In the second instalment of our monthly art column by curator Shonagh Marshall, there is a focus on social issues. With Brexit still looming large, and Trump still in power, culture’s role in bringing questions around identity to the fore has become increasingly pertinent.
This month Somerset House celebrates the impact of Black creativity opening Get up, Stand Up Now, LACMA stages a major historical monograph of the mid-century Black artist Charles White, and the Guggenheim puts into context Basquiat’s exploration of black identity. Keith Haring has his first major UK retrospective in Liverpool focusing on his artwork as activism. Female photographers Sheila Metzner, Liz Johnson Artur, Mary Ellen Mark, Molly Matalon and Caroline Tompkins are all celebrated with shows and Seana Gavin’s images go on display documenting the 1990s utopic community ‘Spiral Tribe’. All culminating in reminding us – what a time it is to be alive. Exhibitions are great spaces to lay foundational thought about what we are going to do with our future, but they can also act as a reminder that we have been at this juncture before and that we still have a lot to learn.
Get Up, Stand Up Now at Somerset House, London, 11 June - 15 September
Claiming to “celebrate the impact of 50 years of Black creativity in Britain and beyond” this exhibition displays works by 100 artists across film, photography, music, literature, design and fashion – an unruly proposition. Curated by Zak Ové, an artist whose Trinidadian father Horace Ové was part of Windrush generation and is considered the first Black British director to make a feature film, this exhibition starts with Horace and through both existing and commissioned work by the likes of Steve McQueen, Mowalola, Nari Ward, and Grace Wales Bonner it aims to show how Black British creatives have shaped our contemporary cultural landscape.
Liz Johnson Artur: Dusha at Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, until 18 August
Russian Ghanaian Liz Johnson Artur took her first pictures in Brooklyn in 1986 when she stayed with a Russian family in a predominantly Black neighbourhood (she can’t remember exactly where). It was here that she discovered photography, allowing her to develop a practice where she connects with other people of African decent. This has led to the ever-evolving body of work that she calls the Black Balloon Archive. Now based in London she has documented East London club night and community PDA, South London creative collective Born ‘n Bread and a multitude of portraits. Dusha, meaning soul in Russian, comprises of a selection of the artist's photographic sketchbooks dating from the early 1990s alongside two videos and a sound installation.
Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” at Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, 10 June – 22 September 2019
The first museum exhibition to focus on Virgil Abloh’s career so far. Abloh has risen to heady heights within the fashion industry over the last five years, with his brand Off-White and in his role as Artistic Director for Louis Vuitton menswear – celebrated in equal parts genius and touter of the emperor’s new clothes syndrome. Staged in an immersive space designed by Samir Bantal from AMO, the exhibition includes work from across music, fashion, architecture and design. There is also, obviously, a pop-up shop, called ‘Church & State’ – such a great name – selling ‘retrospective’ (a word Abloh clearly deems fashionable right now) Off-White things.
Keith Haring at Tate, Liverpool, 14 June – 10 November
I walked past the American Eagle on Union Square this morning where the window display proudly exhibited a collaborative clothing line with Keith Haring artworks, it includes a hoodie emblazoned with the all too familiar radiant baby. What would Keith Haring made of this, I thought? This month the Tate in Liverpool opens the first major UK retrospective of Haring’s work. Focusing on his role as activist and how his art drew attention to urgent issues such as political dictatorship, racism, homophobia, drug addiction, AIDS awareness, capitalism and the environment – there has never been a better time for his work to be contextualised in this way.
Basquiat’s “Defacement”: The Untold Story at Guggenheim, New York, 21 June – 6 November
In a similar vein to the Haring show “Defacement”: The Untold Story takes Basquiat’s painting Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), 1983 – created to commemorate the death of the young, black artist Michael Stewart who died at the hands of New York City’s transport police after allegedly tagging a wall in an East Village subway station – as a starting point. Exhibiting Basquiat’s work in the context of his role as cultural activist it also includes works by his contemporaries Haring and Andy Warhol. The chosen work hoping to present Basquiat’s exploration of black identity, his protest against police brutality, and his attempts to craft a singular, aesthetic language of empowerment.
Playing for Keeps: Molly Matalon and Caroline Tompkins at Micamera, Milan, Until 29 June
In the spirit of presenting American life Playing for Keeps in Milan pushes against the all too well known historical narrative of Americana carved out by the white male. Through the lens of two American female photographers, Molly Matalon and Caroline Tompkins, it aims to kybosh the familiar postcard era of automobiles, family values and the great outdoors. Curated by Jamie Alan Shaw, founder of magazine and creative agency Enlarge Your Memories, Molly and Caroline’s work takes you “on an image conversation that updates our romanticism, filled with humour, powerplay, ownership and sexuality.”
