Thursday, August 4, 2016

Abdullah Syed in Australia


Fairfield gallery hosts exhibition from Pakistani-born artist

Artist Abdullah M.I. Syed shares his time between Sydney, Karachi and New York. Picture: Mim Stirling

Pakistani-born artist Abdullah M.I. Syed’s first solo art exhibition in Sydney is a very personal one. Substitute: The Untold Narrative of a Mother and Son, explores the relationships between his mother and her four migrant children.
media_cameraAbdullah M.I. Syed and his work The Portrait of Azra. Picture: Mim Stirling 
The creative process included a trip to Pakistan, where Syed sourced objects and clues from his past.
He also developed a community outreach program in Sydney — which expanded to wider Australia, Pakistan and the US — that invited men to share their memories of their mothers.

Syed said his family’s response to the exhibition had been“overwhelmingly encouraging”.
“My mother is delighted to see the catalogue and images and responded that finally part of her story has been told,” he said.

The artist said he was excited to see his exhibition travel to the Canvas Gallery in Karachi, Pakistan next year.

“That is when my parents will view the works—I cannot wait.”

The exhibition closes at the Fairfield City Museum and Gallery on August 6

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Imran Qureshi in Bradford


Sunday, July 31, 2016

Khadim Ali exhibiting in Australia

Refugee art: a way to face up to ugly truths – and possibly change minds

30 July, 2016

Source: Guardian 

Exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne seek to humanise asylum seekers, so they are not viewed exclusively ‘through the lens of their past suffering’

Khadim Ali remembers the day he started to receive death threats. Anonymous callers would ring the young artist in his hometown of Quetta, Pakistan. “You are the infidel Shia,” they said. “You are the infidel artist.”

“It was then I decided to leave Pakistan and find a safer place for myself,” says Ali. “Because of my ethnicity I was a constant target.”

In 2009 Ali – who has been collected by the likes of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Guggenheim – moved to Australia permanently on a distinguished talent visa. His mother and father, exiled Hazaras whose own parents fled bloody persecution in Afghanistan in the 1890s, joined him as refugees in 2012. Their house in Quetta old town had been bombed in a car suicide attack that left them seriously injured, their home destroyed, and 14 dead.

“I feel like we have a new life, a better and peaceful life here,” says Ali, 38. “My parents are not concerned about me leaving home in the morning.”

Friday, March 25, 2016

Hong Kong retrospective for Shahzia Sikander, subverter of art’s conventions


The US-based Pakistani artist, who likes to give classic art forms a contemporary twist, is the focus of an Asia Society exhibition focusing on her progression as a painter
PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 8:55pm
The Asia Society in Hong Kong is staging a major retrospective of the art of Shahzia Sikander, one of the most versatile visual artists working today and recipient of the society’s award for significant contribution to contemporary art last year.
Sikander, who is Pakistani but based in the United States, first came to Hong Kong in 2009, when Para Site showed a selection of her videos. This exhibition is far broader, and focuses on her progression as a painter.
A still from Parallax (2013).

Sikander’s practice has always been grounded in drawing, and that is obvious even in the large animation called Parallax. The rich, animated imageries that she created for the 2013 Sharjah Biennial were scanned from small drawings that recall her training in Indo-Persian miniature painting.
Her work is often both a tribute to that classic art form and a challenge to its conventions. One of the earliest works on show in Hong Kong is The Scroll, from 1989-91. As the title suggests, this work is a long, horizontal scroll, which already departs from the usual diminutive format of miniatures.
She also abandoned the form’s classical heroic subject matter and opted to depict the life of a contemporary Pakistan household, based on Sikander’s own upbringing.
In each room, members of the extended family can be seen doing perfectly normal things, like packing to go on holiday or checking the contents of the refrigerator. The fine, detailed outlines, vivid colours and multiple vantage points chime with tradition; a red fence behind the house – a repeated motif in her work – represents a continuing narrative with links to history.
The Scroll, (1989-91).

History flows strongly throughout her work. It is in the brown tint of the paper used for The Scroll, stained as it is with tea, a commodity inseparable from British colonial power; in the figure of The Company Man who shows up repeatedly in her work, a pot-bellied employee of the East India Company who helped build an empire; in the Hindu icons she appropriates, images that would have been radical when she was growing up under the military dictatorship of President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who was intent on Islamising Pakistan.
At the same time, a counter narrative provided by Sikander’s personal history often challenges the generality of the big historic backdrops. The artist grew up a Muslim, attended a Catholic school, and was fortunate to come from a liberal, well-educated household that believed in empowering its women despite General Zia’s introduction of new ways to oppress women.
“In public, the whole country was being homogenised at a time when a lot of different people had just moved to Pakistan after Partition [in 1947, when Pakistan and India were created with British India’s independence]. For example, religion was being institutionalised. But in private, it was very different,” she says.
She also found when she moved to theUS in the 1990s that she wasn’t fitting into easy categories either. “I decided the experience of the diaspora wasn’t for me. It was my choice to move there. I am comfortable in my skin. It’s only a slight dislocation,” she says.
A Slight and Pleasing Dislocation (1993).

