Storytellers: Sara Malpass

We first encountered Sara Malpass’ work at NIAD in her solo exhibition What Are Words For, and have included her work in our latest curatorial project Storytellers, currently on view at LAND in Brooklyn. Selections by Malpass are featured in this exhibition in order to highlight the important perspective she offers in the discussion of narrative...

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Holiday Giving - Supporting Disability Rights

   

William Britt, Untitled, oil on board, 21.4" x 27.4", 2010, courtesy Pure Vision Arts

Since our recent post-election essay regarding art and disability advocacy, we've received several inquiries about supporting disability rights and national organizations that are working for this cause.   

First and foremost, your local progressive art studio is a great place to start; the progressive art studios listed in our directory are primarily small non-profits that depend on the support of their local community to exist. Donating directly to these organizations, attending exhibitions, and buying artwork are great ways to support these studios and this important work. Going to these programs with discerning criticism, and finding works of art that you love to collect and live with is a powerful way to integrate disability (disparate thinking) into your life in a manner that’s personal and authentic. If there’s a progressive art studio in your community, you will almost certainly find that some of the most original and authentic art being made locally is being created in that studio and is remarkably affordable.

Apart from progressive art studios, there are many organizations throughout the country that provide services, research and education, or public policy advocacy. It's often difficult to differentiate between which organizations to endorse and support, because they sometimes espouse regressive ideas and practices. Philosophically, there are many areas where advocates are far from a consensus, and worse, there are non-profits that are actually exploitative; researching an organization's mission and history beforehand is vital. 

Two important measures of the quality of a disability service or advocacy organization are:

  1. How prominently disabled individuals, their ideas, and voices are included in the organization's composition, message, and presentation
  2. How prominently the organization focuses on inclusion, acceptance, and support services, as opposed to prevention, intervention, or “cures” 

Andrew Hostick, A Million Single Moments, colored pencil on mat board, 14" x 11", 2013, image courtesy Visionaries + Voices

Our recommendation on a national scale is to direct your support to an agency advocating for disabled people that is a paragon of these principles and an ideal example of what a disability advocacy effort should embody: the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

Although ASAN’s foundation is specific to Autism, they’re the most progressive disability rights agency of their type and scale in the country that we’re aware of - by and for disabled people, an essential principle expressed in their slogan “nothing about us without us.” Co-founded by dedicated advocate Ari Ne’eman, it’s a fantastic resource for detailed information and news regarding disability advocacy. Donations to ASAN will support public policy advocacy, and disability advocacy education that you can trust to serve the needs of the disabled. 


“ASAN advocates specific policy positions on issues of importance to Autistic people and others with disabilities. In so doing, we seek to ensure the meaningful involvement of Autistic individuals in making policy at all levels, to promote a culture of inclusion and respect for all, to enforce the rights of Autistic people to equal opportunity at school and at work, and to improve funding for community services and supports along with research into how they can best be provided.”

 

Another great project to support is the Disbability Visability Project:

Whereas ASAN focuses on affecting policy, the Disability Visibility Project focuses on activism, media, and affecting culture by publishing stories and organizing conversations - a fierce and ambitious effort to place disability voices at the forefront. Founder Alice Wong explains:

A Conversation with Sophia Cosmadopoulos

Cosmadopoulos is currently a coordinator and facilitator at LAND Studio and Gallery, a progressive art studio provided by the League Education & Treatment Center in DUMBO, Brooklyn. Her valuable perspective is also informed by an uncommonly dynamic career in this field...

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Dale Jackson at White Columns

Dale Jackson at White Columns presents a significant selection from the Cincinnati-based artist’s extensive body of work for his first New York exhibition. Brimming with a disarming sincerity and candor, Jackson’s imaginative missives are a breath of fresh air...

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Susan Te Kahurangi King: Drawings 1975 - 1989

Susan Te Kahurangi King’s current exhibition marks her second, highly anticipated solo show at Andrew Edlin, following the critically acclaimed debut of the New Zealand-based artist with the space in 2014, Drawings from Many Worlds. Known for her vibrant and frenetic biomorphic abstractions, Drawings 1975 - 1989 curated by Chris Byrne and Robert Heald features a lesser known series from her prolific and consistently impressive practice...