Magic Metzner at The Lumiere Brothers Centre for Photography, Moscow, 6 June - 1 September
Magic Metzner celebrates the career of fashion photographer Sheila Metzner. I don’t think people pay enough attention to Metzner, her images are painterly and full of fantasy – could this be because of the weight placed on male photographers in forming history? Her career began when she featured alongside Garry Winogrand in the controversial MoMA show Mirrors and Windows: American Photography Since 1960 held in 1978. Championing colour photography at a time when this was frowned upon she takes fashion images that capture women nymph-like and unobtainable, fantastical and captivating.
Seana Gavin: Spiral Baby at Galerie PCP, Paris, 6 June - 27 July
Spiral Tribe was a free party sound system collective founded in the UK in 1990 that went on to tour Europe, throwing parties or ‘teknicals’ as Seana Gavin calls them. An integral part of the collective from 1993 to 2003 Gavin documented this world and all its characters. This exhibition is the first to showcase unseen photographs, flyers and ephemera of this utopic group that through music and drugs constructed a roving community that operated between the gaps of contemporary society.
Shiota Chiharu: The Soul Trembles at Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 20 June – 27 October
The largest solo show yet of the Japanese-born Berlin based Shiota Chiharu it features six of the installations she is best known for, where using primarily black and red threads she weaves across entire spaces. The resulting work raises universal questions of identity, boundaries and existence, stemming from her personal experience. Also on display are sculptural work, video footage of performances, photographs, drawings and ephemera from throughout her twenty-five year career.
Serpentine Pavilion 2019 by Junya Ishigami at Serpentine, London, 21 June – 6 October
A marker of British summertime, the Serpentine Pavillion is unveiled this month. Commissioning an architect each year this time Japanese Junya Ishigama, who is known for building experimental structures that interpret traditional conventions whilst reflecting natural phenomena, take inspiration from roofs. Arranging slates into a single canopy that appears to emerge from the ground of the surrounding park, the interior of the Pavillon is an enclosed cave-like space offering a much needed space for contemplation.
Garry Winogrand: Color at Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, Until 8 December
Garry Winogrand is one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century; almost entirely known for his black and white images that pioneered a “snapshot aesthetic” in contemporary art this show celebrates his nearly forgotten colour works. Curated by Drew Sawyer it is marvelous, consisting of a gigantic installation where projectors, teed up with different images on loop, click through 400 slides. It was due to lack of resources that meant Winogrand couldn’t afford to produce colour images and that they remain on these kodachrome slides. The photographs, capturing everyday New York life, are so rich yet it is the connections you make when seeing them appear next to others that is magical. Unexpectedly allowing you to draw your own visual relationships and narratives without any boundaries.
Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality at National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, until 13 October
Widely described as the eighth wonder of the world, this exhibition is a large-scale presentation of the Qin Emperor’s terracotta warriors. Discovered in 1974 in China’s Shaanxi province it features more than 150 treasures from Chinese art and design: eight terracotta warriors alongside two full-sized horses from the Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE) and objects from the Shaanxi provinces including gold, jade and bronze artifacts dating from the Zhou dynasty (1050-256 BCE) to the Han dynasty (207 BCE – 220 CE). On alongside this exhibition is a show by contemporary Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qinag.
LAST CHANCE TO SEE
Charles White: A Retrospective at LACMA, Los Angeles, until 9 June
I saw this show at the MoMA in New York and it is really great. Tracing White’s career it includes 100 drawings and prints, alongside lesser-known oil paintings. Spliting the work into thematic sections it looks at the impact he had in the cities he called home: Chicago, his birthplace; New York, where he joined social causes and gained acclaim; and Los Angeles, where he developed his mature art and became a civil rights activist. Focusing on images of both historical and contemporary African Americans, in both everyday scenes and ideal portraits, his work eulogized their dignity, humanity and heroism in the face of America’s long history of racial injustice.
Mary Ellen Mark at Fahey/Klein, Los Angeles, until 22 June
This exhibition of the acclaimed photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark includes work from her series Indian Circus, Twins and Damms, which was taken for the LIFE magazine series published in 1987 of the homeless Damms family. Documentary photography has such authority to help us understand and empathise, something that is truly needed in todays Western society. Mary Ellen Mark’s work is so powerful; this show is not to be missed.
Marina Abramović at Light Society, Beijing, until 15 June
A major exhibition of the work of performance artist Marina Abramović, comprising of new and past work – many that have not been exhibited in China before. Since the early 1970s Abramović’s performance work, seen in this show through documentary video and photography, has taken her body as subject and medium, exploring its physical and mental limitations in a quest for emotional and spiritual transformation. It is on for another two weeks and also includes sculptural pieces.