And so she painted A Slight and Pleasing Dislocation (1993), an abstract figure of a woman floating through a dark space that bears little resemblance to earlier works. That a Pakistani would use the two words – pleasing and dislocation – together is pointed, given the deep scars left behind by Partition.
“My grandparents made a lot of sacrifices because of Partition and I grew up listening to them talking about it and I respect that,” the artist says. “Personally, Partition has also meant that I couldn’t go to India to study the miniatures there, and it’s been very difficult for me. Segregation also heightened the sense of the other.”
The one good thing about what one of the faux propaganda posters in the show describes as “a spontaneous response to a difficult situation” is that Muslims like herself can grow up as first-class citizens, she adds.
That figure in the 1993 work, partly inspired by her exposure to graffiti artists and wall paintings in America, keeps surfacing in subsequent works.
Like the Company Man, it is just one of a number of memorable symbols she employs. Another one is the gopi’s hair – the topknot worn by a female follower of the Hindu deity Krishna. In her paintings and in animations, the gopi’s hair has a life of its own, often flying in flocks, like crows, giving new associations to yet another traditional icon
A still from The Last Post (2010).

She has observed that Hong Kong is struggling to define its relationship with its colonial history. “It is inevitable that we will always be casting for a relationship with the colonisers. But post-colonialism is like the nature of my work. Fluidity is part of it,” she says.
A section of her work is also being shown at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, an apt setting for her contemplation of empire, trade and the fluidity of identities.
Shahzia Sikander: Apparatus of Power, Chantal Miller Gallery, Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty, Tue-Sun, 11am-6pm and 11am-8pm during Art Basel Hong Kong (Mar 22-26). Ends July 9

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

At Dhaka Art Summit, artists from Pakistan came out in full force

At Dhaka Art Summit, artists from Pakistan came out in full force

In its third edition, the Dhaka Art Summit challenged itself by producing a four day exhibition of art from varying disciplines across most of South Asia. It was a moment of intense pride to witness Pakistani artists in full force throughout the summit – perhaps the greatest part of all.

The Missing One

To begin with, Nada Raza, assistant curator of the South Asian Department at the Tate Modern, mounted an exhibition inspired by the written work of Jagadish Chandra Bose, particularly “The Story of the Missing One” which the exhibition’s title ‘The Missing One’ paid homage to. The story was the first instance of science fiction in Bangla, which was written in 1896, and spoke of a cyclone that terrorized the area by depositing oil into water and was eventually brought to its demise by the former.
'The Missing One' was inspired by Bangladesh's first science fiction story, Jagadish Chandra Bose's 'The Story of the Missing One' - Photos courtesy Dhaka Art Summit's Facebook page‘The Missing One’ was inspired by Bangladesh’s first science fiction story, Jagadish Chandra Bose’s ‘The Story of the Missing One’ – Photos courtesy Dhaka Art Summit’s Facebook page
The show revolved around the work of Gaganendranth Tagore’s “Resurrection,” executed in 1922. The exhibition included artists David Alesworth, Fahd Burki, Ali Kazim, Ifthikhar and Elizabeth Dadi, Mehreen Murtaza Zoya Siddiqui and several others. To see the variety of artists included, from the young BNU graduate, Zoya Siddqui to recent the Jameel Prize nominee David Alesworth, and exhibited on such a large global platform was remarkably refreshing. Visitors including Frances Morris, Director of the Tate Modern, regarded the exhibition in high esteem.

Mining Warm Data

Diana Campbell Betancourt, who has been with the Summit since its inception and plays the key role as Artistic Director and Chief Curator, created an exhibition entitled, ‘Mining Warm Data’. The group show examined how one is viewed through lenses of different methodologies of science, social economics and art.