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The Eloquent Place: Harald Stoffers and Josef Hofer at Cavin-Morris Gallery

Harald Stoffers, Brief 163, 2010, Waterproof felt tip pen on cardboard, 39.375 x 27.5 inches

The Eloquent Place is a powerful exhibition featuring intimate works on paper by Harald Stoffers and Josef Hofer, currently on view at Cavin-Morris in NYC. In a compelling pairing of these artists Cavin-Morris proposes:

Both artists seek to establish a sense of internal and external Place by creating worlds that unfold within and around their own bodies. The act of drawing is a method of controlling survival; in Hofer's case figuratively, and in Stoffers’ case by emotionally charging the written words with visual intensity. For both the art becomes a conduit toward a way of balance and self-placement in the world.

The dialogue between the two bodies of work results in a rich commingling of concepts and earnest explorations of representation versus abstraction through drawing. The opposition of systematic processes with highly personal subject matter reveals a strong connection between the work of Stoffers and Hofer, while exposing a candid vulnerability.

Josef Hofer’s partially clothed and fully nude figures originated as self-portraits drawn from memory of his reflection in a small mirror (with a substantial, ornate wooden frame) placed on his bedroom floor. The priority of his images resides in the recollection and expression of sections of the body, connections of limbs and folding flesh - not reflecting a moment in time or visual representation of the figure, but rather a narrative of observation. He captures a series of moments spent noticing the body, which is then recalled as drawing. Abstract of the obfuscating influence of rendering, likeness, or proportions, Hofer’s marks are naked as they describe the truncated contours of the body he recalls.

An important element included in every portrait, is the frame around the perimeter of the drawing surface (always alternating in bands of orange and yellow colored pencil, outlined in robust graphite). Speculations surround the origin or purpose of this frame; it's generally understood as a depiction of the frame of Hofer’s mirror, although it’s included in every piece, not just the drawings featuring figures. Hofer doesn’t discuss or explain his work since he’s primarily non-verbal - ultimately the genesis and nature of this device remains unclear.

It is certain that, much like its presence in Martin Ramirez’s drawings, the frame is an integral element and not merely a decorative one; Hofer has included it consistently since 2003, though in various iterations. Created slowly and deliberately (as evidenced by the labored impressions of his blunt implement), the frame often becomes quite elaborate and is even more time intensive to develop than the current variation of figure within. Elisabeth Telsnig, who worked with Hofer (at the creative program he attends) in Ried, Austria from 1997 until recently, states, “He draws a figure again and again, looking for ‘the perfect figure’, ‘the perfect position’. Only, when he has the impression, he has found it, can he stop the series. He seems to like to to be under constraint.”

The drawing of the frames is formally opposite to that of the figures (using a straight edge) and bound by consistent rules across all of his works - always orthogonal (even when they evolve to deviate from the rectangle of the perimeter) and meeting at a diagonal, as a frame does.

It's important to notice the use of a straight edge by an artist whose figures are drawn in such a personal way, in which his hand is exposed. The use of a mechanical tool or process to contrast with (or justify) this exposed hand is almost universal throughout art history. From the explicit use of geometric and mathematical rules to restrict the influence of the artist’s voice in catholic iconography, to JMW Turner’s bits of architecture providing an armature for an ethereal expression of light and air, to Gerhard Richter’s squeegee obscuring his hand-painted marks. Chuck close’s grids, Gabriel Orozco’s checkered patterns, the frame itself, or the smooth white walls of a gallery space all strive to achieve the same end as a pencil guided along a straight edge - respite from the expressive responsibility of mark-making, submission to something sure, inert, and objective. In Hofer’s work these methodical choices build inward towards his figures, sometimes working their way around, completely enveloping them. The interactions of these opposing processes is a highly original visual and procedural poetry.

