Kenny Scharf opened his exhibition 'Kolors' last night at Paul Kasmin Gallery. It was a colorful affair complete with a particularly delicious collaboration between Scharf and The Doughnut Plant. Known for his colorful paintings, murals, and close friendships with artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat during the East Village art scene of the 1980s, Scharf was one of the first artists to inject street culture into mainstream contemporary art. He continues to incorporate imagery from cartoons and pop culture into his exuberant painting and sculptures. Scharf took some time out of his day to answer a few questions about his work and new exhibition.
Let's start from the beginning. How did you get your start making art?
My earliest memory was finger painting in nursery school. I can remember vividly the excitement I felt and the visuals like it was yesterday.
You're from LA - do you think being from there influences your work?
Growing up in LA definitely influenced my art. I was constantly being bombarded with imagery that spoke of the space age in cars, architecture, and media. The colors and imagery are still fresh in my mind.
Then you came to New York and became friends with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. What drew you to each other?
Fate - they were some of my first friends I made immediately upon arrival.
With Keith you made blacklight installations called 'cosmic closets,' which eventually caught the interest of the Whitney, who then asked you to recreate it for their Biennial. How did that come about and what was that like?
Keith and I lived in a decrepit townhouse near Bryant Park - I converted an old large closet into an installation after I came upon a blacklight and began to put items from the street garbage into the room and painted them florescent. It began to grow and became the "closet," and then the "cosmic cavern." It became the site of a lot of fun parties!
A lot of your work prominently features cartoons characters and pop iconography. What about that interests you?
That I own these icons because they are personal to me, yet they are also shared by millions!
You have a series of doughnut paintings. What about doughnuts interests you?
They look good, taste good, yet are bad for you. They have a hole in the middle and resemble the universe. Some scientists think the universe is shaped like a doughnut. They are the ultimate good-to-look-at, bad-for-you consumer object. They're fun to paint.
Through your work you have developed a fully formed world with characters. You've translated this into animation in the past - will you be making more in the future?
I would very much love to make more animation.
You've made a few sculptures: one for your show at Honor Fraser and your sculpture at the Standard Hotel. What is it like seeing your characters move from the 2D realm to 3D?
Ive actually made many sculptures over the past 30 years, but these new ones are different and I think more successful in their bright, colorful, shiny boldness. It is natural for me considering all the paintings incorporate imagery that has a "3D" look.
You often refer to yourself as a customizer and have transformed objects ranging from household appliances to Cadillacs. What about that interests you?
Taking everyday usable objects and turning them into art is a great way of incorporating the everyday task and transforming it into a magical art experience, thereby uplifting the banal into beauty and experience.
Tell me about your collaboration with Kiehl's - what was it like to make over a product as iconic as the Crème de Corps? How was that process?
It was great to work with Kiehl's as they have such a good graphics team - they made it super easy for me!
What are some of your new inspirations and what are you looking forward to?
I am very exited about the present and future. Besides my show opening next week, I am about to make another mural in NYC on Hudson and 14th Street, I'm showing in a "futures" exhibit in the museum in Mobile Alabama in May as well as painting a mural there, and I am also customizing a 70s Pontiac in a new and very exiting way as well as some other fun stuff that I can't mention yet!
This post has been updated to include the time-lapse video:
I wish that after writing this post, I could encourage readers to head to Feature Inc. to witness Kylin O'Brien's ethereal creation, Amo Legomandala, but alas, the experience lasted for just three days and now lives on in photo and video documentation.
Drawing upon the tradition of Tibetan sand mandalas, Kylin created a mandala entirely of LEGOs on the floor of the 131 Allen Street gallery. The Tibetan Buddhist ritual of creating and subsequently destroying an ornate sand mandala after careful construction was playfully redone with children's construction pieces. Using a medicine mandala as inspiration, Kylin and her assistants (which included our fabulous intern, Jillian) mapped out the mandala over the course of several months, meticulously measuring and structuring the piece. Finally, the LEGO mandala was constructed on the gallery floor over a three-day period.