Black Sites I: The Seen Unseen, 2015-16 - Installation view. Works by artist Mariam Ghani and Chitra Ganesh. - Photo courtesy Dhaka Art Summit's Facebook pageBlack Sites I: The Seen Unseen, 2015-16 – Installation view. Works by artist Mariam Ghani and Chitra Ganesh. – Photo courtesy Dhaka Art Summit’s Facebook page
The work of Mariam Ghani, an artist and writer, became the focal point of the exhibition. She writes, “A warm body is a portrait, not a profile; when a warm data body is erased, the real body remains intact. Warm data is easiest to define in opposition to what it is not; warm data is the opposite of cold, hard facts. Warm data is subjective; it cannot be proved or disapproved, and it can never be held against you in a court of law. Warm data is specific and personal, never abstract…”

Huma Mulji’s work, Lost and Found played a critical role in the show as well, with the examination of the body and how it is perceived, especially in these turbulent times of violence in Pakistan, where citizens reminisce over the past and try to predict the future and what it may hold for the country. While to one audience, the work seem somewhat grotesque; to others it may be fresh point of view towards other aspects of life and how one sees oneself in the future.
Left: A piece from Huma Mulji's Lost and Found | Right: Dilar Begum Jolly's installation Tazreen Nama, 2013 - Photos courtesy Dhaka Art Summit's Facebook pageLeft: A piece from Huma Mulji’s Lost and Found | Right: Dilar Begum Jolly’s installation Tazreen Nama, 2013 – Photos courtesy Dhaka Art Summit’s Facebook page
The other work, which stood out in the exhibition, was by Dilar Begum Jolly, another Bangla artist. Begum Jolly examined the scrutiny against women in the country and how the garment industry takes gross advantage of these women. These women risk their lives in creating clothes for the elite and western market, calling into question at what cost and purpose, the artist skeptical over its benefits for those who struggle to provide for their family.


‘Rewind’, was another strong suit for the Pakistani presence in Dhaka. The retrospective took works from all around the world of artists using abstraction in the 1980s in South Asia, which featured Anwar Jalal Shemza and Zahoor ul Akhlaq.
Installation view of works by artist Zahoor Ul Akhlaq - Photo courtesy Dhaka Art Summit's Facebook pageInstallation view of works by artist Zahoor Ul Akhlaq – Photo courtesy Dhaka Art Summit’s Facebook page
The exhibition included two works of Akhlaq’s, which were part of the Bangladeshi Embassy, never before being seen in the public eye. The concept of abstraction has only been a minor factor in the South Asian master’s, where most marketed artists have been associated with the figurative work. These artists were using their surrounding environment while going against the grain to create their body of work to develop a larger dialogue. Many artists today, such as Shezad Dawood and Rashid Rana, credit artists such as Shemza and Akhlaq as inspiration for their own contemporary works.

Solo projects

The solo projects, curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt, featured Waqas Khan and Britain-based Pakistani artist Haroon Mirza.

Mirza’s work, The National Apavilion of Then and Now was first exhibited in the 54th Venice Biennale with great acclaim, resulting in his bestowal of the Silver Lion award as the most gifted young artist. Mirza uses the construction and concept of sound and visual perception to shift the audience into reconceptualising the forms they are surrounded by in the physical realm. With a shifting halo of white light, the work provided illumination of the darkness by creating grey pyramid forms, taking over the entirety of the cube-shaped space. The viewer was transported through the buzzing sound and began to focus on the light and form of the entire transcendent work.
Left: Haroon Mirza, The National Pavilion of Then and Now, 2011. Anechoic Chamber, LEDs, Amp, Speakers, Electronic Circuit, 800x700x330 cm approx. Courtesy of the Artist and Lisson Gallery, London | Right: Waqas Khan, The Text in Continuum, 2015. Ink on paper, metal. 239x270 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Krinzinger, ViennaLeft: Haroon Mirza, The National Pavilion of Then and Now, 2011. Anechoic Chamber, LEDs, Amp, Speakers, Electronic Circuit, 800x700x330 cm approx. Courtesy of the Artist and Lisson Gallery, London | Right: Waqas Khan, The Text in Continuum, 2015. Ink on paper, metal. 239×270 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna
Khan’s work In the Name of God, was comprised of four large books, each with the intricate detailing. With the absence of space, Khan has created a dialogue which would be interpreted by all viewers. Tactfully, Khan displayed the manuscripts in the same orientation that the Holy Qu’ran is displayed. His work very much reflects his momentary emotion at execution, which could be seen in the flow of the lines and dots created by the artist.From the commencement of the Summit, founders Rajeeb and Nadia Samdani had achieved an impressive display of South Asian art in various media, while bringing the global art market and audiences to Dhaka. To see Pakistani artists exhibited so generously throughout the summit was truly awe inspiring; it can only bring more faith to us back home to know we can achieve such acclaim in South Asia and, soon, our own country.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

'Violence is all around me': Imran Qureshi on his disturbing miniatures

Source: Guardian

'Violence is all around me': Imran Qureshi on his disturbing miniatures

Mughal masters began painting miniatures five centuries ago. Now Imran Qureshi has taken up the same squirrel-hair brush as those before him – but his tiny trees are filled with splashes of blood and violence