Josef Hofer, Untitled, 2007, pencil and colored pencil on paper, 17.32 x 23.62 inches

Josef Hofer, Untitled, 2014, Pencil and colored pencil on paper, 19.69 x 27.56 inches

Josef Hofer, Untitled, 2005, Graphite and colored pencil on paper, 17.32 x 23.62 inches

Josef Hofer, Untitled, 2005, (detail)

Harald Stoffers’ cascading rows of horizontal lines and text are hand-written letters, most often addressed to his mother. Deeply diligent and well-meaning, his notations describe in great detail ordinary daily events such as his choice of clothing, travel schedules, or activities, yet also embody a more romantic personal narrative and the endeavor of carefully poring over increasingly monumental letters that are rarely sent. This daily ritual of letter-writing has dominated his practice for over twenty years. They have increased in scale since Stoffers began working in the Hamburg studio at Galerie der Villa in 2001; previous to that he would freely give away very small notes to anyone around him.  

Stoffers generously establishes a preliminary, wavering framework that mimics ruled paper, which is then loosely used as a guide for the placement of text. In a palette even more restricted than Hofer's, his erratic script primarily appears in black ink, with an occasional rogue excerpt in blue. Inconsistent in spacing behavior, the text expands, contracts, and sometimes much taller letters span several lines. Stoffers very often draws over every line repetitively, with some words receiving more emphasis than others; original text is often obscured by the subsequent layers of mark-making, ultimately rendering it illegible.

In Stoffers’ work, a similar contrast between the systematic and personal are engaged with in a different manner than Hofer’s corporeal vernacular. In his works, which resemble sheet music or unraveling textiles from a distance, the striations and the text itself provide his objective process, where his unsteady hand and his vision through language provide the contrasting expression. Where Hofer uses a system of structured marks to assert a rigid context for his figures, Stoffers appeals to a familiar methodology to assert himself dutifully, not inventing a system, but engaging in common, learned systems - penmanship, list making, and the organization of language.

The conversation between Stoffers and Hofer in The Eloquent Place compliments the dialogue between vision and process within each artist’s work. The association that relentless drawing, manipulating, or obscuring of text has to the content and intention of that text can be understood in terms of the relationship of Hofer’s systematic straight lines to his divulging recollections of the figure, and vice versa. The intellectual depth of these parallels isn’t in the specifics of their implications, but in the quiet emotional power of their coexistence in this installation. These bodies of work are typified by genuine intention, vulnerability, and a complete faith in the meaningful act of drawing to validate their messages through diligent labor as draftsmen.

Harald Stoffers and Josef Hofer will be on view at Cavin-Morris through October 8th.

Harald Stoffers, Brief 295, 2014, Ink on paper, 11.5 x 8 inches

Harald Stoffers, Brief 336, 2014, Waterproof felt tip pen on paper, 16.5 x 11.75 inches

Harald Stoffers, Brief 192, August 12th, 2011, Ink on paper, 19.75 x 19.75 inches

Harald Stoffers, Brief 192, August 12th, 2011 (detail), all images courtesy Cavin-Morris Gallery

On Identity Politics and Self-Taught Artists

i can't imagine ever wanting to be neurotypical

In a recent essay “How Identity Politics Conquered the Art World, An Oral History”, Jerry Saltz and Rachel Corbett strive to make sense of our current pluralistic era of contemporary art by constructing a narrative in which the 1993 Whitney Biennial marks the establishment of a new direction for art-making, a movement they describe as “the art of the first person”.

“After the ’80s, we seem to have lost the reflex to recognize or name new art movements — maybe because in the sprawling new art ecology there were so many isms sprouting at once; plus we’ve always categorized things by formal, medium-based, and geographical attributes. But something has happened here, over the last 25 years, that I am sure will be recognized with great clarity by art-history students very soon. Art in this era has veered dramatically toward an approach that hasn’t been seen in the West for more than 1,000 years: a concerted urge, almost a rage, to be totally communicative to the largest possible audiences, addressing cognoscenti, novices, and newcomers in the same register, telling stories of social, political, and philosophical conditions. Of course, not everybody today is making this kind of work. But taken together, it does constitute a real aesthetic movement, one that is biographical, autobiographical, personal — the art of the first person.”

In this narrative, "the art of the first person" is the product of an increased focus on identity politics in contemporary art. The ‘93 biennial was “reviled” with an intense rejection of the perceived abrasiveness of its political works, but Saltz and Corbett describe a significant shift that occurs in the 90s as a result of what was underlying a new approach to thinking about art and identity.

