.

[2] Tate Britain, “Artist Biography: Francis Bacon 1909-1992” tate.org.uk, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/francis-bacon-682 (accessed November 21, 2015)

[3] “BACON, Francis.” Benezit Dictionary of Artists. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 21, 2016, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/benezit/B00009707.

 

Josef Albers and Hermès Hommage au carré (Homage to the Square): Joy 36” x 36” Edition of 200 Silk twill with a hand rolled hem Gift of Pierre-Alexis Dumas

Josef Albers and Hermès
Hommage au carré (Homage to the Square): Joy
36” x 36”
Edition of 200
Silk twill with a hand rolled hem
Gift of Pierre-Alexis Dumas

One of the more unusual objects found within the Bell Gallery collection is a limited edition Hermès Éditeur silk scarf of Josef Albers’ print, Articulation in the yellow, gray, and white color scheme titled Joy. Hermés chose to collaborate with the Joseph and Anni Albers Foundation in 2006 as the first edition of Hermès Éditeur, a project that aims to display exemplary artist works as editions on silk. Other artists included in the series are Daniel Buren, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Julio Le Parc. The choice of Albers for the first edition was intentional as Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the Hermès Artistic Director states below:

His works are deep reservoirs of sensation, emotions and feelings that take hold of us even when we do not understand them. His work for the Homages to the Square series rests on a simple principle: to create a series of infinite chromatic variations within an unchanging form, the square, composed in a certain way. Editing these six Josef Albers scarves—or silk squares—took us to the limits of our savoir-faire.

Through this project, Hermès pays homage to Albers’ extraordinary sense of color, and his fascination with the precision of edges. The technique Hermés used to print the scarves is known as “frame printing” and engages a difficult technique of “edge to edge” color management, a practice that requires exactitude to prevent the colors from overlapping. In total, Hermès printed six works from Homage to the Square series in editions of 200 each.

The result is profound, and the sense of artistry in the printing is clear. The colors appear luminescent on the silk and the moderate translucency of the fabric when held up to the light offers a dynamic sense of the colors individually and as they interact together. The edges are exact, and it is clear that the transferring of Articulation to silk is not only a replica of a painting; it is a work of art in itself. Though Josef Albers was not involved in the decision to print on silk for this project with Hermès, throughout his career he explored novel ways of manipulating materials and developing color. The collaboration of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation with Hermés took Josef’s artistic ethos into perspective and upheld his philosophy in a dynamic and innovative way.

-Mara Tegethoff

Hyperallergic‘s Allison Meier recently wrote a lovely piece on the work of Russian conceptual architectural duo Alexander Brodsky and Ilya Utkin. We a fortunate to have an entire set of prints of their work in the Bell Gallery collection, which you can peruse online here.

Read Allison’s article in full here: http://hyperallergic.com/230423/the-most-fantastic-architecture-of-the-soviet-union-was-built-on-paper/

Untitled 3

Danny Lyon, Demonstrations at an “all-white” swimming pool in Cairo, Illinois, 1962.                             Collection of the David Winton Bell Gallery, Gift of Gary Ginsberg and Susanna Aaron

A selection from the Bell Gallery’s collection of Danny Lyon’s photographers are included in the wonderful online exhibition Changing American RI.

Lyons was the first official photographer of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, and he extensively documented the civil rights movement.

The exhibition produced Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice and the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, with significant support from the Rhode Island Historical Society, was organized in conjunction with the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibition Changing America: The Emancipation Proclamation, 1863 and the March on Washington, 1963. 

Check it out at changingamerica-cssj.org.

Mentor HuebnerMentor Huebner, Exterior Overpass, drawing for “Blade Runner,” c. 1982
Sepia sketch on tissue
Anonymous gift

Ridley Scott’s iconic film Blade Runner pictures a dystopic vision of our global urban future, replete with environmental decay, apocalyptic population density, and the looming threat of posthumanism. One of the film’s most notable characteristics is its complex architectural environment.