Evoking carnage … the roof terrace at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, painted over by Imran Qureshi.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Shahzia Sikander in Huffington Post

Source: Huffington Post

Religion vs. Secularism In Art and How Shahzia Sikander and Jim Shaw Turn Social Alienation Into Spiritual Engagement

12/24/2015 11:59 am ET | Updated Feb 25, 2016

Left: Shahzia Sikander, detail from Hood’s Red Rider #2, 1997, vegetable color, dry pigment, watercolor, tea on hand-prepared wassail paper. A Hindu goddess in the form of Durga or Kali incongruously wearing a burqa required of Afghani women in public. Right: Jim Shaw: Thrift store find depicting painting of Butterfly Jesus.

The voice or vision that has moved a community to make it their governing and identifying expression — their mythos — cannot be suppressed. (Think of the Hindu Mahabarata, the Mayan Popol Vuh, the Buddhist Tipitaka, the Hebrew Torah, the Christian New Testament, the Muslim Quran, the Chinese Tao, the Navajo Diné Bahaneʼ, the Egyptian Book of the Dead.) Even when genocide has nearly wiped out a population, whatever is beautiful about the communal narrative and its attendant iconography will survive to become disseminated and perpetuated somewhere else, at some other time, perhaps again and again. This is the history confronting the secular modernists who find that the tropes of religion will not be retired by a considerable percentage of the population no matter how much they are seemingly supplanted by science, reason, logic and abstract thought. It is a persistence that seculars should never forget, otherwise they will deceive themselves with the belief that the persistence of the religious is a matter of education (or lack of) when it is not. It is a matter of artistic beauty, something that the materialism and empiricism of modernity with all its science cannot sufficiently supply to a large percentage of the human race who crave transcendence.

Shahzia Sikander and Jim Shaw are two of the rare artists who have been assimilated into the contemporary secular art world despite that they betray it by fostering obsessions with the visual signage of religion and religious art. They manage to assimilate because — and to use a science fiction analogy that Shaw might appreciate — they appropriate and re-imagine their art as if their imagery inhabited two different dimensions, with one set of features shining brightly in one dimension and another completely different set of features, perhaps even oppositional to the first, brilliantly on display in a second dimension. More mundanely put, Sikander and Shaw are at the same time speaking two different languages: one to the secular audience literate in the subtle meanings of irony and criticism of the religious, and one to the religious audience literate in the signs and symbols largely lost to the modern secularists for their lack of emersion in the traditions of faith.


Shahzia Sikander, Hood’s Red Rider #2,” 1997, vegetable color, dry pigment, watercolor, tea on hand-prepared wassail paper. A male figure in the center resembling the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahangir as a young man is in the company of two multiple-armed Hindu goddesses in the form of Durga or Kali, one flying and armed with deadly weapons while wearing a burqa required of Afghani women in public. The winged horse, Buraq, from heaven and with a woman’s head, in the Quran flies Muhammad on his mi’rāj to heaven, is also reproduced as small, black emblems, as if a passport stamp approving our passage to the Muslim heaven.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Huffington Post on Collecting in Emerging Markets

It is good to see a number of atists of Pakistan origin mentioned is this article.


Art Consultant Arianne Levene Piper on Collecting in Emerging Art Markets


Natalie Hegert

Rashid Rana, Perpetuel Paradoxe, 2010, installation view, Musee Guimet. Courtesy of Arianne Levene Piper.

In a globalized art world, a good navigator is essential. Arianne Levene Piper is a London-based art consultant and curator who advises major international collectors in Zurich, London, Stockholm, Dubai and elsewhere. With specialist knowledge on international emerging art markets including China, Japan, Korea, India, Pakistan and Iran, Levene Piper helps collectors cultivate informed outlooks and museum-quality collections of art that don't give in to trends or succumb to speculation. MutualArt talked with Levene Piper about her experiences traveling the globe in search of artists, the rise of the art consultant profession and the emergence and development of the globalized art marketplace.

Installation view of works by Reza Aramesh, Lost in Paradise. Du spirituel dans l'art actuel, 2012, Espace Sévigné. Courtesy of Arianne Levene Piper.

Natalie Hegert: After your experience working at Sotheby's and UBS, what prompted you to strike out with your own independent art advisory firm?

Arianne Levene Piper: One of the main deciding factors was my desire to work with Chinese Contemporary Art; in 2005 there were hardly any galleries or dealers working with Chinese Contemporary Art in London, and very few -- if any -- Contemporary Asian Departments at the auction houses. It felt like a huge oversight given the ever-growing importance of China on an economic, political and cultural level -- not only in the commercial market, but also in the wider art world's consciousness. There was such an abundance of energy and creativity in China that it was baffling that this was not being reflected in Europe and the US. I felt the first obvious step in readdressing this balance was to start out on my own.