“For the first time, biography, history, the plight of the marginalized, institutional politics, context, sociologies, anthropologies, and privilege have all been recognized as “forms,” “genres,” and “materials” in art. Possibly the core materials.” 

The history that Saltz and Corbett lay out is elaborate, well researched, and very compelling. However, there is a crucial piece missing where the emergence of “new forms” and “materials” derived from marginalization and identity is conflated with the “Rage, to be totally communicative to the largest possible audiences”; that missing piece is "Neurodiversity". This concept, which has been used in recent years to describe the goals of disability rights advocacy, often goes unmentioned in the identity politics discourse. In an essay regarding identity politics and disability studies Anna Mollow writes:

Paradoxically, the construction of disability as a minority identity is often impelled by the desire to gain recognition for disability as a concept of universal importance: Siebers, Davis, Thomson, and other disability scholars have called attention to the marginalization of disability within academic conversations and then argued powerfully for its inclusion within these conversations. Following their example, we must continue to foreground academic inattention to disability. At the same time, we must insist upon the relevance of disability to a wide range of contemporary theoretical and political discussions. (source

The concept of Neurodiversity emerged in the late 90s from the Autism Rights Movement and its intention to catalyze the recognition and acceptance of those who are neurologically divergent from the majority of the population. Furthermore, it asserts that neurological differences should be respected as a marginalized social category equal to those of ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. What Neurodiversity proposes, though, is much broader and more profound than autistic self-advocacy or even disability rights advocacy. It sets a new standard for what it means to appreciate the tangible power and value of diversity, leaving no room for the concessions or weaknesses of past identity politics movements. Neurodiversity doesn’t permit the possibility of assimilation; it requires that individuals in our society not only coexist while being essentially different from one another in profound ways, but actively strive to accommodate those disparities. 

The context of Neurodiversity allows us to understand that "the art of the first person" is actually art made for a “broader” audience as a consequence of making art for an “other” audience. It’s not necessarily the case that an “other” artist aspires to appeal to a “broader” audience, but a “broader” audience becoming more diverse as it includes “others” that has the effect of making the their audience broader.  An “other” artist appealing to an “other” audience was an “outsider” artist, so the “the art of the first person” works toward dismantling the possibility of outsiderism. 

David Hammons, described by Saltz and Corbett as the godfather of the identity politics movement, has created work that addresses a broader audience in as much as it engages social issues that we're all familiar with. At the same time, though, it expresses concepts that people of color can understand and experience, but that white viewers can only speculate about. This sets a precedent for including artists who are engaging concepts that not all viewers can experience equally, or with the same directness, which permits a new way of thinking about the work of artists like Thornton Dial or Lonnie Holley (who are still marginalized and lumped into outsider categories) - no longer as artifacts from a separate world, but work created by an artist who is present and participates in our world, which we appreciate across a significant disparity of mind or circumstances. While the marginalization of Dial and Holley is the result of race, class, or geography, in the case of artists with disabilities, it's due to brains that function differently. 

David Hammons, In the Hood, 1993, currently on view in Non-Fiction at The Underground Museum in LA

Whereas, artists like David Hammons actively strive to create a bridge to a broader audience by making works that appeal to mainstream contemporary art (the broader audience) that simultaneously speak in distinctly black voice (to the “other” audience). On a deeper level ,the inclusion of this work isn't driven by social justice alone, but rather the drive of contemporary art to rethink and break down its boundaries in search of ideas and practices that are more deliberate, absolute, innovative, and unrestricted by convention or culture. 

Often described loosely as an outsider by critics and dealers due to his ambivalence toward and rejection of art world protocol, Hammons has always been open about his appreciation for self-taught artists and the influence they’ve had on his work. Outside Insight, a ground-breaking yet under-appreciated 1988 exhibition at MoMA’s Clocktower (that Hammons co-curated with Ed McGowin), championed the work of outsider artists that they sought out in rural North Carolina. 