Kylin's mandala was unveiled at the opening reception on Friday, March 22nd, during which attendees carefully walked around the massive structure, maintaining several feet between themselves and the freely-lying blocks on the ground so as not to disturb the structure. (When a woman walked into the gallery with a dog in her arms, Jillian and I both had momentary heart palpitations as we imagined the dog streaking through the center of the piece...a recurring nightmare of Jillian's in the days leading up to the show!)
After a full-day viewing on Saturday, all were invited back on Sunday the 24th to transform the piece and assist in its disassembly - or reassembly, depending on how you view it. Viewers took an active part in changing the entire structure of the piece, experiencing what Feature Inc. called an "opportunity to become aware of our contribution to collaborative change."
Jillian commented that the finished, modified product was reminiscent of a "futuristic space station." The atmosphere during Sunday's reconstruction was quiet and calm as participants fell under the spell of the thousands of colored blocks.
The full process - from the build-out of the original piece to the ultimate deconstruction - was recorded with an overhead camera in the gallery; a time-lapse video will soon be released to document the experience.
In the meantime, here is an installation shot from the calm before the storm at Friday night's opening. Congratulations to Kylin on a beautifully whimsical and innovative installation.
Photograph by Morgan Jacobs
Founded in 2006 by David Kesting, Lincoln Capla, and John Leo, with roots deep within the independent Williamsburg, Brooklyn art scene, Fountain Art Fair has grown to represent sixty of the most avant garde, edgy, and experimental international galleries. Fountain was created in an attempt to leverage support for smaller independent galleries, collectives and artists who wish to gain access to a larger audience of collectors and critics. The fair’s alternative model and genuine dedication to the galleries and artists is inspirational and exciting. Artists and galleries are accessible and enthusiastic as they engage the global art market on their own terms.
This year, Fountain Art Fair was held in the location of the original 1913 Armory at the 69th Regiment Armory. Packed with art and featuring live music and performances, the lively event was bursting with artistic vision forging the way for contemporary art.
View some of the highlights below.
Boat by Dennis McNett at Republic Worldwide. Photo Courtesy of Paper Magazine.
Performance artist Mideo Cruz at Grace Exhibition Space. Photo Courtesy of Hi*Fructose
Vicki DaSilva. Photo Courtesy of Fountain Art Fair
Nina Sky performing at Fountain Art Fair. Photo by Kendra Heisler. Photo Courtesy of Fountain Art Fair
Performance artist and director Willard Morgan of Ideal Glass at Republic Worldwide. Photo Courtesy of Hi*Fructose
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s comical, vigorous, and tortured spirit reigns at the Gagosian Gallery. The artwork spans Basquiat’s brief but remarkable career, featuring over fifty works from public and private collections and producing an exhibition that simulates an emotional roller coaster.
Rousing highs are found in works such as “Eyes and Eggs,” made on a large white painter’s drop cloth with sneaker prints on it. Pictured is a black line-cook in a white cap with the name “Joe” written on his white shirt. Joe holds a frying pan containing a pair of red steaming, sunny-side up eggs whose yolks mirror his crazed goggle eyes.
There are dark plummeting lows found in works like “Riding with Death,” painted in 1988, Basquiat’s last year of life. Moments of fear and rage are experienced in “Untitled (Two Heads on Gold).” Painted in teal, gold, black and white on a canvas over 10 feet wide, this image depicts a double portrait of a reoccurring funny but scary figure of a skeletal black man with dreadlocks, hollow eyes, sneering teeth and lanky limbs. According to Ken Johnson of the New York Times, Basquiat was responding to “…the tragically absurd calamity of racism in America” (2013). The discrimination prevented him from becoming all that he wanted and is ultimately what drove him insane. Johnson states Basquiat worked rapidly with brushes, spray paint, markers, and other implements on found boards, stretched fabrics, wooden doors, and professionally stretched canvases, conjuring an artistic persona who mumbles and chortles to himself as he compulsively improvises his chart like compositions of cartoon images, glyphic signs and enigmatic word lists. Bringing viewers along for the ride, Gagosian pays perfect homage to Basquiat's brilliant madness.