Installation view of works by Behrouz Rae and Nazgol Ansarinia, Made in Iran, 2009, Asia House, London. Courtesy of Arianne Levene Piper.

NH: What brought you to specialize in emerging art markets, and what initially drew you to East Asia and the Middle East? How have you seen these markets develop over time?

ALP: As I mentioned, in 2004 - 2005 very few people were engaging with Contemporary Chinese art but it was a very exciting time to visit China as things were very much in flux. The emergence of the 798 District in Beijing and Moganshanlu in Shanghai were pivotal in the growth of a Contemporary art scene in the country; more and more galleries began to open there and the scene begun to flourish. In 2007 Guy and Myriam Ullens opened the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), presenting both international and Chinese artists from established and emerging backgrounds; the following year saw the launch of ART HK -- the Hong Kong International Art Fair. This wind-change in China, and beyond, then coincided with the seminal Saatchi show The Revolution Continues in London, which took Chinese Contemporary Art as its focus and introduced record-breaking numbers of visitors to the genre in 2008. Saatchi followed this with a show of Indian and then Middle Eastern Art, and places such as Initial Access, the home to Frank Cohen's collection, followed suit.

As prices increased I decided to then explore the emerging art worlds in India and the Middle East. Again this proved to be a dynamic time to visit these locations and I spent months travelling to these regions, meeting artists and really exploring the art being produced. Many buyers at the time noticed the trend in emerging art and wanted to snap up anything and everything that was being made -- but they weren't truly engaging with the works. This caused a speculative bubble in these markets -- aided by the fact that many financial sectors were also looking at investing in MEA and BRIC regions at the same time. The fact that I had visited these regions and engaged with the art scenes in the respective countries became key to my understanding of the work. I was able to identify who the main players really were (be they artists, collectors or galleries) and make educated and calculated decisions on what to purchase; I didn't just follow auctions from London, which can often provide a distorted view of the wider market and a piece's art historical worth.

Of course the art market is highly speculative and a lot of people who drive booms in emerging markets are in the trade; buying at the right time is always crucial.

Arianne Levene Piper speaking at Rashid Rana, Perpetuel Paradoxe, 2010, Musée Guimet. Courtesy of Arianne Levene Piper.

NH: It must be quite exciting to travel around, discovering new artists and becoming acquainted with art scenes across the globe. Are there any particular incidents or anecdotes that stand out for you from your travels?

ALP: Going for dinner with artists in China always entailed discovering new and unusual foods, even if this sometimes meant I wasn't quite sure what it was I was eating. Once I mistook a plate of miniature dried prawns for rice, which was quite a surprise!

I also remember one instance when my brother, who traveled around India on a research trip with me back in 2008, politely accepted some homemade liqueur at an Indian artist's home. Although it was delicious we spent the next three days bound to our hotel room with doctors on call...

Finally, getting in and out of Iran was often dicey and quite nerve wracking; it sometimes felt a bit like the final scene from Argo. However, I knew these opportunities could not be passed by and in some ways this only propelled my drive to meet new artists and to visit different places.

Installation view of works by Shezad Dawood, Lost in Paradise. Du spirituel dans l'art actuel, 2012, Espace Sévigné. Courtesy of Arianne Levene Piper.

NH: You've also curated a number of exhibitions, including Lost in Paradise: Du spiritual dans l'art actual at Loft Sévigné in Paris, an exhibition of Pakistani artist Rashid Rana at the Musée Guimet in Paris and Made In Iran at Asia House in London. How does curating compare to consulting? I imagine these activities feed into each other quite a lot.

ALP: A major difference between curating and advising is that with curation you work primarily with the artists; this of course is a very different experience to dealing with clients. I have certainly found the creative side of curating extremely rewarding, and through this practice I've found another way in which to explore emerging genres and introduce lesser-known artists to international audiences. However, ultimately I feel that building collections is my passion; my expertise lends itself particularly to the advisory role.

Installation view of work by Idris Khan, Lost in Paradise. Du spirituel dans l'art actuel, 2012, Espace Sévigné. Courtesy of Arianne Levene Piper.

NH: There's been a noted rise in the number of art advisers in the recent past, and now even some online ventures that purport to help would-be collectors navigate the art world and facilitate connections. Do you think it's necessary for a new collector to become introduced to the art world via a third party in some capacity (even if that third party is a friend, not a professional)? What is it about the art world that is so opaque and intimidating that the intermediary profession is growing at such a rate? Or is there something else that is contributing to this trend?