Although “Outside Insight” has received relatively little critical attention, the exhibition captures an important chapter in the development of Hammons’ artistic sensibility. “Outside Insight” evinces his identification with vernacular African-American cultural forms, self-effacing relationship to authorship, and profound sense of the value of everyday objects and gestures. (source)

Creating compelling contemporary work now requires an extreme abandoning of convention due to the expectation of producing “art of the first person”, which requires contemporary artists to fully re-invent art for themselves - finding new ways of thinking and being while teaching themselves within this new context (such as Theaster Gates' urban planning research). 

Installation view of Marlon Mullen's recent solo exhibition at Adams and Ollman in Portland, Oregon, image courtesy NIAD

Strangely, progressive art studios aren’t recognized as fitting into the increasingly popular social practice/socially engaged fields of art, even as artists who come from this radical model (notably Judith Scott, Marlon Mullen, William Scott, Helen Rae, and Julian Martin) are being represented by and exhibited at prominent galleries and museums. Unlike Hammons, many contemporary artists seem hesitant or uncomfortable citing these artists despite obvious influences in their work, or worse, find it unnecessary. Critics, with the exception of Saltz, David Pagel, and a few others, are hesitant to write about current work by self-taught artists, especially through the lens of contemporary art. As a result, the art historical canon still doesn’t accurately reflect the contributions of these artists (especially those with disabilities). 

Understanding the emergence of “the art of the first person” is incomplete without including the convergence of outsiders into the mainstream, as well as the shifting focus within outsider art to living artists, especially self-taught developmentally disabled artists facilitated by trained, neurotypical peers in progressive art studios, where the most extreme disparities between the contemporary mainstream and the “other” are simultaneously transgressed and maintained.

Mapping Fictions at The Good Luck Gallery

We recently had the honor of guest curating an exhibition at The Good Luck Gallery, an important, new space in Los Angeles. Founded and directed by former Artillery publisher Paige Wery, The Good Luck Gallery is the only space in LA dedicated to showing the work of self-taught artists. Wery fosters the burgeoning careers of artists such as Helen Rae and Deveron Richard, who maintain studio practices in progressive art studios, as well as artists like Willard Hill, who fall into the Outsider, Visionary, or Vernacular categories.  Mapping Fictions, curated by Andreana Donahue and Tim Ortiz, opened on July 9th and will be on view through August 27th.

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Deveron Richard

Sectra Shower, watercolor on paper, 18" x 24”, 2014

The Milkets, watercolor on paper, 26" x 32”, 2015

The Planets, watercolor on paper,  17.25" x 23.5”, 2009

A Border Between Unicorns, watercolor on paper, 19" x 25.5”, 1996

Deveron Richard maintains a creative practice at one of many ECF art centers in the LA area (previously discussed by Disparate Minds in terms of their relationship to DAC Gallery). His inaugural solo show is currently on view in LA at the Good Luck Gallery through May 21st. From the Good Luck Gallery:

“An idiosyncratic iconography of visionary space travel and anthropomorphic sexuality arrives via the South Bay of Los Angeles through the singularly fertile imagination of Deveron Richard. Winged horses in brassieres and high heels glide peacefully around the cloud-enshrouded towers of a futuristic city, polar bears in lipstick and slit dresses prance through a fluorescent arctic landscape, and provocatively-attired unicorns face off on a hallucinatory geometric color grid. These hybrid creatures of exaggerated femininity exude a quirky eroticism. Rendered in watercolor with a distinctively saturated palette, inventive draftsmanship and hypnotic backdrops of complex rhythmic patterning. Other works depict interplanetary battles with rockets hurtling through galaxies and deadly beams shooting into space.”

The Effortless Humor of Michael Pellew

Michael Pellew, Untitled, 2016, Mixed Media on Paper, 11"x17"

Michael Pellew, Michael and Latoya Texting on the Beach, 2015, Acrylic on Canvas, 12"x9"

Michael Pellew, British Platter, 2015, Mixed Media on Paper, 14"x17"

One of the fantastic surprises at the Outsider Art Fair this year was our experience with the work of Michael Pellew. Pellew’s work is unassuming, and in the context of the fair particularly blends in - a style defined by repetition, drawing within a simple system, and the use of unconventional materials (markers). We were more familiar with his series of small original drawings marketed as greeting cards, which typically feature a grouping of four or five figures (available at Opening Ceremony in Manhattan and LA). In a larger scale, the voice only available in snippets in smaller works unfolds to become an astonishing comedic performance.