"Eyes and Eggs" courtesy of Gagosian Gallery
"Riding with Death" courtesy of Gagosian Gallery
“Untitled (Two Heads on Gold)” courtesy of Gagosian Gallery
Halcyon Days, from the Greek myth of Alcyone, are the seven days in winter (either side of the shortest day of the year) when storms never occur. Halcyon Days recall an earlier time remembered as idyllic, a time when the winds were restrained and the waves were calmed in favor of peace. Bill Cosby times.
Jayson Musson’s sweater “paintings” at Salon 94 Bowery are made from mercerized cotton Coogi sweaters that are disassembled and stitched back together in abstract designs and then stretched across a canvas. To certain American consumers, sweaters by Coogi, an Australian clothing company, are immediately synonymous with popular culture icon Bill Cosby, who, as Dr. Huxtable on the Cosby Show, embodied the funnyman Jell-O pudding-eating, sandwich-birthing dad that everyone wished they had. And for twenty minutes each week (and during the re-run years, for twenty minutes each day), we did. A Cosby-esque sitcom allowed Americans to lose themselves in a world that introduced a small crisis, solved it, and wrapped it all up with an oversized bow in twenty minutes with just a few commercials.
Removed from the context of a human body, the sweaters function beautifully as painterly abstractions. In one, I saw an aerial view of a riverbank with shades of woven crimson and orange snaking through horizontal bands of green. Another deconstructed sweater painting conjured images of ribosomes and vacuoles seen in biology textbooks and videos. Another one made me think of a dandelion seedhead in summer -- swaying in the wind and releasing its tiny airborne seeds. Musson managed to disassemble a marketable product and put it back together in an organic and accessible way that honored the movement and rhythm of the originals.
Jayson Musson also works in photography, illustration, and video where he performs as alter ego Hennessey Youngman. Although the show has come down, you can still keep up with Musson and Youngman through his web videos and his newest project, a petition demanding a feature length film about the SNL character, Toonces the Driving Cat. I’ll keep the sweater paintings, but feel free to join the charge.
Impossible Conversations at the Met
“You know, Miuccia, I hate talking to designers,” says Elsa Schiaparelli in the first of a series of eight short videos in the Met’s exhibit, “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations.” The two Italian designers sit at opposite ends of a long dark rococo table separated by a glass chandelier and champagne flutes. Miuccia Prada’s black sweater, crisp white blouse and simple slicked back hair are in perfect opposition to Schiaparelli’s polished eccentric look -- red lipstick, a tailored black blazer on top of a white blouse whose impossibly big bow mimics the finger waves in her coif. When the two designers raise their glasses in salude, they are just out of each other’s reach, an appropriate recurring motif that represents the designers’ individual and overlapping strengths as well as the history that stretches between them.
The script for the videos, written by curator Andrew Bolton, was culled from excerpts from Schiaparelli’s autobiography, Shocking Life, and a series of interviews conducted by Bolton with Prada. Prada comes across as poised, reflective, and private, and I often felt like we were engaged in a game of reluctant secret sharing, especially when she expressed her subtly feminist motivations in the ‘Hard Chic’ section that featured military inspired all black ensembles from both designers. “I tried to make the men more human and the women more powerful,” Prada says quietly. Schiaparelli (impersonated by Australian born Judy Davis) comes across as a parody of herself and her eccentricities are pushed on the audience relentlessly, but eventually the viewer is able to ignore the affected accent and gestures and appreciate the revolutionary nature of her work.
Visually, I did not find the layout of the show particularly different than walking through a boutique in half darkness that paired modern couture with haute vintage, and I kept feeling stupidly glum over not being able to try on the padded black brocade jacket with the cream colored French baroque style trim. But one of the most memorable chapters of the show, “Waist Up/Waist Down,” juxtaposes Prada’s skirts and shoes with Schiaparelli’s hats, jackets, and accessories. “Schiap” (as she called herself) designed clothes for the social needs of a café society, which relegated women to their seats in public and emphasized adorning the upper half of the body. Prada, on the other hand, is fascinated by what goes on below women’s waists: “Sex, giving birth, being attached to the Earth,” and calls it madness to have “all this mess” around one’s head and face. It is these little moments where the designers playfully quibble that allow the viewer to suspend disbelief and wonder about these two talented designers as Schiaparelli did, “If we had lived at the same time, would we be friends…or foes?” Prada says, “I think friends,” and I think so too.