ALP: I think people often do find the art world intimidating and advisors can be a way into what feels like quite a clandestine world. However my work isn't solely about providing access, it is also about working with individuals -- whether they are completely new to the art world as you mention, or already well informed -- to cultivate or refine their own knowledge of the art landscape. I work to develop each client's individual, distinctive appreciation of art and I educate and support them on the creation of considered and dynamic collections; for me this is much more rewarding for an advisor than simply facilitating a collection's growth.

Shinro Ohtake, Red Head, 1995, dye, dust on paper, 99.8 x 70.3 cm. Courtesy of Arianne Levene Piper.

NH: You have your own personal collection of art, too. Can you tell us a bit about your own collection and any favorite works?

ALP: I really only ever buy what I love. Like many people in London I sadly don't have a huge amount of space, so it makes sense that most of the things that I buy are small in scale. Some of my favorite works in my collection include a lovely painting by the Japanese artist Shinro Ohtake who works with found images from urban culture and the media, and turns them into beautiful works of art. I am also very proud of my latest purchase, a Yoshitomo Nara drawing.

Yoshitomo Nara, On your Way?, 2015, colored pencil on envelope, 24 x 33 cm. Courtesy of Arianne Levene Piper.

NH: Besides the maxim to "buy only what you love," what other piece of advice do you think collectors should follow?

ALP: I cannot disconnect art from life; art makes me feel very alive. Indeed, I can't imagine my life without it. Auguste Rodin once said about art: "The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live."

However with regards to collecting art here are three maxims from very different people that come to mind:

"Collectors are happy people." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
"Buying art is the same thing as falling in love." - Nohra Haime
"The art one chooses to collect becomes a self-portrait." - Dennis Heckler

I think that covers most bases!

--Natalie Hegert

Friday, November 27, 2015

NY Times, The Met, Sheena Wagstoff and Imran Qureshi's Rofftop Garden

A clear sign of an exceptional and impactful art-work is that it stays relevant for a long time and people keep referring to it in different contexts .... Imran Qureshi's work at the Rooftop Garden is indeed one such work ......

“And How Many Rains Must Fall Before the Stains Are Washed Clean,” by Imran Qureshi at the Met’s rooftop garden in 2013. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times 


Becoming Modern: The Met’s Mission at the Breuer Building

Sheena Wagstaff at the Breuer building, formerly the home of the Whitney Museum and now the Met’s residence for contemporary art. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

It is probably revealing that Sheena Wagstaff, who was brought to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to ramp up its presence in contemporary art, is about to make her debut at the museum’s new Breuer building with an exhibition of an artist who has been dead for more than 20 years. Nasreen Mohamedi is a beloved if little-known modernist who is sometimes called the Indian Agnes Martin, a reference to her penchant for pristine grids.

Ms. Wagstaff, a former chief curator at the Tate Modern, arrived from London four years ago to assume the influential position of chairwoman for the Met’s new department of Modern and contemporary art. On March 18, the museum will unveil the Met Breuer, better known as the former home of the Whitney Museum of American Art. The Met’s annexation of the building prompted an initial burst of skepticism: The Met might seem to have enough to do collecting and clarifying 5,000 years of recorded history, without becoming yet another showplace for the art of the last three minutes.

An untitled work from 1975 by the artist Nasreen Mohamedi, whose work will be part of the inaugural exhibition at the Met Breuer in March. Credit Nasreen Mohamedi/Sikander and Hydari Collection                    

“I think the exciting thing,” Ms. Wagstaff said, in her dramatically accented British voice, “is that American audiences will get to know that there are these extraordinary things happening in different cities, even in places like Kochi-Muziris, which is in the middle of nowhere.”
Later, when I looked up Kochi-Muziris online, a video popped up that featured Ms. Wagstaff sitting outdoors last year at an art biennial in India’s coastal state of Kerala. She was in a white blouse, her long hair woven into a braid, her outlines crisp against a summery backdrop of green foliage. “It’s a very important biennial,” she announces to the camera with the confidence of a missionary. “If anyone is watching this, you have to get here.”
In seeking to define what the Met will be as a modern art presence in coming years, it seems safe to say it will differ from its famous New York neighbors. It will not be the Whitney (where we fell in love with our first Edward Hoppers and Georgia O’Keeffes). It will not duplicate the Museum of Modern Art (in part because it’s too late to play catch up with MoMA’s peerless holdings of Picasso & Company). It won’t be the ever-expanding Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (still trying to build in Helsinki and Abu Dhabi) or the New Museum (a kunsthalle without much of a collection).
Yet, the Met’s Modern department might turn into the Tate of Fifth Avenue, with all that that implies about the British fascination with post-colonial cultures and a desire to dismantle Western-centric versions of art history.
“My work at the Tate Modern, along with my colleagues, too, was very much about re-addressing the Western canon, re-addressing the idea of what modernism actually means, and broadening and expanding that scope,” said Ms. Wagstaff, a trim, bespectacled woman of 59.
Within Ms. Wagstaff’s own department at the Met, where she oversees a staff of 10 curators, there have been many departures and arrivals. She has dismissed longtime art historians schooled in the art of European Modernism while creating such new positions as a curator of South Asian contemporary art; a curator of Latin American contemporary art; and a curator of contemporary Middle Eastern, North African and Turkish art.