In Mentor Huebner’s Exterior overpass (c. 1982), seen above, this architectural environment is hand-drawn, a sketch for an artwork ultimately authored by Scott’s art direction team. Huebner’s drawing for Blade Runner, however, is not simply disposable, a “mere [byproduct] of the artistic process.”[1] It is itself an object, both a relic of a speculative filmic future and a testament to the handmade. Huebner’s sepia ink drawing feels deeply physical, a pen the extension of the human hand, immediately challenging the bionic future Scott’s replicants allude to; the drawing is certainly distinct, too, from processes of set-dressing, architectural modeling, and photomontaging that make up the environment of the film. Though this particular drawing is unrealized in the film, it shares an insight into the visioning process, capturing elements seen briefly on the silver screen.

As Dietrich Neumann, curator of Film Architecture: Set Designs from Metropolis to Blade Runner at the Bell Gallery, notes:

Expansive sets, whose construction might have taken months and cost millions, often show up on screen for mere minutes or even seconds, and the spectator might indeed be distracted by the plot at this very moment. Closer examination of sets requires a certain disrespect for the technical conditions of the medium, which characteristically determine and limit the time and space for its contemplation. We have to stop the film, so to speak, in order to study frame enlargements or stills or rewind the film to see a specific scene several times. In this particular situation, sketches, drawings, blueprints, and models gain even more importance than they might possess for actual built architecture.[2]

Accordingly, a close reading of Huebner’s drawing allows film architecture to be understood as a distinct category—architecture created only for its visuality, seen through the lens of narrative fiction.

Huebner’s vision invokes a complex layering of urban species: the Louis Sullivan-era Chicago department store; the Chinoiserie of American Chinatowns; crosshatching highways reminiscent of the GM-sponsored Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair; a Monorail, not unlike the one opened by Disney in 1971; monolithic towers with a Gothic emphasis on verticality. Here, Batman’s Gotham meets a Los Angeles taken to its wildest conclusion, a dystopic, acid rain-strewn city of unthinkable density with hints of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. 2019, the year in which Blade Runner is to take place, is fast approaching, and LA looks nothing like this, nor does it look like the hyper-technological Hades depicted in the film. Both these urban visions, however, highlight deeply felt anxieties about class, placelessness, and the speed of change.

Huebner’s drawing illustrates mobility in this revisionist LA, with a distinct separation of classes—those walking the streets; the endless stream of drivers on distinct and interweaving highways; the Monorail riders; and, elsewhere, the spinners, spaceship-like vehicles that fly above the dense mess of the street (Blade Runner’s protagonist, Deckard, rides around in this mythical vessel). Cars trudge off the frame, cautioned to travel slowly, the monorail zooms forward, and pedestrians traverse the slick streets, one seemingly running toward the Chinatown gate. There is anxiety about mixing here, with the segregated highways invoking Le Corbusier’s idealized cordon sanitaire in Algeria, separating the colonized casbah from the Central Business District-to-suburb greenbelt.[3]

Huebner, about whom little is written, was but one of the designers who contributed to the eventual realization of Blade Runner’s visual environment, under the direction of “visual futurist” Syd Mead, and, ultimately, director Ridley Scott.[4] However, his sepia ink sketches clearly shaped the architectural environment of the film, enriching the complex landscape that has puzzled and enchanted sci-fi enthusiasts and architectural theorists alike for more than thirty years.

 

— Reya Sehgal, Curatorial Assistant

 

 

[1] Dietrich Neumann, Film Architecture: Set Designs from Metropolis to Blade Runner (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1996), 7.

[2] Ibid, 9.

[3] Zeynep Çelik, Urban Forms and Colonial Confrontations: Algiers Under French Rule (Berkeley: UC Press, 1997), 40.

[4] Michael Webb, “’Like Today, Only More So’: The Credible Dystopia of Blade Runner,” in Film Architecture, 45.

“I photograph reality.”

Mark Blog

Mary Ellen Mark, “Quincea’Nera, Miami”, 1986

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrated documentary photographer Mary Ellen Mark died this week. She was known for her uncompromisingly raw and intimate images of subjects ranging from Indian prostitutes to Hollywood celebrities. This photograph of two young women on the occasion of their 15th birthdays is part of the Bell Gallery’s portfolio of Mark’s photographs, Mark Ellen Mark: In America. Throughout her career, Mark travelled across the United States recording an evolving portrait of American culture from the fringes of the mainstream. Many of these images were eventually compiled into her 1999 book, American Odyssey.

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