Do check out the exhibition before it closes August 19th, and let us know what you think!
“Maybe she’s all people brought together in one human…”
These words from a dazed Liverpuddlian boy sizing up the central figure of Picasso’s Weeping Woman, which is situated just behind the camera and out of the frame in Rineke Dijkstra’s twelve minute, continuously looping 3 channel HD video, The Weeping Woman, 2009. The student (one of nine in the video), whose consistently furrowed eyebrows and quivering mouth indicate his concern with what he is seeing, gets at the universality of the Dutch artist’s subjects and thus the empathy they elicit from the viewer. Dijkstra (the beginning of her name is pronounced like ‘dichotomy’) focuses on young people whose expressions and postures vacillate between ostentatious playfulness and extreme self-consciousness with regard to their changing bodies and the maturation of their world. The portraits recall 17th century Dutch painting in their scale and expertly printed even tone, but the subjects are relatable. They make us remember when we were awkward – and how we still are.
Make no mistake, though – while some of the work is quite serious (think blood-spattered Spanish bullfighters and a nude mother clutching her infant hours after birth), there are moments of pure joy. The video mentioned above is one of these. I stayed for two loops of the twelve-minute discussion about Picasso’s painting among these children, who come up with some startlingly perceptive observations. One boy says, “I think she is quite lovely and afraid.” Another says, “Maybe Picasso just wanted to do a colorful picture."
If you haven't seen this exhibit, check it out. It runs through October 8th at the Guggenheim, and I would highly recommend attending the Curator's Eye Tour with Jennifer Blessing, Guggenheim's senior curator of photography, on Friday, August 24 at 2pm. It's free with the cost of admission and well worth the time to learn about Dijkstra's connections to her subjects and the dialogue she creates between the images with the layout of her show. Or just enjoy the pictures.
Best use of a lunch hour? Window shopping, of course! I headed over to check out the Yayoi Kusama products at the Louis Vuitton store in SoHo today--so much fun!
Kusama's iconic dots pattern is featured prominently in all of the products, which range from bracelets and bangles to shoes, dresses, bags, and even a collar! The store employees couldn't have been nicer, as they let me try everything on and even let me take pictures, which is usually forbidden.
World-renowned artist Yayoi Kusama is bringing her spotted world to The Whitney Museum for her retrospective. Known for her use of patterns, polka dots, nets, and large-scale, immersive installations, Kusama works in a variety of media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, film and performance. Born in Japan in 1929, she came to the United States in 1957 and quickly found herself at the epicenter of the New York Avant-Garde. The retrospective explores the full range of work throughout her career.
After seeing the exhibition, bring Kusama's spotted world home with you with the RxArt x Kusama puzzle! Available at the Whitney Museum Store and RxArt's online store.
Yayoi Kusama is showing at The Whitney from July 12th - September 30th.
Fireflies on the Water, a work in the Whitney’s collection, is being shown in conjunction with her retrospective.
Mars has come to Manhattan! Yes, you read that correctly--Manhattan is currently home to a four-week mission to Mars led by the Tom Sachs Space Program.
Using everyday materials such as plywood, duct tape, and screws, Sachs and his NASA crew transformed the Park Avenue Armory into his own idea of the Red Planet. In the center of the Armory is the Landing Excursion Model (LEM), a full-scale version of the Apollo LEM, the spacecraft designed to transport a crew of two astronauts to the surface of the moon and back. The interactive exhibition displays Sachs' vision of a new type of space travel: one in which astronauts have access to the same amenities we enjoy here on earth, such as fully stocked bars, libraries, and a food delivery system.
Not just anyone can peek inside the LEM, however; you must first become a member. To obtain member status, you are required to watch five short films: How to Sweep, Love Letters to Plywood, Colors, Ten Bullets and Space Camp. Upon completion of viewing the films, you are then ready to take the test. The test is taken at what Sachs has named the "indoctrination station" and involves sorting screws and sweeping the floor--if you pass all required tests, you earn the right to enter the LEM.
If you want to visit, time is running out--the Space Program is only open until Sunday, June 17th at the Park Avenue Armory.
Photo courtesy of tomsachsmars.com
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