An untitled work by the Alabama-born artist Kerry James Marshall, whose work will be shown at the Met Breuer in about a year. Credit Kerry James  

To be sure, we all want to be cognizant of other cultures and sensitive to the differences among us. Yet international biennialism has become a fashion like any other, and you don’t have to be a cultural alarmist to wonder whether American audiences will warm to the Met’s global mission.
“That plays in London; it doesn’t play in America, because America was made in an entirely different way,” said Sean Scully, the Dublin-born American painter who was honored with a major exhibition at the Met in 2006. “It hasn’t colonized two-thirds of the globe, like the British did.”
Ms. Wagstaff’s office is on the mezzanine of the Modern wing of the Met, in an oblong room with blond-wood shelves. The place looks a bit anonymous, perhaps because the walls are bare, and there are no knickknacks or photographs. When I arrived, she was visibly tense. “No one has done a profile of me ever,” she volunteered. Not even during her productive 14 years at the Tate? She shook her head. “They do profiles of the top chaps,” she said.
Asked where one might find some biographical information on her, she joked, “I have a Duane Reade card, so they have some information on me, I am sure.” Then she pulled out two stapled sheets, a “mini-C.V.,” as she called it. It indicated, among other things, that she attended college at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England, and traveled to New York in 1982 as a fellow in the Whitney Independent Study Program.
Born in Colchester, England, the daughter of a career army officer, she was raised in Malta and Cyprus. An early job as an assistant to the director of the Oxford Museum of Modern Art landed her in the office of a rising star, Nicholas Serota. In 1998, Mr. Serota was named director of the Tate Britain, and Ms. Wagstaff was hired as head of exhibitions and displays. In 2001, she moved to the other side of the Thames River, to the Tate Modern, which had opened in the defunct Bankside Power Station and become a sensation almost overnight.
Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Met, who is also British, came to his choice of Ms. Wagstaff after bumping into her at various international art fairs. He had begun his career as a scholar of renaissance tapestries and, by his own admission, felt a bit out of his depth when faced with the task of a hire in contemporary art. He was impressed to learn about her work at the Tate Modern, where, he said, “she was very actively engaging with these more international investigations.” She was
Ms. Wagstaff is a former chief curator at the Tate Modern. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times       

Ms. Wagstaff’s husband, Mark Francis, is also in the art world. He served as the founding director of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and, for most of the ’90s, the couple and their two children resided in the States. Nowadays, the children are grown and live in London, as does Mr. Francis, who is a director of the Gagosian Gallery there. He and Ms. Wagstaff have a fashionably complicated trans-Atlantic marriage. She lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side and gets to London when she can.
“It’s 550 years’ worth of art,” Ms. Wagstaff said, describing the show. “And that extends from Van Eyck and Titian up until — the most recent work is a work by Urs Fischer from this year.”
Urs Fischer? It was impossible to ignore the fact that the Swiss-born sculptor is represented by the Gagosian Gallery, where Ms. Wagstaff’s husband works.
Museums, in principle, are scholarly institutions removed from the seductions of the marketplace, and Ms. Wagstaff’s ties to the Gagosian Gallery could make the Met vulnerable to charges of favoritism. When the museum acquires or exhibits the work of an artist represented by Gagosian, the gesture is likely to boost the person’s prestige and value. But those who have worked alongside her emphasize her scrupulousness in observing rules regarding conflict of interest. “She was very careful to draw the line,” recalled Dorothy Lichtenstein, the widow of the pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, whose retrospective was Ms. Wagstaff’s last show at the Tate Modern.
“Sheena said: ‘Let’s not get involved with commercial galleries. Let’s not invite them to the meetings,’” Ms. Lichtenstein said. Ms. Wagstaff, in an email, noted that the Urs Fischer loan “was handled with the artist himself and then negotiated with Sadie Coles, London,” another gallery. “Gagosian was not involved in any way.”