The repetition and economy of visual language in his work is necessary to the humor - each figure articulated in an identical manner, with just a few distinctive features describing its specific identity. The supreme ease with which each character enters the scene via this agile visual vernacular accounts for the works’ pace and timing. There's an exciting cleverness in the way the simple archetype of the figure takes on the identity of countless celebrities, analogous to a skilled impressionist mimicking pop culture icons in rapid succession. Pellew seems to be compiling an ongoing, shifting catalog of celebrities; those with apparent relationships or categorizations are sporadically interrupted with unexpected pairings (Princess Diana and Lemmy Kilmister) or fictional personas (Lauryn Hill M.D. from Long Island College Hospital, The Phanton Lord). Viewers with an extensive knowledge of pop culture are highly rewarded by the ability to recognize the abundance and subtlety of his references.

Michael Pellew, Untitled, 2015, Mixed Media on Paper, 22"x30"

Humor is an important element in many works that don't necessarily make us laugh, but truly funny art like Pellew’s (beyond the occasional clever moment or inside joke), is very uncommon. Crystallizing the elusive and ephemeral quality of comedy into a permanent art object is extremely difficult to achieve. Usually the most overtly funny approach is to employ an explicit punchline that rests on an impressive technical or procedural spectacle; artists that exemplify this approach are those like Wayne White or Eric Yahnker. 

Eric Yahnker,  Beegeesus , 2005, 13 x 10 x 10 in.  "Bible whited-out except that which sequentially spells Bee Gees" image via  www.ericyahnker.com

Eric Yahnker, Beegeesus, 2005, 13 x 10 x 10 in.

"Bible whited-out except that which sequentially spells Bee Gees" image via www.ericyahnker.com

Pellew’s humor, however, is more nuanced, so in the absence of a punchline, his approach relies on absolute fluency rather than overt technical prowess. The quintessential example of this brand of humor is Raymond Pettibon; works that appear effortless afford the artist a more casual voice, equipped to cultivate a more dynamic interaction between the work and viewer. When it's less obvious that there's a joke present, the viewer tunes into a more acute examination of tone and timing in search of the artist's intention. 
 

Raymond Pettibon, image via  www.raypettibon.com

Raymond Pettibon, image via www.raypettibon.com

Whereas Pettibon uses this approach to insert sardonic or satirical moments of levity into his generally grim oeuvre, Pellew instead engages this sort of humor with a lighter and even silly sensibility; he creates an abundantly bright and positive space that is captivating. The conceptual foundation of his work becomes about treading the line between earnestly identifying as an artist, or slyly engaging in play-acting the role of an artist. Walton Ford has described using play-acting (as a scientific illustrator) in a similar way as an entry point into comedy. In Pellew’s case, the performance is broader, and in its execution more engrossing - guiding you through his alternate world, you're always uncertain if he’s serious, even as he crosses well over into the realm of absurdity.

Michael Pellew, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 2014, Acrylic on Canvas, 14"x11"

In the affable universe he realizes, there’s virtuosity in the way moments of comedic surprise cut sharply through. The lingering experience of these pieces isn’t static, but a dreamlike memory of an event unfolding; line-ups of celebrities…everyone had a pepsi…they were all hanging out around a limousine eating McDonalds…and then Marilyn Manson is offering his famous burger and fries. It’s an alternate reality composed of familiar characters and Pellew is leading us along, introducing each of them, all in his voice - but really it's the viewer’s voice. You are left walking away amused, incredibly satisfied, but not entirely sure what has just happened. 

Pellew has been working at LAND Gallery’s studio for over ten years and participated in numerous exhibitions in New York, including group shows at Christian Berst Art Brut and the MOMA. His work has been acquired by many reputable collectors, including Spike Lee, Sufjan Stevens, Citi Bank, JCrew and PAPER Magazine.

Michael Pellew, Making a Band (detail)