“And How Many Rains Must Fall Before the Stains Are Washed Clean,” by Imran Qureshi at the Met’s rooftop garden in 2013. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Since arriving at the Met, Ms. Wagstaff has established herself as someone whose taste leans toward conceptual art. Three Met exhibitions listed on her C.V. as “personally curated” were commissions for the museum’s famously scenic Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden. The space is probably the most dramatic site for sculpture in New York, yet Ms. Wagstaff’s commissions do not aspire to be sculptures at all.
Her first commission, in 2013, went to Imran Qureshi, a Pakistani artist based in Lahore. It had the misfortune of opening in the wake of the bombing at the Boston Marathon. When you stepped outdoors, onto the roof, dark-red paint seemed to be spattered everywhere. It was easy to miss the allusions to 16th-century Mughal painting and feel spooked by intimations of spilled blood. The installation, the critic Ken Johnson noted in The New York Times, “isn’t adjusted to the complicated social and cultural context of the United States, which is vastly different from that of the Middle East and Pakistan.”
Last May, Pierre Huyghe, a French conceptual artist who looms large on the European scene, unveiled a piece that was so subtle that some asked where it was even when they were standing in front of it. It involved a fish tank stocked with lampreys as well as an alteration to the terrace’s paving stones: A handful of tiles were removed to expose the soil underneath.
When I confided my reservations to Mr. Campbell, saying the piece was short on visual energy, he replied: “It’s very conceptual. It’s too conceptual for some. But I think it’s great. It’s been fascinating watching the weeds grow up on the rooftop over the last six months.”
In addition to organizing temporary exhibitions, Ms. Wagstaff is charged with the not-small task of enlarging the museum’s patchy collection of 20th-century art. There is also the issue of where to house it. Now that Leonard A. Lauder has promised the Met an extraordinary gift of 81 Cubist masterworks, the museum is rethinking the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing, whose awkwardly jutting spaces have been criticized since they opened in 1987. The British architect David Chipperfield will be designing the replacement, for an estimated cost of at least $600 million. The money has not been entirely secured, but new galleries, Mr. Campbell said, “will be a major incentive to collectors.” In the meantime, the Met’s annexation of the Breuer building is an eight-year agreement. Would Ms. Wagstaff like to see the Met keep the Breuer building beyond 2023? “I don’t know,” she replied. “I mean, I honestly don’t know.”
Adding to the uncertainty is the continuing drama of staff changes. When Ms. Wagstaff started at the Met, there were four accomplished art historians with the title of associate curators. All have since left and were required to sign confidentiality agreements forbidding them from speaking to the news media. The most recent departure, that of veteran curator Marla Prather, occurred quietly last summer. Ms. Prather had been working on an important show of works by African-American artists from the South, a gift to the Met by the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Ms. Prather will see the show to completion.

Janine Antoni’s “Lick and Lather” (1993), which will be part of the “Unfinished” exhibition. Credit Janine Antoni, via Luhring Augustine, New York

Asked about the staff changes, Ms. Wagstaff said: “There are good curators, there are great curators, and a lot of mediocre curators. In order to create a really great program, you need great curators. That’s what I am anticipating the Breuer program will reflect.”
Ms. Wagstaff’s mission probably has not been abetted by her personal manner. She is often described by colleagues as brusque and imperious, and I kept hearing that she fails to return messages, even from art-world biggies. “Her phone doesn’t have outgoing service,” jokes Peter Schjeldahl, the art critic of The New Yorker, adding that he was surprised when he tried to contact Ms. Wagstaff to arrange an initial tête-à-tête and never heard back.
In her defense, the Canadian photographer Jeff Wall, said: “I think Americans tend to find British people kind of aloof. She also probably gets a lot of emails that don’t need an answer.”
Moreover, she does have more than a few shows that need her attention.
Her curator Ian Alteveer, for one, is focused on the art of Kerry James Marshall, a prominent figurative painter from Birmingham, Ala., whose work redresses the absence of black subjects in Western art. The survey arrives at the Met Breuer in about a year, after opening first at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
Ms. Wagstaff is also looking ahead to May and the next rooftop project. For the honor, she has tapped Cornelia Parker, a widely admired British sculptor known for installations in which shrapnel and other material are suspended in midair, as if caught in the act of exploding.
When news of the choice got out, it inspired sighs among some observers. The Met has yet to give a solo rooftop show to an American woman artist. Barbara Rose, the eminent art historian, sent an email: “You mean there is NO American artist good enough??? Maya Lin and Sarah Sze for openers are so much more interesting. And Ursula von Rydingsvard, etc. etc. etc.”
It was a fair question — and, for that matter, are there no American curators qualified to run the department? I posed that question to Mr. Campbell, the director.
“You tell your American curators to stop being such whiners,” he snapped. “This is a very competitive institution. You succeed by being good.”